Review: Game by Anders de la Motte

“Play or be played in book one of the Game Trilogy , the Swedish thriller series taking the world by storm.

Are you ready to play?

When Henrik “HP” Pettersson picks up a mobile phone on a Stockholm train one morning, he has no idea that his life is about to change forever.

The phone’s invitation to play “The Game” is too tempting to resist and he soon finds himself embarking on a series of dangerous missions. The more daring the task, the greater his thrill and reward.

But fun soon turns to fear as his Police Detective sister is dragged into the action. As their lives spiral out of control, HP faces a challenge he never expected. Can he outwit The Game before it’s too late, or will The Game play him?” Continue reading “Review: Game by Anders de la Motte”

Join us on the Underworld Readalong

Today starts our read along of Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Why? It began when Jackie from Farmlane books tweeted a link to Flavorwire’s piece detailing the “Top 50 incredibly tough books for extreme readers“. Out of all the books listed, Underworld was the one that leapt out for me. The only DeLillo I’ve read before was Libra, a stunning book focussing on the JFK assassination. This was a set text on my American Literature course at UEA and a book I devoured. It was a book that enthralled the entire class with its perfectly crafted prose and plot and has stuck with me ever since. Continue reading “Join us on the Underworld Readalong”

Review: I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

“In an isolated village in the Icelandic Westfjords, three friends set to work renovating a derelict house. But soon they realise they are not alone there – something wants them to leave, and it’s making its presence felt.

Meanwhile, in a town across the fjord, a young doctor investigating the suicide of an elderly woman discovers that she was obsessed with his vanished son.

When the two stories collide the terrifying truth is uncovered . . .”

I Remember You was selected as one of the books we were reading for Hear… Read This!, a monthly book club podcast. I had heard a lot of praise for Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, in particular for her crime novels, so had high hopes for this mixture of crime and supernatural. After reading it over Halloween, sadly it fails to live up to an interesting premise and quickly outstays its welcome. Continue reading “Review: I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir”

Review: Eden by Dean Crawford

If the world fell apart overnight, what would you do to protect your family? When a horrific natural disaster causes the collapse of civilisation and strands Cody Ryan deep inside the Arctic Circle, he is forced to embark upon an impossible journey. Thousands of miles from home in a brutal new world where only the strongest will survive, Cody and his companions must conquer seemingly insurmountable odds in a search for their loved ones, the limits of their own humanity and the rumoured last refuge of mankind… Eden. Continue reading “Review: Eden by Dean Crawford”

Review: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt

THE VICTIM: On the steps of Santa Maria della Salute lies the body of a woman, wearing the robes of a Catholic priest. In the eyes of the Church, she is an abomination.

THE INVESTIGATOR: Captain Kat Tapo has matched the victim’s tattoo to graffiti in an abandoned asylum. Now she’s been ordered to close the case.

THE HACKER: Carnivia.com is a virtual Venice that holds the city’s secrets. Only its reclusive creator can help Kat unearth the shocking truth…

THE ABOMINATION has arrived. Continue reading “Review: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt”

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s nest.

The Millenium Trilogy draws to a close with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.

Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.
Following on directly from the events of The Girl Who Played With Fire, Lisbeth Salander is in hospital and Mikael Blomvist is still investigating the conspiracy surrounding Soviet defector Zalachenko. Salander is recovering from a bullet wound in the head, but has inadvertendly triggered a chain of events within the most secretive of government agencies. They are determined to cover their tracks at all costs and having already had her declared mentally ill and sentenced her to an instituion, they want her to go back there for good. 
As with the previous books, it takes some time for the plot to get one. It is very much a continuation of the second book rather than stand alone novel and so it is vital to read the other two books to understand the story and characters. It does improves on the second book though in that Salander is present throughout, even though she starts off severly injured and incapacitated in hospital. Without her we are left with an interesting but somewhat dry investigation into the Swedish secret service. Soon though the book picks up, with the courtroom scenes being particularly compelling.
It is remamrkable that the pace and momentum are kept up over what are considerably long and complex plots. Plotlines interweave with one another but it remains clear and concise. Once again it was only the Swedish names that remain a potential stumbling point. The lengthy trial scenes are perhaps Larsson at his most grandstanding, where the Swedish judical system is examined and taken apart, and the authors own views come on a little too strong. This final book could have done with a bit more editing as at times there are few lapses and certain sections could have been tightened up, yet it still remains a thrill as the book draws to its conclusion. Not everything is tied up neatly at the end, with the whereabouts of one character still not resolved…
For me, the first book remains the best, with the second the weakest of the three. It remains to be a crying shame that the author died without knowing his success and overall the Milleniunm series has been a triumph.  As it is though, it remains a thrilling and fitting conclusion to a remarkable series of books featuring one of the most interesting and complex heroines in recent crime fiction history.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire.

The Millenium trilogy continues with The Girl Who Played With Fire and as with the first book, the novel takes a while to get going as Larsson puts all the pieces in place. Once they are though, the book moves at a frantic pace. Set some time after The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, we see the fallout of the Wennerstrom affair as Blomvist and Salander revel in their glory. Yet two shocking murders take place and Salander is the suspect….

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her. Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

It begins with an extensive look at Salander as she travels the globe, examining her past, and why she is who she is today. Then the book shifts to its focus to Sweden and events there. Lisbeth becomes a fugitive, hidden away from the investigation as she refuses to be victimised by her ordeal. She becomes determined to find out the identity of the killer and turns the table on them, going on the attack to deal with the situation as her distrust of the police and the law forces her to act on her own. As the investigation continues, events from Salander’s past are gradually revealed, leading to shocking and stunning climax. We are left on a cliffhanger, with little actually resolved as it leads on to the third and final instalment.

As before, women remain a theme as it examines how the state cares for the mentally ill or those that are being abused. Also through Salander, Larsson crusades against the media, as she is exploited and defamed as she remains in hiding. As it delves into Salander’s past, we are exposed to an intricate conspiracy that touches at everything in Swedish life. He asks that if we cannot trust our own governments then who can we trust?As with the previous book, there are flaws in the novel. The villians are rather caricatured, with Niedermann, the blond ‘hulk’ suffering particularly from this as he resembles a James Bond bad guy. There are sections where Salander is not present and the book focusses on the manahunt for her, and while it was enjoyable, you are left waiting for her return. It’s about here that the trilogy itself shifts the focus onto to Salander and while I can’t help thinking that while Larsson would have preferred us to treat Blomvist as the main protagonist, it is Salander’s books from now on.

With an ever expanding plot, The Girl Who Played With Fire lacks the taut plot and the unravelling of the first book. The long section where Salander is in hiding means that the book’s most interesting character is missing, but it remains a thrilling and entertaining read from start to finish.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Part One of the Milleniun trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, introduces us to journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker and social outcast Lisbeth Salander. It’s an intelligent thriller with a conscience, with a complicated plots that demands concentration to match.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

The novel is split between the shady secrets of the wealthy Vanger family and the murky dealings of a famous businessman. One flaw that many have commented on is that the central drive of the book does take a little while to get going. The first 50 pages or so are Larsson giving us the background to the Wennerstrom affair and while it may seem irelevant at first, by the conclusion it all comes together. Some may find like I did that it was difficult to get in to initialy, with a variety of unusual Swedish names to keep track of, but its not long until the pace picks up.
The story begins by focusing on Blomkvist, a journalist just as Larsson was, but once Salander arrives the focus of the novel shifts. She’s one of the most interesting heroines of late, lacking in people skills but making up for it with her fierce intelligent. She operates on the edge of society, preferring to be on the fringes, where she feels more comfortable and accepted.  While she may seem to be single-minded and at time vicious, Salander is also incorruptible with a strong moral code. She is the most ‘good’ of all the ‘good guys’ in the book.
Despite this, it can be a brutal book, as it examines sex and violence, particularly towards women. Some may feel that it even oversteps the mark, but here Larsson is creating a dark story which reflects something of the darker side of life in Sweden. There has been arguements of late regarding Larsson’s attitudes towards women and the interpretation of feminism within the novel but it’s a difficult one to judge. If Larsson was with us today, he would no doubt be able to defend the accusations made towards the trilogy.
Larsson may also need to defend his writing style, as at times it falters where Larsson adds in a few too many details to the story. I don’t think we really need to know the exact type of laptop a character is using, or the precise food they eat for breakfast. In the case of the laptop, we are also lectured on the merits of certain models but it also instantly dates the novel. Perhaps it was the case of the translation but at times it does become a little too ‘clunky’ for my liking. Larsson is a little blunt in expressing his opinions and his politcal views are hardly disguised at all. It also comes close to stretching credibility, as Blomkvist certainly manages to jump into bed with a number of women. Perhaps a little bit of wishing thinking on the author’s part?
Despite its flaws, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was one of those rare books which I read it ferociously and then when I stopped, it was all I could actually think about. The way the plots intertwine, along with the interesting characters somehow grabbed and then dominated my attention throughout. Quite simply, I adored it and would recommend this intelligent, thought-provoking and adult thriller to anyone.

Free Agent by Jeremy Duns

Get ready for a new Dark Age.

Jeremy Duns’ Free Agent is a refreshing and exciting new novel where nothing is quite what it seems. Following a high level KGB defection and the suggestion of a double agent, MI6 man Paul Dark finds himself doubting everything he ever knew and must not as in most cases prove his innocence, but hide his guilt…

Paul Dark is our ‘hero’, billed as a mixture of Jason Bourne and James Bond. We should really dislike Dark – he’s cold-blooded, arrogant and a killer – but you find yourself drawn to him and even empathising with him. You want him to succeed, even though he’s ultimately one of the bad guys. His actions in the opening chapter are genuinely shocking, but then you want him to get away with it.

Interestingly, he is also our narrator. It does mean that the novel is confined to only the one viewpoint and in a book where our hero’s allegiances are being tested from the very beginning, it does leave you in an interesting relationship with the protagonist. I felt at times doubting what I was being told by Dark and questioning his authority, but then enjoying it all the more as you feel that you are there with Dark, trying to work out what is going on. Is he double-crossing us or is he being used as well?

The Mistress of Nothing

In Kate Pullinger’s The Mistress Of Nothing, we follow the true story of Lady Duff Gordon, suffering from the debiliating effects of tuberculois, and her maid Sally, as they travel to Cairo and Luxor, where  Gordon seeks refuge from her illness.

Away from England, Lady Gordon and Sally together cast off the European dress that has stifled them both physically and mentally, and begin to explore the freedom that Egypt offers. Yet it is the arrival of Omar, Lady Gordon’s dragoman, who leads them further into the heart of Egypt, and forcing them to re-examine the relationship between themselves and also their European roots.

It is Sally that narrates their story and it is tinged with excitement, mystery and the heat of Egypt. You can almost feel the heat as Pullinger delves deeper into the intriguing tale and the relationship between the two women. Yet soon, and somewhat inevitably, we see that appearances can be deceptive and Lady Gordon cannot help but keep her English mentatility. Perhaps tellingly, while Lady Gordon may dress like a man and imerse herself in the culture around her, they still reside in ‘The French House’, leased from the French Consul, which remains a link to Europe and her colonial past. Without revealing too much, Sally is cruelly reminded of her position and her reliance on Lady Gordon as her maid and the remainder of her story is tinged with sadness. She is offered a glimpse of a different life for herself, only for circumstances to overtake her.

Pullinger shows us Egypt and bring it to life as it really was. The Egyptian people are kind and welcoming, happy to accept Sally and Lady Gordon for who they are and it is the British expatriates who are judgemental and critical, showing themselves to be backward and fixed in their thinking. As Anthony Sattin remarks on the book’s cover,  Pullinger’s work is not “an Orientalist fantasy”; the only fantasy that remains is that of Sally and her hope that she may escape her lowly status as the mistress of nothing. With Sally as our narrator, I was somewhat expecting the blame for her situation to be placed solely at the feet of Lady Gordon, but Pullinger never quite allows this to occur. Lady Gordon blames Sally for causing her predicament but we are left looking for answers elsewhere. The blame is a product of its time, in particular the rules and conventions of English thinking and Sally’s position within her household as a lady’s maid.

Pullinger’s novel draws you in to the heartbreaking tale, providing us with a wonderful social commentary of the time amid the searing heat of Egypt. Little is documentated of Sally Naldrett, but now she has finally gained a voice after many, many years.