Review: “The High Window” By Raymond Chandler (Novel)

Well, after reading Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” a while ago, I was in the mood for some more “film noir” detective fiction. Since there isn’t a sequel to “The Maltese Falcon” and, because I’d already read Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” quite a few years ago, I decided to look for some of Raymond Chandler’s other novels.

Although they were relatively expensive individually, I was able to find a second-hand anthology of three of them (“The High Window”, “The Lady In The Lake” and “The Little Sister”) reasonably cheaply. I dont know how many of these novels I’ll eventually end up reviewing but, I thought that I’d take a look at Chandler’s 1943 novel “The High Window” – mostly because it was the first novel in the anthology.

So, let’s take a look at “The High Window”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

This is the 2001 Penguin Classics (UK) paperback anthology that I read.

The story begins in Hollywood, with wisecracking private investigator Phillip Marlowe being hired by an elderly widow called Mrs. Murdock who believes that her no good daughter-in-law has stolen a rare golden doubloon from the family collection.

Needless to say, it is up to Marlowe to track down the missing coin. But, of course, it isn’t long before he finds himself in the middle of a twisted web of murder, intrigue and criminal conspiracy…..

One of the first things that I will say about “The High Window” is that it a lot more gripping than I’d expected. It’s also efficient too 🙂 In just 189 pages (in the edition I read), it manages to tell a compelling atmospheric story that is filled with psychological complexity, a cast of morally-ambiguous characters, a couple of dramatic plot twists and enough red herrings to sink a ship. Most modern writers would struggle to tell a story like this in less than 300-400 pages!

And, like with what I can remember of “The Big Sleep”, the plot of this novel is complicated. But, thanks to the novel’s concise length, it never really gets too confusing since you can easily binge-read this book in 1-2 sessions. Still, it might be worth taking notes whilst reading it. The novel’s complex plot works surprisingly well though, since it not only helps to add a bit of “realism” to the story, but it also rewards readers who can spot the clues and implications in various scenes.

Seriously, if there’s one great thing about this novel, it is that it tells a thrillingly readable story that also respects the reader’s intelligence too. It could be because of the time that the novel was written, but a lot of the novel’s most creepy or intriguing elements are sometimes implied rather than directly shown. And, yes, this novel contains more horror than I had expected. Whether it’s the grisly crime scenes, brutal moments of violence, some of the novel’s characters or just the novel’s general focus on the darker side of the human psyche, this is more of a horror novel than I’d expected 🙂

Likewise, the characters in this novel are mostly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, Chandler is able to create compellingly realistic, creepy and/or dubious characters with relatively little in the way of descriptions. Yes, the characters can occasionally stray into stereotypes (eg: the cringe-worthy phonetic dialogue used when an Italian character talks etc..), but many of the non-stereotypical characters are quite well-written.

Plus, for a novel of this length, there are a lot of characters too – yet, this never really becomes too confusing. This is because the novel devotes a larger amount of characterisation to several important characters (Marlowe, Mrs. Murdock, Merle etc..). In addition to this, several of the background characters also have very distinctive and memorable names too (eg: Breeze, Morningstar, Hench etc..).

The first-person narration in this novel is also surprisingly readable too. For the most part, it’s the kind of “matter of fact” narration that flows reasonably well. Yes, it’s a little bit more descriptive than modern narration often is, but this never gets in the way of the story (if anything, it adds atmosphere). Likewise, the novel is also filled with amusingly sarcastic observations and dialogue exchanges that help to balance out some of the grim horror of the story too.

As for how well this 76 year old novel has aged, it’s something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the narration still flows well, the plot is still intriguingly complex, a fair amount of the sarcastic humour is still funny and most of the horror is still creepy. But, on the other hand, this novel is very much a product of it’s time and it contains quite a few “politically incorrect” moments. So, yes, this novel hasn’t entirely aged well. But, the parts that have aged well are really great.

All in all, even though I still prefer Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon”, Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window” is a fairly good film noir detective novel. Not only is the narration still very readable, but it packs an amazing amount of complexity into just 189 pages too 🙂 Yes, some parts of this book really haven’t aged well and the plot might be a bit confusing if you don’t binge-read and/or take notes. But, despite these flaws, it is a reasonably good novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a a four.

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Review: “Lamentation” By C. J. Sansom

Well, it has been way too long since I last read a C. J. Sansom novel! During 2009-11, I read about three of Sansom’s “Matthew Shardlake” novels (“Dissolution”, “Revelation” and “Dark Fire”, I think).

