Embers of War – Gareth L Powell

This is a space opera tale of a sentient spaceship, Trouble Dog, that is attempting to repay a perceived sort of debt to society for formerly acting as a warship. Now it is part of the House of Reclamation, trying to rescue spaceships that get into trouble. The crew have their part to play as the current mission starts: to investigate the disappearance of a ship in a disputed star system.

On that missing ship was one Ona Sudak, a poet. Separately, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is ordered to find and rescue Sudak.

Both strands come together and become involved in something more significant than the disappearance of a single ship.

I did not like this. The story is OK. It features some cool stuff, like sentient ships, but I found the writing so clunky and pedestrian that I lost interest. It’s fun in places, but only rarely. And ever so predictable. The characters do not seem believable. The dialog is, to put it mildly, often unconvincing. The futuristic universe has nothing that marks it out as unique or fresh. To put it another way, this is derivative. Now that can be overcome, but there needs to be compensating factors and there are none to be found.

A dead end. Not recommended.

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Stalkers – Paul Finch

This is a modern crime novel about a large number of women who have disappeared. All of them have vanished into thin air without apparent rhyme nor reason. One such girl’s sister connects to Detective Sergeant Mark Heckenburg, who is supposedly investigating the disappearances, and off they not so jolly well go.

Inevitably, their investigation puts them in danger, especially as they get closer to the truth of what is behind the disappearances.

Heckenburg is one of these invincible guys, but if you can suspend your disbelief about that aspect, the rest of the tale does have its entertaining and suspenseful moments. The book is also somewhat bloody and, at times, relentless in its violence. Unfortunately, the supporting characters do not amount to much, and there’s nothing of substance by way of atmospheric backdrop.

The writing didn’t work for me. It didn’t connect. Oh, the words all made sense, and the story was clear enough. But the writing never drew me in. I could have stopped reading and would not have cared what happened to the characters.

So, what you have is a lightweight production which is easy enough to read, but ultimately (for me) unsatisfying. It was OK, but I won’t be going any further with the series.

 

 

 

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The List – Mick Herron

This is another standalone (short) spy novel by Mick Herron, set in the same backdrop as the terrific Jackson Lamb series, but telling a separate story, though with some passing references to the characters in that series.

John Bachelor works for MI5 and is the handler of Dieter Hess, an old foreign spy. When Hess dies, Bachelor finds out that the old spy had set up a secret bank account. In the world of espionage, that’s a big red warning sign, suggesting the spy was a double agent. So, Bachelor – who is in serious trouble for failing to spot the secret bank account when Hess was alive – has to dig around and find out what the truth is. Of course, this being a spy story, all is not what it seems, and the investigation has to make its way through some murky passages.

This is a short, simply told and effective cracker of a tale, well worthy of your reading time. Herron lights the fuse and it slowly burns away, drawing the reader in.

The characters are beautifully described, and the plot exquisitely told. The world of espionage seems all too real.

In short, if you are a fan of spy fiction, this is a must. If you are not a fan of spy fiction, this may change your mind.

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Sam Berger Series – Arne Dahl

Watching You is the first book in the series.

Some crime is slow burn. Some crime is relentless. This falls into the latter category, taking hold of the reader from almost the first page, and putting on a fireworks display of a novel that fizzes and bangs as the tale unfolds.

Sam Berger thinks that there is a serial kidnapper/murderer at large. His bosses think otherwise. But as he looks for a young girl, the most recent kidnapping victim, he not only has to keep his theories to himself – because the hierarchy have told him there is insufficient evidence for his wild conspiracy idea – he has to work out why the kidnapper has left a clue behind at the scene – one that is very personal to Sam.

Sam’s main police sidekick is his assistant Deer, and she sometimes keeps him onside when he might otherwise go too far in his bid to find the girl. But, generally, Sam follows the natural trend of defective detectives and has abysmal relationships (work wise) with his colleagues and fellow officers of the law. This will come back to haunt him.

In the course of the investigation, Berger finds a common thread that links all the disappearances. When Berger tracks down and confronts this potential voyeur, witness, or killer, the reader’s perspective is drastically altered. To say more would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say, it’s a big twist among many.

The characters are well drawn, believable, and interesting. The Scandinavian backdrop will have you turning up your heating. The plot will have you scratching your head.

While at times I wondered if the writer was trying to be too clever, I came to the conclusion that was an unfair criticism. The author has put in a ton of work to furnish a complex but polished tale, full of great characters, interesting twists, and pacy adventure. The ending is a stunner.

Which leads on to…

Hunted is the second book in the series.

Mentioning the plot here would give too many spoilers, so I will restrict myself to saying that it continues the Sam Berger story. Whereas the first book was smart, sassy, and sharp, this one tries to be the same but doesn’t quite reach the same (high) standard. There are some more of the great twists and turns before the reader gets to the final showdown.

The characterization is still good, with plenty for the reader to mull over. And there’s plenty of action.

Overall, well worth reading. But the first book is better, and if that doesn’t engage you, don’t bother with the second.

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Nobody Walks – Mick Herron

This is a sort of spook novel, with some of the characters of the author’s wonderful Jackson Lamb series, but it is intended to stand on its own with no prior reading experience required to enjoy it.

Bettany used to be a spook. He’s dropped out, doing a crappy job in France, when he is told of his son’s death in London. Bettany goes back to investigate and thus flows the action.

Inevitably with this author, there are twists and turns. Things are often not what they seem. Bettany comes into contact with drug dealers and the security services, the relationship between them being somewhat murky. Bettany is not without resources from his past, and he endeavors to leverage them as much as possible in the quest to get to the truth.

The atmosphere around Bettany is dark and oppressive. You get the impression he would shy away from a day sunbathing at the beach, preferring to lurk in a dark alley. But his spirit – certainly in his quest for his son – burns bright and keeps him going where lesser mortals would have backed down.

This is a grim tale of separation, love, betrayal, and secrets. The background is all too believable, and Bettany an intriguing character. The plot is a bit wobbly, but manages to be just about credible. As always, I knew that the disappointment felt on reaching the end meant I had enjoyed it a great deal. Recommended.

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Our Little Secret – Roz Nay

This is a short novel about Angela, under interrogation as a suspect in the disappearance of her ex’s wife. Detective Novak would like a straight answer, but Angela is more interested in telling the story of her life, and how – from her viewpoint – she ended up in police custody, accused of murder.

Definitely falling into the psychological thriller category, the story is told with an ever increasing tension as we wonder whether Angela is a vicious killer or an innocent caught in a bungled investigation. Through it all, Angela and Novak play a bit of cat and mouse, the conversation often taking on a surreal quality as answers are spun into stores within stories that may or may not bring clarity to the situation.

In this type of book, the twist at the end has got to be worthy of the effort. While there is a lot of tension, there’s not much action, and you may feel like screaming ‘Hurry up and get on with it!’ When I got to the end I was underwhelmed. The writing had kept me (mostly) engaged, but the ending was weaker than I would have liked. So, for me, this one is to be filed under interesting failure.

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The Blood Road – Stuart MacBride

Number eleven of the novels in the series featuring the one and only Logan McRae, this is a good addition which continues the high standards set before.

This time around, McRae is hit by a strange blast from the past. Detective Inspector Bell died two years ago. So why has his body turned up now in a car accident? Why did he fake his death? Where has he been, and what has he been up to?

McRae digs into the mystery, and in true defective detective fashion, doesn’t always get things right, but always kicks up a fuss and a trail of chaotic events.

The plot is solid, the writing fast, furious, and stiffened with some exceedingly sharply observed humor – despite the serious and troubling themes the book deals with.

Let’s cut to the chase: it’s a must read, though you should really do yourself a favor and go back to the first so you can enjoy them all.

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The Liar – Steve Cavanagh

This is the third of the novels about con-man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. To cut to the chase, it’s very good, though of all of them, this is my least favorite.

Flynn, whose own daughter was once kidnapped, is recruited by Leonard Howell after Howell’s daughter is kidnapped. Howell doesn’t trust the police, and he wants Eddie to help get his daughter back.

There are plenty of challenges for Flynn in another cracking tale, with a wonderfully constructed plot, and pretty near constant tension as the story is told. Slowly, but surely, the details of what lies behind the kidnap emerge. But even then, all is not what it seems.

Recommended. But read the books in order.

[Reviews: first, second, fourth.]

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The Plea – Steve Cavanagh

This is the second of the novels about con-man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. (You can see my review of the first, here.) There is a novella (The Cross) which I have not read.

Eddie is asked by the FBI to have David Child, client of a firm of New York lawyers, to testify against the firm, helping convict them of corrupt practices. There are several challenges. Flynn is not Child’s lawyer. Child is charged with murder and the FBI say he is guilty. Eddie think’s otherwise. Oh, and if Eddie won’t play ball, the evidence they have against Eddie’s wife might make him think differently.

In this complex scenario, Cavanagh pulls off the unlikely result of telling a gripping tale that is just about believable. There are twists and turns, of course, but these would be nothing without the pile driver of a narrative that keeps you on the edge of your reading seat.

Flynn remains the central character, and the one with most depth. But while the supporting characters – especially Child and Flynn’s wife – are not as well drawn, they neither qualify as mere cardboard fillers.

The writing is good, with nary a passage of purple prose. Instead, you get something that is very readable, and hugely entertaining.

Recommended

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