Monday 29 January 2018

Dead Lions by Mick Herron

Dead Lions is the second in the series of Spy Thrillers featuring Jackson Lamb and his team of 'career screw-ups from Slough House.

This story revolves around the murder of a former operative and the arrival of a Russian 'buisnessman' to, potentially, be turned by MI5.

I read the first in the series 'Slow Horses' last week and really enjoyed it but, to be honest, this was nowhere near as good. It started out well enough, the murdered ex spy strand hooked me in early on but after a while it just got ridiculous. It almost felt as if someone e else had taken over writing duties or the author just lost interest.

As in the first book the team loses a member and while the first one was a surprise this time around it felt more like just something to keep the cast list rolling.

Also, the characters. Where in Slow Horses the idea of a team of career screw-ups seemed fresh here they didn't so much. Roddy Ho, the computer whizz kid came across, to me, as particularly vindictive and nasty, once again using (or at least planning on using) his skills to ruin other people's lives by, for example, altering their credit scores, personal details, criminal records etc just because he can.

And, as for Jackson Lamb himself, what seemed fun and interesting in SH felt more tedious and boring here.

The last 1/4 of the book, where all got resolved was often ridiculous and a struggle to finish.

A very disappointing 1/5*

Sunday 21 January 2018

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

I don't often read Spy Fiction (Spy-Fi?) but I've seen this series (4 books so far with a 5th due soon) in bookstores and it keeps catching my attention, so what the hell, I thought, let's give it a go.

The Slow Horses of the title are a bunch of 'not quite ex' spies and operatives working out of Slough House (the idea being that Slough House sounds a bit like Slow Horse and the name was apt so stuck). Slough House is where you are sent when you've cocked up your career for whatever reason in the hopes that the tedium of pushing paper and reading boring phone transcripts all day every day will make you quit the service. No-one is happy here, no-one particularly gets on well with each other and nobody really likes The Boss, Jackson Lamb - and he seems to think equally little of them.

The story revolves around the kidnapping and planned execution of a young man by British Nationalist types where all is possibly not as it seems. The Intelligence Services have plans for a rescue but when things go wrong somebody has to take the blame. The 'high-ups' plan to dump it on Slough House, Jackson Lamb has other ideas though.

I'll be honest, this book was a slow burner and I very nearly gave up early on but around the 40% mark things picked up and I think that was probably the part where Lamb came into his own as a character. Trust me, James Bond he is not.

Jackson Lamb is overweight, scruffy, farts a fair bit and isn't particularly likable - there is even a scene towards the end where he is in a room with one of the Intelligence 'higher-ups' and does a scratch and sniff on his armpit. That's the kind of guy he is... or seems to be. For all his foibles though JL is very good at what he does - moves quicker, is tougher than he looks and has a quite astute brain. Misjudge him at your peril is probably the best way to define him.

As the first in a series this sets things up nicely and, you know what? For all his nasty, farty obnoxiousness Jackson Lamb might have just become one of my favourite characters.


Saturday 20 January 2018

A Time Of Dread by John Gwynne Blog Tour

Today is my turn to host John Gwynne on his Blog Tour for A Time Of Dread, the first book in his new series, Of Blood And Bone.

Set in the same world as his previous series but 100+ years on from the events of Wrath, ATOD finds the old enemy, the demon Kadoshim vanquished and the Ben-Elim (Warrior Angels) ruling the land in a 'firm but fair' kind of way. But, as you may expect, The Kadoshim are not as thoroughly vanquished as it was believed and it will fall to new heroes to take up the battle.

I will be posting a full review here later in the week but until then, here is an excerpt from early in the story which follows the young trapper Drem and his father who find more than they bargained for in one of their traps.

    A Time Of Dread - John Gwynne

 Drem woke to a great crashing. Staggering to his feet, furs falling away, wet with dawn’s dew, he looked to his da, who was on his feet, a short-handled axe in one hand, knife in the other.
The stillness of dawn was shattered by a roaring that echoed through the foothills, startling birds from branches.

 ‘The pit,’ Olin said, and then he was off and running. Drem stooped and swept up his spear, his long legs carrying him after his da, who was already disappearing amongst the pine trees that cloaked the hillslope.

 The path curved close to the river, which frothed and foamed with icy water fresh from the mountains. Drem closed in on his da as the ground began to level, and then saw him skid to a halt, twenty paces ahead.

 Drem caught up, breathing heavily, staring in disbelief at the sight that had caused Olin to stop. The elk pit was a mass of limbs and fur, a great-antlered bull-elk with head and shoulders scrabbling on the ground as it tried to heave itself out. It was lowing frantically, clouds of cold breath misting and billowing, a terror and agony in its cries.

Because something else was in the pit with it. Or part of it was, its bulk too great for the pit to contain.

 Behind the thrashing elk Drem caught a glimpse of white fur, of long claws and a wide, gaping maw full of teeth as they clamped down upon the bull-elk’s muscled neck.

 A bear. A giant bear. What’s it doing here, so far south of the Bonefells?

 Scythe-like claws opened up bloody tracks across the elk’s chest, the bear gave a vicious shake of its head and Drem heard the crack of bones breaking, the elk slumping, slipping slowly back into the pit.

Even through the fog of shock, Drem realized he’d never seen a white bear before. Beside him his father stood as frozen as he was, awestruck by the savage power before them.

‘What do we do?’ Drem whispered.

 The bear’s head reared up from the pit, jaws red with gore, white fur stained pink, and it looked straight at them.

 ‘Run like hell,’ his da said, pushing Drem back up the path. In a handful of heartbeats they were both sprinting, legs pumping, behind them the sound of the bear extricating itself from
the elk and pit, the thunder of its gait as it lumbered after them, Drem feeling the ground shaking beneath his feet.

They ran amongst pine trees, where the ground was spongy with forest litter and pine needles. Drem’s heart felt it was bursting though his chest, a great crashing behind them as the bear barrelled into a tree, the sound of wood splintering. Then sudden pain, Drem’s foot plunging into a hole, his body flying through the air, crunching to the ground. He tried to rise, but a sharp pain shot up his ankle into his leg and he dropped to the ground.

He rolled onto his back, saw the bear powering towards him, a mountain of fur and muscle blotting all else out, small eyes gleaming in its huge head. Fear coursed through Drem.
Bone-chilling, limb-numbing fear. He knew he should do something, move, run, hobble, anything, as death hurtled closer and closer, but he could do nothing, only stare wide-eyed as it came to claim him.

 And then his da was standing over him, axe and knife in his fists.

 ‘Run, Da,’ Drem wheezed.

 Olin drew his arm back and hurled his axe with all his might; the axe spun through the air, slamming into the bear’s shoulder with a meaty thunk. It gave a rumbling growl but surged on. Drem remembered his own hand-axe at his belt, fumbled to draw it from its loop as his da grabbed Drem’s spear and sent that too hurtling towards the creature. Before knowing if the weapon had struck true, Olin threw himself upon Drem, covering him with his body.

The world turned dark, the sound of the bear like a thunderclap overhead, a roar ground shaking as the bear closed on them. Then his da was dragging, pulling and rolling to the side, the bear so close Drem could smell it and feel the air of its passing. He lashed out with his small axe at a paw bigger than his head as it thumped into the ground less than a handspan away, tasted the copper tang of blood on his lips. Scythe-like claws raked the ground, spraying soil as the bear’s momentum carried it on.

 ‘Up,’ Olin grunted, hauling Drem to his feet. Pain lanced up from his ankle and he almost fell, his da grabbing an arm and hauling it over his shoulder. A score of paces away the bear was skidding to a halt, turning, Drem’s spear protruding from its chest. With a swipe of its paw, the spear was ripped free; blood welled, the shaft splintered. The beast lumbered back towards them.

 Abruptly Drem was hoisted like a sack of grain onto his da’s back and carried away from the path. Drem saw the bear lurch after them, pounding through the trees, closer and closer.

 Fear enveloped Drem like a fog, snatching his breath away, but through it one thought pierced the haze. His da was going to die trying to save him. A wave of love for his da drove back the consuming fear of imminent death, but a new fear rose up, that his da was going to die.

 ‘Leave me, Da, save yourself,’ Drem breathed. A grunt from Olin was the only response. Then Drem glimpsed where his da was running.

 Towards the river.

 And then Olin was leaping, the bear swiping at them with its claws, his da crying out, an arc of blood in the air and they slammed into ice-cold water. Drem gasped in the white foam, then was pulled under, not knowing which way was up, hands flailing, feet kicking, lungs burning. His head broke water and he sucked in a great lungful of air, spluttered as the current grabbed and spun him, slammed him into a rock. He pushed away, glimpsed his da bobbing on the water ahead of him,
speeding through icy spume, then disappearing as the river fell away. He swam after, the current catching him again and sending him speeding in the same direction. Behind him he glimpsed the white bear leaning over the river’s edge, roaring its rage.

Please visit the other posts on this Blog Tour if you haven't already and enjoy your return to The Banished Lands - I know I did 

Tuesday 2 January 2018

2018 Day 2 - Some new releases to look out for

Three preview copies landed on the doormat of The BlogCave just before Christmas. Each looks to be a promising read so here's some details

So, first up is Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds (25/1/18 Gollancz) This is a stand alone story set in the world of The Prefect. With the technological implants connecting every citizen becoming murder weapons the hunt is on for a silent, hidden cover.

I enjoy Sci-Fi and I enjoy Crime Fiction so I guess I'm doubly looking forward to this.

Next up, (8/2/18 Gollancz) is The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton.

From the press release:

'In the opulent world of Orléans, the            people are born grey and Damned,                and only a Belle's powers can make                them beautiful. Camellia Beauregard              wants to be the favourite Belle - the                one chosen by the Queen to tend to the          royal family.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters          arrive at court, it becomes clear that              being the favourite is not everything              she always dreamed it would be.                      Behind the gilded palace walls live                  dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns          that her powers may be far greater -              and far darker - than she ever                          imagined'

This may be slightly out of my comfort zone but there's something intriguing about The Belles. I think I'm going to enjoy this.

Finally, for today, One Way by S J Morden (Ebook, Export and Audio April 2018, Paperback August 2018). A base needs to be built on Mars, ready for the arrival of NASA astronauts. It has to be manually constructed and it's decided 8 prisoners from Earth, 8 people who won't be missed, are offered a one way trip to the red planet. On arrival though, someone starts bumping off them off.

A whodunit set on Mars? I'm in 😉

 So, there you go, three upcoming titles to whet your appetite. Happy reading

Monday 1 January 2018

Here's To 2018 and The Art of War

Hello, and welcome to 2018. A new year with lots of new books to look forward to. I'm aiming to be a lot more active on the blog this year - I'm planning on doing a post or two every week, possibly more if I have more to say.

I'm starting with a quick post about a collection which i am reading a preview copy of. What I have read of it so far is of very good quality (but more on that when I've finished it.)

What I wanted to cover here though is reasons for wanting this collection on your shelves.

Reason 1: The quality of the authors (people like Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, Anna Stephens and Nicholas Eames to name but a few)

Reason 2: This book is to support Doctors Without Borders which, I feel, is a very good cause indeed.

I'll post more on here when I have it.