Review: “Urban Prey” By Peter Beere (Novel)

A few days before I wrote this review, I happened to discover an utterly amazing second-hand bookshop in Petersfield – with a horror/sci-fi/fantasy section crammed with old books from the 1980s/90s 🙂

Anyway, although most of the books I bought were alternate editions etc.. of books I’ve read before, one of the other novels that caught my eye was Peter Beere’s 1984 novel “Urban Prey”. What can I say? The cover art looked like a cross between “Blade Runner” and an Iron Maiden album cover 🙂

Interestingly, this book is the first novel in a trilogy. Even so, this novel can pretty much be enjoyed on it’s own (although I’ll talk more about the ending in the later parts of this review).

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

This is the 1984 Arrow (UK) edition of “Urban Prey” that I read.

Set in London in the dystopian future of 2020, the story focuses on a man called B.K.Howard (or “Beekay”). Beekay is having a terrible week. Short on cash, he agrees to help his uncle out with a trip to Essex to pick up some smuggled goods arriving from the war-torn mess of mainland Europe. Unfortunately, the plod catch on and send a heavily-armed squad of riot-armoured auxiliaries to the port. Beekay barely escapes the grisly carnage that follows.

When he finally limps back to his run-down flat, there is a letter waiting for him. Call-up papers! As part of the ultra-conservative government’s drive to get the unemployment numbers down, those on long-term benefits are conscripted into the military and sent on a one-way trip to the worst battlefields the world has to offer. After Beekay goes to his aunt to inform her of his uncle’s death, he visits his long-term girlfriend and, after learning something about her, breaks up with her.

Miserable and drunk, Beekay tries to find a way to dodge the draft. But, the bank won’t let him withdraw any money from his account. Not only that, after deciding to make up with his girlfriend several days later, he finds out that she’s been arrested after stabbing a member of the city’s dystopian police after being threatened by him. When Beekay gets home, two men are waiting for him. They are terrorists who will help him and his girlfriend get out of the country if Beekay carries out an assassination for them.

Since the target is the policeman who threatened his girlfriend, Beekay agrees. But, whilst hiding out and planning the crime, he gets a threatening note from a man called Homer. Homer is an official “hunter” who tracks down draft dodgers….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it shares some very vague thematic similarities with “Blade Runner”, it is much more of a dystopian crime thriller than a sci-fi story. It is more like the gritty “it could happen!” dystopian classics like “V For Vendetta” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” than anything else. Still, it’s a surprisingly compelling and atmospheric thriller.

Although the novel’s thriller elements are at their absolute best during the nail-bitingly suspenseful conclusion, there is a palpable feeling of suspense and danger throughout the novel. Beekay is living in a hostile, grim world that is indifferent to him at best.

In addition to the morbid fascination of watching Beekay get dragged into a life of crime, the relatively few scenes involving Homer chasing Beekay help to add extra suspense to the novel (and are a bit like “Blade Runner” in some respects). Likewise, the novel’s grisly and unglamourous portrayal of violence is similar to both “Blade Runner” and the splatterpunk horror fiction of the 1980s too.

The novel’s dystopian elements are a mixture of some classic dystopian stuff (eg: an endless war abroad, violent policemen, forced labour in prisons etc..) and a scathing satire of 1980s Britain. This gives the novel a feeling of gritty realism that you wouldn’t find in more stylised dystopian fiction. In the novel’s version of 2020, there is little to no advanced technology – just poverty, urban decay and an indifferent authoritarian regime. In other words, this novel is a satire of Margaret Thatcher’s time in government.

However, the novel’s dystopian elements do sometimes feel a little bit overdone – to the point where they almost stray into the realm of unintentional parody/dark comedy. I mean, if you’ve ever played dystopian comedy games like “Beneath A Steel Sky” or “Normality“, if you’ve read the hilariously earnest 1980s anarchist parody of “Tintin” or watched an old sitcom called “The Young Ones“, then the tone of parts of this novel will probably feel amusingly familiar.

In terms of the characters, they’re ok. Most of the novel’s characterisation focuses on Beekay – who is a self-pitying, unlucky, poor and nervous “underdog” character. He’s also a somewhat morally-ambiguous character (leaving aside his criminal activities, he’s also hypocritical and prejudiced at times) who seems like a product of the grim world that he has grown up in. Although the other main characters have just enough characterisation to make you care about what happens them, don’t expect lots of in-depth characterisation.

In terms of the writing, it’s interesting. The novel is narrated from Beekay’s perspective and the first-person narration is this weird mixture of informal narration and slightly more formal/descriptive narration. It fits well with Beekay’s character and helps to immerse the reader, but it is the kind of narration that will probably be a little bit annoying before you get used to it.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 198 pages in length, this novel is just the right length for the story it is telling. Likewise, the novel’s pacing is a fairly good mixture of moderately-paced segments that build atmosphere (and show the grinding boredom/grimness of Beekay’s life) and some surprisingly gripping and suspenseful fast-paced segments. Seriously, the later parts of this novel are real edge-of-your-seat stuff!

Plus, although there is room for a sequel at the end of the story, there is enough resolution to the main plot for the ending not to feel like too much of a cliffhanger. Even so, it is at least a mild-moderate cliffhanger in some regards.

In terms of how this thirty-five year old novel has aged, it hasn’t aged well. In addition to the fact that the dystopian future of 2020 looks almost exactly like an exaggerated version of 1980s Britain, this is also a novel where the main character holds a few prejudiced attitudes and/or uses some fairly “politically incorrect” language. Still, despite this, the underlying story of the novel is still surprisingly compelling, suspenseful and atmospheric.

All in all, if you want a cheesy 1980s dystopian thriller, then it might be worth taking a look at this novel. Although it isn’t perfect, some parts of it are really gripping and it has a wonderfully gloomy and grim atmosphere that will make the dystopian present of 2019 look positively cheerful by comparison. But, despite the cover art, don’t go into this novel expecting it to be like “Blade Runner”. It’s more “punk” than “cyberpunk”.

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


Review: “Plague World” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, since I’ve read both the first and second parts of Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy, I thought that it was time to take a look at my second-hand copy of the third novel – “Plague World” (2013) today 🙂

Although this novel contains enough recaps to theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel, it pretty much picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. As such, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel (especially the later parts) if you read the previous two books in the trilogy first.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague World”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Nation”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague World” that I read.

After a short introductory scene showing the zombie virus spreading to London, the story moves back to San Francisco and picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. The elite “wild cards” team of zombie fighters is stranded in a zombie-infested medical facility and missing several members.

Once they find a way to safety, Ashley Parker has several things on her mind. Not only does she have to prepare for a daring rescue mission but she is also threatened by one of the team’s sleazier new recruits and also has to find a way to track down vital medication for Lil too….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, even if the novel’s main story takes a while to truly hit it’s stride.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good 🙂 In additional to the kind of splatterpunk-like ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel also contains some brilliantly creepy moments of suspenseful horror, tragic horror, character-based horror, apocalyptic horror, disturbing horror, taboo-based horror etc.. too. Like in the previous two novels, this novel also includes at least a couple of brilliantly disturbing moments of story-based horror where the situation itself is the main source of horror.

One cool feature of this novel is that it also contains short chapters showing how the zombie virus affects different parts of the world. These segments contain a really good mixture of thrills, tragedy, irreverent dark comedy and/or cynical nihilism. And, although the main story improves as the novel progresses, these short side-stories remain consistently good throughout the novel and really help to keep the earlier parts compelling 🙂

In terms of the novel’s action-thriller elements, they’re especially good during the later parts of the novel 🙂 In short, whilst this is a fairly action-packed novel throughout, the early-middle parts of the main story tend to focus a bit more on things like character-based drama, heavy subject matter, small-scale suspense etc… which can detract from the story’s gripping action-thriller elements a little bit.

But, it is worth reading earlier parts of the story just to get to the awesome final segment. In addition to some brilliantly epic action scenes (involving explosions, a biker gang, a secret base etc..) there are also loads of dramatic plot twists, some brilliantly disturbing moments of horror, some excellent satire and a couple of wonderfully heartwarming moments. This is one of those novels where I was reading it very slightly reluctantly during the early parts, but was absolutely gripped during the later parts.

In terms of the characters, they’re pretty interesting. Although there is lots of character-based drama and characterisation, some of this can get in the way of the story a little bit. Even so, it adds depth to the story and also serves as a recap for new readers too.

Still, the best character-based moments appear in the later parts of the novel, where a couple of good and evil main characters turn out to be a bit more morally-ambiguous than previously thought. Plus, there is also a wonderfully heartwarming character-based scene in the last few pages of the novel that will probably make you cry with happiness 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is as good as ever 🙂 Like with previous novels in the series, this novel uses a combination of first and third-person narration. This is clearly signposted to the reader via both titles and italic text, which prevents the perspective changes from being confusing. The novel’s first-person segments are also written in the kind of gloriously informal, pop culture reference-filled way that you would expect and they are really fun to read 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At 308 pages, this novel never really feels too long. Plus, even though the later parts of the novel are more gripping than the earlier parts, the whole story is written in a reasonably fast-paced way. Even so, I wish that more of the novel was like the truly excellent later segments.

All in all, this is a good conclusion to a really good trilogy. Yes, I preferred the later parts of this novel to the early/middle parts of it, but the story is still a rather compelling and dramatic one. If you’ve read the previous two books, then this one is well worth reading for the scenes set around the world and the brilliantly gripping final parts of the main story.

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

Review: “Angel’s Ink” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Well, although I’d heard about Jocelynn Drake’s “Asylum Tales” urban fantasy series soon after I finished reading Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” vampire thriller series quite a few months ago, I never got round to reading any of them at the time.

Then, a week or so before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered this series and, to my delight, second-hand copies of the first novel in the series “Angel’s Ink” (2012) had come down in price since I last looked at them 🙂

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

This is the 2013 Harper Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “Angel’s Ink” that I read.

The novel is set in a city called Low Town, where magic is real and supernatural creatures exist. In the alleyway next to his tattoo parlour, ex-warlock Gage Powell is threatened by an angry customer because of a malfunctioning “good luck” potion he used in a tattoo. Although Gage wins the fight, he has to use a magic spell or two in the process.

This prompts a visit from a warlock called Gideon who reminds Gage that he is forbidden from using magic spells, except in self-defence. Luckily for Gage, his actions during the fight technically fell somewhere within that definition, but Gideon sternly warns Gage that he’ll be keeping a close eye on him.

Business at the tattoo parlour carries on as usual for a while, but then Gage is visited by a terminally ill woman called Tera who wants a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back. Moved by her situation, Gage decides to secretly help her out by mixing a strand from an angel’s wing into the ink.

However, sometime later, a grim reaper shows up at the parlour and tells him that he accidentally made Tera immortal. He has three days to rectify the problem or the reaper will take his life instead…..

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a really compelling and suspenseful noir-influenced urban fantasy thriller 🙂 Although it’s a little bit more slow-paced than Drake’s “Dark Days” series and it doesn’t have quite the same gothic atmosphere, it’s definitely one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read within the past couple of months. Still, it is more of a suspenseful small-scale and vaguely “film noir”-style thriller set within a relatively small number of locations than a more typical urban fantasy action-thriller novel.

Like in a lot of thrillers, this is a “bad day” novel where the main character finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations within a relatively small space of time and this really helps to ramp up the suspense and pressure. Although this novel contains a few fight scenes (including some vaguely Harry Potter-style magic duels), it’s slightly more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel, since Gage often has to come up with plans or think on his feet in order to get out of the gigantic mess that he’s found himself in. All of this suspense really helps to keep the novel compelling.

Although “Angel’s Ink” isn’t a noir urban fantasy novel in the way that, say, P.N. Elrod’s “Bloodlist” is, there is certainly quite a bit of influence from the noir genre here 🙂 Whether it is the slightly complex plot, the “sleazy” tattoo parlour settings, the focus on a criminal underworld, the mysterious woman walking into the protagonist’s office at the start of the story and the good-hearted but morally-ambiguous protagonist, there are definitely a few hints of the noir genre here 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are handled quite well too. In addition to a lot of the usual urban fantasy stuff (eg: elves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, satyrs, succubi etc..), the novel’s magic elements feel solid enough (including some dramatic set pieces too 🙂 ) and the story even includes some intriguingly dystopian elements too. Basically, there is an uneasy truce between humanity and a strict order of powerful, cruel warlocks and witches, who treat the world in a rather colonialist fashion.

