Friday, 20 October 2017

Complicated scientific outing that evolves into Alien

Where oh where do I start writing a review of a book that has been enjoyed by so many of my peers and yet I would honestly say it was the worst book I have read this year. How can some love a book so much and yet others find it impossible to see within its content any merit whatsoever? The story (i think!) involves a discovery made in Antarctica, a pyramid enclosed with bones and an odd shaped "cone" skull that spoke of an ancient people who inhabited our planet many many moons ago. From all corners of our present world a number of great minds are called to Antarctica to use their expertise and knowledge of this cone headed  species having unearthed a few of the said skulls at their own particular digs/excavations....

This book falls somewhere between Michael Crichton, Scott Sigler with a touch of The Thing (Kurt Russell 1982 version) and without a doubt shades of Alien...remember that scene when Sigourney Weaver gets up close and personal with the alien in Alien 3...."Its cranium was elongated and the flesh of its scalp torn. Its eyes bulged from their sockets to such a degree that its lids had to remain mostly closed to contain them. The veins had rupture, causing a skein of blood to form on the surface, so thick it was nearly black"..... This quote is from Subhuman but everything about it speaks Alien to me, we have the crew of the good ship "Nostromo" being selected individually and savaged  by an organism and in one horrific scene attaches itself inside the body of John Hurt. Now in our story a species or micro-organism referred to as "archaea" is "able to infest and subsume the bodies of these men."....I remember so vividly slime and blood dripping from the alien as one by one Ripley's (Weaver) crew are this quote from Subhuman, reads like something from Alien...."Something warm and wet struck his cheek. He slowly raised his eyes toward the ceiling, and the open vent directly overhead. Another drop streaked from the edge of the duct and struck the ground in front of him.".....

The first half of the book is so riddled with scientific jargon to the point of boredom and it is only when finally I am able to translate this technical vernacular that the theme begins to make  sense. This new alien archaea/organism is able to communicate by using sound waves that are projected through water. This creates a ripple/shape effect similar to the "crop circle" mystery where strange patterns appeared overnight in fields of cereal crops and many believed were the work of aliens who were trying to make contact. Therefore it follows in Subhuman that the sound/wave ripples is an attempt to communicate.

Now at this point if you are thoroughly confused by my review then Subhuman is not the book for you but equally if you enjoy a story technically filled with senseless jargon (think Tom Clancy merged with Stephen Hawking) then you are in for a treat. My only regret was that the predator in Subhuman was not quite as successful in his kill rate as the alien that Officer Ripley encountered on the good ship Nostromo. Many thanks to the good people of netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. A free reading copy will never stop me writing a truthful review and to me as a reader/reviewer if the book is not to my taste I will certainly voice my opinion, otherwise what is the point?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

A sad beautiful biography of what could have been

When I was a youth and growing up in the wilds of Northern Ireland most of my contemporaries, if they had the slightest interest in football, were in awe of one team only, Manchester United, and in particular one player: George Best. I mention this because as much as I knew about the life of this precocious talent I knew next to nothing or in fact had never heard of Adrian Doherty. I am sure that I am not alone in that revelation, and it is a tribute to journalist Oliver Kay that he has brought to print the sad, poignant, yet also happy  life of one Adrian Doherty and we and many others will ask the question....what if?

This biography is not so much a story about a young man's career (or lack of) at a professional football club, but rather it is the study of a loveable, gentle human being who was never hypnotised by the glamour and potential wealth that his position  as a winger in the great Untied youth team of the early 90's, and hopefully later a member of the main United squad, would undoubtedly bring. Here was a country lad from the homely streets of Strabane set adrift in a big city called here simply by the talent he showed from a very early age as a professional footballer. The one similarity between Doherty and the great Best is that when first called to Manchester to confront their destiny they were both allocated unsatisfactory lodgings. It seems that in the 23+ years that separated their two careers United had learned little in the way of how to make their new prodigies feel wanted and cared for. Here we have two shy Irish lads (not much older than children) fresh from the homeland with no real social skills and expected to fit in immediately with a tough but rewarding training scheme. George soon found help and companionship in the form of alcohol (and we all know how that ended....Where did it all go wrong George?) and Adrian found true love and companionship in his song, and poetry composition, and playing his guitar. This lonely, loveable individual often busked in Manchester city centre preferring his own company to that of the talented United youths who lodged with him; Giggs, Scholes, Neville to name but a few...."he was stuck in Manchester with no money and didn't know what to do. I set off as soon as I could, but when I got there, he was nowhere to be seen"....

