Category Archives: Thriller

The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly

Orion | 2018 (8 November) | 445p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Three Secret Cities by Matthew ReillyCaptain Jack West has barely escaped the Games, an ordeal told in The Four Legendary Kingdoms, but there is no time to rest. The Games began a process that cannot be stopped unless Jack completes the next trial within just a few days. If he fails then it is likely that there will be no one left alive to regret it. And so failure is not an option. Jack must gather his team together, including his daughter Lily, the Oracle, to find the Three Secret Cities, three places so famous in mythology and yet now lost to history. But Jack isn’t the only one to seek the cities. Darkness was unleashed at the close of the Games. Great forces with unlimited resources compete for power,for control of the cities, but there’s something else they all have in common: a relentless need in them to kill the man that has thwarted them for decades – Jack West.

The Three Secret Cities is the fifth novel in Matthew Reilly’s Jack West series of thrillers and it follows hot on the heels of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. I don’t think you should read one without reading the other because these books have told a great saga, taking place over many years, and the end is almost in sight. But first Jack West must take on the most formidable enemies who will stop at nothing, will kill anybody, to get what they want – a dead Jack West and world dominion.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms told of a trial, the Games, taking place over a very short period of time, just a day or two, in one location. The Three Secret Cities is very different. This is a thriller that takes place across the globe, over a few days. And the locations are very exotic indeed. The baddies are also worse than ever. There are moments here when I was shocked by the audacity of their crimes! The chapters in London are breathtaking, like the biggest disaster movie, and so exciting!

There are also moments of extreme horror. Matthew Reilly has outdone himself with his descriptions of punishment in the Prison of Erebus – this is the stuff of nightmares. And we’re left in no doubt that not everybody in Jack’s team will survive. The author is known for shocking us in these ways – both in this series and in the Scarecrow books. Talking of Scarecrow, there are further treats here for those, like me, who adore that series. I love how these two series exist in the same world.

This is such a great story! It’s clearly preposterous and you don’t want to think about it all too much, but the book is so cleverly plotted, tying everything together with mythology, both ancient and medieval, and with some of the great archaeological mysteries of the ages. I loved the diagrams that are scattered throughout. They all contribute to the sense of reality and physicality of this world that Matthew Reilly has created with such skill. But above all else, The Three Secret Cities is an immensely thrilling and exciting roller coaster of a ride. I loved every minute of it. When this sort of thriller is done well then I am more than happy to fall under its spell – and Matthew Reilly is a master.

I cannot wait for Jack West to return! Unfortunately we must wait until 2020 for that but, in his afterword, the author mentions that his next book will be a time travel thriller. I cannot wait!

Other reviews
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves
The Tournament
The Great Zoo of China
The Four Legendary Kingdoms (Jack West 4)

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Target by James Patterson

Century | 2018 (15 November) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

Target by James PattersonWhen the funeral cortege of the President of the United States processes through the streets of Washington DC one freezing late January morning, psychologist Alex Cross is there to watch. With Alex is his entire family, including his wife Bree Stone, DC Metro’s chief of detectives. It’s a sombre day but America’s mourning is about to be cut short, just a few days later, by a sniper’s bullet which strikes at the heart of the country’s government. Alex is called in to help the FBI with their investigation and he begins to suspect that the assassination was not a one-off, that it is just the beginning of something much, much larger, that could threaten everything. Alex Cross has faced some tough cases in his time, to put it mildly, but nothing like this.

Target is the 26th novel in what is perhaps James Patterson’s most famous series, the one featuring Alex Cross. I’ve dipped in and out of this series over the years but I think you could very easily read Target without any previous knowledge of these books at all. There are links to earlier novels, but nothing that gets in the way too much (there is just one element, which I think might leave you in the dark), and it’s very easy to pick up on the close bond of the Cross family, which is such a theme of the series. Alex Cross is not a man who operates alone. His family is the most important thing in his life and they’re always in his thoughts. In this case, he’ll need the comfort that they bring.

I love political action thrillers like this and Target is such a good one. It moves so fast and it is thoroughly exciting! Much of the novel is narrated by Alex Cross but the rest moves between a whole range of different characters, mostly killers. You do have to keep your wits about you remembering names as we move back and forth but it’s well worth the effort as we’re taken deep into the thought processes of an assassin. The political element is fascinating and the whole thriller seems frighteningly timely and topical. The situation here is extreme but no less worrisome for that. The cool, calm head of Alex Cross is just what is needed.

Target is a hugely entertaining, tense and action-packed thriller. Its multiple threads wind through the novel and they knit together perfectly, driven along by intense short chapters. It’s so fast and exhilarating to read. I love this sort of book when it’s done well and this is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while. James Patterson knows exactly what he’s doing and which boxes to tick, and Target is the perfect example of a Patterson thriller at its very best.

