The President’s Daughter Review: A Punchy Political Thriller That’s Ideal For Summer

Following the success of their first novel together, The President Is Missing, former U.S President Bill Clinton and internationally acclaimed thriller writer James Patterson have collaborated on another book, which is due to be published next week.

This new book is titled The President’s Daughter, and despite the similarities in the titles, it’s a standalone novel, not part of a series with the previous book. That means a whole new cast of characters and a completely new tale. It also means that you don’t have to have read The President Is Missing to enjoy this new novel.

It’s a book about the kidnapping of a teenage girl, who’s father is a former Navy SEAL who later served as the President of the U.S. With his daughter kidnapped by a former enemy, he’s left to use his skills to track down his little girl and get her back safely, a journey that takes him around the world and into dangerous situations.

The title of the book is slightly misleading: by the time she’s kidnapped, Mel Keating’s father Matt is an ex-president, and has been so for 2 years. He’s now living quietly in a small house in a small town in New Hampshire, while his wife is working on an archaeological dig in Boston.

Mel was out hiking when she’s abruptly snatched from the trail and her boyfriend is shot dead in front of her. Now, she’s in the hands of a dangerous terrorist: a man whose own daughters, along with his wife, were killed while Keating’s men were exploring his compound during his presidency.  

Now, this terrorist is out for revenge, and he has the former President’s daughter in his clutches. Emotions run high as the former President and his wife watch in horror as the current administration, which already betrayed them politically, now fails them in trying to recover their precious daughter.

Switching between different perspectives, including Matt Keating, his wife, his daughter and the terrorists who hold her captive, the new President, the secret service agents working with Keating to find his daughter, and various international diplomats, the two authors create a varied and intense narrative. By withholding information from the reading, and showing us the initial, horrified reactions of a variety of characters, the writers turn even simple plot points into thrilling passages.

One of the downsides to this technique is that it does make the book much longer. The President’s Daughter is an immense volume with over 100 chapters split into 5 parts, plus en epilogue. Despite this extraordinary length, the book is surprisingly easy to read.

Clinton and Patterson do a good job of creating tension and making Matt Keating, the former POTUS protagonist, realistic and believable. We can really feel his pain and empathise with his feelings of impotence and inadequacy as he watches the hostage situation unfold. He feels powerless, until he decides to go off-script, in true action hero fashion, and take matters into is own hands.

Armed with a selection of weapons he understands from his days as a Navy SEAL, his grief, and a handful of security operatives and high-level contacts that he can trust, Matt Keating sets out to take down the terrorist who took his little girl. All the while, the truth is obscured and it’s unclear as to who Keating, or the reader, can trust.

While the pair are both clearly very good at writing powerful male characters, they fall seriously short when it comes to portraying women. Despite the sheer volume of female characters, the novel is very clearly written by men. The female characters are almost entirely either women who behave like the male characters and are almost indistinguishable from them, as is the case with the female secret agents, or they’re entirely controlled by men.

That’s the case with the new President, Pamela Barnes. She is married to a former cowboy, who’s now her chief of staff and who controls her. He literally makes decisions on her behalf. Her character is a caricature of what the first female President of America might look like, which is frankly shocking from the husband of a woman who stood a decent chance of becoming the first real life female POTUS if it wasn’t for America’s overwhelming racism and bigotry. Even when Pamela Barnes does eventually wise up to her husband’s debauchery and ditch him, she’s still facing the fallout from his past decision making.

Also, Clinton and Patterson both miss out on the irony of the female characters, particularly the secret service and FBI operatives, being constantly mansplained at and being overlooked for top jobs by incompetent men. There are plenty of male characters in this book who are clearly completely useless at their roles, but meanwhile women are running around cleaning up their messes and generally just doing their jobs for them.

For me, it’s characters and writing like this that makes me wish for more inclusivity and female perspectives in the crime fiction and thriller market. The women in The President’s Daughter have all accepted their fates as helpless and waiting for rescue, puppets or tokens. It’s such a shame that neither of the writers could take the time to consult with a woman, or research real women in power, before they put this book together.

The same goes for the foreign characters, many of whom appear to be a string of stereotypes clustered together. There are a few redeeming paragraphs which show some small international cooperation and appear to suggest that not all foreigners are bad, but for the most part the novel is incredibly regressive and filled with out-dated values. It’s hardly inclusivity if you include diverse characters but write them from your own, ignorant perspective.

This is the biggest let down the novel has, but if you can look beyond the lack of real diversity and the weird characterisation of everyone other than the ex-Navy SEAL turned former POTUS and his male security detail, then this is an interesting read. Patterson has written hundreds of books over the years, many of which have become international bestsellers. Combined with Clinton’s knowledge of the U.S political system, and you’ve got an interesting read that can help make your staycation feel like a really relaxing break. There’s not a lot of complicated plot points or information to absorb, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride through this action-packed book.

Overall, if you enjoy fast-paced thrillers then you could find that The President’s Daughter is right up your street. Written by a former President and a master of popular thrillers, the book is a well-researched page-turner. It’ll be a great read for the summer. If you’re looking for a book with substances and a social conscience, then this isn’t the novel for you, but it’s still a great way to pass the time. It might be a hefty book, but it’ll fly by and you’ll be shocked by how quickly you finish it thanks to Patterson’s narrative skills.

Guilty Review: A Shocking Thriller With A New Twist In Every Chapter

Having recently interviewed author Jane Hobden, I was eager to check out her book, Guilty.

It’s billed as a unique version of a traditional crime novel, and it’s easy to see why as soon as you turn the first page. The narrative is divided into sections, so that the reader sees the case from multiple perspectives. It offers almost Gone Girl esq perspective flips, but more of them, so that the reader is constantly unsure about whose version of the truth is the real one.

The plot follows the strange case of Megan Sands, a young mother whose six-year-old daughter is taken into care following a fall down some stairs. The teaching assistant who took the child to hospital and urged the staff there to call social services is also a mother with a daughter in the same class; indeed, the two young girls are friends.

Not long after Lola Sands is taken into care, someone breaks into the teaching assistant’s home and throws acid over her husband’s face, before tying her up and berating her before letting her go. The teaching assistant, Becky Thurston, recognises the assailant and identifies her as Megan Sands. She tells the police that Megan had threatened her before and been abusive prior to the devastating attack.

When the police go to visit Megan at her flat to quiz her about the attack, they find a bottle of acid and a blanket out in the hall on the floor below where she lives. It’s this coincidence, and Megan’s lack of alibi and shifty behaviour that leads the police to arrest and charge her with the crime.

The novel details the court case, as well as the events leading up to it and in between. Skipping from different perspectives and narrative styles, Hobden creates an enthralling tale that’s very difficult to put down. The reader is thrust into this captivating story and soon finds themselves wondering who to believe.

Many of the characters that narrate chapters, and deliver witness statements that Hobden uses to change up the writing style, are unreliable, with their versions of events differing drastically from other people’s accounts. So, the reader is left on tenterhooks and you’re unable to guess what’s going to happen next.

Thanks to Hobden’s diverse writing style, which includes witness statements, court dialogue and first person, character narrated chapters, the reader gets a complete perspective over the case. As mentioned, several of the characters are, at specific times throughout the story, unreliable, meaning that we see the action unfold slowly. The tale becomes increasingly complicated as Megan gives her evidence in court, and twisted versions of the truth start to come out.

The book is great, but it’s not without its flaws. The main issue I find is that the witness statements, used at the beginning of the novel to break up the narrative, feel a little samey. For those that are supposed to be written by characters in professional jobs, they don’t quite hit the right note. The same goes for the court proceedings: at times, the lawyers just don’t sound right. I’m not a lawyer or an expert myself, but I’ve read enough crime fiction to know that some of the text isn’t quite accurate.

That being said, accuracy isn’t everything, and while these minor issues might impede the narrative slightly, they don’t change the fact that this is an incredible book that keeps you hooked to the very end. Hobden structures the novel well, so that you feel compelled to keep going to get to the next twist and uncover the next fact.

It’s this propulsion that drives the reader through the novel and makes Guilty such a great read. You’ll be surprised how quickly you finish this compelling read. Once you’ve finished it, you’ll be haunted by the plot. It’s not just the plot that’s unforgettable; the characters are also engaging and memorable. Megan Sands, whose first-person account is interspersed with her witness testimony, is a relatable and understandable character who inspires both pity and understanding.

Her supposed victim’s wife, Becky Thurston, is also relatable and is both suspicious and subtly threatening. Even small, minor characters are intriguing and memorable, including Megan’s lawyer. He’s a robotic career man who has no compassion for his client and is neither sympathetic nor particularly competent. Through characters like him and the unsympathetic policemen who interview Megan, Hobden makes a point that the legal system in the UK is often incredibly prejudice, particularly towards single mothers living in social housing. 

When all’s said and done, Guilty is a unique thriller that works on many levels. It’s not without its flaws, but those don’t detract from the novel. It’s still a great read that will keep you riveted for a long while to come. The book also makes you question the truth and how every story has more than one side. So, if you want to enjoy a gripping summer read, then this could be the perfect solution for you.

The Patient Man Review: The Gripping Tale Of A Deadly Small Town Crime Spree

With a nomination for British Book Awards under the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year category, it’s safe to say that Joy Ellis’s latest novel, The Patient Man is turning heads, and it’s easy to see why.

Set in modern times, the book is a gripping thriller that captures your attention from the off and keeps it right the way through to its intense conclusion. From the first chapter, it’s clear why the awards committee decided to nominate this intense thriller for this prestigious accolade. It’s an almost timeless story that is unsettling and almost frightening, adding a tinge of excitement to the reading experience without going too far.

Ellis is up against some stiff competition for the award, with household names such as Lee Child and Ian Rankin also nominated. She’s also the only writer on the list whose book was launched by an independent publisher, which just shows that indie publishing houses are definitely worth checking out. There are some awesome independent publishers out there offering incredible content, and while some, like the wonderful Urbane Publishing, have sadly closed, there are still plenty of them out there.

The Patient Man is one phenomenal example of a book from an independent publisher that’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a combination of police procedural and serial killer thriller that perfectly encapsulates the terrors of a murderous psychopath with the challenges of small town policing. As such, it’s clear why it was nominated for this award and if it doesn’t win, then that will be a very big shame.

From the very beginning of the book, the tension is palpable in this fast-paced thriller. It begins with a dream, in which DI Jackman’s nemesis, serial killer Alistair Ashcroft , AKA the novel’s namesake patient man, returns to the picturesque English countryside town of Saltern-Le-Fen. As if it was a premonition, suddenly Ashcroft returns and begins terrorising Jackman and his team. He’s been gone for a long time, but he’s been hatching an evil plan to torment the village and get back at Jackman, his nemesis, through the people and places he loves.

While Ashcroft’s crime spree is unfolding, there’s a break-in at a local gun club, and it quickly becomes apparent that the crime is linked to the deranged serial killer. Minor farmyard thefts, including the abduction of some pigs and the attempted theft of red diesel also take up the team’s time, and there could potentially be a link between them and the serial menace. The crimes are soon connected to a small local family of uneducated individuals, who quickly start their own vendetta against Ashcroft after he dupes them.

Luring specific members of Jackman’s team to the scene of his crimes, Ashcroft makes his crime spree personal. He also targets Jackman’s girlfriend and photographs him at his home and workplace, which adds an immensely creepy edge to novel’s plot. Ashcroft is both a typical insane serial killer and an inventive psychopath, so while he does have some traditional tropes, he’s also incredibly unpredictable. Thanks to the author’s skilful handling of the character and plot, you’ll never know what’s around the corner and always be kept guessing. 

The author crafts unique and bold characters that enhance the novel’s tension. Ashcroft is a psychological bully, and he launches a campaign of terror that is both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Ellis keeps readers enthralled and ratchets up the tension by showing the reader different perspectives, so that we see the violence play out at close quarters and then watch the madness unfold afterwards from all angles.

As well as Ashcroft, the police team are also a bunch of relatable, two-dimensional characters. Ellis shows the reader just enough personal insight into them to make the reader invest in them emotionally, without filling the novel with erroneous back-story. That means that you’ll feel all of Ashcroft’s menace and evil deeds as if they’re real, and become very invested in the story. Ellis puts the reader firmly on the side of the police, giving the novel some interesting twists and unique coincidences to keep us guessing.

There is one thing that surprises me a little about The Patient Man. In this day and age, where everyone carries a glorified tracking device in their pockets and CCTV monitors our every move, I find it difficult to believe that Ashcroft could live for so long without getting caught. Even though he is hiding out in a small fen town, I still find it a bit weird that he was able to stay underground for such a long time.

Still, I can allow for a little creative licence; after all, it would be a pretty boring novel if the serial killer were caught immediately! Ellis is an amazing storyteller, and she keeps the narrative on a knife-edge from page one through to very end.

So, if you’re a big fan of crime fiction and gripping books that merge modern serial killer troupes with traditional English police fiction, this could be the ideal summer read for you.

In all, with its sleek plotting and witty dialogue, The Patient Man reads like a hardboiled American thriller. The novel has a sophisticated and slick plot with a humble and homely setting, which is a unique and intriguing combination. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to readers who love all types of crime novel and want to read a compelling thriller that will keep them guessing.

Lost Souls Review: An Thrilling Modern Mystery You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

Hot on the heels of the amazing and engaging Serpentineis John Kellerman’s latest novel, which he created in collaboration with his son, award-winning playwright Jesse Kellerman.

Part of the Clay Edison series, Lost Souls follows the intrepid coroner as he deals with a case of a baby’s dead body, found decomposing under a stage at a Berkley University park.

The park in question, known as People’s Park, is due to be demolished and turned into a dormitory complex. However, as the building crew come to tear down the park’s infrastructure, including the stage, a bone is discovered.

The bone turns out to be the entire skeleton of a young baby, wrapped in a blanket and clearly old. The discovery turns the park into a political playground, with the University on one side and organisations fighting to protect the park, which they believe to be a Native American burial site, on the other.

In the middle, Edison and his team are trying to uncover the identity of the infant whose remains were under the stage. They find out that he’s a boy, and then they uncover a match for his DNA. This discovery, made early in the novel, takes Edison to a prison cell where a violent white supremacist is in denial about the child, and his kids refuse to acknowledge their previously unknown sibling.

At the same time, Edison is contacted by a wealthy tech entrepreneur, who thinks that the remains might be those of his long lost sister. He’s never met her, and he doesn’t remember ever having done so, but he has a snapshot of his mother and a baby long before he was born. His mother is now dead, and he’s desperate for some kind of closure on the subject. So much so that’s he’s gone to desperate lengths and, so far, found nothing. His father, who doesn’t speak to anymore, has let slip that the child was a girl, but he doesn’t know much more about her.

The remains at the park are not the tech wizard’s sister, but Edison, who has his own little baby girl at home, agrees to take on the case to help find out what happened to the child in the picture. Through the case, which he takes on privately, he comes up against silence, bureaucracy and the FBI, all of which takes him on towards some shocking discoveries.

