Tuesday 25 August 2009

Book Reviews

Blood Line
Mark Billingham
Review by Rob Wade

Blood Line is the latest novel in the Tom Thorne series, and sees Thorne visiting a murder scene. All seems standard until he gathers what turns out to be a fragment of X-ray from the victim's hand. From then, the twisted game the killer is playing becomes more and more apparent, and Thorne must use every tool at his disposal in order to solve the mystery, all the while doing his best to recover from a significant personal tragedy.

Right away, I started enjoying this book. It may sound strange, but one of the most important things in a book that's grounded in some sort of reality, in this case the realistic setting of modern day England, the characters have to be believable in that situation and environment. This is something, clearly, that Billingham has given a lot of thought to when writing his characters.

Tom Thorne is a compelling protagonist for the simple reason that he isn't perfect. If you think of all the classic detectives, from Sherlock Holmes all the way to Scooby and the gang, the one common theme that links them is that each character has some sort of flaw or a dark side. Scooby and Shaggy are gluttons who inadvertently stumble across the monster while escaping or involved in an act of tomfoolery, and Holmes is a cocaine fiend. Which of those is the bigger vice is ultimately up to you, but you can't argue that both are drawbacks that in their own way give the characters personality.

Thorne, in the same way, is written very cleverly. Despite the fact that this is not the first book in the series, you find out enough about Thorne and the people around him to be able to piece together plenty of his backstory and personality. There's also, intriguingly, hints that there is more to come and more that has been kept from the reader until this point, teasing future volumes.

Of course, no detective would be complete without the criminal they are chasing, and this is another area where the book comes off very well. The killer is written very well, bringing in just the right amount of information at just the right times in order to keep the story going without leaving the reader well ahead of the action and getting bored waiting for the storyline reveal they just know is coming.

The characters around Thorne are also well written, and it's not hard to see which of those people are a positive influence on his life and which grind on him. As stated above, he's recovering from a major personal setback at the beginning of the novel, and through a well-structured narrative, we see how people react to his curmudgeonly side as well as how other people connected to him deal with the same tragedy in their own ways.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : A quite significant amount, hardly surprising as it's a murder mystery novel about a serial murderer.
Sex/Nudity : Mentions of sex and sexual acts, mostly from a hooker character. No specific mention of any such scenes though.
Swearing : A realistic London, England amount without becoming a Guy Ritchie level of bad language.
Summary: This book is a really good read, I found it very difficult to put down. Tom Thorne is a completely compelling protagonist, mainly because he's written very realistically. The story is well-written and paced, and reads very much like an episode of a great crime drama on TV or at the cinema. The twists are significant, unpredictable and so well written that it won't dawn on you what's happening until just the right moment. 9/10

You Suck
Christopher Moore

Available from 27th August
Review by Brad Harmer

Being undead sucks. Literally.

Just ask C. Thomas Flood. Waking up after a fantastic night unlike anything he’s ever experienced, he discovers that his girlfriend, Jody, is a vampire. And surprise! Now he’s one, too. For some couples, the whole biting-and-blood thing would have been a deal breaker. But Tommy and Jody are in love, and they vow to work through their issues.

But word has it that the vampire who initially turned Jody wasn’t supposed to be recruiting. Even worse, Tommy’s erstwhile pals are out to get him, at the urging of a blue-dyed Las Vegas call girl named (unsurprisingly) Blue. And this really sucks.

Comedy always strikes me as hard to do in a novel. There are comedy writers out there, but they mostly exist on the Internet, either doing satirical pieces, PhotoShop comedy, or bizarre pieces of meandering fiction involving their time spent teaching at Hogwarts. Comedy can be funny in prose, but in the context of a novel, that gets harder to maintain, because you have other things, like plot and characters and emotions to worry about. So, first things first: You Suck is really, really funny. Not just “ha and smirk” funny, but laugh out loud and embarrass yourself on the train funny.

There are a couple of dodgy points. The plot loses it occasionally, when Moore does falter, and making jokes becomes more important than telling the story. Also, whilst for the most part his book does work as a stand-alone novel, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out on quite a lot, having not read the original. A minor point, perhaps, but it depends on your outlook. I think that unless a book is specifically marked as being a sequel or part of a series, then to assume your reader has read the previous instalments is quite arrogant. There is nothing on the cover or blurb to indicate it was a sequel.

With that in balance though, as a comedy, this book really succeeds. It’s also the first vampire story I’ve ever read that involved some desperate and inexperienced vampires first shaving a cat to drink its blood without getting hairballs, and then to feel bad for it, and give it a sweater. If that sounds like the sort of thing you would find hilarious (like me), then pick this book up. It’s a light, but highly enjoyable, read.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scuffles and vampire feeding sequences. Some gunplay.
Sex/Nudity: Lots of strongly implied stuff, but nothing explicit.
Swearing: A realistic amount.
Summary: A good, fun vampire romance/comedy that manages to get in a few belly laughs. Certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of comedy novels, and worth buying for that douche you know who takes Twilight way too seriously. – 8/10

The Dwarves
Markus Heitz
Little, Brown Book Group

Review by Brad Harmer

Abandoned as a child, Tungdil the dwarf blacksmith labours contentedly in the land of Ionandar - the only dwarf in a kingdom of men. Although he does not want for friends, Tungdil is very much aware that he is alone – he has not so much as set eyes on another dwarf.

However, the traditional dark forces are moving through Girdlegard and the borders of the Perished Land are moving ever closer. Sent out into the world to deliver a message and reacquaint himself with his people, Tungdil soon finds himself caught up in a battle for which he is unprepared and untrained. Now not only his own safety, but the lives of every man, woman and child in Girdlegard depend upon his ability to embrace his heritage. Although he has many unanswered questions, Tungdil is certain of one thing: no matter where he was raised, he is a true dwarf. And no-one has ever questioned the courage of the dwarves.

The Dwarves is an excellent, pulpy, Robert E. Howard, Warhammer style fantasy, with all the good and bad attributes that entails. Combat is fast and furious, characters are fun and lively, but unfortunately this comes with a distinct lack of depth to all the other aspects of the story. The very nature of its fish-out-of-water quest consistently reminded me of The Hobbit. When so much bad fantasy writing is essentially Middle-Earth fan fiction, this may sound like a criticism. However, I don’t mean it to be here – the comparison is intended as an endorsement.

Unfortunately the novel is not without its weaknesses. Several of the supporting cast dwarves are very difficult to tell apart, and even several human or dark-elf characters end up running into each other in a big fantasy shaped blur. Also, unlike Tolkien, the descriptive sections are very vague, and you don’t get the sense of epic scale and age like you do with other examples of the genre. As a result of which, I found myself re-reading passages so that I could regain my sense of what was actually happening, something that I don’t tend to do very often.

If you’re a fan of pulp fantasy, then you could certain do a lot worse than check this out. If, however, your idea of a good fantasy saga is more along the A Song of Fire and Ice and The Wheel of Time than Conan The Barbarian or The Sword of Truth; then there’s probably not much here for you.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several sword and axe centric battles against orcs and dark-elves. Standard fare for the genre, but pretty gory at times.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some mild swear-words. Nothing too coarse. Strange for dwarves, to be honest.
Summary: Fun pulp, sword and sorcery action. Held back at times by the writing style, but if you can see through that, then the action comes thick and fast. Enjoyable. 7/10


  1. How much of the flaws in the writing style of 'The Dwarves' are due to it being translated, I wonder?

    'You Suck' sounds good. I may have to check that one out... but I'll read the first volume first. I'm old-fashioned that way.

  2. 'You suck' sounds really good as well! May have to check it out,b ut im not old fashioned, so Im guessing I can go straight into it, unless it heavily references the previous book and necessary to do so..