Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 4: In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

17187220I may have mentioned before that McKinty was something of a wild card discovery. I read the first in the Sean Duffy series, The Cold Cold Ground, purely as there was a gay element to it (shallow, moi?) and very much enjoyed it. So here we are at the third entry into the series, which sees McKinty essentially using the framework of the IRA bombing of the Brighton Tory Party Conference in 1984 to write about something that he is clearly more fascinated with: a locked room mystery.

Dermott McCann has escaped from the Maze prison. Duffy was friends with him in school, so is brought back from his disgraced exile he gets himself into in the opening pages to track him down. He hits brick wall after brick wall until McCann’s former mother-in-law contacts him and offers him a trade. Her youngest daughter, Lizzie, died a few years back and the death was ruled accidental. Mary Fitzgerald is convinced otherwise and tells Duffy that she knows where McCann is and if he can prove Lizzie was murdered and hand over the killer, she’ll reveal McCann’s location to him.

And so here we are at the real meat of the story, the locked room. Lizzie died in a pub locked from the inside and nobody else was there. Duffy takes his time to be convinced that Mary has any basis for her theory other than grief, but keeps plugging away as it’s his only lead to find McCann. That Lizzie was indeed murdered is not a spoiler (it would be a massive cheaty load of nonsense if she really DID die in an accident) and McKinty’s freewheeling storytelling style draws you in to the mystery very well. The machinations of living in 80’s Ireland are also fascinating, but some of them are mentioned far too often. I got to the point where I REALLY didn’t need to be told Duffy was checking under his car for bombs.

The end section, dealing with the tracking down of McCann and the realisation of where the bomb has been placed makes for some very gripping and occasionally unpleasant reading too. And while the epilogue may overegg the pudding a touch, it’s still good to know that plans to make this a trilogy were abandoned and a forth Duffy instalment was published earlier this year.

Cannonball 7, Book 3: Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

12735048Year of Crime, Book 3

This is the 2nd book in the DS Logan McRae series. The first one I read prior to being a Cannonball Reader, but to summarise, it’s a grim, bleak and cold book set in Aberdeen and dealing with the gruesome murder of children. Fun times. The rest of the series ended up as a Kindle Daily Deal and so here we are. The second book opens with McRae disgraced by a botched operation which ended with a policeman on life support. Assigned to the “Screw Up Squad”, McRae has to work his way back out.

The cases which McRae sees as his opportunity to return back to his former glory start with the murder of prostitutes and later a serial arson case. Also thrown in is a missing persons case which of course ends up being not all that it seems. Or more than it seems…..

MacBride really doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes. If you’re tender of heart and stomach, he is not the writer for you. A journalist, poor Colin Miller, finds himself on the wrong end of some truly gruesome torture that made even my cast iron stomach lurch. And they’re all the more difficult to read because the characters are so well drawn and relatable and poor Colin seems like such a nice chap. Some characters aren’t quite so finely tuned and the broad caricature of McRae’s inept boss is a little hard to swallow.

The tying up of all the plot strands is also very well done. But unless I missed it, there is one arson murder which didn’t fit with the end explanation and the book seems to just stop rather than properly end. It’ll be interesting to see if that is picked back up in the next book or not. Certainly, the gruff and likeable McRae is an interesting enough guy to keep me reading, so watch this space.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 2: Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

9781849011488Year of Crime Book 2

So, here we are. 2015 will be the year I finally burn through the rest of the Agatha Raisin books, which have been sitting on my Kindle for a year. The self-imposed Year of Crime (Reading) should sort that right out. And following the entertaining but hugely miscast TV adaptation of the first book, my interest in all things Raisin has been very much renewed.

So, after several years of having her retirement disrupted by dead bodies popping up and then solving the murder, Agatha has finally decided to come out of retirement and open her own private detective agency. And even more refreshing, Agatha’s new neighbour is a retired lady, not some silver fox for her to coo over and fall in love with. And when Agatha hires her as her secretary, all hell eventually breaks loose.

