The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

Century | 2017 (ebook 6 October; Hb 28 December) | 356p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Innocent Wife by Amy LloydDennis Danson has been on Death Row for over twenty years for the murder of the child Holly Michaels. Her mutilated body was found dumped in a swamp ten miles from her home in Red River County, Florida. Danson was himself just a teen at the time and the evidence was, to say the least, nebulous and so, with his movie star looks and charm, he has become the favourite of true crime documentary makers as well as fans who campaign for his release. When Mark shows his girlfriend Samantha, a school teacher in England, a documentary about Dennis Danson she becomes hooked on the man and on his case and soon she is lost in the online message boards and forums of his campaigners. She writes to him, he writes back. Samantha leaves her life in England behind to meet and then marry this convicted murderer.

And then the campaign succeeds. Dennis is released and now Samantha must make a life with a husband she barely knows. She has so much to learn…

The Innocent Wife has a fantastic premise and draws on that curious phenomenon of the lonely women who fall for men convicted of the worst of crimes. While the safety glass remains between the couple all is well, everything is managed and controlled, but when it is withdrawn and the convict is freed, suddenly trust becomes an issue. For them both, because we have much to learn about the motivations of Samantha as well as Dennis.

This is a dark psychological thriller that grips instantly and I read it all in half a day. It kept me up until well into the night because I simply had to know what was going to happen. Amy Lloyd expertly builds up the suspense and tension as Samantha learns more and more about the man that she has fallen in love with but hardly knows. And vice versa as well. Danson not only has to deal with freedom and life outside a prison for the first time in his adult life, he must also cope with the demands of a hungry media as well as living with Samantha. This raises all sorts of questions about what it is that makes couples compatible, the need for compromise and tolerance, and it is absolutely fascinating watching strangers marry. It’s the little things that often cause the arguments. But for Danson and Samantha there is so much more to contend with. It makes for a compelling read.

Samantha is ridiculously naive and compulsive and not at all easy to like. We see much of the story through her perspective and it does little to win us over to her, while it keeps Danson as an enigmatic and handsome stranger hidden in the shadows. But I did realise that these flaws in Samantha’s character are part of the point. She is lonely and isolated. She is susceptible and obsessive. And that’s why she flies across the ocean to Danson. But I didn’t care for her or Danson, although Danson’s predicament at times appears pitiable. The reader is an observer, detached yet incredulous of what we witness.

I did predict much of the plot. Some of the clues were a little too obvious and parts (particularly the beginning and the end) felt too rushed – all contributing to the rollercoaster pace of the novel – but that didn’t stop me gobbling it up. The speed did mean that this isn’t a book to dwell upon but for a holiday read An Innocent Wife did very well indeed.

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Inquisition by David Gibbins

Headline | 2017 (28 December) | 355p | Review copy | Buy the book

Inquisition by David GibbinsIt is 258 AD and the Emperor Valerian has turned on Rome’s Christians, slaughtering them and their pope in the most imaginatively cruel ways, as entertainment for the masses. A Christian legionary runs into the fire-drenched catacombs beneath the city to retrieve his faith’s most sacred object, the Holy Grail, to save it for the future. In 1684 the famous diarist Samuel Pepys is in Tangier to oversee the handing over of Charles II’s defeated colony to the Moors. A mysterious object concealed within an ancient leather saddlebag becomes part of the negotiations. Pepys’ aim is to send it away to safety in the Caribbean, far from the attention of kings and emperors, but something terrible stands in the way – the Altamanus, a merciless element within the Inquisition, and they never lose sight of their target.

In the present day, marine archaeologist and explorer Jack Howard is diving off the Cornish coast on the wreck of a ship that he is able to identify as one of those that Pepys despatched from Tangier. It presents a tantalising glimpse into a mystery ready to be solved and it sends Jack and his diving partner Costas, as well as his daughter Rebecca, on a trail of clues that will lead them across many miles of stormy ocean seas. But every step Jack takes is one dogged by the evil that is the Altamanus and the Inquisition.

If you’re a fan of archaeological adventure then you are in for a treat with David Gibbins’ Jack Howard series. It is unbeatable. I hesitate to call the books thrillers because, although they do contain action, fights, chases and spilt blood, they go deeper than that into the history behind the mystery and their archaeological context is sound. Gibbins is a marine archaeologist himself and it shows on almost every page. These books are full of exhilarating diving sequences, infused with the excitement of discovering historical artefacts as well as the thrill of exploring this dangerous yet beautiful environment. You can learn something while reading these books, as well as being thoroughly entertained and I love them. As soon as Inquisition arrived, I read it.