All the while, the fight over the park and the potential building of the dormitory is reaching fever pitch. Tensions boil over and violence ensues. Edison also receives personal threats, leading him to fear for the safety of his family. While the plot has a lot of twists and turns, it remains enticing and easy to follow. If anything, the multiple plot points help readers to feel engaged in the story.

Thanks to the narrative skills and extensive experience of the writers, Lost Souls is an eye-opening tale that teaches readers a lot about American policing and the process of managing cases. As an English woman, I didn’t realise that American coroners have so much power, and that they act as a combination of pathologist and police officer. Clay Edison is certainly not like the fuddy duddy English pathologist type character that you see in a lot of British crime novels.

Instead, he’s a hardened yet compassionate officer who understands people and has a lot of experience handling individuals in many different painful, dangerous or generally difficult situations. The two Kellerman’s deftly entwine his personal and professional lives in the novel, giving just enough insight to make the issues he’s dealing with at work seem so deeply personal and painful to the protagonist.

As well as Edison, there are so many incredible, believable characters in this novel. There’s the tech mogul, who is both dedicated to finding out more about his long lost sister and disillusioned that his past attempts have all led to dead ends. Also, there is the family of the white supremacist, who are intriguing and more than just the typical stereotypes that you see in many thrillers. Instead, they’re two-dimensional figures who are clearly a product of a very messed-up upbringing and who really enrich the story.

The characters are backed up by punchy dialogue that sounds realistic yet slick. The police characters are all witty enough to keep the novel moving but not so much that they seem corny or completely fake.

One of the few criticisms I have of the novel is that some parts of the storyline, namely Edison taking on a private case, feel a little forced. It seems a bit unbelievable that a busy coroner, in the midst of a hectic investigation and barely sleeping because of his young daughter, would jump so readily at the chance to take on yet more work. The case appears unsolvable, and there while the character of the tech businessman is portrayed as slick and persuasive, I wondered a few times whether a busy public official would stoop to taking on a private job. I also wondered about the legalities of doing so; while Edison doesn’t agree a fee, in the UK such a practice would definitely be frowned upon, if not a definite breach of rules.

However, that’s a minor grumble, and given that it is a book, and not real life, I suppose I can give the Kellerman’s a bit of artistic license, especially since it makes the novel that much more enticing. It’s fascinating to watch the two cases unfold alongside one another, and between them the two entwine to carry the plot through to its dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, Lost Souls is a fascinating addition to the Clay Edison series and incorporates all of the best parts of John Kellerman’s storytelling abilities with the fresh ideas and innovation of his son Jesse. This is a gripping thriller that should definitely be added to your summer reading list. It’ll make the perfect read for when you’re relaxing out in the sun and want to enjoy a fascinating crime caper.

The Whispers Review: A Haunting Thriller That You’ll Remember For All The Right Reasons

As part of her blog tour, I’m excited to share my thoughts on the latest book from renowned thriller writer Heidi Perks.

After Perks’ past works, including Come Back For Me, Three Perfect Liarsand the incredible Now You See Her, comes her latest offering, the deliciously deceitful The Whispers.

The author’s latest release is a gripping thriller with a Gone Girl esq twist. Not to spoil the plot, but honestly, if you love Gillian’s Flynn’s bestseller then The Whispers could be the perfect read for you.

The story revolves around four very close friends, who live in the picturesque, fictional Dorset town of Clearwater, near the very real town of Weymouth. These four friends are all parents of 8 year olds kids, who are all in the same class at primary school.

On the surface, these four live picture-perfect, happy lives. They have great husbands, lovely children, and beautiful homes. Those who have jobs seem to enjoy them, and the rest love being homemakers and taking care of their husbands and children.

All of this is pulled apart with the arrival of Grace, a woman who used to live in Clearwater but moved to Australia when she was a teenager. Now a married mother with an 8 year old daughter in the same class as the four friends’ kids, she comes back and expects to fit in with her former best friend, Anna, one of the four.

However, Anna now has her three new friends, and she is increasingly distant from Grace. The other three women all rally round her and seem to try to keep her away from her childhood best friend. In a desperate attempt to fit in and win her old friend back, Grace agrees to come to a Christmas night out at the local pub.

The night is filled with in fighting and strange revelations. Grace leaves early while the other four women stay and party. The next day, Anna has disappeared, and Grace soon finds that her friends aren’t being honest about what happened to her. In desperation, Grace goes to Anna’s gormless husband, then takes it upon herself to report the disappearance to the police.

Not only is Anna’s vanishing scary for Grace, but it also brings back unwelcome memories of an eerily similar disappearance that happened back when the girls where teenagers. A girl in their class disappeared, only to be found dead having fallen from the cliffs. The cliffs in the area are renowned as dangerous, but now Grace begins to wonder.

She meets up with a policeman who worked the case all those years ago, and the two reminisce. There’s little he can do to help Grace find Anna, and no one else seems to care that she’s missing. Anna has left an amazing husband and a gorgeous small boy behind, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind her sudden vanishing.

When Anna reappears suddenly, it’s clear that all is not well. All of her friends are clearly keeping secrets, and the story rattles on to its final, breath-taking conclusion. In between, the story is taut and tense, with Perks teasing the reader with small titbits of information but never giving us the full story until right at the very end.

It’s the author’s masterful storytelling abilities that keep The Whispers so engaging and enticing. The tale itself is a deliciously simple one, but the writing style means that the reader is left hanging on Perks’ every word as they traverse this bitter and backbiting fiction town with her as their guide.

The ending of the novel is insanely captivating. The reader is left wondering who was right: Grace or Anna? Perks does an amazing job of keeping everything ambiguous and leaving it open to interpretation. She keeps you guessing right to the very end, and then leaves you with more questions than answers. By giving various perspectives on the narrative, she makes it tough for you to get a clear view of the plot. You’re constantly wondering who is lying and who is covering for themselves.

It’s for this reason that her latest novel is so haunting. Even after it’s over, you’ll still be questioning everything that you read and wondering who to believe. I’ve been left wondering about the book and dissecting each detail of the plot ever since I finished it a few weeks ago. I struggled to put the book down when I was reading it, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

That’s the hallmark of a good thriller. It stays with you long after it’s over and haunts you at odd moments. There are few truly exceptional books that will stay with you and give you the fear long after they’re done, and this is definitely one of them. You’ll remember the plot and notice random qualities in people you meet that remind you of the characters. It’s also the kind of thriller that you’ll want to re-read as soon as the plot even starts to fade from your memory. I’m already considering giving it another go and I’ve only just finished it!

With all that said, it’s clear that I’d thoroughly recommend The Whispers to anyone who wants to read an engaging thriller that will help you escape from your reality. The book quickly draws you in and makes you feel invested in the fates of the characters. You’ll want to find out what happened to Anna and how her past actions have affected her future reality.

When all is said and done, I think that Perks’ latest novel is a gritty, modern thriller that really packs a punch. Like Now You See Her before it, I believe that this is the sort of novel that’ll soon be optioned by NBC, Netflix or Hulu and I can totally see Reese Witherspoon trying to grab one of the main roles for herself. She’d make a great Nancy, in my opinion. I’d be excited to see a TV adaptation of this terrifying exploration of the depths of human deceit and how quickly families and relationships can crumble under the pressure of past deception.

Black Coffee Review: A Tantalising Thriller That Doesn’t Really Reflect Christie’s Prowess

As a bored, Golden Age crime fiction fan looking for something to keep me entertained during the lockdown, I’ve been turning to re-reading old favourites over recent months. Among my most beloved books is my collection of Hercule Poirot novels from the renowned Queen Of Crime, whose novels were the epitome of Golden Age crime fiction, Agatha Christie.

Re-reading old favourites offers many benefits, including giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll definitely enjoy the book. That’s why I’ve been devouring Agatha Christie novels during the pandemic. While I’m not averse to reading the odd Miss Marple novel, or even one of her lesser-known Tommy And Tuppence books, my favourite series of all out of Christie’s extensive back catalogue is the Poirot novels, which feature the pernickety Belgium private detective and his various accomplices as they solve devious crimes.

There are several of these books that I love, including the gripping Dead Man’s Folly and the twisted Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case, as well as her short story collections such as Poirot Investigates and Poriot’s Early Cases. However, I’ve also been searching for new Poirot stories that I haven’t read yet, but which I know will give me a taste of one of my favourite fictional sleuths and a new tale to sink my teeth into.

My search for new Poirot novels, beyond the original ones by Christie, which I’ve already read, and the ones by Sophie Hannah, which I’ve also checked out and reviewed, led me to Black Coffee. The book is an adaptation of a stage play script written by Christie herself, and turned into a novel by Charles Osborne, with the permission of Christie’s family and estate.

Osborne has also adapted a couple of other plays by Christie, so I was interested to check out this book. As mentioned, the original script for the play was written by the Queen Of Crime herself, but Osborne has bought it back to life by turning it into a novel, so readers like me can enjoy it even during the lockdown.

The play was slightly less popular than the renowned Mousetrap, also written by Christie, and which is the longest running show on the West End. However, Black Coffee was still incredibly popular, and it was turned into a 1931 film, as well as being turned into a novel.

Before I begin giving my opinions, I just want to say that I’ve never seen the film or play, or read Christie’s original play script. As such, I don’t know how much of it can be attributed to Osborne and how much was Christie herself. While I enjoyed reading Black Coffee, I did find it lacked certain elements that make for the perfect Poirot novel.

The book tells the story of Sir Claud Amory, a reclusive scientist living outside London in a large, luxurious home with his family, servants, secretary and a mysterious Italian friend of his daughter-in-law. Amory is developing a revolutionary formula for a new explosive that could completely change the world of war and the global power landscape.

Worried that the formula is about to be stolen by someone in his house, Amory hire Hercule Poirot to come down and take the formula back to London, where it can be given to the Government. On the evening when the detective, with his old friend Captain Hastings in tow, is due to arrive at the house, the formula is stolen from Amory’s safe.

The head of the household offers the thief one last chance to redeem themselves by switching off the lights and allowing them to anonymously return the formula. When the lights go out, the envelope in which the formula was is returned, but it later turns out to be empty. At the same time, Amory, who had just complained that his coffee was bitter, is found dead.

Poirot and Hastings arrive on the scene in time to find the dead man and offer their services to the family. The great detective hopes to find both the formula and the murderer, who he believes might be one and the same.

The plot is certainly thrilling and engaging, and the outcome is definitely unexpected and inventive. However, one of the key plot twists is taken directly from another Poirot novel; I won’t say which, so there are no spoilers. It’s simply a little disappointing that the main plot device is lifted from another book, although it is understandable that Christie would do this, as she probably believed that the play audience wouldn’t notice as they were watching rather than reading the tale.

Poirot himself is slightly off in Black Coffee. He’s a bit of a caricature of himself: like someone has heard of Poirot and his quirks, and then written a version of him without actually ever reading a Christie novel. Again, I understand that, for a play, the depiction needs to be more intense, as theatre goers will be less engaged and have less time with the character than book readers.

It’s very clearly an adaptation of a play: you can see it in the way the book is written. Osborne doesn’t do much by way of novelisation: while the book clearly isn’t written in the style of a play script, it isn’t quite a novel either. There is a very clear idea of space in the book, meaning readers can clearly see where each person is in the room and how they interact with one another. Also, the book is dialogue heavy, as you would expect a play script to be.

None of this detracts from Black Coffee’s appeal, but it does make it understandable that Poirot wouldn’t exactly be what I was expecting. However, he feels very different from what I wanted from the Belgium super sleuth. He’s not as sharp or perceptive in this as he is in most other novels and stories.

I’ve also got an issue with the book’s depiction of Captain Hastings. Hastings is a renowned detective sidekick, mostly because of the TV and film adaptations of the Poirot novels and the amazing portrayal of the character by actor and author Hugh Fraser. The character is not actually in that many of Christie’s books; in fact, he makes it into just 8 of the author’s 33 novels about the Belgium private eye. He also narrates many of the writer’s short stories featuring Poirot. In Black Coffee, Hastings isn’t the narrator; unlike he is in the novels written by Christie, which shows that Osborne didn’t take too much trouble to change the play script.

Hastings is another caricature of the character; Christie portrays him as a conceited and slightly uptight man who doesn’t have the wit or ingenuity of Poirot, but who is still deeply brave and loyal. He’s loyal to both his friend Poirot and his wife, but Black Coffee portrays him as flippant, deeply unintelligent and disloyal. In Christie’s books, you can see why Poirot likes to have Hastings around, but in this adaptation it’s difficult to see any benefit in this conceited man.

Even Inspector Japp, who turns up towards the end of the book, isn’t remotely similar to Christie’s original. In The Mysterious Affair At Styles, the first Poirot novel by the Queen Of Crime, the character is described as:

“One was a little, sharp, dark, ferret-faced man, the other was tall and fair.

I questioned Poirot mutely. He put his lips to my ear.

‘Do you know who that little man is?’

I shook my head.

‘That is Detective-Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard-Jimmy Japp.’” (Page 82).

The character is, again, very different in Osborne’s version of Black Coffee. The book portrays him as:

Japp, a bluff, hearty, middle-aged man with a thick-set figure and a ruddy complexion” (Page 132).

The two portrayals differ greatly. As you can see, Black Coffee does not continue the traditions of Christie, as several of her long running characters are different from their usual descriptions and actions. So, while the plot is gripping and intriguing, and the dialogue is fascinating, the book doesn’t really feel like a real Christie, or an actual Poirot story.

As I’ve said before about Kenneth Branagh’s film depiction of Poirot, just because you give your character the name doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the same. The version of Poirot adapted by Osborne isn’t the real Poirot; he might have the same fastidiousness and speak partially in French, but he’s not as delightfully diligent in his investigations, nor as characteristically witty as Christie’s original, despite the book being based on a play the Queen Of Crime wrote herself.

So, if you’re a Poirot fan who’s looking for a way to satisfy your craving for Christie, then you’re better off re-reading her novels. If you want to read something new, then I’d suggest checking out the amazing Poirot adaptations by Sophie Hannah, which are a much more realistic and relatable version of the great Belgium detective. Start with The Monogram Murdersand go from there; that’s a truly great series of adaptations that will give avid Christie fans something else to get their teeth into once they’ve finished re-reading all the original novels.

The Primary Objective Review: A Promising Political Thriller Missing A Few Teeth

Political thrillers, when done well, are the perfect escapist literary. As a far of political thrillers who’s in need of an escape, I was looking forward to checking out Martin Venning’s new novel The Primary Objective.

Primarily set in a small village on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the novel charts the work of Peace International, a fictional charity organisation dedicated to providing reconciliation and mediation support to governments and military factions around the world.

Led by London-based Operations Director Edwin Wilson and a mysterious insurgent named only as ‘Dave’, a small team is put together from international experts in warfare, local tour guides, scientists and communications experts. Together, they infiltrate the small town of Ibrahim Sami and work to understand how the region is becoming so prosperous and what the military base on the outskirts of town is doing.

During the initial reconnaissance, the team from Peace International find out that the base is being managed in tandem with the Chinese military. Slowly, the team uncovers a lot of information about skulduggery that could threaten to destabilise the region and cause untold harm to millions. There’s a lot at stake, and the team has to work hard to understand the issues they face and to work together to stop threats that are coming in from all sides.

The novel switches between the perspective of the team and other players in the drama that unfolds. These include a young shipping magnate who is being used to provide logistics support for an underground organisation and a local man who is supporting Peace International’s work but is deeply concerned about his father’s involvement with the military in his hometown.

By switching through a variety of different perspectives and by moving around the world, Venning keeps the reader interested. From the dismal streets of London to the wilds of small town Iran and the hustle and bustle of Tehran, the plot traverses the globe and means that there’s never any shortage of action and adventure. As such, the novel lives up to its name- everyone’s ‘Primary Objective’ is different, so we see a variety of perspectives.

While this does serve to keep the reader entertained and the plot moving forward, the author’s constant chopping and changing does make The Primary Objective harder to follow than it needs to be. Also, as each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, and in some cases, the perspective switches even within paragraphs, readers aren’t able to get attached to any one character or storyline.

Instead, we’re constantly seeing the action from a different point of view. This approach does serve to ensure that the reader is never bored when reading this book, but it also makes the action less engaging. With so many characters involved, and with the reader seeing the story from the perspective of almost all of them, it’s hard to get attached to anyone or to care about their fate.

Also, Venning uses a lot of info dumping in his novel; where loads of information is foisted on the reader through a lengthy explanation or piece of explanatory dialogue, rather than being integrated naturally throughout the story. Inserting long explanations makes the text feel very dense and less enjoyable to read, although Venning makes up for that issue with his fast-paced plot and by moving the action around a lot.

As for the characters, while there are too many, and the reader isn’t able to get too attached to them thanks to the almost constantly switching perspectives, they are still intriguing and well crafted. Each character is believable and relatable in some way, even the very unique military individuals that most people don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis.

The character backstories are often dumped on the reader haphazardly, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t slowly become invested in their fates as the novel progresses. Many of the characters give long, rambling depictions of their lives and what has happened to them, but as the action gets more exhilarating and the plot thickens we still get excited to see their fates.

Ultimately, I enjoyed The Primary Objective, but the novel is far from perfect. In the future, I’d be interested in reading some more from Martin Venning, and seeing if his coming works rectify some of the issues I found with this exciting yet somewhat confusing book.

Serpentine Review: A Cold Case That Becomes A Contemporary Crime Caper

Having enjoyed The Museum Of Desire when I reviewed it last year, I was excited to check out the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel Serpentine.

Kellerman brings back his gruff, burly LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who join forces once again when Milo has a very cold case foisted upon him by the higher ups.

He’s unwilling to take on the case, which is more than 35 years old, but he and Alex go to meet a wealthy and influential young businesswoman who has used her connections to wangle herself a review of the case, despite it’s age and the very low probability that it’ll get solved.

From the first meeting with the women, a gym wear mogul whose mother was found shot dead in a car miles on a remote road in LA, it is clear things aren’t what they seem with this accident case. The site where the car is found is very from her home in Danville, but besides that there’s very little for the pair to go on.

From this first meeting, it’s clear that the unusual yet well-matched sleuthing duo know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. The woman has little information to go on; she only found out a few years ago from her stepfather what had happened to her mother. Her stepfather refused to tell her anything and there’s limited information out there about the case.

She only has one photo of her mother; a strange picture that shows her standing awkwardly alongside the man she’s supposedly in love with. The only possession she has left from her late mother is her necklace, made of Serpentine, which is where the novel gets its name. The jewellery isn’t something that this seemingly stylish lady would wear, but her daughter clings to it like a comfort blanket that reminds her of the mother she never knew.

With her stepfather now dead and gone, the young woman is desperately searching for answers, and she’s happy to get the help of a pair of experts, neither of whom is as happy to be taking on the case. Milo and Alex have limited information from the start- there’s not even an accurate site for where the car was torched all those years ago.

Kellerman’s characterisation is brilliant in this novel; there are some really amazing characters involved with this case as it unfolds. One of my personal favourites is the last living detective who was assigned to the case: a truly obnoxious vegan who goes by the name ‘Du’.

It’s as the pair, with a little help from Du and the Internet, delve deeper into the case, that they see that it’s not the dead end they’d originally thought it was. In fact, alongside the initial victim, there are several other unexplained and unusual deaths connected to the case. For example, the boyfriend of the murdered woman, who raised her daughter, died on a hike when he’s clearly not an man who’s accustomed to spending time outdoors.

As the case shambles on, Milo and Alex realise that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. There’s something sinister going on, and there are powerful people who don’t want the truth to see the light of day.