Other reviews
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Bill Clinton – The President is Missing

The Rebel’s Revenge by Scott Mariani

Avon | 2018 (15 November) | 404p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Rebel's Revenge by Scott MarianiBen Hope is back! The Rebel’s Revenge is the 18th novel in a series that has seen Ben Hope wreak havoc across the globe (especially on hire cars) as he does his best to save it. The latest thriller is self-contained and stands alone brilliantly so you’d have no trouble picking this one up even if you haven’t read the others. Although, once you’ve done so, I really hope you go back and read Ben’s earlier adventures. This is my favourite series of thrillers in all the world, my choice for a Desert Island, and I wouldn’t and couldn’t be without them. The Rebel’s Revenge yet again proves why.

Ben Hope has a serious day job. He owns a camp in France that trains military operatives in the rescue of hostages. Holidays aren’t something that Ben does too often but he’s grabbed the chance to visit Louisiana to see his favourite saxophonist in what is likely to be his final performance. But, yet again, the fates have something else in mind for Ben Hope. When he is wrongly accused of a terrible murder, he must go on the run to find the true killers and clear his name. The victim was killed with a sabre, a sword first used during the American Civil War. By chasing the history of the sword, Ben will find himself immersed in the secrets of this remote part of Louisiana where, for some, the Civil War never ended while for others it can never be forgotten.

It’s a fabulous story. Ben is on unfamiliar ground and I was every bit as fascinated as he is as Ben learns about the American Civil War, Cajun culture (including the food that Ben comes to love so much), the legacy of slavery and the deep warmth of many of its people – as well as the absolute cruelty of others. Perhaps there’s a little here that feels like a stereotype but I enjoyed so much the way in which the story is put together. There’s so much going on and yet again Ben must overcome villains that seem to compete with one another to be the most evil. The Louisiana setting is so richly evoked. This is a book steeped in mood and atmosphere. And it is extremely exciting!

I could rave about these thrillers all week but it’s worth saying that while some mystery thrillers have a tongue-in-cheek air to them, there’s nothing like that about the Ben Hope thrillers. These action-packed adventures are tense, often violent, revealing cruelty in many of its monstrous and sinister forms. They are impossible to put down and they are all brought together with the fantastic creation that is Ben Hope, the blond ex-SAS Major whose personal life has brought him such torment because he knows far better how to deal with bad guys than he does with those who love him. He’s honourable, brave, likeable, even though death stalks him. He drinks like a fish. And I love him. In the The Rebel’s Revenge, Ben leaves his personal life, his family and friends behind him for a solitary adventure in which he will meet new people to care for and fight for. Ben always cares so much.

I am so pleased that two Ben Hope novels a year are published. I’d happily have one a month but two a year is a huge achievement and one I really appreciate. Ben Hope returns next May in Valley of Death. Fantastic!

Other reviews
Ben Hope 7: The Sacred Sword
Ben Hope 8: The Armada Legacy
Ben Hope 9: The Nemesis Program
Ben Hope 10: The Forgotten Holocaust
Ben Hope 11: The Martyr’s Curse
Ben Hope 12: The Cassandra Sanction
Ben Hope 13: Star of Africa
Ben Hope 14: The Devil’s Kingdom
Ben Hope 15: The Babylon Idol
Ben Hope 16: The Bach Manuscript

Ben Hope 17: The Moscow Cipher

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Quercus | 2018 (1 November) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Stranger Diaries by Elly GriffithsClare Cassidy teaches Literature at Talgarth High, a comprehensive school partly built within the old home of R.M. Holland, a Victorian writer of Gothic novels, most well-known for his frightening short story The Stranger. Clare is fascinated by Holland, writing his biography, and using The Stranger to inspire her creative writing class. So many rumours surround Holland, especially to do with his wife whose troubled ghost is believed to haunt Talgarth. But Talgarth’s troubles are not all in the past. One of Clare’s colleagues is murdered, a line from The Stranger is found written next to the body. It’s an upsetting, horrible time for everyone at the school. Clare finds comfort in her diary, confiding her thoughts of suspicion to its pages. Until the day she looks back at the last entry and finds written in another’s hand ‘Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me’.

Elly Griffiths is one of my very favourite authors. I love her two long-running series, the Ruth Galloway books and the Stephens and Mephisto mysteries. I couldn’t wait to read The Stranger Diaries, a stand alone Gothic murder mystery, and I loved it even more than I knew I would! This is the best of writing. Elly Griffiths is brilliant at creating characters that might have their flaws and eccentricities but we fall for them so deeply all the same.

