Category Archives: Thriller

Beauty Sleep

When you wake up after a sleep lasting over forty years, what do you expect to happen?

Laura was frozen some time in the late 1980s, suffering from an incurable illness, and now that it’s 2028 she’s awake, having to get used to all the scientific ‘advances’ that have been made. So it’s mobile phones and computers, and it’s getting your muscles to obey you when you start to walk again.

But what else? This thought provoking novel by Kathryn Evans is pretty scary, and surely the Mrs Coulter-like character can’t possibly be as awful as she seems?

Well, I’m not going to tell.

Set in and around a future Brighton, it’s both new and strange, but also reassuringly ‘old’ in a way I’ve not come across for years. I’d have expected the police to be worse. Also, the setting of a new school for Laura is less of the catty and more, well, mature.

At one stage I wasn’t sure I could face this future Laura was having to deal with. But if she could, then I would. This is so well written, and unusual. Makes me wonder why more novels aren’t written on this kind of topic.

An Artful Assassin in Amsterdam

Oh the alliteration in that title! This is Michael Grant’s second thriller featuring his younger alter ego David Mitre, of the symmetrical looks. He’s even given the man an author event at Waterstones. In Amsterdam. It’s as if he knows.

So first someone tries to murder David, and works quite hard at it too. After which more strange stuff happens, and David’s favourite FBI agent – the very special one – turns up and wants him to be useful again.

He obviously has to do what she says, and then he comes up with  ways of embellishing that task a little.

I’m somewhat concerned that a famous Amsterdam museum should be so lax in its security, but perhaps Michael made it up. Every single weakness gets a mention in this novel, so I sincerely hope none of you will want to break the law now.

It’s most satisfying how David plans what has to be done, and how he puts an impromptu team together in order to ‘help’ the Very Special Agent. And Chante is growing on both him, and us, I reckon. Or it’s her cooking.

I could easily read a lot more of these, except I suspect this might be it.

A Sudden Death in Cyprus

I was already a fan of Death in Cyprus, so it’s just as well Michael Grant added two more words to make his thriller A Sudden Death in Cyprus. Just so I can tell him apart from M M Kaye..! That one was rather more clean-living, not to mention romantic, than Michael’s offering sixty years on.

Adult it may be, but it’s still pretty clean, and I’ve learned at least one new use for a toilet. His author [former] crook David Mitre shares a lot of traits with Michael himself, including ‘the girl in the window.’ So Mr ‘Mitre’ may be a mere 42 years old, boasting symmetrical looks (I understand this is good), but he’s an attractive enough reformed villain, with enough brains, and Mr ‘Grant’ has given him a worthy crime to deal with.

Yes, there is death. After all the title suggests it. But mostly it’s a thrilling mystery-solving exercise, and I particularly like it when heroes can cobble together a team on the hop, so to speak; one that works well and gets us all where we want to be. Except possibly for David himself, who’d like to get a bit further with some of the ladies. (I believe it’s good for him to have to wait.)

And he is funny, this David/Michael. Just the right amount of funny. What more can you want apart from the gorgeous actresses, sullen French neighbours, FBI Special Agents, priests, sex workers and refugees? And hamsters.

When he’d solved the problems in Cyprus, I waited all of one day before turning to the next David Mitre story.

Middle of the night reading

It’s not every book that lends itself to intermittent attention in both directions.

By that I mean something that is so good, but still easy to read when you’re feeling iffy, that it grabs your interest enough to read, until you fall asleep, and have to leave it.

And when you can’t sleep, it’s just as easy to return to for however long you need to be entertained, until you feel tired again and have to lie down.

Please note, I don’t do reading lying down. Must sit up, and preferably not in bed. Armchair next to bed will do. Means the return journey is conveniently short.

So in the last day or so I’ve dipped in and out of Michael Grant’s first [for some time, at least] adult crime thriller. I don’t think it should be described as light reading; I reckon it requires a fair bit of skill to be so accessible in an on-off kind of way.

There is a Dolly Parton quote about her looks, which you could tweak to refer to Michael’s writing. I think. And I’m a little surprised he kept the name, seeing as he changed to Grant in order to keep his YA writing separate from previous adult stuff. This being pretty adult, I had somehow assumed he’d be back to being Reynolds.

I’ll tell you more later. First I need paracetamol.

Highfire

This was lots of fun! It was also rather gory, with not only missing body parts but a fair bit of death and destruction. It’s only what you’d expect when you have a real live dragon in a Louisiana swamp, a cheeky teenage boy plus a pretty crooked cop.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer shows, as did his earlier adult crime novels, that he can be just as funny when writing for grown-ups, but also that he knows plenty of bad language. If it weren’t for the air turning rather blue around Vern, as the dragon calls himself, this would almost suit Eoin’s child fans. Almost.

15-year-old Squib Moreau is working hard, if not legally, to see if he can get himself and his mother out of the swamp, and preferably away from Constable Hooke who wouldn’t mind knowing Mrs Moreau a little better.

And then Vern happens, and when he does, he happens a lot, in an unavoidable fashion. He wants to kill Squib. Squib doesn’t want to be killed, and there we have a problem. But it’s not as big or bad a problem as the one of staying alive when Constable Hooke gets going.

Think Carl Hiaasen and his Florida criminals, except this is a state further west and there is a dragon. Highfire has been labelled fantasy, but it all feels quite normal. There is just a fire-breathing, flying dragon. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Squib is small and human, and Vern is bigger and more dragon-shaped.

As I said, not everyone survives. And it’s hard to work out how Vern can avoid being discovered, but those swamp-dwellers are canny people. Unless they are dead.

Personally I wouldn’t mind more of this. It could be a sequel..? It could, couldn’t it? Or a standalone. As long as there is more.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Bedlam

I’m late. Sorry. But I had to buy Derek Landy’s latest Skulduggery Pleasant book Bedlam myself. And then I had to find the strength to carry it home. No, I didn’t. The postman did. After which it suffered because of its sheer size when I couldn’t take it out with me.

It’s the end. Or is it? Well, actually, not only are a few of the characters still alive on the last page, and I daresay others could be revived a little, but I cheated and looked online and there seems to be another book coming. Soon. Just as well I read this one now.

Bedlam. Where shall I start? As usual, I wasn’t sure who was still alive and who was friends with whom, because this keeps changing so much. But basically, Valkyrie needs to make her younger sister unhappy again. Can’t have a child so content, despite the dead hamster and all that.

And then there’s all the rest, fighting between the magic world and the ‘normal’ one, and fighting within these worlds, and being stabbed in the back by your best friend, both literally and figuratively. It’s exciting and it’s funny.

What also makes the Skulduggery books stand out is that Derek has so many female characters who fight and are strong, as well as being sexy and good looking, and it feels so much more equal. None of this one token female and then lots of guys. Valkyrie rules, or maybe it’s China who does. Or Abyssinia. Serafina is powerful, as is Solace, and there is no getting away from Tanith. We like Tanith.

In fact, among the males we have a dead [obviously] skeleton and various scarred men, vampires and ghosts. Plus we have Omen Darkly, who continues being seemingly mostly useless and kind. But sometimes that’s the best person to be.

Anyway, as I might have been saying, much gets sorted towards the end. Some not. And with a few characters a little bit alive, we need more of the same. Which, according to Wikipedia, we will get.

I will alert the postman.

Hero

Ten years ago I had no inkling that there’d be a Gone world, or that I would be desperate to read every single book, no matter how gory or scary or disgusting. There’s always been both excitement as well as human decency (and also the complete opposite) as the basis of Michael Grant’s books.

Ten years ago I had no idea who Michael was, or how much I’d come to admire his writing. Now, six Gone books and three Monster books later, the Gone world has ended. No, I don’t mean that kind of end!

Unless I do? It was hard enough to suffer alongside the teenagers in their Gone bubble world, but at the end of it you expected it to be just that. And then a mere four years on, there is more trouble of the same kind, and some, but not all, of them have more trials to go through.

Michael Grant, Hero

The Rockborn Gang encounter a Very Bad Villain in each of the three books. At the end of each story, you like to hope that this was it, until you meet the Really Bad Guy in Hero, the last of the series.

Dekka is the one who’s been in every single one, doing sterling work throughout. She’s not enjoying it, but she does what she has to, and then some. All the Rockborns do, even when they have to look back on a day when they’ve killed people, and often good people at that.

You glow with pride at how well they deal with what they and their country face in Hero. You can tell this might not end well.

Michael concludes the series in his trademark style. I’ll say no more.

(Yes I will. I don’t think I want to see the film. There’s only so many disgusting creatures I can cope with, and my imagination is doing just fine without actual pictures, thank you very much.)

The Silent War

This time round it’s a lot easier to visualise the British as the bad guys, the way they continue to act in Andreas Norman’s second novel featuring the Swedish Secret Service, returning to see more of its agent Bente Jensen. The gloves already being off, I was quite prepared to hate the British agents. I felt almost as if it was my own fault – for ignoring the [untranslated] part of our most recent former PM in Into A Raging Blaze, the first novel by Andreas – that what happened happened. I remember laughing at her…

Andreas Norman, The Silent War

Anyway, we see much more of the two main agents, both Swedish Bente and her British counterpart Jonathan Green, and we learn a lot about their private lives. It might seem too much, but it’s all relevant. And the title, The Silent War, is so apt. Just wait and see, as their lives fall apart. They are no James Bonds.

The bad stuff is mostly what MI6 get up to in Syria, in ‘secret,’ and we meet Jonathan’s highly unpleasant London boss. The thing is, they are all really nasty types. I kept hoping for a ray of sunshine somewhere.

The slow start eventually develops quite explosively. I can’t possibly divulge more, though. You’ll have to read the book.

(Translated by Ian Giles)

The Partisan Heart

Gordon Kerr’s fiction debut – The Partisan Heart – reminded me a lot of the books I used to read in the 1970s. That’s perhaps fitting, as it’s a crime thriller set alternately in Italy during the end of WWII and also over fifty years later, at the end of the 1990s.

Bad things happened in the war, and quite a few of the actions taken back then reverberate in the lives of some of the characters 55 years on. Englishman Michael has just lost his Italian wife in a car accident in Italy, and his life seems to be falling to pieces.

In true fiction hero style, discovering that she had some unexpected secrets, he decides to find out who his late wife’s lover was.

We also meet young Sandro, who was a partisan fighter in the war, in the same area that Michael’s wife came from. You can tell that some of the people from those times will still be around in the later story, but you’re not quite sure which ones, or how what they did influences later actions.

Wartime Italy seems to have become more popular, and this two-period kind of mystery/thriller is not unique. But Italy during the war is still unusual enough that I feel it merits more books.

The characters are mostly not all that likeable, with the exception of the barmaid in Scotland. But then, war did terrible things to ordinary people, and even worse to those who were already bad. I wouldn’t have minded not ever reading about some of the ways to kill other human beings. Even if it was in the war.

Gordon Kerr, The Partisan Heart

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.