Category Archives: Thrillers
Stephen King started writing Rage when he was only nineteen years old, long before he wrote his first published novel Carrie. It was originally titled Getting It On. In fact, King attempted to get this novel published prior to Carrie, but it was rejected. It would later see the light in 1977 under the pen-name Richard Bachman. King would later release several more novels under this pseudonym. When the secret finally got out, interest in these books skyrocketed, and the publishers decided to release an omnibus edition of four of them, entitled The Bachman Books, under King’s own name.
I used to be an avid fan of Stephen King in my teens and twenties, but somewhere along the line I got tired of all the huge tomes of 700 plus pages. There’s nothing worse than plodding through a massive book only to discover that it ends up as nothing more than an average story, as is often the case. But Rage is of special interest to me, because it’s the one book that Stephen King ended up withdrawing from publication. Notoriety like that inststantly piques my curiosity.
The subject matter of this 150-page novella concerns a high school boy, Charles Decker, who shoots two teachers in his school then holds his classmates hostage. School shootings, as we know, occasionally happen in real life, Columbine being the most famous example. Unfortunately, after one such real-life incident, the perpetrator was found to have a copy of Rage in his locker. King, and his publishers, agreed that it was best to remove the book from sale indefinitely.
The novel is written in the first person and Decker is the protagonist. At no point is the reader asked to rationalise Decker’s actions, only to take a peek inside his head at the mitigating circumstances that might lead a person to do what Decker did. One prominent theme of the novel is the abuse that adults to do children – specifically parents and teachers. This abuse is sometimes unconscious and even well-intentioned in a warped sort of way. Decker tells of an occasion when he was younger and his mother forced him to attend a birthday party dressed up in his Sunday best, when he knew that all the other kids would be in casual clothes and he would look foolish. But no amount of protesting would change her mind. He also recounts the story of going camping with his dad and his dad’s drinking buddies, where he overheard his father talking about how he would slit his mother’s nose open if he ever caught her in adultery.
The story is set in a time period when the education system allowed teachers to get away with way too much. I went to school at a time when the system was starting to emerge out of this, to put teachers on a shorter leash. I could tell you some stories. I recall my junior high mathematics teacher walking up behind me and whacking me across the back of the head hard. I was stunned; didn’t see it coming. All I had done to deserve this was skip a line of my sums because I had been smart enough to work it out in my head. I recall botching a question on my biology examination. Afterwards, in class, the teacher was going over the paper, and he decided to bring the whole class to fits of laughter as he described how “some moron” had answered question 5. Then there was my high school PE teacher, the man who made me hate PE. Do the slightest thing wrong and you were ordered to do ten push-ups in front of everyone. He took perverse pleasure if you were overweight like me and couldn’t do the exercise properly. I get a little angry even now, thinking back. I didn’t know it then, but these were adults who brought their anger issues and perverse character traits into work with them and took them out on the children in their care.
So I instantly empathised with Charlie Decker’s stories. Rage is about what happens when the abuse gets to the point where the abused person says, “Enough.” But this is not a tale about a boy losing himself in violence; it’s a strangely controlled explosion. Once Decker has his classmates in isolation, he begins something that he calls “getting it on” – a thing that appears to mean getting to the heart of the matter, stripping away the bullshit and being properly honest with each other.
He begins by recounting tales from his childhood, and soon his classmates are joining in, supplying stories of their own. A strange rapport ensues between captor and captives. Meanwhile the police are gathering outside, wondering about what Decker’s demands will be. But the class have come to realise that Decker has no intention of harming them. Most of them sense that something important is happening; they are all undergoing a transition, where pent up emotions can finally be released and healed.
This was not an easy book to read, because it was filled with so much pain. But identification with that pain made it impossible to leave the story unfinished. The plot suffers a little bit from melodrama in a couple of places, but for something written by one so young, it is surprisingly honest about life. The danger, I suppose, is in identifying so much with Charlie Decker that the reader justifies his actions and turns them into something heroic. But in the story, even Charlie admits that he’s losing his mind.
A sober and insightful story about human nature. There is more worth in these 150 pages than in many a novel four times the size. Well worth hunting for a second-hand copy.
I started tuning into the TV series Dexter when it was partway through the first season, and I immediately liked it – so much so that I sought out the novel on which it is based. The premise is this: Dexter Morgan works for the police as a blood-spatter analyst. Under the surface, he is a sociopath, who has learned to hide it well. In fact, he has killed many times, but only according to a strict code handed down to him by his now-dead stepfather Harry. Harry, being an experienced cop, knew what Dexter was from a very early age. And so he did everything in his power to keep his step-son from ending up in the electric chair one day. He taught him to control his murderous urges, to kill only under strict circumstances, and only those who deserved to die. And so, adult Dexter works for the police, covertly solving unsolved crimes in his own special way. And the body count rises.
It’s bizarre, right? And that’s part of the attraction. No one’s written a book quite like this. It’s a similar attraction with the likes of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, which puts an even worse bad guy in the driving seat of the story. But is Dexter a bad guy? Sort of. In one sense he’s a vigilante hero, but he’s still a guy with a serious dark side who comes way too close to murdering the innocent for comfort. He also treats people close to him badly, seeing his girlfriend as a wardrobe accessory that helps him blend into the human race. For me, the attraction of the novel is in how Dexter deals with being an outsider. It’s something every geek can relate to. He’s different – unnacceptable. He must do a degree of acting to live, and he hates having to do it. Inside he has a longing to be like others, but senses that he never will be. On some level it’s possible to push aside the fact that he’s a murderer and simply relate to his experience. Dexter is also a story about the consequences of shame and guilt. Even though he feels neither, he is still burdened with the need to keep secrets from the world. Anyone can relate to this. I mean, we all have things we don’t want others to know, right?
Dexter is, however, a bit of a walking contradiction. He insists that he is incapable of feeling anything, and yet over the course of the story we see him going through all sorts of emotions – just not in a typically well-adjusted human fashion. The overall story concerns another serial killer on the rampage, one who has eluded the police – and one who leaves special secret messages that are just for Dexter. Somehow the mysterious killer knows more than anyone should about Dexter’s true nature. It’s worth noting that while the book and season 1 of the series tell the same story, the series expands on it a great deal and packs some surprises into the final episodes that those who have read the book will enjoy. The two do not end the same way.
Ultimately, the explanation for why Dexter is the way he is turns out to be farcical: a single traumatic event in his life made him a psychopath. I don’t buy it. In fact, the whole idea of romanticising a sociopath can ultimately be no more than a fascinating fairytale – and possibly a dangerous one. Hey, I can kill people and still be cool!
In the epilogue, the story seems to lose direction entirely, with Dexter promising to kill someone on far shakier grounds than the Code of Harry would allow. It’s rare that I prefer an adaptation to an original, but this time the TV series gets my vote. The TV Dexter character wasn’t as dislikable, or contradictory, as the Dexter in the book. I doubt I’ll be back for the written sequel, Dearly Devoted Dexter, but I’m eager to watch season 2 (which is not an adaptation of the second novel). My continuing interest might sound hypocritical, but I’m too fascinated by the character to write him off just yet.
This was an enjoyable, original page-turner for most of its length, losing its way towards the end. There are currently four Dexter books in print.
I’ve read several young adult novels by Robert Swindells and have never been disappointed, for one reason: he is uncompromising. The trials and tribulations of reality are never sugar-coated and no subject is taboo. This is never more true than in Dosh, where the topic of child pornography is under the spotlight.
The book introduces an ensemble cast of characters from the neighbourhood of Cottoncroft, many of whom are working kids – those with paper-rounds and such. It’s standard procedure in the neighbourhood that working kids pay a portion of their salaries to a local gang of older teens called “The Push.” The Push in turn pays Charles “Froggy” Flitcroft, the local Al Capone wannabe, from whom they receive a wage. The police have been after this guy for a long time, but evidence has always been hard to come by. And so, the unjust arrangement in Cottoncroft goes on – until the working kids decide to make a stand. They form a counter-gang called “The Pull” and they refuse to pay. Violence ensues, but the kids remain determined. Meanwhile, Charles Flitcroft comes across a new opportunity to make a tidy sum – recruiting local kids to attend “parties” and be paid £50 to be nice to the clientele. Little do the kids know that these parties have a sinister side to them.
Great novel. Reminded me of watching Grange Hill when I was in my teens, a series that occasionally tackled hard teenage issues. The story moves along at a cracking pace – almost too fast. Swindells doesn’t write in this “flash fiction” style in other novels of his that I’ve read. It works fine for the most part. My only criticism is that so many characters were being thrown at me in such a short space that I initially lost track of who was who until I got further into the book. The last quarter of the novel is a real page-turner.
Ultimately it’s too much of a thriller to be a novel that’s tackling any real issues with any hard advice. I was slightly apprehensive that the story would end up as some farcical kids-versus-adults tale that unconsciously encourages children to bite off more than they can chew in the real world, but to its credit the story shows all sides. Kids get hurt in Dosh, and badly – realistically.
Another top-notch teen thriller from Swindells.
