Over 550 book reviews with full author links

21 November 2015

Karin Slaughter: Pretty Girls

Graphic and unnecessary violence to "Pretty Girls"
Last year I read and really enjoyed Karin Slaughter's COP TOWN. This year I only partly read PRETTY GIRLS  because it was far too gruesome, with graphic descriptions of torture, beheading, necrophilia and so many inventive and gruesome ways of abusing females.

I found the first half of the book well written and plotted but as soon as Slaughter (appropriate surname) focussed graphically on the activity of a serial killer of pretty girls I started to feel sick. Most of this was totally unnecessary to tell an appalling story of a psychopath who had been operating for many years.

I didn't finish the book, and I rarely make such a decision. I asked myself if in reading this book I was contributing to putting such ideas of violence into the minds of unstable males.

Many best-selling thriller authors go out of their way to make their thrillers more thrilling by making the plot unbelievable. Slaughter has gone totally over the top with a plot charged with graphic and nauseous violence against women. She may be a good thriller writer (as COP TOWN showed) but after this book she is no longer on my read list.

17 November 2015

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Escape

Richard Sharpe escapes (again) from the French
Bernard Cornwell never ceases to entertain me with his "authentic" historical fictional stories of the adventures for Richard Sharpe, an English footsoldier in the Napoleonic Wars.

This time, it is 1810 and Napoleon is determined to conquer Portugal, but Lord Wellington is determined to defend Lisbon at all costs by building defensive forts and making sure that the French find a wasted land completely stripped of food. Soldiers can only fight or function effectively if they have been well fed and there is the old adage that "an army marches on its stomach".

Sharpe is in charge of a Light Company that is hampered by threats from renegade Portuguese officers who want to ingratiate themselves with the French who they believe will win the conflict. He is also hampered by having an incompetent British officer on his staff who is the brother-in-law of his commanding officer. Sharpe finds himself cut-off in the city of Coimbra as it is burned and pillaged by the French. He also discovers that the renegade Portuguese have a huge hidden stock of food and supplies which they want to sell to the French. Sharpe and his men resolve that this won't happen and try to work out a plan to destroy the supplies before the French get their hands on them.

Of course, as in most Sharpe's adventures, there is a damsel in distress, this time a beautiful but difficult English governess. Of course, Sharpe eventually gains her respect and affection. Of course at the end of the book she goes on her way to a better life helped by Sharpe.

As usual the battle scenes are absorbing and gruesome with Sharpe showing his prowess with the heavy sword and rifle. The historical setting is authentic and Cornwell finds a way to put Sharpe at the centre of the action. Again this is a wonderful page-turning and absorbing history lesson.

I agree with the Washington Post's view that  Bernard Cornwell's is "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today". I look forward to reading Sharpe's Fury, the next episode in Wellington's battles in Spain and Portugal.

Alan Furst: Mission to Paris

Fascinating and imaginative pre-WWII espionage thriller
In late 1938 France is worried about the Nazis and Chamberlain's infamous Munich deal with Hitler is about to happen. Paris is a hotbed of Nazi intrigue as the Germans try to soften up the country to destabilise the government and slow the building of the Maginot Line.

It is around this background that Alan Furst sets this fascinating and imaginative espionage thriller where Hollywood star Fredric Stahl  is sent by studio boss Jack Warner to make a film in Paris about soldiers from 3 countries at the end of WWI. Stahl was born in Austria but left for Hollywood several years ago and has little interest in going back to his country of birth which has recently been annexed by Germany.

Without his knowledge, Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry has plans to use Stahl for propaganda and invites him to Berlin to judge a festival of mountain based propaganda films. Stahl is reluctant to go but is put under pressure by the Germans, especially with threats to Stahl's parents who still live in Austria. After an almost clandestine meeting with a senior US Embassy official, he is persuaded not only to go to Berlin but also to meet with Olga Orlova. a Russian émigré living in Berlin who is working for the Americans.

The descriptions of Paris at that time, especially the people that he meets and works with are interestingly authentic. The descriptions of Berlin and the people he meets are chilling. He arrives on the night of November 9, 1938 "Kristallnacht" which heralded the start of the German offensive against the Jews, with 30,000 German Jewish men being arrested and sent to concentration camps and Jewish property and businesses smashed across the city.

Initially, Stahl is an innocent bystander but gradually gets drawn into the conflict as the Germans turn up the heat and he becomes emotionally involved in what is happening to Germany. Furst creates Stahl as an ordinary but caring person, who is thrown into something that is well out of his depth but who finds the ability to protect himself while protecting others.

This is an excellent and imaginative WWII espionage thriller that kept me absorbed. I will certainly look out for other books in this series.

09 November 2015

Ian Rankin: Even Dogs in the Wild

Rebus in retirement?
Retirement doesn't suit John Rebus. He is bored, misses his work and old colleagues and, of course, is still addicted to nicotine and alcohol. In #20 in this long-running series Ian Rankin brings Rebus back from retirement to help with what looks like a gangster focussed case.

DI Siobhan Clarke is investigating the murder of David Minton, a retired chief legal officer of the Scottish Government. A note is found on his body I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID. Then she hears that notorious gangster Big Ger Cafferty has been shot at through his front window. While the shot missed, Cafferty will only talk about it to his old adversary John Rebus.

Rebus soon finds that Cafferty has received a similar note. Rebus is brought out of retirement as a police consultant to help with the case and together the two old adversaries form a strange alliance to find out who wants to take Cafferty's life.

