Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Dangerous Game in a Mysterious World



I’ve always loved spy stories, from my first Mad Magazine Spy vs. Spy right on through Dad’s shelf of Cold War political thrillers, which we devoured and discussed. I’m sorry he’s not here to share Diana R. Chambers’s Stinger with me. He would have ranked it in his top ten favorites, right up there with Robert Ludlum, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth. And, like me, I think he would have loved the audio version.

Stinger is my idea of the classic spy thriller: a shadow world populated by people who aren’t what they appear to be with hidden identities, hidden agendas, and lies enough to obscure the trail for even the most dogged of investigative readers. The twists and turns of the tightly-woven plot, kept me sitting in my car listening long after I closed the garage door. At times I completely forgot I was listening to fiction as my heart raced up to one suspense-filled peak after another. The story could be true.

Several reviewers have dubbed Stinger a romantic spy thriller. There is a romantic element, but what drew me in was the political intrigue seemingly taken right from the historical record of the Soviet-Afghan War in the mid 1980s. Set in Central Asia at the border of Pakistan and the mountainous tribal nomad region of Afghanistan, the action opens with the disappearance of six U.S. Stinger missiles that have secretly found their way to Peshawar. The Stingers are in high demand. The Soviets want to keep them from the Afghan Mujahideen, Pakistani and Chinese dealers want to sell to the highest bidder, the Afghani freedom fighters desperately need advanced weaponry, and the U.S. must want something.


Rogue CIA officer Nick Daley is charged with keeping an eye on Robin, a San Francisco journalist, looking to make her career through her interview with her former lover, now an Afghan Mujahideen leader, but Nick’s reasons for wanting to find the mujahideen leader differ. A tragic love triangle forms and is played out against manipulation, swindle, drug deals, murder, betrayals, ambush, courage, loyalty, and the history and culture of this Muslim region. It’s a dangerous game in a mysterious world that comes together in a surprise climax and ending.


Stinger is more than a finely crafted political thriller; it helped me to understand Afghanistan’s recent history and the Taliban’s rise to power. I knew little about Afghanistan or the role both the Soviet Union and the US played there, and even less about its conflict with Pakistan. The depth of Chambers’s research impressed me. It’s obvious she knows her stuff. The story is concise yet rich—just the right amount of action and narrative, perfectly balanced with images that lead the mind in unexpected directions. Her language is straightforward yet often lyrical, and her ability to describe her setting is superb. I’ve come away from the book feeling as though I’d really visited Peshawar and traveled the Silk Road. I can smell the dust and cooking fires, tea, and the oily heat of the weapons. Her characters have depth and distinction. Even secondary characters are crafted to stand out individually. I came to like Nick Daley as he revealed himself and his motivations. I look forward to meeting him again.


Actor and voice-over artist Charles Kahlenberg is the reader of Stinger. His deep sonorous voice added depth, mystery, excitement and plenty of tension to the story. I listened to the book twice, first just for the reader’s voice and again to catch-all the details I’d missed. Listening to a well-interpreted book is like seeing a film even as you watch the road—I do most of my audiobook listening while I drive. Kahlenberg is a professional actor with credits going back to his first role in the Coal Miner’s Daughter. His gorgeous voice has been heard internationally on TV and radio in countless commercials and he’s appeared on TV and in films.

If you are interested in recent history and want to understand more about how Afghanistan got to where it is today, read Stinger. If you’re a lover of Casablanca-style love affairs, read Stinger. If Cold War-style spycraft is your thing, read Stinger. And if you just want to try something twisty, shocking, and fast-paced—try Stinger. Does it show that I loved this book? I’m giving Diana R. Chambers and Stinger five stars and I just downloaded The Company She Keeps, the next Nick Daley adventure. It hasn’t been recorded for audio so I’ll read it on my Kindle. I’m betting it’s another five-star read—I’ll let you know.


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The Right Wrong Thing

Right Wrong Thing for Ellen

The world of policing is more complicated and intricate than I’d realized from watching cop shows on TV and reading procedurals. Sure Kate Beckett and her team are mandated to see a psychologist when they shoot someone or each other, but somehow the importance of the psychologist and the scope of duty and moral responsibility just hasn’t sunk into my thick brain until reading The Right Wrong Thing. For one thing, those other fictional psychologists are usually bit-part characters used to support the main characters in their stories. In Ellen Kirschman’s series the story is Dot Meyerhoff’s, the consulting psychologist for Silicon Valley’s Kenilworth Police Department.

The Right Wrong Thing is Ellen Kirschman’s second book in the Dot Meyerhoff series following acclaimed Burying Ben. 51SKPzn3txL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Right Wrong Thing exposes readers to the world of the police department: the culture, the politics, and the whys and wherefore’s of police decision, action and the consequences of both. Kirschman should know. She’s worked as a police and public safety psychologist for over thirty years and has been honored with the California Psychological Society’s award for her contribution to psychology. Her experience shines through, illuminating police work in a way that has given me new understanding and a much deeper sympathy for the heroic men and women who take on the job of keeping us safe. I had no idea I would learn so much from a police thriller when Net Galley sent an ARC for review.

Kirschman tackles several of society’s big ticket issues in the book: sexism, racism, police brutality and post-traumatic stress disorder—all through the point of view of dedicated and deeply concerned psychologist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. After Dr. Meyerhoff has signed off on her pre-employment psychological assessment, rookie cop Randy Spelling accidentally shoots and kills a pregnant black teen. The doctor is determined to do the right thing by Randy and the department, but Randy, already suffering with PTSD and remorse, proves a challenge to counseling. When she insists on making amends to the victim’s family, contrary to the advice of the department, the consequences are disastrous. Dr. Meyerhoff, against the new chief’s orders is stubbornly determined to uncover what has happened. She puts together a small team of misfit allies to investigate, jeopardizing her career with the department and her life as she closes in on Randy’s killer.


I admired Meyerhoff’s right-on assessments of the situation and her sometimes brilliant handling of things on the one hand, and I shook my head in disbelief at her sometimes stupid moves and her blatant disregard of her superior. The dichotomous aspects of her personality are part of what make middle-aged Dot Meyerhoff an interesting character. She’s intelligent, caring, dedicated, reckless, and stubborn and questions herself the way we all do over a glass of wine. I’d like to sit down and chat with her about—anything. The conversation would be sure to take turns I’d never see coming and I’d come away seeing a new side to the issue. She’s guided by a strong sense of justice and not afraid to go against convention to follow it, even when she’s clearly erring. Dot Meyerhoff is flawed like the rest of us, but she’s willing to speak her mind when it’s unpopular, be kind to people who work against her and learn from her mistakes—although I expect Dr. Meyerhoff will be just as stubborn and reckless in solving her next case. I’m counting on it, in fact.

After a densely packed, fact-laden opening, I found I couldn’t put The Right Wrong Thing down. Kirschman’s experience and deep knowledge of human behavior shine through her plot and the emotion packed into this novel grabbed me and kept me reading. This is what is important to her. Kirschman states in her biography, “writing mysteries allows me to explore the hidden complexities and emotional costs of being a clinician.” Interesting, no? Kirschman is teaching readers about her world and learning from herself at the same time. It’s bound to pay off in the books to come.

Since I read The Right Wrong Thing it’s been voted a finalist in the Fiction: thriller/adventure category of the USA Best Book Awards. Congratulations to Ellen Kirschman. And thank you Net Galley, I might not have chosen a procedural-style thriller from the shelves, but I’m looking forward to the third of this fascinating and instructive series.


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