Solo, by William Boyd

It is no easy task to continue the story of another, however when I discovered that William Boyd had written a ‘James Bond’ novel, I knew that the continuation of this franchise would be safe in the hands of one of my favourite and most compelling authors. Solo certainly didn’t disappoint.

Set in 1969, holding Bond at the full age of around 45 and a long career to look back on, Solo keeps to all the hallmarks of a classic Bond tale. As a dubious mission to end a war in Zanzarim takes a turn for the worse, Bond finds himself embarking on his own agenda to discover the truth to matters. Utilising old contacts, daring cunning and, of course, his license to kill, Bond proves once again that it’s a dire mistake to cross this affamed double 0.

It is of little surprise that the master author of the spy novel Restless would soon turn his hand to the classic series of British espionage loved the world over. Boyd’s exquisite knowledge of the finer cuisine and fashionable tastes certainly lend well to our worldy and charming protagonist, attributing Bond with an even greater suave than perhaps managed by even Fleming himself. Boyd’s own history with Africa similarly explains his attraction to this setting, through which he fully utilises his experiences to present an authentic take on the country and its culture.

With a plethora of loveable clichés, character traits and exotic settings, Solo is indeed a true likeness to Fleming’s classic series. Action, seduction and espionage. What more could you ask of our 007?

Length: 322 (Vintage)
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

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The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

What would life be like if the Allies had lost the Second World War? In an imaginative alternate reality, Philip K. Dick creates a world in which Japan occupies America, and the Nazis are moving their totalitarian conquest on to the solar system.

From out of this far-fetched yet compelling fiction stems a number of interrelated tales, as Japanese officials, American labourers and German spies search for meaning in a world of changed cultures and oppressive conquest.

Dick’s imaginative portrayal of this post-war world lends very much to a warped mirrored image of our own reality. As opposed to an American influence spreading across the world, there is instead a strong focus on Asian traditions, the author going so far as to change his very writing style with certain characters, to hint at a Japanese form of English.

In a delicate balance, The Man in the High Castle explores the outcomes of a victorious occupation immersing the population in Japanese culture, whilst maintaining a confusion of underlying American ideals. It is from this mismatch of east meeting west that a series of lost souls search for meaning in America, as so many pilgrims of the present and past.

For all it’s alternative vision, the message of this peice is however resoundingly clear. Regardless of the passage of history, of who wins which war and who remains in power, humanity never changes.

Length: 256 (Penguin Classics)
Overall Rating: 4 stars

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Unlike his other novels, affamed for their heartbreaking and tellingly brutal tales, And the Mountains Echoed forges a story of another kind of sadness.

Staying true to his customary theme of Afghanistan, Hosseini begins his novel following the lives of two twins, bound inseparable in their first years but subject like so many to the inescapable whims of poverty and survival.

It is from their stories that a series of other interlinking narratives unfold, following the tales of characters spanning the world over, each with some part of their life ever relating them back to Afghanistan.

Interestingly, this means that a significant portion of the novel features a wealthier, Western living, not the usual hardships of Taliban rule and oppresiveness so featured in his other novels. And the Mountains Echoed approaches the violence and oppresiveness Afghanistan experienced from a much more detached nature. Rather than delve directly into such hardship, it instead remains poised at its very edge looking in, much as the many thousands of luckier and more privileged souls do throughout their lives.

Hosseini’s message, told in his encapsulating prose, is one of family and home. That no matter how far you may go, how different a life you may forge, the past is ever a part of you which you cannot simply shed. We all have a calling to our birthplace and home, it is up to us whether we answer it, or forever shut it away.

Length: 463 (Bloomsbury)

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

Mr Mercedes, by Stephen King

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The master of horror becomes the master of thriller. Mr Mercedes is a highly energetic novel, bearing all the hallmarks of a classic detective tale.