There’s a new serial killer with an unusual MO stalking Hollywood: no one with a personalised number plate on his car is safe. The psychopath’s name is Curt Knudsen and he’s known to the public as the Vanity Plate Killer. His name is no secret to the reader, because this is no mystery story. Author Henry Baum likes to take you right inside the head of your killer, putting his life and his motivations in full view. But this is not only the tale of a serial killer. It’s a shifting-perspective novel that lets you see the thoughts and feelings of several very different and flawed individuals: a detective, a paparazzi photographer, a producer, and principally, top Hollywood actor Michael Sennet. Michael and the killer become inextricably linked, due to an unfortunate incident. A paparazzi photographer captures Michael’s infidelity on camera and tries to bribe the actor. Michael, in a fit of rage, clobbers the photographer to death. To cover his tracks, he dresses the scene to make it look as if the Vanity Plate Killer commited the crime. But Curt Knudsen isn’t too happy about having his image tarnished by a copycat. However, if you think the rest of the novel is about Curt out for Michael’s blood, think again. There are far more complex issues going on in the killer’s head. The story also has an amusing and insightful satirical side, poking fun at our tendency to become starstruck when encountering celebrities – celebrities who may well be immoral behind all the glitz and glam.
North of Sunset is very well written. The style is snappy and polished, a rare find in a self-published novel. The author also pulls off two very tricky things of note. The first is his decision to write a story about bad people. When you learn about how to tell a story effectively, they tell you to make the reader sympathise with the protagonist(s). Well, there’s not much to sympathise with here. Even the characters who aren’t killers are still wrapped up in their materialism, greed and adultery. And yet the novel remains a page-turner. Secondly, the author indulges in talking us through a lot of each character’s backstory. It’s usually better to reveal a character’s nature through his present actions in the story rather than communicating it through lengthy passages of exposition about the character’s past. And yet there’s no denying that Henry Baum is able to do just that and make it all very interesting. The author is involved in the Hollywood movie industry and rubs shoulders with the sort of people he’s writing about. The writing definitely carries an air of realism. As an author myself, but with a different background, I know I couldn’t handle the same material as Baum.
The only disappointment I found in the novel (and this is purely personal) is that I rather liked old Detective Harry Stein. He was the one character with a bit of moral backbone, and he seemed a little underused in the story. I would have liked to have seen him get a bigger slice of the action.
Nevertheless, North of Sunset is a very good thiller, both insightful and inventive. A worthy read for those who like crime fiction.
A man called Moss is out hunting deer in the outback when, through his binoculars, he spots of two parked SUVs and what looks like several bodies scattered on the ground. Further investigation yields a trunkload of heroin and over two million dollars in cash. With everyone dead, Moss decides to take the money and run. But before he can get away properly, his own truck is spotted by some bad men who have arrived – clearly to see what went wrong with the trade. Moss’s licence plate is now known to them, and he’s smart enough to realise that come Monday morning, when the court house opens, it’ll be a small step for these men to find out all about him. He’s already taken the money, so there’s no going back … and it has cost him his identity. Moss now has to go on the run, with two different sets of bad guys and the police trying to track him town. But the worst threat comes from one other man, Chigurh, a psychopath with an agenda all his own.
No Country for Old Men starts strong and has all the makings of a fantastic thriller. In fact, it is a fantastic thriller, for about two thirds of its length. It’s fast-paced, engaging, and inventive. McCarthy demonstrates a particular skill at dialogue; I was riveted by many of the conversations that took place in the novel. But something goes wrong in the latter part of the novel. It starts when the reader begins a chapter to find that one of the principal characters has been murdered off-stage. The effect is so jarring that I had to flip back to make sure I hadn’t skipped a chapter. Other characters are simply talking about the death, and the reader is left to put two and two together. I understand that a writer is free to pull a stunt like this for “special effect” purposes, but here it simply broke the flow of the story; what had been, up to this point, linear and straightforward, became like a jumping record. Towards the end, the novel is written almost in a flash fiction style. In one paragraph, the sheriff asks the location of someone, and in the next, he’s addressing the person he was looking for, suddenly transported, as if by teleport, without so much as a scene division. In the latter part of the novel, McCarthy seems preoccupied with making a point about American culture and is prepared to put the “thriller” side of the story firmly in second place, to the detriment of the novel as a whole.
The message that McCarthy injects into the novel is that the moral fibre of America has gotten progressively worse and worse and is now beyond the point of recovery. Depressing stuff. I don’t live in the USA, but I have a much more positive outlook on humanity than that. Since I couldn’t appreciate McCarthy’s subtext, there was nothing I could do but judge the novel on its entertainment value. And I just wish McCarthy had plotted the final stretch of the story better, instead of leaving us high and dry, because the novel had so much going for it.
When I read McCarthy’s The Road (one of my favourite reads of 2007), I thought that his oddball punctuation wouldn’t work in a novel that had lots of characters and varied situations. But it turns out that No Country for Old Men is written in just the same style. And it still works, up to a point. The same problems arise that are present in The Road.
To sum up: No Country for Old Men is an excellent read, with some disappointing flaws.
The Road charts the journey of a nameless man and a nameless boy south through a post-apocalyptic America. They have nothing but each other and a cart of supplies. There is little food available. Nothing grows any more. The trees are leafless and ash covers the ground. The story is set years after some devastating event that turned the country into a charred ruin, presumably a nuclear war. The two protagonists are journeying south to escape the cold of the approaching winter, doing their best to avoid encounters with any “bad guys” (as the man calls them when speaking to the boy). In a world with nothing but canned food in ever diminishing supply, it’s not surprising that some might turn to cannibalism. The names of characters are never mentioned, I would guess, because in a world with so few people, names become meaningless. Likewise the names of the roads on which they travel have ceased to have meaning; there is only The Road.
You could be forgiven for skipping this novel on account of the bleak storyline. But nothing could be further from the truth. The novel shows the reader a world where on the surface of things there is nothing to live for – where you would either kill yourself or long for death. But the man’s entire life is transformed by the simple fact that he must take care of the boy. This is a story about where true meaning in life resides, when you strip away all the comforts and distractions of our lives: in the love one person has for another human being. It’s such a simple story: a long journey interspersed with occasional dramatic encounters. But it’s an absolute page-turner, because it’s meaningful, realistic, uncompromising.
The fact that it’s hard to put down may also have something to do with the strange style in which the book is written. There are no chapter divisions at all, but a great many scene divisions throughout the book. Many scenes consists of only two or three paragraphs. Rarely do they exceed two pages. This brevity, oddly enough, works quite well, and has the effect of making the reader think “Just a bit more before a put it down.” Then, before you know it, you’ve read another twenty pages.
The author has decided to rewrite the rules of English grammar and punctuation for himself. If McCarthy were a self-published author, I would be balking at such arrogance. But since he’s an accomplished author, and since I enjoyed the novel so much, I’m forced to pause and examine the matter closely. I always read with a critical eye, so here’s a list of all the things I saw McCarthy doing a little differently:
- There are no quotation marks. Speech is rendered indistinguishable from narration, like this: Let’s go, he said. All things considered, it was fairly easy to distinguish the two.
- Commas are in short supply. This decision did cause me a bit of grief. Occasionally I got mixed up in the meaning of a sentence and had to re-read it.
- Several clauses in a sentence are often joined with multiple “and”s, in a manner that seems quite childlike, which is bizarre because McCarthy demonstrates a rich vocabulary that puts me to shame.
- There are no italics. Fair enough; not exactly a necessity.
- Apostrophes are removed from words like “can’t,” but are retained for words like “he’d.” McCarthy seems to have decided that when two words are joined together (“he had”), you keep the apostrophe, but when one one (“not”) is concatenated (“nt), you remove it. Struck me as an unnecessary amendment to the English language.
- Hyphenated words are usually rendered without the hyphen.
- “He” does not usually refer to the last mentioned subject, but to the man, as opposed to the boy, regardless of whether the boy was last mentioned.
Taking all of the above into consideration, I get the feeling that perhaps the author is attempting to convey a style similar to oral storytelling; you can’t speak a quotation mark, so why write one? The idea has some merit, and I’m actually curious about attempting to write something in a similar style. I appreciated some of McCarthy’s changes, but others irritated me and made the prose awkward to read. There was also a limited degree of sloppy inconsistency going on. More than once, I spotted a sentence like Come on he said, where McCarthy left out a comma in a circumstance where he always used one. Also, about halfway through the story, in a the middle of a paragraph, I encountered a nonsensical sentence that began with a small letter. It was as if someone had accidentally highlighted the first half of a sentence and deleted it by accident. Don’t publishers proof-read their books before publication? Shame on you, Picador.
Enough criticism. I’m overlooking McCarthy’s oddball English, because this is an excellent novel. Thoroughly recommended.
I’ve had my eye on Jeremy Robinson for a while. He’s a self-published author running his own publishing imprint (Breakneck Books), and he’s one who seems to be going places. After spotting a couple of glowing reviews on some blogs, I had to get hold of this.
I love the concept Robinson came up with. America inexplicably freezes, while Russia boils, and Antarctica thaws. The earth’s crust has tilted forty degrees on its axis. All the earth’s nations are now in ruins, with billions dead. As humanity picks itself up from the apocalypse, the remaining governments seek to claim Antarctica (later named Antarktos) as their new home. Rather than descending into war, all the nations agree to a participate in a race. The first three to reach the centre of Antarktos will divide the continent into three equal sections. The losing nations will have to make do with the harsh conditons of their present homeland.
After only two months of mild weather conditions, Antarktos has mysteriously transformed into a lush paradise. Trees and plants have grown at an alarming rate. The thaw also reveals Antarktos to have been inhabited in the distant past, eons ago when it wasn’t covered in ice. Worse still, the thaw has released Antarktos’s wildlife from a state of cryonic suspension. The race teams not only have to outwit and outrun each other (with talented assassins and Arab terrorists in the mix), but they must also face dangerous dinosaurs and do battle with a more intelligent enemy – mentioned briefly in the Bible: giants, known as the Nephilim, recorded in Genesis chapter 6.
From the beginning, the story is divided up into several sub-plots. We follow Dr. Merrill Clark, Antarctic explorer, as he experiences the changes on the continent first-hand. We follow Mira Whitney, in the USA, who must escape an incoming tsunami followed by a rapid freeze. We see right inside the lives of Arab terrorists, intent on sabotaging the American race team. And there are Russians and Chinese sub-plots, too. All the jumping around from place to place does unfortunately have a negative affect on the story’s pacing, but it did help maintain the sense of epic promised in the story’s premise. Occasionally, I got impatent, eager for the race to get moving and the real adventure to start.
The first point where the story faltered a little for me was when Dr. Clark emerged from a naturally dry valley in Antarctica and discovered that all the ice had gone, leaving only soil and rock. The temperature had risen, then the ice had melted and presumably flowed out to sea. But I had to ask myself: why didn’t the water flow into the valley and drown Dr. Clark? A valley, by definition, is lower than the surrounding land. No matter how I tried to think about it, I couldn’t conceive of how one man could survive the “birth pains” of the new continent. I put this plot-hole aside, hoping it would be the only one. Sadly, a little later we see Whitney in the USA hiding from men with guns by pretending to be dead. However, she’s in sub-zero temperatures. The author seemed to forget that the very act of breathing would betray her, as her warm breaths hit the frigid air. Maybe I’m nit-picking, but it bugged me, because I thought it should have been so obvious. To be fair, though, the novel wasn’t littered with these inconsistencies.
The author makes a reasonable attempt to add a more intimate and personal side to the story. The lives of the principle characters are fleshed out. We even see the terrorists’ motives from inside their own heads. But none of it rings true enough for me. The characters were just too straightforward and uncomplicated, their actions occasionally spoiled by melodrama. The novel just lacks a necessary richness in the area of characterisation. And that’s a great pity, because that’s one of the main things I’m after, as a reader. If the characters don’t come alive in my imagination, even the most original and action-packed story will fail for me.
Antarktos Rising is essentially a cross-genre novel. Nothing wrong with that, in principal; genre definitions are merely labels to determine where a book should be placed in a store. Antarktos Rising starts out as a thriller with sci-fi leanings, but by the end it’s in full-fledged fantasy territory. Robinson starts off by appealing to those who like their fiction grounded in something close to reality; he goes to great pains to inject some science into his theory of the earth’s crust shifting. But at the end, we have winged beasts and magical healing powers. Those who where expecting a scientific explanation for the accelerated growth of Antarktos will be disappointed to discover that it boils down to an explanation more at home in a Tolkien-esque fantasy. All I’m saying is, you have to like both genres. You have to be able to handle the massive suspension of disbelief that is part-and-parcel of any fantasy novel right alongside scientific thrillers, which typically thrive on rationality. This strikes me as a hard sell, and it didn’t quite work for me.
It’s more than just thriller plus fantasy. There’s a religious side to the story. I have no problem with that, in principle, and I think it’s good that a writer injects his own beliefs into his fiction. That’s writing from the heart, after all. However, there was something strange about reading two characters debate about the historicity of the Biblical Flood inside a novel that was already steeped in so much fantasy. If you want to convince a reader that the events of the Bible really happened, you’re going to need to place your argument in a more reliable context. As a Christian myself, I felt Robinson went a little too far when he suggested that the Flood was not God punishing mankind for its wickedness (as stated in the Bible), but God wiping out a race of demon-human hybrids that had mixed with man’s bloodline. The Flood, he suggests, was a means of restoring humanity back to a pure bloodline. I’m shocked that a Christian author would dare to mix fantasy with reality and be so bold as to misrepresent the will of God.
I hate having to voice all these criticisms, because I really wanted to love this book. In fairness, there were some really atmospheric scenes. The short chapters, many of which ended in cliff-hangers, kept the pages turning. Robinson, as a self-published author, is one of the minority who are doing self-publishing the right way – taking time to shine their prose up so that it sparkles. Robinsons’s grammar, punctuation and style are almost indistinguishable from a professional novelist’s. I think, however, that the story could have benefitted greatly by being submitted to some hardcore critiques prior to publication. The plot-holes alone make me suspect that Robinson is running a one-man show. Every writer needs his advisers.
