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Monday, 5 December 2022

THE SENTINEL - Book review


The Sentinel (2020) is the first Jack Reacher novel co-written by Lee Child and his brother Andrew.

Some readers have voiced their disappointment; and I can understand that to a certain degree. Yet I cannot see the join. How much is Lee, how much is Andrew? I couldn’t even guess. There are the usual scenes one comes to expect in a Reacher novel; some many pages long, where it’s talk-talk to reason everything out and tell us what’s what, interspersed infrequently with explosive action. The one-word sentences are still there. The repetitions. Even people who are named are referred to by their role, job or other aspect rather than their name, which can become tedious. Maybe there’s not so much wit or dry humour. But in the final analysis none of that matters: the style and the story inevitably suck the reader in yet again.

The book begins in Nashville where Reacher comes to the aid of a band of musicians who are denied their earnings by a nasty club owner. We know how that’s going to play out… This seems like pure Reacher even if the incident has no relevance to the main story.

Hitching a lift, Reacher ends up in a town where he prevents a civilian being kidnapped – in daylight. The town is suffering computer outage and the guy he rescues, Rusty Rutherford, is being blamed for it and has been sacked from his IT job. Of course there’s more to it than that. Is it just a simple case of computer blackmail? You get your systems back if you pay the ransom. Or is it something more? Some of the plot seems overly contrived and even confusing, with ludicrous misdirection pertaining to the Second World War.

The Macguffin this time is the The Sentinel, a computer application, the country’s last line of defence against computer terrorism – illuminatingly explained on p265 with regard to ‘stolen elections’ etc; which is nice and topical. And yet it isn’t mentioned until p195, over half-way through the book. Like so many Reacher titles, this one is not memorable; after a short while it will blend in with all the others.

Rusty’s helper is an ex-FBI agent (that’s useful!) called Sands. Behind the scenes is a guy called Speranski who is calling the shots, pulling the strings, and trying to track down Rutherford. There’s mention of the Center, whatever that is. Possibly I missed something, but the Speranski guy seems to vanish from the story at some point; I might have blinked. Maybe the Childs ran out of space or time so left it to the FBI to sweep up the bad guys, one of whom is presumably Speranski. Perhaps less description of furniture and buildings that have no relevance might have allowed for more space to bring alive the Speranski anomaly. I blame the editor. Unless Speranski is going to figure in the next book, of course...

Reacher’s charisma must be slipping, too. There was no sex though an invitation was implied…

Not one of ‘his’ best efforts, alas. Not a ‘keeper’. In my view.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

THE GOOD LIAR - Book of the film

Nicholas Searle’s debut novel The Good Liar was published in 2016 and the film was released three years later.

The story concerns Roy, a conman, and Betty, a widow; both are in their eighties but reasonably fit for their age, though Roy is plagued by a ‘difficult leg’. They meet for the first time through an online dating connection. And they seem to get on well. The protagonists are played by two consummate actors, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, who effortlessly inhabit their personas. Roy comes across as a particularly unpleasant man in both book and film.

The book’s story is told in the present tense and in the third person past historic, and jumps around quite a bit – the present (probably 2009), 1998, 1973, 1963, 1957, 1946, and 1938.  The ‘present’ is a bit woolly in the book but since certain characters were youngsters in 1938, the ‘present’ must be around the 2009 date to realistically fit.

After a couple of dinner dates, Betty takes pity on Roy and asks him to stay at her home – with the proviso their relationship would be for companionship only. He is willing to accept her kind offer. The majority of the flashbacks relate to Roy and the various predicaments he found himself in: impersonating a man accidentally killed in Norfolk, conning widows out of their savings. It is soon obvious that he has designs on Betty’s nest-egg. The only fly in the ointment is her grandson who appears over-protective.

Searle commits the modern cardinal sin of head-jumping from Roy’s thoughts to Betty’s in the same scene. Yet in this instance it works, emphasizing not only a battle of wills but imbuing the tale with mystery about Betty’s motivation.

The gradual twists and revelations are served up towards the end.

This is one of those rare occasions where the screenplay improves on the book. In the book, the fate of Roy is a rather prosaic damp squib, yet in the film it is far more brutal and, dare one say, satisfying. In the book some events are considered but not carried through; in the film these events are enacted and enhance the drama. The book deals with the horror of the Nazi concentration camps, where the film barely touches upon this. The screenplay is by Jeffrey Hatcher.

A worthwhile psychological thriller that maintains its grip on the reader to the end.

It does not matter if you see the film before or after reading the book: the book provides more telling background regarding Roy, while the film is a gripping experience in its own right thanks to the lead actress and actor.     

Friday, 25 November 2022

The Stranger from the Sea - Book review


The eighth Poldark novel by Winston Graham, The Stranger from the Sea was published in 1981. It begins in 1810, ten years after the previous novel, The Angry Tide (published in 1977).

The Angry Tide ended on a philosophical note from Ross Poldark’s wife Demelza, debating on the inevitable end we all must face: ‘The past is over, gone. What is to come doesn’t exist yet. That’s tomorrow. It’s only now that can ever be… We can’t ask more…’ (p612) [In a way, it’s echoing Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett in Gone With the Wind – ‘Tomorrow is another day’]. So I thought it seemed a good place to leave the Poldark saga for a while, even though I had the rest of the series on my shelf.

Now, some many years later I’ve taken up the saga again from where I left off with The Stranger from the Sea.

Even after such a long absence, I soon became familiar with the characters again, though they have naturally aged, including their children: Jeremy is now nineteen and Clowance is sixteen. Bella was born in 1802, after the previous book ended. George Warleggan is an MP, as is Ross, but their paths have rarely crossed in the last ten years. George’s son Valentine is sixteen. Ross’s cousin Geoffrey Charles is twenty-six and serving with Wellington in Portugal. Ross is presently in Portugal as well, on a fact-finding mission to observe the progress against Bonaparte. Here, he meets Geoffrey Charles and reminiscences: ‘... he was loath to move, to wrench at the ribbon of memories that were running through his brain.’ (p40)

Jud and Prudie Paynter are in their seventies now, no longer in the Poldark household, and still at loggerheads. Jud’s still saying ‘Tedn right. Tedn proper.’ This time his displeasure concerns a duck and her newly hatched ducklings making a mess on their floor. As it happens, there were too many eggs for the mother to cover to hatch, so Prudie stuck three eggs in her cleavage to help them along, which meant Jud had to keep his distance for fear of cracking the eggs. Maybe that’s why he was complaining! (p271)

Both Jeremy and Clowance are at that age where their hearts are being tested by attachments. Demelza can recall being ‘in the grip of the same overpowering emotion. Perhaps it was just stirring in them, a sea dragon moving as yet sluggishly in the depths of the pool. But once roused it would not sleep again. It would not sleep until old age – sometimes, from what she’d heard people say, not altogether even then. But in youth an over-mastering impulse which knew no barrier of reason. An emotion causing half the trouble of the world, and half the joy.’ (p280)

Clowance has at least two suitors. Ben is a local lad, the second is Stephen Carrington, mysteriously washed ashore almost dead, rescued by Jeremy. Dr Dwight Enys brought to mind a Cornish saying: ‘Save a stranger from the sea/And he will turn your enemee.’ (p429) The love complications will not be settled in this book, however.

At this time King George is having fewer and fewer bouts of lucidity and Westminster is in turmoil as the king is incapable of signing anything. Moves are afoot to put the Prince of Wales in the monarch’s stead. Ross is vouchsafed an audience with the prince to report on the state of war in Portugal. ‘The Prince of Wales at last rose from his chair. It was a major upheaval and peculiarly uncoordinated, large areas of bulk levering themselves up in unrelated effort. One could even imagine all the joints jutting out, the utter indignity of a fall. But presently it was achieved and he was upright, heavily breathing, began to pace the room, his thin shoes slip-slop, slip-slop.’ (p133)

Occasionally, an interesting historical snippet is dropped in: ‘A steeplechase… is a form of obstacle race. Over hedges, streams, gates… always keeping the church steeple in view.’ (p63)

At other times there’ll be an amusing observation: ‘The older footman, who always seemed to have wrinkled stockings, let him in.’ (p345)

Or a fanciful description that works: ‘… a fire declared its will to live by sending up thin spirals of smoke.’ (p345)

As ever, Ross doesn’t hold back on his opinions. ‘People who brag of their ancestors are like root vegetables. All their importance is underground.’ (p361)

At this time new inventions were arising. ‘In Ayrshire there is a man called Macadam using new methods.’ (p423) And one of the landed gentry is extolling the near-future that will transform the country. Steam engines and other inventions will create prosperity: ‘… the ordinary man, the working man, the farm boy who has left home to work in the factories – they will all have some share in this prosperity… the level will rise. Not only the level to which people live but the level at which people expert to live. We are on the brink of a new world.’ (p481) In short, in time, the industrial revolution will improve the lot of man- and womankind throughout the world.

It’s good to be transported back to this time, to this family and to Cornwall.








Thursday, 24 November 2022

Floreskand 4: PROPHECY



Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

As the events in Madurava unfold, Lornwater’s Madurava House undergoes a significant alteration in the alignment of its spirit statues, signifying the prophet is coming! Though it is not clear from which direction…

If there is any truth in the prophecy, then many of the city kingdoms of Floreskand will be shaken to their core.

Barely recovered from his ordeal in King, Aurelan Crossis sets out on a journey of vengeance against Saurosen, the deposed king, which takes him into the midst of pilgrims heading for the Sacred Hills, where he will be sorely tested.

Bindar, a survivor of the strife in Wings, now trains mountain troops in Arion. In the Vale of Belet he comes into contact with the Haram Sect as well as a powerful fugitive from his past.

The ordeal for Lorar worsens as she is taken by her tormentor Danorr to Arisa…

The emperor of Tarakanda is faced with heightened political and religious tensions and insoluble assassinations that threaten to destabilise the empire.

And Lornwater is still recovering from the civil strife, where factions of Remainers continue to threaten the life of the rightful king. Watchman Welde Dep finds his investigations bring him closer to Queen Tantian, risking the jealousy and enmity of the king.

The saga of Floreskand continues…

Reviews of Prophecy

Absolutely riveting just like the other 3 books. I cannot wait for number five.

I was surprised by a couple of unexpected deaths. The authors obviously have taken a lead from George R. R. Martin! … 

I found the links with earlier books grounded me and wholly satisfying!

…There are a few neat touches here, I reckoned. I liked the nod to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with the various pilgrims. The relationship between Welde Dep and Queen Tantian suddenly seems fraught if the unstable king ever discovers it! There’s more to Dep than we have been told, I suspect, too.

… Good to see Bindar return from the first novel. I quite liked him.

Monday, 21 November 2022

Fantasy series - Floreskand 3: MADURAVA

FLORESKAND 3: MADURAVA  by Morton Faulkner

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Shortly after the Lornwater rebellion (Floreskand 2: King), the head of the Madurava House witnesses a meaningful change in the alignment of the sacred compass – pointing to the Sonalume Mountains, to the dunsaron. 


Meanwhile, the Ratava are preparing for a migration that will take them to the dunsaron, for their food-source – the vast numbers of the schwarm – are burrowing away from their usual haunts towards the land of their forebears to propagate the species.

We meet again Rujon Sos and K-Kwan as they track the schwarm and the various competing groups of Underpeople.

Still recovering, the three cities of Lornwater need rebuilding and that requires money. But the royal treasury has been emptied by deposed Saurosen. The trail of lost riches leads Lord Tanellor to the dunsaron, guided by the daughter of Arqitor, Charja Nev.

Others are converging on the same area. First-commander Nimentan Pellas, loyal to the deposed king, has been sent on a secret mission with a large body of soldiers. Almaturge Rait Falo is headed there also with a caravan of great wealth.

Ulran is slowly coming to terms with his new disability, while his son Ranell is in pursuit of Epal Danorr who has been released by a general amnesty and has abducted Lorar.

Watchman Welde Dep is embroiled in arcane investigations that point to a powerful almaturge committing murder, while the new king wrestles with the serpentine diplomacy of the Ranmeron Empire, Tarakanda.

The denouement will be played out in a mysterious place where the land has never experienced snow and is always warm. Soon, it will be warm with flowing blood… 

Reviews of Madurava

The most enjoyable of the series so far, Madurava takes you deeper into the lives of the various groups of characters in an enthralling plot which is so vividly described you begin to feel you've just watched the movie. Certainly, by the end of the book you just know that there must be an awful lot more to tell and I look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

The third book in the series and the best so far. The saga continues to grow following the aftermath of the civil war. Old favourites reappear on a new adventure with all groups heading in the same direction hinting at a grand climax that doesn't disappoint. As always with these stories there is an unexpected twist... The book ends hinting at an even more epic adventure to come in book 4 Prophecy. If this series continues to develop in the way it has so far I think it is going to rival Eddings and Feist.

Love how the characters are developing. The storyline is becoming more intriguing and you get a sense of being very much a part of the adventure. The complexity of every aspect of this land, from the calendar to the religions, shows the author’s dedication to ensuring that the tale is unique and fresh.