Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Martyr by Rory Clements

Rory Clements' first novel, Martyr, is an intriguing crime thriller set in Elizabethan England. John Shakespeare is one of Francis Walsingham's intelligencers, charged with tracking down Catholics and protecting Sir Francis Drake as England approaches war with Spain. In this novel Shakespeare investigates the mysterious death of one of the Queen's relatives and this drags him into the murky underworld of London and pits him against another of the Queen's powerful agents.

I have been a fan of detective novels since reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager but have grown slightly tired of the standard crime novel recently so this mystery with an Elizabethan twist was a nice change. In this period there are no need for arrest warrants, information can be extracted through torture and threats while suspects can go missing without trace in the squalid prison system. The reader will find no subtle and scientific inquiry methods here, just rudimentary investigative skills, brutality and corruption; a wonderful change from jaded cops and high-tech forensic experts.

In Martyr the author does a wonderful job of recreating the political intrigue surrounding the execution of Mary Queen of Scots setting this alongside the filth and deprivation that most of England's inhabitants lived in at the time. This serves as an interesting backdrop to an intricate and well-developed plot in which Shakespeare gradually unravels the mystery surrounding the death of a noble lady while at the same time trying to protect Sir Francis Drake from assassination.

Many of the characters within this novel are memorable and engaging although it is a little frustrating at times that the main protagonist, John Shakespeare, is bested so frequently. However, having a slightly incompetent main character allows the author to use this to create suspense in what is a very enjoyable book which leaves this reader looking for the next book in the series.

I would recommend this book to those who like historical novels and to those who like mysteries but are slightly tired of the hackneyed way in which many of these are written. This is a well-written mystery, thriller with an interesting portrayal of some historical characters (the personalities of Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare are rather surprising), the squalor of Elizabethan England as well as some bawdiness.

Score: 9/10

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Siege by Jack Hight

Siege is author, Jack Hight's, fictional dramatization of the real-life fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. In this novel historical characters are portrayed in the years preceding the battle of Constantinople and the defense of the city.

This book tells this historical tale from several years before the events of the battle and the author builds the political intrigue well and introduces a set of characters that the reader can believe in as well as care about on both the Christian and Islamic factions that are a part of these events. Even though the events preceding the battle perhaps occupy too much of this book, this part of the novel is well-written and the reader becomes engrossed in the small events that shape the lives of the main protagonists.

The plot of the story, of course, is rather pre-ordained by history but the author does well to build up the suspense in a number of ways with political tugs-of-war on both sides of the conflict, traitorous scheming and   romantic sub-plots that keep the reader wondering how the lives of those involved will play out after the epic battle.

For those who love novels which describe historical battles, this book will be very enjoyable as many episodes from this historic siege are included in exciting and dramatic detail, although some are totally fictional and are extrapolations on what is known.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I had about "Siege" is that the actual siege itself is rather long in arriving; whilst the suspense is built up throughout the book, the reader is perhaps ready for the main event long before it is served up by the author, although this does allow for interesting characters to be outlined, around which a story is woven and this prevents the book from being a simple description of historical events.

I would recommend "Siege" to any readers who like historical novels, particularly those who enjoy medieval history. Also readers who would like to try out this genre will perhaps find this book a good place to start.

Score: 8/10

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel

In Beatrice and Virgil author, Yann Martel, introduces the reader to a writer who has become famous for a novel that is about animals but finds producing his follow-up book too much of a challenge, particularly as he wants it to be an original look at the holocaust. After rejection Henry moves his family to another city and meets another writer who is struggling to write his own allegorical representation of the holocaust using animals in a play.

I am a great fan of Yann Martel's most famous book, The Life of Pi, so I was looking forward to another piece of masterful storytelling; unfortunately I read Beatrice and Virgil instead.

This book starts off as an easy read, exploring the writing career of Henry, setting his back story but this takes far too much of what is a very short book and part the way through this section one begins to tire of a highly narrative and, in fact, immature writing style - it reminded me of the sort of dross I would produce when I was at school. As the reader progresses the hope is that there is some highly profound message later on to make up for this. There is not.

Henry meets a struggling play writer and attempts to help finish the script, which then condemns the reader to  dealing with many pages written in play form, with moribund dialogue that one can hardly be bothered to read and allegories so esoteric that the author must explain what they mean lest the reader be left in the dark.

This novel does make readers turn the pages, partly because they want to discover what will happen and that there must be some kind of twist in the end, partly because they want to skip the boring play dialogue. It is perhaps ironic that in this book there are two authors who try to represent the Holocaust in an original way and fail, because this author does exactly the same.

I would not recommend this book to anybody other than those who are attempting to write their own books and are tempted to try and be more intellectual than they need to be by introducing pointless allegories that do not contribute to the story at all, so that they can see how not to write. More than anything this book is just boring. Read The Life of Pi, it is wonderful, but leave this alone.

Score: 2/10

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Tooth & Nail by Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail is one in the series of novels by Ian Rankin that features the character Inspector Rebus. Scottish detective Rebus is summoned to New Scotland Yard, in London, to help catch a serial killer, named by the media "the Wolfman". At first Rebus is out of sorts off his home patch and this is not helped by the frosty reception he is given by his colleagues but when he makes a couple of allies he gets on the trail of the killer and rather than wait to react to the crimes he attempts to provoke the killer into providing some clues.

This book was one of the earlier serial killer novels and it does not fall into the many cliches that are often found in more recent publications. The reader will find themselves eager to learn about the main characters as they are developed in the early part of the story whilst at the same time the fundamentals of the investigation are outlined. The investigation proceeds as more killings occur and some help from an unexpected source adds the mystery and finally the twist that readers come to expect from a detective/thriller novel.

Apart from being a thoroughly readable story, one of this books best assets are the characters. Detective Rebus  is real. he is not some all-knowing super hero and neither is he the stereotypical worn-out investigator. His London counterpart, George Flight, is also recognizable as a real person and not a cliched character; a good policeman, friendly and polite but also with reservations. The third main character, Liza Frazer, is also interesting and someone with talent yet not quite the finishes article in terms of her criminal investigation skills are concerned.

Tooth and Nail is a book which really made me turn the pages and believe in the characters and the investigation, in fact one of this book's downfalls, in my option, is that it is not long enough to deal properly with the situation the author creates. This leads on to the biggest disappointment here, for me, which was the sudden way that Rebus puts the case together; as if by magic he solves the case and an otherwise excellent book is wrapped up too quickly for my liking, although the ending does contain a skillful plot twist by the author.

I would recommend this book to fans of Ian Rankin and his character Rebus. Although I have never read any of the others in this series, the quality of the writing and plot are good enough to please fans. Readers who enjoy detective stories and serial killer novels should read this offering from a skilled writer but it falls short of being a classic for me.

 Score: 8.5/10 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: The First Casualty by Ben Elton

Ben Elton is best known for his comedy and humorous novels but in The First Casualty the author delivers a murder mystery set amidst the worst fighting of the First World War. Detective Kingsley goes to prison for refusing to fight in a war he considers unjust but finds himself in the trenches anyway, investigating the murder of poet and hero Viscount Abercrombie who had been suffering from shell-shock. The murder investigation proceeds slowly whilst the many distressing situations of the war are dramatized.

One of the strengths of this book is that it contains Ben Elton's typically anti-establishment attitude in the way he portrays the way that World War I is conducted and the politics of Britain at the time; this is hardly surprising considering the way that this period of time is widely regarded in modern times. In fact The First Casualty seems largely to be a vehicle for portraying the hardships of the time, touching on subjects such as the treatment of conscientious objectors, suffragettes, police brutality and the working classes, whilst taking a very long time to actually tell a story.

The plot of this novel is a pretty standard investigating of a fairly standard murder situation but the way the investigation is conducted and the lengths to which the military policeman has to go to collect evidence makes this quite an original detective story. Unfortunately, whilst these aspects of the book make the reader turn the pages, the author really does not capitalize on these themes and the plot is very light indeed whilst the imagery of the war seems to take centre stage.

The First Casualty contains some interesting characters including an investigator with confused priorities, an unusually forthright leading lady and a hateful villain. Whilst some of these characters are quite strong, many of the peripheral characters are quite cliched and will be recognized from countless World War I stories, movies and TV series.

Those who enjoy Ben Elton's writing will find The First Casualty an interesting read even though it does not contain his trademark humour and it is not one of his best books. However, I am not sure that those who are interested in World War I will find this novel particularly illuminating.

Score: 6.5/10

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Books to be Reviewed: Mogadishu Diaries - Bloodlines by Eddie Clay III

Thanks to Eddie Clay III for sending me a copy of his book Mogadishu Diaries - Bloodlines for reviewing. This is a fictional account of a US soldier's time in Somalia, in the run up to the famous events of "Black Hawk Down", based on real events and experiences.

"Ten months before Blackhawk Down, US Marines launched its first major offensive against Mogadishu's militias. Top US military strategists for Operation Restore Hope recognized the critical importance of identifying Somali clan leaders responsible for the country’s instability and violence. It became apparent that one man needed to be captured in order to help establish order. This warlord eluded the most elite US Special Forces teams in our military for almost a year during Operation Restore Hope/Continued Hope. There are many theories that explain how Mohamed Farrah Aidid won the cat and mouse game. This is my account…"

A review will appear on this website soon. For those who wish to purchase it now it is available for Kindle here - Mogadishu Diaries - Bloodlines, Kindle Edition.

Book Review: You're A Bad Man Mr Gum by Andy Stanton

You're a Bad Man Mr Gum is the first outing for Andy Stanton's disgusting character that children will love to hate. Mr Gum is a filthy loner who picks his nose and lives in a horrible house - loathed and feared by children. In this story Mr Gum is forced to keep his garden spotless by a fairy and the plot revolves around his poisoning of a lovely dog, Jake, to prevent him from spoiling his garden. However, Polly comes to the rescue with some magic chocolate and some wonderful friends.

Young children who are discovering their reading skills will enjoy this book as it is full of baddies and goodies that they will get totally involved with. Some parents may deem this book too disgusting for young children, but in reality this is just the sort of naughty fun that kids love and parents should revel at being able to join in when reading this book with their youngsters.

The strength of You're a Bad Man Mr Gum is its amusing characters and deadpan delivery of funny lines and silly asides - in fact it made me laugh out loud a few times when reading it. Most of the fun, however, occurs in the first half of the book and the second half tells the story of how Jake the dog is saved. Even though I liked this book, the story is weak, even for a children's book, but there is enough to interest young readers all the way to the end.

You're a Bad Man Mr Gum is a really fun children's book in a very similar style to Roald Dahl's "The Twits" and "George's Marvellous Medicine" and contains very amusing illustrations to compliment the writing.

I would recommend this book as a gift to young children who enjoy books and would suggest that it may be a good story to interest reluctant young readers; it is most certainly a great way for children and parents to enjoy a story together.

Score: 8/10