Review: “Tangled Up In Blue” by Joan D. Vinge (Novel)

Well, after planning to read three other books and then abandoning each of them after a couple of pages for different reasons, I needed to find something to read. And, when looking through one of my book piles, I stumbled across the second-hand copy of Joan D. Vinge’s 2000 novel “Tangled Up In Blue” that I bought shortly after reading Vinge’s “World’s End” and then somehow forgot about.

Interestingly, although this novel is part of Vinge’s “Snow Queen” series, it can be read as a stand-alone story. Still, if you’ve read any of the other novels (and I’ve only read “World’s End”), then you’ll notice a few familiar characters, background elements, places etc…

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

This is the 2000 Tor (US) hardback edition of “Tangled Up In Blue” that I read.

On the planet Tiamat, two Hegemonic police officers – Nyx LaisTree and his half-brother Staun LaisNion – are just finishing their shift, when they are accosted by a rather uptight “by the book” technican called BZ Gundhalinu who wants them to go to the royal palace for guard duty at a party held by the Snow Queen, celebrating a sucessful hunt of sea-creatures called mers that are used in a longevity serum available only to the ultra-rich.

After the guard duty, the cops go out drinking before slipping away to visit a warehouse. As part of the uneasy relationship between Tiamat’s monarchy and the Hegemony, Tiamat natives are not permitted to own advanced technology. Of course, smuggling is rampant and the Queen uses her political influence to keep it that way. So, both Nyx and Staun are members of an unofficial vigilante group who breaks into smugglers’ warehouses and smashes up the illicit technology.

But, during this latest raid, they stumble across a group of armed men who kill most of them. Barely alive, Nyx recognises one of the men as a fellow police officer. But, before the man can kill Nyx, he is distracted by a commotion. Gundhalinu, having picked up something suspicious on the police frequencies has shown up at the warehouse with his superior officer, Jerusha, to investigate the illegal vigilante activity. Soon, they both get involved in a frantic fight with the mysterious armed cops.

In the aftermath, Nyx is interrogated by a cruel internal affairs officer called Jashari before being suddenly released from hospital and suspended from duty. Racked with grief by his brother’s death and suffering from partial amnesia about the events in the warehouse, he decides to go out and get some answers and some revenge. Meanwhile, Gundhalinu begins to investigate unofficially until he is called in by Chief Aranne and told that Nyx is under suspicion of stealing a valuable artefact and that Gundhalinu will be responsible for following him and finding out more…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a thriller than I’d initially expected 🙂 Not only does it have all of the atmosphere that you’d expect from a novel in this series, but it’s also a reasonably-paced gritty film noir-influenced police thriller too. It is also a really cool blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres too – think “Blade Runner” meets “Game Of Thrones” 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those books that just gets better and better as it goes along.

So, I should start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. It’s slightly more of a traditional-style thriller, with a really good blend of suspense, mystery, mini-cliffhangers, secret societies, political/criminal scheming, spy stuff and a couple of dramatic combat sequences too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced action-thriller novel, this novel reads a bit like a cross between a more focused harboiled “film noir” novel, a gritty drama novel and a vaguely “Game Of Thrones”-style political intrigue thriller 🙂

The novel’s “film noir” elements are interesting too, with the story including the kind of complicated web of criminal intrigue that you’d expect from the genre, not to mention a grizzled detective protagonist (who has been suspended from duty and wants both answers and revenge), a certain level of moral ambiguity, a “Maltese Falcon“-style focus on several people trying to get hold of something, grim/gritty depictions of violence and a complicated love interest character (Devony).

Yet, at the same time, this novel feels a bit more focused than most classic 1920s-50s hardboiled crime novels do, with the story having enough complexity to fit into the genre without ever really becoming confusing (if you’re paying attention). Plus, it also includes a few elements from the buddy cop genre too, which are handled really well 🙂

Not only that, this novel is also at least slightly evocative of “Blade Runner“, whilst also being it’s own thing too 🙂 In addition to the noir elements and the gritty futuristic police-based drama, one of the coolest ways that this novel riffs on “Blade Runner” is probably how the novel’s setting is this wonderfully atmospheric mixture of fantasy-genre style ancient buildings and futuristic tech. Although this gives the novel it’s own unique atmosphere, it’s also a really cool and creative homage to the “used future” elements of “Blade Runner” too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant 🙂 In addition to lots of backstory and vivid worldbuilding that is delivered in a relatively concise way, the novel’s futuristic technology is both a background thing and a central part of both the story’s main plot and the political drama sub-plot in the background. In short, this novel is as much about not having technology as it is about all of the cool things that technology can do. A lot of the novel’s background revolves around people being motivated by being denied technology for one reason or another (eg: political policy, history etc…).

