Review: “The Affair” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review another hardboiled sci-fi novel next, the one I’d chosen didn’t seem to be anywhere near as good as I’d hoped it would be – and I ended up abandoning it after about ten pages. So, I needed to read another novel, a better novel. Quick!

And, since I was still in the mood for thriller fiction, I thought that it’d be the perfect time to take a look at one of the few Lee Child novels I hadn’t read before. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2011 novel “The Affair” (which I’ve been meaning to read ever since a family member gave me a copy of it several years ago).

Although this novel is both a prequel and part of a large series, it is – like almost every Lee Child novel – designed be read as a stand-alone novel. So, you can enjoy it if you haven’t read any other “Jack Reacher” novels before this one. But, if you have, then there might be a few familiar names and references that you’ll enjoy.

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

This is the 2011 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Affair” that I read.

The novel begins on the 11th March 1997, with a US military policeman called Jack Reacher arriving at the Pentagon for a meeting with a colonel called Frazer. As he goes through security, he expects to be arrested. No-one arrests him. But, as he heads towards Frazer’s office, he’s certain that there is a team of people following him. He has expected something like this. But, no-one follows him and he arrives at the office ten minutes late. Frazer asks Reacher for the name of the suspect he has found.

Reacher says that he has nothing. That the meeting was nothing but an elaborate ruse to draw the culprit out into the open. That he’d hoped someone would have tried to make a move against him before he arrived. Frazer asks if he’s a suspect. Reacher lies about the answer. Frazer laughs and points out that Reacher looks a bit dishevelled. Reacher says that he is supposed to look like this.

Then we flash back to five days earlier. Reacher has been summoned by his CO, Leon Garber, who criticises him for not meeting uniform regulations before pointing out that his scruffy hair is probably a good thing. A woman called Janice May Chapman has been murdered in a small town in Mississipi called Carter Crossing, a small town with a large army ranger base nearby. Although Reacher expects to be lead investigator on the case, the job goes to another officer called Munro.

Reacher’s role in the case is to enter the town undercover and keep tabs on the local police, in the hope of pre-empting or averting any kind of army-related scandal before it happens. So, he hitchhikes to the town, but the local sheriff – Elizabeth Devereaux – is a former military police officer and guesses why he’s there shortly after meeting him. Still, with only two deputies – and no trained detectives- in the town, she reluctantly agrees to let him help her investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a really compelling historical detective novel, with some thriller elements too. In other words, it’s probably closer in style to one of the more understated modern Reacher novels, like “The Midnight Line“, rather than the older novels in the series. And, as long as you don’t expect an action-fest or anything like that, then there’s a rather gripping mystery to be enjoyed here.

So, I’ll start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. This novel is a bit like a blend between a thriller, a police procedural and a hardboiled novel. Not only does the case quickly expand in size and scope, but there are a good variety of investigative elements too – including examining physical evidence, making deductions from clues, interviewing people and coming up with several clever ruses and schemes to catch the criminal.

In addition to one or two smaller side-mysteries, another thing that really helps to keep the story’s detective elements compelling is the fact that – right up until the late parts of the book – the reader is never entirely sure which one of the two main suspects are guilty, thanks to lots of red herrings and contradictory pieces of evidence (all of which are, of course, explained later). So, it’s one of those stories that will keep you guessing 🙂

Plus, there are also a few hardboiled elements too. Whether it is a clever twist on the idea of a “femme fatale” character, the fact that Reacher is a semi-official investigator (who is breaking orders and technically doesn’t have jurisdiction) or the fact that – instead of arresting anyone – he unflinchingly metes out rough justice to anyone he finds to be guilty of a serious crime, this novel definitely takes a few hints from the classic American crime fiction of the 1920s-50s. Even so, it isn’t really a “film noir” story.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly compelling too 🙂 In addition to a larger-scale sub-plot about Reacher trying to deal with a possible military cover-up, the novel also includes quite a few suspenseful moments and even a couple of fight scenes too. Still, this novel is more of a traditional-style crime/suspense thriller than the kind of action-thriller novel you’d traditionally expect from Lee Child. But, thanks to things like shorter chapters and a fast-paced writing style, this novel moves along as quickly as you’d expect from a modern thriller novel 🙂

The novel’s historical elements are a bit of a mixed bag though. When they are at their best, they reminded me of other modern 1990s-based crime/suspense novels (such as Laura Lippman’s excellent “Sunburn) which keep their 1990s setting fairly understated – with only the absence of things like smartphones etc.. – helping to create the historical atmosphere. This helps to lend the story a feeling of realism, in addition to allowing for more suspense too (thanks to the lack of modern technology etc…).

However, unlike many modern 1990s-set novels, there are a few moments where Reacher “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly about the 1990s in the past tense, as if he was re-telling the story in the present day. Although these moments help to clarify the historical setting, they will probably break your immersion in the story slightly at the same time. Yes, the idea of an older Reacher reminiscing about his younger days is an interesting narrative device, but this puts a certain amount of distance between the reader and the story.

As for the characters, they’re really good 🙂 Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. Not only is it really interesting to see a slightly younger version of Reacher (and one or two other long-running characters too), but Elizabeth is also a fairly complex and interesting character too.

The relationship between Reacher and Elizabeth is quite well-handled, and it manages to be both realistic and stylised at the same time (not to mention that, for a Reacher novel, it is probably one of the steamier books in the series too). Plus, the US military – with all of it’s foibles, rivalries, contradictions and complexities – is also pretty much a main character in this novel too.

In terms of the writing, it is really good too 🙂 Like with a couple of other Reacher novels, this one is written from a first-person perspective – which allows for a bit of extra characterisation and suspense. And, although Reacher’s occasional asides about the 1990s can be a little immersion-breaking, I cannot fault the actual writing itself. If you’ve ever read a Lee Child novel, then you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fast-paced, precisely-engineered and streamlined narration that is kind of like a modern version of the hardboiled fiction of the 1920s-50s, and this novel is no exception 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The edition I read (which had slightly larger pages) was 427 pages long, and this length seemed to be a good fit for the story. Although this isn’t the fastest-paced Reacher novel I’ve read, the story still moves along at a fairly decent pace – with lots of well-placed plot twists, mini-cliffhangers and suspenseful moments that help to keep everything compelling. Another cool thing about this novel’s pacing is the TV-style “cold open” scene, which adds instant intrigue to the story by giving the reader a tantalising glimpse of events that happen about three-quarters of the way through the novel.

All in all, this is a really good detective novel that also contains some gripping thriller elements too. Although I’d have liked to have seen more of an action-thriller story, this novel was still very enjoyable to read – with a (mostly) well-handled historical setting and a good mixture between investigation and suspense.

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

Review: “Baltimore Blues” By Laura Lippman (Novel)

Well, shortly after enjoying Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn” a couple of months ago, I went online to look for other books by the author and ended up buying a second-hand copy of Lippman’s 1997 detective novel “Baltimore Blues”. And, although I’d originally planned to read it several weeks ago, I got distracted by other books and only happened to rediscover it by accident a couple of days before writing this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Baltimore Blues”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS (but I’ll avoid revealing whodunnit).

This is the 2005 Orion Books (UK) paperback edition of “Baltimore Blues” that I read.

The novel begins in Baltimore, with ex-journalist Tess Monaghan getting up early to go rowing on the Patapsco river. Ever since she was made redundant by the Star and has had to take up a few strange odd jobs, these early-morning rowing trips have become part of her daily routine. And, like every morning, she meets her fitness fanatic friend called Darryl “Rock” Paxton on the water. He insists on racing her to a nearby bridge, before suddenly bursting into tears afterwards.

His fiance, Ava, has been acting strangely recently and he offers to pay Tess to follow her and learn what is going on. Since she needs the money, Tess agrees and starts tailing Ava. After a while, she begins to suspect that Ava is having an affair with prominent local lawyer Michael Abramowitz and confronts her about it. Ava then manages to get her side of the story across to Darryl before Tess can talk to him. And, although Tess is annoyed by this, she considers the matter solved.

