Book Review: Aftershock

“The only time the world cared about rules was when you lost. If you won, any infractions became invisible.”

Aftershock, by Adam Hamdy, is the final installment in the author’s Pendulum Trilogy which started with Pendulum and continued with Freefall. These all action crime thrillers provide plenty of food for thought alongside fire, suspense and entertainment. Concluding a complex web of storylines to the satisfaction of both new and existing readers requires verve and skill. With Aftershock, the author delivers.

The story opens with Detective Patrick Bailey – now leader of a Metropolitan Police task force established to disable and dismantle the elusive Foundation – being brought back to consciousness by vicious assailants. They wish him to watch while they kill his girlfriend. Physically and emotionally damaged by the resulting nightmare of an experience, he calls upon the few friends he can trust to assist him without question as he seeks retribution.

Across the Atlantic, FBI agent Christine Ash is struggling with trust issues. She too is leading a special task force that is tracking down and neutralising the remnants of the Foundation. Unable to shake off her memories of being held hostage, and the treatment she was subjected to, she remains wary of potential infiltrators on her team. When she refuses to divulge plans and sources she leads them into a deadly situation from which she emerges with self knowledge that horrifies her.

In various prisons, apprehended Foundation members are attempting to strike deals with those on both sides of the legal divide. These people could provide essential information that Bailey and Ash are each eager to utilise. The Foundation may have been damaged but it still has reach. Many have been compromised. Not all Foundation members act due to the philanthropic recruitment promises of a societal wealth redistribution.

John Wallace is leading a nomadic life as he attempts to live under the radar and find a way to do good to assuage the guilt he feels at previous choices made. When Ash asks that they meet he is drawn back into the web of deception required if the Foundation is to be neutralised.

In a quiet corner of Arizona, the normally quiet and subdued Cheyanne has found comfort in a relationship she has quickly developed with new, local arrivals. Arno and Beth have set up home in a trailer located just outside town. They charge for private sessions in which clients talk out their problems. Cheyanne’s teenage daughter is conflicted by the resulting change in her mother. Encounters with Beth leave her suspicious of what the pair are planning which, when Arno’s history and location are discovered, leads to tragedy. With an eye on the power of the Foundation this pair harness the methods of cult leaders in their quest for acolytes.

The cat and mouse antics of these various players are portrayed in tense and violent encounters across London and locations in America. Ash and Bailey find more loyalty amongst their underworld contacts than with those who are looking at their careers and families – who may be susceptible to threats and bribery. This topsy turvy depiction of good and evil leaves the reader questioning the meanings of such categorisations.

“As he moved from a story about a bomb on a bus in Kabul, to a serial stabbing in London, a shooting at a school in Minneapolis, a family slaying in Florida, a drone attack in Yemen and an attack at a security checkpoint in Gaza, Rafa wondered whether the perpetrators all believed they were doing good.”

I felt a little frustrated that key men wished to be knights in shining armour, heading into battle to protect or avenge their women. There is a scene where one of our heroes seeks permission to divulge a secret that he may gain the trust of a woman he is sexually attracted to. These are, however, very human failings so have their place in the narrative.

I was wryly amused by the depictions of successful businessmen with their past shady dealings that enabled them to rise above their peers. There was bravery and honour amongst the gangsters and thieves despite their violence, drug dealing and arms sales. As is pointed out, governments are active in all of these areas, enabled by their self-declared legality.

Such questioning of the blurred lines around which laws are made and broken, and who is punished when lines are crossed, adds depth to the story. This remains though a hard hitting action thriller in which the reader can never be sure who will survive or who will be turned. It is a fine conclusion to a trilogy that sits firm within its popular genre yet punches seamlessly beyond. A recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

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Book Review: Defender

Defender, by GX Todd, is the first book in a proposed series set in a post-apocalyptic America. The Voices have arrived, from place unknown, with a purpose that is unclear. They occupy the minds of human hosts and fill their thoughts with despair. Mass murders and suicides follow. Those who are left must scavenge abandoned resources to survive. The breakdown of society results in everyone being deemed a potential threat, and with good cause.

Lacey is a teenager, protected from the ongoing social disintegration by her grandmother, until the old lady dies. Left alone in a remote farmhouse, Lacey concocts a plan that will enable her to join her older sister who lives many miles away.

Pilgrim encounters Lacey by the side of the road and is persuaded, against his better judgement, to offer her a lift. Pilgrim is swayed in his decisions by The Voice inside his head.

The pair set off together but almost immediately find themselves in mortal danger. It is the start of a fast paced, deadly adventure.

A disparate group led by two sadists are sifting towns they pass through for survivors. When they capture Lacey they regard her as a disposable plaything, until they realise that she has information of value. They have not counted on her determination, nor on Pilgrim’s decision to offer his protection.

The writing is taut and slick with the fast moving action keeping the reader engaged. The unrelenting violence felt exhausting in places – in many ways it reminded me of the Mad Max world.

