Reviews

Review: Light Touch by Stephen Leather

Light Touch by Stephen Leather, Kindle Edition, Hodder & Stoughton, July 2017, 432p.

The latest instalment to the Spider Shepherd series is always a reading highlight for me, and year after year, Stephen Leather delivers on what I now consider a sacred day. My history with this series is deep, I read the first book of the series, Hard Landing, just after my mum passed away, while on holiday with my dad. I holed up in the hotel room and found solace in the action packed pages – which coincidentally dealt with Dan Shepherd losing his wife. It made me appreciate what my dad was going through, while also providing an escape from what I was feeling.

The last Spider Shepherd book, Dark Forces, is a favourite of mine, and I was worried that the follow up wouldn’t meet my high expectations. Also, as Light Touch is the fourteenth book in this series, I was worried that things would be becoming stale and overdone. That was not the case – Leather is excellent at creating tense and thrilling plots that are original and enthralling.

In Light Touch Spider is sent after a drug dealer who is importing drugs using catamarans. He is also there to check up on another undercover agent. This takes place after he helped bring down a terrorist plot in London. I found this plot to not be as strong as most of the undercover plots that are featured in Spider Shepherd novels. However, we are also introduced to ‘Lastman’ Standing, a SAS soldier with some pretty intense and hilarious anger management issues. Standing is sent to London by the SAS to undergo anger management therapy and finds himself taking down bad guys left and right while also focusing on his breathing exercises.

Spider Shepherd is my favourite fictional character. But in Light Touch, the Matt Standing story line is much more entertaining and fleshed out. It could have warranted a full novel in it’s own light, rather than stealing the limelight from Spider Shepherd. I’d love to read more novels featuring Standing – and I would also love it for there to be Spider Shepherd and ‘Lastman’ Standing crossovers, but they both had plots in this novel that deserved main plot status, and instead we had these two plots racing side by side and competing for attention. Another alternative would be to have both these strong characters working on the same plot from different angles or even as a team.

One thing that has made me a little less in love with these novels is that there is a racial undertone – almost bordering on racist – through these novels. Many of the characters take the time to express their borderline racist opinions – and although it is not Spider Shepherd who has these opinions (and he often argues against them) the obsession with race and skin colour gets old. A mention or two in a novel that features Islamic terrorism is fine and expected – but a constant commentary on racial issues gets tiresome. I imagine that for most people this wouldn’t even be mentionable, but it is something i have realised I am sensitive to, and is featured often in thriller novels.

I won’t elaborate on things that I loved about this novel in detail because it would be major spoilers for those who haven’t read previous novels – but Spider’s life has changed so much when compared to only three or four novels previously. It’s great that Leather is constantly evolving his character and making him change. It gets old quick when characters stay the same in each book, never changing. His romantic situation in this novel is a novelty for longtime Spider Shepherd readers, and although we didn’t get any interactions with Liam, his son, we were updated on what he is doing.

Light Touch is another great Spider Shepherd novel to add to the collection, and a book that I will return to in the future. I do hope we get a series of SAS novels about Matt Standing, because for my money, he is one of the most interesting characters to have existed in this universe. We have had a Lex Harper spin-off – give us a Standing one too, please!

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A Promise to Kill by Erik Storey

A Promise to Kill by Erik Storey, eARC from Netgalley, Scribner, August 2017, 320p

Previously reviewed titles in this series:
Nothing Short of Dying – 5 stars

4.5 stars

Clyde Barr is back! and is still as gifted at making enemies as before. Nothing Short of Dying was one of my favourite reads of 2016, so I was hotly anticipating the sequel to the first Barr novel, and boy, has Erik Storey delivered with A Promise to Kill.

Barr fits the stereotypical drifter protagonist prototype in so many ways, but the way Storey writes the characters in this novel enables their backstories and relationships to really come alive. Barr has a difficult time maintaining relationships, and that really does come through in A Promise to Kill. Barr finds himself helping the Ute people, who are a group of Native Americans, to protect themselves from a group of outlaw bikies that have blown into town. Things quickly escalate and get out of control, and Barr is forced to go to war to protect his new found friends.

The plot in A Promise to Kill is interesting, but nothing too out of the ordinary. There were no surprise twists or unanticipated endings, but an action packed, adrenaline filled sequence of battles and complications that kept the reader engaged and thirsting for more. Storey navigates his plot in a succinct manner, only providing brief snapshots of setting and characterisation and focusing heavily on action and driving the plot. To me, that’s fine, because I’m here for the thrills.

Although A Promise to Kill can be read as a standalone novel, I highly recommend starting this series with Nothing Short of Dying, which in my opinion remains one of the best debut thrillers out. It really helps connect the reader to these characters and especially Clyde’s backstory, if you know what happened in the previous book.  If I hadn’t read the first book in the series, this book would have been less enjoyable, as some of the comments and actions that Clyde makes can seem a little strange unless you understand where he is coming from.

I’m hotly anticipating the next book in the Clyde Barr series – and definitely will be reading it when it comes out. I’d recommend this series to fans of Lee Child, C.J. Box and Ace Atkins – the readers of those long standing series will really enjoy the plot, setting and style of the Clyde Barr novels. Just remember to start with Nothing Short of Dying.

Review: Off Reservation by Bram Connolly

Off Reservation by Bram Connolly, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, p. 336. RRP: A$29.99

4.5 stars

Off Reservation is the second book that follows Australian Commando Captain Matt Rix on his adventures. I read the first book in the series, The Fighting Season, last year when it was just released and it was one of my favourite books of 2016. Needless to say, I have been waiting for the follow up to Bram Connolly’s debut novel with bated breath.

In Off Reservation, Matt Rix finds himself in a world of bother after a training exercise goes wrong and he ends up being booted from the team and gets himself involved in an international terrorism plot. Rix is sent out on to watch escaped Taliban Commander Faisal Khan, and things just get more complicated from there.

Off Reservation is action packed and a thrilling read. The plot is interesting and kept me guessing until the very end. Connolly writes taut and exhilarating scenes that race from one crisis to the next, that were fresh and different to most military thrillers currently published. There is real authenticity to Off Reservation, although the plot is far fetched and unlikely to happen, Connolly writes with such ferocious pace that you are locked in for the ride and you don’t question that these events could happen. The dialogue in Off Reservation is believable and punchy, and the Australian accent can really be heard when these Australian men are talking to one another, which is fun.

The characters in the Matt Rix series are great, and I love the character of Rix. He’s strangely relatable and doesn’t read as a cardboard cut-out action figure. Rix isn’t perfect, and he sometimes misses important clues and doesn’t always sort everything out himself. He’s certainly fits the mould of Special Forces protagonists, but he’s not a carbon copy of well known characters.

There is a romance subplot in Off Reservation, which is normally a turn-off for me when I am reading military thrillers, so I approached the novel with some trepidation. However, this subplot was not on the nose, and the conclusion of this plot was one of my favourite aspects of Off Reservation. 

I recommend that fans Chris Ryan, Andy McNab, Brad Thor and Vince Flynn pick up a copy of The Fighting Season, the first novel in the Matt Rix series. Read that excellent novel first, and then graduate to Off Reservation. The only reason Off Reservation did not rate 5 stars is that it is too short. I could have done with more description and buildup to the climax of the novel, to make the thrills even more intense. Bram Connolly has the makings of a epic military thriller series in his protagonist Matt Rix.

Buy The Fighting Season here. 

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy of this novel. 

Review: The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 316p. RRP: A$29.99.

4 stars

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd is a quintessentially Australian novel, and an interesting break from the genres of book that I usually find myself reading and reviewing. I wouldn’t have picked up this book ordinarily, but I am excited to have the opportunity to read a novel that can really provoke that Australian feeling that I find so rare in a novel.

Charlie Johnson is thirteen and obsessed with horses. She goes out for a ride on her leased pony, Tic Tac, and when only the horse returns, the police, SES and townspeople all kick off a search of the massive area where she and her friend had last been seen. When Charlie returns, things are obviously different for her, and her family also needs to adjust to life once she has been returned. All of this is covered on the blurb, and one of my main complaints with this novel was that I knew she was going to return home, a spoiler that lessened the stakes. If I hadn’t known she makes it home, I would have been more concerned and invested in seeing what happens to her as her life was in danger.

I’ve already called this novel  a ‘quintessentially Australian novel’, so it should be no surprise that the setting is primarily Australia – a rural area of Victoria, it seems. There is something relaxing reading about familiar settings, and it makes the clash between the idealistic location and the horrible events of the novel even more jarring. I found the same when I watched the movie Snowtown a couple of years ago: familiar settings make for bone chilling thrills.

Charlie Johnson, the protagonist of this novel, is well drawn and relatable. She had interests, school, and conflicts with friends that really went a long way to build up her character. As the novel progresses, you see her growing and having to adapt to the way her world has been tilted. Ladd does this subtly but slowly, and builds up those changes in character well.

The other characters in this novel are somewhat weaker, you get a feel for Charlie’s mum and dad, although the most interesting character, for me, was Dan, and I felt like his character development was a missed opportunity. As far as characterisation goes, his character travelled the furthest from his starting point, but we are just told that happens and are not really let into the how. If this novel was another 50 pages longer with more information on how Dan was dealing with his sister’s disappearance (and then the aftermath), I think this could be a stronger novel. However, other readers may have had different opinions on that, and maybe Dan’s struggle wouldn’t be as interesting to others.

The Way Back is quite different to the novels that I usually read, crime thrillers and classics, and I have presumed it is a contemporary novel with some crime and thrilling themes. Don’t open this book expecting a police procedural, and don’t expect there to be any suspense. As I stated earlier, the blurb has already killed any possible suspense. The interesting aspect of this novel is really the emotional fallout for both Charlie and her family. It was good to see how the family might react to an abduction, while the emergency services search for a missing girl. There is an event half way through the novel that made no sense – the main detective who had spent countless hours searching for Charlie disregards a tip that comes in. He doesn’t pass it on to the people still searching or follow it up in anyway, and that really did jarr me. Considering the time and effort that had been put in, it seemed out of character. So, if you are wanting a tight novel about the search for a missing girl, this book isn’t for you.

If you want to go on an emotional rollercoaster with Charlie and her family, Kylie Ladd certainly delivers in No Way Back. I’d recommend this novel for people who enjoy easy-to-read writing with heavy , dark themes. This book does explore some messed up things, but does so in an interesting and engaging manner. The Australian setting really is the icing on the cake. I look forward to seeing what Ladd writes next.

Thank you, Allen & Unwin, for the review copy of No Way Back.

Review: Marked for Death by Matt Hilton

5 stars

Previously reviewed titles in this series:
The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter #10) 4.5 stars
No Safe Place (Joe Hunter #11) 4 stars

I’ve followed Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter series for a long time, from before I started blogging. Marked for Death is the 12th instalment in this long running series and each book that is released, I worry that Hilton will lose the magic that I find so enthralling. It only took me ten minutes of Marked for Death to know it is a firm five star read, and maybe even a contender for my favourite books of all-time list.

Hunter’s impulsiveness is one of the things that I really enjoy about this series. So many other protagonists are portrayed as deep thinkers who analyse everything that is happening, whereas Hunter reacts in the moment and often doesn’t think through possible consequences. Sometimes he’s the last person in the team to work out what’s going on, and I love that. It’s a different character trait from the Spider Shepherd, Jack Reacher and Joe Pickett novels that I enjoy of the same genre.

So when Hunter’s impulsiveness leads him to step in to protect a glamorous party attendee from her abusive husband, he gets himself caught up in more than a toxic relationship. The plot of this novel travels at breakneck speed from one physical altercation to the next, with Hunter leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Every Matt Hilton book I read reminds me that there is no one else who writes fight and battle scenes quite like this – they are full of detail and suspense, but do not drag on and on. When you are reading the final confrontation, it feels like you are there with them, in the thick of it.

I’ve talked a lot about Hunter, but I need to talk about his brothers in arms – especially Rink. The relationship between Rink and Joe is one of the best aspects of this series, and it is nicely included in this book. The banter between these two characters cracks me up but underneath it all you can see that they are family to one another. I love families of choice in fiction, especially when characters don’t have positive familial ties.

The character of Trey looks weak when compared to the established characters of Joe and Rink, but she’s still an interesting addition to the crew for the duration of this novel. Her backstory is heartbreaking, and you really do come around to her by the end of the novel. She’s a good catalyst character, much stronger than some of the others that are included in novels of the thriller genre.

One of the ways that Matt Hilton has kept the Joe Hunter books current is by setting novels in the here and now. Marked for Death takes place in Trump’s America and the plot is something that you could imagine happening. It’s jarring to have Trump’s name dropped – multiple times – in this novel. I won’t go into politics on this blog, but I saw it as a risky thing for Hilton to include in this novel, but he handles the political minefield well. He’s unlikely to anger anyone with the inclusion of President Trump, while not actually pushing his political agenda. I wonder how this book will read in the future, when Trump is no longer President. I suppose that will depend on how this period of history is recorded. This was my first novel that has referenced Trump, but I assume that a lot of the books published later this year will do so, and I will be keeping an eye on how authors use this period of history in fiction.

I would recommend this novel to any fans of action packed thrillers. It is my favourite new release of 2017 so far. Matt Hilton’s writing is accessible, his characters dynamic and his plots first rate. Although you can read Marked for Death independently from the rest of the Joe Hunter series, I really do recommend going back and starting from the first book in the series, Dead Men’s Dust.

Thanks to Canelo Press for the e-ARC of this book

Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show by Michael Connelly, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 405p. RRP: A$32.99

2.5 stars

Michael Connelly is a huge name in crime thrillers, and The Late Show introduces his latest hopeful franchisee, Renée Ballard. I’ve read a couple of Connelly’s Bosch novels, and was expecting in The Late Show an exciting thriller read.

Renée is a LAPD Detective who has been exiled to the ‘late shift’ at Hollywood Station. She’s partnered up with Jenkins, a character that we never really seem to get to know, despite having an interesting premise. She is unhappy with her new posting, because it means that she doesn’t get to ‘keep’ the cases she works during the night, instead passing them off to other Detectives in the morning. So when she gets to follow through with a serious assault of a transgendered prostitute she jumps at the chance. Ballard also finds herself embroiled in a night-club shooting where five people were shot. Things of course become complicated and she finds herself needing to solve that case while also working her night-shifts.

When I first picked up this book, I was excited that a huge triller author had written a guaranteed bestseller with a female lead, and for the first quarter of the book I was rooting for Renée and was bonding with her. However, I believe that Connelly didn’t handle this character as well as he does Bosch or Haller: Renée Ballard never really felt like a complete person, rather a collection of parts that started to infuriate me. The amount of times we hear about her paddle-boarding is nauseating, her love of surfing and her father’s death all seem to combine to add nothing to the plot but just are clumsy attempts to make Renée human, but he failed to engage me. Her housing situation had the possibility to complicate matters further, to be an interesting development, and it never came to fruition.

Not once did the fact that she was sleeping three hours a night actually impact the plot, she never made a mistake due to fatigue, and she just ran on coffee. Connelly makes such a massive deal about this, but never actually uses it to further the plot. As the book rolled on, I found the suspense wasn’t there in high doses either. The ‘thrilling’ part of the novel lacked kick. It was fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything groundbreaking. To make this book ‘friendly’ to audiences, it’s been neutered.

It was still readable, and I finished it, but it’s not a stand out novel to me. For established fans, it is probably a fair addition to the Connelly back catalogue, but I’d recommend new readers go and read some of his earlier works, especially the Bosch series.

Thank you Allen & Unwin for the review copy of The Late Show.

Review: A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride, Paperback, HarperCollins Publishers, May 2017, 608p

4.5 stars

 

I’m a huge fan of Stuart MacBride’s McRae and Steel series and although A Dark So Deadly doesn’t fit into that fictional universe, it certainly will appeal to fans of that series.  The characters in this novel are entertaining, well-drawn, and a real credit to the author. A Dark So Deadly has cemented MacBride as one of the best thriller writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and is fast becoming one of my go to recommendations for family and friends when they want a twisted crime read.

For fans of either the McRae or Henderson series by MacBride, the setting will be blissfully familiar: the Scotland that inhabits this novel is wet, miserable and full of various butties. One of the best things about this book is that you really get a feel for where the action is taking place, similar to the writing in the first three or four Logan McRae novels.

The characters of A Dark So Deadly are certainly interesting. The plot follows DC Callum MacGregor, who has recently joined the ‘Misfit Mob’ because he’s apparently rubbish at his job. The remaining members of the crew are colourful, there’s DI “Mother” Malcolmson who is recovering from a massive heart attack, DS McAdams who is dying of cancer and insists on constantly talking in verse, DC Franklin, the latest addition to the team who seems to have a stick stuck up somewhere, DS ‘Dotty’ Hodgkin, who is confined to a wheelchair and is one of the few likeable characters in the novel, and DC Watt, who is one of the least likeable characters of any novel ever written. Watching these guys try and crack a rapidly evolving case is part comedy, part tragedy, but 100% entertainment.

While not believable, the plot is certainly twisted – with red herrings and misdirection aplenty. I was sure I had worked out what was happening about three quarters of the way through the novel, and while I had guessed some things correctly, other parts of the conclusion floored me. It’s one of MacBride’s strengths, being able to keep his reader guessing until the last.

I’m tempted to classify this book as a comedy – although with such dark content it certainly would offend some lovers of that genre – MacGregor’s life just gets worse and worse and you can’t help but feel sorry, and you certainly spend a good amount of the book laughing at him and his antics. This novel is long, but the combination of the killer plot, humour,  and excellent characters, you’re happy to stick around to the last page. 

I’d recommend this novel to anyone who likes dark, twisted stories of any variety. Certainly, to people with strong stomachs. This is a standalone novel of the highest order, one where you get to bond with the characters in a manner normally found in series. A Dark So Deadly is a great place to start if you are wanting to pick up MacBride’s writing: although you might find yourself addicted, just like I have.