Review: “The Deep” by Nick Cutter (Novel)

Several weeks before I wrote this review, I happened to see something online mentioning a sci-fi horror novel from 2015 called “The Deep” by Nick Cutter. If I remember rightly, “The Deep” was likened to a modern version of H.P.Lovecraft. So, naturally, I was curious enough to look for a second-hand copy of it. To my delight, the author quote on the cover was from none of than Clive Barker too 🙂

Then, I got distracted by other books. But, since I was in the mood for horror fiction, I thought that I’d finally read “The Deep”.

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

This is the 2015 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Deep” that I read.

The novel is set in the near future, where the world has been reduced to a semi-apocalyptic state by a mysterious epidemic called “the ‘gets”. This disease makes people forget things, turning them into listless zombies before they eventually forget how to breathe or eat or drink.

A veterinarian called Luke arrives on the island of Guam. The night before, he got a phone call from the US military asking him to hurry over there. His genius brother, Clay, has been working in a deep-sea research station at the base of the Mariana Trench. The military has lost contact with the base. Clay’s last message to the surface was a strange phone call asking for his brother.

When Luke arrives at the surface station, one of the scientists shows him a mysterious substance dredged from the deepest point of the ocean called ambrosia. It has the potential to both cure diseases and heal horrific injuries. So, it seems like the most promising avenue for a cure for the ‘gets. However, before Luke descends below the surface, he sees what happened to the last scientist to surface from the research base.

Despite the grisly terror of what he has seen, Luke is eager to check on his brother. So, along with an experienced naval officer called Alice (or “Al” for short), they begin their descent into the deep….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it is probably one of the most unnerving, disturbing and terrifying books I’ve ever read. Imagine a cross between horror movies like “The Thing”, “Event Horizon“, “Hellraiser” and “Triangle” and survival horror games like “Silent Hill 3“, but about twice as disturbing. Usually, I tend to take author quotes on book covers with a pinch of salt, but the Clive Barker quote on the cover is as much a genuine warning as it is praise for the novel.

So, I suppose that I should probably start talking about this novel’s horror elements. This novel is what would happen if H.P.Lovecraft, Clive Barker and David Cronenburg decided to write a book together.

There is an insidious, unnerving and downright petrifying mixture of psychological horror (lots and lots of it!), body horror, paranormal horror, character-based horror, phobia-based horror (insects, clowns, darkness etc..), realistic horror, cruel horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, ominous horror, suspenseful horror, scientific horror, gory horror, bleak post-apocalyptic horror and types of horror that probably don’t even have names.

Although the earlier parts of this book, when you don’t know the characters and don’t know what to expect, are slightly scarier than the later parts – the novel’s horror is fairly evenly-distributed throughout the story. Just when you think that you’ve got a handle on this book and think that it can’t do anything more shocking or disturbing than it already has, it will come up with something.

This is also one of those incredibly rare horror stories where reality itself cannot be trusted. Although this incredibly disturbing type of horror is more common in film and television, this is one of the relatively few written examples of it that I’ve seen. And, yes, whilst you’ll eventually be able to guess what is and isn’t a nightmarish hallucination, don’t be too certain about this. As I said, this novel can surprise you. It can lull you into a false sense of security and then get you.

As for the novel’s characters, they are brilliantly chilling. We are shown more than enough of Luke’s disturbing past to really care for him and to dread what other traumatic memories will be dredged from his psyche by the malevolent forces lurking in the underwater station. This is the kind of novel where the most terrifying character, Luke’s mother, never directly appears in the story outside of flashbacks, thoughts and hallucinations. Yet, she is in many ways a more terrifying evil than the malevolent forces at work in the depths of the ocean…

The other characters are fairly well-written and some of them have a real Lovecraftian flavour. Whether it is Luke’s brother, a brilliant but coldly emotionless scientist, or a segment of the novel showing the final journal of one of the doomed scientists, this novel can be very Lovecraftian at times. In addition to these Lovecraftian characters, there is also an interesting variety of other characters such as a courageous navy officer called Al and an adorable dog called LB too.

And, yes, I should talk about this novel’s sci-fi elements too, since it is a sci-fi horror novel. Although this novel explores the traditional Lovecraftian theme of scientists meddling with things they shouldn’t, the sci-fi horror elements are made even more chilling due to their realism.

