Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

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This is quite a difficult book to review, mainly for fear of giving away what makes it so brutal. By that, I mean psychologically brutal because, whilst there is some physical shock value, it’s the emotional terror pervading the novel that makes it so horrifying. Yet, it’s also a complex piece of work, full of dual meanings and self-aware references all told by an unreliable narrator. Her unreliability is cleverly revealed to be more of a factor as the book goes on…and this is where things get complicated.

If you’re a fan of horror, you should read this novel. In my limited experience, Paul Tremblay is a great exponent of the genre but, beyond that, he’s also a clearly talented writer. This is a very smart book for a number of reasons (many of which deserve discussion but – spoilers!).

A Head Full of Ghosts refers both to the idea of supernatural possession central to the plot but also to our narrator, Merry, and how pop culture affects her perspective. Within the book there are numerous references to horror fiction and film and A Head Full of Ghosts takes on the sense of a meta-fiction.

The book explores how Merry and her family deal with the ‘apparent’ possession of her elder sister Marjorie. Dad had lost his job and begins to rely heavily on his Catholic faith; Mum seems at a loss, seeking solace in wine and cigarettes. Merry is relating all of this fifteen years after the fact (the first sense of unreliability) and was only 8-years old at the time (the second). Somehow, and for financial reasons, a reality show producer makes an unrefusable offer to the floundering parents and so begins a shocking TV series.

Questions of exploitation aside, there is also the larger problem of whether 14-year old Marjorie is ‘possessed’ or just descending into schizophrenic madness. The interplay within the narration between memory and re-remembered fact from the TV show (the third idea of unreliability) begins to break to the surface as Merry relates her story to a writer tasked with producing a book on what actually happened. Fact and fiction blur, mingled with cultural references and other creative works.

The tension at play is palpable throughout the novel as each family member is seen slowly unraveling under the pressure of the cameras, their own position toward Marjorie and to how it is affecting each in turn. It’s a bizarre and scary feedback loop where the truth has no solid ground on which to stand.

The conclusion of A Head Full of Ghosts is shocking. It’s there all the time, creeping around in the narrative and you know something is going to happen. There’s so many unsettling properties to the characters and such clever storytelling that this is truly a great horror novel. That fact that Paul Tremblay has added bonus essays and reading list addendum only makes him a better author in my opinion.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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This isn’t my usual type of read but The Silent Dead (known as Strawberry Night in Japan), proved to be an engaging and interesting book. It came highly recommended by the good people at Titan Books and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Tetsuya Honda is a popular writer in Japan and this is her first title to be published in English.

It was really interesting to read a popular Japanese thriller and though some of the dialogue reminded me a little of Anime/Manga (forgive me as I’m no expert), it wasn’t too jarring so as to disturb the flow of the book. The insight it gave into Tokyo culture was definitely part of the intrigue but the story itself was gritty, sensational and cleverly plotted.

Focusing on the protagonist Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa, supported by an ensemble cast of fellow Homicide detectives, as well as the voice of the killer, The Silent Dead digs deep into the thoughts and minds of all involved. A discarded, brutalised body begins an investigation which slowly reveals a disturbing and bizarre series of murders.

Reiko, an enigma herself, has a talent for intuitive detection and is soon piecing together disparate facts. Yet, the politics within the police force are also a central part of this story. Her rivals are underhand and many are overtly sexist towards her and the disparity between public, social politeness and private crudeness and insult is eye opening (for this westerner at least).

In the end, the serial killer at large is something quite different. The murders are part of something very disturbing and the person behind it all comes as a real shock twist; I didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t want to give it all away, so I won’t. What I will say, is that The Silent Dead is a smart, well paced, crime thriller. The dynamics between the cop characters is intriguing, revealing a side of Japanese culture I was not aware of. However, the conclusion is a perfectly grim ending for a serial killer story. Honda has penned a series of Reiko Himekawa novels so, if tough, female cops and ghastly crime books are your thing, check The Silent Deadout, you won’t be disappointed.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a real-world apocalyptic adventure. By ‘real-world’, I mean that it references pop culture and celebrities just as much as it builds up the fantastical disease (dragonscale) that is ravaging humankind and driving it to extinction. Reading about JK Rowling being executed by firing squad whilst the protagonist finds inspiration from Mary Poppins gives the novel an interesting grounding that only adds to the engrossing story.

Revolving around a dysfunctional ‘family’ of Harper Willowes, John Rookwood, and siblings Nick and elder sister Allie, The Fireman, hits a number of peaks along it’s way. Detailing the start of the dragonscale disease, Harper, our central character in this ensemble, is a school nurse enlisted to help those infected. Eventually she catches the disease and the true nature of both the dragonscale and her husband are slowly revealed.

Affected by the illness that causes it’s victims to combust, Harper’s husband shows his true colours and tries to kill her. In a way he symbolises the fear and hatred of the disease – spontaneously combusting and burning down swathes of civilisation will do that, I suppose. But, Harper doesn’t combust and soon meets others who can control the dragonscale as well.

Yet, here, another type of conflict arises within the camp of the affected between those embracing the illness with an almost religious zeal and those with a more practical outlook. Amongst those is John Rookwood, the eponymous Fireman; able to control and manipulate the fire, he helps the affected escape vigilante forces and murderous cremation crews.

Adding more friction to the plot, Harper is pregnant and as she comes to term so does the tension in camp. It’s a storm of antagonists as ex-husband, cremation crews and camp zealots all combine in a self-destructive showdown. Whilst the final part of the novel was a taut, gripping read, I was expecting a more brutal conclusion.

That’s not to say that the novel wasn’t both fantastic and satisfying because it definitely was. The characters are brilliantly written and highly relatable and the story flows along at a vibrant pace, whilst the dragonscale is cleverly developed. Featuring a number of conflicts, each of which could have made a story in itself, The Fireman is an exemplary apocalyptic thriller.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stake-out in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the Director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. And all of these events are connected.

As panic begins to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at Melanie Guyer’s Washington laboratory. The unusual egg inside begins to crack…An ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake. But this is only the beginning of our end…

Likened by the publisher as a mix between Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Max Brooks’s World War Z, and with film rights already sold at auction, The Hatching has summer blockbuster written all over it. A slick blend of horror and thriller told through an ensemble cast from around the world, many of whom don’t survive, Ezekiel Boone has created a highly polished, action packed novel.

A slow burner that keeps the tension ramped up all the way, once the “hatching” kicks off, it’s all-out, full-on, creepy-crawly time. It’s a sleek and well thought out story that hits all our spider based fears but, more importantly, one that hits all the essential notes a thriller needs. A tough, divorced Special Agent trying to do right by his daughter, an attractive but dedicated expert scientist, her equally smart but hard-nosed political ex-husband, and a pragmatic yet charming American President determined to protect her country over and above her own ambitions, all form the nucleus of the cast attempting to stop the arachnid apocalypse.

The inclusion of events and voices from around the world add to the growing suspense and excitement and, if you aren’t scared of spiders, the idea of a carnivorous swarm of eight-legged homicidal maniacs, is enough to keep you turning the pages. However, for me, it was the conclusion that really nailed The Hatching. It’s a consummate piece of writing and I hope it’s not butchered into something completely different (as happened with World War Z) when it’s made into a film. As I said at the start; it’s a summer blockbuster – exciting, thrilling and with enough edge to make it a unique and somewhat frightening read.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz