Thriller

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

Title – The Roanoke Girls

Author – Amy Engel

Published – Mar 2017

Genre – Thriller

I have quite a lot to say about this book but I’ll try and keep it brief! Firstly a word of warning on spoilers. I’ve mentioned coincidences before and this is an example of one in my reading where I’ve read two books in quick succession which if compared to just one book most people would have a clear idea of the main plot. So stay away from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

The book is described as a thriller but I’m not sure that’s the best description. It has a mystery and there are a number of aspects of suspense but these take a back seat to the characters and more of a dark ‘coming of age’ story.

Roanoke is the house of Lane’s dreams and of her mother’s nightmares (and disappointingly it’s not the Roanoke in Virginia that I’ve been to). When Lane’s mother commits suicide Lane is sent to Roanoke to live with her grandparents, people that she didn’t know existed. Roanoke is the family home on the outskirts of a small town in Kansas – and completely different to Lane’s New York City existence. She’s welcomed to the house by Allegra, Lane’s cousin, one of the ‘Roanoke Girls’ – the young women from their grandfather’s sisters down who have lived in the house. They all have tragic stories “Roanoke girls never last long around here” says Allegra.

The story moves between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’. In ‘Now’ eleven years have passed since Lane left Roanoke and she’s pulled back by the disappearance of Allegra. In ‘Then’ we find out more about Lane’s time after her arrival at Roanoke as well as the fate of some the other girls. Both in ‘then’ and ‘now’ the central themes are Lane’s relationships, with boys and with Allegra, as well as her take on her family and the way she gains some understanding of the mother she tolerated. Lane is central to the investigation to try and find Allegra but the secret at the heart of the family eclipses this; it all plays out slowly in a claustrophobic small town setting.

In trying to avoid spoilers I’m not sure I’m giving a very good account of the book! I did enjoy this despite its dark themes. I liked Lane and I found her to be a credible, flawed character. If there was something that I struggled with it was probably the character of her grandfather, it was difficult to understand his personality and his charm, he didn’t quite jump off the page for me.

A dark and emotional read about families, secrets and small town America.

Thank you to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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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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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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Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

51dphgk8vslTitle – Deep Down Dead

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Thriller

Before I start my review it’s only fair to say that I have known Steph (aka ‘Crime Thriller Girl‘) for a  few years and may have had a social drink or two with her at crime fiction events. I hope that readers of my blog can trust, however, that I wouldn’t give a positive review to a book because of this. In fact that does lead to some interesting thoughts about the world of bloggers, authors and crime fiction conventions / events – but for another day!

Florida bounty-hunter and single mother Lori Anderson seizes the opportunity to take on a job to help her make ends meet after her young daughter’s medical treatment. But with a higher than normal bounty comes a higher than normal risk and Lori finds that the job has a personal aspect to it that will bring back memories that she would prefer to stay buried.

The story is fast paced, with lots of action and plenty of emotional twists and turns. Some of the action sequences have a very visual quality to them and it would be easy to see them transferred to (small or large) screen. It touches on some dark themes and has a smattering of sex, violence and secrets. There are aspects that manage to lighten the mood a little and Lori is a feisty leading lady. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the story.

I have to confess that if there was one aspect I didn’t like it was Lori’s daughter. I can see how important she was to the plot and to Lori’s motivation but there was something about the too good to be true, pigtails and eye-rolling, that made me hope something dreadful would happen early on in the book!

I mentioned when I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow that while there are plenty of women writing crime fiction it feels unusual to read a thriller written by a woman. It’s therefore great to read another credible, pacy thriller from a female author. Another unusual aspect of Dead Down Dead, and one that is shared with the series by Rod Reynolds and Mason Cross, is the use of an American setting by someone who is British.

This is an accomplished debut and in Lori, Steph has created a character with a very clear and convincing voice. It’s obvious that she’s also familiar with the locations she uses and I know that she took research further than most authors by training as a bounty hunter in California.

I was pleased that the ending didn’t pan out as I thought it might and  it didn’t go for an ‘easy’ option. This is the first in a series and I’m curious to know where the next instalment will take Lori.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Dead Line – Chris Ewan

716-ctbctqlTitle – Dead Line

Author – Chris Ewan

Published – 2013

Genre – Thriller

I enjoyed Safe House and it’s ridiculous that I let Dead Line languish on my TBR for so long, but I’m glad that I finally got round to reading it.

Dead Line is another gripping thriller with perhaps more of a mysterious feel to it compared to its predecessor. The main character is Daniel Trent, one half of a hostage negotiating duo, who live and works in France. He appears to be planning some sort of heist of his own when circumstances overtake him and his plans change.  The opening of the book is quite cryptic and Ewan drip feeds the reader information to flesh out the background to Trent’s story and the motivation for his attempt to turn from gamekeeper to poacher.

Cleverly written and fast-paced this was just the sort of thriller I enjoy and reminded me of Christmas mornings and not being able to resist racing through a new Dick Francis novel. There were some twists and revelations that I saw coming and others that I didn’t – a balance that means that this made a rewarding thriller that held my interest.

If I have a gripe it was the ending and I understand that I’m not the first person to have a grumble about it. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if you think my complaint is justified!

Everything a good thriller should be, I can highly recommend this. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Ice Lands – Steinar Bragi

Title – The Ice Lands

Author – Steinar Bragi (translated by Lorenza Garcia)

Published – Oct 2016 (in English)

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller / Horror

This came as an unsolicited review copy but I was intrigued by the cover and with an interest in all things Icelandic it pushed its way to the top of my TBR pile.

The story is about four friends and a dog who are on a camping trip in the volcanic wilds of Iceland. There are tensions between the four and they see the trip as away of mending their relationships but things have already become fraught early on in the journey when they crash in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse occupied by a mysterious elderly couple.

The efforts to resume their journey are thwarted – they fail to leave in their jeep, or in the car they borrow from the couple and even resorting to leaving on foot they end up returning to the dark and menacing house. At the times where they have put some distance between themselves and the house they make further mysterious discoveries in the wilderness – an abandoned car, an abandoned village on a cut-off ‘island’.

The inside of the house, farm and the couple are no less puzzling. They struggle to figure out the relationship between the uncommunicative man and woman, there are animals’ bodies on the doorstep and a hidden room that just adds to the mysteries.

As the story unfolds the backstory of the characters comes out which casts light on them both as individuals and on the relationships between the four of them. In some ways these feel like caricatures – this isn’t a criticism but it feels as if the author was using the four people to highlight some of the issues around the financial crash (the book was published in Iceland in 2011). Their lives and perspectives are quite exaggerated but their reactions to the events after they become stranded seem surprisingly relaxed.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. It was part crime, part thriller, part horror and part, well, just plain weird. I was really taken in by it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I wanted to know what happened to them (or what had happened to them). I didn’t have any issues with the writing or translation. There was probably too much of the characters’ backstory for me but the story was atmospheric, tense, dark – it really gripped me. But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… Since finishing the book and while writing my review I’ve had a look to see what other people make of the book. There is a full synopsis on Wikipedia which tells me that it ‘enjoyed very positive reviews’ although it seems to be struggling to do so in the English translation. Perhaps it just isn’t reaching the right audience.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Mr. Miller – Charles Den Tex

41dD-rNkplLTitle – Mr. Miller

Author – Charles Den Tex (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

Published – 2005 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Thriller

When I posted the details of the long lists for the CWA Daggers I mentioned that it seemed odd not to have heard of all the books. Perhaps this means that a critically acclaimed book, whatever the genre, may not be commercially successful, or perhaps hasn’t had the same marketing push as others in the genre can afford. As a consequence of this post, however, I was offered a review copy of Mr Miller by Charles Den Tex which is on the long list for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger.

The author is Dutch and the story is set in Amsterdam. Michael Bellicher is a consultant working for a company we can probably all recognise – a huge corporate monolith with thousands of workers of whom much is demanded. One Monday morning he accompanies his parents to meet his brother at Schipol Airport but something happens which shakes him so much that he goes on a drinking binge and misses crucial work appointments. On his return to the office he is so afraid that he will be sacked and won’t be able to get back into the building that he hides away overnight – but he is not the only person in the building. He witnesses something he shouldn’t have seen and this males him flee the office and as he tries to make sense of what happened he finds that he is now being hunted as the perpetrator of the crime.

What happens next is a real rollercoaster ride of a thriller. The premise is that ‘technology’ is at the root of Michael’s problems and the mysterious Mr. Miller, who has a network that not only knows everything about Michael but everything about everyone else too. The more he understands the way he is being hunted the more he must abandon the technology on which he normally relies – even his credit cards. Not only is he trying to clear his name (as the body count rises) but there is also a huge conspiracy which he needs to find a way to stop.

Dealing with issues around immigration and world stability this felt very timely. There are also some much more personal issues which Michael has to deal with, some of which I’ve not really come across in this genre before. (Intriguing, eh?)

The writing style is quite unusual and I’m sure in no small part due to the translator. Whilst the language feels deliberately styled to match the content of the plot it never feels stilted, nothing jars. It would be interesting to know what Dutch readers felt about the style.

What was surprising to me is that the book was originally published in 2005. The themes are so prescient I didn’t realise until I was writing my review that it was written more than ten years ago. For a book that features technology to such a high level it also stands the test of time – remarkable when you consider how quickly ‘tech’ can seem dated. Perhaps it all seemed more fanciful when it was published!

I have to confess that this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had’t been offered the review copy. The story really delivers on the thriller aspects although I found some of the technology aspects a little distracting.

And how do I rate the CWA Dagger chances? Personally I preferred Rod Reynolds ‘The Dark Inside‘ but I have only read two of the longlist.

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