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Steve D (London, England)

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Hard Landing (The 1st Spider Shepherd Thriller)
Hard Landing (The 1st Spider Shepherd Thriller)
Price: £0.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard Landing, 19 Mar. 2013
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This is the first of Stephen Leather's novels that I have read, having picked it up for 49p for Kindle. It's a fairly simple, straightforward, by-the-numbers thriller that starts with a nice piece of misdirection and then settles into a familiar story of a lone protagonist placed in a dangerous situation and getting sucked deeper and deeper in. In this case, Spider Shepherd is undercover in the remand wing of a prison, tasked with obtaining evidence that will help to put drug dealer Gerry Carpenter away for good. Carpenter is in the process of scaring, and even killing, off the witnesses queueing up to give evidence to get him, and it quickly becomes a race against time for Shepherd to get the evidence and put an end to the killings.

As these sorts of stories go, this was fairly decent without being particularly exciting. For me, a thriller should actually contain some, well, thrills, but very few seem to achieve that page-turning, edge-of-seat feeling. Hard Landing doesn't manage it, either, but I thought it was pretty well written and, with some serious editing, could have been better. Its twists are wholly predictable, some of Spider's actions are a little OTT and how he isn't rumbled early on is probably the biggest mystery in the book, there is a degree of repetition that could easily have been snipped, and the end stretches believability a little thin. Perhaps the biggest problem for the novel is that Spider is undercover, meaning he is very rarely himself, and this makes it kind of hard to get a handle on the character. You get the feeling he could be very likeable, but he never really gets the chance to be anything other than a hard man. So, basically, he could've been Harry Hole, flawed and vulnerable, but he ends up trying to be Jack Reacher, hard, uncompromising, indestructible and omniscient.

But it did hold my attention, and it was enjoyable enough that I will probably look up the second book in the series at some point.


Rivers of London (PC Peter Grant Book Book 1)
Rivers of London (PC Peter Grant Book Book 1)
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rivers of London, 19 Mar. 2013
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Constable Peter Grant is standing guard over a headless corpse found in Covent Garden, when he is approached by someone who witnessed the whole crime. The problem is, that witness is a ghost. This leads Peter, naturally, to discover a whole new world lurking in the corners and shadows of London.

It's not a complex plot but it moves at such a cracking pace that, I think, to say anything more about it would be wrong. Peter's a very likeable character, with a winning line in self-deprecating humour, and the people who gravitate towards him, particularly Nightingale, Beverley and Lesley are also very likeable (although my favourite was Molly, and she barely says a word!).

There's a quote on the front of the book that says something like "What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the police". That's the weakest thing about the book, imo - that quote, it's shameless, hoping the Harry Potter fans will jump onboard. If it is a grown up Harry Potter, then he's an occasionally foul-mouthed one, too. It reminded me a whole lot more of Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files' series in so many ways, just that it's set in London, not Chicago. That's not to say that Butcher's work is original, either, but it's got a very similar feel to it, without even mentioning the supernatural elements.

You can tell that Aaranovitch lives and works in London because the geography of the city comes across really well and if, like me, you spend a lot of time here, you'll be able to see the locations quite clearly as he strings them together through various chase scenes etc (there's one particular bit that went right past my office). In fact, a couple of times I thought maybe he over-egged it with the street names and such, but that is a really minor point. His writing style is fluid, fast-moving and very easy to read.

Rivers of London is, I think, a great start to a series that has a huge amount of potential. Looking forward to reading Moon Over Soho.


Childhood's End (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Childhood's End (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Arthur C. Clarke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Childhood's End, 19 Mar. 2013
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I can't think what to say about this book without spoiling it in one way or another. Even the various blurbs I looked at gave something or other away. In fact, the one here on Amazon, for the edition of the book that I have, gives the whole plot away, including the ending! Worse than this - and in what seems to be a disturbing trend for some SF Masterworks editions - the newly written foreword also contains a multitude of spoilers. Fortunately, I didn't read either it or the blurb before reading the novel itself . . .

