Category Archives: Thriller

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz

HarperCollins | 2017 (29 June) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Silent Corner by Dean KoontzJane Hawk used to be a well-respected FBI agent and investigator. She also had a happy marriage to Nick, a full colonel in the army at only 32 years old, with whom she had Travis, a happy 5-year-old child who is already a vision of his father. But then Nick killed himself, completely unexpectedly, during the course of an ordinary, peaceful evening. His note ‘I very much need to be dead’ left far more questions than answers and so, reeling from guilt and confusion, Jane sets out to find out what it was that drove her husband to a death he greeted with open arms.

Jane discovers that the suicide rate among successful and seemingly happy and high-achieving individuals is on the increase and those who did leave notes, and not many did, left notes even stranger than Nick’s. As Jane investigates the connection between these men and women and their deaths, she discovers a conspiracy that strikes at the very heart of the American establishment and she uncovers something remarkable and utterly deadly. Jane is a hunted woman. Those she seeks will stop at nothing to destroy her and her young son. And there is nothing they can’t do. It will take all of Jane’s ingenuity and experience as a gifted FBI agent to conceal her trail while seeking out the truth. Every day she plans as if it will be her last.

In The Silent Corner, Dean Koontz introduces us to a new series of thrillers, this time featuring Jane Hawk. While this means that not all of our questions about Jane herself are answered in this opening novel, we are still presented with a standalone investigation and cat and mouse hunt that obsesses Jane through these pages. There is no let up in the tension at all as Jane removes herself from all distractions, including her beloved son, to pursue her husband’s killer. This is a chilling portrait of grief. She can’t allow herself to stop and think. Instead she unties the knots, one at a time, of Nick’s sad and tragic loss.

Jane’s grief has altered her. She would be the first to admit it. And we see its effects in her treatment of those she encounters along her journey. She doesn’t want to kill or hurt but she will if she has to and when she does have to she has not regrets. The scenes in which she confronts those involved in the conspiracy are powerfully painted and disturbing, but the most disturbing moments are those when we see something of what these people have done with their wealth and influence.

The Silent Corner is a tense and action-packed conspiracy thriller. It is also cold, its language clever and unusual, stark but also elegant at times. I found Jane extremely difficult to warm to but I don’t think we’re expected to care for her beyond our compassion for someone suffering such a loss. There are moments when she lets slip her guard and it’s those moments which I enjoyed the most, when she draws people to her by revealing her true nature. Dougal Trahern, a man we meet later on, has a similar way about him and his portrayal is drawn with great poignancy and care. And so our feelings are challenged through this novel. Its premise promises cold killing and science but in reality we are presented with people who are suffering greatly and will make the ultimate sacrifice to save their fellow men and women. There is a strong sense of service and loyalty in The Silent Corner.

My only issue with The Silent Corner would be that at times its language feels a little over the top and this distracts from Jane’s character and the plot. It makes the novel feel overlong on occasions. Nevertheless, this is a minor point and, on the whole, I found myself immersed in The Silent Corner, willing Jane on while always fearing the worst. I’m interested to see how the series will develop as Jane moves away from this defining opening case.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Sphere | 2017 (29 June) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen DionneHelena is known to the fascinated media of the world as ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’. Her father kidnapped her mother, then a young girl aged about fourteen years old, and stole her away to a life of deprivation, slavery and rape on an unvisited island in the marshy swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, close to the border with Canada. Helena was born a couple of years later and, from then until her rescue many years later, the child had to learn the behaviour that would mean her father wouldn’t kill her. But Helena cannot change the horrific circumstances of her conception and birth – her existence – and this man is still her father just as the other person in this isolated Godforsaken trinity, a young, terrified and subdued woman, is her mother.

Helena is now a married woman with two children of her own. She’s still trying to survive, to do what’s right, conscious that she’s different, when her life is once more thrown into turmoil. Her father has escaped from prison, leaving a trail of murder behind him. Helena knows that he will head into the marsh and that once there only one person will be able to find him – the daughter he trained to be just like him. But just how similar is she?

