Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

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Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill is an absolutely amazing and mind-twisting book about a young con artist who steals a missing boy’s identity. It was so well written that I didn’t want to put it down. Also it had only small chapter breaks instead of actual finished-chapters…so the entire book was a conspiracy to NOT let itself be put down. And it was so so worth it. It was equal parts con artistry and thriller and mystery as you wonder (a) what happened to the real Daniel Tate, and (b) what the fake Daniel Tate will sacrifice or do to keep this pretend life he’s building for himself.

I’m honestly such a fan! I love books that mess with my mind and the narrator beings the book by telling you he’s going to lie. He is a professional liar. So what are you going to believe? #MindTwisting

It’s narrated in 1st person by the protagonist who is never truly named, except for this identity he stole: Daniel Tate. You know he has a bad home life and is living by conning his way into halfway houses by acting like a traumatised younger boy. He steals. He’s constantly on the move. He cons people into helping him. Then he settles on the idea of taking the identity of the infamous Daniel Tate who disappeared when he was 10 years old. The narrator figures if he can pull it off, he can be looked after for a week or so and catch a break. But he accidentally ends up loving the Tate family and feels desperate to keep hold of what he’s stolen. But can he truly trick this family for long enough to stay? And what really happened to the true Daniel Tate?

The book is a mind field of interesting and complicated questions. I also adore how it answers questions by asking more and you just keep flicking pages with your heart somewhat escaping because WHAT IS GOING ON. The book was simply superb!

So I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed the protagonist’s narration. He’s definitely clever and good at faking it, possibly a sociopath…but at the same time he really longs for a family and safety. It was really easy to feel for him. He never intended to get too deep into this con, but the Tate family are really desperate not to let him go. The Tates are also super rich and super messed up. You can practically smell their dark family secrets. And even though they seem to love and care for this fake-Danny with few questions, you can tell things are a little darker and twisted than all that. I really wanted good things to happen to the narrator! He was precious and just needed to be loved. Imagine spending your whole life pretending to be someone else? He was at the point where, if he wasn’t faking being Daniel Tate, he didn’t even know how to act because he didn’t know who he was.

It was also very suspenseful. To the point where you can just wave goodbye to doing anything else because, no, friend, you’re going to sit here and just READ because you want answers. You get emotionally tangled up in hoping Danny’s life works out but having a SICK DREAD FEELING the whole time.

I also loved how complex and dimensional all the characters were. The Tate family were vastly complicated, with secrets being slung around and everyone having different agendas. I loved the soft, sweet, caring Lex and the solid and authoritative Patrick — both Danny’s older siblings who’ll do anything to keep him safe and well now that they have “him back”. Then there’s a younger sister who adores her newly-found “brother” and a slightly older brother, Nicholas who seems to be the only one who doesn’t accept the fake-Danny is truly is brother. (Well, mate, you’re not wrong.)

Then the ending is just designed to BLOW YOUR MIND and leave you screaming faintly in the corner.

Basically Here Lies Daniel Tate is the kind of book you need in your life. It’s a thriller with heartwarming family elements and the most precious of con artist protagonists. It’s full of lies and twists and it’ll captivate you to the very last page.

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

PURCHASE HERE

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is one of the most amazing and mind-twisting thrillers you’ll read this year! It’s thoroughly messed up — in the best possible way for a thriller. I was hooked on every word of the novel as it unfolds the story of a 9-year-old girl who allegedly killed a baby. It’s also heavily inspired by a true story (although I don’t believe this is based on the story) which makes it all the more chilling. Psychopaths have to start somewhere, don’t they? And there’s such a thing as a child psychopath.

Or, in this book’s case….is there? Did she do it?

The story follows Mary Addison who’s been in jail since she was 9 and, at 16, is is now released. She’s living in a group home from hell, filled with nasty vicious girls who make her life miserable for fun, and overseen by a malicious and negligent guardian who is content to let the girls abuse each other so long as no one gets murdered. Mary has no rights. She has no future. She has no hope. And she says she never killed that baby.

Her life because more complicated when, while working in a community service job, she meets a boy named Ted whom she loves incredibly much and they accidentally get pregnant. Now Mary is faced with the realisation that she’s never going to be allowed to keep her baby, no matter what she says or does. Not unless she can clear her name.

So the story follows her digging up the case again, even though she’s tired and beaten and despondent. She’s trying to get her SAT score so she can get into college and better herself. But only a million and two obstacles stand in her way, which makes for a completely harrowing tale because you can’t help but root for Mary to succeed — even if, all the while, you’re wondering what really happened that night the baby died.

The writing is absolutely incredible! It’s poignant and rich and so real that you can’t help but feel you’re living the story instead of just reading words off a page. I could scarcely believe it was a debut with the sheer skill of the word-wielding here!

And, as all good thrillers, this one never gives you all the information. Mary is an unreliable narrator, but then so is absolutely everyone. This story excels in the plot twists. You never see them coming! It makes you question the world and the justice system and humanity.

I will say it’s a very hard book to read for the sheer darkness of the tale. It’s heavily spattered with abuse too, of course, from flashbacks to Mary’s childhood where she was sexually and physically abused to all the cruelty happening to her in the present day. Living in the group home literally means she fears for her and her baby’s life. And as a convicted-murderer and a black woman, she faces terrible racism and abuse at every turn for that too. The book doesn’t shy away from giving you a really brutal view of Mary’s life.

