Tag Archives: Thriller

Changing reading habits and a thriller catch up – Andy McDermott and Clive Cussler

What with one reason or another, mostly due to a stressful time in the office while also being persistently unwell (and worried about the state of the world, including this bit of it), my reading has changed a little lately. I’ve not been reading much contemporary crime or psychological thrillers. This is a temporary thing, I’m sure, but for the moment I’m not too good at reading anything too gritty or featuring unlikeable/unreliable people. This doesn’t mean that I’m not reading anything dark. On the contrary, in some ways I’ve felt drawn to it (just look at Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver – you don’t get much darker than that).

I’ve been gobbling up ghost stories (I can’t wait to read The Lost Ones by Anita Frank) as well as the new Stephen King novel, The Institute, and I’ve also been reading historical fiction and sad tales, such as The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott. But I’ve also been after escapist reads and that means feeding my addiction for fun action thrillers and delving into cosy crime – I adore Jessica Fellowes’ Mitford series and I’ve been reading these at any available moment while still trying to spread them out. And my love for science fiction has meant spending time with Peter F Hamilton and Emma Newman – such fine writers.

And talking of historical fiction, I’m really looking forward to reading The Last Battle by Nick Brown shortly. Several of my favourite Roman series finished last year which has left a big gap in my reading. This will help to fill it although, sadly, it is the last adventure for the Agent of Rome, which does make me a little nervous.

What this all means is that my ginormous to be read mountain has suffered a bit of a slide. Some books have come off it to be read at a later date when I’m ready for them and can do them justice while others have come off it for good. I don’t normally read books published in the distant future until they’re almost out. That’s gone out of the window (I’m about to read a book that isn’t published until April 2020 – We Begin at the End by the genius Chris Whitaker). It also means that I’ve been buying more books than I even do normally. I’ve always spent a lot of money on books each month – every book blogger I know does the same – but the last couple of months I’ve gone a bit daft with the book buying! I have more on my list to buy next weeks…. #Oops.

This has presented a bit of a blogging quandary. I don’t always review books that I’ve bought because I often buy them purely with the intention of having fun with them while not thinking up anything to say about them. But I realise that this might leave the site a little bare! So, I thought that in between the ‘proper’ reviews I’d write briefly about some of the other books I’ve read, partly because I like to spread the love about books I’ve enjoyed, but also because it shows that I am still reading!

This time it’s the turn of two thrillers: The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott and The Titanic Secret by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul.

The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermottThe Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott

I love this series and I’ve enjoyed reading them all over the years so I bought this, the fifteenth in the series, the day it came out and immediately started reading. The books depict in thrilling fashion the archaeological adventures of American Nina Wilde and her ex-SAS Yorkshire husband, Eddie Chase. The two of them together are a riot, Eddie makes me laugh so much, and it’s just as well that they can keep on laughing because they’ve been through an awful lot over the years. Discovering Atlantis, the Ark of the Covenant, King Arthur’s Sword and so on is dangerous work. And now that Nina and Eddie have a child to care for, they’re starting to think that they should put the risky days behind them. After all, they’ve left a trail of dead bodies behind, some of them friends (there have been tears along the way). But fate has a habit of getting in the way and soon Nina and Eddie must head to China on the trail of an ancient, secret civilisation, the discovery of which threatens the future of mankind. All in a day’s work for NIna and Eddie…

The storyline continues those of recent novels but the good news is that Macy is now 10 and is no longer an irritation! In fact, she’s becoming an interesting character in her own right, which is great and bodes well for the future. I do miss the old days but this is as good as the last one, The Spear of Atlantis, and is action-packed from start to finish and is thoroughly entertaining and exhilarating. Eddie Chase (and his jokes) remains the star and how I love him. If you’ve not read this series and you enjoy an archaeological adventure then do take a look. I’ve been hooked for years and long may it continue.

