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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “Area 7” By Matthew Reilly (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another thriller. And, after enjoying Matthew Reilly’s “Ice Station” a few weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the other Reilly novel I happened to spot in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. I am, of course talking about Reilly’s 2001 thriller novel “Area 7”.

Although this novel is technically a sequel to “Ice Station”, it’s a fairly self-contained novel that can be enjoyed without reading “Ice Station” first. But, if you’ve read “Ice Station” first, then you’ll see a few familiar faces again and get slightly more out of a couple of moments and small sub-plots.

So, let’s take a look at “Area 7”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2002 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Area 7” that I read.

The novel begins with a lecture transcript that discusses the role and history of the office of the US president, before showing an extract from a conspiracy theory magazine about the mysterious death of a US senator called Jerry Woolf.

Then, the story jumps over to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. A former general called “Caesar” Russell is due to be executed for murder and treason. His last request is to watch the inauguration of the new president on TV and whilst he watches it, he muses about a scheme to secretly implant microchips into the hearts of important people. After this, he is taken to another prison and executed via lethal injection. However, a few minutes after his body is taken away, he is secretly revived using a defribrillator and hyper-oxygenated blood.

A few months later, several experimental plasma warheads are found hidden and fully armed in several major airports. Meanwhile, in the Utah desert, Marine Captain Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is accompanying the president on a helicopter tour of several secret underground military bases in the desert. When the group arrive at Area 7, they are greeted by the elite masked commandos of the Air Force’s 7th Special Operations Squadron.

As the President descends into the base, Schofield and the other marines wait around in the hangar above. Schofield then notices that the troops from the 7th have suddenly taken up offensive – rather than defensive- positions around all exits from the hangar. Seconds later, they open fire on the marines and a battle ensues. Meanwhile, the President watches a demonstration of a new vaccine designed to protect against a bio-weapon. But the demonstration is suddenly interrupted by a video broadcast by Caesar, saying that he has taken command of the base…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 Yes, it is little slower to really get started than “Ice Station” was but – after about the first 80-90 pages or so – it’s nothing but grippingly thrilling non-stop spectacular ultra-fast paced action 🙂 Like with Clive Cussler & Graham Brown’s “Zero Hour“, this novel is one of the best action movies that you’ll ever read 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t going to win any literary awards, but if you want a book that is like an incredibly fun 1980s-90s action movie “turned up to eleven”, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

As action-thriller novels go, this one is really well-constructed – with a brilliant mixture of suspenseful mini-cliffhangers, cool gadgets, tense time-limits, claustrophobic underground scenes, several competing groups of villains, multiple plot threads, acrobatic stunts, large and small-scale drama, spectacular open-air chase scenes, numerous fast-paced combat sequences (including gladiatorial combat, helicopter duels etc… in addition to the usual gun and fist fights), spectacular set pieces and one of the best uses of Chekhov’s Gun that I’ve seen in a while too (seriously, when you see everything on the fourth floor of the facility, you’ll know what I mean).

Thanks to this immense variety of thriller elements, this is one of those rare thriller novels that can function at full intensity for most of the story without ever getting dull. And, in classic Reilly fashion, this novel is ludicrously and gloriously “over the top” in so many ways 🙂 The best way to describe this is to imagine a Michael Bay movie with absolutely no budgetary or practical limits whatsoever. Leaving aside the numerous spectacular explosions and gunfights, this also includes brilliantly clever location designs and numerous awesome set pieces that take place on land, air, water and… well, I won’t spoil it.

Whether you enjoy all of this or not will depend on how much you can suspend your disbelief. If you take a more “rational” or “realistic” view of this story, then it will seem extremely silly. But, if you can suspend your disbelief, then you’ll be rewarded with the kind of amazingly spectacular action-fest that, even almost two decades after it was written, can still easily surpass even the highest-budget Hollywood films. Seriously, if you want to see an example of how books can be better than films, then read this one!

And, continuing with the action movie theme, one of the cool things about this novel is that – although it was published in 2001 – it is actually more like a gloriously fun 1980s-90s action movie (think “Broken Arrow” meets “Die Hard”, but on steroids) than a more serious, topical and gritty 2000s one. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it was clearly written (and is set) before 9/11 happened.

Not only does this mean that there are a lot of spectacular aircraft-based scenes that would have probably been considered “too soon” if the novel was written a bit later that year, but the novel also deals with the topic of terrorism in a very pre-9/11 kind of way too – with the villains being various evil secret societies, fanatical right-wing groups etc… (with incredibly contrived evil schemes) rather than the religious extremist villains that would become more common in the genre later in the decade.

So, this novel is also a glimpse into the later parts of the more innocent age between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – where thriller writers couldn’t just use the news for inspiration and, instead, had to come up with unpredictable and creative plots for their stories. All of this results in a much more fun and “feel-good” thriller story than the gloomier, grittier and more “topical” thrillers that would characterise most of the 2000s.

In terms of the characters, they are the kind of stylised characters you’d expect in a story like this. Although there is a bit of characterisation for a few main characters and some of the villains, this is more of a plot-focused novel than a character-based one. In fact, in the author interview at the end of the edition I read, Reilly actually states: “I want to write about action and thrills and adventure, and if developing characters slow down the action, then developing characters get the chop!

Still, there is just about enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the main characters. Plus, one amusing thing about this novel is that – although the US President is never explicitly named – from a couple of physical descriptions, the publication date and some references to the time period the story takes place in (eg: mention of a Playstation 2 and Jar Jar Binks, and the most recent other president mentioned in the opening segment being Bill Clinton), he is most likely based on G. W. Bush – which makes the parts of the novel where he gets to be a bit of an action hero absolutely hilarious to read in a cynically ironic way.

As for the writing, it is a Matthew Reilly novel from the 2000s. In other words, the third-person narration is written in a fairly informal and “matter of fact” style that – whilst it probably breaks numerous stylistic rules and is unlikely to win any literary awards – adds a lot of extra speed and intensity to the novel. Yes, if you’re new to this author, then you might find his writing style to be a bit corny, awkward and/or immature at times, but it works. Don’t ask me how, but it works! Like with Reilly’s later novel “Seven Ancient Wonders”, this novel is one of the most well-written “badly written” books that you’ll ever read.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 Although it is a fairly hefty 565 pages in length, these pages flash past at incredible speed – meaning it’ll take you as long to read as a 250-300 page book usually would. And, although the story takes a little while longer to really pick up speed than “Ice Station” does, most of this book feels even faster-paced and more gripping than that novel did. Seriously, if you want a lesson in good, consistently fast action-thriller novel pacing, then read most of this one 🙂

All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want to read something that is even more spectacular than even the highest-budget action movie, then you’ll enjoy “Area 7”. Yes, it takes a little longer to really get started than I’d expected (and the writing style may put some readers off) but, if you stick with it, then you’ll be rewarded with a gloriously intense and over-the-top 1990s-style action-fest of a story 🙂 Just remember to suspend your disbelief before reading it though.

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

Review: “Cold Warriors” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for the macabre. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’d meant to read several months ago – namely Rebecca Levene’s 2010 novel “Cold Warriors”. If I remember rightly, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of this book online shortly after I’d finished reading the sequel, but it ended up languishing on one of my book piles after I got distracted by other books.

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

This is the 2010 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of “Cold Warriors” that I read.

The novel begins in a graveyard in June 1988, with a secret agent called Tomas climbing into a coffin in preparation for burial alive and resurrection several days later as part of a Voodoo ritual, presided over by his boss Nicholson. As he lies in the grave, Tomas thinks about his beloved, Kate, who has been declared KIA after a mission to Russia. The ritual begins and, as the grave begins the be filled, darkness slowly overtakes Tomas.

Shortly afterwards, a recently-married man called Geraint is getting ready to spend the night with his wife. He sneaks into the bathroom and daubs evil symbols onto his body with blood, keeping them hidden under a T-shirt before joining his wife in bed. Needless to say, it isn’t a very happy honeymoon.

Then we flash forwards to 2009. Two MI6 agents, a younger sniper called Morgan and a more experienced agent called John, are in Yemen surveilling a terrorist base with orders to assassinate their leader. Although Morgan makes a perfect shot, the terrorist’s henchmen spot the two agents shortly afterwards and a fight breaks out. During the chaos, Morgan accidentally stabs John.

Back in London, Morgan’s boss is furious. This is hardly the first time someone working with Morgan had died in strange circumstances. But, Morgan is in luck. Instead of being drummed out of the service, a newly-reopened branch – the Heremetic Division – have expressed an interest in him. Their leader, Nicholson, says that he needs Morgan to travel to Budapest to intercept an ancient artefact that has found its way into the hands of a wealthy oligarch. Not only that, he’ll also be partnered with an agent who even his lifelong string of bad luck can’t kill…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel was that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s a really cool blend of both the horror and the thriller genres, which manages to combine the best elements of both in a way that doesn’t dilute either of them 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s excellent horror elements. This novel contains a really creepy mixture of occult horror, psychological horror, gory horror, tragic horror, the macabre, claustrophobic horror, paranormal horror, hideous crimes, apocalyptic horror, character-based horror, creature horror, ghost horror and an inventive version of the zombie genre too 🙂

These horror elements are handled in a brilliantly unsettling way, with a really good mixture of more subtle moments of horror and some splendidly grotesque set-pieces. Seriously, is so good to see a horror thriller novel that pays just as much attention (if not more) to its horror elements as it does to its thriller elements 🙂

The best way to describe the horror of this novel is that it has the gritty and grisly atmosphere of something like a Shaun Hutson or James Herbert novel, with the mysterious occult terror of something like an older episode of “Supernatural” (or possibly a novel by Clive Barker or Mike Carey), with maybe a little bit of the unsettling psychological dread of a film like “The Ring” too 🙂

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re a really good mixture of suspense, spy thriller stuff, plot twists, mystery and fast-paced action sequences. All of these elements are handled really well, with the balance between suspense and action meaning that neither element dominates the story in a way that becomes monotonous. This is also one of those good thriller novels that also feels consistently gripping throughout, whilst also slowly increasing in scale and intensity as the story progresses 🙂

Plus, as mentioned earlier, both the horror and thriller elements are blended in a brilliantly seamless way that doesn’t dilute either of them. For example, the drama of the novel’s action sequences is heightened by the fact that they are often as brutal and gruesome as something from a horror novel. Likewise, the novel’s moments of horror benefit a lot from the nail-biting thriller-style writing and suspense that often accompanies them. In short, the spy thriller elements add something new to the horror genre and the occult horror elements add something new to the thriller genre. Seriously, this is a really cool novel 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good 🙂 Morgan comes across as a young man with a tragic past who is out of his depth – yet just experienced/clever enough to get out of danger whilst also being inexperienced/impulsive enough to put himself in it just as often. This is kind of difficult to describe, but it really adds a lot of extra drama to the novel whilst also making him feel like a realistic and complex character too.

Tomas is a really fascinating character too, since he’s basically a man from the 1980s who has been dropped into the late 2000s – with this element of his character being handled in a subtle, but realistic way. The main cast also includes a German agent called Anya, who initially just seems like a generic “serious” character, but becomes a lot more interesting and complex as the story progresses and a really eerie CIA agent called Belle too (who is a powerful psychic who is several decades old, yet has not physically aged since the age of eleven).

And, as you would expect from a horror story, there are some really creepy villains too 🙂 I’m wary about spoiling too much, but the villains in this novel somehow manage to be absolute pure evil without ever really descending into unintentional comedy or moustache-twirling cartoonishness. This is probably because, like the main characters, they actually have (rather dark/grim) backstories and fairly realistic motivations for most of their evil deeds.

As for the writing, this novel is really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is a really good hybrid of the kind of gritty, fast-paced and informal “matter of fact” narration you’d expect from an action-thriller novel and the kind of slower, formal descriptive narration you’d expect from a horror novel. These two elements are blended seamlessly, resulting in an intense and atmospheric story that also moves along at a decent speed too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is good too. At a fairly efficient 295 pages in length, it is one of those novels that is able to remain focused and consistently gripping 🙂 I cannot praise the pacing in this novel highly enough. Not only does it make excellent use of mini-cliffhangers to keep up the suspense, but it is also one of those cool novels that starts in a gripping way and then becomes more and more gripping as it goes along 🙂 Yes, the novel leaves the ending open for the sequel, but there is still enough resolution to make the conclusion feel satisfying 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun novel that blends the horror and thriller genres in a way that will give you the best of both worlds 🙂

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

Review: “Necessary Evil” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for a fast-paced novel, so I thought that I’d take a look at one I’ve been meaning to re-read for a while. I am, of course, talking about Shaun Hutson’s 2004 horror thriller novel “Necessary Evil”.

