Month: November 2017

Playing With Death – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Title – Playing With Death

Author – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Published – July 2017

Genre – Thriller

I was in the mood for an American thriller or police procedural and I was lucky to find this in my TBR but surprised to find it was a Simon Scarrow book I was choosing.

The main character is FBI Agent Rose Blake, after an undercover mission to catch a notorious serial killer fails she is assigned to investigate a suspicious arson attack and death. The investigation quickly picks up a link to a new technology product, high tech companies and a virtual world.

An FBI ‘technothriller’ by Simon Scarrow was a surprise, I really enjoy Scarrow’s Roman Macro and Cato series and his Wellington and Napoleon series, so this felt like a real departure. The book is credited to both Scarrow and Lee Francis and I couldn’t say how the input was divided and what each of the authors brought, the writing style was quite different to Scarrow’s books but the environment here was technological rather than historical. It’s also in the present tense which made it feel more ‘immediate’ but as this is an unusual choice it also feels slightly jarring to read.

I was really in two minds about this book. It was engaging and had lots of pace but some of the technology aspects made it feel like an ill thought out version of a Michael Crichton thriller. I liked Rose but I think that if you didn’t know the gender of the author most people would guess the character was written by a man which is a shame. The book is thought-provoking in terms of the development of technology and social media but the specific issue at the core (and I’m being cryptic here to avoid spoilers) meant it missed the mark for me.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Other Woman – Laura Wilson

Title – The Other Woman

Author – Laura Wilson

Published – Oct 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

The question is how to review the book without giving too much away. So the title tells you that there is another woman involved, the two-page first chapter takes place six months after the main story opens and tells the reader that at some point in the book someone will die. And there we have it because much more and I will spoil the book.

The main character is Sophie and she is the epitome of the smug, wealthy woman often found in these thrillers, she has it all but doesn’t seem to realise it. Being suspicious of her husband Sophie gets herself into a situation that offers both tension and farce. Event spirals out of control and the more she tries to make things better the worse they become. The more farcical aspects deliver some black humour, although there was nothing to laugh about and often I felt like shouting at Sophie! Needless to say that the more the events resemble a farce the less realistic they seem but when engrossed by the book – who cares! It had me absolutely gripped, the pace is unrelenting. I was so invested in the character that when I wasn’t reading I found I was feeling guilty and it took a while to realise that it was being driven by what I’d been reading.

And all the time you’re still wondering ‘so whose death is referred to in the first chapter’! The plot throws all sorts of things at you but I didn’t suspect the ending until very late on when it became inevitable and it was only on the last page that you were sure of what had happened.

I’ve had a quick look on Amazon and this really seems to be a ‘marmite’ book that’s dividing readers. I would say give it a try.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Ragdoll – Daniel Cole

Title – Ragdoll

Author – Daniel Cole

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

Another short review – this time a debut from Daniel Cole which was published at the beginning of the year.

I have to confess that it was a while before I started reading this book because the ‘blurb’ put me off. The premise is described as “A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’.” It reminded me of the The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi or perhaps something worse but I’m glad that it eventually made its way to the top of the TBR.

Along similar lines as Pendulum this is a (loose) police procedural which has the ‘race against time’ aspects of a thriller. The pace moves the story forward but it’s probably not for people who like their crime fiction or police investigations to be realistic. If you can suspend disbelief it is definitely worth a read.

The book will probably be most memorable to me for the lead character of Detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes ‘Wolf” Fawkes – a true maverick policeman in the best traditions of crime fiction. Also drawn into the investigation is Wolf’s ex-wife, a journalist and this provides the reader with some thought-provoking moments about what getting a story may be worth.

The gruesome and graphic nature of the ‘body’ at the centre of the investigation might make it appear as if the author was using this to make up for a deficit in the plot or writing but this isn’t the case and fortunately the author was also smart enough to mix in humour to lighten the mood occasionally.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Kill Me Twice – Simon Booker

Title – Kill Me Twice

Author – Simon Booker

Published – Aug 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I have about 20 books to review and 42 days until the start of next year, as I’d like to ‘clear the decks’ before the New Year (and of course I’m still reading) shorter reviews are going to be the way forward.

Kill Me Twice is the sequel to Without Trace, the book that introduced us to investigative journalist Morgan Vine. Trying to build a normal life for herself and her daughter, Lissa, Morgan is searching for the next miscarriage of justice to tackle. She is drawn to the case of a young woman serving a sentence for the murder of her boyfriend; ‘Arsonist Anjelica’ is being held at HMP Dungeness, on Morgan’s doorstep, and the shared experience of being a single mother attracts Morgan to the case. But there is one overriding  reason that makes Morgan really believe in Anjelica (no spoilers but the cover may give you a clue…). In trying to help Anjelica (not always successfully) Morgan also uncovers some unethical practices at the prison that she can’t ignore.

The story delivers on the expectation Booker created in the first book. Morgan remains a feisty and headstrong character that won’t let go once she gets her teeth into a story. Yet again her relationship with Lissa (and Lissa’s own behaviour) also influences the course of the story. I’m not a fan of series where the protagonist is always in peril but while that is the case here and Morgan finds herself the target of attacks, it isn’t contrived but fits with the story. This is also a book which draws on the harsh and remote location of the Dungeness coastline – something which is creating its own niche corner of the crime fiction market.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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Pendulum – Adam Hamdy

Title – Pendulum

Author – Adam Hamdy

Published – Nov 2016

Genre – Thriller

This had been sitting on my shelves since before we moved last year (one of the lucky ones to get unpacked), I was looking for an alternative to historical fiction and this was certainly the polar opposite!

The premise is unusual – always a good start. John Wallace, a photographer, is taken by surprise in his flat and attacked by a man who attempts to hang him. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that he is unsuccessful. Wallace manages to make his escape after a dramatic fight but finds that his attacker is set on completing what he started and Wallace is short on places to turn for help. It transpires that there are others who appear to have committed suicide in the same way (hence ‘Pendulum’) but if Wallace wants to prove that he isn’t losing his mind he needs to dodge the killer and take up the hunt in America.

The thriller part of the plot centres around the ‘can they stop the killer before Wallace or others die’ and there is more of a crime fiction element around determining the identity of the masked man and the motivation behind his attacks. This is a ‘no holds barred’ thriller and I lost track of the body count; not a book to read if you prefer to avoid gore/violence. Hamdy really puts Wallace through the ringer and it’s amazing the guy manages to keep going with the physical and emotional toll exerted on him. The action is easy to visualise (no doubt the author bringing to bear skills from his screenwriting experience) with some great set pieces and nifty writing that gets Wallace out of danger and while the pace keeps up throughout, the action is balanced by tension.

There are, however, two specific issues I had with the book. The first one was my disappointment when I was halfway through and adding it to Goodreads and finding that this is the first in a trilogy – I was looking forward to a resolution that I knew would be delayed. This would have made a great standalone so it will be interesting to see how the story develops over three books. The other problem I had was that when the motivation for the attacks and the reason behind the targeting of the victims became clear I was less enamoured with Wallace than I had been. Nevertheless, this is a gripping trans-atlantic thriller and an accomplished debut.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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