Anyway, in a 1950s sf movie stylee, spaceships appear in the skies above many cities around the world (anyone thinking 'Independence Day', leave now) and bring to an abrupt halt man's quest to set foot on Mars. The Overlords have arrived, and they set about bringing peace and prosperity to Earth. But why are the doing this?

This is one of the major questions the book poses, and it's one that is gradually answered over its course, and would ruin the novel to discuss in any detail at all. Another is: what do the Overlords look like? Again, this is another mystery that would be incredibly spoilery to discuss.

What can I say? Well, I haven't read a lot of Clarke. For me, he's an ideas writer - and his ideas are incredible (bear in mind, this was written before we'd even put a satellite into orbit) - but I tend to find his characters a little sterile, for want of a better word. The best character in this book, for me, is Stormgren, an ageing diplomat who is chosen as the Overlords' mouthpiece on Earth. He, at least, has something of a sense of humour, and gets into some interesting situations, and Clarke did a good job of getting me inside his head. But the other characters, perhaps with the exception of Jan, didn't really grab me. I think this is because the novel covers a span of over a century in its relatively brief 230-odd pages, so there really isn't time for Clarke to do characterisation at the same time as conveying all his ideas. There's a lot of tell in this book, but not an awful lot of show.

This doesn't mean I think it's a bad book - I enjoyed it a lot - but I would have engaged with it more fully had there been more characters like Stormgren. Thankfully, having not read the disastrous blurb - I had no idea why the Overlords were here, or what was going to happen, so the story's progression was fresh and full of suprises, right until the end. I could be wrong, but believe that Clarke himself was childless. If so, his observations herein take on a whole new level of meaning, for which I can only applaud him.


Riders of the Purple Sage (Oxford World's Classics)
Riders of the Purple Sage (Oxford World's Classics)
Price: £0.90

2.0 out of 5 stars Riders of the Purple Sage, 19 Mar. 2013
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A little while ago I was in the mood for a Western, so I picked this one up. This is a classic of the genre, apparently. I probably should've gone with my initial instinct and got Lonesome Dove instead.

Riders of the Purple Sage isn't a bad book, as such - it's just not very good. My overriding feeling towards it is that there was a lot of tell but not much show. Everything that happens in the novel seems to happen 'off screen'. The mysterious gunslinger - who is, let's face it, not quite Shane - seems to slope around the place and say more than he should but, when it comes to doing what he's renowned for (and this, not to mince words, is killing Mormons - obviously something to do with the time), you never witness it first-hand. Usually, it seems, the character of Jane faints at the thought of him shooting someone, then wakes up to have one of the ranch hands tell her what happened. And it's so patently obvious how their relationship is going to go that all the hand-wringing, drawn-out, bash-your-head-against-the-wall internal monologues made me want to, well, bash my head against the wall. I'm not a fan of this kind of writing. And, even moreso, I dislike it when characters wonder around talking to themselves, with copious exclamation marks (which just makes me think they're shouting). Who does this in real life? Aaargh!

Anyway, in a subplot that seems to take up most of the book, one of Jane's ranch hands, a Gentile, goes off in search of one of her herds of cattle, which has been rustled for nefarious reasons. In the process he finds a woman in a pseudo-Garden of Eden load of old tosh. Ooh, guess what's going to happen? Yawn.

Character development is virtually non-existent. The contrived plot is so convenient in its 'twists' that it beggars belief. The dialogue is either unintentionally hilarious or just plain awful. The women are just there to get in trouble and be rescued by the men. The bad guys get no attention at all, they're just bad and forever in the background - there's no sense of menace or tension at all. And the end - good grief, the title of the last chapter gives away exactly what is going to happen, even if you were too dense to have worked it out beforehand (which I wasn't, for a change).

I'm sure this was all fine at the time - the novel is a century old, after all, and I really should take that into account - but it near bored me to tears! Fortunately it's less than 300 pages long! It could've been less than 30 pages long and still told the same story, and I'd've liked it a whole heck of a lot more! But -- oh my! He couldn't do that, could he? That'd be right improper, I'd say! My heavens, I might've died! Using copious exclamation marks!

Not for me, I'm afraid.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2016 11:32 PM GMT


Deep Sky (Harper Thriller)
Deep Sky (Harper Thriller)
by Patrick Lee
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep Sky, 19 Mar. 2013
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As this is the final volume in Lee's 'Breach' trilogy, I can't say too much about this book without the likelihood of spoiling the previous two. Suffice to say that, after an attack on the White House, Chase and Tangent suddenly find themselves in grave danger because the perpetrators believe they have information crucial to the future - and which might contain the answers to the mystery of the Breach.

The first two books set up a phenomenal pace and Deep Sky follows it through. It is exciting, has a small but well-developed cast of characters, and is extremely easy to read. There were times when it stopped me dead in my tracks with twists that called into question everything I'd just read. Lee ratchets up the tension brilliantly as the characters race against time, and calls on riddles from the first two books that pay-off well. It's a decent thriller, the science fiction element works reasonably well, and it has a surprisingly thought-provoking and downbeat ending which answered nearly all my questions and yet left me wanting to know more. The plot probably doesn't stand up to close examination, so I'd definitely class it as one of those books where you might want to put your brain in neutral and just go along for the ride.


The Coldest War (Milkweed Triptych)
The Coldest War (Milkweed Triptych)
by Ian Tregillis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Coldest War, 12 Mar. 2013
I won't say anything further about the plot beyond the Amazon blurb, what with this being a sequel and all. Sometimes a sequel comes along that you're looking forward to so much that it can't possibly meet your expectations. Just occasionally one comes along that defies your expectations. The Coldest War completely floored me. With it, Tregillis has not only refined his writing skills, he has also excised the aspects of Bitter Seeds that maybe didn't work so well, taken the parts that did work, and kicked them up several levels.

Take the first book as set-up. Now he is polishing and honing his ideas until they are dazzling. Every question left unanswered at the end of the first book is answered here, revelations that - on a couple of occasions - had my jaw hanging open in awe. I could actually feel my heart thumping as I read the final chapters. I had no clue what was going to happen and, when it did, I immediately read it again, then dived back into the first book to look for something, and then felt my jaw hanging open again.

One thing I can say, without really spoiling anything, is that the action - with the exception of a handful of stunning set-pieces - is actually played down in this book. The emphasis is very much on the characters, and the effects the events in the first book has had on their friendships, their marriages, their families. The science fiction elements are still there, woven seamlessly into the telling of the story. Tregillis has a set of rules and he sticks to them - the Lovecraftian horror and man-made super-humans serve the story, rather than vice versa - but oh how they serve it. Gretel is still the character who stands head and shoulders above the rest, enigmatic, scary, charming, with everyone being aware that they are being manipulated, but nobody quite sure how or why.

On the cover of each of these books is a quote from George RR Martin saying that Tregillis is 'A major talent'. Now George and Ian are friends, apparently, so I would normally take that with a pinch of salt, but I think I might have to agree with him. This is only Tregillis's second book. I can't wait to see what happens next, and what he does beyond that.


Traitor: John Shakespeare 4
Traitor: John Shakespeare 4
by Rory Clements
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Traitor, 2 Feb. 2013
This is the fourth of Clements's 'John Shakespeare' novels. I've really enjoyed the previous three, which have been fast-paced, gripping conspiracy thrillers set in Elizabethan England. The publishers seem to love comparing these books to those of C J Sansom, plastering quotes such as "Does for Elizabeth's reign what C J Sansom does for Henry VIII's" across the covers. I don't think that Clements is as good a writer as Sansom, but his books are faster-paced, more action-packed, and don't involve a main character who spends most of the time feeling sorry for himself. Clements's style is efficient, almost brusque. He doesn't mince words, or spend pages telling you a character's innermost thoughts. This is a plus and a minus. It means the characters are sketched quickly, and then you are left to build a more detailed image of them from their words and actions. Some readers don't like this sort of thing, but it works well, imo. He manages to convey atmosphere with brutal economy. It also means that, to me, his stories have felt more streamlined, more focused, more exciting.

Up until now, this series has stuck to conpiracy thrillers, and there is much of that in Traitor. But this is the longest book in the series so far, and the reason for this seems to be that Clements wants to change things up. In order to do this he has expanded the landscape for this story, brought in a host of new characters, and - most tellingly - thrown a bewildering amount of plots and sub-plots into the mix. As a result, the story leaps around like a rabbit on a spring, and barely pauses for breath. When I say it's fast-paced, it's almost Usain Bolt. And, rather than sticking to the conpiracy elements of the tale, it also veers into Bernard Cornwell war story territory. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I just wasn't expecting it (which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing). But part of me would like Clements to stick to being Clements.

If that makes it sound like I didn't like it, nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare is a tough-talking, ruthless spy, and Boltfoot a hard-bitten, loyal companion. They spend little time together in this novel, and you can almost sense that each feels vulnerable without the other. Of the new characters, Ursula is a pigging joy (her words) - a member of a group of vagabonds who leaps off the page. I think Clements must've had a lot of fun writing her. I am disappointed that the wonderfully evil Richard Topcliffe - the scenery-chewing villain of previous stories - barely appears here. The battle scenes are exciting, the red herrings many, and - to Clements' credit - he somehow manages to juggle them all and bring them together in a surprisingly downbeat conclusion. I don't think it's his best book and, for a while, I was worried that it was lurching far too close to Sansom's disappointingly silly Heartstone in the situations it was throwing at its characters (you certainly have to suspend your disbelief a lot more than in the previous books), but he just about manages to keep his head above water. I hope - for the next book, The Heretics - he scales it back a bit but, for now, this is a huge amount of fun.


The Man in the Snow: A Christmas Crime (a John Shakespeare story)
The Man in the Snow: A Christmas Crime (a John Shakespeare story)
Price: £0.99

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Man in the Snow, 12 Dec. 2012
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Over the course of the last twelve months I've read the first three of Rory Clements's 'John Shakespeare' novels and he has quickly overtaken C J Sansom as my favourite writer of historical crime/mystery novels. I think a lot of this has to do with him writing in third person, which means he can use different character viewpoints, whereas Sansom uses first person, meaning he sometimes has to come up with rather convoluted ways of getting his creation, Matthew Shardlake, into situations that further his stories. I also like the tone of Clements's writing, which has a briskness to it that works very well for both the characters and the pacing. So I was really pleased when I saw this novella was being released, especially with only a little over a month until his fourth JS novel, Traitor, gets its paperback release

For all its brevity, The Man in the Snow still manages to include a lot of what makes the novels so much fun. Obviously, it is not as deep and the characterisation is done with broader, quicker brushstrokes, but the essence of John Shakespeare's world is still there, even if his arch nemesis, the wonderfully obsessed and vicious priest hunter Sir Richard Topcliffe, makes only a cameo appearance. There are a few suspects for the murder, that of a young Moor - shot in the back and left buried in the snow outside the walls of London, all of whom have a motive. There's a bit of action, and a lot of snow. In fact, the snow is the only Christmasy thing in the story, which amused me considering it says it's a 'John Shakespeare story for Christmas', lol ;)

I found it an enjoyable, quick read, with some intrigue and danger thrown in and, whilst I'd never recommend it over and above the novels, it's a nice way of keeping the interest going, and worth the £1.99 asking price.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2015 5:58 PM GMT


The Heroes (First Law World 2)
The Heroes (First Law World 2)
by Joe Abercrombie BA
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heroes, 29 Aug. 2012
I read Joe Abercrombie's 'First Law Trilogy' a couple of years back and, whilst I enjoyed it, I was slightly puzzled as to why he was being praised so highly. The Heroes has changed that. It is a tour de force, one of those rare books that I didn't want to end, and that I lay awake thinking about after I finished it last night.

The 'Heroes' of the title are not the characters in the novel - they are a circle of standing stones perched atop a hill in a contested valley, and the high ground that becomes the focus of the ensuing battle between the Northmen and the Union. Some of the characters are carried over from his previous books, but the novel can be read on its own without detriment - I recognised some of the names but, apart from Bayaz, didn't really remember what they'd done before. And some - no, all - of the characters here are brilliant, fully developed, interesting, sympathetic and believable.

