Review: “Bloodlist” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I last read a vampire novel. And, after a bit of searching online, I happened to notice the cover of a rather cool-looking vampire-themed “film noir”-style novel by P. N. Elrod . However, it was the seventh in a series.

So, after some thought, I decided to start at the beginning of the series and – to my delight – a second-hand omnibus of the first three P.N.Elrod’s “Vampire Files” stories was also going fairly cheap. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the first novel in the series, “Bloodlist” (1990).

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

This is the 2003 Ace Books (US) paperback omnibus that contained the copy of “Bloodlist” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in Chicago, in the summer of 1936. Former reporter Jack Fleming is having a bad night. After waking up near a lake with no memory of the past few days, he suddenly finds that he’s being chased by a car. After taking a glancing blow from the car, the driver gets out and shoots him in the back. However, to Jack’s surprise, the gunshot doesn’t really hurt and isn’t even vaguely fatal.

After giving the gunman the scare of his life, Jack takes his car and decides to look into why he can’t remember the past few days. And, more importantly, why he’s still alive too. But, after feeling a hunger for blood, the answer to that question seems pretty obvious…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 Not only is it a really cool vampire novel, but it’s also a fairly gripping “film noir”-style thriller novel too, with a decent helping of comedy, quirkiness, atmosphere and personality too 🙂 And it’s from the 1990s too 🙂 Seriously, it is awesome 🙂

Interestingly though, although this novel is sort of a detective novel, it’s actually more of a streamlined thriller than many of the classic hardboiled novels it takes inspiration from. It’s kind of like a mixture between a less gritty/ less old-fashioned version of Mickey Spillane’s “I, The Jury” with a few hints of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. In other words, if you’re expecting the kind of messy, puzzling, complex plot that you’d find in hardboiled classics like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” or Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window“, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Still, this streamlined plot works really well – since it makes the story a lot more gripping and readable (and a bit “cinematic” too). Interestingly though, although the novel certainly has a rather cool “film noir” atmosphere to it, it also contains traces of something a bit older and more quirkier.

This is mostly thanks to the inclusion of a British actor, private detective and master of disguse called Escott, who helps to lend the story a little bit more of an eccentric Victorian-style “Sherlock Holmes” atmosphere 🙂 Plus, although this novel wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve (with references to things like Black Mask and old Dracula movies), it is very much it’s own unique thing 🙂

Although this is more of a horror-themed novel than an actual horror novel, the novel’s depiction of vampirism is fairly interesting. In addition to the usual thing about vampires being allergic to sunlight, this novel does some rather interesting things – such as giving Jack the ability to turn invisible and walk through walls. This allows for some truly brilliant (and occasionally hilarious) set pieces, but also has a few clever limitations which help the story to remain suspenseful too. Jack is also able to remain a fairly sympathetic character since he mostly drinks animal blood and, on the one occasion he bites another person, doesn’t kill them.

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty good. Although many of the characters are fairly stylised “film noir” characters (eg: the evil gangster, the nightclub singer with a heart of gold, the hardboiled detective etc..) they all have a lot of personality. Likewise, the story includes a few characters you probably wouldn’t find in traditional 1930s-50s hardboiled stories too, which helps keep things interesting too.

Interestingly, whilst Jack is still very much a hardboiled detective, he’s probably slightly more of a likeable and friendly character than the classic hardboiled detectives of the 1930s-50s (eg: Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade). Likewise, he contains just the right amount of moral ambiguity to make him an interesting character, whilst also ensuring that he doesn’t become too unsympathetic either.

The best character-based part of this novel is probably the friendship between Jack and Escott, which is the source of lots of dramatic moments, amusing lines of dialogue and other such things. Seriously, although the characters in this novel are a little bit stylised, this is part of the fun of this novel.

In terms of the writing, Elrod’s first-person narration is really good 🙂 It is matter-of-fact enough to make the story moderately fast-paced, whilst also still allowing the story to have a reasonably authentic “film noir”-style tone too. Likewise, the first-person narration also helps to give Jack a lot of extra characterisation too. Seriously, this novel is wonderfully readable.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great. The omnibus edition of “Bloodlist” I read was a gloriously efficient 159 pages long. But, even accounting for the smaller print and larger page size in the omnibus, this novel is still a wonderfully streamlined and efficient story. Likewise, the story’s pacing is fairly good too, with the story never really slowing down or losing momentum. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel moves along at a reasonable pace.

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Seriously, this could pretty much be a modern novel. Whether it is the slightly more critical attitude towards the setting (similar to what you’d expect in a modern historical novel) or the fact that the novel’s writing style is also retro enough to be atmospheric whilst still being modern enough to still be easily readable today, this novel has aged really well.

All in all, this novel is really awesome 🙂 It’s a hardboiled “film noir” detective story about vampires that was written in the 1990s. You don’t get much better than this 🙂 It’s a streamlined, gripping novel that contains a really great blend of atmosphere, thrills and humour.

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

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Review: “Transition” By Iain Banks (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a slight break from detective fiction and read an interesting-looking literary sci-fi novel from 2009 (that I found in a charity shop in Petersfield last year) called “Transition” by Iain Banks.

Although I’d heard of Iain Banks before, I’d never actually got round to reading anything by him before, so I was kind of curious. Plus, this was a novel that was about one of my favourite sci-fi subjects – parallel universes 🙂 Not to mention that one of the early segments talked longingly about 1989-2001 (eg: the 1990s), so naturally I was curious.

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

This is the 2010 Abacus (UK) paperback edition of “Transition” that I read.

The novel begins with a narrator mentioning that he is an unreliable narrator, before musing about the time between 1989 and 2001 – when the world was a bit more innocent and optimistic. The narrator then explicitly tells us the story’s ending, where he is suffocated by a mysterious assailant. He then shows the reader something that hasn’t happened yet, an armed man entering a train carriage.

Then, after this, we get to see glimpses of the lives of several different characters such as an ambitious social climber and drug dealer called Adrian Cubbish, a man called Mike Esteros pitching a film to a Hollywood studio, a mysterious patient in a psychiatric ward called Patient 8262, a mysterious traveller called The Transitionary, a rather bitter and bigoted character called Madame D’Ortolan, a creepy torturer known as The Philosopher etc…

Needless to say, all of their lives will collide in all sorts of intriguingly strange ways…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, if you can understand it, then it is an absolutely gripping and brilliantly well-written sci-fi thriller. Although the novel’s plot becomes more streamlined (it’s a classic “evil despot vs. plucky band of rebels” story) as the story progresses, this is one of those novels that will require you to think and pay attention whilst reading it. In other words, like with Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” and Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall“, this novel isn’t meant to be relaxing easy reading.

Yet, despite containing numerous things that would usually annoy me (eg: the story isn’t told in chronological order, there are multiple narrators etc..), this novel remained fairly gripping throughout. In part, this is due to the quality of Banks’ writing and, in part, is due to the fact that some of the more “confusing” parts of the novel are fairly well-handled.

Not only does the story tell you who is narrating whenever the narrator changes but, even though the novel’s numerous flashback scenes aren’t explicitly signposted, you can usually tell what chronological order things are supposed to happen in if you pay attention to the rest of the story. Although, again, this is one of those stories that will either leave you feeling really confused or really delighted.

Still, this is a novel that you’ll get the most out of if you’ve read more experimental or avant-garde fiction beforehand. In other words, some parts of the story are deliberately meant to be confusing and disorientating – and you’ve just got to let the words wash across you until you can work out what is going on. But, given that this novel is a story about jumping between universes, timelines and bodies – this confusion is an integral part of the story and, once you get used to it, it works really really well 🙂

The novel’s sci-fi elements are pretty interesting too. Although some elements of the story are left deliberately mysterious, the mechanics of jumping between parallel worlds are explained reasonably well and will usually follow a fairly consistent set of rules. Likewise, the parallel worlds themselves also allow for a few interesting alternate histories too (although this isn’t explored as much as I’d hoped). The novel also contains a few other sci-fi elements too, although I won’t spoil the most interesting one of these.

