Love is For Tomorrow: Réunion (a short story), by Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah

One star

When asked by Karner and Acquah to read their short story (and novel), I took the opportunity to try the former to whet my appetite. The idea sounded interesting, based on the Goodreads blurb, and I had a few half hour to devour this short piece of writing. Kerrie was a happy woman, ensconced in her painting one afternoon, with her son, Dwayne Jr., playing in the other room. A rap at the door alerts her that her husband, Dwayne, had been killed while on a mission overseas. From here, the story catapults to France, where Kerrie is attending an art event in Paris. When she is contacted by Nigel, apparently a British investigative journalist, to meet at a café, she agrees in the hopes that she can gain some insight into what happened to Dwayne. Little to either Kerrie or Nigel’s knowledge, two hitman await to infiltrate their meeting, in order to stop any information sharing. With Nigel taken out of the equation before he arrives at the rendezvous and a plant sitting at the café, Kerrie is kept from learning anything regarding her husband and is no better off than before she arrived in Paris. 

If this review seems somewhat unplugged and scattered, I must say that I learned more from the Goodreads blurb than I did reading this short story. Perhaps the best part of the story was its brevity and writing style. While the story was flaccid, at least it was written in such a way that there is potential. However, potential does nothing when trying to lure fans or interest them in future writing. Karner and Acquah may have something they want to transmit, but fail to hook the reader from the get-go. If you cannot transmit a general idea in 24 pages, you’ve lost the reader. I cannot applaud or suggest this story to anyone, really, as it has little momentum or apparent impetus. Perhaps the publisher had a little money set aside and could publish this electronically, leaving Amazon to offer it up for free. Thankfully these 30 minutes helped fill a gap in my day and no more!

Messrs. Karner and Acquah, I am unsure if your full novel deserves my attention or interest. Perhaps I will have to read this again one day before diving in to sway my currently soured opinion.

Nemesis (Harry Hole #4), by Jo Nesbø

Four stars

Nesbø continues to dazzle with his wonderful Harry Hole series, in this fourth novel. When a single individual enters a bank and takes the female teller hostage, demands are made to empty an ATM full of money. Using the hostage to disguise their voice, the robber offer an ultimatum that cannot be completed in the specified time, and the teller is killed. With the Robbery Division unable to make any progress on the case, it is sent to Harry Hole and video evidence expert, Beate Lønn as a murder investigation. With Hole’s girlfriend, Rakel, in Russia fighting for custody of her son, Harry agrees to have dinner with a former lover, Anna, who reappears out of the blue and wants a platonic chat. Waking up at home the next morning with all the signs of a massive hangover, Hole is shocked to learn that Anna apparently committed suicide the night before. However, some of the evidence points at a potential murder, covering up to confuse everyone. Keeping this under wraps, Harry engages in an off-the-books investigation and reaches out to a member of Anna’s family, who is in prison for previous bank robberies, promising to solve her murder if insight on the bank robberies can be provided. As Lønn discovers the intimate closeness of the robber and teller through analysis of the video surveillance, she surmises that they must have known one another. When further heists are completed and no teller is harmed, Hole and Lønn agree that this first robbery held a special component; the teller. After heading around the world to follow a lead in South America, Hole and Lønn appear to close the case when they find a confession in a suicide note from the teller’s brother-in-law. Returning to Norway, Hole is contacted through anonymous email servers by someone calling themselves S2MN. All traces point back to Hole, who cannot remember what happened with Anna, though he is fairly certain that he is innocent. However, fellow police officer Tom Waaler trips on some evidence that could implicate Hole and a warrant is issued for our protagonist’s arrest. Hole dodges his colleagues to clear his name and trips on a key piece of evidence staring him in the face. All the while, someone by the name of the Prince has Hole in his crosshairs, killing those who might be able to uncover the truth behind Hole’s former partner’s murder. Nesbø offers the reader a wonderful omniscient view into this and all other storylines in this jam-packed novel with a final chapter that may bring Hole and the Prince into a massive stand-off. A sensation second book of an imbedded trilogy within the larger Harry Hole series. 

There is no question that Nesbø is a sensational writer. That his books can be so addictive in a language other than the original adds to their greatness. The Harry Hole character is highly complex on many levels, from his alcoholism through to his past lovers and struggles with work. Nesbø offers ongoing insights into the dark world of Hole’s life and his attention to detail to solve the most complicated of cases. Building on this and other periphery characters within Hole’s sphere, Nesbø offers detailed character development that will only draw the reader closer to the protagonist. The reader finds themselves fully involved in the plot and the multiple storylines on offer. The reader must pay close attention in order to sift through the busy narrative and Hole’s varied activities. I find myself wanting to reach for the next novel to discover how the Prince storyline ends, or if it will continue for the rest of the series.

Kudos Mr. Nesbø for another wonderful novel. You are a master, no matter what language in which you are read.

Men of Men (Ballantyne #2), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

As the Ballantyne saga continues, Smith chose a new central focus on which the imperial white man seeks to hoard for himself; highly pressurised carbon. no matter the plight of the Africans currently living on the land. Just as the ivory hunt proved to be highly beneficial for European settlers, the mining of diamonds became a lucrative means to make substantial capital. Smith brings Zouga Ballantyne into the thick of the mining operation, alongside his family. As the novel opens, Ralph and Jordan Ballantyne are in camp with their parents and exploring as any teenage boy is wont to do. When Zouga’s wife dies suddenly, it is up to the Ballantyne boys to forge their own way in a world still rife with chaos. As Zouga mines for diamonds, he leads a camp full of locals until Cecil Rhodes arrives on the scene, ready not only to purchase all the diamonds, but to annex the lands and settle them for his own. Using Zouga as an emissary to the African tribes, Rhodes begins the creation of what will eventually be Rhodesia (and then Zimbabwe). Ralph becomes a hardcore worker, mirroring the sentiments of his father and grows up to develop a personality as hard as the diamonds he mines. Jordan, on the other hand, is a more delicate young man, much like his mother, but does find himself involved as Rhodes’ personal secretary. When Ralph travels to discover his aunt, Robyn Codrington (nee Ballantyne)’s missionary camp, he falls in love with his cousin, Catherine and they begin a whirlwind romance. Smith uses this encounter to bridge the two original siblings (Robyn and Zouga), as well as the fallout that befalls them when Captain St. John (the slave owning ship captain) returns to engage with Rhodes and his new territorial plans. Both Zouga and Robyn’s clans mesh together during the subsequent portions of the novel, which focusses largely on Rhodes use of soldiers and the British South Africa Company to rid the lands of the African tribes by force, read: slaughter them. Smith masterfully weaves this tale alongside the birth of Rhodesia, the white state that will, in decades to come, prove key in the black suppression on the African continent. A powerful second novel in the Ballantyne series not to be missed.

Smith continues with his storytelling abilities to depict the colonial nightmare that saw the sub-continent of Africa become the plaything of the British Commonwealth. Plundering its people, wildlife, and now natural resources, Smith shows how the entire area was devastated by those who thought they knew best. In this tale, Smith pulls no punches as he explores the colonial mindset, to rape and pillage those who will not kneel voluntarily, while killing those who seek to protect their tribal lands. Pitting the spear against the bullet and formal military techniques against those of tribal huntsmen, Smith shows how the European (read: British) mindset utilised this superiority to slaughter those in their way, with no comprehension for the traditional ways of life. Rhodesia’s creation was made on the backs of the African people, their blood and sweat imbedded in the land while the whites profited immensely. A novel not for the reader who is not prepared to digest horrible depictions, but full of examples of the deplorable way whites treated those with whom they saw as a hindrance. Smith is to be applauded for this book and the series to date, which has handled many of these topics in a historically accurate way. 

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this powerfully disturbing novel. You have left an ache in me to learn more and to be ashamed of the British Commonwealth at the same time. No wonder things became as volatile in that region, pitting race against race and tradition against colonial profits.

