Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Affair, Lee Child

I bought a nice soft-back edition of this Jack Reacher thriller some time ago, but it was well worth re-reading. There has long been a gap in Reacher’s history – how did he go from being an elite investigator in the Military Police to travelling around America as a loner? This book fills in the gap and is one of the best in the series.

Reacher is assigned to go to Carter Crossing to shadow the town’s police department in their investigation of a murder. Although he’s supposed to be incognito, the police chief, beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux, unmasks him immediately. No matter, because the two develop a very close relationship working on the investigation together. The author plants seeds of doubt about Deveraux – perhaps she has a hazy past, taking revenge on former boyfriends? Could this murder, and two others of similarly beautiful young women, be her revenge after she was dumped by Captain Reed Riley, son of a US Senator? A side plot is that, sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime. In this case, Reacher wants to know why local militia were employed to defend the military base outside the boundary – leading to the senseless murder of a journalist and the brother of one of the murder/rape victims. He confronts Colonel Frazer of military liaison at his office in the Pentagon – did he authorise the cover-up to protect his investment made building relationships with the Senator?

I always enjoy the Reacher books where he teams up with locals to solve the case – and as a bonus, this book features Reacher’s favourite Sergeant, Frances Neagley.
Four stars

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Book Review: The City and the Stars, Arthur C. Clarke

Another book from the SF Masterworks series, this one traces the adventurous Alvin, a unique individual in the city of Diaspar on Earth. Set a billion years into the future, Diaspar is the only city left, run by AI and repaired into perpetuity by autonomous robots. Yet Alvin feels that something is missing and has a deep yearning to explore beyond the city. He discovers a route to Lys, a community set in countryside far from the city, where the populace has evolved quite differently from those in Diaspar. His destiny is to unify these divided communities and to re-examine the shrouded history that separated them in the first place.
Four stars

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Book Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke

A bit like The Right Stuff, this is a book most people have probably heard of, especially because of the famous film, made in collboration with the author. I knew that the plot involved the finding of black monolith, and a computer called HAL that mutinied against its crew.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the story, though, is that the book was written in 1968 at the dawn of the space age. When Clarke described Extravehicular Activity (EVA), needed by the crew to repair the antenna on their ship, he defined the term used by future astronauts working outside the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. He described the isolation felt by David Bowman on board, exaggerated because of time lag on communications between Earth and the space craft, and that lag forms part of space exploration experiments carried out today. When Dr Heywood Floyd plugged in his “newspad” to read the world’s major electronic papers, he effectively wrote the specification for today’s electronic tablets, 40 years before the first iPad was released.

There’s a fascinating scene where an alien intelligence has built an environment familiar to Bowman based on television and radio signals received out in space – yet books and magazines lack any content, because only the covers are transmitted. Perhaps the availability today of literature online means that, in a re-write, the aliens would be able to produce accurate re-print of the books.
Four stars

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Book Review: The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov

What a brilliant book this is, split into three parts, each telling the story from a different viewpoint.

First, we hear about the invention of the Electron Pump – a source of limitless energy that transforms life for those on Earth. However, the discovery was not by chance – the invention was only possible with the collaboration of aliens in a parallel universe, with consequences for both universes due to conservation of energy, matter and momentum. The discovery would not even have been made without the personal animosity between two scientists, Hallam (who becomes known as the Father of the Electron Pump) and Denison (the more talented of the two, whose career never recovers). Years later, some scientists discover that the impact on our own universe could be significantly worse and more immediate than originally thought, but it’s heresy to question the wisdom of the pump and their opposition is dismissed.

Second, the story is told from the viewpoint of the aliens. The imagination and storytelling are superb. Asimov describes a totally different familial and societal structure to our own, focussing on the lives of a “Soft” triad and their side of the Electron Pump invention. The triad are Odeen (the Rational), Dua (the Emotional) and Tritt (the Parental). Each has a well-defined role in society – Odeen learns, Tritt bears the children and Dua should socialise with the other Emotionals, absorbing energy from the Sun. Dua is unusual, fighting against the norms of society and yearning to learn instead of sunning herself. Odeen is the top intellect of his generation – and Tritt, too, has far more invention about him than most Parentals. Together, they have huge potential and carry the hopes of the “Hard ones” who tutor the younger generation.

Third, we experience the story from a base on the moon, where Denison migrates in hope of reviving his career. He makes friends with a tourist guide, Selene, who was born on the moon and introduces him to the culture there. As Denison’s research matures, Selene becomes his assistant – they investigate the possibility of a new technique that could counteract the effects of the Electron Pump. Yet, again, Denison finds himself caught in a battle of wits with another scientist, Selene’s boyfriend, who has other plans for the research.

Five Stars

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Book Review: Past Tense, Lee Child

The annual publication of Lee Child’s brand new Jack Reacher thriller is always eagerly awaited. I received a lovely hardback edition of this one (it was purchased in an edition sold by Tesco in the UK, containing an exclusive short story: “The Fourth Man”).

Having read all the Jack Reacher books, I have to say this one isn’t one of the classics – for me, it took too long for the real story to begin. We follow a young, Canadian couple to a country motel following the breakdown of their car and Jack Reacher to the city of Laconia, the town where his father grew up. The motel, though, is not what it seems – the owners trap the Canadians in their room and set up a sinister gathering of like-minded individuals. Meanwhile, Reacher tracks down the location of his father’s family’s home and seeks accommodation – at the same motel. The final showdown is excellent and Reacher has lost none of his deadly skills.
Three stars

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Book Review: The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

This is a fascinating read, ranging across a variety of topics. What makes a great salesman? Why do are some TV programs so addictive? How do some people remain occasional smokers without ever developing a daily habit? There’s also a chapter on the magic number 150 – how the military, communities and companies have found that once a unit exceeds 150 people you need to split into sub-groups in order to maintain the same levels of cohesion.Four stars

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Book Review: Name to a Face, Robert Goddard

This wasn’t a particularly memorable book – the main character is Tim Harding, a landscape gardener who finds himself chasing around the country investigating the theft of a historic ring and the death of a journalist, whilst also having an affair with the wife of a rich client. The shame of it is that there’s a gem of a plot hidden in this book, concerning the legend of the Grey Man of Ennor who supposedly had healing powers and cured people of the Black Death. His remains may still have the power to heal and are fiercely protected by local families on the Isles of Scilly.

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Book Review: Deathlist, Chris Ryan

As with the other Chris Ryan books that I’ve read, this one concerns the SAS. This time, though, it’s the SAS who are subject to a surprise attack – a training platoon mercilessly bombed by a well organised team, bent on revenge. The plot follows two experienced survivors from that day as they track down the perpetrators and aim to exact their own revenge. They are helped unofficially by the UK government, including the mysterious Cecilia Lakes – a senior official destined for greatness in the UK Intelligence Services.

Like other reviewers, I found a lot of the SAS jargon and bad language somewhat overdone. However, the story itself is gripping and worth a read.
Three and a half stars

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Book Review: The Kill List, Frederick Forsyth

This book follows a similar formula to The Afghan, by the same author. There’s a terrorist threat to the western world- extremists brainwashed by a radical cleric are murdering prominent public figures. A former US marine (codenamed The Tracker) must track down the preacher (codenamed The Preacher) who only posts online – and eliminate him. The Tracker recruits a young, supremely talented hacker to help locate the source of the inflammatory material – he is codenamed Ariel (disappointingly, not The Hacker!)

The constraints put in place by politicians make The Tracker’s job harder – even having located The Preacher, he cannot order a drone strike because it is a built up area. So begins an elaborate plot to bring The Preacher out of his ‘fortress’ into a remote area, where he can be attacked. First, he is discredited in the eyes of his followers, by hacking his website and posting a fake message recanting his previous statements. Second, he is informed by a trusted friend (actually Ariel, aka The Hacker) that a local warlord has kidnapped a westerner and is prepared to sell – executing the man would re-instate his fearsome reputation. Having set the bait, the tracker must recruit a lethal army unit to seek and destroy The Preacher at his meeting with the warlord.
Four stars

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Book Review: The General’s Daughter, Nelson DeMille

It’s always a pleasure to find a Nelson DeMille in the charity bookshop, and this one was excellent. The main characters are Paul Brenner and Cynthia Sunhill, who are military investigators (the former for homicide, the latter for rape). Their back-story includes an affair in Zurich when they last met and the love/hate relationship resulting from that continues throughout the book.

There are many serious issues raised by this book (such as the role of women in the army and the cover-up of crime in order to avoid bringing the army into disrepute). The author gives Paul Brenner most of the narrative, though, and he is arguably not a character to investigate those bigger issues. His own concern is to find the guilty party and extricate himself and his career from the scene. As ever with books by DeMille, Brenner’s sense of humour and character have much in common with his regular hero, John Corey.

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