Review: “Monolith” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a Shaun Hutson novel. And, although I’d thought about reading another one of his classic 1980s novels, I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of one of his more modern novels (one from 2015 called “Monolith”) that I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

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

This is the 2015 Caffeine Nights Publishing (UK) paperback edition of “Monolith” that I read.

The novel begins in London in 1933. An elderly shopkeeper is woken by the sound of shattering glass and, when he walks downstairs, he sees that nothing has been stolen. The vandalism is, as he suspects, another act of hatred towards him. And, as he begins to sweep up the broken glass, he suddenly thinks of a way to get revenge.

Then we flash forwards to London in 2015. A giant high-rise luxury flat/office complex called the Crystal Tower is being built near the Thames. Funded by a mysterious Russian billionaire, the hulking glass and steel tower has caused no end of controversy, with many wondering how the hell it got planning permission. On the building site, two workers are trying to find out what is wrong with one of the lifts. There seems to be no obvious fault with it, but it won’t budge. But, when they investigate further, the lift suddenly falls, killing both of them.

Local journalist Jessica Anderson gets a tip and heads to the scene of the accident to investigate. After all, this freak accident is merely one of a suspiciously large number that have happened since construction began on the tower….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a reasonably compelling suspense thriller/ horror novel that, whilst it isn’t Hutson’s best novel, was still quite a bit of fun to read. It’s also very much a modern Shaun Hutson novel and, if you’ve read novels like Hutson’s “Last Rites“, then the general style and tone of this novel will probably be familiar to you.

Still, I should start by talking about this novel’s horror elements – which are a mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, monster horror, paranormal horror and gory horror. Unlike Hutson’s older novels, this novel focuses a lot more heavily on suspense rather than gory horror. Whilst there are certainly some gruesome moments, they are a bit more infrequent/short/less detailed and they often tend to focus more on the suspenseful build-up and the characters’ reactions than anything else. Surprisingly, this actually works quite well and helps these scenes to retain a lot of dramatic impact despite their slightly toned-down gory descriptions.

The story’s monster-based scenes are a bit hit and miss though. Although the novel does the classic horror movie thing of keeping the monster mysterious for most of the story, you will probably be able to guess what it is fairly quickly. Even so, this mystery helps to drive the plot and build suspense. Not to mention that – as monsters go – it’s a suitably fearsome (and cool-looking) one.

However, the story’s best monster-based element is just kind of introduced and then forgotten about. I’m wary of spoiling too much, but the novel also gives you a lot of very strong hints that it’s going to include a much larger-scale and more innovative version of this monster (possibly even setting the reader up for the type of memorably dramatic ending that appeared in Hutson’s “Relics) and then…. nothing much.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with the “ordinary” monster are certainly dramatic and the ending has a bit of a cool twist to it, but this story could have been so much more if this particular background element had actually been expanded upon a bit more (rather than just being an excuse for a few suspenseful accident scenes and some mysteriously disappearing blood).

In terms of this novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly good. Not only does this novel use the classic thriller technique of ultra-short chapters (most are about 2-5 pages long), but it also makes heavy use of suspense and mystery too. And, like in several of Hutson’s novels, there are even a few police procedural style scenes involving detectives investigating the events of the story too. Still, if you’re expecting the kind of ultra-fast paced ultra-violent action thriller story found in novels like Hutson’s “Exit Wounds”, “Body Count” etc… then you’re probably going to be disappointed. There are a couple of these type of scenes, but this novel is much more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel. Still, it is a fairly compelling one and is probably slightly more of a gritty and cynical thriller novel than a horror novel.

In terms of the writing, it’s a modern Shaun Hutson novel. In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly informal, fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, but with a few formal and/or descriptive flourishes to add atmosphere and suspense (less so than in his older novels, although some moments do have a certain Victorian gothic atmosphere to them).

Plus, the writing also has a bit of personality to it too 🙂 Not only is there are least one Iron Maiden reference (and another possible one with a character called “Adrian Murray”), but there’s also a classic Hutsonism (the “coppery” smell of blood) and, of course, there are a couple of really good cynical moments (eg: a description of social media and a scene involving carrier bags in shops) that made me laugh out loud 🙂

Even so, a lot of the novel’s cynicism is of the serious, bleak variety that was so common in Hutson’s “Last Rites”. Which, of course, brings me on to the characters. As you would expect, many of the main characters have a tragic backstory of one kind or another and are world-weary, cynical people. Still, they are well-written enough for you to care about what happens to them. The novel’s main villain – Voronov – is suitably menacing, but is a little bit of a stylised/two-dimensional villain though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 306 pages in length, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to the short chapters and expert use of suspenseful moments, this novel is a reasonably-paced and compelling one that can be enjoyed in a few hours.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t Hutson’s best novel (read “Deathday” or “Erebus” if you want to see him at his best), it is still a rather compelling suspense/horror thriller novel.

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

Review: “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from horror fiction and read some post-apocalyptic fiction instead 🙂 I’d originally planned to read an urban fantasy novel but I found that I wasn’t really in the mood for it. So, I needed to find another book.

A few months earlier, I’d read Rebecca Levene’s amazing “Anno Mortis” and was delighted to find that she’d had another novel published by the one and only Abaddon Books in 2007 called “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure”. So, I bought a second-hand copy of it back then… and then somehow forgot about it until now.

Although “Kill Or Cure” is part of a multi-author series called “The Afterblight Chronicles”, this novel can be read as a stand-alone novel. From what I can gather about the series, it seems to consist of several authors writing separate stories that all follow the same post-apocalyptic backstory/premise.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Afterblight Chronices: Kill Or Cure” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief scene showing the narrator, Jasmine, shooting an un-named man. Then the story flashes back to several weeks earlier. With most of the world’s population wiped out by a plague called “The Cull” that kills anyone who doesn’t have O- blood, Jasmine has spent the past five years living in the ruins of the underground research facility that she’d once worked at. The experimental plague vaccine she took back then has also had lingering psychotic side-effects and, in order to quiet the voices in her head, Jasmine has spent the past five years working her way through the facility’s large stocks of morphine.

Then, one day, she hears people breaking into the facility. Although she tries to hide and send out a distress call, the mysterious henchmen catch her and take her to a stolen cruise ship in the Carribbean. The ship is run by a woman called Queen M who orders Jasmine to work as a medic for her, or else. Although life under Queen M’s rule initially seems like the closest thing to a normal life in this post-apocalyptic world, Jasmine is ordered to accompany some of the group’s henchmen on a “recruiting” trip to Paris. The atrocities she witnesses during the trip convince Jasmine that she needs to find some way to escape from Queen M’s headquarters, or die trying…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, to my surprise, it was more of a thriller novel than I’d expected 🙂 Although it certainly contains a fair amount of horror and grim post-apocalyptic “edginess”, it’s actually more like a really awesome 1990s late-night B movie in novel form 🙂 In other words, although this novel includes some fairly grim subject matter, it isn’t really that bleak or miserable to read 🙂 It’s a wonderfully fun and gloriously over-the-top rollercoaster ride of a novel 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s thriller elements, which are excellent 🙂 In addition to fast-paced narration and quite a few intense gunfights, some parts of this novel also read like a mixture of a heist thriller and a prison escape thriller 🙂 Not only are these genres always fun to see but the mixture between fast-paced action and tense, suspenseful thinking and planning really helps to add some variety to this novel too. Plus, the fact that the story has an unreliable narrator also helps to add some extra drama and suspense as well.

This novel also takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of several intriguingly dystopian post-apocalyptic locations too and the addition of a few horror elements (eg: zombie-like people, evil experiments, gory injuries, creepy characters, psychological horror etc…) also helps to keep the story’s thrilling plot compellingly unpredictable. Plus, although the novel’s grim elements sometimes veer more towards 1990s-style “edginess”, this actually sort of works here since it balances out some of the more stylised, cheesy and over-the-top elements of the story and helps to maintain the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

All of this adds up to, as I mentioned earlier, something like a really fun late-night B-movie from the 1990s 🙂 Seriously, if you like your post-apocalypses filled with evil armed gangs, fast vehicles, anti-heroes and the kind of over-the-top story where, if you weren’t so eager to see what will happen next, you’d be laughing affectionately at it, then you’ll really enjoy this novel 🙂

Interestingly, this novel also contains a few interesting sci-fi elements too 🙂 Not only are some remnants of modern technology still working in the post-apocalyptic world, but the explanation behind the apocalypse is both mysterious enough to be dramatic whilst well-explained enough to be plausible. Not to mention that quite a bit of the story revolves around the topic of medical research too. Yes, the sci-fi elements are more of a background thing, but they help to add an extra layer of depth to the novel.

In addition to this, it’s also a dystopian novel about the contrast between anarchy and dictatorship too, with creepy examples of both appearing within the story. Although the story is a bit of a warning about how chaos allows the most evil people to take charge (in addition to being a criticism of things like colonialism etc.. too), this message is undercut somewhat by the fact that the main characters briefly end up in a nuclear-armed city state that is run by a cultured, benevolent dictator who helps them out. Even so, all of this dystopian stuff helps to add extra drama and suspense to the story, since Jasmine finds herself in a world where nowhere is truly safe and almost no-one can be trusted.

In terms of the characters, this novel is reasonably good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, Jasmine is a really interesting morally-ambiguous anti-hero/unreliable narrator who helps to add a bit of intensity and personality to the story. Plus, the story’s dystopian villains are all suitably creepy and the characters that Jasmine teams up with during her escape are a really interesting bunch of people, whose backstories also give us a brief glimpse at the ways that the apocalypse has affected several other parts of the world too.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of informal, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller and it works really well 🙂 Not only does the first-person perspective add a bit of extra intensity to the novel but the fact that the reader gets to see inside Jasmine’s mind means that the “anti-hero” parts of the novel are a bit more dramatic, understandable and less cheesy than they would probably be in a novel with third-person narration.

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 272 pages in length, not a single page is wasted 🙂 And, as you’d expect from a good thriller novel, this one is rather fast-paced too 🙂 However, it is perhaps slightly too fast-paced in some parts – with the novel occasionally moving just a little bit too fast to build the maximum amount of atmosphere or suspense in a few segments. Even so, given that the previous two novels I’ve read have been fairly slow-paced, it was still refreshing to read something a bit more fast-paced 🙂

All in all, even though I preferred Levene’s “Anno Mortis” to this novel, it’s still a really enjoyable one 🙂 If you want a fun fast-paced post-apocalyptic thriller that reminds you of the best late-night B movies from the 1990s, but with a bit of extra grittiness/edginess, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

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

Review: “Barb Wire” By Neal Barratt Jr. (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film novelisation that I’ve been meaning to read for at least a decade and a half. I am, of course, talking about Neal Barratt Jr’s 1996 novelisation of “Barb Wire”.

If I remember rightly, I first learnt that there was a novelisation of this film when, during my teenage years, I happened to see a copy of it (along with the novelisation of “Eraser”) in either a HMV, MVC or Fopp store (anyone remember those?). Although I’d seen the film on late-night TV a year or two earlier, the idea of a “Barb Wire” novel just seemed hilariously awesome, so I ended up buying a copy.

Then, I forgot about it. However, after chancing upon a fan-made trailer/ music video for the film on Youtube, I thought “I should watch this film again for a laugh“. But, since I’m not really going through a film-watching phase at the moment, I remembered the novelisation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it anywhere and, at a guess, I must have sent it to the charity shop during a clear-out I had in late 2017. Luckily, after a bit of searching, I was able to find a cheap second-hand copy online. So, this book review has been a long time in the making.

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

This is the 1996 Boxtree (UK) paperback edition of “Barb Wire” that I read.

The novel is set in the dsytopian future of 2032. After a military coup led by far-right elements in the US Congress, America is in the middle of a second civil war. Well, except for the city of Steel Harbor, a UN-administered demilitarised zone that is filled with low-lives, gangsters and crooks. It is also home to the Hammerhead Bar & Grill, a late-night establishment run by an ex-soldier called Barb Wire.

The novel begins with Barb Wire blowing up a generator facility using both motorbike-mounted missiles and grenades. Then, we see a senior officer in the Congressional Directorate – Colonel Victor Pryzer – cruelly torturing a resistance member for information about a fugitive scientist called Dr. Cora Devonshire and the whereabouts of a very expensive pair of contact lenses.

Whilst Cora and a man called Axel Hood try to sneak into Steel Harbour, Barb finds that she is running low on cash. So, she decides to spend the evening doing a spot of bounty hunting. The fugitive is called W.R. Krebs. One spectacular gunfight later, Barb hands Krebs over to a dodgy bail bondsman called Rhino. However, she later gets a visit from the local chief of police who is looking for Krebs. To Barb’s surprise, the chief tells her that Krebs was a member of the resistance….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was better than I’d expected 🙂 Although the early parts didn’t really wow me, it turned into a much more atmospheric, compelling and thrilling novel than I’d expected. In fact, it was actually better than what I remembered of the film. If you like 1990s-style edginess with a hint of cyberpunk, a hint of film noir and a decent dose of dystopian fiction, then this novel is well-worth reading. Seriously, why didn’t I read this when I was a teenager?

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements, which are a good mixture of thrillingly fast-paced action scenes and more suspenseful moments. Surprisingly, the emphasis is slightly more on suspense, with a vaguely Chandleresque plot involving various factions within the city and a few scenes where characters have to hide from the authorities or deal with the local criminal underworld. All of this suspense also means that, when the novel’s action-packed finale eventually roars into view, it seems even more thrillingly dramatic by comparison.

The novel also includes a few well-placed horror elements too 🙂 Whether they are descriptions of life in the city (where rats are ever-present and many people live in grim poverty), some grisly moments, the war horrors relayed during the backstory segments or pretty much every scene involving Pryzer, this novel definitely has a rather chilling undercurrent to it which really help to add some intensity,darkness and atmosphere to this adaptation of a cheesy late-night movie.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, there’s relatively little in the way of futuristic technology (other than a creepy mind-reading machine, some high-tech contact lenses and numerous fictional weapons) and the focus is more on the story’s dystopian alternate future. The novel goes into this in a lot more detail than the film does, with “excerpts” from a history book of the time appearing in between chapters of the story. Not only does this help to make the novel feel a bit more like a “serious” work of dystopian fiction, but this is also beautifully counterpointed by the atmosphere of the story too.

Seriously, this novel has the kind of sleazy, run-down, hedonistic, mildly cyberpunk and vaguely post-apocalyptic atmopshere that you only ever seem to see in films from the more hedonistic days of the 1980s/90s, and it is an absolute joy to behold here 🙂 A fair amount of the story takes place on dangerous streets, in Barb’s bar, in ominous abandoned buildings etc… and, thanks to the novel’s descriptions, these places feel like more than just film sets.

One interesting difference between the novel and what I remember of the film is that the novel’s dramatic final scenes take place in the dead of night rather than in the middle of the day – this is a small change, but it really helps to add both extra suspense and coolness to these spectacular action scenes. Likewise, it is implied that the novel takes place sometime around 2032 whereas- looking online – the film apparently takes place in the distant future of 2017. So, the book’s setting is a little bit more believable than the film’s.

In terms of the characters, this novel is surprisingly good. Thanks to the fact that this is a book rather than a film, there is a lot more focus on characterisation here. In addition to giving the villain more of a chilling backstory and adding extra complexity to Barb’s character (eg: her past with Axel, her desire to remain neutral in the war etc…) whilst still allowing her to be the kind of badass anti-hero that you’d expect from a 1990s movie, the novel also adds a bit more characterisation to many of the background characters too – which adds extra drama to the story, since you actually care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, this novel is better than I’d expected. The novel’s third-person narration mostly consists of the informal, hardboiled, fast-paced “matter of fact” narration that you’d expect from an action-thriller novel, but this is also paired with quite a few brilliant descriptive moments and gloriously cheesy ones (eg: ‘The sun was a scabrous orange, draining its venom into another day’) that help to add extra atmosphere.