Thematically, this novel is absolutely fascinating. In addition to exploring the topic of parallel universes, multiple timelines etc… it also covers a lot of other topics too. For example, it is a fairly grim novel about how violence begets violence, it is also a novel about the greed that led to the 2008 financial crash, a scathing criticism of the post-9/11 use of torture by some governments, a novel about the nature of evil, a story about the value of good in an indifferent multiverse and a novel about the dangers of things like authoritarianism and solipsism too.

This is also a novel which, whilst not “laugh out loud” funny, certainly has a gleefully dark sense of humour about both itself and the world. Everything from the narrator telling the reader the ending very early in the story, to the ironic deaths of several characters, to countless other satirical and/or ironic moments have a wonderfully twisted sense of humour to them that really helps to keep the story interesting.

One interesting thing about this novel is that it’s also something of an “edgy” novel (and isn’t for the prudish or the easily-shocked). For the most part, the “edgy” elements of the story work reasonably well (such as the disturbing scenes that explore what makes people become evil etc..). However, the novel will occasionally do fairly silly things like including exposition-filled dialogue segments that take place whilst two characters are making love.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. Although all of the characters are fairly stylised, they have distinctive personalities, backstories and motivations. Plus, since this is a novel where people can inhabit the bodies of people living in parallel universes, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about how much of a character is their real self and how much belongs to the body they’ve jumped into.

In terms of the writing, it is brilliant. Although the novel does use multiple first and third-person narrators, this is never too confusing thanks to the fact that the changes between narrators are clearly signposted (by both a mention of who is narrating and, sometimes, a distinctive change in the narrative style) . Likewise, the novel is written in a way which is both intellectually, descriptively formal and refreshingly informal. Seriously, this is one of those novels where the writing itself is one major reason to keep reading it.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is something of a mixed bag. At 469 pages in length, it’s a little bit on the longer side of things and would have probably benefitted from some trimming.

However, although the novel can be a little slow-paced at times, the pacing is reasonably good – with the story moving along at a fairly moderate pace most of the time, with some more fast-paced and suspenseful moments at various points too. Even so, working out when many of the novel’s flashback scenes (which aren’t always in chronological order) take place can slow the story down a little at times.

All in all, this is a really good novel. Yes, some parts of it are deliberately meant to be confusing and it is the kind of novel where you will need to pay attention. But, this is one of those deep, interesting stories that is worth sticking with. It’s a complex, intelligent, moderately-paced literary sci-fi thriller that slowly gets more gripping as it goes along.

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

Review: “Resident Evil 3” (PC Version) (Retro Computer Game)

Well, because I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and because I had a bit more time whilst reading another novel, I thought that I’d take the chance to replay an old favourite of mine 🙂

I am, of course, talking about Capcom’s 1999 survival horror classic “Resident Evil 3” (or, more accurately, the PC port of it from 2000). After all, I’ve reviewed the film adaptation of this game and the novelisation of the film (but I haven’t got round to re-reading S.D. Perry’s novelisation of the game yet). So, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t reviewed the actual game itself yet.

This is a game which I first played on the Playstation during the early-mid 2000s and then replayed it at least once when I found a version of it that ran on the PC (during the late 2000s, if I remember rightly). So, I thought that I’d replay it yet again – albeit in “easy mode”, mostly for time reasons.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil 3”. Needless to say, this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES.

*Sigh* I miss the days of budget games, second-hand game shops and when the BBFC was hilariously over-zealous about displaying age certificates on games.

The events of “Resident Evil 3” take place during the same time period as the events of “Resident Evil 2“. It is the late 1990s and the American city of Racoon City has been infected by a zombie virus, leaving the streets crawling with the undead.

Jill Valentine, star of the first “Resident Evil” game, must explore, puzzle and fight her way through the city and reach safety. Not only that, there’s also a giant mutant called “Nemesis” chasing her too.

And, yes, he’s the kind of gnarly heavy metal monster you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden album cover.

One of the first things that I will say about “Resident Evil 3” is that, whilst I should be cynical about it, I absolutely adore this game 🙂 Even though I’m more nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2”, I’ve probably replayed this game more times than any other horror game. It’s just the right mixture of challenging, spectacular and fun. This is probably because it was designed for both die-hard fans of the series and for people who are new to the series.

