• Marcus Coles

Reading List - 2022

Updated: Apr 13

The Camel Club - David Baldacci *****

The Camel Club seems to divide opinion among the officionados of political thrillers. I loved it. Although I have watched countless political thrillers I have never read one and so, following a Google search, I plumped for this one. I have only ever read one other Baldacci novel and was disappointed but he is one of my friend’s favourite authors so decided to check it out. I’m really glad that I did. When a small group of conspiracy theorists witness a murder, they end up getting entangled in a plot that threatens the life of the President and the security of the whole world. It was exactly what you’d expect from a book (or film) like this which was great because that’s exactly what I wanted. It had it all: Islamic terrorists, assassination attempts, corrupt officials, the FBI, CIA, NSA, NIC and others, retired agents and characters with dodgy pasts. It was a fun, interesting, fast-paced page-turner. Unlike some, I didn’t find it too political or preachy. It was everything I wanted it to be. I recommend it wholeheartedly and will definitely be reading the next in the series.

Psycho - Robert Bloch *****

I’ve seen the film dozens of times and it’s one of my all-time favourites. As I was reading the novel I was trying to imagine what it would be like to read it having never seen Hitchcock’s classic. Utterly chilling and absolutely terrifying is surely the answer. I was picturing the film in my head as I read it, especially Norman, who in the book is fat, most unlike the brilliant actor Anthony Perkins. Apart from that, the film is remarkably faithful to this book. When Mary Crane uncharacteristically steals from her employer and goes on the run, she heads north to the town of Fairvale to rendezvous with her boyfriend. A storm rolls in and she takes a wrong turn off the main highway, ending up on an old, barely used road. When the neon sign of the Bates Motel appears like a beacon through the pouring rain, she stops and checks in for the night. The proprietor, Norman Bates seems friendly, if a little odd so she has supper with him and then decides to retire early after having a nice hot shower. What follows is the stuff of legend. Despite knowing how it all plays out, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was creepy, sinister, macabre and horrifying. Multiply that tenfold if you haven’t seen the film. A brilliant horror classic you would be crazy to miss. But then again, ‘we all go a little mad sometimes.’

Emperor: The Gates of Rome - Conn Iggulden *****

This book was absolutely brilliant and I loved every word. I haven’t read a lot of Roman history but I love Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy so I was keen to give this a go. I am so glad I did. It follows the life of a young Julius Caesar and a few of his close friends and family. It is such an interesting story that moves at a terrific pace. There is war, romance, politics, violence and humour. I know some of the history but I’m by no means an expert. I was genuinely left open-mouthed at certain points, particularly when the famous identity of a main character was revealed by the name I know him as. It’s good for me that I know a little of what’s coming but not too much. I can’t wait to see what the author does with the rest of Caesar’s story. The characters are fantastic and believable and the story twists and turns all over the place. It was easy and fun to read and left me desperate for the next one. You should definitely read this. What a book!

Three Act Tragedy - Agatha Christie ****

I struggled as to whether to give this three or four stars. I decided to plump for four because of the brilliance of the denouement. I always love the grand finales of Christie’s whodunnits and find myself thoroughly absorbed when Poirot or Marple explains the mystery. This was no exception. I definitely had some frustrations with it though. It was most unlike a lot of Christie mysteries in that the murder happens almost straight away. Usually there is a long build up to the crime during which you get to know all the main characters. I confess I felt somewhat confused at the beginning by the litany of people who I didn’t know and whose names I couldn’t remember. This got easier as the book wore on. My other disappointment was that Poirot was hardly in it. I read the Moving Finger recently and was similarly disgruntled by that. In it Miss. Marple only has a cameo yet it is billed as a Marple novel. The same was true here. Hercule Poirot features heavily in the last quarter but very briefly before that. In regard to the plot: there are two dinner parties at which a gentleman is poisoned. The guests are the same at each and therefore it becomes a classic Christie whodunnit. There are a limited number of possible murderers but which could it be? Overall, I will look on it fondly but only because the finale made up for the mediocrity that came before.

Fear is the Key - Alistair Maclean ***

As far as thriller-writers go, you can’t go far wrong with Alistair Maclean. This had all the twists, turns, suspense and action you’d expect from one of the masters of the genre. When a plane goes down laden with millions of dollars worth of uncut diamonds, a salvage operation ensues. Only it’s a criminal organisation racing to recover the swag. It’s a tale of deception and revenge set on an oil rig off the US coast. My only complaint is that I didn’t know what he was talking about much of the time. The language was too technical for me and I’m not that au fait with all things nautical. Overall, a good thriller.