This novel also has a few mildly experimental flourishes too, such as a film-script style dialogue scene, a few vaguely cyberpunk-influenced narrative moments and numerous “excerpts” from a fictional history book. Amusingly though, for such an “edgy” novel, the dialogue is surprisingly polite (with, for example, characters saying “friggin’ ” rather than the word you’d realistically expect them to use).

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 267 pages, it never outstays it’s welcome. The pacing is reasonably good too, with most of the story being moderately fast-paced (with the pace kept up via dialogue, suspense and occasional action scenes) and the final segment being slightly more fast-paced and action-packed. This contrast makes the ending seem even more thrilling and it works really well.

As for how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it has aged weirdly. The plot is still compelling, the locations are still atmospheric and the characters are still interesting. Yet, this novel really does feel like something from a different era – an era where people were a bit more hedonistic, where gloomy dystopian cyberpunk-influenced sci-fi was a more popular genre (seriously, it even turned up in the music video for “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls), where “edgy” anti-hero characters were popular etc… And I kind of miss it. Yes, some parts of this book haven’t aged all that well and there are a few “politically incorrect” moments. But, these aside, this book is a wonderfully nostalgic slice of late-night 1990s nostalgia.

All in all, this novelisation is much better than what I can remember of the film it is based on. On it’s own merits, it’s a reasonably fun, well-written, cheesy and very 1990s “edgy” dystopian sci-fi thriller novel that is compelling and atmospheric. Yes, it isn’t anything too groundbreaking, but it’s a far better book than I’d expected it to be.

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

Reivew: “Kill All Angels” By Robert Brockway (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for the horror genre. So, I thought that I’d take a look Robert Brockway’s 2017 novel “Kill All Angels”, which is the third book in his “Unnoticeables” trilogy (you can see my reviews of the first two here and here).

Although I’d wanted to read this book for a few months, it’s probably the most expensive of the trilogy to find second-hand, so I had to wait until shortly after Christmas last year (and, yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance) before splashing out on a copy of it.

As you might expect with the concluding part of a trilogy, you have to read the first two books before reading this one. Although “Kill All Angels” contains a few small recaps, they’re more for people who have read the previous two books than for new readers. Whilst it is probably theoretically possible to read this book on it’s own, some parts will probably be confusing and many character-based moments won’t have nearly the impact that they should. So, read the other two books first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Kill All Angels”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Titan (UK) paperback edition of “Kill All Angels” that I read.

The novel begins in 1984, with our favourite homeless punk Carey hiding inside a large meat freezer with a terrified guy. Carey gives the guy a brief overview of the monsters (unnoticeables, empty ones and angels) that are secretly terrorising the world before convincing him to go outside and distract Jie, an “empty one”, who is waiting outside the freezer. Carey tells the guy that Jie is only interested in him and that she won’t harm anyone else. Of course, Jie tears the guy’s heart out and throws it at Carey. But, she misses and he leaps through a window and flees.

We then flash forwards to 2013. After the events of the previous novel, Carey, Jackie and Kaitlyn are travelling through the Arizona desert. When they stop, Kaitlyn wanders off and tries to meditate. To her surprise, it works and thanks to the power from the angels she’s defeated, she quite literally steps into a realm beyond time and space. During this experience, she meets a mystical being that she calls a space whale. The space whale shows her that the angels are a parasite that feeds on the multi-verse and tells her how to destroy them all…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it gets the mixture of horror and thrilling drama right. Although it is slightly more of an epic thriller about an unlikely group of people trying to save the multi-verse, there’s actually a decent amount of horror here this time round (unlike the second book, which skimped on the horror a little). Not only that, it is a brilliant conclusion to an awesome trilogy that also introduces a few cool new things too.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re a really good mixture of gory horror, body horror, character-based horror, the uncanny, cruel horror, monster horror, cosmic horror and a couple of creepily atmospheric locations. Although this novel isn’t outright scary, there are a decent number of disturbing moments that will probably make you grimace or wince slightly. Not only that, the horror elements also help to add suspense, intensity, scale and drama to the story’s thriller elements too 🙂

And, yes, this novel is a really good thriller too. In addition to the grand “save the multi-verse” plot, there are a good mixture of dramatic chase scenes, fight scenes and scenes where the main characters find themselves outnumbered by monsters. Not only that, after the previous few novels, Kaitlyn now has a number of fascinating supernatural powers that she is starting to learn how to use. Add to this a rather fast-paced writing style and a few alternating plot threads, and this novel is the kind of gripping – but wonderfully quirky – thriller story that you would expect from this series 🙂

And, as you’d expect from a novel in this series, there’s also a decent amount of comedy too. This mostly consists of irreverent humour, crude humour, funny dialogue, dark comedy, grisly slapstick and even a few moment of mildly politically incorrect humour too. Although this novel isn’t always as laugh out loud funny as you might expect (and actually has some fairly serious moments), this comedy really helps to add warmth, uniqueness and personality to the story 🙂

Plus, this novel also has it’s own unique “personality” when compared to the previous novels too. In addition to lots of scenes set in 1980s Chinatown/Koreatown in Los Angeles, the story also introduces a “friendly” empty one called Zang who helps out the main characters. Plus, the scenes involving the space whale and Kaitlyn’s new powers help to keep things unpredictable. However, for the most part, this story focuses on the monsters that we’ve all come to know from the previous two books. But, since the reader already knows about them, the story’s scenes of horror and drama can be a bit more confident, epic and streamlined 🙂

In terms of the novel’s characters, they are brilliant as ever. Not only do all of the main characters feel like realistic – but stylised – people with proper backstories, but we also get to learn more about our favourite main characters too. Zang is an absolutely brilliant character too – since he retains all of the scariness of his fellow empty ones whilst also being strangely likeable at the same time. Seriously, the characters are one of the things that really makes this novel such a joy to read 🙂

As for the writing, it is as good as ever too. Although, like with previous books in the trilogy, this one uses both frequent time jumps and the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, the time and narrator are clearly signposted at the beginning of each chapter which prevents it from becoming confusing. Not only that, the ending to the novel also sort of offers a possible explanation for why the trilogy uses this format. The actual narration itself is the kind of fast-paced, personality-filled informal narration that you’d expect from this series and it is an absolute joy to behold.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel excels too 🙂 At a fairly efficient 313 pages in length, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to the multiple plot threads, the writing style, the epic scale of the drama and a good number of mini-cliffhangers, this novel is the kind of gripping fast-paced horror thriller that begs to be binge-read 🙂

All in all, this is a really great conclusion to a brilliant trilogy 🙂 It gets the mixture of horror and thriller stuff right, it adds something extra to the series and it is the kind of spectacular, dramatic payoff that fans of the trilogy have been waiting for 🙂

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

Review: “Origin” By Dan Brown (Novel)

Well, since I was still in the mood for reading thriller novels, I thought that I’d take a look at Dan Brown’s 2017 novel “Origin”. If I remember rightly, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of this novel after reading Brown’s “Inferno” a few months earlier and being surprised that there was another Dan Brown novel that I hadn’t heard of before.

Although “Origin” is the fifth novel in Brown’s “Robert Langdon” series, it can be read as a stand-alone novel – albeit one with a few brief references to previous novels for fans of the series.

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

This is the 2018 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Origin” that I read.

The novel begins with famous technologist, scientist and inventor Edmond Kirsch travelling to a remote church on a mountain in Spain. He has arranged a meeting with a powerful interfaith group in order to give them a preview of a scientific announcement he will make soon that will disprove every religion on the planet by conclusively answering the questions of where we come from and where we are going. He feels that it is only fair to give them time to prepare for it.

A few days later, Harvard professor Robert Langdon is visiting the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao for his friend and ex-student Kirsch’s announcement. However, before the multi-media announcement, the A.I. tour guide (another of Edmond’s inventions) leads Langdon to a private room where Kirsch is waiting for him. Kirsch believes that his life is in danger and wants Langdon’s advice on the matter. Eventually, Kirsch decides to press on with the announcement.

However, when Kirsch is shot by an assassin halfway through the presentation, Langdon falls under suspicion. Teaming up with both the A.I. tour guide and the future queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal, Langdon realises that the only way to deal with all of this is to find the password to Kirsch’s private server and release the rest of his announcement to the world before anyone can stop him…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a bit slow to really get started, it’s a really compelling thriller. In classic Dan Brown fashion, there is a lot of focus on art, symbols, puzzles, architecture etc… and all of this stuff helps to lend the story a surprisingly relaxing and, dare I say it, slightly high-brow atmosphere. Yet, all of this stuff is paired with some really gripping thriller elements that help to keep the story compelling – even when it gets a little bit contrived and/or silly.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they mostly consist of mystery and suspense. Although there are a few short chase and fight scenes, most of the novel revolves around mysterious conspiracy theories, suspenseful moments, political drama, uncertainty about who can be trusted, intriguing puzzles and dramatic plot twists. In other words, this is a bit more of a sophisticated and old-school thriller novel and even though it takes a little while to really become compelling, it is one of those novels that is more gripping than it initially seems.

Yet, this is also one of those novels where the mystery is actually better than the solution to it. Although Brown has obviously done quite a bit of research, at least half of the “shocking” announcement at the end of the novel (and possibly one of the later plot twists) won’t be too much of a surprise to any fans of the science fiction genre.

And, talking of the sci-fi genre, this novel is something of a sci-fi novel in disguise. In addition to the novel’s scientific themes, there are also some vaguely cyberpunk elements too – which were kind of a cool surprise in a Dan Brown novel 🙂 Then again, Brown did write “Digital Fortress” in the 1990s, so he isn’t a total stranger to the sci-fi genre.

Even so, this novel is more about the tension between science and religion. Although the novel takes a fairly nuanced attitude towards this topic, with both sides having extremists and more moderate people, it is often handled in a slightly cheesy and stylised way. If anything, this novel suggests that both things can coexist, with each being able to adapt to changes in the other. This is also mirrored in the novel’s portrayal of monarchy too, with tension between the more traditionalist elements of the Spanish court and the desire for modernisation.

Although I haven’t studied Spanish politics or history in a huge level of detail, the royal drama is clearly stylised and fictional, yet it still remains compellingly dramatic. Likewise, there are also a few references to vestiges of the oppressive traditionalism of Franco’s dictatorship still lingering in Spain. Dan Brown has also done quite a bit of research about Spanish architecture and history too – with lots of fascinating buildings, descriptions of art etc.. that really help to add some atmosphere to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly decent. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. The motivations of all of the story’s villains are well-explained and help to add drama to the story. In addition to this, although Kirsch dies about a fifth of the way through the story, he gets a surprisingly large amount of characterisation afterwards. Not to mention that the novel’s A.I. character, Winston, is surprisingly well-written too. In general, the characters in this novel – whilst slightly stylised – are one of the things that helps keep this story compelling.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is often surprisingly formal and/or descriptive for a thriller novel. Yet, this is also paired with slightly faster-paced dialogue and narration too. The contrast between these things keeps the story compellingly readable, whilst also being surprisingly relaxing and atmospheric at the same time. This is really difficult to describe, but it lends the story a really interesting atmosphere that sets it apart from grittier and more realistic thrillers by other authors.

As for length and pacing, this novel probably isn’t perfect, but is still reasonably good. At 538 pages in length, this novel is a little bit on the hefty side of things. Likewise, although the story takes between a fifth and a quarter of the novel to really get started, it then becomes a lot more thrilling and compelling. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, there are enough well-orchestrated mysteries, small cliffhangers, plot twists etc.. to make this novel the kind of thing that you’ll want to read more of.

All in all, even though this probably isn’t the best Dan Brown novel I’ve read, it’s still a really good one. It manages to be both relaxing and thrilling at the same time. Even though it takes a while to really get started and some elements of it are a bit stylised and/or silly, I still had a lot of fun reading it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “A Wanted Man” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for a thriller novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a thriller novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2012 novel “A Wanted Man”.

If I remember rightly, this book was given to me by a relative who found it in a charity shop in about 2013-14 and thought that I might enjoy it. Although I’d planned to read it at the time, given that Lee Child novels were one of the few things that I still read during my 2014-18 “non reading” phase, it ended up sitting on top of one of my book piles for several years until I eventually noticed that it was one of the few Lee Child novels that I hadn’t read.

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

This is the 2013 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “A Wanted Man” that I read.

The novel begins in rural Nebraska with a description of someone witnessing a couple of people entering a disused bunker and fleeing shortly afterwards after blood begins to pool around the door. The witness calls the local sheriff.

In another part of the state, ex-military police drifter Jack Reacher is trying to hitchhike. With his towering build and recently-broken nose, he doesn’t expect to have much luck. But, after an hour and a half, a car suddenly stops for him. The three passengers are wearing identical shirts and tell him that they are travelling to Chicago on business. There is a police roadblock up ahead.

Meanwhile, the local sheriff is surprised to see a FBI agent called Julia Sorensen turn up at the crime scene in the bunker. In addition to helping co-ordinate the search for the killers, it soon becomes obvious that the murdered man in the bunker was someone that the US security services have an interest in.

Back in the car, Reacher’s instincts from his days as a military policeman start to tell him that something doesn’t quite add up about the people he is hitching a ride with…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is probably the best modern Lee Child novel that I’ve read. It has all of the rural desolation and careful suspense of something modern like Child’s “The Midnight Line” or “Make Me“, but with some scenes and elements that are more like classic 1990s-2000s Lee Child. It is the kind of gripping novel where, whenever I sat down to read it, I ended up reading about twice as many pages as I’d planned 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements, which are excellent. This novel has a really brilliant progression from small-scale suspense, mystery, plot twists and action to much larger and dramatic examples of all four things. This is the kind of novel that initially seems a little bit understated for a thriller, but intrigues you enough to make you keep reading before rewarding you with a series of brilliant moments, set-pieces and twists.

All of these elements are handled really well, with the more dramatic car chases and gunfights later in the novel providing a brilliant payoff for the tense scenes of mystery and suspense earlier in the story.

Like a good detective story, this novel also carefully drip-feeds the reader with clues and solutions to parts of the story’s central mystery whilst still leaving enough mysterious to make them want to read more. Add to this a few surprising plot twists, a couple of fairly creative locations and more than a few hints of spy drama and this is a textbook example of how to write a truly gripping thriller.

Interestingly, despite the use of modern technology and both the desolate rural American setting and relative pacifism of some parts of the novel, there are some old-school elements here too.

In addition to a final segment that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in either a mid-2000s episode of “24” or a 1980s/90s action movie, some parts of this novel feel like they could have come from a hardboiled US thriller from the 1940s-50s too. Whether it is the constant suspense of the earlier scenes set in the car or the dystopian creativity of the motel-based scenes, this novel feels like a really cool updated version of an older thriller at times.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good. Although Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of expertly-honed “matter of fact” narration you’d expect from one of his thriller novels, this novel was also a lot more descriptive than I’d expected too. Since these descriptions, of locations, thoughts etc… are written in a fast-paced way and/or are carefully placed in locations where they will have the maximum effect, they really help to add a lot of atmosphere to the story without slowing down the pace too much.

As for the characters, they’re fairly well-written. Jack Reacher is the ex-military hero that we all know and love although, in this novel, he has a fascination with maths and number puzzles. Even so, he’s kind of an interesting middle ground between the action hero he was in Child’s older novels and the more considered pacifist he becomes in “The Midnight Line”.

Likewise, the rest of the characters are all well-written enough for the reader to know who they are and to care about what happens to them, whilst also often having enough backstory and hidden depths to be interesting too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good too, At 524 pages in length, it is a little on the longer side of things but the pacing compensates for this. As mentioned earlier, this novel has a really good progression from small-scale to large-scale drama and this is backed up by a fast-paced writing style, some really compelling mysteries and lots of carefully-placed clues and plot twists. This novel is, in a word, gripping. It is the kind of novel where you’ll end up reading at least twice as much as you plan to every time you decide to take a look at it.

All in all, this is an incredibly gripping novel that is a textbook example of thriller fiction at it’s best. It is a brilliant blend of older and more modern thriller fiction that contains a perfectly-engineered mixture of everything that makes thriller fiction such compelling fun to read 🙂

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