Tag Archives: Thriller

‘Opening the Doors of Perception’ – Guest post by Gavin Scott, author of The Age of Exodus

Earlier this month, Titan Books published Age of Exodus by Gavin Scott. You can read my review of this excellent historical thriller here. I’m delighted to present here a guest post by Gavin Scott in which he discusses the books that inspired him the most, that liberated his imagination and opened the doors of perception.

In 1960, when I was ten years old a mysterious boy appeared at my primary school in Hull and gave me to a heavy, cloth-covered volume published by Ernest Benn and Co: The Short Stories of H.G. Wells. I cannot remember the boy’s name, and I sometimes ask myself who he really was, but it was a book that for me opened the Doors of Perception. I began with a story called The Stolen Bacillus, which starts out as a scientific thriller and ends as riotous comedy. Then I read A Deal in Ostriches and found the payoff was even funnier, which led to the delights of The Truth about Pyecraft and his extraordinary weight reduction formula. Then Jimmy Goggles the God, and the mysteries of The Moth, and on, and on… Collectively, Wells’ stories liberated my imagination, and it has never, I think, been entirely recaptured by mere everyday reality.

I discovered Jules Verne around the same time, inspired – no, desperate – to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea after seeing the Disney movie starring James Mason as the tragic, haunted Captain Nemo. At my urging my parents bought the book for me for Christmas 1960 and I remember coming down secretly to read it before it was officially handed over on Christmas Day. If Wells freed my imagination, Verne taught me how to send it racing along the great, streamlined canals of scientific research.

And then, of course, there was Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in John Murray’s evocative paperback edition, drew me into the foggy streets of 1890’s London through prose that made me feel as if Dr. Watson’s pipe-smoke was swirling hypnotically around me as I read. To science and the imagination were added the allure of mystery and detection, and I read and re-read the entire Holmes canon on the ship that took my family from England to New Zealand in 1961.

Not long after we arrived amid the fields and orchards of Hawkes Bay, the pleasures of detection were supplemented by the delights of pell-mell, helter-skelter action, as experienced in John Buchan’s great thriller, The Thirty Nine Steps. And not just action – but terrific nature writing which evoked, with great precision, the green glens of the Scottish lowlands where the chase took place. From then I traveled with Richard Hannay through the forests of Germany, the dangerous alleys of Istanbul, and the austere northern beauties of The Island of Sheep.

In 1962 at a church bazaar in the little village of Havelock North I discovered P.G. Wodehouse’s, Jeeves and Wooster stories, in those thick-paged volumes with their alluringly cartoon covers produced by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. As well as comic timing, Wodehouse not only taught me plotting – he is a master of narrative construction – but also the incredible richness of which the English language is capable. His prose incorporates the cadences of Shakespeare, Milton, the Bible, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ethel M Dell and the British Foreign Office in a series of gloriously baroque word-cathedrals.

Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible are also to be found, of course, in the next great author into whose world I entered: J.R.R. Tolkien – together with the sturdy rhythms of Icelandic sagas and Anglo-Saxon chronicles. I found The Lord of the Rings during the early lonely weeks after I got a scholarship to a boarding school called Wanganui Collegiate, which gave me a good education in a somewhat demanding environment. Over the next three years whenever I needed to escape from it all I needed to do was open one of those volumes with Sauron’s eye staring out of the grey cover, and find myself in Middle Earth – and particularly among the wooded hills between Hobbiton and the Buckland Ferry – on a quest of my own.

The final early literary influence to whom I want to pay tribute has fallen from fashion these days, but is still, in my view a font of wisdom and insight into the human heart. I came across C.P. Snow’s Strangers and Brothers novels when, graduating from my boarding school at 17, I volunteered for a New Zealand government program to teach English to Iban, Chinese and Malay kids in a jungle school in Sarawak. It was an extraordinary experience, but again, like Wanganui Collegiate, a demanding one, and there were times when the perfect antidote was not just to accompany Snow’s hero, Lewis Eliot on his rise through the English class system but to bask in the judicious humanity of Snow’s own wise, forgiving company.

That, I think, is what those early literary experiences inspired me to want to create – worlds, both physical and psychological, into which readers would want to enter when reality becomes just a little too much. And to which both they – and I – can return whenever we wish. That, at any rate, is what I believe lay behind the gift of the mysterious book when I was a child, and it is certainly what the Duncan Forrester adventures aspire to now.

