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.

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Review: “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” By S.D.Perry (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review a different novel today, I didn’t really get along with that novel – so, I decided to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” instead 🙂 This was a novel that I first read at some point during my teenage years and, intriguingly, it’s an original spin-off story rather than a direct novelisation of one of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames.

So, although this novel is a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“, it is sort of a stand-alone story. There are lots of recaps near the beginning and the main story is reasonably self-contained. However, it is worth taking the statement on the blurb (that this novel bridges the gap between the first two “Resident Evil” videogames) with a pinch of salt.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” that I read.

The novel is set in the American city of Racoon City. Following the local S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) team’s recent mission inside the zombie-filled Spencer mansion, there has been an official cover up by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The team have been discredited in the press and are suspended, pending an investigation.

Team medic Rebecca Chambers travels to Barry Burton’s house to meet up with the rest of the team and plan what to do next. When she arrives, Barry introduces her to a member of another S.T.A.R.S team called David Trapp. David is an old friend of Barry’s and has agreed to help him gather evidence against Umbrella. As such, David suggests a covert mission to infiltrate an Umbrella facility in Maine called Caliban Cove.

However, before the team can finish planning the mission, masked henchmen start shooting at Barry’s house. After a firefight that wounds Barry, the team flee to the abandoned house of their cowardly pilot Brad Vickers and lie low. After a while, they decide that – due to her scientific expertise – Rebecca should travel to Maine with David in order to investigate the mysterious Caliban Cove facility…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it gets off to a reasonably slow start, it’s a fairly good sci-fi/horror thriller novel. However, it is at least slightly different in style and tone to the videogames it takes inspiration from. On it’s own merits, it’s still a fairly good novel, but don’t go into this novel expecting “Resident Evil 1.5” or anything like that.

One of the most noticeable differences are the novel’s horror elements. Whilst this novel still includes a few gruesome moments of grisly zombie horror, don’t expect the kind of all-out gorefest that Perry offered in “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Instead, the majority of this novel’s horror elements consist of suspenseful horror, character-based horror and medical/scientific horror.

The story’s attitude towards monster design is pretty interesting too. The main “monster” of the story is a megalomaniacal scientist called Griffiths who has refined the zombie virus to the point where he can use it to control the zombies. Whilst this does result in some rather silly elements (eg: teams of zombies with machine guns), it is used to brilliantly chilling effect in the scenes showing how Griffiths has turned some of his co-workers into zombified slaves.

The novel’s thriller elements are pretty interesting too, with slightly more focus on suspense and exploration than combat. For the most part, this works reasonably well, with the suspense being increased via things like David’s team losing their boat, the squads of armed zombies prowling the grounds or the fact that a character starts slowly succumbing to the zombie virus.

However, the novel’s suspense is undercut somewhat by the fact that David’s team stays together for most of the story. One of the things that made the original games so suspenseful was the fact that the characters are frequently separated from each other and, for the most part, this novel doesn’t include too much of this. Likewise, the reader also gets to see a lot of Griffiths’ evil schemes before the other characters do, which kind of ruins the mystery slightly.

Like in the videogames, the characters also have to solve a series of puzzles in order to progress. Although there is an explanation for these puzzles (eg: a scientist hid something in the zombie training area), they seem a little bit more random and contrived than usual. In other words, they seem more like an episode of “The Crystal Maze” than a natural part of the story. Even so, the glorious silliness of these parts of the story is wonderfully reminiscent of the classic “Resident Evil” games.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. In addition to an extended cameo from series regulars Barry Burton, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield at the beginning, the novel mostly focuses on Rebecca Chambers – and adds some extra depth to a character who was, at the time the novel was written, little more than a background character in the first videogame.

Likewise, the new characters (eg: David and his teammates Karen, John and Steve) are all reasonably well-written and, of course, Griffiths is a brilliantly creepy villain too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here to make you care about the characters.

In terms of the writing, Perry’s third-person narration is a reasonably good mixture of informal fast-paced thriller narration and more descriptive narration. Since the novel focuses on Rebecca, there’s a little bit more scientific jargon in this story than you might expect. Even so, the narration fits the story really well and helps to keep everything compelling.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 242 pages, this novel is gloriously concise and can be enjoyed in just a few hours 🙂 The novel’s pacing is mostly fairly good, consisting of lots of slower moments of suspense punctuated by frantic moments of action and horror. However, the first forty pages or so of this novel (which mostly consist of recaps, dialogue etc…) are far too slow-paced for a story of this type. A good thriller novel should start with something thrilling.

As for how this twenty-one year novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Although there are possibly a couple of mildly dated descriptions, the story is both timelessly gripping and wonderfully ’90s at the same time. Everything from the random silliness of some parts of the story, to the 1990s suburbia setting of the novel’s early scenes, to the story’s “classic Resident Evil”-style elements are a wonderful source of ’90s nostalgia 🙂

All in all, whilst this novel is kind of like “Resident Evil lite”, it’s both a reasonably fun (if a little silly) spin-off story and a fairly suspenseful sci-fi/horror thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the series, then this novel is an interesting addition to it.

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

Review: “Sacrilege” By S. J. Parris (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a historical detective novel. So, since I had a bit more time than I’ve had for the past three book reviews, I thought that I’d check out S. J. Parris’ 2012 novel “Sacrilege”.

This was one of a number of historical novels I found in a charity shop in Petersfield last year (the same one where I found my copy of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall) and, given how much I enjoyed other novels in this genre like C.J.Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels (eg: “Heartstone“, “Lamentation” etc…), Parris’ novel seemed like just the thing to get me back into reading books that aren’t based on films, TV shows, videogames etc…

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

This is the 2012 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “Sacrilege” that I read.

The novel begins in London in 1584. Giordano Bruno, an Italian exile who is working for both the French ambassador and Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, fears that he is being followed.

A short while later, Giordano catches his pursuer – only to find that she is his ex-lover Sophia in disguise. Sophia tells him that she has been falsely accused of murdering her cruel husband in Cantebury and has been a fugitive ever since. So, Giordano decides to travel to Cantebury in order to clear her name and catch the real killer….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is very gripping 🙂 On the day I started reading it, I’d planned to read about 180 pages -I got to 300 before reluctantly deciding to save the rest of the book for the following day. Imagine a C.J.Sansom novel, but with better pacing, more suspense, slightly more formal/modern-style narration and a slightly grittier tone. Seriously, this is one of the best Tudor detective novels I’ve read in a while.

Not only does this novel contain a series of intriguing mysteries, but this is kept extra thrilling thanks to the novel’s brilliant use of suspense. A lot of this comes from the precarious, dangerous world that Giordano finds himself in. Not only does Giordano have to worry about protecting Sophia from arrest, he also has to contend with some powerful enemies in Cantebury, a corrupt justice system and Tudor-era xenophobia too. Throughout the novel, he’s constantly in danger from someone or another, which really helps to keep things grippingly suspenseful.

Interestingly, Parris’ depiction of Tudor England is considerably grimmer, crueller and more hostile than in the fiction of C.J.Sansom or Hilary Mantel. In a lot of ways, it reminded me a bit of G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels in terms of the atmosphere/emotional tone. This helps to add drama and suspense to the novel and, although a few moments of the story can be fairly depressing, this dystopian depiction of Tudor England fits the story really well.

Another interesting thing is how Parris’ “Sacrilege” presents Tudor England’s relationship with Europe in a different way to Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” too. In “Wolf Hall”, Tudor England is shown to be a resolutely European country – with many people speaking multiple languages, and people from across Europe living relatively harmoniously in London. On the other hand, “Sacrilege” mostly depicts Tudor England as a cruelly conservative dystopia that is teeming with narrow-minded xenophobia and general backwardness. I would say that this was a satire about Brexit… but this novel was published four years before the referendum.

In addition to all of this, “Sacrilege” is also a pretty good spy thriller too. Although the spy elements are something of a sub-plot, they help to add a little bit of extra intrigue and suspense to the story – especially since they often tend to involve classic-style spy stuff like coded messages, invisible ink, hidden doors, sneaking around etc… too.

Likewise, this sub-plot also allows for some exploration of the religious politics of Tudor England too – but, although this is an important element of the story, it isn’t quite as prominent as it is in novels like Sansom’s “Lamentation” and Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”.

The novel also includes a few interesting horror elements too – mostly consisting of some rather gothic moments that take place inside gloomy crypts and tunnels, in addition to some more traditional horror elements involving monstrous crimes of various types.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good – with most of the characters coming across as realistic flawed people with realistic motivations. Like in C.J.Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels, the sympathetic characters don’t really “fit in” with the world around them for one reason or another (with “Sacrilege” being a novel about exiles and fugitives). And, of course, the story’s villains are also suitably monstrous too. Likewise, just like C.J.Sansom, this novel also takes a fairly modern approach towards things like psychology, social ills etc.. too.

As for the writing, Parris’ first-person narration works really well. Like C.J.Sansom, Parris’ narration is modern enough to be easily readable, whilst also carrying a slight Tudor flavour too (albeit less than in a Sansom novel). However, since the narrator of “Sacrilege” (Giordano) is a well-travelled scientist/scholar and diplomat, the narration is slightly more on the formal and descriptive side of things – although it is still “matter of fact” enough to keep the story fast-paced and gripping.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Although, at 481 pages, this novel is a bit on the longer side of things – it never really feels bloated. Likewise, the pacing in this novel is excellent too 🙂 In other words, the story starts dramatically and remains consistently gripping throughout. Seriously, I cannot praise the pacing of this novel highly enough 🙂

All in all, this novel is a brilliantly gripping historical detective thriller novel. If you enjoy C. J. Sansom’s “Shardlake” books, then you might enjoy this book even more. It’s a bit like a Sansom novel, but with better pacing and more suspense. Likewise, if you want a novel that combines spy fiction, detective fiction and dystopian fiction, then this one might be worth looking at.

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

Review: “Patient Zero” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d look at a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Originally, I’d planned to read Jonathan Maberry’s 2009 novel “Patient Zero” soon after finishing another zombie novel called “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” by Alison Littlewood.

However, for some reason, my second-hand copy of “Patient Zero” ended up languishing near the bottom of my “to read” pile for at least a month or two.

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

This is the 2010 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Patient Zero” that I read.

The novel begins in America, where a policeman called Joe Ledger is relaxing on the beach – before suddenly being approached by two FBI agents. Although Joe worries that this might have something to do with the violent counter-terrorism raid he took part in a few days earlier, he isn’t sure why the FBI are interested in him. The agents escort him to an interrogation room.

Some time later, Joe is joined by a mysterious fellow called Mr.Church, who wants to recruit him for a top-secret task force called the Department Of Military Sciences (DMS) due to both Joe’s military background and the fact that he showed no hesitation in combat during the counter-terrorism raid. However, there is one final test. Joe has to walk into another room and handcuff a criminal.

When Joe enters the room, he notices that the criminal in question is one of the terrorists he shot during the raid. Not only that, the man is still very much alive. In fact, he seems to be some kind of ferocious, flesh-eating zombie

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really interesting mixture of genres. Although it’s a fast-paced modern militaristic thriller novel in the tradition of writers like Lee Child, Clive Cussler etc.. (a genre I went off of slightly after binge-reading eight of these novels in a row a few months ago) it is kept dramatic and interesting thanks to the inclusion of zombies 🙂

In a lot of ways, this novel reminded me a bit of the first “Resident Evil” movie, thanks to it’s claustrophobic action scenes, sci-fi elements, military/industrial theme and zombie virus storyline.

Likewise, although “Patient Zero” is more of a thriller novel than a horror novel, it thankfully doesn’t skimp on the horror too much. In addition to lots of fast-paced suspenseful horror and several well-placed scenes of gory horror, the novel has a surprising focus on moral/psychological horror too.