I absolutely recommend this book! It is a beautiful display of talented storytelling and excellent writing and a captivating story of brutality and mystery. It talks very fiercely about how judgemental people can be and whether people deserve forgiveness. Even when I finished reading it, I couldn’t put it down after that mind blowing ending. Wow, dude, wow.

Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

With more twists than a double helix, Kill the Next One is a relentlessly-paced, unputdownable psychological thriller. It zigs one way, then zags another, providing the kind of stomach-clenching, unsettling suspense readers associate with Lauren Beukes and Stephen King. Nothing should be taken at face value, but rest assured, Federico Axat is a brilliant guide.

Just like Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series, Kill the Next One needs to be read unspoiled. This is a book that relies on the potency of its labyrinthine twists, and prior exposure has the potential to ruin the whole experience. The set-up barely scratches the novel’s surface: family man Ted McKay is moments away from pulling the trigger on the Browning pressed against his head. Then the doorbell rings, and Ted is presented with the notion of becoming part of a suicidal daisy chain: in exchange for killing someone who deserves to die, he will be killed, making his passing easier for his family. Easier to live knowing your husband / father was the victim of a random act of violence than by self-inflicted means … right? Things spiral wildly from there, quite brilliantly, and nothing is what it seems.

There’s a delightful boldness – – an incredible audaciousness — to Kill the Next One. Expertly paced and plotted, and extremely visceral, with bucket-loads of surprises and genuine chills, it’s sure to be one of the most-talked about thrillers of the year. Let’s hope Kill the Next One isn’t Axat’s only book to receive an English translation. He’s a writer to watch, and this book is one to savour.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

SAW print.inddThe Four Legendary Kingdoms begins with Jack West Jr. waking up in an unknown location and immediately thrust into battle. We quickly learn he has been chosen, along with a dozen other elite soldiers (including a very familiar face, much to my surprise and delight), to compete in a series of spectacularly deadly challenges in order to fulfil an ancient ritual with world ending consequences. So, yeah; the stakes, as always, are astronomically high. This isn’t a game West can escape from. For the sake of his loved ones — for the sake of everyone — he’s got to compete.

Reilly delivers fantastic stunts and vehicular mayhem in incredibly creative combat arenas. The plot and characters are ludicrous, but its all stupendous fun, and it moves at the velocity of a speeding bullet. Faster, actually. Reilly rarely lets his readers — or indeed his characters — rest. There are brief interludes between all the thrills, when the unflappably indestructible West gets the chance to lick his wounds, and Reilly gets the chance to feed readers background information. Sure, it can be a little clunky at times  — only Reilly could get away with the sentence, “Vacheron grinned evilly,” and the book is entirely void of subtext — but The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a rollicking blockbuster ride and perfect weekend fodder.

When it comes right down to it, other authors can try (and have tried) to emulate him, but nobody is better at the high-octane-high-body-count thriller than Matthew Reilly. It’s his domain, exclusively. Fans will delight in Jack West Jr.’s return, and of course, plenty of thread is left dangling for the inevitable sequels.

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Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

9781447297574Brace yourself, dear reader. You’re about to be assailed with praise and hyperbole for Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, which, at this moment, is on track to be my favourite thriller of the year. Right now, I can’t imagine anything toppling Dark Matter from its throne.

Dark Matter is an unabashed science fiction thriller. If the thought of multi-dimension travel – of our protagonist traversing alternate worlds – is too much of a leap from the grounded reality in which you prefer your fiction, okay, fair enough, perhaps this one’s not for you. But for everybody else, willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the parameters of Crouch’s fiction, Dark Matter is a relentless and thrilling ride. What glues it together – what makes this novel work – is its heart.Dark Matter is a love story – punctuated with action and science fiction elements, certainly – but its romantic core, one man’s desire to reunite with his wife and son, is what makes the novel tick along.

Dark Matter is about the roads not taken. It’s about the choices we make – those large, momentous decisions we identify as important, and the smaller ones we barely recognise. Jason Dessen chose his family over his career as a physicist; so too his wife Daniela, who gave up her dream of being an artist. It’s not a decision they regret – they’re a content family unit, blessed with a teenage son – but inevitably there are moments when they wonder what might have been. And thanks to the Jason Dessen from an alternate reality – a world in which he focused on his career in science rather than his family, and created a multidimensional travel device – our Jason is about to discover what might’ve been.

Crouch sends Dessen to a range of close-but-not quite realities as he attempts to find his journey home, to his wife, to his son. In putting Dessen through such an emotional rollercoaster we bear witness to some truly gut-wrenching and poignant scenes. And just when you think the novel’s demonstrated all it’s got to offer – that Crouch is leading readers down a thrilling, but somewhat routine path as Dessen attempts to return to his world – he throws a curveball; an unforeseen plot twist that raises the states even higher, and propels the narrative through to its fitting climax.

Plenty of fiction has explored the idea of multidimensional travel, but rather than focus on the science, Dark Matter keeps the reader riveted because of its heart. How far is one man willing to go to reunite with his family? How much can he witness before he loses himself? You’ll tear through Dark Matter in one sitting to find out. Truly, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

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Review: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

black widowIn his foreword, Daniel Silva notes that he began writing The Black Widowbefore the Paris attacks of 2015. That his latest thriller is published so soon after the devastating terrorist attack in Nice — a cruel coincidence — demonstrates just how prophetic these geopolitical thrillers can be.

