Valley of the Dead by J.S. Cook

ValleyOfTheDeadLGTitle: Valley of the Dead

Author: J.S. Cook

Genre: Historical (WWII) / Mystery-Suspense

Length: Novel (226 pages)

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (August 5th, 2013)

Heat Level: Moderate

Heart Rating: ♥♥2 Hearts

Reviewer: Thommie

Blurb: The Second World War rages: it touches Newfoundland in unprecedented ways, throwing spies and patriots together inside expatriate Jack Stolyes’s Heartache Café and forcing uncomplimentary bedfellows into alliances. It’s all in a day’s work for Jack, whose introduction to the Island included corrupt cops, a murder on the doorstep of his restaurant, and more than one attempt on his life.

When exotic and alluring Egyptian diplomat Samuel Halim enters Jack’s small corner of the world, Jack’s life will change forever. Then, on his voyage home, Sam disappears along with the code key to decipher a Nazi radio command that will set Rommel’s troops in motion.

Jack finds himself with nothing to go on except a fragmented late-night phone call from Sam and a handful of disparate clues. In the teeming heat of Cairo—a city rife with romance, secrets, sex, and danger, where no one is who he seems and violent death waits around every shadowed corner—it’s up to Jack to find the new love of his life and deliver the code that will change the course of history.

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Review: This book was one heavy read and at some point, I felt as if it was going to keep on forever. By the time I reached half of it, I was seriously struggling to keep reading it.

No, it was not badly written, as a matter of fact I found the language and mannerisms of the characters appropriate, the descriptions of the places quite good, and the events mostly accurate. I had the feeling that the code thing in the story was a bit over the top as it is known that the Nazi’s had the Enigma machine and changed the rings of it every day (or so I’ve read), but I wouldn’t bet on it either. Not being an expert on WWII I can’t say for sure the events in this story (history wise) were all realistic, but most of them were quite familiar to me.

So you’re probably wondering what was it that didn’t work for me. Mostly, our main character Jack. Jack meets Sam in Newfoundland and he’s been his “friend” for a week (or was it two, I don’t recall) when Sam vanishes. There is quite of history and many events that have occurred before this. They are linked with each other and when put down, making some sense. But, we only get to see them as flashback thoughts later on in the story. The glaring point is that Jack and Sam have a very, very short acquaintance and a platonic one at that – having shared only one kiss – but Jack is totally and irrevocably in love with Sam, who is married with four children back in Cairo.

When Sam vanishes, he makes a phone call – a strange one at that – telling Jack he doesn’t remember how he got where he is and has no memory of what’s happened to him. Immediately, Jack promises to get over there (Egypt) and to his side.

For me this was all it took to make me frown upon this book. Jack, who has fallen head over heels with a man he barely knows, travels all the way to Egypt. What was he supposed to do when he got there? Only God knew, for Jack had no clue…whatsoever. He was put in the middle of an unfolding story. Playing the sitting duck for everyone to shoot at him and try to dispose him. That all seemed so face, so ludicrous I couldn’t focus on it for long without a headache.

I have questions, many of them. Why did Jack get to Egypt? How would he have found Sam (who by the way is head of the Cairo police and a secret agent for the Allied Forces) when he didn’t even knew where Sam was, who had him, or how to travel through Cairo? Why was Jack so important that everyone wanted him dead? Through the entire book, never once did I found him useful for anything other than get himself in trouble. No, as a matter of fact, I found this character incredibly incompetent. “Too stupid to live” is perhaps a big understatement. His role was so out of depth I kept wondering …why? And then I kept wondering, how could those bad guys, that had murdered even their own mother, how could they miss killing him, if they wanted him so much dead? Two similar scenes had my eyes bulging. One in Cairo, when Mukbar waits for him to wake up. He is in Jack’s room, waiting for Jack to wake up so he can take him in the desert and put him inside a tomb… Why not use that bloody gun of his with the silencer and put a bullet in his head? And then same things happened back in Newfoundland, when Octavian’s brother is after him, gets in his bedroom, waits for him to wake up, only to put a dart in his neck, and ultimately failing to kill him yet again. I’m not even going to mention the warehouse incident and the gun with no bullet in the chamber. Really, that was over the top.

So anyway, for me the mystery/suspense plot failed enormously. The loving romance I won’t even go there, I was left with an end that for me, it made no sense at all. And through it all, this story dragged on forever without managing to captivate me even for five minutes. It only gets the rating I’m giving it because this was a new (for me) perspective of WWII and I am a bit fascinated with the era.