Tag Archives: jon land

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

“It’s just that the research I did turned up a murder where you used to live, where you were an English teacher.”
“There was a murder, and someone was arrested, yes, Kristi.”
“Were you the one who caught him, Mrs. Fletcher?”

That exchange, between Jessica Fletcher and a young woman she thinks is a reporter from the local high school newspaper, forms the heart of A Time for Murder, the 50th entry in the iconic Murder, She Wrote series. Jon Land, current series shepherd, has chosen to celebrate that milestone by taking us where no reader (or viewer, for that matter) has ever gone before: into Jessica’s past, specifically twenty-five years back in time, and the result is nothing short of a smashing, slam-dunk success unrivalled in the annuls of literary pop culture.

Jessica’s still married to a much alive husband Frank. And they’re raising their eight-year-old nephew Grady at the time, as she tries to carve out a career as a high school English teacher while struggling to get published.

“Is this a mystery?” one of her students asks, as the class dissects one of Jessica’s own short stories that she distributed anonymously.

It’s not supposed to be, but that gets her thinking, as does the murder of the beloved high school principal who was just about to hire her full-time. An office mishap is suspected at first, until Jessica displays her keen powers of observation for the first time while working with Appleton Maine’s only detective, none other than future Cabot Cove sheriff Amos Tupper.

But that flashback to the past is only part of Land’s fourth, and best, effort in the series so far. In the present, the high school reporter for whom Jessica granted an interview turns out not to be a reporter at all; in fact, she’s not even in high school. And when she turns up murdered herself after badgering Jessica about that murder in neighboring Appleton, we’re off to the races on a dead sprint that swiftly reveals a clear connection between these two killings separated by twenty-five years.

Capitol White: A Donnie Brasco Novel (Audiobook – Original Recording) by Joe Pistone and Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

As a crime film connoisseur, I place Donnie Brasco among the very best the genre has to offer. Watching Johnny Depp, as the title character, spend five years undercover inside the New York Mob, before ultimately bringing down the infamous families at the top of the food chain, remains great fun every time I watch it.

So it was with great interest that I plunged into Capitol White, more or less a direct sequel to that movie, penned by former FBI agent Joe Pistone working in tandem with bestselling thriller writer Jon Land. The twist is Donnie himself has been re-imagined wondrously here as a fictional hero, as opposed to a fictitious one, to spectacular success.
Pistone famously chronicled his years living undercover in Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia – A True Story. Capitol White may be all fiction but you wouldn’t know it from the writing and I had to remind myself numerous times that what I was reading was made up instead of a literary rendition of Donnie’s next major case.

Murder, She Wrote: Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

“Well, at least I wasn’t murdered.”

So opens Murder in Red, Jon Land’s third effort writing as Jessica Fletcher for the eternal Murder, She Wrote series and one he pulls off with literary alacrity so smooth and suave that I almost forgot he cut his teeth on the more hardcore thrillers he continues to dazzle us with. In fact, I’d venture to say that under his steady hand Jessica Fletcher has come to resemble his Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong without the gun, given that she, too, is relentless in her pursuit of justice.

And there’s plenty of it for her to pursue in Murder in Red, starting with the suspicious death of a close friend Jessica thought she knew far better than she actually did. Secrets, of course, have long been a staple of the mystery genre. In this series, though, more than anything Land has managed to deftly blend the more modern material of Michael Connelly or Robert Crais’s hardboiled mystery writing within the fabric of a classic cozy. Think Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade if Chandler and Hammet respectively had written them as women.

Strong As Steel (Caitlin Strong Novels) by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong As SteelThe tenth time is clearly the charm for the in dominatable Jon Land whose decennial effort in his Caitlin Strong series, Strong as Steel, cements his Texas Ranger’s status as the best female protagonist in thriller fiction today and maybe ever.

The high-octane plot features the classic thriller staple of a long buried, and of course deadly, secret being unearthed, this time from the Texas desert. Caitlin’s father Jim Strong, apparently, was somehow involved in burying three shipping crates there twenty-five years before as part of a case he was working on. Indeed, a particular staple of this series is the seamless intermixing of the past and the present, with Caitlin picking up on a trail left by one of her ancestors. It was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.” Well, nothing describes Strong as Steel better than that, with “dead” being the operative word.