Th Redbreast (Harry Hole #3), by Jo Nesbø

Five stars

With Harry Hole focussing his attention on Norwegian soil, Nesbø brings the third book in the series to the writer’s attention. After a heroic act during a political summit, Hole is promoted to inspector and moved to the POT, a security directorate. In his new role, Hole begins an investigation into rumours that a high powered rifle has been brought into the country and may be used in an assassination attempt of some sort. Working in conjunction with his former partner, Ellen, they discover that all roads lead back to a man named ‘the Prince’, though Hole is unable to uncover this individual’s real identity. Ellen inadvertently stumbles upon a major clue, but is attacked before she can pass it along to Hole, who grasps at any clue he can to close the case. At this same time, Hole becomes involved with a colleague, Rakel, and her son, Oleg. This relationship blooms and fades throughout the novel, as Hole tries to synthesise all that is going on in his professional and personal lives. Alongside this storyline, Nesbø tells a tale of a handful of Norwegian soldiers who chose to fight with the Reich after Norway’s capture by German forces in World War II. These men and their lives weave a complex story that spans sixty years, one which eventually pulls Hole into the centre, as the soldiers are being murdered, one by one. Who is the Prince and how does it tie into the rifle imported from South Africa? Will Rakel be a new addiction that Hole cannot shake? Will these traitorous soldiers ever be safe in the country on which they turned their backs? Nesbø has answers, but also a handful more questions, for the reader, as the novel takes turns never seen in the series to date. A must-read by all series Harry Hole fans, thought its depth and complexities leave the previous two novels in the proverbial dust.

There is no question why or how Nesbø won significant awards for this novel. Its complexities and detailed plot lines make this a stellar piece of writing, no matter the language in which it is read. Nesbø finally shows off how Scandinavian writing is so much more nuanced and complex, and forces the reader to dig deeper to pull out all the clues to craft a successful thriller. Hole and his character receive a multi-faceted exploration, alongside a rich and controversial historical review of Norway at the height of World War II. Nesbø adds a number of characters whose importance will become apparent in subsequent novels (so I have heard) and does so in a fluid manner, setting the scene for some Oslo-based mysteries, rather than flitting off to the vast reaches of the globe. While the historical story seemed to drag at times, its importance becomes readily apparent as the climax of the novel approaches and the patient reader will be rewarded for the delay. A thoroughly stunning piece of work that has breathed new life into the series for me and those who have come to respect Harry Hole up to this point. No matter what his past has shown, Hole is a man who has much more to show and with seven more novels, Nesbø has the time to peel away new layers to entice his fans.

Kudos Mr. Nesbø for this novel that does not give up from the beginning until the final sentence. You are to be applauded for your hard work and significant effort.

A Falcon Flies (Ballantyne #1), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

In his other multi-novel series, Smith continues to use Africa as his central backdrop. The year is 1860 and slave trading remains a key form of commerce amongst Europeans and those in the Americas. After missionary Fuller Ballantyne has gone missing on the African sub-continent, his two children join a clipper out of England to find him. Robyn Ballantyne is a missionary like her father, but also has a medical background, both areas of education she wishes to bring to the African people. Her brother, Morris ‘Zouga’ has little interest in anything other than the riches that the land can bring him. While on their voyage, the Ballantynes learn that their captain is key in the slave trade and will stop at nothing to continue this prosperous form of economic advancement. Robyn does all she can to sway the captain, while she falls in love with him, to no avail. It is only when she encounters an ally in Clinton Codrington that she feels she could end slave trading on a small scale. Codrington finds himself falling for Dr. Ballantyne, who begins the arduous task of locating her father. As Smith forks the story, both siblings begin their own adventures searching for Fuller Ballantyne and discovering the riches that Africa has to offer them. Zouga finds himself involved in ivory hunting and gold exploration, but soon discovers a figurine that fulfils a long-held prophecy. Robyn does all she can to save those herded up for slavery and seeks to bring word of Christianity as she gets closer to Codrington. Fuller’s discovery opens new pathways as Smith educates and entertains the reader in the first novel of the series. When Codrington puts his passions into action, he faces consequences, but is keen to win Robyn’s heart no matter the cost. Contrasting nicely with the Courtney novels, Smith opens new literary options with this parallel series.