One Summer: America in 1927 - Bill Bryson *****

If given the opportunity of living in any other time and place, I may well choose 1920s America. Bryson does a superb job of charting all the fascinating events and characters of the era. While the focus is the summer of 1927, he draws in information from throughout the decade and beyond. He covers aviation, sport, politics, radio, television, cinema, crime, prejudice and a whole lot more. I particularly enjoyed reading about Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. It’s such an easy and fun read that I whizzed through it, thoroughly enjoying all of it. Bryson, I think is known for his fun and easy-going style and that was evident in this book. This was my first book by this author but it certainly won’t be the last.

Play Dead - Harlan Coben ****

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with so many twists and turns. The author has you constantly guessing what’s going on and just when you think you’ve figured it out, something happens to derail you. Laura is a famous and successful model and businesswoman whose married to a star athlete. When he vanishes on their honeymoon she’s devastated. But quickly she realises that some things don’t make sense and she starts to investigate. It was a fun read and a real page-turner. For the last 100 pages I couldn’t put it down and I was genuinely shocked at one of the many revelations near the end. That doesn’t happen to me very often so I was pleased. This was my first novel by this author but I don’t think it will be the last.

Conspiracy - S. J. Parris ***

I’m a great fan of this series and always look forward to the next of Giordano Bruno’s adventures. He’s always on the trail of a murderer whilst at the same time getting mixed up with the sinister machinations of the great and good. I have followed his sleuthing escapades from Oxford to Canterbury to Plymouth and now to Paris. In this book he finds himself caught between King Henri of France, the imperious Queen Mother: Catherine de Medici and the leader of France’s militant Catholics, the Duke of Guise. He is tasked by all sides to uncover the identity of a priest’s killer. Unsurprisingly, the body count rises and his situation becomes perilous. It took me a long time to get into this book and I found the second half far more interesting. Although I enjoyed it, I feel it is the weakest of the series so far. This series is still my favourite of the Tudor era crime / thriller genre. I look forward to the next one.

Ayesha, The Return of She - H. Rider Haggard ***

I am a big fan of this author especially the Allan Quatermain series and I love a good old-fashioned adventure story. I confess to being underwhelmed by this one though. This is the sequel to the classic, She which is undoubtedly superior. Holly & Leo search for years to find Ayesha and after sixteen long years find themselves in the heart of Asia drawn to a remote volcano. They encounter friendly monks, forgotten civilisations, death hounds, ethereal messengers, savage tribes, scorned women and supernatural power. Exactly the sought of stuff you might expect from this author. Yet even though all the ingredients were there I found it never really gripped me. By the last fifty pages I was longing for it to end. A really good novel should have the opposite effect shouldn’t it?

Never - Ken Follett ***

I feel a bit stingy giving it three stars and to be honest I’m not sure I can really put my finger on why I wasn’t so enamoured by it. That’s because it was a real page-turner and I looked forward to reading it every day. Yet there was a gnawing disappointment that wouldn’t go away. The whole premise of the book is that the world edges closer and closer to WW3 and nuclear catastrophe. It’s a war nobody wants but because of the nature of geopolitics and human hubris, it becomes inevitable. I think maybe it was this that kept me intrigued. The characters were OK and the plot was interesting. I kept waiting for one of the story arcs to join up with the others but that didn’t happen which I felt let down by. I didn’t think it was particularly well written either which I was surprised by because I have read a few books by this author and really enjoyed them all. The Kingsbridge series being the obvious highlight. Overall I am in a quandary because I did enjoy it but felt a bit let down too. Would I recommend it? Probably not.

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy ****

This is my second book by James Ellroy and I haven’t come across anyone quite like him. The writing is sharp, snappy, witty and raw. Wow is it raw! Some of it (a lot of it) is horrible and plumbs the depths of human depravity. This book is full of seedy darkness that gets under your skin and grips you. And it doesn’t let go. When a beautiful young woman is found dead and mutilated, two LA cops hunt for the killer. Only there is far more to the story than that. The last fifty pages focus solely on the hunt for the psycho and it proves a thrilling denouement. The rest is a darkly gripping look at crime-fighting in forties America. The characters are great and the unfolding stories of their lives are intriguing though at times I did wish the author would get on with telling me about the Black Dahlia. The horribleness of it all almost makes me feel guilty that I enjoyed it. But I did.

Gothic Tales - Elizabeth Gaskell ***

Gothic literature is one of my favourite genres so I was looking forward to reading these short stories. I wondered while I was reading them if they were not just out and out tragic rather than gothic but I suppose that is one of the hallmarks of the genre. I didn’t care for some of the stories and one was just weird (Curious, If True). Lois the Witch was by far my favourite. I think fans of the genre will like the stories and I’m glad I to have read them.

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