Overall, this is a story that attempts to be great and succeeds in being good. It’s clear that the author is working to the best of his ability and aiming for the top, which is something I can respect. And I hope that Jeremy Robinson continues to hone his craft with future novels. It struck me that fans of Jules Verne in particular may appreciate this novel.
Author Scott Allen asked me to review his book and even went to the trouble of mailing it to me from the USA at his own expense. I usually say no to review requests, but the cover art and theme of the story appealed to me. My confidence that I was in for a good read was further bolstered by the many positive reviews of the book I found online and by the fact that Allen is an English teacher. Sadly, the novel didn’t live up to expectations. My problems with it began in the very first sentence:
It was the same type of dark, dreary night as when I was delivered here in this dreadful prison of the wilderness.
For authors, the opening line is your crucial moment to hook a reader’s attention. The last thing you want to do is blow it on a comment about the weather. In fact, starting a book with a line about the weather is generally regarded as a cardinal sin of writing fiction. However, I could forgive it here, if not for the dreadful grammatical error that made me read the sentence several times, to make sure I understood it before I moved on. It should read “I was delivered here to this dreadful prison,” not “in this dreadful prison.” To say that you were delivered in a wilderness really means that someone gave birth to you there!
Unfortunately, this grammatical misstep was not an exception, but the shape of things to come. However, I thought, “Okay, the book is far from polished, but let’s ignore that fact and hope the story is good.”
The protagonist is Marcus, a homeless thirteen-year-old boy who is kidnapped by a criminal organisation called Survival Op. Marcus is part of a scientific experiment to enchance the human body’s survival ability. As part of the research, the organisation implants a microchip in Marcus designed to monitor the chemical changes in the body during stress. Then they release him onto an island wilderness and begin to hunt him. Marcus is soon joined by a girl called Lynn, and together they learn to survive.
That all sounds okay as the basis for a story. But big problems arise in its execution. For instance, Marcus and Lynn start a fire just inside the entrance to a cave in order to burn out all the snakes that live there so that they can make it their home. The plans works. However, a couple of chapters later, the duo enters the cave, only to discover an S-bend leading to an expansive cavern at the back of which are several holes. So why didn’t the snakes simply move further into the cave? Okay, it could be argued they died from oxygen depletion, that is, until our heroes decide to build a fire at the back of the cave, under one of the holes. Lo and behold, the smoke escapes up this convenient air-hole (or should that be plot-hole?).
Marcus and Lynn’s relationship isn’t believable. One minute they’ll be sharing a joke, and the next minute Marcus is inexplicably angry. Furthermore, the dialogue is written as if two robots are communicating:
“I cannot believe they would die to rescue us,” Lynn said as she leaned her head back on the cave wall. “Who would die for someone they do not even know?”
“Ms. Wayne told me that it does not matter how special or awesome something is that a person does, it is the reason why that person does that thing,” I said.
The author sometimes uses inappropriate words. Marcus constantly calls Lynn “punk” (a term I’ve only ever heard referring to males). Fish swimming through the water are referred to as “figures” (a term I’ve only ever heard reffering to humans).
The story meanders through fairly predictable territory. The main surprises were those of incredulity. The reader is literally slapped across the face with Marcus’s instant transformation from ordinary boy into experienced survivalist and killing machine. He does survival tricks that no young teenager would know, instantly knows how to handle captured weapons, kills without mercy or conscience.
On a descriptive level, one of the most disappointing moments was when Marcus finally comes face-to-face with a fearsome beast that has been skulking in the wilderness. It is described as ten-feet-tall, black, with bright yellow eyes. That’s all the reader is given. We never know whether it’s hairy, scaly, whether it moves on two legs or four.
As a result of this review experience, I’ve actually changed my submission guidelines on the blog. I read for pleasure, and I would rather avoid having to read bad books altogether. But right now, my personal commitment to review everything I consume compels me to write this painful one.
Survival Op is just another title in a sea of poorly conceived, sloppily written, non-edited, novels that gives self-publishing a bad name. Sorry, Scott, I wanted it to be different, but I have to tell it like it is.
Forever Odd is the second in a series of novels centred around the character Odd Thomas, a young man with the ability to see what he calls “the lingering dead” – spirits of dead people who, for one reason or another, have unfinished business before moving on. It’s far from an original notion, of course, but that didn’t stop me devouring the first and second novels quickly, and anticipating the third.
I’m probably repeating what I said in my review of the first book, but Forever Odd is a great read because of its titular character, a sensitive, eccentric, deep thinking young man, dealing with a supernatural gift that has the habit of doubling as a curse.
Forever Odd begins several months after the traumatic climax of the first novel. We see Odd voluntarily unemployed, living alone in an apartment, trying to put the pieces of his psyche back together. Suddenly he is visited by a new ghost, the father of one of his friends – a man who should be vey much alive. Odd quickly visits the man’s house, only to discover that his friend has been kidnapped, and his friend’s father murdered. And so, Odd sets off in hot pursuit, his gift giving him an edge over anything the police might do.
In one sense, the novel is typical formulaic Koontz, and just when I’m inclined to view the author as a bit of a hack, he goes and surprises me with a nugget of wisdom among the pages, elevating the book to more than just the literary equivalent of a dumb action movie. Koontz, in his podcast, said the novel is about “the redemptive nature of unearned suffering.” That’s a tad pretentious, but credit where credit’s due: Koontz does inject a few good insights about life into the prose.
All things considered, the Forever Odd makes a pretty good thriller, and it has a tendency to surprise the reader (as did the first novel).
A worthy sequel. Looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into Brother Odd sometime. And I’ve heard Koontz is intending to write yet more Odd Thomas books.
Every once in a while – not very often – you read a book that changes the way you think. And this is one of those.
The tale is told from two distinct first-person perspectives – two diaries read concurrently, the perspective shifting with each chapter division. It works remarkably well, because the characters are far from ordinary people. The first is a homeless teenager, compelled to leave home because of an abusive step-father, now living rough on the streets of London. The second is a serial killer, prowling the streets of London on a mission to rid the city of “dossers,” as he calls them. It’s clear from the outset that the two are destined to cross paths, and the suspense is maintained throughout the novel.
This is no fairy tale. It’s a grim depiction of homelessness, and a sharp criticism of our apathy towards it. Swindells does not gloss over the subject. He makes it clear that everything is not OK with the world, and we need to wake up.
This is a short novel, only a hundred pages. It is marketed as a children’s book, and I admire Swindells for daring to open kids’ eyes like this instead of pulling the wool over them, like so many writers. And if you’re an adult, I can only urge you not to skip this one because of the packaging. This novel won’t make you feel good, but it will change you.
Allan Quatermain, an adventurer of some notoriety, is approached by Sir Henry Curtis, who proposes a mission to rescue the latter’s brother, lost on an expedition to find King Solomon’s diamond mines. Together with a third man, Captain Good, they begin their journey across Africa. Along the way they pick up a brave Zulu called Umbopa, who accompanies them on the final stage of the quest – across a perilous desert from which no one has ever returned. On on the other side they encounter the land of the Kukuanas, led by evil king Twala. The people of this hidden land regard the strange visitors as “white men from the stars.” Twala’s actions soon put the adventurers right in the middle of a bloody war.
I found this novel difficult to read. The content of the adventure wasn’t very exciting by today’s standards, and some of the sections were long and drawn out – in particular the Kukuanaland war and a pointless early chapter about an elephant hunt. (I couldn’t help questioning the morality of the hero of the story, as he gunned down a herd of elephants without conscience, for no other reason than to profit from their ivory tusks. Different times, I guess.) Still, it’s hard to argue with a novel that’s been turned into a couple of films, and which is probably the chief inspiration behind the Indiana Jones films.
There is one brief moment of humour about halfway through the book that made me laugh as hard as I’ve ever laughed at written words (a rare thing!), where Good tries a few tricks to prove that he’s “from the stars”; I won’t spoil them for you. I had hoped that this comical trend would continue for the remainer of the story, but sadly it was the exception rather than the rule.
I always hate to speak ill of a classic, but I can only tell it like I see it. The story was too simple and it failed to hold my attention. Hence, it took me about half a year to read it through. There are better adventures out there to invest time in.
A teenage boy, Liam Shakespeare, is kidnapped by terrorists and held to ransom in his own house in London. Far away in Derbyshire, a girl called Jinny stumbles across strangers (two adults and a boy), arriving at a cottage in the middle of the night. Are they merely tourists, or something more sinister? And is Liam Shakespeare really being held in London, as it says on the news, or is he in fact the boy in the cottage?
This kidnapping story is made particularly interesting by the fact that it’s not merely about a couple of crooks wanting to make money. Gillian Cross invents a terrorist organisation called the Free People, which is intent on the abolishing of the family unit as a way of life. That might seem like laughable goal, but Cross expounds the views of the organisation in detail, and the Free People become all too realistic.
The book is not without its faults. Liam Shakespeare, who is cooped up in a room for much of the story, starts to lose his sense of identity, as he is fed a load of lies by his kidnappers. That’s all well and good, but the fact that it only takes a few days for the boy’s mind to play tricks on him seems a little forced. By the end of the story, the identity crisis is taken to a pretentious extreme; the author gets a little philosophical, but I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say. The words looked good on paper, but felt empty, and made for an unsatisfying ending.
On a brghter note, the characters are great – especially the bad guys, who are by no means stereotypical villians, but damaged people with real problems and believable motives.
Overall, quite enjoyable – an average thriller.
