Quick Review: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

196232-1_BOX 88_HB_REV_ii.inddAn excellent espionage thriller

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

Years ago, a spy was born…

1989: The Cold War will soon be over, but for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency, the espionage game is heating up. Lachlan Kite, recruited from an elite boarding school, is sent to France, tasked with gathering intelligence on an enigmatic Iranian businessman implicated in the Lockerbie bombing. But what Kite uncovers is more terrifying than anyone expected…

Now he faces the deadliest decision of his life…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – but Iranian intelligence have got to him first. Taken captive and brutally tortured, Kite has a choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

In a battle unlike anything he has faced before, Kite must use all his skills to stay alive.

Long time readers of CR will know that I am a big fan of Charles Cumming’s spy thrillers. Ever since Typhoon, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new novel from the author. Box 88 was no different, and I’m very happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: LOVE AND THEFT by Stan Parish (Faber/Doubleday)

ParishS-LoveAndTheftUKA chance encounter, a new chance for a real life, forced into one last job…

What price would you put on a second chance?

When Alex Cassidy and Diane Alison meet by chance at a party in Princeton, New Jersey, there are instant sparks. Both are single parents living in wealthy suburbia, independent, highly competent and seemingly settled in their lives. She runs a successful catering business. He’s part of a crew that robs banks, casinos and jewellery stores around the world. Neither realises initially that their lives have overlapped before, or that their shared history and burgeoning relationship will come to threaten everything they love. As Alex prepares for one final, daunting job, he discovers that he’s not the only one with secrets — and that both of them are playing for the highest stakes imaginable.

Love and Theft is a very good crime novel. Complete with exciting heists and elaborate operations, it is populated by interesting and well-rounded characters. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)

CosbySA-BlacktopWastelandUSA superb crime debut

A husband, a father, a son, a business owner…And the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi.

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland… or die trying.

Cosby’s debut, Blacktop Wasteland has been getting a lot of positive attention since it was published. A perfect blend of heist story and character study, I’m very happy to report that this buzz is entirely justified. This is an excellent novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Continue reading

Review: SATURNINE by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

AbnettD-HHSoT4-SaturnineA superb novel: action-packed, revelatory, both grand and intimate in scale.

As the traitors tighten their grip on Terra, Rogal Dorn must marshal the Imperial hosts to weather the storm. But not all of the defenders will survive the onslaught…

The Traitor Host of Horus Lupercal tightens its iron grip on the Palace of Terra, and one by one the walls and bastions begin to crumple and collapse. Rogal Dorn, Praetorian of Terra, redoubles his efforts to keep the relentless enemy at bay, but his forces are vastly outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned. Dorn simply cannot defend everything. Any chance of survival now requires sacrifice, but what battles dare he lose so that others can be won? Is there one tactical stroke, one crucial combat, that could turn the tide forever and win the war outright?

The Loyalists have their backs against the wall. Resources are fast depleting, and nobody knows the status of potential reinforcements. The Traitors are throwing everything they have — corporeal and never born — at breaking open the Imperial Palace’s walls. Primarchs Dorn and Perturabo are locked in a deadly game, trying to find chinks in the other master tactician’s plans. When one appears, both sides rush to exploit it. This is a superb novel: it packs quite a punch, drops revelations all over the place, advances the overall meta-story, and is utterly gripping. Continue reading

Quick Review: FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown/Orion)

ConnellyM-JM3-FairWarningUSThe hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back…

Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar — until now.

Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he’s ever encountered.

Jack investigates — against the warnings of the police and his own editor — and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. Undetected by law enforcement, a vicious killer has been hunting women, using genetic data to select and stalk his targets.

Uncovering the murkiest corners of the dark web, Jack races to find and protect the last source who can lead him to his quarry. But the killer has already chosen his next target, and he’s ready to strike.

Jack McEvoy returns! He’s at a new online publication, with new colleagues, but has the same determined drive to uncover the truth. He also retains his slightly flexible approach to the rules and ethics of journalism. Fair Warning is another excellent novel from the master of the craft. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: THE SEVENTH PERFECTION by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)

PolanskyD-SeventhPerfectionAn excellent new mystery novella about memory

When a woman with perfect memory sets out to solve a riddle, the threads she tugs on could bring a whole city crashing down. The God-King who made her is at risk, and his other servants will do anything to stop her.

To become the God-King’s Amanuensis, Manet had to master all seven perfections, developing her body and mind to the peak of human performance. She remembers everything that has happened to her, in absolute clarity, a gift that will surely drive her mad. But before she goes, Manet must unravel a secret which threatens not only the carefully prepared myths of the God-King’s ascent, but her own identity and the nature of truth itself.

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Polansky’s writing ever since his debut, The Straight Razor Cure, was published in the UK. The Seventh Perfection is his second novella for Tor.com (following the superb The Builders), and I’m very happy to report that it absolutely met my very high expectations. Continue reading

Review: MASKED PREY by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Simon Schuster UK)

SandfordJ-LD30-MaskedPreyUSRight wing extremists and social media collide in Lucas Davenport’s latest investigation

Lucas Davenport investigates a vitriolic blog that seems to be targeting the children of U.S. politicians…

The daughter of a U.S. Senator is monitoring her social media presence when she finds a picture of herself on a strange blog. And there are other pictures… of the children of other influential Washington politicians, walking or standing outside their schools, each identified by name. Surrounding the photos are texts of vicious political rants from a motley variety of radical groups. It’s obviously alarming — is there an unstable extremist tracking the loved ones of powerful politicians with deadly intent? But when the FBI is called in, there isn’t much the feds can do. The anonymous photographer can’t be pinned down to one location or IP address, and more importantly, at least to the paper-processing bureaucrats, no crime has actually been committed. With nowhere else to turn, influential Senators decide to call in someone who can operate outside the FBI’s constraints: Lucas Davenport.

This is the 29th novel in Sandford’s excellent Lucas Davenport series. I’ve been a fan of the series (as well as the author’s other novels) for decades, and so each new novel is a highlight of my year. In Masked Prey, Sandford takes on two American plagues: guns and internet radicalization. It’s another excellent addition to the series, and a must read for all fans of the series. Continue reading

Quick Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE BRITISH PEOPLE DURING THE EMERGENCY by Jason Hazeley & Nico Tatarowicz (Quercus)

HazeleyTatarowicz-InstructionsForBritishPeopleDuringEmergencyUKA very amusing handbook for these interesting times

An indispensable handbook to see the nation through lockdown, breakdown and meltdown.

As Britain enters a period of tremendous upheaval, your government has requested that everyone immediately undertake a series of life-style changes that may test the nation’s resolve.

Most of it is simple common-sense, but common-sense may be new to you, especially if you are young, wistful or an imbecile.

Indeed, it should be noted that much of what is to come in the weeks and months (and months) ahead will be new to us all. But let us remember that, not so long ago, the same was true of pesto.

We must not lose heart. With stoicism, courage and a substantial supply of alcoholic fortification, we will pull through this together and emerge from it a stronger (or weaker but more experienced) nation.

Sir Clement Apricot-Wilson,
Permanent Secretary
The Department of Unforeseen Circumstances

I was pre-approved for this on NetGalley, and decided to give it a try on a bit on a whim. I’m very glad that I did, because this is at times very funny. As it turned out, this book is just the antidote for these strange and difficult times I was looking for. Very enjoyable. Continue reading

Quick Review: BROKEN by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

WinslowD-BrokenUSA must-read collection of interlinked crime novellas

In six intense short novels connected by the themes of crime, corruption, vengeance, justice, loss, betrayal, guilt and redemption, Broken is #1 international bestseller Don Winslow at his nerve-shattering, heart-stopping, heartbreaking best. InBroken, he creates a world of high-level thieves and low-life crooks, obsessed cops struggling with life on and off the job, private detectives, dope dealers, bounty hunters and fugitives, the lost souls driving without headlights through the dark night on the American criminal highway.

With his trademark blend of insight, humanity, humor, action and the highest level of literary craftsmanship, Winslow delivers a collection of tales that will become classics of crime fiction

I’m a relative newcomer to Don Winslow’s novels. Since reading The Force, however, he has become a must-read author for me. Broken is his latest book: a superb, gripping collection of six novellas. Each takes a different look at the crime, mystery and/or thriller genres. One of my most-anticipated books of the year, I’m very happy to report that it absolutely met my very high expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: UNCANNY VALLEY by Anna Wiener (MCD, FSG / Fourth Estate)

WienerA-UncannyValleyUSA page-turning memoir of contemporary Silicon Valley

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener — stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial–left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.

Anna arrived amidst a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.

Part coming-of-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.

Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.

This memoir received a lot of buzz prior to release. In some ways, this was inevitable — Silicon Valley remains a perennial fascination for so very many people. However, one thing that was coming out of the early buzz was that this is a rather different kind of Silicon Valley memoir/book. I started reading it pretty much as soon as I got a review copy, and I’m happy to report that the hype was justified: this is a superb book. Continue reading