Saturday 14 November 2009

Book Reviews

The Scarpetta Factor
Patricia Cornwell
Little, Brown Book Group
Available now, RRP £18.99
Review by Rob Wade

Kay Scarpetta is feeling the effects of the credit crunch as much as anyone, and is forced to do part-time contributory work for CNN, appearing as a consultant for their crime TV show. On the air, the host blindsides her with questions about an ongoing investigation into a missing celebrity. During the broadcast, Scarpetta receives a strange call-in from a former patient of her husband, acclaimed psychologist Dr. Benton Wesley. All these events seem innocuous enough, but soon Scarpetta finds herself embroiled in a deadly game that puts the resources of her and those she care about in jeopardy.

The Scarpetta Factor is the seventeenth book in the Kay Scarpetta series, among the most recognised of all crime fiction series. I personally was amazed that the series has had SEVENTEEN novels. Patricia Cornwell is heralded as one of the most gifted writers in crime fiction. It has to be said that until I read this book, the only experience I had with Cornwell's work was through her non-fiction book on Jack the Ripper, as part of a comedy show with my co-creator Brad Harmer. I took issue with this book, as I believed it to be particularly inaccurate. However, fiction is something else entirely, so I approached this with an open mind. I'd heard a lot of good things about the Scarpetta series, so I was hopeful that this would be a good novel.

I was not disappointed, you'll be pleased to know. This novel, being the seventeenth in the series, understandably takes it for granted that you are familiar with the characters in the series, from Scarpetta herself all the way to the supporting NYPD detectives on the taskforce that seems to inevitably end up being roped into her cases.

I like the way crime fiction has gone these past few years, with the popularity of shows like CSI causing crime fiction writers to either take a very Hollywood-style approach or do as Cornwell does and write from a more realistic point of view. Cornwell's approach is to depict a realistic New York, full of post-9/11 paranoia and criminalists complaining about how difficult their job has become since, ironically, the success of shows like CSI.

The book is a good one, no doubt about it. The story's good, the characters are sufficiently fleshed out to allow you to envisage them fairly easily, and everything about the book is tidy and well organised.

Everything, that is, except the end. Despite the really good pacing throughout the story, I felt the ending was really rushed and didn't really give the reader enough time to digest all the information that was being distributed by Cornwell. As an analogy, imagine if the last twenty minutes of an action film was squished into seventeen seconds and you're along the right lines.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Plenty of violence being talked about, but not really that much actually depicted in the pages directly.
Sex/Nudity : Only really implied, nothing actually gets talked about in any depth.
Swearing : A fair amount, lots of "fuck"s and "shit"s.
Summary: Cornwell is well known for being a master of crime fiction, and she certainly demonstrates it here. A strong crime fiction thriller, with a solid storyline and well established characters. Despite a rushed ending, this book doesn't disappoint. Recommended reading for the crime fiction enthuasiast. 8/10

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt
Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo
Dark Horse Comics

Currently Running
Review by Blake Harmer

For me, Hellboy is one of my favourite comic book heroes. The artwork is fantastic, the story telling is wonderful, with a lot of the stories showing a little bit more into Hellboy’s past and revealing more and more about him. My favourite thing about Hellboy though, is that whilst his heart is in the right place, he is a slightly shonky hero in comparison to the more traditional heroes that you would see in Marvel or DC comics. Hellboy is likely to defeat the monster he is facing, but he is even more likely to take a huge beating before he beats them. Chuck in his wisecracking nature and you have an excellent superhero that stands out from the crowd.

The newest story The Wild Hunt finds Hellboy taking part in a old tradition in the hunting and killing of giants that have risen up to reclaim the land that belongs to them. However, Hellboy soon finds out that there is more to the uprising than meets the eye and that there is a huge war about to take place between the evil forces of myth and legend such as witches and fairy folk, and mankind, and it is up to Hellboy to try and stop it.

The story is very entertaining and reveals a lot more about Hellboy’s parents, something that is only mentioned in the short story The Chained Coffin. It also gives more background to some of the other enemies that Hellboy has previously faced, especially those found in The Corpse. The story telling is tight, as can be expected from Mike Mignola, and as mentioned before the artwork is still brilliant.

However, the only downside to the story is that it isn’t for newcomers. I highly recommend that you have a fairly decent knowledge about Hellboy’s comic book adventures as there are a lot of references to previous stories, which although they aren’t hugely necessary to the enjoyment of the comic, contribute largely to the overall enjoyment.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Plenty of violence as Hellboy tackles giants and other monsters in the manner he does best…punching them very hard with his stone fist.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: a couple of mild curses but nothing really noticeable.
Summary: This is definitely one for fans of Hellboy, but one I definitely recommend you picking up. For those who wish to read it but haven’t read any Hellboy before, I recommend you picking up the first four trade paperbacks and reading them first before tackling this. All in all though this is well worth a read. 8/10
When the Shadow Angels invade after 12,000 years of slumber, humanity is held captive by fear and sheer alien dominance. Eleven years after the Great Catastrophe decimated the world; most of those left alive are scavengers, dirty and starving in the streets.

There is hope, however - Mechanical Angel Aquarion! Powered by three souls intertwined, a rare breed of pilot takes the controls. Known as Elements, one among them must rise if mankind is to survive.

Thanks to our friends at MVM Entertainment, we've got three copies of Aquarion: Volume One to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Saturday 21st November (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this awesome DVD!

Aquarion: Volume One is available on DVD from Monday!

The Drowning City
Amanda Downum

Available Now - £7.99
Review by Brad Harmer

The Drowning City: home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do it find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers – even the dead are plotting.

As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

With an awesome, dark, mysterious and unique setting here, as well as some really good characters, this book should be onto a winner. The sad truth, however, is that it isn’t. What actually happens in the book is often dull, often hard to follow, and always – for some reason – unpronounceable. What is it with C-list fantasy books and unpronounceable names, anyway?

It’s often hard to understand what’s going on, and the author makes the mistake of assuming a lot of prior knowledge of the world – forgiveable for some fantasy books, but not the first instalment of a series. It’s all but impossible to keep track of the characters, organisations and places here.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several fights, murders and explosions.
Swearing: None
Sex/Nudity: None
Summary: Amazingly dull. The setting and characters have real potential at the start, but are wasted by the impenetrable names and narrative. 2/10

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