Added 29 June 2007. Last updated 18 August 2013: added Echo of the Reich.

Brief Reviews

A round up of thrillers and other fiction

The following are reviews of novels (most if not all paperbacks) that I felt would not by themselves stretch to a page by themselves. That is not to denigrate them: a well-written thriller is a valid an art form as any other, and often more accessible to the ordinary man. Nevertheless these reviews are simply my own personal opinion, and should be read as such: feel free to disagree with any of them!

The Abyssinian Proof, Jenny White

On the eve of the siege of Constantinople in 1453, a man takes steps to hide a sacred relic. Over four hundred years later magistrate Kamil Pasha is charged with breaking a smuggling ring that is stealing antiquities and selling them abroad, but finds himself against men who are willing to murder even policemen, as well as dealing with a small and unique sect who believe they hold the "Proof of God". This is not a modern violent technothriller but a well-paced story that summons up how one imagines Istanbul in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire to have felt with its tension between modernisation and older traditions. Having sympathetic Turkish protagonists is also a nice change. I recommend this book as so strong you can almost smell the Turkish coffee and taste the baklava.

Against All Enemies, Harold Coyle, 2002

A debilitated and understandably embittered sufferer of Gulf War Syndrome blows up a Federal building, setting off a chain of events involving radical militiamen, a politically ambitious state governor and Scott Dixon (military protagonist of previous works by Coyle, who himself was a US Army officer) and his family. Although only published in 2002, the story was written in 1996 against the backdrop of the Oklahoma bombing, and Coyle also notes in his afterword other civil disturbances where the US military was drawn into conflict with its own citizens in recent decades, as well as incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge. With the state of Idaho resisting federal control, Dixon and his armoured division are faced with armed conflict with the Idaho National Guard (armed with the same weaponry as regular US units), while his newly commissioned officer son is reported missing in action after an attempt to seize an airfield in the state. Coyle does not cover the politics to the same degree as Tom Clancy, and I finished the book wondering about a couple of loose ends. But overall this is a gripping and interesting read, as well as raising philosophical questions about the nature, and wisdom, of revolution.

Alamein, Iain Gale, 2010

A disparate group of fighting men and medics find themselves swept up in General Montgomery's counteroffensive against the Axis in North Africa in November 1942, including British and Commonwealth troops and a German anti-tank leader and Italian paratroop officer, as well as the better-known historic persona such as Montgomery and Rommel and their subordinates. The blood, violence and sorrow of the encounters are well described, but so are the other factors easily forgotten – the ability to get lost in the desert, the thirst and the range of psychological reactions to stress from brokenness to sacrificial heroism. An interesting facet of Gale's novel is that many of the characters, including the lesser known ones, are historical, some based on accounts they wrote themselves. The character of Major Ruspoli (again a true character) is quite interesting and serves to dispel some of the myths about the Italian character, although it also reminds us how badly equipped Mussolini's forces were. Overall a very readable and satisfying book in something of the Homeric tradition.

Apocalypse, Dean Crawford, 2012

Although these days titles like “Apocalypse” are banded about rather too freely, this is actually a good novel in the Ethan Warner series. The story starts with the horrific murder of a man's family, after which the man himself, the main suspect, contacts the police with an apparent ability to predict the future even as he speaks to them. Following this, a plane full of scientists crashes after complete loss of its instrumentation in the Bermuda Triangle. Crawford can write both entertainingly and with reasonable authority in this scientific thriller. It's also nice to see an older protagonist, Doug Jarvis, involved in the action. Worth checking out.

Assassin, Duncan Falconer, 2012

Another in the John Stratton series, this one sees Stratton go more off-piste to deal with a perceived threat via a warning from an old mentor whose own life is in danger (hence the title). This is as much espionage territory as special forces stuff, but Falconer handles the plot quite well despite the occasional 007-type moment.