The differences could not be more profound between the Ballantyne and Courtney series, at least based on this opening novel. This novel does another wonderful job illustrating the wonders of Africa, from its people to the animals scattered throughout, but also tackles key issues brought about with colonization, including excessive hunting, slavery, and misunderstanding of the tribal ways of life. Smith does weave a strong social commentary into the story, sometimes bluntly offering up an opinion, but also firmly rooting his ideas in a detailed narrative. The reader should enter reading this book with both an open mind and one ready to learn, as there is much to absorb in the complex narrative. Exploring African from the eyes of settlers rather than the settled, Smith will be able to tackle a series of tales from the opposing side from those offered within the Courtney novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this enlightening novel, which paves the way for what will surely be a highly entertaining series. 

Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2), by Jo Nesbø

Four stars

Nesbø brings Harry Hole back for another explosive mystery, again on the other side of the world. When Norway’s Ambassador to Thailand is found murdered in a brothel, the suspects and motives are plentiful while the political scrambling begs for a cover-up. In a country where all sexual proclivities can be met, both legal and illegal, nothing seems off limits, though with these secrets come great responsibility. Hole is sent to investigate, while keeping the Police Commissioner and Ministry of Foreign Affairs appraised. Acclimating himself to the Thai way of life and policing, Hole finds himself in a country where speed and succinct behaviour are anything but normal, leaving him to grasp at straws as he tries to nail down a murderer. With a sizeable Norwegian population living in and around Bangkok, Hole sifts through the ex-patriots to see who has ties to the Ambassador and how they might have been able to curry favours in order to advance their own agendas. The Ambassador’s family has a collection of secrets all their own, which create a new set of motives. Hole is left to speculate if there is a Thai connection or whether the clues point to a strong Norwegian suspect in the murder. In this novel, less an internal-struggle for Hole, Nesbø shows just how dedicated his protagonist is to getting the job done, even if others within his own community are happy to see him fail. Another wonderful piece by a stellar Scandinavian thriller writer that readers will enjoy.

For the second time in as many novels, Harry Hole is working away from his native Oslo, though this time the story has a much strong ‘local’ feel to it. Plunging into the sexual cesspool that is Thailand, Hole must navigate through a society where nothing is off the table, though everything is questionable, to find key players who might help flesh out the rationale behind a shocking murder. Secrets and lies fuel the story’s advancement, woven together in a highly-effective manner so as to keep the reader guessing whose alibi might hold firm and where the lies will lead. Nesbø pulls no punches in his social commentary of the country or its vast array of perverse possibilities peppered with a political aspect that tries to apply a layer of dignity to a bawdy situation. Hole brings out the best and worst in people as he navigates through his investigation, permitting the reader to see why he is such a curious character and one who struggles on so many levels.

Kudos Mr. Nesbø for keeping the action and thrills at the forefront of this novel. I hope the rest of the series is as fast-paced and filled with interesting nuances.

A Sparrow Falls (Courtney #3), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

My 200th posted review for 2015!

In this, the concluding novel in the Sean Courtney collection, Smith moves the powerful man aside and offers the reader a new focus in the young Mark Anders. Serving under Courtney in the Great War, Anders survives in the trenches and returns to his family homestead, which has been confiscated and his grandfather murdered. Learning of the gang behind the acts, Anders discovers that his former General’s own son, Dirk Courtney, is the mastermind. Using this as a pretence for revenge, Anders begins working for General Sean Courtney, first as his assistant and eventually in a position of political patronage as game warden. At this time, Anders falls in love with the General’s daughter, Storm, who has grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth and cannot imagine life with such a commoner. As Smith builds the novel’s narrative, South Africa comes of age under the Smuts Government, where it begins to bulge at the seams after a surge of socialist upheaval. To quell the workers and the early germination of race clashes, government troops push back the protest, which only delays further action. Anders finds himself in the middle of this and other key aspects of South African independence as he tries to find his way. With the chance to eventually face his nemesis, Anders learns of the lengths to which Dirk Courtney will go to get his way, allowing no one to cross him. As Smith brings the Sean Courtney story to a conclusion, he has only just begun laying the groundwork for the explosive second collection of Courtney novels, in which future generations will surely see the country become cesspool of racism on the African continent. A must-read novel and series by any curious reader.

Over this short three-novel series, Smith has created the foundation for a wonderful series that places South Africa at its centre. Written with the mysteries of the continent in mind, Smith is able to use a core group of characters to live within history and yet forge their own lives and weave highly intriguing tales. His storytelling is second to none and the drama that Smith instills keeps the reader begging for more. Looking only at the first collection, if I were to offer a criticism, it would be that the time period between the books is large and brief narration to weave together the happenings from one book to the other does not adequately suffice. Readers like myself might enjoy additional novels in the series to flesh out the character arcs summarising their lives from one novel to the next, which are handled in a brief paragraph in Smith’s narrative. A detailed construction could make for new and exciting storylines, if done properly. Smith has me thoroughly hooked and wondering what will come next in the second collection, a multi-generational addition to the Courtney series.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for the foundational work on this wonderful series. Your climactic ending has me wondering what other twists you have in store. However, it is time to diverge and explore the Ballantyne family to see how they differ or intersect the Courtneys, before returning for another round of South Africa’s development.

Sound of Thunder (Courtney #2), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

Continuing the journey through Smith’s Courtney series is a highly educational and entertaining undertaking. With the focus still strongly on Sean, the story opens as the lead-up to the Second Boer War is imminent. Sean struggles to raise his son without a wife and, in true late-nineteenth century form, never spared the rod to spoil his young Dirk. As time passes, Sean took up a post for the English and fought the Boers at every turn. Unbeknownst to him, his twin brother, Garrick, is a high-ranking soldier in the military and pulled strings to put Sean in harm’s way, tired of living in his brother’s shadow. Skillfully, Sean manoeuvred out on the battlefield and met a mysterious woman, Ruth, and they conceive a child in a thunderstorm. Though enamoured with Sean (as most women seem to be), Ruth fled and returned to her husband, somewhat ashamed of her actions. Sean eventually realised that Ruth is married to his fellow soldier, Saul, and they battle together until the latter’s death. Sean, torn between loyalty to his friend and his own personal wants, eventually married Ruth and they forge a connection ahead of their daughter’s birth. After the War is over, the Courtneys turned to other battles, particularly in the political arena and begin looking for new and exciting adventures. Sean and Garrick bury their animosity, while Dirk watched as his half-sister, Storm, grew and became the apple of her father’s eye, which only fuels his jealousy. Dirk fled the family estate, vowing to bring down the Courtneys at any cost. Smith composes another masterful piece here and enthralls readers with his storytelling abilities.

As this historical saga moves on, Smith shows the reader the complexities found within a single family and how each member can have a background all their own. While the reader has seen only snippets of Garrick, Sean has become a central character of the two novels and his decisions, while not entirely neutral, have helped shape the story and everyone around the table. It is fascinating to see how Smith moves the story forward with the help of history and the subplots with which Sean is involved. There is surely much more to come and the patient reader will discover how rich and intricate Smith’s writing can be, given the time.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this wonderful continuation to the series. I am hooked and cannot wait to see how the first collection of Courtney stories will end.

The Bat (Harry Hole #1), by Jo Nesbø

Four stars

In my other binge-reading project of the winter, I thought that there was no better time to explore the Harry Hole series by Norwegian Jo Nesbø. I had heard much about the series, and with a keen interest in all things Scandinavian when the thriller genre is involved, I thought I could do no wrong. As the series begins, Harry Hole (that’s two syllables, Holy) finds himself in Sydney, Australia where he’s been sent to represent the Royal Norwegian Police Directorate to investigate the murder of a Norwegian national. Working alongside some of Sydney’s finest, Hole discovers that there may be a serial rapist and murderer on the loose, whose penchant for blondes leaves a trail that grows every few days. Alongside the murder investigation, Hole discovers a woman who pulls on his heartstrings and becomes an integral part of his time in Oz. The reader is also introduced to Hole’s checkered past, including an addiction that almost got him fired from the force and one that reemerges at the worst possible moment. With no firm leads and Hole’s secondment running to an end, a serial killer continues to elude the authorities and baffle Hole to no end. While soaking up the history of this foreign land, Hole may be too distracted, which hinders his ability to bring answers to a grieving family back in Oslo. In this series debut, Nesbø tells a very interesting tale, both about his protagonist and the race for justice.