The Age of Exodus by Gavin ScottGavin Scott’s third historical detective thriller, The Age of Exodus, was published by Titan Books on 11 September. It features Scott’s archaeologist hero Duncan Forrester, the creation of Israel, Ernest Bevin, and a Sumerian demon. With its two predecessors, The Age of Treachery and The Age of Olympus, it is available from Amazon and other outlets in paperback, on Kindle and as an audiobook, read by the author.

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The Spear of Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Headline | 2018 (20 September) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Spear of Atlantis by Andy McDermottNina and Eddie are back! And how glad I am to see them. This archaeological mystery thriller series has been one of my very favourites for years and I can’t get enough of them. Nina Wilde, the famous archaeologist, and Eddie Chase, her ex-SAS bald Yorkshireman husband, are old friends of mine. They’re constantly getting to trouble and, whenever they do, we’re right by their side. The Spear of Atlantis is the fourteenth adventure in the series and, as with any of them, it can be read alone but reading them from the beginning has been such a joy.

Nina Wilde is the most famous archaeologist of her day. Her discoveries have been extraordinary and they’ve become the stuff of legend, even forming the subject for a series of successful films. Perhaps this isn’t surprising considering that they include Atlantis, Excalibur and the tomb of Hercules. Nina is a celebrity, famous most of all for Atlantis. And so when a ludicrously wealthy Emir holds an exhibition of priceless Atlantis artefacts on the maiden voyage of his enormously luxurious cruise ship Atlantia, it’s not surprising that he should invite Nina along as his guest of honour. Unfortunately, Nina, as ever, is a magnet for trouble. There is one artefact in particular that everybody wants because, so legend has it, it will lead the way to the Spear of Atlantis. And the Spear is one object that the world does not want to fall into the wrong hands. Only two things can stop that happening – one is Nina Wilde and the other is Eddie Chase.

I read The Spear of Atlantis on my summer holidays and I couldn’t have picked a better choice. This is just the sort of book you want to read to make a plane journey fly by. Recent novels in the series have been a little more hit or miss than usual, largely due to the introduction of Macy, Nina and Eddie’s precocious little daughter, who, I’m afraid to say, can be extremely irritating. But the good news is that the older she gets, the less I mind her and Eddie is becoming thankfully less child-friendly again. In fact, Macy doesn’t feature in this novel as much, leaving the adults to get on with what they do best – fighting for their lives, destroying vast swathes of cities or archaeological sites, working out puzzles and making the most atrocious puns. The result is one of my favourite books of the fourteen.

Much of The Spear of Destiny takes place either at sea or across Spain and I loved these locations (I was actually in Spain when I read it). I really enjoyed the introductory chapters aboard the cruise ship and they set up the thriller very well and then it all explodes – quite literally. Nina is on the run and Eddie isn’t too far behind her. It’s thrilling stuff. Nina gets some chapters on her own in the novel and it’s good to spend some quality time with her as she works out some extremely complex clues while trying to stay one step ahead of the baddies.

Eddie is one of my favourite characters in all fiction. I love him. He makes me laugh so many times. Andy McDermott has got his character down to the letter. He’s extremely entertaining, so well depicted – I can picture him in my head so clearly – and full of life. The baddies are a mixed and varied bunch and a couple are rather interesting and unusual. This is one of the lighter books of the series in tone but no less enjoyable for that.

As always with a thriller such as this you have to suspend your powers of disbelief. But it’s such a pleasure to do that. I’ve been reading these thrillers for over ten years and the pleasure they continue to give me is priceless. I can’t thank Andy McDermott enough for feeding my habit for Nina and Eddie.

Other reviews
Temple of the Gods
The Valhalla Prophecy
Kingdom of Darkness
The Revelation Code
King Solomon’s Curse

Adam Gray thriller
The Shadow Protocol (or The Persona Protocol)

The Age of Exodus by Gavin Scott

Titan Books | 2018 (21 August) | 399p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Age of Exodus by Gavin ScottIt is 1947 and for many the Second World War is not yet over. Dr Duncan Forrester, an archaeological fellow at Oxford University, rather hopes it is for him. He was a Special Operations Executive during the war, risking his life behind enemy lines. Now he wants to put all of that behind him, as well as affairs of the heart, and focus on the archaeology and linguistics of ancient Minoan society.

But then a student calls in a favour. A friend of his, Templar, now working at the Foreign Office, bought a Sumerian seal when he was based in Cairo during the war. At the time Templar thought little of it but now he is receiving anonymous and bizarre threats, demanding the return of the seal. Forrester promises to do what he can but then one night Templar is found horribly murdered in the Near Eastern galleries of the British Museum. It is almost as if a supernatural power has wreaked its vengeance on him. And Templar’s death is just the beginning.

The Age of Exodus is the third and final novel in Gavin Scott’s Duncan Forrester trilogy, set during the aftermath of World War Two. I haven’t read The Age of Treason and The Age of Olympus but I’m now determined to put that right because I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent mix of archaeological mystery and diplomacy gone awry during these difficult months and years as the world tries to make peace work. The fact that I hadn’t read the others didn’t affect my enjoyment, other than that some people were mentioned that I think familiar readers might have encountered before. There were also hints of previous events and cases but nothing that spoiled the earlier books. This is a stand alone thriller.

It’s a great story and it’s cleverly done. The menacing gods of ancient Sumer loom over events and occultists flourish in the magic and esoteric bookshops of London and further afield. It all adds such a chilling, quite frightening yet fascinating atmosphere. And the hint of the supernatural hanging over the gruesome murders is very effective. That’s one side of the book. The other takes us into the halls of diplomacy at a time when countries squabbled over the creation of an independent State of Israel for those Jews who suffered unspeakable horror. This part of the novel is compelling as we meet some of the key figures of the debate, some historical and some fictional, as the arguments move across Britain, Europe and the United States. I really enjoyed the novel’s movement and journeys. What stays with the reader, though, may well be the Jewish refugees that Forrester encounters while they wait for a vessel to sail them on that hugely risky voyage to safety. These people will never be able to leave the war behind them.

I’m hard pressed to find a fault with The Age of Exodus but if I had to find one it would be that there are an awful lot of characters who come and go through these pages. I did find it a little difficult remembering who some of these people were and I would have welcomed a list of characters at the beginning or end.

The Age of Exodus tells a fascinating tale, combining a fun archaeological mystery complete with larger than life characters with a significant historical issue and making both compelling and gripping. Duncan Forrester is a fantastic detective. He has his own inner struggles. He is both a reluctant killer and a studious academic. At times his actions surprise himself. He’s led by his heart, even as he works things out. He’s a likeable man, searching for answers in a world that’s left him a little lost. I can’t wait to read the earlier two books.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

HarperCollins | 2018 (6 August) | 470p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Pieces of Her by Karin SlaughterIt is August 2018 and it’s time for 31-year-old Andrea (that’s Andy to you and me, but not to her mother) to make some decisions about her future. It’s time for her to leave the family home once again and stand on her own two feet. At least that’s what her mother Laura thinks. And it’s right in the middle of their discussion about this in a shopping mall restaurant (surely not the right time or place for this debate, Andy thinks), when a young man walks in and shoots dead another mother and daughter standing nearby. The gun is then trained on Laura and Andy. With barely time for hesitation, Laura kills the boy with his own knife. Andy cannot believe her eyes. She looks at her mother and no longer knows who she is.

And this is just the beginning. As events escalate, Andy has no choice but to go undercover, to run for her life while chasing the truth about Laura. In so doing, Andy will not only learn who her mother is, she’ll also learn lessons about herself. If she can stay alive, that is…

Pieces of Her is the latest stand alone thriller by Karin Slaughter. I absolutely loved The Good Daughter and so I have been really keen to read this, snapping up the rather lovely hardback to supplement my review ebook copy. Once more we have a novel that puts a family under scrutiny – the crime or mystery at the heart of the book secondary to its portrayal of a family divided by secrets and shocked into action by sudden violence and trauma. The premise of Pieces of Her is compelling.

The narrative is divided between the present day adventure of Andy’s cat and mouse chase across much of the United States and another story set in 1986. I’m not going to say anything about that but it is in these sections that the truth can be found. I’m not sure that there are any surprises here in what happens but it’s certainly compelling and the pages fly through the fingers. I love books divided in this way.

I really enjoy Karin Slaughter’s writing. Her depictions of these small towns in America, the great distances between them, and the people met along the way, are all done so well. My one issue with the novel was with the character of Andy. I know that she’s trying to find her own voice, to establish her independence, essentially to grow up, but you can see why she annoys one character in particular. She certainly irritated me with her unfinished sentences, her laboured thinking – sometimes it’s as if she has lightbulbs pinging above her head – and her fumbling around. Andy feels very young for her 31 years. I realise that this is all purposefully done, Andy is supposed to be like this, but it does make her a pain to be around. Laura is a much more interesting person to spend time with. She too has her agonising moments of indecision but there’s a good reason for it in her case. I did enjoy the psychology behind Laura’s personality, as opposed to Andy who was just irritating. I also had some issues with a male character who keeps popping up in Andy’s storyline.

Pieces of Her is a substantial novel at over 450 pages but it is such a fast and furious read. I found it very difficult to put down and read huge chunks in one go. I think Karin Slaughter is a fascinating writer. I love her portrayals of (most) people and places, her understanding of both. It all seems very real and it’s engrossing.

Other review
The Good Daughter

Vox by Christina Dalcher

HQ | 2018 (ebook: 21 August; Hb: 23 August) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

Vox by Christina DalcherIt’s one thing knowing that you’re not able to speak more than 100 words in a day without a severe punishing electric shock, but it’s another thing entirely knowing that your young daughter is also not allowed to speak, just at the time when she should be enjoying the discovery of new words every single day and shouting them out loud to her parents and brothers – brothers who are allowed to say just what they like and are growing used to a world in which women have no rights at all. Jean McClellan will do anything to fight for her daughter’s future, to fight against her silence.

I love the premise of Vox – a dystopia set in America during the very near future in which an extreme rightwing president has decided to end the rights of women. The ‘bracelets’ that women wear to limit their words to 100 a day are just the most visible sign of their oppression but it is making itself increasingly known in every area of life. Jean used to be Dr McClellan, a leading linguistic scientist in the fight against aphasia, a brain condition that – rather ironically – leaves the victim speechless. Now Jean is her husband’s chattel. But she is given a way out due to her background and she won’t be going back again.

Vox is told in the first person, present tense by Jean, and this is undoubtedly part of what gives the story its impact – Jean’s fury and frustration, contrasting with her tender love for her children, especially her daughter, make it all seem horrifyingly real, even possible. It also gives us a heroine we can get behind. Jean also tells us about other silenced women she has known, as well as the men, including her own husband, and what they are doing about it – if anything at all.

I became hugely fired up reading Vox! It made me rant! The injustice and indignity of it all. The first half of the book particularly appealed to me as this new fascist America is revealed (so far the rest of the world is safe) and we witness its impact on the daily lives of men and women. It’s fascinating, even without the parallels that one inevitably draws to the anti-Jewish laws of Nazi Germany. I was engrossed.

The second half of the novel was less successful for me because in these chapters we moved into the lab, science takes over, and the scope of the story narrows. I love science in my science fiction but I think that the main strength of Vox is speculative, in the society it portrays and in the voices that have been silenced, a really enjoyable element of the first half of the book. Although one does have to wonder how plausible it is that 50% of the American population were silenced so easily and quickly.

You can read and enjoy Vox as pure entertainment, and it certainly is entertaining, but it also serves as a timely non-preachy reminder that we must stay alert.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Head of Zeus | 2018 (9 August) | 371p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate MascarenhasIt is 1967 and four very different women are revelling in the glory of having invented a time travel machine. But in this moment of celebration, in full view of the media, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a very public mental breakdown and is removed from the programme. Her former colleague and the leader of the group, Margaret, makes sure that she can never return. The programme cannot be stigmatised in any way. Half a century later, in 2018, Odette discovers the dead body of an elderly woman in a locked room in a toy museum. The reason for the woman’s death is uncertain but Odette becomes obsessed and is determined to discover the truth. She isn’t the only one. Psychologist Ruby is Barbara’s granddaughter and, at last, Barbara is ready to talk about what happened just over fifty years before. But when, in 2017, a message arrives from the near future, Ruby becomes very afraid for her Granny Bee. Something terrible is going to happen. It will be extraordinary.

And so begins one of the most incredible novels I’ve read this year – for several years – and it’s all the more remarkable when you think that this wonderful book is Kate Mascarenhas’ debut. It’s an enormous achievement. The Psychology of Time is an immensely rewarding novel that is also very cleverly complex and so you do need to pay close attention. It’s certainly worth it. It is mesmerising.

The narrative jumps and skips backwards and forwards throughout, following the lives of a group of women over fifty years or so, but mostly focusing on events in 2017 and 2018, moving to and fro between the years and between the women during different stages of their lives. And making it even more complex and absolutely riveting is that sometimes we meet a character in the ‘wrong time’, when she is time travelling. There is none of that directive that we’re used to that two versions of the same person can’t co-exist in the same time – here you can have as many of yourselves as you like. You can revisit key times in your life and share those times with a limitless number of yourselves. You can even dance with yourself, if you fancy it. I love this element of the novel, and that’s partly because these are the most fantastic characters you could hope to meet and seeing them in different phases of their lives is enthralling.

There are so many characters to love here but my favourite is Grace, one of the original four scientists and also an intriguing artist. She has such a delightful nature and the relationship she forms in the novel is captivating and brings with it moments of pure poignancy and tenderness. I’m not going to say more about the characters because you must discover them and fall in love with them for yourself. There are several potential favourites for you to choose from. I also loved how they are all women in various stages of their rich lives, and the fact that the vast majority of the novel’s characters are women isn’t laboured. It feels natural and they’re treated with such affection. Although not all of them are good.

The distant future is only glimpsed and it’s worrisome. We hear a little of its draconian laws, and learn that its reintroduction of a kind of medieval trial by combat – except here it’s trial by fate – is brought back into the present day for time travellers who do wrong. The science behind time travel is just touched upon but the main focus of the novel is on how it affects those who do it, as well as their families and those who love them. And here we spend time with people seeking to understand it, especially Ruby and Odette.

The mystery at the heart of The Psychology of Time Travel is such a good one and every bit as quirky and curious as the rest of the novel. But its enormous appeal lies mostly in these wonderful, wonderful people and the wit and warmth with which they’re described as they flit and dance through each other’s lives – and their own. Sometimes they can bring misfortune, even death, but mostly they bring love and such a depth of feeling.

There is so much to love about this glorious, beautifully crafted novel which treats time travel in such an original and enthralling way. It’s not possible to do The Psychology of Time justice, at least for me, and so I urge you to treat yourself and discover its wonders for yourself.

Night Flight to Paris by David Gilman

Head of Zeus | 2018 (9 August) | 486p | Review copy | Buy the book

Night Flight to Paris by David GilmanIt is February 1943 and the German Occupation of France has Paris in its grip. The city’s Resistance cell is on the run, the Nazis on its tail. Men and women will be captured, they will be tortured for information, there will be deaths. Allied intelligence has no choice. They must send someone to Paris to pick up the pieces, to form another cell, and to complete the vanquished cell’s unfinished business – to find a man hunted by Germans and allies alike. He has information that could change the course of the war. The man to be sent to Paris is Harry Mitchell. He’s perfect for the job. He’s a mathematician and codebreaker at Bletchley Park but he also used to live in Paris before he had to flee in 1941 leaving his wife and daughter behind. And now they’re in the hands of the Gestapo. Mitchell is determined to get them back.

Occupied Paris is a city at war with itself. The Nazis are not the only enemy. Informers, spies, collaborators, and competing Resistance factions have made Paris even more lethal. The leaders of the SS and the Gestapo, also fighting amongst themselves for dominance, are infiltrating Parisian society, enjoying the cultural perks of the French capital, Parisian mistresses on their arm and in their bed, before descending into the city’s most frightening spaces to torture members of the Resistance. Harry Mitchell has no illusions about how dangerous Paris will be. He knows he will probably be killed and nastily. But first he has to get to Paris and his night flight will test his endurance to the limit.

David Gilman is well known for his Master of War series – a series I love – set during the Hundred Years War of the 14th century. In this standalone novel, David Gilman moves forward 600 years to another conflict and the result, Night Flight to Paris, is every bit as good, if not even better, than his medieval series. This is a very clever novel, its complex, tense plot beautifully crafted and gripping throughout. It starts off running and the pace doesn’t slacken once.

Harry Mitchell is a fascinating, likeable, courageous and potentially ruthless protagonist. For much of the time he is almost literally in the dark, forming his cell of Resistance fighters out of strangers, aware that any one of them could be a traitor, and yet camaraderie draws them together. Ultimately, Mitchell is a spy, his whole life in France and Paris is built on secrets and lies and he holds it all together with his cunning and genius. And not a little luck. There are others here that we grow attached to, even though we’re not quite sure if they can be trusted, and they are wonderfully portrayed by David Gilman, each a character in their own right, men and women, young and old, especially a radio operator whose courage is extraordinary.

I urge you to read this novel and meet these fantastic characters. To feel the tension of following them through the danger of missions and just in daily life, which can be every bit as terrifying, waiting for a car to screech to a halt outside the door, for the sound of boots running up the stairs, the bang on the door, the guns in the face.

Night Flight to Paris is a magnificent war spy thriller. I couldn’t read it fast enough. Clever, complex, gripping, emotionally engaging, terrifying. And so much more. A stand out novel of the year for me and one that kept me reading late into the summer night.

I must also mention that this is another of those gorgeous Head of Zeus hadbacks, complete with a ribbon! I do love a ribbon…

Other reviews
Master of War
Defiant Unto Death (Master of War 2)
Gate of the Dead (Master of War 3) – review and interview
Guest post – War in The Last Horseman
Viper’s Blood (Master of War 4)
Extract from Vipers Blood
Scourge of Wolves (Master of War 5)