Whether it is a mysterious pandemic or the fact that the scientists don’t know what the mysterious substance at the bottom of the trench is or the fact that the technology isn’t that much more advanced than current technology, this isn’t some distant fantasy set in outer space. It is chilling “it could happen” near future sci-fi horror!

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant. The novel’s third-person narration contains just the right mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and slow, creeping descriptive narration. Seriously, a lot of the horror in this novel comes from the way that scenes of the story are written. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story would be a hilarious dark comedy rather than fear in book form.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although, at 394 pages, it is a little on the longer side of things, it is partially structured like a modern thriller novel. In other words, there are lots of shorter chapters that lend the story a slightly staccato and fast-paced rhythm. But, unlike a modern thriller, there is only one plot thread and the novel isn’t afraid to slow down slightly at times to drench the reader in slow, creeping dread.

All in all, this is an extremely scary horror novel 🙂 For all of the people who worry that the horror genre has declined in recent years, this novel will prove you wrong. The horror genre may not be as prominent as it was in the 1980s, but it has been festering in the darkness of obscurity and slowly gathering its strength. Seriously, this novel is scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

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Review: “Day Four” By Sarah Lotz (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another horror novel. So, I thought that I’d check out one that I’ve been meaning to read for weeks. I am, of course, talking about Sarah Lotz’s 2015 novel “Day Four”.

I can’t remember how I first heard about this novel, but the concept behind it intrigued me enough to look for a second-hand copy of it online. Interestingly, whilst “Day Four” works well as a stand-alone novel, it is also apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Three”.

So, let’s take a look at “Day Four”. This review may contain mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 (?) Hodder & Stoughton (UK) paperback edition of “Day Four” that I read.

The cruise ship Beautiful Dreamer is on the fourth day of its voyage around the Gulf Of Mexico. In the ship’s theatre, a phony medium called Celine is performing a seance for her cult-like inner circle of fans whilst her assistant Maddie watches from the back of the crowd. The seance is briefly interrupted by an online journalist who tries to question Celine about a fraud lawsuit in America, before fleeing when one of Celine’s henchmen approaches him.

After the seance, Celine returns to her room and falls into a catatonic state. The lights start to flicker and then go out. To Maddie’s bewilderment, Celine suddenly starts talking in the voice of one of her “spirit guides”.

Meanwhile, a passenger called Gary is taking a long shower. He’s trying to scrub his body clean of DNA evidence. After his creepy plan to spike the drink of a lonely woman resulted in deadly complications, he knows that it is only a matter of time before the crew find the body.

With the power failure leaving the ship stranded at sea, crew member Althea is checking up on her assigned passengers when she happens to see a mysterious child wandering the corridors. She follows him and he disappears, but not before pointing the way to a grisly discovery in one of the cabins. Although chief security officer Ram is keen to write it off as an accidental death, his second-in-command Devi thinks that foul play was involved and decides to investigate…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really atmospheric, well-written and creepy ghost story that is both compelling and creative 🙂 Imagine J.G.Ballard’s “High-Rise” mixed with an episode of “The X-Files” mixed with a Japanese-style horror movie and this might give you a vague idea of what to expect.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly creepy. Seriously, this novel actually scared me at times. There’s a really unsettling mixture of psychological horror, paranormal horror, macabre/death-based horror, medical horror, suspenseful horror, disaster-based/post-apocalyptic horror, bleak horror and character-based horror.

The novel’s horror elements are handled in a really interesting way, with the first third or so of the novel including a chillingly suspenseful and menacing mixture of character-based horror and creepy paranormal horror. The paranormal elements become less threatening during the middle parts of the story, with more focus placed on the bleak, squalid and dystopian horror of being stranded at sea instead. Then, the later parts of the novel venture into unsettlingly bizarre and brain-twistingly weird territory – with a brilliantly chilling stinger on the final page too. Seriously, this is a horror novel 🙂

All of this horror is also balanced out with a few carefully-placed moments of humour, such as some of the PA announcements from the cruise director, the character nicknames in the chapter titles, some of the dialogue and a few cynical mentions of the older and less PC parts of Celine’s psychic act. These moments of comedy help to prevent the bleak setting of the novel from becoming too depressing, whilst also contrasting well with the novel’s more serious and/or disturbing moments.

The novel is also an extremely cynical satire about cruises in general. Whether it is the fact that we rarely actually see the captain or cruise director, scenes involving the chaotic and boorish hordes of passengers that the crew have to deal with, the cruise company caring more about publicity than anything else etc.. this novel really pulls no punches.

