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C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)
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The Detachment (John Rain Thrillers)
The Detachment (John Rain Thrillers)
Price: 3.49

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good To Have Rain Back But Not His Finest Hour, 20 Sep 2011
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After two, in my opinion, inferior novels Fault Line and Inside Out, that introduced the characters of Ben Treven, Larison and Colonel 'Hort' Horton, with 'The Detachment' Barry Eisler has finally brought his Japanese-American assassin John Rain out of self-imposed retirement in Paris.

I will confess that its a welcome return; Rain has always been a great character, his mixed heritage and ice-cold, efficient demeanour lending him a unique, deadly exoticism. He remains a charismatic focus for this latest adventure and as bonus he brings with him former-sniper Dox, who for me is Eisler's most human and sympathetic character.

Its a pity however, that the adventure Eisler involves them in is one of his weaker efforts. One of the appeals for me of the previous Rain novels is that he has always operated in a covert world below the radar and away from global politics and grand plots. Potentially world changing or threatening geo-political conspiracies were left to other, often inferior authors. With The Detachment however, the actions of Rain, Dox and others will have potentially world-changing ramifications. Unfortunately with these increased stakes comes a reduction in plausibility. Put simply I didn't buy the plot Rain uncovers, its excessively convoluted and just doesn't ring true.

It doesn't help that in order to involve Rain in the various conspiracies Eisler has to, temporarily, make him incredibly naive. This character change feels entirely forced and unnatural. Whilst Rain retains his skills as a killer but apparently loses all the street smarts and instincts that he had dsplayed in the previous novels. Its glaringly obvious that he was being played, but the reasons Eisler gives for why Rain remains unaware of this or deliberately ignores his own suspicions feel weak. Its an ungainly way to get Rain back into the killing-game and dimishes the story that follows.

The final downside of The Detachment is the inclusion of Treven and Larison from 'Inside Out', neither of whom are Eisler's most well conceived characters. Larison is an unpredictable live-wire, which makes him more interesting, but with his various issues and hang-ups Eisler seems to be aiming for complexity that he fails to acheive. At no point does he behave or feel like a 'real' person, albeit one working in an unreal profession. Treven by contrast, who was introduced in Fault Line, is more grounded but also incredibly irritating in his naive stupidity, as he was in his two previous outings. The presence of both adds nothing to the book, and they suffer by comparison to the more rounded characters of Rain & Dox.

Were it not for the inclusion of the sort of solid action you'd expect from Eisler then The Detachment would be a very disappointing return for Rain indeed. A number of clever if brutal assassinations during the first half keep you hooked despite the book's weaknesses, and once the pace picks up and both Larison and Treven get a modicum of positive character development the second half is an improvement. It still comes nowhere near the likes of Rain Fall or The Last Assassin though.

It is however, great to have Rain back in the game and Eisler sets up a few nice threads for future novels. Its also comes as a welcome relief that he omits any of the toe-curlingly graphic and vaguely gratuitous sex-scenes he's included in some earlier novel. For that too I was very thankful.


The Evolutionary Void
The Evolutionary Void
Price: 4.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Finished It...Finally, 15 Sep 2011
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Its almost 4 years to the day that I wrote my review of The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy 1), awarded it four stars and declared it a highly promising start to a new trilogy. I did however, add that "the book's real worth will depend on the strength of the next volumes", and whilst The Temporal Void (Void Trilogy 2) was also worthy of 4 stars in its own right I have to confess that I found volume 3, The Evolutionary Void, to be something of a slog that reduced the appeal of the series overall.

Now partly this was my fault for leaving it a whole year since its original publication in hardback to pick-up the Evolutionary Void. Having read the Temporal Void way back in 2008 the three year gap between volumes meant my memory of the trilogy's numerous plot strands was pretty sketchy, so it took quite an effort to reconnect with the story. (Not helped by once again there being no recap to preface this volume).

One critical problem however, is that I found The Evolutionary Void rather boring. Whilst there were bursts of action and incident there's also far too much inactivity and padding. As a couple of other reviews have noted this feels very much like the consequence of Hamilton taking two volumes worth of story and stretching it out to fill three. The result are narratives threads that meander or stall until a sudden burst of activity during the final quarter of the book.

I will also confess that I found that after a three year break since reading The Temporal Void I found Hamilton's style of writing less appealing than I used to. I don't read much Sci-fi but in the past few years I've discovered the works of John Scalzi and Chris Wooding and by comparison to these two I found Hamilton's lacking a real human scale. I found I could only really relate to the character of Araminta, and even she less-so as the story progressed towards its conclusion. The constant melodrama and the bombastic style where stars were forever being destroyed, thousands of people killed in an instant and characters seemed to be permanently in conflict with each other or themselves just became rather wearying by the end. As for some of the concepts he deployed, especially those related to space-time and similar ideas, I just found them baffling. At this point I'm still not really clear what the hell happened at the end.

I still think he's a talented writer and I will continue to read his books in the future. In this case however, he strayed to far away from the 'science' and into the realms of wild fantasy for my taste. I also firmly believe that that he needs the hand of a far stricter editor steering him. For me his best works remain the Greg Mandel Series, Fallen Dragon, Pandora's Star (Commonwealth Saga) and Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga). In all these cases he offers tighter stories on a more human scale that are consquently far more enjoyable.

I am pleased that I managed to finish the Void trilogy for the sake of completeness if nothing else. I just wish it hadn't felt so much of a slog to get there.


Paris Is A Bitch -- A Rain/Delilah Short Story
Paris Is A Bitch -- A Rain/Delilah Short Story
Price: 0.77

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slight, 12 Sep 2011
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To be fair to Barry Eisler his description of this self-published 'short story' does tell you exactly how long (or short) it is, so I can't reasonably claim that I was short changed by its brevity.

I can however, criticise the quality of the story itself. The short story is a difficult literary form to pull-off successfully, and with 'Paris is a Bitch' Eisler fumbles the ball. Whilst he provides some crunching action the story overall is less than compelling. A good short story should provide the same complexity of plot, character and narrative that you would expect from a full length novel, albeit in a more concentrated form. Eisler doesn't offer any of this; he seems to have simply written a short chapter to bridge the gap between his last John Rain novel and the next and reset the character of Rain geographically.

You never feel that the events he recounts are so significant or complex that they demanded to be told in a short story form. They're so comparatively straightforward and inconsequential that they could easily have been relegated to an anecdote in the next Rain novel and we wouldn't have been any worse off. Those tackling The Detachment, the next John Rain novel, aren't going to have their enjoyment lessened if they haven't read 'Paris is a Bitch'. This short story doesn't add any new facets to the characters of Rain or Delilah or send them off in particularly unexpected directions. In truth I can't think of any reason to recommend reading this unless you have an overhwelming desire to see John Rain back in action again.

I consider myself a fan of Eisler's work, but having read this I will not be picking up any more of his 'short stories' such as The Lost Coast -- A Larison Short Story. Its not enough just to give us a short burst of fists flying and heads cracking or a teaser of future adventures. Short stories need decent self-contained tales that are worth telling and need to genuinely move characters forward. 'Paris is a Bitch' offers neither and despite the low price must therefore be considered a disappointment.


The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon 10)
The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon 10)
Price: 3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable But Silva is Coasting, 9 Sep 2011
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Existing fans of Daniel Silva's long running Gabriel Allon series will find 'The Rembrandt Affair' to be another entertaining entry. It displays Silva's usual smooth, intelligent prose and precision plotting. It holds your attention and at times has the power to both move the reader and raise their pulse. One passage in particular, when a survivor of the round-up of Dutch Jews under the Nazis describes the events that lead to her survival is incredibly powerful and despite being fictional brings home forcefully the horror of that period. Its a clear indication of precisely how good an author Silva has become.

Reading the Rembrandt affair however, I couldn't get past the feeling that this is Silva coasting along on autopilot. Whilst the plotting is clever, leading as it does from the investigation of a the theft of a painting to the legacy of the Holocaust to corruption in high places, ultimately this is once again a story of Gabriel and his team taking on a wealthy but crooked man in the name of justice. Its a story that Silva has retold several times in recent novels, including Moscow Rules and The Defector. He even repeats the plot device of recruiting an outsider to act as an agent that he used in The Messenger.

As a result and although enjoyable and written to a high standard 'The Rembrandt Affairs' feels somewhat inconsequential. Even the personal stakes for Gabriel feel lower than usual. At one point it appears that Silva can't even be bothered to write an action sequence and resorts to the old 'three thugs escort victim into a room to beat him up, sound of breaking crockery, only the intended victim emerges' cliche. Its amusing but smacks of Silva taking short-cuts.

So not a bad book, but Silva can definitely do better. I would also not recommend that readers new to the Gabriel Allon series start here. There's too much reference to the backstory built up over multiple previous novels and there are also better places to start. Try going back to The Kill Artist and starting from there.


Sworn Sword (The Conquest)
Sworn Sword (The Conquest)
by James Aitcheson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.34

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixture of Good & Bad, 8 Sep 2011
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If points were awarded to authors of historical fiction for choosing fresh settings and perspectives for their books James Aitcheson would score highly. Setting 'Sworn Sword' two years after the battle of Hastings and making the Normans the ostensible 'good guys' are certainly original approaches to take, and give the book a fresh feel from the start.

What follows however, is something of a mixed bag. This is a book with some very good parts, such the battle at York that rounds off the story, and some not so good ones such as the rather unexciting 'conspiracy' that Aitcheson uses to effectively pad out the story.

Infact its fair to say that when swords are flashing, blood is letting and battle is joined Sworn Sword is highly enjoyable. Aitcheson is good at writing exciting action that keeps you gripped. Its the book's quieter moments that let it down. There are simply far too many rather dull passages describing comparatively uneventful journeys from one place to another.

If the central characters were better drawn, their interaction more compelling or the mystery they find themselves involved with was more intriguing then the comparatively uneventful nature of these passages might not have been such an issue. Unfortunately Aitcheson hasn't matured as an author sufficiently to provide compelling characters of great depth and complexity and the mystery feels undercooked and is also rather predictable. As a result I found my attention wandering on more than one occasion as Tancred and his rather one-dimensional companions travelled from York to London and then on to Wilton with little in the way of incident.

Did this debut do enough to drag me back for the next adventure featuring Tancred and his band of fellow Norman knights? In a market-place full of very similar historical adventures to choose from the answer is a cautious 'maybe'. The fresh setting is appealing when compared the overused Roman and Napoleonic eras, and there are a few tantalising open plot threads that I wouldn't mind following to their conclusions. Aitcheson will need to tighten up his plotting and work on his characters a bit more however, if the series is going to become a must read rather than a might read. Tancred currently lacks the charisma to be a truly compelling hero and the supporting characters lack similar colour and definition. The personal stakes also need to be higher next time so that the reader's attention is really grabbed. The odd great battle scene will not cut it when those are ten-a-penny in any half-decent historical adventure; volume two needs a really good plot hook and a hero you can genuinely cheer for too.

So one to be picked up when it hits paperback rather than hardback. Oh and I would recommend dropping the use of period place names. All the Norman characters speak in contemporary English and otherwise use modern terminology, which just makes the use of the like of Dunholm and Lundene standout awkwardly. It smacks of the author showing off, which will not help endear the book to readers who may already be less than gripped by the action on the page.


Ice Reich
Ice Reich
Price: 2.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unpredictable, 29 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Ice Reich (Kindle Edition)
Anyone expecting Ice Reich to be a rip roaring adventure with non-stop action will be disappointed. There is plenty of incident and action in this WWII set-tale, but there's also plenty of character development, a touching romance, and some solid historical detail.

This combination makes Ice Reich unpredictable. Rather than rushing into action to grab the reader it takes time to establish the key characters before allowing the central plot to unfold. It also avoids lazy cliches. The hero and heroine don't simply fall into each other's arms at the drop of the hat. There is genuine uncertainty and soul-searching before they finally get together. Equally the key bad guy isn't just a moustache twirling evil-doer. He's a card carrying Nazi but he's also conflicted and all too human.

The plot also contains surprises. For a start it remains almost entirely plausible throughout. There are close shaves and plenty of derring-do, but no superhuman feats of endurance. There's plenty of excitement on offer but of a believable nature. Similarly Dietrich doesn't go over-the-top with the plot device of the killer bacteria. Its a nasty organism but also a realistic one, making it all the more threatening. Dietrich also avoids the obvious cliches, such last minute cures when key characters are on the verge of death or desperate dashes to prevent mass infections.

The historical and geographical details feel entirely accurate. Its obvious that Dietrich has visited Antartica and his portrayal of Nazi Germany feels equally accurate, but he wears his research lightly and never lets his facts get in the way of the story.

There are some issues with pacing and the structure. The story is effectively divided into two halves, the first of which is slightly too long and lacks a little punch. Similarly the eventual finale, whilst as believable as the rest of the book, is rather too low-key and eventual fate of one characters is both predictable and disappointingly prosaic.

These are minor problems however and overall I can highly recommend Ice Reich.


Beneath the Dark Ice (Alex Hunter)
Beneath the Dark Ice (Alex Hunter)
Price: 2.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clunky Cliched Nonsense, 25 Aug 2011
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As a fan of fantastical adventure stories of the sort produced by James Rollins, Graham Brown and others I'm always willing to give authors new to the genre a chance, so I decided to give Greig Beck's debut 'Beneath the Dark Ice' a whirl when it was finally published in the UK (it has been available in the US and Australia for a few years, along with its sequels).

I have to say that I will not be coming back for more from this author or his hero Alex Hunter. Beneath The Dark Ice was a string of cliches, preposterous concepts and regurgitated ideas strung together in an incredibly clunky fashion.

Its not that I mind preposterous or fantastical plotting. Some of James Rollins works, especially his early stuff like Amazonia or Subterranean, contain some pretty wild ideas. Graham Brown's debut, The Mayan Conspiracy covers concepts from killer monsters to time travel. I was prepared to go along with all of these concepts for two reasons; firstly the authors anchor them within reasonably plausible real world set-ups and believable characters and secondly the plots and prose flow smoothly and logically.

Beneath the Dark Ice by contrast starts off implausibly and just gets worse as it goes along. I can go with concepts such as primodial caves beneath the Antartic Ice Pack and giant squid creatures, but when you pile-on super-human soldiers, guns that fire compressed air 'bullets', and a seemingly neverending list of other fantastical flights of fancy, some of which are just plain dumb, it becomes impossible to suspend your disbelief. Beck tries to cram too many ideas in the book, to the point where any relation to the 'real world' is lost and with it any vestiges of plausibility.

Probably his worst decision is to make his hero, Alex Hunter, literally super-human. Why he did so I have no idea, but Hunter's ability to move at incredible speed, his amazing senses, remarkable strength and powers of rapid healing just come across as ridiculous. They also rob the book of some of its tension by making Hunter so capable that any question-marks over whether he will survive or not are removed. Had Beck restricted his enhanced abilities to the realm of plausibility (i.e. not being able to heal in minutes or effortlessly lift tonnes in weight) or limited him to one or two improvements only the idea might have worked, but as it is Hunter never feels like a 'real' person. He also lacks anything approaching genuine charisma or depth.

Then again characterisation is pretty poor across the board. Everybody featured in the book, from the haughty but cowardly scientist to the psychotic Russian assassin to the granite-like military commander back at base, is a walking cliche and they all have zero depth. As a result when they die there is almost zero emotional impact.

Cliches also abound in the book's various settings, it monsters and the plot itself. Ancient civilisations under Antartica have been done before by numerous authors, as have monsters in caves. The giant squid creature that Hunter & Co face has elements of movies such as the The Thing [DVD] [1982] and Deep Rising [DVD] [1998] about it, whilst James Rollins and others have all done the 'chased by monsters through ancient underground ruins' thing many times before and far better.

If Beck had been able to inject more tension or a greater sense of wonder into proceeding then maybe the rehashed nature of the story wouldn't have mattered so much, but he doesn't. His prose can at best be described as pedestrian and at worst as clunky and laboured. Action lacks punch and excitement, dialogue feel wooden, descrptions are either unduly bland or ridiculously overblown (characters are forever 'exploding' around their desks or at other people) and there is almost no real tension to proceedings.

By the time events reached the final, rather jumbled denoument after what seemed like an interminable and rather unexciting trek through various caves and ruins I'd decided that this would be the first and last Greig Beck novel I would be tackling. I could be being unfair and he has improved massively as an author since this debut, but life if too short and their are too many works by far more talented writers to be read to waste my time giving him a second shot. Besides which, he would have to dump the ridiculous Alex Hunter as his leading man before I'd even consider picking up any of his future novels.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2012 9:34 PM BST


Plugged
Plugged
by Eoin Colfer
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, Dark & Profane, 24 Aug 2011
This review is from: Plugged (Hardcover)
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Eoin Colfer's plugged is a blackly comic, adult crime thriller. If I had to draw comparisons to other authors I'd probably say it was in the vein of Christopher Brookmyre but minus the satire, Colin Bateman but transposed from Northern Ireland to New Jersey, a harder edged, grimier Carl Hiaasen or a lighter Elmore Leonard. It doesn't come close to matching those authors' best works but with its mixture of profanity, crime, violence, gonzo characters, comedy, farce and general air of seediness its reminicent of all of them to one extent or another.

How much you enjoy it will depend to a great extent on your capacity for spending your time in the company of various low-lifes and in the squalid world they inhabit. All the characters on display are messed up to some extent, from the hero/narrator Dan to the wannabe gangsters, back street doctors and corrupt lawyers he interacts with. You'll also need be accepting of both violence and profanity because the book is packed with both. All this grittiness however, is offset by a rich seam of comedy that makes this a genuinely funny read, even if you sometimes find yourself wincing as you laugh.

Still I can understand that it will not be to everyone's taste and it remains a pretty lightweight affair, never achieving the depth of characterisation or biting satire of the likes of Elmore Leonard. As an enjoyable albeit blackly comic crime novel however, its fine and I would be happy to read more of Dan's adventures if Colfer chooses to write them.


Trackers
Trackers
by Deon Meyer
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like A Thriller Written By Raymond Carver, 24 Aug 2011
This review is from: Trackers (Paperback)
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Trackers is the first novel by Deon Meyer that I've read, so I can't compare it to any previous works. What I can say is that, structually, it has to be the most original thriller I've read in a long time. Its as if Meyer is channelling Raymond Carver, the author of Short Cuts, with the book's three separate yet interconnected novellas (one of which is separated into two parts by one of the other stories) and multiple recurring characters.

Some may find this structure unsatisfactory or off-putting. Personally I found it refreshing, although I wouldn't want every book to be similarly fragmented. It effectively allows Meyer to create a collection of short stories, a tricky form that the author handles well, but simultaneously craft them into a something approaching a cohesive full length novel.

As with many short story collections some entries are more successful than others. Personally I found the stories featuring Lemmer and Joubert more satisfying than the divided tale set around the PIA, although others might disagree. I never really connected with the PIA story or the motivations of the characters involved. The terrorist threat being investigated remained too insubstantial and convoluted to really have much impact and the actions of Milla and her decision to go on the run didn't stike me as logical or plausible.

The Lemmer and Joubert stories worked far better for me, even if one remained frustratingly yet enticeingly open ended. It could be that it Meyers familiarity with the both characters, who have apparently appeared in previous novels such as Blood Safari and Dead Before Dying (Coronet books), that makes theses two stories flow better but being new to the author's work I can't be certain. All I do know is that I want to know how Lemmer's pursuit of Flea goes and I'll be adding Blood Safari and some of Joubert's previous adventures to my 'to-be-read' list.

So overall this was a pleasantly enjoyable introduction to Deon Meyer and gave me a flavour of the sorts of stories the author writes. It will be interesting to see whether I get similar enjoyment out of his full length novels when I tackle one.


End Game
End Game
Price: 2.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Rather Sterile Political Thriller, 24 Aug 2011
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This review is from: End Game (Kindle Edition)
Ignore the cover artwork for End Game showing a naval vessel on a storm tossed sea. If you buy this book expecting Tom Clancy style military action you will be sorely disappointed. What combat does occur happens entirely off the page and is only recounted in slim detail by other characters. A more appropriate cover image for End Game would be of the White House or Wall Street, as in reality Matthew Glass' novel is a political and economic thriller, rather than a military one.

Looking at the sort of unforseen economic and diplomatic events that could bring the USA and China to the brink of war in the very near future, I found End Game to be an interesting if rather sterile work of fiction. Interesting in that the string of interconnected events that the book recounts feel frighteningly plausible. Sterile in that I made no real emotional connection with any of the book's characters.

Part of the problem is that Glass focuses exclusively on the major players in the unfolding drama, from the US President to a Hedge Fund manager. There's no effort made to offer the perspective of more relatable characters at low levels in the chain of command. To compound the issue we view most characters exclusively through the prism of the events they're involved in, with very little in the way of background or depth provided. As a result characters tend to be defined by their roles rather than their personalities.

So whilst the events that play out are interesting and reasonably gripping due to their plausibility, at no point do you become truly involved in the fates of any of the numerous characters that populate the book. Even the death of one of them has little in the way of impact beyond how it influences the path of the story.

Story-wise there are also a few weaknesses. Glass allows cliches to slip in here and there, with the Chinese coming across as rather too insrcutably oriental for example. The ending also feels a little too pat and becomes something of a lecture on how in the modern globalised world conutries will have to learn to work together more to avoid recurring conflict. In fact I suspect that individual readers reactions to End Game will be influenced by their own personal political leanings. Based the book's treatment of various perspectives and attitudes I would say that Glass definitely sits to the left on the political spectrum. If you agree with his point-of-view (which I generlly don't but am also not entirely opposed to) you will probably find the book as a whole and its ending inparticular far more satisfying.

Will I be picking up another of Glass' novels based on my experience with End Game? Probably not. Whilst the 'what-if' elements were interesting (especially some incidental details regarding South Africa and North Korea) there just wasn't enough emotional substance to really grab me. I don't mind the lack of physical action, but Glass would need to mix more of the relatably personal with the geo-political in order to tempt me back again.


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