I was pleasantly surprised at Nesbø’s work and found that the story flowed very effectively, full of wonderful tidbits to lure the reader in a little deeper. Harry Hole is a complex man, whose background is multi-layered and will likely take the entire series to unravel. However, Nesbø does a stellar job by paving the way with a thorough glimpse into the man’s foibles, as well as the strengths that shape him. I cannot leave this review without pondering a glaring question that leapt off the page for me, especially as a reader who loves to immerse myself in a character. Why would Nesbø choose to use his opening novel and take Hole away from his native Norway? I could see this in the third or fourth novel, but the story begins and remains in Australia for its duration. I could never fully understand this, as it makes logical sense to lay some groundwork before taking the character out of his environs. Allow the reader to learn about local friends and family, plant roots before jetting off to places unknown. That said, perhaps Nesbø has a plan here and I am too cerebral in my analysis this early in the series.

Kudos Mr. Nesbø for a great opening novel. I cannot wait to get deeper into the series to see what else you have in store for us.

When the Lion Feeds (Courtney #1), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

As I begin my semi-annual trek to binge read a sizeable series by an author previously foreign to me, Wilbur Smith seemed like an easy choice. His Courtney/Ballantyne series (some argue they are branch-offs of one another, others that they do not connect at all) should be a wonderfully complex and entertaining collection, worth a few months’ investment. Twins Sean and Garrick Courtney were connected by birth, but could not have been more different. Growing up in South Africa in the mid- to late-19th century, their lives were shaped by a world that straddles primitive Africa and technologies from colonial Europe. After a freak accident at the hand of his brother when they were young, Garrick is left without a leg and Sean’s guilt mounts. Garrick is able to use this to his advantage, which progresses into young adulthood. When the Courtney brothers accompany their father into a battle with one of the African tribes, Garrick and Sean fight for their country, the former the only one to return. Garrick takes his brother’s pregnant girlfriend, Anna, under his wing, choosing to marry her and play father to the future child. When Sean reappears, Garrick must make some significant choices, realising that his brother’s massive persona will not fade into the background. Garrick disappears into the bottle and is left out of the narrative, permitting Sean to tackle new and exciting challenges on which Smith takes the reader. Sean explores the South African gold rush, able to make a fortune before he is tricked and loses everything. Refusing to give up, Sean takes up a new path as an ivory hunter, where he is able to rebuild and meet the woman of his dreams. It is then that he begins to set roots in the booming environs of Johannesburg, adding a son to his family and beginning to look ahead to the next generation of Courtneys. An exhilarating beginning to a powerful series whose importance flows from the pages and the attentive reader will surely enjoy.

I had heard much about Smith in my years as a reader, but chose not to approach his books, unsure if they would be of interest to me. Being a great fan of all things historical, I thought I would take the plunge. What is great about this series is that it is set in Africa, an area with which I have little knowledge. The settings are thick with detail in such a way that only Smith could pen effectively, as an African himself. He does not yet tackle much of the racial strive that is sure to transpire in the area, but hints at the Boer War on the horizon. The novel moves along in three significant parts, each of which shows Sean Courtney in his various life paths. Smith effectively weaves a tale to show how Sean dealt with adversity, while peppering the narrative with the life of Garrick, whose demise has not hampered his style. The curious reader may wonder what happens to Garrick, who will hopefully appear in future novels to flesh out his role and the reason Smith used him in the early chapters of the book. While the narrator of the audiobook I chose tried to bore me to tears, I sought to wrestle the story out of his monotonous voice and find vigour in the way Smith approached telling this important inaugural story in the Courtney series. I found success in it and can only hope the numerous storylines flourish with the remaining novels in this series, throughout the three collections on offer.  

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this wonderful beginning to an exciting series I will surely devour over the next few months. Show me the wonders of Africa and how it was shaped by internal and external strife.