December 2005 Same Vein


This Thing of Darkness by
Harry Thompson

Hodder Headline

In one of the best releases this year, Thompson has managed to move an enormous subject along at "thriller-like" velocity. If you only ever want to read one well written tale about two important historical characters in a most interesting time, this is the book for you.

Based on fact, and written as fiction, the book relates the story of Darwin and Fitzroy, the captain of the Beagle, their epic journey and the disintegration of their relationship.

Thompson cleverly utilises a number of stimulating debates between Darwin and Fitzroy to bring home just how radical the thinking of Darwin et al was at that time whilst using real life episodes to highlight the capability of Fitzroy.

It is a touch long, but then Fitzroy did a hell of a lot and the author is keen to impress on us that Fitzroy was not just "the Captain of the ship that carried Darwin."

This is entertaining reading for anyone looking for something outside of the normal novel. However, if you are interested in the characters and history in a passive way you'll appreciate it even more, as there is quite a lot of background knowledge taken for granted by the author. If you have read and enjoyed "An Incident at the Fingerpost" by Ian Peers then this is definately the book for you.

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Pan Macmillan

Welcome to the 16th century world of the lawyer Mathew Shardlake, a hunchback who is a skilled scholar and a savvy Detective all rolled into one.

Dark Fire takes place a few years after Sansom's previous "Dissolution" and sees Shardlake defending the niece of a friend who has been accused of murdering her 12 year old cousin Ralph.

With the case surely lost because the judge is eager to see the girl pressed for not pleading, Mathew gains time to help her through Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vice General who wants Mathew to do a job for him, a job that Mathew knows will not be easy or for that matter with dangers lurking in every corner.

In this book we are introduced to Barek, an insolent young commoner with some learning who on his father's side is descended from the ancient faith of Judea, in Dark Fire we watch the jaded Mathew and the shrewd Barek slowly form a grudging relationship, based on their abilities to use their brains together and come up with some startling answers to some frightening questions.

With murders happening all over the place, a mad Grandmother hell bent on preserving her family honour, along with a power struggle between Thomas Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk, and a whole heap of other exciting threads to bring together we have book filled with intrigues, dark secrets and even darker tragedies.

A cracking good Christmas read. Excellent!

Trial by Fire by D. W. Buffa

Allen & Unwin

D. W. Buffa's latest legal thriller, "Trial by Fire," features criminal defense attorney extraordinaire Joseph Antonelli. Julian Sinclair, a brilliant and distinguished law professor, is arrested for the murder of Daphne McMillan, an Assistant District Attorney in San Francisco. Sinclair asks Antonelli to defend him, and without hesitation, Joseph takes the case. He likes and admires Sinclair, and he is certain that his client is innocent. Unfortunately, the media and public opinion quickly turn against Sinclair, and Joseph soon realizes that his chances of winning an acquittal are slim.

Buffa's central theme is the destructive role that newspapers and television play in high profile cases. In order to boost circulation and inflate ratings, broadcast and print journalists often make inflammatory and prejudicial statements, caring little that their words and actions may influence potential jurors and make a fair trial all but impossible.

The courtroom scenes are excellent, as are the give and take of the cross examinations, as well as the eloquence of the attorneys' arguments. Joseph Antonelli is an engrossing narrator and an admirable protagonist who speaks about the law with intelligence, insight, and passion, and he commands the reader's undivided attention.

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen

Random House

Dr. Maura Isles has barely had time to recover from the startling revelations about her family in Body Double (2004) when she discovers one of the corpses in her morgue is very much alive. The young woman is rushed off to the hospital, where the doctors are able to save her life.

Maura pays the young woman a visit only to witness the woman grab a security guard's gun, shoot the man, and take Maura hostage. Maura manages to escape, and the woman flees into the bowels of the hospital, where she takes six other people hostage, including Detective Jane Rizzoli, who is about to give birth. Oh dear...

The woman refuses to communicate with the police, but she manages to get a signal out through a local radio station to a man who slips past the police barricade to join her in the hospital. Jane's husband, FBI agent Gabriel Dean, becomes very suspicious when the situation attracts the attention of the highest levels of government. Hoping to save his wife, Gabriel begins his own investigation and is startled when he uncovers a shocking conspiracy.

Drawing on current events, Gerritsen's latest novel is a tense, taut thriller that grabs readers from the get-go and never lets up.



Want to Play? by P.J. Tracy

Penguin Books

Here's a debut novel that doesn't read like one. The Minnesota based mother-daughter writing team of P.J. Tracy (mother P.J. Lambrecht and daughter Traci) have hit the ground running with a solid thriller that will keep you turning the pages.

The novel is divided into two storylines. The main plot based in Minneapolis covers the plight of enigmatic and beautiful computer game designer Grace McBride and her nerdy friends on the lam from some awful past experience which the reader has to guess at for most of the book. Then you have the archetype die-hard detective called Magozzi, who's on the hunt for a killer copying Mcbride's Serial Killer game and McBride's hatred towards the police. An explosive conflict is in store.

The subplot, based in Wisconsin, involves more cops, more murders borne of savage intensity and a link between the deaths that is so illusive it is headache inducing.

The serial killer is superb, chilling and damaged beyond repair. An inhuman creature that can mimic normality to such a degree you're unaware of who it is until the last few pages....

"Want To Play" is a novel about trading identities, the power computer hackers have and the havoc they can wreak, of obsession, fear and trust and who to place that trust in, of sins that return to haunt, human deformity and the inescapable fact that no matter what you do, you leave behind a trail that can be followed.

It's a thought-provoking page turner, asking that ubiquitous question: Do violent games/videos inspire people to kill or is it something in their genetics that makes it impossible for them to discern fiction from reality? Or simply their nature?

In the Name of the Vampire
by Mary Ann Mitchell

Leisure Books

Mitchell's De Sade series continues in this sixth installment. This time the reader is introduced to two young lovers, a mortal woman who is admired and sought after for her beauty, and a young man who was born half mortal and half vampire.

The woman, once a lover of Sade before seeing his true self, has suddenly vanished from the apartment of Justin, the half-breed who destroys vampires. Hearing the Sade is back in Paris, he is convinced the diabolical man has captured his former slave. Enlisting in the help of another vampire to locate Sade - and of course, his beloved Madeline, he has to repay for this information by vowing to also try his best to locate the current vampire serial killer who is traumatizing the streets.

Fans of the series will find another terrific read here, but new readers would do better to start at book one and then quickly catch up.

Great holiday reading!

Page After Page by Heather Sellers

Capricorn Link

In this book Dr. Sellers takes a no-nonsense approach to excuses for not writing and encourages aspiring writers to use the same 24 hours granted to all mortals to write for 10 or 20 minutes per day. She teaches how to focus on writing, finding quiet time, and accepting the solitude so important to writing.

Throughout the book she uses the metaphor of reading and writing as lovers. According to Sellers, writers read, and in fact often sleep with their books. Sellers legitimizes this compulsion, and advises the writer to let the writing flow with the imagination. Sellers also uses some yoga analogies in this book, giving you something to think about while wondering where the next chapter will come from.

Sellers does not present actual writing instruction in this book, that is not her purpose here. She is highly readable and offers a ton of ideas for inspiring people to drop the excuses and start writing.

A good holiday read.


Writing the Popular Novel
by Loren D. Estleman

Capricorn Link

Interested in sharp, short writing facts to keep you smiling as you write? Then this is the book for you!

Here's one of them: "Fans of recycling must appreciate John Creasey, who wrote his first published novel on the back of 743 rejection letters."

Another is about RK Rowling giving a shocking example of where she was financially before publishing the first book.

Or...offered 200 dollars to write a 2,000 word essay on if a writer should have a social conscience the author wrote back, "No. You owe me 10 cents."

The book itself is very dense. Estleman gives you quick, short chapters covering a lot of information, and is skewed a bit towards the author's perspective and experience and historicals, but it's still a good read.

Writing is an art, not science. What works for one author-book-time-publisher won't necessarily work for another, but it is excellent to learn of various rules used by other writers to see if you can apply them yourself. And once you learn them, you can start breaking them.

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