Since I had some vague memories of reading this novel around the time when the paperback edition came out (and being amazed that Hutson was moving back towards writing horror again after several years of writing gritty crime thrillers), I was curious to see what I’d think of it a decade and a half later.

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

This is the 2005 Time Warner Paperbacks (UK) paperback edition of “Necessary Evil” that I read.

The novel begins in Iraq in 1990. Several men are being chased through the desert by an unseen foe and eventually find an abandoned town where they think they will be safe. Needless to say, they aren’t. And, after they are killed in various grisly ways, Saddam Hussein shows up with one of his scientists, Dr. Sharafi, to observe the results of this “test”.

Whilst all of this is going on, there are several segments set in London in 2004. A local criminal called Matt Franklin is sitting in a pub with his girlfriend Amy, an aspiring singer, when he realises that he’s got to go off and meet several of his mates. They are planning an armed robbery of an armoured van delivering wages to an army base.

When they put their plan into action some time later, things seem to go fairly well for them until they eventually get the van open and find that it is filled with corpses instead of money. Seconds later, an unseen sniper shoots two of them. Matt and the survivors flee and hole up in a garage. Someone is out to get them. Meanwhile, a detective called D. I. Crane arrives at the crime scene and quickly discovers that this is more than just an ordinary robbery case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a gripping, gritty and fast-paced novel that only Shaun Hutson could have written 🙂 If you like your thrillers to be a bit less “modern Hollywood”, a bit more morally ambiguous and with a bit of a horror flavour to them, then this novel is worth reading. This is also one of those novels from when Hutson gradually started reintroducing elements of the horror genre to his fiction, but it is still slightly more of a thriller than a horror story – not to mention that it was also a fairly “topical” novel at the time it was released too (which is both a good and a bad thing).

Still, being a Hutson novel, I should start by talking about the horror elements. This novel contains a mixture of scientific horror, suspense, claustrophobia, terrorism-based horror, monster horror, cruel/sadistic horror, bleak nihilism and – of course- ultra-gruesome gory horror. Although this novel isn’t exactly frightening, the horror elements really help to add extra suspense and atmosphere to many scenes and Hutson’s famous gruesome descriptions also add a lot of extra impact, grittiness, realism and/or moral ambiguity to many of the novel’s violent moments too.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good 🙂 Although this novel technically fits into the action-thriller genre, this is backed up by expert use of suspense – whether it is various tense and paranoid stand-offs, the scenes where Matt finds himself under threat from an unseen foe, some segments about a mysterious group of terrorists plotting an attack or the moments where Matt is forced into an uneasy alliance with the police, this novel uses suspense really well.

However, some of this suspense is undercut thanks to a few scenes where another group of characters explain some central elements of the story before the main characters discover them. Still, this is compensated for by a few mild political thriller elements featuring a fictional prime minister (who, unlike the actual one at the time, is implied to be more of a conservative), which have a bit of ominous conspiracy thriller atmosphere to them, in addition to a healthy dose of cynical satire.

Of course, there are also some spectacularly cinematic action set-pieces too – including a couple of gripping car chases, a few fight scenes, a military raid and a grippingly fast-paced ending segment that mixes fast-paced action with tense claustrophobia really well (even if the science in the part involving fire extinguishers – emphasis on “extinguishers” – is very shaky). If you’ve read some of Hutson’s thriller novels before, then you’ll probably know what to expect – not only does he have a talent for writing gritty, impactful action sequences but they also include his trademark level of gun geekery and anatomical knowledge too.

As for the atmosphere, this novel is kind of an interesting mixture of a gritty Cockney gangster story, a dark nihilistic horror story and the kind of military/police thrillers that were all the rage in the early-mid 2000s.

This also brings me on to the novel’s historical context. First published two to three years after 9/11 and about a year before the 7/7 attacks (which makes some moments eerily prescient), this novel is very much about the fear of terrorism at the time – and, if you first read it during the mid-2000s (like I did), then it came across as very topical back then. It also examines other issues of the time like the limits of government power (or the lack of limits to it) and the morality of torture too. However, all of this “topical” stuff (and a small amount of “politically incorrect” dialogue etc…) mean that it’ll probably seem a bit dated if you read it for the first time today.

Still, all of this stuff aside, this novel also contains some evocative moments of 1990s and early-mid 2000s nostalgia – such as a poignant scene where Amy sings a few lines from Evanescence’s “My Immortal” or the general atmosphere of some parts of the novel. In addition to this, the novel also takes influence from the “edgier” parts of the 1990s too, such as the very Tarantino-esque scene after the failed robbery or two moments where this novel makes brilliant use of Bill Hicks quotes/references 🙂

In terms of the characters, the main characters are reasonably well-written. Matt has a rather bleak and depressing character arc, where the events of the story turn him into an even more morally ambiguous anti-hero, whose death wish is only tempered by his burning desire for violent revenge. Likewise, although D.I Crane gets slightly less characterisation, the tension between his duty and the practical realities of the case give him some much-needed depth. Not to mention that it is also really cool to see the two of them team up with each other in the later parts of the novel after so much mutual suspicion and criticism.

As for the writing, this novel is modern-style Shaun Hutson 🙂 In other words, like in his crime thrillers from the mid-late 1990s/early 2000s and many of his more recent novels, this one is written in a fast-paced, gritty, “matter of fact” and/or informal way, with the novel still retaining some elements of his classic horror fiction via the use of a more descriptive style during gorier or more dramatic moments. Plus, this novel also contains a few classic Hutsonisms too, such as mention of a scapula bone (which is, of course, shattered), one type of pistol and descriptive words like “mucoid”, “putrescent” etc… 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 Although this novel is a slightly lengthy 468 pages, the writing style and pacing mean that it never feels bloated or over-long. Likewise, the novel contains a really good mixture of suspense, set pieces, emotional drama etc… and multiple plot threads that really help to keep the story compelling. It is also paced much more like a thriller than a horror novel, resulting in a more consistent pace throughout (rather than a slower build-up throughout the story, as you’d expect in a horror novel).

All in all, whilst this novel is a little dated, it is still a really gripping, fast-paced and gritty horror-flavoured thriller novel. Yes, it focuses slightly more on the thriller elements than the horror elements, but both still go together really well and result in a rather compelling and atmospheric novel. Yes, you’ll get the most out of it if you have already read it during the mid-2000s, but it is an interesting look back at this time – not to mention that the underlying story elements are still as dramatic, gripping and/or atmospheric as they were back then.

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

Review: “Ice Station” By Matthew Reilly (Novel)

Well, it’s been about a decade since I last read a Matthew Reilly novel and I was in the mood for something fast-paced, so I thought that I’d take a look at his 1998 thriller novel “Ice Station”.

This was one of two novels in Reilly’s “Scarecrow” series that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. Since I’d enjoyed the first three books in Reilly’s “Jack West Jr” series during the mid-late 2000s/early 2010s (although they were “so bad that they’re good”, they were still gripping enough for me to actually get a new hardback of “The Five Greatest Warriors” shortly after it was released in the UK), my decision to get these books was a bit of a no-brainer.

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

This is the 2001 Pan Macmillan (Aus) paperback edition of “Ice Station” that I read.

The novel begins with a couple of book/lecture extracts about Antarctica and about a US military officer called Otto Niemeyer who mysteriously disappeared during the 1970s. The story then focuses on an American research base in the Antarctic called Wilkes Station. The scientists in the station have lost contact with a group of divers who have been sent to investigate an anomaly in the ice. When the rescue team surfaces in an ice cavern, they spot what appears to be a spacecraft lodged in the ice. However, they are soon attacked by something.

Back at the base, one of the researchers sends out a distress call detailing everything that has happened. A crack team of US marines, led by Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, happen to be on the nearest ship and are dispatched to the base. However, the distress call had been sent out on an open broadcast. A broadcast that has been picked up by several other countries who are also interested in the spacecraft below the ice and are prepared to kill for it…

One of the first things that I will say about “Ice Station” is that it is a much better book than I’d expected 🙂 It’s a gloriously gripping, breathlessly fast-paced, gleefully over-the-top, brilliantly spectacular and just generally fun thriller novel that reminded me a little bit of a cross between Clive Cussler’s nautical thrillers, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” or “Aliens” novels (albeit without the zombies/aliens) and maybe Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”:) Seriously, if you enjoy gloriously over-the-top thriller novels, then this one is well worth reading.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. This novel contains a brilliantly compelling mixture of suspense, mystery, plot twists, paranoia and the kind of ludicrously spectacular action set-pieces that only the highest-budget of blockbuster films could even dream about. The vast bulk of the novel focuses on Schofield having to hold the base against French and British special forces, with numerous time limits, harsh weather conditions, perilous situations, a murder mystery or two, the possibility of a traitor within his team and certain death looming around every corner.

This novel marries suspense and action absolutely perfectly, with each balancing the other out and ensuring that neither gets monotonous. In general, the novel will place the characters in a series of incredibly dangerous situations that they have to survive in various inventive, clever and/or action-packed ways. This cycle between suspense and action works pretty much every time and never really gets old. Not only that, the novel also makes good use of mini-cliffhangers and even a couple of sub-plots to keep things even more compelling 🙂

And, yes, although some of the novel’s set-pieces are highly-contrived “action movie” style scenes that also contain some obvious sci-fi technology (presented as “realistic” secret military equipment, weapons etc..) and some creatively silly bending of the laws of physics, this doesn’t actually matter thanks to the fact that not only does everything have an explanation that usually makes sense but also because of the sheer scale and drama of these scenes. This novel is the best type of thriller novel in that almost every perilous situation is actually a suspenseful timed puzzle that has to be solved through the use of thought, cunning and/or clever tactics rather than just mindless violence.

But, this isn’t to say that this is a pacifist novel. In fact, one of the interesting things about this novel is how much inspiration it takes from the horror genre 🙂 In addition to some chilling moments of suspense, cruelty, nature-based horror and character-based horror, this novel is almost as splatteriffically gruesome as a good 1980s horror novel too. Although the novel’s gory moments are a little quicker and less detailed than in a splatterpunk novel, they lend the action scenes a level of impact, grittiness and weight that you don’t usually see in more sanitised mainstream action-thriller novels.

In terms of the characters, whilst you certainly shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough here to make you care about the characters – with Schofield coming across an expert marine and badass action hero without being that much of a two-dimensional character. His team all have distinctive personalities, the civilians come across as reasonably realistic people and the villains are all suitably evil, formidable and/or chilling too 🙂 Plus, although it was a bit weird to see a thriller novel where the SAS were actually the villains, they’re presented in a suitably competent and fearsome way that makes them a worthy adversary for the main characters.

As for the writing, it’s better than I’d expected 🙂 For the most part, this novel uses the kind of slightly informal and occasionally technical “matter of fact” third-person narration that you’d expect from a fast-paced and highly-readable thriller novel. And, although there are a couple of signature Reilly flourishes (such as about four occasions where he uses a mid-sentence line break for “dramatic effect”), the novel comes across as being much more well-written than what I remember of his “Jack West Jr” novels. The closest comparison I can make is probably the writing style used in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” and “Aliens” novels, yet the writing style still feels very much like Reilly’s.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Yes, it’s a hefty 611 pages in length, but you’ll probably blaze through this in the time it’ll take you to read a non-thriller novel a third the length. I’ve already mentioned how this novel mixes suspense and action perfectly, and this cycle continues throughout the novel. This is one of those books that never gets boring and which pretty much demands that you read more pages than you’d planned to read 🙂

In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged excellently. Seriously, if it wasn’t for a brief mention of a VCR and some vaguely “X-Files” influenced conspiracy theory stuff, you’d be hard-pressed to work out that this novel was from 1998 (rather than 2008 or 2018) if you didn’t look at the publication date.

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a slightly over-the-top, wonderfully silly and very gripping thriller novel to relax with, then this one is well worth taking a look at. It also mixes suspense, mystery and action absolutely brilliantly, whilst also including a few well-placed horror genre elements too 🙂

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

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.