Much like The Museum Of Desire, Serpentine is witty and engaging. The main detective, Milo Sturgis, is reminiscent of some of the best hardboiled detectives. His supporter and fellow investigator, psychologist Alex Delaware, who’s also the novel’s narrator, is his opposite, and in a way the pair turn the traditional detective pairing on its head.

While many detective duos are headed by a cerebral detective who is aided by a strong everyman, in this case Milo is the strong, burly, ordinary bloke. Alex is the cerebral thinker of the pair, and he assists the LAPD detective by using his professional and personal knowledge to assist his more streetwise colleague.

Together, the pair works hard to solve the case. As with the previous novel, there are a couple of small issues with the plot, and it does feel a little frustrating how hard the sleuthing duo works, only to have some major for major breakthroughs in the case to drop into their laps. While luck and coincidence must, in real life, assist with some cases, with a cold case like this one, it seems highly unlikely that so much good luck would bring so many great pieces of information and fresh leads to light.

These issues are small and inconsequential, however, when you consider the excellence of this fast-paced plot. Kellerman is a master at suspense, and his excellent characterisation will keep you engaged and invested in the story throughout this witty mystery.

Overall, Serpentine is much more than just a dry old cold case story. The plot quickly transforms into a fast moving modern thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. There are plenty of mysteries associated with the cold case where the investigation begins, so there’s enough to keep you entertained and leave you with no idea what’s coming next, which is ideal for a police procedural.

Matters Of Life And Death Review: An Enthralling Collection Of Occult-Themed Fantasy Stories

Short story collections are usually a mixed bag; they usually contain half-baked ideas and the tales that preceded longer, better writing projects. While it’s interesting to watch the thought-process unfold, short story anthologies can sometimes compromise on readability as a result.

As such, I wasn’t expecting every story in Philip M Stuckey’s collection, Matters Of Life And Death, to interest me. I’d expected that some would be works in progress, but I was amazed by how engaging and unique each one is in this incredible collection.

The stories range from futuristic stories of how tech is changing our lives, through to timeless tales of witches and sorcery. There’s also a truly terrifying reimagining of the Bogeyman that will actually haunt your dreams. Some of the stories are clearly set in a specific time period or setting, usually the English countryside. Others are timeless and seem to be set in another world, but the author still keeps them grounded and unique.

Characterisation is amazing in this collection of short stories; Stuckey creates two dimensional, well-rounded characters with backgrounds, feelings and unique perspectives, despite the short length of most of the stories. Some are as short as just one page, but they still manage to pack a punch and capture the reader’s imagination.

What unites this disparate group of tales is the author’s unique storytelling and inventive plots. Stuckey deftly combines human interest with inventive plotting to create relatable short stories that capture the imagination and hold it long after you’ve finished this relatively short book.

While each story is unique and inventive, that isn’t to say that there are not some similarities and reoccurring themes throughout the collection. The tales in Matters Of Life And Death are all bound together with the same focus on human nature and the way that people are connected to the earth and the mysterious forces that drive the often inexplicable occurrences that come about in nature, such as coincidences and supposed miracles.

Also, some writing techniques, such as the simile of a mute dog straining at a leash, are repeated in several stories; after a couple they become noticeable. However, these repetitions are few and far between, so while you might notice them slightly more than you would in other short story anthologies, they don’t detract from the tales as much as they do in other collections. It’s clear that all of these stories are unique and that they’ve all been written specifically for the collection; they’re not just old, half-finished projects that are thrown into a short story book to make up the numbers and get something published. These are all engaging stories in their own right, and together they create an unmissable short story collection that has something for every reader.

One of the issues in this innovative short story collection is that some of the dialogue reads too well; it sounds like a written diary entry. Most people don’t speak in this flowery, descriptive way, so the dialogue sounds a little forced. The dialogue in some stories, such as the first one in the collection, Witch In A Bottle, should really have been a diary entry or a written statement. As dialogue, it seems a little overdone and unlikely, but it would make a fantastic written statement from the character in question, a historical priest who is the victim of a supernatural possession or crime.

My only other issue with Matters Of Life And Death is that there’s no author introduction. It would be amazing to have insight direct from the author’s mouth about the inspiration behind the short story collection, which is usually reserved for the introduction. This book is only around 100 pages long, so a short intro wouldn’t have made it too long and difficult to read. It would also give us an insight into the author’s fascinating life; Stuckey isn’t just an author, but also a entrepreneur, a singer, songwriter and a poet, so he clearly has a lot of interesting things to say. If they ever re-release this short story collection in the future, I think that his publishers should definitely insist on an introduction; I’d buy another copy just for that addition!

Despite these small niggles, I’m a pretty big fan of this collection of enthralling tales. It’s a great book to binge-read, simply because once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down until it’s finished. Some of the stories are haunting and evocative, so they’ll stay with you for a long time.

Overall, I think that Philip M Stuckey’s collection of eclectic, occult themed short stories is engaging and intriguing in equal measure. If you enjoy creepy, spine-tingling tales, then you should definitely check out Matters Of Life And Death. This incredible anthology has got me all excited for the author’s upcoming fantasy novel, The Hunt For Moss And Magic. If it’s even half as good as the short stories in this collection, then it’ll be a knockout.