Since Gage is an ex-warlock who lives amongst humans, he finds himself under constant suspicion and threat from the order, in addition to having to keep his true nature secret from most of those around him. It’s a brilliantly inventive premise that helps to add some extra suspense and depth to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably well-written. Gage comes across as a flawed, but likeable, protagonist with a troubled past who finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations. Likewise, his two side-kicks – Trixie and Bronx – are both interesting characters with their own motivations, backstories and personalities. The novel also contains quite a few other interesting background characters and a bit of a romantic sub-plot too.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is fairly well-written too. It allows for a decent amount of characterisation and is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere. But, although this novel is well written, I still slightly preferred the more gothic and fast-paced narration in Drake’s “Dark Days” series though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 338 pages, it isn’t too long – although it was very slightly slower-paced than I’d initially expected. Yes, the story certainly has a lot of fast-paced moments and is compelling enough to make you want to keep reading it, but this is one of those books that took slightly longer to read than I’d initially expected. Plus, although there is enough resolution to make the ending feel satisfying, this novel is the first part of a series. So, don’t expect literally everything to be resolved by the end of the story.

All in all, this is a really good urban fantasy thriller novel which is filled with suspense and some hints of the noir genre too 🙂 On it’s own merits, it is a compelling novel that fans of authors like Mike Carey and Lilith Saintcrow will probably enjoy 🙂 And, although I slightly preferred Drake’s “Dark Days” novels to this one, it’s always great to read more books by this author 🙂

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

Review: “Make Me” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a noir cyberpunk novel, the weather had become so hot that I needed to read something a bit more fast-paced instead. So, after looking through my “to read” pile, I found a copy of Lee Child’s 2015 novel “Make Me” that a relative had found in a charity shop several years ago and thought that I might enjoy.

So, let’s take a look at “Make Me”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. I’ll avoid spoiling the exact details of the ending, but expect spoilers about the style and genre of the ending.

This is the 2015 Bantam Press (UK) hardback edition of “Make Me” that I read.

The novel begins at night in a farming town in Oklahoma called Mother’s Rest. In a field outside of town, a group of people are burying a dead man called Keever. However, before they can finish their grim task, a train whooshes past the field.

A wandering ex-military policeman called Jack Reacher decides to get off of the train at Mother’s Rest because he is intrigued by the town’s unusual name. However, no sooner has he set foot on the platform, he is accosted by a mysterious woman who initially mistakes him for someone else. After they go their separate ways, Reacher decides to spend the night in the town’s only motel. Little does he know, someone is watching him….

The next morning, he stops off in the local diner for coffee and meets the woman from the train station again. She’s an ex-FBI private detective called Michelle Chang who has travelled to the town after her colleague, Keever, requested urgent backup. Apparently, Keever was going to explain his current case to her when they met, but he hasn’t shown up in town. So, Reacher decides to help her investigate…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly suspenseful thriller novel that is also a surprisingly effective horror novel in disguise 🙂

Although the novel certainly contains some dramatic action-thriller elements, this is one of those ultra-suspenseful stories where you’ll keep reading because you want to find out what is really going on. And when you do find out the horrifying truth, you’ll wish that you hadn’t…

The novel’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! In addition to an intriguingly ominous mystery, the story also makes use of suspense in all sorts of other clever ways too.

Whether it is the segments showing the bad guys spying on the main characters, the way that a news report plays in the background of one scene, the fact that both sides plan their dramatic final showdown very carefully or even how the fight scenes will sometimes contain long descriptions of gun mechanisms in order to ramp up the tension before a shot is fired, this novel is saturated with suspense and it works really well 🙂

Even though this novel is much more of a suspense thriller than an action thriller, there are still some dramatic fight scenes. These are spread out carefully throughout the novel, so that they seem extra dramatic in contrast to the more understated scenes beforehand. If you’ve read a Lee Child novel before, you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fight scenes and this story is no exception.