The Stranger Diaries is full of characters I cared for, particularly Clare and her daughter Georgia, and Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur. The novel’s narrative moves between the three of them, which means that we sometimes revisit an event viewed from a different perspective. It’s really effective. But it also means that we see each of these three women as they see themselves and each other, with the added perspective of Clare’s diary entries which are scattered throughout. Harbinder and Clare both see faults in the others, there is an initial dislike, but we know that this is partly because they are so different to one another. Watching their relationship develop is such a joy of this marvellous novel.

The story is excellent! We have a small group of suspects. We know that the murderer is probably hiding in plain sight and this adds such tension and fear. The mood of suspicion and dread is intensified by the presence in the shadows of the past of author R.M. Holland. The text of The Stranger threads through the story, all adding to the Gothic mood of The Stranger Diaries. Parts of the school building are out of bounds. They’re described beautifully, they’re so chilling, as is the empty factory that looms so large over Clare’s cottage. Elly Griffiths is always so good at setting her novels in beautifully evoked landscapes, and this novel is no different. It’s enchanting, frightening and deliciously creepy.

There are themes I love here – especially the love of books and the love of writing. This fills the novel from start to finish. So many of the characters keep a diary. Everybody seems to think everybody else is watching Strictly or on their phone or playing games, when actually much of the time they’re reading or writing. Georgia is such a fascinating teenager and in many ways a mystery to her mother, as we learn from their sections of the narrative. Georgia is every bit as voracious a reader and diary keeper as her mother but her mother doesn’t know that. It’s really beautifully done and so true to life.

Where there are diaries there are secrets and many of them are laid bare in this book, but the real pleasure for me comes not only from the murder mystery and its very excellent, unexpected and exciting conclusion (it is fantastic!) but also from Harbinder, who is a spellbinding creation. And then there’s Herbert the dog, of course. I mustn’t forget Herbert. Without doubt this is one of my top reads of the year. I urge you not to miss it.

**Updated to add** that Elly Griffiths is appearing alongside Rachel Abbott and Sabine Durrant at London’s Rooftop Book Club on 12 November! If you haven’t been to one of these events, I do recommend them. More details here.

Other reviews
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)

Absolute Proof by Peter James

Macmillan | 2018 (4 October) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book

Absolute Proof by Peter JamesRoss Hunter is a freelance investigative journalist who is about to get the story of his life, all thanks to a former Art History lecturer Dr Harry Cook. For Harry Cook has, he insists, absolute proof that God exists and Ross is the medium God has chosen to reveal the truth to the world. Ross wants to dismiss Harry as a crank but there is something about the man that makes him want to trust him and, what’s more, he offers proof for what he says – three sets of coordinates will lead Ross to clues to the truth, beginning with a location in Glastonbury before taking Ross further and further afield. What Ross will discover in Glastonbury will change everything. But he is not alone on the hunt. Others will kill for what Ross knows, either to suppress it or to steal it. Because, as a Bishop friend says to Ross when he asks what would happen if a man could prove the existence of God – that man would be killed.

Peter James is an author I’ve enjoyed for quite some time, not just for his Roy Grace detective series but also for his stand alone novels, such as the ghost story The House on Cold Hill. Absolute Proof is a substantial and ambitious stand alone thriller that not only fascinates – there are some huge themes here – but it also grips. It’s extremely compelling, not least because it feels so vast in its scope.

Ross Hunter is the main character of the novel but there are many others we get to know as well, some of whom are as evil as sin. There are representatives of big business, of religion, of crime, each of whom is invested in what Ross may discover. The TV preacher Wesley Wenceslas and his henchman, fetchingly named Pope, particularly stand out. I always looked forward to their sections of the novel.

There are some moments in Absolute Proof that took my breath away. There are others that shocked me. In this book you rarely know what lies around the corner. I liked that! I do think, though, that the novel is a little too long at almost 600 pages. There are episodes and characters that the book could have done without in my opinion, especially radio presenter Sally Hughes. Ross’s dalliance is a distraction that halts the plot too frequently. Having said that I thought the novel a little too long, in other ways I wanted more of it! More of the themes and characters that really intrigued from the beginning, such as the pope’s messenger. Also, the book makes it clear that the absolute proof is for God – the God of all religions – but there is a great deal about the Christian God and not much about the other faiths. The themes of the novel are just so vast, so significant, that it almost seems too huge for just one book.

I thoroughly enjoyed Absolute Proof. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a substantial novel but I was glued to it for two wonderful days, reading it very quickly (for me). It’s a clever book, full of ideas and thought. You can tell how much the author was invested in his story. It’s one of those wonderful thrillers that I almost wish I hadn’t read just so I could have the pleasure of reading it again! I can imagine comparisons will be made with Dan Brown’s thrillers but, to my mind, there is no comparison. Absolute Proof is a well-written and thoughtful thriller that is packed full of adventure and action. Ross Hunter stands alone against the world. He just has to hope that God is on his side.