Plus, although this novel is more sci-fi than fantasy, one of the cool things about it is how it blends both genres. In short, it is a sci-fi story that is set in a fantasy-influenced world, where things like monarchies, traditions, feudalism etc… still play a role. Not only is this reflected in the story’s slightly fantasy-influenced setting, but also in the novel’s political intrigue elements – which are wonderfully evocative of something like “Game Of Thrones” 🙂

Thematically, this is both a novel about death and also a novel about loyalty and honour too. Both Gunhalinu and Nyx are both mourning the loss of important relatives, and this has an effect on their actions and characters as the story progresses. The novel also focuses on how loyalty and honour can come into conflict with each other (eg: A secret society, a vigilante group, smuggling gangs, Devony’s torn loyalties, LaisTree’s loyalty to his brother, Gundhalinu’s “by the book” attitudes etc..). This topic is handled in a brilliantly nuanced way, with the story’s eventual conclusion being that the two things aren’t necessarily polar opposites of each other.

In terms of the characters, this novel is superb 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters (Gundhalinu, Nyx and Devony) experience a surprising amount of character development as the story progresses, but they also have a level of personal and emotional complexity that really helps to make them feel like realistic, flawed people too 🙂 In addition to all of this, the conflict and contrast between many of the characters is also a major source of drama and depth for the story too 🙂

As for the writing, it is stellar 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is a lot more focused, faster, slightly more informal and more “matter of fact” than the formal narration in Vinge’s “World’s End” was, but without losing any of the atmosphere or depth that you’d expect from this series 🙂 This more focused narration is evocative of the hardboiled crime genre, but never turns into just a typical Chandler/Hammett pastiche. In other words, this novel has it’s own distinctive narrative style 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is better than I’d expected 🙂 At an efficient 235 pages in the hardback edition, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to both the thriller-style structure and the slightly more “matter of fact” writing style, this novel feels a lot more energetic and faster-paced than “World’s End” did 🙂

All in all, this was an even better novel than I’d expected 🙂 Not only is it a cool and creative blend of the sci-fi, film noir and fantasy genres, but it was also much more of a thriller than I’d expected 🙂 If you like films like “Blade Runner” or just want an imaginative thriller that also includes depth, atmosphere and interesting characters, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

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

Review: “The Apprentice” By Tess Gerritsen (Novel)

Well, for the final novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d look at something that isn’t technically a horror novel.

Between some point in the 1990s and the 2000s, mainstream publishing avoided horror fiction like the plague. So, novels that would have been classified as “horror” in the 1980s were often published as “psychological thrillers”, “crime thrillers” etc…. instead. And I’ll be looking at one of these novels today.

In particular, I’ll be looking at Tess Gerritsen’s 2002 detective thriller novel “The Apprentice”. This was a book that I found whilst browsing a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth a week or two earlier and, after looking at it, quickly realised that it was probably a slasher movie-style horror novel in disguise.

Although “The Apprentice” is apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Surgeon”, it can be read as a stand-alone novel (due to some well-placed recaps). However, having read “The Apprentice”, I’d advise that you read “The Surgeon” first since the recaps spoil the ending of that novel.

So, let’s take a look at “The Apprentice”. This review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid major ones.

This is the 2003 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Apprentice” that I read.

The novel begins with a segment showing a convicted serial killer witnessing a prison-yard stabbing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Meanwhile, in Boston, detective Jane Rizzoli has been called out to investigate a grisly corpse that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the street. After studying the body and talking to some of the other detectives, Rizzoli deduces that it was a bizarre accidental death rather than murder.

However, just after she works this out, she gets a pager message from a detective in Newtown asking her to visit a crime scene. A man has been murdered and his wife is missing. Not only that, the case seems to have some striking similarities to a serial killing case that she solved a year earlier. A case that still haunts her.

