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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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