Thriller

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!

Advertisements

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: 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.

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.