On the surface The Marsh King’s Daughter tells of the manhunt for a criminal from the most unusual angle of the woman who pursues him – his daughter. But there is much more to this powerful and gripping novel than that. It presents an astonishing portrait of a corrupted childhood told in Helena’s own words as she reflects on her past and on her complicated relationships with her mother and father. It is absolutely engrossing. For much of the novel we don’t see beyond the limits of this small island in the swamp. We follow Helena’s train of thought as she recalls the most vivid memories of her childhood, all of which are dominated by a sadistic father and, to a much lesser extent, a cowered mother. But Helena knew no different and grows up loving her father, who teaches her to hunt and fish, much more than her mother who can’t leave the immediate area of their cabin or will have her arms broken.

Karen Dionne tells a fascinating tale of Helena’s growth from childhood to young adulthood, from ignorance to knowledge, all set within the frozen world of the marsh, which is wonderfully described. It’s a harsh environment, made even more so by Helena’s father. But we only see glimpses of his behaviour a little at a time and there are moments when we are jolted by things that we learn, as Helena’s eyes are opened. For a time, though, as the father tells his daughter stories of myth and folklore, there is something of the fairytale about this island in the marshes.

While the relationship between Helena and her father is central to the novel, both in its past and present strands, one cannot forget the destroyed presence of Helena’s mother and it is the mother who occupied my mind as I read the book. It’s a chilling study of a stolen woman.

Helena is a fascinating narrator. She can be unreliable at times but she has the perfect excuse – she grew up without any terms of normal reference. She is altered by her origins and also by the behaviour of her father and mother. She doesn’t see the world in the usual way and I found myself thoroughly immersed in her growing understanding and coping. Helena can be hard to empathise with. Her relationships with animals, her family and children aren’t conventional. But she’s doing her best.

The figure of the father hangs over the entire novel as a great force of evil and power. But his portrait is drawn with great skill. It’s complex and layered. It’s not easy for the reader to view him with anything but the most evolved repugnance and yet Karen Dionne also allows us to see him through the eyes of his child, not just through the terrified eyes of his stolen wife. This beautifully-written novel is powerful indeed, moving between just a small group of people all within the eerie hostile marsh, and it will stay with me for quite a time. Karen Dionne is to be congratulated for this astonishing novel, a standout thriller of the year for certain.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Doubleday | 2017 (15 June) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

Fierce Kingdom by Gin PhillipsThere is nothing more fierce than a mother protecting her child.

The zoo is one of Lincoln’s favourite places. The four-year-old boy and his mother Joan go all the time, to play in the sandpit with his little superhero figures and watch the animals. But this one particular day, just minutes from the zoo’s closing time, they hear the sound of a gun firing. Making their way towards the zoo’s exit, Joan sees shapes on the ground. They are the bodies of the shot. She picks Lincoln up and she runs for their lives.

Fierce Kingdom takes place over a period of just three hours. During those hours, Joan’s focus is entirely on saving her son. As they cling to each other, nothing else matters. We spend much of the novel following Joan’s thoughts as she works through each problem – how to keep Lincoln quiet, how to feed him, how not to be seen, how to escape the gunmen, how to survive. Joan is consumed by her fears and this brings up all manner of thoughts about her past, her preoccupations with death and loss, her love for her husband and child, her transition from independent woman to fiercely protective mother and wife.

We don’t just spend time with Joan, there are brief chapters that we spend with others, such as the teenage girl who works in the zoo restaurant, a school teacher and, chillingly, one of the gunmen, Robby, whose confused thoughts chart his progression from schoolboy to murderer.

This is a thoroughly exciting novel and extremely fast to read as Joan and Lincoln literally race around the zoo. The tension is maintained throughout and the fear feels very real.

I did have a couple of minor issues. Firstly, I was expecting a lot more to do with the zoo animals and they actually feature very little. The novel is set in the US and the schoolteacher reflects on the high number of her students who have committed murder, rape and armed robbery (a few are on Death Row). This distanced me from the events of the novel as it made me feel that this is being presented as an unsurprising event. If it had been in a European zoo, I may have shared more of the tension because it would have seemed extraordinary. Lastly, Joan makes a couple of decisions that puzzled me (why did she throw away a phone that she only needed to turn off?). But all of this is quibbling as Fierce Kingdom is undoubtedly a very entertaining and fast action thriller with an original figure at its heart – a woman who will do absolutely anything to save the life of her child.

The Seventh Commandment by Tom Fox

Headline | 2017 (15 June for the ebook; 5 October for the Pb) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Seventh Commandment by Tom FoxAngelina Calla is one of those rare things – an expert in the ancient Mesopotamian language of Akkadian. But finding a job in such a rarified field isn’t easy and so Angelina spends her days as a tour guide in Rome. Ben Verdyx, on the other hand, has a job that Angelina craves. He works in the Vatican archives and has access to their most secret and valuable documents and objects. Little connects these two beyond a shared love of history, until the day when gunmen pursue them separately through Rome’s streets. Against all odds, the two are saved thanks to agents of the Vatican Swiss Guard who also want Angelina and Ben in their control, albeit alive.

Angelina and Ben are in demand on all sides. A new Akkadian text has just been discovered. It is an astonishing find. And its text reveals a series of prophecies. The first one has already come true – the death of the person who uncovers it – but more are imminent, threatening the very heart and soul of Rome. Angelina and Ben must uncover the truth about the text before it is too late. And then Rome’s mighty river, the Tiber, runs red…

We’re told that the author Tom Fox is an expert in the history of the Christian Church, an interest which has already been put to good use in his 2015 enigmatic religious thriller Dominus. Although The Seventh Commandment is also set in Rome and is again focused around the Vatican, the two thrillers aren’t connected and so you can enjoy them both in whichever order you please.

As with Dominus, the thriller revolves around a mystery that goes to the heart of the Catholic Church, although its ramifications extend beyond the Vatican and across the city of Rome. This time the mystery focuses on a series of prophecies which the Charismatic Catholic Church in particular is adamant will come true in the next few days revealing the presence of God in our midst. But it’s clear to us all from the beginning of the novel that it’s unlikely God is working alone without human help as a series of astonishing calamities stun the people of Rome.

Although this is less of a religious mystery than Dominus, once again I loved the strong sense of place that Tom Fox evokes. This isn’t the Vatican of Dan Brown. It’s much more business-like and more ‘normal’, despite its wealth. It’s rich but it isn’t sinister. And the baddie’s motivation is also down to earth, albeit elaborate. The beauty and the charisma comes from Rome’s stunning churches and its glorious history, which surrounds this novel and fills it with atmosphere. Tom Fox clearly has a strong love and appreciation for history and, as someone who shares this completely, I love how this influences The Seventh Commandment. The Rome setting is a real bonus.

As with most mystery thrillers, you’ve got to be prepared to accept and believe the unexpected and the unlikely, and some characters are more developed than others. I did find some parts of the novel a little wordy and, while Angelina isn’t as three-dimensional as I’d have hoped, I really liked the villain of the piece, and there is also something unusual and curious about Ben. With The Seventh Commandment, Tom Fox has produced another fine mystery thriller that is both well-written and as intriguing as it is exciting, and its Rome setting is excellent. I look forward to the next!

Other review
Dominus

The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

Penguin | 2017 (1 June) | 391p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Honeymoon by Tina SeskisIt took quite a while for Jemma to persuade her boyfriend that he should finally make a decision to commit to her – that they should tie the knot and begin a new life together, putting their past behind them. And now Jemma is in the Maldives, staying in a beautiful luxurious resort, with the sea just a few steps away, on the dream honeymoon that she has planned for years. If only the man she married just a week ago hadn’t vanished off the face of the earth a few days into their holiday, leaving her to walk alone the beaches and island trails for hour upon hour searching for him. The police are now involved and it seems like the whole island is looking for him, while, back at home, the media has already caught the scent of a story too good to miss – the honeymoon paradise that has become a hell.

And that is as much as you’re going to hear from me about the plot because The Honeymoon is one of those psychological thrillers that relies on you not knowing what to expect next to make you keep turning those pages. They certainly fly through the fingers. The Honeymoon is a very fast read. I just had to know what happened to Jemma’s husband. But what also pulled me in is its dream holiday setting. There is such a holiday mood to this novel, with its beaches, pools, swimming, bars as well as the rich and beautiful who flock to these islands for their honeymoons – possibly more than once. This luxury contrasts very well with the misery of Jemma’s situation which casts such a pall over the resort.

The novel moves between the present and the past, with a mix of present and past tense, first and third person narratives. While I did find this rather clunkily done at times, it definitely powers the mystery on as well as letting us find out more about Jemma – from her own point of view or from the perspective of others. I never warmed to her. She thrives in her role of Unreliable Narrator. I felt conditioned not to believe a word she says. And, as the story developed, she increasingly irritated me. Having said that, I didn’t like many of the other characters in this book either, although there were a couple I’d liked to have seen more of.

The Honeymoon is a book proud of its twists and one or two did catch me out, even though I was on heightened twist awareness alert. But they didn’t make me go WOW so much as groan. Overall, though, I think that The Honeymoon is a fast, light, rather pretty and, ultimately, daft psychological thriller that would do very well indeed for a quick beach read. It would certainly be an appropriate place in which to read it, just be sure to keep one eye on your holiday companion.

The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne

HarperCollins | 2017 (15 June) | 544p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Boy Who Saw by Simon ToyneSolomon Creed is a man with no past and a need for answers. The only clue to his identity is in the label of his tailored jacket, on which is sewn Solomon’s name and that of the tailor in the small French town of Cordes. Instinctively, Solomon makes his way there. But he arrives too late. Josef the tailor has been tortured to death, a message smeared in his blood on the walls, but dying before he could give his murderer the information he would kill for – something about a list and a suit made for the ‘pale man’. The police assume that Solomon is guilty but he knows he cannot let them stop him – he must save the tailor’s granddaughter Marie-Claude and her son Léo. He knows the killer will come for them next.

And so begins a chase across France, with Solomon, Marie-Claude and Léo in pursuit of evil, while behind them follows Commandment Anand, a policeman who has himself one eye on his own grave, and a doctor who professes to know the truth about Solomon Cane. But why was Josef killed? Marie-Claude has no doubt that it has something to do with the Second World War when her grandfather was one of the very few to survive a death camp. ‘The Others’, the men who survived with him, are under attack all these years on. The race for the truth could kill them all.

The Boy Who Saw is the second novel by Simon Toyne to feature his extraordinary and enigmatic hero, Solomon Creed. The first book, itself named Solomon Creed, was such a reading highlight of 2015 and a marvellous introduction to a character who appears to be as much legend as he is man. To Léo, Solomon is a superhero. Not only does this pale man look different to everybody else, and has an unworldliness about him, but Solomon is also incredibly fast in the way he can move. But Léo is himself no usual child – he sees people and their moods in terms of colour. He can actually recognise whether someone is good or evil just by looking at them. He never likes to talk about this, especially not to his mother, but now, watching her son and their rescuer together, Marie-Claude sees her son with new eyes and their relationship tightens even further.

The way that Solomon moves through the world and reacts to people is a strong part of why I love this series so much. There is something otherworldly about Solomon Creed, there can be no doubt of that. We saw hints of that in the last novel and we see more of that here. Who is he? What is his connection to the tailor and to his experiences in a war that was fought seventy years ago? The Boy Who Saw presents a little more about Solomon’s recent past, some possible answers to some of the questions, but they are always in doubt. Always. Solomon Creed is a man you want to believe in. He is captivating.

There is an undercurrent of evil that moves through the entire novel, heightened by the regular extracts from accounts of the War. The Holocaust is never an easy subject to read about, and nor should it be, and Simon Toyne handles it with great sensitivity and care. It is clear that much of that evil still survives, and we see it in the behaviour of several of the citizens of Cordes. If ever there was a town in need of redemption it’s this one. Solomon Creed goes where he’s needed and he’s needed here.

Solomon has competition in The Boy Who Saw and it comes from the boy of the book’s title, Léo. I love the way that he has been written by Simon Toyne. His interaction with Solomon is wonderful as Solomon dedicates himself to keeping the child safe. Whether that’s a promise he can keep is another matter. I must mention Commandment Anand. What a fantastic character this is, so beautifully drawn.

Simon Toyne is one of the very best writers out there, moving thrillers into new territory. I adored his Sanctus trilogy. Those books, and the Solomon Creed novels, make such good use of place and I also love the way in which they are infused with big themes, such as religion and salvation. The Boy Who Saw is every bit as brilliant as Solomon Creed, if not even better. Perhaps that is something to do with the tenderness of some of its pages, while also the horror and evil feel even more real and close at hand. Solomon remains essentially unknowable and isolated but there is so much to learn. He gives so much.

If you haven’t read Solomon Creed then you can enjoy The Boy Who Saw perfectly well as a stand alone novel but, please, give yourself a treat and enjoy them both.

Other reviews
Solomon Creed

Sanctus trilogy
Sanctus
The Key
The Tower

Ten of my favourite books – Guest post by Liz Lawler, author of Don’t Wake Up

This week, Twenty7 published the ebook of psychological thriller Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler. To mark the occasion, I’m really pleased to host a guest post from Liz in which she talks about an irresistible subject – her favourite books. Surely, a near-impossible task and so fascinating to read.

First, a little of what Don’t Wake Up is about (the publication of the paperback follows later in the year).

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table. The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.

The choice he forces her to make is utterly unspeakable.

But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.

And then she meets the next victim.

So compulsive you can’t stop reading.

So chilling you won’t stop talking about it.

Ten of my favourite books

This is a difficult one as I have read every day of my adult life apart from the day my mother died and have read many books, particularly from the crime genre. So I mention but a few that will remain with me.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I was already in love with Wuthering Heights long before I read it from watching the 1939 Hollywood adaption, with my father. As the tears rolled down my face, I both hated and loved Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff for ever having loved each other. When I studied the book for O’ level, I thought it would be a cinch, until I realised how many more characters and much more story was to be told. Both the cruelty and beauty of the story takes my breath away. Wuthering Heights was part of my childhood and always evokes memories of my father, who was not unlike Lawrence Olivier to look at.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – I loved the darkness and psychological twists of this story of two men coming together and trading murders. Such a simple, yet devious idea of how to commit murder – and so easy to achieve – if you can simply carry out the act. The undoing of course is when one of you is not a psychopath.

To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I try not to read this book too often as I always want to feel its impact again. Atticus Finch will forever be one of my hero’s. Despite dealing with such serious topics of racism and rape, Harper Lee manages separate the darkness with warmth and humour throughout. Atticus has to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman while also bearing the responsibility of raising alone his two children, Scout and Jem. Harper Lee’s ability to tell a story is truly enviable.

A Star called Henry by Roddy Doyle – the story of a young lad called Henry Smart in 1901 growing up in the slums of Dublin, facing poverty and violence during the Easter Uprising. There isn’t a book of Roddy Doyle’s that I haven’t liked, but I loved A Star called Henry. I felt familiar with the dialogue of this book because my father was born in Dublin in 1914, and had already painted a picture of the Dublin portrayed by Roddy Doyle. The storyline of Henry and his younger brother, Victor, is truly poignant – it made me cry.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – set in California during the Great Depression about two men, George Milton and Lennie Small, seeking work on a ranch. I read this book in one sitting on a long lazy day after my daughter studied it for GCSE and was envious that she got to read and appreciate it at such young age. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t like a long read. It is a great emotional read, particularly the relationship between Candy and his dog.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – I romped through this book once I passed the first hundred pages and stayed hooked till the very end. I was sitting in a pub, on the last few pages, when an old man opposite me asked what I thought of it. Brilliant, of course, was my answer. ‘Aye, he did a good job,’ the old man replied. ‘But it’s the stink that I always remember.’

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – I loved the idea of this story – a murdered 14-year-old girl watching from heaven the grief and fallout of her family and unable to be with them. The compelling part of this story for me is that we stand with Susie Salmon and also get to watch, and all we can do is wait and hope that they find Susie.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom – set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War showing the hardship facing the people under a fascist dictator. Henry Brett, a British reluctant spy, traumatised by Dunkirk, is sent to Madrid to spy on his old school friend, a questionable business man. This is a great spy novel as well as a love story.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – set in Afghanistan, this is such a powerful story – a friendship between two boys, one, the son of a rich man, the other, the son of a servant that is broken in a single moment of horror when one friend betrays the other. A stunning and harrowing story.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – I read this before it became a drama and found it truly chilling. How in a moment a life can change forever. No matter that you think you have control of your life, when something takes it away, you are on your own. What I loved about this story is the way it shows the constraints and restrictions on a life just get tighter when you don’t know how to be somebody else.

For other stops of the tour do take a look at the poster below.