Category Archives: Thrillers

Book Review: Heresy by S.J. Parris

Cityread starts next month and you may already know that Prophesy by S.J. Parris has been chosen as this year’s title.  Hope you are planning to read it next month!  It is part of a series so I thought I would take a look at the first book in the series in preparation (Prophesy is number two in the series).

Heresy

The sequence starts with Heresy, the first of five novels (so far) set in the late sixteenth century and following the story of Giordano Bruno, former monk turned travelling academic and part time sleuth!  Giordano Bruno was a real person and although all the novels are works of fiction they are littered with real characters and events.

The novel begins in Bruno’s youth as a monk in Italy and gives us a nice background into his character and situation.  Expelled from his monastery for reading banned books he has to go on the run and is then later excommunicated for his own controversial writings – making his existence even more perilous.

giordano-bruno

Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno

Despite his fugitive status he does find favour with some powerful people due to the brilliance of his philosophy and scientific ideas.  While this is a time of religious extremism and control it is also a time when learning and new ideas were embraced – these contradictions feature throughout the novels reflecting the confusing times he was living in.  After an exciting life on the run, including time spent working for the King of France, Bruno travels to England to a debate at Oxford University he is also hoping to locate a rare book he is eager to read – this is where the meat of this particular story begins.

Before travelling to Oxford Bruno is asked by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, to keep an eye out for Catholic Heretics while in Oxford.  Bruno admires Walsingham and also needs the money offered for the task!  He accepts with some reservations.

So you can see he’s in a bit of a pickle before he even begins!  He’s hated by some in Protestant England because of his Catholic background.  Hated by others because he has been excommunicated.  People tend not to trust him because he’s a foreigner.  He is eager to impress in a prestigious academic debate even though he doesn’t know the English debating style.  He wants to find a book, but can’t ask openly about it as it concerns elements of sorcery and could see him accused of witchcraft.  He has been told to look out for Catholics and report them to the authorities but his own instinct is for religious tolerance.  As soon as he arrives in Oxford he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and clever daughter of the University Rector – and she is very much out of bounds to a foreign former Catholic!

There is enough here for an exciting novel already…but then there is a grisly murder!

I won’t go into too much detail about the crime as this is basically a plot driven whodunit and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

I do definitely think it is worth a read.  The novel really immerses you in this fascinating era and the plot is pacey and exciting.  I suppose my only criticism is that, now I have also read Prophesy, the second novel is considerably better!  But this is a good sign as it hopefully means the series will develop and improve as it goes on.  In Hersey, while the ideas and feelings of the era seem well described, I often found it difficult to imagine the physical surroundings as S.J. Parris describes them (whereas in Prophesy the setting of Elizabethan London is extremely vivid).

3.5/5

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Brent Libraries, Cityread London, Heresy, history books, Libraries, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Russian Roulette, Anthony Horowitz

If you happened to have read the Alex Rider series, you’ll absolutely love this one. It’s a spinoff of that bestselling series, following the dangerous Russian assassin Yassen Gregorovich. It’s basically the fictive biography of a killer.

anthony horowitz

Anthony Horowitz

 

The book starts in the 3rd person, following this strange man checking into his hotel room. The author describes his ultra-careful thoughts and his precision. Before long we are told that he sits down to read his diary. That’s when we embark on an epic adventure.

His story starts in a very small village in Russia, home to the people working in the factory. Little Yassen lived with his parents and his grandmother. His best friend was a boy called Leo. But this book is all about twists and surprises, and the first one would change his life forever. A disaster strikes and suddenly everyone starts dying including his parents who inform him that he’s immune to the killing gas. Yassen escapes the village but dangerous men would come for him. From then it’s all about survival, whatever it took.

Now I warn you, before you start reading this, it’s not a kid’s book. There’s plenty of deaths and straight-up horror, but it’s an absolutely brilliant read. There are countless twists and turns and in some parts you just won’t believe what you’re reading. I feel the real goal of the book is to show us how a normal kid, living a normal life can somehow turn into a cold-blooded killer. The reader inevitably struggles to keep up.

YassenGregorovich

Yassen Gregorovich in the movie “Stormbreaker”

 

I love this book because Horowitz is so in control of every sense (taste, feeling…). He always keeps you on your toes and even if you read all the Alex Rider books, he still comes up with plenty of surprises. At the end of the book you will feel as though you have been taken on a journey, physically and mentally. But the scary thing, despite all the bad things Yassen did, you come to love this man, and even understand him.

 

Fred

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, James Bond, Modern Fiction, Secret Service, Teen fiction, Thrillers

What are you missing?

So far this year I’ve been reading lots of books, fiction and non-fiction, about missing people. That is, about people who go missing, and the people who miss them. Mostly the cause is abduction. I have a fairly good idea about why I chose these, though I can verify that it hasn’t been a purely conscious choice, I just, as is usual for me, went by books that caught my mind. Since this is Mental Health Awareness Week, the topic is very pertinent. As others who also have mental health that can be fragile will likely verify, at the peak of most severe illness, one’s very self feels to go missing. The theme of MHAW this year is Relationships, so a poignant and raw topic all round. When your self/mind/psyche/being feels to be AWOL, how on earth do you maintain the relationships you have, never mind cultivate new ones – having a relationship with your own self at those times can be even too much to bear. But it has to be done to survive, and such is the work of psychotherapy – and reading carefully chosen [whether by the conscious or subconscious mind!] books can indeed be part of this.

“What is this thing that happens? When disaster strikes and women come, with their cakes and their bandages, with their cups of tea and their soothing fingers. It’s the complicity of the birthing chamber, the laying out of the dead. They pick the bits of tragedy up off the floor and try to knit them together in some shape, the way I’d felt I could knit Carmel back to life. Not the way they were before, something lumpy and misshapen – but so there’s a whole again.”

The girl in the red coat by Kate Hamer

the-girl-in-the-red-coat-kate-hamerA few days ago I finished reading The girl in the red coat. It’s a seemingly understated book about loss. A mother loses her daughter, the daughter loses herself, the mother has lost her husband, the couple who abduct the daughter lose their way. Does the mother find her daughter? Does the daughter find herself? It is a novel about hidden powers, and the energy of love, betrayal and connection. It is rather a profound novel, and the quote above spoke to me deeply. It is highly resonant of a fairy tale, and if you’ve ever read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes you are likely to be moved by this book.

TAsylumWhat happens when ideas of safety, freedom, longing, sanity and damage collide? The Asylum, a strong thriller by Johan Theorin attempts to address these conflicts in a labyrinth of twists and turns. The protagonist, Jan, is missing someone from his troubled childhood. He is a staff member of a nursery attached to a secure psychiatric hospital, where children of the patients receive care. This, in a different way, is also about relationships and grief.DeepShelter

Right now I’m coming to the end of Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris. It’s set in London, which for me is always a win for bringing things close to home – psychologically speaking that is. It reminds me, in a way, of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Here we enter the literal underworld, a parallel world of fear and power beneath our very feet, our very heart. When we search for love and human connection, power can stand in its way, and ideas of freedom and responsibility seep in, too. There’s a deeper theme of loss in there as well, and but I will leave that to you to discover.

The damage that can ensue from someone going missing, whether physically or psychically – or both, transcends time and rationality. It threads into not only our relationship with those around us, but with the very self. It is a common theme in literature, as in life. Authors tackle it with depth and sensitivity. We see the scars on the psyche in glittering sore technicolour. Yet, it seems terribly hard for many people to actually talk about these kinds of themes with their nearest and dearest. That profound distress, that is often seen clinically as a ‘Mental Health Condition’, attracts such stigma in society, still. Many cases of such illness, however, and I count myself in this, are a result of the trauma of loss on all kinds of levels. The mind can break down under such despair and loneliness.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, therefore, perhaps take some time to ponder those times when you have experienced a sense of loss of self and/or loss of another, and open your heart to that and to the world.

Katie

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, mental health, Mental Health Awareness Week, Missing people, Modern Fiction, Mystery, reading, Thrillers

Book Review: Maze Runner by James Dashner

The_Maze_Runner_cover

The author is James Dashner it part of a trilogy. The book is narrated by Thomas and starts of with teens being trapped in a maze for two years and have their memories wiped and all they remember is their names.  Then Thomas arrives and on the same day so does Teresa the first girl to ever arrive in the maze. She some how triggers the ending. If you choose to read the book you will know what that means.

I’m currently reading the Scorch Trial the second book in the trilogy. The books don’t take very long to read but are full of action. I definitely recommend this book especially if you enjoyed reading the Hunger Games. They’re pretty much the same genre.

I will give this book a 3/5.

Umaimma

The_Scorch_Trials_cover

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, James Dashner, Modern Fiction, Teen fiction, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, Thrillers

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I know this book has already been reviewed on this blog by my colleague but I enjoyed this book so much that I wanted to add my review too!

gone-girl-book-cover-med

This is the story of married couple Nick and Amy Dunne.  On their fifth wedding anniversary Nick comes home to find his front door wide open, furniture overturned as if there has been a violent struggle and his wife gone.  The book then gives us alternate chapters of Nick dealing with the fallout of his wife’s disappearance and extracts from Amy’s diary telling the story of their relationship from their meeting  up to the time of her apparent kidnap and probable murder.  Neither the reader nor the characters know what really happened to Amy so we all get to engage in a captivating guessing game as well as finding out about the dysfunctional relationship of two very flawed characters.

The initial chapters I struggled with a little, I disliked the characters and found a lot of the regular pop references unfamiliar partly because it’s an American book and partly because I’ve just never been very clued up on popular culture now or as a child!  But as I read on the negatives became positives and I found myself gripped by the story and enjoying the writing style.  I think it’s a real tribute to Flynn that she has managed to write such a compelling book where pretty much all the characters are various degrees of repellent! Usually I find it hard to get into a story when you are unable to root for any of the characters, these characters are all rotters; Amy, Nick, their families, their friends, the police investigating the case, the lawyers who get involved and the media reporting on the case – by no means are they all evil but none of them are remotely likeable or admirable in their behaviour.  I guess the ‘character’ you are rooting for is the story itself – you just have to see it played out.  For once I agree with the opinions on the book cover, this book really was ‘addictive’, I read it in a weekend which is very unusual for me as I tend to be a slow reader.

gone girl scene

Scene from the movie. Amy’s husband and parents use the media to plead for Amy’s return…but are they as innocent as they seem?

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the setting.  After I had got over the unfamiliarity the alien-ness became an asset.  It is primarily set in a mid-American town that is really suffering in the economic recession; it’s a background of boarded up shops, layoffs, struggles and broken dreams – a setting very fitting and very real.

The first part of the book focuses on the past of their relationship and immediate aftermath of the disappearance.  Then it shifts to a sort of PR battle between various characters but primarily focusing on Nick.  First he is the pitiable ‘widower’, then the prime suspect, next the terrible husband, then pitied again as the wrongly accused and back to prime suspect.  These shifts are not entirely based on evidence found but also the media’s changing angle on the story which swings this way and that.  It is an interesting analysis of how the media judges those involved in crime and makes decisions about who is the victim and who the villain – there are many examples of this process in real life news stories.

set_gone_girl

The happy couple? The state of the couple’s marriage comes under the media spotlight when Amy goes missing.

The third section of the book is a sort of conclusion, dealing with the aftermath of events.  This is the part of the book I enjoyed the least.  It’s not bad but I often find with mysteries and thrillers that the questions (what happened? who’s guilty? will the police work it out? etc.) are actually more interesting than the answers!

I highly recommend this book and if you haven’t read it yet or seen the film I think you should pick up a copy today.  If you haven’t managed to avoid plot spoilers, and it’s tricky as it has been widely discussed and reviewed, I still recommend you read it as it is a well crafted tale that offers enjoyment beyond the twists, turns and surprises.