Daniel Silva writes smart, sophisticated, highly literate thrillers. The fuse always burns slowly, which makes the explosion all the more impactful. The Black Widow – the sixteenth Gabriel Allon novel – is no different. It begins in the Marais district of Paris where ISIS detonates a massive bomb, killing hundreds; including a friend of Gabriel’s. The French government enlists the aid of the impending chief of Israeli intelligence to eliminate the terrorist mastermind responsible: the enigmatic Saladin. And so, Allon endeavours to accomplish the impossible: infiltrate ISIS and prevent its forthcoming attacks.

Of course, Allon is a recognizable spymaster; he can hardly penetrate the terrorist network himself. So he enlists a civilian, the French-born Dr. Natalie Mizrahi, whose background makes her the perfect undercover agent. This is where Silva derives much of the novel’s tension: a young Jew, with no field experience and minimal training, hiding in plain sight in the heart of the caliphate. Can she possibly pull off the impossible? Those who’ve read Silva before will know his plots always divert into the unexpected. Nothing is ever straightforward.

For some time now, Silva has been transitioning Allon towards his role as the director, rather than an agent, of Israeli intelligence. For the first time in the series, Silva presents Gabriel as more of a supporting character rather than protagonist, and if The Black Widow is anything to go by, his future novels might have a wider cast, with Mikhail Abramov and Dina Sarid poised to play larger roles. On the one hand, it’s sad to see Allon fading from the limelight; on the other, it’s so rare for a series like this to exhibit such character progression. Most leads in thriller-fic are stagnant, so this is a refreshing change. And if this is indeed Gabriel Allon’s final call to arms, it is a brutally fitting finale.

Every Daniel Silva novel is a treat, and The Black Widow is no different. The consistency of the Gabriel Allon series is truly astounding. The man is peerless; I’m certain I’ve used this line before, but it deserves repeating: no other writer is as capable of providing as many thrills and genuine heartbreaks, as Silva. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer, if you’re looking for a great thriller, you’ll struggle to find better than The Black Widow.

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Stephenie Meyer’s first thriller, THE CHEMIST, to be published in November

ChemistBig news, book lovers! Bestselling author Stephenie Meyer’s first thriller, The Chemist, will be published worldwide on November 15, 2016.

According to Meyer, “The Chemist is the love child created from the union of my romantic sensibilities and my obsession with Jason Bourne/Aaron Cross. I very much enjoyed spending time with a different kind of action hero, one whose primary weapon isn’t a gun or a knife or bulging muscles, but rather her brain.”

As for the official blurb:

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life. She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning. Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon. When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the in-formation she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous. Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds her-self falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

In this tautly plotted novel, Meyer creates a fierce and fascinating new heroine with a very specialized skill set. And she shows once again why she’s one of the world’s bestselling authors.

Sounds like blockbuster material! Will you be reading it?

Review: A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming

Divided SpyRelentlessly fascinating, taut, atmospheric and immersive — get out your thesaurus and start looking for new superlatives. Charles Cumming’s A Divided Spy deserves them all. Quite simply, spy thrillers don’t get much better than this.

While I hate revealing my ignorance, I must admit I was not familiar with the work of Charles Cumming prior to grabbing a copy of A Divided Spy from the shelf. I was looking for a page-turner, having just invested several hours in a book that was taking me nowhere but an unpleasant abyss, and the quotes accompanying the blurb seemed to promise as much. And for once, the blurb undervalued what was delivered: one of the best spy thrillers I’ve read in years.

A Divided Spy is the third book in Cumming’s Thomas Kell series, and while new readers mightn’t appreciate the depths of some of the relationships, and be privy to the entirety of their backstory, the novel can be read as a standalone. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll only entice you to immediately add the preceding novels to your reading stack!

Kell is a former MI6 officer, but after a lifetime of dedication to Queen and Country, and an operation that went particularly bad, he’s retired from the service. His days are now perfunctory, fueled by a desire for revenge against the Kremlin who took the life of a woman he loved. When Kell is offered a chance at vengeance, he takes it, and embarks on a mission to recruit a top Russian spy and turn him against his superiors — but with the Russian holding key information about  a devastating terrorist attack on British soil, Kell must decide what’s most important to him: personal retribution or protecting innocent lives. And can he live with the consequence of either decision?

A Divided Spy is a literate, exhilarating page-turner. It’s not a wham-bam actioner in the style of Robert Ludlum, whose best work  loosed bursts of violence on readers every second chapter, but that said, those who read thrillers purely for the gunplay won’t be disappointed by the novel’s conclusion. Indeed, Cumming’s sparse use of shootouts is precisely what makes the book stand out: it doesn’t need blockbuster action moments to propel the story forward, and keep you entranced. And that’s a surefire sign of a great thriller.

As things stand, A Divided Spy is my forerunner for spy thriller of the year, and it will take something truly spectacular to best it.

Guest Post by L.A. Larkin, author of ‘Devour’

Devour front coverThank you to Boomerang Books for inviting me to write a blog post to celebrate the launch of my latest action and conspiracy thriller, Devour. I’d like to share with you a little about the inspiration for Devour, which is primarily set in Antarctica.

‘Three kilometres beneath the camp, subglacial Lake Ellsworth, and whatever secret it may hold, is sealed inside a frozen tomb.’
Devour

Devour was inspired by real events in Antarctica, in December 2012. A British expedition, led by Professor Martin Siegert, set up camp on a remote ice sheet. Their mission? To drill down through three kilometres of ice to reach a subterranean lake, known as Lake Ellsworth. They believed that in that lake, cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, in total darkness, they would find life never before seen, known as extremophiles, because they can survive such hazardous conditions. Sadly, the team did not manage to reach the buried lake and called off the expedition. But, the question remains: what if there is ancient life down there? And, for me as an author, the big question is: what if bringing this life-form to the surface has unexpected and devastating consequences? This is the premise of my novel.

The central character of Devour, and future books in the series, is Olivia Wolfe, an investigative journalist who travels the world exposing crimes, conspiracies and corruption. This makes her unpopular with some powerful and dangerous people. But Wolfe is resourceful and resilient, and she knows how to defend herself, thanks to training from a retired detective and martial artist, Jerry Butcher. When Wolfe is sent to Antarctica by her editor to look into claims of sabotage and murder by scientists at Camp Ellsworth, she little realises she will become the target of an assassin and the ally of a man the Russian military wants dead.

I was inspired to create Olivia Wolfe by a real investigative journalist, Marie Colvin, who reported from war zones for The Sunday Times in London. Colvin was tragically killed in the bombardment of Homs in Syria in 2012. Whilst Wolfe bears no resemblance to Colvin, I hope my fictional character demonstrates some of the amazing courage shown by Colvin during her reporting career.

They say that life is often stranger than fiction. A few days ago, I read an online blog post on The Daily Beast, in which it seems that evidence has surfaced confirming journalists like Marie Colvin were deliberately targeted by the Syrian Government, which may indeed have been responsible for her death. So the conspiracy continues.

Devour is published by Constable / Hachette Australia.

Buy the book here…

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me OnceForgive me for throwing out this hackneyed phrase — but Fool Me Once is a world-class thriller. I mean, seriously; just when you think Harlan Coben has reached his apex, when you’re thinking there’s no way he can beat what’s come before, he produces his best, most compulsive novel yet. Shudder in fear, fellow thriller writers; Coben has set the bar stratospherically high this year.

As always, Coben’s latest is peopled with believable characters thrust into seismic situations.Fool Me Once stars Maya Burkett, a former special ops pilot, home from the war, and suffering from PTSD following a decision she made in combat. This is a woman who has been through much in recent years; the death of her sister, and more recently, the murder of her husband, Joe. Despite that – her festering demons – Maya is determined to stay strong for her young daughter. So when she glimpses her dead husband on a nanny-cam just two weeks after his death, the familial normalcy she is striving for threatens to completely unravel. Maya finds herself digging deep into the past, uncovering the shocking truth about her husband and the kind of man he really was — and the kind of woman she is.

Coben’s mastery has always been the blindside; the plot-twist readers never see coming. I consider myself a ‘veteran’ thriller reader (see this patch I sewed onto my jacket?) and particularly gifted at predicting these dramatic zigzags (I am waiting for Professor X to sign me up to the X-Men, because I consider this my mutant power). But the grand finale here shocked me; it rocked me to my very core. I turned the final pages with my mouth agape, disbelieving, but believing at the same time. Because this is a twist that doesn’t feel contrived; it makes sense. It’s like an awakening; the journey up until now takes on a completely new meaning. If my reading stack wasn’t already threatening to topple and crush me in my sleep (why couldn’t my mutant power be invincibility?!) I’d re-read Fool Me Once with this new mindset.

Sure, it’s a little humourless at times — occasionally I’d find myself missing the Myron Bolitar’s one-liners (although a recent Tweet suggests we’ll be reunited with that old favourite soon) and the zinging dialogue of some of Coben’s wittier protagonists — and the novel takes slightly longer than usual to kick into high gear; but the build-up is worth it for that gut-punch of an ending. With Fool Me Once, Harlan Coben has once again proved to be the consummate master of the modern day thriller. I know better than to assume he won’t one-up himself next year.

You can purchase Fool Me Once from Boomerang Books here.

Review: Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Okay WOW. Damage Done by Amanda Panitch was simultaneously glorious and terrifying. It’s a thriller about a school-shooting and the plot twists had me absolutely enthralled. I’m actually very hard to surprise…having read, like, a million and two books. (That’s a very accurate statistic of course.) But this one definitely hooked my attention and had me shrieking at the end.

 

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What Is The Story About?

22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after. Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend. After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and a memory of those twenty-two minutes that refuses to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police. Now that she’s Lucy Black, her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school. And someone much more dangerous. She thought her brother’s crimes were behind her. But now she’s being forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind. How far will Julia go to keep her slate clean? One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning…

PURCHASE HERE

The story takes off when Julia and her parents are moving to a new town for a fresh start after her twin, Ryan, shot 11 people at their old school. So we basically get Julia’s feelings of fear of the future, denial of the past, missing-her-brother-even-though-he’s-a-monster, and trying to stay undercover. Which, totally doesn’t work out. Since it’s from the persepctive of the shooter’s sister, it reminded me of Hate List by Jennifer Brown (which I also highly recommend if you like a feelsy punch in the guts). Julia was surprisingly held together though and managed to keep up some wit and the semblance of trying to have a life despite all of these. Go Julia.