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The Titanic Secret by Clive CusslerThe Titanic Secret by Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul

I am a huge Dirk Pitt fan and so when I heard that the latest Isaac Bell thriller (the eleventh) features Dirk I could not resist. It’s a bit of a mix because Bell is a detective from the past (he’s recently survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and Dirk Pitt is the head of National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), an agency that works for the American government in the present day. But what links these two together here is The Titanic and that’s what drew me to this, the first Bell novel I’ve read in some years. The Raising of the Titanic was the first Cussler novel I read many years ago and so the idea of reading a prequel to this was irresistible.

It’s very easy to work out which of the authors wrote what, with Cussler doing the prologue and epilogue with Dirk, and Jack Du Brul writing the rest, which is set in 1911 and 1912, although the influence of Cussler is everywhere, especially in the numerous scenes on trains and in vintage vehicles (a trademark of Cussler’s thrillers). Isaac is a likeable hero – an Edwardian Dirk, really – and he stars here in a very exciting thriller which covers a fair bit of the globe.

I did have a couple of issues – the mistake of calling Newcastle-upon-Tyne (in NE England) a coastal city on the English Channel is pretty unforgiveable and shabby. Also, The Titanic is right there on the cover but don’t expect to find her in these pages. Nevertheless, this is a fun read albeit not the best written of Cussler’s books – perhaps it’s the historical setting which has made the prose rather stilted and laboured. The action scenes are where this thriller does its job properly and happily there are a fair few of them. It made me want the next Dirk Pitt thriller more than ever.

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Cold Storage by David Koepp

HQ | 2019 (19 September) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Cold Storage by David KoeppIn 1987 an unknown fungus is discovered in a remote farmstead in Australia. It hasn’t left a soul alive. Bodies have been ripped apart by the fungus within. It arrived from space, it is merciless in its determination to survive, to adapt to new environments, to conquer anything in its path. The farmstead is bombed sky high but the American authorities have retained a small sample. It is sealed within a Cold War bunker in the US. But, when the Cold War ends and a storage company takes over the bunker, what are night-time security guards Teacake and Naomi to do when, one night, they hear a beeping noise coming from inside a wall? Something long forgotten has adapted. It has woken up.

David Koepp is a screenwriter who has worked on some of the biggest blockbusters, including Jurassic Park, and all of his blockbuster skills are put to good use in Cold Storage. This is a thoroughly entertaining, exhilarating and tense technothriller, which threatens to become apocalyptic, as something occurs to threaten all of mankind. I love this kind of book!

But at the heart of the book lies the people – Teacake and Naomi, we well as Roberto, who visited the farmstead back in 1987 and is something of a relic of the past, and maybe the only person living who understands the threat facing the planet. Most of the attention, though, is on Teacake and Naomi as the author takes his time to flesh out these two rather lonely and damaged souls. I loved how this was done. They’re brought together by a terrible thing, but we get to know them so well, just as they learn to trust one another. There is a real charm and sweetness to their developing relationship, despite the chaos around them, although I doubt anyone had ever considered ex-felon Teacake sweet and charming before. If only it weren’t for that beeping box.

Cold Storage is a pageturner of a thriller even if it does take its time when something else matters, such as the flowering of true love. We need to care about these people risking their lives to save the world. I loved the chapters written from the point of view of the cunning and horrible fungus as it documents its experiments along the way to achieving its true goal – feeding off every person alive. Some moments of the book are disgusting, as you’d expect from a disgusting fungus. Others are so tense. And all the time we root for Teacake and Naomi, this unlikely couple.

I read Cold Storage on a flight and it was the perfect read for it. The time disappeared in a flash. I’ll be watching out for more from David Koepp.

The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason

Zaffre | 2019 (5 September) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Wayward Girls by Amanda MasonIt is the summer of 1976 and the hot sun scorches the land. The Corvino family are settling into their new home, Iron Sike Farm, in a remote and rural part of Yorkshire. All is quiet at first until the noises begin. The two girls, Loo and Bee, hear it first. Their nights and then their days are disturbed by banging behind the walls, the breeze of breath on their faces, the sudden appearance of bruises on their arms, shaped like pinching fingers. The farm attracts the attention of the local policeman and journalist and then others come – a professor and his assistant – drawn by a need to explain the inexplicable or fail in the attempt.

Years later, in the present day, Loo (now Lucy) returns to the village. Her mother is in a care home where she sees a girl standing outside her window at night, a ghost from the past. Hunters of the paranormal have returned to Iron Sike Farm, desperate for Lucy to help them discover the truth about what happened all those years ago. They sense that Lucy holds the key. And so it might not be a surprise, however much it shocks, when disturbances return to Iron Sike Farm. The past will not stay dead.

I love to read frightening tales, especially those that have a haunted house at its heart. Sadly, they rarely scare me, but The Wayward Girls, on more than one occasion, managed to do just that. It is a very creepy tale indeed, perfect for late night reading. It has all of the appeal of a ghost story. There is also something of Poltergeist about it. Iron Sike Farm is a frightening place indeed. It is irresistible.

But The Wayward Girls is also character-driven and it’s Loo and Bee who hold our attention, although we are also caught up in the lives of the investigators who visit this farm and must deal with what they find, both in the past and in the present. Lucy holds the book together, linking the chapters set in the past with those set in the present. There is a strong sense that she’s been traumatised, that she’s holding something back. We want to get to know her but how much of what happened can she explain?

The paranormal investigators bring with them their own relationships and interactions. They also have links with the past and I loved watching it all come together.

I don’t want to say too much about how these elements all pull together but I must stress that the The Wayward Girls is an atmospheric treat, creating a dark, forbidding place – albeit a family home – where there really are strange noises in the night. I really enjoyed the ways in which the story develops. There are surprises and shocks. I found I accepted it all. That’s largely, I think, because of the marvellous atmospheric mood of chills that the author so successfully evokes. I also enjoyed the movement through the years, including the changing relationship between Lucy and her mother.

I read The Wayward Girls at night by lamplight and I can certainly recommend that you do the same. Frightening ghost stories or tales of haunted houses come along all too infrequently and this one did not disappoint – strange noises, objects moving, seances, creepy voices, there’s all that and more. It haunts the reader. It frightens. It is also extremely difficult to put down. Everything I want from a ghost story, this book gives. That, I think, says it all.

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Hutchinson | 2019 (5 September) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Second Sleep by Robert HarrisIt is 1468 and young priest Christopher Fairfax is hunting his way through Exmoor to find the remote village of Addicott St George. He has been sent there to bury the village’s priest Father Lacey who, when out in the nearby countryside, fell to his death from a great height. It’s hard to conduct a eulogy for a man one doesn’t know and so Fairfax sets out to discover all he can about this man who served his parish for 32 years.

It is while Fairfax is searching Father Lacey’s office that he comes across documents that Lacey shouldn’t have had. These heretical texts record past lives, those of the ungodly, who once walked and worked this land. As Fairfax digs deeper, his investigations leads him to nearby Durston Court and its enigmatic, unusual Lady of the manor, and secrets that she keeps hidden. Suddenly, Father Lacey’s death seems less of an accident and the truth of it will be as staggering as it is lethal.

Robert Harris is easily one of my very favourite authors, if not my favourite, not least because everything he writes is so different, original, ingenious and surprising. And with The Second Sleep Robert Harris has achieved, in my opinion, the greatest surprise of them all. Something happens early on – watch for the clues – and, it might be a cliche to say it, but I could feel my jaw actually dropping.

It is for this reason that I’m going to say nothing further at all about this book! I came to it knowing nothing except that I knew it would be wonderful – which it certainly is – and so I had the considerable joy of discovering all of its secrets for myself. And so I’d urge you not to read any reviews (except this one, of course).

All I’ll say to tempt you to read it, is that The Second Sleep is beautifully written and structured. Its characters feel real, their fears and loves tangible. The Exmoor setting is perfect – it’s comforting but also claustrophobic and remote. Spend time with Christopher Fairfax and Lady Durston. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be thrilled, mesmerised and shocked.

Most of all, read this book putting all your expectations and assumptions to one side. Neither belong here. The rewards will be great. The Second Sleep is most certainly a masterpiece and a contender for my book of the year.

Other reviews
An Officer and a Spy
Dictator
Conclave
Munich

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

HQ | 2019 (5 September) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Elevator Pitch by Linwood BarclayOne Monday morning, four people get into a lift in Manhattan, New York. Everything seems normal until the lift stops. And then everything goes very wrong indeed. It seems to be a terrible accident but then, a week later, another lift kills. The city is in shock. How can a skyscraper city manage without its elevators? The authorities don’t know how to deal with it. Blame flies between them, with many pointing a finger at the Mayor who, in turn, has his eye on others. Two detectives and a journalist race against time to stop the panic, to catch the killer. And meanwhile people die, not just in the lifts but also on the stairs as people are faced with climbs of over a hundred flights of stairs. The city is being held to ransom. But why?

I’m embarrassed to say that Elevator Pitch is the first novel by Linwood Barclay that I’ve read but what an introduction to his books this is! The premise is very enticing and the thriller fully delivers on it. Elevator Pitch is thoroughly exiting, tense and exhilarating – there were moments when I just could not look. I also read this book when I was staying eight floors up in a hotel. It made that lift ride to breakfast each morning a little sweaty. But it was the perfect holiday read.

The story is fantastic but so too are the characters as we spend time with a range of people, as we get to know a little about how this city is run. Battle lines have been drawn between the journalist, Barbara, and the Mayor and it’s now got very personal indeed. It’s worth pointing out, though, that this is not a simple case of the evil city Mayor. Richard Headley is much more complicated than that. Meanwhile two detectives, one near the start of his career, the other nearing the end, bring their very different skills together to try and solve this case. And there’s a countdown. A very special public event will take place shortly. The world will be watching and elevators will be needed.

There’s a social message as well. This is a city divided between rich and poor, with the rich enjoying living and working in the roof of the city in its skyscrapers. Radical groups are gaining media attention, terrorist acts are taking place across the northeastern United States. Time is ripe for the elevator killer to cause maximum terror. This is thrilling stuff! This is the type of thriller, with a political element thrown in, that I find irresistible and I gobbled it up, even though it made me eye that hotel lift with more than a little unease. There were also some unexpected moments of emotional shock. Excellent!

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Bantam Press | 2019 (13 August) | 484p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Warehouse by Rob HartPaxton worked hard for years so that he could build his own business but all of that was destroyed by the Cloud, the most powerful company in the world, which sells everything to everyone (with the exception of certain forbidden books). And now Paxton has been reduced to working for the Cloud to survive. He’s one of the lucky ones. It’s a competitive business getting a job and even when he has it he discovers it’s not that easy to hang on to it. This is a world of colour-coded jobs, of stars awarded and taken away, of lengthy days, all monitored and controlled by the smartwatch on their wrists.

Paxton finds himself in a blue jumper, that means he’s security, the last job he wanted. But it could be worse. His fellow new recruit Zinnia is working in the warehouse and there she must risk her life to fulfil orders in time. The two of them are drawn together. Paxton falls in love warily and carefully. Zinnia, on the other hand, wants something and Paxton is the man to help her, whether he likes it or not. Because the creator of the Cloud, Gibson Wells, the richest and most powerful man in the USA, is about to visit.

The Warehouse, set in the not too distant future, is a timely and thought-provoking dystopian thriller. It doesn’t take the biggest imagination to work out which company is suggested by the Cloud and that does make it all the more believable and possible, and that is a terrifying thought. The American government barely exists, if it does at all. Cloud has bought out all of its services. Robots have been removed from factories. Human labour does it all now. This might mean almost everyone has a job but they’ve lost far more than they’ve gained. And then there are the ones who live outside the protected walls of the Cloud cities. They’re left to fry in the brutal sun.

Rob Hart creates a fascinating and troubling dystopian world. Plenty of time is spent on the worldbuilding and it’s vivid, stark and relentless. Chapters alternate between Paxton and Zinnia as they battle life every single day. This is reflected rather cleverly in the structure of the prose at intervals through the book. By contrast we have occasional chapters narrated by Gibson Wells, a man who has everything except what he needs the most – his health. In these final weeks he reflects on his life and the great ‘gifts’ he has bequeathed to men and women. He’s a monster who speaks with a reasonable voice, fully confident in his worth – such a man is to be feared.

There are some intriguing glimpses of an outside world in decay. Hardly anyone flies now, travel is too expensive, the world is hot and scorched, the seas have risen to claim towns. People shop themselves into oblivion, the skies are controlled by the Cloud’s drones. It’s grim but it’s also compelling stuff.

This is an espionage thriller and it is at times as exciting as it is chilling however I did have my issues with the novel. Personally, I thought it rather laboured the point, going on too long, with unconvincing, flat characters and an unsurprising twist. I really didn’t care for Zinnia and wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to or not. Her ruthlessness seems little better than Gibson’s. It is, though, an entertaining dystopian thriller, and the star of it is, for me, its thorough and disturbing worldbuilding. It’s a frightening thought – it doesn’t take long for people to accept what is very wrong to be right.

Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

Penguin | 2019 (Pb: 25 July) | 498p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

Out of the Dark by Gregg HurwitzEvan Smoak is no ordinary killer for hire. Taken from his foster home as a boy and raised as a lethal assassin working for a secret, deniable section of the American government, Evan is Orphan X, one of many of his kind. Now Evan is loose, working to help, one at a time, people in dire trouble. But Evan’s fellow Orphans, many of whom are now integrated to varying degrees back into society, are being assassinated and Evan knows exactly under whose order – Jonathan Bennett, President of the United States. Evan knows he is next. He knows far too much about Bennett’s past. But how to kill the most powerful and protected man on Earth? Especially when that man has unleashed another of the Orphans to kill Evan Smoak.

Out of the Dark is the fourth Orphan X thriller by Gregg Hurwitz and I must admit to having worried beforehand that I would be at a loss, having not read the previous three. I needn’t have worried. There are plenty of clues in Out of the Dark to what has gone before, to the context of Evan’s creation and troubles. So it stands alone perfectly but it did make me very curious indeed about this damaged, isolated, charismatic man. I’ll be reading more for sure because this is one of the very best thrillers I’ve read this year.

There is a lot going on, all of it tense and action-packed. Evan’s meticulous planning is fascinating and we are awed by Evan’s daring in taking on this president and removing his harm from the world. Evan has all of the skills for the job but there’s every chance he’s met his match as we get to know the person in charge of Bennett’s protection, someone we can’t help but warm to. And then there’s the fact that Evan will not kill the innocent. He would rather an innocent person kill him than that he should take their life.

But this is just one layer of the plot. On another we have Ethan’s current case, which is to help Trevon Gaines, whose life is in the process of being destroyed. I loved Trevon. His story actually made me cry! I don’t think even Evan is immune to such tragedy. I looked forward especially to those sections of the novel. There is something so sweet in seeing justice dealt where it’s due.

This is such good writing. Gregg Hurwitz knows how to tell an excellent story but he also knows how to write it well. It’s punchy, tense, fast and furious, but it’s also well-considered, careful, with the tone perfectly pitched. And it all serves the story, and Evan, so well.

I suspect that readers familiar to this series will be delighted by cameo appearances from well-known figures from other novels. We’re given tantalising glimpses of a fair few. This world of Orphan X is one I want to explore. What a hero he is – superhuman in some ways but so human in others, but certainly charismatic, caring and reflective, as, in a social world he can barely understand, he tries to build a new life for himself however impossible that dream may be. If you love well-written action thrillers as much as I do then you do not want to let this series pass you by.