Even though the blurb mentions three particular men, there are many more characters involved, and I loved the way Abercrombie introduced them and then gradually fleshed them out, in all cases totally subverting my expectations of them. Particular favourites: Caul Shivers, Black Dow's enforcer, scarred, one-eyed and exuding menace in a constant whisper; and Whirrun of Bligh, Craw's friend from far to the north and wielder of the Father of Swords, a weapon almost as long as he is tall, and possessing so much history that it rivals Dragnipur in the Malazan novels. To me, both of those characters almost deserve books of their own. Then there's Finree, the ambitious daughter of the Union's Lord Marshall, who has plans for her husband's rise in the political stakes, and is involved in one of the most terrifying, heart-stopping set-pieces I've yet read in a novel.

The action is superbly handled. In one extended sequence on the first day of the battle, Abercrombie takes a character and tells the story from their viewpoint - until they are killed. Then he switches to the view of the person who killed them and continues until they are killed, and so on. There is something intensely fatalistic and emotive about it, that many of these characters don't even know what they're fighting for, just that they've been pointed in a certain direction, and that they're likely to die.

Abercrombie has a lot to say in this book about the nature of heroism, cowardice, ambition, greed, jealousy, manipulation of the truth, and more, yet he does it with a light touch that never loses sight of the characters or their predicaments. His style changes for each character, and it really got me inside their heads, yet it still flows beautifully. It's a gritty, modern take on heroic fantasy. It's about people - there are no fantasy creatures involved and hardly anything in the way of magic. It is a dark book, full of violence, swearing and death, and yet it is leavened with gallows humour (which is frequently laugh-out-loud funny) and quieter moments which are sometimes profound. I think it's an absolute triumph for him.

Taking Ken Grimwood's Replay out of the equation (as it's a very different take on the genre), The Heroes is far and away the best fantasy novel I've read this year. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read. George R.R. Martin may be getting all the attention at the moment, but this book is proof that there are other far better writers of fantasy out there. The Heroes deserves to sell by the shed load, in my opinion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2012 9:08 AM BST


Ravenheart: A Novel Of The Rigante: (The Rigante Book 3)
Ravenheart: A Novel Of The Rigante: (The Rigante Book 3)
by David Gemmell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ravenheart, 29 Aug. 2012
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This is the third of Gemmell's Rigante novels. First thing to note: the cover is rubbish! Like Midnight Falcon before it, it's not a typical sequel, in that it doesn't carry on directly from the last book. What Gemmell liked to do was to create a world and then tell different stories about the heroes and villains who made a difference at particular points in time.

Jumping forward 800 years he now brings us to what may be the last days of the Rigante, a beleaguered people who have either been subjugated by the Varlish, or who have been pushed so far north that only a few hundred remain living in 'freedom'. It's another story of heroic deeds, sacrifice, and evil. However, it's quite refreshing in some ways. It's a story that is scaled down to just a few characters and how their troubles impact upon the greater picture.

There are some typically wonderful characters here, particularly in the shape of Jaim, Kaelin, Chara, Maev and Alterith. They are complex and believable people whose actions make perfect sense. Some of the things that happen to them are uplifting, some heartbreaking. When a young Varlish girl falls in love with Kaelin, a Rigante, there is outrage and bigotry. When she is taken, raped and murdered, the suspicion falls, of course, on the wrong people. Kaelin knows who has committed this foul act and pursues them, killing them with his father's pistols (weaponry has moved on a bit in those 800 years). The Moidart, local ruler of the Varlish, sets his best tracker and assassin to find the killer, leading Kaelin to escape to the north.

Gemmell's writing, by this stage, was honed to perfection for the genre. He had me hanging on every plot and sub-plot, building suspense masterfully. And, even if you think you can predict what's going to happen, he always throws in a twist, some spark of originality which sets his tales apart. The final pages contain some of his most emotive writing that I have encountered to date, and genuinely brought tears to my eyes.


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