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David Gee (Sussex, UK)

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The English Spy (Gabriel Allon 15)
The English Spy (Gabriel Allon 15)
by Daniel Silva
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars The second murder of Princess Diana, 25 July 2016
The latest instalment in the Gabriel Allon super-spy series begins with the blowing up of a yacht in the Mediterranean where the principal guest is the ex-wife of the heir to the British throne. It’s very cavalier of Daniel Silva to rescue Princess Diana (she is only ever called the ‘former princess’) from the horror of Paris only to have her murdered somewhere else.

Improbably, veteran Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel is brought in to investigate the killing, and he recruits Christopher Keller (whom we have met before), a British commando turned hitman. The prime suspect is ex-IRA bomb-maker Eamon Quinn, whose path has also crossed Gabriel’s more than once. Quinn is linked to the decades-old atrocity that destroyed Gabriel’s first wife and young son, a tragedy that Daniel Silva revisits in every novel, with powerful resonance. Keller and Gabriel criss-cross Europe in pursuit of the assassin and his sponsors. The climax, in the old ‘killing fields’ of Ireland, is thrilling and chilling.

The head of MI5 quotes Eric Ambler: “It’s not important who fires the shot. It’s who pays for the bullet.” And there are several old foes who may behind this new conspiracy - Russians, Iranians, Arabs – or perhaps a lethal combination of dark forces. The sheer scale of the conspiracy here, with all its twists and turns, reminded me (which Silva often does) of Robert Ludlum, whose great gift (the Jason Bourne stories are a good example: I wonder why they haven’t filmed the Allon novels?) was to make a preposterous conspiracy seem entirely plausible. THE ENGLISH SPY is one of this author’s more outlandish tales - and I think the murder of the princess shows bad taste: he fictionalizes the UK prime minister and could easily have fictionalized a minor Royal. Nevertheless, he always convinces you that a drama like this could well be played out on the streets of Europe’s cities – and, as we have seen too often recently, frightening dramas are playing out on the streets where we live.

Mr Silva never fails to deliver the goods. In an Afterword at the end of the book he delivers an alarm-bell-ringing assessment of how much he thinks President Putin threatens world security..

{Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


Henderson's Spear
Henderson's Spear
by Ronald Wright
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars In the same league as THE KITE RUNNER or CAPTAIN CORELLI, 4 July 2016
This review is from: Henderson's Spear (Hardcover)
This literary adventure story was published in 2001 but only came to my attention this year, recommended by a friend with reliable good taste.

Two narratives are interwoven in HENDERSON'S SPEAR, told in different styles, both vividly fresh and exciting. The modern one has Olivia, a rootless young woman imprisoned in Tahiti on a murder charge, writing her life story in the form of a letter to the daughter she gave up for adoption. The ‘period’ story, 100 years earlier, is the journal of a relative of Olivia’s, Frank Henderson, who sailed the South Seas with a crew that included Princes George and Edward, Queen Victoria’s grandsons, one destined to die young, the other to marry his brother’s fiancée and be crowned in Westminster Abbey.

The Victorian/Edwardian history is very much in the style of Herman Melville who also explored – and wrote about – Polynesia. There are storms at sea and other maritime perils and wonderfully weird encounters with the newly Christianized rulers of Fiji and Tahiti. Prince Eddy’s homosexuality is not over-emphasized, although this tale has a ‘shock’ ending. Olivia’s life is a catalogue of doomed affairs: ‘I’ve never been very good at love,’ she writes to her daughter, ‘though I am working on it.’ Her ill-fated trip to Tahiti, also driven by letters, is a quest to find out what happened to her father, a pilot who failed to return from the Korean War. Abandonment is a core theme in this novel, explored with depth and poignancy.

HENDERSON'S SPEAR is in the same league as CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN or THE KITE RUNNER – novels that are impossible to categorize and a joy to read.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


Friends In High Places: (Brunetti 9)
Friends In High Places: (Brunetti 9)
by Donna Leon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark deeds in Venice, 9 May 2016
I'm a bit late coming to Donna Leon and Commisario Guido Brunetti. Easy to see why Signora Leon has such a big following: she is a very fine writer.

Here, Brunetti investigates the suspicious deaths of a building inspector in a fall and a decomposing overdosed drug addict. There seems to be a link to the activities of a pair of elderly moneylenders who make Shylock seem like Mother Theresa. The means Brunetti employs to flush out the killer are unorthodox, probably unprofessional but effective.

Leon's writing is entirely modern, although the unhurried pace and the quiet doggedness of Brunetti evokes the era of Poirot and Miss Marple. The author's elegant prose took me further back to dear old Dorothy L. Sayers. Her picture of Guido's Venice is evocative without ever seeming overdone. She has a clear vision of the country and its people: "Italy was a country where everyone knew everything while no one was willing to say anything."

A mortuary scene with the dead junkie's parents is perfectly poignant, and the ending is a notable demonstration of what Graham Greene called "the splinter of ice" a writer needs to stand out from the crowd. Mrs Leon stands out.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


The City And The Pillar
The City And The Pillar
by Gore Vidal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The first - and still the best - modern gay novel, 23 April 2016
I've just re-read this novel from 1948, which I think is the very first 'home-grown' gay novel in the US. Vidal rewrote the book in 1965 with major changes and a revised ending, less melodramatic than the original (murder) although the hero's "hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-wronged-faggot" action seems equally out-of-character.

THE CITY AND THE PILLAR, like many early novels from writers in the 40s and 50s (and still all too often today), shows clearly the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald: lean, finely-honed prose with a kind of muscular elegance, which works supremely well for this chronicle of the coming-of-age and the coming-out of a gay high-school senior during WW2 and its aftermath. Jim Willard's briefly reciprocated love for a fellow student casts a shadow over the next decade of his life as he becomes a sailor, then a tennis-coach (and kept boy) in Hollywood and New York.

Scenes in NY and LA offer early glimpses of the archness that were to characterise the author's public persona in later life and reach an apotheosis in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and MYRON, the two-volume high-octane farce which for many readers is at once his best and his worst writing. Many scenes - and many of the characters - could as well belong to New York or Los Angeles of today as to the 1940s. Except for some clunky conversations exploring the 'Nature Of Homosexuality' which must have seemed insightful as well as daring in 1948, this is a lot less dated than other gay novels of the era.

The sex scenes are almost as discreet as Mr Forster's - there's nothing as lurid or as dazzling as Gore would later concoct for Myra/Myron. But overall THE CITY AND THE PILLAR is not only an outstanding piece of gay fiction (better than many that were to come after Vidal opened the floodgates) but also one of the best novels of its era, different from but as exquisitely readable - still - as the early works of Capote and Carson McCullers.

In later life Gore overdid the bitchiness and bitterness, perhaps disappointed by his failure to make it as a realm presence in US politics, the role he most craved. But his output as novelist, historian and essayist was prodigious. Other writers may have left a bigger footprint (Roth, Mailer, Updike, Irving), but Vidal deserves to admitted to the literary pantheon. He wouldn't thank me for this, but he is probably, as Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said of himself, "in the very front rank of the second-raters".

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


The Santangelos (Lucky Santangelo 9)
The Santangelos (Lucky Santangelo 9)
by Jackie Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RIP, Jackie: tasteless and flashy to the end!, 9 April 2016
I gave up on Jackie Collins many books back. Yes, her Hollywood novels are glamorous and gossipy, like the film and pop 'fanzines' whose style she writes in, but the formula became very repetitious. "Tasteless and flashy" is how one bitchy female describes Lucky Santangelo in this latest instalment. There's no arguing with that.

