stephen leather

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: First Response by Stephen Leather

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First Response by Stephen Leather, Hardcover, Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 2016, 377p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Another cracking thriller from Stephen Leather. If you have ever spoken to me about books, or read any of my previous reviews of Leather’s work, you will know that I am a pretty major fan of the Spider Shepherd series. I loan out copies of the books often because I want to convert others to the series – and most often I’m successful. Before the Spider Shepherd series began, Leather wrote a string of standalones, most of them excellent. On my bookshelves, the oldest saddest looking books are these standalone novels. Whenever I’m a little stuck for inspiration I pick up one of those older books and read. First Response is the first standalone that Leather has had traditionally published in a long time and it certainly deserves all the accolades and gushing that is now to follow in this review.

Let me start by discussing the protagonist of this wonderful story, Superintendent Mo Kamran. I loved reading about a Muslim in a position of authority in the police force. So many thrillers that the bigger authors write have a white hero defeating the great unwashed, brown enemy. Although Kamran is a Muslim, he is much more than that – he’s not perfect (which is sometimes the temptation when writing a subversive character, I’ve noticed) nor is his religion actually that important when he is doing his job. To me, this feels closer to real life.

I’d be remiss to leave out that he is dealing with a Islamic terrorist attack, but the way that is handled is amazing. The twist at the end – I didn’t see it coming. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t actually guess the whole story. It had the feeling of a murder mystery but it is firmly a thriller book, with a tense race towards a deadline. Leather has a knack in writing books that seem to straddle the action, mystery and thriller genres, and in First Response, he’s kicked that into high gear.

Due to the type of incident that Kamran is dealing with, there were lots of moving parts – and instead of having a hero cop or SAS trooper or something of the type, Kamran has an overarching view of events in the book, and interacts with politicians, police, intelligence agencies and the SAS. It felt more believable because Kamran was juggling all these different pressures and priorities and there was no single ‘hero’ who went in, all guns blazing, to save the day.

I’d love to see more of Mo Kamran, but I have this feeling that this book was a standalone and the universe won’t be expanding. First Response would make an excellent movie, with so many different incident points and a grand scale, it would certainly be something I’d go to a cinema to see on the big screen.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 2016 Releases so far

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday’s topic (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is best 2016 releases so far in 2016. As I’ve been focusing on reading classics and catching up on some backlist series, I haven’t been as focused on reading new releases in the first half of this glorious year. As a result, I’ve only read 5 – and so I’ve selected my favourite 3 to share with you all in this Top Three Tuesday. It’s still a TTT, so chill.

  1. Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

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Have I raved about this book enough in the past month? Trust me, the answer is NO. This book deserves all the accolades and applause (and even then deserves more). I’m really looking forward to Storey’s next work. For a debut, this sure felt like it came from the pen of a seasoned thriller writer. Sharp, vivid and thrilling, it has all the stuff I love – great characters, excellent setting and non-stop action. It’s not even published yet… and I’m SO excited. I feel like I should hold a baby shower for this damn thing – it’s become such a part of the family.

2. The Sandpit by Stephen Leather

the sandpit Oh Spider Shepherd, how I love thee. Of course the latest release in the Spider Shepherd series made this list. It’s only a novella, but if you read it twice that’s novel length, right? It’s a prequel to Hard Landing that I never realised I needed so bad. Life is beautiful now I have my own copy. You know you love a book when you get a netgalley copy but still buy a copy just so you can own it. Also, I don’t want Stephen Leather to starve to death (not that I think we’re in danger of that) so I need to keep supporting him. It’s important to feed and water your favourite author.

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3. In The Cold Dark Ground by Stuart MacBride

In The Cold Dark Ground is a favourite from early (like the first days of January) 2016. Logan McRae’s latest outing is such a great novel – it draws so much of the drama from the last arc to a close and opens new doors for McRae to walk through. Not that I’m saying he’ll manage, most likely he will find himself locked in a cargo container being shipped to the other side of the world, while trying to keep a beautiful woman from bleeding to death and realising that all the crates are filled with venemous snakes that just want to be close to him. Or he’ll eat one of his victims. You never know with Stuart MacBride. This is why I don’t write books. My ideas are shite, but I’m content with that because I let the experts, like MacBride, do the heavy lifting for me. Pick up this book. It is worth your time. I purchased it in hardcover and had to have lentil soup for the next two weeks to afford it.

 

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: The Sandpit by Stephen Leather

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The Sandpit by Stephen Leather, (Spider Shepherd, #0.5), eARC from Netgalley, May 2016, 160p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

Black Ops (Spider Shepherd, #12) 4 stars.

The Sandpit is a prequel to the Spider Shepherd series. Just a heads up, I’m not an impartial reviewer of any of Leather’s Spider Shepherd books – it’s my favourite series. Over the past couple of years, Leather has been releasing short stories of Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd’s time in the SAS before he stumbled into his life undercover. The novels follow Dan as he goes undercover and brings down a criminal or terrorist organisation using the skills taught to him by the SAS, and to a lesser extent, the police.

The Sandpit is similar to those short stories, as opposed to the traditionally published series. That’s not to say The Sandpit is a short story – it has body and is longer than some thriller books out there. It’s just not a 500page heavyweight that the Spider Shepherd books usually are. There is more plot and intrigue in The Sandpit than any of the short stories written so far in this series.

The plot was interesting, if far fetched – it took us back in time to Afghanistan, and followed an interesting plot that although simple, drove the story forward. The best part of The Sandpit had to be returning to some of my favourite characters from previous Spider Shepherd novels, like Jimbo, Geordie and Jock. There were also the right amount of Andy McNab jokes for a book about the SAS.

The Sandpit excited me for the next Spider Shepherd novel, to the point I pre-ordered it. I also think it could be a good introduction to the series to people who usually read Andy McNab or Chris Ryan style books – the character of Dan Shepherd is similar to the protagonists from military thrillers, but he’d been dropped into the police force and assorted intelligence agencies. In The Sandpit we get Shepherd being a soldier, but still with his unique personality.

The book seemed longer than the stated 160p, it felt more like a 250p novel, but I’m not sure if that is because it was marked wrong on Amazon or that it wasn’t as easy to read as Stephen Leather’s previous books. I will happily buy any more books that Leather writes in this universe, including ones set before the ‘main’ series of books.

Ranty Roundup – May

I took a bit of a reading and blogging break in March and April – a delicious combination of school, work, family commitments and my body falling apart meant reading took a backseat. However, May provided me with the opportunity to crack some spines (my own and some books) and get some reading in.

I participated – albeit on twitter – in Bout of Books 16, and that worked out well with the amount of commitments I have right now. I much prefer participating on my blog, so I hope next Bout of Books I will have the opportunity to actually fit in some blogging and challenges too.

51zj2wRqm0L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_My favourite book I read this month was First Response by Stephen Leather. It was fresh, different and had an excellent main character. I will be posting a full review on Thursday, and will go into some of the things that I loved about this book. It’s a bit different for Stephen Leather, but it works well.

Plans for June include trying to get some review and recently published novels read and reviewed – there’s at least four novels published in the past few months that I’ve procrastinated on. I am going to attempt to be more consistent with blogging – aim for a post a week, minimum.

My other goal for June is to read at least one classic. I’ve been neglecting my Classics Club list, and I really need to get back to it and put some effort in. I’ve been sitting on a copy of Dracula for the last three months and I haven’t even opened it yet.


Books read in May – 5
Promise – Tony Cavanaugh
Some Unholy War – Terrence Strong
First Response – Stephen Leather
Off the Grid – C.J. Box
The Sandpit – Stephen Leather


Book Reviews in May – 1

Promise by Tony Cavanaugh 


Challenge Progress

Read My Books Challenge
First Response by Stephen Leather
3 in 2016

Classic a Month/Classics Club Challenge
Did not read a classic in May.

Series a Month
Did not participate in the Series a Month Challenge in May.


June TBR

I’m going to aim to read 6-8 books in June. I also have the second half of Chris Ryan’s Deathlist waiting for me.

