Tag Archives: Thriller

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Trapeze | 202 (27 May) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Pact by Sharon BoltonSix young students have just finished their A Levels at Oxford’s All Souls School. Each is remarkable, clever and attractive and each is predicted to have a glittering career ahead. But their lives are too safe, they dare each other and play dangerous games. One night it all goes horrifically wrong and it is then that they make the pact. 18-year-old Megan agrees to take the blame. That way they won’t all have their lives destroyed. But it comes as a great shock when Megan is given a sentence of 20 years and she serves every one of them. When she comes out, she is not the same. That is when the five friends, each successful with a great deal to lose, start to become very afraid indeed.

Sharon Bolton is, in my opinion, one of the very best writers of psychological thrillers and we’re lucky to have her. Time after time, she comes up with the most brilliant ideas and leads her readers down such a twisty path and at a rate of knots, too. The Pact is no different. It has a fantastic premise. We’ve had thrillers about groups of old friends before but not like this one. In my opinion, these people are all morally reprehensible and the majority of them know it. Arguably, what matters most to them is being caught, not doing the crime itself. Some may wriggle, and you can’t look away while they do, it’s so compelling, but they cannot escape the judgement of what they’ve done.

I loved the character of Megan. She is genuinely intriguing and odd. She makes each of her friends promise to do a big favour for her on her release from prison. These favours are not at all what you’d expect and add such an element of shock to the novel.

But, as you’d expect from a Sharon Bolton novel, there’s far more to it than that! It’s an engrossing and surprising read. I had a few small doubts about the ending but it still had a great impact on me. One of the things that I really enjoyed is the Oxford setting! This is my town and I recognised so many places, including the snug in one of my favourite north Oxford pubs. This is an Oxford that the author actually knows, which isn’t always the case, and it really adds to the mood of the novel, helping to make the six friends feel real, privileged, sinning and around us, excelling in their jobs (often in the public eye), hiding secrets. It all seems so timely….

Other reviews
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains
Dead Woman Walking
The Craftsman

The Split

The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Century | 2021 (7 June) | 620p | Review copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

The President's Daughter by Bill Clinton and James PattersonThere is a new administration in the White House. Matt Keating, ex-President, ex-Navy Seal, has retired to New Hampshire, while the former First Lady Sam has taken up an academic post. Their daughter Mel is flourishing away from the public eye, old enough now to have had her security shadows removed. But Keating is about to learn that a President is always a President and now, away from the protection of the White House, he is more vulnerable than ever and, more to the point, so is his family. This is brought home in terrifying fashion when Mel, out on a camping trip with her boyfriend, is kidnapped and, when the demands come in, Keating has no choice but to put his faith in his political rival, the new President, once his former Vice President, Pamela Barnes. But, as Matt and Sam grow increasingly desperate, perhaps the former President has options after all.

I can’t believe it’s three years since the last collaboration between Clinton and Patterson was published, The President is Missing. Time has flow by. But I remember vividly just how much I enjoyed it and I am so pleased to see another novel by this duo who marry together thriller expertise and presidential insight perfectly. We have a different President, a different situation, but The President’s Daughter is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor. I read it as soon as I could and also listened to the audio review copy. And that is staggeringly good. There’s money and influence behind this project and that shows in the quality of the audiobook and its cast.

I am a massive fan of action thrillers, especially those with a hint of politics about them and so The President’s Daughter could have been written for me. I’ve found James Patterson’s thrillers a bit hit and miss over the years but the collaboration brings a depth, authenticity and focus that, in my opinion, is very successful.

It’s a great story, very punchy and told through short chapters that alternate perspectives, including those of Keating, Mel, President Barnes, foreign agents, villains. It moves fast for such a substantial novel and we get close to several characters. I particularly liked Mel, who is in such a horrendous situation and deals with it as best as she can. She has coping mechanisms taught to her by her father’s security chief, David, who is himself one of my favourite characters in the novel. It’s not a complicated plot but it is a thrilling one and it is driven. And there are moments of out and out shock. Blimey…..

It is fascinating watching the relationship between Keating, the new President and her husband, her chief of staff. While the plot isn’t complex the relationships are and the benefit of Bill Clinton’s input here is invaluable. He knows what it’s like to leave the White House and what it’s like to be that strangest of political beings – a former President who still remains a President for the rest of his life. What does that mean? This novel explores that.

I can recommend the audiobook, which has a number of narrators and really adds to the pace and immediacy of the plot, which crosses borders and packs quite a punch. A couple of blows had me in tears, they were that powerful. I really, really hope that there is more to come from Clinton and Patterson, and soon.

Other reviews
The President is Missing

James Patterson
Target
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

Win by Harlan Coben

Century | 2021 (18 March) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Win by Harlan CobenWindsor Horne Lockwood III is a man of privilege, a billionaire proud of his emotional stillness, his cold separation from people, except perhaps his friend Myron and maybe his biological daughter. He is the man who, when called, answers the phone with the simple command ‘Articulate’. But when a suitcase containing items stolen from his family years before is found next to the body of a murdered man, Win is mildly ruffled, or at least interested. These items had disappeared on the night twenty years ago that his uncle was murdered and his cousin, Patricia, was kidnapped, stolen away to be raped and tortured at the Hut of Horrors. And then there’s the identity of the murdered man to contend with – Ry Strauss, a hoarder and a recluse, believed to have been a member of a terrorist group in the 1970s, the Jane Street Six. The FBI believes there must be a link with the Hut of Horrors, with Win’s family. It seems only logical that Win should investigate.

Win is, I’m embarrassed to admit, the first Harlen Coben thriller I’ve read but many will know that Win is the sidekick of Coben’s popular detective Myron Bolitar and now he has a novel of his own. This makes Win a great starting point for new readers like me. Myron gets his mentions but this is most definitely Win’s book and it provides such a good entry into this world of Harlan Coben’s thrillers.

Win is quite a character and my feelings towards him are mixed. He’s undoubtedly arrogant, defying anyone to like him, and he has some extremely annoying and obnoxious habits, but the fact that others do seem drawn to him, to want to work for him quite apart from any financial gain, adds to his charisma. But what clinched it for me is Win’s increasing bewilderment surrounding his feelings for his ‘biological daughter’. I found myself liking him, perhaps not a huge amount, but certainly enough to be fascinated by him. He’s undoubtedly unusual and that made a refreshing change.

The big appeal of Win, though, is its extraordinary and fabulous plot. This is a great story with so many layers to it. It’s intricate, it’s involving, it’s terrifying and it is extremely gripping. It’s a puzzle that Win must dispassionately solve but it’s also a dark storm. I love that mix of neatness and chaos. It is brilliantly done by Harlan Coban and, on reading this, I could completely understand why so many people are hooked on his thrillers. I did find myself getting a little lost on occasion but I was happily swept away by it and loved how it all came together.

I listened to the audiobook, which is brilliantly read by Steven Weber. The novel is narrated by Win, which makes it a perfect fit for the audio format when told as well as Steven Weber tells it. He gives Win a voice that fits so well. I was engrossed. Despite the darkness of some of the content, this book is a lot of fun to listen to.

I’m really intrigued now to read earlier novels, to meet Myron for myself and to understand more about his relationship with Win and to find out more about Win himself. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like him in a book before.

The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan

HQ | 2021 (15 April) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Wild Girls by Phoebe MorganIt’s been a long time since these four women – Grace, Felicity, Alice and Hannah – would have thought of themselves as best friends. They grew up together, running amok as a gang of wild girls, and that turned into close friendships as adults. Until it all went wrong and now each must deal with feelings of guilt, distrust and regret. It’s a surprise, then, when Grace, Alice and Hannah receive a message from Felicity inviting them to a party in a luxury lodge in Botswana, an all expenses paid dream holiday. Each of these women face different circumstances in their lives but perhaps getting away from home for a while is what they need? Against their better judgement, they each make the trip to join Felicity in Botswana. They would have been better off listening to those instincts.

I really enjoy Phoebe Morgan’s stand alone thrillers and I particularly couldn’t wait for The Wild Girls. I travelled around Botswana many years ago and my memories of it are vivid. Its the perfect setting for a mystery novel – a beautiful, remote location, dangers outside, little chance of help. Perfect. I must say, though, that it seems an awfully long way to go just for a long weekend!

I love the way in which the mystery builds. I found it engrossing and read half of the novel in just one sitting. The chapters move between the perspectives of Grace, Alice and Hannah and I was soon interested in their different lives. There are hints of things going on in the background and in the past, which are very intriguing and disturbing. These women feel multi-dimensional. Phoebe Morgan is very good at creating believable characters with a backstory you want to learn about.

The scenes set when the three women arrive at the lodge are thoroughly compelling as the reader tries to second guess the characters with what on earth is going on. I didn’t find the second half as engrossing, possibly and ironically because the first half is so sensational! The past and the present begin to merge together. I think the greatest fun to be had is in the sheer tantaslising mystery of the first half, which is very well done indeed.

The Wild Girls is such a fun, fast thriller, which also benefits from being set in such an unusual and very enticing location. It’s therefore escapist as well as thrilling and allows the mind to travel even if the rest of us can’t for now.

Other reviews
The Girl Next Door
The Babysitter

When I was Ten by Fiona Cummins

Macmillan | 2021 (15 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

When I Was Ten by Fiona CumminsThe Carter family seemed to everyone else to be living an idyllic life in their large beautiful house on the top of a hill. The two little Carter girls seemed happy as did their father, the village doctor, and mother. Then, in 1997, one of the sisters committed an unimaginable act. She murdered her parents with a pair of scissors and ten-year-old Sara is charged with their murder – the watching world is absolutely horrified – and is locked away until she was 18 while the other sister is given a new identity. Twenty years after the crime it is all now coming out as Catherine Allen watches the news and sees her sister on it talking about the murder of their parents. Their neighbour and friend all those years ago, Brinley, is now a journalist after the big story and it looks as though now she might have it. More lives than one will be altered forever as the revelations flow.

I am a huge fan of Fiona Cummins. She’s one of those writers whose books I will always read and as soon as possible. I especially loved The Neighbour and I’ve been looking forward to what would follow it. When I was Ten, another entirely stand alone thriller, was well worth the wait.

The novel tackles a subject that is not an easy one – the abuse of a child that is so severe, so calculatedly evil, that it leads to that child murdering her parents. The narrative moves backwards and forwards through time so that we witness what the sisters went through and how this pulled them together until the murder divided them forever as prison took one and a new identity claimed the other. We see what this has done to Catherine Allen, who has created a new life, knowing that now everything will change as the past is awoken and others, such as the media or a cabinet minister, begin to feed on it for their own gain. Society has judged the sisters who have kept their secrets. Can Brinley help or will she destroy them?

The thread featuring the cabinet minister is perhaps a distraction, although I did enjoy it, but the focus here is on lives destroyed and altered and, as the vultures circle, it builds into a thoroughly engrossing and compelling read as we learn more and more about the past and about the present. Fiona Cummins is a clever writer. Her stories don’t develop as you’d expect while still emotionally involving the reader in their characters. So we have the best of both worlds – an exciting psychological and crime thriller as well as an insightful and empathetic portrayal of a terrible situation that destroys lives while also inciting a judgemental society’s salacious interest.

The Neighbour was one of my top 20 books of 2019 and there is every chance that When I Was Ten will do as well in 2021. It is most certainly a powerful and haunting depiction of what happens when a child kills and what drove her to it.

Other reviews
Rattle
The Collector
The Neighbour

The Castaways by Lucy Clarke

HarperCollins | 2021 (18 March) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Castaways by Lucy ClarkeSisters Lori and Erin have always been close, supporting each other through the loss of their mother, living together, holding each other up. When Lori’s marriage ends very unhappily, she books a dream holiday island-hopping in Fiji for herself and Erin. But one evening in the hotel emotions pour out and the sisters fight. When Lori flies to another island the next day, she’s on her own. Erin refuses to go with her. So when the small plane vanishes, Erin is tormented by memories of their last words to one another. Two years later, the pilot is discovered in Fiji, living under an alias. Erin heads back to Fiji, to the same hotel, determined to discover the truth.

The Castaways has a fantastic premise, not to mention an exotic tempting location, and it is such a fun read. The novel’s narrative is divided between ‘Erin now’ and ‘Lori then’ as we witness what happened aboard the plane and during its immediate aftermath and in the time that has passed as Erin tries to discover the truth and deal with her guilt. While we know a little more than Erin due to the book’s structure, the big mystery of those missing two years looms over the novel and I was desperate to know what happened.

The crash scene makes for traumatic reading and I have now started to rethink my dream holiday of island hopping in Fiji… Lori’s tale in the aftermath of the crash is riveting and dramatic while Erin must untangle a mystery. Both elements are compelling. The weaving together of past and present works well and the novel is very atmospheric as the two sisters, in their very different environments, reflect on their relationship, their dependence on one another and being apart. It is poignant and very sad at times.

While I thought that the conclusion fell a little short, I enjoyed The Castaways very much and read it in a day, something that I don’t do too much these days. It is very hard to put down.

Savage Road by Chris Hauty

Simon & Schuster | 2021 (21 January) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Savage Road by Chris HautySavage Road is a political thriller that follows hot on the heels of its predecessor, the excellent Deep State. It stands alone perfectly well but it completely spoils the shocks of Deep State. Personally, I’d recommend reading them in order, not least because Deep State is one of the best political thrillers I’ve ever read and made me gasp out loud in shock on the bus more than once! With that warning out of the way, on with the review….

Hayley Chill is now a full-time staffer at the White House, having finished her rather eventful time as an intern. But those with the very, very highest clearance know that Hayley is more than that. She works for the ‘Deep State’, the power that really controls the United States, and her mission is to steer the Russian mole in the White House, now turned double agent, Richard Monroe, the President of the United States. And these are dangerous times. The cold war has gone cyber with attacks escalating between the two countries and the President is being pushed towards war. With the clock ticking, Hayley must discover the origin of the cyber attacks and stop them before it is too late.

Deep State was such a reading highlight of 2020 and I did wonder how on earth Chris Hauty could follow it. The answer is that he does a very good job indeed and that is due in large part to his fantastic creation of Hayley Chill and the situation which has placed a traitor in the Oval Office. I love Hayley. She is a diamond with rough edges, largely underestimated and misunderstood as a redneck, a former soldier and boxer, fiercely loyal and courageous, stubborn and relentless, incorruptible. Hayley Chill is brilliant. And she contrasts in every way with Richard Monroe. The relationship between these two is unlike any other I’ve read in a political thriller. The tension is incredible.

There are shocks in Savage Road that challenge those in Deep State. It’s staggering how Chris Hauty can do this time after time! You never know what will happen in these novels. The plotting in Savage Road is second to none.

I can say no more as you need to discover what’s going on here for yourself but it seems like such a good time to read a political thriller. I read it during the last days of the Trump administration. No longer do I think that the events described by Chis Hauty are impossible, while nothing about the activity of spies would surprise me. And yet these books do just that! And, just as with Deep State, Savage Road has left me wanting more.

Other review
Deep State

Slough House by Mick Herron

John Murray | 2021 (4 February) | 320p | review copy | Buy the book

Slough House by Mick HerronWe have reached the seventh novel in this truly brilliant series by the genius that is Mick Herron. If you haven’t read the others (and I can definitely recommend the audiobooks read by Sean Barrett if you want to catch up), then Slough House does stand up very well on its own but much of its impact does come from having met before these extraordinary inhabitants of Slough House. Known as the Slow Horses, these men and women have been cut adrift from M15 for the worst of reasons and Slough House is where they go to fester, under the disturbing control (or manipulation) of Jackson Lamb, a man you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley even if he were able to squeeze down it.

Relations between the secret service agencies of Britain and Russia are hotting up – or should that be colding down? – and Jackson Lamb and his ‘team’ of spy rejects are caught in the middle. But, should ‘Princess’ Diana Taverner, now M of M15, assume that they are a spent force then she couldn’t be more wrong. They still have tricks up their sleeves. The Slow Horses are under attack again, with their number in severe risk of reducing further but, incredibly, one former colleague appears to be back from the dead, albeit probably temporarily. It’s time to fight back.

The Slough House series of books are must reads if you have any interest at all in contemporary spy novels and, incredible as it is to say as they are all excellent, this latest novel is in my opinion the best of the series. One reason for this is that the characters and the building of Slough House itself are now well established. I love how the novels begin with a tour of the House by our omnipresent narrator. These sections always remind me of Bleak House and set the stage every bit as well. These novels reek with the corrupt atmosphere of Slough House – the cigarette smoke, the mess, the flatulence of Jackson Lamb, the booze, misery, guilt, dejection and failure. All is contrasted with the refined and clean rooms of the M15 headquarters in Regents Park. But in Slough House we become more aware than ever that rot can be found in that location as well – corruption, vice and the old boy’s network. This is a world where an Etonian Prime Minister is trying to hold everything together and in which ‘Yellow Vests’ march on the streets, ugly and extreme.

Despite all of the problems and power struggles at home, there is a war on between the spies of the UK and Russia, triggered by the novichok poisoning that has left a British citizen dead. This is a fascinating starting point for the novel and the plot is involved, complex and gripping throughout.

We meet old ‘friends’ in Slough House, each of whom is dealing with their own problems, addictions, mistakes and griefs. Roddy Ho is as abhorrent (and hysterical) as ever but we spend much of the time with River, a man whose very blood is steeped in the secret service. We are involved with these people. Even Jackson Lamb excels himself (his potential for violence has never been more coldly shocking). But we retain an emotional investment in them. That’s the extraordinary thing.

Mick Herron is a brilliant spy writer. He has created an incredible cast of men and women, both the rejects and the powerful. His portrayal of Diana Taverner is particularly well developed in Slough House and I enjoyed her appearances – especially the scenes between Diana and Lamb. The books are witty and chillingly cool and atmospheric, as the reader strives to reach out to characters in very real distress. And danger. A great deal of danger. As always, I was left wanting more. These novels are essential reading.

Other reviews
London Rules
Joe Country

The Two Lost Mountains by Matthew Reilly

Orion | 2021 (21 January) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Two Lost Mountains by Matthew ReillyJack West Jr is back! The Two Lost Mountains is the penultimate novel in Matthew Reilly’s corking series of thrillers in which Jack West Jr and his team must fulfil a sequence of ancient challenges in order to save the planet, the world, everything, from extinction. If, like me, you’ve been putting these books to the top of your reading pile for a fair few years now, then you don’t need me to tell you how good they are and how close we’re all getting to the end! But, if you haven’t read them before, then you won’t want to start with this one, the sixth, you’ll want to go back to Seven Ancient Wonders, which takes the story back to its beginning about twenty years ago. A lot has happened since then. A lot!

The Two Lost Mountains is not an easy book to review because, as you may well know, the previous book The Three Secret Cities (yes, the number countdown continues) ended at quite a crucial point and I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice to say, that this latest adventure picks up where the other one ends – we land on our feet and we’re off and running again.

Our heroes, and our baddies (and they are brilliant villains in these books – they’re evil on both a human and mythological scale, which I really enjoy) are focused. They know what they have to do before the final challenge. The sides are all declared and they’re desperate to beat each other to be the first to the Labyrinth, the goal of this novel. The main aim of these groups is, of course, to beat Jack and his team. There’s a sense that they just might do it. Jack’s team isn’t the size it used to be and you can bet that events in this book might shrink it further. You’re going to have to hang on when you read this. And there’s a new villain! Someone who wants nothing more than to welcome annihilation and die in a blaze of glory – how do you fight someone like that?

The adventures are breathless to read! I love the challenges in these books. The tension is enormous. The locations are great. The mix of thriller, classical history and mythology, disaster novel is so good. I love the references to ancient Egyptian and Greek history and legend. As you’d expect in an adventure such as this, archaeological remains do take rather a battering (to put it mildly). The potential destruction of the Earth is now closer than ever and so it’s fitting that we begin to see its impact on the wider world. It’s felt in these pages and in cities across the globe. I also love the experience of reading these books, with their diagrams, maps and charts. They’re so exciting!

At the heart of the novel is Jack West Jr, a man with so many responsibilities, who is now facing up to the passing years, and is more protective than ever of the younger people in his care. I really like Jack. I’m not sure he’s going to survive all this. His team members all leave messages for the others, to be read out in case they should die. We’ve read a few of them over the years. I worry that we’ll read Jack’s.

Matthew Reilly has written some fabulous thrillers over the years, including my favourite thriller of all time – Ice Station (the first novel to feature the beloved Scarecrow). I can’t wait for ‘The One Thingummy’ that will complete the Jack West Jr series and I also can’t wait for whatever will follow it.

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

The Three Secret Kingdoms (Jack West 5)

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Headline | 2020 (21 January) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shiver by Allie ReynoldsFive old friends arrive in the remote French ski resort of Le Rocher for a reunion. Their past together had been a glorious one – they were professional snowboarders from more than one country, competing against one another in the exhilarating and dangerous Half Pipe competition. But that was ten years ago and it had ended in tragedy in this very place. Millie had been in two minds about whether to come, but the invitation had come from Curtis, a man she had always had feelings for, even though she had had a relationship with another of the five. And she knows that the reunion must have particular meaning for Curtis. His sister Saskia had died here all those years ago, her body never found, lost within the glacier. But Curtis, Millie learns, is there because of her. His invitation had come from Millie. And now they all find themselves in an isolated, empty resort and that’s when the games begin.

I absolutely adored Shiver! There has been a run recently of mysteries set in chalets and ski resorts and I cannot get enough of them. Shiver is the latest and it is fabulous. I’m a huge fan of ski sports, including the Half Pipe (from the warmth and comfort of my chair), and I am amazed by the skill and bravery of the athletes. It is an absolutely terrifying sport and this book gives real insight into the character of extreme sports and those who do it. All five are larger than life personalities. They have to be to do this thing. And this means that their relationships are intense, immediate and alive. I can’t say that I liked all of these people but I was mesmerised by them.

The location is fantastic. The action takes place off-season but Le Rocher is one of those places where ski sports can take place at any time due to the glacier, but what a dangerous place that is with its deep, hidden crevices. This means that the hotel is empty. The friends find no staff. It’s a frightening place, even before it all sets off. But Millie, Curtis, Brent, Dale and Heather still find themselves come alive in this place, reminded of those days ten years ago. Their lives are nothing like that now and they can reclaim some of that excitement from the past. I loved that sense of adventure and resilience and mourned with them the passing of the years and their youth. But then there is a real shift as they realise the danger they are in. It’s hugely exciting and a real pageturner.

This is another of those ‘locked room’ mysteries. They work so well in remote wintry settings and it’s very effective here. It’s dangerous outside but perhaps even more so inside. The tension and sense of danger builds further with the parallel story of the tragic events from ten years ago, which are told from Millie’s perspective. Millie is struggling to reach the snowboarding levels of Brent, Curtis and Saskia and there is a very real rivalry between Saskia and Millie as they compete for places in the British snowboarding team. Their rivalry becomes a monster but it is also complicated by some intense and complicated feelings. I love how Allie Reynolds brings the young Millie to life. She feels very real. And then there’s Saskia.

Allie Reynolds clearly knows a great deal about the snowboarding world and this fills the novel, giving it a satisfying air of authenticity and insight. The danger of this sport! I knew it was dangerous but I had no idea. That’s one side of the very real appeal of this novel. The other is the fantastic building of tension, rivalry, and danger matched by the eerie location and the sinister mood. And yet there’s a beauty here – the landscape, the glorious jumps of the snowboarders in the half pipe and the pure exuberance of youth, a time that is destroyed. What perfect reading this is for these cold winter nights.

There are some absolutely gorgeous hardback editions of this on the way so do look out for one of those.