Rose by Martin Cruz Smith

RoseMartin Cruz Smith is probably best known for his stunning series of novels featuring Russian investigator, Arkady Renko. The series began with the award-winning Gorky Park set in the Brezhnev era and has continued over the years authentically capturing the atmosphere within Russia during and after the break-up of the Soviet Union. World-weary Renko doggedly pursues the truth despite the barriers put in his way by corrupt officials.
‘Rose’ isn’t a novel in the Renko series. In some ways it could hardly be more different, but there are similarities. The main difference is obvious – rather than being set in modern-day Russia, this is set in Wigan in 1872. Once again MCS has clearly done his research and the reader is carried back convincingly to the heavily industrial Victorian scene where most of the population work in appalling conditions in the coal mines or cotton mills – except, of course, for the rich owners of the mines and mills.
The central character is Jonathan Blair; born in Wigan, father unknown. His mother and her toddler son boarded a ship for America. During the crossing she either jumped, or fell, to her death in the ocean, so young Jonathan arrived in his new country as an orphan. After an unusual upbringing he became a mining engineer and has spent recent years in Africa where his close relationship with the native population made him unpopular with his colonial masters.
He arrives in Wigan suffering with malaria and desperate to return to Africa, for reasons that become clear. He needs the help of Lord Hannay, who is also a bishop and head of one of the most powerful families in England with extensive mining interests in Africa and Wigan. That help comes at a price. Hannay will only help if Blair finds John Maypole, a young cleric engaged to Hannay’s daughter, who has disappeared without trace.
Blair finds himself having to act as a reluctant detective – and this where the similarity with the Renko novels lies. Blair acts just like a Victorian version of Renko, showing the same persistence to discover the truth. He is treated with suspicion and hostility by everyone, even Hannay’s daughter. Everyone that is, except for the mysterious Rose, one of the controversial pit girls who shock society by wearing trousers and doing men’s work sorting coal. They are accepted by the pit owners because they work for less pay than men.
Even without the intriguing story line and the strong characterisation, this book would be worth reading because of the vivid capturing of working life below ground with the constant threat of explosion and roof fall, and of the injustice of the class system.
Another gem from Martin Cruz Smith. It is available from Amazon in hardback (secondhand), paperback, Kindle and audio formats.

Deep Water, Thin Ice by Kathy Shuker

Deep Water, Thin IceThis is the second book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it: so much so that I was sorry to reach the end. I’m not at all surprised that other reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads have reacted similarly. I see that one described it as a love story, and so it is – but it’s also so much more.

We begin with an apparent suicide, but the description creates a lingering doubt that stays with us as we move into what follows. The cast of convincing characters, led by a vulnerable young widow, are beset by a psychopath with diminishing self-control. Stirred into the pot we have the unravelling of an unsavoury family history, social injustice, sexual deviancy and a haunting. All this is cleverly set against the contrasting background of a peaceful Devon village and the nurturing of a new nature reserve. This very well written, and satisfyingly long, book is highly recommended. It’s available from Amazon in both paperback and ebook for Kindle format.

The Devil Will Come by Glenn Cooper

The Devil Will ComeI’ve read lots of positive reviews of the work of Glenn Cooper, but this is the first of his books that I’ve actually read. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think I’m going to be able to say much about it.

I did get through to the end. It’s clear that he is a more than capable author in that the writing is crisp and well-paced. The problem with this book is that the plot is so utterly preposterous that I can’t be bothered to talk about it.

I will, however, give Mr Cooper the benefit of the doubt and read another of his books. It’s bound to be better than this one.

If you want to see what others think of it, you can read reviews on Amazon The Devil Will Come.

The Sword of the Templars by Paul Christopher

The Sword of the TemplarsEvery now and again I come across a book that has me wondering, ‘What on Earth is the publisher playing at?’ This is one such book. I realise that in 2009 the Dan Brown phenomenon was rampant, his books selling millions of copies and Hollywood keen to turn them into movies. Every major publisher was desperate to get in on the act, but there must have been better books available to Penguin than this one. At the very least Penguin could have edited it properly. Instead, I’m left with the impression of a book hastily written and hastily published with the reader treated with contempt.

There is an absurd plot featuring two utterly unconvincing central characters charging from country to country leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake with the authorities taking no interest. Stereotype villains (tall, blond-haired, modern-day Nazis) provide the cannon fodder.

Food (and coffee) in Britain and Ireland are, of course, ridiculed as inedible, while in France perfect food is served by surly waiters. When they arrive in Britain and hire a car the one driving grips the wheel in terror as they negotiate a narrow road, desperately hoping that no vehicle comes the other way. Are they on a Cornish lane crossing Bodmin Moor? No, they are on the A44. This book really is laughably bad.

I mentioned the lack of editing. Here’s an example: the main character is an eyepatch-wearing soldier who lost an eye in a bizarre accident. At one stage he is pursuing someone on foot through a wood. Allow me to quote. ‘Holliday sprinted after his quarry, one eye on the ground in front of him looking for obstacles, the other on the runner.’ Author and editor (if there was one) both took their eye off the ball there.

A key element is an old sword, but the author can’t decide on the length of the blade. It is variously described as a yard, thirty-one inches and thirty inches – symptoms of a hastily-published piece of work.

I was amazed to find that Penguin have published a sequel. The first chapter is included at the end of this book. Is it any better? I doubt it. In consecutive paragraphs Holliday is described as a widower for ‘more than ten years’ and ‘almost ten years’.

Throughout The Sword of the Templars the author frequently, and often irrelevantly, mentions well-known books. I can only assume that he hoped that by association his book would acquire some quality. It didn’t.

You’ll find more reviews on Amazon The Sword of the Templars (Templars series)

The Innocent by David Baldacci

The InnocentWhen I returned ‘Obsession’ by Jonathan Kellerman to the library I spotted a long row of books by David Baldacci, another American author of thrillers. I must admit that I hesitated, not wanting to repeat the disappointing experience, but I found a seat, read the first couple of chapters, and decided to go for it.

It was the right decision. Although the paperback is nearly 600 pages, the pace never lets up. The reader is carried at frantic speed from one incident to the next as two storylines merge amid violent chaos.  The FBI, CIA and Secret Service are all involved together with a top secret department of professional assassins, but a combination of moral outrage and huge cash bribes means that there are traitors within every organisation and no one can be trusted.

I really enjoyed it. At no stage did I struggle to understand the American English – after Kellerman that was a welcome relief.

The hardback, paperback and ebook are available from all good retailers, including Amazon The Innocent (Will Robie 1)

The Hammer of Eden by Ken Follett

cover imageIs this Ken Follett’s worst book? As a fan I was pleased to come across one I hadn’t read in our local library, but what a disappointment it was.

Commune members live on a remote vineyard which is threatened by the building of a dam. They resolve to save their way of life by blackmailing the California state governor with threats to cause an earthquake. To back up the threats they steal an enormous piece of equipment used by geologists to cause vibrations in the ground. During the theft the driver of the mobile vibrator is brutally murdered. One of the many ludicrous aspects of the plot is that the local police don’t bother looking for this very slow moving vehicle. The central character, despite not having a single redeeming feature, is apparently irresistible to women. Unable to read or write, he once earned his living as a salesman. That must have been the only company in the world that didn’t require its salesmen to fill in order forms and submit reports.

So, we have a daft storyline peopled by unbelievable characters. Fortunately, Ken Follett has written many books that are much, much better than this.

The book is available from Amazon The Hammer of Eden

Safe House by Chris Ewan

Cover of Safe HouseThis is one of those books that after reading it, and writing this brief review, I will never think of again.
I didn’t feel in any way involved with the characters; the central one wandered through the book baffled by what was going on around him. That can work in a complex thriller, but I should have cared about what happens to him – and I didn’t. The plot started out well enough, and had an interesting twist or two, but became increasingly unbelievable. There was an irritating scattering of Americanisms that seemed bizarre in a book by an author from the Isle of Man and set in that location.
The best thing I can say about it is that I bought it to read on Kindle when Amazon had it on special offer at only 20p. I don’t suppose it will at that price for long, but it’s also available in print format. Safe House


The Last Queen of England by Steve Robinson

Cover image for The Last Queen of England.Find an eye-catching historical fact (such as Queen Anne experiencing 18 pregnancies, but having no child live beyond the age of eleven and none survive her); discover that a group of respected intellectuals were executed towards the end of her reign under mysterious circumstances; create a conspiracy theory that proof of the invalidity of the current monarchy, having been passed down the generations, is about to be used by republican sympathisers, and we should have the basis of a very readable novel. So it proves.

I enjoyed this action-packed thriller set against the background of a murderous genealogical mystery that has to be solved within tight deadlines.

After surviving numerous attempts on his life through three novels, Mr Tayte is proving as hard to kill as James Bond. May he last as long.

The book is available from Amazon. The Last Queen of England (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)