chris ryan

Review: Deathlist by Chris Ryan

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Deathlist by Chris Ryan, (Strike Back, #2), Trade Paperback, January 2016, 320p.

One out of 5 stars

Welcome to a devastatingly honest review of one of the latest books from one of my favourite authors. I have to give a language warning for this review. I’m full of filthy swears.

I loved Strike Back, a five star read a couple of years ago – so when I saw that Chris Ryan was writing a sequel after all these years, let me just say that my excitement levels soared. I love the Strike Back TV mini-series (the UK season, not the continuation on US seasons), and have been waiting for a return of John Porter with baited breath.

How I was disappointed. Devastated. Inconsolable. As I started reading, I was on the bandwagon of wanting to see things get interesting – it was a strange but dated premise for an action novel, but I told myself to be patient and give Ryan a chance to give one of his best characters a fitting swan song. I was confused about the way that Ryan had set up this book. He’d made some authorial choices that made no sense – for example, both of the main characters, who were often sharing scenes and working together were called John. This meant the reader had no idea which fucking John was being spoken about at any point. To add to the inability to tell the two characters apart, both were shit at their jobs, both were over the hill, old and prone to a drink or six. Often one of the characters would run somewhere wheezing and I would assume it was John. See how confusing that is? He didn’t even think to have a John and a Jon, to simplify things for the reader. So, confusion was already raining.

Next we have the alcoholism – which is such an interesting and believable character trait for a SAS man to be battling with. However, Porter seemed so washed up and beyond the brink that I had no idea how he was still serving with the elite unit, even in the training branch. This annoyed me, and then the constant references to his drinking and him quitting being such a large plot point that didn’t seem to add anything to the story. It was just him drinking whiskey and being a fuckhead.

Talking of repetition – if I hear a soldier referred to as a blade one more time, I might take a blade to my eyes so that I don’t have to see it again. Once or twice a chapter, fine. Once or twice a page? I’m hoping that my eye issues get worse and they spontaneously explode. How the hell did an editor let this go?

The plot revolved around the two John’s hunt for revenge after a terrorist attack takes out a whole bunch of SAS recruits and their instructors. The terrorist bombing was stupid too – Ryan made them a sitting duck of a target and then had them all wiped out by a bomb. No one noticed anything odd or wondered about the strange van. So so annoying. There was an interesting conspiracy thread that was introduced way too late in the plot to have been fully effective. Maybe if those elements had been introduced earlier, this novel could have been saved.

Scratch that, there is no saving this novel.

There is no saving something that is so full of casual racism and sexism. I know that these books sometimes have racist characters, but as this is becoming less and less socially acceptable, I expect authors to acknowledge in some way that their characters behaviour and language is inappropriate, whereas the omnipotent narrator of this tale actually uses the phrase “as narrow as a chinaman’s smile.” When I read a thriller from the 70’s I expect and disregard that sort of rubbish – but in a book written today? Nope. I won’t condone that. Have a racist character – fine. Write a racist book – not fine.

Shall we now move on to the sexism? There is a horrible assault on two prostitutes, who were assaulted and abducted just so that two spies could go undercover in their place. This is an actual quote from that part of the novel.

‘We don’t want to hurt you.,’ he said calmly. ‘If you stay quiet, you’ll be free in a couple of hours. You have my word. But if you make trouble, you won’t leave us any choice. Nod if you understand.’

Legs stilled. Then she nodded. it made sense. A Romanian hooker in her thirties working in Valletta. She’d probably been threatened on multiple occasions. By boyfriends… she’d made it this far in life. Therefore she was a survivor. Therefore she wouldn’t do anything to upset her captors.

Because she was a prostitute and had most likely been assaulted before it makes it okay to assault her again? It was overly rapey and this paragraph actually felt trigger-y to me. As someone who has read plenty of crime novels with horrible rape scenes, I find myself to be hard to trigger – but this was the good guys. Good guys hitting prostitutes and threatening them. These women are only referred to as ‘hookers’ if talking about them collectively, or by the nicknames ‘legs’ and ‘petite’ if talking about them singularly. Women are either sex objects or victims for abuse in this novel.

I’m not sure if my constitution has changed or if this is actually too far. The idea that it’s only men reading these books is bullshit – women are also picking up military thrillers, and I think authors need to be a little more mindful that their audience isn’t the stereotypical boys club they believe it to be.

There were two brutal torture scenes wedged in with the racism and sexism – if I was encountering one of these things I would have been able to take it all in stride, but when these misogynist assholes go from abducting women and then hacking off someones toes and then cauterizing the wounds using a blow torch. They say that if he spills the information they will give him a nice death (a bullet to the back of the head) the guy does tell all, but they continue to torture him to death. Torture isn’t cool. It’s something that does pop up in these books, and I understand that it is sometimes used in the real world – but I don’t want torture glorified. Good military fiction writers include their protagonists torturing people to add moral dilemma to their stories, to show the extent to which their characters are willing to go for the objective. I have no compassion for the “good guys” in Deathlist. They have become my antagonists and I’m now rooting for the bad guys to take these two fuckers out.

Deathlist is full of lazy and uninspired writing. It’s full of repetitive word choice. It needs some pretty heavy editing, which would include reducing the first 150p into 50, and that might not even save it. The attack on the regiment is poorly written and doesn’t get across the levels of grief that such an event would entail. It’s meant to be seen as justification for what follows in the rest of the book, but it falls short, which means the rest of the book feels like a homicidal, psychotic rampage. Queue Archer falling into this novel screaming “RAMPAGE” without any of the tongue in cheek snark and irony that cartoon character would usually contain.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t be reading the next book that Chris Ryan releases – I’ve read almost two dozen of his books and loved all but this one.

I hope Deathlist was ghost written.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases For The Second Half Of The Year

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases in the Second Half of 2016. I’ve included releases from July, August and early September. I’ll probably do another list similar to this in late August/early September when more release dates are available. One of my favourites, Geoffrey McGeachin’s Charlie Berlin series, will be due for a new book soon, but so far I haven’t heard anything about it.

 

Sean Black’s The Edge of Alone – July 10. The 7th in a great series about Ryan Lock, who works in private security but always seems to find himself in deep trouble. Already pre-ordered.

Scott McEwen’s Ghost Sniper – July 12. A favourite series of mine, and one of the few American military fiction authors who I don’t want to give a lesson on tolerance to. His characters are real, but so so tough. Will buy on kindle.

Ace Atkins’s The Innocents – July 12. I’m hoping that this one can recapture the awesomeness that was the early releases of this series. Has one of the most memorable sidekicks ever written in Boom. Netgalley copy.

Alex Kava’s Reckless Creed – July 26. Cute series about a man (called Creed) who trains service dogs. They are still thrilling, but I will admit to reading mostly because of the dogs.

Stephen Leather’s Dark Forces – July 28. SPIDER SHEPHERD! The best UK thriller series, in my humble opinion. My favourite series, and I always pre-order this one. (and often end up with a hardback and kindle copy.)

Jack Coughlin’s Long Shot – August 16. Excellent series about a sniper – was the first American military fiction author that I ever enjoyed. The last book made some questionable choices regarding characters and who would be featured in this book, but I’m waiting to see how this one turns out. Will order from library.

Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying – August 16. I’ve already read this one! AND IT WAS SO GOOD. Expect more fapping, more hyping and lots of 5 star reviews for Nothing Short of Dying. Best thriller debut of 2016, hands down. Netgalley copy.

Chris Ryan’s Bad Soldier – August 25. The Fourth book in the Danny Black series. Each one is just as good as the previous release – all have been four star reads for me. Black is a believable character who you can’t help but root for. Will order from library.

David McCaleb’s Recall – August 30. I’ve never read McCaleb’s work before (he might be a debutant for all I know), but I saw Recall on netgalley and immediately wanted to request it. I’m trying to get ahead of my reviewing queue before I request any more, but this is high up my list of anticipated new releases. Netgalley/kindle copy.

William Kent Krueger’s Manitou Canyon – September 6. Kreuger writes atmospheric thrillers, of which I have read three or four, but I am so behind on the Cork O’Conner series I know I should just pick up the next book in the series and read my way up to these new releases.

Review: Hellfire by Chris Ryan

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Hellfire by Chris Ryan, (Danny Black, #3), Trade paperback from library, August 2015, 391p.

I live tweeted this book: #iloveoilrigs

4 stars.

Hellfire slowly built up the tension and suspense until I was frantic in the final 70 pages. I always forget how epic the conclusions of Chris Ryan’s works are, and Hellfire certainly delivered. At times it felt like I was racing against the clock alongside the protagonist of this series, Danny Black. I’m a sucker for anything with nautical themes, and so seeing a picture of an oil rig on the front of a favourite authors’ book – I jumping up and down to get reading!

This is the third novel in the Danny Black series, and I have given all the books in the series a four star rating. I feel like each one adds a little more to the background characters that feature in the series. The most infuriating character ever written (ever!) features in this series, Mr. Hugo Buckingham. The desire to punch Buckingham in the face is all encompassing, and I certainly was rooting for Danny to just lose his cool and let fly.

