Ten years ago today, I posted my first fiction review on Civilian Reader. It’s very weird to think I’ve been writing reviews, etc., for a decade. It was not my first ever book review, though: the first novel I reviewed was Richard Morgan’s excellent Market Forces, for my university newspaper. A review that was, sadly, completely butchered by the editor. Maybe that’s one reason I decided to start my own book review website…
I’ve thought about shutting the website down a number of times over the years — sometimes more seriously than others. And yet, I keep getting drawn back into writing for it. It’s taken up a lot of my free time. I’m of two minds about whether or not this has been a good or bad thing.
And so, to mark the ten-year anniversary, here’s the first review I posted to CR…
THE BLACK SUN by James Twining (Harper Collins)
In London, an Auschwitz survivor is murdered in his hospital bed, his killers making off with a macabre trophy – his severed left arm.
In Fort Mead, Maryland, a vicious gang breaks into the NSA museum and steals a World War II Enigma machine, lynching the guard who happens to cross their path.
Meanwhile, in Prague, a frenzied and mindless anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue culminates in the theft of a seemingly worthless painting by a little known Czech artist called Karel Bellak.
A year has passed since Tom Kirk, the world’s greatest art thief, decided to put his criminal past behind him and embark on a new career, on the right side of the law . Then three major thefts occur, and suddenly Tom is confronted with a deadly mystery and a sinister face from the past.
James Twining has managed to write a twisting tale of historical intrigue and action, while not falling foul to the cliches and pot-holes that affect Dan Brown. There’s no dubious religious connotations or huge leaps into left field to help his arguments and premises. True, he’s clearly made some of the background up, but then that’s why this book is found in the “Fiction” section of Waterstone’s…
Delving into the myths and oddities of the Nazi SS, The Black Sun is another tale starring Tom Kirk, The Double Eagle‘s art-thief-cum-action-hero that we all fell in love with last time around. This time, Tom is thrown into a dangerous quest after a number of high-profile art thefts and a coding machine. Not to mention the arm thieves took from a concentration camp survivor…
Twining’s style is so fluent and flowing that it is impossible to put this book down. Drawing us through the story with his prose and premise, the story rattles along at a fair clip, never pausing for long enough to catch our breath before a new twist is revealed. From London to St. Petersburg, the action is varied and exciting, utilising all the best thriller devices, yet never coming across as tired, cliched or plagiaristic. Twining has his own voice, but one that sounds familiar and comfortable.
Fluid and eloquent, The Black Sun is a delight to read. One of this year’s must-have thrillers.
Looking back on this review, I think I still stand by it. I just… Don’t really remember the novel.
True, I’ve read a metric-shit-ton* of novels since 2006, but I only have a few vague memories of some scenes towards the end of The Black Sun. I really enjoyed reading it at the time, I know that, and the same goes for the first novel in the series, The Double Eagle (I think I bought this one on a whim when it was a special offer from WH Smith’s). The two novels are unpretentious, let’s-tell-a-ripping-yarn adventure and conspiracy thrillers. The author has, to my knowledge, never professed to be writing anything other than that. He writes very well, and his characters are interesting and engaging. I enjoyed the third novel in the series, The Gilded Seal (2007) as much as I did the first two. Unfortunately, I didn’t really love the fourth book, The Geneva Deception (2010). I wonder if the author’s still writing… Perhaps under a pseudonym? His website hasn’t been updated since 2010, which doesn’t exactly bode well.
As for the review itself? That’s pretty short. But, I think it does the trick. I had not yet become comfortable enough — in terms of style, general genre knowledge, etc. — to write some of the epic-length reviews I would later write. In many ways, I think shorter reviews like this might have more of an impact than the essay-length reviews I sometimes post.
I didn’t post the review originally with any intention of turning Civilian Reader into anything other than a venue for my then-infrequent interest in writing/talking about books I was reading. I had been reviewing non-fiction books, but mostly as academic writing practice — writing a short piece about each book I was reading for my PhD, allowing me to organize thoughts and get used to thinking more critically about the subject(s). Around the end of 2008/beginning of 2009, the balance shifted, and I would start writing far more for CR than my politics/non-fiction site, which I now rarely update (not that I’ve stopped reading non-fiction, I just don’t post my thoughts on the books anywhere near as frequently).
Will CR last another ten years? Well… We’ll see. But probably not, if I’m honest.
* That, I’m sure, is the technical term.