Category Archives: Thriller

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

Gollance (Atria in the US) | 2007 (UK: 27 April; US: 2 May) | 329p | Review copy| Buy the book: UK; US

Skitter by Ezekiel BooneSkitter is the follow up novel to The Hatching so please make no attempt to read Skitter until you’ve read The Hatching first! This review assumes you’ve done just that and you are ready to have your skin creep and crawl in the most deliciously terrifying way once more. As one of the characters puts it, welcome back to the Spiderpocalypse!

The first wave of spider attacks has ended in the withdrawal and deaths of billions of spiders. Unfortunately, they took with them the lives of many millions of people from around the globe. China is a nuclear wasteland and many of the world’s greatest cities lie in ruins. But any hopes that the desperate might have that the attack is over, that the world can rebuild and repopulate, are soon dashed. Scientist Melanie Gruyer’s continued work at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland has revealed a terrible fact. The first wave of spiders was simply paving the way for the second – feeding it, preparing the ground. And this second wave could take mankind to the very brink of extinction. The US President Stephanie Pilgrim is prepared to do the unthinkable to safeguard the nation’s future. But is it too late? Around the world, something unbelievably terrible is beginning to stir.

To say that I adored The Hatching is a ridiculous understatement. I love apocalyptic thrillers and I especially enjoy these novels when they focus on weather disasters (have you read The Tsunami Countdown by Boyd Morrison yet? Why not?) or beasts, particularly the creepy crawly kind (such as Invasive by Chuck Wendig). If ever there was an animal that lends itself brilliantly to wholescale mass panic and annihilation, it’s the spider. Personally, I don’t mind spiders at all. But as for these spiders…. these spiders scare me to death.

Skitter continues the fabulous formula of The Hatching. The novel’s focus is on the US, and most (but not all) of the principal characters are based there, but it also includes many stories from across the planet, including France, Germany, India and, especially, Scotland. We move between a cast of many characters, some of whom we meet just once (for obvious reasons) but there are others that we return to time after time as they either fight to survive or to overcome. We met a fair few of these in The Hatching and it is a joy to return to them, not to mention a relief that some have survived this far. I don’t want to mention who, just in case you’re reading this with the intention of going back to The Hatching.

Skitter might be the middle novel of a trilogy but it is a fantastic disaster thriller in its own right. The novel copes with the aftermath of The Hatching while preparing us for the showdown of the finale, setting it up absolutely perfectly. But Skitter oozes tension, horror, panic, dread, disgusting deaths, hideous spiders, shocking pain and stunned outrage – not only aimed at the spiders but also at the lengths governments will go to for the longterm survival of the human race. All well and good in theory but a lot less noble when you’re running for your life.

We’re thrown into the action from the outset and it never lets up until the very last page when we’re left longing for the concluding novel. Skitter is such a fast read and it is so well written, each page contributing to the overall story. It’s not the sort of thriller you want to put down unread and its pace is pushed along even faster by its brilliant structure that moves us from one state of tension to another and then back again, time after time.

Prepare to get the shivers, prepare to never look at a spider in quite the same way again. Remember what Jaws did for sharks – this time the sharks are tiny, have legs and there are billions of them. Fantastic!

Other review
The Hatching

‘Why I write’ – Guest post by Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing

This month, Faber & Faber published thriller Say Nothing by Brad Parks. I’ll be reviewing this shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to host a very entertaining guest post from Brad on why he writes and what he gets out of it. But first, a little of what Say Nothing is about:

On a normal Wednesday afternoon, Judge Scott Sampson is preparing to pick up his six-year-old twins for their weekly swim. His wife Alison texts him with a change of plan: she has to take them to the doctor instead. So Scott heads home early. But when Alison arrives back later, she is alone – no Sam, no Emma – and denies any knowledge of the text . . .

The phone then rings: an anonymous voice tells them that the Judge must do exactly what he is told in an upcoming drug case and, most importantly, they must ‘say nothing’.

So begins this powerful, tense breakout thriller about a close-knit young family plunged into unimaginable horror. As a twisting game of cat and mouse ensues, they know that one false move could lose them their children for ever.

Hugely suspenseful – with its fascinating insight into the US judicial system and its politics of influence and nepotism – Say Nothing is, above all, the poignant story of the terror these parents face, and their stop-at-nothing compulsion to get their children back.

Guest Post: Why I Write

Given recent events, you poor Brits are surely accustomed to crass, boorish Americans—not mentioning names or anything—so this shouldn’t come as a shock:

I got into writing for the money and the sex.

It’s true, oh gentle For Winter Nights readers. My first writing gig was for a local weekly newspaper, when I was fourteen. The job paid 50 cents a column inch, which was more than I could make babysitting.

So that was the money. As for the sex? The gig involved covering the high school girls basketball team.

Now, suspend your disbelief, but at fourteen I wasn’t quite the paragon of strapping masculinity that I am today. I was short, fat, and wore braces. However, I figured that if I was writing for the paper, girls would have to talk to me. And then I’d be able to work my charm on them and get dates.

(Pause).

Yeah, that part didn’t quite work out. But it did introduce me to the joy of storytelling, and to what I soon discovered was the real reason I got into writing:

I love being read.

No matter how cringe-worthy my articles were—and, trust me, they were bad—the mothers and fathers of these girls basketball players would lap it up, and then report back their thoughts about that week’s article.

It made me eager to impress them with my insight, to entertain them with witty turns of phrases, to get them talking about my story in the bleachers at the next game—no matter how sophomoric my prose actually was.

I’ve come a long way as a writer since that time (or at least I hope I have). But some things haven’t changed. My fundamental goal when I sit down to write is still to make people react to my words—whether they’re feeling tension, or laughing, or crying, or something else altogether.

This feels like an especially appropriate confession to make at For Winter Nights, because this blog covers such a wide swath of genre fiction. And, to me, the real hallmark of great genre fiction is that it values the entertainment of the reader over the self-gratification of the writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a ton of enjoyment out of this, too—it’s a wonderful, albeit patently ridiculous, way to make a living. But I’m never going to let my own needs take precedence over yours as a reader.

And when I hear from one of you, saying my book made you stay up all night to finish it? From where I sit, that’s even better than money.

But not sex. This writing thing has its limits, you know.

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Say Nothing by Brad Parks is published by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

The Follower by Koethi Zan – an extract

The Follower by Koethi ZanOn 23 February Harvill Secker published the ebook edition of The Follower by Koethi Zan, with the paperback due to follow on 18 May. To mark the occasion, I’m delighted to post an extract here as part of the Blog Tour. But first here’s some information abut what the novel is all about…

She’d do anything for her husband.

Julie has the perfect life. A kind boyfriend, loving parents and good grades. She has everything ahead of her.

Cora’s life is a nightmare. A psychopath for a husband, a violent father and a terrible secret. There’s no way out.

But one night, their worlds collide. Locked in an isolated house together, they must work out what has happened – and who they can trust to set them free.

From the bestselling author of The Never List, this is a breath-taking new thriller about the wife of a kidnapper and her relationship with his last victim.

Extract

She crouched in the corner, clutching her pen, her heart pounding in her chest. She was as ready as she could be, but her breathing was too loud in her ears. It was impossible
to concentrate. Impossible to keep the panic from taking over.

It was a long time before anything else happened. Hours sitting in that truck, imagining every possible scenario that could occur when that door was raised up. Hours trying to focus her jumbled thoughts, to sort out the shock from the anger and fear, to force herself to accept that she had to face this horror utterly alone.‘I want my mommy,’ she whimpered to herself. ‘I want Mark. I want to go back in time and make Ryan wait with me. I’m such an idiot. No, I can’t think like that. No crying. ‘Come on, Julie. Come on. No one will realize you’re missing until tomorrow and tomorrow might be too late. You have to get out of here as soon as he stops. Come on, you can do it, buck the fuck up.’

