Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 December 2014

Honey Brown: Dark Horse

Stranded with a stranger
Honey Brown has once again written a top-class psychological thriller, this one set in the wild mountains of Victoria, Australia. It is a tale of two strangers who meet together in an emergency and struggle to understand what is happening to them and why they are there.

It is Christmas Day and Sarah Barnard is faced with losing everything that she treasures. Her marriage is over, her trail-riding business is about to be sold and she is set to lose all her horses, especially Tansy, her favourite black mare. In despair she rides Tansy towards remote Hangman's Hut on the summit of Devil's Mountain. On the way a flash storm turns Spinners Creek into a torrent and demolishes the only bridge back. Sarah is trapped at the Hut which is partly demolished for reconstruction and her only refuge is a rough workers' caravan, She is cold, wet and hungry.

During the storm Sarah rescues a bushwalker, Heath who is trapped in a bog nearby. They both struggle for survival in the wet and cold conditions with minimal shelter. Sarah is puzzled with why Heath is there and who he is. She soon finds herself in a position of forced intimacy for survival with a man who has many signs of being dangerous.

Honey Brown tells a tale of survival and suspicion that builds to an unexpected crescendo and then keeps you guessing until an even more unexpected twist in the tale at the finale.

This is a very different psychological tale to her previous book THROUGH THE CRACKS  which I found challenging and disturbing. Well done Honey Brown - you are surely in the top bracket of Australia's very talented authors of psychological thrillers.

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

Michael Robotham: Life or Death

"Life is short. Love is vast. Live like there's no tomorrow."
This is without doubt one of the best crime thrillers I have read in 2014. It is an action-packed, adrenaline-charged, absorbing, wonderfully written and surprisingly sensitive story from one of the world's best writers of psychological fiction.

Audie Palmer was almost killed when a botched armed robbery over ten years ago left him almost brain dead from gunshot wounds. After his recovery he was imprisoned for ten years. His time in prison was not easy as he was faced by constant danger from prisoners and guards wanting to know what had happened to the millions of dollars stolen in the robbery. Despite this Audie was a survivor who baffled everyone by escaping from jail when he had only one day left before he was released.

Why would Audie want to escape when he could have walked free the next day? How is he going to survive a huge manhunt? While Audie wants to avenge his punishment and the corruption, money and treachery that put him in jail he also wants to be part of the life of someone precious to him.

Diminutive FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness gets involved when she starts to have second thoughts about the case and pieces together parts of the story that Audie has never revealed. At the same time there are others who want to track him down to prevent the truth being told. It is a tense and absorbing story full of twists and turns as Robotham takes us on a switchback ride and uncovers things that will be hard to forget.

This is not just a crime thriller, it is also a sensitive love story. Robotham tells us about Audie's early life without telling us what happened at the robbery. He tells us about Audie's intense love for Belita, a refugee from El Salvador, who tells Audie "Life is short. Love is vast. Live like there's no tomorrow."

Many successful authors stick with series that have made them successful. While Robotham has had success with his log-running series set in England featuring psychologist Joe O’Loughlin (who he promises to bring back soon), he has taken a break to show that he can write a great standalone thriller, set this time mainly in Texas.

This book shows that Australian author Michael Robotham is at the top of his form. He says on his website that LIFE OR DEATH was very special to him as, after nurturing the idea for over twenty years, he believed that he was destined to write this book. I am so glad he did because it confirms my view that he is one of the best contemporary thriller authors and I wish him every success, especially in the most important US market which is starting to know his works. Well done Michael Robotham, this is one of the rare occasions when I wish I could give a score greater than 5 stars.

I alway like to reflect on highlights of an author's prose. This quotation will remain with me for a long time:

"We take pleasure in the sound of rain, the smell of cut grass, the smiles of strangers, the feeling of dawn on a hot day. We learn things and realise we can never know more than we don’t know. We catch love like a cold and cling to it like wreckage in a storm."

28 December 2014

Susan Howatch: The Rich Are Different

"There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned"
The first thing that hit me pretty quickly was that Susan Howatch has retold the classic love story/melodrama of Julius Caesar's and Mark Antony's relationship with Cleopatra in a more modern setting during the 1920's and 1930's in the US and England.