There were a few times where I had to “suspend disbelief” though. That’s literally my only negative. There are a lot of convenient plot developments and police fumbles that really wouldn’t happen in real life.

But other than that? The rest of the story was perfect and engaging and TERRIFYING. I loved the writing style! I adored Julia’s voice. She has this mixture of slightly self-deprecating humour meshed with intense traumatised meltdowns. She felt venerable but coping at the beginning. I also loved her obsession with hot chocolate. I MEAN WHO DOESN’T LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE?!?

Also I’ll take a moment to say Michael was the perfect love interest. He was adorable. He cooked for her (!!) and any guy who makes a girl an omelette or from-scratch lasagna is a winner. Also, Julia’s best friend, Alane, was pretty epic too. I was really impressed at how fleshed-out, dimensional and interesting all the secondary characters were. It made the world feel very real.

The plot twist will absolutely KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF. Obviously I can say no more because of spoilers but woah. I was sucked in. It was perfectly revealed (although there were a few info dumps at the end) and I was glued to the page.

This is a thriller that’s not to be missed! It totally twists your brain and it’s addictive to read. Don’t let the calm contemporary-feeling beginning lull you. At the beginning it’s a school story with a cute boy and cafes and a little bit of trauma — and then the ending just GETS YOU. This is positively wonderful.

Review – The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

9781846556951Jack Lennon returns in Stuart Neville’s relentless new thriller.

It has been a while between drinks for Jack Lennon. We last caught up him in Stolen Souls and we left him a lot worse for wear. The intervening period though has not been kind. Suspended from the police pending multiple reviews of his health and performance Jack has developed some extra bad habits to the ones he already carried, mainly involving painkillers and alcohol. His relationships are in free fall including, sadly, the one with his estranged daughter who his is the only family he has left.

Just when Jack thinks things couldn’t get any worse an ex-girlfriend contacts him. She has just inherited a house from her uncle. An uncle she never met who lost contact with her family years ago. She has contacted Jack because she has found something in a locked room. A journal detailing murders going back two decades and it appears there are links to her father, a prominent Belfast politician. She can’t trust him and she can’t go to the police so instead she has turned to Jack, who can’t even help himself at this point.

I really love what Neville has done with the Jack Lennon character. He was only a few mentions in The Twelve before assuming the lead in the next two books. He is not your typical flawed detective, flawed is too nice a term for Jack, yet he still manages to keep your loyalty.

Stuart Neville doesn’t take his foot off the pedal once in this gripping thriller and once again demonstrates why he is the crime writer everybody is and should be talking about at the moment.

Gone Girl

Gone GirlI’m probably the last person in the universe to getting around to reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, so let me preface this blog with: I finally got round to reading it after (and despite) being subjected to its enormous hype.

I’m also an aspiring book writer, so commercially and critically successful books invoke in me a complicated mix of envy and awe. Suffice to say, I wasn’t an entirely objective Gone Girl readerer.

The Cliff Notes version of this blog is I will concede Flynn is eminently talented and Gone Girl is fantastically wrought. It’s definitely worth a read. But does it warrant such breathy discussion as it’s inspired? My jury’s still out.

That annoying twist that everyone eludes to before saying, ‘But I can’t say any more without spoiling it’? I spent at least half the book going: Is that the twist? Because if it is, it’s not that great. Is that the twist? Because if it is, that’s not that great either. When it came about, I have to admit I thought not about how clever it was, but: Finally. Then: It’s not that ground-breakingly spectacular.

Had I not had so much forewarning there was a GIANT TWIST coming, I might have been gushing like everyone else did. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. I wouldn’t put this book quite in the hype-worthy, game-changing realm of something like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. But it was solid in the way that solid is a compliment.

Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood (Tony Kushner, The Illusion) is the epigraph setting the book’s theme. I rarely go back and re-read epigraphs, but Gone Girl’s was apt and striking, especially by the time I reached the book’s final page.

Flynn has an undeniably excellent way with words:

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere.

It’s an ominous opening in a book that we know involves a woman going missing and her husband, the narrator, being suspected of having something to do with that disappearance.

My eyes flipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian fluttering of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awakening was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime!

It’s a recognisable and yet fresh way of describing a way of waking up. So is: ‘Sleep is like a cat: It only comes to you if you ignore it.’

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you are, like me, coming late to the book, here’s what you need to know: Man (Nick) and woman (Amy) are married. They’ve relocated from New York to small-town Missouri, his childhood home, because his mother is terminally ill.

Native New Yorker Amy isn’t enjoying the move, and their relationship begins to fracture. Then she disappears the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. All clues point to Nick as the guilty husband. Except he’s not guilty (at least, that’s what he’s telling us).

Flynn uses the old unreliable narrator technique, which is one I’ve long found a little annoying. So I’ll not deny I wasn’t entirely involved in the plot—more aware of the practices she was using to red herring us readers and keep us tenterhooked. Likewise, the Amy-as-muse-for-books and warped effect that infused her relationship with her parents seemed a little contrived.

