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Posted by on 5 Apr, 2024 in Crime, Spy Fiction, Thriller | 0 comments



Old spies, mammoths, vampires and lots of snow are the main elements of these three new thrillers by Christopher Reich, Douglas Preston and C. J. Tudor.

Matterhorn by Christopher Reich (Thomas & Mercer, 1 April 2024)

I remember reviewing and enjoying Christopher Reich’s first novel, Numbered Account, when it came out in 1998 and I have liked a lot of his books since, particularly the ‘Rules’ trilogy.

I have only read a couple of his more recent books, and was not overly impressed with Crown Jewel, but was keen to read Matterhorn, (Thomas & Mercer, 1 April 2024), which seemed to be a return to his spy thriller roots.

Robbie Steinhardt lives a peaceful life. A fixture of his small alpine village in Switzerland, he tends cattle, minds his own business, and doesn’t dwell on his former life and the family and lover he left behind, back when he was the CIA agent known as Mac Dekker.

However, when Mac learns that his son, Will, has died following in his footsteps, he needs answers. What mission took Will up into the nearby alpine heights, and why is his old friend, and rival, Ilya Ivashka, on the same trail? Ilya, who framed Mac for treason and sent him into hiding. Wiping away the years, Mac returns to the field to uncover the secrets Will hid, and finds himself facing the desperate task of stopping a terrorist plot that threatens thousands.

This is an easy flowing and highly enjoyable thriller that grabs you in the opening pages and keeps you interested until the end. The pacing is good and there are some well staged action sequences that generate good excitement. The plot flashes back and forth between the present and the events leading up to Mac’s betrayal years ago, and there are plenty of twists and a very unexpected development towards the end.

The characters are pretty thin, but engaging, and it is easy to see Liam Neeson in the central role.

Overall, I thought that Matterhorn was a good, undemanding combination of spies and action that is ideal for a lazy weekend reading. The presence in the same location of all these old friends and enemies at the same time is a bit of a stretch, but not enough to hamper the enjoyment of the book.

Good fun!

Extinction by Douglas Preston (Forge, 26 April 2024)

With Lincoln Child, Douglas Preston is half of the popular thriller writing team responsible for the Pendergast and Nora Kelly books. He has also written some very good solo thrillers, including the excellent Tyrannosaur Canyon from a few years back.

His latest, Extinction (Forge, 26 April 2024), is another very enjoyable read that combines Michael Crichton style thrills with a heavy of dose of clever science. In many ways it is Jurassic Park revisited, but with more science and mammoths!

Erebus Resort, occupying a magnificent, hundred-thousand acre valley deep in the Colorado Rockies, offers guests the experience of viewing woolly mammoths, Irish Elk, and giant ground sloths in their native habitat. Brought back from extinction through the magic of genetic manipulation, the animals offer a safe way to view an earlier way of life. When a billionaire’s son and his new wife are kidnapped, and murdered, in the Erebus back country by what is assumed to be a gang of eco-terrorists, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash and county sheriff James Colcord are sent in to track down the perpetrators, without disturbing the guests.

As the killings mount, and the valley is evacuated, Cash and Colcord must confront an ancient, intelligent, and malevolent presence at Erebus, bent not on resurrection, but extinction.

Preston has an easy flowing writing style that smoothly integrates simple to understand science into a fast moving plot. The story gets off to a good start and there is enough action, mystery and uncertainty to keep it moving along at a good pace. The characters are simple, but effective, and the central pairing of Cash and Colcord are very engaging, and more nuanced than the rest of the cast.

The early action scenes generate some good excitement, and while it is relatively easy to guess where the plot is going, Preston introduces several twists to keep it interesting.

Some suspension of disbelief is required, especially around aspects of the central conceit, but it is very easy to settle back and enjoy. A thoroughly enjoyable science thriller.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an early copy of Extinction to review.

The Gathering by C. J. Tudor (Michael Joseph, 16 April 2024)

Much darker in tone than the Reich and Preston books is the latest horror thriller by C. J. Tudor, The Gathering (Michael Joseph, 16 April 2024).

Tudor established herself as a leading author of dark suspense novels with her first two books, The Chalk Man and The Taking Of Annie Thorne, and she has built on that reputation with a succession of creepy tales that stretch the boundaries of crime fiction. I recently got around to reading her post-apocalyptic thriller The Drift, and could not put it down.

The Gathering also ventures into the horror realm and is probably best described as a murder mystery with vampires!

The story is set in Deadhart, which is a very small Alaskan town with a population of only 673 living souls. The murdered body of a teenage boy has been found in the woods and the locals are quick to blame the nearby colony of vampires. The boy’s throat has been ripped out and his body drained of blood in a way that echoes a murder that transpired 25 years before.

Barbara Atkins, a vampire anthropologist and detective, is sent to Deadhart to investigate the killing. Her findings will determine if the human members of Deadhart can take action against the vampire community. The town’s inhabitants are itching for revenge and they are eager to coerce Barbara into granting consent for a “cull,” an act that would sanction the massacre of the remaining Colony members. Barbara is not certain that the killing is that simple and the tension steadily mounts with every new revelation.

This is a gripping novel that is also an intense exploration of hatred, racism, prejudice and the fear of the unknown. The story moves along briskly, and the focus on the murder investigation works well. The characters are well developed, especially the “middle-aged and overweight”, but astute and formidable Barbara. Like all good detectives, she has a dark presence and a few secrets in her background, but also a determination to do the right thing. Barbara provides the central viewpoint, but Tudor also regularly shifts the perspective to others, including Athelinda, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of a 9-year-old girl, which adds to the mystery and the suspense.

The plotting is clever, and I really liked how Tudor skilfully weaved in the vampire elements of her story in a subtle, but effective way. There is no massive dump of information, but instead Tudor steadily builds up the frame of her alternative world brick by brick, without slowing the pace or distracting from the murder mystery. I particularly liked the small details, the use of Van Helsing tattoos to signal allegiance to the anti-vampyr cause and the grisly vampyr hunting trophies kept on the walls by some locals:

“The walls (of a local bar) were decorated with antique guns, animal heads plus old photos of the town and residents. Behind the bar there were other mementoes. Large crosses, wooden stakes, and a case of long, yellowed incisors. The beer pumps had handles made out of humerus bones. Antique, she guess

Overall, The Gathering is a very atmospheric and gripping crime thriller that will hold your attention to the bloody and surprising conclusion. The vampire elements may be off-putting to some, but in essence The Gathering is a good mystery and the supernatural aspects do not distract from what is a very entertaining crime novel. It is also a timely reminder of the dangers of prejudice, and the ease in which communities can be misled by those who play to people’s weaker sides.

Thanks to the publishers for a copy of the book for review.

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