Review: The Lost Order by Steve Berry

Lost OrderSteve Berry’s new Cotton Malone thriller The Lost Order delivers exactly what fans of the series expect, blending history, speculation and fast-paced action.

The Lost Order begins with Malone dispatched by the Smithsonian Institution to Rural Arkansas, where he makes contact with an ancient and subversive organisation known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. Founded in 1844, the Knights — still operating today, albeit in a smaller capacity — have been guarding billions in stolen treasures for more than a century. Trouble is, the treasure can only be found by uncovering the location of a serious of artifacts encrypted with an “unbreakable” code. Meanwhile, former US President Danny Daniels becomes mired in a related-plot when his best friend and Senator of Tennessee is killed in mysterious circumstances. Shadowy figures a planning to implement the Constitution’s Article I to give near-dictatorial powers to the Speaker of the House, Lucius Vance.

Malone’s investigation and Daniels’ eventually tie together, although in truth, the connection between the hidden treasure and the political power grab is a little flimsy, and seems to exist only to bring Berry’s protagonists together. That won’t limit the novel’s appeal however, because The Lost Order is nothing of short of compulsive. Long-time readers will revel as Berry delves into Malone’s ancestry — revealing why he was named ‘Cotton’ — and newcomers seeking thrills will delight in the numerous action scenes and chases.

With The Lost Order, Steve Berry shows off his top-notch storytelling skills. This is a mile-a-minute thriller peppered with historical factoids. It’s fast, furious and fun.

ISBN: 9781444795493
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 512
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo.jpgFour years after Police, Harry Hole returns in The Thirst, a bulky but gripping 500-pager packed with so many twists within twists, it’ll make even the sagest crime reader’s mind boggle. It’s not quite vintage Jo Nesbo, but it’s a fine return for his beloved character, and those who’ve enjoyed the preceding ten novels will enjoy Harry’s eleventh case.

The Thirst picks up from the end of Police, when escaped convict Valentin Gjertsen was about to rape the daughter of his psychotherapist. Gjertsen’s still at large in The Thirst, lying low and having undergone radical surgery to render himself unrecognisable. Following a series of women are murdered in their homes after Tinder dates, Harry Hole is called out of retirement to aid the investigation. The whole city is on red alert because of the killer’s methods: a set of iron jaws. When a ‘V’ signed in blood, as well as Gjertsen’s blood, are revealed at a crime, the case suddenly becomes personal for Harry. It’s a declaration of war from his old nemesis, the one who got away. But Gjertsen’s never displayed the tendencies of vampirisim before — so what’s changed this time?

The ‘A Plot’ — the hunt for the killer — is brilliantly constructed, even though the final revelation doesn’t quite land with the intended impact; not that it’s signposted, just that by the time Nesbo starts wrapping up his story, there are only so many suspects left to choose from. The novel’s biggest issue is that its burdened by so many subplots; Harry’s wife is suddenly taken ill and placed into a coma early on in the book; Police Chief Mikael Bellman peruses his nomination as Minister of Justice; Katrine Bratt is still recovering from events in The Snowman; and that’s barely scraping the barrel. There’s just a little too much here, which slows down the chase for the killer.

Having upped the ante with the previous novels in the Harry Hole series, The Thirst feels like Nesbo tapping the brakes just ever-so-slightly. All the elements that have won his novels millions of fans are here; this one just lacks that special something that made books like The Snowman and Police stand out. Even so, it’s great to have Harry Hole back, and a middling entry in this distinguished series remains a cut above Jo Nesbo’s  competition.

ISBN: 9781911215295
ISBN-10: 1911215299
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 544
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 20-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

9780141356112 (1)Becky Albertalli follows up her brilliant debut Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda with a fresh and poignant adolescent love story starring eternally lovelorn seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso. Set against the backdrop of the legalisation of gay marriage in America and the planning of her mothers’subsequent nuptials, The Upside of Unrequited is a heartfelt and bittersweet reminder of the pain and exhilaration of first love.

The Upside of Unrequited works because of its characters. There is never any doubt as to the story’s endpoint; this is a universal tale of burgeoning romance, of choosing the right guy over the obvious one, and overcoming your insecurities and being comfortable with who you are. What makes it stand out is its diverse cast, and the deftness with which this diversity is handled.  Albertalli doesn’t overemphasize her characters’ sexual orientation, ethnicity, mental health or size; they’re just elements vividly melded into her story. Every character is well-drawn and relatable.

Molly’s teen angst might prove grating for some readers — it’s tuned to the nth degree, intentionally so — but thankfully before it gets too much she finds a dose of confidence, and the plot shifts into a different gear, and instead of focusing on a possible romance, it becomes about managing newfound romance.

The Upside of Unrequited is a searingly honest book about the power and beauty of first love; and the turmoil involved in discovering it, and accepting it. It deals with some heavy themes and big issues, but never at the expense of its characters. Becky Albertalli’s second novel is another winner.

ISBN: 9780141356112
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 11-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

Here and Gone.jpgWriting under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch thriller, deliberately paced and wound tight. Here and Gone is a powerhouse of a story that will keep you awake until the last page.