The next morning, Tess reads the local paper at her aunt’s bookshop and is shocked to find that Darryl has been accused of murdering Abramowitz. Since Darryl protests his innocence in the matter and because the head of the local sailing club – Tyner- is also his defence lawyer, he asks for Tess’ help with investigating the matter…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though the story takes a while to get going, it is a fairly atmospheric and compelling detective novel with hints of both the legal thriller and noir genres too 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about the detective elements. Since Tess is an unofficial detective, these mostly consist of interviewing people, studying documents and finding inventive ways to sneak into places. She’s also sometimes able to use her connections from her time as a journalist to help her out with various pieces of the case too. Not only does the “unofficial investigator” thing add a bit of suspense to the story, but it is also slightly evocative of the classic private eyes of the noir genre too.

This connection to the noir genre is also enhanced by the nature of the case itself – which also includes a few smaller mysteries, morally ambiguous characters and the kind of sordid web of criminality (including some fairly dark and/or “gritty” subject matter) that you’d expect from the genre. Even so, this isn’t really a traditional noir detective story – but there are definitely some hints of the noir genre during a few parts of the story.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel also includes some elements from the legal thriller genre too. Since the main focus of the story is building a defence case for Darryl, there’s a fair amount of time dedicated to trying to handle the media coverage of the case or trying to find holes in the evidence against him, in addition to worries about whether various pieces of evidence will be admissable or not. Likewise, since the victim is a lawyer, this also adds to the story’s legal thriller elements too.

When it is at it’s best, these legal thriller elements result in some fairly dramatic set pieces (eg: Tess finding a way to distract a group of court reporters etc…) and a brilliantly realistic sense of ambiguity, where the focus isn’t on impartial investigation – but on exonerating a friend who may or may not be guilty. On the flipside, these legal thriller elements can sometimes slow down the story a bit at times, and can seem a little abstract or contrived in comparison to the much more interesting detection-based parts of the novel. Yes, the legal obstacles in the story add a bit of extra suspense or give Tess an excuse to come up with a clever scheme, but they do slow the story down a bit.

The novel is also fairly atmospheric too 🙂 If you’re a fan of movies, TV shows, stories etc… set in 1990s America, then this novel will give you a chance to visit this interesting time and place. In addition to lots of interesting descriptions of Baltimore, this novel also has a fairly distinctive “atmosphere” to it too thanks to both several of the characters and a surprising number of scenes related to food, books, sailing and/or bars. Although some of this atmosphere and drama can slow the story down a bit (especially in the earlier parts), it gives everything a bit more personality and sets this story apart from a typical gritty crime novel.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. Although many of the background characters are a quirky mixture of realistic and stylised, Tess is a really interesting protagonist who not only has to grapple with her precarious financial situation and the attitudes of various members of her family, but also still hasn’t quite got over the fact that she is no longer a reporter. She has realistic flaws, quirks and a real sense of personality that make her a fairly compelling and sympathetic character.

Plus, since this novel comes from the 1990s, her opinions are also a much more nuanced and realistic mixture of liberal and conservative ideas than you’d typically find in a modern novel. This also allows for a certain level of subtle irony too. For example, one of the things that really annoys Tess is when other people base their identities around victimhood – yet, her own life has become defined by losing her job as a reporter.

Likewise, in classic film noir fashion, there are also quite a few morally ambiguous and/or downright villainous characters, who will keep you guessing throughout the novel. Plus, one amusing character-related coincidence is that Tess’ on-off boyfriend also shares a name with a well-known British TV presenter, which adds some unintentional comedy to these scenes if you’ve ever watched TV over here.

In terms of the writing, this novel is also fairly well-written. The novel’s third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to add a bit of pace and realism to the story, whilst also being descriptive and formal enough to add atmosphere, character and depth to everything. Even though this writing style can occasional slow the story down a bit, it means that the novel contains the best elements of both crime/detective thriller fiction and literary fiction.

As for length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At a fairly efficient 291 pages in length (albeit with slightly smaller print), this novel really made me miss the days when this sort of length was standard for novels 🙂 The novel’s pacing is also more like a traditional detective story or thriller, with everything gradually rising in intensity throughout the story. Although this means that some early-middle parts of the story can feel a bit slow, they really help to set up the more compelling, eventful and dramatic middle-late parts of the story 🙂

As for how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Not only do some elements of the story feel a lot more modern than movies/TV shows from 1997, but the story also has a very recognisable (albeit relatively subtle) “1990s” atmosphere to it, which really helps to add a lot of intrigue to the story. There are also a few amusingly ’90s moments too, such as when a character goes “on-line” to access a “data base”.

Plus, as hinted at earlier, the novel also comes from a more nuanced and less polarised era of history where creative works could easily be both liberal and conservative. This results in a less predictable and slightly grittier story with more complex characters, but may make some moments seem dated when read today.

All in all, this is a really good detective novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit slow to get started and doesn’t become seriously compelling until a little way into the story, but it is worth sticking with thanks to the intriguingly complex mystery, the atmosphere, personality and characters. Plus, if you’re a fan of 1990s America, then this novel is worth reading for the setting alone too 🙂

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

Review: “British Bulldog” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for years. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2015 novel “British Bulldog”. I originally ended up buying a second-hand copy of this book shortly after getting a box set of the first three novels in Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” series for Christmas in 2016. At the time, I’d planned to read all three of them and wanted to have a copy of the fourth ready for when I finished.

But, although I read the first two books (but only reviewed the first one), I wasn’t reading much at the time and it was only after I later read the third and fifth books in the series that I remembered the fourth one. And, yes, this is one of those series where each novel is fairly self-contained (although it’s worth reading the previous three books first in order to get to know the characters a bit better).

So, let’s take a look at “British Bulldog”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid revealing too much.

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

The novel begins in Brighton in February 1954. Ex-SOE agent turned debt collector Mirabelle Bevan is walking back to the office one evening when she notices a man following her. When he approaches her, he points out that he’s a solicitor who has been trying to find her because she has been mentioned in a will.

An acquaintance from the war, Major Matthew “Bulldog” Bradley, has died and bequeathed Mirabelle one thousand guineas on the condition that she finds information about a man called Philip Caine who Bradley escaped from a POW camp with but became separated from during the escape. Although Mirabelle is initially wary about the case, especially when Bradley’s widow doesn’t want her to investigate it, she soon finds herself tangled in a web of secrecy, intrigue and drama that will take her all the way to Paris….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is really compelling. Not only is the Paris setting a really refreshing change but, in addition to the detective elements that you’d expect, this novel also includes some faster-paced elements from the spy thriller, adventure thriller and suspense thriller genres that really help to add focus and momentum to the story too. Seriously, if you want a good historical thriller novel, then this one is worth reading.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re reasonably good – with the novel’s central mystery being intriguing enough to keep the story compelling. Given the pre-internet setting and the “cold case” that Mirabelle finds herself investigating, this also means that the novel can include a few scenes involving trawling through libraries and archives for information. Although this might sound boring, it not only allows for the novel to seamlessly add atmospheric background details/information, but the “needle in a haystack” nature of these scenes also helps to add a bit more more suspense to the story too.

But, surprisingly, this is actually slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel 🙂 Although the thriller elements only really become prominent during the middle to later parts of the novel, there’s a really great mixture of chases/evasions, spy stuff, suspenseful sneaking around and even a few fast-paced set pieces. In a lot of ways, this novel is a bit like an old-school spy/adventure thriller and, as such, it is probably the most gripping novel I’ve read so far in this series 🙂 Plus, unlike many other novels in the series, there isn’t really a second case for Mirabelle to solve (and the sub-plot is a character-based one instead) – so the story also feels a bit more focused and streamlined too.

All of these thriller elements are also helped by an absolutely wonderful atmosphere too. Not only is this story set during a cold, gloomy time of year but the fact that a good portion of it is set in Paris is a very welcome change too 🙂 Not only does 1950s Paris add a lot of extra atmosphere to the story, but it also allows for a lot of extra characterisation, character-based drama and WW2-related backstory stuff too. This includes stuff about the French Resistance, how everyone wants to forget the war, the fate of wartime collaborators etc… Not only does this stuff add a realistic historical background to the story, but it also helps to add a lot of extra weight and complexity to the novel’s drama elements too.

This novel is also something of a character-based drama too. Not only are Mirabelle’s conflicted feelings about her wartime affair with a since-deceased SOE agent (and friend of Major Bradley) called Jack Duggan a major part of the story, but one of the novel’s other characters is also heavily affected by the events of the war too. Needless to say, this novel’s characterisation is really good too – although it mostly focuses on Mirabelle, all of the novel’s other main characters have fairly realistic motivations, flaws, emotions etc… too.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact”, but slightly formal and descriptive/atmospheric, way that really fits in well with the novel’s 1950s settings whilst also being more readable than an actual 1950s novel would be. If you’ve read other books in the series, then the writing is up to the same standard that you’d expect but – to my delight – this novel also contains more fast-paced moments that, surprisingly, work really well with this writing style 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel absolutely excels 🙂 At an efficient 274 pages in length, there are very few wasted pages here. Plus, the novel’s pacing is really superb too. Not only does this novel slowly increase the scale, pace and intensity of the drama (gradually going from being a detective novel to a thriller novel), but even the slightly more moderately-paced earlier parts of the story are still mysterious and suspenseful enough to keep you gripped. Although this certainly isn’t the first “Mirabelle Bevan” novel to include elements from the thriller genre, they are used in the best possible way here and this whole novel was even more compelling than I’d expected 🙂

All in all, this is probably my favourite “Mirabelle Bevan” novel so far 🙂 It’s a really brilliant and atmospheric historical detective novel that, thanks to some well-handled additions from the thriller genre, is also a really gripping and streamlined story too 🙂

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

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

Well, I was still in the mood for a thriller novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tess Gerritsen’s 2003 novel “The Sinner”, which I ended up finding a second-hand copy of online shortly after enjoying Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” about a month or so earlier.

Although this novel is the third novel in Gerritsen’s “Rizzoli and Isles” series, it can probably be read as a stand-alone story. However, at least one of the story’s sub-plots follows on from “The Apprentice”, although there are recaps during these parts.

So, let’s take a look at “The Sinner”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS (although I’ll avoid revealing whodunnit).

This is the 2010 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Sinner” that I read.

The novel begins in India, with an American man called Howard Redfield taking a taxi to a remote rural area. The driver refuses to take him any further, so Howard makes the rest of his journey on foot. When he arrives at his destination, he sees nothing but burnt buildings and the remains of funeral pyres. Taking out a camera, he begins to document everything before he notices a woman walking towards him. As she gets closer, Howard sees that her face is missing.

Meanwhile, in Boston, medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles is finishing a routine autopsy on a heart attack victim when she gets a call from Detective Rizzoli. Isles drives to a local convent called Graystones Abbey. In the chapel, one nun has been murdered and another one has been taken to hospital in a critical condition. There are no witnesses, the press is starting to become interested in the case and, worst of all, Isles’ ex-husband has recently arrived in town and wants to meet up with her.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling and atmospheric detective thriller with some drama, horror and medical thriller elements too.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, the story is the kind of police procedural that you would expect. Interestingly, Dr. Isles is more of a main character in this novel than she was in “The Apprentice”. So, whilst there are still quite a few scenes scenes of Rizzoli questioning witnesses and investigating crimes, this novel spends quite a bit of time in the autopsy room. These autopsy scenes, along with a couple of more ominous moments, also help to add some elements of horror to the story whilst also introducing various medical mysteries and/or tantalising clues for Rizzoli to follow up on.

