Tag Archives: Thriller

Joe Country by Mick Herron

John Murray | 2019 (20 June) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

Joe Country by Mick HerronWarning!: This review assumes that you’ve read the earlier books in this superb series.

Slough House is full of ghosts and they haunt in an atmosphere of disappointment, bitterness, grief, boredom and slovenliness. It is the place where failed secret agents, the slow horses, are sent to rot and decay. Sometimes they die there, at other times they kill there, both adding blood to the stains on the carpets and walls. It all adds to the malaise of Slough House and its unhappy occupants. One slow horse is new. Alec Wincinski has been dismissed from the secret service headquarters in Regents Park for crimes so heinous that even his colleagues in Slough House will despise him. And he has to share an office with Roddy Ho, an extreme punishment in itself. Wincinski is a bitter man. He knows he is innocent. He will stop at nothing to expose the plot that has ruined him.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Slough House, Louisa Guy mourns a colleague and the pain intensifies when she learns that his teenage son is missing. According to the colleague’s ex-wife, the least Louisa can do is find him. Louisa knows she’s right. And so begins her secret investigation into whatever trouble it is that has caused the boy to run. It will lead her to snowlocked Pembrokeshire and following her will be other slow horses because, when all is said and done, she is one of their own and they’re not going to let her make a mess of it on her own. They can do a far better job of it together. But before that there must be a funeral. One of the big names in the spy world has died. Secrets will emerge. Everyone will go that funeral to watch who else moves among the gravestones.

As the front of this truly brilliant novel exclaims, Mick Herron is undoubtedly the master of the contemporary spy novel. He has created an extraordinary thing in Slough House. This building that is described so evocatively as if it were almost alive, a corrupt, brooding presence, inhabited by damaged, cast off men and women, has such a power to it. There is nothing like these novels. The secret service world is turned upside down and revealed in all of its power-seeking malignancy. Slough House has a fitting boss – Jackson Lamb, a corpulent, rude, obnoxious and toxic man, who oozes cleverness, slyness, decay and, perhaps, care for his ‘team’. But it’s not just about Slough House. The rot in the Secret Agence comes down from on high, from First Desk Diana Taverner in Regent’s Park, who has the ear of the Prime Minister and has to wrestle with the dirty world of politics. But if they’re dirty, she’s dirtier.

The Slough House operatives are each revealed in their glory as they wrestle with their own demons, whether they’re drink, delusion, grief or guilt. My favourite character, Roddy Ho, is on top form here and is absolutely despicable in his self-belief, bathing in slime. Mick Herron is such a witty writer! I laughed so many times. But then I also cried. There are moments here of such outrage and waste, it’s heartbreaking. Mick Herron writes with power. His sentences always hit the mark. And then there are the moments that simply shock.

There are a world of emotions in Joe Country. There’s also a world of danger and we’re taken into its centre and thrown around in the whirlpool of it all. This series is remarkable. It’s very clever and witty, full of abominable people, and yet Mick Herron makes us care intensely for a fair few of them. It seems as if every human failing can be found in Slough House, the place where disgraced spies are sent to be forgotten, not to mention a fair few tragedies and ghosts, but there’s a warmth to be found in the least likely of places. This book will undoubtedly be among my top books of 2019.

I’m very grateful to David at BlueBookBalloon for his spare copy! You can read David’s review of Joe Country here.

Other review
London Rules

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Recursion by Blake Crouch

Macmillan | 2019 (13 June) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

Recursion by Blake CrouchNYC cop Barry Sutton has been called to a rooftop. A woman is about to throw herself off and there is nothing that Barry can say that will make her change her mind – because the woman is afflicted with False Memory Syndrome. This new condition fills the sufferer’s mind with a whole host of other memories, as real as anything in their true lives. And sometimes reality just isn’t the same – a child now gone will be forever missed, a loving husband or wife now replaced. Some people just cannot cope and the suicide rate of FMS sufferers is high. And then, when Barry gets home, he gets a nosebleed, a telltale sign of infection. Barry is about to discover that the past is no longer behind him.

Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter enthralled me and is easily one of my favourite thrillers of all time. Not surprisingly, I was really keen to dive into Recursion. It did not disappoint. It’s every bit as good as Dark Matter and yet again Blake Crouch has demonstrated that he is indeed the heir to Michael Crichton, the previous and much-missed master of the techno thriller.

How to describe Recursion presents me with a bit of a challenge. I want to say no more about the plot than the brief introduction above because from simple beginnings it becomes mindbending. Blake Crouch is a genius for plotting this one the way that he has. A more complicated, twisty and knotted plot would be hard to imagine, with more paradoxes than you can shake a Schrödinger’s cat at. It is a joy to untangle. There is one moment early on that puzzled me a little but then a bit later on, when I’d been fully immersed in this curious universe, I had a Eureka moment! I’d worked it out. It’s worth taking your time to unravel this fabulous, gorgeously written narrative. It most definitely rewards.

I’m a huge fan of technothrillers, of clever puzzlers that tease with quantum physics, shifting time, conundrums and paradoxes. Recursion has all of these along with main characters that I really felt for, especially scientist Helena, a woman who goes through so much and still finds time to love, and Barry who is so brave when faced with losing everything. I loved this book and I urge you to read it and discover its strange, tortured and shattered world for yourself.

Other review
Dark Matter

Now You See Me by Chris McGeorge

Orion | 2019 (13 June) | 302p | Review copy | Buy the book

Now You See Me by Chris McGeorgeStandedge Tunnel is the longest canal tunnel in England. It’s something of a tourist attraction in the summer and one season tour guide Matthew took his five friends into the tunnel. Six went in and only five came out. Matthew was found unconscious on the boat, no trace of the other five was found. So what happened to the Standedge Five? The local police chief has a good idea. He’s the father of two of the missing people and he’s adamant that Matthew killed them and everyone agrees with him. But when author and former journalist Robert Ferringham receives a call from Matthew, begging for his help, strangely suggesting he has a message from Robert’s wife who is herself missing, Robert feels compelled to go to Standedge to find answers. Because, while everyone is convinced that Matthew is the killer, not one person can explain how how he did it.

I loved Chris McGeorge’s thriller Guess Who and so I grabbed the chance to read Now You See Me. This author is proving himself to be the master of irresistible plots, puzzles and tension. Now You See Me Has such a fantastic premise. It’s almost like the locked room concept – someone is murdered in a room but no-one could have got in – but, instead of a room we have a creepy, black tunnel that takes hours to travel through on a boat, and which, rumour has it, is haunted. Robert tries to stare into the darkness through the gate that locks the tunnel away through the winter and he is terrified. There are parts of this novel that are genuinely frightening.

The thriller’s setting is excellent. It’s set in a small community, where most people congregate in the pub and/or in the church. Many people have been affected by the tragedy in the tunnel and nobody wants to talk about it, even while they grieve. The Standedge Five, all students, are almost regarded as saints, as the best that this village could offer to the world. The anger towards Matthew is palpable. And here’s Robert stirring things up. I did enjoy Robert’s character. He suffers moments of excruciating embarrassment but this soon turns into something much worse. Plus there’s the fact that he’s haunted by his missing wife. Robert is in limbo every bit as much as the parents of the missing students are. He’s a sympathetic character and we warm to him.

I must admit that I thought the novel would progress in a different way to the one in which it did and this did rather affect my reading of the second half of the book but, clearly, this is my problem! While I did find elements of the novel a little implausible, and I questioned some characters’ behaviour, I was thoroughly entertained by Now You See Me and I think that the character of Robert Ferringham is drawn so beautifully. The author is also a master of creating atmosphere and the menace of the tunnel is a brilliant concept. I look forward to reading anything that Chris McGeorge writes in the future. He’s now one of those whose novels will go straight to the top of the pile.

Other review
Guess Who

Secret Service by Tom Bradby

Bantam Press | 2019 (30 May) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Secret Service by Tom BradbyKate Henderson has a lot on her plate. She’s got a full family life with two teenage children and a mother stricken by dementia, who also happens to be an extremely unpleasant woman. And then there’s the busy job, which involves a great deal of travel, often at short notice. For Kate is a senior officer in Britain’s Secret Service, M16, with responsibility for the Russia desk. A tip off has sent her and her small team to Turkey where it is believed that some of the most important members of Russia’s own secret service are gathering on a yacht. Kate has recruited someone to plant a bug on that yacht and what they overhear throws the UK and Russia back into the freeze of a cold war. They hear that the British Prime Minister is about to resign through ill health and that one of the candidates in his Cabinet is a Russian agent. As if this isn’t bad enough, this also tells Kate that there is a mole in M16. But who is it?

I love spy thrillers and I really liked the sound of this one. Tom Bradby is a journalist and author who now presents the ITV News at Ten. He definitely knows his stuff but, just as important as that, he really knows how to tell a good story. Secret Service is a brilliantly clever and thrilling read from start to finish. For some reason, perhaps because I’ve visited and like the country very much indeed, I particularly enjoy spy thrillers with a Russian element. They might be traditional but Tom Bradby shows here that this long-held friction still continues – and suspicions that Russia’s secret service has meddled in elections are extremely topical. And then there’s the matter of a British Prime Minister resigning, resulting in a leadership battle… that sounds rather familiar. Secret Service is undoubtedly a topical and timely thriller.

Kate Henderson is very much at the centre of the novel. She’s not presented as some cold, calculating spy master. Kate is a fully rounded human being, a woman who has to juggle family and work, with all of the guilt and demands that this entails. We spend time with Kate’s family as she has to deal with troublesome kids, a really nasty mother, and a husband who is accommodating and caring but has a pressing job of his own. Kate’s job involves a lot of soul searching as well as sacrifice. She has to decide how far she is prepared to go to protect her country, to do her job. How much will she risk? Who is she prepared to endanger? And how will she live with the consequences? The novel is full of personal stories and Kate is responsible for the lives of many of these people. It’s an engrossing and involving novel.

In a spy thriller you want puzzles, action and (as you’d expect) thrills. Secret Service provides all of these. On top of this there’s politics and the ambition of senior politicians, not to mention the ambition of Kate’s immediate superiors at M16. There is intense rivalry across the board and Kate is caught somewhere in the middle. Secret Service is intricately plotted, tense and full of menace, and at its centre is a very appealing, likeable character who has to make the most difficult of decisions, each of which has consequences. If I had a recipe of what I would put into a spy thriller, Secret Service has the lot.

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

HQ | 2019 (16 May) | 344p | Review copy | Buy the book

I Know Who You Are by Alice FeeneyAimee Sinclair is a TV and film actress on the brink of stardom. She is just finishing a movie in the UK and has an audition coming up with one of Hollywood’s top directors. For the moment, Aimee is one of those people who gets a double take in the street. But soon everyone will know her name. Everything is going so well. And then the day comes when Aimee gets home from work and discovers her husband Ben missing. He’s left his wallet, phone, keys, even his shoes behind, but Ben is gone. When she calls the police, she’s horrified to discover that they expect foul play, that she is a suspect. For it seems the police have had their eye on Aimee. They’re not the only ones. Aimee had been the victim of a stalker some time ago and Aimee now fears that the stalker is back. What do they want? And do they know something about Aimee’s past? It’s that which terrifies Aimee the most.

I was such a huge fan of Alice Feeney’s previous novel Sometimes I Lie, one of the best and twistiest psychological thrillers I’ve read, and I couldn’t wait to read I Know Who You Are. Alice Feeney is the master of the Unreliable Narrator and in Aimee Sinclair she has created another original and complex main character, who is both entertaining and largely unknowable. I loved the fact that Aimee is an actress. The perfect career for the Unreliable Narrator if ever there was one. And while this sets off all sorts of warning alarms, the novel doesn’t entirely develop in the way you think it might.

This is such a fun and entertaining novel. I really enjoyed the glimpses into Aimee’s acting world. Her position is fragile. Her reputation is paramount. Everything could end in a moment. And we meet the people who might make it end. This means lots of red herrings and false threads as this is a competitive world where nobody should be trusted. It’s hard not to feel empathy for Aimee, especially now that the ground has been pulled out from under her feet.

But there is more than one story in I Know Who You Are and the parallel tale set in the past is riveting. This is fantastic storytelling – it’s poignant, sad and horrific all at the same time and really demonstrates the skill of the author’s writing and plotting.

There is something rather bonkers about the way in which the story unwinds but nevertheless I Know Who You Are is a fun, light and fast psychological thriller that is hard to put down and very enjoyable to read. Alice Feeney really does come up with such brilliant main characters. I can’t wait to see who she comes up with next!

Other review
Sometimes I Lie

I’m delighted to post my review for the Blog Tour celebrating the publication of I Know Who You Are on 16 May. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

I Know Who You Are blog tour banner

No One Home by Tim Weaver

Michael Joseph | 2019 (16 May) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

No One Home by Tim WeaverOne Halloween night, over two years ago, the four households of the tiny Yorkshire village of Black Gale come together for a party. They’re the best of friends, a tight community of neighbours. But that night all nine of them vanish into thin air, not to be seen again. The trail has gone cold and the police abandoned their search long ago. But the families of the vanished want answers and they take their case to private missing persons investigator David Raker. Raker has his own problems to deal with, and they’re getting very pressing indeed, with the wrong people on his trail. But this could be the diversion he needs, not least because it will allow him to go missing himself for a short while. Nothing, though, could have prepared Raker for what he will discover.

No One Home is the tenth novel in the David Raker series but it’s also, I’m ashamed to say, the first I’ve read. This is one of those series that I’ve had my eye on but haven’t had the time to go back and start from the beginning. I’m one of those readers that waits for a book to come along that will throw me into the series and from that point on, having been hooked, I can go back to the beginning. No One Home is just such a book. I loved the premise – the entire small village disappearing one night, never to be seen again, and at Halloween, too. Irresistible. And so I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a stand alone. It is true, though, that there’s a lot going on in Raker’s life that I couldn’t possibly fully follow. But there was more than enough information for this not to matter too much, although I think that if you’ve read the series in full, you’ll get more from it. Nevertheless, No One Home is a very enjoyable, gripping and twisty thriller in its own right.

The narrative is divided between Raker’s own point of view and that of Jolene Kader, one of the first homicide detectives in LA who was faced with a dead body dissolving in acid back in the 1980s. This is a brilliant storyline that carries on throughout the novel and certainly does a good job of competing with the Raker storyline for our attention. I enjoyed this thread at least as much and particularly liked the way in which Tim Weaver handles the sexism and inequality that Jolene faced every single day. I cared very much for her and looked forward to her sections of the book.

As for the missing neighbours, this is a fantastic story and for much of the novel I could not see how on Earth this could possibly be solved. I felt completely in the dark and could hardly put the book down as I waited to see what would happen next. This is engrossing stuff. It’s a dark book and there’s evil in some of the characters we meet. At times the tension and the oppression of this evil was a little too much. This is one of those books that grips you but you have to put your head up for air every so often. I love that kind of book that immerses the reader so deeply in its world.

The final published edition has corrected some of the structural problems of the proof, I’m pleased to say, although this might not solve my main issue, which is the way in which one character is treated. As a result, No Way Home isn’t a perfect book, although I think its first half does a very good job of approaching that, but it grabbed my attention and I look forward to reading more.

Valley of Death by Scott Mariani

Avon | 2019 (16 May) | 435p | Review copy | Buy the book

Valley of Death by Scott MarianiIt’s that glorious time of year again! Ben Hope is back for the first of this year’s two adventures and I couldn’t be more thrilled, literally. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll no doubt say it many more, but these books are my favourite thrillers in the whole world. They always go to the top of my reading pile. I am a certified Ben Hope adorer and with Valley of Death he faces his 19th adventure. It is so good to see him again and I’m delighted, but not surprised, to say that this is a fabulous thriller, every bit as good as the best of the series, and I loved every page.

You don’t need to have read all of the series to enjoy Valley of Death – although why on earth have you denied yourself the pleasure?! – but those of you who have read the books from the beginning will find extra pleasure in these pages. Someone who has played a major part in Ben’s life returns and there is nothing Ben won’t do to help this person out of a dreadful situation. I’m not going to say who it is. You must read Valley of Death and find out!

The action this time takes Ben to India, to an arid wilderness, once the centre of a vast ancient civilisation that died out for reasons that have been lost to time, along with so many of its secrets. But archaeologist Kabir Ray has found something so significant that people will kill to claim the discovery for themselves. Kabir has a target on his back and he’s not the only one. Ben Hope, formerly a major in the SAS and now a consultant in hostage rescue, rushes to India to save lives that have become extremely important to him. The hunt will take him into a hostile desert environment where he will be outnumbered and outgunned. But you have to pity them – they’re up against Ben Hope.

Valley of Death is one of the best of the series so far. I love the mix of archaeology and action. It’s intriguing as well as exciting. The emphasis, though, is firmly on thrills and the pages are packed with fights, car chases and explosions. But there’s still time for Ben to relax with a single malt and a Gauloise cigarette, while he ponders the life choices he’s made. And we’ve been there for every one of them. I love Ben’s character. He’s three-dimensional and so real to me. I love his life in France, his circle of friends and family who come and go through the novels, his dedication and his drive. And even though he is a ruthless killer when he has to be, a formidable action hero, Ben doesn’t feel immortal. I think he knows it’s only a matter of time. I worry for him.

Ben Hope returns in House of War in November. I cannot wait! Scott Mariani, thank you!

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
Ben Hope 18: The Rebel’s Revenge