Audra Kinney is faced with every parent’s worst nightmare when she and her children become the victims of corrupt cops. After years of abuse, courtesy of her husband, Audra has finally worked up the courage to escape his clutches with her two children. She doesn’t have much of a plan, just knows she needs to get away, and when a friend halfheartedly invites her out to San Diego, Audra packs up her few possessions and makes the journey from the East Coast. But along the way she is arrested by a small-time sheriff, separated from her kids, and quickly presented to the media as a kidnapper / murderer. When Danny Lee hears about her situation, he immediately leaves San Francisco and becomes Audra’s only ally. Years ago, Danny’s wife had a similar experience; their children were never found, and his wife never recovered. The resemblance between both situations is too much to be pure coincidence. Danny is certain the same people responsible for the tragedy in his life are afflicting the same damage on Audra’s.

Here and Gone is a thriller in the true sense of the word. It’s breathtaking, relentless and action-packed, but it also lacks some of the nuance of Stuart Neville’s work. Writing as Haylen Beck, it’s clear the author has attempted to emulate the style of the American grand-master of crime himself, Elmore Leonard; and though it works, for the most part, I can’t help but wonder a Stuart Neville novel would’ve had more to say about the horrors of human trafficking or the victimisation of women by the media. Here and Gone lacks some of the moral complexity of say, So Say the Fallen, which doesn’t make it an ineffective thriller, just one that resonates less than its counterparts. In the moment, as you’re turning the pages, you will absolutely be invested and enthralled; this is as white-knuckle as a thriller can get. It’s got punch, that’s for sure; it just doesn’t bruise.

As far as unputdownable thrillers of 2017 rank, Here and Gone is right up there. If you need to make spare hours fly, this is the book for you.

ISBN: 9781911215592
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 13-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Depends What You Mean By Extremist by John Safran

9781926428772.jpgJohn Safran’s easy-reading but hard-hitting expose of Australia’s far-right and extremist movement will inform and alarm general readers, and will surely arouse the ire of those involved amongst the unabashedly diverse community of Australia’s white nationalists, anarchists, ISIS supporters, and others.

Depends What You Mean by Extremist is told in Safran’s inimitable laconic style, which means even the hideous personalities introduced throughout the text are granted moments of levity. So while it’s a frightening book — exposure to some of these people left me truly mortified and uncomfortable — it’s an undeniably entertaining yarn, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Safran’s intent isn’t to demonize the extreme alt-right — he can rely on the majority of his readership to do that anyway, without adding his own politics and opinions to the fray — but to relay his experiences and interactions with them. Through his chronicle, we witness the incertitude of their arguments, and at other moments, the unfiltered brashness of their hatred, which is usually founded on misinformation.

We exist in troubled times. Our only way to combat extremism, in all of its forms, is to be as well-educated and as informed as we possibly can be. Depends What You Mean by Extremist is therefore a vital text. It doesn’t offer solutions, rather it paints a portrait of Australia today; or at least, one man’s perspective. We can be aghast at the reality we face, but hopefully readers close the book ready to engage meaningfully rather than add their voice to the chorus of hate. Safran’s new book is an engaging and thought-provoking read. It shouldn’t be missed, nor should it be read in a vacuum. Read it, then read more. Stay informed. Stay relevant.

ISBN: 9781926428772
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Black Book by James Patterson & David Ellis

Black Book.pngThe Black Book is a tightly-plotted and pacy thriller, the likes of which we haven’t seen from the super-prolific James Patterson in many years. It’s a well-woven tale of corruption and duplicity, with engaging characters and an inventive structure.

The novel opens with Detective Patti Harney and her father, a high-ranking figure in the Chicago PD, arriving at a crime scene involving her twin brother, Detective Billy Harney. He’s been shot and left for dead in the bedroom of assistant state attorney Amy Lentini, who is herself DOA from a gunshot wound to the head, alongside Billy’s partner, Detective Kate Fenton. Which begs the questions: Who shot who? And why? It’s obviously connected to the raid Billy led into an apartment building he was certain was operating as a sex club to the Chicago elite, and to the missing black book that served as a record of everyone who had entered and exited the brownstone.

The narrative flashes backwards and forwards, to before and after the shooting, building in suspense and momentum, until the truth is revealed. Billy’s initial memory loss seems a tad cliched and convenient, but it works, and isn’t overplayed. And while veteran mystery readers might identify the true perpetrators of the crime early on in proceedings, there’s more than enough here to keep pages turning, and readers tuned in until the very end. The Black Book pulses with excitement, and with Billy Harney, James Patterson and David Ellis have created a hero worth following to hell and back.

ISBN: 9781780895321
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

NothingHanif Kureishi’s novella, The Nothing, is the story of Waldo, an aged and once-lauded film-maker, who is now confined to his wheelchair in his London apartment under the care of his much younger wife, Zee.  He suspects his wife is cheating on him with a middle-aged film critic, Eddie, who visits every day, and sets out to expose their illicit affair and enact his revenge.

Waldo’s frustration and rage borders on comical to truly terrifying, and the rawness of his fluctuating emotions is worryingly authentic. My relationship with the man alternated throughout the course of the novel; at first I sympathised with his situation, then as he marinated in his lust for revenge, I became repulsed by his scheming, and willingness to trample anyone to satisfy his quest for vengeance. The Nothing is told exclusively from his perspective, and every character is tainted as a result, and their true motivations remain masked, left for our biased narrator to interpret.

The Nothing blends elements of classic 40s and 50s American noir cinema with tragedy on a Shakespearean level.  This is a story about a man fading from the world because of age and illness, struggling for relevance as a result, and striving to land one final blow and do one more thing of consequence. Waldo isn’t likeable, but his story is compelling, and expertly told with Kureishi’s signature dosage of black comedy. A quick read, but an impactful one.

ISBN: 9780571332014
Format: Hardback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom