April 25 2020
If a book mentions the SAS, Linda Wilson is like a rat down a drainpipe. And she was fascinated by Chris Ryan’s The History of the SAS which, she says, is a look at the elite fighting force from the inside, with a boots-on-the-ground authenticity. Ryan pops up twice this issue, also with his latest fiction offering in the shape of Circle of Death where former SAS operatives John Porter and John Bald are recruited to a deniable op to rescue a British academic accused of spying in Venezuela. Linda had to scrape her jaw off the ground at some of the plot twists! She had mixed feelings about The Black Art of Killing by Matthew Hall, though, where former SAS Major Leo Black is dragged back into a world he thought he’d left behind. There’s a good mix of action and introspection, but Linda never felt she built up much of a connection to the main character.
We’re mentioning this one under our breath, but An Air That Kills by Christine Poulson features the threat of a pandemic after problems in a high-security virus research institute. Ironically, John Barnbrook says it’s a very easy read, not challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. He read it in two short sittings and would recommend it as an untaxing and relaxing way to spend a few hours in lockdown.
Big-hitter Martin Cruz Smith is back with the latest in his Arkady Renko series where the investigator travels to the frozen tundra in The Siberian Dilemma to seek his on-off lover, investigative journalist Tatiana Petrovna, who has disappeared. John Cleal, a big fan of the series, says the grittily realistic plot displays Smith’s deft touch, light humour and depth of knowledge.
On the US thrillers front, we’re still tittering at Chris Roberts’ comment on one of the supporting cast in Joseph Finder’s House on Fire where intelligence agent Nick Heller investigates the family behind a dodgy pharmaceutical company. Heller’s internet wizard Merlin, who when in the military, would prepare for operations by doing ‘Sudoku, super-advanced black-belt stuff.’ Chris comments that he’s also trained in the deadly art of origami, no doubt! To Kill a Man by Sam Bourne is the last in a trilogy which encompasses the realities of the Trump era and features a candidate for the presidency aggressively defending herself from assault in her Washington home. Chris says the plot invites the reader to consider the vulnerability of women to sexual predators and the lack of means of effective redress in the vast majority of cases. John Cleal enjoyed an action thriller read with Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz. The corrupt, dictatorial President of America is trying to kill every member of a team of ‘deniable intelligence assets’ – assassins – he helped create. John says you may need to be a tech-nerd to follow some of the more involved devices and schemes!
According to Chris Roberts, the plotting in historical thriller Mister Wolf will keep you on your toes! He adds that Chris Petit’s book is an authoritative exploration of the heart of the Nazi state, set in 1944 as Hitler miraculously survives an assassination attempt.
Elsewhere among the historicals, there’s a return for ace detective Sexton Blake in Sexton Blake and the Great War by Mark Hodder, three republished stories of his activities before and during World War I. John Cleal says that it’s all enjoyable hokum, and that whatever your views on Blake’s politics, he makes Jack Reacher look like a bungling amateur! John has firmly positioned himself at the head of the queue when it comes to reviewing books by Lindsey Davis. And he assures us that The Grove of the Caesars, where Flavia Albia becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer operating in the gardens left to the people of Rome by Julius Caesar, showcases the author’s lively prose, often biting wit and fascinating historical detail. John was also impressed with The Bleak Midwinter by LC Tyler, the latest in the series featuring civil war intelligence officer John Grey, now lord of an Essex manor, who has to solve a murder to save the life of a woman accused of witchcraft. He describes the book as superbly set, plotted and structured and with its pace maintained throughout. And it highlights the appalling conditions for women – particularly country women – at the time.
Closer to the present day is Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths, set in 1963 Brighton where a schoolgirl has gone missing from the exclusive private school, Roedean. Viv Beeby adored the attention to period detail, and the wit and elegance of Griffiths’ writing. The only other police procedural this time (and this one doesn’t boast a stray magician helping with the detecting!) is The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan, the latest in the series featuring Garda DI Cormac Reilly who’s called by his girlfriend Emma when she comes across a hit-and-run victim, and despite their connection he is assigned the case. Chris Roberts says it’s an engrossing book featuring an efficient and sympathetic detective.
Aside from the SAS history this issue, we’ve got a couple of other non-fiction books. Maddy Marsh was delighted with Stephen King at the Movies by Ian Nathan, which is an encyclopaedia of every King book brought to the screen, including interviews, critical analysis, behind the scenes insights and photographs. She says it’s written and presented with a deep respect and love for the source material. Ewa Sherman took a look at The Man Who Played With Fire by Jan Stocklassa, which is described and written as creative nonfiction, based on genuine facts and opinions. It follows Stieg Larsson’s investigation into the assassination of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in February 1986. Ewa says it reads like a political thriller, whodunit and a social commentary on the state of the country.
Kati Barr-Taylor is a trouper when it comes to the domestic noir and the psychological thrillers side of the genre. This time she had to wade through a lot of backstory in The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O’Connor, where a woman has gone missing and only her best friend seems to care. Kati says the dark theme makes the book a difficult read, but it is enthralling and utterly addictive. And she had a great time hating most of the characters in Allison Dickson’s The Other Mrs Miller, where a woman is plagued by a mysterious car parked on the street near her house! Kati says it’s a fast-paced, in places farcical and darkly humorous, story. She could have done with rather less of the melodrama in Woman on the Edge by Samantha M Bailey which sees Morgan’s life spinning out of control when a stranger throws herself under a train. Kati says that the author does have a talent for maintaining suspense, though.
YA buff Linda Wilson devoured One of Us is Next by Karen McManus, where an ever-escalating game of Truth or Dare brings heartache and danger to the students of Bayview High. She says that McManus does an excellent job of laying bare the complexities of teenage relationships, some sexual, some purely based on friendship, and that her characters talk, act and think like authentic teens.
Wyoming author CJ Box is in the Countdown hotseat this issue. That’s a hell of a view he’s got, and we definitely like the sound of the places he’d run away to, although Alaska might be a bit nippy at the moment …
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
I’ve three careers. This is by far the best one.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
1. The Rocky Mountains
3. A river valley
5. Our horses
6. My house
8. Pronghorn antelope
9. A bald eagle
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
Hamburger with grilled onions.