On the one hand, things like the slightly more action-packed gameplay, the “easy” difficulty option (on the PC at least) and the game’s (ridiculously silly) costume design were designed to appeal to the “mainstream” and/or “casual” gamers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, for fans of the series, the game contains numerous awesome call-backs and references to previous games in the franchise – with the core gameplay not being too different either.

Not only does Brad Vickers have a cameo in this game, but you also get to explore part of the police station from “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

Surprisingly, this dual focus actually works really well and it turns the game into it’s own distinctive thing. But, I should probably start by talking about the gameplay.

Whilst the exploration, puzzle and combat gameplay is fairly similar to the previous two games and is something of an acquired taste (eg: modern gamers might take a while to get used to the movement/combat controls, the animation that plays every time you walk through a door, the fixed camera angles, the limited inventory space and the obtuse puzzles), there are numerous cool additions which help to give the game more depth and drama.

Whether it is the much wider range of locations to explore, the fact that there’s now a “dodge” move (and an auto-aim feature), the inclusion of exploding barrels or the fact that this game contains refreshingly limited early versions of over-used modern things like quick-time events and a crafting system, this game feels a little bit more action-packed and “cinematic” than the first two games in the series. Yet, unlike what I’ve heard about some of the later sequels, this game doesn’t lose it’s identity and turn into a generic mindless action-fest either.

Yes, the only “quick time events” in this game are a few multiple choice questions 🙂

Likewise, the only “crafting” here is a fairly basic gunpowder-mixing system 🙂

This is helped a lot by the inclusion of difficulty settings (in the PC version at least) – if you play on “hard mode”, then the game is more of a traditional survival horror game, with fairly limited ammunition, limited saves and lots of other things that really help to ramp up the suspense and tension. Yes, the auto-aim makes the game a bit easier than previous instalments, but it’s still reasonably similar.

If you play on “easy mode”, then you get unlimited saves (but you still have to use fixed save points) and lots of extra weaponry – which makes the game a bit more relaxing, action-packed and “casual”. So, you can choose what type of game you want it to be – which is really cool.

On “hard” difficulty, this game is a tense, challenging old-school survival horror game.

But, on “easy” difficulty, it’s more of a wonderfully badass action-horror game 🙂 [and, yes, the exploding barrels are also there in “hard” difficulty too]

Still, one change I’m a little ambivalent about is the lack of character selection. Yes, there are technically two playable characters (eg: Jill and Carlos) – but the game switches between them automatically at certain points in the story. In other words, you don’t get two separate campaigns in the way that you did in the previous two games. On the one hand, this means you only get half a game. On the other hand, it does make the story a little bit more streamlined and varied.

As for the graphics and visual design, they are awesome 🙂 Yes, even with the PC version’s enhanced graphics, the game’s 3D models and CGI cutscenes still look pretty dated. However, this game has aged really well visually thanks to all of the really awesome pre-rendered backgrounds, dramatic camera angles and dramatic lighting. Seriously, I love old-school pre-rendered backgrounds and this game is an absolute work of art 🙂

Seriously, the background here could almost be something out of “Blade Runner” 🙂

And just check out the awesome lighting here 🙂 Seriously, people knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s 🙂

And just look at all of the background detail here 🙂

In terms of the game’s horror elements, whilst you shouldn’t expect something genuinely scary (unlike, say, “Silent Hill 3), this game is a pretty decent horror game.

In addition to all of the suspense that things like the limited inventory, saves and/or camera angles can provoke – this game also uses jump scares slightly more frequently and effectively than the previous two games in the franchise usually do.

Boo!!! With the exception of the “Dog” scene from the first game, this game has some of the best jump scares in the old “Resident Evil” games 🙂

Other horror elements include the creepily unwelcome return of the series’ giant spider monsters too. Likewise, you can also find lots of ominous in-game documents describing the spread of the zombie virus. Plus, of course, there’s also a really awesome scene where some zombies quite literally rise from the grave….

This is so cool 🙂

In terms of the writing and the characters, they’re “so bad that they’re good”. Whether it’s the series’ traditional hilariously awful voice-acting, the gloriously wooden script, the minimalist characterisation/story or the ridiculously silly costume design….

Note how these experienced, well-trained zombie fighters wear sensible protective clothing like sleeveless vests, tube tops and mini skirts.

