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17.08.2014
Having first experimented with a historical element back in 2012’s Criminal, Karin Slaughter has gone further in her most recent novel, Cop Town. Slaughter’s first full-length standalone, whilst very different in its historical setting, cleverly refrains from moving too far away from the elements that have made her previous novels so successful. But the two main characters, Kate and Maggie, were both well-drawn and engaging, with their burgeoning partnership well developed. And, whilst it was very informative and eye-opening, I also found myself having to constantly check to make sure that it really was writing about 1974. However, for those who are already fans of Slaughter’s books, but are conversely not necessarily fans of historical fiction, I would give a reassurance.
I have always been a little wary when an author’s book is compared to another author on the cover of a book. Jorg was a boy of nine when he saw his mother and brother brutally murdered in front of him by agents of Count Renar.
To be honest, his amoral violence and tendencies make Jorg a very difficult character to empathise with.
Set in the Broken Empire, the divided remains of a former society destroyed aeons before (which, from the technology that is sporadically discovered, we are led to believe was once a very high-tech world), a hundred warlords struggle for supremacy.
And whilst the focus is undoubtedly firmly on Jorg, Lawrence also skilfully paints the secondary characters who make up the tapestry of the Broken Empire. Blood-soaked, brutal and unrelenting, this is fantasy very much in the gritty mould of George R.R. Whilst I found it initially difficult to get in to the novel, due to Jorg’s amorality and actions, I ended up finding this a riveting and page-turning read. Overall though I found this a very impressive and fresh fantasy debut, whose world and central character sets it apart from other series in the genre. Moving away from the usual environs of Atlanta, the novel takes place, for the most part, in Macon, Georgia, and reintroduces Sara’s nemesis, Lena Adams. As is soon revealed to the reader, GBI agent (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Will has been working undercover in Macon after a tip from Lena, posing as a violent, motorcycle-riding ex-con named Bill Black. It is a complex plot and set-up and, being completely honest, I was a little confused at the outset as to exactly why Will and the GBI were involved. But the plot itself is somewhat of a backdrop for the main feast of the novel – the interrelationship between the various characters. Through his undercover persona of Black we see a different side to Will, one removed from his normal three-piece suits. The one thing that has always set Harlan Coben’s thrillers apart is his ability not only to create an original and compelling premise, but also to maintain that premise to its conclusion.
And at the heart of the novel is Jake Fisher, a likeable and decent everyman hero (well, if every man was six-foot-five and built like a line-backer – a fact that we are told a little too often, inasmuch as it became a little repetitive).
For a thirty-five-year-old professor there were a few times when Jake felt quite a bit older in his speech and mannerisms, and it was a little cliched that he was a handsome and dashing college professor (although this was acknowledged and played up to very early on in the novel with a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark). This is certainly not a novel that will reinvent the conspiracy thriller wheel, but it is written by an author who knows how to keep the reader enthralled and how to develop a plot.
And, with Black Sails having now arrived in port [I promise that I will keep the sea-faring and piratical puns to an absolute minimum!], how did it fare?
But what made Black Sails so enjoyable for me [as a fan of pirate history and lore] was the manner in which the fictional was blended with the historical – although I stop short of claiming any of it to be factually accurate!
As a pilot, it moved along at a brisk pace, packing in fights, bawdy drinking scenes, torture and culminating in a suitably bloody duel, in which Captain Flint was forced to face down a would-be-challenger to his captaincy – and ends with the challenger getting his head beaten in with a cannonball.
It was announced this week that Justified would end after its sixth season [its fifth season recently began in the States].
Nevertheless, as a huge fan of the series it will be a huge disappointment to see the series and set of characters disappear from the screen, as it is undoubtedly one of the coolest and most charismatic cop shows around. Now I will just have to soak up and enjoy the final two series of this most special of shows, and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a quality show. Thomas Cale, The Left Hand of God’s fourteen-year-old protagonist, was brought to the dark and labyrinthine Sanctuary of the Redeemers when only a few years old. The opening chapters in the Sanctuary of the Redeemers are really strong – claustrophobic, gothic and dark. The problem though, was that as Cale and his companions escaped from the Sanctuary, I found the world-building becoming less focused. Added to this, I sometimes found that the way in which the plot evolved in the last third of the novel ended up feeling slightly jumpy – and that the book almost felt a little on the short side [certainly by fantasy standards]. But my biggest personal gripe came from the use of a third-person omniscient narratorial voice.
That being said, and despite these reservations, I did enjoy The Left Hand of God, and will definitely be reading the next books in the trilogy. The novel, as the title would suggest, revolves around a circus – one which performs a specific role. In The Night Circus, set in the late 19th century, Bowen elects his six-year-old daughter Celia, while his adversary chooses a nameless nine-year-old orphan who he names Marco Alisdair.
The circus which will be the scene of their lifelong battle, is known both as the Night Circus and Le Cirque des Reves, and is the brainchild of a theatrical producer named M Chandresh Christophe Lefevre.
Ultimately, and much like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus [which not only almost shares the same title, but is also an undoubted influence of Morgenstern], The Night Circus poses questions about the essential connection between fantasy and reality, and the human need for the former in order to deal with the latter. Raised part in our world and part in Elsewhere, Karou is plagued by questions. Why does Brimstone need the teeth? So when the doors to Elsewhere mysteriously start  to close Karou must choose between her human life and the demon family who brought her up. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a book of rare beauty, and one filled with invention and richly textured landscapes and characters. And it is also, when it needs to be, dark and tragic – especially in terms of the romance between Karou and warrior Seraphim Akiva, which in a lesser novelwould be one of sugarcoated perfection. Indeed, the full extent of this conflict only reveals itself at the very climax of the novel, in a twist that will knock the breath out of you and recast all the book’s previous events in a new light. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a beautifully written, brilliantly imaginative novel, that is unique and funny and tragic all at the same time.
When a woman is found savagely murdered [well, it is a Karin Slaughter novel, so if there wasn’t a savage murder then you would feel short-changed!] in a run-down Atlanta apartment, the circumstances of her death bear a startling similarity to the murder of a woman almost forty years before and forces many of her characters to confront their secret pasts and histories.
Central to it all is Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent and his supervisor, Amanda Wagner, and over the course of the novel their complex and strange relationship and history is explored in the greatest depth to date in the series and the major revelation at the book’s conclusion was certainly one of the highlights of the novel for me. For years Slaughter has been dangling tantalising readers with bits and pieces from Will Trent’s past. Suspenseful, fast-paced and well-plotted, Criminal continues to develop and evolve Will Trent and Sara Linton as two of the most interesting characters in crime fiction. Master novelist Daniel Silva has thrilled readers with eighteen thoughtful and gripping spy novels featuring a diverse cast of compelling characters and ingenious plots that have taken them around the globe and back—from the United States to Europe, Russia to the Middle East. Following the success of his smash hit The English Spy, Daniel Silva returns with another powerhouse of a novel—one that showcases his outstanding skill and brilliant imagination, and is sure to be a must read for both his multitudes of fans and growing legions of converts.
Kate Murphy, from a well-to-do family but recently widowed, is in her first week as a cop in the Atlanta police force. Although they are initially fairly antagonistic towards one another, as the reader you know that they are highly likely to become close.


Slaughter has obviously done her research, but also manages to wear it lightly – so the plot moves forwards at a fair pace, with plenty of brutal violence and twists to keep her fans happy. For, it was a year that was a little over a decade before I was born, and yet seems totally alien to me. And when we first meet him only a handful of years later he has run away from his home and is the ruthless leader of a band of sell-swords. And with Jorg and his band of (not so merry) men committing acts usually reserved only for the most villainous of fantasy characters, I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers were unable to continue beyond the first few chapters. Eschewing over-description the scenes are generally pared back, creating both a fast-paced read, but also avoiding the trap of over-doing the world-building. The world-building is equally skilfully done, with the technology – nuclear weapons, watches, etc. Probably the best praise that I could give it is that as soon as I had finished reading the novel I downloaded the eBook of the second book in the series, King of Thorns, and finished it that same evening. But he has decided to keep his whereabouts a secret from Sara (being that he is undercover, this isn’t a complete surprise. And much of the plot proper arises in the aftermath of a high-target police raid that was led by Lena herself – flashback sequences are dotted throughout the novel, although Slaughter is careful to only include them as and when they are necessary to the development of the plot.
But as the chapters went by and more flashbacks were introduced, it began to get clearer, certainly in my own mind. As a big fan of Slaughter’s work, it has been interesting to see her style and novels develop. You almost feel that it is the person that he would have been if he hadn’t gone into law enforcement. There is something about her that feels a little detached and icy and I have never totally liked her. All too often novels in this genre have clever, intriguing set-ups, but end in a manner that feels forced or leaves the reader dissatisfied – suggesting that the author was unable to find a suitable means of resolving the twists and turns that have evolved throughout the preceding pages. Six years ago (unsurprisingly, given the title!) college professor Jake Fisher watched the love of his life, Natalie, marry another man (and only a day after she had dumped poor old Jake). As a reader, you want to know who this other woman is, and indeed, whether Jake himself is an entirely reliable narrator.
Indeed, it could be said that the aforementioned shows focused almost exclusively on its sex, violence and expletive-filled language – often to the detriment of the shows themselves [at least in my opinion]. Which means that, unlike Spartacus which often felt like a sex and violence fuelled show that required some kind of plot to link those scenes, Black Sails’ pilot felt like a plot-driven show which required bouts of violence and sex. As the plot for a pirate adventure this isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, and it is fair to say that Black Sails could never be called amazingly original. At times, the need to introduce new characters led to some rather clunky dialogue, and some slightly forced and unrealistic scenes. On the evidence of the pilot there may very well be and I’ll be stowing myself aboard for the journey. Half monastery, half brutal military training ground, the Sanctuary is a breeding ground for young warrior-monks.
Until one day he opens the wrong door at the wrong time and witnesses something so horrific that he knows that he must flee the vast and remote Sanctuary…or die.
Reminiscent of the oppressive environs of the Benedictine monastery in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, I found Hoffman’s descriptions of the Redeemer’s customs and surroundings completely gripping. Within the structured, closed-off walls of the Sanctuary, it felt as though the interplay between the Redeemers and Mediaeval Christianity was far more tightly controlled and thought through by the author. And this was especially true when comparing the Materazzi sections of the book with the far more assured and detailed opening half of the book in the Sanctuary. Maybe it is just my inner pedant, but I have always railed against the use of wandering POV – where an author flits between the interiority of multiple characters within a single scene. But I felt that, after the really strong and intriguing opening to the novel, it didn’t quite carry through on that promise in quite the manner that I had hoped that it would. For it is the location in which a rivalry that has played out over countless generations is being fought. As a reader you find yourself transported and immersed into Morgenstern’s fantastical world – one whose beauty and vibrancy is only enhanced when you resurface from it back into mundane and unmagical reality!
That being said, I can see that The Night Circus, which is very definitely magical realism, and with its meandering narrative and present tense prose might not be to the tastes of everyone. Darkly glittering and endlessly fascinating, with a heart-rending denouement, this was one of the best books that I have read in a very, very long time and one that I would thoroughly recommend.
Or at least it is for seventeen-year-old Karou, as she struggles to keep her two lives balanced. In it, angels and devils do battle, there’s star-crossed lovers and mystery and humour and pathos and gothically macabre moments.
Gritty and fantastical in equal measures, I have always loved the magical and supernatural, which Daughter of Smoke and Bone delivers in spades. The most crucial event in the story actually occurs pretty early in the page count, but it’s only later that you learn what actually happened and what it means. It is a book not just about about love and self-discovery, but also about the tragedy of war, of hope when life is tragic, and the strength to fight for what you believe in.
On the one hand, it can have a positive effect and freshen-up something that has become a little formulaic. Trent, dyslexic, and scarred physically and psychologically from years spent growing up in orphanages and on the streets, is one of the most fascinating characters in the contemporary crime fiction firmament.
But one of the reasons that all of Criminal‘s revelations and twists work so well is because Slaughter is such a master at creating and maintaining a raft of brilliantly realised characters. I found that far more attention, certainly in the first half of the novel, seemed to be on the historical arc. His brilliant hero, Gabriel Allon—art restorer, assassin, spy—has joined the pantheon of great fictional secret agents, including George Smiley, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Simon Templar. And Maggie Lawson – a young police patrolwoman from a family of male cops, but struggling to prove her worth in their eyes.
But Slaughter avoids making this shift from adversary to ally to quickly – which would be both unnatural and too plotted. Simultaneously though, it explores issues such as racism, sexism, police brutality, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the emergence of gay culture, and the independence of women – creating a fascinating and tumultuous milieu around which the central plot swirls. It will be interesting to see how Slaughter proceeds beyond this book, as I certainly got the feeling when finishing the final pages that this standalone has the potential to be a series. For, whilst we are always told never to judge a book by its cover, that is invariably what we are prone to doing. And, ultimately, I would say that they are both very good, but in differing and individual ways.
Instead the focus is upon Jorg and his evolving psyche, showing us the conflicted nature of his decisions and his aspirations – and constantly subverting everything that we thought we knew about Jorg as each new part of his hideous backstory is revealed. Indeed, like Abercrombie, Lawrence seems to set some store in evidencing the brutality of the world physically on his protagonists through their scars. It is a brutal and extremely violent opening, with the use of a claw hammer being described in shuddering detail. And his dysfunctional relationship with Sara and their inability to communicate with one another adds a further layer of intrigue to the book.


But it was pleasing to see the return of the spiky Lena Adams – a character around whom chaos and violence seems to swirl effortlessly. It is an addictive and well-written read, with Slaughter capturing the feel and crackling heat and violence of Georgia’s milieu. And for six years he has kept his promise to Natalie and stayed away from her and her husband (which I would probably find pretty easy if I had been dumped and replaced in such ignominious circumstances, but then I’m not a big old romantic like Jake!). And that he would be willing to face danger and potential death in order to investigate the dark and deadly secret that drives the plot forwards. In a way, for fans, this is probably the best way for it to end – as it means that its writers will be allowed to tie-up storylines and will avoid the unfinished cliffhanger scenario that often arises when it is the broadcaster who takes the decision to end a series.
Indeed, so cool was the original 2010 first season that it led me to dust off my cowboy boots and start wearing them again! In particular, the sadistic, quasi-father-son relationship between Bosco and Cale was brilliantly drawn and fascinating. But once outside of those walls, the level of detail given to describing the world in which Cale [who had no previous memories of living outside the Sanctuary] now found himself, felt a little underwhelming. It felt as though the second half of the book, the relationships and the plotlines, could have been fleshed out much more. And, for me, I just felt that the narratorial voice used in The Left Hand of God just made the action all feel a little removed and distant from the reader [something that might not have been the case had Hoffman used first-person narration to bring the reader inside specific character’s interiorities]. So, in the end, I felt that this was a strong and enjoyable read – based on a really clever premise and with lots of gritty action and characterization – but that it didn’t quite make that step up to something more. It is a wildly imaginative novel, one that resist cliches and has, at its heart, in the form of Karou, a strong, funny and wilful heroine who keeps the reader caring – but is also vulnerable and, at times, quite a lonely and isolated figure. With clever twists and elegant, vivid prose, this novel is a veritable treasure-chest of delights, that elegantly and seamlessly delivers its revelations.
And when conflict does arise between Karou and Akiva, it is not sugarcoated; it is not sanitized. Or, it can have the opposite effect, and show quite why a bestselling formula is exactly that. His destructive marriage to fellow orphan Angie Polaski has stopped Will from finding a meaningful relationship in the series, but, in Criminal, he has finally managed to find a semblance of happiness with another major series character, the beautiful and brilliant medical examiner, Sara Linton.
And, as a fan of Will Trent and Sara Linton, and having waited a year to see their story evolving, I think that a part of me felt slightly grumpy that they were not the main focus of the first half of the book! When a brutal cop killing shakes the city, Kate and Maggie find themselves paired together (more through the fact that they are both quickly sidelined by their male colleagues).
In her modern-day crime novels, Slaughter has used this device as a means to get into the mind of her killers. Which allows for each of the characters to build up an impression of the other; impressions which are either eroded or proven true as the novel develops.
He and his men are responsible for brutal atrocities and, whilst Jorg is occasionally charming, it is the charm of a sociopath.
Christianity is mentioned frequently, as are the works of Sun Tzu, Socrates and Shakespeare.
So Jorg, having fallen into a hook-briar bush when his mother and brother were being murdered, is covered in scars.
But as Lena goes to deliver the coup de grace she finds herself stopped by a third biker…Will Trent. The one downside to this is that I sometimes felt that the flashbacks felt a little incongruous and slightly too plotted in their placement. But her more recent novels feel more mature and emotionally connected, with their focus subtly shifting away from the crimes themselves to instead focus upon the characters.
Allied to this, the prose avoids unecessary flowery, artistic flair – it is certainly more on the functional side, but this works well in keeping the pace high and the pages turning. Once I was snared in by the opening chapter there was no way that I was going to stop until I had finished – and I read the book in one sitting. Nevertheless, it had a suitably gritty quality, and managed to avoid the seemingly obligatory Aaarghs and parrots that populate most piratical adaptations post-Treasure Island.
A place of violence, deprivation and cruelty, it is run by the Redeemers – religious fanatics who rule with an iron-fist and use Inquisition-style methods to implement their ‘teachings’. It is, in essence, a quasi-Mediaeval world, with references to Spanish and Dutch culture and locations, although it is kept quite vague as to exact locations and there is no map in the novel to aid the reader in relation to how the world is set up.
And their profound rivalry has been played out over countless generations by appointed pupils.
From the first glitter of her thoughts I found myself drawn to her, and she does dominate the book with her unique brilliance. A fabulous read that shows that paranormal YA can be dark and adult and brilliant if the author has the imagination for it. However, in recent novels, it has become apparent that Slaughter’s books are far more than just gorily macabre killers. But, I certainly couldn’t level that charge at the second half of the book, which was brilliantly engrossing and filled with twists and where the interplay between the two story arcs is wonderfully done. And against this backdrop of a town and era riven by gender, race and sexuality inequality they set about trying to hunt down a vicious killer, one who is stalking Kate.
And yet, for all of these elements, the landscape and geography is wholly alien to our world – suggesting that some cataclysmic event has changed the world that we know (although this is never overtly spelt out). And, in the second book in the series, King of Thorns, Jorg, like Abercrombie’s Caul Shivers, finds half of his face brutally fire-scarred.
But it was a problem that there isn’t really a solution to – other than having them all at the outset, which would ruin any form of suspense and mystery!
But here she is far more interestingly drawn, and I found myself sympathising with her, especially with regards to the manner in which she is treated by Sara.
It is whimsical and delightful, playful and wistful by turn and kept me enthralled from first page to last.
But using the POV element did allow for some moments of incredible tension, so this was only a small gripe.
This all fuses together to create an unsettling world that is part-known to the reader, but also completely new – which is reminiscent of the world that Paul Hoffman created in The Left Hand of God.
Because it allowed me to overlook a few slightly unlikely twists and coincidental happenings that allowed the plot to continue moving. On the flip-side of that, I think that even TOWIE possesses less fake tan and shiny teeth than the pirates of Black Sails – apparently dentistry was ahead of its time in the eighteenth century! I just can’t emphasise enough how beautiful it made this book to read and quite how much it added to the experience. Of course, and thankfully for the reader, as otherwise the novel would be no more than a handful of chapters – !



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