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Notable books

Notable Books | Four thrillers reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "A second chance," Nov. 20, 2010

Three Stations: An Arkady Renko Novel

A 15-year-old escaped prostitute and her baby flee "the catchers" via a train to Moscow. On the train she avoids rape and is rescued, but when she wakes up her baby is missing. The novel follows her desperate hunt through Moscow's seedy environs to find her missing baby while staying ahead of her murderous pursuers. A chess-playing homeless youth protects her from pimps and street punks, while detective Arkady Renko continues to annoy his superiors. It's not clear whether he does the right thing out of moral conviction or because he doesn't like authority-and in Russia all authority is corrupt. The novel rushes to an unconvincing conclusion after painting a despairing portrait of Russia's underbelly. Lots of bad language.

The Last Operative

Jordan Kirkwood has been an agent of a spy agency since he was recruited out of high school and given highly specialized training. His job: spying on the other U.S. intelligence agencies. As he learns about a traitor and a plot against the United States, terrorists murder his wife, and the children he barely knows blame him. Jenkins sets up a situation where Kirkwood is isolated, doesn't know who to trust, and must avert a major attack. The story is not as dramatic as it could be because Jenkins can't quite decide if he's writing a suspense thriller or a romance/family novel-and the various threads get in the way of the narrative.

Dark in the City of Light

Robertson's tale of murder and intrigue takes place in Europe in 1870, at the onset of the Franco-Prussian War. Baron Harsanyi, a diplomat in the service of the Austrian emperor, controls the largest cinnabar mines in Austria, a commodity in great demand for its use in creating ammunition. From Paris, he conducts a series of secretive negotiations about the cinnabar while his adult children plunge into society. As Imperial France prepares for war, it also faces revolt from within. The book is slow in places and could be confusing for those who don't know much about Europe at the time, but it shows both the machinations that lead to war and the more personal betrayals that lead to murder.

Spies of the Balkans

Some singers have perfect pitch. A few authors do. Alan Furst creates spy novels of the World War II era with descriptive detail that envelops readers: Fog and mist on every page, Casablanca sprung to life with vivid characters and absorbing plots. In this book, Greek police official Costa Zannis in 1940 creates an escape route for German Jews through the Balkans to Turkey. He battles the Gestapo, navigates among a variety of spies and gangsters from half a dozen countries, commits adultery (but not in a glamorous James Bond way), and tries to find moments of happiness amid evil times. Some sex and violence.

Spotlight

When Gracie Rosenberger was 17 she fell asleep while driving a car and suffered a body-crushing accident. Although she survived, over the past nearly 30 years she has had 73 operations, including the amputation of both legs below the knee-and two Caesarean sections. With frankness and humor she and her husband Peter tell her story in Gracie: Standing With Hope (Liberty University Press, 2010). Rosenberger writes as one who doesn't care about her dignity or pride. With humor she talks about bedpans, vomit, and losing artificial legs on the ski slopes. She writes of marital struggles and describes visits to amputees at Walter Reed, where her two prosthetic legs give her standing to talk to them about their suffering. She has a message about "the grace and power of God that is greater than eyes, legs, or anything else." It allows people to "see past my defects, and concentrate on Christ's power that is made perfect in our weakness."

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