But, for some reason or another, I didn’t get round to reading another one until a while after I got back into reading again and realised that second-hand copies of Sansom’s 2014 novel “Lamentation” were going rather cheaply.

Although the “Shardlake” novels all feature the same protagonist, they each tell fairly self-contained stories. So, you don’t have to read them in order (although it’s worth reading one or two other Shardlake novels before reading “Lamentation”).

So, let’s take a look at “Lamentation”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Lamentation” (2014) that I read.

“Lamentation” is a historical detective novel set in Tudor England during the year 1546. The novel begins with the lawyer Matthew Shardlake attending a burning of heretics in London. Although he dislikes the macabre spectacle, he is compelled to attend by his boss at Lincoln’s Inn. Whilst there, he meets a rather friendly lawyer from Gray’s Inn called Philip Coleswyn.

A while later, Shardlake learns that Coleswyn is on the opposite side of a rather acrimonious legal case between two siblings feuding over their mother’s will. But, before Shardlake can get too involved with the case, he is summoned to meet Queen Catherine Parr. A collection of her controversial private religious writings have been stolen and she gives Shardlake the secret task of recovering them before they are published or the King learns of their existence.

However, a fragment of the document is soon found near the body of a murdered printer and it seems like Shardlake’s investigation will be even more dangerous than he had originally thought…

One of the very first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a compelling, intelligent and atmospheric story, but one that could possibly have done with a bit more editing. Even without the 20-30 pages of historical notes at the end, this story is still an absolutely titanic 706 pages in length! Whilst the story makes use of this length to add atmosphere and to allow the story to flow at slightly more of a “realistic” pace, it would be an even better novel if it was 100-200 pages shorter.

Even so, the actual story itself is fairly solid. If you like detective novels, historical novels, legal thrillers, spy thrillers and/or political thrillers then you’ll enjoy this one. The plot is full of interesting little clues, cunning machinations and other such things. Plus, the novel occasionally contains short recaps of previous events that can help you to keep track of the story if you aren’t binge-reading this book and/or taking notes.

The story is also kept compelling through the use of several different types of suspense. In addition to a few moments of more traditional drama and/or action, this novel also focuses on the paranoid religious politics of mid-16th century England.

In short, this novel takes place during the later parts of Henry VIII’s reign. The official faith of the land is a conservative form of Protestantism, which still follows some elements of Catholic doctrine (such as transubstantiation). Of course, being 16th century England, anyone who doesn’t follow the official faith is in danger of being executed for heresy if they aren’t careful. Needless to say, many of the novel’s characters are either more radical protestants or at least sympathetic to their cause to some extent. This, of course, helps to add a lot of suspense to the story.

In addition to this, there is also a sub-plot about the legal case between two feuding siblings. Although, on it’s own merits, this is a reasonably well-written sub-plot that contains elements of mystery and horror, it has relatively little relevance to the main story. Yes, it affects the main story during a couple of moments but, for the most part, it’s just there as a reasonably large background detail. In other words, the novel would be a bit more streamlined and focused if this sub-plot was removed. The same could probably be said about a few of the novel’s other smaller sub-plots too.

In terms of the historical atmosphere of this story, it is as good as ever. The novel is filled with descriptive moments that really help to add to the ambience (even if they do slow the story at times, and may account for some of the story’s ridiculous length).

This historical atmosphere is also helped by Sansom’s brilliant narration too. Like in the previous Shardlake novels I’ve read, this one is narrated by Shardlake himself, and the narration uses a modernised version of the more “matter of fact” tone of non-fiction writings from the 16th century, whilst also adding the occasional historical word or idiom for flavour. This means that, although the narration richly evokes an older age, it is still very easily readable. And, given that this is a detective thriller novel, this helps the story to keep moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

Plus, as you would expect, this novel has a rather interesting cast of well-written characters. Some of these characters are historical figures (eg: Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, a young Elizabeth I etc..) and some of them are fictional characters. To the story’s credit, it is occasionally difficult to tell which is which. Likewise, even the clearly fictional characters still seem like realistic people from this time in history.

Plus, there are also a few familiar faces from the earlier novels too, such as Guy and Barak – although they are slightly more background characters this time round. Even so, Shardlake’s occasionally complicated friendship with both of them is an important part of the story and it is interesting to see how their lives both have and haven’t changed now that they are older. Not to mention that, to my cynical delight, Bealknap also makes an appearance too.

All in all, this is a really good historical detective novel. However, the novel’s length is a little bloated – which robs it of some of the sharp focus that I loved in some of the other C. J. Sansom novels I’ve read. Even so, it’s still a reasonably gripping book that tells a fascinatingly complex detective/thriller story that positively drips with historical atmosphere.
But, although this novel tells a self-contained story, it is a book that is best enjoyed after you’ve read a couple of other Shardlake books (such as “Dissolution”) since it is clearly aimed at fans of the series rather than new readers.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Mini Review: “L O L L Y” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”/ “Doom II Legacy” etc..)

Well, it’s been nearly a month since my last “Doom II” mod/WAD review. So, in keeping with the ancient and hallowed traditions of this site, it seemed like time to review another one. And, after seeing this video review by Major Arlene, I thought that I’d check out a short WAD from 2002 called “L O L L Y“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it was apparently originally designed for the “Doom II Legacy” source port. Still, given the age of this WAD, I guess that it will probably work on most modern source ports.

So, let’s take a look at “L O L L Y”:

“L O L L Y” is a short single-level WAD that was originally designed for deathmatch, but also has some single-player elements too. In addition to this, this WAD also contains some new textures and sounds too.

And, yes, it looks pretty awesome 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it looks really cool 🙂 Thanks to all of the new textures, it has the kind of bright vivid sci-fi look that I’ve only ever really seen in a few other WADs (like the one and only “Ancient Aliens). Plus, in defiance of the laws of “Doom II” physics, it also contains rooms that are placed on top of other rooms!

What sorcery is this?!?!?!?

This phsyics-defying marvel is further emphasised by some really cool-looking translucent floors that allow you to look up or down at the rooms above and below you. These not only give the level a slightly futuristic look, but they also fit into the bright ice lolly-related theme that the WAD’s name hints at:

Nope, this floor isn’t mirrored. You can literally see right through it.

As for the actual gameplay, it’s reasonably ok. Although experienced players won’t find the level’s 40-50 mid to low-level monsters to be too much of a challenge, the arena-like nature of the level means that it plays a little bit like a cross between a very mild “slaughtermap” level and a more traditional “Doom II” level. Yes, you’ll probably be able to blaze through the level’s monsters in about five or ten minutes, but it’s still reasonably fun if you’re a little out of practice and/or are a novice player.

Seriously, this is the most challenging part of the level!

The ammo distribution in this level is a little bit strange though. Although there’s just enough ammo in the level, it slightly tends to favour the rocket launcher and chaingun – which is probably in keeping with the level’s deathmatch roots. This element of the level is also noticeable by the fact that the only health pickups are four beserk packs and a couple of spheres. Needless to say, this makes the single-player experience even easier, since your health will rarely drop below double-digits.

The level’s deathmatch-based design is also notable because, although the level does have a (very slightly hidden) “exit” button, it doesn’t actually work. So, technically speaking, there’s no way to actually finish this level.

Seriously, it’s just there for show. The button doesn’t actually do anything.

As mentioned earlier, there are also a few new sounds too. These are glorious examples of late 1990s/early 2000s-style silliness. For example, whenever you take damage, the Doomguy will shout something like “we are many”, which is hilarious. Likewise, the level’s teleporters have a slightly different sound effect which sounds like the kind of thing that you’d expect to hear on an old computer program from the 1990s or early 2000s. It still sounds futuristic, but it’s also mildly nostalgic too 🙂

Then again, if you’re still playing “Doom II” these days, then nostalgia is probably something you love 🙂

All in all, this WAD is a fun little novelty. If you’re a little bit out of practice or you just want to spend a relaxing 5-10 minutes playing “Doom II”, then this WAD is well worth checking out. Yes, there’s technically no way of finishing it and it is primarily designed for deathmatch, but it looks cool and there’s still some single-player fun to be had here.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Burn The Night” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Ever since I accidentally rediscovered a horror novel that I’d bought on a whim about a decade ago and then forgotten about, I’ve been fascinated by Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” series. But, alas, all good things must come to an end. So, after reading the first five novels in the series (you can find my reviews of them here, here, here, here and here), I finally started reading the final novel – “Burn The Night”.

As you may have guessed, you should read the other five novels before reading this one. Not only will you be a bit puzzled about what is going on if you haven’t read the previous five novels, but you’ll also miss out on a lot of the significance and drama of various parts of this story. So, read the other “Dark Days” books before reading this one!

