The Firemaker by Peter May

18948710Isn’t it strange how, when you discover an author whose work you adore you immediately reach for anything else they’ve written. But, if you’d picked up a different one to the first you selected, there is a chance you may never have read another they wrote… has that happened to you? Am I making sense? You see, this is what has happened to me with the uber talented writer, Peter May.

Fortunately, the very first book of his I read was The Black House, book one of the marvellous Lewis Trilogy. I followed those three books up with Coffin Road and Entry Island and was stunned by the breadth of this man’s talent, his knack for weaving complex but credible plots, the poetry of his prose and his fascinating characters. Then, I read Extraordinary People, book one in the Enzo series (yet to be reviewed). I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, but once I accepted it was very different to the others and was sort of a Dan Brown lite, and pure escapism, I managed to go with the flow. Still, I won’t read another in that series. So, I tried to The Firemaker, the first book in what’s known as his China series. And here’s where how I opened this review comes into play.

If this had been the first of Peter May’s books I’d read, I doubt I would ever have picked up another. This was such a disappointment at so many levels. I know it’s an earlier book, and it’s setting is different – and I enjoyed that very much having spent some time in Beijing, but it’s so full of stereotypes, clichés, a tendency to tell instead of showing, and pure didactics, I really struggled. To make matters worse, I simply loathed the lead female character and found most of what she did and said didn’t gel with her life experience, qualifications or the romance that blossomed… who could love this xenophobic silly bitch? The male lead, though full of contradictions, was at least likeable and I wanted to scream at him to run a mile from this intolerant, gabby woman who had no respect for another culture or other people.

The plot is also convoluted and it’s difficult to suspend your disbelief. The basic story (without spoilers) revolves around an American female pathologist, Margaret someone (she’s so awful, I don’t want to remember her) taking up a short-term position at a Chinese university in order to escape a turgid relationship and period in her life. After an inauspicious (and frankly ridiculous) start, she is asked to aid in the investigation of a murder. You see, her speciality is burns victims and it turns out the police have found the badly burnt corpse of a prominent Chinese businessman and government official. When Margaret gets embroiled in not only the investigation but with a rather sinister American figure and the body-count grows, both she and the newly-promoted and popular Inspector Li realise they’ve stumbled into something bigger than they ever imagined, something that raises the stakes and the danger levels high.

The plot sounds great, but it’s encumbered by all the things I mentioned above. Even the romance is squirm-worthy as are the sex scenes. Maybe it’s just me, because other people loved it and May IS a good writer, despite what I’ve said. But, I am SO glad I didn’t read this first, as I would have missed out on the pleasure of his other sublime novels. Needlesstosay, I won’t be reading the rest of this series, even though reviews suggest it gets better…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

16001863This wonderful novel, which pays homage to the genre of the absurd, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared is a terrific romp through time and place, featuring the most unflappable protagonist I’ve yet encountered.

The story starts on the 100th birthday of the irrepressible Allan Karlsson. Trapped in a nursing home, destined to live out his remaining years, gazing out a window, tolerating the orders of the head nurse, denying his spirit of adventure and desire for a tipple, Allan turns his back on celebrations designed in his honour and, as the title suggests, climbs out the window of his room and, as far as the authorities can make out, vanishes.

Only, Allan hasn’t disappeared. Instead, unwittingly, he embarks on an amazing journey where he encounters people both good and dangerous, an elephant, a suitcase full of cash, bamboozled police and an attorney with poor judgement. Accused of being a murderer, kidnapper, thief and other terrible crimes, Allan is a wanted man. Remaining blissfully unaware as he travels across country, collecting people as one might stamps and finding hospitality where others might expect hostility, Allan relishes his adventures. Along the way, the readers learn about this incredible man’s past, a past that makes his improbable present so exceedingly ordinary. This is because Allan has not only met many of the movers and shakers of Twentieth Century history, but played a pivotal role in most of the major events – grand and catastrophic.

Laugh out loud at times and deeply poignant in others, this is a great read that demands you suspend your disbelief, buckle your seatbelt and go along for what is a wild and gratifying ride.

Engagingly written, it’s hard to put down and leaves you with a warm and very contented feeling that makes ageing seem like a hell of a lot more fun that it’s often cracked up to be; certainly more exciting than remaining in a nursing home counting the days.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry

24663810The Patriot Threat, by Steve Berry is the tenth in the Cotton Malone series and though it’s focussed very much on internal US matters and federal taxation, much of the action takes place in the Mediterranean.