Inquisition is the tenth book in the series and I don’t think it matters at all if you read this on its own. I love Jack and Costas very much so there’s definitely much to be gained from reading all of the books but I don’t think it would matter too much in which order you read them (with the exception of Pharaoh and Pyramid, which are a pair – and outstanding).

David Gibbins tells a great story and at its heart is the Inquisition, particularly in 17th-century Portugal. While most of the novel takes place during the present day, there is a significant chunk that transports us to Tangier and to Portugal. We witness the tension of the British evacuation of Tangier through the brilliantly-realised figure of Samuel Pepys – most definitely a man with one eye on his posterity (and the other well fixed on alcohol and women). I did enjoy Pepys. David Gibbins is so good at evoking the past. But the section set in Portugal during the Inquisition is far darker and deeply disturbing.

Inquisition is a shorter novel than usual and Costas has far less of a role than normal. While I would have liked much more (of pages and Costas), the focus is very much on the Inquisition and the shipwrecks that evoke so powerfully this bygone era. The mystery is almost secondary to the history and archaeology and that is something I’ve always appreciated in these novels. I love the author’s attention to the details of marine archaeology. You feel like you’re there beneath the waves with Jack and Costas and that anything could be found amongst the rotting timbers of a forgotten wreck. But in this book in particular there is great trauma – the Inquisition that gives the novel its name – and its telling is extremely moving. I will never be able to get enough of David Gibbins’ novels.

Other reviews
The Gods of Atlantis (Jack Howard 6)
Pharaoh (Jack Howard 7)
Pyramid (Jack Howard 8)
Testament (Jack Howard 9)
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage
The Sword of Attila: Rome Total War II

The Fear Within by J.S. Law

Headline | 2017 (30 November) | 419p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Fear Within by JS LawNatasha Moore, only just 18 years old, has vanished without trace from HMS Defiance, the warship on which she serves. The ship was due to be in port for some time, with most of the crew enjoying the leave due to them, and so it took a while for Natasha’s absence to be noted. Naval investigator Lieutenant Danielle (Dani) Lewis is given the case. Dani is the Navy’s star investigator. The media love her and it’s not surprising considering the times that Dani puts her own life in danger to rescue the vulnerable. But it’s won Dani no favours with her bosses and, as ever, Dani must work to prove herself.

The case takes Dani deep into the ship politics of the Defiance. She is better aware than most of the nature of navy life, its maleness, the bullying, the long absences and the discomfort of the cramped living conditions and the isolation it brings. But the navy is in Dani’s blood. As she investigates Natasha’s disappearance, further clues emerge about the conspiracy that Dani unearthed during her previous case aboard the submarine Tenacity. The past daunts Dani. She must resolve it. But all the time she must keen an eye on the young woman that the navy almost forgot, Natasha Moore.

The Fear Within is the second novel in J.S. law’s series to feature naval investigator Dani Lewis. Things have moved on from Tenacity, now renamed The Dark Beneath just as Dan has now become Dani. The Fear Within is a tighter thriller, the case more complex, and Dani strides through it with the perfect mix of confidence and vulnerability. She might be far too headstrong on occasion, rushing in to situations when she should know better, but she is also so easy to like. This navy society is extremely rigid but Dani manages to cross its boundaries, bridging worlds and ranks. And in The Fear Within, Dani is at her very best. If you haven’t read The Dark Beneath yet and intend to then I certainly suggest you read that first (this second book does reveal some important details of the first).

The structure works very well, moving between Dani’s investigations onshore and aboard Defiance and the past story of Natasha during the months and weeks leading up to her disappearance. But there are more stories at play here which take Dani even deeper into her past. This movement and the layers that bring these cases together make this novel such a fascinating and absorbing novel. I enjoy the mix of new mystery combined with an older one that hangs over events like a shadow. Natasha is also a powerful presence and her story is the one that dominates.

