Review: “Fall Of Night” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, after I finished reading Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night” about a month or two ago, I’d thought about reading the sequel. But, at the time, second-hand copies were a little on the expensive side of things. Still, a while later, the price came down and I ended up getting a copy of Maberry’s 2014 novel “Fall Of Night”.

However, I should probably point out that you need to read “Dead Of Night” before you read this book. It is a direct sequel to that novel and, despite a lot of recaps, the story picks up pretty much where “Dead Of Night” left off. So, this story will make more sense and have more of a dramatic impact if you’ve read “Dead Of Night” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Fall Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Dead Of Night”.

This is the 2014 St. Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Fall Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania. Following the events of the previous book, the survivors of the zombie virus outbreak are holed up in the town’s school and the troops outside the school have agreed to let them live. However, the leader of the survivors – tough local cop Dez Fox – is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and her on-off boyfriend Billy Trout can’t get any more news reports out of the school because the military are jamming all communications.

In Washington DC, there is chaos. The US president’s hawkish national security advisor, Scott Blair, is furiously urging him to take extreme measures to contain the outbreak. Naturally, the president is hesitant about authorising such things. Some of his staff are also trying to make him think about how this crisis will affect him politically. Of course, when they hear that Billy Trout may have some of Dr. Volker’s research notes about the zombie virus, the situation becomes even more complicated.

Meanwhile, in a town near Stebbins called Bordentown, a resurrected serial killer called Homer Gibbon has just broken into the local Starbucks. Billy’s cameraman, Goat, is there and is trying to upload more information about the infection to the press when this happens. To Goat’s surprise, Homer spares his life on the condition that he follows him and gets his side of the story out to the media….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although the story is very slow to really get started and it is probably the bleakest horror novel I’ve read since I read James Herbert’s “Domain” back when I was a teenager, it is still a surprisingly good book. Yes, it would have been even better if it was shorter, but it’s one hell of a horror novel and a fairly decent thriller novel too. Just don’t judge it by the first hundred pages or so.

And, yes, this novel is even more of a horror novel than “Dead Of Night” was. In addition to the usual splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel contains numerous other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is probably bleak horror. This is a grim, bleak novel about traumatised survivors trying to stay alive, people facing certain death, people making grim decisions and a slowly-unfolding zombie apocalypse that keeps getting worse. It’s a compelling story, but it isn’t exactly easy reading.

Even so, there are plenty of other types of horror too. In addition to post-apocalyptic horror, moral horror, psychological horror, character-based horror and scientific/medical horror, this is also one of those novels that will even occasionally make you feel sorry for a few of the zombies too! Seriously, this novel may not be outright scary, but it is a surprisingly disturbing (and depressing) horror novel.

The novel is also a fairly compelling thriller novel too. Yes, the novel begins fairly slowly with lots of grim scenes showing the psychological and political aftermath of the events of the first novel. But, as the story progresses, it becomes more suspenseful, more fast-paced and more dramatic. In addition to some dramatic zombie battles and a sub-plot about a team of mercenaries sent into the town (and, yes, there are a couple of references to Maberry’s “Patient Zero” too), the novel does something really clever with it’s more spectacular set pieces.

During a couple of the novel’s really dramatic moments (which I won’t spoil), the novel will add a lot of extra impact to these scenes by using multiple chapters that show how the same events are experienced by different characters. Although this might sound repetitive, it actually works really well and it helps to hammer home the magnitude of these scenes.

In terms of the characters, this novel is really good. Good horror relies on good characterisation and this novel excels at this. Even background characters who only appear for a single chapter will get a fair amount of characterisation. Likewise, the novel’s main characters have all been affected by the events of the previous novel and this allows for a lot of character-based drama, psychological drama, moral ambiguity etc.. too.

The novel also takes a more realistic approach to characterisation than Hollywood movies do, which helps to add some extra horror to many scenes. For example, when one of the more traumatised survivors freaks out about everything that is happening, Dez does the classic Hollywood thing of trying to slap some sense into him. Needless to say, this just makes things worse and also realistically makes Dez feel fairly guilty afterwards too.

