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Saturday 25 June 2022

WITH A MIND TO KILL - Book review



Anthony Horowitz’s third and final James Bond novel (2022) is an excellent finale. 

In many ways this feels and reads like an Ian Fleming novel. Horowitz has yet again captured the voice, the mood, the period, even to the point of naming his chapters such as ‘A Room with No View’. 

The story is taken up two weeks after the conclusion of Fleming’s The Man with the Golden Gun. So it’s set in 1965. You don’t have to have read this last Fleming novel, though it might help.

It begins with the funeral of Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, known to some as ‘M’. (Too many other characters in this chapter have names that begin with ‘M’ – Sir James Molony and Sir Charles Massinger). A dramatic beginning. But. Things are not what they seem. 

Bond is assigned to investigate a new organisation in Moscow, Stalnaya Ruka – Steel Hand. They seem to be planning some outrageous action that will tip the balance in Russia’s favour in the Cold War. We are then privy to the machinations of the members of Steel Hand guided by Colonel Boris who was previously responsible for brainwashing Bond after You Only Live Twice. This section is reminiscent of Fleming’s insight into the Smersh meeting in From Russia With Love, though somewhat shorter. In this scene there is a chilling exhibition of the power of Boris’s mind-control over a subordinate (p47).

Indeed, there are numerous cross references to previous assignments, villains, female conquests and books; none of them are heavy-handed, merely apt. 

Bond was ambivalent about the assignment. Re-entering the brainwashing lair was dangerous. Could he survive? Yet ‘Bond needed death, or the threat of death, as a constant companion. For him, it was the only way to live.’ (p209)

Needless to say there is a beautiful Russian woman, Katya. And he is faced with a particularly unpleasant Russian whose name is so unpronounceable it is invariable shortened to Colonel G.

A satisfying conclusion to Horowitz’s series.

Friday 24 June 2022

GARDEN OF BEASTS - Book review



Jeffery Deaver’s standalone book – ‘A novel of Berlin 1936’ - was published in 2004 and it’s an interesting departure from his normal suspense psychological thrillers.

Paul Schumann is a mobster hitman who only kills those who deserve to die. ‘Committing an evil act to eliminate a greater evil’ (p93). Unfortunately his latest hit goes wrong and he is caught and given a choice: he can go to Berlin and kill Ernst, one of Hitler’s top men responsible for rearmament, or opt for the electric chair. A no-brainer.

Once in Berlin, however, things go awry and he is being hunted by a dogged Berlin Kripo detective Kohl. The depth of detail for the period is very impressive and never swamps the story.

Paul learns a great deal about the new Germany under Hitler who took power a mere three years earlier.  The SS ‘were originally Hitler’s guard detail. Now they’re another private army. The Gestapo is the secret police force, plainclothes. They’re small in number but very dangerous. Their jurisdiction is political crimes mostly. But in Germany now anything can be a political crime. You spit on the sidewalk, it’s an offense to the honor of the Leader so off you go to prison or a concentration camp.’ (p79)

Interior Minister Göring ‘ordered every policeman to carry a weapon to use them liberally. He’d
actually issued an edict saying that a policeman should be reprimanded for failing to shoot a suspect, but not for shooting someone who turned out to be innocent.’ (p84)

Kohl and his fellow policemen found it difficult to do their jobs particularly when interviewing potential witnesses: ‘since Hitler had come to power blindness had become the national malady…’ (p89)

Paul befriends his landlady Käthe and she tells him about her boyfriend who was brutally murdered by National Socialists in front of her near the lake in the Tiergarten, the Garden of Beasts. Just one more piece of evidence against the evil regime.

Deaver creates characters you sympathise with and believe in and fear for their safety in the treacherous state of the Third Reich. The claustrophobic environment, where children will betray parents to the authorities, where jobs, livelihoods and even lives could be forfeit if you don’t acquiesce, where freedom of speech is trampled upon: it must have been terrible to live there then. (Imagine how bad it could have been with the social media trolls and cancel brigade!)

A riveting page-turning thriller with a couple of neat twists – Deaver’s hallmark – and a satisfying resolution.


Thursday 23 June 2022

NIGHT SCHOOL - Book review

Lee Child’s 2016 book is a flashback novel, taking us and Reacher to 1996. Intelligence has overheard that a deal is going down, and it involves an American and the price is a hundred million dollars.

Reacher is sent to so-called night school with two others: an FBI agent and a CIA analyst. Their homework – decide who the American is and what is worth that amount of money. And who is buying?

Reacher opts to recruit Sergeant Frances Neagley and skips school, heading for Berlin where he reckons the action is. He’s not wrong. Is he ever?

Accounting can  be boring, by all accounts. And bad accounting can be the harbinger of a cataclysm. To say more would involve spoilers.

Meanders more than usual; not one of his best.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

TYPHOON FURY - Book review

TYPHOON FURY is one of Clive Cussler’s novels from The Oregon Files co-written by Boyd Morrison (2017).

It begins in the second battle of Corregidor, 1945. Japanese soldiers are making a last stand in a cave system. Incredibly, they seem invulnerable. Only massive explosive retaliation destroys them.

Beth Anders travelled around the world tracking down stolen artwork. In Thailand she encounters Salvadore Locsin who uses such paintings to finance his planned insurgency. It soon becomes evident that Locsin is special; if he is wounded, he wound rapidly heals; and he possesses remarkable strength. The drug that is responsible is rare: Typhoon Fury. And the withdrawal symptoms are deadly.

Juan Cabrillo and his crew are assisting Beth and soon get sucked into a suspenseful adventures in Manila, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Guam. The tension never lets up.

These adventures are a team effort for all the characters, and they certainly have plenty to do, and plenty of scrapes to get out of!

Monday 20 June 2022

PIRANHA - Book review


PIRANHA is one of Clive Cussler’s novels from the Oregon Files, co-written with Boyd Morrison (2014).

I hadn’t read any Oregon Files books before, but reading this I was hooked by the fast pace and non-stop action. The impressive array of equipment and vehicles onboard the Oregon increase the enjoyment.

Juan Cabrillo and his crew are under attack by an unknown but very well informed adversary. In several different locales the crew members barely escape with their lives. How the would-be assassin anticipates their every move is definitely science fiction, but it still keeps the pages turning and the suspense never lets up until the dramatic end.

Piranha is a US government code-name for certain equipment.

Virtually every Cussler book has an exciting colourful cover.