Book Review: The Whistler, by John Grisham

the-whistler-by-john-grishamAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Just in time for the holidays, readers! What an exciting, gripping ride this is. Make sure the highest SPF is slathered on, as you are likely to forget to reapply while immersed in this twisty-turny thriller.  I haven’t read John Grisham for years and years  not for any particular reason, I just haven’t. You can’t help wonder if an author’s later novels stand up to the same awesomeness as the early ones do, so many prolific genre authors losing their touch as the years go by. Oh no not here!

Most of Grisham’s novels have the legal system, in some capacity, at the centre. Corruption, murder, and lies also feature heavily and they form the core of this novel. Lacy Stotlz and Hugo Hatch are investigative lawyers who work for the Florida state government, in a small department called the Board On Judicial Conduct (BJC). This body investigates judicial misconduct by judges, and is kept surprisingly busy. There is considerable uneasiness at the thought of those at the top of the judicial chain passing judgement on others, who themselves are guilty of many and various sins. Lacy and Hugo are contacted by an indicted lawyer, Greg Myers, the middleman for a whistleblower, who has evidence of massive corruption involving local judge Claudia McDover, organised crime, the building of a casino on Indian Reservation land, money laundering, murder, and wrongful imprisonment. It is up to Lacy and Hugo to, firstly, ascertain if there is case to be made, then file the claim of misconduct, and thirdly, begin the process of unravelling it.

At first I thought this would be a routine sort of whodunit, the good guys finally unveiling the bad guys, and untangling the enormous spider’s web that had been so carefully constructed by the baddies.  And for the first hundred pages this is how it went. Then bam, a shocking thing happens. The action winds up several notches; people disappear; there is uncertainty as to who can and cannot be trusted; the tension becomes palpable. Can the BJC topple the house of cards before it is toppled? The author’s extensive legal knowledge is strewn throughout the story, but at no time does it dominate or detract from the story line. Plus he has the gift of simplifying the legal system and jargon for the lay-reader as the race to expose the judge before she and her associates can escape.

As with most of John Grisham’s novels, we are reading about the depravity of human behaviour and how low people will go to get what they want. And it is not just the baddies. The whistleblower, when finally exposed, is also guilty of self-interest. I was struck at how deep corruption claws into one’s soul, how greedy people become on glimpsing the riches in their reach, and how easily people can be corrupted or turned. It is a gripping page-turner of a read: I really liked it, and with holidays coming up I might just read another.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Whistler
by John Grisham
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444791143

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Book Review: Night School, by Lee Child

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_night_school“In the morning they gave him a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school.”

Night School is Lee Child’s twenty-first novel in the Jack Reacher collection. (It’s debatable about referring to the Reacher books as a series, as they’re not serial in Jack’s timeline. On Mr Child’s website On Mr Child’s website you will find  Jack’s chronological order for reading the titles, below the list of the titles in order of publication.) It is set in 1999. If Mr Child’s wanted to keep Jack Reacher fans happy, then this – his twenty-first Reacher book in the growing collection – has certainly achieved its purpose.

In Night School, Jack is made invisible by sending him to training school – where he finds two other ‘students’. All are invisible to personnel in the Military Police, the FBI and the CIA. The three agents are to work a clandestine investigation into all possible threats, reporting only to the National Security Advisor to the President, through his senior deputy Dr. Marian Sinclair who briefs them: An Iranian (a double agent) living with three Saudis in a safe house in Hamburg, has reported a message carried by a courier “The American wants one hundred million dollars”. Their job: to learn what is being offered, worth that price. There are two rules: Rule number two: talk to no one – except Sinclair. Rule number one: do not burn the Iranian asset. Reacher brings in Sergeant Frances Neagley, and heads to Hamburg to find out what they can.

Soon after arriving, they are called back to McLean, where they are briefed on a possible product – a Trojan virus has just appeared on the black market: it can override the patch coding for ensuring computer systems correctly handle the millennium clock change – the Y2K threat – and stop computer clocks at any moment. The team’s focus now is to track down who could be arranging that Trojan’s sale. Who more likely than a geek? And a convention of coders was held in Hamburg at the time of the message being reported. The team sift through records of Americans attending the convention, turning up one ex-pat American living in Hamburg. News comes in of a Hamburg police report from a witness to an agitated meeting between an American and a “middle-eastern” man. Tracking movements of American military moves, Reacher & Neagley discover three serving in Germany have gone AWOL – one for four months. Reacher & Neagley are ordered back to Hamburg, with pics of all american geeks for that witness to id.

The investigation continues, with Child giving snippets of the actions of other parties in the plot, building up the complexity of the case, and allowing readers to visualise locations and character, and foresee possible events – yet there are still surprises. Action scenes are defined crisply, with realistically timed reading pace matched with movement. Threats on the side build tension, and the engrossed reader will surmise the worst scenario possible; resist the urge.

All in all, a satisfying read, from the opening to the resolution. Reacher fans and new readers alike will become engrossed in this book, being released globally on November 7.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Night School
by Lee Child
Published by Bantam Press
ISBN: 9780593073902

Book Review: A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker, by Christopher Abbey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_moments_silenceI love a good thriller and when this one landed on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Martyn Percival is a New Zealander on holiday in the UK. He was travelling for 7 days on a British “Sampler Tour”. It is Sunday 7 May 1995 – a long weekend commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of VE day. His marriage of more than 30 years has broken up, he’s recently started up his own accounting practice after being made redundant, and he is now taking a well needed break.

A dusty Vauxhall Cavalier comes into view beneath Martyn’s window. Travelling on a bus has its advantages – you can look down on things and see things that perhaps you wouldn’t notice travelling in a car. The number plate of the Vauxhall J 842 MMP caught Martyn’s eye. As a child plate watching was his family’s travelling game. Families have their own games when travelling with children – it keeps everyone amused and entertained hopefully for hours. In Martyn’s case his fixation with numbers drove him to be an accountant. His coach creeps forward, grinding a few metres further up the hill. The car remains stationary.

Suddenly the Cavalier accelerates into view, squealing across the median line. Martyn cranes his head for a better view. The coach inches forward right alongside the grimy maroon Vaxhall. The car’s rear ledge has been removed and what appears to be a large metal-framed black box fills the boot space. On its top lies a grey flat moulded case, too large for a violin. The lid is sprung partly open, half-covered by a tartan travel rug. Two automatic weapons can now clearly be seen. One is a rifle with a folded metal butt embedded in foam in the case. The other – a smaller machine gun lies loose on the box top. Martyn points them out to a fellow passenger who confirms his suspicions. Definitely not AK-47’s, but some sort of assault weapons. Horrified at what he’s seen Martyn gets his camera out and clicks off a few frames.

After finishing the tour, Martyn hires a car to explore areas he visited on his recent bus trip. Sitting in a pub recommended to him by the B & B where he is staying in the Cotswolds, the television flashes up a bombing of Commando Memorial in Scotland, which he had visited on his bus trip. A memory of that day comes back to Martyn with sudden realisation that the Vauxhall Cavalier was parked in the vicinity – he can’t get the Vauxhall’s number plate out of his head – J 842 MMP. After some deliberation Martyn decides that he must report what he has seen, with the photos he took as further evidence.

What Martyn doesn’t know is a rogue IRA operative is on the loose – one Linus Calleson. Calleson 8 months earlier had put a plan to his superiors to blow up the Commando Memorial in Scotland on 11 November 1994 – Remembrance Day. His superiors put this plan on hold as peace talks had been held. Linus was bitterly disappointed but decided to go ahead without their support. To go against orders would be treason which carries only one penalty – death.

What follows is real a boys own annual story (well perhaps a grown up version) – the IRA, bombings, sex, murder, romance and of course not forgetting the villain Linus, with Martyn being in the thick of being stalked by Linus for being a “nosey bloody tourist”.
The characters and story flowed with actual events being slotted into make this even more believable and very realistic. The characters all have flaws making them even more human.

This was a gritty story that had me struggling between life commitments and finishing the book. This is the author Christopher Abbey’s first book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker
by Christopher Abbey
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473361891

Book Review: The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_black_widowHaving never read a Daniel Silva novel before, let alone one from the Gabriel Allon series, I was deeply impressed with The Black Widow. It was a great representation of what seems to be Daniel Silva’s incredible skill in crafting a bestselling thriller. The Black Widow contains an intricate plot about a legendary spy, a terrorist organisation, and a young woman who has the right skills at the right time.

The novel starts off appearing to be completely unrelated to the intriguing blurb covering the back of the book, but then it gathers momentum and mystery, becoming clearer where a character such as described in the blurb fits in. An attack from ISIS initiates an introduction to a secret Parisian counter-terrorism group, and from there the story works it’s way towards Gabriel Allon. Wanting the best to be involved in finding the perpetrators and stopping further attacks, Gabriel is enlisted by the French government to eliminate the threats. A plan is set into motion, infiltrate the ISIS caliphate by means of a Black Widow operation. A candidate for the role is then selected, and so begins the dangerously sensitive mission.

Daniel Silva writes with seemingly great insight into intelligence agencies from around the world and their counterparts of criminal and terrorist organisations. As stated in the forward and the author’s note, the events, incidents, characters, and places are of course fictitious, but still it is entirely believable in the sense that Silva manages to be realistic and rational.

The book itself could quite easily have been a stand-alone book; a new reader such as myself has no trouble in picking up the plot and the characters. It is not as though all the background information is thrust upon the reader so that the current story can be understood and get underway, but rather Silva reveals the previous stories and details almost with caution, letting them be explained when appropriate. As the reader, there are times when you desperately want to know more about how the past has affected the present situations and relationships, and it is then that more is provided. However, for the many people that have read the series and do know Gabriel’s history, in my opinion these explanations and flashbacks would not feel slow or repetitious. It is easy to tell that these features only scratch the surface of previous events that make up the 15 books before The Black Widow, serving as a reminder to those who have read them and for those who haven’t, making them eager to delve deeper into Gabriel’s story.

There seems to be a lot of fascination for characters like Gabriel Allon; an individual that possesses a skill set that is nothing short of extraordinary which contributes to making him mostly a misunderstood hero, if that; yet always in some respect unknown which seems to provide most of the allure surrounding such characters. Those such as James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, and many others have proved that there is a definite market in the entertainment industry for these brilliant and complex characters. While similar in the basic undertones, they continue to thrill those who read the books in which their lives are contained or watch the movies where their heroisms are portrayed in 90 minutes or so. Daniel Silva has created an individual that, in my opinion, stands out among these. The Black Widow is the latest instalment of the 16 book series that features Gabriel Allon, and in one book he has been able to spark my interest enough to read more of Gabriel’s story, and this to me shows incredible skill.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Black Widow
by Daniel Silva
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
9780732298951

Book Review: Lie with Me, by Sabine Durrant

cv_lie_with_meAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Ambiguity and double entendre are rife in this novel, on almost every page, with every character seemingly guilty of some sort of lie, flexibility with the truth, cover up, or self-preservation tactic. This starts with the title, even before you open the cover. Who is lying, who isn’t, who is lying with who, who is sleeping with who, who is pretending, who isn’t? The intrigue is absolutely bursting out of the pages, and the reader simply does not know what is going on.

This novel is the latest in the amnesia/psychological thriller genre that Before I Go To Sleep by Susan Watson was a harbinger for way back in 2011, and which came into prominence with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn a couple of years ago, followed by Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. And I expect this one will also take off and be just as successful as these other novels. Because, just as we may be starting to have amnesia-overload, the protagonist in this novel is not a young woman victim, caught between a rock and a hard place, confused, cornered, either manipulating or being manipulated. No, in this novel, we have a man, Paul Morris, 42 years old, supposed master of his universe, who finds himself in a net that may or may not be of his making. From page one – ‘How much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me?’ And the reader does not know either.

Paul is not an appealing character – arrogant, lazy bludger, heavy drinker, broke, string of broken relationships, hedonistic. He calls himself a writer, and had some success with a novel some twenty years earlier – his best friend calls him The Great Literary Success. On the second page Paul, who is the first person narrator, tells us that ‘Plenty of friendships, I am sure, are based on lies’. Warning bells… that are not heeded by Paul or the reader. But since that novel, he has done very little with his life, continuing to dine out on this success, with no literary follow-up. He is now living with his mother, with no job prospects and his latest fling over.

By chance, Paul meets up with an old university ‘contemporary,’ as he calls him, Andrew, whose sister Paul has vague recollections of dating at one stage when they were all at Cambridge together. Paul finds himself invited to dinner to Andrew’s, where he meets Alice, a young widow in her forties, with two teenage children. Things go swimmingly well between Paul and Alice, and before long Paul is invited to accompany them all on a two-week holiday to Greece – Alice and her children, Andrew, his wife Tina and their three children. Alice has another mission on this holiday – it is ten years since Jasmine, the fourteen-year-old daughter, of another holidaying couple disappeared, and Alice has worked tirelessly over the years to keep the search for this girl alive. Alice and Andrew’s families were all holidaying in the town when the girl disappeared, and got to know her parents. Now, ten years later, the three families are meeting again to mark the anniversary.

Paul bumbles his way through this complicated web of relationships and history, lying through his teeth about what he does, how much money he has, his life, digging bigger and bigger holes for himself. But as he slowly discovers, he actually has much greater things to worry about.

This is a tightly held thriller, with the web tightening in very surprising ways around Paul. He is a walking time bomb, completely delusional about his place at the centre of his own universe, the reader figuring out fairly early on that his walk is taking him into a whole heap of trouble, largely of his own making. But his hazy memories of just about everything of course make it impossible to tell what the big reveal will be. There is not one single likeable character in this book, with the exception perhaps of Tina, Andrew’s wife. The manipulation, the cover ups, the denials, the lies, the tit-for-tats, the furtiveness, the perversions – it is a never ending feast of nastiness. But what a great read. Don’t take it on holiday, especially to Greece, you might find you never leave….

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Lie With Me
by Sabine Durrant
Published by Mulholland Books
ISBN 9781473608344

Book Review: The Last Days of Summer, by Vanessa Ronan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_last_days_of_summerSet in a small Texan prairie town that is in the midst of a hot, dry and unforgiving summer, this tale takes a close look at society’s willingness to forgive a monster. After serving ten years for a violent assault against a woman in the town, Jasper is released from prison and, having nowhere else to go, returns to his childhood home to live with his sister, Lizzie.

A single mum due to the repercussions of Jasper’s horrific act, Lizzie takes him in, acknowledging her conflict even as she does so: ‘But Lizzie stands paralyzed, listening to her brother’s laugh that is not her brothers, spoon held before her like some useless shield against whatever unknowns may come to pass. The reverend’s words haunt her. Half a day with Jasper and her inner response is still the same: I reckon I don’t know at all.’

To her, Jasper is both the big brother who looked after and loved her, and the psychopath who cannot be fully trusted. Familial ties win out and she lets him into her home, trusting that he will not harm her or her two daughters – the teenage Katie who doesn’t trust her uncle and the younger tween Joanne, who is innocently trustful and intrigued by this uncle she does not know.

The town is not so understanding of Lizzie’s decision to help her brother, nor are they willing to move past Jasper’s history, unfortunately Jasper’s insistence that he is not looking for trouble falls on deaf ears.

Cleverly set out with no chapter breaks to keep the tension building, Vanessa Ronan’s prose is both vividly descriptive and dramatic; her short, sharp sentences paint a family and town on edge. “The shop smells mildly of cat piss and mothballs, a smell that slaps the nostrils and jerks back the head…” From the first page, you can feel major trouble looming.

The characters are in a way stereotypical: the reverend who offers no practical help, the un-supportive parole officer and his blowsy receptionist, the rich oil man and his handsome son, the gun-toting vigilante brigade; however in this story, they work. Without them you could not consider each perspective of forgiveness – the Christian act of turning the other cheek, the town’s very understandable fear of him in their midst once again, the wronged family’s desire for vengeance, the pull of kin and shared childhood. Set against these viewpoints is a perpetrator who is aware of his actions but takes no responsibility for them; if Jasper is unremorseful and does not seek forgiveness, is he entitled to it?

Edgy, shocking and intense, this is no light-hearted read but a compelling one nonetheless. Very well written and, as disturbing as some parts of it are, I couldn’t put it down.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Last Days of Summer
by Vanessa Ronan
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781844883660

 

Book Review: Fellside, by M R Carey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fellsideFellside is a prison, a correctional facility for women to be precise, where three thousand women ‘form a community committed to a practical ideal of rehabilitation’. Sounds idyllic. Not. A women’s prison is not a place that most people get to see the inside of, but we sure get plenty of insight from programmes like Bad Girls, Orange is the New Black, and Wentworth. Really tough women, young and old, fighting to survive. Fellside is no different.

There have been a number of best-selling novels in the last few years which have as their central premise a young woman who has suffered memory loss. Jess Moulson is yet another young woman in the unfortunate position of having her life dramatically affected by amnesia.

The story opens with Jess regaining consciousness in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the bed, being treated for serious burns, smoke inhalation. Gradually, she remembers that she was involved in a fire in her flat that led to the death of a ten-year-old boy who lived in the flat upstairs. Jess is a drug addict and has vague recollection that she set the fire for reasons that she can’t quite recall. By page 25 she has been found guilty of murder, the subject of the most awful press coverage, and sentenced to Fellside. Her court-appointed lawyer is doubtful that the full and factual story has come out but can’t get Jess to see sense, her guilt at the death of young Alex completely overwhelming her.

So life in prison begins, and it’s not a bed of roses. Now, I am not a fan of supernatural or fantasy fiction, I really just do not get it. But very cleverly the author who, under a pen name has written for Marvel comics and writes his own graphic fiction, introduces what can only be called a ghost character – a young boy who comes to Jess in her sleep, in her dreams, taking her with him to his world. She is convinced this is the spirit of Alex, and gradually realises that he is helping her to see what really happened the night of the fire. And so the mystery of Alex’s death begins to be solved.

But it is definitely creepy, weird and unsettling. At the same time as Jess is moving between the real world and the spirit world, she has to adapt to prison life in all its ruthlessness, cruelty, bent prison officers, and survival of the fittest code. It is pretty grim. What was interesting and did help to soften the brutality was the back stories of the prisoners and how they came to be in Fellside, including Jess’s own story. As awful as they all are, terrible things happened to the women that led them to prison, so it is hardly surprising the terror continues.

At nearly 500 pages, already one can see that there is lot going on in this novel. It is tricky to define what sort of novel it is – a psychological thriller? Murder mystery? Supernatural? Fantasy? Horror? At times it does wobble, and for me, I did lose my way with all the wanderings Jess and Alex’s spirit do in the pursuit of justice. But living in such a prison environment, wouldn’t you too want to escape to inside your head?

If you get past all the spooky action, then this is actually quite a riveting story. Life in the prison is graphically depicted, all the characters are very well drawn with great depth, there are lots of twists in the plot and surprises. And in the end, justice is served.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Fellside
by M.R. Carey
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356503592