Atlantis, David Gibbins, 2006

The Greek wise man Solon, having spent the night writing notes given by an Egyptian priest in ancient Egypt, is mugged on the way home and loses his scroll. Centuries later, an ex-Royal Navy officer and marine archaeologist happens to make a critical discovery while excavating a sunken wreck in the Mediterranean, at the same time that a German Egyptologist discovers a baffling text in a recently unearthed set of tombs. For the first time it appears that the site of the lost city of Atlantis may be a plausible reality. The good aspect of the novel is that Gibbins is a professional marine archaelogist and makes a convincing case for his tale, especially in the notes at the end of the book. The less praiseworthy parts are that (a) a lot of the book is explanation by character dialogue of either scientific techniques or contemporary weaponry, and (b) character development and plot do leave something to be desired, to put it mildly. However this is Gibbins' first novel and it is an entertaining yarn if you don't mind skimming through some of the more detailed stuff about tracing the speed of ancient galleys moving eastwards, etc. The reader should be warned that despite the blurb on the cover, there is very little resemblance to The DaVinci Code in this book.

The Atlantis Code, Charles Brokaw, 2009

Another of the many "....code" books that seem to be abounding in the latter half of the first decade of the twenty-first century, and with all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. In Egypt Indiana Jones-type archaelogist Thomas Lourds is roped into doing a TV series by attractive 20-something media person Leslie Crane, when mayhem breaks loose over an object whose inscription is in a language even the expert Lourds cannot decipher. The trail takes the pair to Russia, where they team up with the equally attractive police agent Natasha Safarov whose sister has been murdered by the same gang encountered in Egypt. Meanwhile a secret Catholic society (yes, that old chestnut) are trying to decide how to deal with an excavation site in Cadiz which may make known secrets held by the church for two thousand years (you probably get the picture by now). Although the story is almost a caricature of every other one in this genre, the cardinal being particularly close to satire, it isn't a bad read if you can suspend your disbelief, particularly about the theological novelty at the end.

The Atlantis Relevation, Thomas Greanias, 2009

Yet another Atlantis book, and this one really does hit the point where it seems to be almost a satire on the genre. The archaelogist Conrad Yeats is a young, virile scientist who happens to have left-handed DNA (for reasons first stated in earlier books in this series) and hops into bed with numerous gorgeous women when not pursuing the Flammenschwert, a technology developed by an occult-leaning Nazi and lost for years at the bottom of the sea. Honestly, this one has the lot, including a secret Nazi base at Antarctica and a Russian villain called Midas. The likeness to Michael Crichton's books appears to lie mainly in the namedropping of current commercial brands and personalities, such as Blackberry or Sarkozy. Despite all of the above criticisms I did read it to the end, and it is entertaining.

Battlefield 3: The Russian, Andy McNab, 2011

This one was a real surprise to me. Having previously passed Andy McNab's books by as part of the SAS authors' craze, I picked this up and was even more mortified to see that it was a novelisation of a video game. However in all honesty it's actually quite good, with an intelligent plot, half-decent characterisation and some dialogue that had me laughing out loud (especially the bit where one of the goons reminds the Russian, Mayakovsky, of a weasel he'd seen in a cartoon). The story basically hinges around two individuals, the young US Marine NCO Henry Blackburn who finds himself in a politically volatile Iran with his unit, and the older, somewhat jaded spetsnaz operative Dima Mayakovsky who enters Iran from the other direction with a team to supposedly free a captured high-level arms dealer. Both men's paths collide in an interesting way. Recommended.

Bird of Prey, Tom Grace, 2004

A Chinese manned spaceship is destroyed on its launch trajectory as it leaves the earth's atmosphere. The murderous act is followed by another attack, this time on the US space shuttle. Ex-Navy SEAL Nolan Kilkenny's fiancé is marooned on the International Space Station. To rescue her and the other crew members and survivors, Kilkenny must track down the party and weapon responsible, defending himself against those who wish to keep the secret safe. Although the "ex-Navy SEAL" thing is a bit of an action cliché these days, the book actually reads quite well and the villainess makes a refreshing change without being James Bond-camp.

The Charlemagne Pursuit, Steve Berry, 2008

This is part of Steve Berry's Cotton Malone series, which appear to focus on historical and ancient mysteries in a similar manner to some of the other books listed on this page, although I have not read any of the others so cannot be too certain how much they can be compared to, say, Andy McDermott or others. In this novel the mystery revolves around the fate of the US experimental submarine NR-1A which disappeared in the Antarctic, captained by Malone's father. Two German twin sisters are also searching for the solution as their own family were deeply involved in the quest for what NR-1A was also looking for. The mention of Nazis and Antarctica might sound hokey but actually this novel is well crafted and Berry weaves a complex political plot.

The Cobra, Frederick Forsyth, 2010

The cocaine industry, and an all-out attempt to smash it, is the subject of Forsyth's recent (paperback edition, 2011) novel.  Austere Catholic ex-spy Paul Devereaux is recruited by the President of the USA to attack the giant cartel sending cocaine to North America and Europe, and raises the stakes by using methods normally employed during the Cold War such as black ops and disinformation.  Forsyth's novels are well written, and while this does not match the political, technological sophistication and character development of Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger (written many years earlier, and with a similar theme), it is an interesting and enjoyable read, with some good plot development.

Covenant, Dean Crawford, 2011

In the Middle East, an American field archaeologist unearths the remains of a recent but unknown hominid, larger than other known species. She subsequently disappears, and Ethan Warner, down on his luck, is employed to look for her. Meanwhile Nicola Lopez, Chicago cop, is involved in a strange case of an apartment of corpses whose death, initially taken to be narcotics poisoning, actually seems more uncertain. This is Crawford's first novel and the introduction to the Ethan Warner series, and while not up to the same level as Apocalypse is still an entertaining read, as well as having a reasonably contemporary feel to it.

The Covenant of Genesis, Andy McDermott, 2009

Another Chase and Wilde adventure, this time with the pair pursuing ancient cities and the secret of the "Ancient Ones" across the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica. As usual there is treachery, violence and conspiracy, this time involving a small group of men from the three major monotheistic religions, but the Dan Brown element is not too overplayed in this story and the idea behind the "Ancient Ones" is quite intriguing, if one suspends disbelief for the sake of a good story.

Creepers, David Morell, 2006

Creepers takes as the basis of its story the contemporary "urban speleology" movement, whose proponents explore (often illegally) old historic buildings, sewers and tunnels and the like. One night a party of urban speleologists is joined by Frank Balenger, a man with his own motives for accompanying them to the condemned and strange Paragon hotel, the design of a millionaire recluse who ended his own life some decades previously. Once inside, needless to say, horror and death await. An undemanding but gripping thriller.

The Cult of Osiris, Andy McDermott, 2009

Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase are back in another search for apocalyptic sites of antiquity, this time the resting place of the earthly remains of the human Osiris. If you've read the other books in the series then you'll know what to expect - third parties caught up in trouble, expensive cars and equipment getting smashed up and a bit of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft (both are even name checked!) and Bond-type humour, the latter appealing or not according to the taste of the reader. It's still a good read.

The Dark Side of the Island, Jack Higgins [originally Harry Patterson], reissued 1997

After World War II Captain Hugh Lomax returns to the Greek island where he had operated as a saboteur, only to find a cold if not violent reception by people who blame him for betrayal.  This was one of Higgins' first novels, originally published I believe in 1969, and with its characters, storyline and scene setting makes one realise the early potential of the writer and also perhaps regret that lately his novels involving Sean Dillon and the other superheroes associated with him seem to have become somewhat formulaic.  Worth checking out.

Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth, 1970

One of Frederick Forsyth's better-known (and better) novels, mixing historical events in with fiction, in this case the deep political divisions in France following the war in Algeria and the attempts of a small group of soldiers to assassinate Charles de Gaulle for what they regard as his betrayal. Following several failures by his own men and the execution by firing squad of one of the leaders, OAS Colonel Rodin takes the clandestine initiative to recruit a professional assassin to eliminate de Gaulle, and hires "the Jackal", an Englishman with an apparently untraceable past. The forces of law and order, principally Colonel Rolland and the detective Claude Lebel, become aware of a plot but must race to find the assassin, about whom nothing is known, before he strikes. As with Forsyth's best novels, much of the story is taken up with the meticulous and clever planning and the counter-moves, while the political unease of France in the early sixties is portrayed sympathetically. The novel was made into a successful film starring Edward Fox as the Jackal, and later remade with Bruce Willis in the title role.

The Doomsday Prophecy, Scott Mariani, paperback 2009

Another apocalyptic book, this time with a British hero, ex-SAS man Ben Hope. Hope has given up his past life to do theological studies, but a family friend appeals for help in tracking down his missing archaelogist daughter who purportedly has turned up new light on the Book of Revelation. This novel is a bit less ambitious (and possibly less silly) in its scope than some of the others, although unsurprisingly the denouement takes place in Jerusalem. Keen-eyed readers of the Bible may spot that Mariani has mixed up some of the Biblical prophecies from elsewhere in the Bible, as he admits at the end, though not in the crass manner of reinventing or making them up as some works of fiction have done. Overall, reasonably impressive, and Hope is an interesting hero in this outing at least.

Echo of the Reich, James Becker 2012

In Poland towards the end of the war a special “Evacuation Commando” descends upon a secret Nazi facility and removes an experimental unit, leaving no witnesses alive. In the UK in the current day, policeman Chris Bronson goes undercover to infiltrate hooligan groups apparently targeting sites to do with the London Olympics. Much of the book centres on a discussion of Die Glocke (The Bell), a Nazi research project whose nature is still somewhat vague. The strengths of the book lay in its London and European location (a nice change from North American settings) and the description of Bronson, police procedures and how clandestine operatives or terrorists work. The weakness is really the villains whom I found rather unconvincing. Overall thought this is a good read.

First Contact, Patrick Woodrow, 2009

A brother and sister in the jungles of Papua New Guinea are lost and facing death when they find a crashed helicopter. Not only does it provide the means of their sustenance, but the dead men in it hold something vital that will be sought by others. The title suggests extraterrestrial encounters but the book is both more low-key and more subtle. Woodrow's prose style is bald to the point of a brief report, but the story is well written and the villains more plausible than some others reviewed on this page, and the author also knows his natural history and Papua New Guinea. A good read.

The Gods of Atlantis, David Gibbins, 2006

Gibbins revisits the site of his first book in the Jack Howard series in this archaeological thriller. The story starts intriguingly enough with characters from the stories of Noah and the Epic of Gilgamesh becalmed at sea after fleeing the destruction of Atlantis, then moves to the present day with a further discovery on the site of Atlantis (located by Gibbins in the Black Sea) and a plot involving the dark secrets of the past, Heinrich Himmler's secret legacy and the change in ancient religions from shamanism to worship of the gods (some readers may be a bit sceptical of this last set of reasoning from Gibbins, as I was). As of June 2013 I haven't read the intervening books in the series, but the strengths and weaknesses of Gibbins' approach are still evident – he wears his undoubtedly weighty learning on his sleeve, but his characterisation still seems to be a bit lacking and the characters (especially the villains) occasionally verging on parody.

Hitler's Peace, Philip Kerr, reprint 2006

Willard Mayer, a German-speaking philosopher and member of the intelligence community, is tasked by President Roosevelt to going to Cairo in 1943 to deal with security issues. At the same time Heinrich Himmler is putting out peace feelers, while SS intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg is organising a daring mission to Iran to wipe out the Allied heads of state. The basis for this interesting and well-written novel is a series of real-life historical incidents, such as the change in relationships between the "Big Three". Mayer himself is an ambiguous hero who once spied on the Germans in Vienna for the Soviets and who appears to expound a philosophy of amorality, only to realise too late the hopelessness of such a position. The historical figures appear to be accurately drawn and although at times dark, there are even touches of humour in their exchanges. Recommended.

The Hostage, Duncan Falconer, 2003

The ex-SBS operative's first novel is set against the backdrop of operations against dissident Republicans in Northern Ireland. John Stratton, the protagonist of most of Falconer's novels, has to rescue a colleague from being driven over the border, but the bigger issue is the probable existence of a double agent connected to his group. Although the final threat in the plot seems slightly extreme, the novel has overall an air of authenticity, and unlike some characters in thrillers, most of the characters are depicted here with warts and all, including various peculiar habits.

The Hunt for Atlantis, Andy McDermott, 2007

What, another Atlantis book? Actually this one isn't bad and pulls back from some of the ridiculous clichés and product-namedropping of some conspiracy books, even if the characters have names like Nina Wilde, Eddie Chase, Kristian Frost and Giovanni Qobras. As usual the story involves archaelogists and ex-special forces men, a secret society and fear of discovery, and spreads itself across several countries, but it's an enjoyable read even if some of the twists more or less flag themselves up in advance.

Ice Station, Matthew Reilly, 1998

US Marine Lieutenant Shane Schofield is sent with his squad to Wilkes Ice Station in Antarctica, where among other things a supposedly mad scientist has locked himself into his room and an alien artefact has been discovered below the ice. What follows is a running battle against elite forces of other nations and also those of his own side as other parties seek to gain or control the prize. Highly dangerous marine wildlife adds to the mayhem. A decently convoluted mixture of plotting and action.

Kong Reborn, Russell Blackford, 2005

In the early 21st century a worker finds blood on top of the Empire State Building - the blood of the gorilla King Kong who fell to his death from the famous landmark in the 1930s. Jack Denham, a millionaire biological entrepreneur, secures a sample of the blood and with his core team create a clone of the giant gorilla. Apart from the second Kong's growing pains, however, he has to contend with his rival Charlton Hemming, who claims that the sample was stolen and that he has the rights to Kong. In an uneasy legal truce, the two men arrange a deal whereby both companies will undertake an expedition to the lost Skull Island to take the second Kong back to his place of origin. Needless to say, the enormous and savage ecosystem of the island is still as it was during the first bloody expedition. Blackfoot knows his biology well but his writing style is very basic - however, if you like giant creatures, savage reptilian attacks and human perfidy and treachery, then this one's for you.

The Lake House, James Patterson, 2003

This is the sequel to Patterson's hugely successful When the Wind Blows, which was a well-told and ingenious story. Unfortunately the Lake House, although embracing essentially the same surviving characters from the first book, pales rather in contrast. The characters of Max, Oxymandias and the other bird-children are still winsome and intriguing enough, but Kit and Frannie seem rather less significant in this story and the tale itself is something of a retread. That's not to say that I regret reading it, just that the first book was so much better. Also some readers ought to be cautioned that the description of the medical procedures at the hospital is rather stomach-churning.

The Leader and the Damned, Colin Forbes, 1983

March 1943: officers of the German Resistance have placed a bomb on board Adolf Hitler's plane in Smolensk. Meanwhile RAF Wing Commander Ian Lindsay is on a one-way mission to the Berghof to see Hitler, ostensibly to offer an olive branch from the British, while the Germans are trying to work out who at the highest levels of their command structure is passing information to the Soviets via the Lucy spy ring. The introduction to the story states that Hitler's behaviour apparently changed after this date and makes much of the belief at the time of writing that the dictator's remains were not properly identified and that the fate of Martin Bormann was also uncertain. In fact both these "facts" were cleared up after the publication of the novel: the fate of Hitler's earthly remains became known after the breakup of the USSR, while some remains found in Berlin in the 70s were finally confirmed to be those of Bormann. Also one might criticise Forbes' perhaps overgenerous treatment of Hitler's early military successes. Nevertheless this is an intriguing and quite suspenseful story, with plenty of bluff, double bluff and treachery including at least one twist in the ending.

Legacy, James Steel, 2010

The second novel in the Alex Devereux series is an interesting variation inasmuch as three different storylines come together: Devereux's, back in Africa working for a supposed diamond consortium, and those of a Nazi officer in the Second World War and a German knight in the sixteenth century. This might sound fantastical, but in fact Steel weaves the threads together quite convincingly while allowing for a historical and geographical sweep that takes the reader through Constantinople, Reformation Germany and Africa.

Mercenary, Duncan Falconer, 2009

Another of the John Stratton SIS books. The book starts with an assassination and then backtracks to the reason for it, a scenario in which Stratton is parachuted into the jungles of Central America to ostensibly aid a local rebellion against the dictator Neravista. Some reviewers on Amazon complained about a lack of action, but actually I like the way Falconer attempts to build up at least some characterisation of the major players, and as usual there is plenty of interesting "tradecraft", as well as some occasional quite violent passages showing the awful violence of modern conflict. A couple of parts seemed more romantic than realistic, but of all Falconer's books so far I enjoyed this one the most.

Origin, J T Brannan, 2012

In Antarctica, a team led by Evelyn Edwards uncovers a 40,000 year old body in which the military authorities take a sudden interest. Soon she finds herself on the run with just a former lover, Matt Adams, Native American former border security agent, for company and assistance. This is Brannan's first novel and is an entertaining and reasonably written attempt, marred only slightly by the slim characterisation and a few implausibilities (plus, the central von Daniken-like thesis is getting a bit tired these days), but boosted by a couple of twists and interesting ideas in the plot. Hopefully he can develop as a writer – he has promise.

Pirate, Duncan Falconer, 2011

After the somewhat Cold-War-type plot of Traitor Falconer returns to more familiar territory with this novel. While trying to bring back an Al-Qaeda suspect from Yemen Stratton and a close comrade are captured by Somali pirates in collusion with jihadists, with another intelligence service apparently prowling round. The setting is fairly topical, and as usual Falconer is a touch above the rest in showing Stratton's thought world and inner conflicts. Don't let the rather over-dramatic cover of the hardback edition put you off, it's quite good.

The Protector, Duncan Falconer, 2007

Royal Marine Bernie Mallory makes a lucrative discovery during a near-disastrous search and rescue mission and leaves the Marines to go private and return to Iraq as a contractor. He enlists a crippled young Iraqi man as his translator and is tasked with looking after an American journalist. Set against the backdrop of a violent post-Saddam Iraq, this is actually a fairly thoughtful book in places as questions of ambition and faith are discusssed as each of the three men has his own personal hopes and secrets which lead them together to the besieged city of Fallujah at the time of the US offensive. This is somewhat different from Falconer's Stratton series but very worthwhile.

The Romanov Prophecy, Steve Berry, 2004

Russia, World War One: the strange healer, mystic and libertine Rasputin falls into a trance and makes prophecies about the possible death of the Romanovs and their restoration. In the 21st century, the Russians, tired of the lawlessness and anarchy of their new state, decide they need a tsar again to lead them, and draw up a commission to find the right candidate. Involved with them is Miles Lord, a black US lawyer working for an international law firm. However, when he sees a Russian colleague gunned down next to him and realises the bullets were meant for him, he goes on the run in Russia and then the US, while following a series of clues that will hopefully lead him to solve the riddle of the most appropriate man to lead Russia. This is an entertaining read that captures well the feel of modern Russia, there is an unobtrusive romantic subplot and the historical research (laid out by the author at the end) is good.

The Sacred Vault, Andy McDermott, 2009

Chase and Wilde head off to India after great works of art start disappearing in heists around the world. By now if you've read a few of this series you'll know what to expect, but it's a very readable story even if you find yourself occasionally ticking the boxes, and as usual there are some interesting characters.

