42) Slow Horses and 43) Dead Lions by Mick Herron
Coming in at a bargain £3 for both on Amazon Kindle, I thought I’d give these a whirl and was not disappointed. They are spy novels about a ragtag of discards at Slough House, a kind of repository of people who’ve buggered up something or other for MI5/6 led by the overweight Maverick Jackson Lamb. They are very good, combining a sort of faster-moving Le Carre-sequel plot style with snarkier, more modern humour. The plots are good and twisty, and the characters emerge gradually with nice detailing. Of the two, Dead Lions has a more far-fetched plot (a nod to future film rights, maybe?) so was a little less believable, but both hugely enjoyable. I’ll be downloading number three in the series Real Tigers soon for a bit of diverting commuter fare.
44) The Distant Echo by Val McDermid
As an inveterate reader of police procedurals and crime thrillers, it seems odd that this is the first McDermid book I’ve read – given her status and prolific nature. Anyway, this was great and made me wonder why I’ve waited so long: brilliantly constructed around an event involving four students, and that crime being revisited many years later. The characters take you back in an instant to your own student days, and the nonsense and banter of living in a shared house with friends…but then takes a much darker turn.
What struck me most was how well structured the novel was, in terms of gradual revelations and the addition of layers of detail. The pacing is superb as well, as it ratchets up and up in intensity towards the climactic final scenes. I guessed the killer quite a few pages out but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment – a testament to the quality of the writing. Highly recommended: I won’t be leaving it as long next time.
45) Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer
I’m a fan of Bauer, having read Blacklands and Finders Keepers previously, and I think she is a cut above most of the thriller writers around today (you know, the ones who have “the most spine tingling bloodcurdling thriller you will read this year” as part of the title on Amazon). This is no exception – centred round Patrick, who combines Asperger’s with a love of anatomy, it’s a wonderfully twisted and twist-laden read. It also has some genuinely chilling moments; if you have ever thought about what it would look be like to be in a coma, unable to communicate and something nasty happen, then wonder no more…
Where Bauer takes it above normal page-turner fare is in the believability of the dialogue, the unexpected turns in the plot, and the dry humour that underlies much of the action. In this way, we don’t ever pity Patrick but grow to support and will for him. The denouements are probably a little too neatly tied up here, but it’s another excellent read and I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the next.