But I sound like a positive grump. I will say Gone Girl is smart. The cover art is minimal and great. The title is memorable and intriguing. Flynn’s writing is exquisite. The kind of cut-above that makes any and every other writer feel more utterly inadequate than usual.

She uses such words as ‘uxorious’ and, not packing it in my everyday vocabulary repertoire, I had to via a dictionary remind myself it stands for having, or demonstrating, a great or excessive fondness for one’s wife. I mean, with that definition, it is the most impossibly perfect word for this book. Which is why Flynn’s book is attracting the attention it is.

The Secret HistoryGone Girl isn’t the first time Flynn’s writing has been lauded. Her first novel, Sharp Objects, won two CWA Dagger Awards and was shortlisted for both the CWA Gold Dagger Award and for an Edgar.

Her second, Dark Places, was a bestseller. So she released Gone Girl to a relatively established and rather rapturous audience. Not having read her previous two books, but basing it on the hype I’ve witnessed, I’m guessing this is her best work yet (feel free to correct me if this isn’t the case).

With passages like the below, I’m inclined to admit I’m impressed with Flynn’s writing (and impressed enough to want to check out her previous two books):

The camera crews parked themselves on my lawn most mornings. We were like rival soldiers, rooted in shooting distance for months, eyeing each other across no-man’s-land, achieving some sort of perverted fraternity. There was one guy with a voice like a cartoon strongman whom I’d become attached to, sight unseen. He was dating a girl he really, really liked. Every morning his voice boomed in through my windows as he analysed their dates; things seemed to be going very well. I wanted to hear how the story ended.

Flynn exquisitely captures the in-fighting and the gradual wearing away of each other that occurs in marriages. She blends that with the in-jokes and resentments and us-against-the-world-ness married life brings. ‘Who are you?’ the book asks. ‘What have we done to each other?’ They’re invaluable questions as the book reveals it’s possible to both know and not know the person you’re supposed to know better than anyone else.

I felt the backstory build-up to the big twist was too great, although my are-we-there-yet knowledge that the twist was coming up probably contributed to that. For others, it may have offered an enthrallingly detailed examination of a complex marriage between complex people.
Either way, Gone Girl inspires discussion beyond the page, which Flynn and her publisher oblige, offering bookclub questions at the back of the book—and solid, thought-provoking ones too. It also provides a Q&A with Flynn on her insights into the characters and tale and why she wrought them as she did.

Hindsight makes you a smart ass, but I have to say I’d probably have picked the twist even had I not been forewarned there would be one. Still, it’s not enough to temper my agreement that Flynn is a talented writer and Gone Girl—if you are, like me, in the not-yet-read-it minority—is one you should brave the hype and attempt to lower your expectations for, as you’ll likely find you really quite like it.

Review – Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson

9781409139027I am a huge Robert Wilson fan. From the dark and sweltering Bruce Medway series set in West Africa to the dark and bloody Javier Falcón series set in Seville, Wilson’s thrillers have always been a perfect blend of atmosphere, tension and dark secrets from the past. So for his new thriller he enters new territory; London.

Setting his book in a seemingly non-exotic location at first appears to signal a new direction for Robert Wilson but that allusion is quickly put to bed. Wilson immediately turns the tension meter to 11 as we dive straight into an intricate kidnap plot. London may not be an exotic location but it is the world’s hub and Wilson takes us to Lisbon, Mumbai and Pakistan as he constantly ramps up the stakes and keeps everyone guessing.

Frank de Cruz is an ex-Bollywood star turned successful and ruthless businessman. His list of enemies is long so when his daughter Alysia is kidnapped in London the motive is unclear and the list of potential suspects stretches far and wide. The police aren’t to be involved so Frank brings in a specialist kidnap “consultant”, Charles Boxer. But it soon becomes clear than this isn’t about money. This is about power, influence and secrets and the kidnappers will do anything to extract them as well as keep them.

Wilson blends psychological intensity, constant action with a brilliantly intricate plot that will leave you gasping after the final page.

Read an extract from the book

Buy the book here…

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here

9780224097482Review – Solo by William Boyd

I have never read an Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I am a fan of the films but never felt the need to read the original books. I did read Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond novel Devil May Care but only because it was Sebastian Faulks and I employed the same reasoning with William Boyd’s James Bond novel.

I am a huge William Boyd fan and he is perfectly suited to write a classic Bond novel. Set in the late 60s this is James Bond minus the gadgets. Boyd has set his Bond firmly in Fleming’s universe using an obituary of James Bond from You Only Live Twice as his template. But he has also brought his own skill and knowledge to bare on this classic character.

William Boyd is not unfamiliar with Ian Fleming using his as a background character in Any Human Heart. He is also no stranger to the nuances and minutiae of the spy genre. Boyd is also very familiar with Africa and brings all that to bare with his James Bond story. His Bond is also a little older than we are used to and is very much in the Sean Connery mold (although Boyd has said he’d like Daniel Day-Lewis to play his Bond).

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here; the bravado, the suaveness, the women and the villains. Boyd has fun playing within and outside the conventions we all know so well while also bring a freshness to the story and the characters. If you’re an Ian Fleming Bond fan I imagine you are in for a treat. If you’re a William Boyd fan don’t turn your nose up at a Bond novel, you will love this too.

PS
An added bonus is the audio of Solo is read by Dominic West aka McNulty from The Wire. William Boyd + James Bond + Dominic West = Perfect!

Buy the book here…

Buy the audio book here…

Meet INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan

9781743341377

Review – Defender

I’m not a big fan of the action/thriller genre. They’re always a bit hyper-real for me; the story, the action, the characters. I like a good gritty story without too much make-believe. Even in film it is not my favourite genre but there are always good ones the can cut through, especially if you’re in the right mood.

INTREPID is a group inside Interpol whose members are part-cop, part-spy, part-soldier. They’re the strong (and secret) arm of the International Criminal Police Organization. After seizing a shipment of illegal arms INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan is sent into Malfajiri, a small fictional country in West Africa. A rebel coup is brewing and two British Agents have gone missing from a mining operation in the country. Morgan quickly discovers that the coup is a piece in a more complex puzzle being orchestrated by a group that may have ties inside the British Government.

The action is intense and the story very well plotted. There are no make-believe gadgets or over-the-top villains, the story is grounded in the real world, but there is a love interest, of course. Chris Allen keeps you guessing while also showing you what is happening on both sides. I loved the Australian element to the story and Chris Allen’s past in the military brings a real authenticity to the action. The climatic showdown in Sydney entered the hyper-real but by then I was already invested. I may not be a convert to the genre but I will definitely be reading book 2, Hunter, to find out what happens next.

Buy the book here…

Book Review – Skinner

9781409124375You’ve never read an espionage thriller like this before. It is complex and twisted and there are no easy answers. Huston challenges you as a reader, which I totally love, to not only keep up but also decipher what is happening both on the surface and below it. Taking a world of unmanned drones, wikileaks and social media Huston has constructed a complex and nuanced spy story that will blow your mind.

Skinner works for a company called Kestrel, a private offshoot, so to speak, of the CIA. His job is to protects assets and do whatever that takes. He has a fearsome reputation built on his own maxim where if someone tries to take, hurt or kill an asset in his protection he will seek revenge against anyone and everyone involved in the threat. But when his employer seemingly sets him up, he breaks from his maxim and goes to ground.

Seven years later a serious cyber attack has taken place on a power station in the US. Jae, a brilliant robotics expert and data analyst, is called in by Kestrel to find what Kestrel’s analysts have been unable to spot. She is a valuable asset and they need Skinner to protect her. Skinner is coaxed out of hiding but he can’t trust Kestrel and Kestrel can’t trust Skinner. Everyone knows what he is capable of, what they don’t know is what Skinner will actually do.

It took me a while to get into the book, to get my head around Kestrel and in particular Skinner, whose backstory is something that needs to be digested. But once the strands of the story started to form together the book just absorbs you. There is something manic to the writing, which is reflective of the book’s characters. It builds in sentences and then calms but there’s always the threat that it will all boil over. But once you get the rhythm, of the characters, you are in all the way.

Huston’s last book, Sleepless, elevated his writing to a new level, Skinner takes it even further. Huston is amongst the best when it comes to action but he builds those scenes around cutting-edge, thought-provoking storylines. In Skinner he taps into issues of poverty, anarchy, terror and despair. He explores the inhumanity of warfare, on the battlefield and behind closed doors, and the power of information in a socially networked world. It will reverberate inside your head for days after you finish reading it.

But the book here…

Review – Lexicon

WORDS ARE WEAPONS

9781444764666Any reader knows the power words can have. Words transport us. Words connect us. Words educate us. Words inspire us. Words make us laugh and cry, love and hate. Words make us remember. Words have power and influence. But in certain hands they can be weapons. Weapons that can kill. Weapons that can wipe out an entire town. Or city. Or civilisation.

This is an incredible read. It starts at breakneck speed and you have to keep up. No, you WANT to keep up. Max Barry introduces us to a shadow world. A world where a select group of people have honed the power of words. They are “Poets” and they can influence and manipulate people based on their personality type. They recruit those that have a gift with words and they are sent to study at an elite and exclusive school where they study all aspects of language and its power.

But one of these “Poets” has discovered an ancient word. A word that has destroyed different civilisations for thousands of years. The word has wiped out the town of Broken Hill. One single word and three thousand people are dead.

Nothing is alive in there
Just a word

No one escaped and no one can return, except for one man. One man who is seemingly immune to words. This makes him very special and very dangerous, only he can’t remember a thing.

There is so much to love about this book. The world Max Barry creates is intriguing, addictive and uber-clever. I found myself rationing the book because I didn’t want it to end. Barry uses the story’s structure perfectly. Sucking you in at just the right moments before spinning you around and showing you another side to the story. Even when you think you’ve got it figured out he cleverly spins you round again. Barry also combines the history and philosophy of human language with its modern-day applications to create a conspiracy theory that will blow your mind.

If you love reading, if you love the power of words, this is the book for you.

Buy the book here…

Review – I Am Pilgrim

This is a 700+ page thriller that will set its hooks into you from the first page and won’t let go. Hayes combines a mind-blowing detective story, an international cat and mouse game and a seemingly unstoppable plot to destroy America to create a thriller like you’ve never read before.

9780593064955Pilgrim is the code-name of one of the US intelligence community’s best and brightest agents. He doesn’t exist. His past has been expunged. And when he takes an early retirement all he leaves behind is the definitive book on criminal forensics. A book someone has just used to commit the perfect murder.

Meanwhile an equally mysterious man is planning an attack against America. He has been patient, meticulous and thorough. He has worked totally alone to synthesize a virus for which there is no cure or vaccination. By the time US intelligence gets wind of his plan it may already be too late.

Hayes takes us through the murky world of espionage and counterintelligence pre and post 9/11. We learn what it takes to become one of the best agents in their field as well as what it takes to want to tear the whole world down.

I was reminded a lot of Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog (which I think is the perfect thriller) and while Hayes doesn’t dissect the War on Terror like Winslow dissected the War on Drugs he plays both sides of a smart, complex thriller perfectly. Hayes cinematic background also comes to the fore as he keeps the pace and tension dialed up high the whole time as well as creating some breathtaking action sequences. The end of the novel is a perfect, screaming crescendo that leaves you totally drained and worn out. I pity the next thriller I read because the bar is now very high.

Buy the book here…

Holiday reading rituals

The Easter weekend is drawing to a close and whatever way you like to celebrate your holidays I hope you had a good one; full of chocolate eggs and cute bunnies (if that’s your thing) and plenty of time to read brilliant books (because that’s everyone’s thing, right?).

I was lucky enough to spend my long weekend in various locations in sunny Queensland, including Townsville and Magnetic Island. It might be autumn but that far north the sun is still packing plenty of  punch, especially for someone who is blessed with the easy-burning Irish complexion. The mornings in coastal Queensland are clear and bright, and the evenings deliciously balmy, but the heat at height of midday makes it too darn hot to do anything other than curl up in a patch of shade and settle down for a few hours of reading.

Which is my excuse for loving the ritual of reading every afternoon while on holiday and I am sticking to it.

By filling our mornings with swimming, and our late-afternoons  and evenings with meals and socialising (and, for me, one of the few activities that can’t be improved by reading – a bit of horse-riding) we all had plenty of time to get stuck into our books. With a few hours in the shade to spare each day, I managed to polish off Elizabeth Hayne’s excellent but terrifying psychological thriller Into the Darkest Corner without giving myself the total heebie-jeebies.

I do like to chomp through horror and suspense while away somewhere sunny as opposed to reading while home alone as the bright sunshine tends to ward off the horrors that a well-written thriller can bring on. And if that doesn’t work you can always start reading a different book instead – after all, you’re on holiday! My travelling companions agreed, and we all took plenty of time out to catch up our books over the long weekend.

One of them said that, for her, she finally knows she is on really on holiday when she has had the time to fall asleep while reading a book. Everyone has their own holiday reading rituals; I like to use the time to indulge in a feast of easy-to-read fiction, such as horror and YA but my partner prefers to catch up on serious and science reads he has been too busy to devote some brain-time to over the working week. I have one friend who uses a bit of time off as a opportunity to finally get through everything in their teetering pile of books bought but not yet read and another who likes to re-read their favourites while on holidays.

Whatever the holiday reading ritual, there’s nothing more relaxing than having the time to settle down for an uninterrupted read. Here’s hoping the Easter weekend had a few hours to spare for reading for you, and if it was something you’d like to recommend please leave a note in the comments and let me know. With all the reading I finally got done this weekend, I’m on the look-out for books for the next holiday!

Doing My Dash With Crime Thrillers

Patricia CornwellI thought I’d done my dash with crime thrillers for a few reasons. First, I had absolutely inhaled all of the Patricia Cornwell books (even the rubbish Southern Cross, before she found her protagonist and winning-formula writing form).

Second, I didn’t think I would find a series, characters, or plots I liked as much—a doctor who’s a lawyer who has an ass-kicking computer-hacker niece and a profiler boyfriend pretty much covers all my reading-requirement bases.

And third (and relating back to my last blog about being, like, totally time poor), I don’t have the time to retreat from work, sleep, and the world in general to devour such page-turners.

But I heard Val McDermid interviewed a few times recently—including in an hour-long session at the 2010 Brisbane Writers Festival—and was utterly sold on her hilarity. I know, right? A crime writer with a wicked sense of humour doesn’t compute. But having not read a single one of her words, I figured someone who is so clearly intelligent, and so compelling, engaging and funny warranted further investigation.

Given that I’ve got almost buckley’s chance of meeting her unless I turn stalker, find out where she lives, and lob up there—the likes of which are less like to see us become friends than me end up in prison and perhaps recognise myself as a bit-part crazy stalker in her next bestseller—the closest I can get to her is via her books.

Wire in the BloodSo I did no research other than to learn how to spell her surname and then picked up the first book of hers I saw. And I’m so glad I did. I’m exhausted because I’ve barely slept in recent days because I’ve sacrificed sleep to ingest large chunks of the book in a short space of time.

I even battled my usual motion sickness to read her book on public transport. The result is that I’ve completed Wire in the Blood and it’s taking every ounce of willpower not to go out and find more.

I’m not sure where Wire in the Blood comes in her series (I know this much from the references to previous adventures: it’s not the first), or even how many books McDermid has written. Nor do I wish to know, because I’d be unplugging the internet, switching off my phone, and shunning every social engagement until I’d made it to the end.

I will inhale these books about a profiler called Tony Hill at some stage. I just need to develop either a time machine that enables me to stop things while I read or some willpower to eke the books out at a reasonable pace. Maybe both.