Things go from bad to worse when the FBI insists on joining the investigation, several bodies are found in the woods and the killer from Rizzoli’s previous case escapes from prison, eager to team up with the copycat killer and get revenge on Rizzoli….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really compelling, and creepy, detective story. It’s kind of like a mixture between a fast-paced thriller, a gritty police procedural and a horror novel. If you enjoy TV shows like “CSI” and “NCIS”, but wish that there was a bit more horror, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Whilst this novel isn’t technically a horror novel, there are some brilliantly creepy horror elements here. Although there are well-placed moments of gruesome horror and/or medical horror, the novel focuses more on psychological horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror.

In addition to offering the reader chilling glimpses into one of the killers’ minds, the novel also focuses on how Rizzoli is haunted by a previous case and also fears that the killers will target her. Seriously, as detective novels go, this one is surprisingly creepy!

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re really well-written. Although this novel is something of a forensic police procedural novel, there are enough traditional detective elements (eg: stakeouts, drama, chases, interviews etc..) to add some compelling variety to the story. In addition to this, there are also some intriguingly mysterious characters, a clever red herring or two and a couple of dramatic plot twists too.

Likewise, the novel’s forensic elements are fairly well-handled, with intriguing clues not being fully explained until later points in the novel when the scientists have had time to study them. Likewise, although there is a lot of medical/scientific jargon in this novel, it is both well-explained and plot-relevant. Not to mention that many of the novel’s forensic scenes also allow for some surprisingly gross moments of horror too.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really well-written too. This novel moves at a fairly decent pace and, although there is relatively little in the way of action sequences, there are lots of moments of suspense, mysteries, close calls, twists, drama etc.. that really help to keep the story gripping. Likewise, aside from some medical/scientific segments, this novel is written in a fairly fast-paced thriller-like style too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s characters, they’re fairly compelling, if a little stylised. Whether it is Rizzoli, an expert detective who is haunted by her past but has to put on a brave face to avoid criticism from her colleagues (since she is the only female detective in the department). Whether it is the mysterious FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, who wants her thrown off of the case. Whether it is her fellow detectives, the pathologist Dr. Isles or the creepy serial killers, this is a novel with compelling characters.

The only criticisms I have of the characters are the fact that, despite the words “A Rizzoli And Isles Thriller” appearing on the cover, Dr. Isles is slightly more of a background character than you might initially expect (with Rizzoli being the main focus of the story). Plus, the two serial killers are also given ludicrously melodramatic nicknames by the police (eg: “The Surgeon” and “The Dominator”), which adds some unintentional comedy to the story.

Not only that, whilst the relative lack of characterisation for “The Dominator” adds a certain level of mysterious creepiness to him, it also feels like a missed opportunity for some even creepier narrative segments than the ones from “The Surgeon”‘s perspective.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Most of the novel uses fairly “matter of fact” thriller novel style third-person narration, but there are also some first-person perspective segments from the perspective of one of the killers. These are clearly signposted via italic text, written in a more formal style and, in a creepy touch, are also narrated in the present tense too. The mixture of these two styles of writing works surprisingly well and really helps to add some extra drama and variety to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 411 pages, this novel is a little on the long side, but this is fairly typical with thriller novels. Plus, thanks to the novel’s thriller elements, the pacing is really good too 🙂 This is a much more fast-paced novel than a “traditional” detective novel, with lots of dramatic, suspenseful, mysterious and/or creepy moments sprinkled throughout the story to make you want to read more 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant blend of the detective, horror and thriller genres 🙂 If you’re a fan of any of these three genres, then you’ll really enjoy this book 🙂

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

Review: “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel. And, since I wanted a fairly quick and relaxing novel, I decided to take a look at one of the second-hand “Aliens” novels that I bought several weeks earlier, namely S.D.Perry’s 2008 novel “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise”.

Interestingly, you can probably also enjoy this novel if you haven’t seen any of the “Alien” films. Although knowing a few basic things about the franchise’s famous monsters will probably make this novel slightly more enjoyable, they aren’t really the main focus of the story in the way that they are in most of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read.

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

This is the 2008 Dark Horse (US) paperback edition of “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” that I read.

The novel begins with a man called Tommy Chase awakening from cryo-sleep after dreaming about his unhappy childhood. Tommy is a professional pilot who has agreed to run one job for a group of drug smugglers in order to help out his delinquent brother, Pete, who has got into trouble with them. Whilst Pete awakens from cryo-sleep, two of the crew members, Lee and Moby, want Tommy to land the ship quickly.

The ship lands on Fantasia, an illegally-terraformed planet owned by a drug baron called Msomi and run by one of his lieutenants called Trace. The planet is mostly used as a manufacturing facility and somewhere for wanted members of the gang to hide out until the heat dies down. As an added security measure, all of the areas outside of the main facility are swarming with vicious alien creatures that Msomi has imported onto the planet.

Meanwhile, on the surface, a man called Ray is lying in wait with a team of henchmen. Ray and Trace have fallen out in the past, and he plans to get even by downing the next outgoing cargo ship with an EMP, stealing the contents and framing Trace for the theft.

Whilst all of this is going on, a ship owned by the Neo-Pharm corporation is lurking near Fantasia. Msomi’s operation has been skimming or diverting chemicals from them. So, a team of mercenaries, led by an ex-military ex-cop called Kaye are preparing for a combat raid on the planet….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is better than the first half. In other words, whilst this novel does become really gripping, it takes a while to set everything up. Although this is a short novel, there are three plot threads and at least 10-20 characters. But, if you stick with this book during the earlier parts, then there is a really good payoff.

Interestingly, unlike several of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read, this novel is more of a crime thriller novel than a sci-fi or horror novel. Although there is some sci-fi stuff here (eg: illegal terraforming, futuristic drugs, spaceships, EMP weapons etc..) and there are a few horror elements (eg: the alien monsters, some gory moments etc..), the emphasis is firmly on the story’s crime and thriller elements.

In other words, whilst the aliens are a threatening background detail (and something for the characters to fight or avoid sometimes), they aren’t really the main focus of this story. This is more of a story about what happens when two rival groups of criminals and a band of corporate mercenaries collide with each other. Still, this makes a refreshing change from the usual “evil scientists and their research projects” plots that turn up in quite a few of the “Aliens” novels.

And, as a thriller, this novel works reasonably well. Whilst I found that the novel only really started to get gripping a little under halfway through, there’s a good mixture of drama, suspense and fast-paced action scenes. Likewise, thanks to the fact that nothing quite goes to plan for any of the characters, there’s a real sense of tension about who will survive and who won’t.

This novel also uses the technique (which I’ve also seen in Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night) of adding impact to various scenes by showing the same events multiple times from the “perspective” of different characters. Surprisingly, this works really well and – since the novel uses a third-person perspective throughout – it doesn’t really get confusing or annoying either.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. But, whilst several of the characters get a decent amount of backstory and/or characterisation and many of them have realistic motivations and flaws, one of the problems with this story is that there are too many characters. Although the story mostly focuses on a few characters, the time spent introducing all of the characters can slow down the earlier parts of the story slightly. Even so, many of the background characters are well-written enough to make you care about them.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is pretty standard gritty sci-fi thriller stuff. In other words, the narration uses a rather “matter of fact” style that is fairly readable. Although the narration in this novel doesn’t flow quite as quickly as it does in Perry’s awesome “Resident Evil” novels, it still works well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a gloriously efficient 222 pages in length, this story doesn’t feel too long. However, for a thriller novel, it takes quite a while to really get started. Yes, the earlier parts of the story build suspense and introduce both the premise and the large cast of characters, but the story doesn’t really turn into a truly gripping fast-paced action-packed thriller novel until a little under halfway through.

All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi crime thriller novel. Even though I found the second half of it to be more gripping than the first half, it is still a fairly enjoyable novel. But, if you’re looking for a thrilling “Aliens” novel with a bit more horror, then check out Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth” instead.

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

Review: “The Jonah” By James Herbert (Novel)

Well, out of the 116 books I’ve reviewed since I got back into reading regularly, I was shocked to realise that I hadn’t reviewed a single James Herbert novel. In fact, I didn’t even notice this shocking omission until, whilst searching one of my book piles for old horror novels, I stumbled across a copy of Herbert’s 1981 novel “The Jonah”.

Although I initially assumed that it was one of the second-hand horror novels that I had bought during the ’00s, but never got round to reading, I was surprised to find that I had read it before. Even though I had no memory of reading it, there was a pencil mark on one of the pages (I used to leave these, lest the bookmark fell out) which showed me I’d been there before. So, I was curious.

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

This is the 1985 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “The Jonah” that I read.

The novel begins in 1950s London, where a lavatory attendant called Vera discovers an abandoned baby with something lying beside it. Then, we flash forward to 1980s London. Undercover detective Jim Kelso is in a police car following another car belonging to a group of bank robbers.

According to his intelligence, they’re heading for the docks. However, whilst passing through a road tunnel, it turns out that the criminals were actually planning to rob a nearby armoured van.

In the gunfight that follows, one of Kelso’s colleagues is killed after Kelso’s gun jams at a crucial moment. Although his superiors check the gun and agree that it was an accident, they feel that – thanks to his accident-filled service record – he is a “Jonah”, a bad luck magnet.

But, since Kelso is too competent to be sacked, he ends up being reassigned to the drug squad and sent to a small coastal village in Suffolk called Adleton where a local family suffered a mysterious case of LSD poisoning. Yet, after spending several weeks there, he can see no signs of smuggling along the coast. Still, he’s sure that something is going on….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that reading it felt like returning home again 🙂 Seriously, I’d almot forgotten how awesome James Herbert novels are. This novel is a lot more fast-paced and readable than I’d expected, whilst still being just as atmospheric as you’d expect a 1980s horror novel to be 🙂 Not to mention that, like Shaun Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words“, this novel is also an intriguing hybrid of a gritty crime thriller and a horror novel.

Interestingly, the novel almost tends to focus more on its crime thriller elements, with the horror elements sometimes being more of an ominous background detail.

Still, although this novel mostly lacks the gory splatterpunk horror that Herbert pioneered with his 1974 classic “The Rats” (which I really need to re-read sometime), this isn’t to say that the story is devoid of horror. In addition to a wonderfully grotesque conclusion (and a creepy, but subtle, twist in the final moments), this novel also contains quite a few moments of implied horror, atmospheric horror, tragic horror, menacing suspense, paranormal horror and psychological horror. Plus, there’s also a brief scene involving rats too 🙂

In short, the horror elements of this novel are probably slightly closer to a traditional ghost story and/or an ominous Lovecraftian horror story than a typical splatterpunk novel. Even so, the horror elements work well and help to add mystery and atmosphere to the story 🙂 But, if you’re expecting a grisly 1980s gore-fest, then you’re probably better off reading Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” instead.

The novel’s crime thriller elements are quite compelling though. In addition to a dramatic and gritty car chase/gunfight at the beginning of the story, there’s a lot of gradually building suspense whilst Kelso and a customs agent called Ellie investigate the small village of Adleton, not to mention that there are a few dramatic fights and/or perilous predicaments too (which even include a segment that wouldn’t look out of place in a disaster movie). So, the thriller elements of this novel are certainly compelling enough 🙂

Even so, some details do feel a little bit under-researched. With, for example, some of the segments involving drugs containing what seem to be a few basic errors. Even so, other parts of the story contain all sorts of complex scientific jargon. Then again, given that this novel was written in the early 1980s, I guess that research materials about science were probably easier to find than reliable information about drugs was.

In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although Kelso is a typical gruff and rugged 1980s horror novel protagonist, he gets a lot of backstory which really helps to add a lot of tragic depth to his character. Likewise, his colleague/love interest Ellie is also a reasonably well-developed and realistic character too. Plus, like in all good 1980s horror novels, there’s a large and quickly-sketched, but believable, cast of background characters who almost all die in various horrible ways.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is, in a word, readable. It is formal and descriptive enough to lend the story the kind of atmosphere you’d expect from a 1980s horror novel, but it is also “matter of fact”, informal and gritty enough to keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace. The writing in this novel really shines during the historical flashback scenes, which really capture the grim, understated and drab atmosphere of 1950s/60s Britain.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At a gloriously efficient 253 pages in length, there’s no bloat or padding in this novel 🙂 This novel also contains a really good mixture of moderately-paced atmospheric scenes and faster-paced moments which really helps to keep the novel compelling.

As for how this thirty-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, there are a few dated and mildly-moderately “politically incorrect” descriptions, but the story itself is still really compelling, the writing is still very readable today and the story also has a wonderfully retro, gloomy and rural 1980s atmosphere to it too 🙂

All in all, if you want a compelling vintage crime thriller and/or a relatively non-gory example of 1980s horror fiction, then this novel is worth reading 🙂 Seriously, I’d forgotten how much fun James Herbert novels are to read 🙂

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