Quarantined by Joe McKinney

Quarantined If you enjoy dystopian novels, Quarantined is for you. Joe McKinney’s gritty prose brings San Antonio to life, or death, as the case may be. A new strain of the bird flu has mutated into the virus H2N2 and is killing San Antonio’s population by the thousands in a modern-day plague. While the World Health Organization (WHO) races to find a vaccine, the Federal Government seals San Antonio behind a wall patrolled by military personnel, who have orders to shoot potential escapees on sight.

Quarantined is about what goes on behind the wall when a WHO doctor is murdered, and San Antonio homicide detective Lily Harris tries to solve the case in an increasingly hostile environment. Between bureaucratic red tape and shrinking food drops, societal norms are breaking down and the black market burgeons.

Harris finds comfort in the presence of her family and steadfast partner. Yet she stands to lose both family and partner if they can’t find their way out of the city and tell the world about an even greater threat to humanity.

McKinney writes with a cutting edge, and he makes his future San Antonio so real, it could be happening today. The true horror of Quarantined is in McKinney’s ability to construct a plausible scenario for the H2N2 virus and the government’s response.

McKinney’s experience as a homicide detective gives Quarantined real bite as he guides the reader through departmental politics, both within WHO and the local police department. He manages to deliver a mystery with a dark bite, and also writes a believable female character with Lily Harris.

McKinney doesn’t have Harris shake off her cop persona and turn into Martha Stewart when she’s with her family. Her tension rides like a demon on her back, and though she loves her family desperately, she’s not always able to prevent herself from hurting them. She’s a woman torn between her duty as an officer to uphold the law and her need to protect her family, even if it means breaking the law.

Good conflict, a tight mystery, and a dark setting make Quarantined a summer read guaranteed to give you a chill.

My rating:


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places The Dragon loves horror and things that bump the night, but the greatest horror is often revealed in our souls. Gillian Flynn pries into those Dark Places with finesse in this black mystery surrounding a family’s destruction.

When she was seven-years-old, Libby Day survived “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” by fleeing the carnage in her house to hide in the January snow. Her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered, and Libby, as the sole witness, testified that her brother, Ben, was the killer.

Twenty-five years later, Libby is approached by members of the Kill Club, a secret society obsessed with solving notorious crimes. Members of the Kill Club believe Ben is innocent, but Libby isn’t interested in her brother’s exoneration until she finds herself out of money. For a fee, she offers to be the Club’s liaison and talk with persons of interest who might have been motivated to kill her family.

Gillian Flynn has a direct line to a woman’s black heart and she exhibits great skill as she plunges you into Libby’s tale. There is little that is likable about Libby Day, but somewhere though the pages, she starts to change. Flynn makes the transition so gradual, no word or sentence triggers the moment, but Libby becomes less despicable as she progresses from the destruction of her past toward the truth she once shunned.

Flynn strips away the veneer of polite society to show the people who live beneath everyone’s notice. Here are the farmers and families who were sucked beneath the undertow of predatory bank lending during the 1980’s farm crisis. Flynn shows us that sensationalist headlines often obscure ordinary events surrounding people whose lives simply skid out of control. This is middle America where a good beginning doesn’t equate a happy ending, and a bad beginning can sometimes bloom into a new life.

Dark Places is a riveting tale told with Flynn’s talent for the macabre and caustic wit and is the perfect read for a cold October night.

My rating:

The Killing Room by Peter May

During a major groundbreaking for the New York-Shanghai Bank in Shanghai, the struts on a projecting platform give way to plunge an American CEO into a pit full of corpses. This is a great opening not only because it is a well written, tense beginning, but also because it gives the reader the same warm visceral feeling that we got when the dinosaur ate the lawyer in Jurassic Park. For China, however, it’s a PR nightmare, and for Deputy Section Chief Li Yan, it’s the proverbial redball that he catches in Beijing. Sent to work with his Shanghai counter-part, Deputy Section Chief Nien Mei-Ling, Li is instructed to establish whether the Shanghai killings were in relation to similar murder in Beijing. With the bodies in such a state of decomposition, Li wants the American pathologist, Margaret Campbell, to work with the Chinese pathologists in determining the time and cause of death.  Based on the pathology reports, it appears that the corpses were subjected to live autopsies.  It would be easy enough to leave the dead women anonymous and have his detectives stalk the killer, but May does a beautiful job of humanizing the victims through Li and Mei-Ling’s investigation.

I can’t tell more without giving away a rather intriguing ending, but I will say that as a thriller, this book works beautifully; the pacing is good and the story moves along at an interesting clip. I loved the modern depictions of China; May’s writing style brings the cities of Shanghai and Beijing to life with all their beauty and grit. Li and Mei-Ling are believable characters, and the sexual tension between these two vibrates all the way through the novel, but I wasn’t as enamored with love triangle sub-plot between Li, Mei-Ling, and Margaret. Margaret comes across as a petty, childish, alcoholic, who disdains everything Chinese (except Li, of course). Where Li and Mei-Ling are multidimensional characters, Margaret is the quintessential arrogant American, and I never quite felt the same tension or even affection between Li and Margaret that I felt between Li and Mei-Ling. May ties everything together neatly in the end, and while I can’t call it the most captivating thriller I’ve ever read, The Killing Room was still a good read.

Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen

All right, noir fans, the dark hearted master of the Emerald Isle has returned to regal us with the tale of Matthew Patrick O’Shea, and oh, my dear Wild Things, it was worth the wait . . .

O’Shea, whom everyone calls Shea, is a Galway Guard who skillfully blackmails his way into a coveted police exchange program between Ireland and the United States. Manipulative and psychotic, Shea wants to feel the edge of being out there, on the streets, a killing machine; and he does love the ladies, does our Shea, although he does tend to smother them in his ardor. Shea manipulates his way into the New York City Police Department and once there, he is partnered with Kurt “Kebar” Browski. Kebar, as he is known, has made a deal with the devil in the form of the mobster, Morronni, who supplies Kebar with money to keep his disabled sister in a quality institutional home in exchange for information.

Although as shamelessly violent as Shea, Kebar’s love for this sister humanizes him; his frustrations are real, his personal agony over becoming the very thing he loathes is wrenching. Morronni soon implicates Shea in Kebar’s corruption, and Shea moves with calculating, debilitating aggression to assure his rise as a hero cop is not disrupted. In spite of his own feeble protestations of yearning for normalcy, Shea knows and embraces the emptiness in his soul, gleefully exploiting those who stand in his way, confident as only a serial killer can be in his superior intelligence.

Bruen has written this novel in short, hanging paragraphs that burst with characterization; each sentence is a resounding sucker punch to the brain, unrelenting in intensity. There is also poetry here, lyrical in the rhythm in which Bruen carries us through the lives of Shea, Kebar, Morronni, and those unfortunate enough to be a part of their circle. Bruen captures the soullessness of the serial killer with startling reality, reminding us that the most frightening monsters are those that walk amongst us undetected. Yet he manages to skillfully weave a thread of hope into this dismal world he has created for us, proving that even in the deepest night of the most damaged soul, there is a light dimly shining.

Highly recommended is Once Were Cops and may you write on, sir . . .

My Rating:  

The Killer’s Wife by Bill Floyd

This is Floyd’s first book, and unfortunately it shows.  The plot centers on Leigh Wren, mother of a young son and ex-wife of a serial murderer who is sitting on death row.  After moving to Cary, NC to start a new life, Leigh is accosted one day in the grocery store by the father of one of her ex-husband’s victims.  She and her son are exposed to their new community, while at the same time a new killer is emerging, focusing on victims tied to Leigh’s former life.  I have a dislike for books written from a female perspective by a male writer.  Maybe that’s not fair, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but to me they never really ring true.  The characters here are fairly one-dimensional, the writing a bit pedestrian, and the plot reminiscent of a movie-of-the-week.  Not totally awful, but not that great either.

My Rating: 

Priest by Ken Bruen

Oh, wow, what do you say about Ken Bruen?  Well, my Wild Things, you know the Book Dragon will find something! Priest is the first novel I’ve read by Bruen, and I must say I was hooked on his Irish pop-poetry grab-you-by-the-eyeballs-and-don’t-let-go writing style from page one. Priest is fifth in the Jack Taylor series, but it stands alone beautifully dark as the devil’s soul. (A quick side note: although I did read the sequel to Priest, Cross, I have not had an opportunity to read The Guards or any of the other titles in this series.)

Jack Taylor is a man beset by demons and an internal wrath that few can truly appreciate when we are first introduced to him in the madhouse.  Slowly he comes back to himself and is released into the world where he is thrown into the confrontational arms of his guardian angel, a Ban Garda by the name of Ridge, with whom Taylor shares a love/hate relationship.  Ridge informs him of the decapitation of a priest in a Galway confessional and this noir mystery is off and running with Jack nurturing his rage while hunting both a stalker and a priest killer.

Bruen makes you feel the need to feed the alcoholic beast and the horror of a fury buried deep with no physical outlet.  He takes you deep inside Taylor’s mind and doesn’t let you go until the end when you finally feel you can breathe again.  What a ride!  I finished it in one sitting.

My Rating: 

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure if “Loved It” is strong enough to convey how I felt about this book.  WOW!!  Booklove turned me on to McCarthy’s The Road some time ago, and I really enjoyed that book, but this, THIS, is the kind of book that I love to read. As with all of McCarthy’s novels, it is dark and violent, but it is not gratuitous violence, every event has meaning and leads to the next incident. McCarthy constructs a tale of a drug run gone bad and the ramifications of one decision made by one individual to take the money and run. The language is simple and precise and McCarthy wastes not a word, reminding me in some sections of Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” delivering dialogue so meticulous you always know the speaker and their intent. The last quarter of the book took me completely by surprise, both in plot development and technique, but it did not disappoint. Knowing that the film version of this novel rests in the competent hands of Joel and Ethan Coen, I can’t wait to see the movie. The voices of McCarthy’s characters will resonate in your head long after you finish No Country for Old Men.

My Rating: