Category Archives: Thriller

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.

Airs Above the Ground

Like The Star of Kazan, Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground features a stolen Lipizzaner and some fake jewels, plus romance and adventure galore, all set in Austria.

Well over forty years since I last read it, I discovered – again – that returning to a book often improves it. I remembered some things very clearly, and was delighted to find others that I really enjoyed.

Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground

Almost newly-wed Vanessa flies out to Vienna, ostensibly chaperoning 17-year-old Tim, who is crazy about horses, and the Spanish riding school especially. Both of them are travelling under false pretences.

A fire in a circus takes them all over Austria, and it turns out Vanessa’s husband leads a more exciting life than she’d hitherto been aware of. (Well, he is a Mary Stewart hero.)

Now that I’m much older than Vanessa (I wasn’t the first time), I can see that she is unreasonably mature at 24. But I like her, and I adore young Tim, who like Mary’s other ‘young men’ is truly lovely.

And as for the horse… well, not a dry eye left.

I wonder if Eva Ibbotson had read Airs Above the Ground? Or if great minds simply think alike? The final chapters in both books are so similar, in the most satisfying of ways.

Besides, it’s amazing how far £20 went in the early 1960s…

Did I know that?

No, generally not. Or at least, I didn’t remember it. Not even to the extent that when it got mentioned again (really?) there was some flutter of recognition.

Anyway.

I asked Son if he saw any Nobel laureates at the Gothenburg Book Fair. He didn’t. I only asked because the Resident IT Consultant and I spent a recent afternoon getting rid of books. We got to one by Orhan Pamuk, and I checked it for a signature. Nope. ‘He signed a book?’ ‘Yes, we kept coming across him everywhere for a couple of years,’ I said. And then I spied another Pamuk book, which was allowed to stay, but I wanted to know if the imagined signature was in that one. It was.

I asked Son if he saw any archbishops. He didn’t. But he did add that he was annoyed at having had to miss an event with K G Hammar, seeing as he’d translated something that the emeritus archbishop had written about Dag Hammarskjöld. ‘I didn’t know that.’ ‘Yes, you did,’ he said. (I later asked the Resident IT Consultant what he knew. He knew nothing.)

Son did see, and have a drink with, Andreas Norman, whose thrillers he has translated. Seems the first one, Into a Raging Blaze, is – potentially – very close to becoming a television series. Move over The Killing, The Bridge!

I have also had reports back from School Friend, who was enthusiastic about her two events – with Stina Wollter, and Anna and Ola Rosling – and Pippi, who apparently met an author whose mother she used to play with when they were children. So, as I said, it’s a small country.

The Thin Blue Line

Or Den tunna blå linjen, as it is in the original. This is Christoffer Carlsson’s fourth and final book featuring Leo Junker, and like many reviewers have pointed out, it has a rather good last line. But I’ll let you get to that on your own.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den tunna blå linjen

It worked quite well, reading this now, with me having skipped books two and three. I got to know Leo in the first book, and now I was able to catch up with where he’d got to, guessing a few things, about colleagues and lovers. There was enough to tell me what had happened to his school friend Grim, on the other side of the law.

Grim reminds Leo about the young Chilean girl they met years ago, and who was murdered five years before this story takes place, and asks, no, demands, that Leo looks into her unsolved death again. And this really opens a hornet’s nest.

This time Leo isn’t half drugged all the time, so he functions a little better. He’s also been reinstated as a policeman (although, for how long?) so can do what detectives need to do when they detect. Though at times it appears as if Swedish law makes it hard for the police but easy for the criminals. So it’s fair…

Stockholm is as unappealing as it was; the suburbs, but also the supposedly nicer places in the city centre. In the police you have crooked people and stupid people, as well as the hard-working middle ground people, trying to keep the place safe.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the fate of the Chilean refugees/immigrants, who must have arrived with great hopes, only to end up dead, or very nearly.

Christoffer’s knowledge of criminology is what makes the plot so believable. It’s different to many other crime series where you suspect that the author just made stuff up. This really does feel like the inner workings of the police force, where the law in its eagerness to protect everyone, makes it impossible to corner criminals in a way that they can be tried in court and jailed.

There is also remarkably little violence. It’s the lack of hope that gets to you.