It's a neat concept to start with a plot based on history (as Howatch did with her very popular family sagas - Cashelmara, Penmarric and Wheel of Fortune where the plots were based on things that happened in the Plantagenet era). It's even neater when the author is able to use the plot and the characters so seamlessly to create a compelling, well-written and absorbing modern novel. I must admit that I did start to look for known historical characters and events but that probably increased my enjoyment of the book.

Paul Van Zale (Caesar) is a powerful, rich and amoral New York investment banker with several marriages and many mistresses. When he is in England to fix up problems with his bank's local branch he comes face to face with Dinah Slade (Cleopatra) when she is delivered in a hamper (not rolled in a carpet) to his office. Dinah is an amazing and intelligent woman in her own right and so different to the many women that Paul has met in the past that it undermines his understanding of love.

While the plot is ancient (and you will enjoy matching the characters to historical ones) the story is a very modern one covering the 1920's and 1930's in the US and England and the characters are compelling and fascinating. They are driven by greed, cunning, ambition, revenge, love (inside and outside of marriage), need for security and hope for the lives of their many children. Divorce and births out of wedlock abound as the main characters plot their destinies.

All in all this was a very interesting book that absorbed my attention. The sequel where the offspring, especially Cornelius (Octavius) take centre stage may be similarly compelling, but I don't think it will hold my attention as well as this fascinating modern re-creation of one of the most passionate and dramatic stories of the ancient world.

22 December 2014

Adrian McKinty: In the Morning I'll be Gone: Sean Duffy 3

Seamless mixture of fiction with actual history
Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series set in "The Troubles" in Northern Island in the 1980's is one of the best fictional representation of those terrible times. Once again we follow Sean Duffy, who chose to join the police because he felt that would help end The Troubles more than joining the IRA.

Duffy is an excellent detective but he is prepared to go off-road to solve crimes which doesn't enamour him to his superiors. In the previous book in the series I HEAR SIRENS IN THE STREET he gets their ire when he upsets both his superiors and the FBI when investigating the Delorean factory and possible drug trafficking. Duffy got demoted from Detective Inspector to Sergeant and moved to normal duties and at the start of the book he is so depressed that he accepts early retirement on full pension.

Despite this Duffy has contacts that don't forget his skills and also know that he was a good friend of one of the top IRA bomb builders who was one of the 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the top security Maze jail in 1983. There are rumours that his old "friend" has been trained in advanced bomb-making skills in Libya which he could use to upgrade the IRA terror campaign. Duffy strikes a hard bargain to get back into the police force to find his "friend" before he can do irreparable damage.

The story is a mixture of fascinating insights into the minds of IRA terrorists and a clever police procedural investigation into an accident/possible murder of someone related to the escaped terrorist. McInty seamlessly mixes IRA terrorism with a murder plot and directs Duffy's investigations towards  one of the IRA's major bombing campaign.

McKinty has again written a great story set in authentic and dangerous times, probably even better than the previous books in the series. Sean Duffy is a fascinating but flawed character and I would love to see what happens to him after his adventures in this book. McKinty originally planned this series as a trilogy but by popular demand he has now written another in the series GUN STREET GIRL to be released in Australia in early January 2015 and in the US in early March 2015. I am really looking forward to that book where Duffy gets mixed up with gun runners, arms dealers, the British government, a rogue American agent with a fake identity and MI5. Sounds a great plot.

16 December 2014

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Prey

Sharpe at the Battle of Copenhagen
This is #5 chronologically in Bernard Cornwell's fantastic historical saga about Richard Sharpe, a footsoldier in the British Army during the late 18th and early 19th Century. In #4 SHARPE'S TRAFALGAR we saw Sharpe returning from India with the ship carrying him getting involved in the Battle of Trafalgar.

During the voyage Sharpe becomes deeply romantically involved with Lady Grace Hale and settles down in England with her as she prepares for the birth of their child. Everything goes wrong with Grace dying in childbirth and her aristocratic family taking the remaining wealth from his adventures in India. Sharpe is devastated and considers selling his Commission to survive but is even more devastated to learn that battlefield commissions cannot be sold because they weren't bought in the first place.

On top of all of this his posting to the 95th Rifles Regiment is also turning into a disaster as he is not accepted as a "real" officer and is posted to a behind-the-lines position as quartermaster. Just aftrer Sharpe takes extreme action to remedy his precarious financial and career dilemma he is approached by a senior officer to help with an undercover operation. At first this seems to be an easy task, to provide security to a Guards' officer to Denmark to persuade their government to surrender their fleet to the English to prevent it getting into Bonaparte's hands.

Again Cornwell places Sharpe in the centre of a major battle, once again mostly behind enemy lines where he can influence the outcome. This time it is the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 where the British Army and Navy bombard the city into defeat and capture the fleet, the biggest remaining outside of England following the Battle of Trafalgar.

Cornwell has an amazing ability to seamlessly blend historical reality, characters and battles with Sharpe's adventures to give us an action-packed history. I had absolutely no knowledge of this part of history and was amazed at the audacity of the English in carrying out a major bombardment so far from home which will be remembered as one of the first bombardments in Europe that was a general attack on the populace as well as the opposing military.

Once again Sharpe is confronted with a cunning and unscrupulous adversary and has to fight for his life. In the process he also makes an emotional connection to a woman who may help him to move on from the loss of his beloved Grace.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

09 December 2014

Jeffrey Archer: Prisoner of Birth

A clever tale by a master storyteller
This was another revisit to a book I had read a while ago prompted by an Amazon deal for a Kindle copy for pocket change. Once again I enjoyed revisiting a book I had enjoyed before and surprisingly there were only a few parts that I really remember.

There are several parts to a pretty complex plot. At the beginning East-Ender Danny Cartwright proposes to his pregnant girlfriend, Beth Wilson and then goes out with Bernie, Beth's brother and Danny's best mate, to a pub to celebrate. There are four drunken men in the pub and one of them makes obscene suggestions to Beth and then picks a fight with Danny and Bernie. The outcome of the brawl is that Danny is stabbed in the leg by the leader of their opponents who then stabs Bernie fatally.

The twist in the tale is that the leader of the pack, who call themselves "the Musketeers", is an eminent and very clever lawyer who concocts a bogus story that Danny killed his best friend. Danny is arrested for murder and in court the Musketeers stick by their story and Danny is given a life sentence.

Archer then brings his own prison experience into play when he describes prison conditions and the developing personal relationship with his cellmates, especially with Nick Moncrieff, an intelligent and cultured heir to a knighthood who looks uncannily similar to Bernie.. Nick helps Bernie to with his education and social skills and they become inseparable. This sets the scene for Danny’s determination to seek revenge on each of the Musketeers.

It is a very entertaining story as Danny plots his revenge and as uses his new social and business skills to  track down each Musketeer and establish a new life. Jeffrey Archer's books can never be called literary fiction but there are few authors of this genre who can beat him as a master storyteller of complex and entertaining plots.

07 December 2014

Candice Fox: Eden

Compelling gritty story about evil
Last year Candice Fox made a stunning debut with HADES which emotionally flogged me with the pace of the action, the violence, the body count and episodes of pure fear. It is always hard to follow up on such a performance but IMHO she has done this with EDEN - quite a different story but just as gritty, heavily based on savagery but showing some signs of humanity that was missing from her first book.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It is a story about an imaginary savage underworld that most people cannot envisage - murderers, rapists, peodophiles and even a cannibal. Some even come from respectable society and the police force. This time we hear the story of how Hades Archer became a monster whose main profession is disposing of dead bodies. Once again, as with his "adopted" children, Eric and Eden, he became what he was because he was taken in as a child by a monster.

At the end of HADES Candice Fox left us with Detectives Eden Archer and Frank Bennett both under traumatic stress following the death of Eden's brother Eric and Frank's girlfriend Martina. They were taken off active duty until they complete a full psychological program.

Frank is still stunned by what happened and uses alcohol and pills to placate his sorrow but Eden's upbringing covers any personal reactions. Eden tries to get Frank back to work to take him out of his misery. She asks him to do some work for father, which he surprisingly accepts and he finds that even Hades has his vulnerabilities.

When they are back in the force as homicide partners Eden risks her life by accepting an undercover assignment in the company of with the worst of low-life to uncover a possible serial killer of three missing young women. While Eden's upbringing leaves her emotionally cold and unfeeling, this time we get the feeling that deep down there may be some good among the evil as she takes enormous risks to find the killer.

