The Match by Harlan Coben

I believe Harlan Coben is at his best when he writes about everyday people — like you and me — thrust into crazy situations. Take “No Second Chance,” for example, which is about Marc Seidman’s desperate measures to recover his kidnapped daughter. Or “Run Away,” when Simon Greene spots his runaway daughter in Central Park, reigniting his quest to reunite his family. 

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Sirerra Six by Mark Greaney and Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz

Fifteen years ago my reading consisted exclusively of action thrillers from the likes of Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy ― basically the stuff on my dad’s shelves. Over time, my reading tastes have broadened (I’m reticent to use the word “matured,” as I once might’ve, in an effort to appeal to the “literati,” because I think that does an injustice to the authors who pen them) and I’ve become a little more conscientious about selecting which thriller writers make the cut. 

Guys like Mark Greaney and Gregg Hurwitz write major cinematic blockbusters; other authors are a little more direct-to-video ― you know, cookie-cutter heroes, conventional plots; not necessarily bad, but certainly not as enterprising. 

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Wild Dogs by Michael Trant

Gabe Ahern is your archetypal action hero from the school of hard knocks — physically battered, emotionally scarred, encumbered with a flickering moral compass. Haunted by the role he played in his wife’s death, now a recluse with a limp and a drinking problem, he makes a living trapping wild dogs for local station owners in the rugged Western Australia terrain; sometimes legally, oftentimes not. He wants nothing to do with anybody. He stays away from them, and they stay away from him.

Until.

Until.

C’mon — you know there’s always an until in a novel like this, when the reclusive hero is drawn into somebody else’s drama; something only they can solve.

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Review: Never by Ken Follett

This chunky geopolitical thriller by Ken Follett — his first contemporary novel in years — weaves together several plot lines in order to portray a chain of frighteningly plausible events that lead to nuclear war. It’s speculative fiction at its terrifying best, reminiscent of Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising,” and Mark Greaney’s “Red Metal.” 

“Never” is crammed with incident, but its breadth of activity and ping-ponging perspectives belies a neat, assured and ultimately straightforward structure that ensures its narrative never becomes inordinately convoluted. It’s a jam-packed cast, but Follett keeps things focused on five principals, including the American President, a high-ranking Chinese Intelligence official, a CIA operative running an agent undercover in Chad, who becomes embroiled in the lives of a widow and her child desperate to escape Islamic State by any means necessary. 

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Review: The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield

“The Apollo Murders” is a brilliantly imagined and superbly crafted alternate history Cold War thriller where Apollo 18 — cancelled in reality because of budgetary cuts — launched into space in 1973. 

The crew’s initial mission objective is to collect lunar geological samples and sabotage a Russian moon rover. But things escalate quickly, and their task becomes more complicated and spectacular: destroy a Soviet spy satellite which, despite intelligence reports, isn’t the easy, unmanned target they expected. 

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Review: Better Off Dead by Lee Child & Andrew Child

“Better Off Dead” is Andrew Child’s second time behind the wheel of his brother Lee’s Jack Reacher franchise, and it’s another perfectly formed action thriller that sees the former military policeman turned nomadic dispenser of extrajudicial justice face up against criminal mastermind Waad Dendoncker in a remote town on the US-Mexico border. 

Its opening reminded me of the seventh Reacher novel, “Persuader,” which also began in medias res: there, Reacher shot a cop while attempting to foil a kidnapping; here, we’re introduced to Dendoncker at the morgue as he identifies the body of a man, confirmed dead by the coroner: it’s — no, it can’t be! — Jack Reacher.

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Review: The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh

I love a thriller whose premise can be boiled down to one sentence. Steve Cavanagh is the master of it. That tantalising “what if?” hook.

In the case of “The Devil’s Advocate” — his sixth Eddie Flynn novel — it’s diabolically simple: what if the district attorney responsible for sending more men to their deaths than any other DA in the history of the United States had spent his career orchestrating murders, and manipulating evidence and juries, to guarantee guilty verdicts? 

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Review: Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kotaro Isaka’s “Bullet Train” gathers together an eclectic mix of underworld assassins on board the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka, their fates entwined by the powerful crime lord Minegishi, for reasons that come to light during their 240–320 km/h journey.

The action flits persistently between the perspectives of the various contract killers on board. I won’t mention them all, because every page offers a potential landmine revelation, but here’s a taster:

There’s Nanao, the unluckiest assassin in the world, who is there to steal a suitcase full of cash. There are the two fruits — the calm, scholarly Tangerine, and his Thomas the Tank Engine-obsessed partner, Lemon — who are tasked with safeguarding both Minegishi’s son, and the suitcase. Kimura is in a nearby carriage, an ex-alcoholic (and ex-assassin) and single parent who wants revenge on the teenager who pushed his boy off a rooftop. But ‘The Prince’ isn’t going to go down without a fight. His outwardly youthful innocence masks his wicked cunning. The kid is actually the most psychopathic of the lot. 

In less assured hands the reader might not be able to see the forest through the trees, but Isaka (via his translator Sam Malissa) is remarkably adept at letting each character have a moment to make a lasting impression. And while it would be an exaggeration to suggest we form any sort of emotional connection with the cast — they are most assuredly bad people — they’re delineated beyond what you might expect, thanks to regular flashbacks and philosophical asides; not to mention countless scenes involving a character holding a gun to the head of another and gabbing.

“Bullet Train” is coated with a thick sheen of surreality, its most serious moments perforated with a whimsy that never quite turns into laugh-out-loud, but renders the violence more cartoonish than gratuitous. It’s ripe for film adaptation, a kind of “Murder on the Orient Express” directed by Tarantino.

Published: 16 March 2021
ISBN: 9781787302594
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is an audacious, twist-filled thriller whose enjoyment hinges on whether you’re able to buy into its central conceit, which morphs outlandishly from its opening premise, when Abigail Baskin enters her marriage to ridiculously wealthy Bruce Lamb carrying a secret.

During her bachelorette party weekend a few weeks before her wedding, Abigail slept with a stranger named Scottie. Although she’s wracked by guilt, she decides not to mention her one night stand to Bruce: the ramifications would be severe given his (ominous) stance on fidelity. So she’ll live with the secret, and it will be hers alone. Or so she hopes. Soon Scottie emails Abigail suggesting they share a deep connection. They’re soulmates. They should be together.

Abigail ignores him.

She marries Bruce, and towards the end of their wedding night, she thinks she spots Scottie. Again, she considers owning up to Bruce. Their honeymoon to a secluded Maine island serves as the perfect distraction. Abigail can deliberate, in peace, in these tranquil surroundings.

But Scottie’s there too. And another guest, who shares Abigail’s plight: a secret from her husband. What happens next is bloody and violent, and will stretch some reader’s credulity to the limit; maybe beyond. There’s no question that Peter Swanson has crafted a breakneck thriller. And it goes places I didn’t expect it to, which is preferential to another assembly-line thriller. Nothing about the opening of “Every Vow You Break” telegraphs its wild climax, which sees Abigail taking on a virulent manifestation of powerful men committed to patriarchy. Ultimately implausible, but also unputdownable. 

ISBN: 9780571358502
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 30th March 2021
Publisher: Faber

Review: The Old Enemy by Henry Porter

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The arrival of a new Henry Porter novel will forever be accompanied by a sense of sweet nostalgia. When his debut “Remembrance Day” was published in 1999, I distinctly remember my father reading a copy of it poolside in a Phuket resort — I think the Jack Higgins quote on the cover was the key selling factor, ‘The best book of its kind I’ve read since “The Day of the Jackal'” — while I read my copy of Raymond Benson’s James Bond novel “Doubleshot.” Back then, Dad did all the book buying. Nowadays it’s me sharing my Henry Porter’s. The cycle is complete.

“The Old Enemy” is the perfect culmination of Porter’s two most recent spy thrillers. Though it can be read as a standalone, it rewards readers who’ve been with this cast of characters from the beginning, when former MI6 agent Paul Samson was tasked with tracking a thirteen-year-old Syrian refugee with vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terrorist cell (“Firefly”), and later hired by philanthropist Denis Hisami to find his kidnapped wife — and Samson’s former lover — Anastasia (“White Hot Silence”).

In “The Old Enemy” we learn much of the turmoil faced by Porter’s characters in these preceding volumes was orchestrated by a Cold War-era nemesis that has infiltrated the highest echelons of the UK and US government and industry. They’ve assassinated one of Britain’s finest spymasters (and one of Porter’s legacy characters, who has appeared beyond this trilogy) Robert Harland, exposed Denis Hisami to a nerve agent, and dispatched a hitman to assassinate Samson.

Porter keeps his complex story from snarling by crosscutting chapters between Anastasia and Samson as they work to expose and dismantle this immense Kremlin cabal from different sides of the world. There’s a barrage of finely-paced action set-pieces, electrified by his crisp prose, but Porter writes espionage fiction for the more discerning thriller reader, with a greater focus on character and atmosphere. If you’ve done all of le Carré, Cumming, Greene and Ambler, and still crave more? Porter’s the guy you should be reading.

ISBN: 9781529403299
ISBN-10: 1529403294
Series: Paul Samson Spy Thriller
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Available: 26th October 2021
Publisher: Quercus Books