Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Book review”

Book review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what Waterworld would have been like with supervillains in it? Yeah, me neither.

In the second instalment of The Reckoners, David Charleston has become Steelslayer: killer of Epics. Which means that Newcago, whilst freed from tyranny, has regular visits from Epics intent on killing Steelslayer. The Reckoners discover that the ruler of Babilar (Manhattan) has been sending these assassins, so they go to confront Regalia, an Epic from Prof’s past. Because that will end well.

Firefight is an interesting sequel to Steelheart in that the first book was about revenge, whilst this novel was about trying to understand your enemy. In fact, it even flirts with the idea that evil can’t be addressed with killing but instead requires compassion. Pretty heady stuff for a YA novel. Don’t worry, there are fights, guns, and even some swords in the story too.*

This was an enjoyable read. If anything it had more humorous similes (or is that metaphors?) that were such a welcome feature of the protagonist’s narration. I’m looking forward to finishing the series with book three: Calamity.

*Can’t sneak the moral indoctrination in without a bit of violence to hide it.

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Book reviews: No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

No Safe Place (Joe Hunter, #11)No Safe Place by Matt Hilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review wasn’t able to be submitted as it was stolen by a guard dog. I swear, it really happened.

Joe Hunter is back in the game and ready to be bashed and shot, and possibly paid. This time Joe is hired to protect a young boy whose mother has just been killed during a home invasion. But the boy’s father knows there is more to the death than that – hint: revenge, it’s always revenge – and Joe suspects so as well. Of course, Joe decides to dig into what is really going on, even if his police friend Bryony would prefer he wouldn’t.

In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. You know it will be an honest review because it was only a book and not accompanied with whiskey.

No Safe Place is Matt Hilton’s eleventh Joe Hunter novel and it did not disappoint. I’ve been a long time fan of the Joe Hunter series, and of Matt’s other works. His writing is well paced, packed with vivid fight scenes, and has compelling plots. This instalment particularly interested me because I noted that there was more of the Northern England language flavourings to the writing than I’d previously noticed. This could be because after ten novels in a series editors concede you are allowed to write whatever the hell you want. They can’t make all of their writers sound like they come from the same place forever.

Looking back through my reviews for the rest of the series I note that I frequently used the term “gritty thriller” and rated them 4 stars. Not much has changed. This is another very reliable, entertaining, crime thriller; add it to your To Be Read pile.

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Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wouldn’t make much of a supervillain. My weakness is chocolate. And quality whiskey. And a beautiful guitar. And a great novel. And…. this would make a long list of things to kill me with.

Steelheart is the first book in the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson. David was only a child when the Epics (supervillains) appeared. He also has a secret: he saw the greatest of the Epics bleed. The supposedly invincible and invulnerable Steelheart is now the Dictator of Newcago and David wants to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Steelheart.

After enjoying the Mistborn series I have been trying other Sanderson book series, expecting more great novels from him. I struck out with The Way of Kings, which could best be described as using 100 words when 10 would suffice, but Steelheart promises an exciting series.

Leaving aside the (acknowledged) improbable superpowers and raised middle finger to physics, the novel manages to be engaging and intriguing. In this David versus Goliaths tale there is plenty of suspense and fear that the heroes may not triumph. The series is intended as a Young Adult adventure, but YA is the new A must read, so don’t be put off by that.

Can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see how the handwavium works.

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Book review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Russia serial killer not Russian.

Child 44 follows MGP – Russian police- security officer Leo Demidov. Leo tows the party line until circumstances force him to accept that crime does actually does exist in the Soviet Union. Leo is the only person interested in bringing a prolific serial killer to justice.

I’d heard many great things about Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It won a pile of awards, even being included on the Man Booker long list, and became a must read for crime fiction fans. You know there is a ‘but’ coming. I like my buts big, and I cannot lie.

But Child 44 annoyed me. The story itself is well told. The characters are interesting. The antagonist is based on the real serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Those points didn’t stop the nagging at the back of my brain. The premise is a great example of a nagging point. If the Soviet Union didn’t believe there was crime, let alone murder, after the revolution, then why the hell did they keep crime statistics? And there were no serial killers in… Oh wait, there are 9 acknowledged from Russia alone in the 20th Century.