The bad guys are very, very bad. The good guys are capable of exertion despite horrific injuries, a lack of sustenance and limited sleep. The world portrayed has many intriguing elements. Explanations are drip fed but often rather vague.

Although acknowledging the many strengths of this book I retain reservations. I appreciate that the bad guys’ behaviour is a part of the dystopian world created, but a more nuanced approach would have appealed.

This story would likely work well on screen, and it is an enjoyable enough read. In such a fictional world it feels churlish to desire more human realism.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: Freefall

Freefall, by Adam Hamdy, is the second book in the author’s Pendulum Trilogy (you may read my review of the first here). Set across several continents it opens with a suicide in London, the depiction of which is chilling. The action then moves to Afghanistan where John Wallace, the photographer targeted in the first book in the series, has gone to hide from the world and grieve for his beloved Connie.

Several of the original cast return, although all have been damaged by their horrific experiences, referred to just enough to allow this to be a standalone read. Detective Patrick Bailey has eschewed therapy and turned to alcohol to cope with the lingering effects of his shooting. Over in New York FBI Agent Christine Ash is suffering her own nightmares. Her inability to trust colleagues, a result of her traumatic upbringing, will have deadly consequences.

Ash is convinced that the Pendulum case involved more than one man, that he did not work alone, but her boss remains unconvinced. Proof presents itself when Wallace comes under attack, first in his mountain retreat in Afghanistan and then in Kabul. The reach of a shadowy organisation with apparent links to Pendulum ensures that it is Wallace who is branded a terrorist after he flees the scene. When eventually taken into custody he discovers that nowhere is safe.

Short, pithy chapters keep the reader appraised of the action as it unfolds in key locations. With the forces of law and order compromised it becomes necessary to call on personal friends for assistance, including some wonderfully shady characters. The enemy, whoever they may be, show no mercy.

This is a high-octane, adrenaline fuelled thriller that powers along at unremitting pace yet never runs out of the energy and ingenuity to maintain reader engagement. Along with the gradual reveals, the denouement adds a twist that makes me eager for the next instalment already. An exhilarating, entertaining read.

Book Review: Reconciliation for the Dead

Reconciliation for the Dead, by Paul E. Hardisty, is the third book in the author’s Claymore Straker series of action thrillers (I review the first two books here and here). In this latest work the reader is offered the protagonist’s backstory as a young soldier in the South African army. Clay is fighting for the country he loves alongside comrades he trusts with his life, several of whom he counts as friends.

The book is told over two time periods: 1996 when Clay is being interviewed by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission about his actions fifteen years previously which resulted in his dishonourable discharge from the army; and a detailed account of these actions in 1981 when, as a twenty-one year old soldier fighting in Angola, Clay stumbles across a top secret initiative with an aim he struggles to comprehend.

As a story that depicts many of the realities for those fighting a war on the ground, the detail is often graphic and disturbing. Whilst gruesome it is never gratuitous, offering a truth too often hidden behind the facade of glorious military victory. Clay has been raised by family and society to love his country and feels proud that he is defending it against enemy states. When his loyalty is tested by the heinous actions of those he has been informed are allies, everything he has believed in until now comes under strain.

Clay has killed men, this has been his job, and he cannot suppress the revulsion he feels as the memories of each death at his hands return to haunt him. He wants to do what is right yet knows he must obey orders. He is a competent soldier with a conscience, caught up in an untenable situation.

Time and again Clay is advised by friends, ordered by his commanding officers, to walk away from and forget what he has seen. He knows that this may be a wise course of action but, with the Pandora’s box opened, his endeavours take a fatalistic direction. He understands that what he has witnessed and his subsequent reactions mean his life is forever changed.

This is a powerful and evocative reminder of the true causes of war. The writing skilfully weaves action and consequence as Clay’s decisions place him in recurring mortal danger. The gradual reveal of the aim and extent of the initiative he uncovers is based on reality. Somehow, depressingly, this was the least difficult aspect of the story to read.

Yet this is not a depressing book. It challenges the reader to accept truths about the heroism venerated by the state. It offers a reminder that, whatever else occurs, a man must always live with himself.

A stunning work of fiction that I eagerly recommend. This is an all action thriller with enough substance and bite to hold any judicious reader.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This post is a stop on the Reconciliation for the Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Reconciliation for the Dead will be published by Orenda Books on 30th May 2017

Book Review: Sleeper

Sleeper, by JD Fennell, is the first book in a proposed action adventure trilogy aimed at young adults. It introduces the reader to sixteen year old Will Starling who has been training since the age of twelve with the agents of VIPER. This ruthless organisation has military links around the world, access to advanced weapons technology, and is intent on acquiring power and wealth for its elusive puppet masters.

When the story opens it is 1941 and England is at war. Will is near Hastings on the mission for which he has been groomed. He is to infiltrate a country house and steal a notebook containing codes and instructions. He has been ordered to kill anyone who gets in his way. Will is backed up by other VIPER agents who are unaware that the teenager has been duping them. Will intends to keep the notebook and hand it on to others equally keen on gaining control of the secrets held within.

A running battle ensues and Will ends up half drowned in the sea. He is rescued by a passing fisherman but has no memory of who he is or why he was being pursued. The notebook he finds in his blazer pocket is his only clue. He sets out to uncover his past, but must first escape killers who are hot on his tail.

Will’s combat skills are impressive and he discovers that he is not the only teenager who has been trained in this way. With the help of associates he meets at a school for underage spies he starts to unravel the secrets of the notebook. To save London he must find the Stones of Fire before VIPER catches and defeats him. A ruthless psychopath known as The Pastor is also intent on recovering the notebook, and Will is not the only double agent.

The action is relentless and the death count high with short chapters and concise, fluent narrative keeping the reader engaged. I became a little frustrated at Will’s reluctance to kill but this adds to the character’s ambiguity which I hope to see developed further in subsequent instalments. Although aimed at young adults, who will likely enjoy the vicarious thrill of out-witting evil adults and solving ancient puzzles, it is an entertaining adventure for any age.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dome Press.

Book Review: Deadly Game

Deadly Game, by Matt Johnson, is the second book in the author’s Robert Finlay series of crime thrillers. I review its predecessor, Wicked Game, here. This latest instalment contains all the intrigue and adrenaline inducing action that made the first book so compelling. It is another ‘just one more chapter’ type of read.

There are a large cast of characters to get to know from the army, police, and intelligence services as well as the victims and bad guys central to the action that unfolds. The theme is one of international sex trafficking but includes an investigation into historical middle eastern terrorist activity, with a potential link to Finlay’s past.

The story opens in Romania where a cold and hungry young village woman is putting herself forward for a lucrative job in the city. This offers an explanation as to how traffickers obtain their human cargo. The action then jumps forward a couple of years to the aftermath of 9/11 and the final report into events recounted in Wicked Game. A job must be found for Finlay who is suffering PTSD. He has crossed the radar of both MI5 and MI6. The police consider him a liability.

To get him back to work Finlay is assigned to a new unit being set up by The Met to investigate European sex trafficking. With no experience in the CID he is not a popular recruit. When one of his first assignments results in the discovery of a murder victim he is able to demonstrate his particular talents. He is also recognised by a suspect which puts him in danger.

The early background and scene setting chapters felt bitty in places but this was soon overcome as the ongoing action and pace of progression ensured reader engagement was grasped and maintained. The twists and turns were masterfully presented engineering doubts over who could be trusted and what their end game might be.

Unlike many in this genre I warmed to the protagonist. There are also a slew of strong female characters, there for their skills rather than for the men to win or save.

A full-flavoured addition to a series that I look forward to following further. This was an immersive and entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Deadly Game Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Deadly Game is published by Orenda Books.

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Book Review: Where Dead Men Meet

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Where Dead Men Meet, by Mark Mills, is a tale of adventure, espionage and dark secrets. Set in 1937 Europe it introduces the reader to Luke Hamilton, a foundling who was adopted by a wealthy British couple and now works as a junior air intelligence officer at the British Embassy in Paris. When an attempt is made on his life it is at first assumed to be a case of mistaken identity. It transpires that little is as it seems.

The story opens with the murder of a nun who is clubbed to death in the English orphanage where Luke spent the first seven years of his life. Over in Paris Luke attends the Exposition Internationale where he is approached by Bernard Fautrier, a man he assumes is trying to trade state secrets. The currency of the moment is information but Luke has been warned by his employers not to become involved.

There then follow a series of assassination attempts which leave an alarming body count and Luke is forced to flea. Unsure who to trust, but aware that he is only alive due to the actions of Fautrier, Luke makes his way to Germany where he makes contact with a young women named Pippi Keller. At first she refuses to believe his story. She and her assossiates work below the radar of the authorities smuggling people and artifacts across the border and away from the Nazis. She has good reason to hate Fautrier.

When an operation is compromised Luke’s life is once again threatened. The action moves through Switzerland and on to Italy. Luke is being pursued by a variety of shady characters intent on his demise. When he finally learns why he realises that Fautrier is right and he has a stark choice – kill or be killed.

The time period is well evoked with the threat of war and the undercurrents of distrust. With the benefit of hindsight it is too easy to judge but at the time there were many who saw potential for gain in the rise of the likes of Mussolini. The treatment of the Jews in Germany released ill-gotten wealth that plenty were eager to benefit from. The persecuted scientists and intellectuals were courted by England and America, aware that their knowledge and abilities could be used to gain national advantage.

Luke is a likeable hero with his vulnerability and reluctant bravery. Pippi is granted a strength that makes her an appealing sidekick. Despite the action and ever present danger there is an old-fashioned gentlemanly feel to the tale. The reader is transported to a fairly recent yet bygone era. An unchallenging but nevertheless enjoyable read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.