Veteran Avenue Review: A Real Old-School Thriller in a Modern Setting

veteran avenue

Mark Pepper’s action packed thriller invokes an almost Raymond Chandler-esq, telling the tale of a former solider whose past clashes violently with his present as he travels to America for the funeral of a fellow veteran. Years earlier, as a child, he is befriended by a stranger in the Oregon wilderness and stolen away from his parents. After a bizarre hour spent in a log cabin, he is sent back with a picture of a young girl. It is this chilling event that returns to haunt this haunted veteran as he tries to untangle an incredibly complex web of malice, deceit and violence.

Protagonist John Frears is a drifter with a tough exterior and an interesting host of friends and acquaintances. The novel’s whole cast of characters are interesting and varied, with strong dialogue that makes this a really easy book to devour. The story is punchy and fast paced. Author Mark Pepper is also an actor alongside being a writer, and this shows in the novel; the plot is driven by dialogue, eliminating the issue of info dumping, which can often ruin thrillers.

The one thing that grates on me is the names; whilst the dialogue helps enhance the American setting and gives the novel an almost wild-western feel, the strange names, such as Roth, Dodge and Hawg, are too over the top, and give this otherwise fascinating and well crafted novel a comical, almost slapstick feel which does not suit it.

With its quick witted dialogue, engaging characters and well-driven narrative, Veteran Avenue is a great thriller that readers will struggle to put down. I found myself on the verge of reading it again once I’d finished, as I was so entranced by Pepper’s portrayal of John’s adventures.


Saigon Dark Review: A Fascinating Emotional Rollercoaster

saigon dark

Following my interview with Elka Ray, I checked out her innovative novel Saigon Dark, a thrilling tale focusing on morality and how seemingly small decisions can come back to haunt you.

The novel follows a desperate mother, disillusioned with her life, who finds herself in an impossible situation. In a bid to escape it she makes a decision that will change not only her own life, but also that of those around her. Spanning over a decade, the novel shows the fallout from this one wrong turn and how it impacts on the protagonist, Lily’s, life, as well as that of those she loves.

Elka, who has travelled extensively, draws on her strong knowledge of Asian culture and geography to provide a novel that, although exceptionally emotive and thought provoking, is also richly depicted, and filled with luscious descriptions of the Vietnamese way of life which her character now lives. Every description is well crafted and designed to stick with you- I can still picture the ‘four dark marks, like fingerprints dipped in ink’ that adorn the wrist of a local beggar.

Characters are often described, not in definite terms, but through a discussion of how they make the protagonist, Lily, feel or the memories they evoke in her. Through the first person narration we see a world filtered by Lily’s morals, memories and beliefs, creating an unreliable but fascinating narrative.

Fundamentally a strong thriller, Saigon Dark is a complex novel that does not fully belong to any genre. This is a tale of bitterness and betrayal, love, loss, and a desperate struggle to hide the truth.

The Lighterman Review: An Intense Thriller That Will Keep You Hooked

the lighterman

The third in the Charles Holborne series, Simon Michael’s gripping novel evoking the dark and twisted setting of 60s London. There is a hint of John le Carré in this tough legal thriller that packs a punch as the reader is swept along towards a fascinating conclusion.

Following on from the first two novels featuring Criminal Barrister Charles Holborne, The Brief and An Honest Man, The Lighterman begins with a jaw-dropping action scene. The spellbound reader is drawn into a bombing that evokes the horror of the Second World War with a flashback to 1940s London, which is in the grip of terror as Germany bombs the city and its residents flee.

It is in this intense start that sets the pace for this intense and well-crafted book, as we follow Charles in his quest to protect his family and his reputation. His past returning to haunt him, and Charles is forced to face up to the consequences of his previous actions.

One of the best things about this novel is the names, some of which could have come straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. From Ninu Azzopardi to Billy Hill, the characters’ names are so incredibly unbelievable that they become realistic, and add another dimension to the complex and intriguing people who populate this rich story.

With a great combination of history, adventure and crime, The Lighterman is makes for a unique read that stays with you. Every now and then I see something or hear a phrase that reminds me of part a of Simon Michael’s exhilarating book. Despite flicking between the 40s and 60s, there is something deeply relatable about the novel that makes impossible to put down and leave readers riveted. This was another book that I have been meaning to review for a while, but once I started it reading it I found it impossible to put down and devoured it in less than a day. I would urge anyone who enjoys challenging, dark thrillers to check this out- you will not be disappointed.

The Silent Death Review: Pre-War Berlin at its Most Gruesome

the silent death

Following the recent announcements regarding the TV series billed as the most expensive German television show going, I checked out the dark and thrilling Gereon Rath novel The Silent Death.

In the bleak noir setting that is 1930s Berlin, the intrepid inspector, a Cologne native out of his depth in a new city following a disastrous case battles a dastardly and sinister serial killer bent on keeping film silent.

Added to this fight are his inner demons and his new boss, who is determined to keep Gereon on the straight and narrow and make him a team player. But with a private job on the side that suddenly links to the case, dubious connections and an increasingly troubled love life, the Inspector remains a complicated and intriguing character, and his exploits bring life to the story amid the grime and dissolution of a Germany in the grip of Nazism that is creating both political and social unrest.

Author Volker Kurscher is an expert storyteller and this evocative setting combined with his superb characterisation makes this a thrilling read from start to finish. When translated the dialogue can at times sound clunky and stilted, but the characters shine through despite this thanks to the graphic descriptions Kurscher lavishes on even the most minor passers by.

When he does get his teeth into a description, Kruscher is a true artist, creating emotive and stirring depictions of pre-war Berlin that offer a unique snapshot of this glorious city’s history. As I have already mentioned when reviewing Mark Ellis’s exquisite Historical Crime Fiction novel Merlin at War, I am no history buff, but thanks to Ellis I have come to enjoy novels set in the past, and reading The Silent Death I again have the feeling of being transported back to another era.

With Scandinavian and European Crime Fiction still a big hit and the upcoming TV series to look forward to, there has never been a better time to check out Gereon Rath and his unconventional investigative techniques.

Riding Shotgun Review: American Story Telling At Its Finest

riding shotgun

Riding Shotgun and Other American Cruelties is an inventive collection of three novellas by the multi-talented Andy Rausch who is, alongside being a writer, is also an American film journalist, author, screenwriter, film producer, and actor.

This selection of three novellas pays homage to a range of genres, offering the reader a glimpse into the crime market in the USA. In the opening story, Easy-Peezy, the reader is transported to into an innovative take on a western as a group of outlaws pull off daring heists as they seek the riches stored in the country’s banks. The titular story, Riding Shotgun, is a pulp fiction esq caper featuring some superb examples of swearing in action (of which I thoroughly fucking approve).

Finally, Rausch portrays the exploits of a criminally minded hip-hop crew as they seek riches by sticking two finger to the established music scene in $crilla. Each novella is uniquely tailored to its setting and set-up, making for a consistently strong portrayal despite the varied styles Rausch employs.

Dialogue, something that, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I am a massive fan of when done right, is expertly utilized here, particularly in Easy-Peezy’s wild west setting, where the characters are each given a individual voice to allow their status as establishment or out law to shine through. As mentioned before, the swearing Riding Shotgun is expertly crafted, and shows a great knowledge of how to really exploit voice in a story to heighten both the internal tension and the reader’s interest.

Overall, drawing on his vast and varied experiences, Andy Rausch has created three unique stories, each of which is an individual representation of America’s Crime Fiction history. From the wild west through to urban thrillers at their best, this creative selection of stories has something to please everyone.

Merlin at War Review: An Enticing Historical Thriller

front cover Merlin at War

As a rule, historical novels aren’t my thing, but I was intrigued by the concept of Mark Ellis’s Merlin at War, which I first encountered when I interviewed him for a blog tour recently. Set during the Second World War, the novel follows the exploits of detective Frank Merlin, who works to solve the numerous crimes that abound despite the escalating global violence.

The crimes in question are various but all, coincidentally, connected. First, the body of a young Irish woman who died as the result of a botched abortion is investigated; later, the abortionist himself is found killed at his boarding house. Merlin, who also has to deal with the bureaucracy of having one member of staff removed for fraternisation and replaced by an American, takes on both cases simultaneously.

Later, his friend, having just returned from fighting in Crete, visits him with a small problem, on which Merlin advises. Shortly afterwards this friend is also murdered, and so the detective and his team come up against corporate deception as they unravel his problem, which is linked to a case of embezzlement in a massive international bank.

History never has been my strong point, and as such I am not entirely certain if the depictions of the various historical figures in Merlin at War are even remotely accurate, but the characterisation overall is excellent. Everyone, from the snobbish bank employees through to Machiavellian officers in the various military and security services, are superbly depicted, with the dialogue carefully catered to their personalities to ensure both consistency and realism. Seedy, untrustworthy men are Ellis’s strongpoint and he does them well, with numerous characters from across the story portrayed with such skill that they make your skin crawl.

The novel flits around the world, from depictions of the Creation retreat to intrigue-ridden Buenos Aires, but it is London where the majority of the action takes place, and the city is bought to life thanks to Ellis’s stunning depictions. His seamless integration of setting into the narrative entices the reader and draws them further into this fascinating story.

As I mentioned, I have never been a big history buff, but I truly enjoyed Merlin at War. The one small issue I have is that I’m not entirely sure that attitudes in 1940s London would have been so relaxed, and as such the lack of prejudice on all fronts feels slightly unrealistic. Bernie Goldberg, the American detective who is placed with Merlin’s team, as well as the various other foreigner characters the reader encounters throughout the novel, seem to face very little racial backlash despite the hostile military situation and the general ignorance of and distrust towards other races that abounded at that time. I also find it incredibly hard to believe that widowed Merlin’s unmarried relations with his Polish girlfriend Sonia, who lives in his flat, would be tolerated so easily, with even the uptight Assistant Commissioner and his wife welcoming the unconventional couple with open arms.

Incorporating a wide variety of genres, including detective fiction, thriller, espionage and historical novel, Merlin at War is a truly spellbinding page turner that keeps you hooked right until the end.

Only Dead on the Inside Review

only dead on the inside

I’ve been a fan of the hilarious Twitter account of James Breakwell, AKA @XplodingUnicorn, for a couple of years now, and I enjoy his joking discussions on the absurdities of parenting. As I’m not a parent myself this may seem strange, but I can assure you that his tales of raising four girls under 10, a pig and a dog are utterly hilarious to this 20-something who uses them as validation to explain why she will never change my mind about having children (and to try and convince her housemates to band together and buy a pig instead).

So far, the latter endeavour has not been successful, and frankly neither has the former, as everyone is still convinced I’ll one day want a sprog of my own (why?!). For this, I entirely blame James for not having tried hard enough. But no matter. We are here to review his book, the result of his hard work tweeting about his family and their disdain for his love of tweeting about them. The book offers an informative guide for parents on how to survive if the dead ever start rising, so that it won’t just be just ‘smug, outdoorsy Millennials’ left when the end happens.

Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse is a remarkably through overview of everything a parent could possibly need to know about navigating the end of the world; from how to tell your kids the bad news to which toys make the best weapons. There’s even handy tips on how to survive everyday life with kids, such as how to check that your day-care provider isn’t overrun with zombies, making this a great read regardless of whether the end of the world is nigh. There are even helpful comic strips and charts throughout, offering the dual benefit of being easy to read and ensuring that the message gets through even to those who are reading whilst on the run, whether it be from brain eating zombies or disgruntled toddlers.

At the end of the day, (or the world), if you’re looking for genuine zombie survival tips then go watch The Walking Dead or ply Sean Bean with shots and see if he’ll give you some. If you want a light-hearted and witty representation of how parents can survive the apocalypse that is having children, as well as any literal zombie based issues that may come their way, then Only Dead on the Inside is the book for you.