But Caitlin isn’t the only one on the trail of the contents of those three crates; far from it, in fact. Hot on their trail, and hers, is Molinari, an especially maniacal head of an especially fanatical band of religious zealots out to safeguard a two-thousand-year-old secret at all costs. Being once set ablaze by his enemies has left Molinari almost literally faceless and he has long pursued his quest with a degree of violence and rage befitting the grotesque he’s become.

Murder, She Wrote: Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Manuscript for Murder

“What’s the most fun you’ve ever had killing someone?”

So opens Manuscript for Murder, the second Murder, She Wrote mystery to be penned by Jon Land and lofty forty-eighth overall, placing the series in rarified air indeed. And rightfully so, given Jessica Fletcher’s status as undeniably America’s most famous sleuth. While the fabulously successful television show starring Angela Lansbury is primarily to blame for that, Land seems determined to have the books leave their own indelible mark on pop culture.

And he takes a great step toward just that end with Manuscript for Murder, a tale that adds thriller elements to already savory mind snack mix that features a more sharply seasoned Jessica herself. She’s got a bit of an edge now and so does this scintillating series entry that bears some resemblance to Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose and, especially, to the great Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer.

That’s because Manuscript for Murder focuses on just that: a book that kills. Not literally, of course, but close enough given that anyone who reads the manuscript dies, including Jessica’s longtime publisher Lane Barfield who sees the book within a book as the next Da Vinci Code that can restore him to publishing relevance. Not being one to take the murder of friends lightly, Jessica takes up the case, only to find herself marked as the next victim.

Old-school fans of the book series might raise their eyebrows at the thought of incorporating such thrills and spills into the narrative. But Land doesn’t so much reinvent the cozy formula as tweak it a bit. Cabot Cove is still Cabot Cove and the tried and true cast of recurring characters are well represented from Sheriff Mort Metzger to Dr. Seth Hazlitt to private eye Harry McGraw. Land’s dialogue hums with more rapid and pointed exchanges, true more actually to the spirit of the television show than the voluminous series of books that predated his involvement.

Strong to the Bone (A Caitlin Strong Novel) by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong to the Bone“You may be able to walk on water, Ranger, but quicksand’s a whole other thing,” a character advised Caitlin Strong early on in Strong to the Bone.

And quicksand is pretty much what Caitlin finds herself mired in here in the superb ninth book to feature the stalwart Texas Ranger who’s as close to a female Jack Reacher as it gets. No, she doesn’t use her fists with the aplomb of Lee Child’s seminal series hero, but she more than makes up for that with her prowess as a gunman (or, more accurately, gunwoman), a skill she gets to use with typical frequency in her latest adventure.

But Strong to the Bone serves up a new kind of target in the form of the man who sexually assaulted Caitlin eighteen years before while she was a collegiate undergraduate. We’ve barely started flipping the pages before she rescues a woman from a bar basement who’s been similarly assaulted and barely taken a breath before learning that it was the same man who raped Caitlin all those years ago. And I haven’t even mentioned the book’s primary villain in the form of a neo-Nazi gang that’s appropriated a Texas ghost town as headquarters for the massive drug dealing operation their leader, Armand Fisker, has taken international.

Fisker, a man so prone to violent impulses that one scene finds himself dousing his own son with gasoline and flicking on a lighter before the terrified boy’s eyes, is somehow connected to a killer Caitlin’s grandfather Earl Strong hunted in the waning days of World War II. Did you know that Texas was home to over 100,000 Nazi prisoners of war in camps scattered throughout the state? Neither did I. In the flashback thread that’s become a staple of this sterling series, though, Earl Strong finds himself on the trail of one of them who escaped his camp after killing his three bunkmates. Why? What did they know? And what’s none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself doing on the scene?

Strong to the Bone, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, unfolds frantically and frenetically, serving up a smorgasbord of emotionally wrought angst garnished with characters of both misplaced and misconstrued morality. Fisker, for example, isn’t planning to unleash a catastrophic weapon upon the world when the book opens; that intention unfolds organically, lending Strong to the Bone a stunning spontaneity featuring characters who are truly in charge of the action.

Heading up that roster as always is Caitlin herself, whose own personal quest to at long last find her dragon lends the book a visceral quality to go with the visuals Land has always excelled at framing. But what’s truly special is her doubts about whether she really wants to kill that dragon, lest she lose the edge that has long defined her, as Land deftly stirs a pot that features the perfect blend of emotion and action.

The Caitlin Strong series is much deserved of the praise it has attained and many awards it’s won. But Strong to the Bone takes what’s always worked to a whole new level. A terrific, tumultuous tale of rare depth and prowess certain to solidify Caitlin’s place as the most polished and proficient female hero in thriller fiction today. Maybe that’s why none of Jack Reacher’s travels have taken him to Texas. Even he doesn’t want to risk messing with Caitlin Strong.

No Surrender: Faith, Family and Finding Your Way by Patrick Bisher with Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

No SurrenderAfter 40+ books, writing about heroes is nothing new for Jon Land. What is new for him is writing about an actual warrior, instead of a fictional one, which is exactly the point of No Surrender and then some. This wondrously written tale, chronicling the improbable route Navy SEAL Patrick Bisher followed in becoming a true American hero, rings true as an inspirational catharsis of rare depth and pathos.

No Surrender is subtitled Faith, Family and Finding Your Way for a reason: Because that’s exactly what Patrick discovered were the true keys to surmounting obstacles life kept throwing in his way. He was only nine when doctors told him he’d likely never walk again due to a congenital hip condition, but you wouldn’t know that from his performance through Navy SEAL BUD/S training. Nor would you know that his decorated service in Iraq was performed with an artificial hip made necessary when a parachuting accident threatened to waylay Patrick’s dream yet again.

Those BUD/S chapters are among the finest I’ve ever encountered as a backdrop to military training, but this is no standard military tome, despite a sequence set amid Patrick’s deployment to Iraq. It’s a memoir rooted in Patrick finding his faith when he’d lost everything else and how that faith, along with God, carried him from the darkness of despair to the light of hope.

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

The RisingThe Rising, a sumptuously entertaining, lightning-paced romp, is a difficult book to categorize. Bestselling author Jon Land, and even bigger bestselling author Heather Graham, have joined forces to pen a tale that’s part sci-fi, part young adult, part thriller, part mystery, part romance, part—well, just take your pick.

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The amazing thing is that this genre hybrid hodgepodge works. And it works in a big way—literally, since The Rising features a pair of teenagers who are only thing standing between the world and total annihilation. One of them is Alex Chin, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, high school football hero heartthrob who’s life begins to unravel when he suffers a concussion during a playoff game. The CT scan reveals an anomaly that will ultimately send Alex on a mind-bending quest to find not only the truth that’s out there in true X-Files fashion, both about himself and the world as a whole.

Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong Cold Dead“Nobody goes beyond this point, ma’am,” is the first thing Caitlin Strong is told in Jon Land’s superb and sensational Strong Cold Dead. And I probably don’t have to tell you what she does next in the eighth book featuring the stalwart fifth generation Texas Ranger.

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A gunfighter and loner hero in the frontier sense bred of the classic Western, Caitlin is no stranger to breaking the rules or gunning down bad guys. Strong Cold Dead features a weighty mixture of both, as she finds herself battling none other than forces of ISIS on Texas soil. It’s a long-buried secret on a mysterious Indian reservation that’s drawn the terrorist group here, thanks to a social outcast reaching out to them on social media.

Takedown: A Small-Town Cop’s Battle Against the Hells Angels and the Nation’s Biggest Drug Gang by Jeff Buck with Jon Land and Lindsay Preston

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

TakedownJon Land has proven once again that he’s much more then just a thriller writer with Takedown. This is Land’s second non-fiction book, spinning the story of one of the biggest drug busts in modern history, born of an unholy alliance between the Hells Angels out of Montreal, a corrupt Indian reservation in New York State, and the Russian mob.

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But the man at the center of the bust, Jeff Buck, actually comes from a small town in Ohio where he still serves as chief of police after a much lauded twenty-year career as an undercover drug officer that rightfully earned him the nickname “Dope Ghost.” This is Buck’s story, told in nourish, tough guy prose that features alternating chapters between the major case he spearheaded in 2009 and the chain of events the year before that led to his involvement in the first place.