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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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.

Click Here for More Information on Strong Cold Dead

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Strong Light of Day by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong Light of DayStrong Light of Day is another great novel in the Caitlin Strong series; I won’t say best because each book is the best in its own right, since this is without question the finest thriller series going today. But this latest entry is both the most complex and timely. Indeed, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine opening up the newspaper not long down the road and spying a headline about the nation’s food supply under attack. Agro-terrorism, in other words, in Strong Light of Day at the hands of Russians who never stopped fighting the Cold War. Indeed, reading books serves as a pointed reminder that there are people out there icily committed to destroying our way of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Strong Darkness by Jon Land

strongdarknessReviewed by Russell Ilg

Jon Land’s brand new Caitlin Strong novel, as hard as it is to believe, is his best to date in this stellar series that’s one of the best being written today. Every one of the novels has a life of its own from the first page to the last, but Strong Darkness seems to jump off those pages in terms of detail as well as character, achieving a life and vitality rare for fiction in general and thrillers in particular. The book doesn’t even give you a chance to get settled in your chair, just throws you back so far so fast you feel you’ve been struck by the train on the book’s creepy cover.

The real conductor here is Land’s heroic Caitlin Strong, a fifth generation Texas Ranger who’s kind of a throwback in terms of temperament and attitude. For her the past is never far behind, literally since her family history always plays a key role, taking us back to the earlier, sometimes very early, days of the Rangers in cases somehow connected to whatever Caitlin’s investigating in the present with the help of her reformed outlaw boy friend Cort Wesley Masters. Masters has two teenage sons for whom Caitlin assumes a maternal role in stark contrast to her gunfighter mentality. It’s a curious juxtaposition, kind of like a mother bear protecting her cubs, and one that creates the perfect balance between the twin sides of her nature. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

The Tenth Circle Reviewed by Russell Ilg

The stranger retrieved the phone and handed it back to McCracken. “My advice: keep this handy in case you need to call 9-1-1.”

“I am 9-1-1,” McCracken told him.

I’m not sure there’s ever been in a line in a modern thriller that better encapsulates the spirit of a book and enduring series hero than that from Jon Land’s latest mind-number The Tenth Circle. In the second installment of their resurrection, after last year’s bestselling Pandora’s Temple, Blaine McCracken and his equally bigger-than-life sidekick Johnny Wareagle are on the trail of a crazed preacher with eyes on unleashing a biblical-level Apocalypse. The Reverend Jeremiah Rule has a weapon in his possession rooted in not just the past, but in two of the greatest historical mysteries of all time, posing the question what if the mass disappearance of the Roanoke Colony and ghost ship the Mary Celeste were connected? Read the rest of this entry »

Strong Rain Falling by Jon Land

Strong Rain Falling Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Strong Rain Falling is the new novel by Jon Land in the mega-series featuring Caitlin Strong, a 5th generation Texas Ranger, and her former outlaw boyfriend Cort Wesley Masters. It’s the fifth book in this series, continuing the painstaking, and at times painful, evolution of the characters. As an avid reader who reads close to 4-5 books a week, it’s the one series that I wait for every year because the story has so roped me in thanks to the complex relationships and writing unmatched with any out there today.

Before cracking the book open, I recommend that you strap yourself to a chair because it’s going to turn your world upside down and, otherwise, you may hit the floor between pages. Strong Rain Falling starts out with what has to be the greatest opening of any book I’ve read to the point that I kept saying, no, this cannot be happening; but it was in heart-stopping fashion that sets the stage for a story that hits you from every angle and doesn’t let up for a single second or page. Simply stated, Jon Land has taken an outstanding series to a whole new level and heights I didn’t think possible for a thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

Pandora’s Temple (A Blaine McCracken Novel) by Jon Land

Pandora's Temple Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Jon Land keeps the heat up with the best thriller writing you can find today. He has taken a break from the best series out there, featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, to go all the way back to his roots by bringing back the legendary Blaine McCracken and Johnny Wareagle who’d appeared in nine previous tales that ended with 1998’s Dead Simple. The McCracken series was the first Jon wrote, featuring the rogue agent the government goes to with impossible missions no one else would even think about taking on. Just another day at the office for McCracken who makes great use of the skills that made him an icon in his return to the page in Pandora’s Temple.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book with so many twists and turns and classic action sequences. Make no mistake about it, this is a huge-scale thriller with nothing less than the fate of the world at stake and nothing less than the most powerful force in the universe posing the threat. This as the ever-vigilant McCracken faces turning sixty and beginning to question his skills, not so much because they’ve eroded as the phone has stopped ringing. It’s been two years since the government came calling, when all of a sudden Homeland Security approaches him with a mission to rescue four Brown University fraternity brothers from the clutches of a drug lord with hundreds of well-armed man guarding his compound in Mexico. The impossible rescue Blaine and Johnny undertake opens the book and sets the stage for all the equally redoubtable action to come. But all is not well, because one of the hostages dies in the process leading McCracken to further wonder if he’s lost his edge.

That question is swiftly answered when McCraken, and Wareagle, learn that the lone other surviving member of their Special Forces Vietnam A-Team is missing from an offshore oilrig; the whole crew is missing thanks to some inexplicable phenomenon the same Homeland Security that sent Blaine to Mexico dispatches him to investigate. What he and Johnny find on the remnants of that rig lead to a global chase for the most powerful force in the universe somehow connected to the mythical Pandora’s box (a jar actually, we learn). It lies in the equally mythic Pandora’s Temple, the search for which McCracken and his team undertake in order to save the world while battling two groups of adversaries with limitless resources hell bent on getting their hands on the “dark matter” first. One is led by a billionaire energy magnate and the other the leader of a Japanese doomsday cult. Both are hiding terrible secrets that have long scarred them. Both will stop at nothing to gain the ultimate prize. But neither will McCracken who sees in a young female eco-terrorist an oddly kindred spirit. She too harbors scars and secrets, clearly a dominant theme here in a tale that’s as much about healing as anything else. Read the rest of this entry »