While EDEN lacked the stunning impact of HADES it was still a brilliant work of creative writing about an underworld that begs imagination. Well done Candice Fox, you have shown that you can keep up your creativity and change it sufficiently to keep things absorbing, At the end you left us with a fascinating clue to keep us on tenterhooks until the next book.

My thanks to The Reading Room and Random House Australia for providing a copy of this book for review.

06 December 2014

Peter Watt: And Fire Falls

War in the Pacific
Christmas is coming so it is time for the next annual episode from Peter Watt of his gripping Australian historical family saga about the MacIntoshes and the Duffys. This time the saga changes from the war in Europe to the war in the Pacific as Australia moves to the frontline with the Japanese sweeping across the Pacific and into New Guinea as a springboard for an invasion of Australia.

In Sydney, Donald and Sarah MacIntosh battle for the support of their dominant but ailing father to get control of the huge MacIntosh business empire. With the help of some influential "friends" the business is thriving from wartime contracts and Donald is unlikely to enlist or be conscripted to fight for his country. In contrast their cousin David MacIntosh, a part-owner of the family business, has been fighting for years, first in Spain and now in Syria.

The Duffy family are spread across the world. WWI hero Tom Duffy is running his many properties in Queensland and missing his daughter Jessica who is now a nun at a mission in New Guinea which is threatened by the Japanese. Dianne Duffy stays behind in Singapore as the Japanese overrun the famous "fortress". James Duffy, raised by the Barringtons, his very rich US maternal grandparents, has taken his father's name and career as an ace flyer. He finds himself in the thick of the fierce air and ground battle for Guadalcanal. Other Duffy's get involved in the terrible battle in appalling tropical conditions along the Kokoda track to stop the Japanese advance on Port Moresby.

As always the mythical elderly Aboriginal warrior Wallarie still haunts the family members, protecting some and warning others of danger.

I have spelt out a few details of the family history because after a year it is increasingly difficult to remember the main characters and their heritage. A family tree shows the complex relationships between the families but it doesn't show up well on a Kindle so I suggest you load up your Kindle book on your PC to see the family tree properly.

My main gripe is that I may have to wait a year to find out what happens next, by which time I will have forgotten most of what happened before. Watt's latest books in the series have seemed to be too short compared with earlier ones because I am always looking for what happens next. With this book being set in New Guinea I did get a bit confused as the action overlaps with Watt's great Papua trilogy which finished with the THE PACIFIC covering some of the historical ground in this book.

Come what may it is always a delight to revisit Watt's great Australian saga about the MacIntoshes and the Duffys, the goodies and the baddies (who were pretty mild this time) and think about what comes next. Those of you with really good memories may remember the cottage at Manly and what happened there that changed the lives of both families many years ago. The cottage again plays a key role in the relationships between the families - Wallerie hasn't forgotten.

PS Last year on Peter Watt's Facebook I was chosen from his fans to have my name used as one of the minor characters in his next book. Look out for a brave Lieutenant who fought alongside David MacIntosh in Syria and in New Guinea. Thanks Peter for the honour.

Tony Park: The Hunter

A mystery/thriller adventure set in African Game Parks
This time Tony Park moves away from his successful historically based adventures set in Africa to a page-turning contemporary mystery/thriller adventure story set in some of the most magnificent African game parks.

Hudson Brand has been a mercenary but now mostly works as a top safari guide. He also helps out as an insurance investigator with suspicious cases - then he hunts people. Brand is down on his luck when he is asked to find Linley Brown who has been named as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy after her best friend Kate has been reported dead in a fiery car accident in Zimbabwe. Linley survived the crash and has recovered from her injuries. Kate's sister Anna believes that the insurance claim is a scam.

The trail leads Brand into Zimbabwe on the track of the Doctor who identified Kate and to find clues to Linley's whereabouts. Brand knows that there are unscrupulous Doctors there that have helped with fictitious insurance claims. At the same time South African detectives are also looking for Linley as a con-artist stealing from luxury homes. They are also looking for Brand as a suspected serial killer who has been murdering prostitutes.

This sets the scene for  a chase which roams from South Africa to Zimbabwe and eventually Kenya, mostly against the settings of beautiful game parks and magnificent wildlife. Tony Park has written an enthralling page-turning mystery/thriller adventure with some surprising twists in the tale. It is a good read but IMHO not as good as some of his earlier historically based factional thrillers.