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Burn The Night”. This review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Harper Voyager (US) paperback edition of “Burn The Night” that I read.

“Burn The Night” is, as you may have guessed, the conclusion to the story that has been building over the past few novels. With Aurora free to build an army, Cynnia’s only chance of saving the world is to gain as many allies as possible. As such, she has sent her sister Nyx out in order to find Rowe and any other allies…

Meanwhile, in Savannah, Mira has her own problems. Not only does she still have to deal with Nick, but Jabari is also out for her blood too and the fanatics of the Daylight Coalition are also growing bolder and more aggressive…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is much better than the first. As regular readers might have guessed from yesterday’s article, my first impressions of this novel weren’t that great. Not only was I annoyed about the narration (more on that later), but I also worried that this novel contained too much fantasy and not enough horror! Yet, as the story progressed, I found myself utterly gripped. As the story progressed, it felt much more like a worthy part of this amazing series. Although this novel takes a while to get going, it is well worth sticking around!

I should start by talking about the novel’s fantasy elements. If you remember, I thought that the fifth novel was a bit like “Game Of Thrones”. Well, this novel is a lot more like “Game Of Thrones” and this is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, it’s a gloriously epic drama about two opposing armies and, despite the relative lack of horror elements, this novel is still as merciless and bloody as you would expect. On the downside, this is more of a “traditional” fantasy novel than the other novels in the series (and, tellingly, it is also a little bit longer too – at 418 pages). Whilst the slight genre change isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s a bit of a jarring change considering how the series has told more of a gothic horror/thriller story (with fantasy elements) most of the time.

But, once you get over this genre change, then the story remains as gripping as the first and fifth novels were. This is helped by the fact that the series’ action thriller elements are used to full effect here. Whilst you shouldn’t expect a dramatic fight on literally every page, there are enough fast-paced action scenes to keep the story gripping and to carry you through the slightly weaker first half of the novel to the much better second half. Likewise, as the novel progresses, the story’s “Game Of Thrones”-style politics gets more complex and interesting as the alliance takes shape.

It is also worth mentioning the narration in this novel too. Unlike the previous five novels, this one uses *ugh* rotating first-person narration (Why?!?!?!) – with some segments being narrated by Mira and some segments narrated by Nyx.

Thankfully, these narrator changes don’t happen too often and we’re given enough time (usually 3-4 chapters or more) to get used to each narrator between changes. Even so, some clear way of signposting the changes in narrator would have been useful. Although you can usually work out who the narrator is by looking at what other characters are mentioned, it is a little bit confusing to start another chapter and then only realise that the narrator has changed after a paragraph or so. Yes, this is much more of an issue in the earlier parts of the novel than the later parts, but it was a little annoying.

I really have mixed feelings about Nyx’s segments of the novel too. On the one hand, they help to add extra depth to several characters in addition to emphasising one of the main themes of the series. Like Mira, Danaus and Rowe – Nyx is something of an misfit. She’s basically the naturi version of Mira (even down to her complex romance with Rowe, which mirrors Mira and Danaus’ relationship) and this really helps to emphasise the uplifting theme of misfits being awesome 🙂 Plus, of course, these chapters also help to make the naturi seem more complex and sympathetic, which fits into the novel’s message of solidarity amongst those disliked by the mainstream.

On the other hand, the novel wouldn’t have lost a huge amount if Nyx’s adventures had been kept “off screen” and relayed through dialogue instead. Not only would the story be a lot more focused (both narratively and tonally) with just Mira narrating, but it would also be a little bit shorter. Don’t get me wrong, more “Dark Days” is never a bad thing – but I found that the increased length of the story meant that it sometimes diverged from the brilliantly sharp and streamlined storytelling of some of the previous novels – like “Nightwalker” and “Wait For Dusk”.

As for how this novel concludes the series, it does this really well. Without spoiling too much, the ending to this novel is a satisfying reward for reading six novels 🙂 Yes, the ending does leave a few things tantalisingly mysterious but there are so many spectacular and powerfully emotional moments that really provide a beautifully satisfying ending to an absolutely wonderful journey. Seriously, I’ll really miss spending time with Mira and Danaus.