Plus, unlike in Child’s “The Midnight Line“, Reacher certainly isn’t a pacifist in this story. Likewise, he actually suffers a concussion at one point, which makes some of the later fight scenes even more suspenseful (since he’s also fighting the effects of the concussion too).

To my surprise, this novel also contains some really well-written horror elements too 🙂 This is a story that gets more horrific as it goes along, going from ominous to creepy to disturbing to full-on horror in a way that you won’t see coming until it is too late.

Although a lot of the most grisly elements of the story’s shocking final twist are left to the reader’s imagination (since this is a thriller novel, rather than a splatterpunk novel) this story delivers a devastatingly disturbing dose of horror that can really catch you off-guard.

Likewise, all of this horror is complemented by a deliberately unsettling tone throughout the story. Whether it is the fact that the main characters are being watched, the mysterious nature of the mystery they’re trying to solve or even some lengthy discussions of some fairly dark subject matter, this novel sets up it’s shocking final moments of horror absolutely perfectly. Or, more accurately, it fools you into thinking that you’re reading an ordinary suspense thriller story until it is too late…..

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Although there isn’t a gigantic amount of ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough characterisation here to make you care about the main characters and for the slightly understated romantic sub-plot between Reacher and Chang to work fairly well. Surprisingly, the most dramatic characters in this novel are probably a few of the villains, who are probably some of the most chillingly evil villains that I’ve ever seen in a novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really well-written. The narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story grippingly fast-paced, but isn’t afraid to pause for more complex descriptions when the story requires it. In other words, if you’ve read Lee Child novels before, then you’ll probably be quite familiar with the writing style here.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although this novel is a slightly lengthy 421 pages long, this is counterbalanced by the fact that this is one of those compelling stories that you’ll probably want to binge-read fairly quickly.

Plus, although this fast-paced thriller isn’t always quite as fast-paced as you would expect, this allows the story to build suspense and to make the even faster-paced moments stand out even more in contrast.

All in all, this is a brilliantly compelling thriller novel that is also a horror novel in disguise 🙂 It makes expert use of suspense, plot twists and all of that kind of stuff and it is the kind of story that is difficult to put down once you’ve started reading it.

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

Review: “Plague Nation” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, after reading Dana Fredsti’s awesome “Plague Town” a while ago, I eventually found a reasonably-priced second-hand copy of the 2013 sequel “Plague Nation” online. And, since the weather had cooled down a bit, I thought that it was finally time to actually read it 🙂

Although this novel is a sequel, it contains enough recaps for you to theoretically read it without reading “Plague Town” (but you’ll get more out of it if you read that novel first). However, I should point out that “Plague Nation” is also the middle novel in a trilogy too. In other words, don’t expect it to be a fully self-contained story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Plague Nation”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Town”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Nation” that I read.

“Plague Nation” begins shortly after the events of “Plague Town”. The team of “wild card” immune survivors are clearing out the remaining zombies from the isolated California town of Redwood Grove. However, thanks to the contaminated flu vaccine, there are small-scale zombie outbreaks in other parts of America.

Not only that, things start going wrong in Redwood Grove. The team’s leader – Gabriel – seems to be even more of a self-righteous ass than usual, an attempt to rescue a survivor goes horribly wrong and it also seems like someone is out to sabotage the secret research lab in the town’s university…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a story of two halves. One of the things I’ve noticed about modern zombie sequels (Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night” springs to mind too) is that they often tend to start with the slower-paced physical and emotional aftermath of the previous novel. In other words, the first half or so of this novel is more of a drama (with occasional moments of action, suspense and horror) than the kind of thrilling zombie-fighting adventure that you’d expect. Of course, things pick up again as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. Although the first half of the novel is a little bit more understated and slow-paced, this is where the bulk of the story’s horror can be found. Although the whole story contains the kind of splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror you would expect, the first half of the novel contains many of the story’s truly disturbing moments of horror. In addition to a shocking character death, there’s the disturbing return of a character from the first novel and several other exquisitely tragic, gross and/or horrific scenes too.