Set in an American city, Mr Mercedes follows the story of recently retired detective Bill Hodges. After an impressive career, Hodges is soon lured from his newly innate retired life of junk food and daytime TV by the resurgence of a past terror, the classic “perp that got away”. As mysteries are uncovered and tragedies begin to pile one upon the other, it soon becomes clear that no one can ever truly quit the chase.

Though the novel bears little creative ingenuity, a simple psychopath-pitted-against-justice novel, King’s engaging writing style certainly keeps the reader hooked. The prominence of modern technology also adds a new dimension to the classic crime mystery, with the old school detective persistently thrown off the scent by the ingenuity of technologically fueled madness.

Overall an entertaining and easy read, good for the summer, but readers looking for more intrigue had better revert back to the disturbing horrors the author was made famous for. Despite this, with its fair share of action, romance, comedy and tragedy, Mr Mercedes is a strong debut thriller from the world famous King.

Length: 432 (Hodder paperbacks)
Overall Rating: 3 stars

Imperium, by Robert Harris

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Politics, corruption, power – Imperium.

Imperium is told from the perspective of a highly able and literate slave, Tiro, following the story of his master Marcius Tullius Cicero, a great orator, lawyer and above all politician. The pair bear witness to the classic strive to ultimate power within the great Roman Republic, highlighting the dark deals, bribery and sheer ingenuity required to make it to the top. This is certainly in likeness to a Roman ‘House of Cards’, bearing the same dramatic trials and tribulations which make for highly compelling drama.

In the final decades of the Republic, Harris tracks this demise through a detailed narrative of its orcastrators. Legendary historical figures such as Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar are characterised in their glorious nature, but also in what was likely their true selves: ambitious, dangerous and entirely unstoppable.

Harris has an absorbing writing style, placing his reader in the heart of Roman life. Great events remembered throughout history are delved into more deeply, unearthing the corruption and strifes necessary for their accomplishment.

With a wealth of historical knowledge, and the use of Cicero’s own recorded speeches and letters, Harris captures real historical fact within the compelling compound of literature. Imperium is a thrilling narrative, which will have you following the exhilarating political manoeuvres from over two thousand years ago as attentively as if they were occuring today.

Length: 403 (BCA)

Overall Rating: 5 stars

Carrie, by Stephen King

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​From the skilled hands of its world famous author, Carrie spins a dark tale of youthful cruelty and sorrowful revenge. Bearing a simple yet effective premise for a horror novel, known now by many from its multiple film interpretations, this is a short and entertaining classic.

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Carrie centres around its namesake, a teenage girl who after a lifetime of bullying and trauma is brought to her limits in the run up to her senior prom. As the novel progresses, the supernatural gradually becomes all too frightening and real, and a terrifying retribution soon unfolds upon a small town in Maine America.

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Whilst a little cliché at times, the same can largely be said of all teenagers. King soon moves beyond the realms of youthful stereotype however, drawing upon much darker themes. Carrie engages the brutally honest inner emotions of its characters, offering their raw, primitive thoughts throughout. The effect of this is an intrinsically human perspective on a savage, wounded time for a young damaged girl.

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The general style of the novel is rather different to a typical horror novel. It is certainly interesting to consistently remind the reader of the novel’s end for example, a typical cardinal sin in most narratives. By frequenting numerous article segments and scientific considerations concerning the ‘Carrie phenomena’ throughout however, King adds a sense of impeding and inescapable doom. In this way, the slightest actions are therefore emphasised with a constant sense of inevitable consequence.

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Carrie is the classic tale of youthful hardship and woes, escalated beyond proportion by a horrorful nature that seeks retribution for all the sorry young wronged.

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Length: 242 (BCA)

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

The Time Traveller, by H. G. Wells

A short yet delightful classic, written with all the civility expected of a victorian gentlemen, The Time Machine is science fiction at one of its earliest beginnings. Though the novel could certainly have been longer, there are still enough philosophical thoughts and strange imaginings to provide an enjoyable few hours of entertainment.

 

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