Then without warning, her body was thrown again hard to one side. They were turning. It must have been a tight one because the truck struggled to make it, lurching back and forth as the driver changed gears to get it up the hill. Eventually it reached level ground and then slowed to a stop. Julie stood up and ran her hands along the side of the trailer until she reached the end. She hugged the right wall, hoping he wouldn’t see her at first and she could jump out, get past him, and make a break for it.

As he hoisted the door open, she saw his form in shadow, a bright light shining from behind as his outline was revealed to her inch by horrible inch. His face was familiar, but she had no time to puzzle it out. She screwed up her courage, hunched over, and launched herself out of the truck bed. She bolted sideways, determined to slip around the side of the truck and back down that hill. He’d anticipated that, of course, and he was fast. She never had a chance. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around to face him. Her eyes met his – his squinting, terrifying, pale eyes, full of suppressed rage. She went for them, jabbing at his face with her pen but he pried it effortlessly from her hand. She tried to twist out of his grip, to kick him in the groin. He shook her so hard her feet came off the ground and her head whipped back and forth. He pushed a pistol to her face. She froze, staring at the barrel, at his hands clutching it. ‘Please,’ was all she could muster up to say. She’d never seen one this close up, didn’t even know anyone who owned a gun. She stood there, in the cold, in the dark, shivering with fear and blinking back tears. Her mind had gone entirely blank when she saw that hunk of metal. No one had ever prepared her for this. ‘Please let me go. I know it was just a mistake. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll tell them I ran away. I swear I won’t tell them if you’ll just let me go right now.’

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For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

the-follower-blog-tour-poster-2

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

Black Swan | 2017 (9 February) (originally published in Germany in 2012) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Blackout by Marc ElsbergPiero Manzano is driving through Milan when, in an instant, vehicle after vehicle, including Manzano’s own, slams into one another. It is a winter’s night and the dark has suddenly turned blacker. Every light has flickered out, including the traffic lights. The result is chaos. And as the lights and power go off in waves across Europe, a normal day becomes Day 0. Just how long will it take before a society with no power at all loses itself?

As the hours and days pass, and feelings of comraderie brought about by a shared hardship deteriorate into a far more ugly mood, the governments, secret agencies and power companies of Europe and beyond work towards a solution. Discovering the cause is just as difficult a task. Piero Monzano is a useful man. A well-known hacker, he has identified a trail of clues along the power networks and he is the first to uncover the truth behind a terrorist attack on the grandest and most ambitious of scales. It will take all of Monzano’s skill to trace the clues to their source, which is no easy matter when he becomes prime suspect.

Blackout follows these dark events day by day, moving every few pages from one group of people to another, from one end of Europe to the other, focusing on Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It tells of a race between terrorists and power companies to take control of the network. Monzano, a journalist called Shannon, and a few others link these stages together as they cross the continent in the most horrendous conditions.

This is a novel that tells two stories – the hunt to uncover the truth behind the blackout and to get the power back on line, and then the appalling horror story of what happens day after day to towns, cities, rural communities, society and people when power is gone. No electricity means no lights, no power, no running water, no sanitation, next to no communication or internet, no fuel, no healthcare, no frozen food and no coollants for nuclear power stations. And that’s not even all of it. But each of these things contributes to thousands and thousands of tragedies, some small and some vast. And we are shown some of this and it is at times painful to read.

Blackout is a novel to make you think about how vulnerable we are and how some people are even more at risk. There are people in these pages who have to make the most appalling decisions and all because something that most of take for granted is gone. For me, the terrorist angle here was almost incidental to the very realistically portrayed human story of society, and the individuals and families within it, facing apocalypse. The tone for much of the novel is almost dispassionate, particularly when focusing on the investigation and the technicalities of the blackout, but there are glimpses of true feeling. I think I would have liked more of that but what there is is powerfully done. With the exception of investigator Bollard, the main characters felt to me rather cold and aloof, but we meet other people along the way who play relatively minor roles and yet their personal stories strike deep.

I read this novel (and wrote this review) at a time when I felt worried for the world, during the American election and straight afterwards. But even without that background atmosphere, Blackout is a meticulously detailed and exact depiction of what could believably happen if the lights were to go out. Marc Elsberg does this very well and the result is a chilling, disturbing and frightening thriller, and the pages fly through the fingers.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

HarperCollins | 2017 (26 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah PinboroughSingle mother Louise is ready for some fun, some romance, and one evening she thinks she may have found it when a dalliance in a bar with a charming married stranger promises excitement with just a dash of risk. But Louise, a PA in a firm of psychiatrists, is to receive a shock when her new boss David walks through the office door – he is her handsome stranger. Louise dives into the toilets to avoid an embarrassing encounter with David and his beautiful blonde wife Adele who is on a tour of the building. Adele is a stranger in town. She and David have only just moved there. And when Adele quite literally bumps into Louise, her husband’s new PA, in the street, it seems a natural thing that the two women should chat, have a coffee, and begin a friendship.

And there we have it – the triangle of characters that powers this extraordinarily clever and compelling thriller. I’m not going to say another word about the plot. You need to watch it unfold through the shifting perspectives of Louise and Adele. Events take place within a small world, few characters are involved, the walls closing in as the tension and uncertainty and menace increase.

Sarah Pinborough is such an exciting author, adept at mixing genres, fooling our expectations and wringing our emotions. This can be seen so well in the superb The Death House and 13 Minutes. In Behind Her Eyes, the author yet again catches her reader by surprise.

A certain amount of excitement has built up over the ending of Behind Her Eyes, encouraged by the publisher’s promotion of #WTFthatending. This is always a risky strategy because what if the ending disappoints after our expectations have been teased? But we’re in safe hands here and Sarah Pinborough has delivered a fascinating unexpected conclusion to her novel although I would argue that the book is at its very best during the first half, while we still have little idea in which direction the story may head.

Behind Her Eyes is steeped in menace from the beginning but as the novel progresses it becomes increasingly dark and disturbing, even troubling. I can’t stop thinking about one bit in particular. It haunts me. Sarah Pinborough’s books do that. She is wonderful at creating and sustaining a mood, stretching our expectations about what is and what isn’t possible to their limit. The result is a thoroughly immersive read, one that entertains as well as shocks, and demonstrates how rich a genre can be, even one as well used as domestic noir or the psychological thriller, when it is taken to its limit and beyond and played with by an author as talented as Sarah Pinborough.

Other reviews
The Death House
13 Minutes

Cover reveal (and a review taster) – The End of the Day by Claire North

Claire North is one of the most exciting and original authors writing today – and if you enjoy science fiction thrillers, or thrillers, or just a very good book, then you’ll have no doubt already met The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Each time I finish one of these novels, I marvel at Claire North’s imagination, which is vast, and her talent, which is extraordinary, and wonder whatever will come next. This year the answer is The End of the Day, which will be published on 6 April by Orbit. And she’s done it again!

I’m delighted to be involved in the reveal of the cover for The End of the Day. It also gives me an opportunity to tell you something about the book and also do a bit from my review, the rest of which will be posted closer to the publication date. The cover, which is rather fine, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is the excellent work of Duncan Spilling (Little, Brown Book Group).

The End of the Day by Claire North

The blurb
Charlie meets everyone – but only once.
You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident.
Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – he gets everywhere, our Charlie.
Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says?
Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.

Review taster
Charlie hasn’t been in the job long but there is much about it that appeals – the frequent travel all around the world, often to the most unexpected places, the chance to meet a wide variety of people, and good prospects. Because surely the one person guaranteed a long and safe future is Charlie, the Harbinger of Death. But for everyone else there comes an end of the day and there they will meet Death. But, before that, they meet Charlie.

Yet again, with The End of the Day, Claire North proves that there is no limit to her extraordinary imagination and her powers to convey ideas and themes that can stop you in your tracks. As always, at the heart of the novel is a figure very difficult to forget (with the exception, of course, of The Sudden Appearance of Hope) and Charlie is a marvellous creation. He takes his job very seriously indeed, he wants to do a good job, and he welcomes the opportunities it gives him, and his heart is open. Strangely, if there’s one character even more humane that Charlie in this novel it’s Death himself, or herself. When he or she isn’t angry, that is.

Despite the darkness, I was left with such a feeling of warmth and wonderful weirdness from this novel. Its approach to death is compassionate while people are shown to be possible of redemption and the end, when it comes, needn’t be feared. Charlie endures for us all – it’s powerful and very well done. Picking one word to describe Claire North’s novels isn’t easy but if I had to pick one, the word would be ingenious.

Preorder The End of the Day

Corpus by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2017 (26 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Corpus by Rory ClementsIt is the end of November in 1936 and the people of Britain are being kept in ignorance about the crisis facing the country’s monarchy. But all is about to be revealed, thanks to the independent America press and King Edward VIII himself who is determined to put life with the woman he loves above duty to his country. The upper reaches of society and government are in turmoil and matters aren’t helped by the conflict between fascist and communist which has spread beyond Germany to Spain and elsewhere, including Britain. It’s the time of rallies and demonstrations, calls to arms, idealism and cynicism, spies and treachery. The time is ripe for murder.

Professor Tom Wilde teaches history at Cambridge University. His specialism is Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster who was responsible for bringing about the fall of Elizabeth’s greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots. Wilde knows better than most the potential dangers of the time in which he finds himself living. His students are divided between the left and the right. He can only urge them to consider the significance of evidence and prejudice in our understanding of the past and the present.

Wilde himself will need all his skill to help Lydia, the young poet who lives next door to him. Her schoolfriend Nancy has suddenly died, apparently of a heroin overdose, and then the parents of another friend have been found butchered in their home. When other individuals emerge with an interest in the murders, Wilde searches for connections and these take him into the dangerous and dark heart of Europe’s turmoil in these grim cold days of the winter of 1936.

Rory Clements is familiar to many for his wonderful Elizabethan mystery series featuring the spy John Shakespeare, last seen in Holy Spy. In many ways, Corpus would seem to be entirely different but it is a stroke of genius to create a new character, Tom Wilde, who is so fascinated by and knowledgeable in John Shakespeare’s world, who demonstrates the constant timeless themes of history which endlessly recur. The events of 1936 are relevant to the 1580s just as they are also relevant to today. This perspective illuminates Corpus and adds such depth to its events and attitudes. Rory Clements is a fine writer of such clever novels and in Tom Wilde he has created a character to do him proud, every bit as much as John Shakespeare.

You need to have your wits about you when you read Corpus. This is a very clever book, rich in intrigue and deceptions, with an army of characters to keep track of. I had to do a fair amount of looking backwards into the novel to remember who certain people were, particularly during the early part of the book as we move from one location to another – Cambridge University, country homes, London hotels and more. But all becomes much clearer as the novel continues and the rewards for the reader’s attention are high.

The storyline is marvellous! Its complexity is very satisfying to unravel and it captures so much of the sinister world of 1936 Europe. Hitler and Stalin walk in the shadows of this novel. Their reach is almost limitless and for many in this book their appeal is intoxicating and powerful. But the novel never forgets how much is at stake – there are frequent reminders of the bloody war in Spain, the King’s abdication promises chaos in Britain and the violence of the novel increases as several of the characters emerge from their disguises. There is a social divide here, too, with many types of people represented – the upper classes, politicians, immigrants, academics, miners – but some things unite them, including murder.

Rory Clements writes as brilliantly as he plots and this is a novel steeped in atmosphere, menace and history. The fact that we know what happened after 1936 adds a certain tension and also means that we know how believable and plausible the events described here are.

If I had to find fault with Corpus, I’d be out of luck. This is a standout historical novel and a gripping spy thriller. Clearly Rory Clements can turn his attention to any period of history he likes and in it he will find gold.

Other review
Holy Spy