All in all, whilst “Burn The Night” isn’t a perfect novel, it is a very good ending to an amazing series 🙂 Yes, you’ll have to grapple with multiple first-person narrators and a shift away from the horror genre and towards the fantasy genre. But, if you can deal with this, then the novel gets significantly better as it progresses. As I said, it’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series – even if, on it’s own merits, “Burn The Night” is only an ok to good novel. Still, I’ll really miss this series 😦 It has been one of the coolest, most atmospheric and generally awesome series of books that I’ve ever read.

If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, the first half or so of it would maybe just about get a three, but the second half would get four and a half.

Review: “The Maltese Falcon” By Dashiell Hammett (Novel)

Although I read Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” about 11-13 years ago, I somehow didn’t read Dashiell Hammett’s 1929/30 novel “The Maltese Falcon” until shortly before writing this review. How could I have been so foolish? Seriously, this is one of those books that I should have read a very long time ago.

So, with that said, let’s take a look at “The Maltese Falcon”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Orion (UK) paperback edition of “The Maltese Falcon” (1929/30) that I read.

The story begins in late 1920s San Francisco, where a private detective called Sam Spade has a new client. His client, Miss Wonderley, is worried about her sister – who has run off with a man called Floyd Thursby and won’t talk to her. She suspects that Thursby is up to no good and is willing to pay Sam handsomely in order to investigate. Astonished by the money, Sam puts his right-hand man Miles on the case and asks him to follow Thursby.

However, later that night, Miles is found dead. Thanks to rumours about an affair between Sam and Miles’ wife, Sam falls under suspicion. Although a few of the local detectives take Sam’s side in the matter – Sam realises that, in order to clear his name properly, he needs to find the real killer. This, of course, will plunge him deep into a web of criminal intrigue…..

One of the first things that I will say is that this book is that it is to modern detective fiction what “Blade Runner” (1982) is to sci-fi cinema. If this novel didn’t invent the “film noir” genre, then it certainly did a lot to define, inspire and popularise it.

Just like how numerous science fiction films have been inspired by the masterpiece that is “Blade Runner”, reading this novel is a perfect education about the noir genre. And “The Maltese Falcon” is as gripping and refreshing to read in the 2010s as it probably was during the late 1920s. It is a timeless masterpiece. But, why?

First of all, it crams more detail, atmosphere and complex plotting into 213 pages than many modern writers would struggle to include in 400. It tells a tight, focused story that plunges the reader into a fascinatingly grim world of intrigue and danger. Although the story has many sub-plots and details, these are all there for a good reason and there isn’t a single unnecessary detail. Unlike the slightly confusing plot of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”, this novel will reward you if you carefully keep track of every detail. Everything happens for a reason.

Plus, almost every chapter ending and chapter beginning is used in an expert way. Like a lot of older books, this novel also has actual chapter titles too – which hint intriguingly about what is going to happen. Seriously, I miss chapter titles.

Secondly, this is one of the most human novels that I have read in a long time. Like with great films such as “Blade Runner”, this novel is an examination of the murkier sides of human nature. Not only do the characters all have well-defined motivations, but they also come across as realistic people too.

For example, although Sam may be the protagonist of the story, he’s not exactly an altruistic crusader for justice. He’s a detective because it pays well and because a rough, mean man like him probably wouldn’t do well in any other lawful occupation. Yes, there are some glimmers of honour and goodness in him, but he’s the kind of rough and dubious character that the world he lives in has turned him into. This novel is a timeless novel because it is a novel about human nature.

There’s a brilliant passage about a third of the way through this novel where Sam tells another character about a case that he once worked on. In this case, he’d been hired to track down a man who had abandoned his family. When Sam finally caught up with the man, he told Sam why he left. After narrowly escaping death from a steel girder that had been dropped from a building site, the man realises that the world is random and cruel. He realises that death could lurk around any corner and that he had to find some way to adjust to life again. He needed to go off and find meaning in life, even if this meant leaving everyone he loved. Then, he just settled into a routine again somewhere else. This is one of the most realistic, profound and deeply human things that I’ve ever read. It is also a manifesto, of sorts, for how the noir genre differs from traditional detective fiction.

Thirdly, this novel is gloriously atmospheric too. This novel is filled with carefully-chosen descriptions and details that plunge you into a much greater “world” than is shown in the story. Like how “Blade Runner” conjures up a giant futuristic mega-city from just a few rooms and a couple of streets, this novel gives you an in-depth glimpse into 1920s San Francisco from just a few carefully-chosen details and locations. There are so many fascinating quirks and details about this story’s historical “world” that really bring it to life.