The problems don’t stop there, of course. The usual Russian tropes are rolled out like an “In Russia” joke. I’m not really in a position to judge how valid any of these tropes are, nor how accurate a portrait of post-WW2 Soviet Union Tom paints. But when I’ve read Russian authors in the past their novels didn’t give the sense of place that Tom does. This really did feel like a British author’s take on what the Soviet Union was like based upon those Cold War films they watched as a kid.

Another minor problem I had with the book was the way it dragged scenes out. This was meant to be about creating tension and suspense, but all it did was annoy me. My annoyance on this point may have been driven by my heightened sense of “vodka to wash down amphetamines… really?” moments from the novel.

If you can get past the generic tropes, this is a book worth reading. I’m sure I would have rated it more highly if I hadn’t read a few Russian authors and seen a few Russian films to realise how much of a Western view of the East this novel is.

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Book Review: Snow Angel by Badger Jones

Snow AngelSnow Angel by Badger Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What if your Guardian Angel is watching you right now? Yeah, better close that other browser tab. You know the one.

Alex is a bum. His daily adventures revolve around stomping through the snow to buy the best “bang for buck” beverages after begging for money. And then he meets his Guardian Angel who is a huge fan of his lifestyle. Oh, and apocalypse. Gotta avoid another one of those.

In the interests of full disclosure, my friend Badger wrote this novel. He didn’t offer me financial, reciprocal, nor sexual favours for a favourable review: the bastard.

There is a lot to like about this novel. There is a hard reality to the main character’s life as the supernatural intrudes upon the tale. There is humour combined with a grittiness throughout. But I also found myself wanting the novel to advance a little faster. It wasn’t laboured, it’s actually quite fast paced, but it felt like I was having to sit still for too long as Alex wrapped his head around what was happening. Although, this is often the risk with the loser anti-hero; you can get annoyed at them.

In other words, give it a read.

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Book Review: The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03 by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What did the one eyed monster say to the art thief….. Wait, this isn’t that sort of novel.

Gideon Crew has been tasked with stealing a page out of a rare and valuable Book of Kells in order to uncover a map. Like any good map, it leads to a treasure worth killing for; something Google Maps really needs to work on. To follow the map Gideon needs a sidekick who knows ancient Greek and the tale of Odysseus. Off Gideon and Ami romp to find the McGuffin.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child rank somewhere on my favourite author list, since I’m a fan of their individual novels and their joint Pendergast series. So I was somewhat disappointed in my first outing with the Gideon Crew series. This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t good either.

Normally the usual “historical artefact can save/doom the world” trope is deftly handled by Preston and Child. They wrap enough interesting characters and plotting around the improbable to make it all work. But the minor characters weren’t that interesting and Gideon was not a character I connected with. You could probably replace Gideon with an amorphous blob of sentient putty and I’d have been more engaged. And you need this engagement because you have to ignore how ludicrous a race of cyclops are – seriously, just wouldn’t have evolved: not plausible at all.

I doubt I’ll return to the Gideon Crew series and will instead stick with Preston and Child’s other (superior) works.

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Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When most people die in space from sudden deceleration you’d think they’d install some airbags in spaceships. Safety first!

The third Expanse novel by James Corey sees Holden and his crew being manipulated into starting an interplanetary war. Since they now have a Stargate – I assume that name isn’t trademarked, or at least the Goa’uld won’t blast me for using it – the interplanetary war threatens to become an intergalactic war. Although war isn’t the correct term for advanced intelligences fighting people, the correct term would be genocide. Let’s see Holden talk his way out of this one.

Abaddon’s Gate was another great instalment in the Expanse series. The core characters are back and continuing to be grown and layered. The new viewpoint characters are also interesting, although they aren’t anywhere near as cool as Avasarala, a character that won’t be topped any time soon. The story also went in directions I wasn’t expecting, mainly due to the complex layering of plots. I’m tempted to call this the most ambitious of the Expanse novels so far, but my memory could just be on the fritz.

I’ve seen a few other reviews that suggested events and characters were a little too conveniently manoeuvred into place. I’d say the opposite is true and indicates that people will have to pay attention to the story and character developments. Some people clearly got a little lost.

Cibola Burn should be interesting now that they have the Stargate system to explore. I’m sure humans will try to make a mess of that somehow.

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Book Review: The Promise by Robert Crais

The Promise (Elvis Cole, #16; Joe Pike, #5; Scott James & Maggie #2)The Promise by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a professional thief pretends to be a terrorist does that mean they blow all of their money in a public place?

Well, Elvis Cole would have found that funny. Bite me.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back and this time they have been hired to investigate a missing person. Somehow that missing person leads to black market arms deals, murder investigations, Homeland Security mole hunts, thieves and terrorists. We also get to see some more of Scott James and his dog Maggie. Narration from the POV of the dog: go on, buy the book right now.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a Robert Crais novel. I loved his early Elvis Cole novels but when he moved away from the humorous tone later in the series I lost interest. Fortunately I decided to check back in to see what was happening with Cole and Pike. This was a terrific read, with plenty of twists and turns, and is crammed full of interesting characters. The only negative I have is that the humour of the early novels is still taking a back seat. There are some Cole moments, but that aspect has been dialled right back, something I continue to miss with Crais’ writing.

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Book Review: Hell’s Super by Mark Cain

Hell's Super (Circles In Hell, #1)Hell’s Super by Mark Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hell is being surrounded by famous people, apparently.

Hell’s Super follows Steve Minion, the only non-famous person in hell as far as I can tell, as he tries to fix all the problems that come up in hell. Whether it be replacing a broken light bulb on the sign leading into hell (Abandon all hope ye who enter here), or stopping a civil uprising, Steve is tasked with fixing the problem because he sucks at fixing things: it’s hell, it’s his punishment. His sidekick is Orson Welles and he is dating Florence Nightingale: enough said.

I picked up Mark Cain’s Hell’s Super as it promised to be a novel in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Good Omens: some satire, some straight laughs, some silly fun. It had those elements but for me it rarely rose above mildly entertaining. Having recently re-read Good Omens, a book Hell’s Super is compared to in the back cover blurb, I can safely say that the Pratchett and Gaiman novel is not being knocked off the Best Novel of All Time podium any time soon. Too much of the humour and plot relies on utilising famous people and irony (especially in the punishments) to be classed as Pratchett-esque satire and humour. It also didn’t help that the plot twists were obvious given the setting.

That said, this is an entertaining novel with enough humour to amuse. I think the comparisons drawn to Good Omens, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams in the blurb set up too-high an expectation for me. Knowing that, you may enjoy it more as a result.

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Book Review: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes in a novel when you go down the well you have to put the lotion on your skin, other times you’re travelling back to Earth. The latter; this one is the latter.

James Holden and his crew of the Rocinante are back again serving as an ad hoc belter law enforcement when they are sent to investigate an incident on Ganymede. Things quickly circle the drain from there as the war between Earth, Mars, and The Belt threatens to start again at any moment. Oh, and Venus is now under alien control. Fun times.

This is the second novel in The Expanse series by James SA Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and as a sequel to Leviathan Wakes it delivers. I thoroughly enjoyed the further adventures of the Rocinante crew, but the new characters of Bobbie, Prax and Avasarala only added to fuel to the fire. Avasarala in particular is a great character to follow, making the political side to the story palatable (Avasarala is portrayed by Shohreh Aghdashloo in the TV series, and I’m sure the writers had her in mind when the character was created).

I guess that means it is time to start reading the third novel in this series. Tough job but someone has to do it.

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Book Review: Storm Front by Richard Castle *nod*wink*

Storm Front (Derrick Storm, #4)Storm Front by Richard Castle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a fictional bestselling author writes a bestselling book that refers to a fictionalised version of his fictional character, at what point does reality start gurgling down the drain?

Derek Storm and Xiangbang have uncovered a plot by a hedge-fund manager to ruin the world economy for financial gain. The hedge-fund manager has hired Storm’s presumed dead nemesis, Gregor Volkov, to aid his plans, i.e. Volkov is hired to kill the right people. Can Storm and Xiangbang stop the carnage and global economic meltdown?

Derek Storm is the super id and hero of the Richard Castle novels. Richard is the fictional author and lead character in the Castle TV show. Rather than have a novel tie-in for the show, Tom Straw has written a series of novels as though he was Richard Castle writing them. This entire series – of which I’ve only read a couple of instalments of – is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Case in point: there is one scene in this novel that has a crossover between the Nikki Heat and Derek Storm characters that then references the fictionalised versions of the Castle TV show. The exchange of “ruggedly handsome” compliments that flows between the various representations of Richard Castle is something Nathan Fillion’s character would definitely do.

It is hard to recommend this novel or any of the Richard Castle books without the caveat that they are meant to be cheesy to fit with the meta-humour and references to the TV show. If you aren’t a fan of Castle, or aren’t prepared for the style, this book and series would come off as hackneyed; I’ve seen other reviews suggest as much. So make sure you have your life-sized poster of Captain Mal (or is that Captain Hammer?) next to your reading chair to remind you that this is meant to be stupid-fun.

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Book review: The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling

The Only Pirate at the PartyThe Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The music industry has always run on Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll!! But not for Lindsey Stirling.

The Only Pirate at the Party is Lindsey Stirling’s autobiography…. Okay, is it still an autobiography when you co-write it with your sister? That’s not like having a ghost writer, right? Anyway, this is Lindsey’s story about carving out a career in music her own way.

I’m not exactly someone who follows TV “talent” shows and their stream of supposedly talented winners, let alone the people who lose those “talent” shows. I guess you could say I prefer a different kind of music, one that isn’t aimed at generating money off of teenagers voting and selling them insipid cover versions of songs. So it is odd that I would stumble across a crazily good dubstep/electronica dancing violinist who was one of the failed contestants on America’s Got Talent (now there’s an oxymoron title). It was the incongruous appeal of Lindsey’s music that had me interested in her background and thus, this book.

Lindsey’s story of success is not only interesting, but deeply personal. She discusses all sorts of personal issues, such as her love of Jesus – as defined by a 19th century con man – and her battle with anorexia. The starkest moments come in the audiobook version when Lindsey talks about her longtime bandmate/friend Jason Gaviati. Between the time when the book was written and when the audiobook was recorded, Jason died of cancer. Like I said: deeply personal.

Even if you aren’t a fan of her music, there is a lot to be taken away from this story. Lindsey’s tale of success comes from hard work and making her own opportunities. And how can you not enjoy the music?

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Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing quite like an author desperately trying to establish their literary cred by referencing classic works of fiction. Guess what is mentioned in Inferno.

Professor Robert Langdon is back for another inexplicable adventure to save the world. This time a madman with a love for Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Black Death is threatening to release a new disease that could wipe out humanity. Only Langdon and his latest arm candy can save the day.

If it isn’t obvious, I have a like-hate relationship with Dan Brown novels. Dan writes very entertaining novels that are well paced with interesting plots. But he also manages to bash readers over the head with plot points – or character traits, or other random things he deems important – and squeeze in a lot of useless exposition. The useless exposition often feels like an attempt to impress readers with the amount of research that has gone into the novel. But when he starts mentioning things like Dim Mak – the mythical pressure point and no touch martial arts technique – with credulity, I cringe.

There are other points I find amusing about Inferno in particular. The continuous referral to six-foot tall Langdon as “tall” says a lot about the author (or editor’s) height. The desperate need to reference great literary works in a mass-market thriller novel. The idolatry of Langdon by various characters – “she was admiring him more and more”, “his deep voice” – is heavy handed at best. But for these points I wonder if this is a result of Dan’s success and wide appeal. Could it be that because Dan sells billions of copies of his books that he and his editors have to make sure the book has wider appeal and comprehension? Or is it the reverse; is his appeal that every plot point is hammered home, and that the reader is repeatedly bludgeoned with how awesome the protagonist is?

For all the book’s faults, Inferno was an entertaining read. Upon picking this novel up I was refreshingly entertained. Worth a read for fans of Brown, Steve Berry, James Rollins, etc.

[Spoiler]

I wanted to rip the final scene out and rewrite it. Langdon is returning the stolen Dante death mask to the museum but the curator can’t meet him. So Langdon sneaks in and replaces it, reopening the exhibit himself.

Boring!

How about Langdon being caught in the act of replacing the death mask. Security recognise him as the guy who stole the mask a few days earlier but haven’t gotten the memo about Langdon being off the hook. So they are arresting him at gunpoint, to wit Langdon responds, “Please, I can explain.” The handcuffs go on and the book finishes there.

[/Spoiler]

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Book Review: The Executioner – War Against The Mafia by Don Pendleton

War Against the Mafia (The Executioner, #1)War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you go to war with the Mafia do you have to use Tommy Guns?

Mac Bolan is a one man army and he has the Mafia in his sights because reasons. And he gets the girl. I think that sums up the plot. Change Mafia for some other antagonist and you have the plot for the entire series of the long running young-men’s action novels.

When I was young Indiana Jones was the prototype for action-adventure movies. They were amazing. It took a long time for them to be released on DVD, but when they finally did I grabbed them for a movie marathon. I was a little disappointed. They were cheesy. It was hard to tell if they were always cheesy or if they had aged badly because Indiana Jones was the prototype for a genre that had evolved and now looked lame in comparison. NB: don’t take that as a diss on Indiana Jones…. except Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was terrible.

The Executioner is similar to Indiana Jones in that it was the prototype – well, one of many – for a genre that has evolved. It’s hard to call this cookie cutter stuff since this was the prototype cutter. It is easy to see the appeal and how this influenced so many people, including my friend Matt Hilton (shameless plug). But so much time has passed since these were new. In that time a generation of authors, TV shows (watch Banshee), and movies have been influenced and created works. The genre has grown, matured, and taken on other elements, such that this feels kinda cheesy. Was it always cheesy? Maybe that was what made this series fun in the first place.

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Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Did you know that if you are gaming and say Felicia Day three times into the screen reflection Felicia appears behind you and shoots an arrow into your knee? I heard it on the internet so it must be true.

Memoirs and (auto)biographies are something I generally avoid like the port-a-loos at a music festival. But I make the occasional exception for people I find interesting and humorous. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) certainly fits this bill, with Felicia sharing her rise from home schooled kid to the Queen of Geeks. I’m not sure if that title comes with lands and tithings or not.

One Xmas many years ago, my sister decided the family was going to watch Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. It was a Joss Whedon production, so there were no objections, at least none that would be taken seriously. There was Doogie Howser, and Captain Mal, and what did I recognise the redhead from? And geez she could sing. That was when I became a fan of Felicia’s work, and also the only reason I’ve watched any Supernatural episodes since the finale in season six. So it was great to hear – yes, the audiobook read by Felicia is the best way to read this book – her talk about her life, career, and how she decided to do what she loved on her terms.

I think the most important chapter in her book is the second to last that covers her thoughts on the dark side of the internet and gaming. As a former gamer I still take a passing interest in things going on the industry, and as a resident of the internet, I’ve taken an interest in that too. To say that guys are dicks to women who dare trespass on “their” turf is to completely fail to understand the level of harassment women endure in trying to enjoy what games and the internet have to offer. But it is worth buying this book just for this chapter.

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Book review: The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child

The Forgotten Room (Jeremy Logan #4)The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

One day I’m going to start a think tank and name it after a bodywash – possibly a shampoo – just like Lincoln Child did with his fictional institution, Lux.

There’s a problem in the west wing of the think tank Lux. No, it isn’t that their research is funded by special interest groups. No, it isn’t that they are neo-cons intent on bending governments to their policy wills. Lux has a slight problem with residents going crazy. So they contact Dr Jeremy Logan, a former resident and investigator who specialises in the extraordinary, to figure out what is causing the problems. That’s when they find The Forgotten Room and its contents.

Without realising it, I’ve actually read one of the other Jeremy Logan mysteries. The reason I didn’t realise I had read the first in the series (this being #4) was that Jeremy wasn’t the main character in Deep Storm. But much like Deep Storm, The Forgotten Room is a compelling mystery that hits all the right beats. Where Deep Storm was more techno/sci-fi based, The Forgotten Room has allusions to the supernatural whilst being more conventional. Where Deep Storm had a mysterious illness, The Forgotten Room has a mysterious illness. Where Deep Storm tried to kill off as many characters as possible, The Forgotten Room keeps the fatalities to a minimum. I don’t know why I’m comparing the two books in the series this much, probably because they seem to have the same general plot and feel to them. Although I do prefer the character of Logan to Crane.

As with all Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston books, you can be assured of an entertaining read. Whilst Logan is no Pendergast, he does make for an interesting character to follow as he unravels the mystery. But as with my review of Deep Storm, I did feel this book to be a little too “by the numbers”.

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Book Review: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1)Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered if werewolves are sexy? Apparently it isn’t just Rule 34 that has the answer on that question.

Moon Called is the first in the highly successful Patricia Briggs series. Mercy Thompson is the local mechanic, a shape shifter, and a lightning rod for trouble. First a runaway with problems starts work at her shop, bringing his problems with him. Then her friendly neighbourhood werewolves get dragged into the start of a civil war. And then it seems the local witches and vampires are involved. Then Cthulhu rises… Okay, I made up the last bit.

Patricia’s Mercy Thompson series are not normally the sort of book I would choose to read. Being a guy, I have these prejudices about sparkly vampires, sexy werewolves, and novels clearly aimed at that market. Which is stupid on my part. The Moon Called has as much in common with Twilight as Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. In other words, I could have enjoyed this series earlier if not for my misplaced prejudice.

This was a fast paced novel that was highly entertaining. One thing that stood out to me, though, was the novel kind of ended without really finishing the story. This made the ending feel a little unsatisfying, but at the same time it felt like a more natural story, especially for a series. I suppose it is refreshing to have a novel unafraid to not have an epilogue or tagged on final chapter that ties up all the loose ends. And this open-endedness doesn’t feel like a deliberate setup for a series, rather it feels like a genuine limited world perspective: we don’t get to know everything because the characters don’t know everything. I will be reading many more Patricia Briggs novels.

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Book reviews: The King’s Deception by Steve Berry

The King's Deception (Cotton Malone, #8)The King’s Deception by Steve Berry
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Have you ever wanted a thriller to star not one, but two book store owners? Well, this is the novel for you!

That’s right, our favourite book seller is back in action. This time Cotton Malone is caught up in a CIA operation called King’s Deception. See what Steve Berry did there? Cotton and his son Gary get caught up with the CIA, SIS – better known as MI6 – and The Dedalus Society’s deadly spy games. King’s Deception is their game and Cotton has to blah blah the McGuffin surrounding Elizabeth the First before the blah blah.

I’m a big fan of Steve Berry’s novels. They are always entertaining and well thought out thrillers. Berry is the writer Dan Brown wishes he was, but then takes a swim in his pool of money to console himself. As is typical with this genre, Berry seamlessly mixes the modern day with the historical McGuffin in a plausible and interesting manner. But for me, I found this to be one of Berry’s weaker novels.

My main fault with the book was that it was a story being recounted between the narrator and reader analogues, with the first and last chapters book ending the actual story. I hate this sort of story telling. It always feels hackneyed, even in films. At least flashbacks only last a short time, this is like having 95% of the story be a flashback. In this case you could cut the first and last chapters out and it would be a perfectly reasonable novel, so the additions of these parts feels superfluous.

Despite that criticism, the book was entertaining and would rank 4 stars, but I’m giving it 3.5 stars. I’m taking half a star off for the book-ends on the actual story.

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Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.

Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.

Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.

If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.

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Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.

Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.

That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.

I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.

It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.

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