…. This game is utterly hilarious. But, this is part of the charm of the series. It was the 1990s, a more laid-back age when “dramatic” games could be hilariously silly. When games were still “low culture” in the same way that old pulp novels, horror comics, B-movies etc.. were.

Plus, in addition to having better 3D models, the ability to skip cutscenes/ door animations and the inclusion of more difficulty options, one interesting feature of the PC version of the game is that the unlockable costume selection option in the Playstation version is unlocked by default (and also now contains something like eight different options too).

And, yes, you can play as the “Resident Evil 1” version of Jill too.

In terms of the game’s music, it is the kind of dramatic, suspenseful, spectacular orchestral music that you’d expect from a classic “Resident Evil” game. In other words, it is absolutely epic 🙂

All in all, whilst this game is a bit of an acquired taste, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 If you miss classic survival horror games, if you want a gloriously cheesy “B-movie” of a game, if you want to wander the streets of a post-apocalyptic city or if you just miss the creativity of the 1990s, then this game is well worth playing 🙂 If you want a tense survival horror game, play it on “hard” difficulty. If you want a fun, slightly quicker and gloriously silly action game, play it on “easy”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then I’d personally give it a five 🙂 But, more objectively, it’s probably more like a four or a three and a half.

Review: “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” by Agatha Christie (Novel)

Well, since I seem to be going through a bit of a detective fiction phase at the moment, I thought that I’d take a look at Agatha Christie’s 1938 novel “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” today.

I found a second-hand copy of this novel online a couple of weeks earlier, after both getting nostalgic about binge-watching a DVD boxset or two of the old ITV adaptation of “Poirot” a couple of years ago and realising that it has been at least a decade since I last read an Agatha Christie novel.

So, let’s take a look at “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid giving away the ending.

This is the 2013 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” that I read.

The novel begins three days before Christmas in a train station in London where a man called Stephen Farr happens to meet a beautiful woman called Pilar Estravados who has been invited to Gorston Hall in order to meet her long-lost grandfather, Simeon Lee.

Meanwhile, Simeon Lee’s middle-aged sons are talking to their wives about the Christmas invitations. None of them like Simeon very much, what with him being the kind of grumpy, cynical, rich old man who sometimes cackles to himself when no-one is looking. Likewise, many of his sons also harbour resentment about his cold demeanour during their late mother’s illness. Still, out of formality and tradition, they reluctantly agree to spend Christmas at Gorston Hall.

Needless to say, it is the kind of miserable family Christmas that you would expect. Something not helped by the fact that Simeon is brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, with his throat slashed inside a locked room. Luckily for the head of the local police, famed investigator Hercule Poirot is visiting him for Christmas….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read. Everything from the hilariously stuffy and formal bickering during the early parts, to the intriguing locked room mystery (where everyone is a suspect) to the scenes featuring the hilariously, cartoonishly evil Simeon Lee were just so much fun to read. This novel is a proper, traditional Agatha Christie mystery 🙂

Although the early parts of the novel focus more on the characters and backstory, as soon as the murder happens, the story becomes the kind of focused, gripping detective story that you would expect. Interestingly, this novel includes some vaguely Sherlock Holmes-style deductions made from evidence and experimentation in addition to Poirot’s more typical interview-based methods of detection. Plus, the fact that pretty much every character has a motive for murder really helps to keep things suspenseful too.

Yes, some of the plot twists and events of the story are a little bit contrived at times – although, like with every good detective story, there’s a subtle clue for every part of the mystery (which Poirot explains during his traditional end-of-story speech) and a few clever red herrings too. Plus, with something as intriguing as a locked room mystery, a certain amount of contrivance is to be expected anyway.

One amusing thing about this novel is that it is prefaced by a letter from Agatha Christie to her brother-in-law which states that she wrote this story because he expressed dismay about how “refined” and “anaemic” some of her recent stories had been. As such, this novel is – by Agatha Christie standards – surprisingly grisly (but, it’s pretty tame by modern standards). But, the bloody nature of the crime helps to lend the story a little bit more of a Sherlock Holmes-style atmosphere, which is kind of cool.