Other reviews
The House on Cold Hill
You Are Dead (Roy Grace 11)
Love You Dead (Roy Grace 12)

Penguin Modern Classics: A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré

A Small Town in Germany by John Le CarreOn 27 September 2018, Penguin completed its nine-year project to publish 21 of John Le Carré’s novels as Penguin Modern Classics, making him the living author with the greatest number of works awarded this classics status. New to the list will be Little Drummer Girl, which the BBC is about to bring to our small screens. I’m really proud to have been invited to take part in the blog tour to celebrate the project, as well as the BBC series of Little Drummer Girl. It’s my role to introduce you to A Small Town In Germany, which, like so many in the Le Carré Penguin Modern Classics has such a gorgeous, striking cover.

A Small Town in Germany was published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2011 but the book itself first appeared in print back in 1968 and is one of the spy novels that doesn’t feature George Smiley. Here is a little of what the novel is about:

West Germany, a simmering cauldron of radical protests, has produced a new danger to Britain: Karfeld, menacing leader of the opposition. At the same time Leo Harting, a Second Secretary in the British Embassy, has gone missing – along with more than forty Confidential embassy files. Alan Turner of the Foreign Office must travel to Bonn to recover them, facing riots, Nazi secrets and the delicate machinations of an unstable Europe in the throes of the Cold War.

As Turner gets closer to the truth of Harting’s disappearance, he will discover that the face of International relations – and the attentions of the British Ministry itself – is uglier that he could possibly have imagined.

The small German town in question is Bonn, West Germany, and it’s a foggy, wet place – a dangerous place in this time of Cold War and suspicion. It is a time when Europe is trying to draw closer together, to tighten its Union, in the face of a considerable amount of instability and hostility. Alan Turner isn’t keen to visit but he has no choice. It’s in Bonn that he must look for the missing British Embassy Secretary, Leo, a man that remains elusive throughout the novel.

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le CarreA Small Town in Germany is one of Le Carre’s earliest novels and takes place without the presence of George Smiley. Nevertheless, it still contains the hallmarks of Le Carré’s skill – his ability to describe in great detail without giving much away, keeping the reader as much in the dark as his agents. The time and place are evoked with great clarity, despite the puzzles that haunt each page.

I’ve read most of Le Carré’s novels over the years and I would definitely call myself a fan. I do think that A Small Town in Germany is one of the more challenging of the books – it takes a while to establish in which direction it’s heading and it can, at times, confuse – but it is so steeped in the times, which seem particularly pertinent now.

I have a spare copy of A Small Town in Germany to give away, so if you’d like to read it, please leave a comment here or on Twitter.

This is such an exciting blog tour to be a part of, with each stop focusing on a different book. A spy book bonanza! For the other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster.

John le Carre - Blog Tour Card

The Ash Doll by James Hazel

Zaffre | 2018 (20 September) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Ash Doll by James HazelDay one is about to dawn on lawyer Charlie Priest’s big new case. It’s caught the attention of the media and the general public and it’s not surprising. Priest’s team is defending the small, independent magazine First Byte against the Elias Children’s Foundation, a massive charity that the First Byte has accused of channelling some of its money into terrorist organisations, with the full knowledge and cooperation of its CEO Alexia Elias.

Priest has a card up its sleeve, the testimony of ex-charity worker Simeon Ali, but when Simeon fails to turn up in court on the first day, Charlie Priest begins to worry. And then the murders begin…

The Ash Doll is the second novel by James Hazel to feature lawyer Charlie Priest and his team. The series began with the extraordinary and marvellous The Mayfly, a book that made me instantly fall for Charlie and, most of all, his assistant Georgie Someday. Charlie and Georgie are not your normal investigators. Charlie has a dissociative order that disconnects him from the world – and from himself – for worrying periods of time; Georgie has an intense, sharp vulnerability that makes one care deeply for her, especially as you know how much she continues to test and stretch herself. It’s hard to imagine anyone more brave than Georgie Someday. How good it is to see her again.

Although The Ash Doll is book two in the series, you don’t need to have read the first to enjoy this, although I think you really should. But, if you haven’t, you’ll find The Ash Doll an absorbing stand alone crime thriller, that’s both clever and exceedingly well-written.

The Ash Doll takes the reader into very dark territory indeed and I have to say that it was a little darker than I’m usually prepared to go. It’s never easy reading about child abuse and the corruption of innocence but that is a theme that overshadows this novel and I did struggle with sections of it. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully written novel, exhilarating and exciting from start to finish, with a complex, layered plot that kept me fascinated. But, even better than that, are its wonderful characters. I love Charlie Priest and Georgie Someday, and I love them all the more for their quirks and eccentricities. They are each packed full of character and personality. I can’t wait to spend time with them again.

Other review
The Mayfly