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Archive for the ‘Thrillers’ Category

Not long after Dan Brown skyrocketed to success with The Da Vinci Code, there arose a plethora of “Da Vinci Code clones”. You can always tell them because the reviewers comments on the front or back cover usually say something like “a rival to Dan Brown” which suggests that the book is going to involved some kind of ancient religious tradition and a page turning thriller. The Righteous Men was one of these. I am not dismissing it outright, because it wasn’t that bad, but the thriller aspect didn’t quite take my breath away, and the end of the world cataclysm didn’t have me wondering whether it could really be true. It was more a pleasant romp than a breathless race.

The main character is Will, a Brit and a journalist for the New York Times who stumbles on to a series of murders which seem at first to be completely unrelated. When his wife is kidnapped, he finds himself on a two day roller coaster ride through the depths of orthodox Judaism and Christian cults, accompanied by his trusty ex-girlfriend, TC, and a penchant for ignoring advice and getting into trouble. You can start to see the formula already. Of course, the thrilling climax supposedly surprises everyone (I unfortunately had figured it out quite a while before then) and, in true Dan Brown fashion they all live happily ever after.

Yes, it was interesting to find out some of the ancient Jewish traditions around which the whole story is based, but I still wasn’t that excited by it. Oh, how spoilt I have all become! Although I understand why publishers like formulas, and I do love my crime fiction (which is about as formulaic as they come), I do think this theme has run its course. Brown was a phenomenon. Most of those books coming after his feel like they have just jumped on his bandwagon – which sadly has already left.

Rating: 5/10
ISBN: 0007203306
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 2006
Date finished: 18 June 2008
Pages: 576
Challenges: B in the A-Z Challenge

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Child 44 is Tom Rob Smith’s first novel, and it is an incredible way to launch one’s career as a suspense writer. Set in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and connected with real events, the book is intensely disturbing and totally gripping at the same time. What struck me most was how terrible the life was for every citizen of the Soviet Union under Stalin. It was like a different world and it was a wonder that people survived through it.

The story follows the fall of Leo Demidov, who holds a high ranking position in the MGB but becomes the object of hatred of one of his subordinates. His fall from grace finds him investigating a murder in a country where officially murder did not exist. Crime was an aberration which was generally ignored or brushed aside without even the semblance of justice, for fear that its presence would question the perfection of the Communist ideal, where because everyone was equal, crime was unnecessary and therefore was naturally eliminated. But idealistic Communism is an impossible proposition when faced with the worst aspects of human nature, and the crimes Leo finds himself faced with are callous, horrific and terrifyingly regular.

This book oozes paranoia and suspicion, which is why it is so disturbing. It seems that within Soviet Russia, there was no such thing as trust, friendship or love because a simple word to the authorities spelt doom for anyone, irrespective of innocence or guilt. The state apparatus apportioned guilt to anyone who did anything even slightly suspicious. If you looked the wrong way at the wrong person, it could mean death. If you treated a pet belonging to a foreigner, you were a spy. If you even thought negative thoughts about the regime, or were indiscreet enough to mutter them, your future generally comprised of hard labour in a gulag, or execution.

Irrespective of the bravery of Leo and his wife beneath such a hostile regime, the message that stood out so strongly for me in this book is that without trust, without care of another and for another, without confidence, then human life is simply a shadow. It is almost not worth existing, when your entire life is spent wondering whether a misplaced word would result in your arrest. This story is the tale of the absolute worst of human nature. It is brutishness, selfishness, paranoia, hatred, fear and vindictiveness laid bare. I am only pleased that as the story progressed, some of the better sides of human nature began to show out otherwise it would have made for grim reading indeed.

I had to suspend my disbelief a little for the ending. After the man hunt mounted to catch Leo and Raisa, I felt it ended a little suddenly and a little more tamely than I would have thought. I can see that the author has left a couple of hanging threads for the next novel in the series which is fine, but after the pace and excitement of the whole novel, without giving a spoiler, the final pages fell a little bit flat for me. Also, I found myself a little irritated by the style of the dialogue. Rather than

“putting conversation in inverted commas, as is normal”

the conversation was written

– In italics and not marked in inverted commas

Just like uppercase letters are generally read as shouting, in my mind the dialogue throughout felt like it was being whispered or spoken a long distance away. Although perhaps that was the intention.

This is not to detract from an incredibly exciting book and a fantastic first novel. I’ll be on the lookout for this author in the future.

Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 978-1-84737-127-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Year: 2008
Date Finished: 23 April 2008 (at 3.00am!)
Pages: 469
Challenges: 4/8 Category 1 of the 888 Challenge: Crime Fiction; S from the A-Z Challenge; 2/8 from The Pub Challenge

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The Woman in the Fifth

If you’ve ever seen From Dusk Till Dawn and loved it, then you are going to love this book. Of course, it will probably only have that fantastic effect of complete surprise the first time you read it, but once you have finished you will keep thinking back and smiling. And no, before you ask, it has nothing to do with vampires…

Harry Ricks has fallen on some difficult times. Actually, difficult is probably an understatement – he has experiencd so much bad luck and been the victim of some seriously conniving and narrow-minded people that it is little wonder he runs away to Paris to try and escape from the misery of a life back in the US. Unfortunately for the story, Harry was a bit ‘wet’ for my liking. Perhaps it is more an indication of my own personality, but if he had been treated so unspeakably badly by his wife and her clandestine boyfriend, why on earth would he still try to be nice to her?! Paris, however, introduces a new life – with a job as night watchman for a mysterious business, a life in a less than salubrious part of the city, and a strange Hungarian beauty who comes into his life but keeps him at rigid arms length.

However, soon, Harry discovers that bad things start to happen to the people who have wronged him. And as the pace of the story picks up, it starts to become evident as to where that bad is emanating from. But the perpetrator is not all that they seem and Harry is finally caught in a situation which solves all of his subconscious desires but finds him more trapped than ever.

I really enjoyed the twist to this story. It is the first Douglas Kennedy book I have read and I thought his storyline was great. I have read a lot of pretty negative reviews about this book, but it appears that that is because it is a departure from Kennedy’s normal style. Being my first, I had nothing to compare it to and no preconceptions or expectations. Of that I am glad, because I really gained a lot out of this book. I would have been sad to have missed that pleasure because I had expected it to be like something else.

Rating: 7/10
ISBN: 978-0-09-179959-5
Publisher: Hutchinson
Year: 2007
Date Finished: 24 December 2007

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