Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deep State, by Walter Jon Williams---Review

Orbit Books, ISBN 9780316098045, Publication Date 1/19/2011

Dagmar Shaw is running an Augmented Reality Game, an ARG, in Turkey to promote the latest James Bond film, Stunrunner. She's not happy about being in Turkey, where a military junta has recently seized power, because she's had some seriously unpleasant experiences with military governments in the past, but, really, what can go wrong? Turkey is benefiting from the positive PR and the increase in tourism, and the generals are very pleased by that. Her company, Great Big Idea, is being very well paid by the movie promoters.

     And then Dagmar and some of her people are invited to meet the generals, and Dagmar accidentally offends the head of the junta, General Bozbeyli.

    Dagmar, her immediate boss Lincoln, and her top on-site American and Turkish employees, have to evade the junta while staging the last live event of the ARG--and that means moving the live event at very short notice. Dagmar and her team work out a way to do it, wrap up the game, and head home.

     But before she leaves, Lincoln offers her a new job. Lincoln, it turns out, works for the US government and is in Special Ops. The current Turkish junta, unlike previous ones, is not interested in restoring a secular state and then turning the government back to democracy; they're in it for the money. Lincoln wants to use Dagmar's game-running skills to peacefully destabilize the current Turkish regime and force a return to democracy.

     Working from a British military base on Cyprus, Dagmar and her team--Turks Ismet, Tuna, and Refet; Americans Judy, Lloyd, Lola, Magnus, and Byron--set to work, running an Augmented Reality Game with the very real-world goal of bringing down a government. Flash crowds form in places where it's hard for the police to respond quickly, and melt away before they can react. They wear scarves, carry towels, postcards, DVDs, flowers--things that look like they have meaning but really only have the purpose of identifying participants in the flash crowds. It's all going well, and the regime is looking more and more foolish and impotent.

     Then demonstrations start that aren't planned by Dagmar and her crew, and the astroturf revolution is becoming a genuinely grassroots one, and shortly after that, the regime feels threatened enough to deploy a secret weapon that Lincoln helped create, years earlier--the High Zap. It allows the power that has it to selectively take down the internet--in fact, anything that relies on TCP/IP protocols--and Turkey has it because two agents were deployed to use it against Syria right before the Turkish coup, and the generals wound up in possession of the laptop containing it.

     Dagmar and her friends find themselves in a wild contest to survive, defeat the High Zap which now threatens the economic stability of the world, and maybe even achieve their original goal, as some of them are killed, some revealed to be traitors, and Lincoln and their government resources and status are pulled because Lincoln's plan has gone so badly wrong.

     It's an exciting mix of spy thriller, adventure, and romance, and as is typical of Williams, it's all extremely well-done.

     Highly recommended.

     I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Against the Fire (The Raines of Wind Canyon), by Kat Martin--Review

Harlequin/Mira Books, ISBN 9780778329305
Publication date 01/25/2011

The is the second book in the Raines brothers trilogy, and it's the second brother, Gabriel Raines's turn. He's built a successful construction business, and life is looking good until someone starts torching his construction sites.

     After the first fire, the police quickly pick up a young man seen near the fire, Angel Ramirez. He had a previous arson conviction, but his family has been getting help from the Family Resource Center, and he's become a hardworking, well-behaved  high school student. Mattie Baker, a rising young architect and also an active supporter of the Family Resource Center, visits Angel at the police station, meets Gabe--and convinces him to keep an open mind about Angel, and look for other, more likely, possibilities.

     Gabe listens to Mattie mostly because she makes cogent arguments and is completely sincere, but there's no denying he's attracted to her--and she to him. This unacknowledged mix of motives is behind their decision to begin their own investigation in parallel with the official investigation, and when the police quickly uncover evidence that an unusual accelerant was used, and was purchased by a man who looked nothing like Angel, the young man decides that he's going to help, too. Mattie and Gabe tell him to take no chances, to ask no questions, just keep his eyes and ears open, but of course he feels the need to do more than that. The wrong person notices, and hits Angel on the head from behind, landing him in the hospital, in a coma.

     The attack on Angel heightens the sense of danger, as do the subsequent fires at other Raines Construction projects, and, for Mattie, mysterious hang-up calls she's getting, which she does not tell Gabe about. As the investigation throws them together, and their mutual attraction draws them together, they are pushed apart by Mattie's fear of relying on anyone other than herself. That fear was created by her father's early death, leaving her mother and herself in poverty, and compounded by a previous romantic involvement that ended very painfully. In counterpoint to Gabe and Mattie's courtship is the courtship of Gabe's friend Sam and Mattie's friend Tracy, who has her own very different yet equally painful issues making it difficult for her to commit to a relationship. Each woman, of course, can see the ways the other woman is frustrating her own happiness.

     As the fires continue and threaten Gabe's business, red herrings and confusing clues confound both the official and the unofficial investigations while an unbalanced but very clever and vengeful killer draws closer and closer. Whether or not Mattie and Gabe can find their way to true love will be moot if they don't find the killer before the killer catches up with them.

    A good, satisfying read.

   Note: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strangers, by Mary Anna Evans--Book Review

Poisoned Pen Press, ISBN 9781590587423, 400 pp.
Publication date 10/01/2010

This is Evans' sixth novel about archeologist Faye Longchamp and her husband Joe Wolf Mantooth. I haven't read any of the others, and didn't find it an obstacle to following and enjoying this story. Faye has turned her archeology degree into a business rather than a tenure-track teaching position, and she, Joe, and their employees, including Magda Stockard-McKenzie, Ph.D., are in St. Augustine, FL, excavating the back yard of the Art Deco-era mansion, Dunkirk Manor, whose current owners want to add a swimming pool. Dunkirk Manor is in a historically rather uninteresting section of  St. Augustine, and it'a a relatively easy assignment, perfect for the last month or so of Faye's pregnancy. An unexpected bonus is the discovery, in a storeroom, of the journal of a priest, Father Domingo, who accompanied the first Spanish expedition to the St. Augustine area.

     Or so it seems, at least until Glynis Smithson, assistant to the owners, Daniel and Suzanne Wrather, disappears. Her car is parked out back, there's some blood in her car and a lot more just outside it--and if there was any trail of blood leading away from the car, it has possibly been washed away by the automatic sprinklers. There are also a few odd items in and near the car, artifacts apparently dating to the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish.

     Faye becomes involved in the investigation into Glynis's disappearance, which becomes a murder investigation when her boyfriend turns up dead, because of the archeological connection. At the same time, the excavation at Dunkirk Manor becomes more interesting, as they uncover evidence of a previous swimming pool, as well as buried 1920s-era children's toys in what looks very like a small shrine. As Faye learns more about both her employers and the 1920s owners, she discovers an unsolved murder of a beautiful starlet, and an odd parallel between Suzanne and her great-aunt Allyce Dunkirk, in that they both lost very young children whom they continued to mourn many years later. The archeological items and the fact that her boyfriend was murdered leads to the suspicion that Glynis was murdered or kidnapped because she discovered a construction project going forward illegally after discovering an unreported archeological site.

    Faye divides her attention amongst the Dunkirk Manor dig, Father Domingo's journal, the unsolved murder, and Glynis's disappearance, and they all tangle together in unexpected ways. And when she gets too close to some of the answers, the situation turns dangerous, and she's fighting for her life against an unexpected villain.

     I found Strangers engrossing and highly readable, and I'll probably be looking for more of Evans's books about Faye.

     Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley