REES GOES HUNTING OUTSIDE HIS ROM-COMFORT ZONE

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Hunted cvrWhen I see Sam Bourne‘s name on the front cover of a thriller, there’s usually two reasons it’s there. one he’s written it and two his names been placed on to boost it’s appeal to the majority of male readers who at a glance think it’s a Jason Bourne book and envisage Matt Damon jumping through windows and high kicking and shooting is way across the globe.

The book I discovered it on was the new thriller, Hunted – Time to Run, by Emlyn Rees. This isn’t Rees first book he’s written seven comedies with his partner Josie Lloyd before this, most well known is Come Together, Prior to that he’d published his first novel The Book of Dead Authors in 1997 and Undertow two years later.

Hunted introduces us to Danny Shanklin an ex soldier who now earns a living as a mercenary. He wakes up in a hotel room in London with a high-powered rifle in his hands and the body of a faceless dead man at his feet. Outside the open window he hears sirens and on looking out he discovers a street littered with bodies and a burning car.

Realizing it’s a set up and the police will be here in minutes and with the evidence being a tad weighted against him, he realizes he has to get out and clear his name. But that’s not very easy in a city with 500,000 CCTV cameras and 33,000 policemen. His only ally is his techie friend “the Kid”; with his help can he clear his name while out-running the arm of the law and its ever widening human and electronic net.

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Shanklin is a character straight out of central casting and the only thing that separates him from Jason Bourne is a slight age gap. This story is more like an extended episode of 24 and Kiefer Sutherland would probably look quite good in the lead.

I came across Hunted while passing through Dublin airport recently, It’s wasn’t Sam Bourne’s resounding commendation that drew my attention to it. But the tagline on the books back, which proclaimed that “The biggest manhunt in history is just beginning”.

Rees delivers a pacy thriller, which comes as a surprise for a chap whose been writing romcom – chick lit for the past ten years. The locations and back story sound rather over romanticized, at times the book does feel as if it’s following a well worn path in the thriller genre and that Rees is thriller writing by numbers.

 Let this not detract from a good read which has an excellent twist emlyn-rees-author-picnear the end, and speaking of endings this isn’t a one off, the sequel Wanted will be out in 2012. If Rees keeps up with the snappy single verb titled books, he’ll enter Jeff Abbott territory and may even have him looking over his shoulder very soon.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2011)

A MARRIAGE MADE IN THE BREAKERS YARD, WHICH SHOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT IT

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amateur marrge cvrAnne Tyler is a rather reserved almost reclusive type of author, she never gives interviews. But according to the Irish author Roddy Doyle she’s one of the greatest authors writing in English. So the blurb on the inside of her 2004 book The Amateur Marriage claims.

Having just read it I can only describe the book as like watching a train crash into a car on a level crossing, while bound and gagged. You want to scream and shout at the occupants of the car or get free and help them or warn the train. Then on top of that you’re forced to watch re runs of the event over sand over again.
The story revolves around a Baltimore couple Michael and Pauline who meet up at the outbreak the Second World War and then decide on a whim to get married. the book follows their mismatched almost cringe worthy marriage through the trial and tribulations of the early days right through the raising of their brood and the way they handle the tragedy that befalls it and the fallout from it, right up the to their realization that it’s a sham.

The book is well researched and the story telling quite realistic, but it is let down by the sudden leaps forward in time, which leave you regularly trying to catch up and wonder who, why and what has happened. Okay, so it moves the story on but gets rather annoying when you are getting into a storyline in a certain part of their life only to ripped out and dumped unceremoniously without the aid of a Delorean or a Tardis into the future.

Generally Michael is given the lions-share of the action, but he is a shallow cuckolded mummy’s boy. Who comes across as a cretin and set in his ways. While Pauline is presented as a down trodden stuck in a rut wife who should have ran screaming from this relationship after two years and not acted the martyr for thirty; she is then air brushed out of the book halfway through, her passing consigned to a two line explanation as if Tyler couldn’t be bothered to wrap up her character properly, but rather just remembered to end her life and registered it in a two line foot note.

Anne Tyler

The book starts of slowly and the then picks up with the disappearance of the eldest daughter Lindy, but then sort of just winds down to a lazy dead end at the conclusion, leading me to suspect Tyler is a lazy writer.

At a recent book group meeting we were asked would we recommend this book to anyone? I replied only as a marriage guidance aid.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2011)

MAKING A BIG AFFAIR OUT OF A LITERARY LUNCH

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The_Affair cvrI met a friend the other day for lunch in the centre of Dublin, we’ve known each other for about ten years as a result of  meeting through a mutual friend. Over that time the three of us have got together once a year for a week or so, where we have a laugh and a bit of an adventure .

As I was waiting to meet him, I started to wonder what’s best way to greet a friend like this, one that you see occasionally, that you know more about then he knows about you . Also as well as that I was wondering what I’d ask him to write on the inside of his latest book.

Do I run up to him and say “Lee!!!!!!! I’m your biggest fan…” No, that would make me look like a whimsically starry-eyed school girl.

Should I shake his hand and say, “Mr Child I love your work, I think Jack’s great..” No, I’m a forty year old man, who doesn’t run down the street with a tatty autograph book attempting to score pseudo points among his fellow groupies, by trying bag the biggest celebrity autograph they can get within touching distance of.

I’ve often watched the black and white footage of the days of beatle mania and wondered why all those girls got themselves into such a state of  hysteria. Do we live in a different era? No, people still swoon and go mad over pop stars of today, such as Jacko, Rihanna, the X Factor contestants…. But not to the extent as back then.

Why? Deep down they’re human beings just like us, most of these people don’t see anything out of the ordinary about what they do, they know they have a talent and just love doing what they do. Whether it’s singing, writing or acting.

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For my lunch meeting with Lee Child, the creator of the Jack Reacher novels, things were rather more sedate. The biggest worry on the two girls behind me in the queue, wasn’t a fear of wetting themselves or losing consciousness on meeting him. But would they make it back in time to work after lunch.

Other fears in the queue were the dreadful news that Tom Cruise has stupidly lined himself up to play the  6′ 5 ex military policeman in the film adaptation of One Shot, the ninth book in the series. Which is supposedly in production. Word is Cruise’s production company bought the rights and thus he gets to play the lead…. It’s akin to Jason Statham playing Tom Thumb. One contributor on the Reacher Facebook page suggested that if the casting of Cruise went ahead the rest of the cast would have to be played by midgets.

Meeting an author in the flesh is a bit like meeting a radio presenter you’ve never seen before, you’ve read his words or have heard them through your voice. so you can be a little let down by the person who meets you. They say radio presenters have a face for radio,  in the case of Lee Child he has the good looks  of a tv presenter – ironic as in a former life he worked in television and bares a striking resemblance to a younger  Roger Moore.

Then it came time for me to approach Lee, I walked up to him and politely said “love the books and keep up the good work“. I then asked him to write a birthday dedication to my partner in a copy of his first book Killing Floor. She’s about to become another one of many women who lust after the  fictional military giant. While I was queuing out in the street a chap in front of me pointed out  that the demographics of the people ahead and behind us was typically young to middle age men, but as we progressed into the shop I saw that ratio change to become a healthy fifty fifty if not sixty forty in favour of the women.

The reason Lee Child was in Dublin this week was to sign copies of his latest Reacher book, The Affair. This is the fifteenth book in the series and is set six months before the first book killing Floor. Reacher is still in the Military and is dispatched  undercover to a small two horse town in Mississippi called Carter Crossing where a woman has been murdered, the reason they’ve sent Reacher is there’s a large army base just up road and the fear is the murderer maybe a soldier.

On arriving in Carter Crossing, Reacher discovers this isn’t the only murder to befall the town and sets out with the help of the stunning local sheriff and ex marine Elizabeth Deveraux to  unravel the connection with this and the other murders, while trying to overcome resistance from inside the base and the pentagon, that will set him on a collision course with his masters and explains the reasons behind Jack’s future as a drifter.

This is a another fantastic read from one of the worlds best thriller writers, and an inspiring way to give his previous books a complete and  thrilling back story. The coffee drinking hard man, who shares his taste for black coffee with Child is on top no nonsense form mixed as ever with a bond like ability to get down and dirty with the leading lady in every book to date.

As for making it back in time to the office after lunch. I did and thetom cruise birthday dedication went down a treat, I look forward to hooking up with my two literary friends again next year. As for going to see Tom Cruise as Reacher, I may join the other die hard fans and stay away, unless as I stated on the Reacher facebook page Statham  or someone else of equal stature is cast as the replacement to Cruise.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2011)

GROGAN AND MARLEY DELIVER LAUGHTER AND TEARS AS THE CAMERAS ROLL

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The cover of the book "Marley and Me; Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog ."In this time of financial turmoil and job uncertainty, I’m glad there are still things that can make me go aaaaah. Like seeing someone do something unselfish, a loved one whispering in your ear, that they love you. Cute kittens or as in this case a Labrador puppy looking longingly at you from the cover of a book.

The book in question is Marley and Me by John Grogan, the marketing Dept. must have wet themselves with delight when presented with it. What Iconic song melts most people’s hearts when they hear it? Yep, “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window”. So slap a picture of a puppy on a book cover, shove it in a window and it’ll bound out the door. Look at the Andrex puppies, we’re suckers for a furry face and black wet nose. Well Most of us anyway, some tire of it by the 26th of December.

The book tells the true story of Marley, a Labrador pup purchased by the Grogan’s as a young married couple and the impact he has on their lives. It follows mainly the relationship between Grogan and the dog with Cameos by his wife and later the kids. From Marley’s bull in a china shop approach to going around the house, his expulsion from obedience class and his constant fear of thunderstorms, not very helpful considering they live in Florida where thunderstorms are a regular occurrence.

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The book is a riotously funny read, it had people giving me strange looks on the train as I chuckled at our six-legged heroes antics. But it also eventually tugs at the heartstrings. This goes without saying, Rule no.1 of writing animal books, If you can’t make the reader cry, stop. Grogan’s masterpiece has put him up there with the likes of James Herriot and the creator of lassie.

It’s not a new book, but I selected it for my book group after seeing a teaser trailer for the movie starring Jennifer Anniston and Owen Wilson, which is due out Christmas 2008, another winner for the marley_and_me flm pstermarketing dept and a busy month for the animal shelters.

If you’re someone who owns a dog or has in the past shared a life with one, then like me you’ll find a lot in common with Grogan and the ever-loveable Marley… But remember a dog is for life, not just the weekend.

(First published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2009)

I’M NOT SCARED OF GIVING THIS ITALIAN A RED CARD

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I'm Not ScaredWhat do Italy, The Lord Of The Flies, The Blair Witch Project and some dodgy translation have to do with this month’s book review? A lot as it happens, and I’m not just referring to the plot. Well not all of it anyway.

I’m Not Scared” is Niccolo Ammanati’s third book to be translated, published in 2001 it was made into an Italian film in 2003. His previous books include “Branchie” and “Fango”, which were also made into films.

“I’m Not Scared”, tells the story of Michele a 9-year-old boy growing up in a one-dog hamlet in southern Italy. On a hot summers day he and his friends stumble upon a dilapidated old house into which Michele is forced to enter as a forfeit for having come last in an earlier game. Inside he discovers a boy held captive in a hole. Unsure who he can tell, he keeps the secret to himself and strikes up a mono syllabic friendship; while returning to feed the captive and also discover the identity of the captors. At least one member of the village is involved, the local Yob. Are some of his own family involved too and what part does the stranger from the north who comes to stay in his house and sleep his room play in this?

The others in the book group thought it was great and likened it to Golding’s “ The Lord Of the Flies”. I had to protest, as I’d read that book in school and there was no comparison. The Lord of The Flies had thrilled me from beginning to end, especially the climax – The dramatic pursuit of Ralph across the island by Jack and his tribe, often left me breathless. While “I’m Not Scared” left me wondering why they bothered to translate it all.

“Sucks you in like the Blair Witch Project”, it screamed at me from the cover. That movie was scary the first time round, after discovering it was a work of fiction I haven’t watched it since. This book is a complete work of fiction from the start and no matter how many times I read it I could get more engrossed in an empty Chianti bottle.

So you get the feeling I didn’t like Ammaniti’s offering. Okay, so the niccolo-ammanitichildish narrative and speech, especially the dialogue between Michele and his sister, were quirky and spot on. But references to Scotch tape, and other very English and un-Italian like products. Helped the translation stick out as being obviously done by someone with more experience of Bangers and Mash then Cabonara.

The book did bring back memories of an idyllic week I spent in Tuscany a couple of years ago, but that’s about all.

(First published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2009)

HOSSEINI GIVES US ANOTHER ILLUMINATING STORY FROM AFGHANISTAN

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sandy-gallFor the past thirty years of my life one country has regularly popped up in the news, from watching Sir Sandy Gall’s regular reports for ITN, dug in with the Mujahideen. Through the rise of despotic Taliban and Ross Kemps highly acclaimed TV series for Sky and even to this week with the bombing of the Pearl hotel in Peshawar. Afghanistan stands out like a proverbial bad penny, even in the past month I have read two books with an Afghan link or theme and even today I started another with a central connection to this troubled land.

The second of those books was Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. Coming on the back of it’s hugely successful predecessor “The Kite Runner”, it follows the lives of two women Mariam a girl ostracised with her mother Nana from her home town of Herat because she is a “Harami” illegitimate. Her father Jahlil is a successful local businessman, who visits them regularly and a_thousand_splendid_sunspromises Mariam he’ll take her to his cinema to fulfil her dreams of watching Pinocchio with her half brothers and sisters. One day she goes into Herat after Jahlil stands her up and when he won’t come to the door of his house she sleeps on the doorstep, on her return home next day she finds Nana has committed suicide, thinking Mariam deserted her. Jahlil takes her in but shortly after through the machinations of his two wives, the fifteen-year-old Mariam is hastily married off to Rasheed a forty five year old shoemaker from Kabul. In Kabul she endures Rasheed’s constant putdowns, criticisms and violent behaviour and is forced to wear a Burqa. Across the street Lailia is the youngest daughter of a college lecturer, her brothers are killed by the Mujahideen and the result sends her mother over the edge, she becomes the mainstay that holds the house together, while her close friendship with her best friend Tariq develops. When the Civil war reaches Kabul, she has to cope with the death of another close friend and the departure of Tariq with his parents and shortly afterwards her parents are killed when a rocket hits their house just as they are preparing to leave. Taken in and cared for Rasheed and Mariam, Lailia hides a secret, which she eventually uses to her own gain.

The book follows the two women’s struggle against the Taliban’s suffocating rules and the male dominated society. Some of the scenes are almost hilarious were it not the truth of what is actually going on. Together they discover that the hatred they initially had for each other will eventually bond them to over come the day-to-day challenges of the world inside and outside their home.

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Hosseini’s writing is very descriptive and has you almost tasting the heat and sand of this war torn country. He doesn’t skim over the story in simple English but has the prose pockmarked with the different dialects. The violence of the story is on a par with what we have come to accept from Afghanistan, but even so it is brutal and leaves you in no doubt that he has done more then just watch related news stories over years.

At a recent meeting of my book group it was suggested by one reader that the ending was a rather contrived one for Hollywood. To me I have to disagree, the ending is well rounded and helped dilute the melancholy feeling that had washed over me through the last part of the book. Despite that this is a great read that’ll stick with you longer then most summer airport purchases.

(Previously published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2009)

REICHS MAKES NO BONES ABOUT HER PLACE AT THE TOP

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Bones to Ashes cvrThey say “you should never mix business with pleasure”. This doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Kathy Reichs. By day she’s a respected Forensic Anthropologist in both North Carolina and Quebec and by night she’s the best selling author of nine books featuring her heroine Temperance Brennan. Not forgetting, also being the executive producer of the highly acclaimed TV series “Bones”. God where does she find time to work 9-5 let alone get eight hours sleep!!!

Her latest book is Bones to Ashes. It’s begins with Tempe relating the sudden disappearance of Evangeline Landry when they were both kids, growing up in North Carolina. Evangeline originally came from Tracadie in New Brunswick, Canada. Push forward to the present where Tempe is a forensic Anthropologist for the Coroner in Quebec, when the body of a fourteen-year-old girl, who appears to have been dead for a number of years is reluctantly handed over to her by the coroner in Tracadie. Is this her long lost childhood friend? Or are they ancient burial bones as the coroner is so eager to write them off as. On top of that, her erratic love life takes a sudden downward spiral when her long-term boyfriend, Detective Andrew Ryan decides to dump her. But still requests her help on a number of missing children cases (finally a character I can relate to in the romance stakes). Reeling from the train wreck of her relationship, her sister Harriet flies in with moral support and they both re-enact a similar search for Evangeline they embarked on all those years ago as kids. But this time the consequences and what they discover will threaten both their lives and Tempe’s professional one.

The book is pacey and well researched, the dialogue between the central characters lively and Tempe’s own inner thoughts are witty, coming straight from the hip. As with the previous books there is a healthy smattering of French all the way through, which adds a nice dimension and really brings the Québec inhabitants to life. Thus putting the series above the norm for this style of Thriller.

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Writers are told to write about what they know and this is where Reichs has succeeded. It’s amazing to think that a little under ten years ago, the undisputed queen of slicem-and-dicem’s was Patricia Cornwell. That was until Kathy came on the scene. She hasn’t just left Cornwell behind, but signed her toe tag too. It shows in her cutting-edge medical knowledge and scapel sharp attention to detail. That this is written by a professional not the local coroners IT administrator.

I definitely recommend this book, but be warned have a bowl of Prof. Marie Cassidyoranges or a bottle of high strength vitamin pills nearby. The workload of both these women factually and fictionally will have you feeling run down after the first couple of pages. Me I’ll watch the boxette of “Bones” season two, while awaiting Prof. Marie Cassidy (Irish State Pathologist) to step up to the plate..

(first published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  in 2009)