Next- Michael Crichton (2006)- A Running Man Review



Prior to this I have read two Michael Crichton novels and they are not the ones you might expect.  He is most famous for creating “ER” for which I will be eternally grateful; but also for “Jurassic Park” (1990) and its sequel (1995); his debut in his own name “The Andromeda Strain” (1969) and “Westworld” (1974).  I haven’t read any of these, the two books I have read are “State Of Fear” (2004) a startlingly complex merge of environmental issues and science combined with a gripping, readable thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed and “Timeline” (1999) which grappled with quantum physics and time travel and which unfortunately did not work nearly as well and came across as tosh masquerading as science.  It’s the application of science which Crichton specialises in and with “Next” it’s the complex (for my little brain anyway) field of biogenetics.

If like me, your sole knowledge of biogenetics is limited to an awareness of the existence of GM crops, cloned animals (Dolly the sheep) and that nightmarish picture of a mouse with a human ear growing on it then you might think that all this might be a tad too complex for you.  Well it is, but that actually doesn’t matter as Crichton guides us along the issues in another very readable novel.

Interestingly, there’s no discernible main character in “Next” which is a little off-putting for those of us who like a central character for relationship dynamics to bounce off and this does mean that there isn’t really the depth of characterisation that a main protagonist and their relationships with others would provide.  What is there are a lot of interweaving plot strands, which Crichton keeps good control of.  I did find myself having to leaf back a number of times to recall what was happening to certain characters  as and when their story was resumed although that often proved to be needless as the author is good at prompting our memories.  You can see from this how he could manage long-running television drama with its ongoing story lines.  I know some readers balk at this style of writing but here it has been done well.

Basically, it is a novel of ideas with the plot developed to illustrate these.  The practice of patenting genes has impeded medical research and has potentially ludicrous legal ramifications when “ownership” of genes, cells and tissues gets called into question.  This is an area Crichton is keen to highlight, using real news stories along the way, demonstrating that he is not dealing with fictional flights of fancy here as his ideas are embedded in fact.  There’s a couple of genetically-modified animal hybrids including ape/human combinations who can talk and an African-grey parrot who can not only talk like a human but think like one too.  At times these plot threads come across as a little “cutesy”, but it’s the way they fit into a tale of medical research so rooted in fact that becomes alarming.

This sits in the middle of the three Crichton novels I have read.  It’s not as good as “State Of Fear” which had a stronger element of gripping thriller writing and was the novel which immediately preceded “Next” but it is considerably better than “Timeline”.  Michael Crichton died in 2008 yet his 18th novel under this name, the recently discovered “Dragon’s Teeth” was published earlier this year.


Next was published by Harper in the UK in 2006

The Bookman’s Tale – Charlie Lovett (2013)- A Running Man Review




Here is a debut novel that I missed out on when it was first published in 2013 and I’m delighted to put that right as it is a thoroughly entertaining read.  Combining the adventure and puzzle-solving of a superior example of the “Da Vinci Code” genre with old books certainly gives it an original slant.  I’ve never read a novel with so much information on book binding and preservation and which has got across so well the appeal of old books.

Author Charlie Lovett is also a playwright, and significantly, for the authenticity of this work, a former antiquarian bookseller and this love for the quest of a miraculous find which is surely present in all those who deal with old and precious books certainly permeates this novel.

American Peter Byerly is drawn into the world of books when he is working at his University’s library and finds his way into Special Collections.  He’s also drawn, for the first time, into connecting with another human being when he meets Amanda, another student, in the library.  Lovett’s tale switches from their courtship to Peter adapting to the early death of his wife some years later and a much older tale of a book which would provide ultimate proof that Shakespeare wrote his plays.  A discovery of a portrait inside a book in a shop on Hay-on-Wye provides the link for these strands.

It works well as an adventure tale but it is more than this as it also works as a love story and an account of obsession, in this case towards book collecting.  It features (and Dan Brown and some others of his ilk need to take note here) well rounded characters.  There’s a clear motive behind every action and we’re not hurtled around the world in wearying globe-trotting fashion.  True, the use of coincidence does begin to pile up, but then the author’s following a time-honoured tradition headed by Hardy and Dickens who were both masters of coincidence to further the plot.  Some of the love scenes are also a little clunky but the two young people have never really related that well to anyone before so perhaps its applicable for the characters if the early days of their relationship seem a little stilted.  I was won over by the obvious devotion for all-things-book-related and by the skill in which this perhaps rather unsexy passion has been incorporated into what is rather a thrilling read.


The Bookman’s Tale was published by Alma Books in 2013.

SS-GB – Len Deighton (1978) – A Running Man Review



It struck me whilst reading Deighton’s 1978 thriller how little British fiction I have read from the 1970’s.  Even for the (very small) part of the decade when I had moved on to adult fiction it was thrillers from an earlier era and American blockbusters that were fuelling my reading habit.  For some reason, contemporary British fiction did not appeal to me as a youngster and I haven’t really revisited the era to any great deal since.

I think this is largely due to the style of writing in vogue then.   Deighton’s 12th of the 26 novels he has published to date (the last being “Charity” in 1996) is admittedly a brilliantly realised alternative history.  Victory for the Nazis was an idea which cropped up from time to time in film and fiction since the end of the War.  Philip K Dick’s “Man In The High Castle” appeared in 1962 but the very British feel of Deighton’s novel would certainly have caused a stir on publication.  Small details have been thought out and worked through as if Deighton really inhabited this nightmarish world.  In his introduction he states;

“Using (the) German data I drew a chain of command showing the connections between the civilians and the puppet government, black-marketeers and quislings, and the occupying power with its security forces and bitterly competitive army and Waffen SS elements.”

This level of detail, research and projection as to what might have been is very effective.  I think, however, Deighton’s style of writing, typical for the time, has dated and led to me feeling somewhat let down by the reading experiences.  It’s all strangely clipped, like a lot of the fiction of the day geared towards a male audience I feel it should be read out of the corner of the mouth with a cigarette on.  I feel this way about, amongst others, Ian Fleming and Alastair Maclean so Deighton is in good company.  This style, developed from American “hard-boiled” crime writers and film noir doesn’t allow for the characters to really connect emotionally and that for me is one of the real joys of reading.  Main character Douglas Archer, a Scotland Yard Detective having to solve crimes in the new Nazi regime apparently has had a strong bond with colleague Harry Woods since Archer was a child when Woods was a father figure.  Now his mentor’s senior this relationship just seemed like it should really sizzle, but I didn’t feel any real connection between them.

When Archer decides he has fallen in love it was one of the biggest surprises of the novel as from the scenes with his loved one there didn’t seem to be anywhere near enough of a spark for this to happen.  What jars now is how understated it is all is.  There’s a big action centrepiece which crept up on me and I found myself having to re-read to see what happened.  In fact I did quite a lot of re-reading and what I missed what this real sense of feeling and emotions.  It was no doubt a sign of the times (of the 70’s as well as the 40’s).

I think we’ve just got used to brasher, noisier, more emotional adventure novels.  So I’m interested to see how this relates to the big-budget BBC five part adaptation which would have started by the time you are reading this.  That was the reason I wanted to get this book read first.  I’ll let you know what I think………………


SS-GB was published in 1978.  It is currently available as a Harper Collins paperback

Dominus – Tom Fox (Headline 2015) – A Running Man Review


Interesting marketing concept this.  Although this is Tom Fox’s debut published novel two “digital shorts” – a prequel and sequel are also available as e-books.  Fox has a background of academic research on the Church and puts it to good use here.

During a Sunday morning mass officiated by the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica a stranger enters the building and approaches the Pontiff.  After some words the Pope, who has been crippled since birth. stands up straight for the first time in his life.  The Vatican City goes into lock-down after this and the world is rocked by news of other “miracles”.

Central character Alexander Trecchio is a poorly regarded religious correspondent for La Repubblica and an ex-Priest.  Sent to research the story he encounters men who have obviously been silenced.  He enlists the help of old flame Police Inspector Gabriella Fierro to find out if the world is in the grip of some kind of a second coming or an elaborate conspiracy.

Much of this would seem familiar to fans of the adventure novel genre for whom conspiracy within the Catholic Church is a staple.  Fox offers a new twist with a stronger reliance on the concept of faith and the nature of miracles and if the reader is able to buy into this a little it is an entertaining read.  The book has pace and reads well but for me lacks the plausibility factor of some of the best in its genre.  Not too long ago I read Michael Benoit’s “The Thirteenth Apostle” written also by someone with a background in theological studies and I felt he managed to use this to get a stronger feeling of authenticity and avoided with his struggle between good and evil the trap of having the evil seem cartoonish.  I’m not convinced Fox avoided this struggle.

It also recalled a reading of Thomas Gifford’s 2004 novel “The Assassini”, another tale of church corruption within a Vatican City setting which was memorable only because of the length of time it took me to plod through it, but “Dominus” is considerably more successful – so all in all I’m wavering somewhat in the middle.  It’s an enjoyable book for adventure fans and a welcome new read in a genre which became saturated after the success of Dan Brown and has now calmed down to seeing only those that are stronger or offering something slightly different being published.  I don’t think this will kick-start a publishing fervour along the lines of “The Da Vinci  Code” (Dan Brown still referenced on the cover of “Dominus).  I would be interested to see what the digital only “Genesis” and “Exodus” add to the mix, however.



Dominus was published by Headline in 2015.  Many thanks to the publishers and Bookbridgr for the review copy.


Two more By Scott Mariani – A Running Man Review


The Doomsday Project (2009)

The Heretic’s Treasure (2009)


I previously reviewed  Scott Mariani’s earlier Ben Hope novels “The Alchemist’s Secret” (2007) and “The Mozart Conspiracy” (2008) and in an attempt to catch up (there are now 11 novels in this series together with a couple of novellas here are my thoughts on the next two.  So far Ben has faced near disaster linked to the work the alchemist Fulcanelli and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus in two outlandish but enjoyable plots.

“The Doomsday Project” might be moving towards greater realism but perhaps is not as much fun.  Hope has given up finding and rescuing kidnap victims and has developed ambitions to become a vicar (!) This seems to be as a result of being involved in too many tragedies and at the beginning of this novel we find him re-embarking on the Oxford theology degree he gave up on many years before.  He reconnects with his tutor, a family friend, whose daughter has gone missing in Corfu.  Hope is reluctant to return so soon to the life he thought he had abandoned until circumstances force him to do so.  The daughter has discovered something that challenges prophecies in Revelations regarding the End of The World.  Cue the American End Of Time evangelists who will resort to anything to ensure their Doomsday theories will not be challenged.  The plot feels (slightly) more plausible, the villains less cartoonish but perhaps the actions sequences are more outlandish, and there are plenty of action sequences in this book.  All in all, third book into the series and the standard is being maintained although it does look like Hope will never get that Theology degree!

The follow-up to this is “The Heretic’s Treasure” (2009).  This felt a little less quirky than some of the others in the series.  Ben has (surprise surprise!) abandoned his Theological studies and seemingly more fittingly has set up a business to train those involved in hostage situations based on a large property he has bought in France.  Not that he is there for long, however, as an old Army Colonel who Hope feels beholden to (a life-saving incident) wants help as his Egyptologist son has been killed on the brink of a big discovery.  Unfortunately for all, terrorists with destruction on their mind are also close to the same discovery.  Exactly who can be trusted twists and turns as Ben finds himself getting ever deeper.  It feels, for the most part, a little more serious, with a little less adventure, a little more hardware and with a usual share of big set pieces and people being in the right place at the right time.  Hope finds love again (very quickly, it must be said) but is it all too good to be true?  I do really quite enjoy these very readable books and there is nothing in either of these books which will put me off selecting the next one in the series.


Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope books are published in the UK by Harper Collins (Avon)

The British Lion – Tony Schumacher (2015)- A Running Man Review


After recently finishing and reviewing Tony Schumacher’s debut “The Darkest Hour” (2014)  I was eagerly anticipating reading the second in his alternate history series.

The Nazis have successfully invaded Britain and have installed Oswald Moseley as Prime Minister. Set in the immediate aftermath of the war, various factions are attempting to undermine the Nazi regime. Ex-Policeman Rossett, nicknamed “The British Lion” because of his heroic war-time exploits, is a main character with much potential. This follow-up is not as successful as Schumacher has moved away from some of the elements that made its predecessor work so well. The intensity of the action-packed debut set in a wintry London which feels like it is looming in on the main characters all driven on by a chilling moral issue has been diffused. Schumacher has opened this all up and here we have a couple of kidnappings with the factions – the Germans, the British Resistance, the Americans and the Royalists all battling against one another with Rossett stranded in the middle. The setting has lost its power as Rossett spends much of the novel on the road to Cambridge and, although there is another moral issue at the core, this time it does not seem as immediate or as comprehensible to the main protagonists. Schumacher has also used a lot of speech between characters which has the tendency to slow things down, losing the pace of the original.

Having said all this it is still a good read and kept me involved. This is the second time recently a follow-up alternate history novel has fallen short of its strong debut, as Justin Richards’ “Never War” series which throws aliens into the World War II mix also felt a let-down. I’m hoping that the third book from both of these authors sees them regaining their potential.  threestars

The British Lion is published in 2015 by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins.

This review can also be found on the Book Chap section of the Nudge Books site


The Darkest Hour – Tony Schumacher (2014) – A Running Man Review



In his acknowledgements at the back of this debut novel Schumacher gives credit to;

“the men, women and children who fought and died in the darkest hours mankind has ever known.  Your sacrifice inspired and gave us all a free voice.

I hope I used it well.”

 And do you know what– he has.  In this alternate-history thriller Schumacher recreates the time after the Second World War, a world where the Nazis successfully invaded Britain and have installed Oswald Moseley as Prime Minister, with the previous administration in exile in Canada.

John Henry Rossett, whose heroics in the war earned him the nickname “The British Lion” has been transferred to the department of Jewish Affairs.  Not one to question orders his job has been to discover groups of Jews and arrange for their deportation out of the country.  He believes they are being sent to Poland to work.  A routine operation on a dingy property changes his life for good as an elderly Jew from his past recognises in Rossett some sense of charity and humanity which fear of the present regime had not beaten out and pleas for his help.  Not everyone makes it onto the train and that is the start of Rossett’s adventure.

I found this really quite gripping and it was tense until the final words of the novel.  Rossett, by not obeying orders finds himself in danger not only with his immediate employers in the SS, but also the Gestapo, the British Resistance, Royalists and Communists. This is a world where no-one can be trusted and everyone will do what it takes to stay alive.  There’s a good cast of characters and there seems to be a lot of mileage in Rossett, a man damaged by the murder of his wife and son in the days after the Invasion in a bomb planted by the British Resistance. His life has shut down to the point where he follows orders without question and joins the Nazi Party to keep his job and avoid the beginning of the decline which could see him unemployed and sent to work in a labour camp on defences against the Russians.

There’s plenty of action, in fact in a couple of places, the action is so detailed that it slows down the plot but the story being told here is a simple tale of human survival and escape, and it’s a good one.  Set in a London of foggy nights, dingy pubs and people looming in the shadows all serves to crank up the tension.

Schumacher, residing just outside Liverpool is one of those people who have done so many different things that really they just have to become writers.  He has worked as a Policeman for ten years, an actor and stand-up comedian, taxi driver, bouncer the list goes on.  You can tell he’s someone who’s spent a lot of time around people as he is able to flesh out his characters in a way in which a lot of writers in the adventure book genre find difficult to do.  On his website at he expresses his willingness to arrange Skype calls with book clubs and writing groups and I think any reading group with a predilection for a novel with thrills and spills will do well to seek this one out.

I have already lined up his soon to be published follow-up “The British Lion” to be read and I hope it maintains the standard set by this first book.



“The Darkest Hour” was published in the UK by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins in 2014.

Kingdom – Tom Martin (2009) – A Running Man Review



This is the second of Martin’s books I have read.  The first “Pyramid” was an enjoyable debut and this second novel confirms him to be up there amongst the leading lights of the adventure fiction genre.  “Pyramid” seemed to get a considerable number of Amazon reviewers frothing at the mouth, pointing out inaccuracies and implausiblities, but even a number of them admitted a fondness for it.  In “Kingdom” (which fares somewhat better on Amazon) we meet Nancy Kelly, a journalist who joins a newspaper team in India and is instantly embroiled in the disappearance of her predecessor in Tibet.  Kelly begins her own search with daredevil and antiquities dealer (what a combination!) Jack Adams.   It’s great to see a well-rounded central female character in this type of book.

Before long we’re off on a search for Shangri-La and secrets which will have serious repercussions throughout the world.  Missing the Nazis in your adventure fiction?  Fear not because they’re not too far away in this .  The plot line is ludicrous but the whole thing is extremely likeable.  It also features a character at death’s door who must take a prize for one of the most coherent death-bed narratives ever!   These jibes aside I think the novel is well-done, it doesn’t over-reach itself by becoming too complex or too fragmented and it is a good example of the genre.

In these two novels British novelist Martin has proved himself to be a story-teller of consistency and worth.  He hasn’t published anything since these two so I hope he hasn’t been put off by those pesky Amazon reviewers.  “Tom Martin” is a pseudonym and my little bit of amateur-detective work has not been able to find out much more than this.  I would happily purchase a third book by this writer.


Kingdom was published in the UK in 2009 by Pan Books



The Brotherhood Of The Holy Shroud – Julia Navarro (2007) – A Running Man Review



Here is the first female author with a review in my Running Man section of action and adventure novels. It is certainly a male-dominated field and breaking the mould here is Spanish author Julia Navarro who in 2007 produced a book which fulfils all the criteria for this category. This is the first of her two books along similar lines (the second is “The Book Of Clay”) which have been translated into English. She has now written five novels. The last two seem more focused on historical saga than action/adventure. I have not yet read any of her other works. Navarro is also a journalist with non-fiction books to her credit and a well-known political analyst in her home country.


     Julia Navarro

This book starts off very well indeed with the Arts Crime Department investigating a series of fires at Turin Cathedral where the Holy Shroud is held. Added to this are tongueless mutes who seem to be linked to these incidents .


 Detail from the Turin Shroud

This provides an exciting first half of the novel as the author seems to be giving the best of the male authors in this genre a run for their money. Unfortunately, however, about mid-way through things start to go awry. It’s the Knight Templars that do it. They are introduced into the plot because of their involvement with the Holy Shroud and Navarro gets carried away with giving us too much historical detail without managing to incorporate this into the unfolding story. This drags the book down for me. It is a pitfall of the genre and Navarro is yet another victim. She does, however, manage to avoid one of the other pitfalls which is the anti-climatic resolution. All too often in this genre, the threat of the end of the world fizzles out with a discovery of some artefact which is then discovered not to have the power it is believed to have, leaving the reader with a sense of deflation and a feeling that loose ends have been left for no real purpose.   In “The Brotherhood of The Holy Shroud” there is a satisfactory resolution, even though to get there she does kill or maim a surprising number of her main characters, making sequels unlikely!


The Brotherhood Of The Holy Shroud was published by John Murray in 2007


The Demonologist- Andrew Pyper (Orion 2013)- A Running Man Review




Okay, I’ve let this one go a couple of years now I can get it out of my system.  When this book was released I was lucky to be sent a post a review copy.  Whoever was responsible for sending the books out was a genius because it really was the most sumptuous parcel I have ever received.  The book arrived in a tied brown paper parcel, purporting to come from Venice, with an authentic looking seal and a letter from the Demonologist, the main character.  The whole thing looked delicious, was exciting and just a little bit creepy, which was exactly what I hoped the publishers were trying to achieve.    Top marks for the creative department who thought this up.  I couldn’t wait to read it.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, the book was a let-down……….

My copy was sent on the understanding that if I enjoyed it I would review it favourably on Amazon (I didn’t have the blog site then).  I never posted that review.  I have recently been thinking about books that didn’t live up to the hype so I thought it was about time I put into print what it was that didn’t work for me.  It was a book I should have loved – a blend of horror and action/adventure, a Venetian setting and a very attractive front cover.

Because I am such a sensitive soul I didn’t post on Amazon because I didn’t want the author and publishers to find out I couldn’t rave over the book after all the trouble they had gone to.  The last nine months of reviewing has toughened me up.  I have had a sneaky look at Amazon to see if I’m wide off the mark, opinion-wise and there is the usual mixed views, but with a fascinating spread.  34 reviews are currently listed – ten 5 stars (did they receive the free copy I wonder?) seven 4 stars,  ten 3 stars and seven 2 stars.  Such perfect symmetry needs commenting on……

The whole thing reminded me of another book I should have liked but didn’t, “The Historian” by  Elizabeth Kostova which aimed to take the Dracula story to a new level (only for me it didn’t – nor for the 201/427 Amazon reviewers who rated it 3* or below.  What am I doing looking at these Amazon statistics?  I hardly ever do this!).  The “Demonologist” attempts to give a new sheen to the work of John Milton and his “Paradise Lost”.

Demons make contact with David Ullman, an American Milton specialist and steal his daughter.  This is his quest to get her back in what is truly a race against the Devil.  The main reason it doesn’t work is because it is written in present tense, which is not in itself a bad thing, but leads to a sense of disappointment if you are trying to build suspense.  It means that some of the scary things that happen when the main character is not around have to be reported rather than allowing us as readers to experience them.  I feel instantly cheated and I’m surprised that this wasn’t pointed out before publication as it seems to me to be a considerable flaw.

This, however, might mean that the plot would work better as a film and I noted that Pyper’s previous novels are in development as films.  Visually, with its Venice setting, it could be stunning and the chills could be more effective.

The Professor’s battles with the Devil are largely cerebral and involve Milton’s words from which the Professor can inexplicably gather clue as to his daughter’s whereabouts (some of my mature UK readers might remember the TV show “3-2-1” and this certainly comes to mind here!).

Characterwise, it was one of the supporting characters who attracted my attention rather than the Professor.  Elaine O’Brien, his colleague who is suffering from terminal cancer seems a more rounded character and I wanted to read more about her.  Also, and perhaps, importantly, given the nature of the book, I couldn’t believe in the father/daughter relationship which is so central to the plot.  It didn’t scare me and I didn’t think it was particularly thrilling but it did pass the time well so wasn’t a complete disaster.  I haven’t written Canadian author Pyper off.  His novel “The Damned” was published in the UK in March 2015 and the Daily Mail reviewer certainly liked it – but this for me is one clear case where the promise didn’t deliver.


The Demonologist was published by Orion (who certainly did a good job in the marketing) in 2013.

(I feel better for that- I’ve been suffering from reviewer’s guilt because I never posted that original review!)