The novel’s characters are fairly good too. They’re given enough characterisation to make the reader understand their personalities and motives, with a lot of the novel’s funnier and more dramatic moments happening during their various arguments with each other. The stand-out character has to be Simeon Lee, who is this hilariously melodramatic grumpy old man (seriously, you can just imagine an actor really hamming it up when you read his scenes 🙂 ). Surprisingly, Poirot doesn’t actually get a huge amount of characterisation in this novel – then again, pretty much everyone knows who Hercule Poirot is anyway.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is fairly readable and, although it is a little bit on the formal side (after all, it was written less than 40 years after the 19th century) it is still fairly easily readable today. Likewise, the novel also focuses quite a bit on dialogue too, which helps to keep the story flowing at a fairly reasonable pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent. At a lean and efficient 268 pages in length, the novel never really feels bloated. Likewise, there’s a good contrast between the slightly slower dialogue and background scenes at the beginning and the slightly faster-paced and wonderfully focused detective scenes after the murder has been committed. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced novel, this isn’t as much of a slow-paced novel as you might expect either.

As for how this eighty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well 🙂 Yes, there are a few slightly dated generalisations (eg: about relationships, about the differences between English people and people from mainland Europe etc..), not to mention that some “modern” words (eg: “fantastic”, “batteries” etc..) actually use their completely different old-fashioned meanings in this novel. But, for the most part, this novel has aged really well. It’s still fairly gripping, fairly readable and filled with the kind of timeless vintage charm that you would expect.

All in all, this is a really enjoyable “old school” detective novel 🙂 If you want an intriguing locked room mystery, if you find stuffy aristocrats bickering with each other absolutely hilarious and if you want a reasonably focused, well-paced detective story, then you can’t go wrong with this one 🙂

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

Review: “The Midnight Line” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, I hadn’t planned to read a Lee Child novel (the last one I read was in 2017, when I wasn’t reading much) but, after reading a fairly slow-paced novel recently, I wanted something relaxing, gripping and refreshingly fast-paced.

Out of instinct, I’d bought a copy of Child’s 2017 novel “The Midnight Line” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year when I realised that it was a Lee Child novel I hadn’t even heard of before. So, this seemed like a good time to read it.

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

This is the 2018 Bantam (UK) “Richard & Judy’s Book Club” paperback edition of “The Midnight Line” that I read.

The novel starts with an ex-military policeman Jack Reacher in Milwaukee. His lover has just left him after three days together and Reacher decides to deal with this by continuing his travels. So, he gets on a bus that is heading for a small town near Lake Superior.

But, on the way, the bus stops off for a rest stop at a small town. Reacher wanders around the town and ends up in the local pawn shop. He spots a ring. It is a graduation ring from the prestigious West Point US military academy that is inscribed with the initials “S. R. S” . Soldiers don’t usually sell things like that. So, after buying the ring, Reacher stays in town and decides to track down the owner….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that I’d forgotten how good Lee Child novels are. Yes, even though this one doesn’t quite live up to the standards of some of Child’s older novels (eg: “Gone Tomorrow”, “The Hard Way”, “Persuader”, “Tripwire” etc..) – it’s still the kind of gripping, incredibly readable, precisely-written thriller novel that is as compellingly relaxing as a good DVD boxset. Or, to put it another way, even a “low-budget” Lee Child novel is still considerably better than most books by many other thriller authors.

For the most part, this novel is actually more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel. Seriously, there are only about four or five short fight scenes in the entire book – with at least a few other moments where Reacher actually solves problems in a non-violent way. Surprisingly, this actually adds some extra realism (and unpredictability) to the novel, in addition to placing emphasis on the detective elements of the story too.

And, for the most part, these work fairly well – with Reacher and several other detectives (eg: a cop, a P.I. and a federal agent) investigating the mysterious case in different ways and for different reasons. However, a lot of the story’s gripping suspense is lost when Reacher meets the ring’s owner about two-thirds of the way through the novel. After that, the novel turns into slightly more of a conventional crime thriller/action-thriller novel – which is good, although it isn’t quite as good as the compelling mystery of the scenes where Reacher is trying to find out about who owns the ring.

Even so, these crime thriller/action-thriller scenes later in the book still remain reasonably compelling, thanks to a well-placed set piece and a rather clever, if unconventional, plot device involving a character with a dwindling supply of narcotics. However, Reacher’s final showdown with the novel’s main villain is surprisingly brief, anti-climactic and understated (with the most dramatic part of the scene also being little more than an implied background detail too).

Likewise, given that the crime thriller elements of the novel revolve around the drug trade, this allows Lee Child to explore how the opioid epidemic has affected rural America. This element of the book is handled surprisingly well, with Child’s ire about the situation quite rightly directed towards pharmaceutical companies and organised crime gangs, instead of their victims (who are presented in a fairly compassionate way).

In terms of the settings, most of this novel takes place in a small town and in various remote areas of Wyoming. Although this rural remoteness adds some mystery and menace to a few scenes in the novel, it does tend to get a little bit dull after a while. Even so, the plot still helps to keep everything interesting – especially during the parts where Reacher is trying to track down the ring’s owner.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably good. Jack Reacher is, well, Jack Reacher – he’s the same intelligent, tall and courageous wandering ex-military policeman as usual (although he’s a little bit more of a pacifist, relatively speaking, in this novel). The other characters are also pretty interesting, with most of them having distinctive quirks, motivations and flaws. However, the novel’s main villain doesn’t quite get enough characterisation though. Although the characterisation in this novel is very slightly on the minimalist side of things, it still works reasonably well and you’ll find yourself caring about what happens to the characters.

One interesting element of this novel is how all of the various detectives etc… interact with each other. Unlike in some of Lee Child’s other novels, Reacher seems to be on incredibly good terms with the police in this novel – with his old military credentials (and the business that the villains are in) basically meaning that the police everywhere he goes end up siding with him, helping him out and/or looking the other way when he breaks the rules. I’m not sure if this is realistic or not, but it works reasonably well – although it slightly lessens the suspense in some parts of the novel.

As for the writing, Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of precise, fast-paced, “matter of fact” narration that you would expect. As thriller novels go, Lee Child’s are some of the most well-written ones that I’ve read and this novel is no exception. The writing never patronises the reader, yet this is the kind of novel which can still be read easily when you’re really tired and/or the weather is annoyingly hot, which is quite an achievement on Lee Child’s part.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although it’s about 450 pages long, this is the kind of novel which will take you less time to read than some 300 page books will. In other words, the story is reasonably fast-paced throughout. Seriously, even in the scenes where nothing much happens, the novel still remains pretty gripping.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t the best Lee Child novel I’ve read, it’s still an incredibly gripping and compelling novel. Yes, it’s more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel, but this works surprisingly well. But, if the Jack Reacher novels were a TV show, this one would probably be a low-budget bottle episode. Even so, it’s still one of the better non-sci fi/non-urban fantasy/ non-horror thriller novels I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago.

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

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.

Review: “More Tales Of The City” By Armistead Maupin (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from horror fiction and review a comedy novel today. This is mostly because, a week or two before I wrote this review, I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s brilliant “Tales Of The City” series 🙂 Although I read the first novel in this series during the mid-late 2000s, I couldn’t remember if I’d read any more of them.

So, I found a cheap second-hand copy of Maupin’s 1980 novel “More Tales Of The City” online and decided to take a look at it. Although this novel is a sequel to “Tales Of The City”, it works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel (thanks to a few recaps). However, having some vague memories of the characters from “Tales Of The City” will help you get into the story a lot more easily.

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

This is the [2007-10?] Black Swan (UK) paperback reprint of “More Tales Of The City” that I read.

The novel takes place in San Francisco in 1977 and follows the inhabitants of a boarding house run by an old hippie called Mrs. Madrigal. It is Valentine’s day, so Mary Ann Singleton and her GBF Michael Tolliver are making hilariously irreverent Valentine’s day resolutions. After the events of the previous novel, Mary Ann has inherited $5000 from her previous boss. So, the two of them decide to go on a cruise to Mexico. Of course, after they spot a mysterious handsome man by the pool, they aren’t sure who should ask him out…

Meanwhile, Mona Ramsay decides to leave San Francisco. On the way, she meets a kindly old woman who is travelling to Winnemucca, Nevada and decides to travel with her. Of course, things take a slightly unexpected turn when Mona learns more about her travelling companion.

Meanwhile, Brian Hawkins is looking for a girlfriend and finds himself both spying on and being spied upon by a mysterious woman living in a nearby tower block. Plus, following the events of the previous novel, DeDe is several months pregnant with twins and her husband Beauchamp isn’t particularly happy about it, given that he isn’t the father….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 It’s a complex, relaxing and gleefully hedonistic comedy novel that is so much fun to read 🙂 In addition to having a wonderful atmosphere, amazing writing and brilliant characters, this is the kind of novel that has a level of personality and humanity to it that is comparable to Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. In other words, this is a wonderfully quirky novel that will make you laugh out loud and cry with joy. It’s also an utterly brilliant piece of classic LGBT fiction too.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s comedy elements. This novel contains a really good mixture of irreverent humour, character-based humour, cynical humour, social satire, complex humour, farce, parody (eg: the soap opera style storyline with DeDe) and eccentric humour. In addition to several laugh out loud moments, a lot of the novel’s humour tends to be more of a constant background thing that really helps to keep the story amusingly compelling throughout. Not to mention that some of the comedy comes from how all of the story’s various sub-plots connect with each other too.

And, yes, I should probably talk about this novel’s plot. Although the story does have one, it’s more like a collection of lots of sub-plots which are expertly interwoven throughout the novel (kind of like in a good sitcom episode). Although you may have to take notes at first, the juggling of several plotlines works really well and gives the story a level of realism and complexity that contrasts perfectly with the hilariously random, bizarre and occasionally contrived events of the story.

In addition to this, the novel’s plot also contains some more serious elements – like a detective thriller sub-plot later in the story, a sub-plot about Mona’s parents, a sub-plot about Michael’s ex and a medical sub-plot. These elements of the story contrast really well with the novel’s comedy elements and really help to add some extra warmth and humanity to the story too (and, yes, expect to cry during a few moments).

The novel’s characters are, in a word, superb. They’re an absolutely wonderful group of quirky, realistic individuals who I really enjoyed hanging out with whilst writing the novel. I could spend ages talking about the characters in this novel but they are certainly one of the story’s greatest strengths. Likewise, the friendships and relationships between the characters are also another major strength of this story too.

This novel is also an utterly stellar work of LGBT fiction too 🙂 In addition to lots of retro LGBT humour/in-jokes, this novel also includes lots of romance, a fairly realistic depiction of coming out (eg: something that has to be done multiple times in multiple situations), some brilliant dialogue segments (such as a letter that Michael writes to his conservative parents) and – for the time it was written – a surprisingly well-written transgender character too.

The atmosphere of this novel is brilliant too – in addition to the kind of locations that you’ll really want to visit, this novel has the kind of irreverently countercultural attitude and quirky atmosphere that really makes it feel like the story is taking place a mere 7-8 years after the 1960s ended.

In terms of the writing, Maupin’s third-person narration has a brilliantly unique voice and style. Maupin’s narration is a gloriously impish mixture of more formal, descriptive narration and much more irreverent informal narration. This is one of those novels that is worth reading for the writing alone 🙂

In terms of the length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 288 pages in length, it is concise enough to remain compelling throughout. Likewise, although most of the story is rather moderately paced, the humour and the many sub-plots keep the story compelling throughout and this is one of those novels that you’ll probably want to savour. Not to mention that a few mildly suspenseful thriller elements also appear in the later parts of the story too 🙂

As for how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Yes, there are a few dated descriptions and story elements that will probably seem “politically incorrect” these days but, for the most part, this novel holds up surprisingly well when read today. A lot of the novel’s irreverent humour seems slightly ahead of it’s time (eg: I can’t believe this wasn’t written during the 1990s!) and is still brilliantly funny when read today. Plus, this novel shows a much more open-minded side of the 1970s too, whilst still having a charmingly “retro” atmosphere too. Seriously, this novel was ahead of it’s time!

All in all, this novel is brilliant 🙂 If you want the kind of novel which is not only fun, funny and compelling but also has an atmosphere, warmth and humanity to it that can sometimes be difficult to find in fiction, then read this novel. It was an absolute joy to read 🙂

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