The novel also works surprisingly well as a thriller too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra fast-paced story, this novel remains compelling throughout. In addition to the suspenseful scenes near the beginning showing a killer trying to cover up his crime (and the security guard trying to catch him), there’s also a lot of intriguing mystery about why the ship has stopped, a lot of drama and some mysterious paranormal stuff too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written and come across as fairly realistic. Even though the story contains a large number of main characters, you learn enough about them to be able to picture them easily and to care about what happens to them. Not only that, many of the characters have fled to the cruise liner due to problems elsewhere, which helps to add tension and ambiguity to the story. In addition to lots of character-based sub-plots, the novel’s characters also satirise things like cults of personality, the greedier elements of new age stuff, authority, conspiracy theories etc… too.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the characters are sometimes used as a source of horror too (eg: Gary, Celine etc..). Likewise, the decision not to give much characterisation to the captain or cruise director also helps to create a chilling feeling that they don’t care about the passengers or crew.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving, but also descriptive enough to add lots of atmosphere. The story also occasionally includes things like blog entries, news articles and interview transcripts – which allow it all of the advantages of first-person narration, but with none of the confusion that comes from directly including first-person narration in a third-person story 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 340 pages in length, the story feels neither too long nor too short. The novel’s pacing is fairly interesting too, since the novel starts out fairly moderately-paced and then very gradually gets faster and faster, culminating in lots of one-page chapters. But, after this, the novel’s pacing suddenly slows down for the final forty pages. Although this change in pace may be a little annoying at first, it gives the reader time to think about the brain-twisting denouement.

All in all, this is a brilliantly creepy horror novel 🙂 If you want an unsettling, atmospheric and well-written modern ghost story that also includes hints of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction too, then this one is worth taking a look at.

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

Review: “Linesman” By S. K. Dunstall (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from horror fiction and read a sci-fi novel. And, after seeing an intriguing description of another S.K. Dunstall novel online (which made me nostalgic for the days when sci-fi TV shows were almost always set in space 🙂 ), I eventually ended up finding a second-hand copy of Dunstall’s earlier 2015 novel “Linesman” instead.

Although this novel is the first novel in a trilogy, it tells a story that feels reasonably satisfying on it’s own, but also obviously leaves a lot of room for further stories.

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

This is the 2015 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Linesman” that I read.

The novel is set in a galaxy where spacecraft are controlled by ten “lines” (energy fields that are responsible for different aspects of how the spacecraft functions). These lines are maintained by people called linesmen who, through a combination of innate talent and formal training, can use their minds to manipulate these fields. However, almost all of the galaxy’s most talented linesmen have gathered around a mysterious interstellar phenomenon called “The Confluence” and refuse to leave.

Except for one. The scheming owner of the House Of Rigel has realised that, by keeping one of his high-level linesmen (an eccentric called Ean who doesn’t follow formal methods and likes to sing to the lines) away from the confluence, he can make an absolute fortune hiring him out to desperate starship captains. After all, with all of the other high-level linesmen at the confluence, where else can captains go for help?

But, after Ean returns from a long stint in space, he barely has time to rest before he is nearly killed by a visitor to the House Of Rigel who “tests” his abilities by pointing a line-based weapon at him and forcing him to disarm it within seconds. The visitor turns out to be Lady Lyan, a princess from the planet’s powerful royal family who wants to spite Rigel by taking the contract for his highest-earning linesman.

Still, Ean is glad to get away from Rigel. However, when he arrives on Lady Lyan’s ship, Ean soon learns that he has been hired to investigate a mysterious alien ship that has been found floating in space….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get started, it is well worth the wait 🙂

Imagine the complex feudal politics of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the sci-fi mysticism of “Star Wars”, the military-style sci-fi of “Babylon 5″/”Star Trek” and the spaceship-based drama of the modern remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and you’ll have a vague idea of what this novel is like 🙂

Seriously, whilst this novel is very much it’s own thing, there are so many parts of it that will also make you think of “Dune” or “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica”, and this is really cool 🙂 Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a fast-paced action-packed thriller.

Whilst there are some thrillingly fast-paced moments, most of this novel is more of a complex slow-burn of a story about political machinations and intrigue in outer space. Although this does become really compelling once you understand who all of the different factions, houses etc.. are, expect the earlier parts of the novel to be a bit slow-going whilst everyone and everything is introduced.

In other words, this is more of a character-based drama, a sci-fi mystery and a dialogue-heavy political thriller than a more conventional sci-fi thriller. But, once you get used to this, then the story becomes a lot more compelling. Seriously, this is one of those novels that I started reading a little bit reluctantly but almost held off from reading the last thirty pages because I didn’t want it to end.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re pretty interesting. Like “Star Wars”, this novel is slightly more on the science fantasy side of things – but this is handled in a way that adds a sense of depth and mystery to the story. Plus, like with a good fantasy novel, all of the novel’s more “magical” elements (eg: Ean’s singing, his limited omniscience etc..) follow a clear set of rules that really helps them to feel like a solid part of the story. Likewise, this is a story that explains enough to let you understand what is happening, but keeps enough mysterious to evoke a feeling of awe and/or curiosity.

The main focus of the novel is more on the political ramifications of alien technology than the technology itself. And, the novel’s politics are really well-handled, with lots of dramatic arguments, devious machinations, clever stratagems, military posturing, awkward formal dinners, sneaky press manipulation etc… Basically, imagine something like “Game Of Thrones”, but without as much bloodshed, and this will give you an idea of what to expect.

As for the novel’s characters, they’re really brilliant. Although Ean receives the bulk of the novel’s characterisation, all of the many other characters feel like distinctive and realistic individuals with personalities and motivations. This is one of those novels that handles a large cast of characters (a couple of whom go by several names) well enough that you probably won’t feel too confused. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂

Ean is an absolutely fascinating protagonist too. Although he is a bit of a “chosen one” character, he’s portrayed in a much more realistic, human, socially awkward, naive and vulnerable way than these types of characters usually are. Likewise, the fact that he’s had to figure a lot of stuff out on his own means that when he finally meets some of his fellow high-level linesmen, they all do things differently and consider him to be a bit of a freak. Seriously, this is a brilliant piece of characterisation.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly well-written. The novel’s third-person narration sits somewhere between descriptive formal narration and more informal “matter of fact” narration, and it includes the best elements of both. In short, this is one of those novels where the writing will often fade into the background because you’re more interested in the story and the characters.

Likewise, one interesting feature is that – like in G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels, each chapter is labelled with the character that it focuses on. However, the novel keeps this a lot more streamlined by only really focusing on two characters – Ean and a rival linesman called Jordan Rossi. This works really well and it gives the third-person narration all of the advantages of multiple first-person narrators, but with absolutely none of the many downsides 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, appearances can be deceptive. Although this novel is a relatively lean 372 pages in length and has the words “fast-paced” printed on the cover, don’t expect it to be a quick read.

This is an epic saga of a novel that consists of lots of atmospheric, intrigue-filled slow-paced parts, punctuated by a small number of well-placed fast-paced segments. Even so, this novel is still really compelling once you have got used to the slower pacing. And, as mentioned earlier, it is one of those books that you’ll go into slightly reluctantly, but find that you miss it when the story is over.

All in all, this is a much better novel than I initially expected 🙂 Yes, it is slow to get started and it will often focus more on intergalactic politics than on swashbuckling spacefarers but, once you get used to this, you’re in for a real treat 🙂 Seriously, if you miss the days when space-based sci-fi shows (eg: “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, “Farscape” etc..) used to be on TV and also you want something a little bit more cerebral, then read this book.

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

Review: “The Unnoticeables” By Robert Brockway (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for horror fiction, so I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables” that I ended up getting after I saw an intriguing description of the novel’s sequel (“The Empty Ones”, which is also on my to-read pile) on a list of recommended horror novels online.

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

This is the 2015 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Unnoticeables” that I read.

The novel begins with a bizarre description of an unknown man being shot by an angel. However, instead of dying from the bullet wound, he suddenly finds that strange things start happening to his mind.

The story then focuses on New York City in the summer of 1977. A punk dude called Carey is hanging out outside a nightclub with some of his friends, when he decides to meet up with a woman called Debbie who might have some drugs for him in a nearby alleyway. However, when he reaches her, she is being melted by a mysterious monster made out of tar and cog-wheels. Angered by this new development, Carey sets the monster on fire.

In Los Angeles in 2013, waitress and part-time stuntwoman Kaitlyn is having a bad day. Not only has she not had any stunt work for weeks, but she’s also just noticed a peeping tom outside her window. However, soon after she storms out of the house with a knife to confront the voyeur, an angel appears beside him and kills him….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a unique, bizarre and transgressive punk-themed horror thriller 🙂 Although it isn’t a perfect novel and it certainly isn’t for everyone, it has some really cool moments, an awesome atmosphere during some parts of the story and a brain-twistingly surreal plot that only really starts to make sense near the end of the book.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. This novel contains a rather unsettling mixture of well-crafted paranormal horror, philosophical horror, gruesome horror, surreal horror/body horror, sexual horror, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, it contains quite a few uncomfortably disturbing scenes, ominous moments and creepy moments of intellectual dread.

The main source of this novel’s horror is the concept of inhuman, mechanical utilitarianism – and this brings me on to the novel’s satirical elements. The story’s scenes of people being reduced to “efficient” algorithms are an absolutely brilliant criticism of modern social media/ tech companies. Likewise, the fact that the novel’s “empty” villains can create hordes of soulless, unnoticeable followers is also a brilliantly scathing comment about social media, fame etc… too.

Not only that, one of the novel’s creepiest villains (a washed-up celebrity called Marco) is also used as an eerily prescient comment about all of the scandals in the US film industry during 2017/18. In fact, this novel is basically a giant middle finger to Hollywood and popular culture in general. All of this irreverent satire also fits in really well with the novel’s punk atmosphere and really helps to add depth to the novel too.

The novel’s thriller elements are interesting too. Whilst this novel isn’t an ultra-fast paced thriller novel, there are enough interesting mysteries and moments of suspenseful horror and drama to keep the story compelling. In classic thriller fashion, almost every chapter alternates between two story threads (set in 1977 and 2013). But, although these two storylines connect with each other in interesting ways, they can sometimes parallel each other a little bit too closely – which can make a few scenes feel a bit repetitive.

Still, one of the things I really loved about this novel was it’s atmosphere. The scenes set in 1977 really make you feel like you’re hanging out with an anarchic group of punks and I really wish that the whole novel had focused on these awesome story segments. By contrast, the more modern scenes set in 2013 feel a bit dull and “ordinary” by comparison.

In terms of the characters, they’re really interesting. One of the major themes of this novel is that it is our flaws, imperfections and “inefficiencies” that really make us human. So, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of misfits 🙂 By contrast, the novel’s villains are a disturbing collection of soulless beings, creepy stalkers, hollow celebrities, fanatical cultists and/or bizarre monsters.

In terms of the writing, this novel is interesting. Although this novel uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, it thankfully clearly signposts which character is narrating each chapter – so this doesn’t get too confusing. Likewise, all of the narration in this novel uses a wonderfully informal and distinctive narrative voice which not only adds personality and humour to the story, but also helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag though. At a wonderfully efficient 283 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long. However, whilst the beginning and ending of this story are really compelling, the middle parts didn’t really seem to be quite as gripping. Likewise, the occasional appearance of similar events in both of the novel’s storylines can feel a little bit repetitive at times.

All in all, this is an intriguingly weird punk-themed horror novel. Yes, it isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for everyone, but this novel has an interestingly bizarre premise, a wonderful atmosphere (in the 1970s punk segments, at least) and some great narration.

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

Review: “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Woo hoo! Thanks to a wonderful birthday present from a family member a few days before I prepared this review, I am now the proud owner of several more novels in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series 🙂

Although I’ll probably carefully ration them out over the next few months, I thought that I’d take a look at the sixth novel in the series, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” (2015), today. You can find my reviews of the previous five novels here, here, here, here and here.

Although this novel is the sixth novel in a series, it can pretty much almost be read as a stand-alone book, since the premise basically serves as another introduction to the series (not to mention that there are a few recaps too). Even so, you’ll get more out of this book if you read the previous five books first.

So, let’s take a look at “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” that I read.

The novel begins in a secret time-travelling historical research institute called St.Mary’s. Accident-prone senior historian Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) is having a meeting with the institute’s head, Dr.Baristow, who tells her that she’s been assigned five new recruits that she will have to train into historians.

The recruits are a rather motley crew that consist of a mohawk-wearing punk, a member of the upper classes, a mini-Max, a random guy and *gasp* a coffee-drinker (practically heresy in St.Mary’s, where tea is king).