For example, one of the small details that amused and surprised me was that a couple of the main characters roll their own cigarettes. This initially reminded me more of ’00s Britain than 1920s America, until I realised that not only was this possibly due to the poverty of the Great Depression but also because commercialism (eg: advertising, mass production etc..) was less of a potent force in America back then than it would later be. And all of this from just brief descriptions of people rolling cigarettes. This is what I mean by the novel’s “world” being much larger than what is shown on the page.

Fourthly, the novel’s narration has aged really well. Yes, if you’re used to modern writing styles, it may take you a little while to get used to the fact that Hammett describes everything in a little bit more detail. But, this novel is one of the most clearly-written early 20th century novels that I’ve read. Even the story’s old-timey historical slang usually makes sense from the context it is used in. And, for a ninety-year old novel, it almost reads like something that could have been written today. Plus, surprisingly, this novel has as much sex, violence and profanity as you would expect from a modern novel. Although this is often implied rather than shown, it comes across as remarkably modern for a novel from 1929/30.

Yes, of course, there are a few parts of the story that haven’t aged well. But, surprisingly, this 1920s/30s novel is actually less “politically incorrect” than some 1950s-70s novels I’ve read. There’s little to no racist language and the novel presents both men and women in a cruelly cynical, but relatively equal, way (eg: they’re both shown to be capable of good and evil, they both suffer and perpetrate acts of violence, they’re both shown to have emotions, they’re both shown to be stifled by traditional expectations etc…). Although this novel does contain some homophobia, this is relatively subtle when compared to some stories from 20-50 years later. So, yes, this old novel isn’t quite as dated as you might expect.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. It is as gripping and atmospheric today as it probably was in 1929. In just 213 short pages, it not only tells a complex (but focused) story that is filled with characters who seem real and alive, but it also gives you an in-depth glimpse into a fascinatingly dubious part of history. It is a “pulp” novel that says more about human nature than most “literary” novels could ever dream of. My only major criticism is that there isn’t a sequel to it. Then, again, this novel is one of a kind.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.

Review: “Wait For Dusk” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d review the fifth book in Jocelynn Drake’s excellent six-novel “Dark Days” series today (you can see my reviews of the previous four novels here, here, here and here). Although I plan to read at least one different novel before reading and reviewing the final book in the series, I’m definitely going to miss this series when it is finished.

Although “Wait For Dusk” begins a couple of minutes after the ending of the fourth novel, it tells a mostly self-contained story with enough recaps for newer readers. However, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel if you read the previous four books first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Wait For Dusk”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
—–

I read the 2010 EOS (US) paperback edition of this novel. However, I won’t include a scan of the book cover in this review, since it probably borders on being “Not Safe For Work”. Interestingly, this cover art is also a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover too. Although the cover art …technically.. isn’t misleading (if anything, it’s a plot spoiler), it doesn’t really represent the overall tone of the majority of this horror/thriller story either. So, don’t judge this book by it’s cover.
—-

“Wait For Dusk” begins with Mira being threatened by a mysterious man who claims to be her long-lost father. Calling himself Nick, he claims to be the being behind numerous trickster gods (Loki, Anansi etc..) throughout human history. And he has plans for Mira. He’ll grant her a few extra powers, as long as she uses them to gain control of both Danaus and Jabari. If she doesn’t, he’ll turn her into an ordinary human. After giving her this ultimatum, he disappears.

When Danaus and Valerio find Mira, she downplays what has happened. After all, they have more pressing matters to attend to. Not only is Tristan badly-wounded and racked with guilt, but Mira has been ordered before the vampire coven in Venice in order to formally take her seat as an elder.

After going through the grisly formalities, the next session of the coven begins. Vampires from across the world lodge complaints about naturi attacks. After Mira angrily tells the vampires to take care of it themselves, Macaire suggests that an example should be made of the naturi and requests that Mira travels to Budapest. She agrees, but soon realises that she might be walking into a trap…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is… wow! Not only is it a gloriously macabre horror novel and an utterly gripping thriller novel, but it is also basically “Game Of Thrones, but with vampires” too 🙂 Albeit, in terms of the story rather than the setting (which, in this novel, is the modern world rather than a medieval-style fantasy world).

This novel is filled with so many clever political machinations and brilliantly witty dialogue exchanges that it makes the second novel in the series seem disappointingly shallow by comparison. And, as the cover art shows, there are also a few romantic/erotic elements too – but these are more of a background element most of the time.