Plus, in true splatterpunk fashion, the novel is peppered with short chapters about other random characters in other locations being faced with the zombie outbreak too. These chapters help to add a sense of scale to the story, whilst also helping to add moments of horror to more slow-paced segments of the story too.

As mentioned earlier, the novel turns into more of an action-thriller story as it progresses. The slower first half of the story helps to build up the suspense and set the scene for a gripping “edge of your seat” mission to the zombie-infested streets of San Francisco. And, this part of the story is where the novel really hits it’s stride and becomes the kind of epic, badass zombie apocalypse thriller that the first novel will have led you to expect.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. The zombie-fighting team are a slightly stylised band of misfits, who receive a reasonable amount of characterisation as the story progresses. Plus, although the story starts off with lots of arguments and other such things, the characterisation remains consistently good throughout most of the novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel uses both first and third-person narration. Although this might sound confusing or annoying, it actually works well since the third-person segments are clearly signposted via italic text. And, like in “Plague Town”, the first-person perspective parts of the novel are narrated by Ashley Parker – a wonderfully cynical, irreverent and badass zombie fighter who is never short of a pop culture reference or two. These parts of the story are written in a fairly informal way and they really help to add personality and humour to the story, whilst also keeping things moving at a decent pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is reasonably good. At 318 pages in length, it is both long enough and short enough. Likewise, the novel begins in a relatively slow-paced way, although this is mostly to set the stage for the more fast-paced later parts of the novel. Even so, the informal narration and several well-placed moments of horror and drama help to keep the beginning of the story compelling enough.

Still, this novel is the middle part of a trilogy. So, like with watching a “to be continued” episode of a TV show, the pacing and drama builds to such a point near the end of the novel that you’ll just know that everything won’t be resolved in the remaining few pages. Yes, there is a little bit of resolution at the end of the novel but there are quite a lot of mysterious unresolved background details and a bit of a cliffhanger ending.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Although it is a little bit slow to really get started, it is still a decent follow-up to “Plague Town” and, if you liked that novel, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Yes, I preferred the second half of the novel to the first, but both are really good. Still, just be aware that this novel is the middle part of a trilogy.

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

Review: “Personal” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to read another Lee Child novel so soon after reading “The Midnight Line” two or three weeks ago, the weather was still fairly hot and – as such- I needed something relaxing, gripping and just generally fun to read.

So, I thought that I’d check out Lee Child’s 2014 novel “Personal” today. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read ever since a relative found an American hardback edition of it in a charity shop in Salisbury a couple of years ago and thought that I might be interested in it.

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

This is the 2014 Delacorte Press (US) hardback edition of “Personal” that I read.

The novel begins with wandering ex-military policeman Jack Reacher sitting on a bus that is travelling to Seattle. Since the bus travels near a military base, a soldier ends up leaving a copy of Army Times behind. Out of professional curiosity, Reacher decides to take a look at it… and finds his own name in the personal ads segment. The US military wants him to call them.

After getting off the bus in Seattle, Reacher calls the military and he is quickly flown to a top secret part of Fort Bragg. A sniper has threatened the French President and the international intelligence community has narrowed the suspects down to four possible people. One of whom is a man that Reacher arrested for murder sixteen years earlier. Needless to say, Reacher agrees to help out with the case….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a thriller novel. It contains an absolutely brilliant mixture of spy drama, crime drama, suspense, action and detective work. Although the earlier parts of the story tend to focus more on suspense and detective work, the story becomes even more dramatic and gripping as it progresses.

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between these different sub-genres of thriller fiction fairly right, meaning that the story remains fairly consistently gripping throughout since Lee Child can just switch from sub-genre to sub-genre in order to add variety without slowing the pacing down too much.

In addition to this, the novel is also a little bit like a “greatest hits” compilation of what I can remember of Child’s older novels too. There’s a sniper-based storyline (like in “One Shot”), there’s a segment set in Britain (like in “The Hard Way”) and there’s a gang/crime theme too (like in “Persuader”).

Although most of the novel’s detective elements happen during the earlier parts of the story, there are several cool moments throughout the story where Reacher makes Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about various things. Plus, not only is Reacher referred to as “Sherlock Homeless” a couple of times (which always made me think of the “Viz” cartoon of the same name) but there’s even a vague reference to the BBC’s “Sherlock” TV show, when Reacher “calls the police” in London by firing a gun several times (like in “A Scandal In Belgravia).

The novel’s spy thriller elements are also pretty interesting and they lend the story a murky, secretive and ambiguous atmosphere which helps to increase the feelings of suspense – especially when contrasted with the equally murky world of organised crime.

Even so, there are a few inconsistencies with the novel’s spy elements. For example, when Reacher arrives in London, it is made very clear that he’s there unofficially (and that it would cause an international incident if MI5 found out about it). Yet, when he later gets spotted by a British agent that he met earlier in the story, they just team up and MI5 is totally cool with it (even offering help and support to Reacher at various points in the story).

This novel is also a fairly decent action-thriller novel, with very little of the pacifism that can be found in Child’s “The Midnight Line”. Although this does give parts of the novel a slightly vigilante-like tone, it also allows for a fair number of dramatic, fast-paced and impactful fight scenes – which are often also paired with suspenseful elements (eg: time limits, worries about stray bullets, Reacher meeting a well-matched adversary etc..) to help keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In terms of the characters – whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here. Not only does Reacher get a fairly decent amount of characterisation, but several members of the supporting cast do too.

On the other hand, the novel’s villains (eg: the evil sniper, the gangsters from Romford etc...) are a little bit on the cartoonish side of things – although this is done in a way that makes them feel extra menacing, so it isn’t an entirely bad thing.

In terms of the writing, this novel is as good and fast-paced as ever. Plus, unlike some of Lee Child’s novels, this one is narrated by Reacher himself. This lends the story an even greater degree of focus, suspense and character. It also helps to add a sense of vulnerability to the story, since we only see and know what Reacher does.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The hardback edition I read was a relatively efficient 353 pages long, although this may be due to the slightly larger page size. Even so, the length is fairly comparable to other Lee Child novels, with the suspense and pacing making sure that the novel never feels too long. Likewise, as you would expect from a Lee Child novel, the pacing is reasonably fast too. However, this novel starts out in a slightly slower and more suspenseful way before becoming more fast-paced later in the story.

All in all, this is a really good thriller novel. It’s an intriguing blend of the spy thriller, crime thriller, action-thriller and detective genres 🙂 Whilst it doesn’t do anything especially new or innovative, it’s still a brilliantly gripping novel that was a lot of fun to read.

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

Review: “Inferno” By Dan Brown

Well, it has been ages since I last read a Dan Brown novel. I remember enthusiastically reading “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” in mid-late 2005. Then, in 2009, I read Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” (a new hardback copy on release day, no less!), “Deception Point” and “Digital Fortress”.

So, when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” was released in 2013, I…. eventually ended up getting a hardback copy a year later, which I didn’t get round to reading (since I was starting to lose interest in books at the time) and ended up losing somewhere in the depths of one of my book piles.

But, after discovering a cheap second-hand paperback copy of “Inferno” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year, I thought that I’d take a proper look at it. So, yes, this review has been several years in the making.

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

This is the 2014 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Inferno” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious man called The Shade running through the streets of Florence before hurling himself off of a building and falling to his death.

Meanwhile, revered American symbology professor Robert Langdon is having a bizarre nightmare, filled with hellish visions from Dante’s “Inferno”. When he wakes up, he finds that not only is he in hospital, but he cannot remember the events of the past 2-3 days. Needless to say, the situation becomes stranger when he learns from a visiting English medic called Sienna that he is actually in Italy rather than in America and that he was brought into the hospital after being shot in the head.