As always, there's lots of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, plus the regular vengeful psycho stalking Lucky's family and friends. This one, topically, is the ruler of an imaginary Arab state called Akramshar. His name is King Emir Amin Jordan - shouldn't that be al-Jordan? And how did her editors let ludicrous King Emir get into print?

Ms Collins writes her own kind of prose, which almost defies criticism. Super-model Athena has "frizzed-out flame-colored hair, cut-glass cheekbones, cat eyes and a permanent super-sexy scowl." The bar on this sort of writing has been lowered rather than raised by la Collins during her long reign as the Queen of Hollywood fiction. She was famous for her raunchy sex scenes, all written with sledgehammer subtlety in fifty shades of scarlet and often unintentionally (or intentionally?) comic.

Harold Robbins, without any grand aspirations, was a much better writer: THE CARPETBAGGERS and THE ADVENTURERS had all the greed and gossip of a Collins novel, but his style had a kind of Mickey Spillane crispness and grandeur. Jackie Collins occasionally reaches for crisp but she cannot (couldn't) do grand.

Billed as "The Final Chapter" in the life of Lucky Santegelo, this ninth episode may not be the last. Harold Robbins carried on writing from beyond the grave, and so too may Jackie Collins. There's gold in them thar cemeteries.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


The Last Child
The Last Child
by John Hart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Another girl gone in this vivid, visceral thriller, 1 April 2016
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This review is from: The Last Child (Paperback)
It's six months since I discovered John Hart, reading IRON HOUSE, his most recent novel (there's a new one out next month). IRON HOUSE blew me away. THE LAST CHILD is his previous book, similarly set in North Carolina. 13-year-old Johnny Merrimon's twin sister was abducted a year ago and never found. His father has disappeared; his grief-wrecked mother has taken up with a bullying property magnate. Johnny spends many hours scouring the area looking for clues to his sister's disappearance. Another abduction and an encounter with a black vagrant who seems to know something spur the boy on. One local detective also refuses to let the case go cold and tries to watch over Johnny and his mom.

This is not a new theme but John Hart gives the story a Southern Gothic twist that makes it feel fresh and exciting. His prose style is as rich as Stephen King's: one suspicious local man "was sixty-eight, with bristled hair, two loose teeth and eyes like raw oysters." There's a riverside cemetery scene with an atmosphere that calls Charles Dickens to mind. The suspense builds to a vivid, visceral climax that tears at your heart strings.

Hart is a real find. Thrillers don't come any better than this. I can't wait to read the next one.

[Reviewer is the auithor of THE BEXHILLMISSILE CRISIS]


Night Train to Lisbon
Night Train to Lisbon
by Pascal Mercier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Not in the league of Zafon, Allende and John Fowles, 15 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Night Train to Lisbon (Paperback)
"If you liked SHADOW OF THE WIND you'll love NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON." Well, that's what the back cover promises. And on the front cover Isabel Allende calls this "One of the best books I have read in a long time." An endorsement from the author of THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS, and comparisons with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's modern masterpiece: who could resist? Sad to report, I somewhat wish I had.

Shortly after saving a beautiful Portuguese woman from suicide, Raimund Gregorius, a middle-aged Swiss teacher, comes across a book of modern philosophy by an obscure Portuguese doctor turned revolutionary during the time of Salazar. Gregorius abandons Bern for Lisbon and a quest to learn more about the mysterious author (and, the reader must surely hope, re-encounter the equally mysterious lady). It's a long and slow journey, almost entirely comprised of encounters with men and women who knew and loved/admired Amadeu de Prado. The author punctuates the narrative with chunks of Prado's sententious prose.

This is not an easy read. The book is well written (and translated) but the passion that drives Allende's writing is missing, and so is the undistilled magic of Zafon's. The prevailing (albeit prejudiced) view of the Swiss is that they are staid, precise, somewhat dull. And that's how NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON felt to me through most of its 430 pages. The slow unravelling of a mystery was the core element in John Fowles's splendid THE MAGUS, the first modern epic (1966) on a slightly 'supernatural' theme. But there just isn't enough mystery in LISBON; and the ending was a disappointment.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


Consequences: Volume 5 (Lesbian romances)
Consequences: Volume 5 (Lesbian romances)
by Elizabeth Janet Lister
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars 21st-century LGBT soap, 27 Feb. 2016
'Were the women who stayed in unhappy marriages for the sake of their children the ones who got it right?' Elizabeth Lister asks this question in the first chapter of her new novel and then introduces us to a wife who decides not to stay.

Set in an unnamed town in the British Midlands, the book resumes the saga of Ms Lister's previous heroine Tracy Manners, a lesbian whose life has had many ups and downs. Her latest companion is Clara, who leaves her husband and takes her eight-year-old daughter to live with Tracy. Clara's uber-bitch mother is horrified at this turn of events, her spineless father less so. Her husband also lets his life take a new direction.

Clara's brother Colin is a closeted gay; the closet gets quite crowded and then empties as the pacy plot unravels. With bisexuality, rape and even incest among the ingredients, CONSEQUENCES is on the cutting edge of contemporary drama. It has all the pace and energy of a soap opera, albeit a very modern, 'metrosexual' one!

[Reviewer is the author oif THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


Last Days of the Condor
Last Days of the Condor
by James Grady
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Bourne to be wild!, 6 Feb. 2016
It's been a long time coming, but James Grady has produced a sequel to his 1974 CIA thriller SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR (condensed to THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR in the movie version, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway). In 1974 Condor's real name was Malcolm; now it's Vin, but he's still working for a mysterious branch of US Intelligence, having survived some nasty assignments and a spell in a mental hospital. Not unlike the events of forty years ago, a violent murder (this one in his home rather than his office) puts him on the run again. An agent he mentored (her name is Faye: a tribute to Ms Dunaway?) leads the team hunting him.

Fast and furious car chases and brutal killings bring echoes of the Jason Bourne movies which have created new parameters for spy stories. This has clearly been written with an eye on the movie rights. There's a high-octane shoot-out on a DC metro station which would have major box-office appeal. Condor is meant to be around pensionable age, so perhaps Robert Redford would like to stage a comeback - with a new young female co-star, of course. Only a guest cameo for Faye Dunaway as an M-style spy-master (or is that spy-mistress?).

I found the style of this somewhat trying: it's written in a disorienting, almost psychedelic prose that occasionally reminded me of William Burroughs at his weirdest. Not only Condor but also those pursuing him suffer from galloping paranoia, which I guess is a sine-qua-non of Intelligence stories - more than ever in our post 9/11 world.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


The nth Day
The nth Day
Price: £6.64

4.0 out of 5 stars The King's disciple, 18 Jan. 2016
This review is from: The nth Day (Kindle Edition)
Jonathan Huls is clearly a "disciple" of the King of Horror. THE Nth DAY is pretty original in its conception, although Stephen King's mighty epic THE STAND may have provided some of his inspiration and it's likely that the OMEN movies also filtered through the creative process.

There are three main protagonists: Justin, a boy with miraculous powers of both healing and destruction; Cassie, a fostered runaway who suffers many kinds of abuse; and Theodore, an oddball black billionaire who lives like a tramp. In a near-future world where apocalyptic events have begun to occur, this trio are clearly destined to meet, and indeed their stories finally converge in a near-Armageddon scenario in Atlanta.

The Stephen King influence, a beneficial one, is that Mr Huls gives even walk-on characters little chunks of vivid back-story to bring them to life. He uses more profanity than seems strictly necessary, and some of the gross-out scenes may be a bit too gross for squeamish readers. The print version of his book is handicapped by clunky formatting. I'm guessing this is a debut offering; like so many self-published books it would have benefited from some independent editing, but the author gets high marks for effort and originality.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


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