Saucer, Stephen Coonts, 2002

Rip Cantrell, a young seismic surveyor on secondment to a team in the Sahara, notices something gleaming in the desert and unearths a saucer-shaped craft in rocks about 140,000 years old. Thereafter despite the best efforts of the team to keep the discovery silent, the enigmatic find attracts the unwelcome attention of governments and powerful individuals, and Cantrell and female ex-USAF pilot Charley Pine go on the run using the craft. The novel reads at times like a satire as much as an adventure, particularly with its vignettes of a rather dodgy President and the wheeling and dealing of international negotiators trying to outbid or outbomb one another. This isn't Tom Clancy but it still makes for a very entertaining read, even if the book's speculations about extraterrestrial life and the origin of man are rather lightweight.

The Secret of Excalibur, Andy McDermott, 2009

A priest in an Italian village is visited by a strange bunch of Russian assassins, who kill him and remove a piece of sword from the church's collection of antiquities. In England, archaelogist Nina Wilde is visited by a former friend of her parents who claims to have knowledge of the legendary sword of King Arthur. By now if you've read one or two of Andy McDermott's series with Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde you'll know what to expect, and within the boundaries of his genre McDermott doesn't disappoint and even gives us some character development, even if at times he does seem to look for the most exotic ways to kill people off. A quick and gripping read.

Sleeper, Stephen Harriman, 2003

In the wake of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the site is being repaired. A somewhat underachieving construction worker finds a container sealed behind a wall and opens it. Soon a creature is on the loose below the site, hiding in the underground rivers and killing and sometimes feeding on anyone it can catch. The "mayor" of the Pentagon, Ed Jeffers, enlists the help of local Smithsonian herpetologist Andrea Deluca, who is puzzled by the tooth Jeffers hands to her which appears to be from a prehistoric creature. Subsequently Navy SEAL Lt Terrill Hodge is transported from Africa with his team in a bid to catch the creature before the visiting Russian delegation arrive.

I found this dog-eared little gem in the local library. I had not heard of either author (Stephen Spruil is listed on the Amazon site as co-author, but I did not notice his name on the paperback itself), but it reads well and the story, which could have been full of clichés and indeed does use certain motifs appropriate to the genre (butting heads with bureaucrats, scientific experiments, flashbacks to past times, etc), is lifted up by decent characterisation and some interesting ideas. The type of creature is also a bit different from the usual "monster" stories, and some reasonable research appears to have been done. Recommended.

Temple of the Gods, Andy McDermott, 2012

McDermott doesn't change the winning formula (if that's the right expression) with this latest offering in the Chase/Wilde series, but does tie up some loose ends in what appears to be the end of the series, although according to there is a new adventure in the series in the offing. Some of it is starting to get a bit predictable – on entering some scenarios, you can almost tell who is going to die and how, and sometimes you can't help feeling it's a bit brutal – but then this is escapist entertainment after all. It is preposterous in many ways, but it does keep you reading.

The Tomb of Hercules, Andy McDermott, 2008

The second in the Wilde and Chase series, taking place after the discovery of Atlantis and involving femme fatales, billionaires and exotic assassins, hitmen and enforcers with a bit of archaelogical speculation. I suspect that the author's background as a film critic and magazine editor may be the reason why the story tends to read like the outline of an action film, which is probably the cause of its fast readability. Not the strongest in the series, but still entertaining.

Traitor, Duncan Falconer, 2010

This offering by the recently prolific author takes us somewhat back into Cold War territory, starting off with the reserved operative Stratton sent on a hazardous underwater mission in Sevastopol harbour. Failure of the mission results in Stratton being sent to liaise with yet another clandestine government group, MI16 (in real life, now apparently a defunct organisation) who specialise in scientific gadgetry and methods. At the same time a North Sea oil rig is hijacked by a disparate bunch of terrorists demanding a two billion dollar ransom. The novel is fairly typical of the Stratton series, with action, involved plots and occasionally some gruesome violence.

Tyrannosaur Canyon, Douglas Preston, 2005

A prospector in the dry wastes of New Mexico is fatally wounded by an assassin and then found by Tom Broadbent, a veterinarian. Before dying the man entrusts Broadbent with a notebook for his daughter and swears him to secrecy. Thus begins a tale involving dinosaur remains, an ex-CIA monk and, it has to be said, some rather clichéd characters including an unscrupulous British palaentologist (have you ever met anyone with the surname of Corvus?) and rogue federal agency. Some of the names are indeed straight out of the Sexy Name drawer, such as Wyman Ford. Also the blurb on the back seems to rather overegg the pudding - the monk is not trying to redeem the world, and the sinister agency doesn't come in until much later in the book. Overall in fact the book reads more like a straight thriller than science fiction, despite the later developments. Still, Preston's style is fairly fluent and covers up the gaps, and I found this a readable yarn.

Undersea Prison, Duncan Falconer, 2008

Duncan Falconer (a pseudonym) is a former SBS operative and author of the autobiographical First Into Action, and has now branched out into writing thrillers. Having not read any of Andy McNab's novels, I can't comment on any similarities, but Undersea Prison is actually a fairly good story, with a ring of authenticity about operations in Afghanistan and diving, and some clever plot twists and turns in the main setting of the tale, a high-security prison set on the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico. Intelligence operative John Stratton has to infiltrate the prison in the guise of a prisoner to retrieve a high-security item from a leading Taliban terrorist, and the prison itself is a murky world of violence and betrayal. To be honest this was a better novel than I had expected.

The Valhalla Exchange, Jack Higgins, 1976, reissued 2007

This was one of Higgins' early (pre-Eagle Has Landed) stories, and one finds in it elements that the writer was later to use as fairly common motifs: a World War Two mystery coming to light years later, war-weary Germans, war-weary Allies, traitors, Nazis and an IRA connection. The story is based on the shadowy figure of Martin Bormann and the fate of a group of Allied "prominenti" (eminent prisoners of war) held in a castle in Austria in 1945. Undemanding but very readable fare.

Volcano, Richard Doyle, 2006

On the Canary Island of La Palma, a volcano erupts, threatening the lives and livelihoods of the local people as well as a geological team on the mountain. A small group of natives decide to act by placing explosives in a fault line in an attempt to eliminate the threat, unaware of the possible consequences. Meanwhile in a small Maine harbour town, people are getting ready to celebrate their local summer festival but become increasingly aware of unusual happenings in the form of freak waves and the descent on the town of a group of radical surfers who have heard that a major wave is going to strike the coast.

The geological aspects of the book appear to be well-researched (though I'm no expert) and the characters are decently drawn for a disaster thriller. However one surfer on the Amazon UK site thought the portrayal of the surfers and their culture was poor. At the end of the day you pays your money and makes your choice.

Warlord, James Steel, 2011

Embittered ex-Household Cavalry officer-turned-mercenary Alex Devereux, back in the United Kingdom (this is the third in the author's series), is approached by Fang, a Chinese businessman who has a grandiose proposition: to gather his team together and enforce law and order in the lawless Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, principally by destroying the largest militia there. Fang and his associates wish to lease the province from the DRC for 99 years because of its mineral wealth. However initial success turns sour as Devereux runs up against hidden agendas, African tribalism and superpower rivalry. Although this book has had some criticism on Amazon reviews I thought it quite readable, not as badly written as some suggest, and also thought provoking in its glimpse of wider contemporary issues (the author's notes at the end of the book are worth reading). It's really a Dogs of War for the twenty-first century, and if you enjoy Forsyth or Higgins, or stories about modern brush wars with helicopter gunships thrown in, this one is for you.

Wrath of the Lion, Jack Higgins, 2008

Another reissue of a Higgins novel written decades ago, this is actually somewhat (and refreshingly) different from some of his other stories, although once again the protagonist has an Irish connection. A rogue U-boat, L'Alouette, is prowling the Channel and the Atlantic, and Neil Mallory, disgraced after supposedly butchering terrorists in Malaysia, teams up with a French agent in the Channel Islands to deal with the threat. The blurb on the back of the book exaggerates somewhat but it's still worth a read.

Back to Books | Back to Culture | Back to Home Page