Cassy is a young girl, not quite in her teens, who lives with her grandmother, whom she calls Nan. Of her father, she knows nothing, and Nan is determined to keep it that way. Cassy’s mother is less shrouded in mystery; she’s an odd woman, who behaves like a giggling kid most of the time, and spends her life moving from squat to squat – unfit to take care of her own daughter. On one particular morning, long before dawn, a visitor knocks the door of Nan’s flat. Before Cassy can even see who it is, Nan has put him in the spare room and ushered Cassy out of the house with a bag full of rations and instructions to go and stay with her mother for a spell. It’s all seems a bit unusual to Cassy, but what can she do except obey?
And so the novel gets off the ground staight away with a fairly interesting mystery. Cassy soon finds her mother, and a large portion of the rest of the story is devoted to developing the characters she meets at her mum’s squat: Lyall, an old man who visits schools to give talks on wolves, and his loyal son, Robert, who is Cassy’s age.
The problem I had with this novel is that nothing much happens until around page 100. That approach might sit comfortably in a typical mammoth Stephen King tome, but in a novel that’s a mere 140 pages, it just doesn’t work. I got bored. To be fair, the mystery deepens slightly with the discovery of a strange yellow substance at the bottom of the bag Cassy’s grandmother packed, but any sense of danger is held back until the story’s almost finished. Who’s the mysterious visitor? just isn’t a strong enough premise to carry a novel.
The whole way through, I kept wondering what wolves had to do with the plot, apart from Lyall being obsessed with them and causing Cassy to have nightmares. Very much incidental stuff, compared with the main thrust of the story – which was what, exactly? Hmm. The wolf theme does tie into something which happens at the end of the novel, but I’m sad to report that the constant emphasis on wolves throughout the novel seemed contrived to me.
I remember a sound piece of advice given to me about writing: Don’t go easy on your main character. There has to be conflict and danger and peril. Wolf has these … confined to the closing chapters. Oh, and did I mention that this novel won the Carnegie Medal? Go figure.
Maybe I haven’t read enough science fiction novels to make a claim like this, but it strikes me that this one has the honour of being the only flying saucer story without any aliens. There have been plenty of buried alien spacecraft yarns; Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers springs to mind, and heck, I’ve even written about it myself. Coonts’s tale concerns the discovery of UFO in the Sahara desert by a young member of a seismic survey team, Rip Cantrell. Soon after, local archeologist Professor Soldi has a chance to examine the craft, deducing that is has been entombed there for 140,000 years.
The only sci-fi element in the novel is the saucer itself, and to be honest, the novel doesn’t need anything more. What we have here is essentially an action adventure story centering around the impact of a flying saucer on humanity. The American and Libyan governments, not to mention a few renegade Australians, all want to get their hands on the saucer. Some fear the impact of the saucer’s technology on the world; others see it as a means to get rich. But before any of them can do anything about it, Rip Cantrell manages to steal the saucer from under their noses.
There’s a lot of story packed into these 340 pages. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and humourous at times. It reads very much like an action movie in print; whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll let you decide. On the downside, the characters are a bit on the shallow side. There’s plenty of macho butt-kicking going on, but not a lot else. I also think the book could have benefitted from being longer and more descriptive. There was one point in particular which I found quite jarring, where a new character was introduced to the story, in conversation with another character on the phone; there wasn’t a single speck of description about who this new guy was, what his relationship was to the other guy, what he looked like, what age he was, or even where he was making the call from.
Criticisms aside, I liked this book. The story held my attention to the end. Overall, an enjoyable load of fluff.
This is the shortest fiction book I’ve ever read, weighing in at just shy of eighty pages with larger-than-usual print to boot. But, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s quality we’re after, rather than quantity, and on the former Blitz delivers.
Robert Westall lived during the Second World War and has written many works of fiction based on his first-hand experience. His fiction is primarily aimed at children, but if this one’s anything to go by, his writing is serious enough to captivate an adult readership.
What we have here is a small collection of four stories about British childhood during the Blitz. The first, “The Ruined City of Kor,” is about two boys who get trapped outdoors during an air-raid and end up investigating a plane-crash. Next in line is “The Thing Upstairs,” about a girl whose father has gone to war and whose mother appears to be going slowly insane. Thirdly, “Operation Cromwell.” This one’s my favourite. It’s the funniest of the bunch. The theme is the problems encountered in black market smuggling during war-time, and the product is, of all things, butter. The fourth tale is called simply “Rosie” and is about a very strange kind of air-raid shelter.
My only disappointment with this book was that none of the stories pack any real surprises in their conclusions. However, they are very entertaining, and at the same time provide children with a vivid picture of what it must have been like to live through the Second World War. I could see a child finding war-time history lessons much more interesting as a result of reading this.