Monday, 29 August 2016
Title: Dark Lake (Matthew Shardlake Book 2)
Author: C.J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Mystery
The Book Depository
“Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is the 2nd novel in his “Matthew Shardlake” series of historical mystery novels. In this novel, the hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake is asked to defend a young lady who is accused of murdering her cousin. The case is difficult enough but his client is also refusing to speak and if she doesn’t make a plea at court, she will be forced to face the “Press” which is a rather unpleasant torture device. However, he is soon offered a reprieve and is given two weeks to investigate the case on the proviso that he carries out a job for Lord Cromwell. Unfortunately, no job for Cromwell is without its own risks.
As with “Dissolution”, the previous book in the series I found this novel to be written in an intelligent and competent manner. The pace starts off quite slowly but as the story progresses the pacing picks up and it becomes harder and harder to put the book down. The description of 16th century London is also exquisite and I could easily envisage the Tudor world, both in look and culture. But what really worked here is that Sansom manages to showcase this period without getting distracted from the actual art of storytelling. It never feels dry or boring; I was quite simply entertained from start to finish.
The characters themselves are realistic and varied, with a level of depth that it is quite impressive. Shardlake himself has mellowed somewhat since the events of the first novel and despite some of his viewpoints still being outside the norm for a contemporary person, his intelligence, modesty and honesty will still endear him to the reader, especially when you consider the world in which he inhabits appears to be lacking in these values. I also loved his new acquaintance, John Barak, a brash young man who works for Cromwell and provides a wonderful partner for Shardlake. I really hope to see more of Barak in future novels as I look forward to seeing how his relationship with Shardlake develops.
Overall, I found this to be another enjoyable and interesting mystery novel that provides both an entertaining plotline and a vivid image of Tudor London. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series as I expect it to be just as entertaining as the previous two novels, but also because I am beginning to really love the characters of Shardlake and Barak and want to see how they further develop.
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
Title: Captain to Captain
Author: Greg Cox
The Book Depository
“Captain To Captain” is the first book in the “Legacies” series of novels which are being written to mark the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. The novel is split across two time periods, in 2267 Captain Una (aka Number One from the pilot episode The Cage) visits the Enterprise on a supposedly social call, but soon steals an artefact known as “The Key” in order to complete a personal mission. The reason for this mission is explained by a flashback to 2249 in which the Enterprise, under the command of Captain Robert April discovers a race of creatures known as the Jatohr who have come from an alternate universe via the Key technology. Una and her away team are forced to find a way to deal with the Jatohr before they can use their technology against the Federation and the entire Universe.
The story is well written and nicely paced with overall drama of the story being complemented by a few entertaining action scenes. What I liked about the 2249 period is that beyond Una and Captain April themselves I had no idea who would live or die from the Enterprise’s crew which added to the drama. I also felt that Cox has done well in capturing the characters and in particular I found the adjustment of Number One's name to "Una" to be quite plausible.
One thing which was a bit surprising to me is that so much of the book was focused on Una (Number One) rather than the regular main characters. Whilst I was more than happy to learn a bit more about that enigmatic character, it wasn’t really what I would have expected from a book celebrating 50 years of Star Trek. Yes, many Trek fans will probably like this exploration of character that was cast aside after the first pilot episode, but for the more casual fans I suspect it would have better to create a story that gave more of a central role to Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
The ending itself was also a little bit disappointing as it didn’t really close any of the open plot points. I understand it is a series but the new twist revealed at the end would have been enough of a cliff-hanger to keep people wanting to read more. Instead I am a bit annoyed that there are new plot lines being brought into the story even when we still have plenty of others ones left open.
Overall, despite my minor issues, this was still an enjoyable and entertaining Star Trek novel. From my point of view, I enjoyed learning more about Number One although I do understand that for some fans the side-lining of Kirk et al won’t be popular. The lack of closure evident at the ending was irritating but the additional twist revealed has nicely set up the next novel in the series “Best Defense”.
Monday, 1 August 2016
Title: The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (The Stainless Steel Rat Book 4)
Author: Harry Harrison
“The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!” is the fourth instalment in Harry Harrison’s amusing and at times quite ridiculous science-fiction series entitled “The Stainless Steel Rat”. If you have read any of the other novels in the series, then you will know the drill by now. Slippery Jim DiGriz is a con artist who’s been forced to work undercover for the Special Corps, an intergalactic investigating agency. When his wife is kidnapped by the revenue service, Slippery Jim picks up his two teenage sons from their military boarding school (and penitentiary) to free their mother and wreak havoc on the tax bureau. As is often the case with his adventures, this escapade leads to Jim finding himself commandeered to save humanity from galaxy-wide destruction.
Up until this point, Harrison’s series has been devoid of aliens which is remedied in this novel. And by remedied, I mean he overwhelms the Universe with an invasion of countless different slimy, tentacled creatures, all improbably banded together against us, united in their hatred and disgust for just how ugly we look. Honestly, I think he tried to cover every B-movie alien he could; he really did make up for his previously human centric Universe!
In regards to the writing itself, well it is fast paced and full of many witty and humourous moments, just like the other novels in the series. At times it did feel a little bit like Harrison was running out of new ideas however as the basic frame work of the plot is very similar to the other novels. And don’t get me started on the use of time travel again; I seriously think this gimmick is getting overused. The resolution’s also a little convenient, but it is in keeping with the tone of the novel so it didn’t bother me that much.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still an enjoyable romp and I probably liked this one more than the previous novel “The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World”. However, it is just more of the same and there is probably only so many times you can enjoy following these parodies of golden age sci-fi novels before beginning to get a little bored.
Overall, this is another entertaining novel in “The Stainless Steel Rat” series that should appeal to those of you have who have already read the previous novels. Yes, the books are beginning to feel a bit samey but Slippery Jim DiGriz continues to be an enjoyable and engaging character who keeps drawing me back into his world, even if the originality is now slightly lacking.