The novel’s characterisation also helps to add a little bit of happiness, warmth and dark comedy to this grim tale too. Most of these parts of the story involve background characters who die in ironic, but merciful, ways. The most heartwarming examples are probably the scene involving some medieval re-enactors at a local renaissance fair and the scene involving a pyromaniac who is working his dream job as a military explosives expert.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact” style that both helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also emphasising the stark bleakness of the story too. This is also complemented by lots of harsh dialogue that, far from making the story seem laughably immature, actually helps to add to the story’s bleak sense of hopelessness, trauma and grimness.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel falls down a bit. At 402 pages, this novel felt about fifty to a hundred pages longer than it should be. Likewise, the sheer number of recaps during the earlier parts of the story and the slow-paced focus on the aftermath of the first novel mean that this novel really doesn’t get off to the kind of gripping start that it should do. Even so, the novel’s pacing becomes a lot faster and more suspenseful as the story progresses and I guess that the slow beginning is meant to make these parts of the book seem faster-paced by contrast.

All in all, whilst I preferred “Dead Of Night” to “Fall Of Night”, this novel is a fairly impressive horror novel. Yes, the story is slow to start and it is probably one of the most bleak horror novels I’ve ever read (seriously, it’s second only to James Herbert’s “Domain”), but it is still a very compelling, suspenseful and gripping horror novel.

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

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Review: “Personal” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to read another Lee Child novel so soon after reading “The Midnight Line” two or three weeks ago, the weather was still fairly hot and – as such- I needed something relaxing, gripping and just generally fun to read.

So, I thought that I’d check out Lee Child’s 2014 novel “Personal” today. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read ever since a relative found an American hardback edition of it in a charity shop in Salisbury a couple of years ago and thought that I might be interested in it.

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

This is the 2014 Delacorte Press (US) hardback edition of “Personal” that I read.

The novel begins with wandering ex-military policeman Jack Reacher sitting on a bus that is travelling to Seattle. Since the bus travels near a military base, a soldier ends up leaving a copy of Army Times behind. Out of professional curiosity, Reacher decides to take a look at it… and finds his own name in the personal ads segment. The US military wants him to call them.

After getting off the bus in Seattle, Reacher calls the military and he is quickly flown to a top secret part of Fort Bragg. A sniper has threatened the French President and the international intelligence community has narrowed the suspects down to four possible people. One of whom is a man that Reacher arrested for murder sixteen years earlier. Needless to say, Reacher agrees to help out with the case….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a thriller novel. It contains an absolutely brilliant mixture of spy drama, crime drama, suspense, action and detective work. Although the earlier parts of the story tend to focus more on suspense and detective work, the story becomes even more dramatic and gripping as it progresses.

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between these different sub-genres of thriller fiction fairly right, meaning that the story remains fairly consistently gripping throughout since Lee Child can just switch from sub-genre to sub-genre in order to add variety without slowing the pacing down too much.

In addition to this, the novel is also a little bit like a “greatest hits” compilation of what I can remember of Child’s older novels too. There’s a sniper-based storyline (like in “One Shot”), there’s a segment set in Britain (like in “The Hard Way”) and there’s a gang/crime theme too (like in “Persuader”).

Although most of the novel’s detective elements happen during the earlier parts of the story, there are several cool moments throughout the story where Reacher makes Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about various things. Plus, not only is Reacher referred to as “Sherlock Homeless” a couple of times (which always made me think of the “Viz” cartoon of the same name) but there’s even a vague reference to the BBC’s “Sherlock” TV show, when Reacher “calls the police” in London by firing a gun several times (like in “A Scandal In Belgravia).

The novel’s spy thriller elements are also pretty interesting and they lend the story a murky, secretive and ambiguous atmosphere which helps to increase the feelings of suspense – especially when contrasted with the equally murky world of organised crime.

Even so, there are a few inconsistencies with the novel’s spy elements. For example, when Reacher arrives in London, it is made very clear that he’s there unofficially (and that it would cause an international incident if MI5 found out about it). Yet, when he later gets spotted by a British agent that he met earlier in the story, they just team up and MI5 is totally cool with it (even offering help and support to Reacher at various points in the story).

This novel is also a fairly decent action-thriller novel, with very little of the pacifism that can be found in Child’s “The Midnight Line”. Although this does give parts of the novel a slightly vigilante-like tone, it also allows for a fair number of dramatic, fast-paced and impactful fight scenes – which are often also paired with suspenseful elements (eg: time limits, worries about stray bullets, Reacher meeting a well-matched adversary etc..) to help keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In terms of the characters – whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here. Not only does Reacher get a fairly decent amount of characterisation, but several members of the supporting cast do too.

On the other hand, the novel’s villains (eg: the evil sniper, the gangsters from Romford etc...) are a little bit on the cartoonish side of things – although this is done in a way that makes them feel extra menacing, so it isn’t an entirely bad thing.

In terms of the writing, this novel is as good and fast-paced as ever. Plus, unlike some of Lee Child’s novels, this one is narrated by Reacher himself. This lends the story an even greater degree of focus, suspense and character. It also helps to add a sense of vulnerability to the story, since we only see and know what Reacher does.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The hardback edition I read was a relatively efficient 353 pages long, although this may be due to the slightly larger page size. Even so, the length is fairly comparable to other Lee Child novels, with the suspense and pacing making sure that the novel never feels too long. Likewise, as you would expect from a Lee Child novel, the pacing is reasonably fast too. However, this novel starts out in a slightly slower and more suspenseful way before becoming more fast-paced later in the story.

All in all, this is a really good thriller novel. It’s an intriguing blend of the spy thriller, crime thriller, action-thriller and detective genres πŸ™‚ Whilst it doesn’t do anything especially new or innovative, it’s still a brilliantly gripping novel that was a lot of fun to read.

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

Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” By Mark Morris (Novel)

Since the weather was still pretty hot, I felt like reading a nice relaxing zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, namely Mark Morris’ 2014 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”.

I first saw this book online a few months ago and was impressed by the dramatic title and gloriously melodramatic cover art. But, since it was slightly expensive at the time, I ended up reading Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” instead. However, a couple of weeks before writing this review, second-hand copies of the book were a little bit cheaper online, so I decided to get a copy.

Although this book seems to be a spin-off from Stephen Jones’ “Zombie Apocalypse!” series, it seems to be a fairly self-contained novel. Yes, some elements of the book will probably make more sense if you’ve read the main series (which I haven’t, since they seem to be epistolary novels. And, although I read “Dracula”, “Carrie” and “World War Z” during the ’00s, I’ve kind of gone off of this narrative style). But, this is pretty much a self-contained stand-alone novel with conventional third-person narration πŸ™‚

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” that I read.

The novel begins in London, in a dystopian version of Britain (well, more dystopian than usual). A night-shift nurse called Cat Harris is on her way to Lewisham Hospital when a frenzied person covered in blood lurches out in front of the car. Luckily, Cat is able to get away but she feels slightly shaken by the incident and somewhat guilty about not helping the person who lunged at her car. Still, there is work to be done at the hospital’s A&E department…

Meanwhile, a seventeen-year old gang member called Carlton is preparing for an attack on a rival gang. Although Carlton’s gang have the element of surprise on their side, Carlton ends up getting stabbed in the hip by a youth from the rival gang. So, naturally, he ends up being taken to A&E at Lewisham Hospital….

Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a hen party in a nearby nightclub. Although the evening is going well, a bearded man in a white robe enters the nightclub and begins to rant about beltane, fleas and other arcane things – before suddenly biting the bride-to-be. Whilst the other people at the club beat the bearded man to a pulp, the hen party make their way to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is basically an updated modern version of classic 1980s splatterpunk fiction πŸ™‚ Everything from the cynical dystopian satire to the gritty inner London setting to the gallons of gore is wonderfully evocative of classic ’80s splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc…

But, it is also a modern novel too – about the best way to describe this is that the novel is maybe a little bit like Attack The Block mixed with the film adaptation of V For Vendetta mixed with 28 Days Later and/or possibly the first “Resident Evil” movie.

As a horror novel, this story works really well πŸ™‚ Although it isn’t exactly scary, it is filled with the kind of intense, ultra-gruesome, claustrophobic, tragic, dystopian, fast-paced and suspenseful horror that you would expect from a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel.

Likewise, this novel also includes some transgressive horror, some medical horror, a bit of paranormal horror, lots of apocalyptic horror, a few moments of gothic horror and some insect-based horror too. In other words, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked or horrified.

Interestingly, the zombies in this novel are modern-style fast-moving zombies – with the zombie virus also being spread via infected fleas (like the bubonic plague) and having some kind of paranormal component to it too.

This allows for some fairly inventive scenes, such as infected characters having psychic visions or pickled specimens in a nearby medical museum returning to life. In addition to this, the fast-moving zombies also help to keep the later parts of the story suitably thrilling too. But, thankfully, some classic tropes of the genre (eg: aim for the head!) still remain too πŸ™‚

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too πŸ™‚ In addition to a few movie/TV references, a subtle reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats“, arguments about whether the zombies are actually zombies and some amusing dialogue segments, there are also a few brilliant moments of grotesque humour too (such as a heartwarmingly romantic reunion… of zombies) which will either make you laugh out loud or feel slightly queasy.

The novel’s dystopian elements are pretty interesting too. Although they’re mostly kept to the background, this story is set in a vaguely “V For Vendetta”-style version of Britain that has a nationalistic UKIP/Tory-style government, daily curfews, armed police, mysterious conspiracies etc.. With the only reason that it hasn’t turned into a full-blown 1984-style dictatorship mostly just being because of governmental incompetence, stinginess/austerity etc.. Seriously, this novel is a brilliant piece of political satire.

However, one fault with this novel is that it overloads the reader with characters and sub-plots during the first half of the novel. Yes, all of these sub-plots do add scale, suspense, emotional depth, narrative breadth etc… and the story does become more streamlined later, but it means that the crucial early parts of the story aren’t always as fast-paced or focused as they should be.

This wouldn’t have been too bad if this novel had used the classic splatterpunk technique of killing off most of the background characters after just one chapter, but they’ll often get at least a couple of chapters (if not more) – which bogs the story down a bit.

In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably well-written. Like in classic splatterpunk novels, the focus is more on ordinary people rather than on soldiers, politcians, police officers etc.. Although, as mentioned earlier, the focus on introducing lots of characters near the beginning of the story does make the story feel a little bit less focused than it should be.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to switching between more formal and more informal narration depending on the situation, the story’s narration also contains some absolutely awesome descriptions – like this one: “The church was a squat, ugly, moss-covered building that perched like a toad in a sea of mud and tangled vegetation, from which broken, slanted gravestones jutted like old teeth.

However, one minor annoyance is that the novel randomly switches to present-tense narration during one or two chapters though. Even so, this novel is wonderfully readable πŸ™‚

Like with the other “Zombie Apocalypse!” spin-off novel I’ve read, this one also includes a few greyscale illustrated pages too. But, most of these just seem to be pictures of blood-spattered hospital corridors and they don’t really add too much to the story. Then again, if you’re having difficulty picturing the settings, then I suppose they might come in handy.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 343 pages, it’s a little long by classic splatterpunk standards but on par with other modern horror novels. Likewise, although the novel becomes a lot more focused and fast-paced during the later parts, the numerous character introductions and the emphasis on suspense etc.. near the beginning means that the novel gets off to a slightly slower and less streamlined start than I would have liked.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Yes, it isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still really brilliant πŸ™‚ If you want to read a slightly more updated, modern version of the type of awesome old 1980s splatterpunk horror novels that used to be common in second-hand bookshops/charity shops a decade or two ago, then check this novel out.

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

Review: ” A Trail Through Time” By Jodi Taylor

Well, after reading the first three novels in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “The Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series (you can see my reviews of them here, here and here), I reluctantly stopped reading the series for a while since second-hand copies of them were getting progressively more expensive the further I went through the series.

But, when I noticed that the fourth and fifth books weren’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, I decided to splash out on them. And, although I’ll probably save the fifth book for a later date, I thought that I’d take a look at Taylor’s 2014 novel “A Trail Through Time” today πŸ™‚

Although this is the fourth novel in a series, it contains quite a few recaps. So, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel. However, the story will have much more comedic, dramatic and emotional impact if you’ve read the other three books first.

So, let’s take a look at “A Trail Through Time”. Needless to say, this review will contain a metric ton of SPOILERS (including for the previous three novels).

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “A Trail Through Time” that I read.

The novel begins with a recap of the ending of the previous novel. Time-travelling historian Madeleine “Max” Maxwell has just found herself in a parallel universe with a version of her lover, Leon. In Max’s universe, Leon died. In Leon’s universe, Max died. Needless to say, both are pretty amazed to see each other again.

However, before Max and Leon can spend too long in each other’s company, they get a phone call warning them that someone is coming. Less than a minute later, mysterious armed men begin to attack Leon’s house.

Luckily, this version of Leon has a time travel pod hidden in the garden. So, they jump back in time to a deserted tropical island. Leon explains that the armed men are the time police! The name pretty much says it all really. They’re after Max. And it isn’t long before they show up on the island.

After dodging them again, Max and Leon jump back to 17th century London. There is a frost fair on the river Thames, and it is bloody freezing! Needless to say, it isn’t long before the time police show up again. But, how long can our favourite fugitives keep ahead of them?….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it’s even more compelling than I expected. I binge-read most of it in a single day πŸ™‚ Everything great about the first three novels in the series has been focused, refined and reinvented and it is brilliant. It is epic. Seriously, I cannot praise this novel highly enough! It’s like “Doctor Who” meets “Sliders” meets “Bluestone 42” meets “Stargate SG-1” meets… well… something even more awesome.

Not only is the early part of the novel like a brilliantly comedic version of “Doctor Who” (seriously, it reminded me a bit of this episode), but the time police are an absolutely brilliant addition to the story too. They’re exactly the right combination of chillingly menacing and hilariously silly (I mean, time police!). Likewise, turning Max and Leon into fugitives is a brilliant way to keep the story focused whilst also adding lots of thrilling suspense, chase scenes and character-based drama. Genius!

Likewise, the slightly slower middle parts of the story add more atmosphere, characterisation and depth (including hinting at a lot of dramatic “off screen” politics, conflicts etc..) whilst also building up to a spectacularly dramatic, powerful and thrilling final act πŸ™‚ And, yes, the later parts of the story are absolutely epic. Imagine the series finale of a great TV show and you might come close. Although the final battle is relatively small in scale, this only makes it more powerful and dramatic.

The parallel universe premise of the novel is utterly amazing too πŸ™‚ Not only does this allow the story to return to it’s roots, but it also allows for lots of other interesting changes and subtle differences that really help to keep the reader on their toes. It also adds a lot of drama and suspense to the novel too, since Max finds herself abandoned in another, strange world with a very slightly different history.

Plus, as you’d expect from a “St.Mary’s” novel, there are also quite a few interesting time travel scenes too. Although these aren’t the main focus of the story, there are a reasonable number of them and they include random and eccentric things such as a visit to ancient Egypt to see Pharaoh Akhenatan, the eruption in Pompeii, a frost fair on the River Thames, a character catching bubonic plague in the middle ages etc…

As for the novel’s characters, they’re as eccentric and well-written as ever. In addition to the parallel universe storyline allowing for the return of a familiar villain (Barclay) and for some interesting character changes, the novel’s early focus on Max and Leon fleeing the time police also allows for a lot of characterisation too. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, the time police are brilliant antagonists too – being just the right mixture of menacing and hilariously silly.

In terms of the writing, it’s also as good as ever too. If you’ve read previous novels in the series, you’ll know that Max’s first-person narration is a wonderfully unique combination of irreverent humour, serious storytelling and more “matter of fact” narration. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I find the narration in this series to be an absolute joy to read πŸ™‚

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably good. Although the novel is 379 pages long, it never really feels too long. Likewise, not only is this novel more of a fast-paced thriller, but even the novel’s slower-paced scenes still feel gripping thanks to the dramatic backstory. Likewise, this novel has a really good structure and story arc too. There’s also a really good balance between faster and slower segments of the novel, and the story feels a lot more confident and focused than some earlier novels in the series did.

All in all, this is an absolutely awesome sci-fi/comedy/thriller/drama novel πŸ™‚ Everything that makes this series so brilliant has been refined, focused and reinvented excellently in this novel. If you want a novel that is a bit like a more eccentric, comedic, irreverent and grown-up version of “Doctor Who” – complete with a really epic story arc – then you can’t go wrong with “A Trail Through Time”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a five πŸ™‚

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.

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 πŸ™‚ )

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 πŸ™‚ 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.

Review: “The Oath Of The Five Lords” By Yves Sente And AndrΓ© Juillard (Graphic Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I last reviewed a graphic novel (I think that the last time was in 2013, unless you count this webcomic review from last year), and I hadn’t planned to review one today.