So surprisingly for a biography of a Manchester United potential there is no accumulation of wealth, there is even no first team appearance.....but oh how close Adrian Doherty came. The cruciate ligament knee injury that he suffered might have benefited more some early intervention but that did not happen and together with the fact that in the early 90's the treatment of a knee injury was crude compared by today's standards meant that the young footballer's hopes and dreams were never to be fulfilled. Yet that is the funny thing, in reading this book I am struck by the fact that Doherty was not really concerned with a career in football, at one of the greatest clubs in Europe, in fact when offered a 5 year contract said he would much rather sign for 3 years....who in their right mind would ever suggest this? Adrian Doherty's talent meant that whether he liked it or not his wonderful footballing skills meant being sought after by top premiership (1st division) clubs. Do not be mislead a young Adrian loved playing football and he was exceptionally good at it but if football had not been present in his life he was more than happy to busk, play his guitar and write poetry and lyrics that the great Bob Dylan would have been proud of. When the knee injury destroyed his career he was content to live the life of a hippy/hobo dwelling for short times in places and cities (his choice of Preston to live was the result of sticking a pin in a map!) And yet there were still wonderful times ahead, the folk scene in New York and surprisingly the city of Galway which was the home of dreamers and would be poets and artists.

His death, just like his life, was unconventional and very sad as he slipped or tripped into a canal in Holland rescued but never emerging from a coma. There are those who say that Manchester United let down their young football genius by failing to deliver the home from home environment that was promised but I do not agree. They treated as well as they could given the standard and success or otherwise of knee operations at the time and finally, when the sharp skill and potential he showed never really returned, they reluctantly let him go. United were fast emerging as one of the greatest teams in the world, and Alex Ferguson as their manager had to control and direct this emergence which often meant making hard commercial decisions.

This is an exceptional sad story, and without the research and persistence of Oliver Kay so many would have been unaware of the impact and legacy that Adrian Doherty left in his short time here. Highly recommended

Sunday, 8 October 2017

An author with great literary talent

A smart, stylish story dissecting the life of one Manfred Baumann a strangely introverted man who works at the bank in Saint-Louis and dines most lunchtimes and evenings at The Restaurant De La Cloche. He regards, in an almost salacious way, a young waitress called Adele Bedeau and when she disappears Manfred becomes the chief suspect and is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Gorski of the Saint-Louis police.

This delicious novel is really the study of human behaviour, in all its quirks and oddities, and you the reader have a front row seat to observe and judge. Manfred is a wonderful character, socially inept, reserved, withdrawn, indeed some of his working and socializing colleagues are of the opinion that his preference may be towards a male rather than a female partner. He is fastidious almost a perfectionist in his approach to daily tasks... "He dressed, combed his hair and put on his watch. Back in the kitchen he laid out two croissants in a basket, butter and jam, a plate and a knife. He poured coffee into a large bowl and sat down at the table.".....

Inspector Gorski has a troubled marriage. His wife Celine, who manages and runs a fashion boutique in town, views Gorski as socially inferior but still insists that he attends social gatherings in order to "establish the Gorskis as part of the Good Society of the town." The Inspector therefore preferred to spend his day policing, and the pursuit of Manfred Baumann proves a welcome distraction.

I loved the unhurried telling of this story the unravelling of the everyday orderliness of Manfred and by doing so expose a dark secret. Can a wise and wily Gorski utilize this secret to expose the truth of Adele's disappearance and by so doing will this set in process a chain of events that may end in disaster? With a very neat and unexpected ending I was delighted, amused and thoroughly entertained by this literary work form a great writer.

Classic horror at its best

Neil Spring is an elegant author of what I would term as classic horror. In his writing just like an artist he paints a picture and relies on the reader to look at that picture and use his imagination to envisage the story. In The Lost Village he again teams two of his favourite ghost hunters Harry Price and his assistant Sarah Grey. They have travelled to the former village of Imber on Salisbury Plain to help understand strange and ghostly sightings including the tragic disfigurement of Sgt Gregory Edwards. I love Spring's writing style and his simple but effective use of language which is a joy to read yet somewhat disturbing and creepy...."The winter sun was sinking beneath the spires of Westminster and casting a pink hue across the London skyline".... "I froze. Around me, the trees seemed to shimmer, as if I were seeing them through a haze. At first, there was absolute silence. The air had become chillingly cold, freezing, and then I thought I heard, faintly.....low whispering"......"Price was standing in the centre of the wrecked mill, next to the battered table and chairs. A length of rope dangled from his right hand. Wearing his black frock coat that fell to his knees, he exuded the sinister presence of a Victorian Executioner".....

The Lost Village is really the story of displaced inhabitants attempting to reclaim what the army has stolen. Once a year they are invited back but this will be no ordinary visit as a chain of events sets in motion a terrible reckoning, and a sickening revelation ensuring that Imber will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. I particularly liked the cover of this novel with its dark angry skies and the picture of a man approaching wearing his trademark black coat, all which really adds to the atmospheric, macabre tale. Many thanks to the good people at Quercus publishing for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Adrenaline rush

A suitcase is dragged from the Thames and on opening the body of a man is discovered, head, arms, legs all severed and placed carefully within the confines of the case...."They paused, all staring at the battered naked body, at how neatly the pieces had been packed inside: a leg each side of the torso; the knee joints folded into the top right and bottom left corner; arms crossed over the chest and the decapitated head tucked neatly underneath."..... What a wonderful, gruesome start and introduction to the charismatic, headstrong Detective Chief Inspector Erika Foster. So with the help of her close associate Detective Inspector Kate Moss (not that Kate Moss!) the two police officers need to discover the perpetrator of this gruesome murder made all the more grisly when a second body is discovered in similar circumstances. At the same time a young Nina Hargreaves falls under the charismatic influence of the psychotic Max Kirkham as they embark on a murderous journey

Although I loved this fast paced thriller I did find that the characters of Max and Nina reminded me so much of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley ( both are mentioned twice in the novel) First we have the adulation of a young girl influence by her boyfriend and eager to please him whatever the cost. Hindley was infatuated by Brady on first meeting this lonely odd looking young man at Millward's Merchandise Gorton.  Mention is made of Max's love of books.."It took five car loads to get all the books into the flat.."  Ian Brady regarded himself as well read the  Russian writer Dostoevsky, with his explorations of human psychology, was a particular favourite,he highly regarded Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The use of a van to transport innocent children lured to their destiny by false kindness of an attractive woman, this occurs later in the story. Nina Hargreaves also kept a diary including much detail about their crimes,  Ian Brady infamously kept notes, pictures and even maps of the Moors in his private collection. By referring to this in my review I am not in any way criticizing the author, merely making an assumption based on my reading.

To me the mark of a good book is the author's ability to create and project strong characters that have a lasting impact on me the reader. Erika Foster is a wonderful, passionate driven individual with a questionable personal life. Her boyfriend Inspector James Peterson's is on sick leave recovering from a knife wound that Erika feels is entirely her fault...."The blue and green light cast by the television played over his skinny face. His high cheekbones jutted out, and she could see the outline of the bones under his forehead.".....  Superintendent Melanie Hudson is her immediate superior "a tough cookie" but keen to support her officers when asked. Naturally there is an assortment of career minded police officers, Commander Paul Marsh (Erika has a secret admiration for him) and the unapproachable Superintendent Paris worried about the affect of Erika's actions on his political ambitions.

This is the type of crime novel that is eminently readable, with a fast driven theme and lively dialogue. It is perhaps not wise to read a series out of order but I am looking forward to reading the first four Erika Forster books in the very near future. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Friday, 29 September 2017

An intense edgy thriller

This is a most unusual insightful story into the mind of a 15 year old. Annie's mum had been a killer, a taker of the innocent lives of children. Following the demise of a young boy called Daniel Annie has decided for her own sanity she must ask for help and disclose the evil deeds perpetrated by her mother. But can Annie ever be truly free from the clutches of an evil parent, are family relations so strong that the mind of an innocent child can be warped and twisted  by a misguided and immoral blood really thicker than water?

The story is told from the perspective of Annie and her new beginning as "Milly" under the guardianship of Mike, Saskia and their daughter Phoebe. This opportunity or fostering is to protect Milly and prepare her for the trial of her mother where she will be called as the main witness for the prosecution. But this story is much more than a simple trial, rather it shows the vulnerabilities, manipulation, envy and hatred that together make up the human condition. Phoebe is jealous of having to endure the company of Milly and is incensed that she is no longer the centre of attention so she embarks on a course of action, a war of attrition to humiliate and degrade her, inciting her friends to do the same. Mention is made on a number of occasions to William Golding's Lord of the Flies where the author paints a picture of a civilization consumed by savagery and chaos, the animal instincts of human nature. Indeed I found an uncomfortable familiarity between this classic novel and the predicament of Milly....but who's really manipulating who??

Good me Bad me is a very intense, claustrophobic experience, being trapped in the mind of child as she struggles to make sense of her situation. It is this entrapment that gives the dialogue a very edgy delivery creating some uncomfortable moments. Is Milly truly the innocent she attempts to portray or is there within her character an inherent evil that allows her to mould and manipulate those around her for her own gratification.

It came as no surprise to learn that the author spent many years working as a mental health nurse with children and adolescents, and she has certainly used this experience to create a novel of great depth and insight. I enjoyed it immensely and in particular the ending which although expected was still shocking when it occurred. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Another excellent read from a great new author

What makes the writing of Jane Harper so appealing to me is the very balanced and articulate style that flows with so little effort (or so it seems) from her writing. In "Force of Nature" she expertly relates a story in both the present and past timeline drawing them together in a nail biting conclusion and in a sleight of hand exposes the perpetrator.

Two teams from BaileyBennets  embark on a weekend of outdoor pursuits and teambuilding along the Mirror Falls trail in the Giralang Ranges outside Melbourne. Alice Russell was supposed to deliver important documents to Federal agent Aaron Falk and his assistant  Carmen Cooper and by so doing exposing malpractice at BB. Regrettably at the end of the weekend of executive bonding one employee, Alice Russell, fails to emerge and there is great fear for her safety and welfare. Her fellow friends and colleagues appear to be shocked and fear she may have walked alone into the unforgiving wooded and bush environment. As the two agents dig deeper all is not as it should be amongst the hikers and slowly they begin to uncover a web of treachery not only prevalent in the BaileyBennets work place but also stretching back many years.

For those of you familiar with the writing of Jane Harper and in particular her excellent first novel "The Dry" it is refreshing to see not only the return of Aaron Falk but to learn a little more about his childhood with his late father whom he loved dearly. If we add to this a serial killer known as Marin Kovac who butchered and buried a number of victims in the Giralang Ranges then we have all the ingredients for an ingenious mystery. I can honestly say that Jane Harper once again kept me glued to this thrilling story as the layers of friendship and deceit are uncovered exposing an underbelly of hatred and envy. I had no idea who the killer was until revealed and that surely must be the mark of a master storyteller. As in her first novel Mz Harper uses the harsh and beautiful Australian landscape to great affect..."a curtain of white water. A river tumbled over a cliff edge and into the pool far beneath them."......"The neat trees lining the nature strip looked like plastic models compared with the primal lushness that had lurked over them for the past three days."....."The air was so crisp Jill felt she could almost touch it, and the freshwater spray cooled her cheeks. It was an hypnotic sight, and as she drank it in she almost felt the weight of her pack lift a little from her shoulders.".................

Many thanks to Little Brown  Book Group and netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.