review

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

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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: 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: Painted Skins by Matt Hilton

Painted Skins by Matt Hilton, (Tess Grey & Po Villere, #2), eARC from netgalley, Severn House Publishers, December 2016, 256p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Painted Skins is the latest book in the Tess Grey & Po Villere series, and although I haven’t read Blood Tracks, which is the first title, I was still enthralled in the lives of these characters. In Tess Grey, Hilton has managed to build a believable, real and strong female protagonist who carries the action of this series easily. Often female leads in crime thrillers are either infallible action stars who single-handedly take on gangs of bad guys and come out without a scratch, or they are purely the brains behind the operation and then rely on the men around her to deal with the sharp end of the action. Tess and Hilton fall into neither of these traps, and that’s refreshing.

The characters in Painted Skins are great, I really enjoyed both Tess and Po – they come from such different backgrounds and work together in a wonderful way. I loved that although they are romantically involved, there’s no subplot about their relationship – that often gets tedious and stops the momentum in thrillers – but you learn about their relationship while they are navigating the case and trying to save a young woman from a kidnapper.

I will try not to give anything away, but Painted Skins reminded me a lot of Matt Hilton’s early Joe Hunter novels, it is two friends hunting down a deranged individual and stopping at nothing to deliver justice. The bad guys that fill both the Hunter and Grey & Villere series are some of the darkest, bone-chilling monsters I’ve ever encountered in literature. I’m not very squeamish, and I read many thrillers a year, but Hilton’s bad guys always stick with me for years to come, and I have a feeling that this book’s villain will be the same.

Hilton’s writing is great – to the point and polished. Painted Skins is a tightly constructed and well-executed crime thriller. Whenever I am asked for advice on what constitutes a good fight scene I just point to the closest Matt Hilton book.

I will certainly be hunting out the first book in the Grey & Villere series, I can’t wait to return to this universe!

Thank you to Severn House Publishers for providing a review copy of this book.

Review: Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach, ARC, Oneworld, November 2016, 285p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Grunt is a book about war unlike any other I have encountered – and I’ve certainly read my fair share of war books. Mary Roach goes behind the science and technology of modern soldiering, and the issues and advances that scientists are making for the men and women on the front line. This is not a book for the faint hearted, it is full of blood, gore and swearing and doesn’t shy away from some hard truths about the US Defence Force. Grunt is a book for those curious about how uniforms come to be, what happens when you take shrapnel to your, uh, nether regions? Do soldiers get travellers’ diarrhoea like the rest of us? What is life aboard a submarine like?

Roach, of course, has investigated and researched all these topics and more and written a brilliant non-fiction book that is very accessible. Much of the research is communicated by descriptions of her conversations with people in the military, and her experiences while researching. Sometimes Roach throws in a reference from a medical or scientific journal, but most of her evidence takes the form of interviews with experts and those who are actually experiencing the technology and science – the grunts. This makes this book very easy to read and digest, but not something I would be reaching for as a reference text. Its value is purely entertainment, and on that score, it delivers.

Grunt is richly and at times, darkly humorous. There were quite a few times that I was laughing at a dead body or something that may have killed someone – most of the book is framed in a humorous fashion, with quips and hilarious facts accompanying the science and evidence. Grunt is also the first book that I felt physically ill reading (I don’t recommend eating BBQ meat while reading Chapter 9: The Maggot Paradox). I imagine some men would also feel a bit delicate reading through chapters 4 & 5, both of which deal with damage and recovery from injury to the male groin. Entertaining and informative for a woman, but when I read a couple selected paragraphs to my boyfriend, he promptly asked me to stop and made pained wincing facial expressions.

A could of years ago I added Roach’s book Stiff, which is all about the science of dead bodies, to my Goodreads TBR. I’m not sure when I removed it, but I certainly didn’t read it, but I will now be adding that back onto my TBR – Grunt sold me on Roach’s style and approach to writing and science. I’m looking forward to working my way through her back catalogue of weird and wonderful books full of strange and surreal facts. And I’ll be buying Grunt as a Christmas present for a family member who loves war non-fiction and has a really twisted sense of humour. I want to see his reaction to chapters 4 through 5. I might also put a putrid scratch and sniff at the start of Chapter 10: What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Reek.

Thankyou Oneworld publishers for the review copy. This book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

nothing short of dying

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey, (Clyde Barr, #1), eARC from Netgalley, Scribner, August 2016, 320p.

5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing Short of Dying is the debut offering from Erik Storey, and it’s one of the best thriller novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The advance praise and blurb of Nothing Short of Dying make comparisons to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series in the way all lone wolf thrillers currently do – but Clyde Barr, the protagonist of Nothing Short of Dying, has launched a full scale assault on the tradition of the Reacher style novel and now the old man is bleeding out in the wilderness. Nothing Short of Dying novel is tense and full of action, while still evoking a beautiful wild setting.

The comparisons to Reacher aren’t that accurate, in my opinion. Personally, I think the atmosphere of Nothing Short of Dying is similar to that of a C.J. Box or Ace Atkins work – full of flawed characters who are just trying to get by in this world. Storey has Barr operating in a morally grey area that Box wouldn’t usually allow – letting Barr be a flawed and dangerous man walking a tight-line. Plus, his history isn’t as clean and palatable as the standard protagonist we usually see in thriller novels. He has no jurisdiction besides his sense of what is wrong and right, and that makes his character intriguing.

Storey is fearless with his characters – both in characterisation and how he handles them in the plot. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I will say that something shocking happened half way through the novel, and at first I was shocked and angry, but when I put those feelings aside I saw the author had just plunged another knife into Clyde Barr, and upped the stakes even higher.

The plot races long quickly, if at times predictably, with multiple high tension battles and the odds always seem to be stacked against the good guys. The plot doesn’t focus so much on what the crimes are, or how the criminals came to be where they are now, just that there are bad guys to be brought to heel, and Barr is the man to provide the lesson and a can of whoop-ass.

With a setting that I won’t soon forget, Storey writes landscapes and places in an unrivaled fashion, transporting the reader to the mountains, rivers and forests – I was crawling with Barr through snow and mud, losing my mind in rivers with him, hoping that we were both going to make it to the other side.

Storey has a very sparse writing style – there’s no excess wordage in Nothing Short of Dying – he’s a gifted enough writer that when he does devote a paragraph or two to description, he does so with great effect and the imagery of place is extra evocative.

Without doubt, I will be checking out the next book in the Clyde Barr series, and as the character has such fabulous backstory and character traits, I’m excited to see where Erik Storey will be taking Barr next.

 

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Penguin English Library Edition, 1905, 400p.

5 out of 5 stars.

House of Mirth is sensational. A true classic in every sense of the word, it immerses the reader deep into the world of Lily Bart and drags you down with her. I’m only just discovering Edith Wharton, I loved my read of Ethan Frome earlier this year, but felt like the style was a little sparse – looking back on my review, I noticed that I wrote,

I felt like I could have enjoyed Ethan Frome more if it was fleshed out into a fleshier novel, the novella length generally doesn’t satisfy me when there is so much potential for a good story.

House of Mirth answered my question brilliantly – Wharton does pen a truely singular novel, and the extra wordage, the flowing quality of her writing certainly does not take away from the plot – the plot in The House of Mirth is full, lively and engaging.

I really felt for Lily Bart. As far as female characters go, she would have to be one of my favourites I have read up to this point. I’ll avoid spoilers, but some of the things that she allows people to do and say to her are just appalling, but she seems to be out of her depth most of the book. The issue is that she thinks she’s able to cope with everything until her whole life comes crashing down around her. As someone who feels sometimes like life is conspiring to bring me down, reading about Bart’s trials makes me feel a little better about my own life. The way that Lily thinks about problems and especially, financial issues, is very close to the way that I myself consider these problems – I’m always anticipating the lucky event around the corner, always counting and spending money that I should be saving. It’s a problem that I’ve recognised in myself – one that I still battle with to this day, and watching Lily Bart come to the same realisations is painful but enlightening.

As far as male characters go in this book, I’m lukewarm on all of them. My least favourite would have to be Selden – and I feel like he was saved by Lily’s grace and love. I felt like we were meant to be rooting for them to get together, but that idea was repugnant to me, and I hoped that Lily would come around to living in poverty, despite it being so against her character. Rosedale was actually somewhat more to my liking – despite being crass and inelegant, I felt that he was most honest. The last scene with Rosedale turned me with disgust, but up to that point I kinda liked the guy!

Wharton’s writing style is lyrical and flows naturally, the plot seeming to meander along as a slow pace, but when you look back, you see that it’s actually been close to breakneck. It’s an interesting feeling, one that I’ve rarely noticed in early 19th century books, but as I read more from this era I feel like it might come to me more. Wharton’s descriptive style is interesting – there’s little description of landscapes, clothes and houses and more description of people’s thoughts, motivations and actions. I find other descriptive authors, like Dickens, to be weary and dull, but I think that is because his style is more about things that to me do not further the plot.

I will be adding the rest of Wharton’s work to my next classics club list – I’m not even half way through this one and I’m already considering what will be on the next one!