Short Story Review: Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley

I found “Outside the Law” by Anthony Berkeley in “Great Crime Stories”, originally published by Chancellor Press in 1936.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A tense short story that held my attention to the very end.  A good lesson in creating believable, well-imagined characters. 5 / 5

Summary

After committing the crime of breaking into a house and robbing it of any valuables, three very different men find themselves trapped in a building, surrounded by the police.

There appears to be little if no chance of escape.  And, should the police catch them with the big pile of stolen goods still in their possession, they know for certain that they will be spending the next few years in prison.

With two of the three men armed, how will they react to this twist in their fortunes?

Favourite Quote

He knew little English, but already he had gathered that the word “busies” meant the police.

Review

For a short story, Outside the Law is really quite tense.  I think it’s down to the clear, concise characterisation by the author.  The three men were all very different.  They each have differing reasons to turning to crime, different reasons for being there and have very different characters and backgrounds to each other.  As their options fall away, it’s no wonder they all respond differently to the pressure they find themselves under.

As for the ending…it’s very good.  You suspect you know what is going to happen but still you are glued to the story.  I can’t say any more for fear of giving too much away.

But I will say is this: when a writer knows his characters well, the story just flows.  And this is what we have here.  For any writers out there who want to read what is, in my opinion, a great demonstration of creating well-defined and believable characters, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at this.

Rating

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Book Review: The Book With No Name by Anonymous

The Book With No Name is the first book in the Bourbon Kid series by Anonymous.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, with a plot that twists and turns and keeps you guessing right to the very end.  Great stuff!  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Detective Miles Jensen is called to the lawless town of Santa Mondega to investigate a spate of murders. This would all be quite ordinary in those rough streets, except that Jensen is the Chief Detective of Supernatural Investigations. The breakneck plot centers around a mysterious blue stone — The Eye of the Moon—and the men and women who all want to get their hands on it: a mass murderer with a drinking problem, a hit man who thinks he’s Elvis, and a pair of monks among them. Add in the local crime baron, an amnesiac woman who’s just emerged from a five-year coma, a gypsy fortune teller, and a hapless hotel porter, and the plot thickens fast. Most importantly, how do all these people come to be linked to the strange book with no name? This is the anonymous, ancient book that no one seems to have survived reading. Everyone who has ever read it has been murdered. What can this mean?

Favourite Quote

‘Cross my palm with a twenty-dollar bill and I shall reveal your destiny.’

What happened to silver? Dante thought…

Review

When I reached the last paragraph of this book, hope swelled within me.  The book ended with question, leaving the reader to wonder if this was indeed the end of the story. You know the type…This is the end…or is it?  I desperately hoped not.  When I learned there were in fact more instalments to read, I was so very, very happy.  As I’m sure you can tell. 🙂

As soon as I saw this book I was intrigued.  Curiosity piqued, I wondered at the title or lack there of, and then I wondered some more at the author deciding to publish under the name “Anonymous”.  It didn’t taken long for me to realise I needed to read this.

This is highly imaginative storytelling, with a plethora of characters to keep you entertained (see the summary above for a brief cast list). The pace is fast, as one plot twist occurs after another.  There is plenty of action, and plenty of gore also – something I’m not usually a fan of, but here it seemed to work.

The story is told from several points of view, allowing us glimpses of all that is going on in Santa Mondega.  You won’t like many of the characters – I’m not sure you’re supposed to – but you may find yourself laughing at some of the things that happen in the story.

There are elements from a number of different genres, including horror, the paranormal / supernatural, fantasy, westerns, crime and mystery but somehow the auther has managed to weave them all together into a cohesive whole. I guessed some of the plot twists but there were still plenty I did not see coming.

A thoroughly fun and entertaining read.  I am excited to read book two in the series, The Eye of the Moon.

Rating

Book Review: The Mask of Troy by David Gibbins

The Mask of Troy is the fifth book by David Gibbins to feature Jack Howard.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An imaginative story containing some interesting passages and characters, but tempered by the inclusion of some heavy, lengthy descriptions. Well worth the read, if only for the ancient history and archaeology.  3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Greece. 1876. Heinrich Schliemann, the great archaeologist, raises the Mask of Agamemnon and makes a mind-blowing discovery. Determined to keep it a secret until the time is right, he then dies.

Germany. 1945. The liberation of a concentration camp reveals clues to lost antiquities stolen by the Nazis. But the operation is covered up after a deadly secret surfaces. Northern Aegean.

Present day. Marine archaeologist Jack Howard discovers a shipwreck, part of the war fleet of Agamemnon, king of the Greeks, and soon becomes embroiled in a desperate chase across Europe against a ruthless enemy…

Favourite Quote

The air had been cleansed by the rain, but the smells were rising again: rosemary, thyme, the sweet ether that seemed to float above these ancient sites, an exhalation from history too powerful to be washed away by a transient act of nature.

Review

I really enjoyed parts of this book.  It was interesting to read about marine / underwater archaeology and the complexities involved, such as tidal patterns and how these effect not only working conditions while excavating but also how they can alter the appearance of the context in which artefacts are found. However, there are lengthy technical descriptions which were a little harder to read, which affected the pace of the book.

I liked the historical aspect of the storyline (both real and fictional), in terms of the discussions on ancient Troy, Mycenae and Homer and the mystery surrounding Heinrich Schliemann’s behaviour in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  But I found the Nazi story thread too much.  I understand why it was there: to create the thriller / mystery part of the book, but still.

As for the characters, I liked them, though the cast seemed extensive.  Jack Howard was interesting (though the other characters had a tendency to go on about how great he was). Costas Kanzantzakis made a great side-kick (I think he was my favourite character).  Professor James Dillon had the air of the aging adventurer about him.  Rebecca I wasn’t sure about; I liked her but found the things she got up to a little far-fetched for a 17 year old.

The author’s passion for the subjects involved is clear and obvious to the reader.  However, the heaviness of some passages does impact on the book’s pace, hence the rating.  So, a bit of a mixed review, but well worth the read if only for the ancient history and archaeology.

Rating

 

Book Review: Others by James Herbert


Quick Review (read on for full review)

An original, dark and disturbing horror story on the theme of redemption.  Atmospheric, chilling and not for the faint of heart.  4 /5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Nicholas Dismas is a Private Investigator, but like no other that has gone before him. He carries a secret about himself to which not even he has the answer . . .

He is hired to find a missing baby. One that was taken away at birth . . . Or was it?

His investigation takes him to a mysteriously located place called Perfect Rest. It is supposed to be a nursing home for the elderly . . . But is it?

Here Dismas will discover the dark secret of the Others. And in an astonishing and spectacular finale he will resolve the enigma of his own existence . . .

Favourite Quote

Beggars, beaches, bitches and batty old ladies – the images spun round my mind like a carousel filled with harpies.

Review

I’m a big fan of James Herbert and have read many of his books over recent years.  There is something about his writing that captures the “creepiness” factor that not all horror writers can achieve, whilst at the same time wrapping it up in a story you actually what to get to the end of.

This is one of those books.

Others follows the life of Nicholas Dismas, a hunchbacked private investigator based in Brighton.  When he’s asked to find a client’s missing baby, little did he know where the case would lead.  The strange mystery slowly transforms into an even stranger supernatural tale.

The characters really make this story work.  Dis is a complex character as he struggles to deal with his own personal demons whilst at the same time, having people look to him to as a hero after a lifetime of having strangers think of him as a monster simply because of the way he looks.  Constance Bell, who works at Perfect Rest (the world’s creepiest nursing home), and Louise Broomfield a Brighton-based clairvoyant, are both interesting, engaging characters, that work well with Dis.

There’s a terribly sad undercurrent to this story; I won’t say any more for fear of giving too much away.  It is dark tale, with dark and disturbing passages, some of which make for uncomfortable reading, given the author’s powerful imagination and ever greater power of description.

I thought the opening was very clever.  Herbert lets the reader know from the off that this is a tale of redemption so we are clued in whilst the characters are not.  Instead of this tactic revealing too much, what it does do is heighten the tension when strange and supernatural things start to happen.

I didn’t find this to be a quick read.  The story unfolds slowly and the pace is fairly moderate until you reach the last 150 pages or so.  That is why I rated it four stars and not the full five.

The final sentence of Herbert’s End Note (which makes for interesting / surprising / sad reading in its entirety) reads, “I sincerely hope you have been disturbed.”  Quite!

Rating

Bookish Reflections – May 2018

A monthly round up of all things bookish at Sammi Loves Books…It’s my attempt at becoming more accountable in my reading and reviewing habits…


In a nutshell

Not a bad month at Sammi Loves Books.  Averaging over a book week (just!) isn’t bad when time feels like it’s disappearing before your eyes – melodramatic, I know, but still…I’m pleased that I got five out of six books on my read and review list ticked off.  I’ve only added three books to this month’s list simply because I’ve not yet decided what I’m going to read once I finished Others by James Herbert.  And, next month is Indie Only Month here, followed by Historical Fiction Month, so I will soon be putting together a list of books / short stories / collections to read in July and August.  Any suggestions or review requests welcome 🙂

Books I’ve reviewed

Favourite read of the month

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Books I’ve bought (or been given)

  • Holy Spy by Rory Clements

Books I’ve downloaded

  • Summer at Coastguard Cottages by Jennifer Bohnet

What I’ve been reading on Wattpad

  • Winter Prey by T.M. Simmons

May’s “Read and Review” Goals*

  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus
  • The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tess Harris
  • Eye Witness by Ellis Peters
  • The Intruders by Michael Marshall
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley

* Light blue = review posted | Blue = review not posted

What I’m reading and reviewing in June

  • Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley (read but not yet reviewed)
  • The Mask of Troy by David Gibbons (read by not yet reviewed)
  • Others by James Herbert (currently reading)

Goodreads Reading Challenge

My goal is 40.  I’ve read 17.  43% complete.  Currently 1 book ahead of schedule. (Yes, you read that right!)

Other reads (books not on Goodreads): 0

Total books read so far this year: 17

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written paranormal romance for adults that drew me into the story from the very first page.  4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

Favourite Quote

There were so many to choose from but I opted for:

“A little book can hold a big secret – one that might change the world.  You’re a witch.  You know words have power.”

Review

“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.”

I knew when I read the first words on the back of the book, I knew I was going to love this story.  And I did.  This is the second time I’ve read the book in the past few years, but this is the first time I’ve got around to reviewing it.  Reading it a second time was just as good as reading it the first time, if not better because I managed to pick up on the little things I missed, enriching the reading.

The book is beautifully and intelligently written – the author has a wonderful way with words – and I was drawn into the story from the very first page.  The descriptions of places and people are detailed enough to bring the story to life, but not heavy enough to bog it down.  The pace and flow of the book was spot-on, so the story unravelled seamlessly. The story is rich in science, alchemy and historical references, and when a chunk of the book is set in one of the most famous library’s in the world…well, what’s not to love.

All the characters were well thought out and believable.  Neither Diana or Matthew are perfect – she is wilful (sometimes against all reason) and wants to believe her academic merits were achieved without the help of witchcraft, whilst he is ancient and comes from a world where he is to be obeyed without question.  However, despite this, they are interesting and engaging, and together they have a lot to learn.  As for the other characters – I loved Ysabeau, Sarah and Em, Marcus and Miriam and Hamish.

I thought the world building was fantastic.  The distinctions and attributes of witches, vampires and deamons was cleverly conceived and clearly depicted in the story, especially the fine line between madness and genius in daemons.  Neither does the story shy away from or gloss over the darker aspectss of these creatures.

As the first book in a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches lays a good, solid foundation for the following two books.  I’m excited to read the second instalment, Shadow of Night, to find out where the story takes us next.  If you enjoy paranormal fiction, I recommend you give A Discovery of Witches a read.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Book Review: The Intruders by Michael Marshall

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A cleverly written psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Taut, menacing, sinister, gripping, intelligent, action-packed – everything you could want from a thriller.
When ex-LAPD patrol cop Jack Whalen’s wife goes missing on a routine business trip to Seattle, his world is shaken.

Meanwhile, a ten-year-old girl vanishes from a beach in Oregon after an encounter with a sinister stranger – but it gradually becomes clear that she’s very far from defenceless.

Searching for answers in the shadowy secrets of a past that still haunts him, Jack discovers that the truth has roots deeper and darker than he ever feared.

Favourite Quote

Other people’s working spaces are like the ruins of lost civilisations.

Review

This is not the first book I have read by Michael Marshall.  Last year I read Blood of Angels (you can read the review here), the final instalment in The Straw Men trilogy, which I read as a standalone.  I enjoyed it enough to seek out more by the author, which is how I came to read The Intruders.

This was an interesting, original psychological thriller, with elements of the supernatural, horror and crime fiction, reminding me a bit of The X-Files.  It’s cleverly written in such a way as you don’t really know what exactly is going on until the mystery is revealed later in the book, and yet there is so much story unfolding that you don’t necessarily notice.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next.  It was interesting to see how the strange, diverse storylines were going to be pulled together.

I wasn’t struck on many of the characters, but surprisingly this wasn’t an issue that prevented me from enjoying the book.  To me, the story – and the mystery – took precedence.  I also wasn’t keen on the ending of the story, yet I can see why the book ended the way it did.

What I really liked about the story was that it were some great turns of phrase woven into the narrative, my favourite being the quote above.

Rating.

3.5 / 5