In other words, the psychological effects of having to shoot zombified civilians take their toll on the main characters throughout the story. Although this element is focused on a little too much, it helps to prevent the story from turning into too much of a generic action-thriller novel.

Plus, the zombie-related elements of the story are pretty interesting too. At one point, the novel contains a scientific lecture about how the zombie virus works and this allows the story to introduce some interesting elements (eg: zombies become dormant in cold temperatures, they are driven to spread the virus rather than eat people, the zombie virus is stored in the brainstem/spine, the zombies aren’t technically dead etc..).

However, for the most part, the zombies are pretty standard “aim for the head!” horror movie zombies, albeit of the modern fast-moving variety. But, as the novel progresses, a more intelligent type of also zombie appears too.

The novel’s action-thriller elements are really good. Since the main focus is on containing the zombie virus before it spreads, most of the zombie-related fight scenes tend to happen in claustrophobic, confined settings – which really helps to add a lot of immediacy, suspense and grittiness to these scenes.

These thrilling action scenes are also complemented by some rather suspenseful sub-plots. In addition to chapters that show what the villains are getting up to, there’s also a rather suspenseful, paranoia-filled sub-plot about a saboteur gaining access to the DMS’s secret base. All of this helps to ensure that the novel’s slower and quieter moments still remain reasonably gripping.

But, whilst the novel’s thriller elements are certainly thrilling, this novel reads a lot like something from early-mid 2000s America in terms of it’s “war on terror” theme and attitudes. Even so, the novel does try to add some nuance via a few dialogue scenes (and some British characters and references, which were kind of cool to see) but, for the most part, this novel reminded me a bit of US TV shows like “24” and “NCIS”. Yes, like those TV shows, it’s still very gripping – but this element of the story is probably a little bit overbearing.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re fairly interesting. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, the main characters have enough depth to keep them interesting. Whether it’s Joe’s conversations with his psychologist (Rudy), a sarcastic DMS scientist called Dr. Hu, the tough SAS major who is second-in-command, the mysterious Mr. Church or even a couple of the villains (eg: a greedy industrialist and his sarcastic henchman), many of the characters in this novel are distinctive and interesting enough to stop the story from feeling too generic.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s interesting. One strange technique that Maberry uses is to alternate between first and third person perspective in different chapters. Surprisingly, this doesn’t turn the novel into a disorientating mess. Although it surprised me at first, it was pretty easy to get used to thanks to both clear signposting at the beginning of each chapter and the fact that Maberry’s narrative voice remains pretty similar in both first and third-person scenes (which keeps the story flowing, despite the frequent perspective changes).

In terms of the actual narration itself, it’s reasonably standard fast-paced modern thriller novel stuff and it does the job reasonably well. Likewise, the novel also has a sense of humour too, which helps to keep things interesting. Plus, this novel also includes more than it’s fair share of pop culture and technology references – and, although most of these still hold up reasonably well when read today, they’ll probably end up dating the novel quite a bit in another decade or two.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. Although it’s almost 500 pages long, the novel is written in a fairly fast-paced way which means that the story never really feels too long. Likewise, the novel expertly balances and contrasts slower and more suspenseful scenes with thrillingly fast-paced scenes of pulse-pounding action too. So, the length and pacing are reasonably good.

All in all, this is a rather fun twist on a rather familiar and generic type of story. Yes, if you want a gripping, gruesome, action-packed zombie thriller novel, you’re probably better off reading S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” novelisations or possibly “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. But, even so, this novel is like a gripping modern military thriller novel, but with zombies 🙂

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

Review: “Dominon” By C. J. Sansom (Novel)

Well, I’ve been meaning to read C. J. Sansom’s 2012 alternate history novel “Dominion” for a few weeks – ever since a relative found a copy of it in a charity shop and thought that I might be interested in it, given my enthusiasm for Sansom’s excellent “Shardlake” series.

