Thriller

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: The Innocents by Ace Atkins

the innocents

The Innocents by Ace Atkins, (Quinn Colson, #6), Netgalley copy, 12 July 2016, 384p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I have reviewed previously:
The Ranger, The Lost Ones and The Broken Places (Quinn Colson, #1, #2, & #3)
The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)
The Redeemers (Quinn Colson, #5)

The Innocents is a glorious return to thriller form for Ace Atkins. Quinn Colson and the residents of Tibbehah County are fantastically interesting characters who live in a world believable but disjointed from my own reality. The world building that Atkins has put into this series is unrivaled (I actually googled a year ago to see if Tibbehah County was a real place. It’s not.) and when I step back into a Colson novel it is like visiting best friends who have been away on holiday.

When a woman is found walking down the highway, on fire, the community demands a quick result from the Sheriff, Lillie Virgil. She and Quinn Colson, recently back from training the police force in Afghanistan, have to investigate the crime and discover an insidious conspiracy of silence. As always, the focus of the investigation soon falls on the local titty bar, although it is no longer owned by Stagg. The new owner, Fannie Hathcock, is delightfully dark and a force to be reckoned with. While we are talking about Fannie Hathcock, let me just say that her name is even better in Australia – where a woman’s vagina is called a fanny. I assume in America it’s something similar, but we don’t say ‘fanny-pack’ here because that’s just too dirty. Anyway, I think that is the first time I’ve ever talked about genitals in a book review. ONWARDS!

The last two Colson novels were somewhat lackluster compared with the first three, and The Innocents certainly takes back the trophy and holds it high. The characters, setting and plot all combine to create an atmospheric thriller that took hold of my interest and didn’t let go. The atmosphere that Atkins creates in these novels is surreal, and his ability to get across a mood took me by surprise. My one pet peeve with the writing style of The Innocents is that the description of the people seemed over-done and unnecessary. We get hardly any description (which is what I prefer) of the main characters in this book, but know everything background characters are wearing (including brand names) and what they look like. It did lead to a fun game in which I tried to use Ace Atkin’s style to describe random people on the street to my boyfriend. This is such a minor issue that it feels silly to mention it, but it did stand out to me. I find this is the accepted style as opposed to what I actually prefer.

Now I have to wait for a year for the next book to be released. I really want to see what happens in Quinn’s personal life now that my shipping dreams have come true. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but oh, my god. Just grab yourself a copy of this book and be blown away!

 

Review: First Response by Stephen Leather

51zj2wRqm0L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

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.

Review: The Sandpit by Stephen Leather

the sandpit

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.

Review: Off the Grid by C.J. Box

28276968

Off the Grid by C.J. Box, (Joe Pickett, #16), Kindle edition, Head of Zeus, March 2016, 500p.

3 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Endangered (Pickett, #15) 4 stars
Stone Cold (Pickett, #14) 5 stars

I am a huge Joe Pickett fan – I binge read the series over the last couple of years, and most of the books are excellent, fun filled romps through Wyoming. I now pre-order the books on kindle and usually read them in a single sitting or two the week they are released. As this is book 16 in a very long series, I know a lot of people new to this universe pick up a later book to read as a standalone, but I really recommend if you like the idea of this series (and it is amazing) to give it the time it deserves and read from book 1, Open Season.

This felt like the weakest offering in this series in awhile. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and the characters are still entertaining and the settings are wonderful, but there’s a few things that doesn’t sit well with me. First off, this plot, while enjoyable and action packed, doesn’t really fit in with Joe Pickett being a game warden. I understand that he’s now the governor’s attack dog, but it just feels wrong. I want to read about Joe being a game warden and the weird and wonderful people that he comes across and the landscape. This plot would have been better if it was in a standalone – or even if it was predominantly a Nate spin-off. My preference would have been a standalone with a sheriff, police officer or local vet taking on these issues.

This book also felt like a Nate Romanowski book that had cameos from Joe Pickett and his family. Sure, more words were given to Joe, but most of the character development came from Nate. I’m a fan of the battle hardened Nate, but I admit that I prefer the stories in which the focus is on the Pickett family and Saddlestring.

The setting itself needs mention, because it made me feel at home. It was set in a desert area, and the description of red dirt and no features for as far as the eye can see made me think of Australia and what the outback is like, and although that’s familiar, I love the Joe Pickett novels for their description of a landscape that is utterly alien to me.

I am really interested to see where the next book goes because the last page of Off the Grid had a teaser that really made me start salivating for the next book. Despite everything I wrote about some of the flaws in Off the Grid, I am still enjoying this series and will certainly still be pre-ordering the next one.

If you are a Pickett fan, I’d advise still reading Off the Grid, because it does further the lives of the characters in this universe. If you’re new to Saddlestring, Wyoming – I’d start at the beginning of the series with Open Season or one of the best books (at least, according to me) with Below Zero, Cold Wind, Breaking Point or Stone Cold.

 

 

Review: Promise by Tony Cavanaugh

promise

Promise by Tony Cavanaugh (Darian Richards, #1), Trade paperback from library, March 2012, 327p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Kingdom of the Strong (Darian Richards, #4)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, and even the latest book from a favourite author couldn’t drag me from my hole. The slump wasn’t all bad, as I wrote lots (just for a friend, nothing serious), caught up on some TV shows and helped a family member through a small crisis. Eventually I decided it was time to pick up a book again, and I decided to read Promise by Tony Cavanaugh. I’m glad I did – it dragged me from my slump kicking and screaming.

The fifth book in this series, Kingdom of the Strong, was published last year and made it into my Top 15 of 2015. I decided to go back and start this series from the start, in the hopes of a new release this year. One of the things that sets the Darian Richards series apart is the setting – the Sunshine Coast in Australia. As an Australian, my family holidayed in Queensland, and often on the Sunshine Coast so the descriptions of the setting are particularly vibrant to me.

Promise is a tightly written, plot driven serial killer thriller with one of the creepiest killers creating chilling havoc on every page. The baddie is hilarious and strange (letting me know he got his duct tape on special at Bunnings for 3.99) with a ritual and system to killing that made me feel quite ill. The killer reminded me of the serial killers that used to feature in Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter novels, and there are some other similarities between these two authors. However, Cavanaugh goes more the police investigation route as opposed to the vigilante.

It would be remiss of me to review this book, or any book in this series without talking about Darian Richards – Promise sets him up as such an interesting and complex character. He’s a hard-bitten ex-cop who just wants to be left alone, but can’t really leave the cop’s investigation alone either. He’s conflicted, and has a strange relationship with 92 Berettas and the women in his life. Cavanaugh has done a wonderful job building a fabulous lead character, that I want to follow over multiple books.

This leads me to one of my few complaints about this book – the background characters are weak. Casey, Maria, the police officers and Detectives all seem like caricatures of actual people. I wanted to scream at how many times Darian thought something along the lines of ‘female cops are smarter than male ones,’ I get it, you want me to think of Maria as being intelligent – and I can’t because what you make her do is stupid half the time. It’s this kind of ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’, especially when they are at odds with one another that pains me. I don’t even have an opinion on Casey yet, because he just seems wishy-washy. I know that Casey and Maria especially become strong, fleshed out characters by the fourth book, so I’m happy to run with it.

The ending was good, if a little dissatisfying, and certainly left me hankering for the next book in the series. I have book three (The Train Rider) already waiting for me, but need to get my hands on #2 first!