Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

Black Widow – 7th Jack Parlabane novel

By Chris Brookmyre

I picked up Black Widow a few months ago. It looked like my kind of book; crime thriller, critically acclaimed, award-winning (Don’t worry, I’m not always swayed by that aspect, it just helps to narrow down when waiting in a train station or looking for something to read on holiday when I don’t want to take a risk on an unknown quantity of quality). And half price to boot (loss-leading marketing by such stores as Waterstones and W H Smith, really does work on me when it comes to books, my reading habit is expensive so any discount I can get is truly a winner for me).

I had heard of Chris Brookmyre before I picked up the book, but to my surprise, I’d never actually read anything he’d written.
It’s been sat in my bookcase for months now, even moving with me, and yet still I’d not picked it up to read. Last weekend I was looking for a paperback to read in the bath, my most consumptive reading occurs in the bath, it’s time I feel as though I can completely relax and do what I want, immerse myself in the story with no interruptions. Reading in the bath is the ultimate me time.
On the off chance, I picked up Black Widow. I’m not sure why I’d been putting it off for so long. I am really glad I picked it up that day though.

Chapters and writing

This book is brilliant! It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but the chapter length meant that this was a mere few minutes and the writing style appealed to me instantly. The chapters are reasonably short, although not Patterson short, ranging from 3-10 pages in length, and they jump around between different characters, allowing you to experience the story through their eyes and their words.

The chapter length I find was perfect for getting you gripped and keeping you entertained throughout the whole book. You don’t tend to find your mind wandering half way through a chunky chapter, wishing that you could go back to the Jack or the Jager perspective of the story, instead, when you get to the end of each chapter you are keen to keep reading regarding of whose story arc is next.

I also found this length to be conducive to me being able to read at work and on the train, I rarely found I had to stop reading halfway through a chapter thus interrupting my flow, unlike with some books. This was the main factor in me getting through the book so fast.

Instead of numbers, the chapters are all named, giving you an idea of what you will experience or learn in this chapter. If I midway through a session, I wouldn’t necessarily read the chapter titles before reading the chapters themselves, but I found them to be very useful upon my return to the book after a few hours. You can flip back and remind yourself of the previous chapters contents without having to re-read.

Story and characters

Chris Brookmyre is great at giving you a full view of the characters thoughts and feelings without giving away anything too revealing to the plot. He keeps you on your toes whilst also explaining enough of what is going on that you are never lost in the storyline. His use of non-linear storyline is very naturalistic, and being that Black Widow is his 21st novel, he has had plenty of practice at getting this type of narrative right, and he does, in fact, manage it well.

“There is no perfect Marriage. There is no perfect Murder.”

This is the kind of novel which turns your beliefs about each character upside down with each new piece of information that you learn. One minute you are rooting for the Jager to be found guilty and the next you are questioning what you would do if you were in her shoes. Is Jack truly the ‘catch’ he first appeared? Putting this book down was difficult at times, Chris really does know how to keep you interested, each chapter holds a new twist to be dissected and analysed.

I’m not going to give anything away, but I can tell you that I experienced a strong sense of satisfaction at the outcome of this story. I felt vindicated in my feelings towards characters whose moral compasses had been ambiguous from the start. I also found that Black Widow made me reflect upon my own relationships and how they had formed and panned out over the years.

There is a healthy dose of suspicious and anxiety injected into the narrative of this story. Chris certainly does know a lot about the human psyche. For anyone who has read and enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, you will know exactly what I mean by this.

Blurb

And now for a bit more about the story…

Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for he life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media are calling Black Widow.

[Taken from the book Jacket]

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling read. I have lent this book to at least two other people who have both massively enjoyed reading it. It is the ideal book for long journeys or if you are looking for a good read for a staycation. The question of whether Jager is truly the Black Widow she is portrayed as or something else entirely will keep you interested throughout.

Night School – 21st Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child Review

Night School – Lee Child

Night School – Jack Reacher, Lee Child

This book has been hailed as the ‘best Jack Reacher yet’ which is a very high accolade indeed. Night School is the 21st novel in the Jack Reacher series; all be it a prequel set in 1996 when Reacher is just 35 years of age.

I’m not going to lie to you; it is a good one. A book I enjoyed immensely. Easy to pick up and read anywhere, anytime.

Lee Child is a master at working in time limits to his work, and this book is no different, in fact, Child sets the timer running at the beginning of the novel. Admittedly we, the reader do not know the time limit but then neither do Reacher or the team he is working with, and this adds immensely to the drama and allows for a fast paced, action packed novel, all be it one with intricate levels of detail.

Outline

Reacher, fresh from a medal winning mission, is sent back to school. But in true Jack Reacher style this is no ordinary school, set in 1996, Night school harks back to the pre 9/11 days when intelligence agencies in the US were suspicious of each other and cooperation was at an all time low. Add to that their deep rooted suspicion of every other country and their intelligence agencies.  There was none of this inter-agency coordination or cooperation, and Reacher has to cross these lines and force cooperation both inter-organisationally and internationally in order to deal with the threat of weapons falling into the wrong hands in a foreign country.

My comments

By novel 21, you would expect Child to have a greater understanding of the inner workings of his character, and this book does not disappoint, I’m almost jealous of the relationship that Child has with Reacher, it’s as though Reacher writes himself. Not once do you question the authenticity of a response or a reaction, nor do you question his motive. You believe that Reacher is a real man whom Child knows and who has recounted his story to be laid bare on the page, in a way it’s as if Reacher guides Child through the story and not the other way around.

I find that all good Reacher stories are just a ‘day in the life’ kind of view of his life. Night School is no different; although the events which unfold are the workings of a great Thriller or Action movie, not once do you question why and how these things are happening to him. Child’s natural way with language and the familiarity with the character make this story completely believable, in spite of the sometimes crazy situations which the character gets himself into, and makes this book a delight to read.

And don’t worry if you haven’t read any of Lee Child’s previous work; each Jack Reacher book can be read alone. Sure it helps to know Reacher’s motivation in certain scenarios, but Child keeps the back story references to a minimum and fully explains to the reader any elements that may be relevant and necessary to know, as and when they occur. I myself have only read 3 of the 21 in this series, but would not shy away from picking up any of those 21 books and reading them out of order. It is a testament to Child’s talent that he can not only produce a massively successful series of books, of which two have been made into successful blockbusters; also that he does not isolate his audience by assuming pre-knowledge of the character.

Reacher 2012

Reacher – Never go back 

Blurb

It’s just a voice plucked from the air: ‘The American wants a hundred million dollars.’

For what? Who from? It’s 1996, and the Soviets are long gone. But now there’s a new enemy. In an apartment in Hamburg, a group of smartly dressed young Saudis are planning something big.

Jack Reacher is fresh off a secret mission. The army pats him on the back and gives him a medal. And then they send him back to school. A school with only three students: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. Their assignment? To find that American. And what he’s selling.

Night School takes Reacher back to his army days, but this time he’s not in uniform. With trusted sergeant Frances Neagley at his side, he must carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, in a wired, fiendishly clever new adventure that will make the cold sweat trickle down your spine.

Of course, it is Reacher who excels at school and makes headway in uncovering the plot and bringing down the bad guy. While the others get bogged down in bureaucracy, it is Reacher’s forward planning and ‘thinking outside the box’ which saves the day, with of course a little help from his friends and fellow class mates.  Come on you knew it was going to end well, no spoilers there.

My version of the book also included the first three chapters of ‘The Midnight Line’ due out November 2017, and I have to say, I’m hooked already. It is already on my pre-order list, just in time for Christmas.

As well as a short essay by Child himself, which I have to say I found very sobering after the excitement of the last few chapters of the book. A poignant message about story telling and fiction through the ages.

Other reviews

Although I quite liked this book and would recommend as an easy read for anyone looking for a bit of action in their literature, since finishing the book, I have read several scathing reviews, many from uber-fans of Child’s work. Perhaps where it appealed to me, it ostracised some of his avid fans. There was one particular comment which I did want to point out though:

“I have the feeling that this book was written with American(USA) readers in mind as there are many instances of American rubbing in Germany’s defeat in WW and belittling them. I am neither from Germany nor USA, but I still feel it wasn’t on [the] comfortable side of nationalism.”

[Source]

I’m not going to lie; the guy does have a point here. Being British and so not really overtly represented in the cast list for this book, and also perhaps because I read an awful lot of American authors and so don’t find this level of patriotism to be unfamiliar; I wasn’t really affected by this over patriotism to the USA. However, after reading this review and looking back, I can certainly see what he means. The Germans are portrayed in a rather sinister light at points with their ‘smarts’ being undermined at every turn (well almost every turn). Strange though that this level of patriotism to the USA be so vivid as Lee Child himself in actually British, all be it now living in America, perhaps Reacher’s voice was a little too loud for Child to ignore on this point.

My verdict

Overall score: 3.5/5

I would recommend as a good read. Pick up and put down anywhere anytime. It was my ‘read in the bath’ novel of the month. No scary house ‘breaking and entering’ scenes so safe to read alone. Fast paced so easy to glide from chapter to chapter and lose yourself for a few hours of self-indulgence. Not a great work of art but a well-orchestrated story and character development. A good plot which seemed to be quite water tight. A little over patriotic to the USA but hey it’s a book about US military, there was bound to be a bit of peacocking going on.