Remembering her own training, Max decides to do things a bit differently. Instead of teaching the recruits lots of theory first, she wants to take them on short, low-risk jumps into the past throughout the course. Of course, this being St.Mary’s, there’s really no such thing as “low-risk”….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really good novel in a great series 🙂 There’s the usual unique mixture of comedy, thrills and drama – not to mention that the idea of turning Max into a training officer is a brilliant reversal of the first novel in the series (where Max is a trainee). Like a new episode of a favourite TV show, this is a novel that manages to be both reassuringly familiar and intriguingly new at the same time.

If you’ve never read this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, a late-night BBC3 sitcom, “St. Trinians” and Terry Pratchett, but with a little bit of a punk sensibility and a gloriously eccentric sense of humour. Although I may make a few small criticisms in this review, the series as a whole is one of the best that I’ve read and this novel isn’t too out of place in it. In other words, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” is a really good novel in a series of great novels.

In terms of the time travel scenes, they are as inventively weird as ever – including things like an adorable baby mammoth, a character nearly drowning in the desert and a hilariously bizarre encounter with the ancient historian Herodotus.

These hilariously chaotic scenes of farce and slapstick comedy are also contrasted with some more serious and grim historical moments, such as the brutal deaths of Joan Of Arc and Richard III. Although the first novel in the series struggled to get this contrast right, this novel has a fairly good mixture of comedy and serious drama, with neither overwhelming the story too much.

In addition to this, this novel actually implies when the main events of the series take place. Although many of the “St. Mary’s” novels have slightly weird background details that hint that the stories take place in the near future, one of the later parts of this story (involving the “100 year rule”) pretty much points out that the main “St. Mary’s” storyline takes place in the 2040s-60s. I’m kind of surprised that it has taken the series this long to point it out, since I vaguely remember being mildly confused by this element during first couple of books.

Like in some previous novels, this novel is pretty much a short story collection in disguise – with a series of sub-plots taking place in different times and places, in addition to a few brilliantly comedic stand-alone scenes (such as Max finally taking her outdoor survival training). On the whole, this works really well and allows for a really good mixture of comedy and drama, in addition to adding a lot of variety to the story too 🙂

However, if there is one criticism to be made of this novel, it’s that some of the story arc elements seemed a little bit light. Although there are hints at nefarious plots in the background, a brief mention of Clive Ronan, a dramatic plot twist or two and even a brief appearance by the Time Police, the dramatic background plots of earlier novels like “A Trail Through Time” don’t really turn up here. Yes, the novel is still fairly dramatic, but it really doesn’t have quite the same sense of being part of an epic story arc. Even so, it’s still really compelling.

A lot of this is due to the fact that Max is responsible for training a new group of historians, which allows the story to include a bit of extra characterisation, some new types of suspense, some extra drama and some additional comedy (such as when one of them decides to *gasp* drink coffee instead of tea). This also serves as another introduction to the the series for people who are new to it too. As I mentioned earlier, there’s enough familiar stuff to make this novel feel wonderfully relaxing but enough new stuff to keep the story interesting.

In terms of the characters, they’re as hilariously eccentric as ever – especially with the new additions. Likewise, Max’s first-person narration is as wonderfully informal, irreverent and personality-filled as ever. Both the characters and the narration are a major source of both comedy and drama in this series, and this novel certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly decent. At 388 pages, it’s a bit longer than I had expected, but this didn’t matter too much because I really enjoyed the story. Likewise, in contrast to the first couple of novels in the series, the pacing is a lot more consistent and confident here – with the story containing a really good mixture of moderately-paced and fast-paced scenes.

All in all, this is a really good novel in a great series. If you’re new to the series, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel and, if you’re already a fan, then this is a fairly solid “episode” of the series. Yes, it doesn’t have quite the same brevity and high-stakes drama as some of the earlier novels, but it is as funny, dramatic and compelling as you would expect 🙂

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

Review: “Make Me” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a noir cyberpunk novel, the weather had become so hot that I needed to read something a bit more fast-paced instead. So, after looking through my “to read” pile, I found a copy of Lee Child’s 2015 novel “Make Me” that a relative had found in a charity shop several years ago and thought that I might enjoy.

So, let’s take a look at “Make Me”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. I’ll avoid spoiling the exact details of the ending, but expect spoilers about the style and genre of the ending.

This is the 2015 Bantam Press (UK) hardback edition of “Make Me” that I read.

The novel begins at night in a farming town in Oklahoma called Mother’s Rest. In a field outside of town, a group of people are burying a dead man called Keever. However, before they can finish their grim task, a train whooshes past the field.

A wandering ex-military policeman called Jack Reacher decides to get off of the train at Mother’s Rest because he is intrigued by the town’s unusual name. However, no sooner has he set foot on the platform, he is accosted by a mysterious woman who initially mistakes him for someone else. After they go their separate ways, Reacher decides to spend the night in the town’s only motel. Little does he know, someone is watching him….

The next morning, he stops off in the local diner for coffee and meets the woman from the train station again. She’s an ex-FBI private detective called Michelle Chang who has travelled to the town after her colleague, Keever, requested urgent backup. Apparently, Keever was going to explain his current case to her when they met, but he hasn’t shown up in town. So, Reacher decides to help her investigate…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly suspenseful thriller novel that is also a surprisingly effective horror novel in disguise 🙂

Although the novel certainly contains some dramatic action-thriller elements, this is one of those ultra-suspenseful stories where you’ll keep reading because you want to find out what is really going on. And when you do find out the horrifying truth, you’ll wish that you hadn’t…

The novel’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! In addition to an intriguingly ominous mystery, the story also makes use of suspense in all sorts of other clever ways too.

Whether it is the segments showing the bad guys spying on the main characters, the way that a news report plays in the background of one scene, the fact that both sides plan their dramatic final showdown very carefully or even how the fight scenes will sometimes contain long descriptions of gun mechanisms in order to ramp up the tension before a shot is fired, this novel is saturated with suspense and it works really well 🙂

Even though this novel is much more of a suspense thriller than an action thriller, there are still some dramatic fight scenes. These are spread out carefully throughout the novel, so that they seem extra dramatic in contrast to the more understated scenes beforehand. If you’ve read a Lee Child novel before, you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fight scenes and this story is no exception.

Plus, unlike in Child’s “The Midnight Line“, Reacher certainly isn’t a pacifist in this story. Likewise, he actually suffers a concussion at one point, which makes some of the later fight scenes even more suspenseful (since he’s also fighting the effects of the concussion too).

To my surprise, this novel also contains some really well-written horror elements too 🙂 This is a story that gets more horrific as it goes along, going from ominous to creepy to disturbing to full-on horror in a way that you won’t see coming until it is too late.

Although a lot of the most grisly elements of the story’s shocking final twist are left to the reader’s imagination (since this is a thriller novel, rather than a splatterpunk novel) this story delivers a devastatingly disturbing dose of horror that can really catch you off-guard.

Likewise, all of this horror is complemented by a deliberately unsettling tone throughout the story. Whether it is the fact that the main characters are being watched, the mysterious nature of the mystery they’re trying to solve or even some lengthy discussions of some fairly dark subject matter, this novel sets up it’s shocking final moments of horror absolutely perfectly. Or, more accurately, it fools you into thinking that you’re reading an ordinary suspense thriller story until it is too late…..

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Although there isn’t a gigantic amount of ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough characterisation here to make you care about the main characters and for the slightly understated romantic sub-plot between Reacher and Chang to work fairly well. Surprisingly, the most dramatic characters in this novel are probably a few of the villains, who are probably some of the most chillingly evil villains that I’ve ever seen in a novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really well-written. The narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story grippingly fast-paced, but isn’t afraid to pause for more complex descriptions when the story requires it. In other words, if you’ve read Lee Child novels before, then you’ll probably be quite familiar with the writing style here.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although this novel is a slightly lengthy 421 pages long, this is counterbalanced by the fact that this is one of those compelling stories that you’ll probably want to binge-read fairly quickly.

Plus, although this fast-paced thriller isn’t always quite as fast-paced as you would expect, this allows the story to build suspense and to make the even faster-paced moments stand out even more in contrast.

All in all, this is a brilliantly compelling thriller novel that is also a horror novel in disguise 🙂 It makes expert use of suspense, plot twists and all of that kind of stuff and it is the kind of story that is difficult to put down once you’ve started reading it.

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

Review: “The Dead Dog Day” By Jackie Kabler (Novel)

Well, it’s been a little while since I read a detective novel. So, I thought that that I’d take a look at Jackie Kabler’s 2015 novel “The Dead Dog Day” today. This was a novel that I found in a charity shop in Petersfield last year – mostly on account of the awesome purple/black/gold cover art, the intriguing blurb and the first couple of pages.

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

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “The Dead Dog Day” that I read.