Interestingly, this is one of those detective stories where the mystery is actually more interesting than the solution. It is a case with lots of plot twists, a side-mystery or two, clues that can easily be missed and grim moments and it is really compelling. However, although the later parts of the story are certainly dramatic, some parts of the conclusion felt a little bit random and there wasn’t really enough foreshadowing about the identity of the killer. Yes, the resolution of some other elements of the main mystery still provide a satisfying dramatic payoff, but I’d liked to have seen more clues about the killer.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly decent. In addition to lots of small plot twists, tantalising clues and a fairly fast-paced writing style, this novel also includes a few moments of suspense and horror to keep the reader on their toes too. Likewise, in true thriller fashion, there’s also a fairly good mixture of small-scale and large-scale drama too. This novel is a fairly compelling one that is well worth binge-reading over a couple of evenings.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel also contains some fairly effective horror elements too. In addition to several grisly autopsy/ crime scene scenes, there are also a few scenes set in creepy locations, some moments of suspense, some character-based/psychological horror, some disturbing plot elements and some scenes of medical horror too. Although this isn’t really a “horror novel” as such, it certainly takes influence from them during a few moments and, like a classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novel, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really good. It is written in the kind of informal, fast-paced and matter of fact way that you’d expect from a thriller. However, the novel also takes the time to focus on things like descriptions and characterisation too, which really help to add a lot of extra atmosphere to the story too (eg: the story’s wintery setting etc..). Likewise, although this story includes it’s fair share of medical terminology and jargon, this is often written in a way where the meaning is either obvious from the context and/or explained well enough.

As for the characters, this novel is really good. Not only is it good to see more of a focus on Dr. Isles, but Rizzoli is still very much Rizzoli too. In addition to solving the mystery, both main characters each get a more drama-like sub-plot (revolving around their ex-partners), which allows for a lot of extra characterisation too. Likewise, although the bulk of the characterisation focuses on Rizzoli and Isles, there is still enough characterisation to make you care about many of the background characters too. However, although the novel does explain the killer’s motive and identity, I’d have liked to have seen a bit more characterisation for this character.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 416 pages, it’s a little on the longer side but it never really felt padded. Likewise, the novel is reasonably fast-paced, with frequent clues and moments of drama keeping the plot compelling and moving at a fairly decent pace. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced novel, this novel certainly moves at a good enough speed for a detective novel 🙂

All in all, although I slightly preferred Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” to this novel, it’s still a really good detective thriller story 🙂 If you want a police procedural story with a bit of extra drama and horror, and a wonderfully wintery setting, then this one is certainly well worht reading.

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

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: “N Or M?” By Agatha Christie (Novel)

Well, after seeing a vague comment on an online newspaper article mentioning a cleverly-placed clue in Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel “N or M?”, I was curious enough to track down a second-hand copy of it. This also reminded me of when, in 2009, I ended up reading Christie’s “And Then There Were None” after someone partially spoiled an unusual element of the ending (which made me curious enough to read the rest of the book to see if it was even possible to end a novel in this way).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “N or M?”. Although this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, I’ll avoid major ones.

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I read the 2015 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “N or M?”, but I won’t include an image of the book cover here due to the presence of a WW2-related symbol. Although the book is clearly anti-fascist and the stylised cover art is meant to reference the story’s historical setting/context, I still thought that it was probably best to err on the side of caution with regard to displaying the cover.
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The novel is set in early 1940. Middle-aged couple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are sitting around and feeling thoroughly miserable. Despite some past work for the government, they are considered to be too old for war service. But, after asking around, a military intelligence officer called Grant reluctantly offers Tommy a desk job in Scotland. However, when Tuppence is called away by a phone call, Grant tells Tommy that he’s needed for a mission of national importance.

A British agent has been murdered by German spies. His last message indicated that the spies were connected to a guesthouse in the seaside town of Leahampton called Sans Souci and there were two unidentified spies, going under the code names “N” and “M”. Given a false identity and warned not to tell his wife, Tommy sets off for Leahampton in the hope of winkling out the German spy.

Needless to say, it isn’t long before another guest shows up at the Sans Souci. Having pulled off a clever ruse and overheard Grant’s orders to Tommy, Tuppence comes up with a false identity of her own and decides to unofficially join the investigation. Even so, with everyone at the guesthouse suspicious in some way or another, the two undercover investigators have their work cut out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was surprisingly different to what I’d expected. Instead of a Poirot-like murder mystery, this novel is slightly more of a “topical” vintage spy thriller, albeit one with lots of elements from the detective genre. Interesting, although the first half of the novel reads a lot more like a detective/spy story, the second half is somewhat closer to the thriller genre than you might expect.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re the sort of thing that you’d expect to see in an Agatha Christie novel 🙂 Almost everyone is suspicious in some way or another, there are lots of subtle clues (that are explained at the end), a few red herrings, some clever twists and a solution that, whilst technically possible to guess, will seem both logical and surprising at the same time.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, although they’re more understated than a modern thriller novel, they still work really well. In the earlier parts of the novel, there is more of a focus on subtle suspense, secret identities, spy tricks and suspicion, with the second half of the novel having very slightly more of an adventure thriller/crime thriller like tone to it, with an emphasis on more dramatic types of suspense.

Interestingly, the novel blends these genres in a really clever way. Whilst the identity of one of the two spies is revealed in a more thriller-novel type way, the identity of the other is deduced from clues in a more detective novel-like way. Still, both genres support each other really well with, for example, the suspense about whether Tommy and Tuppence can maintain their cover and the fact that everyone around them is suspicous making the detective elements seem a bit more dramatic.

The novel’s historical context is fairly interesting too and it adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. Not only does this novel contain a surprisingly nuanced reflection of attitudes towards WW2 (which are, at times, more pessimistic than you might expect), but a scene where a character predicts that the war will last six years is eerily prescient (again, the novel was first published in 1941). Likewise, the novel also taps into the fears of a “fifth column” of German spies that seemed to have been a concern at the time.

Plus, although the novel shows that Britain was somewhat unprepared during the earlier stages of WW2, there’s a heartwarming “we’ll muddle through this” attitude to the story that was probably even more reassuring when the novel was originally published. Even more interestingly, looking on Wikipedia, Christie was actually investigated by MI5 after this novel was published since one of the characters is called “Major Bletchley”.

As for the novel’s writing, it’s really well-written. Yes, the novel’s third-person narration is – by modern standards- slightly on the formal side of things, but it is still very readable (after all, this book was mainstream popular entertainment in the 1940s) and the style really helps to add a bit of extra atmosphere to the story too.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written too. In addition to lots of witty dialogue between Tommy and Tuppence, they’re also presented as being a vaguely realistic middle-aged couple rather than expert detectives. Yes, they’re fairly intelligent, reasonably good at picking up clues and fairly courageous, but there’s a real sense of uncertainty (eg: about who the spies are, about whether they are in danger of being revealed as investigators etc..) that really helps to make them even more realistic and sympathetic characters.

The relatively large cast of characters are, as you would expect from an Agatha Christie novel, fairly realistic and complex. Almost all of the guests at the Sans Souci do or say something suspicious at some point in the story, with most of these things having logical non-spy related explanations. Likewise, the novel’s villains are – as you would expect- suitably chilling and/or menacing too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At about 243 pages in length, it never really feels bloated or over-extended. Likewise, whilst this novel is probably slightly moderately-paced by modern standards, the level of drama and suspense increases quite a bit in the second half of the novel. And, at the time that it was written, it was probably considered a more fast-paced thriller. Likewise, the novel also drip-feeds the reader clues and suspenseful moments in a way that really keeps the story compelling too.

As for how this seventy-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Yes, there are a few mildly dated moments in the story, but it is still a relatively fast-paced and compelling vintage thriller story. A lot of the novel’s subtle humour and witty dialogue still works, the characters are still compelling, the mystery is still compelling and the thriller elements are still suspenseful. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the story’s writing style is still fairly readable too (if a bit more formal than a modern novel).

All in all, this novel is a fairly interesting vintage spy/detective novel. Yes, it’s a bit different to Christie’s more famous “Poirot” stories, but it’s still compelling, atmospheric and intriguing. Plus, if you’re a fan of Sara Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” historical detective novels, then you’ll probably enjoy this story too.

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

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.