OCTOBER READING: LEE AND ANDREW CHILD, DAVID MARK AND MARY KELIIKOA
My October reading has been on the darker side, although it has been offset by the enjoyable audible version of Richard Osman’s The Bullet That Missed. Set out below are three of my favourite reads from October, so far!
Lee Child is obviously a firm adherent of that old adage ‘when you’re on a good thing, stick to it’, and he does not noticeably change the successful formula of the past 26 Jack Reacher novels with the latest entry, No Plan B, (Bantam, 25 October 2022).
No Plan B is the third of the Reacher books since Lee Child handed over the primary writing role to his brother Andrew (Grant), but the formula has remained very much the same. No Plan B finds Reacher in Gerrardsville, Colorado on his way to a Civil War exhibition when he witnesses a woman being pushed under a bus. The other witnesses say that it was suicide, but Reacher knows better. He sets off after the killer and suddenly finds himself caught up in something very sinister.
The basic premise of No Plan B is very similar to the previous books in the series with Reacher out-numbered and out-gunned in a small, backwater American town and trying to right some wrongs. There are some twists this time around, however, with parts of the story being told from the perspectives of other seemingly unrelated characters: a boy making his way across the country to see a soon-to-be released prisoner, the people running the prison at the centre of the plot, and a hired killer seeking revenge for the death of his son. Along with Reacher’s view, these stories finally converge in a small town in Mississippi, where Reacher uncovers a particularly nasty conspiracy.
Overall, this is a classic Reacher story, with a fast moving plot, an intriguing storyline, plenty of action scenes and the occasional dash of wry humour. The violence is occasionally outlandish, but there are some gritty scenes, including the initial killing. The rationale behind the conspiracy is quite gruesome and the book builds to a typically
well-choreographed finale. There is also the occasional interesting nugget of obscure detail that the Child brothers love to throw in.
No Plan B is as enjoyable as any Reacher novel I have read, and the collaboration between Lee and Andrew Child seems to be progressing smoothly. Reacher’s many fans will not be disappointed with this latest entry in the series.
An enjoyable Four Stars out of Five for Reacher fans!
No Plan B is released in Australia on 25 October 2022.
David Mark’s THE WHISPERING DEAD (Severn House, 6 December 2022), is a nasty little gem of a spy novel that kept me captivated from beginning to end.
I really enjoyed Mark’s THE MAUSOLEUM from a couple of years ago, and THE WHISPERING DEAD continues the adventures of Cordelia Hemlock and Felicity Goose from that book. Whereas THE MAUSOLEUM started out as a regional British murder mystery before morphing into something much more sinister, THE WHISPERING DEAD is quite clearly a spy novel from the beginning. It opens in 2016 with Cordelia, a former Head of MI6, recalling a strange operation that went terribly wrong back in 1982. Cordelia, still finding her way as an Intelligence Officer in 1982, is tasked with meeting her old mentor, the now disgraced Walt, at Highgate Cemetery. Walt wants to expose the dirty going-ons in Guatemala, whereby the British and the Americans are supporting the local brutal dictatorship as a way of stopping the communists from gaining a foothold there. Her superiors want nothing to do with Walt, but Cordelia agrees to loan her place in the north of England for a debrief. It is a decision that gets her in trouble at work and puts her friends, John and Felicity Goose, in grave danger.
This is a very intelligent and quite gripping spy novel that smoothly goes through its paces as the plot weaves its way through several twists and betrayals to the violent ending. The story is told in alternating sections by Cordelia and Felicity, who for most of the book finds herself held captive in a remote farmhouse. This shifting viewpoint works well, and Mark skilfully gives each of the women their own distinctive voice, and uses the different perspectives to deepen the suspense. There is also considerable poignancy and subtlety in his descriptions of the personal lives of Felicity and Cordelia and the depth of their friendship, especially as it relates to their lives in 2016.
The other characters are also very well crafted, including the minor ones, and Mark fleshes them out in interesting ways. The story makes good use of its 1982 setting and there are some nicely described scenes, and some good action, towards the end. Unlike a lot of recent spy fiction it is a relatively slim book and the pacing is good for most of its length.
Interwoven into the story is interesting background material on international politics in 1982 and moving vignettes on the situation in Guatemala. Mark also raises still relevant issues about accountability and morality that add to the depth of the novel.
THE WHISPERING DEAD can be read as a stand-alone novel, but those who have read THE MAUSOLEUM will have greater appreciation of Cordelia’s situation and what she has gone through. A thoroughly enjoyable and moving spy story.
Four to Four and a Half Stars out of Five!
THE WHISPERING DEAD is released in the United Kingdom and the United States on 6 December 2022.
Sub-titled ‘A Misty Pines Mystery’, Mary Keliikoa’s Hidden Pieces (Level Best Books, 25 October 2022) sounds like it is a cosy mystery set in an idyllic location. It is not! Instead Hidden Pieces is a rather dark tale about a missing teenage girl that deals with a series of serious issues, including the effects of trauma, mental illness, childhood cancer and drug use.
The story opens with Sheriff Jax Turner staring down the barrel of his gun. He is determined to end it all due to his despair from the cancer death of his young daughter and the end of his marriage. Then he receives a call that a teenage schoolgirl has disappeared. He puts his gun down and vows to solve this one last case before he carries out his suicide plan.
As Turner tries to find the missing Allison he uncovers links to drug dealing, human trafficking and a murder from years ago. Despite attempted political influence and resistance from the FBI, Turner persists with his search as the clock begins to count down on Allison.
Hidden Pieces is a surprising and very enjoyable crime thriller. The story mainly moves along at a good pace and there are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. Sheriff Turner is a flawed but sympathetic character and he is supported by an interesting and credible group of supporting characters. It is not an action-packed book, but there is enough tension and suspense to keep you reading well into the night. The setting of a small community in the Pacific Northwest of the United States is also well conveyed and convincingly described.
Mary casts around a lot of red herrings and distractions, but the big final twists are relatively easy to pick. One of them also strains credibility a bit. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this all the way down to the final page.
Four Stars out of Five!
Hidden Pieces is released in the United States and the United Kingdom on 25 October 2022.