4.5/5

Zoe

6 Comments

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

This is a very good book but the plot took a direction midway through that I really wasn’t keen on.

The book set a little after the first world war and is about a well to do mother and daughter (Frances) who have fallen on financial hard times so decide to take in lodgers – The Paying Guests.  A young couple, Lilian and Leonard, move in and the first half of the novel is about this slightly uneasy living arrangement.

PayingGuest

I found this first half of the novel utterly sublime, there is so much in there even though relatively little happens.  It’s riddled with tension around class, sexuality, the role of women, the generation divide.  The living arrangements form a fascinating dynamic, the mother and daughter are from upper society but now have no money, Lilian and Leonard are from working class backgrounds but Leonard has found a good job in insurance so have much more cash and better prospects than their well to do landlords, so where does the power lie?  Frances’ mother is old fashioned and is very embarrassed by her daughter doing housework, but they can’t afford servants any more so what choice do they have?  Frances, a formed suffragette, longs to embrace the new opportunities for independence that are becoming available to women but feels morally obliged to keep house for her mother, especially as her mother is still grief stricken by the lost of her two sons in the trenches.  There is tension between the young couple, they married partly because Lilian was pregnant but the baby died leaving them tied to each other with neither entirely happy in their marriage.  Like I say, there is so much going on and all of it subtly played out through little moments; an awkward conversation in the scullery, a passing on the stairs, an overheard hushed argument in the parlour.

The novel changes around the midway point.  Things become much more melodramatic and the subtlety is all lost.  I personally did not enjoy this change, the novel doesn’t become bad but I would have preferred it to continue as a story of human relationships amid massive social changes not a story of passion and violence.  I won’t go into detail of what happens as you may wish to find out for yourself, and I would still recommend this novel even though I found it somewhat disappointing.

4/5

Zoe

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Historical novel, LGBT, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Sarah Waters, Thrillers

Book Review: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks.

DevilMayCareThis book was not good and the experience was made worse because the book wasn’t without merit – does that make sense?

Basically this is a James Bond novel with Sebastian Faulks trying to write in the style of Ian Fleming.  He doesn’t entirely fail.  It’s as if he has visited the Ian Fleming style market stall and picked up all the right ingredients to make the perfect Bond novel but when he gets home to his kitchen it all goes wrong – he puts things in the wrong order in the wrong amounts and the resulting meal is a complete mess with parts of it undercooked and other bits burnt to a crisp and the flavours that should be subtle overpowering and the flavours that should be strong barely there at all.

The thing he does well throughout I think is that he successful captures the voice and character of James Bond, albeit a rather tired muted Bond – but it is still the Bond I know and love from the novels.  It’s just that this genuine Bond is then plonked in a mucky world that is not Fleming’s world.  Another thing Faulks does quite well is the action sequences, there are some truly thrilling moments (in fact a surfeit of them!)

The real Ian Fleming - Bond lovers are better off sticking to the real thing.

The real Ian Fleming – Bond lovers are better off sticking to the real thing.

I think what he really lacks is Fleming’s lightness of touch.  When Fleming goes into minute detail it builds tension and helps the reader imagine the scene – when Faulks does it’s tedious and boring.  When Fleming writes a sordid or horrible scene it makes you gasp, it’s so unexpected and shocking – when Faulks writes a scene of torture or sex you think ‘oh no not another one’ and start to feel quite sick!  Perhaps the problem is that an author is never going to write well if they are trying to imitate someone else, they will only ever be a poor copy.

I was so disappointed with this book I don’t feel inclined to analyse it further or go into details about the plot.  What I want to do it forget I ever picked it up!  I would basically say if you’re familiar with the Bond novels don’t read this it’s a poor imitation and if you fancy returning to Bond’s world just reread some Fleming, if you don’t know the Bond novels don’t read this it’s rubbish – pick up an original Bond novel instead!

1/5

Zoe

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review, books, James Bond, Modern Fiction, Thrillers