In the suburbs, a young mother is looking after her two children. She has been a successful career woman in control of her life, sexually aware and used to attracting any man's undivided attention ... if she wanted to.
But now her control is slipping away. Motherhood is devouring her identity. Her two children depend on her and her husband adores her new role in the home. He is no longer focused on her. Her children are stealing his affection. Her own desires are secondary to everyone else's.
STILL WATERS is one of those books that will stir endless debate on a number of topics ranging from the oppression of women to the motherhood "myth", sexual inequality to co-parenting and the list goes on. Most of what is depicted within the book will strike a chord with mothers, and what may be most shocking of all is that we more than likely WON'T be shocked. The reactions of the unnamed mother of the book to her situation ARE extreme and executed with that blankness of survival instinct and sheer exhaustion that is present to some extent in all new mothers, or at the very least in those not backed up by nannies and helpful extended families. The woman of the book can no longer nurture, such is her sense of loss of self, that she seeks to remove herself from what is to her an untenable situation, in the worst possible way of all.
There is no "chilling twist" in this novel as you can see it coming a mile off; this whole book has doom hanging over it from the very first page. It is a sad piece of work, yet a highly relevant one. Australian author Camilla Noli does not play the blame game in her novel and has shown admirable restraint in backing down from the moralising and sweeping generalizations that could easily have been included, especially about the differences in social roles of new mother to new father. The incremental shift from the sane, albeit tired inner monologue to the disinterested, and then calculating, has been masterfully played by this debut author.
Included in the back of this book is a short Q & A with the author (herself the mother of two children) and helpful notes for book clubs and reading groups.
THE PASSENGER - Chris Petit
THE PASSENGER starts out pretty dramatically with a frantic father who thinks his son might have been on the plane - blown up over a small town, all passengers on board dead. When Collard learns that his son Nick may not have been on board after all, confusion gives way to confrontation as Collard starts to learn what Nick has gotten himself involved in. That soon moves to suspicion that there's more to the story of Nick, the blown up plane, the drug dealers, the spies, the security services and all.
Right from the start THE PASSENGER throws the reader into a slight sense of confusion. The plane has crashed - Collard is in London / at Heathrow / at the scene of the crash / sneaking under police tape to search amongst the passengers and their affects for his son. How did he get there? Where was this crash supposed to have been in relation to Heathrow - is it supposed to be the Lockerbie air disaster. No idea. From there on I spent the rest of the book in a vague haze of confusion.
After the initial stages of frantically searching for Nick; being heavied by some security guys from somewhere; and then settling into the hunt for his son, Collard pretty well stays focused on finding out if Nick is alive - where he is - and what he could possibly have got himself mixed up in. The book, then, after the initial flurry of activity, starts alternating chapters between Collard in the present and the search; and Angleton - CIA renegade spy, friend and colleague of Philby - but sometime in the past. There is some sort of connection between what Nick is doing now and what Angleton did then. But at this point the fog of confusion became a pea-souper and I was terminally lost.
Being terminally lost in the plot with absolutely no idea of what was going on and why, was not only disconcerting, it was frustrating as Collard is a very likeable and engaging character and you really want to know what was going on with him. Angleton was a character that you could be interested in as well - but for some reason - the two story lines just seemed to get further and further apart and more and more confusing. That is, until they needed to be dragged into some sort of control and sort of "explained" everything away in the final part of the book.
Oddly enough, in a strange way the book was readable - probably because of Collard, and even Angleton - although his story is a backwards look at his life. It was just profoundly confusing and whilst the ending - and having the elements explained - at least cleared the fog - it didn't compensate for the overall journey.
THE GILDED SEAL - James Twining
THE GILDED SEAL is the third Tom Kirk book by James Twining. Tom is a former art thief - his nickname was Felix, turned investigator. He runs a small firm with long time friend (with a similarly dodgy background) Archie, and they are often called in to help investigate art thefts - who better than an insider to understand the mind of the art thief!
In a foreword to the book the author notes that the novel was inspired by the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 and its eventual recovery in 1913. THE GILDED SEAL charges along balancing really well between events that just seem all too possible and realistic; alongside some frankly lunatic goings on that, to start off with, you just couldn't image could ever happen. But the realistic aspects can make the reader wonder, just possibly, if all of this could maybe really happen - and that's got to be the sign of a good thriller. That edgy balancing act between the thrill and the possible - the inconceivable - just maybe being conceivable.
There are other necessary elements of the thriller in THE GILDED SEAL. The flawed, super-human / soft in the centre hard man, prepared to put himself on the line to win the prize / get the girl / find the painting / avenge his friend / outsmart the baddies. There's also a super-human, cunning, rich and ruthless villain. There's the good girl from the FBI - less of a damsel in distress and more of a player by the end of the book; and there is a damsel in distress - with a twist.
The action is fast paced, the story lines are interesting and possible. The book moves around in location a lot and each short chapter is headed with a location, date and time - just to help give the whole thing a feeling of wide ranging impact.
There's a reasonable cast of supporting characters - good guys and the bad guys, the pace holds up incredibly well (as you'd expect in a good thriller), but at the same time there are good touches of place that move you from hot dry Spain, to cold New York, to almost Gothic France from Scotland.
All in all this was a great fun book - hugely entertaining - a real good old fashioned goodies versus baddies versus pick the real baddies thriller. I haven't read the first two books and apart from some obvious back history between Tom and some of the female characters in this book, you're not going to be missing out on much by reading this one on it's own. Having said that, I'm now looking forward to getting the first two books in the series to try them out as well.
BLACK MONDAY - R Scott Reiss
A plague that will cause the death of millions, destroy countries, plunge the world into chaos and yet make nobody sick?
When the planes first go down - in Europe, America and Asia - the authorities blame terrorists. All flights are grounded as world leaders try to figure out how the global assault has been coordinated. And when cars, ships and factories stop running too, it becomes clear that the common link is oil. A microbe, genetically engineered to destroy petroleum, has somehow infect the world supply.
Sounds really intriguing doesn't it. A microbe that cuts off the world's oil supply and plunges everything into a dark age. A fascinating premise no doubt about it. BLACK MONDAY has, as it's central hero, Dr Gregory Gillette, an epidemiologist with the Centres for Disease Control. He is a disease hunter, a plague specialist if you like - used to going into the centre of epidemics and finding the cause. Initially the Pentagon ask him to be part of the Rapid Response Team assembled to track and kill the devastating Delta-3 bacteria, but he quickly discovers that his expertise is being ignored and he must go it alone if he's to find the cause and stop this different sort of a plague. Not only is the leader of the task force against him, there are other threats lurking.
Possibly you're going to need to be a fan of blockbuster movie style books, maybe you're going to have to like the idea of one man against uncaring / unthinking / incompetent authorities scenarios. You're definitely going to have to accept a couple of extra, more individual threats thrown in as well as some convenient fear factors to like BLACK MONDAY, but if you do like that style of movie - in particular - then BLACK MONDAY could be the book for you.
There's absolutely no doubt that the good guys will win. There's no doubt that there is a lurking threat - very human threat behind the microbe. There's a sudden, dramatic and frenetic breakdown of society (except for the little pocket that our hero lives in) as the panic sets in when oil supplies run out. There's also some uncontaminated supplies of oil, incidentally, so those people that need to move around (for the sake of the plot) can move around.
And perhaps that's also what didn't work about BLACK MONDAY. It reads like a film script wrapped up as a book. There's little actual character development - mostly the book relies on "action". Whilst this can work in book format as well, it was slightly off the mark in this book as most of the action was predicated by things that just didn't make sense. The authorities responses were too inexplicable; the reasons behind the shadowy assassin's actions too unclear; the threat from the local "gangster" too cartoonish.
I confess BLACK MONDAY didn't work for me because of the overt and mostly unexplained lurking threatening presences; the one man against the authorities scenario with insufficient good reasons for that having to happen; and all the pointless rushing around and waving of guns as plot points. Of course, you can see why this has been movie optioned so quickly and readers will undoubtedly have some fun picking out a casting line up.
POWER PLAY - Joseph Finder
POWER PLAY is the latest in a string of stand-alone corporate thrillers by this author. It explores the idea of a corporate hostage taking exercise - when senior managers of the Hammond Aerospace corporation are held at a remote retreat where they have headed for an annual meeting.
In this group the obvious ring-ins are Jake Landry - more of a technical assistant to a boss who is unable to attend the retreat - and his old girlfriend Ali Hillman. She was in HR, but has now been moved across to work with the new company CEO. There's tension within the Hammond group before they even get to the retreat - after the death of their long-time CEO a female executive has been appointed to that role and many of the hard headed old men in the group are not happy about her or her approach. There is a big a marketing opportunity for the company when a competitors product fails spectacularly in front of an airshow full of witnesses. The group are already snipping and fighting amongst themselves, a situation that is exacerbated, rather than improved when heavily armed men - originally thought to be opportunistic local hunters, take the entire group and the staff of the retreat hostage.
POWER PLAY sets a cracking pace once the hostage taking gets underway - the lead up to that point fills in some details of the tensions between the characters, the background between Jake and Ali and a lot about Jake himself. This reader is still somewhat confused about why Jake's background mattered or what it necessarily contributed to him, but then by the end of the book he'd taken on somewhat more of a confusing persona so it might not matter to other readers so much. Mind you, the rest of the character's were less studies and more categories, for want of a better way of putting that. The new CEO, as a female is being strongly resisted by the older men in the group. She's sending out memos that annoy everybody before they go, she's had her powers of hiring and firing curtailed because of the tensions between her and senior executives and the retreat itself is unpopular because of the timing. All of this starts to make a bit more sense in the aftermath of the hostage taking. I'm not too sure what else she brings to the story other than providing one of the two possibly more vulnerable victims in the group. The harder headed, louder men in the group - the ones that were against the appointment of this woman the most vocally, form part of a series of targets for the hostage takers and there is a bit of rather extreme violence committed in the early stages of events. Conveniently most of the extreme threat - particularly to Ali, to whom Jake is still very much attracted; doesn't occur until Jake is armed, dangerous and free to take on the hostage takers - one by one.
POWER PLAY is definitely a thriller that takes advantage of pace, there's quite a few twists and turns in the plot - a lot of them obviously on the way, but they loomed up really quickly and the book just continued to charge along. All in all the pace was good; the characterisations less convincing; and the plot had it's definite high points but some concomitant low points. It's interesting that the marketing information that came with the book says that kidnappings and abductions of American business executives has increased dramatically in recent years. Big Business fans of POWER PLAY might be looking towards their lower ranks to check who they should take with them on any risky annual retreats.
BOOK OF THE DEAD - Patricia Cornwell
Author Patricia Cornwell throws convention to the winds here, writing her 15th Scarpetta book in a present tense narrative that appears difficult to have been sustained. The reader loses that intimate connection with Scarpetta through her thoughts that was such a success in the earlier novels of the series, and with a more grim and distant Scarpetta, happiness continues to elude her still. What we've come to expect of this series with its characters has also been turned on its head as three of the main characters are treated as fodder, toyed with for shock value that is disappointing after the investment readers have made into such a long-running series.
There is also the sheer ridiculousness of the conversations in the book. Empty statements abound, characters rarely answer a question in context and are so often exploring tangents while in discourse with someone else that the reader is bewildered as to what it is they are actually discussing. It’s a little dabbling in the surreal here as the story bobs in and out of coherent thought with little hope of the reader keeping up with each new thread. Almost a hidden plot has the BOOK OF THE DEAD, which is far too crowded and close a book. It is hard to forget the early brilliance of this author, the undoubtable talent Cornwell possessed in balancing a modern woman's drama with the new ground of crime scene forensic examination. A terrible novel for the new reader, BOOK OF THE DEAD offers little in the way of backfill. As with any long running series, any information is always appreciated and to Cornwell's credit, she is masterful at imparting a lot with few words.
The micro-world of forensics here is not the problem; it’s the duck and weave game we play with the plot. Occasionally a direction is glimpsed, and then lost again. Flashes of Cornwell's earlier skill with manipulating a scene for emotional punch (all that persecuted, professional woman angst) will come through, and then is lost again to the vagueness in expression.
EXIT STRATEGY - Kelley Armstrong
Nadia Stafford currently holds down two jobs. One of them involves her sometimes leaving her quiet life in Canada to secretly travel to wherever it is that her clients dictate. Most recently, a small Mafia family has been her regular employer, providing a much-needed, albeit high-risk income. Nadia sees it all as a means to an end, as she badly needs those funds from her "moonlighter" to financially prop up the hunter's lodge she owns and operates close to the Canadian/US border. Her two worlds do not collide.
This is not a new trend, presenting our leading man or lady as belonging to a profession not generally regarded as one in which you might find a worthy hero. EXIT STRATEGY is narrated also in the first person, so the character of Nadia, the ex-cop-turned-killer, is given some space to present some self-justification for murderous acts. This whole bad-girl-with-a-heart act can work, but it needs some sterling work put into the characterization. It's not necessary to always love or even like the lead, but you need to be at least impressed by them in some fashion, if only to admire how clever a villain they are. Very difficult to find any of that here in EXIT STRATEGY, which rather coldly puts together a group of people with yes, a common goal, and not a heart between them.
While this "thriller" picks up the pace as it progresses, introducing new bad guys along the way, EXIT STRATEGY struggles to find the logical twists and turns, meandering about with any discernable direction other than to eventually end what becomes an interminable and mind-numbing read. Paranormal romance readers who may have drifted across in loyalty may find their hopes bolstered however with the possibility of a romance in future works, threaded none-too-subtly in this first novel of the series. The future plot threads are there, all but high-lighted in neon and only the romantic angle looks vaguely interesting.
Best-selling author Kelley Armstrong is better known for her "Otherworld" supernatural novels, which have included BITTEN, DIME STORE MAGIC and NO HUMANS INVOLVED.
DARKNESS WITHIN - Jason Nahrung
You have to wonder what I'm doing out here, on the edge of the comfort zone again, up to my elbows in reading about things that normally don't work for me.... and enjoying it immensely.
The only thing I can clearly articulate is that THE DARKNESS WITHIN is unbelievably accessible. Part of it's the writing style I guess - there's something laid back, almost laconic about the style of the book. There are sly cracks, humour, a healthy dose of irony, even sarcasm in the interactions of the characters that frankly, you just don't expect in supernatural Gothic horror! But the thing that really really works is Emily. She's a great character, a bit feisty, a bit argumentative, ever so slightly annoyed with events, she is part accepting of the fate that her family has delivered her, and part just plain, flat out annoyed by it.
There is a massive dose of the supernatural in THE DARKNESS WITHIN - demons, ancient symbols and jewellery with power. There's also a very testy and temperamental Grimoire. The story revolves around a generational battle for power - the women in Emily's family against a Cabal of power - mostly male, but that doesn't ever degenerate into a supernatural battle of the sexes. Partially this is possibly because it's really not too clear whose side the character of Jehail is on, partly it's because there's nothing stereotypical about the leading women in Emily's family.
Ultimately THE DARKNESS WITHIN is part supernatural thriller, part romance, part dark fantasy, part coming of age, as the publicity blurb says, but it's also got the most fascinating "Australian" feel to it from the writing style and the interactions between the characters. The book is set in contemporary Sydney, and although there's not a lot of feel of Sydney about it necessarily, it's also not Gothic in that everything is dark and overwhelmingly old... but it is Gothic in terms of the overall atmosphere of the book.
THE SIX SACRED STONES - Matthew Reilly
For the uninitiated, Matthew Reilly does not write crime. He does not write thrillers. Matthew Reilly writes ACTION. Think Indiana Jones with a healthy dose of Die Hard and you'll start to get the idea. Character development just slows down the plot too much. As always, Reilly is inventive in the locales and situations in which he thrusts his heroes. Having read most if not all of Reilly's books, I am always impressed by his ability to pack into the written word things I would previously have thought would only work in the visual medium of the movies. The Sacred Stones is no exception in this.
If you want something that examines the human condition, move on. If you're in the mood for some pure escapism to while away a few hours with flying bullets and narrow escapes, then crack the cover.
THE SIX SACRED STONES - Matthew Reilly
Matthew Reilly was born in 1974. He is of a generation who grew up on a diet of action blockbuster movies. Reading THE SIX SACRED STONES is like reading a screenplay for one of these movies. The characters careen from one life threatening situation to another at a breakneck speed. There is an incredibly high body count as West’s friends and foes alike succumb to the danger of this latest quest. They die in all manner of grisly fashions. Fortunately the reader is spared too many details.
Character development isn’t really Reilly’s thing. Why waste the words when you can have another life-threatening situation from which Jack can extricate himself? The characters all seem to have the same voice; from the learned elderly academic to Jack’s twelve-year-old daughter – they all talk in exactly the same manner.
If asked to describe THE SIX SACRED STONES, I would say it is Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code on steroids. A fan of action movies looking for something to keep them entertained over the Christmas holidays will probably love THE SIX SACRED STONES. For this ageing baby boomer who prefers her plots much more sedate and with distinctive characters, it was all just a little too exhausting.