Tag Archives: Thriller

Breathless by Amy McCulloch

Michael Joseph | 2022 (17 February) | 320p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Adventure journalist Cecily Wong needs a break and she also needs to put the past behind her. To do that she must confront her fears and the golden opportunity comes when legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh offers her an exclusive interview. If, that is, she can reach the summit of Manaslu in Nepal, the eighth highest mountain in the world. It is a monumental task but Cecily and the other teams on Manaslu will have more than the elements, the lethal terrain and the lack of oxygen to contend with. There is uneasiness among those on the mountain, Cecily hears things she cannot explain, there are memories of fallen climbers, and soon there are deaths.

I have always been drawn to thrillers set in cold, wintry and inhospitable places. There is something about the battle to survive against all that the environment can muster against you. Having said all that, I’m not physically drawn to them at all and mountains terrify me! But the same cannot be said for Amy McCulloch, a fine writer who knows what she writes about. This is an author who has summited Mount Manaslu. She actually did it. How amazing is that?! And all of that personal experience and endeavour makes Breathless more real and convincing than ever.

You really can feel the effort and inherent danger of this climb. Cecily Wong and her fellow climbers are not ‘normal’ people. There is something truly epic about them, whatever their failings and arguments, and that something special really shines out in this novel, even while we see their flaws. Few of the climbers, if any, are without their personal battles. There is much to prove on the lawless precipices and crevasses of Manaslu.

The descriptions of actually how to scale a mountain such as this are fascinating, with the repeated climbs to camps for acclimatisation and so on, as well as the detail of specific parts of the climb, particularly sheer walls of ice and rock. This mountain has claimed many lives and, reading this, you can understand why. And that’s even without the thriller element! But this is a great place to get away with murder.

The thriller itself is an exciting read and very atmospheric. This feels like a haunted mountain and that adds to its tension and air of dread. I liked Cecily, our journalist heroine who must overcome some personal, traumatising hurdles to find the story that will save her career. It is true that the story is a bit predictable (I worked it out early on). Nevertheless, this is an entertaining thriller that really captures the sheer effort of the ascent. I was none the wiser by the end why anyone would want to put themselves through it but I was left in awe of this author who did just that.

The Interview by C.M. Ewan

Macmillan | 2022 (17 February) | 439p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Interview by CM EwanKate Harding is ready to reboot her life. The chance comes with a last-minute interview for a post at Edge Communications, a famous PR company. The interview is set for 5pm on a Friday, not the best of times perhaps, and things don’t start well. She’s late, daunted by the size of this massive new glass building in London, and then finds herself being interviewed by someone other than she expected, the rather charismatic Joel White. The interview takes place in a glass office, high above London’s streets. Joel begins to ask his questions and, as they become increasingly personal, Kate’s anxiety and nerves are transformed into terror.

And that’s pretty much all I want to say about the plot because The Interview  is a fabulous, tense stand alone thriller and it shocks time after time as Kate descends further through the circles of hell. If only the people in the streets below would look up! Interviews can be frightening at the best of times and it’s easy to empathise with Kate as she sits in this glass box facing questions from a man who clearly knows far too much about her. But this empathy then becomes mixed up with tension, fear as the thriller takes off and becomes a truly exhilarating read. It’s not often I can say that about a thriller, perhaps once or twice a year.

Much of the novel takes place over a very short period of time, making it all the more urgent and immediate, but as it goes on we have flashbacks, teaching us more about Kate and her interviewer. This adds context to the interview, although my favourite sections were definitely those set in this incredible building, which couldn’t be more fitting for such a horrifying scenario! The fact that everything takes place just out of plain site of a busy London, with office workers pouring out of the surrounding buildings into pubs and bars, adds so much to the tension. I have to add that I really like Kate’s character, her resilience and courage.

if ever a book should be called a page turner, that would be The Interview. It is chilling and intense but more than anything else it is thoroughly entertaining.

Other review
A Window Breaks

Where Blood Runs Cold by Giles Kristian

Bantam | 2022 (24 February) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

Where Blood Runs Cold by Giles KristianErik Amdahl is tormented by nightmares since the death of his daughter Emilie, wanting nothing more than to keep his remaining daughter Sofia safe. But Sofia is becoming a teenager and, finally, Erik accepts that he must fulfil old promises made to both daughters and take Sofia on a great adventure, on the ‘Long Ski’ through the dramatic wilderness of north Norway. But it doesn’t go as planned. A place they presume to be safe turns out to be far from it and soon they must ski for their lives, pursued by ruthless killers, heading deeper and deeper into the glaciers, mountains and forests of an ice-gripped landscape.

Giles Kristian can do no wrong in my eyes. He is a superb storyteller, one of the very finest writing today, and now after some outstanding historical novels on the Vikings, the English Civil War and the post-Roman Britain of Arthur and Lancelot, he has written a modern thriller set in a country that he knows so very well. The topic and setting might be different from his previous novels but there is a connection. There is a spirituality and mythology to this snowy, lethal, beautiful environment that Erik’s Viking ancestors would recognise.  Erik is taken to the very limit of his endurance, like one of Giles Kristian’s other heroes, like the Viking Sigurd or Raven or Lancelot. In times of such extremis one looks beyond the natural world for comfort and, in places of such beauty and danger, that other world can be found in the surrounding rocks, rivers, trees and animals. The local Sami people are wise about their environment and this must be protected.

Where Blood Runs Cold is as beautifully written as the author’s other novels. It shares the same feel of place as well as a strong sense of danger, great tension and, on occasion, violence. It is a thriller and so the reader expects excitement! They get it here. It is a hunt and pursuit with the extreme cold proving equally as dangerous as the killers at their heels. But there are still quiet times, when the father and daughter hide in their dug-out snow caves, and they bond and remember Emilie. The relationship between Erik and Sofia is tender and one’s heart goes out to Sofia who just wants to help her Pappa when she is at the very limit herself.

I love wintry thrillers and I am fascinated by Norway, a country I want to visit very much. I found Where Blood Runs Cold thoroughly exciting but I also found myself caught up in the story of a father and daughter coming together in the most dangerous of situations. Giles Kristian has demonstrated that not only can he make any period of history his own but that he can also master a new genre entirely. Not that this was a surprise to me! He is a wonderful writer whose books belong on your shelf.

Other reviews
God of Vengeance (Rise of Sigurd 1)
Winter’s Fire (Rise of Sigurd 2)
Wings of the Storm (Rise of Sigurd 3)

Raven: Blood Eye; Raven: Sons of Thunder; Raven: Odin’s Wolves
The Terror: a short story
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury
Lancelot

With Wilbur Smith – Golden Lion

The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2022 (20 January) | 476p | Review copy | Buy the book

The war is over and it is time for the guilty to pay for their atrocities. While the Nazis are rounded up, ready for trial and punishment, their leader is believed dead. He committed suicide in his bunker under Berlin’s bombed streets, his body burned. But did Hitler really die in the bunker. The American and British secret service suspect he escaped, their suspicions supported by a trail of strange and violent deaths in Germany. It is time once more for Tom Wilde, an American Professor of History at Cambridge University and reluctant spy, to head to Germany and follow the clues and trace the witnesses to the truth. But Wilde is not alone. He is paired with Dutch soldier Mozes Heck, who has his own agenda and it could get both of them killed.

The Tom Wilde series is one of the very best being written today and I have been a huge fan of it from its beginning. Rory Clements is an excellent writer who has written both Tudor and World War Two thrillers. Interestingly, Wilde is an expert in Elizabethan history. There is a wider perspective to these novels, a strong sense that intrigue and deception are timeless and that the past can repeat itself. I like that. The Man in the Bunker is the sixth novel in a series that has taken us from the troubled, ominous years just before the war, through the war and now to its immediate aftermath when the concentration camps are being liberated and the true horror of the war is revealed. Berlin at this time is such a fascinating setting for a thriller that is enthralling from start to finish.

I think that The Man in the Bunker stands well alone as it very much focuses on the matter at hand, removing Wilde from his life and family in Cambridge. It is apart from the earlier novels. But I really recommend reading them all. Wilde is a fantastic character, an intellectual and a man of action. He has his hands full here, though, thanks to Heck, who holds his own against Wilde and adds a real edge of danger and menace to the story, while being a constant reminder of the personal motivation of many to bring the Nazis to justice. The two men uncover multiple stories of suffering and endurance. This is a powerful, disturbing novel.

Wilde and Heck interview several of the people who knew Hitler most, adding to the mystery element of the novel while also providing a chilling picture of Hitler and those closest to him during the last days of the Reich.

The Man in the Bunker is thoroughly exciting, ingenious and page-turning. Now that the war is over I wonder what the future holds for Tom Wilde but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him and his wife, Lydia. This has been a great series from the beginning but I think that this, the sixth, is my favourite.

Other reviews
Holy Spy
Corpus
Nucleus

Nemesis
Hitler’s Secret
A Prince and a Spy

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Viper | 2022 (6 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Twyford Code by Janice HallettMany years ago, schoolboy Steven Smith found on a bus a book by Edith Twyford, a writer now considered old-fashioned, a bit dodgy. It’s covered in strange scribbles and messages. He took it to his teacher Miss Isles who became obsessed with it, believing the book to contain a code that could decipher a great mystery. On a school trip to Bournemouth shortly afterwards, she vanished without trace, her disappearance haunting Steven for the rest of his days.

After a stretch in prison, Steven decides to do something about it. He determines to decipher the code himself and to find out what really happened to Miss Isles. Steven isn’t good at writing and so he records all of his interviews with his old schoolfriends and anyone else he encounters in his investigations to solve his own past. But Steven soon discovers that he isn’t the only person to be intent on solving the mystery of the Twyford Code and by then it is too late. Steven is caught in a web and, just out of reach, the answers to it all tantalise.

The Appeal was my favourite crime mystery of 2021 and one of my very top reads of the year. It’s actually one of my favourite novels of all time, not just for the story it tells but for the way in which it tells it. It’s ingenious. It’s an updated epistolary novel, which involves the reader with the mystery in such an engaging and thoroughly gripping way. It’s a hard act to follow but Janice Hallett is a very clever writer and in The Twyford Code she tweaks the style just a bit to deliver another original and consuming standalone mystery.

This time, the novel comprises a series of transcripts. These contain numerous mis-hearings of certain words, presumably due to the transcription software, adding a very curious element to the prose. This is the sort of novel, like its predecessor, in which the reader needs to keep their wits about them, staying alert and always on the look out for clues. The whole book is a puzzle. But where does it lead?

The Twyford Code is also a novel about a vulnerable boy who grows into a damaged soul. We learn about his relationships with his family, his school days and the trouble that he has found himself in. Now he has a mission. But will it be the death of him?

More than that, I cannot say. These are books to immerse oneself in, to be driven by curiosity and fascination to discover where they lead. I cannot wait for the next novel.

PS – I love the cover!

Other review
The Appeal

The Genesis Inquiry by Olly Jarvis

Hobeck Books | 2021 (12 October) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Genesis Inquiry by Olly JarvisElla Blake is a much-respected and in-demand QC when she disappears from view, hiding in her van in Northumberland, finding a refuge in anonymity and the dramatic and historic landscape. It’s a false haven and, as she sinks, she knows that. The chance to repair herself comes from an unlikely source. A Cambridge University college wants her help. One of their dons, Matthew Shepherd, a genius polymath, has disappeared on the brink of discovering something that could change humanity’s future and understanding of the past. Ella is intrigued but, more importantly, heading to Cambridge will allow her to reconnect with her daughter Lizzie. But, as Ella digs deeper into the mysteries of Shepherd’s project and understands the magnitude of its significance, she soon realises that she is in deadly danger and so too are all those she holds dear.

I am a huge fan of thrillers that revolve around historical secrets, archaeological mysteries and enigmatic, dangerous organisations and so The Genesis Inquiry was a book I couldn’t wait to read as soon as I heard of it. What makes this book stand out, however, isn’t so much the mystery at the heart of it (although that is certainly intriguing), but its characters and the developing and changeable relationships between them. I really, really like Ella Blake. She is a woman in the prime of her life who has reached the pinnacle of her career but she has realised that it is built upon glass. She is vulnerable, wracked by guilt and anxiety, and yet you would never know it to look at her. Ella is very easy to relate to. Her relationships with her daughter, her daughter’s friends and with the US agent who helps them with their inquiry, bristles. But the warmth of Ella grows through the novel and it really is extremely compelling and engaging as we become increasingly close to her.

Having said all that, The Genesis Inquiry is a thriller and it is a very exciting affair, as Ella and the others travel great distances on the trail of both Matthew Shepherd and his scattered clues. Obviously, I will tell you nothing about any of that as I don’t want anything to dampen your curiosity as the pages fly though the pages. But I do love a mystery that revolves around ancient manuscripts, biblical texts and ancient and modern science. It all contributes to the importance and significance of the mystery that is to be discovered.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Genesis Inquiry. I loved the places, especially Cambridge and Lindisfarne. I did find that my interest in Ella exceeded the pull of the mystery but I believe that this is actually a tribute to the author’s writing, which I think is very good indeed. I really hope that we will get the chance to meet Ella Blake again.

Five Minds by Guy Morpuss

Viper | 2021 (2 September) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Five Minds by Guy MorpussIn the near future, Earth’s population crisis has been solved through drastic measures. On reaching adulthood, people can select how the rest of their lives will be lived – as a worker in their own bodies, as glamorous and wealthy pleasure-seekers (but for a pitifully short life), as a kind of human-android hybrid. All have their lifespan limited. But, for the longest life, people can opt to share a body – five minds in one body for about 140 years – but with consciousness limited to four hours as each mind takes its turn through the day.

Alex, Kate, Sierra, Ben and Mike have lived together in one body for 25 years. While Mike does everything he can with his time to keep the body fit, others within the commune have treated it less well. The time has come to compete for time credits to buy a new host body. They must play a series of virtual games in the ‘death parks’, places where people play to gain time but so often lose it. But, as the games play out, one of the five goes missing and soon it becomes terribly clear – they have been murdered. Someone wants to kill them off one by one. But who? Could they be sharing a body with a killer?

Five Minds is such an original and clever speculative novel, which takes the concept of a locked room murder mystery to extremes, with some of the suspects confined within one body, and each of the minds using their allotted shift of time to investigate. The chapters move through the structure of the day, moving between the minds, with Alex starting the day. It’s purposefully disjointed with each mind having to readjust to where their predecessor in the body has left them. They can communicate through messages, leaving clues and warnings – or lies and deceits. It’s an intriguing way for a murder enquiry to be conducted.

The science fiction element comes to the fore in the Death Park, a horrendous place of shifting realities and manipulation. Some of the games are frightening, others physically challenging, but the cost can be extreme, even fatal. What a place!

It is a dark novel. There seems no pleasure to be had living in four-hour chunks, in a body that isn’t your own, with the minds of others that you don’t particularly like. What if you’re the one who never sees the sun or even daylight? You can see why few select this course but there is a sadness about the other types of life. The setting of the Death Park seems appropriate to the gloom of a world that has no room for the people who live on it.

Five Minds raises questions about what type of life one might want, what one might be prepared to do to have more time, what time one might give up for a short life of luxury. But it is also an excellent crime novel that goes off in all sorts of unexpected directions. It does get complicated, which you’d expect when nobody has time to see the full picture, and is very clever and satisfying in the way it develops.

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

HarperCollins | 2021 (2 September) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Chateau by Catherine CooperAura and Nick have uprooted their young family – boys called Bay and Sorrel – and moved from London to a dilapidated chateau in France. There is an unbelievable amount of work to do on it but a project such as this is just what Aura needs to take her mind off why they left England in such a rush. Best not to think about that. Luckily, chateau buying is all the rage with Brits and so the local ex-pat community soon takes the new couple under their wing, offering practical help as well as glamorous parties. It helps that the project is being observed by a TV documentary film crew. They even manage to get an au pair for no more cost than food and board. It seems too good to be true. And of course it is. The alarm bells are starting to go off even before one of their neighbours is found murdered.

Hot on the heels of The Chalet comes The Chateau. I love the recipe of these novels – a remote location, a small community of strangers, a murderer in their midst, a bunch of lies. I thoroughly enjoyed The Chalet and so I was looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. What a bunch of people…. It’s difficult to know who is the most despicable. Aura is our narrator for much of the book and it’s clear that what she doesn’t say is more important than what she does. The reader is left to fill in the gaps as slowly the truth emerges about what they left behind in London. You’ve got to wonder about anyone who would name their sons Bay and Sorrel, though.

The chateau itself is a fantastic location for a psychological thriller. It’s an abomination. Aura might view it as this beautiful ruin crying out for repair but it’s clearly horrible, dangerous, creepy and malignant. It fits the mood of the novel perfectly and reflects the characters of most of the people in it, including the ghastly ex-pats. Even the film crew are shifty.

I’m not going to give anything away but what I will say is that the way in which this story plays out is thoroughly satisfying. Catherine Cooper is such a good writer, she sets the scene so well. It’s creepy but it’s also fun and a little bonkers! I can’t wait to find out where she’ll take us to next!

Other review
The Chalet

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Michael Joseph | 2021 (19 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

For Your Own Good by Samantha DowningTeddy Crutcher has been teaching English at Belmont Academy for a long time and, at last, he has won Teacher of the Year. At last. Nobody deserves it more, at least in Teddy’s eyes. He always wants the best for his students, especially those who treat him with respect and have influential parents on the School’s Board. He also likes to teach a different kind of lesson to those who deserve it, especially gifted student Zach and the popular teacher Sonia. To his chagrin, Sonia is about to be given a party to celebrate her tenth anniversary at the Academy. But when a member of the School’s Board, a pupil’s mother, is poisoned at the party, it’s not just Teddy who is shocked into action. This is a school where it seems everyone has a secret and nobody is safe.

Samantha Downing is an absolute genius at witty and wicked psychological thrillers. She did it with My Lovely Wife and she’s done it again with For Your Own Good. Usually, I need to like someone in a novel, at least a little bit, to engage with it but this novel shows that, as long as a book is written as well as this one, that’s really not the case. Pretty much everyone at Belmont Academy, including the over-reaching parents, is despicable! Sonia might be ‘nice’ but she’s living some sort of dream in her head that doesn’t seem to fit with reality. We might feel sorry for one or two of the students but not for long. And Teddy is utterly appalling.

The reader spends time in the heads of several people, although it’s Teddy who sets the mood. The more he reveals of himself the more you can hardly believe what you’re hearing. And then we move into the perspective of other students and teachers and you realise that you’re in some sort of nightmare territory and it’s all brilliantly wicked! As the story goes on, nothing seems impossible. There seems nothing these people won’t do. But do they actually do them? That’s the thing. We spend time in people’s minds – how much of what they think is true?

The plot is fabulous and it kept me reading compulsively.  The more the novel went on, the more intrigued I became. By the end, it was absolutely compelling and engrossing, so much so that I read it in one day. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in one day. This delicious book demanded it.

Other review
My Lovely Wife

The Noise by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Century | 2021 (5 August) | 421p | Review copy | Buy the book

Terror has come to Mount Hood in Oregon and Tennant Riggin and her much younger sister Sophie are the only survivors from a small community of people living off the grid. Everyone has either vanished or their bodies have been smashed to pieces. The government gathers together a group of scientists, experts in, among other things, the environment, in medicine, in space. They are sealed off from the rest of the world as they study this terrible phenomenon – death is brought by a catastrophic noise and it seems there is a pattern to it. Psychologist Martha Chan believes the answers can be found with Tennant and Sophie but, with the noise spreading, will there be time to save humanity?

I love a good thriller and The Noise was irresistible to me. It’s got the lot – science fiction, horror, mystery and speculation, apocalyptic threat, action, goodies, baddies, all set within the spectacular and isolated mountains and forests of Oregon. The authors are also a draw, bringing together thrills and horror, and they do it very well.

The Noise is a fast read. It races along, with short chapters which move between the protagonists – the sisters, the scientists, the military, the President and his advisors. It’s all thoroughly entertaining but what gives this novel an edge is the nature of its mystery. I was fascinated by the noise and really wanted to know what it’s all about. Is it manmade, is it alien, is it supernatural? What is it?

Martha Chan is a sympathetic character but, surprisingly, I was most drawn to Lt Col Fraser’s story. He is in many ways the perfect soldier but he battles the noise more than most and his struggle against it is really involving.

There are also some interesting takes on horror themes, such as zombies, and It reminded me a little of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig but in many ways it’s very different. Its ending is absolutely brilliant to my mind. This is a horror thriller that totally delivers at the end and, when you know why, it makes you realise just how clever the novel has been, as well as exciting and tense. The authors of The Noise are a winning partnership and I really hope for more from them.

Other reviews
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Bill Clinton – The President is Missing
With Bill Clinton – The President’s Daughter
Target
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady