book review

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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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 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.

Review: The Mayfly by James Hazel

The Mayfly by James Hazel, (Charlie Priest, #1), Paperback, Zaffre Publishing, June 2017, 408p.

4 out of 5 stars

James Hazel’s The Mayfly is a shockingly good debut, and certainly not what I was expecting. For a first published novel, this book was very well written and quite tight in its execution of a somewhat complex plot.

Charlie Priest (which is an awesome name for a protagonist) was a detective and left the police force to be a lawyer. Priest, as a character, has some very interesting premises: he suffers from dissociative disorder, has an angry ex-wife, and appears to think he has no social skills. The way Hazel includes dissociative disorder in The Mayfly is excellent – Priest doesn’t seem to suffer from ‘multiple personality disorder’ which is the cliché I was expecting when I started this book, but rather descends into a sort of parallel reality in his head and becomes pretty much useless. What he does during this period is not revealed to the reader, but is hinted at through Priest’s brother, a serial killer with the same condition.

Did I forget to mention the brother who is a serial killer? Another thing that’s going on with Charlie Priest, his brother is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for murder. He suffers from the same condition Charlie does, and it seems to be the cause of his murderous past. William Priest was a psychologist and seems to enjoy playing games with the people in his life. I would love to see more of William and Charlie interacting in future books, their relationship seems complex and interesting.

Some aspects of this novel are predictable. I had guessed the rest of the plot about half way through and while the characters are all interesting, sometimes it seemed like every character was just too special. However, The Mayfly is still a gripping and intense crime novel, so although I had an idea of what was coming, I stuck with it to see if it was as insane of a plot as I suspected. I was not disappointed.

If this review seems to be negative, it is only because as I was reading it I was looking for weaknesses – and of course found some. Hazel has delivered a wonderful, albeit slightly flawed debut novel. I read it in a single day, and found the writing to be perfectly balanced between action and description. As the opening stand of a series of novels, it perfectly introduces all the characters and intrigues the reader as to what shenanigans are going to happen in the next instalment. I will certainly be picking up the next book by James Hazel, and if you are looking for a fresh voice in the crime fiction genre you should take a look at Charlie Priest.

Thank you to Zaffre Publishing for a review copy of this novel.

Review:The Edge of Alone by Sean Black

The Edge of Alone by Sean Black, (Ryan Lock, #7), Kindle edition, 2016, 426p.

2 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

Gridlock (Ryan Lock, #3) 4 stars

The Edge of Alone is a mediocre book living inside an exceptional series. I read the book previous to this new release, Fire Point, which was an excellent romp through the dangerous world of Lock and his buddy, Ty. I was so enthused by book 6 in this series that I picked up The Edge of Alone immediately after finishing and was disappointed.

The first thing that stood out to me about The Edge of Alone was that the bad guy in the book resembled the bad guy from the last book, Fire Point. Let me expand on that a little – both were women who were experts at manipulating the men around her. Don’t get me wrong, I like a woman being a bad guy in these books, it usually adds variety, but in The Edge of Alone it seemed more cliche. Add in the fact that both women were called Gretchen – and I just felt like the author was being lazy.

This book fails in reaching the standards set in previous books also – the first third of the book dragged and barely touched the main characters, Lock and Ty. If I was a first time reader of this series I would have put the book down in boredom. The establishment of the evil school took so long, and the girl that the two men were being hired to protect seemed to suffer from special snowflake syndrome pretty badly. Finally when Lock and Ty are on the case, the action followed the supporting character, Ty, more than Lock. As much as I enjoy Ty as a character, I read these books for Lock.

The Edge of Alone is poorly edited, with the wrong names being used on numerous occasions, so many grammatical errors that the English teacher in me wished to dig a hole and bury myself and even a paragraph repeated twice. All things that the most rudimentary editor should have picked up. I’m unsure how a book with so many errors has been added to a stellar series. I’ve seen that the author is planning on releasing a edited ‘fixed’ version of The Edge of Alone, but I’m not sure if the other issues with this novel beyond spelling and grammar will be addressed in that correction.

The plot, once we actually got to the part in which Lock and Ty were taking down the school was enjoyable, and I didn’t hate reading it – which means I’m comfortable giving this book a 2 star rating. Sean Black writes action scenes so well, and the last half of the book flew by and I was flipping the pages faster and faster. I will be reading the next novel in this series, but I certainly was disappointed by this effort.

Review: No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

no safe place

No Safe Place by Matt Hilton (Joe Hunter, #11), Kindle edition, Sempre Vigile, May 2016. 270p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter, #10). 4.5 stars.

Old Fighters often seek that one final battle, where they can prove they aren’t over the hill, that they’re still a contender for the crown.  – No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

The Joe Hunter series is a contender for the title of most thrilling series. Each book consistently delivers more excitement, better plot and sympathetic characters. There is no doubt that Hunter would be the person I’d call if shit was hitting the fan. After so many books in the series, however, sometimes protagonists forget they should grow up. Matt Hilton has handled that brilliantly in No Safe Place – Hunter is starting to feel his age. He’s packing his backpack full of bricks to prove to himself he’s still hard.

The plot of No Safe Place is suitably twisted, with one red herring after another making it hard to decide if I knew what was coming next or not. A woman is killed in a home invasion/robbery, and Joe Hunter is hired to protect her son from further attacks. What follows is a race to find her killer, but not all is as it seems.

Hilton’s antagonists are becoming more complex with each book, and the big bad in this book certainly paid off in being understandable but terrifying. I loved the inclusion of a shaggy dog story from Hilton’s own policing career. It’s these little touches of humour and warmth that raises Hilton’s writing above many other thriller series.

Joe and Rink feel like family to me now, after reading of their adventures in the last 10 books. No Safe Place allows them the usual back and forth – the playful banter that I always mention when reviewing Joe Hunter novels is alive and well in this story. I loved that Bryony is back and making Hunter’s life more complicated in the best ways. The subtle romance that is woven through the story is slight, but doesn’t detract from the main story. Which is just how I like my romance in thriller novels.

The reason this doesn’t rate 5 stars is that it felt a little more sparse than usual. The plot wasn’t as fleshed out as usual in a Matt Hilton thriller, and it was too short. There was no subplot, and I am attached to having a subplot in these style novels.

If you are a fan of the Joe Hunter series, definitely check out this book. If you like Reacher style novels, try out a Joe Hunter thriller – they’re better.