Dracula – Bram Stoker
No Safe Place – Matt Hilton
State of Emergency – Andy McNab
Fire Point – Sean Black
Nothing Short of Dying – Erik Storey
The Wrecking Crew – Taylor Zajonc
The Twisted Knot – JM Peace

Upcoming Releases: February

There are so many exciting books being released in February… I’m already feeling like 2016 will deliver some lifetime favourites.

Here is a short selection of the books I am excited for, and a blurb shamelessly stolen from Amazon.com.

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Rough Justice by Brad Smith 

Series: Carl Burns #1

Publication Date: February 1, 2016

Carl Burns returns to his hometown to uncover a viper’s nest of corruption and dark secrets in this tense and twisting novel of suspense: first in a brand-new series.

After ten years’ absence and a spell in prison, Carl Burns has returned to his hometown of Rose City to offer support to his estranged daughter Kate, currently one of four witnesses testifying against former Mayor Joseph Sanderson III, who stands accused of multiple counts of underage rape.

Carl is determined to get justice for Kate, whatever it takes. But with his former sister-in-law Frances his only ally, he finds himself incurring the wrath of powerful enemies as he attempts to uncover the shocking truth beneath the layers of corruption and lies which engulf the town.

Rough Justice seems to be in the genre that I love – I seem to read and love lots of books in which the protagonist returns to their hometown and finds everything in crisis. The big difference about Brad Smith’s new series is that it is set in Canada. I read NOTHING Canadian, which should change.

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First Response by Stephen Leather

Publication Date: February 25, 2016

London is under siege.

Nine men in suicide vests primed to explode hold hostages in nine different locations around the city, and are ready to die for their cause.

Their mission: to force the government to release jihadist prisoners from Belmarsh Prison.
Their deadline: 6 p.m. Today.

But the bombers are cleanskins, terrorists with no obvious link to any group, and who do not appear on any anti-terror watch list. What has brought them together on this one day to act in this way?

Mo Kamran is the Superintendent in charge of the Special Crime and Operations branch of the Met. As the disaster unfolds and the SAS, armed police, and other emergency services rush to the scenes, he is tasked with preventing the biggest terrorist outrage the capital has ever known.

But nothing is what it seems. And only Kamran has the big picture. Will anyone believe him?

Um… It’s Stephen Leather, so chances are, I will enjoy this one! I’m excited to read his latest protagonist, Mo Kamran. It’s been a long time since a standalone of his has been traditionally published, so I’m wondering if this is going to remain a standalone or be spun out into a series. I’ll find out more in late February, I suppose.

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The Wrecking Crew by Taylor Zajonc

Publication Date: February 23, 2016

In exchange for his freedom from a secret Moroccan prison, deep-water salvage diver Jonah Blackwell agrees to lead a covert search for a missing research team in the dangerous coastal waters of Somalia, an area plagued by pirates and a deadly red tide killing all marine life within its reach. But when his expedition threatens the ambitions of billionaire industrialist Charles Bettencourt, Jonah’s survival depends on hijacking a hostile submarine and assembling an unproven crew who must simultaneously investigate the source of a mysterious oceanic plague and face down Bettencourt’s commandos.

A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in the world’s last frontier, THE WRECKING CREW will resonate with James Rollins and Clive Cussler fans alike.

So, I’m pretty much trash for any type of naval thriller. This one has Somalia (PIRATES), a submarine (IT GOES UNDERWATER!) and a mysterious oceanic plague (Oh, MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!) I have this sneaking suspicion that this book could beat my naval love evidenced by the hashtag #iloveoilrigs. I might tweet this book with #ilovesubmarinesandoceanicplagues it’s a bit long, I’ll have to come up with something a little more catchy.

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Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

Publication Date: February 2, 2016

So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.

When Leah Doyle and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Jennifer Doyle, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Jennifer find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?

This book seems to be genuinely scary. Also, very recently my sister was a victim of a vicious facebook hack in which very private photos of her were shared on the social media site, using her account. Family members, friends and colleagues all saw these X rated photos, and she is now dealing with the mental fallout. They were only online for two hours, and they certainly didn’t go viral. It can happen, it does happen, and I think Fitzgerald’s exploration of these themes is timely and topical.