However, before Langdon can really start to piece together the events of the past few days, a mysterious assassin breaks into the hospital and tries to kill him. Luckily, Sienna is able to help Langdon escape the hospital before this happens and it soon becomes obvious that someone powerful is out to get them. But, why?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously silly thriller novel that, despite a few flaws, was a lot of fun to read 🙂

Like in Brown’s other Langdon novels, this novel is a little bit different from a typical gung-ho action thriller novel. In other words, it is a novel where Langdon has to rely on quick thinking and academic knowledge in order to survive. Since Langdon is unarmed throughout the story, this novel actually has quite a bit of suspense – given that he spends quite a bit of the story chased by various heavily-armed people, whilst also solving mysterious puzzles based on Dante’s “Inferno” in order to prevent a major catastrophe.

And, yes, this is actually a much more intelligent novel than you might expect. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, this novel is fairly well thought-out and extremely well-researched.

On the downside, Brown feels the need to show off his research constantly via lots of info-dumps, which can sometimes make the book seem more like a slow-paced mixture between a tour guide of Italy and a history textbook during what are supposed to be thrillingly fast-paced moments. Yes, some of these segments are pretty interesting, but they do slow down the story quite a bit!

Still, this novel is a fairly gripping thriller regardless. Although there are more than a few silly moments (such as a random tricycle chase, some character-based stuff, some of the more contrived puzzles/clues/plot twists etc..), this novel still manages to remain compelling thanks to both the premise and the suspenseful storyline.

The idea of starting the story halfway through, with the main character not remembering what happened beforehand isn’t an entirely new technique (I mean, it turned up in the previous book that I read), but it works pretty well here. Likewise, the fact that Langdon is unarmed helps to add extra suspense to the story’s many chase sequences.

Plus, the novel also includes some fairly bold and dramatic plot twists too – although some of these aren’t always foreshadowed as much as they should be. Even so, the plot twists kind of reminded me a bit of the first “Mission Impossible” film, which helped to add to the story’s enjoyable silliness.

One interesting theme in this novel is that of the dangers of overpopulation, with the main villain (Zobrist) taking it upon himself to “correct” the problem via a genetically-engineered virus. In a rather clever move, the novel initially takes a rather simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to this by making the virus out to be a modern version of the bubonic plague. However, the novel achieves a greater level of intellectual and moral complexity when it is later revealed that the virus merely makes one-third of the world’s population sterile. Refreshingly, the novel then leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions about the morality of Zobrist’s actions.

The novel also possibly contains a little bit of satire about the thriller genre too, with a group of characters called “The Consortium” who are a well-funded ship-based group of mercenaries who will carry out any task, with the justification that they are merely a tool for other people and bear no responsibility for how they are used. Although this probably has no connection to Clive Cussler’s “Oregon Files” novels, it’s hard not to see it as a slight parody of these stories (and the action-thriller genre in general).

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty cheesy. In addition to Robert Langdon (who is a cultured, highly-intelligent and fairly tall professor), his side-kick Sienna initially seems to be a hilariously corny character (eg: a slightly rebellious genius with an IQ of 208, who also owns a motorised tricycle for… reasons). However, she gains a bit more character depth as the story progresses. Some of the background characters are a bit more well-written though, with the most intriguing character being the mysterious antagonist, Zobrist.

In terms of the novel’s writing, it’s ok. Although this novel is a very readable thriller, the story is slowed down quite often by lots of descriptive info-dumps about history, architecture, tourist attractions etc… Even so, I can’t really fault the actual writing in this novel too much. The action scenes are very readable and the descriptions are fairly evocative too. Likewise, Dan Brown makes pretty good use of his traditional ultra-short chapters here too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel needs improvement. At a mammoth 620 pages in length, this novel would have benefitted from trimming some of the background details and repetitive descriptions of major plot points (although, saying this, if you’re reading this book a few chapters at a time, then these are probably fairly useful recaps. Even so, they get a bit annoying if you’re binge-reading).

Likewise, although the novel moves along at a reasonably decent pace (thanks to the suspenseful storyline, short chapters etc..), the story is bogged down quite a bit due to all of the info-dumps that I’ve mentioned before. Seriously, this novel is supposed to be a thriller.

All in all, this is one of the most gripping tour guides/history textbooks you’ll read. It is also a rather silly, but more intelligent than you might think, thriller novel too. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the high standards of Brown’s earlier works, it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂

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