Over 550 book reviews with full author links

31 August 2014

Lee Child: Personal

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Reacher takes on the World
I always promise that I won't read another Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and always break my promise because I want to see what Child has done this time to continue to breath life into this long running series. In PERSONAL Jack Reacher moves on from his nomadic life in the US to face up to a threat to the peace of the world.

PERSONAL starts with a bit of a bang when Reacher arrives in Seattle, reads a discarded Army newspaper left on the bus and sees that one of his senior officers from his Army days wants to talk to him urgently. The first shock to the system is that within a couple of hours Reacher finds himself travelling across the US again, but this time he is the only passenger in a luxurious Army executive jet. At the other end he meets two Generals and a couple of CIA operatives (female and pretty of course) who brief him about an unsuccessful sniper attempt on the life of the French President and they believe that the sniper will target a forthcoming G8 meeting of world leaders. The punchline comes when Reacher is told that the main suspect, a former US sniper recently released from 16 years in jail, is also targeting Reacher because he was the military cop who put him behind bars.

All this sends Reacher on the same jet over to Paris to check out the unsuccesful shot. There he meets heavies from the intelligence services of France, Russia and the UK who are chasing down other top snipers who may have gone rogue. The chase then takes Reacher and Casey Nice, one of the CIA operatives (female and pretty of course) over to the UK, undercover this time, to prevent the assassination of one or more world leaders.

In the course of trying to save the world almost single-handed, Reacher takes on powerful Serbian and British gangsters, takes out more victims in unarmed conflict at one time than ever before, and meets an opponent who is considerably taller, larger and heavier.

The first thing that struck me was Child's decision to write in the first person, cutting out the time honoured introduction to Reacher's size, physique and appearance that must have appealed to Reacher's many female fans. The second thing was that Child decided to go with an over-the-top plot to keep the series alive. IMHO this time he went too far. Probably the best thing in the whole book was the twist in the plot in the last chapter, but then you will need to read the book to find the answer.

No doubt this book will please many of Child's readers who are looking for an escapist read. No doubt many readers will be pleased to know that at the end of the book Reacher is waiting for a bus to resume his nomadic existence. No doubt I will promise myself that I won't read the next in the Reacher series, but no doubt I will also break my promise to see what Child does next to keep the series alive.

30 August 2014

Jaye Ford: Already Dead

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Excellent psychological thriller
Aussie author Jaye Ford has written another very clever and riveting psychological suspense thriller that grabbed me from the beginning and kept me enthralled and guessing almost to the very end.

Journalist Miranda Jack has been traumatised by the unexplained hit-and-run death of her investigative journalist husband, Nick, a year ago. Since then the shock has left her unable to continue her career as a promising journalist. In an attempt to move on with her life she is relocating up the coast from Sydney to Newcastle with her young daughter Zoe to stay with her Aunt. Just after shutting up her apartment for the last time she is waiting at traffic lights to turn onto the expressway on-ramp when a man jumps into her car, points a gun at her and forces her to drive at high speed up the motorway.

Miranda (better known as Jax) has to listen to the paranoid rants of Brendan Walsh who claims that he is "already dead", people are chasing him and he can't hide from nano-spiders laying eggs in his brain. He continually looks around and up in the sky see if anyone is following them. At other times Brendan collapses into a shivering mass of stress but still keeps his gun pointed at her. Then there are moments of sanity when he tells Jax a little about his life, and his love for his wife and young son. Jax is stunned when he tells her that he had met her five years before when she had interviewed soldiers and their wives prior to postings to Afghanistan.

Jax frantically looks for ways to escape but Brendan keeps up the pressure, making her drive dangerously to evade unknown and invisible followers. Eventually the chase ends tragically and the police take over. The experience leaves Jax traumatised by the event but she is the kind of person who can't walk away without asking questions about the possibility that Brendan may have had moments of truth. This puts Jax in dangerous situations, which might even get her killed and also directly threaten her family.

The first few chapters of the book about the car-jacking, Brendan's ravings and the "chase" are some of the most nail-biting and action-packed writing I have read for a while. Jaye Ford unfolds an intense psychological drama about a damaged but strong young woman fighting with all her physical, emotional and mental powers to find an answer to the situations that surround her.

This is a top class, action-packed, very human and frequently very moving story which will keep you involved at all times and guessing almost to the end. The book is set in in parts of Sydney and Newcastle that are very familiar to me and are brilliantly described.

There were a few unfinished plot elements that puzzled me but I think they may be seed roots left by the author to grow a sequel about the unexplained death of Nick. I do hope so as Jax is a powerful, complex and wounded character and Jaye Ford is a writer at the top of her form.

Earlier this year I really enjoyed BLOOD SECRET and commented that Jaye Ford is a world class author of psychological thrillers. ALREADY DEAD  confirms my opinion - it was a great read and is highly recommended to those who like this kind of thriller.

My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for a copy of this book for review.

27 August 2014

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Tiger

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Sharpe in the Tigers' Lair
This is the first book in the remarkable series of 22 impeccably researched historical novels by master storyteller Bernard Cornwell about Richard Sharpe, a foot-soldier in India and in the Napoleonic wars at the end of the 18th Century and beginning of the 19th Century. I have already read a couple of books in the series and have made a resolution to read the rest, in order.

This book introduces Richard Sharpe as an impoverished, illiterate private soldier in the 50,000 strong Indian Army led by General George Harris marching to lay siege to and capture Seringapatam in Southern India to overthrow Tippoo Sultan who had defied British rule for many years. Sharpe is the son of a London prostitute (father unknown), orphaned at three and left to grow up first in a foundling home and then on the streets of London. He joins the army for some form of security but mainly to avoid being imprisoned for thievery.

Sharpe is unlucky to be put under the control of cruel and tyrannical Sergeant Hakeswill who is determined to break Sharpe's brave and cocky outlook. Hawewill taunts Sharpe into a fight which results in a flogging for hitting a senior officer. Sharpe's punishment is cut short when a senior officer gives him a choice, continue the flogging and risk death or pose as a deserter, penetrate Tippoo's city and find a Scottish officer being held prisoner there who has vital information about the city's fortifications. The deal is that if Sharpe succeeds he will become a sergeant but if he fails Tippoo will most likely feed him to his man-eating tigers. We see Sharpe showing the kind of wisdom and bravery that shapes his life in his further career in the Army as he helps the attackers from behind enemy lines.

Cornwell seamlessly blends historical reality, characters and battles with Sharpe's adventures to give us a continuing action-packed history lesson that puts us in the box seat both of the battlefront and also a detailed view of life in the armies of the day. In this book Cornwell describes immense task of moving an army of 50,000 troops and thousands of camp followers (including cooks, wives, merchants and even brothels). The army needs 200,000 cattle, some for food, oxen to carry cannon balls and bullocks to haul wagons and guns, the heaviest needing sixty bullocks apiece. Officers slept in tents, well away from the cattle. The common soldiers had no tents and slept on the ground close to campfires. Pay was a pittance and the main motivation of the common soldier in battle was the spoils of war taken from the fallen and captured towns.

I thoroughly enjoyed this first encounter with Richard Sharpe and look forward to fulfilling my resolution to read the rest of this fantastic series, which I heartily recommend to anyone who likes action-packed and adrenaline pulsing historical fiction.

Glenn Meade:The Last Witness

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If you don't stand up to evil then evil will stand up to you
This is a very chilling story set around a recent era that we should never forget - the brutal ethnic cleansing during the Balkans' civil wars of the early 1990's which involved butchery not seen on a scale since the Jewish holocaust by the Nazi's.

Carla Lane's happy marriage to Jan, a up-and-coming concert pianist, is about to be made happier when her pregnancy is confirmed. But it is cut short on the same day when a pipe bomb explodes when Jan gets into his car after a concert. Traumatised by his death Carla talks to the psychiatrist who treated her as a young girl when she arrived from Bosnia following the death of her parents. She finds that she has almost totally repressed not only the memories of her happy times with her family but also their terrible experiences in one of the Serbian rape and death camps. After reading her Mother's diary which documents their plight in detail, her memories return and she vows to find the fate of her parents and her beloved younger brother and take revenge for what happened.

Her trauma gets worse when she realises that Jan may have been killed by the Bosnian mafia and that the war criminals responsible for her family's suffering are now living the high life in America. Her earlier life as a lawyer and prosecutor cuts in and she sets out to get justice the men who were responsible for such brutality. It soon becomes clear that she may be the only witness to the depravity handed out at the prison camp at "Devil's Hill" in Bosnia.

This is a memorable book, for all the wrong reasons, written by an author at the top of his form. In the Prologue Chapter Glenn Meade lays out the basic theme of the book "Listen when I tell you that if you don't stand up to evil, then evil will stand up to you" and ""Because if the world never learns from the lessons of its history, then it is condemned forever to repeat the sins of the past". These words are especially prophetic with the barbarity that is happening in the Middle East.

Highly recommended for discerning readers who can stand to be reminded of one of the darkest times in recent human history.

25 August 2014

Dennis Lehane: The Drop

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A Drop of "Boston Noir"
This is a drop of US "Noir" about the life of a Boston barkeeper, "reformed" criminal Bob Saginowski, an apparently simple and lonely man who likes to keep out of sight and out of trouble. Even at daily Mass he doesn't connect with any of the regulars, and refuses to take Communion.

One day Bob's simple personal life ends when he finds a battered puppy left for death in a dumpster and meets Nadia Dunn, another loner, who shows him how to care of the puppy. The relationship between these two damaged people and their love for the dog was probably the best part of the book for me. Things get difficult when Eric Deeds, a criminal psychopath, claims the dog is his and Bob takes a stand to keep the pup.

Bob works for in Cousin Marv's bar, now controlled by the Chechen mafia who are using the bar as a random money drop for their criminal gambling and prostitution activities. Things start to go bad when the bar is robbed of $5,000 after hours. The real problem is that the Chechen boss is going to want that money back.

I really couldn't connect to the characters and the settings, probably because I am an Aussie and it is outside my familarity/comfort zone. This story was first released as a short story "Animal Rescue," in an anthology "Boston Noir", which was adapted to become a screenplay for a movie - which I won't be rushing out to see.

Debbie Macomber: On a Clear Day

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Two enjoyable books I had missed
This is really two oldies by Debbie Macomber - STARLIGHT and PROMISE ME FOREVER - which have been reworked and published as a single book. Both are short and easy-reading romances in Macomber's inimitable style.

STARLIGHT is about Rand Prescott who has a chip on his shoulder because he is blind and doesn't want to enter into a relationship because he doesn't want to be a burden to anyone. Karen McAlister is suffering in a different way because her father constantly talks about her getting married. When Rand and Karen meet they are immediately attracted to on another but Rand doesn't want to share the burden of his blindness with her.

PROMISE ME FOREVER  is about Joy Nielsen, a physiotherapist who is looking after Sloan Whittaker confined to a wheelchair with a spinal injury after a serious accident. Sloane seems to have lost the will to try to walk again and has given up on his family, friends and business.  Joy is determined to get him walking but that means she has to help him to start caring about his life again.

In the past I have been suspicious of books that recycle an author's earlier books that are out of print. I really enjoyed both stories as they are certainly a couple of Macomber's early books that I am glad to have the opportunity to read now.





19 August 2014

Karen M Davis: Deadly Obsession

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Lexie's Back
This is the second in a crime/police series about Dectective Lexie Rogers set in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney written by Karen M Davies. Karen's 20 year experience in the police force makes this series very authentic and believable.

During six years as a uniformed cop, Lexie Rogers has reached her career objective - to be a plain clothes detective. To get there she experienced a lot of terrible things, including being stabbed and left for dead by a member of a violent bikie gang and at the end of the first book in the series, SINISTER INTENT she was shot when facing up to a couple of renegade cops. She relives these incidents daily. On top of all of this she has been through a divorce and lost her brother, also a policeman, who was killed when he was on duty.

While Lexie is facing up to all of this the final blow came when her professional partner, Josh Harrison walks out on their close and loving personal relationship when his sister commits suicide. Josh should have been the tough one but he takes leave, goes to Bali and drowns his sorrows in a constant alcoholic binge.

Lexie is back with her first professional partner DS Brad Sommers when they are called to a bizarre possible suicide when a young woman is found near to Clovelly Beach holding a single red rose. When the body is turned Lexie sees a small very recognisable tatoo which she has seen recently on a woman in a bar. What stuns her is that the woman was with her ex-husband Zak who soon becomes one of the main suspects.

There are soon many suspects when they find out that the murdered woman, Melissa McDermott, a nurse from the UK was a very big party girl and extremely promiscuous. The case turns into a murder investigation when the pathologist finds a single needle wound in her neck.The case deepens when the Pathologist also comments that she had seen a another possible suicide recently with a similar puncture in her neck.

Once again Karen Davis shows us her considerable inside knowledge of the dynamics of the force and the different types of officers - the young, the aggressive, the old and weary, the predators etc. - who  have to work together on a difficult case.  They again have their range of unusual nicknames - Cakes, Batman and even Amazing Grace. She also gives us an insight into undercover work, especially for those who choose to work undercover for years and have to take on the persona of the people they are investigating.

All in all another it was a good authentic police/crime thriller but it didn't have the same impact on me as the first book in the series, probably because I guessed the killer early in the book and felt the reactions of Josh to his sister's death was over done and Lexie's reactions on his return were a somewhat unbelievable.

I started reading this book first and quickly realised that, although it can be read as a standalone, there were some personal dynamics from the first book that I would miss. So I put it aside and read SINISTER INTENT first and I'm glad I did. This book was an enjoyable and page-turning read and I look forward to other books in the series.

18 August 2014

Barbara Hannay: Moonlight Plains

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Good Australian Outback Romance
There are a crop of recent outback/homestead romances around and this is one of the better ones. Barbara Hannay has continued her bestselling Fairburn family romances by stepping slightly sideways to bring in the story of Kitty Martin in wartime Townsville and the Charters Towers area of outback North Queensland during WWII.

In February 1942 Kitty was alone in her Grandfather's homestead "Moonlight Plains" (he was away on a muster) when she heard two planes overhead and one of them crashes. Despite thinking that they may be Japanese, she goes out in the paddock to find out what is happening and meets Captain Ed Langley who had landed to try and save his buddy Bobby who has been seriously injured in the crash of the second plane. She helps Ed rescue Bobby but unfortunately his wounds from the crash are fatal. Later on back in Townsville she meets Ed again but their reunion is a family secret that will be kept for more than 70 years.

Moving on to the present day Kitty is a very old lady in a retirement home and gets to know Sally Piper, a young and beautiful photo-journalist, who frequently visits her grandmother at the same home. Sally travels to Moonlight Plains on a journalistic assignment to see Kitty's grandson, Josh Fairburn, a cattleman turned builder who is restoring this grand old Queensland homestead where Kitty first met Ed. While they are immediately attracted to one another their attraction is hampered because Sally is still recovering from the death of her husband three years ago.

The setting in wartime Townsville, with the "invasion" of American troops on their way to the war in the Pacific gave the book a new dimension for me. I didn't realise that so many American troops passed through Townville and I also didn't know that the Townsville was bombed on several occasions in July 1942 by Japanese planes based in Raboul.

I found this a very easy book to read, and the characters well formed and realistic. I look forward to reading other books in the series.

Kathy Reichs: Swamp Bones

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"Pythonous" bones
Many popular authors write short e-book novellas as promos for their next book, and in most cases they are really not worth reading. SWAMP BONES by Kathy Reichs is an exception - a great self-contained novella which covers new "bone" territory for Tempe Brennan and involves her investigating and solving multiple murders in a book that only takes a couple of hours to read.

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is taking a well earned vacation visiting a good friend Lisa Robbin in Florida. Lisa is a dedicated ornithologist who is checking out the stomach contents of introduced Burmese pythons who are eating their way through indigenous animal and bird species in the Everglades. Within minutes of meeting her friend in her laboratory, Tempe makes a chilling discovery that the stomach contents that Lisa is examining clearly contain human foot bones. Tempe's vacation is immediately put on hold.

In a relatively few pages Reichs takes us through murder investigations in the Florida Everglades where the victims have been carved up by a chain saw and left as meals for vultures, pythons and alligators. The action takes place in the darkest depths of the swamp at the same time as many hunters are in the Everglades competing in "The Python Challenge" with prizes for the most killed, longest etc from State Fish and Wildlife.

I give top marks to Kathy Reichs for a very different, chilling and well written novella. Given her current writing form I am looking forward to the next full length Tempe Brennan novel BONES NEVER LIE  to be released on 23 September 2014.

14 August 2014

Mira Jacob: The Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing

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Memorable and emotional story
I was fascinated by the title of THE SLEEPWALKERS GUIDE TO DANCING and then I was also fascinated by this excellent debut multi-generational and multicultural family story by talented author Mira Jacob.

Brain surgeon Thomas Eapen, his wife Kamala and son Akhil moved from India to New Mexico in the late 1960's, and daughter, Amina is born in the US. In 1979 Jacob takes the family back to India to revisit their his family, dominated by the matriarch of the family Ammachy who is plotting to get Thomas to move back to India. The visit tells us a lot about the stresses in his family background and the bonds that Thomas and his family have to deal with in their new life in America. The bonds are there but the tolerance isn't and Thomas cuts the visit short, much to the dismay of Ammachy and their Indian relatives.

Jacob tells most of the story through the eyes of Amina, in her early teens and then in her early 30's as she copes with the strains on her family and especially her bonds to her father. Jacob moves us seamlessly from India to America and between the years. At the start of the book Amina, then living and working as a wedding photographer in Seattle, gets a message from Kamala that her father, Thomas, is acting very strangely, staying up most of the night, apparently talking to dead relatives and burying things in the garden. Although she knows that Kamala often exaggerates, she is persuaded to go back to find out what is happening.

Amina soon realises that to help her father and to understand his actions she needs to revisit her family's painful past and the tensions that still haunt her family. She explores the bonds of love, the grief of loss and the need to make peace with the past. She also needs to explore and face up to her personal future, and her career as a photographer with artistic ambitions.

Mira Jacob has an uncanny ability to describe the dynamics of an Indian family living in a western society. Her description of how Kamala still keeps her Indian heritage in a new country is palpable. Kamala still mostly wears a sari (incongruously with tennis shoes), and drives and dominates here family by cooking traditional Indian dishes in abundance and getting upset if they don't eat what she gives them.

This is very different family literary fiction of the highest order, bringing us close to many memorable characters and following the fortunes of a multicultural family. Jacob's prose is easy to read and gives us great observations of a family struggling to cope with itself and their environment. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a family saga that is very different and enlightening.

10 August 2014

Karen M Davis: Sinister Intent

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Great début crime novel
This is a great début crime/police novel by former detective Karen M Davis which kept my attention from beginning to end. The story is set in Sydney where bikie  (motor-cycle) gangs are at the centre of organised crime.

After six years as a uniformed cop, Lexie Rogers has reached her career objective - to be a detective. Getting there has not been easy and she has been exposed to the worst things that can happen while policing the dregs of society. A few months ago she was stabbed and left for dead by a member of a bikie gang  in the red-light Kings Cross area of Sydney. While she has recovered physically she still relives the horror of the attack, especially at night. On top of all of this she has been through a divorce and lost her brother, also a policeman, who was killed when he was on duty.

Her new long-time detective partner accidentally broke his leg and her temporary partner is DS Josh Harrington, handsome, single and unattached. Josh takes the lead role in a big murder hunt for a drive-by killer of a 'Bluey' a member of the Devil's Guardians motor cycle gang. The investigations focuses on the animosity between the Guardians and the Assassins bikie gangs recently elevated by a pub brawl over a girl-friend. Both tough guy leaders of the gangs, Rex Donaldson and Max Croft, and their leading members are checked out and interviewed by the police, a difficult task given the intense distrust of the police by both gangs. Their is also a long-term intense personal hatred between Donaldson and Croft.

Davis uses her actual experience of policing of bikie gangs to give us a realistic insight into the organisation of the gangs, the kind of people who are members and the range of outlandish nicknames - Bluey, Rowdy, Keg and Maggot. What is especially fascinating is that while most of them are from the dregs of society, Davis is never judgmental about the gangs or  their members, and much of the story focuses on the personal feelings, psychologicial outlook and relationships between the members.

Davis also uses her actual experience of working for many years with the police force to describe the dynamic of the force and the different types of officers - the young, the aggressive, the old and weary, the predators etc. - who  have to work together on a difficult case. They also have their range of unusual nicknames - Batman, Lurch Grumpy and Sleazeman. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the force that only someone who worked there could write.

This is a story that looks into the hearts, minds and politics of the bikie gangs and the police who try to keep them under control. There are twists and turns in the plot, a love story, intense personal feelings between the major bikie gang characters and great and sometimes emotional twists towards the end. We meet a number of unforgettable characters who I am sure will feature in future books in this series.

This is crime fiction at its best written by someone who has had a close personal relationship with the police force. In her author postscript Karen Davis tells us about her 20 year career with the force ending with PTSD after years of witnessing distressing events and dealing with the seedier side of life. To her surprise she found that writing about it was psychologically beneficial as it helped to release some suppressed emotions. With this excellent début novel she has established herself as a talented novelist and I hope that she continues to share her real-life experiences in further novels.

I started reading and enjoying the next book in the series, DEADLY OBSESSION first and quickly realised that, although it can be read as a standalone, there were some personal dynamics from the first book that I would miss. So I put it aside and read this book first. I'm glad I did and I really look forward to going back to reading DEADLY OBSESSION very soon.


05 August 2014

Daniel Silva: The Messenger

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Gabriel Allon vs Jihad Incorporated
Daniel Silva has written some excellent espionage/covert ops books in the Gabriel Allon series and this is one of the best. Gabriel Allon is one of the most fascinating characters in modern espionage fiction. He operates in two quite distinct worlds, that of a world renowned art restorer and that of a senior operative of Israel's Security Intelligence Service - "the Office". He is a skilled artist in both worlds, one very gentle and the other, while still very skilled, at times can be very violent.

Allon is once again pulled out of retirement with news that jihad bombers may be targeting the Vatican. This sets Gabriel and his team from the Office on a chase to find the mastermind for the bombers, thought to be Ahmed bin Shafiq, a former chief of a clandestine Saudi intelligence unit, who has set up his own "Jihad Incorporated" organisation,. They believe that bin Shafiq has been bankrolled by Saudi billionaire Abdul Aziz al-Bakari, better known just as Zizi, who is known for his expensive tastes especially for his valuable collection of Impressionist paintings.

Gabriel plans to infiltrate Zizi's entourage by using a missing Impressionist painting as bait, and hopefully identify bin Shafiq who has not been seen for years. To do this he needs to find someone to deliver the bait and goes to Adrian Carter, a top CIA operative. for help. Carter is a very old school spook and generates my favourite quote of the book "According to office wits (at the CIA) Carter left chalk marks on the bedpost when he wanted to make love to his wife". Carter finds beautiful and very brave art expert Sarah Bancroft to set the bait.

The action moves from Jerusalem to Rome, Venice, Washington, London, Paris, the Bahamas and back to Rome. In the course of the action Gabriel gets close up and personal to the Pope and the US President.. Silva provides us with explosive endings but in the process creates a future threat to world peace to make sure that Gabriel will not go into permanent retirement.

I revisited this book because it was discounted recently as an e-book daily deal for pocket-change. I am glad I did as it is still one of the best of the series and although it is 8 years since it was first published the content hasn't dated.

02 August 2014

Peter Robinson: Children of the Revolution: An Inspector Banks Novel #22

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Another very good UK police procedural
There is a certain comfort in reading another good UK police procedural, and Peter Robinson is definitely one of the masters of the genre. This is a mixture of first-class team police investigations mixed in with a maverick investigation by Inspector Banks.

After 22 books in the series the lead character, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, is getting older and nearing the normal retirement age of 60. His area commander, Catherine Gervaise, suggests that he has the choice of early retirement or, if he toes the line and controls his maverick tendencies, he might get the nod to become Detective Superintendent and can stay on till 65.

In CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is faced with finding the possible killer of a retired disgraced reclusive academic, Gavin Miller, who is found dead having fallen from a footbridge over a disused railway. There are signs of a struggle pre-mortem, the bridge rails were too high to fall over and Miller has £5,000 in used notes in his pocket. As Miller has been a virtual recluse since his retirement, Banks' team have few initial clues, other than the background to the forced retirement, a small personal drug stash, and his last phone calls to help them with their investigations.

Banks and his team then follow two lines of inquiry, Miller's questionable dismissal 4 years ago from a local academic institution for sexual molestation, and a recent phone call to wealthy and successful author Lady Veronica Chalmers, who says that the call was alumni fundraising and denies any personal knowledge of Miller. There are lies on all sides and Banks soon finds that Lady Veronica's family have very powerful connections and he has to put his career at risk and use his maverick abilities to find out the truth.

As always the story is set in the Yorkshire Dales, a lovely but frequently very wild part of England. Robinson's description of the countryside is especially evocative of the moors, and becks and streams criss-crossing the dales. He gives a marvelous description of a moorland pub with roaring open fire that served “Hot pie in t’oven” which turned out to be “Game Pie" with a warning “Watch out for t’shot” (before a piece of buckshot broke one of his teeth).

This is a very good but not outstanding book by Peter Robinson, a Canadian who was born in Yorkshire. His key character Alan Banks is a real Yorkshire copper who “thrives on circumstance, contradiction, and coincidence” which are the warning signs that he always keeps a lookout for. I will also be on the lookout for the next book in the series because there is still a lot of life left in Inspector Banks.

01 August 2014

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Trafalgar

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A Sharpe adventure on the high seas
I am becoming addicted to Bernard Cornwell's superb action-packed historically detailed fictional series about Richard Sharpe, an English  foot-soldier in India and the Napoleonic wars at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th Century. This time Sharpe takes to the high seas and at the end of a long voyage home from India gets involved in the Battle of Trafalgar, the largest and bloodiest sea battle of the days of sail.

Richard Sharpe was born and raised in poverty and joined the British army and was sent to serve in India. He quickly made his mark as a Sergeant but was promoted from the ranks to become a commissioned officer for an “act of outstanding bravery” when he saved the life of General Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). At that time most officers purchased their commissions and looked down at Sharpe as an interloper with no class, and his men don’t think he is a proper officer.

Sharpe is on his way back to England from India on “Calliope” an East India Company ship. Fellow passengers are Lord William and beautiful but very aloof Lady Grace Hale. Initially there is little contact between Lady Grace and Sharpe but her fascination with Sharpe’s character and persistence (he is a rugged ladies man), Lord William’s addiction to laudanum (an opiate) as a sleeping draft and the tedium a long voyage bring them much closer together.

Part way through the voyage the Calliope is hijacked by a French warship, the "Revanant", off Mauritius and the ship is left under the control of a small prize crew. When English man-of-war, the "Pucelle", finds them Sharpe takes control of the ship by cutting the steering ropes. He is reunited with Captain Joel Chase who became a friend in Bombay when Sharpe saved Chase from a very violent encounter with Indian businessmen who swindled both of them.

In a very clever literary move Cornwell sets the Pucelle  in pursuit of the Revanant ending the chase in Spanish waters at a time when huge opposing fleets from England, and France and Spain, are about to meet in  the Battle of Trafalgar. This is where Cornwell excels - authentically researched historical contexts and adrenaline-pumping action-packed description of battles.  The reader is right in the centre of the naval battle, with the noise and recoil from broadsides of cannon; the destruction of sails, spars and masts; much bloodshed; sword fights and much bravery. Of course Sharpe is in the centre of it all.

While the book is nearly 400 pages it seemed much shorter because of the page-turning action. I have read that Cornwell has been called "The greatest writer of historical adventures today."  I agree and I am already addicted to the Richard Sharpe series and plan to read all 22 of Sharpe’s adventures in order whenever I get a spare moment. As I started with #4 in the series I need to go back first and read Sharpe's adventures in India (Sharpe's Tiger, Triumph, and Fortress).