Book Review

Book Review : A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. And three deaths, linked by a chilling forensic detail.

Working as an enforcer in London’s criminal underworld brought Dan Shaper to the edge of a breakdown. Now he’s a private investigator, kept perilously afloat by a growing cocktail of drugs. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from Mr George Glass. The elderly eccentric claims to be a New Age Messiah, but now needs a saviour of his own. He’s been marked for murder.

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind to its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying killer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.

This is Simon Spurrier’s second novel published by Headline, whilst I was aware of him as a writer I haven’t read his previous novel Contact but I’ve heard decent things about it. I was really taken by the synopsis for A Serpent Uncoiled and thought I would give it a go. I’m so glad that I did, within a few pages I was completely hooked – I read it in a morning and even put off lunch so that I could finish it.

The book opens with private investigator Dan Shaper wrapping up a case at a brothel. Once he’s finished with the case he’s planning on taking some time off to detox (he keeps himself going by self-medicating in a terrifyingly precise manner) but he gets a call that pulls him straight into another case – detox must wait.

The new case initially seems pretty straightforward and standard crime thriller fare, there is a serial killer on the loose who has warned a future victim that he’s a target. The potential victim, George Glass, is far from standard. He claims to be over a thousand years old and some sort of spiritual Messiah complete with his own following of new age enthusiasts. Very quickly the plot moves on from feeling even remotely familiar as it twists through drug fuelled hazes, passing gangland mobsters and aura seeing hippies on the way. Time after time the reader is lead along with Shaper down dead ends, as Spurrier first flings out plot threads galore and then weaves them all back in together for the final reveal of whodunnit and both how and why.

I felt by the end of the first chapter that I had a pretty good idea of who Dan Shaper was. Very quickly however I started to realise that there was more to him than being a PI, he has a hard past that is never far away leaving him with contacts in both the police and London’s criminal underbelly that he doesn’t always want. He used to be a man who would solve any problem any way, he’s trying hard to leave that life behind but it’s insisting on clinging on. He’s a hugely engaging character, I initially couldn’t quite take to him but the more I read of him the more I understood him. I’m still not sure that I could say that I liked him, but I was most definitely rooting for him for the majority of the book.

The book is filled with interesting, well created characters who all have their part to play in the plot. I found Glass’ daughter Sandra very compelling, and loved the rather unusual criminal Coram family. I really wanted to love Vince, Shaper’s closest ally, but I didn’t like some of his actions towards the end of the book so ended up with mixed feelings towards him.

The book is written in a fast and intricate manner. The plot could have spiralled out of control and ended up confusing but Spurrier has a great handle on it from start to end. It is only as he starts weaving all of the story threads together that you realise that nothing is in the book by accident, everything is there for a reason and has its part to play. It’s an intelligent and entirely satisfying read, particularly as the solution plays out for both Shaper and the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I’ve already said I put off food for it which as my friends and family know is a big thing for me to say. I’m certainly going to be catching up with Contact and looking forward to whatever Simon Spurrier writes next.

A Serpent Uncoiled is published in hardback by Headline in the UK from 4th August 2011 priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder.

When PI Nick Heller moves back to Boston to set up his own agency, he soon gets an urgent case even closer to home than expected.

Alexandra Marcus – teenage daughter of hedge fund titan Marshall Marcus – has been kidnapped. But it’s no ordinary kidnapping – and it’s not even clear what they want. She’s been abducted by professionals and buried alive in an underground casket. A video camera is streaming her desperate pleas live over the internet. With only a limited supply of food and water, her time is quickly running out.

A close friend of the family, Nick is more determined than ever to catch the perpetrators. But when Marshall is arrested for fraud, Nick uncovers some powerful enemies and a conspiracy that reaches up to the very highest levels of government. Faced with opponents well-protected by wealth and position, Nick must play a dangerous game if he hopes to flush out those responsible before Alexa is buried for good…

I have heard great things about the first Nick Heller book, Vanished, so when I got the chance to review Buried Secrets I jumped at it. I was a little unsure of whether not having read Vanished would put me at a disadvantage for enjoying Buried Secrets, but it certainly didn’t seem to. Whilst I’m sure there may have been little references that I missed but I never felt confused or as if I’d missed anything.

The plot is pretty gripping, we’re introduced to Alexa first and get to know her a little before she is kidnapped and buried alive. Her story is narrated in the third person, and I think this works well – reading the descriptions of both what is happening to her and what her kidnapper is doing lends itself to the narration. I found some of the passages describing her situation challenging to read, it really felt tense and claustrophobic.

Nick is introduced after Alexa is kidnapped, we get to see him dealing with a client before he gets the call about her case. I liked this, it meant I got a feel for him before he was thrown into the kidnapping case. In contrast to Alexa’s story the Nick thread is narrated in the first person. I sometimes find shifts in storytelling like this a bit clunky and awkward, but Finder pulls it off brilliantly. I think again that it works well for the type of narrative, I liked being able to follow Nick’s thoughts as he progressed through the case.

The plot is pretty involved, Nick has to uncover layer upon layer of lies and cover ups. I think Finder just about gets away with some of the more extreme plot points, though a couple did make me shake my head a little. It certainly felt like Nick had some convenient contacts and inside knowledge. That said, the reveal at the end of who was behind everything did work for me.

The need at times to suspend belief didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book at all, once I’d started reading it I found it very hard to put down and finished it in two sittings. I loved the occasional mentions of comic books, I always enjoy geeky references in the books I read. I’m certainly going to be going back and reading Vanished, and I’m sure I’ll probably give some of Joseph Finder’s other books a go too.

Buried Secrets is published in paperback by Headline in the UK priced £13.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Plugged by Eoin Colfer.

Meet Dan. An Irishman who’s ended up in New Jersey and finds himself embroiled in a world of murder, kidnapping and corrupt cops.

Dan works as a bouncer in a seedy club, half in love with hostess Connie. When Connie is murdered on the premises, a vengeful Dan finds himself embroiled in an increasingly deadly sequence of events in which his doctor friend Zeb goes mysteriously missing, a cop-killing female cop becomes his only ally, and he makes an enemy of ruthless drug-dealer Mike Madden.

Written with the warmth and wit that make the Artemis Fowl novels so irresistible, though with additional torture and violence, PLUGGED is a brilliant crime debut from a naturally gifted writer with a huge fanbase.

I must start this review by admitting that until I started to read this book I’d never read anything by Eoin Colfer. I’ve been meaning to give the Artemis Fowl books a try for some time but I’ve just never got round to it. I was lucky enough to hear Eoin talk on a panel at the London Book Fair and hoped that his writing was as funny and charming as the man himself.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed, within a few pages I was hooked and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent reading the book. It’s narrated by Dan, a former soldier now turned bouncer. I’m not always keen on books written in this way but for this particular book it really worked and I found Dan to be a really entertaining narrator. The plot is full of action and whilst it had the potential to become silly Colfer always managed to keep it from going too far.

The cast of Plugged are all well created and interesting characters. They were vividly described in such a way that I could picture them all. As well as loving Dan I developed a real soft spot for ghost Zeb, his little comments and asides were very entertaining. A notable mentions must go to Mrs Delano, Dan’s slightly odd neighbour.

I found Plugged to be a really entertaining read, and it’s reinforced my plan to read more by Colfer. I don’t know if he plans to write more about Dan but if he does I shall certainly look forward to reading it.

Plugged is published in hardback and trade paperback by Headline in the UK priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Cuckoo by Julia Crouch.

A dark, juicy, deliciously unsettling, read-it-in-one-sitting psychological drama.

Rose has it all – the gorgeous children, the husband, the beautiful home. But then her best friend Polly comes to stay. Very soon, Rose’s cosy world starts to fall apart at the seams – her baby falls dangerously ill, her husband is distracted – is Polly behind it all? It appears that once you invite Polly into your home, it’s very difficult to get her out again…

When I sat down to start reading Julia Crouch’s debut novel I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The synopsis appears to give you an idea of what the book is but as you get drawn deeper and deeper within the book the plot almost seems to swallow you in. I found that the further into the book I got the harder it was to put down, I was more and more gripped with the more I read.

The major characters are all really well written. I found them to be very three dimensional, no character was all good or all bad. I loved that it was written from Rose’s perspective, I found that when she was wondering about what was going on I was wondering too. Within in this I liked the fact it was written in the third person rather than the first – for me this helped to build the suspense.

Cuckoo feels very realistic as you read it. I think it taps into the world of friendship so well, most people will find thoughts that resonate with how they’ve felt about a friendship in the past. I think the fact it is so believable makes it all the more creepy. There are twists and turns throughout the book, but the ending still managed to blow me away. This was a book that stayed with me for days, I kept catching my thoughts wandering back to it.

If this is what Julia Crouch writes for a debut novel I’m very excited to see what’s going to come next.

Cuckoo is published in hardback by Headline in the UK from 3rd March 2011 priced £19.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.