Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

VoyagerMeg Howrey’s The Wanderers lyrically showcases the psychological costs of humanity’s desire to explore the stars. It’s a space opera without grandiose plot theatrics — The Martian this ain’t! — which thrives on digging deep into its characters’ psyches and exposing the toll their mission takes on them.

In the near future, a private space firm called Prime Space — think SpaceX — is preparing for its inaugural mission to Mars. As part of their training, the first mission’s crew — comprised of Russian cosmonaut Sergei Kuznetsov, Japanese astronaut Yoshihiro Tanaka, and American astronaut Helen Kane — undertake a 17-month simulation of the proposed mission to Mars and back in order to assess their capacity to cope with the physical and emotional pressures of such isolation.

Rather than focus merely on the three astronauts, Howrey expands her insights into the trio’s family’s, and members of the Prime Space support crew, each of whom have their own demons, all of which are exacerbated by the extremity of the circumstances they face. The author juggles these perspectives with aplomb; not once does Sergei’s sexually-confused teenage son, or Helen’s guarded actress daughter, or Yoshi’s restless wife come across as stereotypes. They’re genuine, flawed people, doing their best to survive in a paradoxical world in which they miss their loved ones, but know this 17-month expedition is merely an hors d’oeuvre to the real thing, where failure will likely result in death.

With the rise of SpaceX, novels such as The Wanderers will become increasingly salient. Humanity’s capacity to go forth and explore other planets — heck, maybe some day, the universe — hinges not necessarily on hardware or science, but on the fortitude of the brave men and women who partake in these expeditions. Meg Howrey’s novel is a wonderful testament to these voyagers.

ISBN: 9781471146664
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 23mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Scribner UK
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 6-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

9780241287972Anything is Possible is a luminous collection of short stories tied to Elizabeth Strout’s previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton,  which told the story of a hospitalised novelist — the titular Lucy — coming to terms with her destitute childhood during evasive conversations with her estranged mother. It was a delectably quiet, understated, but powerful novella; one of those books you read, and enjoy, but only fully appreciate once you’ve let it marinate.

Anything is Possible is kind of, but not exactly, a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton. It is set in and around Lucy’s hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and indeed, she features as a main character in one of the stories. But this book has more of a connection to Strout’s Olive Kitteridge than My Name is Lucy Barton, in that is comprised of distinct, but interconnected short stories, each of which delves into the minutiae of small-town life.

The book focuses on the complexities, ambiguities and vulnerabilities of everyday people. As with any collection of short stories, some are more resonant than others. Sister — featuring Lucy Barton, her sister Vicky, and brother Pete — is worth the cover price alone (even for those who’ve not read My Name is Lucy Barton); so too the final story, Gift, which stars the Barton’s second cousin Abel. Really, they’re all gems, each of the nine stories demonstrating Strout’s incredible gift. Her understated prose cuts through to the core brilliantly.

ISBN: 9780241287972
Format: Hardback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 280
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Prussian BlueI had two thoughts when I was handed a proof copy of the new Bernie Gunther thriller. The first, obviously, was: Yessssssssssssssss! Which I might’ve vocalised too, come to think of it, right there in the middle of the store, in front of customers. My second thought: Look at the size of that thing! Because it’s a fat book, Prussian Blue, clocking it at over 500 pages. Not that it felt like it once I started reading. The twelfth Bernie Gunther novel is just as unputdownable as its precursors, this time flicking back and forth between Nazi Germany in 1939 and the French Riviera in 1956, with two seemingly unrelated tales eventually tying together.

The French Riviera, 1956: Bernie is forced to flee France for West Germany after refusing to carry out a hit for Stasi chief Erich Mielke, killing a Stasi agent in the process. Nazi Germany, 1939: Bernie is dispatched to Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, where a sniper has assassinated Karl Flex, a civil engineer in Martin Bormann’s employ, on the deck of Hitler’s villa, the Berghof. Bernie must solve the crime before Hitler returns to Berchtesgaden to celebrate his 50th birthday.

At its heart, Prussian Blue is a whodunit, easily enjoyed as an archetypal police procedural, if that’s all you want from your crime fiction. What elevates it above its competition is the context in which Bernie must run his investigation: amidst the corruption and brutality of the Nazi regime. As always, the verisimilitude of Bernie’s world really shines through, and his wit is drier than ever. With Gunther, Philip Kerr has created the perfect vehicle to explore the grey edge of morality; but one must think it’s only a matter of time before he’s pushed from that precipice.

In a standout series, this is one of its best. Prussian Blue will be lapped up by long-time fans, who’ll already be awaiting the confirmed thirteenth Bernie Gunther caper, Greeks Bearing Gifts; for everybody else, this is a fine place to start your love affair with Kerr’s roguish detective. Then again, you can’t really go wrong. Philip Kerr and Bernie Gunther are that good.

ISBN: 9781784296490
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 560
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Euphoria by Heinz Helle

9781781256886.jpgIf fiction has taught me one thing it’s that after the apocalypse — whether it’s in the form of a virus, cataclysmic earthquake, nuclear fallout, whatever — a small section of mankind will survive, some of whom will be warped into violent psychopaths (possibly riding motorbikes), while the others will merely struggle to survive in a decimated world, ultimately establishing a semblance of a new society, or at least leaving readers with the hope that all is not lost.

But all is lost in Heinz Helle’s Euphoria. We are not privy to the specifics of this  world’s apocalypse; all we know — told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator —  is that he and his four childhood friends — all male — were on holiday together in a remote mountain chalet when the end times arrived. The world around them is now empty, void of almost all human life, its towns and villages reduced to ashes because of various conflagrations. This is not a zombie-infested world, or one inhabited by crazed humans. It’s just desolate and dehumanised. Society is gone. All that matters to our narrator and his friends is survival, and co-existing, if only because they are stronger united than apart.

Euphoria is bleak and brutal, exposing the worst of man even as they demonstrate the tenacity to survive in such horrific circumstances. The novel flits backwards and forwards between the post-apocalyptic present and the pre-apocalyptic past, the latter of which presents these men as imperfect specimens, but resoundingly and empathetically human, whereas the former removes any sort of sympathy. It takes a very short period of time for our narrator and his friends to descend into savagery and submit to their base desires.

This is a short but wholly memorable novel. It’s reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but whereas that masterpiece beat to the drum of the love between a father and a son, Euphoria quickly strips the emotion away from these survivor’s plight. It’s a harsh tale, but beautifully rendered.

ISBN: 9781781256886
Format: Paperback (215mm x 138mm x 17mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 16-Feb-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Prometheus Man by Scott Reardon

9781473629004Scott Reardon’s debut thriller, The Prometheus Man, is an action blockbuster in the mould of the grandmaster, Robert Ludlum: one man confronting the shadowy government forces involved in a diabolical conspiracy. It loses points for originality — every trope you’d expect is ticked off verbatim — but it’s full of wonderfully-choreographed action scenes, from fist-fights to car chases, and it moves at pace of a speeding bullet.

CIA agent Tom Blake isn’t who he claims to be. He’s actually Tom Reese, a 22-year-old superhuman who stole Blake’s identity as a government operative in order to investigate the death of his brother, Eric, who was himself involved in the mysterious “Project Prometheus” which was tasked with creating Captain America-like superhumans by injecting stem cells into patients. Only Tom and one other man survived the process, and now they’re targeting each other, while the CIA hunt them both down.

Reardon throws in a romantic interest for good measure, though she doesn’t really get the chance to shine or demonstrate any sort of nouse. The lack of a capable female character really detracts from the novel; not that Silvana Nast needed superhuman abilities to prove her worth, but she’s only ever present in scenes to be a damsel in distress, and to fall in love with Tom. Readers might’ve reluctantly accepted this stereotype twenty or thirty years ago, but not anymore.

The Prometheus Man is a thriller for readers willing and able to accept implausibility. The action is over-the-top, more reminiscent of superhero battles in Marvel films than, say, the gritty, visceral action of the Bourne movies. It’s flawed, but fun. Perfect for your next long flight or vacation.

ISBN: 9781473629004
ISBN-10: 1473629004
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Mulholland Books
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 26-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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