According to the bio that came with the book, CHASERS is the 5th book by Lorenzo Carcaterra and a followup to APACHES. The author lives in New York and has written scripts for films and TV shows, including Law and Order. Perhaps that's where the style and content of CHASERS comes from, because this is a very specific type of thriller book, possibly appealing to a particular type of taste.
Set in 1985 in New York, machine-guns are used to murder a target in a Manhattan restaurant, killing innocent bystanders in the process. The brutal slaying propels the surviving members of the Apaches into the investigation of a Colombian drug cartel run by an ex-priest.
The Apaches are a group of controversial ex-cops famous for their take no prisoners, tolerate no garbage style. Original members of the group are joined by some new recruits - a wounded arson investigator, an HIV-positive specialist in forensics and a retired police dog. From the blurb on the book "Now this dedicated team will become Chasers, working multiple cases that will converge into one explosive, all-out New York City street war".
To like CHASERS if might be best if you're a fan of endless dead bodies, assorted gangs facing off against each other (at some point you were left wondering if there was room for anybody else in the city); blood running in the streets; wise-cracking, deeply cynical New York Cops; dialogue that flows through the ear like a staccato dentist drill; vengeance; and rampant gratuitous, almost celebrated, violence.
And boy oh boy is there a lot of everything that's just a bit stomach churning. Spattered gore doesn't begin to explain it, mentioning that there are a lot of dead bodies in this novel doesn't do justice to the dismembering, mayhem and general discarding of human beings left right and centre throughout the book. There's nothing wrong with a high body count in a thriller after all, but somewhere buried under the assorted body parts you'd hope there would be a story being told. This searching for the story under the gore is complicated further by the nature of the dialogue, every single character using the same slick, smart, sassy, street talk (or whatever you'd call it style) that meant that most of the time it was almost impossible to tell which character said what.
I guess ultimately CHASERS could read like a film adaption waiting to happen (although what rating you'd give this level of mayhem beggars the mind), but as a book (for a fan of the occasional over the top thriller) it left a bit to be desired.
PIRATE - Ted Bell
China and France have formed a deadly alliance – they are after the oil in Oman and from there – the world!
On the side of the good guys: intrepid Counter-Terrorist freelancer, British Intelligence Officer and all round English Pukka good chap, Lord Alex Hawke and his band of International merry men including man-mountain American Stokely Jones. Harry Brock, American agent, rescued by Hawke from the clutches of Chinese agents on a boat in the South of France is now part of the team. Legendary New Scotland Yard criminalist Ambrose Congreve needs to prove who murdered French Foreign Minister Luca Bonaparte's father many years before, he also needs to work out why a beautiful Chinese woman is trying to assassinate him. He then wants to make sure that he wins the heart of Lady Diana Mars. NYPD Lieutenant Mariucci wants to know why a couple of aged mobsters have been killed by a rather strange Chinese man and what the Leviathan, a huge ship sitting in NY Harbour, is threatening to do to his city.
On the side of the bad guys: Luca Bonaparte, French Foreign Minister promoted to French President when the Prime Minister and President are assassinated. General Moon and his beautiful twin daughters Jet and Bianca – agents of the Te-Wu – the Chinese Secret Police. Major Tony Tang, General Moon's pretty public face and Hu Xu, assassin, torturer, master of disguise and all round bad guy. Baron von Draxis is the German shipbuilder, owner of a hidden Schloss in the mountains, cruel and vicious lover of Jet Moon, who built Leviathan to be the weapon that the French and Chinese will use to bring the free world to its knees.
And that's just a start – there are more characters charging in and out of PIRATE than extras in a Cecil B. DeMille epic movie. Actually PIRATE is a bit of an epic book – at 514 pages, it's a doorstopper of a thriller that starts out at breakneck speed and doesn't let up even in the epilogue.
PIRATE really shines in a few ways. Great characterisations taking stereotypes and making them so big and wide and glorious that they become a homage. Congreve's stiff upper lip is so stiff it's a wonder he can shave in the mornings. Hawke is the bravest, the truest, the most multi-talented human being in the world. Stokely Jones is the classic huge man, short on words, high on emotion, faithful to the last. Then the action scenes which are over the top yet manage to never slip over into caricature. You can almost imagine all of the scenes actually happening. (Well, maybe not, but it's not so outlandish to be completely farcical.) PIRATE obviously has a political element to it, but at no stage does it feel like it's trying to make a propaganda point. As you'd expect from something as tongue in cheek as PIRATE – the suspected traitor in the midst isn't and somebody switches sides in a poignant change of heart.
PIRATE is a rip-roaring good fun, entertaining roller-coaster thriller. Read it and have a darn good cheer from the sidelines.
BLOWBACK - Brad Thor
Archaeologists make a stunning discovery in a pass high in the French – Italian Alps, but do not live to tell the tale. A year later, Islamic scientists begin dying in seeming accidents or outright assassinations and kidnappings all around the world. And then a US army unit moves into the peaceful, multi-religion village of Asalaam near Mosul in Iraq. They are checking up on some Christian missionaries who haven't been heard of but are startled to find half the village dead from a horrible, flu like disease with some very nasty symptoms. Scott Harvath is a Navy SEAL turned covert counter-terrorism agent who authorities turn to when the connections between these events start to become clear. Harvath, and through him The President of the US, have other problems as well as Democrat Senator Helen Cunningham is on the trail of both of them, trying to prove that there is something else going on with covert operations.
Harvath must go out alone and try to stop a deadly biological weapon from being distributed in America. He must also stop his arch enemy Khalid Sheik Alomari, a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative and ruthless assassin. Alomari is killing Muslim scientists who may have unlocked the key to a devastating super weapon.
There are two broad classifications into which thrillers that I read seem to fit. The totally over the top, almost cartoon like, take your disbelief and hang it in the wardrobe, wild ride type – along the lines of Austin Powers, Colin Forbes', even James Bond to a certain degree. Then there are the psychological, the creepy, the leave the lights on, fasten your seatbelts, things could get hairy here types – in this category Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum, Scott Turow and Frederick Forsyth and many many others. If you get lucky occasionally some of these books can switch between the two categories seamlessly without affecting your overall enjoyment of any of the book. No matter how much I think about BLOWBACK I simply can't decide which category it was aiming for.
It's a great premise – a biological weapon that once threatened the Roman Empire is back with the potential to wipe out huge parts of the world. Perhaps a bit far-fetched in some people's minds, but the premise of the book really appealed to me. I didn't even mind the movie-script like style and could have forgiven some of the frankly utterly outlandish scenes - a supposedly disgraced and in hiding operative not all that hard to spot and certainly in communication with a lot of people; sensationalist paragliding across borders; suddenly producing large numbers of gliders out of nowhere; European countries that didn't seem to mind a heavily armed one man revenge band charging around over their borders; a seemingly never ending stream of money to bribe everyone and a scientist who just suddenly manages to climb a huge ice-covered mountain, having never even attempted anything remotely like this (not even the climbing of a small rock in the backyard) with just the hero to “carry her through”.
Where the book was greatly underwhelming, and I think, the premise poorly served, was that the whole thing was presented in way too black and white a manner with too much predictability and bland characterisation. No doubt about it, many of the the action scenes were exciting and well written, but the existence of the weapon and how it survived was brush stroke and questionable at best, the connection between the weapon and the intra-Muslim faith tensions too self-serving; and the various political conspiracies way too convenient. The whole thing reeked of a one sided partisan cheer squad.
Perhaps your political perspective can affect summation of this book, but I felt that it was a great idea, muddied by a whole lot of convenient nefarious goings on, which contributed little to the thrill and nothing to the action.
DRAGON MOUNTAIN - Daniel Reid
Captain Jack Robertson, ex-Military, Pilot and CIA Spy is kidnapped in-flight, picking up the latest shipment of opium that the CIA is using to fund covert operations in Asia. Discovering that he has been kidnapped by the deliciously over the top one-eyed, betel juice chewing minion of his disgraced comrade ex-Chinese Army officer Ching Wei is disconcerting enough. Ching Wei and Jack go back to 1942, when they were both pilots moving supplies from India into Chungking during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Ching Wei was rubbed out of the Chinese Army because of his drug-smuggling activities, and Jack was involved in the disclosure. But even more disconcerting is that Ching Wei has done very very well from the ongoing drug smuggling and he now does a great sideline in kidnapping white men (mostly) with particular skill sets and keeping them within the confines of his mountain lair to work for him.
DRAGON MOUNTAIN is Ching Wei's mountain stronghold. Deep in the Burmese jungle Dragon Mountain is a fortress outside, a luxurious resort inside. Part of the stronghold is a small Shan Village – the people of this village are part of Ching Wei's power base, providing him with accommodation and support for his white zoo and his stronghold. Ching Wei maintains control over his huge drug empire, his large army of soldiers and servants, and his white “zoo” with a brutal and cruel regime of torture; ritualistic murder; sex; enslavery of the local village and a liberal policy of free distribution of drugs to his minions. Jack must decide if he wants to stay in this bizarre jail paradise or fight for his freedom.
Think Fu-Manchu, aspects of (sans the genetic engineering) The Island of Dr Moreau (which isn't hard because that's the name of one of the character's), James Bond (without the gadgets), the movie Missing In Action and Dr Evil from Austin Powers and you're somewhere in the vicinity of DRAGON MOUNTAIN. That's not to say that DRAGON MOUNTAIN's not just a huge laugh, it's just that it's a totally, utterly and seemingly unashamedly over the top thriller.
DRAGON MOUNTAIN is also not a book for the politically correct amongst us. Probably unsurprisingly for a microcosm community built around drug smuggling, the drug taking is overt and quite clinical – one of the characters, Ching Wei's personal physician has a sideline in trying to find the perfect formula for the best drug known to man, whilst he also provides considered and careful diagnosis on how best to control some of the unpleasant side-effects of constant opium use. And the sex is, well, in your face. Each of the white men is originally billeted with a family in the village that supports DRAGON MOUNTAIN. The “tribal” consensus is that men having sex with wives and daughters is a compliment to the household, so it goes on – all over the place. Of course if one of the white men marries a woman from the village, Ching Wei will build them a house of their own and allow them to live with their family just outside the village confines. But opium does have a bad affect on libido so the sex goes on, outside marriage; outside houses; in gardens; in hammocks; during parties; after parties; and well, everywhere. (Fortunately you are spared most of the gory details of the sex scenes but I did wonder at one point whether you'd actually be able to walk around this village without falling over something or someone – what with the copulating bodies and opium smoking and/or drunken men wandering around, but I digress).
DRAGON MOUNTAIN brings back the good old days of the early thrillers. The baddies are horrendously bad; the goodies are brave and noble and true. Of course in this version the violence and bad behaviour are a darn sight more explicit than Fu Manchu would have appreciated. DRAGON MOUNTAIN is one of those silly, ludicrous, vaguely guilt inducing, Sunday afternoon, why not read something totally over the top sorts of books, and I think I may need help, because I liked it.
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND - Stav Sherez
There is a serial killer in Amsterdam, killing young women in an unspeakable manner. The body of the elderly tramp, found in a rain soaked park, is covered in scarring of all types, so police assume that he is the latest victim, despite the differences in the manner of his death. All Detective Ronald van Hijn has as a clue to the victim's identity is a name and a phone number, written on the inside of the book of poetry found in the tramps pocket.
Jon Reed knew the old man – Jake Colby – because he had recently been overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility for this quiet, homeless man. Some strange impulse had made him invite Jake into his flat, where they had spent time together talking about their backgrounds and their respective fathers.
Summoned to Amsterdam to identify Jake, Jon finds himself drawn to the city; to the investigation into Jake's death; to the Jewish quarter and to Suze, an American student writing her thesis on a little known Jewish artist, killed in Auschwitz. Jake had recently discovered he wasn't who he had thought he was. Jon is aware that he is not who he really is, and that his own father had denied their Jewish history totally. Whilst he is searching for Jake's past and what it was that led to his death, Jon finds himself pulled into a strange twilight world of drugs, alcohol, Jewish History, Nazism and fetishes.
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is a thriller. The action is almost non-stop and there's lots and lots of sex and drugs; a bit of rock and roll; Nazi's; pornographers; shadowy Internet auction sites; body piercers; cruelty; secret societies and a huge dose of despair. Whilst there is a lot of action and always something new happening, there are also some short reflective moments whilst Jon tries to work out what being Jewish means to him. Van Hijn is another rumpled, slightly maverick Detective. What makes him different and interesting though is that he's actually not bullet-proof, he also sticks with this investigation, despite the powers that be wanting him anywhere else. And he's addicted to cheesecake – the seriously nice sounding variety and some really weird sounding varieties (chilli and chive or liquorice cheesecake anyone?) . Suze is not just your typical love interest or token female, she's got some very challenging behaviours of her own.
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is dark. Much of it's subject matter is revolting, many of the characters just appalling, the violence is extreme and people behave badly – frequently. The sex and the drug taking are graphic and brutal. The cruelty of the murders is reflected again and again in cruelty at all levels – to each other and animals; historical and current day. But the pace of the book is sharp and the storyline is taut and well written. THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is not a comfortable read, but it is a great thriller.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - John Ajvide Lindqvist
Oskar is a timid and lonely little boy, living in a high-rise building in one of those suburbs of Stockholm that was built with great fanfare in the 70's and ignored from then on. Oskar likes to eat sweets, collects murder stories in a scrapbook and fantasises about stabbing the boys in his class that torment and bully him constantly. Oskar is also a resilient and surprisingly self-sufficient little boy. His tormentors beat him, but they certainly aren't defeating him. But lonely little boys tend to watch what is happening around them, and Oskar is intrigued by the people that quietly move into the apartment next door. The blinds are always closed and it's very quiet in there. Nobody else pays a lot of attention to this new family, but later on, the removalist that helped them move in did wonder about the lack of belongings and just one bed.
Oskar knows that Eli doesn't have many friends, he knows that he normally only sees her, late at night in the playground near their building. She smells bad; her hair sometimes has grey streaks in it; and she wears light summer clothing and no shoes even though it's snowing. Eli's quiet, reserved, very formal. Oskar knows she's a bit odd, but he is just too young and too innocent to realise how odd, until much much later.
Soon after Eli moves in, a child's body is found hanging in a tree in a suburb not too far away. When an older man simply disappears one night – the media, the police, and all the residents start wondering if there is a serial killer in the area. But nothing in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is ever going to be that simple.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is labelled a Vampire Love Story, and it is. But if you're a fan of the softer, vampire romances where a simple bite on the neck is the weapon of choice, or where the vampire is the romantic hero who saves the day – then approach this book with caution. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is part horror story, part romance, part comedy routine and part murder mystery. And it's graphic. Very very graphic. And hypnotic, fascinating and alluring. And weird – it has to be said – very very weird. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN proved to me again that weird isn't always bad, sometimes it's just weird. Obviously to read this book you need an almighty disconnection with reality. This is the story of a vampire and her familiar (for want of a better description) and the violence implicit in a vampire staying alive. There's a certain disconnection in reactions around these events, as despite a number of sightings and some very gruesome events around the fate of the familiar, the neighbourhood seems surprisingly unaware of the vampire in their midst. But by that time, you're so wrapped up in Oskar's ultimate fate that it's a bit immaterial. Certainly you're so wrapped up in the whole Gothic feeling of it, anything anybody does or is doesn't really come to be all that surprising.
With some overtones of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Eli is aware of what she is and what she does. She is not just a blood sucking monster, intent on her own survival and Oskar needs a friend who believes in him and he can trust.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN dragged me so far out of my comfort zone, I should have packed a lunch, but the journey, despite the gory components, despite the out and out weirdness of the entire book, was not without a particular sort of joy and was most definitely extremely memorable.
THE MAIN CHANCE - Colin Forbes
Bella Main is worried about attempts from a ruthless European Banker, the mysterious Calouste Doubenkian, to take over the immensely rich and totally private bank that she heads. When Bella offers Tweed the job of Chief Administrator of the Main Chance Bank he declines, but the visit to the mysterious manor house Bank Headquarters deep in a dense fir forest in Southern Britain stays with Tweed and Paula.
When Bella Main is brutally murdered, Tweed's SIS team is immediately called in to track down the killer. As all chief executives of the Bank are members of the family, and live in the Manor there is no shortage of suspects within the family, but there is also the mysterious Calouste, who is lurking nearby and he wants Tweed dead.
Fans of the TV Show The Avengers will likely have bells ringing in their heads as they read this book. Tweed heads up a small multi-talented team with the inimitable Miss Grey as his ever present sidekick. The rest of the team are made up of the world's most renowned marksman come mountaineer, the world's best engineer and, well you get the picture....
The plot includes an awful lot of charging around England, lurking around in forests, unlikely hiding places for the arch villain right in the bosom of the investigation, family tensions, elaborate and slightly bizarre ships, light planes, Audi's, Rolls Royces and bullets flying. There's a chateau, a trip to Belgium, corrupt police, huge numbers of Calouste loyal thugs and hidden passages / mysterious buttons in lifts.
All of this adds up to something that, whilst it's totally unbelievable and utterly without social commentary or anything vaguely resembling thoughtful consideration of the murder and it's outcomes, is a romp, a silly fantasy. It's really not much of a stretch to see Diana Rigg in a tight black jumpsuit and Patrick Macnee in a bowler hat. It's been a long time since I first read a few Colin Forbes books and there is certainly a lot that's similar to those in THE MAIN CHANCE, but who cares, once you realise that there's nothing in this that's supposed to be anything other than a bit of light amusement, it was fun with lots and lots of groan aloud moments!
THE PERFECT SUSPECT- Vincent Varjavandi
The author of THE PERFECT SUSPECT is a surgeon who, it would appear, has a strong interest in the welfare of children. Readers of this novel could probably be excused if they assume that the character of Tom is based on the author himself, although obviously, you'd hope without the tragic family background! Early in the novel, the medical background of our central character - Tom - and the death of his wife is rapidly established. Only a matter of weeks later, Tom returns to Australia and is shocked to find a delivery of black roses at his home - seemingly from the killer of his wife. Tom moves to practice medicine in Sanctuary - trying to start again. In Sanctuary, while Senior Sergeant Jack Maguire is dealing with day to day policing matters, something considerably more sinister and terrifying starts - firstly with the brutal death of a woman - witnessed by a brain damaged young girl who has been used as bait to get the victim to open her door. And the killing continues from there.
This is a first novel so unsurprisingly there are a few things that don't work as well as they could. What does work really well is the lifting of suspense and the generally creepy and decidedly sinister characterisations. There's plot twists, that, okay, they weren't that hard to second guess - but in some way that worked. You sort of know what is coming and still there was that creepy feeling at the back of the neck. What didn't work so well is that the plot was overly complicated at times; there was too much made early in the book about the good and caring nature of the central character Tom - it got a bit cloying and potentially distracted from the suspense; and there was the use of a few too many unlikely scenarios and the "gut instinct" school of problem resolution.
But there is an interesting sense of place at play as well. Despite the prologue set in New Orleans - this is very much an Australian book. The resort of Sanctuary (should we be drawing conclusions about Sanctuary Cove) has an Australian feeling to it and there's just a smattering of slang and location - not enough to confuse / enough to place. Interestingly there's a strong relationship being developed between the central police character - Jack Maguire - and his new assistant Detective Constable which could, perhaps, be hinting at another direction for a future novel. Either way, there's potential being shown here and fans of general thrillers - even Medically based thrillers should give this new Australian author a try.
THE CLEANER - Paul Cleave
Meet Joe. He's a nice guy out to catch a copycat killer. The one copying himself.
Suprising and compelling, this powerfully written novel is a terrifyingly vivid insight into the mind of a serial killer. Joe is in control of everything in his simple life, including both his day job at the police department and his 'night work'. He remembers to feed his fish twice a day and visit his mother at least once a week, although he occasionally peppers her coffee with rat poison.
The Cleaner is Christchurch, New Zealand based Paul Cleave's debut novel. Set in Christchurch where at one point Joe, the central character, muses that the biggest crime in Christchurch City - apart from the fashion and the Old English Architecture, glue-sniffing, too much greenery, bad driving, bad parking, lack of parking, wandering pedestrians, expensive shops, the winter smog, the summer smog, kids riding skateboards on footpaths, kids riding bikes on footpaths, old guys yelling Bible passages at anybody passing by, stupid policemen, stupid laws, too many drunks, too few shops, barking dogs, loud music, puddles of vomit in the gutters and the grey decor, among several other things - is burglary. And, thanks mainly to Joe - serial killings.
Joe works as a cleaner for the Christchurch Police. They think he's mentally handicapped - a bit slow. Joe knows he's not and he knows fully well that he's actually a very intelligent, busy, serial killer. He also knows that of the 7 murders they currently have chalked up to the Christchurch Carver - one of them wasn't him. And he's just ever so slightly miffed by this.
Early on in this book, I'll be perfectly honest, I was thinking that the world could really do without another self-impressed, self-involved, self-narrating serial killer and about the time I was ready to throw this out the nearest window, bang, Cleave suddenly turned THE CLEANER on its head and Joe finds himself in a very very strange place. From then on the book takes you on a bit of a wild ride whilst Joe ramps up the killing spree, and tries to find the perpetrator of the one murder that he didn't do. Professional Pride? More likely a handy scapegoat.
Although set within the Police Station, this is not a police procedural, so there is little concentration on the actual investigation, with most of the Police investigators taking a very low profile. Aside from the police, there are some unusual and well fleshed supporting characters. All in all, a very promising debut book with some good twists and turns.
THE RAFT - Alan Mills
It should have been a simple holiday in far North Queensland. A chance for Martin and Lydia Napier to repair their faltering marriage. A time-out with their young daughter Ami from a pressured city life. It should have been...
But the brutal power of nature means a drastic change of plans for the Napier family when they're forced to flee rising floodwaters. Within hours the family find themselves marooned with a small group of surviviors on the roof of an isolated farmhouse, with dwindling hopes of rescue and a killer in their midst...
THE RAFT was originally published in 2005 before the author's recent CITY OF ANIMALS.
Lydia and Martin Napier have gone through personal tragedy, their once perfect lives have been turned upside down and they are now struggling with the news that Martin has just lost his long term job writing and drawing an ongoing comic strip.
Lydia's boss offers them the use of his property in Far North Queensland as a chance to get away and decide what they will do. The arrive, with their small daughter Ami, in Cairns at the same time as a cyclone rolls in, cutting off the farm and surrounding areas with massive flooding and torrential rain.
Whilst trying to escape the remote property, they end up stranded back there with a policeman, his prisoner and a truck driver who have also been caught in the rising flood waters.
The book intersperses chapters of the "action" with time that Martin spends in hospital recovering from injuries sustained in the ordeal. During this time he is remembering and taking local police through the events, and there is a gradual unfurling of all that happened in that cut off farm house.
There is something of the film script about this book - it's written in a very big and bold style - there is lots of action and drama and the pre-requisite number of evil and threatening baddies lurking throughout the entire book.
This is probably a book for fans of the big bold blockbuster style of rolling action, but beware - cliches and stereotypes are pretty thick on the ground.