However, I should probably point out that “Dominion” isn’t a Shardlake novel (it’s set in the 20th century, rather than the 16th century) – but I was curious to see how Sansom would handle other genres of fiction.

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

This is the 2012 Mantle (UK) hardback edition of “Dominion” that I read.

The novel takes place in an alternate timeline where, in 1940, Winston Churchill is made Minister Of Defence instead of Prime Minister. Without Churchill’s determined leadership, the second world war ends up just being a short and unsuccessful campaign in France and Norway – which ends with Britain surrendering and signing a peace treaty with Germany.

As part of the treaty, the German military occupies the Isle of Wight and a far-right puppet government (a historical rogues’ gallery consisting of Lord Beaverbrook, Oswald Mosley, Enoch Powell etc..) takes office in Britain. Britain is allowed to retain control of it’s empire and, for a while, to keep up the pretence of democracy. However, opposition to the puppet government is slowly crushed and the German embassy in London gains a lot of political influence.

Most of the events of the story take place in London twelve years later (in 1952) and they involve a civil servant called David, who helps the resistance by copying government documents for them. One of David’s old university friends (called Frank) ends up in an asylum after having a nervous breakdown following a fight with his brother – a scientist who has been working in America.

The resistance realise that Frank might have overheard secret information and begin a plan to smuggle him out of the country. Of course, it also doesn’t take the staff of the German embassy long to realise this too. But, who will get to Frank first…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it is a good novel, it takes quite a while to really get going. About the first half of the novel is spent introducing the characters, adding atmosphere and explaining all of the backstory, with the second half of the novel being a much more compelling and focused thriller story.

Even so, this isn’t to say that the first half of the novel is bad. Yes, it’s very slow-paced, but this is kind of the point. A lot of the chilling dystopian horror of this novel comes from how everyday life in the story’s alternate 1950s isn’t that different from the actual 1950s.

The parts of the novel where relatively little actually happens are so chillingly fascinating because of how easily and seamlessly the dystopian fascism of the story blends in with 1950s Britain. How the stuffy, formal world of 1950s Britain sits so easily alongside cruel, harsh authoritarianism. It’s really creepy.

Likewise, whilst this story certainly reminded me of a TV series I saw a couple of years ago called “SS-GB“, the frequent focus on ordinary, everyday life in the first half of the story lends everything a much more plausibly dystopian atmosphere than the more overt melodrama of a typical “What if Britain lost WW2?” alternate history story.

The atmosphere and level of background detail in these parts of the story is also pretty interesting too. In addition to having this wonderfully creepy 1950s-style atmosphere and some clever satirical moments, the level of thought that has been put into the story’s timeline is really astonishing. Yes, a lot of this detail is relayed to the reader through numerous random conversations about politics etc.. but you really get the sense that this chillingly dystopian timeline could have happened.

Even though the novel was published in 2012, the story’s criticisms of nationalism seem eerily prescient when read in this age of Brexit, Trump etc.. However, a lot of this is probably because the novel was written as a riposte to the then-upcoming Scottish independence referendum (with a few polemics against the SNP at various points within the novel).

And, as mentioned earlier, “Dominion” turns into more of a focused and fast-paced thriller novel later in the story. These parts of the story work reasonably well and remain brilliantly suspenseful throughout (with the 1950s-style London smog adding a claustrophobic element to some scenes too). Not only are they a very refreshing change of pace from the slower first half of the story, but thanks to all of the characterisation and background details earlier, they also have a lot more dramatic impact than a typical thriller novel too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really brilliant. Yes, there is a lot of time devoted to characterisation and flashback scenes (which can slow the story down quite a bit), but this results in some really interesting and realistic characters. And, as you would expect from a dystopian novel, most of the characters lead fairly bleak and miserable lives too. Although this can make the novel fairly depressing at times, it fits in really well with the setting and themes of the story – in addition to making the story’s more hopeful moments stand out really well too.

Plus, like in Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels, the most interesting characters are the ones who don’t quite “fit in” with the world around them – with Frank being the best example. In addition to several chilling backstory segments about how he was bullied at school, his somewhat cautious and nervous outlook on the world (in addition to the psychological strain of having to keep some fairly major military secrets) is a refreshing change from the more bold and extroverted characters typically found in thriller novels.

As for the writing, Sansom’s third-person narration uses a slightly formal and descriptive – but reasonably “matter of fact” – style that goes really well with the novel’s 1950s setting, whilst still being a very readable modern novel.

Given how well Sansom was able to add a 16th century flavour to the modern narration in his “Shardlake” novels, it’s really interesting to see how he does something similar with a 1950s setting. Yes, there are a few slightly clunky elements to the writing (eg: phonetic Scottish accents, random political conversations etc..) but, for the most part, it works reasonably well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a typical modern C. J. Sansom novel. I’ve already talked about how the first half of the novel is ridiculously slow-paced when compared to the more thrilling second half but, as you would expect from a C. J. Sansom novel, this one is ridiculously long too.

The hardback edition that I read is 569 pages long (not including the 20-30 additional pages of historical notes, essays etc.. at the end). And, looking online, the paperback edition is 700+ pages long (presumably due to the smaller page size). So, yes, this is a long novel that could have probably benefitted from a bit of trimming.

All in all, this is a pretty good – but not perfect- novel. It’s chillingly atmospheric and brilliantly detailed – however, the story doesn’t really get going until about halfway through the book. Likewise, it’s probably a little bit too long too. Even so, the level of atmosphere, suspense, characterisation and detail in this story is well worth sticking around for. But, if you want to see Sansom at his absolute best, read his “Shardlake” novels instead.

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

Review: “Heart Of Desire – 11.11.11 Redux” by Kate Robinson (Novel)

First of all, full disclosure. As anyone who has read this old interview will know, the author of the book I’ll be reviewing today is a friend of mine from when I was at university.

Back in 2014, she sent me a first edition copy of “Heart Of Desire”. Although we had discussed the novel before it was published and I was eager to read it, I unfortunately only ended up reading about half of it at the time (probably because it was during my “watch DVDs instead of reading books” phase).

However, shortly after finishing the previous book I reviewed, I suddenly remembered this book. And, since I seem to be more interested in reading than I was a couple of years ago, I thought that I’d give this book another try. After all, I was curious to see how the story would finish (and, wow, I’ve just noticed that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments at the end of the book 🙂 )

So, let’s take a look at “Heart Of Desire”. Needless to say, this review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Tootie-Do Press (US) paperback edition of “Heart Of Desire” that I read.

“Heart Of Desire” is a 1990s-style, new age-themed sci-fi/thriller/alternate history novel that takes place in America. The story begins during the early-mid 2000s with a character called Teresa Vaughn, whose infant daughter Mikka mysteriously disappears and then reappears a few minutes later.

Then we flash forward to August 2009. The 44th US President – Harris Cantrell Henry – is travelling to Air Force One, when he receives an alarming report from NIHSA (an amalgamation of several US agencies).

Once the plane is in the air, President Henry is in the middle of a meeting with his staff when he suddenly has a disturbing vision of mysterious telepathic beings called “reviewers” who warn him not to interfere with their plans to alter Earth….

One of the first things that I will say about “Heart Of Desire” is that it is a brilliantly eccentric mixture of “X-Files”-style conspiracy paranoia, 1960s-style new age mysticism and something like a low-mid budget 1990s-style thriller movie. It’s different to pretty much any other novel that I’ve read and, although it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly grew on me as I kept reading it.

My reactions to reading “Heart Of Desire” were surprisingly varied. Initially, it just seemed like a reasonably slow-paced sci-fi/political thriller novel, then it went in a much more suspenseful and paranoid direction, then it was gloriously cheesy (in the way that the best “so bad that it’s good” movies are) and then, during the final third or so, the story turns into a darker and more gripping thriller story. Plus, although “Heart Of Desire” doesn’t contain that many horror elements, there are at least a couple of disturbing moments that will catch you by surprise too.

If you’ve ever watched a few seasons of “The X-Files”, watched “Twin Peaks” and/or read a few new age books, then you’ll probably love the fact that this novel references pretty much every “classic” conspiracy theory and/or new age thing under the sun.

There are references to: ancient aliens, CIA plots, Bible codes, morgellons, akashic records, Route 666, MKULTRA, UFOs, 2012, reptilians, Operation Paperclip, astral projection, the Age Of Aquarius, Area 51 etc.. The sheer number of references gives this story a gloriously over-the-top quality that really brought a smile to my face.

This also helps to add to the story’s endearingly nostalgic 1990s-style atmosphere too – since it evokes a more innocent time when conspiracy theories were hilariously bizarre things – rather than grim political reality (eg: the Snowden revelations, Trump’s tweeting, Brexit etc..).

Although this story is set in the early 2010s, it is a very 1990s novel. As mentioned in the author interview, the first draft of the story was written in 1999 and later updated. Everything from the story’s optimistic “The West Wing”-style depiction of the US presidency to the occasional 90s cultural reference and the “X-Files” style focus on conspiracy theories is wonderfully ’90s 🙂 Seriously, if you want some 1990s nostalgia, then this story is worth taking a look at.

In terms of the narration, the novel uses a mixture of slightly informal narration, more “matter of fact” thriller novel narration and more descriptive “literary” narration. Although this style takes a little while to get used to, it works really well for the most part. Likewise, aside from the occasional lecture or info dump, the dialogue in this story is reasonably well-written too. It’s kind of a like a mixture of more realistic dialogue and more stylised movie/TV-style dialogue.

This story is a fairly political one that leans fairly heavily to the left (in a slightly 1960s-style way) with themes including the environment, Buddhism, corporate manipulation, right-wing hypocrisy etc.. Although a lot of this stuff works really well in the context of the story, the novel does include the occasional lecture or moment of unintentional comedy. But, fairly often, the political elements are handled in a more understated way (eg: by just leading by example with regard to the characters, the descriptions, the story itself etc..).

Plus, the more earnestly idealistic elements of the story help to add to the 1960s-90s style atmosphere of the story, whilst also adding some originality too. Seriously, at least a couple of the main characters are hippies (New Age ministers to be precise) – how often do you see this in a thriller novel?

As for the story’s characters, they’re reasonably good. The novel contains a mixture of more “realistic” characters, such as Teresa (a former journalist) and President Henry (a vaguely Obama/ Bill Clinton-like character), several mysteriously otherworldly characters, a chilling villain or two and a few 1960s-style New Age/Hippie characters too. As hinted at earlier, the fact that the novel’s protagonists aren’t really typical thriller novel protagonists also helps to add some originality to the story too.

In terms of pacing, this story is fairly ok. Whilst the novel starts off fairly slow-paced, it gradually becomes faster and more gripping as the story progresses. Even so, there are occasional moments of description or backstory when you’d expect the story to move forward in a more focused way. But, for the most part, the pacing is reasonably good. Likewise, this story is a fairly standard length (363 pages) for a modern novel and it doesn’t seem too long.

All in all, this story isn’t your typical thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the 1990s, a fan of cheesy sci-fi, interested in the 1960s and/or are Fox Mulder from “The X-Files”, then you’ll probably have fun with this novel. Yes, it’s a little bit slow to start and there’s the occasional lecture etc.. but this is the kind of story that brought a warm smile to my face in the way that the best movies and TV shows from the 1980s/90s do. As I said, it isn’t for everyone, but if you want a thriller novel that is a little bit different, then this one is well worth checking out.

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

Review: “Dawnbreaker” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

First of all, happy New Year everyone 🙂 Although I hadn’t planned to start the year with a book review, it’s been a couple of days since the last one. So, with that said, I thought that I’d take a look at the third novel in Jocelynn Drake’s brilliant “Dark Days” series (you can see my reviews of the first two books here and here).

Needless to say, this series is best read in the correct order. And, although it is theoretically possible to read “Dawnbreaker” as a stand-alone novel (since it contains a few recaps), it is a sequel to the first two novels and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read those first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dawnbreaker”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2009 EOS (US) paperback edition of “Dawnbreaker” that I read.

“Dawnbreaker” begins during a spectacular car chase in Mira’s home city of Savannah. Mira, Tristan, Knox and Amanda are trying to escape a hit-squad of naturi who are out for their blood. More specifically, Mira wants to get out of the city in order to reduce any potential witnesses or human casualties from the inevitable battle that will follow.

Of course, when they stop outside town, the naturi attack in force and the battle seems to be turning in the naturi’s favour until Danaus shows up to save the day. After this, they all return to Mira’s mansion outside town where she reluctantly offers to begin a vampiric “family” in order to protect Knox and Amanda. After spelling out the risks, Mira gives them both a day or two to decide.

But, before long, Amanda has been kidnapped by the naturi, several werewolves are dead and Barrett is furious. Believing Mira’s presence to be the cause of all of the recent troubles, he warns her to leave the city or face his wrath…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is absolutely spectacular. It is a really good mixture of the fast-paced action-thriller elements of the first novel and the more suspenseful elements of the second novel. But, in addition to this, it also contains the kind of grand sweeping drama that you’d expect from the third novel in any series.

The structure of this novel is pretty interesting too – with the first half of the story taking place in Savannah. This is a tense, suspenseful and claustrophobic segment of the novel that is filled with eruptions of violence, daring missions, uneasy truces and frayed friendships. This is also helped by the introduction of a couple of new characters (Cynnia and Shelly) who Mira isn’t sure whether she can fully trust or not.

This then elegantly segues back in the main over-arching story of the series, with the rest of the novel taking place in South America – where Mira and her allies must try to stop the final sacrifice that will re-open the door between Earth and the realm of the naturi. Needless to say, this is the more “epic” part of the novel where Mira must try to stop the naturi returning in force or die trying.

In terms of the horror elements in this novel, there aren’t as many as there were in the previous novels. Yes, there’s a lot of vampiric stuff etc… (including a scene involving a besieged hotel that reminded me of something from a 1990s-style horror movie) but the main emphasis of this story is on drama, suspense and action rather than horror.

Even so, this works really well and the novel remains just as compelling as the previous two. This is also helped by the fact that the story expands on some of the background stuff introduced in the previous novel, whilst also adding some compelling new details too (eg: hints about Mira’s abilities, more details about the naturi, the implications of what Danaus is etc..).

In terms of the narration in this novel, it’s a little bit more on the “matter of fact” side of things, but it still works really well (since it’s a thriller novel as well as a horror/fantasy novel). But, after getting this far into the series, Mira’s constant descriptions of pain, injuries etc.. do get a little bit repetitive. Even so, the story’s first-person narration still retains a lot of the personality and uniqueness that you would expect.

Although this story introduces a few new characters and quite a few familiar ones make an appearance too, the story mostly remains focused on the core group of Mira, Danaus, Shelly and Cynnia. Although it was a little disappointing not to see more about Tristan and Amanda’s budding relationship, not to learn more about Michael’s replacement etc.. this novel’s focus on a small group of characters helps to keep the story dramatic, deep and focused. And it works really well 🙂

Interestingly, this novel both does and doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Although there’s a tiny cliffhanger at the end of the final page, this story somehow both provides a really satisfying sense of resolution to some of the plot threads that have been building over the past few books, whilst still leaving a lot of stuff unresolved at the same time. It’s a brilliant payoff for reading the first two novels, but also a reminder that there are still three novels left to go.

All in all, this novel is a really spectacular mid-point to a brilliant series. It’s a good combination of the suspense elements from “Dayhunter” and the action thriller elements of “Nightwalker”. It’s a compelling novel that resolves a lot and also leaves a lot tantalisingly unresolved.

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