But, the day before I originally prepared this review, a relative happened to find one in a charity shop and thought that I might like it. So, I found myself the proud owner of a copy of Sente and Juillard’s “The Oath Of The Five Lords”.

So, let’s take a look at it:

Despite the obvious influence from HergΓ©’s “Tintin” comics, this graphic novel is a stand-alone comic in a series featuring two characters called Blake & Mortimer.

Although these characters were originally created during the mid 20th century by a cartoonist (who was a friend of HergΓ©, and also contributed to several “Tintin” comics) called Edgar P. Jacobs, “The Oath Of The Five Lords” is part of a modern continuation of the series by Sente and Juillard – with “The Oath Of The Five Lords” first being published in 2012, before being translated into English in 2014.

“The Oath Of The Five Lords” begins with a short segment set in 1919, depicting an argument between T.E. Lawrence and a military intelligence official about a book that Lawrence is writing. Thirty-five years later, in 1954, a mysterious hooded figure breaks into Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and steals an antique violin.

The next day, Captain Blake (of MI5) learns of the death of an old friend, whilst his academic friend Mortimer ends up getting drawn into the investigation during a visit to Oxford.

And, yes, Blake really does look like a “Daily Express” reader too. They got this detail absolutely right!

Needless to say, when a second theft occurs at the museum and another one of Blake’s friends dies, it soon becomes obvious that there is more to this case than first appeared. So, it is up to Blake & Mortimer to solve the mystery…

In terms of the story, this comic is really good – being reminiscent of both an episode of “Poirot” and possibly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign Of The Four“, but with a very slightly harder “edge” to it than these classic stories.

The story treads a fine line between being an exciting old-fashioned thriller (with lots of old cars being driven ridiculously quickly, dramatic phone calls etc..), being an old-school spy story (slightly) and being a more traditional detective story – with lots of red herrings and clues along the way.

For example, in this part of the story, Mortimer purloins a Turkish candlestick (on Blake’s instructions). Why? Well, you’ll have to wait until later in the comic to find out…

The solution to the mystery is also somewhat surprising too but, although the comic leaves a few very subtle clues for the audience, it does feel a bit like an unforeshadowed plot twist. With the revelation of the masked criminal’s identity feeling very slightly like the conclusion to a somewhat ‘serious’ episode of “Scooby Doo”. Even so, the story surrounding the events of the comic is surprisingly compelling, and the criminal’s motivations fit into the events of the story fairly well.

However, one slight criticism I have of the writing in this story is that it is perhaps a little bit too “formal” sometimes. Yes, it’s set in 1950s England. But, the formality of this time is played up to the point of unintentional comedy in a few scenes (with 19th century-style lines like “Compose yourself, dear fellow”).

Still, given that it is a stylised version of 1950s England based on a comic series from 1940s/50s Belgium, it still gets a lot right. Seriously, occasional over-formality aside, this comic really does come across as very traditionally British. So, Sente and Juillard certainly did their research!

The art in this comic is, in a word, superb. Yes, it is a little unusual to see classic Franco-Belgian “ligne claire“-style artwork being juxtaposed with 1950s England, but it works really well. Although there are a few slightly modern flourishes (such as a glowing lantern in one scene), the art here is absolutely timeless. Whilst the ligne claire style invites comparisons with HergΓ©, Juillard’s art still manages to have a fairly distinctive style – being slightly more detailed than I had originally expected too.

Seriously, not only does this church look absolutely perfect, but the level of detail here is astonishing too. Seriously, I cannot praise the art in this comic highly enough!

Likewise, another cool detail is that the speech bubbles in “The Oath Of The Five Lords” are very similar in style to those from “Tintin”. Not only that, the quantity and quality of the dialogue in this comic is much closer to a “Tintin” comic than a more traditional British or American comic.

All in all, this is a fairly good graphic novel. Yes, the ending is a little surprising. Yes, the dialogue can be hilariously over-formal at times. But, if you want a compelling old-school detective thriller comic, then you can do much worse than this. The art looks beautifully timeless and vividly detailed, whilst the story often attains a novel-like quality through it’s drama and complexity ( even if it is a little bit contrived in parts).

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