It is, though, a disturbing novel. Navy life is shown here at its most unappealing, not least for the isolation of its young sailors, especially the female ones. I was troubled by it and found some aspects of the tale challenging to read. But I love how the author brings to his writing his experience of navy life. The prose is full of nautical terms. It feels very authentic. And the setting of the ship is fantastic. It doesn’t have the claustrophobia of the submarine Tenacity in The Dark Beneath, and most of it is set on a ship that’s docked and not at sea, but it’s nevertheless extremely atmospheric.

The Fear Within is a gripping and moody crime thriller with an unusual setting. This series certainly brings something original to the genre while also being extremely well-written. Dani is a fascinating main character. There is still so much to learn about her (and her family). I hear another book is on the way. Good news.

Other review
Tenacity/The Dark Beneath

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Orbit | 2017 (16 November) | 486p | Review copy | Buy the book

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantIn 2015 Imagine Entertainment despatched the vessel Atargatis to the Mirana Trench, deep within the Pacific Ocean, to film a ‘mocumentary’. Its subject would be the sea’s most celebrated of legendary creatures. But not a soul would survive the voyage. The ship was found a few weeks later with nobody aboard. Recovered cameras, though, hint at something terrible but some people refuse to believe what they show, calling it a hoax. But the families of the lost need answers. Now, in 2022, a new expedition is about to begin. The Melusine, a luxurious and state-of-the-art science vessel is to return to the Mirana Trench, again sent by Imagine, and this time it is after answers about the fate of those aboard Atargatis as well as the truth concerning these creatures of myth.

The Melusine sails with a team of scientists and filmmakers who have no idea what they’ll find, but among them is marine scientist Tory, whose sister filmed those infamous shots aboard Atargatis. She isn’t alone in feeling driven to confront her fears. But surely they will be safe aboard the Melusine. Its shutters can protect the ship against anything the sea can throw at it. Can’t they?

Into the Drowning Deep is the type of book I love very much if done well – terror at sea, horror in the depths, the uncertainty of survival, with some thoroughly entertaining science thrown into the mix. And I’m delighted to say that I think Mira Grant has succeeded in her aims. This is a meaty book, for want of a better expression. It’s substantial in length, it’s packed with characters each with their own goals, their relationships complex, and the tension builds as the characters are hunted across the ship.

We’re taken deep into disaster territory with a decent amount of horror thrown in. But the stars of this book aren’t the people – although there were a handful of people that I liked very much indeed and spent a lot of time worrying for – it’s the creatures we’re forewarned about from the very beginning. There can be little more appealing in a novel about the secrets depths of the Mirano Trench than these enigmatic beings and they do not disappoint – the descriptions are fantastic. But there’s so much more to it. There are lots of surprises and shocks. And so much blood. I spent a fair amount of time while reading this novel shuddering. I love that!

There are a couple of predictable characters and sometimes you can look ahead and sense what will happen, but on the whole I was thoroughly satisfied with the way that the novel progresses. It’s the first of a series and so there is room for further development at the end but on the whole I think Into the Drowning Deep stands on its own very well. I really liked the detail in the plotting and most of the characterisation. We’re eased into the horror gradually but the foreboding builds from the very start while we’re also given intriguing bits of sciencespeak. The tension is maintained throughout and the action is thrilling. In some ways, Into the Drowning Deep reminded me of Michael Crichton’s novels. How I love technothrillers.

I’ve previously read Mira Grant’s horror thriller Parasite and, while I enjoyed that, I enjoyed Into the Drowning Deep much more. This book is one of those which I actually felt could have been written for me. I love horror set within the claustrophobic confines of a ship at sea but I also have a thing about mythical sea creatures and have read a fair few novels about them over the years. None of it though was anything like this! I lapped it up and I’m looking forward to book 2 very much indeed.

Other review
Parasite

The Demon Crown by James Rollins

William Morrow | 2017 (5 December) | 624p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Demon Crown by James RollinsWhen a team of scientists lands on an island off the coast of Brazil they discover a scene of horror. But only one of the scientists, Professor Ken Matsui, a specialist in venomous animals, will leave the island alive. Weeks later, a plane is seen crashing out of the skies on the Hawaii island of Maui. But before it’s destroyed, two people watch the plane release a black cloud. Gray and Seichan, members of the elite and secretive American agency Sigma, are most definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time and they must run for their lives. As news of the attack spreads to the Sigma headquarters in Washington DC, a trail is discovered that leads back through history to the tunnels hidden underneath the National Mall, the capital of America.

And so begins the thirteenth Sigma novel. Few people write thrillers with the skill and pace of James Rollins, a true master of the genre whose books I have read for many years, and each new addition to the series is to be longed for. I have no hesitation in calling The Demon Crown my favourite of the Sigma novels. It has the most fantastic premise – it’s scientifically and historically fascinating (how I love books that combine history, thrills and science) and it never lets up its pace. This is a thoroughly exciting novel.

The Demon Crown moves backwards and forwards between Hawaii and other stunning parts of the world. I’m going to say nothing about them – as you should come into this book not knowing where it will take you – but Rollins brings these incredible places to life, describing them vividly. I really enjoyed the Hawaii setting but I loved the other places we’re taken to just as much.

I love these Sigma characters – Painter, Gray, Seichan, Monk, Kat and the inimitable Kowalski. After all these years their relationships have grown complicated and this makes them even more of a joy to spend time with. Not that I’d want to spend time with them in reality – I don’t think my chances of survival would be high… If you’ve read all of the novels then you’d have more of an idea of how their individual stories have developed over the years, but that isn’t necessary to enjoy The Demon Crown. It’s a self-contained novel and it grips like a vice. What some of these characters must endure in this novel is utterly and spellbindingly horrible.

Thrillers don’t get much more exciting than The Demon Crown. I had my issues with the previous novel in the series, The Seventh Plague, which felt a little formulaic, but I had no such problem with The Demon Crown. My difficulty here is that I don’t want to tell you anything about it! I can only assure you that it marks a clear return to form and, if you enjoy scientific historical action thrillers half as much as I do, then you are in for a treat!

Other reviews
The Devil Colony
Bloodline
The Eye of God
The Bone Labyrinth
The Seventh Plague
With Grant Blackwood – War Hawk
With Rebecca Cantrell – The Blood Gospel (The Order of the Sanguines 1)
With Rebecca Cantrell – Innocent Blood (The Order of the Sanguines 2)
With Rebecca Cantrell – Blood Infernal (The Order of the Sanguines 3)

The Mountain by Luc D’Andrea

MacLehose Press | English edn: 2017 (30 November) | 398p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Mountain by Luc D'AndreaJeremiah Salinger will never forget 15 September. There was a crash, people died, and he will never stop blaming himself. It had all seemed like a good idea at the time – that Salinger (his mother is one of the few people to call him Jeremiah), his wife Annelise and their little daughter Clara would take a break from New York and return to live for a while in the village of Siebenhoch, high in the Italian mountains, where Annelise was born and her father, Clara’s doting grandfather Werner, still lives. But Salinger is a filmmaker, he is driven to tell stories and, not for the first time, it’s going to get him into trouble.

The events of 15 September leave Salinger traumatised, in need of giving his life new focus, to find new questions to answer. By chance he learns of the savage murder of three students in the nearby Bletterbach gorge in 1985, an atrocity that continues to haunt Siebenhoch. This new challenge will give Salinger the spark he needs to reignite his life but with it comes great risk. This is not a community that welcomes questions.

The Mountain is, with no doubt at all, one of the most engrossing and compelling novels that I’ve read in a long time. It is steeped in atmosphere, increasingly intense, with a geographical setting that surrounds the story from start to finish in spectacular scenery and the harshest weather of winter. It’s a novel of ice and snow, cold and frost – and this describes many of the villagers, not just the weather they endure for so many months of the year. Siebenhoch is located where the borders of several Alpine countries meet and this has led to countless years of ethnic conflict and war. The area might be at peace now but its distrust of foreigners and visitors remains. It’s hard to get to know these people and, even though Annalise belongs, Salinger most definitely does not. But how he tries.

The novel is narrated by Salinger. He takes us inside his thoughts, into his trauma as well as deep into his heart that belongs wholly to Annelise and the utterly adorable Clara. This little girl is enchanting and brings something extra special to these pages. The whole family unit is vital to the novel, struggling as it is to help Salinger recover from what happened to him. At times this is agonising. We want to shake Salinger, to wake him up. But he is caught in a nightmare. He is self-aware and at times there is humour but he is a man obsessed.

The story at the heart of The Mountain is fantastic. There are elements of thriller, crime fiction and horror here, all glimpsed through Salinger’s troubled mind, but the murders he is investigating are most horribly real. The tension builds, in the story and inside Salinger’s head. And meanwhile the snow falls and the cold wind blows and the darkness descends.

We’re trapped inside a small village, the weather has closed in, the mountains overshadow everything. This is perfect for an atmospheric thriller. But at the heart of The Mountain is the village of Siebenhoch and the people who live there. Luc D’Andrea brings them to life. Salinger is a complex, troubled and loving man and he is portrayed beautifully. Although my heart belongs to Clara.

The intensity of the novel kept me at bay for a few chapters but I soon made the decision to commit and when I did I was rewarded with a fascinating tale that kept me up late at night reading, immersed fully in this wondrous, lethal landscape where the very worst can happen and does. Howard Curtis is to be congratulated for his fine translation from the Italian. Nothing at all, I would suspect, has been lost. The Mountain is a rich, disturbing and multi-layered thriller, the kind you can very easily lose yourself in, just as I did. Just wrap up warm – this is a thriller that chills.

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Orbit | 2017 (7 December) | 549p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Expanse is, with no doubt at all, my favourite current science fiction series. I’m not talking about the TV series but the books. I love them. I have been known to hug them. For years now they’ve been going straight to the top of my reading pile and Persepolis Rising, the seventh, was no different. I daresay you could read Persepolis Rising as a standalone if you really wanted to but you’d miss out on so much. Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex, Bobbie…. I love these people. This review assumes you do too.

About thirty years have passed since the events of Babylon’s Ashes. The solar system and the hundreds of colonies on the other side of alien ring gates are enjoying an uneasy but much welcomed peace. Survival on the colonies isn’t easy. Many are just one supply vessel away from collapse. Controlling traffic through the gates is key. And so these days the business of government isn’t done by presidents and politicians as much as it is by trade companies – the Transport Union to be precise. It’s the job of Holden and his crew aboard the Rocinante to police their laws. But the past is about to come back to haunt them.

The distant colony of Laconia disappeared from the attention of humanity thirty years ago. It has been forgotten. But now it is back, with the power and technology to support its ambition, which is immense. It comes at a bad time for Holden and Naomi. They were hoping to settle down to a peaceful retirement, on some paradise shore with cocktails. But at times of crisis Holden has always been called upon and now is no different. The stakes though are extraordinarily high. Laconia may not be aware what it has unleashed.

Each of the Expanse novels is different – they have moved along the story of the protomolecule and the ring gates in the most original and varied way. Their perspective shifts from the intimate to the universal. Persepolis Rising is equally original. For the first time in the series we have shifted forwards by decades. Holden and his crew have changed and we have to catch up with each of them. And the novel does that wonderfully. As always with these books, chapters shift between characters – not just between the members of the Roci crew but also between the other influential personalities of the novel, including the intriguing Governor Singh from Laconia. We are shown all sides and opinions. But just when we become comfortable with certain characters, we’re given a shock.

But the big strength of this novel, as with the others, is the portrayal of the Roci crew. The authors treat our heroes with great warmth and care. I love the crews aboard the Enterprise, Voyager and Discovery, and I love the crew of the Rocinante every bit as much. And now they’re all that little bit older. This adds something new. Some other well loved characters also make cameo appearances, I’m very pleased to say!

The plot of these novels has come a long way since the outstanding Leviathan Wakes. The plot here is deliciously complex and deep. There are hints of something ominous. The mystery surrounding the creators of the protomolecule and those other aliens who wiped them out builds. Every time I read one of these novels I’m left intensely anticipating the next book in the series. There are answers out there somewhere. The books are so satisfying to read while they also tantalise. I love this intensity as much as I love the worldbuilding, which is fabulous. Much of the action here is set aboard a space station and we’re left in no doubt as to what it’s like to live on it – cramped, smelly, dangerous, isolated, vibrant, exciting. The action sequences are as thrilling as ever.

Persepolis Rising is a superb addition to this fantastic series. It’s an immersive reading experience, particularly for those with any kind of affection for Holden and his crew. I find it incredible that the two authors who combine to make James S.A. Corey can maintain this momentum and originality year after year but they do. Likewise the quality of the writing is always tremendously high. Persepolis Rising is one of the very best of the series. It marks a new beginning in some ways, due to the years that have passed, but it points clearly ahead and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Other reviews
Leviathan Wakes (Expanse 1)
Caliban’s War (Expanse 2)
Cibola Burn (Expanse 4)
Nemesis Games (Expanse 5)
Babylon’s Ashes (Expanse 6)