Not only does this novel contain several different types of horror (suspenseful horror, paranormal horror, gothic horror, gory horror, moral horror etc..), but it also contains several different variations on the thriller genre too. In addition to some expertly-directed ultra-violent action thriller scenes, there’s also a lot of thrilling suspense, some emotional conflict between the protagonists and some very well-written political thriller elements too. Seriously, this is how you write a horror thriller novel 🙂

Plus, the horror and thriller elements dovetail very nicely too. For example, Nick’s ultimatum to Mira means that she feels that time is running out (thriller) whilst also feeling conflicted about using her new powers to force Danaus to kill more readily than he ordinarily would (horror). This then causes a lot of friction between Mira and Danaus, which only helps to add to the suspense. And this is just one small example, I haven’t even got onto the story’s intricate political plots and machinations. This novel is almost like a perfect symphony of horror, drama, thrills, suspense and intrigue.

The story’s romance elements are handled reasonably well too, with both Mira and Danaus forced to examine their relationship when it is put under strain. Of course, as the cover art so blatantly spoils, there’s also a scene that long-time fans of the series have been waiting for too. This scene is surprisingly well-written and it has the level of vivid intensity that you would expect from this series. I would say that it isn’t for the prudish but, if you’re reading this series, then you probably aren’t prudish anyway.

One of the major strengths of this novel is the dialogue. Although the narration is still the kind of gripping first-person perspective thriller novel narration that you would expect, the dialogue is absolutely exquisite. If you like formal dialogue where characters are being superficially polite to each other, whilst trying to sneak in veiled insults, threats, cruel pranks or witty jibes, then you’ll love this story 🙂 Seriously, the dialogue exchanges brought a cynical smile to my face on many occasions. Plus, of course, this is also excellently counterpointed with more “matter of fact” arguments between the characters too.

Earlier, I likened this novel to “Game Of Thrones” and the comparison is a really good one (aside from the fact that this novel is set in the 2010s, rather than the middle ages). Seriously, if you want to see machiavellian power struggles, gripping intrigue and cunning plots, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂 Not only that, this novel also perfectly captures the chillingly brutal attitude towards political power that makes “Game Of Thrones” so morbidly compelling too.

Another strength of this story is the settings. For most of the novel, Mira and her allies find themselves alone in the beautiful – but deadly – city of Budapest. They have to work out who is in charge and then find a way to gain power over the city. Although this is reminiscent of the Venice-based scenes in the second novel in the series (“Dayhunter”), it is handled even more expertly. You really get the sense that the characters are plunged into an unfamiliar and dangerous place that will require them to use all of their wits to survive.

All in all, this is the best novel in the series so far 🙂 It contains a perfect blend of horror, thrills, suspense, sophistication, intrigue and drama. As I said earlier, it is basically “Game Of Thrones”, but with vampires 🙂 Seriously, this novel really amazed me 🙂 But, don’t judge this book by the cover though.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five.

Review: “Heart Of Desire – 11.11.11 Redux” by Kate Robinson (Novel)

First of all, full disclosure. As anyone who has read this old interview will know, the author of the book I’ll be reviewing today is a friend of mine from when I was at university.

Back in 2014, she sent me a first edition copy of “Heart Of Desire”. Although we had discussed the novel before it was published and I was eager to read it, I unfortunately only ended up reading about half of it at the time (probably because it was during my “watch DVDs instead of reading books” phase).

However, shortly after finishing the previous book I reviewed, I suddenly remembered this book. And, since I seem to be more interested in reading than I was a couple of years ago, I thought that I’d give this book another try. After all, I was curious to see how the story would finish (and, wow, I’ve just noticed that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments at the end of the book 🙂 )

So, let’s take a look at “Heart Of Desire”. Needless to say, this review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Tootie-Do Press (US) paperback edition of “Heart Of Desire” that I read.

“Heart Of Desire” is a 1990s-style, new age-themed sci-fi/thriller/alternate history novel that takes place in America. The story begins during the early-mid 2000s with a character called Teresa Vaughn, whose infant daughter Mikka mysteriously disappears and then reappears a few minutes later.

Then we flash forward to August 2009. The 44th US President – Harris Cantrell Henry – is travelling to Air Force One, when he receives an alarming report from NIHSA (an amalgamation of several US agencies).

Once the plane is in the air, President Henry is in the middle of a meeting with his staff when he suddenly has a disturbing vision of mysterious telepathic beings called “reviewers” who warn him not to interfere with their plans to alter Earth….

