on 29 August 2011
Not a book to buy if you have other plans because once you start reading this book you will not want to put it down.
You quickly come absorbed in the character of Jamie Saintclair, his life changed forever, when, following the death of his Grandfather, who he had always thought of as "dotty old granddad who would not hurt a fly", he discovers his grandfather's secret past serving with the SAS in the Second World War.
Jamie and new found girlfriend Sarah Grant are taken on a tour of mystery and intrigue across Europe and beyond. Some of the horrors of World War 2 are carefully entwined and re-lived by them through his grandfathers journal.
Each chapter seems to end in a few words which grip you and make you think, one more chapter, I will just read one more, several chapters later and the day has passed so you may as well continue and finish the book.
Looking forward to reading many more books from Mr James Douglas.
on 2 January 2013
Indiana Jones? Perhaps, to a degree. If you combined it with elements from Kelly's Heroes, Lovejoy, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and many other things.
In essence, I read few thrillers these days. Once upon a time I read a lot of them, along with whodunnits, but I reached a point where I found that the stories were all blending into one and I could anticipate and predict the story ahead of schedule. I stopped reading them in favour of other genres that were not falling into so much of a repetitive and predictable streak.
And then there was all the fuss with Dan Brown and, while I can take or leave his books, their arrival on the scene did seem to kick off a renaissance for thrillers and made the inclusion of the occult acceptable outside the parameters of horror. My first foray into the newer wave of thrillers was Sanctus last year, which I rated as one of my top 10 books of the year. In fairness, I may have considered it a blip and never opened the Doomsday Testament, had I not had tremendous confidence in the writing, as I know Douglas' other work in the field of Roman fiction under his other name and one of those books also made my top 10. And so I picked up this book with interest and high expectations.
I was not let down. The quality of the writing itself is high, having been honed through half a dozen books of historical fiction. One thing that commends his work, and I would say is a real selling point, is its evident readability. Some books I thoroughly enjoy but require work. Some I have to make myself sit down and concentrate on, even though I'm enjoying them, because they require effort. This book - and all Douglas' work - is literary quicksilver. I sit down to read a chapter and stand back up to discover it's got dark in the meantime and I've read a third of the book. It's just too easy to read and too hard to stop.
The characters in the story are entirely credible and sympathetic. Jamie has that perfect mix of open naïve inability and hidden strengths and skills that make him the perfect protagonist without being irritably perfect. The burgeoning relationship between him and Sarah - more of a partner or supporting role than mere love interest - is one of reciprocation and combination of talents. The secrets of their pasts are nicely woven into the plot.
But the real win for this book is not the writing or the characterisation - or even the settings, which are perfectly visualised and clearly understood by the author - but the plot. You see with a thriller, plot is all-important. A horror novel can get by on shock value, and a historical one through detail and action. But a thriller has to have an intriguing plot that remains out of the reader's reach throughout the story, or twists every time the reader thinks he understands. This is, after all, one of the main reasons I stopped reading thrillers many years ago.
The Doomsday Testament combines every aspect of the thriller into one perfectly engineered plot, but throws in elements of occult, war, archaeology and more. Beginning as a simple story of a young art dealer dealing with his recently-deceased grandfather's effects, it quickly takes the reader into a story of the old man's time in the second world war (a thread that runs concurrently throughout the book almost as a secondary tale in itself), takes on the aspects of an international spy/crime caper, and then dives into an almost Denis Wheatley-esque tale of the occult and its connections with Himmler and Hitler's obsessions with such things. The story roves across England, Germany and even Tibet, back and forth as the events unfold through Jamie's grandfather's journal.
The thing that really grips me is that for the last third of the book (as is the way with a good thriller) I kept thinking to myself "how can this work out? How can it end satisfactorily? What will happen?" And then, when I got to the end, I almost smacked my head against the wall for not seeing what I damn well should have done.
The upshot is that this novel has everything it needs to keep you coming back and you might well find that, like me, you read it in three sittings without pause.
Way to go, James. The sequel - The Isis Covenant - is close to the top of my pile now.