When reading Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, I was reminded of something. I couldn’t think what it was when I was reading it, but later I realised: I was reminded of Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Granted, one was in Germany and one in Soviet Russia in the Cold War, but there were striking similarities. The main characters are good guys in a bad world, they live in authoritarian dictatorial nations, but don’t worry, they’re both good guys (that was sarcastic if it didn’t carry). Smith’s first novel reads exactly like Harris, and I’m not convinced if that’s a good thing.
The alternative history genre has bred some shockers, but fear not. Robert Harris’ Fatherland is, quite simply, brilliant. It’s one of my favourite books. Thought provoking and thrilling in near equal measure (well, not really, it’s quite a bit more thrilling with some thought provoking bits thrown in for good measure), it embodies everything that the genre should aspire to, it is surely the pinnacle of the alternative history genre. The fact that there were no good Nazis is challenged, the protagonist Xavier March attempts to get to the bottom of the murder of a leading Nazi.
Picture the scene. 1910. The Royal Navy has been demolished, limping away from a victorious fleet of invaders. German invaders. Hundreds of thousands of Germans land on English soil, as William Le Queux puts it, correct even to the “metaphorical button”. Thousands of German spies in England have cut telegraph cables, blown train lines, and restricted any kind of travel. The novel is a flagship of what has been termed invasion literature, and with a premise like this, what self-respecting Englishman could resist? With a review from Max Hastings, and over a million copies sold, this had the promise of an excellent alternative history read.
I found Rayven T. Hill’s Justice for Hire whilst looking for free Kindle books, (despite there supposedly being no such thing as a free lunch), and initially, I felt this was being proved here. I had thought this would have some element of ‘whodunnit’ in, but was severely mistaken. This was a thriller, there’s no mistaking that from when you start reading. It was a surprisingly good read, particularly for a free book. It wasn’t the best book I’ve read, but it was far from the worst.
Reading modern dystopian thrillers, it is all too easy to forget one of the defining novels of the genre-John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. It is in many ways the perfect example of an overcontrolled world, one in which any ‘deviation’ from what is perceived to be the true image results in expulsion to the ‘Bad Lands’. It is not only a gripping read, but can be read as a criticism of overly controlling religions, a big current issue. It’s a story of many things-of family feuds, of a world which has survived an apocalypse, and most importantly, a story of attempts to survive in a land where regulations stifle difference and diversity.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1885 classicThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the first book I’ve (re)read in my 100 to read challenge. After a somewhat dull start, this really got going, with a brief deceleration towards the end.
The spy thrillerThe Thirty-Nine Steps’ is a truly ageless book. Never out of print-despite first being published 100 years ago-and subject to numerous adaptations for stage and screen: notably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 masterpiece, Buchan’s masterpiece has also been adapted into three other films, and a TV series (though most took great liberties with the plot lines). There are very few books which I would be happy to sit and read once, and read several times more because of the sheer fun of the thing.
I recently found this short novel-a ‘Quick Reads’-whilst looking for some books to dispose of (a sad, bad day). Very much a product from its time-eight years ago-it features David Tennant and Billie Piper (as The Doctor and Rose respectively) from the hit TV show Doctor Who in a book (not an adaptation of any particular episode, simply using the characters from the TV show).
This promised to be good-renowned characters with good background and development already there in the TV show. The first indicator of what is to come is the large font size-I know this is designed to help get people reading more, so aimed at young adult-or younger, but size 14 (or larger) seems to be warning me that the author had to fill pages.
Young-adult author Sophie McKenzie’s latest book is the thrillerThe Set-up, the first novel in The Medusa Project series. Although I found it a real page turner at times, the plot is somewhat under-thought, and the characters often too predictable.
The story being told is that of a boy, Nico, who develops special powers. His reaction and usage of said powers is more than irksome in places, his repeated refusal to listen to any kind of authority, and his naivety detract from the interesting potential of the book, which doesn’t do the decent idea much good.
You can tell which age range this is aimed at. There are the standard characters-confident young bloke, several love interests, nerd, overprotective parents… The simplistic messages-gambling is wrong, those who partake in it must be bad-could be scented from the start, whilst reading it one can tell who the actual ‘baddie’ is a couple of hundred pages before the grand finale-which isn’t really a surprise.