Danny Black as a character is fairly stock standard, he is the guy you want to come to your rescue. I found it interesting in this novel when he was thinking about his morals, convictions and motivations. Black spends much of the book looking down on his team mate Tony because he seems to be associated with some shady business and is a general all around douchebag. Tony is connected with the seedy underbelly of London, and I sure didn’t like the guy. However, all of the torture that Black seems to constantly engage in doesn’t even get a second thought from the protagonist. Now, I understand that this is an action novel, where it’s all about the thrills – plus – in a time constricted, high stakes situation maybe torture could be used (that is a could, not a should), but the fact that Danny Black seems to be completely at peace with what he has to do to get the job done seems a bit strange to me. Maybe I’m just becoming too much of a bleeding heart in my old age.

In Hellfire we are introduced to a new character, Caitlin. She is Australian and awesome. As an Australian woman myself, I am partial to kick ass Aussie women. I would have liked a little bit of information on her, but she certainly held up her end and was portrayed as just as capable as the men in the unit. At the beginning of the novel there certainly was an element of the unit being unsure if she would be a liability – but Ryan wrote the character with integrity and a no-nonsense attitude. By the end of the novel she was just another member of the unit, and the only concession made to her was people not referring to the unit as ‘guys’ or ‘men’. I hope that she shows up in future novels, because I think her story could be very interesting!

Those who are familiar with Ryan’s style will be comfortable with this effort – it is condense, terse and fast paced. There are few adjectives and when they are included they are usually to describe machines or pieces of kit. This is exactly the type of prose I enjoy – to the point and no-nonsense. It can take a while to settle back into this style after reading wordy literature for school, but I always appreciate the break.

If you are looking for an action-packed thrill ride (with added oil rig!), you can do no wrong in picking up a Chris Ryan novel, although I would advise starting with the first in the Danny Black series – Masters of War.

Ranty Recs – 5 Military series that will blow your socks off!

I love books that feature soldiers, especially book series that follow the career of a soldier. Over the years I have read many books with military themes, I started off reading British series written by ex-SAS soldiers, but I quickly diversified into reading quite a few series written by authors from all over the world. This list of 5 series incorporates finished series and ones still in progress, from both the US and around the world. If you love characters like Jack Reacher, some of these series might be up your alley. I’ve included a link to the Goodreads series page, and the book cover links to the Amazon page for the first book of the series.

19221094Geordie Sharp series by Chris Ryan

Geordie Sharp was my first exposure to a series that follows the career of a soldier, and it has stuck with me after finishing the series many years ago. Chris Ryan is an English ex-SAS soldier who has now turned his attention to writing, and the Geordie Sharp series was his first foray into writing fiction. Stand By, Stand By is the first book in a completed series of four, and each one gets better and better. The final book was like a punch in the guts while standing next to a claymore, and I was a mess of tears for a good chunk of it. While not particularly spectacular writing – Ryan’s later books are of a higher quality – this series gets an A+ for plot.

144738Stratton series by Duncan Falconer

Stratton is written by another English ex-Special Forces soldier and is in some ways, similar to the Geordie Sharp series. However, these books follow the career of a SBS soldier, and so much of the action takes place underwater, in boats, submarines and on oil rigs. For me, this is perfect because I love nautical themes. Stratton is a really aloof character and over the space of 8 books you get to know a little bit about him, but it’s nice to read a book in which the main character isn’t socially capable or a glory hound. There are 8 books in this series, and although it hasn’t officially been ended, there hasn’t been a new book since 2012’s Assassin. Rumours of a Stratton movie have made me very excited, but at the same time, cautious – it’s hard to portray such a anti-social but good intentioned guy. The first book in this series is The Hostage, and while it is interesting, the books get better and better.

1959583Kyle Swanson series by Jack Coughlin

The Kyle Swanson series was the first American series that I fell in love with. It is a series of 7 books (the 8th is due later this year) with hopefully many more on the way. Coughlin is superb at telling a military action story from an emotional standpoint. Kyle is an interesting character, and he is supported by a great cast of other characters. My favourite female character in a military novel appears a couple of books into this series, and she is affectionately known as Coastie, and she is kick ass awesome! It’s refreshing having women painted as being competent in a skill that is usually considered to be the man’s prevue. As Kyle Swanson is a sniper and is attached to his special custom rifle, known as Excalibur, this series is great for fans of sniping or precision shooting.

17559237Sniper Elite series by Scott McEwen and Thomas Koloniar

I added the first Sniper Elite book, One Way Trip, to my TBR by accident – I thought it was a Jack Coughlin book for some strange reason (I get my snipers mixed up, apparently). Sniper Elite is a newer, still ongoing series, with three books currently published. McEwen balances political intrigue and military action really well, and I find often action thrillers tend to avoid any political intrigue in fear of making it  a political thriller. I am also in love with the main character, Gil Shannon – he is the perfect blend of soldier and good guy. Some parts of this series are a little bit too ‘MURICA! for my own sensitivities, but compared to many other American action/military fiction, this is sedate. I think coming from reading Australian/UK fiction this aspect is the hardest for me to acclimatise to. I also find American novels to often have more of a team feel – as opposed to the single operator dominated British fiction – and a lot more gun loving. Overall, this series has been a solid four star earner, and I am looking forward to the next instalment!

13154311Tom Buckingham series by Andy McNab

The Tom Buckingham series by McNab is a new, ongoing series that is more accessible than McNab’s previous works. I’ve always been a fan of McNab, I find his writing to be action packed and his plot lines tight, but felt that they sometimes lacked emotional depth. This new series rectifies that. I’ve read the first two books in the series, with the third, and latest book, waiting on kindle. The second book, Fortress, gained a rare five star rating – it was sensational. A lot of purists who loved McNab’s Nick Stone series dislike the Buckingham series because it has some feelings in it – but I think it improves the plotlines to no end. I would recommend anyone who likes fast past thrillers to pick up the Tom Buckingham series, because it is a more traditional thriller as opposed to a military thriller.

Recommendations: War Narratives

Recommendation postsI was asked to write a list of historical fiction and war narratives that I would recommend to readers, while I was part of the Bookish People collaboration. I’ve decided to share part of that list with my usual blog – the war narrative part. The following are four excellent books that I have enjoyed over the years – for differing reasons. Some are well known, others are obscure or not discussed much by the blogging community. One’s a classic, another, a pulpy action novel. I love them all.

In my opinion a war narrative can be written about current events but must be fictional, no autobiographies or memoirs, however they can be written by experienced soldiers about fictional characters.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief is a wonderful exploration of WWII from a unique viewpoint. It produced torrents of tears that I cried in public. It is very well known and much loved, for good reason. If all the people saying how wonderful this book is scared you from reading it, pick it up right now and you can thank me later. It is so wonderfully accessible and loveable and popular so you can squee about it with other bookish people.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

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All Quiet on the Western Front was the first war narrative I read, and I used it for my final year assignment in high school. Its high on my list of favourite novels and it is widely hailed by critics as ‘The Greatest War Novel of ALL TIME.’ It’s the book I always point people towards when they ask for a war novel recommendation.

3. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

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If All Quiet on the Western Front was the novel that started me on the path of war narratives, Matterhorn would be the narrative I fell in love with. It is not an easy read – it is long, full of jargon and a heavy plot to digest. However, if you stick with it the rewards are astonishing as Marlantes has crafted the perfectly poignant and devastating account of the Vietnam War. It took Marlantes 30 years to write, and it has been honed to perfection. READ THIS BOOK.

4. Tenth Man Down by Chris Ryan

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All of the other books on this list have been somewhat literary, and my last addition, Tenth Man Down, breaks the literary tradition in half, double taps it and throws a witty one liner. The tagline of this book is ‘Who wins? The SAS or the Navy Seals?’ but if I remember correctly, *plot twist* everybody loses. It is book four in the Geordie Sharp series, and is epically good if you have read the previous instalments, but still good as a standalone. One of Ryan’s other novels, Strike Back, has been adapted into an excellent miniseries with Richard Armitage if you want some man candy to accompany your war action-y goodness. Avoid the US version, it’s rubbish.

Well – I’m sure I’ve missed some canonical gems. Please feel free to tell me I got it all wrong, although I possibly will argue to death. If I’ve just rec’ed a book you have read – is its inclusion in my list justified, or am I completely off my head? Am I missing your favourite war novel? I probably am!

BOB Spell it out Challenge

This looks like a fun challenge to participate in, so I decided to use my first name – Rebecca, and then realised in the past four years I haven’t read a single book starting with the letter E – let alone two of them! So I decided to go with my birth month – August (you know, cause Leo was also out).

A – Aggressor by Andy McNab

U – Undersea Prison by Duncan Falconer

G – Good Jihadist, The by Bob Shepherd

U – Ultimate Weapon by Chris Ryan

S – Strike Back by Chris Ryan

T – Traitor by Duncan Falconer

Okay, so I decided to use books only by ex-SAS and ex-SBS authors! SUE ME.