See, the dance of the title, and the central murder story, are FAR less interesting than the sub plot involving Secretary Emma and her increasingly psycho fixations and mental behaviour. Which isn’t to say the central story is bad, it isn’t. In fact, it’s probably one of the more satisfying ones Beaton has come up with in a long while. It is just overshadowed by Mental Emma.

The decision to give Raisin her own agency has given the series a new lease of life and come as a welcome change. It was the best thing Beaton could have done. It’s just a shame it’s taken fifteen books to get there, when really it could have been done in five. If you’re intrigued enough to start reading Raisin, but the thought of the series being SO long makes you break out in hives, then start here. You’ll pick it all up just fine.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 1: A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay

18681902Year of Crime Book 1

As we all know, Linwood and I, we go back a bit. Lately, things have been a  little rocky between us, with a duff novel followed up by an absolute rip roaring one. So when it came to this one, I was all “which camp will it fall into?” As it turns out, it fell smack dab between those two stools.

Our protagonist hero is Cal Weaver, a private investigator whose life is looking pretty bleak. His marriage is failing following the drug related accidental death of his teenage son. One night, he picks up a school friend of his dead son’s outside a bar and that seemingly innocuous event ends up sending his life into even more disarray. He is pulled into a murky plot involving police corruption and murder.

It’s an intriguing, interesting and fairly layered plot and Cal is a sympathetic protagonist that a reader can really get behind. His obsession with finding out who supplied the drugs which ended up in his son’s system the night he died is an understandable one, and it’s not a spoiler to say that said plot strand will end up intertwining with all the rest. A big issue I had with the book though is that the rest of the strands are all so broadly drawn and full of caricatures that I found them a little hard to swallow.

Clunky elements or not, Barclay is still a writer worth reading and while I’d put a huge majority of the endgame together before we got there, there were some stings in the tail I didn’t see coming. All in all, this is by no means a failure, but I have enjoyed other books of his a lot more.

2015: The Year of Crime

fletcherAs I mentioned in my review there, 2015 is going to be very crime focussed because I have so many books on my Kindle waiting to be read which fall into that genre. And here they are:

A Tap On The Window by Linwood Barclay (currently reading, will be review 1 in Cannonball Read 7)

Agatha Raisin: There Goes The Bride by M.C.Beaton

Agatha Raisin: As The Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin; Hiss & Hers by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Perfect Paragon by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Love, Lies & Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton

In my defence there, all the Raisin books were on offer for 85p each :-)

Good As Dead by Mark Billingham

Faithful Place by Tana French

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride

Close To The Bone by Stuart MacBride

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride

Again, all those MacBride books were a Kindle Advent offer last December (!) and were all 99p.  I couldn’t resist

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor


Cannonball Read 6, Book 58: Agatha Raisin & The Haunted House by MC Beaton

9781849011471The other day, I looked at my “Already on the Kindle” shelf over on Goodreads and I thought to myself “you know, I have a LOT of crime books here. Like a LOT”. So I decided, there and then, to make 2015 my Year of Crime. While I’m not going to devote myself solely to reading crime novels, they will make up the majority of my Cannonball 7 input. The plan originally was to end Cannonball 6 with Station Eleven, but it was so good I burned through it in record time and was left with a bit more time than I thought. So I am kickstarting the Year of Crime a bit early with the 14th (yes really) entry into the tireless Agatha Raisin series.

So here we are again. Back on familiar territory with our Agatha. They have made a TV movie out of the first book in the series, which aired here on Boxing Day. I have been wondering why on earth they didn’t make a Midsomer Murders style show out of the books years ago, and finally, my wishes have possibly been answered. That Raisin, a stout but sexy mid-fifties headstrong woman with a cut glass accent to hide her Birmingham upbringing is being played by someone ten years too young and 100% too Scottish is vexing, but hey ho. In my mind, she’s always been Frances Barber, and that is how she will stay. If they make more and don’t cast Tom Hollander as Charles Fraith, then I give up.

Anyway, I digress. So Agatha is once again bored and once again fawning over her handsome new neighbour and once again getting herself caught up in a murder mystery. There is not one single millimetre of new territory being explored here, but then you don’t read these books for them to re-invent the wheel. Amusing pop culture references to Oprah Winfrey and Lolita aside, Beaton is still setting feminism back decades while seemingly thinking she’s advancing it. Her only true friend Bill Wong notes that she’s of a generation who can’t help but fall in love with every handsome man they meet, or something along those lines. First of all, bullshit. Second of all, it does NOT stack up, and never has that someone as forthright and brittle as Agatha would turn into some awful mewling fool every time someone vaguely handsome walks within 100 yards of her and has always been my biggest bugbear of the books.

The identity of the murderer won’t tax your brain, and the whole thing with the haunted house is very silly. It also gets bogged down with some heavy plodding work about Roundheads and Cavaliers and some comedy amateur dramatics. All in all, this is a perfectly acceptable entry into the series, and if you’ve read the previous thirteen books, there’s nothing new I (or indeed MC Beaton) can tell you. However, my other bugbear has at last been addressed. The book ends with Agatha turning down an offer of work from her ex-colleague because she’s going to open her own detective agency. Thank heavens for that.

And that’s it for Cannonball Read 6 and 2014. Cannonball Read 7 is on the horizon so stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out everyone else on Cannonball Read. Use the links to buy any books you fancy and consider joining in next year too, why not? All the money the site raises goes to cancer charities, so it’s a win/win.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 57: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

22733864Station Eleven made a lot of noise when it was published earlier this year. It was heaped in critical praise and when it began to be shortlisted for prestigious awards, even more noise was made about how Mandel had written a novel so brilliant it had defied the limitations of its genre. Such hyperbolic waffle tends to make me roll my eyes and end up disappointed (I’m looking at you, Donna Tartt), so I approached Station Eleven with caution. And as any regular reader will know, the caution proved unnecessary as this is one hell of a book.

The book opens with a brilliant MacGuffin. Arthur Leander, a renowned Hollywood star, has returned to the stage to play the title role in King Lear (think Michael Keaton in Birdman, only not bonkers). One night during the performance, he up and dies on stage from a heart attack in mid-sentence. An ex-paparazzi turned trainee EMT (who used to stalk Arthur in their previous lives) tries to save him while a child actress looks on in horror. Later that night, a deadly flu virus, previously contained to Georgia (not the US Georgia) breaks its borders and over a very short time, takes out 99.9% of the world population.

Mandel then weaves together multiple narratives and time strands to create a world where everything we took for granted is gone. One chapter is devoted to listing everything that is now gone in the brave new world the Georgia Flu created. Leander was a MacGuffin but he’s also the epicentre. All the characters in the novel somehow come back to him. Kirsten, the child actress, becomes a performer with the Travelling Symphony, going from town to town acting out Shakespeare plays for the remaining few. Jeevan holes up with his crippled brother to try and escape contracting the virus. Arthur’s wives, ex-wives, best friend and his child are all in the mix as Mandel leaps back in forth in time to give us Arthur’s history and where they all end up in the post-civilisation America.

It could have gone horribly wrong. With so many different strands and a non-traditional structure, Mandel could so easily have come unstuck. But she takes all those strands and weaves them together as delicately and effortlessly as a seasoned Chanel seamstress. She creates moments that will make you laugh, moments that will terrify (Kirsten’s encounter with the insane Prophet who has taken over a township is not for the faint-hearted) and many more moments that will bring a lump to your throat. If David Mitchell hadn’t published The Bone Clocks, then this would be my outright winner of 2014. As it is, Station Eleven will have to share the podium. I’m sure Mandel won’t mind :-).

Cannonball Read 6, Book 56: Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

19008318Even the most casual and brief visitor to my blog will note that I am not much of a non-fiction reader. But this was greeted with rapture by lots of reviewers and by a couple of people over on Cannonball Read. So when it popped up as a Daily Deal on Kindle, I thought “why not?” and my goodness am I ever glad I did because I LOVED it.

Roach clearly has an intense fascination with the human body. She’s published books about dead bodies and copulating bodies (both of which I now plan to read). Gulp takes us inside the body, covering everything that we do to our food, how and why. It also segues into pets digestion, by way of an intensely glorious chapter about pet food science and tasters. Yes, tasters. One of the reasons this book is such a joy to read is Roach’s style, humour and the fact that she is unabashed about her curiosity. Also, she never once patronises the people she meets for her research.

So the book structure takes us on a journey from mouth hole to bunghole and every possible stop in between. It’s arranged in biological order, you could say. Along the way, Roach takes as much delight in autopsy photos of giant colons as she does in debunking the Fletcherism fad. I learned a lot of stuff I never knew or really even thought about before and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Roach made me laugh out loud many times. Her wit is the only thing about this book that is even remotely dry.

There are many tidbits you can drop into party conversation if you wanted to (Elvis died of constipation, for example). Roach is many things, and thorough is definitely one of them. She watches (though does not partake in) fecal transplants while at the other end of the spectrum, she tries out to be an olive oil taster, which involves consuming and rating WAY too much of the stuff. That’s another huge plus in Roach’s favour. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Having read the book, I have no doubt that if she became ill with something that could be cured with a transplant of someone else’s liquidised poop, she’d not even blink.

If you have any kind of interest in the human body and its various functions, you should definitely read this. And if you haven’t, you should read it anyway. Roach is a warm writer and a good laugh. You’ll enjoy your time with her. To quote Joey Tribbiani, you’ll be lovin’ and learnin’ at the same time.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 55: Revival by Stephen King

19196719Yes, I know I know. I should just re-title my blog “I Read A Lot of Stephen King”. But he’s been my go-to author for nearly thirty years and given that he had a brush with death fifteen years ago now and toyed with retiring twelve years ago, so any new book from him is a cause for me to skip about and click my heels. That this is his second book of the year and there is another on the horizon already for next year, well, hallelujah. And I have said over and over again that a really satisfying ending is the one thing that eludes his work more often than not, so the jacket copy promising that Revival has “the most terrifying conclusion King has ever written” inspires excitement and nervousness from me, in roughly equal measure.

Our hero is Jamie Morton, a vaguely successful musician and an incredibly successful heroin addict (no surprise there). Casting a shadow over his entire life is Reverend Jacobs. When Jamie is a young boy, the Jacobs family move in down the road and the Rev has a profound effect on Jamie and his family. Rev Jacobs is obsessed with electricity and experimenting with its restorative uses. Everything is ticking along nicely until a tragedy strikes the Reverend and he then ends up being fired from his job after giving what comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon” (and it’s one of the most brilliantly awful parts of the book when it happens).

The Reverend vanishes but re-appears at key moments of Jamie’s life, having re-invented himself as a carny show healer who would make Jim Bakker look restrained and unimaginative. His experiments with electricity sees him performing real healings, with some fake ones thrown in for show. He has harnessed electricity to cure things conventional medicine cannot. He cures Jamie of his heroin addiction, for starters. There are side effects though, unpleasant ones and never will the banality of the phrase “something happened” seem so gruesome.

As they both grow older, Jacobs obsession with electricity grows exponentially, his grip on sanity loosens and his claws sink ever deeper into Jamie’s life as we head towards the apparently terrifying conclusion. And I am going to give nothing further away about the story or its conclusion than that. Whether or not you find it terrifying is up to you, but what I will say is that it seems King has found his showdown mojo. His latest two or three works have all had final chapters which range from chilling to heartbreaking, but are all richly satisfying. And this is most definitely satisfying. And after the grand finale, there’s an epilogue to really hammer things home. Up until the final portion, when King goes full on Frankenstein’s Monster, this is an intriguing and well crafted novel. Thereafter, it’s a demonstration of how lame American Horror Story really is and an abject lesson in how reading something can scare you into sleeping with the lights on.