Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Phantom, by Jo Nesbo

Phantom is the first Harry Hole and the first Jo Nesbo novel I’ve read. He lives up to the hype. Nordic crime fiction seems to share a sort of dark and moody atmosphere. Nesbo has that too, but he also has more action and intensity than some of the other Nordic novelists I’ve read. Having not read any Harry Hole books before, I felt I was able to pick up on the character and his background rather quickly. Reading earlier novels in the series would be helpful and perhaps enrich the experience, but it is not necessary to read them in order to enjoy this book..

Harry Hole is an outstanding character. Dark, brooding, and trapped by his policeman nature that doesn’t allow him to pursue his own happiness. He recognizes that there are any number of choices along the way, but he always picks the one that drags him in deeper and leads him closer to the truth.

Nesbo paints a grim and unforgiving picture of Oslo and particularly the drug scene there. Harry Hole’s outlook is nearly as dark. He knows he has a blind spot for Rakel and Oleg, the woman he left behind and her son, but he fights through it to find the truth behind the murder Oleg has been accused of. His own alcoholic past leaves him few friends among his former police colleagues upon whom he can rely. Where others are willing to accept easy answers, Harry keeps pushing, no matter the personal cost.

Phantom is an intense book, and the last half of the book rushes at you with a series of twists and turns that keeps you guessing and a shocking ending that will stick with you long after you put the book down. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book

Say You're Sorry, by Michael Robotham

Say You’re Sorry is another great book from Michael Robotham. I don’t know if there is anyone writing today who writes characters better. What makes them so special is that they face their own particular situations, no matter how horrifying, not with despair but with resignation. Almost as if they deserve it. It is not the physical scars that these characters bear, but the emotional ones that will wrench your heart. 

Alternating narration from O’Loughlin in the present and a victim in the form of a diary tethers the past to the present and keeps alive both a sense of hope and a sense of dread. Robotham doesn’t let you remain detached. You feel for these characters and you become emotionally invested. 

Joe O’Loughlin is a unique hero. His physical ailments prevent him from being a conventional action hero, but his powerful mind is wonderful to observe. He peels back layers and secrets with extraordinary observations and probes areas that most people would rather stay hidden. His intense sympathy for the victims or the wrongly accused give him a determination to succeed that often comes at great personal expense. He is an outstanding character.

A close reading isn’t necessary to thoroughly enjoy this book, but it is rewarded. Nearly everything is significant in one way or another. Saying that a book grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go has become cliche, but Micahel Robotham has a way of making you identify so strongly with his characters that you can’t help but care about them. 

Out of some 40 plus books I’ve read this year, I have rated three of them as 5 stars. Michael Robotham has written 2 of them. He’s moved to the top of my must read list. Highly recommended. I was fortunate to receive an early review copy of this book. 

The Blood Gospel, by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

I’ve long been a fan of James Rollins’ work, and his collaboration with Rebecca Cantrell on The Blood Gospel has produced one of his best books yet.

Take a really interesting idea, add some great characters and a lot of action and you wind up with a very fun and entertaining book.  This book has exoctic locales, from Israel to Italy and Germany to Russia, as well as events spanning from biblical times all the way to the present.

I’ve enjoyed Rollins for his great action, which this book has, but the addition of the supernatural elements and greater depth of characterization here I have to attribute to Cantrell.  It’s a collaboration that really seems to work.  Rollins and Cantrell quickly boil the cast down to three central and engaging characters.  Each has a backstory, parts of which are revealed as the novel progresses.  Fascinating supporting characters are folded in throughout the story.  There are a number of “whoa” moments as some of these characters and events are revealed.

Part of the thrill of The Blood Gospel is the taking of events which most people are familiar with and putting a new interpretation on them which leads to chilling consequences if the heroes aren’t able to overcome them.  The balancing act which is done so well here is to tell a thrilling story that keeps charging ahead, while also setting the stage for future books in the series with a world and characters that have so much left to explore.

Rollins and Cantrell have created a huge world and reality to explore and I can’t wait to read more adventures in it.  Highly recommended.  I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Project Nemesis (A Kaiju Thriller) by Jeremy Robinson

Project Nemesis is a throwback and homage to monster books and movies from years ago as well as a brand new direction for giant monsters, or Kaiju.  Either way it is a lot of fun and a nice light entertaining read.

Project Nemesis keeps the mix just about right.  You’ve got enough character depth to keep you rooting for or against the heroes and villains along with the right amount of monster description and scenes of death, destruction and general rampage to keep the pages flying and the stakes increasing.  The good guys are a little too good and nearly indestructible, and the bad guys a little too evil and indestructible, but that’s kind of the point.  The goal here, I think, is not so much believability as plausibility.  

Robinson keeps the danger and the action ramping up throughout.  The heroes, Hudson and Collins grow as well while they must stay ahead not only of the beast, but its creators.  It all combines to keep the pages flying.  This is escapist fun at its best.