Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

9780552173483While I’ve always enjoyed Dan Brown’s thrillers for the unadulterated escapism they provide, Inferno is predictable and unexciting. It plods on, and despite its page count, has little meat on its bone. Sure, it’s perfectly readable, and the die-hards might be satisfied with Robert Langdon’s fourth adventure, but for the rest of us, it’s a mostly tedious romp.

This time round, shockingly, the fate of the world rests in Robert Langdon’s hands. Only our esteemed professor is suffering from that most hackneyed of ailments: retrograde amnesia. He appears to have suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his head, and the trauma has decimated his memories of the preceding hours, which, naturally, hold the key to unlocking a great, deadly mystery. What Langdon gradually begins to understand is that a bad guy – the worst guy, who so-happens to be obsessed with Dante and the Plague – is convinced that over-population is humanity’s greatest threat. And that therefore a purge is necessary…

Inferno is a mishmash of tropes and characters readers will be familiar with. It’s all well and good to play homage to the great thriller writers of our time and borrow elements from their work – but this time, things just feel a little too cramped, too analogous. Characters float in and out of the story, their desires are over-explained with dull monologues, and the repeated use of ellipsis and the phrase “never the less” quickly becomes grating.

Say what you will about Dan Brown, but at the very least, he’s always provided action-packed page-turning romps. That’s not the case here. Inferno isn’t terrible. It’s not an insult. It’s just infuriatingly average.

ISBN: 9780552173483
Format: Paperback (198mm x 127mm x mm)
Pages: 624
Imprint: Corgi Books
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 6-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

9780545540629Raina Telgemeier continues her exploration of tween and teenage social and family life in her heartfelt graphic novel Ghosts, which adds a twist of the supernatural to proceedings.

Catrina and her mixed family (Latino/white) have moved from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast in the hopes that the cooler climate will help with her younger sister Maya’s cystic fibrosis. Cat isn’t happy with the relocation – is moody throughout the opening pages – while Maya’s elation is both heartening and heartbreaking; her obvious joy for life, and desire to explore and go on adventures, is contradicted by her degenerative condition.

When the girls meet their neighbour, Carlos, who is Bahía de la Luna’s resident “ghost tour” guide, he explains that the town is filled with spirits, who feed off cool winds. With the Day of the Dead approaching, spiritual activity is at an all-time high; and while the prospect of seeing ghosts excites young Maya, it terrifies Cat, who must combat her fear of the unknown to protect her sister.

Ghost’s best, and most poignant moments, feature Maya being treated for her cystic fibrosis. The scene where Maya gleefully asks if she can shake her can of nutritional supplement is especially heartbreaking; so too her forced seclusion from Halloween festivities. Raina Telgemeier deftly balances the book’s various themes, from the exploration of Mexican-American family life, Maya’s illness, the ancient “Day of the Dead” tradition, and Catrina’s desperate struggle to form new friendships in a new town. Her illustrative style is a pure joy to behold; cartoony, yet incredibly expressive. From a visual standpoint, this is undoubtedly the best work we’ve seen. Impossibly, Telgemeier improves with each successive work.

Background material includes some process material, which the wannabe-creator in me finds incredibly fascinating, but of particular interest, especially to younger readers, is her synopsis on the graphic novel’s key themes.

While I don’t think Ghosts had the same impact on me as, say, Drama – I’m far more of a sucker for High School drama tales involving the complex inner-workings of teenage relationships – there’s no question, Telgemeier’s latest is a work of the highest quality. She has reached that highest echelon of creator: her work demands immediate reading upon publication.

ISBN: 9780545540629
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Graphix
Publisher: Graphix
Publish Date: 13-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Home by Harlan Coben

Home Coben.jpgI slipped into hyperbole earlier this year when I reviewed Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Deservedly so, upon reflection. I stand by it.  This isn’t an apology for my extensive praise. Nor is this review what you’re possibly expecting: “but wait, his latest novel, Home, is even better!” No, when juxtaposed, Fool Me Once is certainly the better thriller. It’s got that brilliant final twist, which hasn’t been topped by any other novel I’ve read this year, and certainly validates Coben’s ranking as the consummate master of the modern day thriller.

That’s right. He’s not just a master. Anybody can master something. But to be a consummate master? Wowzer.

