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The JBP "JimBob" (UK)

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Price: £9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing..., 4 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Undercover (Kindle Edition)
Undercover by Joe Carter is the biography of a Metropolitan Police undercover officer who served in the Met’s S010, which at the time was the main undercover unit (apparently it’s been renamed and amalgamated with other units since then). Undercover purports to give the reader an honest insight into this world, though on the back cover the author warns: “This is the truth, the whole truth, but sometimes not the entire truth of my life.”

I’ve read a fair few biographies of undercover police officers and on the whole have been left unimpressed. While I understand that not everything can be disclosed (probably far from everything to be fair), books of this sort are often deeply unsatisfactory for this very reason. And so while I approached the publishers for a copy of this book it was more in hope than expectation.

Unfortunately, like previous undercover officer’s who’ve gone public, Joe Carter failed to deliver. The same problem that blight previous officers’ work lets this one down also. Operations are hinted at and then not mentioned again. Situations are outlined and then the reader is left guessing. For example, at one point the author discusses how his services were requested in Northern Ireland. He went over there and after the briefing one of the local coppers whispered to him that they knew he was Catholic and therefore he would be on his own on the street, no one would back him up. Joe decided to sabotage the operation (understandably) so as not to put himself at risk, by telling everyone when he got back that the targets had got cold feet. This is an interesting story, right? Could easily be fleshed out. But no, that’s it, end of chapter, time to move on.

To be fair, the bulk of the book focuses on one long-term operation. Joe goes undercover amongst a set of drug-dealing gangsters. He has a fake wife, another undercover whose job is to run a pawn shop, attracting all the local ne’er-do-wells, burglars and thieves to drop off all their dodgy ill-gotten gains. Once more, none of what follows is adequately explained. They go to a bar and just so happen to get chatting to a major drug dealer who introduces Joe into a wider set of drug traffickers. Once again, I understand that everything can’t be explained, but are we really supposed to believe this? Would it really endanger sources/methods to explain how they met a little more convincingly?

To be sure this isn’t a bad book, but the way it is written encouraged me to speculate. None more so than the relationship between Joe and his fake wife, the undercover cop Emma. Earlier on in the book, Joe confesses that his undercover work cost him his wife and family. The way Joe describes his relationship with Emma, I would be very surprised if they weren’t having an affair. At no point does he say he did and I could be doing the two of them a disservice, but the way Joe has written his account makes it appear that they were. Of course this isn’t important, the book is about undercover policing, not the two officer’s private lives. But perhaps this is a telling indictment of the book: that so uninspiring was it that I was left speculating as to whether the main characters were shagging.

Another problem I had with the book was that none of the target’s Joe pursued appeared to be that dangerous. Yes they were drug dealers, and yes they moved kilos rather than the small amounts a user might buy, but they seem from his description as kind of dull. When one thinks of undercover officers, one thinks of them arrayed against the likes of Al-Capone or the Kray’s, and these people certainly weren’t. Again, this might be due to the secrecy Joe had to observe while writing the book, perhaps he had to dilute his descriptions so as not to give anything away, but reading his account I was left underwhelmed.

In conclusion this is an OK book. But like many such accounts it’s a deeply unsatisfactory read. This might not be the author’s fault and he may well have been restrained by the confidentiality that his job necessarily involved, but unfortunately these constraints scuppered what could otherwise have been a remarkable book.

A Spring Betrayal (An Inspector Akyl Borubaev Thriller)
A Spring Betrayal (An Inspector Akyl Borubaev Thriller)
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another good outing for the intrepid Akyl Borubaev, 4 Jun. 2016
This is the second instalment of Tom Callaghan’s Inspector Akyl Borubaev series, and follows directly on from the author’s debut, A Killing Winter. I thoroughly enjoyed that novel and gave it a 5-star review and so was looking forward to reading A Spring Betrayal

Luckily this did not disappoint. In A Killing Winter, our protagonist, a detective of the Bishkek Murder Squad (Bishkek being the capital of Kyrgyzstan) had to grapple with the vicious slaying of a government minister’s daughter. It was a police procedural with a raw heart, a brutality imbuing the novel that reflected the impoverishment of that Central Asian republic. A Spring Winter follows very much in the same path, only now after the events of the previous novel, Akyl Borubaev has been exiled to the far corner of Kyrgyzstan. This time he unearths the bodies of several children, abused, tortured, and buried in the frozen steppes. The corpses all bear wristbands identifying them as orphans in the care of Kyrgyzstan’s creakingly decrepit state orphanages, and having himself grown up in one, this affects him deeply.

I always try to stay clear of divulging too many spoilers in my reviews, so I will simply say that the plot of A Spring Betrayal doesn’t pull any punches. It covers child trafficking, child rape and pornography, snuff movies, and the corruption that makes all this possible. Real monsters populate the pages of this novel and it’s not suitable reading for the feint hearted or those looking for a cosy mystery in the vein of Miss Marple or Poirot. But then it doesn’t pretend to be and if like me you like your crime fiction gritty, nourish, and with an iron-lined stomach, then this could well be the book for you.

If I have cone criticism of A Spring Betrayal, it’s the same one that I levelled at A Killing Winter, and that’s that the author seems to have a thing for the femme fatale. In his previous novel that was Saltanat Umarova, the mysterious beauty from Uzbek intelligence. She appears in the second novel but her character is a little more fleshed out here. But now the author adds a second femme fatale, Albina Kurmanalieva, former Uzbek security and now freelance assassin and torturer. In A Spring Betrayal Albina is something from a James Bond movie, glamorous and beautiful yet deadly. It’s not that I object necessarily to such characters, just that I find them a little clichéd. One day I’ll read a book where all the assassins and spies are kind of average in the looks department, or heaven forbid, a little dowdy.

But as with Callaghan’s debut A Killing Winter, none of this ruined the book for me, and I enjoyed A Spring betrayal immensely. It has a real sense of place about it and I felt immersed in the post-Soviet poverty of Callaghan’s Kyrgyzstan which he vividly brings to life.

Counterattack: The West's Battle Against the Terrorists
Counterattack: The West's Battle Against the Terrorists
Price: £2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but interesting, 4 Jun. 2016
This is a very dated book, first published in the UK in 1982. So it precedes the events of modern terrorism: 9/11, 7/7 and 21/7, al Qaeda and ISIS. That said, it is an interesting read, not least as a gauge of the thinking of the time.

The IRA, PLO, and state-sponsored terrorism were the order of the day and this book details the early and tentative approaches the Western powers (countries covered include the United States Britain, France, West Germany - the book was written pre-unification - and Israel) took to counter the threats they faced.

Much of what is included in these pages appears in today’s world to be rather quaint. For example, in the section on West Germany we learn that there was a computer system centred in the town of Wiesbaden, nicknamed “The Komissar”, which logs every item of information - addresses, contacts, etc, of every terrorist and other serious criminal. This is divulged to the reader in breathless tones, and to be fair, it probably was a big deal at the time. But now of course this is commonplace, every police force in England has access to the HOLMES system, which does just that, and in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations we can be sure that the world’s security services do much, much, more.

But this book is not just historical trivia. Much of the pages detail the emergence of the counter-terror units that in today’s world we sadly take for granted. The section on the birth of Germany’s GSG9 (the federal police equivalent of the SAS) in genuinely interesting, as is the section on the French experience with Algerian terrorism.

In conclusion, this is a dated but interesting read, well worth the investment if you have a real interest in the origin’s of today’s architecture of counter-terror.

The Birdwatcher
The Birdwatcher
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, intelligent crime thriller, 4 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Birdwatcher (Kindle Edition)
The Birdwatcher is the first book of the author’s that I’ve read and I have to say that I’m impressed. Set on a desolate patch of isolated Kent coast it tells the story of Police Sergeant William South, a keen birdwatcher, who arrives at the scene of a brutal murder, only to find that it’s a close friend, beaten and stuffed into a trunk. With him when he makes this grim discovery is Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly arrived from the Met from where she transferred, a talented officer keen to make a good first impression.

It soon transpires that the murder victim, William’s neighbour Bob Reyner, a friend he used to go birding with, has been living a lie, complete with fake sister and make believe past as a school teacher. Early on, Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland and a ghost from Sergeant South’s past is fingered for the crime, and South becomes convinced that Donny didn’t do it. What follows is a twin investigation, the official one led by Cupidi, and South’s own, more tentative, private one.

There is much to contend this book. I liked how the protagonist William South wasn’t your usual detective, instead he’s a neighbourhood beat cop, uncomfortable in this world of CID investigation. Early on we also learn that he has a past, that he grew up amongst the troubles of Northern Ireland and murdered his father. The author successfully uses this to hang a pall of foreboding over events, but is careful not to overdo it. Capidi, the single mother of a teenage daughter, is also well drawn, as is her daughter ZoŽ who takes to birding in the same way South did, to avoid troubles at home and at school.

To be sure there are a fair few coincidences and loose ends left open in this book. Just why was Donnie Fraser, a man from South’s past in Northern Ireland in Kent? Towards the end we learn that he might have been looking for South. Well OK, but how did he get mixed up in events? This is never adequately explained. Similarly, while the mystery of who Bob Reynor was and why he was murdered is finally solved, we never learn why his entire past was fabricated. It’s kind of explained but we don’t learn who he was, prior to the relationships that got him killed. None of this ruined the book for me and they were only nagging issues, but still.

In conclusion, this was an enjoyable and intelligent thriller and I have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really very creepy...., 18 May 2016
This review is from: HEX (Kindle Edition)
Hex is an incredibly frightening and spooky novel. It stayed with me for more nights than I cared for. With a horror novel I guess that's praise. But this is more than just a thrill ride, for I found Hex to also be very touching with a big emotional impact.

The action takes place in Black Spring, a picturesque town in the Hudson Valley. It's present day, at one point the narrative refers to the Presidential Election of 2012. But Black Spring has a secret: it's haunted by the Black Rock Witch and her 300-year-old curse. This Seventeenth Century apparition stalks the hamlet and its environs, a terrifying vision wrapped in chains with its eyes and mouth sewn shut. We learn that in life, Katherine van Wyler was accused of witchcraft and raising the dead. She suffered the fate of all women so accused back then, torture and execution, after being forced to strangle one of her children with her bare hands whom the villagers believed she had raised from death after he passed away from Smallpox. Ever since she has haunted the village. How her eyes and mouth were stitched up, nobody knows, but all the present day townsfolk know is that if anyone ever unstitched them, the results would be horrific. As it is one stitch has been removed from the corner of her mouth and the result is anyone who hears her whispers tries to kill themselves.

Reading this, you might wonder how the author can set his novel in the present day. Wouldn't the world know about this? Wouldn't it be a worldwide sensation? He gets around this by postulating that the West Point Military Academy nearby, in cahoots with the townsfolk, have covered it up for centuries, knowing that should the wider world know, someone, somewhere, would try to unstitch her mouth and eyes. The townsfolk are all complicit in this and through a network of volunteers and CCTV cameras, they keep an eye on the witch and put in place all manner of distractions and barriers between her and any outsiders who happen to visit. It's a credit to the author how credible he makes all this seem in his tale, and as a reader I found myself buying into the plausibility of it all.

The plot itself revolves around one family's struggle with life in the village. They have teenage children who are chafing at the constraints. One aspect of the curse is that those that live there become suicidal if they leave for any length of time, meaning that the prospect of travelling, or pursuing any meaningful career outside of town, is slight. Another aspect of life in the village is that the Internet and social media is strictly controlled to prevent anyone leaking information of the witch to the outside world. Along with a few friends, the eldest son is secretly filming the witch and experimenting to see just how powerful she is.

I won't say much more for fear of divulging spoilers, but what I will mention is that a central character commits suicide after hearing the witch’s whispering. I mention this for a reason and that is that this part delivers much of the novel’s emotional resonance.. The author describes the devastation of grief the character's family feels after his death so vividly, that at times I found the book extremely difficult to read. I can only imagine the pain that a suicide would cause to a family and he paints a picture of utter desolation, of a huge void left in the centre of what was once a happy and contented family unit.

This is an incredibly powerful novel and one that I would not hesitate to give 5 stars to. It's frightening and the scenes where the witch appears might keep you up at night. However, I think it important to warn that if you have suffered a recent bereavement, especially through suicide, you might want to give this a miss. For some of the chapters are heartrending in their sorrow.

A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West
A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West
Price: £6.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good but flawed..., 16 May 2016
This is possibly the first serious book to look at the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, post the publication of the official inquiry. Even prior to that, while there were many books on the subject, more than a few were either conspiracist in nature or had an axe to grind.

Luke Harding, an experienced Guardian journalist and the paper’s former Moscow correspondent, has long followed the story. In fact, as his previous book Mafia State makes clear, part of the reason he was banished from Russia was due to his persistent questioning of the Kremlin’s narrative.

A Very Expensive Poison is a book of two halves, or perhaps more accurately, three thirds. The first two thirds of the book focus exclusively on Litvinenko himself, the two main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, and the events leading up to Litvinenko’s poisoning. Harding handles this with precision, examining every detail, every event, to draw a picture of a plot that veered from the deeply sinister, to the comically farcical, and back again.

The most striking thing to emerge is just how amateurish it all was. For those used to the cold, clinical, professional KGB hitmen of spy fiction, this will come as a huge surprise. Kovtun in particular comes across as a Walter Mitty-esque clown, the sort of person one would be tempted to dismiss as a fantasist. Indeed, Kovtun confessed to one associate in Hamburg that he was carrying a “very expensive poison” (hence the book’s title) and was going to murder someone in London, only for this friend to assume that he was telling tall tales. But even Lugovoi, on the surface a much more likely hired killer, having served as a Kremlin bodyguard, appears to have been little more than an oaf.

This blundering ineptness is never more apparent in the trail of radioactivity they left throughout London (and Hamburg, and the plane they arrived on from Moscow). They literally pored it down sinks, left it on towels; a scattering of toxic breadcrumbs leading police to hotel rooms, cafes, restaurants and night clubs. And if like me you assumed at the time that Alexander Litvinenko’s agonising death was a very public warning to others, you’d be wrong. The plan seems to have been to get him to ingest a lot more of the stuff, to have him die quickly and mysteriously. Instead, thanks to his killer’s incompetence, he was left to tortuously suffer slow organ failure, leaving him enough time to help the police piece together events and point the finger at their bosses in Moscow.

There is just one problem in Harding’s account up to this point. If Polonium is so dangerous, why was Litvinenko the only one to get sick? Why not Kovtun and Lugovoi, who while not digesting it, certainly manhandled it? And why not innocent members of the public who came into contact with sites irradiated by the killers? This question is never satisfactorily addressed in the book. There is discussion of Polonium’s properties, it’s incredible toxicity, but nothing to adequately explain this fact. I did in fact ask Luke Harding this very question via twitter and he explained that Polonium is only deadly if ingested, and then even micro-amounts might kill you.

While I applaud the author’s willingness to engage with his readers, it would have been much better had Harding explained this in greater depth in the book itself. For while it appears that Lugovoi and Kovtun had no idea of exactly what they were carrying, the knowledge of how polonium might be “safe” under certain circumstances helps to explain one peculiar aspect of the case. Just after successfully poisoning Litvinenko’s tea, Lugovoi called his own infant son over and made them shake hands. Why risk your own infant son unless you knew the poison had to be ingested to work? So while they might well have had no idea it was polonium they were carrying, they might have been advised that the toxin had to be ingested to cause harm and that handling it in and of itself was not likely to lead to adverse effects.

The last third of the book I found a lot less satisfying. Harding’s thesis is that the murder of Litvinenko was the first shot, if you will, of covert conflict with the west. Indeed, the subheading of the book is “the definitive story of the murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West.” In support of this premise, he widens his analysis to include other suspicious deaths of Russian dissidents, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the conflict in the Ukraine. While this is valid up to a point, I felt that these are big subjects in and of themselves, and that this section was let down by the necessary brevity he had to treat them with.

I also felt Harding overextended himself here. I am no supporter or apologist for Putin, his autocratic rule is obvious enough and Harding achieves nothing if not convincingly laying the murder of Litvinenko and others at his door. But while Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine is beyond doubt, is it really inconceivable that the West wasn’t whiter than white in the conflict? There is an argument to be had that America’s support for NGOs in the region is not as benign as the Washington establishment might have us believe and I don’t feel it unreasonable to question the narrative that Russian fears are completely without foundation. Harding is equally dismissive of Russia’s involvement in Syria, but again, one doesn’t have to be in the Putin fan club to ask why? While it is beyond doubt that Assad is a nasty tyrant and that Russian airstrikes have been aimed at the Free Syrian Army as well as more radical jihadist groups, it is also perfectly reasonable to point out that Russia has shown more leadership than the UK and US combined. Can we really fault the Russian bear for liberating Palmyra from ISIS?

In all I found that Harding lost some objectivity in this last section, which is a shame. Putin and the Russian state are bad enough as they are - as Harding amply demonstrates in his forensic analysis of Litvinenko’s murder - without having to overegg the pudding. Indeed, I would argue that it does Putin’s critics a disservice. For the Russian President’s supporters can point to arguments and facts prematurely and hastily discarded as evidence of bias.

In conclusion, A Very Expensive Poison is a hugely accomplished work and leaves the reader in little doubt that Putin and his chums are little more than underworld dons who have hijacked an entire state. But the last third of the book skims over huge territory, whilst lacking some objectivity of what came before it. This dilutes the force of Harding’s analysis.

A Dying Breed
A Dying Breed
by Peter Hanington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 11 May 2016
This review is from: A Dying Breed (Hardcover)
Peter Hanington is a former radio producer for the Today programme, latterly rising to be its Assistant Editor. Taking on board the old adage to write what you know, he’s set his debut novel in the world of the foreign correspondent and the political machinations inside the BBC. We have William Carver, a gifted but deeply flawed veteran correspondent, an inveterate drunk who the hierarchy are trying to force into early retirement; Rob Mariscal, the editor of Today, an embittered man who strikes fear into those under him; and Patrick Reid, a young whippersnapper of a producer, still very green and idealistic.

Patrick is dispatched by Mariscal to Afghanistan, his first foreign posting, with orders to reign Carver in. The foreign correspondent is onto something with a story concerning a recent bombing, in which a prominent Afghan businessman and politician was murdered. Unfortunately, there are people who don’t want this story told. At risk of giving away too great a spoiler, they have their claws in Rob and get him to try to put a stop to it. What plays out is a conspiracy thriller set against a realistic portrayal of radio journalism and foreign correspondence in the 21st century.

There are aspects of this novel that I liked and others that I didn’t. Having been a current affairs journalist myself, and having worked for the BBC - albeit for only a short time and not on Today - I was impressed by his no pulling punches approach to writing about the corporation. While this is no hatchet job on the BBC, and BBC journalists are shown doing a good and thorough job, the stultifying bureaucracy which so too often stifles them is ably demonstrated, particularly in the earlier sections. So too is a reporter’s life in Afghanistan, that sense of surrealism and privilege that representatives of a first world media organisation can’t fail to demonstrate when operating in what is in essence a third world country. Finally, Carver’s relationship with his fixer, Karim, is well drawn. Hanington does a service to fixers everywhere with his portrayal of Karim, for as in this novel, they are often as gifted journalists, sometimes more so, than the apparent star.