One of the first things that I will say about “Heart Of Desire” is that it is a brilliantly eccentric mixture of “X-Files”-style conspiracy paranoia, 1960s-style new age mysticism and something like a low-mid budget 1990s-style thriller movie. It’s different to pretty much any other novel that I’ve read and, although it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly grew on me as I kept reading it.

My reactions to reading “Heart Of Desire” were surprisingly varied. Initially, it just seemed like a reasonably slow-paced sci-fi/political thriller novel, then it went in a much more suspenseful and paranoid direction, then it was gloriously cheesy (in the way that the best “so bad that it’s good” movies are) and then, during the final third or so, the story turns into a darker and more gripping thriller story. Plus, although “Heart Of Desire” doesn’t contain that many horror elements, there are at least a couple of disturbing moments that will catch you by surprise too.

If you’ve ever watched a few seasons of “The X-Files”, watched “Twin Peaks” and/or read a few new age books, then you’ll probably love the fact that this novel references pretty much every “classic” conspiracy theory and/or new age thing under the sun.

There are references to: ancient aliens, CIA plots, Bible codes, morgellons, akashic records, Route 666, MKULTRA, UFOs, 2012, reptilians, Operation Paperclip, astral projection, the Age Of Aquarius, Area 51 etc.. The sheer number of references gives this story a gloriously over-the-top quality that really brought a smile to my face.

This also helps to add to the story’s endearingly nostalgic 1990s-style atmosphere too – since it evokes a more innocent time when conspiracy theories were hilariously bizarre things – rather than grim political reality (eg: the Snowden revelations, Trump’s tweeting, Brexit etc..).

Although this story is set in the early 2010s, it is a very 1990s novel. As mentioned in the author interview, the first draft of the story was written in 1999 and later updated. Everything from the story’s optimistic “The West Wing”-style depiction of the US presidency to the occasional 90s cultural reference and the “X-Files” style focus on conspiracy theories is wonderfully ’90s 🙂 Seriously, if you want some 1990s nostalgia, then this story is worth taking a look at.

In terms of the narration, the novel uses a mixture of slightly informal narration, more “matter of fact” thriller novel narration and more descriptive “literary” narration. Although this style takes a little while to get used to, it works really well for the most part. Likewise, aside from the occasional lecture or info dump, the dialogue in this story is reasonably well-written too. It’s kind of a like a mixture of more realistic dialogue and more stylised movie/TV-style dialogue.

This story is a fairly political one that leans fairly heavily to the left (in a slightly 1960s-style way) with themes including the environment, Buddhism, corporate manipulation, right-wing hypocrisy etc.. Although a lot of this stuff works really well in the context of the story, the novel does include the occasional lecture or moment of unintentional comedy. But, fairly often, the political elements are handled in a more understated way (eg: by just leading by example with regard to the characters, the descriptions, the story itself etc..).

Plus, the more earnestly idealistic elements of the story help to add to the 1960s-90s style atmosphere of the story, whilst also adding some originality too. Seriously, at least a couple of the main characters are hippies (New Age ministers to be precise) – how often do you see this in a thriller novel?

As for the story’s characters, they’re reasonably good. The novel contains a mixture of more “realistic” characters, such as Teresa (a former journalist) and President Henry (a vaguely Obama/ Bill Clinton-like character), several mysteriously otherworldly characters, a chilling villain or two and a few 1960s-style New Age/Hippie characters too. As hinted at earlier, the fact that the novel’s protagonists aren’t really typical thriller novel protagonists also helps to add some originality to the story too.

In terms of pacing, this story is fairly ok. Whilst the novel starts off fairly slow-paced, it gradually becomes faster and more gripping as the story progresses. Even so, there are occasional moments of description or backstory when you’d expect the story to move forward in a more focused way. But, for the most part, the pacing is reasonably good. Likewise, this story is a fairly standard length (363 pages) for a modern novel and it doesn’t seem too long.

All in all, this story isn’t your typical thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the 1990s, a fan of cheesy sci-fi, interested in the 1960s and/or are Fox Mulder from “The X-Files”, then you’ll probably have fun with this novel. Yes, it’s a little bit slow to start and there’s the occasional lecture etc.. but this is the kind of story that brought a warm smile to my face in the way that the best movies and TV shows from the 1980s/90s do. As I said, it isn’t for everyone, but if you want a thriller novel that is a little bit different, then this one is well worth checking out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.