The story begins in a TV studio in London. The boss of the Morning Live news program, Jeanette Kendricks, is furious. The dog who that was supposed to be featured in the ‘Britain’s Bravest Pets’ segment of the show has just died two hours before the broadcast and no-one thinks that Jeanette’s idea of just pretending that the dog is asleep will actually work.

Whilst all of this is going on, one of the show’s newsreaders, Cora Baxter, meets up with the rest of the news team to prepare for the show, chat and have a laugh. However, this isn’t an ordinary day at the office. As that morning’s episode of Morning Live comes to an end, someone murders Jeanette…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, despite the brilliantly funny and compelling beginning, the story takes quite a while to really get started. Although it eventually turns into a fairly compelling, if unconventional, detective thriller novel – don’t expect the kind of sharp, focused storytelling that you’d expect in a traditional detective novel. Even so, this story is a reasonably ok mixture of comedy, drama, romance and mystery.

The detective elements of this story are, as I mentioned, slightly strange. Despite the “A Cora Baxter Mystery” subtitle on the cover, Cora isn’t really that much of a detective. In fact, most of the actual detective work is actually done by a couple of background characters. Cora is more of a character who gets caught up in events surrounding the story’s central mystery – which is why, for example, she doesn’t like discussing the murder in the earlier parts of the story and why there’s so little focus on the mystery during the early and middle parts of the book. Likewise, she’s also more of a “realistic” TV show presenter than a typical “intrepid reporter” protagonist too.

Still, the story’s suspense is just about maintained through a series of smaller mysteries that are sometimes connected to the main mystery in one way or another, such as a mysterious man who seems to be following Cora, a mysterious Twitter conversation, the bizarre behaviour of one of the other newsreaders, a few mysterious descriptions of the murderer planning their next crime, the police’s suspicions about one member of Cora’s camera crew etc…

In addition to this, even though this novel uses some rather corny tricks and tropes, they still work surprisingly well. I mean, at one point, I was certain that I’d guessed who the murderer was after re-reading an early part of the story after seeing a clue, only to find that it was a red herring. Likewise, there’s a gloriously random plot twist or two near the end which should be really corny and contrived, but which still come across as rather dramatic whilst you’re actually reading them.

Even so, the detective elements of the story sometimes feel more like a sub-plot than anything else. Large parts of the story place more emphasis on Cora’s everyday life. And, although this contains a romantic sub-plot, some drama and some comedy – it is sometimes just about Cora’s mundane, ordinary life.

Needless to say, some of these “mundane” segments of the novel (eg: Cora going Christmas shopping etc..) aren’t exactly the most compelling thing in the world (and I even thought about abandoning the book out of boredom at one point). Even so, the story does get a bit more focused and compelling as it progresses – with the comedy, romance and drama elements often helping to keep many of the non-detective parts of the story fairly interesting. Even so, the middle parts of this story could have probably done with a bit of trimming.

The novel’s comedy elements are reasonably interesting. Although the novel only had a few moments that really made me laugh out loud, it contains a reasonably good mixture of slapstick comedy/ farce, satire (about the media industry and broadcast journalism), character-based comedy, silly outfits, immature humour, running jokes (eg: one of Cora’s crew constantly getting popular sayings wrong) etc… These comedy elements also contrast really well with the darker and more suspenseful elements of the story too.

In terms of the characters, there’s a lot of characterisation in this novel. Which is both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, all of the characterisation helps to add some depth to the story (to the point where even some of the unsympathetic characters become vaguely sympathetic). Likewise, the novel’s cast of characters are all presented as fairly realistic (if somewhat stylised) people with flaws, emotions, motivations etc.. On the downside, all of this characterisation can sometimes distract from the story’s plot a bit.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably informal and descriptive way. Although this can sometimes come across as a little bit cheesy or corny, it works reasonably well most of the time and the story is fairly readable.

In terms of the length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At 331 pages in length, it isn’t too long, although trimming about fifty pages or so from the middle of it would probably have made it a lot more focused and streamlined. As for the pacing, it is at it’s best during the gripping beginning and ending of the story. However, the middle parts of this story are far too slow-paced for a story of this type.

All in all, whilst I eventually enjoyed this novel, it wasn’t really the traditional-style detective story I’d expected. Yes, this novel has some funny moments, some romance, some dramatic moments and a few gripping moments. Yes, the story certainly gets better as it continues. However, it isn’t without flaws either. In short, this book would be vastly improved by trimming a few scenes, having better pacing in the middle parts of the story and having a more consistent focus on the central mystery.

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