But – and forgive the obvious pun – there is something special about coming home. About reuniting with a cast of characters you haven’t read about for some time. Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III are two of my favourite characters in all of fiction, and we haven’t seen them (besides brief appearances in Coben’s YA Mickey Bolitar trilogy) since 2011’s Live Wire.

2011, guys and gals. That’s five years ago. God, we were do damn young. And look at us now. No, don’t – – !

Home brings these characters back, alongside the classic cast: Esperanza; Big Cyndi, Myron’s parents. Heck, even the kids wh0 starred in Coben’s YA series play a vital role in proceedings, and it’s great to be reunited with Mickey, Ema and Spoon. Their presence adds a cool continuity to things. So, sure; this book is for the fans. The readers, like me, who clamour each and every year for a new Myron novel. But there’s plenty here for “non-Myron” fans to enjoy. If indeed there even are such people out there.

The premise is straightforward: 10 years after two 6-year-olds vanished from a suburban New Jersey home, one of them is spotted in London. Obvious question: where’s the other? Myron gets involved because one of the kids, Rhys – – the boy who wasn’t spotted — is (or was) the cousin Windsor Horne Lockwood III, Myron’s best friend, and the friendliest psychopath you’re likely to encounter. In the past it has always been Myron’s lust for justice – – for righting wrongs, for doing the supposed right thing – – that pulled Win into deadly situations. This time the shoe is on the other foot. Win has always been there for Myron. And despite his pending marriage, Myron will always be there for Win. That’s the bro-code, didn’t you know?

Yes, there’s a big mystery here, and there are surprising twists (unleashed rather late in proceedings, admittedly, but no less effectively than in other novels) but it’s the emotion of the characters that really lifts Home above the rank and file. The heart and soul of this novel are the twin families coping with the loss of a child, and the extremes parents go to in order to protect them.

Ultimately, it’s just great to be back with Myron and the gang. The novel’s ending is possibly conclusive – – with a real lump-in-the-throat moment – – so who knows when we’ll see these characters again? In many respects, I wish I’d taken my time with the novel and truly savoured it. Instead, I smashed through it in less than 24 hours. That’s the true evidence of Coben’s class: his books are so gripping, you can’t put them down.

ISBN: 9781780894225
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 22-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

9781473614574.jpgRise the Dark, the second book in the Markus Novak series, is a masterful suspense novel, replete with crackling prose, nail-biting thrills, and a crackerjack pace. Dangling the plausibility of physic possibility, and pushing its characters to their physical and mental limits, Michael Koryta has crafted a thriller that will induce an unprecedented kind of page-turning compulsivity. In other words, it’s very, very good.

Picking up soon after the end of Last Words, Markus returns to Montana in pursuit of his wife’s murderer, Garland Webb, who has joined a cult hell-bent on bringing down the electrical grid and blaming it on Islamic terrorists. During his pursuit of Webb, Markus meets Jay Baldwin, who has been pulled into the cult leader’s nefarious plans following the abduction of his wife, Sabrina. Jay is a former lineman, whose knowledge of electricity and the grid is essential to the cult pulling off their spectacular feat; and as long as his wife is in danger, Jay will do precisely what they command, regardless of the consequences. Also involved with the cult is Novak’s mother, Violet – a physic reader, whose supernatural proclivities appear to be manifesting within Markus in the subtlest of ways, much to his chagrin.

This hodgepodge of elements is thrown together and seamlessly blended into a damn fine thriller, with high doses of intrigue and tension. Novak’s mission of vengeance gives the novel severe personal-stakes, but the larger implications of the electrical grid going down skyrockets the potential implications of his failure. While Novak’s a fairly flat protagonist, the supporting cast adds much-needed colour and vibrancy. Uncle Larry, Violet’s shotgun-wielding brother, is a particular hit, but kudos needs to go to Kortya for allowing his two female leads to demonstrate genre-defying strength in their captivity. Rather than being utilised as stereotypical damsels-in-distress, and waiting to be rescued, they’re given ample opportunity to flex their sizable muscles, and kick plenty of ass.

With a genuine cliff-hanger that’ll leave you exasperated when you realise you’ll have to wait a year for any semblance of a resolution, Rise the Dark is one of the year’s best thrillers. Koryta is quickly climbing the ladder as one of my favourite authors.

ISBN: 9781473614581
Format: Paperback (234mm x 155mm x 30mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 25-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: James Bond, Vol. 1 – VARGR by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

tnjamesbondhccovtempmastersAfter avenging the death of a fallen 00 Section agent in Helsinki, James Bond assumes his fellow agent’s workload, which takes him to Berlin, on a seemingly routine mission to dismantle a drug-trafficking operation.

Warren Ellis is one of my favourite comic book scribes. Even when his work doesn’t quite strike the right chord, I always appreciate his particular brand of storytelling and innovate ideas. So when news broke that he’d be penning a new James Bond series, I was ecstatic – even when it was revealed this would be a contemporary take on Ian Fleming’s character. Having read Fleming’s novels, as well as those by John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Jeffrey Deaver and so forth, I’ve decided Bond belongs in a post-War setting. I’d love to see more stories set in the 1950s and 1960s – a bit like Anthony Horowitz did with Trigger Mortis, which was set between Fleming novels. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the Fleming Estate sign off on a series of novels set between Fleming’s? Philip Kerr does such a great job bouncing around a wartime and post-war timeline in his Bernie Gunther series – one could easily employ Bond in the same setup. Anyway – moving beyond my deepest James Bond desires…

There is a lot to like about VARGR. It’s packed with the staples Bond fans expect: shoot-ups, car chases, deadly cybernetically-enhanced henchmen; and all the characters you’d expect appear (though artist Jason Masters has been given free-reign to re-create their appearance, so don’t go expecting a Ralph Fiennes-inspired ‘M’, or indeed for Bond to look anything like Daniel Craig). But in too many respects it plays out formulaically. Where’s Ellis’s trademark spark? Why not take advantage of the absence of a film budget and depict truly spectacular set-pieces? VARGR just feels a little too easy, is too reminiscent of James Bond adventures we’ve read, or seen, before. It’s a fun, action-packed romp for sure – and Masters delivers these scenes in spectacular fashion – but it’s not going to earn a place in the James Bond adventures highlights reel.

That being said, with Ellis and Masters signed on for a second volume, which sees the return of SPECTRE, there’s every chance the next volume will deliver on this creative team’s promise. The fuse has been lit, and VARGR provides some sparkle; my fingers are crossed for EIDOLON to deliver an explosion.

ISBN: 9781606909010
Format: Hardback (267mm x 178mm x 19mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: Dynamic Forces Inc
Publisher: Dynamic Forces Inc
Publish Date: 5-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Harbour Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh

9781908800701Michael Connelly often references Joseph Wambaugh as one of his writing influences, but until Harbour Nocturne, I’d never read one of the former LAPD sergeant’s books. Now that I have, I’m keen to delve into his backlist; particularly his early stuff, which established his reputation as the father of the modern police novel. Wambaugh’s most recent novel – published in 2012 – reminded me of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, which is a very good thing indeed. Just like McBain’s long-running series, it isn’t necessarily the crime – or the actual plot – that makes Harbour Nocturne so absorbing. It’s the cops – their unique blend of personalities and experiences – that make the story zing, and allows for moments of genuine hilarity and heartbreak. These cops are real people, thrust into insane scenarios, just trying to do their best to keep the city safe.

Harbour Nocturne marks Wambaugh’s fifth novel about the cops of Hollywood Station, a fictional precinct, made up of a zany bunch of characters with various idiosyncrasies, united by the uniform. None come across as stereotypes. You’ve got Chester Toles, better known as “the unicorn” because he’s never around when he’s needed; Chester Toles, dubbed “Hollywood Nate” because he wants to be an actor; and the two prevalent copes in this particular story, Flotsam and Jetsam, two surfer dudes, who – because of Jetsam’s prophetic foot – are drawn into a convoluted undercover operation involving a wealthy Russian obsessed with amputees, who’s also involved with a human-trafficking ring.

The novel’s protagonist is Dinko Babich, a longshoreman in the port of San Pedro, who falls for a young Mexican prostitute named Lila, and decides to make it his mission to protect her. In doing so, he becomes involved in the amputee-obsessed Russian’s business, and his story – and that of the cops of Hollywood Station – intersect throughout proceedings, until the slam-bang conclusion. It’s Dinko’s actions that provide the novel impetus, but in truth, his storyline is fairly formulaic, and lacks invention. It’s the various anecdotes and “side stories” that propels Harbour Nocturne above other police procedurals; the embellishments surrounding the core.

ISBN: 9781908800701
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 1-Jul-2013
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Spider-Man – Miles Morales, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

spider-man-volume-1Until the series ended, Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man was a staple of my comics reading. When it launched in 2000 I was thirteen-years-old, and the perfect age to read about a teenage Peter Parker. As I got older, and my interest in the medium fluctuated, Ultimate Spider-Man remained an essential component of my reading life. Even when ‘ultimate’ Peter died, and was replaced by the Hispanic teenager Miles Morales died – by which time I was a full-fledged adult – I remained whole-heartedly invested in the world and its characters.

And then everything changed.

During the 2015 mega-event “Secret Wars,” both the Ultimate Marvel universe and the mainstream Earth-616 universe were destroyed.  When the dust finally cleared and the crisis concluded, Earth-616 was restored — along with Miles and his family. Thus, when Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 opens, Miles is one of two “Spider-Men” operating in New York City; and he’s a card-carrying member of the Avengers, too.

My biggest fear was that this opening volume would focus on Miles’s transition from one universe to another; but that’s not the case at all. There is a real push to make this a fresh start and a true first chapter in Miles’s story. The only problem is, it cheapens the drama that’s come before, and brings into question the continuity of what we read in Miles’s adventures in the Ultimate universe. One of the most devastating moments Miles experienced was the death of his mother; now that’s reversed. There was real emotional when Miles’s father discovered his son was Spider-Man, and his anger and refusal to converse with his son was deeply affecting; now that’s been wiped away.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 is a callback to the archetypal high-school superhero story. Basically: I have to save the world but I have homework, too. And while we’ve seen it time and time again, Bendis does it so well, and frankly, it’s nice to read a superhero comic working on a smaller-scale. Between you and me, I’ve a little over world-ending scenarios. The best Bendis comics– Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate-Spider-Man — have always been character-focused, which suit his heavy-dialogue style, and it’s the quieter moments that prove the most memorable here. Miles’s confrontation with his grandmother over his flailing grades is hilarious; so too his conversation with best friend Ganke about whether it’s better to be “skinny and black” or “chubby and Asian” in America. Sure, there’s a whole plot-thread in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 about Black Cat and Hammerhead teaming up to take out Spider-Man; but what makes the volume resonate is the building friction between Miles and Ganke over his secret identity. The super-heroics are just the backdrop for a fun, emotive high-school story.

Sara Pichelli’s illustrations are gorgeous. The action is dynamic, but the way she nails the smaller moments – the mannerisms and expressions of characters during their conversations – is peerless. In issue #4 she draws ten pages of dialogue between Miles and Ganke in the school cafeteria. Boring, you might be thinking. But just check out the way she lays it all out. It’s incredible. Just like the whole book, really.

No, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 doesn’t redefine superhero comics. As a standalone tale, it’s not even particularly memorable. But as the next phase in the Miles Morales story – as another part of an unfinished collage – it’s fantastic.

ISBN: 9781846537165
Format: Paperback  (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 120
Imprint: Panini Books
Publisher: Panini Publishing Ltd
Publish Date: 7-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

isbn9781408706923Out of Bounds is Val McDermid’s thirtieth book, and the fourth of the Karen Pirie series. In this outing, Pirie – of Police Scotland’s Historical Cases Unit – finds herself tangled in the web of an intriguing trio of cases, only one of which begins as official police business.

Pirie is working on a case where a drunken teenage driver’s DNA is a partial match for an unsolved murder in Glasgow years before. Trouble is, the teenager was adopted, and a barrage of privacy laws prohibit her from easily acquiring the identity of the birth mother and father. Then she stumbles into the path of DI Noble, who she perceives is mishandling the investigation of the supposed suicide of a man whose mother died in what was assumed to be an IRA terrorist bombing years ago. Pirie is certain the man’s death is linked to his mother’s death, and her unsanctioned investigation ruffles plenty of feathers. And as if that wasn’t enough, recent upheaval in Pirie’s life means she’s prone to nocturnal wanderings through the city streets, which leads to her meeting a group of Syrian refugees. These men are lonely, ashamed of their inability to work, and deeply scarred by what has happened – and continues to happen – to their homeland. Karen takes it on herself to find a solution – to find them a mission and a purpose, lest they be left to rot.

McDermid elegantly weaves these plot threads around each other, and never once ties herself in a knot. The Syrian refugee plot is a bit of a throwaway, and the wannabe editor in me thinks this part of the novel should’ve been sliced for the sake of its pacing – but social commentary in fiction is important, and really, it doesn’t take away from the plot’s mainstays.  Some of the characters are a bit flat – caricatures of familiar faces, like ‘the Mint,’ her bumbling sidekick, and the boss who’ll do anything to see her removed from the police – but thankfully the spotlight never shines too far away from Karen, whose emotional heartache and determination to forge ahead makes her an enchanting character.

Out of Bounds is a tightly-plotted police procedural, and bears all the qualities that have established Val McDermid as one of Britain’s leading crime novelists.

ISBN: 9781408706923
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Little, Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 25-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric

9781921924835.jpgDespite its overriding bleakness, there’s a lyrical beauty to AS Patric’s Miles Franklin award-winning Black Rock White City.  It is a novel that refuses to conform to expectations. It is a powerful, relentless journey through a long dark tunnel, with few glimpses of light, and very little to warm the soul. We want this story of migrated Serbian couple to end well. Jovan and Suzana have already been through so much. But Black Rock White City isn’t about happy endings; it’s about our capacity to keep on keeping on; to outlive the past by picking up the pieces of a shattered life and patching together something sustainable. Something worth living for.

Jovan and Suzana migrated to Melbourne after the Bosnian War. They are both deeply damaged and dysfunctional as a result of those events, which gradually come to light as Patric flits back-and-forth between their perspectives and memories. Black Rock White City examines the extent to which they can recover from the tragedies that have afflicted them; and whether they are more capable of doing so together or apart.

Running parallel with this story of survival is the mysterious graffiti scrawled on the hospital where Jovan works. The deeds, and the messages, becoming increasingly gruesome as the novel draws to its conclusion, and this provides Black Rock White City with some narrative momentum; a centrepiece from which the rest of the novel revolves. There’s also some prevalent commentary on refugees woven into the narrative, too; one particularly searing moment sees Jovan dismissed as an immigrant because he is neither black nor Asian.

There is nothing clear-cut about Black Rock White City. It is not an easy read. But it’s a rewarding one, and perhaps one of those rare books that warrants, and requires, re-reading to truly understand and appreciate its nuances.

ISBN: 9781921924835
Format: Paperback  (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 248
Imprint: Transit Lounge Publishing
Publisher: Transit Lounge Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Apr-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

Nothing Short of DyingFor the pure pleasure of uncomplicated, nonstop action, no thriller this year has come close to matching Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying, the first in what promises to be an adrenaline-fuelled series starring Clyde Barr.

Barr is the latest in a long line of loner heroes with violent pasts that belie their good intentions. Fresh from a stint in a Juárez prison, Barr is determined to make a fresh start, free from the chaos that has punctuated his life. But a frantic phone call from his youngest sister, Jen, halts any plans to ride off into the sunset. Jen needs his help, and as Barr himself asserts – which is a touch on the nose – “nothing short of dying” will stop him from coming to her aid. Problem is, Barr has no idea who has her or where she is. And he embarks on a spree of beat-downs and shootings that put Jack Reacher’s dust-ups to shame. Clyde Barr is a one-man army, as competent with his fists as he is with a rifle or bow. The introduction of Allie – inadvertently drawn into Barr’s violent journey – adds some much-needed emotional depth, and a touch of requisite romance.

Storey brings the rugged outdoor terrain to life, and Barr’s adeptness to life in the wild distinguishes him from the urban-minded heroes that populate most novels in the genre. When we meet Barr, he’s camping in the wilderness, having hunted for his dinner the night before; and he’s a technophobe, adverse to telecommunications and society’s reliance on electronic devices. Need someone to track footprints? Clyde’s your man. Want him to access your phone’s GPS? Look elsewhere.

Nothing Short of Dying takes off at breakneck speed and doesn’t let up. There’s not much nuance, and though the plot moves at the speed of a bullet, it moves at the same trajectory from start to finish, and offers few genuine surprises or curve balls. But for readers seeking rock ’em sock ’em action, Erik Storey’s debut will surely satisfy. If the author is able to add a touch more stylistic flair in Barr’s second outing, we could be witnessing the launch of thriller fiction’s next big brand.

ISBN: 9781471146848
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom