Sophisticated International Thriller

Andalusia is a region in southern Spain — “The Andalucian Friend,” by Swedish author Alexander Söderberg, takes its title from one of its characters, Hector Guzzman, a dashing Spaniard from a mafia-style family who befriends a beautiful unsuspecting nurse. Hector draws Sophie, and her teenage son, into a dark underworld of mayhem and murder that marks them for life.

This exciting international thriller is rife with thugs vying for control of smuggling routes and crooked cops on the take. Though at times the profusion of characters can be confusing, it’s not vital to keep all the minor players straight — instead, marvel over the more well-developed ones, like Lars Vinge, a sniveling beat cop addicted to pain killers and a quirky set of defects, and Gunilla Strandberg, the head of the national crime division, who recruits Lars to tighten the noose on players in a ring of organized crime.

The action begins when Hector is intentionally hit by a car and hospitalized. Hector shows a rapt interest in Sophie Brinkmann, a nurse assigned to care for him. He’s long been on Gunilla’s radar. She puts together a team to bug Sophie’s home, believing the woman may become involved with Hector and provide key information about him.

In Paraguay, another facet of the plot unfurls. Jens Vall, who knew Sophie when they were young, makes a deal with the Russians over guns he’s smuggling for them. When the plan goes awry, Jens is catapulted into working with Hector — both men become entranced with Sophie, as does Lars, whose surveillance of her home becomes obsessive. Beset with the demon of addiction, Lars’ personality changes as he pops prescription pills, chasing them down with alcohol.

“The Andalucian Friend,” is a good read — albeit a bit confusing at times, but stick with this sophisticated novel, and you’ll be happy you did. Söderberg is a master storyteller. He sends you down one path, then pulls the narrative thread right out from under your feet. There are surprises galore in this crime novel sure to gain its author a solid following anxious for the next book in his trilogy.

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Author Beckons for Howls under a Red Moon

Guest review by Mindy Sansoucie, Missourian staff.

The world of Benjamin Percy’s “Red Moon” may feel familiar, a replay of morning radio snippets, hashtags and trending tweets, or a carbon copy of national newsreels. One difference stands out — Percy re-casts current events with werewolves, or lycans.

A raging extremist lycan hijacks a plane. A city official, “watching Fox News,” reacts on impulse and calls for an “emergency proposal that would make public every registered Lycan.” People rally — they want someone to blame. One group in particular, aptly called The Americans, slowly radicalizes from a high school gang of misfits into a narrow-minded militia. Lycans become the “freedom fighters” while The Americans hang lycan housewives. Percy muddies the waters between heroism and terrorism.

His novel rotates points of view between an orphaned lycan girl, Claire, and Patrick, the son of a soldier deployed in the Lupine Republic, among others. Claire is a “purebred” — or, simply, born this way. Her parents were part of a lycan rights group with a reputation for acts of violence. Then Claire was born and they became armchair protestors. Yet, their daughter inherits a chaotic apocalyptic world with a president campaigning for the genocide. When her parents are killed in a federally sanctioned act of revenge, Claire must go into hiding.

Soon after terrorist attacks rip through the country, The Americans spray paint the houses of local lycan townspeople: “Eye for an eye, lycans should die.” Percy’s pages consistently return readers to the conclusion that “to be a lycan is not to be an extremist.”

This message is not an easy one for Patrick to accept. He was the lone survivor when a lycan hijacked his plane. Now, his father is fighting against a lycan uprising in the Lupine Republic and Patrick must move in with his estranged mother who has secrets of her own. At his new school The Americans approach him. The group’s magnetism draws Patrick down the road to radicalization, a path cushioned by camaraderie and pulled by heroic purpose.

The prose in this page-turner is purposefully cinematic and, in that, Percy is able to appeal to the masses. His novel ricochets from our headlines. Readers may tense when the moment of recognition strikes, look to their windows and go “utterly still as though waiting for the pain that caused the sound to arrive.”

Some may chalk this flicker of déjà vu up to coincidence or entertainment. But reading “Red Moon” involves a personal connection with a diverse set of characters, some of whom we may recognize. Percy seems to foster this connection, hoping we relate on a grand scale of humanity. He challenges readers to acknowledge a kinship with the enemy and to “make yourself heard. Howl.”

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Book on Becoming an Adult Not Just for 20-Somethings

Studies show it’s taking young people longer to grow up and assume adult responsibilities than it did in the past. Pseudo grownups reel when their parents offer advice or make the comparison that begins, “When I was your age, I . . .”

Well, we’re not and the surest way to turn off our offspring is to start a conversation like this. Instead, wrap up a copy of “Adulting, How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps,” or leave the book in a spot where your 20-something will trip over it when they’re moving their stuff home after college or coming back to live with you when a job hasn’t panned out, or a relationship hits the skids.

With a light touch, author Kelly Williams Brown, a newspaper reporter and columnist, offers solid advice in an easy-to-read paperback that should be required for those maneuvering the murky, treacherous waters of adulthood. Everything from how to stock a kitchen with the essentials, to engaging in social conversation, to tips on job interviews and career decisions, to initiating romantic relationships, and ending them, to growing and maintaining friendships, managing money and telling a 401(k) from an IRA are included — and more.

Though Brown’s how-to guide is intended for young adults, readers of all ages will benefit from her wisdom and wit. This 20-something has written a beneficial book that many a middle-ager or senior could learn from.

If you’ve ever wanted to know a polite way to end a cocktail conversation, move your household stuff or accept a person as he or she is, check out “Adulting.” Brown has solid advice for us all.