Review: “England Expects” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from reading spin-off novels and take a look at a detective novel that I’d planned to read about two or three years ago. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2014 novel “England Expects”. This was part of a boxset of the first three of Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” novels that I was given by a family member for Christmas in 2016.

At the time, I read the first two books (but only got round to reviewing the first one) and also ended up getting a copy of the fourth one . A couple of months ago, I ended up reading the fifth novel because I couldn’t find my copies of the third and fourth books at the time. Needless to say, they turned up shortly afterwards and I’ve been meaning to read them ever since.

Although “England Expects” is the third novel in a series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. Yes, you’ll get slightly more out of it if you already know the characters from the first two books, but it tells a fairly self-contained detective story.

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

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) paperback edition of “England Expects” that I read.

The novel begins in Brighton in 1953. It is a bright summer day and Express reporter Joey Gillingham has just arrived in the city to investigate a story. But, since he has a bit of time to spare, he decides to stop off at a local barbershop for a shave and a haircut. Whilst the barber goes into the backroom to get some tea for Joey, a mysterious man strides into the shop and slashes Joey’s throat.

Needless to say, ex-military intelligence officer turned debt collector and unofficial detective Mirabelle Bevan is intrigued when she hears about the murder. Her friend and colleague, Vesta, has other things on her mind though. Her partner Charlie has proposed to her and she isn’t sure whether to accept or not, because she worries that it might affect her job with Mirabelle. So, the case provides a welcome distraction for her too.

Not only that, the lead detective on the investigation (McGregor) is shocked to hear that one of his detectives has moved Joey’s body before he had a chance to examine it and that Joey’s notebook is missing. And, after someone dies in suspicious circumstances at the local masonic lodge, it soon becomes clear to all concerned that the case is more complex than it first seemed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly compelling detective thriller novel, which is a little bit like a blend of classic Agatha Christie, modern historical fiction and a hardboiled detective novel. Even though it has a couple of small flaws, the novel has a fairly good historical atmosphere and a plot that becomes more thrilling as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re fairly good. There is the usual thing about seemingly separate crimes turning out to be part of the same case, and the investigation includes a really good mixture of Agatha Christie-style questioning scenes, some suspenseful sneaking around, a couple of red herrings, a few Sherlock Holmes-like deductions and a few elements that wouldn’t be out of place in an old hardboiled crime novel. These elements work really well and it’s really cool to see an Agatha Christie-style mystery, but with a slightly grittier and more hardboiled edge to it 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements, which mostly consist of suspenseful spy-like snooping and a couple of more dramatic moments, appear more prominently in the later parts of the story and help to keep things fairly gripping. Likewise, one of the major themes of this novel is secret societies, which helps to add a bit of extra suspense and drama too – even if this topic is handled in a rather cheesy and/or stylised way during some parts of the story.

In terms of the novel’s historical elements, the novel has a really impressive historical atmosphere and, like in many of Sheridan’s other novels, is also critical of the problems and narrow-minded attitudes lurking behind the twee respectability of 1950s Britain. Although this element of the story is mostly handled well, a couple of moments would probably have worked better if they had been handled in a more subtle way.

The novel also includes some rather amusing satire – such as in the opening scene involving the Express reporter (who, for example, wants a conservative military haircut). Not to mention that, if you’ve ever visited the modern version of Brighton, it’s fascinating to see what the city would have looked like during the 1950s (with, for example, the Royal Pavillion being in a state of disrepair etc..) too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. In addition to seeing a few familiar characters from other novels in the series, the characters all seem like fairly realistic (if mildly stylised) people with realistic motivations, imperfections and personalities. The characters really help to add a lot of drama and historical atmosphere to the story and are probably one of the best parts of the novel.

As for the writing, it’s really good too. This novel’s third-person narration is formal and descriptive enough to add some historical atmosphere to the story, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to be fairly readable and relaxing too.

Likewise, the novel’s length and pacing are really good. At an efficient 271 pages in length, the novel never feels bloated. Likewise, although some of the earlier parts of the story are closer to a slower-paced traditional detective story, the story gradually becomes more thrilling and fast-paced as it progresses in a way reminiscent of classic vintage thriller novels like Agatha Christie’s “N or M?” and classic hardboiled detective fiction.

All in all, this is a compelling historical detective thriller. It’s an atmospheric and intriguing blend of traditional Agatha Christie-style fiction and more hardboiled fiction that combines it’s detective and thriller elements really well. Yes, there are some small flaws, but it is still a good novel.

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

Review: “Falling Apart” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, after I read Jane Lovering’s “Vampire State Of Mind” about three months ago (after a family member thought that I’d like the series and gave me both novels), I’ve been meaning to read the sequel. But, of course, I got distracted by other books. So, three months later, I decided to finally take a look at “Falling Apart” (2014).

Although this novel can possibly be read as a stand-alone book (since it contains some recaps), the story will have much more of an impact if you’ve already got to know the characters before reading it.

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

This is the 2014 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Falling Apart” that I read.

Jess Grant works for York Council as a liason officer between the human population and the city’s “otherworlders” (eg: vampires, werewolves etc..). After the events of the previous book, she is in a relationship with one of the leading local vampires called Sil. However, Jess is worried. Not only hasn’t she heard from Sil for several days, but even his nominal second-in-command, Zan, doesn’t know where he has gone…

Meanwhile, Sil is in London. He is visiting some kind of official records office when someone walks into the building and shoots him. He falls unconscious whilst his body heals and, when he wakes up, he is trapped in some kind of small underground tomb.

Back in York, things are going from bad to worse for Jess. Not only is there still no word from Sil, but her father has been taken to hospital and the tabloid press have started hounding her over abandoning a case to visit him. On the streets, right-wing hooligans are also harassing the city’s zombie population.

But, even worse than this, an online newsfeed arrives at Jess’ office showing Sil going on a blood-spattered feeding frenzy through the streets of London. Under the terms of the treaty between humanity and the otherworlders, Sil must be hunted down and killed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a bit more of a streamlined and compelling thriller than “Vampire State Of Mind” was. The romance is more passionate, the story is more suspenseful and there is also more backstory too 🙂 In other words, this novel is a really good sequel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. Although there are a few fight scenes, this is much more of a suspense thriller/detective thriller novel with some hints of the spy genre too. Not only is Sil in constant danger throughout the novel, but Jess has to both keep him hidden and find a way to clear his name too. So, there’s a lot of sneaking around, secret research and other suspenseful stuff like this 🙂

The novel also has an interesting sub-plot about Jess helping out the city’s zombies, who are targeted by right-wing extremists and who work dangerous jobs for little to no pay. This sub-plot links in well with the main plot and helps to add a bit of extra drama to the story. The novel’s depiction of zombies is fairly interesting too since, amongst other things, they have to keep their disintegrating bodies together with the use of copious amounts of glue.

Like in “Vampire State Of Mind”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although this is slightly more understated than in the previous novel, there is a fair amount of irreverent humour, sarcastic dialogue, amusing descriptions etc… If you like the humour in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels, then you’ll probably enjoy the humour here 🙂

The novel’s romance elements are really brilliant too. Since Sil and Jess are already in a relationship at the start of the novel, their romance feels a bit more intense and suspenseful. This is also emphasised by things like Jess’ uncertainties about Sil, the danger that both characters are in, the scenes where the two characters miss each other and – since Sil is wanted criminal- the passionate scenes of forbidden love too. Seriously, I haven’t seen vampire romance as good as this since I read Jocyelnn Drake’s “Dark Days” series.

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. This is one of those novels that works really well because of the characters. In addition to learning a bit more about Jess’ past, Zan gets a lot more characterisation in this novel – since Jess is uncertain whether or not she can trust him (given that he is a “lawful good” character who seems eager to report Sil). Likewise, all of the main characters get a fair amount of character development too. Seriously, the characters in this novel are really good.

In terms of the writing, it is fairly good. Although this novel does do the annoying thing of switching between first and third-person narration at times, the narrative voice is the readable, informal, amusing and emotional narration that you’d expect 🙂 As I mentioned in my review of “Vampire State Of Mind”, the narration in this series reminds me a bit of a slightly understated version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” series 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At an efficient 274 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story remains compelling and well-paced throughout. Plus, although the main storyline is resolved, there is also more than enough room for a really epic sequel (if it is ever written).

All in all, this is a fairly compelling and suspenseful vampire thriller novel and an excellent sequel to “Vampire State Of Mind” 🙂 The plot feels more focused, the romance seems more intense and both the characters and humour are as good as ever.

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

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.

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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂

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.