At the same time, big time gangsters from Glasgow, Joe Stark and his son Dennis, arrive in Edinburgh apparently looking for a stolen shipment of drugs. The arrival of these gangsters also suggests that they may want to take over the local crime scene. DI Malcolm Fox, formerly of the Complaints Squad (Internal Affairs) is assigned to provide local expertise to a team from Glasgow who are keeping these gangsters under surveillance. He soon finds that his task is far wider and more difficult and dangerous than he expected.

The plot twists and turns, comes together and then moves apart. It kept me absorbed, especially the parts where Rebus is still able to move a case himself even though he is no longer a full-time member of the police force.

I am fascinated how successful authors are able to keep long-running series going way past what would otherwise be their use-by date. In the last full-length Rebus story "Saints of the Shadow Bible" Rankin kept things going by delving into Rebus's early days with the police force (and gave us a good character build-up for DI Malcolm Fox who gets another key role in this book). This time, Rankin lets Rebus age but doesn't let him out to pasture. The juxtaposition of Rebus and Cafferty is a fascinating study of two ageing influential people from different sides of the track.

It will be fascinating to see what Rankin does next to keep the series alive. I really can't see Rebus settling down to a comfortable retirement.

This book was released in the UK and Australia/New Zealand on 7 November 2015 but won't be released in the US until 19 January 2016.

04 November 2015

Peter Corris: Casino

Another satisfying Cliff Hardy PI story
Cliff Hardy is a hard-boiled detective with a love for Sydney, my old hometown. He is a private investigator who ekes out a living on minor, normally low-paying, cases. Hardy is a borderline alcoholic, drives an old Falcon with almost bald tires, and always seems to have luck in seducing the ladies - but his relationships don't last long.

Cliff is really down on his heels when he is approached by the manager of a new casino in Sydney to take up a 12-month contract to run their security. Hardy turns down the contract because he feels he is far too independent to knuckle down to a full-time job with big responsibilities. He recommends one of his friends Scott Galvani who would be a perfect fit for such a job.

A few weeks into the job Galvani is murdered and leaves behind a young family. Hardy is devastated and after police indifference in finding the killer he decides to investigate himself. To do so he takes the security job for a short time while a replacement can move from the US so that he can work out what may have happened. There he meets and has a short relationship with attractive but unpredictable Vita Drewe. Things get increasingly dangerous as he finds out more about what Galvani had uncovered.

This is #18 in Peter Corris's excellent series about Cliff Hardy which he has written over the last 35 years. They are all satisfying light thrillers and I plan to keep reading more in the series when I need a break from my normal diet of heavier thrillers and historical literary fiction.

03 November 2015

Chris Carter: I am Death

Well written but utterly gruesome serial killer thriller
Chirs Carter is well known for his popular series about Robert Hunter head of the Homicide Special Section of the LAPD which investigates serial, high profile murders. This is probably one of his best books in the series, but be warned much of the content is utterly gruesome.

This time Hunter and his partner are faced with a killer who signs his name, in the blood of the victim - I AM DEATH. The killer is an extremely intelligent psychopath who changes his MO for each murder and taunts Hunter to find out who he is. His victims are all beautiful young women who he tortures and sometimes sexually assaults extensively before killing them. Fortunately, the author mainly describes the aftermath of these brutal tortures and not the actual tortures.

This is one of the most chilling  and revolting books I have read. It was only because of the author's skill that I kept reading the book to the surprising end.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for a copy of this book for review.

John Grisham: Rogue Lawyer

Well written but not one of Grisham's best
The first thing that struck me was that Sebastian Rudd had so many similarities to Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. Rudd is a street lawyer who defends the undefendable. He works from a bullet proof van because his office was firebombed and his driver is also a bodyguard.

However, these quotes show that Rudd isn't really a Mickey Haller clone:
"I am a lone gunman, a rogue who fights the system and hates injustice". "I don't kill. I just defend killers." "I  stopped worrying about ethics a long time ago. In my world, my enemies are ruthless. If I make nice, I get crushed."

Rudd's business brings him into contact with a lot of scumbags, and also very rich and influential scumbags. It also brings him into contact with the police and most of them hate him because he helps people they have arrested. Rudd despises all forms of corruption, especially in government, the judicial system, and the police.

The book is more a diary of Rudd's life focusing on different cases he has handled than a story. There is the case of a drug baron who continues to run his business while on death row. Another case evolved from Rudd's keen interest in watching a betting on cage fighting - a mixture of  boxing and martial arts fights in a cage instead of a ring. He is supporting an up and coming fighter and then has to defend him when the fighter goes wild at the end of a fight he has lost on points and kills the referee.

Frequently Grisham writes about issues that trouble him. This time Police  and legal corruption are at the top of his list. The main diary entries involve the kidnapping of the daughter of a senior police officer and a police raid that goes badly wrong. Rudd takes on the police department and the police department takes on Rudd.

As a side issue, Rudd has a continuing fight with his ex-wife over their son which he rarely wins. His wife, also a lawyer, left him for another woman. She is the ultimate bitch and strictly limits Rudd's time with his son Starcher and what they can do during visits.

All in all, I found this to be well written but a choppy book because of the episodic approach. While at first sight Rudd doesn't really seem to be a likable character, I ended up with a certain admiration and wonder if he will return in a later book.