Another burst of reviews

I've been busy reading and writing lately, but haven't caught up with my reviews, so here's a bunch of recent reads, most of which I loved.

Or She Dies, by Gregg Hurwitz, 5 stars
Very clever, taut thriller about Patrick Davis, a fired screenwriter who finds himself and his wife threatened by surveillance DVDs and cryptic e-mails, then begins to follow his tormentors' instructions and goes deeper into a conspiracy that sets him up as both a murderer and victim.

While the plot stretches plausibility in places, Hurwitz manages to keep driving it along, racheting up the tension with twist after twist. Plus, Hurwitz, who has written for both TV (V) and comic books (Batman), adds in a series of Hollywood inside information to make the story seem more real.

I blasted through this book very quickly, grabbed by the idea of trying to figure out what would happen next (and usually being side-swiped by unexpected twists).

Six Years, by Harlen Coben, 5 stars
Six years after being dumped and watching his girlfriend Natalie marry another man, Jake sees her supposed "husband" is dead and finds out he was deceived. So he breaks his promise to let it lie and tries to track Natalie down, along the way dealing with cops, criminals, torturers with a thing for using tools on their victims, and a secretive organisation that helps people disappear.

Another clever, witty, thriller from Coben, whose books I've enjoyed since first picking up a Myron Bolitar novel a few years back.

Locke and Key - Volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez , 4 stars
I read the first three collections of Locke and Key in a single weekend, devouring the twists and turns of Hill's story, as he gradually revealed more and more about the secrets of the house, the mysterious keys with their strange powers, telling each tale from the perspective of a different character.

Spooky, fun stuff.

The Hit, by David Baldacci, 4 stars
Will Robie, CIA assassin from The Innocent, is on the trail of Jessica Reel, a fellow assassin who has turned and is taking out her handlers. But Reel seems to have reason for her crimes, leading Robie to suspect he's on the wrong side.

Fast, taut thriller that races along, with alternating chapters told from Robie's and Reel's perspectives.

If it all kept up the pace of the first half I'd have given it five stars, but there's a section in the middle that just doesn't ring true and drew me right out of the narrative (Reel leaves some pretty obscure clues that Robie manages to figure out ridiculously easily).

A Clean Kill in Tokyo (aka Rain Fall), by Barry Eisler, 4 stars
I first read Eisler's John Rain novels as library books many years ago, and have followed his career since, which is part of what inspired me to go down the e-book publishing route myself. He's now got the rights back to his early novels, so has reissued them with new titles (and, for a while at least, a great price) so I quickly bought the lot.

When I read this as Rain Fall, I loved the contradictions inherent in the character of Rain, an assassin with a conscience who tries to assist the daughter of one of his targets. A great source of information on CIA tradecraft, silent and natural-looking assassination techniques, and life in Japan a decade ago.

The only downside of this book is that Eisler spends a lot of time explaining the intricacies and corruption of the Japanese political system, which is probably necessary for his mostly-US readers, but slows the plot down. He handles such exposition much more subtly in his later books, suggesting this is just the learning curve of a first-time author.

A Lonely Resurrection (aka Hard Rain), by Barry Eisler, 5 stars
The second Rain book, previously called Hard Rain, drags him out of retirement in Brazil to Tokyo to take out a vicious yakuza member and underground fighter.

This picks up all the things that made the first book good, including CIA skulduggery, intricate descriptions of hand-to-hand combat, and Rain's battered conscience, with much less intrusive exposition about Japanese politics.

Winner Take All (aka Rain Storm), by Barry Eisler, 5 stars
Rain is back, but now the lone wolf assassin has partners: Dox, the good-ole-boy ex-Marine sniper who may or may not betray him; and Delilah, the Mossad honey trap expert who needs him to delay his assassination until she gets key information from the target.

Rain is still the brooding assassin with a conscience, but Eisler now puts him in situations where he has to rely on others he doesn't trust, increasing the tension and also getting Rain to question his own approach to life.

This book, as Rain Storm, was my first introduction to Rain and Eisler about a decade ago, so its been fun to re-read it in sequence with more of an understanding of where the character has come from.

Redemption Games (aka Killing Rain), by Barry Eisler, 5 stars
John Rain chokes, unable to kill his target because the man's son interrupts. Is he getting too old, too soft, or just shaken by the fact that he now relies on Dox as a partner rather than just a contractor? And is Delilah, who set him up for the Mossad-ordered job, now going to turn on him?

Eisler explores Rain's motivations and confidence, keeping up the pace with a complicated set of characters from the CIA, Mossad, Japanese law enforcement and terrorist groups (and some who fit multiple categories). Lots of action but also lots of thinking, with a nice sting near the end that makes Rain re-think his personal life too.

Coming up next: King at the carney, more Eisler, and JK Rowling as a detective author!