There is one other aspect I should mention, something that might only appeal to fellow journalists. I might be imagining this, but to me both Rob Mariscal, and a minor character, the pompous news correspondent John Brandon, appear to be mischievously based on real people. Mariscal made me think of a certain former Today editor who now makes a living as an outspoken columnist. Brandon meanwhile brought to mind someone who once liberated Kabul on his lonesome. Of course, as I say, I could be imagining this.

Some aspects of the novel weren’t so satisfying, however. The book is very male. Early on, Carter has a producer whose role is also to reign him in, but he wears her down and she flies back to Blighty. This leaves a gap for Patrick and hence he comes. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, and I’m certainly not suggesting the author needed to shoe-horn in a female character out of some politically correct notion of box ticking, it did feel a bit like, “Well, now the women are safely out of the way, we can get on with the job of real journalism.” Another issue I had is while I enjoyed this book immensely, it was a bit of a slow burner; there were times when I put it down and had to actively remind myself to return to it.

That all said, A Dying Breed is certainly a compelling thriller, and if you have any interest in the news business at all it is well worth a read.

A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham 1)
A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham 1)
by Abir Mukherjee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but lacking a certain something..., 11 May 2016
Abir Mukherjee was the winner of the 2013 Telegraph Harville Secker Crime Writing Competition and so there is much anticipation around this book. A competition for debut crime novelists, the prize was a publishing contract with Harville Secker and a £5000 advance. So now the long awaited novel is here, what did I think of it?

First off, a disclaimer. I entered this competition myself and obviously didn’t win. All I can say is that this hasn't biased my view of the novel, I wish Abir Mukherjee the best of luck and have reviewed this book as honestly as any other. But I feel it important to add this disclaimer and readers can make of it what they want.

A Rising Man is certainly an accomplished piece of writing, the author appears to know Kolkata - back in 1919, the year the novel is set, it was then Calcutta of course - and he has obviously done his historical research to create a fascinating sense of time and place. The book opens with our hero, Sam Wyndham, a veteran of the Great War and now a serving officer with the Calcutta police, at the scene of a murder. The body of a high ranking Raj official has been found in an alley in a slum part of town. How he got there and how he came to be fatally stabbed, is of course a mystery.

First off the good. As well as setting the scene and immersing us in the sights and sounds of Calcutta as the sun was starting to wane on the British Empire, the author adeptly delves into the often subtle, and occasionally not so subtle, racial prejudices of the period. This is never overdone and isn't preachy in the least, which makes it all the more shocking. Indian police officers for example, were made to sit in one big office, named the 'pit', while white officers had their own offices upstairs. When on a date with a mixed race woman, a restaurant refuses to serve them, Sam only learns of the apartheid reasoning later. The characterisation of Sam and his Indian sidekick, Sergeant Banerjee, is also well handled and I did warm to both. Finally, the plot itself continued on at a good clip and resolved itself well, obviously setting the grounds for a continuing series.

But now for the bad. There's nothing particularly wrong for me to put my finger on, there ware no glaring howlers, plot holes, or grammatical errors. But the whole thing did seem a bit by the numbers for me. It's almost like the author was thinking: take one exotic location, check; a police detective and a murder for him to solve, check; a sidekick, check; a couple of salt and pepper characters to act as foil and frustration for our hero, check; oh, and a couple of "issues" for our novel to comment on, check. Wow, we've got all the ingredients for a good police procedural. I’m aware that this might sound overly cynical, but there was nothing here that particularly struck me as novel or surprising, nothing that I hadn't read before in numerous other procedurals.

I've heard it suggested that there's no such thing as originality, that it's more how you tell a story than the story itself. In many ways I agree with this sentiment and there are certainly many novels, including police procedurals, that I've enjoyed immensely and not really been able to say why. Often when I’ve looked back at a novel that I’ve loved, I’ve realized that they could be picked apart just in this way and that there was nothing particularly earth shattering about their plots either. Nor am I suggesting that there’s anything wrong in plotting a novel, most writers do so, I plot myself. But some books just seem to have a touch of magic about them, something which elevates them above their contemporaries. And I guess this is where this novel falls down. For I doubt I would have noticed that it was so similar to many other offerings if it had that magic fairy dust. But unfortunately while I enjoyed this novel, it never really blew me away the way some others do.

All in all, this was an enjoyable and accomplished crime novel. I would certainly give the author another go and read future offerings, he might mature and get better with time. But as it was I felt that there was something lacking with A Rising Man and thus it loses a star as a result.

by M. R. Carey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really very good, 23 April 2016
This review is from: Fellside (Hardcover)
I first came across M.R. Carey through my brother, who leant me a copy of his most excellent The Girl With All The Gifts. A zombie apocalypse novel which broke the mold, I was immensely impressed by M.R. Carey's debut novel and so couldn't wait to read his second book. He didn't disappoint,

Fellside is a departure from the zombie apocalypse genre he so successfully populated with his first novel, striking out this time into the territory of ghosts, hauntings and the afterlife. Our protagonist is Jess Moulson, a heroin addict sentenced to a term in prison for the death of a young boy. High on drugs, she apparently burnt down the apartment building she lived in after an argument with her boyfriend, killing the child in the flat above.

Moulson is sent to HMP Fellside, a fictional prison M.R.Carey has sited in the North York Moors. Fellside is a foreboding stone edifice built on Sharne Fell, which the author memorably describes as having "rock escarpments falling away from the base of its wall like the folds of a dress." It's an arresting image clearly inspired by the portentous imagery of the real-life Dartmoor, perhaps even the state penitentiary in The Shawshank Redemption. And like both those places, Fellside is not a happy place.

Moulson is soon visited by the ghost of Alex Beech, the boy who died in the flat above hers, and discovers a world she recalls from her childhood, a spirit world which she used to pop in and out of and which now Alex guides her through. Alex is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart however, he wants something from Jess, namely her help in discovering the exact circumstances. Grudgingly she agrees to help, turns back from her guilt and self-immolation, and sets out to help Alex solve the mystery of his life and death.

Fellside is an accomplished tale, every bit as good as The Girl With All The Gifts, and M.R. Carey carries it off with aplomb. He really is turning into a writer to watch and I can't wait to read what he has to offer up next.

Gray Salvation (A Tom Gray Novel Book 6)
Gray Salvation (A Tom Gray Novel Book 6)
Price: £3.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 23 April 2016
Gray Salvation is the sixth book in Alan McDermott's Tom Gray series. I discovered Alan through Netgalley from whom I borrowed the fifth in the series, Gray Vengeance. Book number five blew me away and I immediately bought all four previous tomes from Amazon, vowing to read the serious from the beginning. I'm still to make time to read the first four novels, due to my prolific reviewing of new titles, but I jumped at the chance to review the next instalment when offered the chance.

This book is a step down in stakes from the previous, which is hardly a surprise. Gray Vengeance had as it's centre a plot of near apocalyptic proportions and if our protagonist, Tom Gray, were to face such peril in every outing the author might well exhaust himself. This is not to say that Gray Salvation is without thrills, a brutal Russian Mafia don, a Russian invasion of a Caucasus nation clearly inspired by Putin's adventurism in the Ukraine, would all add up to a very bad day for most people, but for Tom Gray it's all in a day's work.

Like Gray Vengeance this is a well-plotted and well-paced thriller set in a contemporary setting. It bristling with geo-political tension. It's a fun read that keeps you turning the page. Tom Gray is a likeable Jason Bourne type figure and both his allies and enemies are all well-drawn. Alan McDermott is on to a winner with this series and I will definitely be reading more, both making time to read the previous instalments, and waiting for future episodes with baited breath.

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