It seems that there is a potential problem with the 16th Amendment, a problem that could bankrupt the entire government and impact severely on both the world economy and the US’s dominant position within it. With the proof of this problem about to be handed over to the enemy (in this instance, a fictitious North Korean scion of the Kim-Jong-Un dynasty), Malone is tasked with retrieving it before either a Kim uses it to bring down the US and the global economy or the Chinese do.

The usual suspects appear, Cotton, Luke and Danny Daniels and Stephanie Nelle and a new character is given a chance to show her chops, Isabelle Schaffer from the Treasury. Initially stuffy (and borrowing a wee bit from Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale), Isabelle soon finds her place and, possibly, an ongoing role in this series. Apart from the North Korean bad guys (including a niece whose back story is well told if harrowing) there are also some “accidental” villains in the form of US tax vigilantes who appear to dwell more in the realm of The X-Files and conspiracy theories than the real world and suffer as a consequence.

Mostly fast-paced, there is a tendency in this novel (and many of Berry’s books of late) to get bogged down in great tracts of quotes from “official” records from the past – some of which are actually documents that Berry quotes from, others which he makes up – as well as reams of history. I have noted in previous reviews how I find these direct quotes don’t add much to the narrative but seem to slow the pace to a snail’s crawl. I would rather a character paraphrases what they learn as, in the end, it’s the kernel of information within these historical manuscripts/certificates etc that drives the narrative forward and reconciles the plot. Berry is so concerned with “proving” his research and the lengths he goes to in order to tie his speculation to fact, that I think sometimes the fiction suffers as a consequence.

What is good about this novel is that while one relationship is in hiatus, another begins to grow, and if you’ve been following the series and the characters, that is gratifying in the extreme.

Overall, a good read. 3.5 stars.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Book Review: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry

 

There’s no doubt that when Steve Berry decides to write a book set in a different country to his native one, he researches every last fact he can – from its people, politics, climate and geography, to its history. The Emperor’s Tomb is no different in that regard – the tomb referred to being the one containing the terracotta warriors associated with one of the ancient Chinese dynasties and, as it turns out, so much more as well.

The Emperor's Tomb (Cotton Malone, #6)The story features Cotton Malone, former naval pilot and lawyer and member of the mysterious Magellan Billet who, two years earlier, retired to run a second bookstore in Copenhagen. Only, we rarely if ever get to see Malone in the store let alone reading as he’s always called upon to intervene in a global crisis – including in this novel.

When he’s sent a mysterious note with a web address and logs on to find his friend, the marvellously named and very beautiful Cassiopeia Vitt being tortured, he embarks on a whirlwind adventure that will take him to China and immerse him in a conspiracy that involves the Chinese government, the Russians and, of course, the United States as well. That his life is constantly at risk goes without question, but so is that of others, including a four year old boy.

On the brink of a new era, the current Chinese government is due for a change of leadership and there are two men currently vying for the role: one is a ruthless Legalist who will stop at nothing, destroying whatever and whoever stands in his way to achieve power. The other follows a different ideology and eschews violence as a solution unless it’s absolutely necessary, only he lacks the knowledge and support to be a serious contender.

With the Russians, Americans and the powerful Ba sect, a group of eunuchs who seem omniscient, pulling the strings and operating behind the scenes, saying one thing, promising and doing another, violence seems to be the only recourse for everyone. Enter Cotton Malone – not afraid to be the knight errant or even enter communist countries illegally if it means he will save the world. And, of course, violence is his middle name.

But Malone hadn’t counted on Chinese ingenuity, their ability to twist the truth or the past; nor can he rely on those he once believed could be trusted. And so the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportions, one that can change the balance not only in China, but the world.

For all that I can appreciate the research Berry does, and the travel he engages with and his passion to include a great deal of what he learns in his stories to give them authenticity, I feel this novel overdoes it. The plot was quite convoluted and the characters very two-dimensional, stereotypical and predictable. Further, the level of didacticism in this book took away from the story and slowed the pace to a crawl at some points. There were even repetitive bits – for example, on how one is made a eunuch. It was wince-worthy enough the first time (as well as interesting) but reading the details twice smacked of error and poor editing and diluted the effect. Likewise, a number of interesting facts about China were also repeated, rendering them redundant the second time around.

While the biotic and abiotic oil issue was fascinating, again, the plot had so many levels and unnecessary twists and turns, it became more like a labyrinth and I needed Ariadne’s thread to find my way out again.

Overall, however, it was a quick read – a bit of adventure brain candy and, hey, it featured Cotton Malone, a literary chick’s version of the stuff. So, in many ways, it served its purpose but I don’t think it’s as good as some of Berry’s other books.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments