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  • Marcus Coles

Reading List - 2022

Updated: Jul 26

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.


The Evening and the Morning - Ken Follett *****


Ken Follett knows how to spin a good story. I love the Kingsbridge series and count Pillars of the Earth as one of my favourite books. This is the prequel set at the dawn of the Middle Ages and takes place between the town of Shiring and the hamlet of Dreng’s Ferry. The main characters include an honourable labourer, a bold noblewoman, a dastardly Bishop and his incorrigible brothers as well as a myriad of other interesting people. Over the 900 pages and 10 years of the story, so much happens that’s fascinating, infuriating and fun. I found myself able to predict a few of the storylines and think it’s because I am so used to this author’s work. His books are always real page turners and this was no different. You feel immersed in the period as you read and I feel like I learned so much about what it was like one thousand years ago. There is much violence, cruelty and brutality but also friendship, hope and great fortitude. It felt great to return to this world. This is when Follett is at his best.


The Last Jihad - Joel C. Rosenberg ***


It’s been almost two decades since I delved into this kind of eschatological Christian fiction. The Left Behind series was my last foray into the genre. The writing of the Last Jihad was OK but not good enough for me to really enjoy it. The whole story takes place over a few days, beginning with the attempted assassination of the US President and ending with the world on the brink of nuclear war. The development of the story and main characters was strange in that I never felt like it really flowed. It takes place at a hundred miles an hour and jumps all over the place. I didn’t feel like I really knew who the people were and didn’t really care about them. There was too much going on with too many people and I lost track of who everyone was. I couldn’t help thinking that the story was good and in the hands of a skilled author could have been really, really good. If Frederick Forsyth or Alistair Maclean had written it, it could have been epic. It definitely felt like the first act of a larger story rather than a standalone book but I’m not sure I’ll bother with the others.


Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stephenson ***


Treasure Island. My greatest enjoyment from this book was realising that everything I associate with old-world piracy has its origins here. Shiver me timbers, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, lubbers, swabs, Long John Silver and the Jolly Roger are just some of the recognisable terms littered throughout the book. It’s a short book and full of adventure as Jim Hawkins the cabin-boy joins a crew in search of a pirate’s lost treasure. For the most part I enjoyed it although there were large parts I didn’t understand. This was mainly on board the ship, the descriptions of which left me at a loss. Even still, I got the gist of what was happening. The characters were interesting, especially that of Long John Silver and lots of cool things happened to Jim and his friends. It’s a classic I’m glad I’ve read.


The Pharaoh's Secret - Clive Cussler ****


A good, fun and light-hearted adventure. Cussler is a dab-hand at the fast-paced, globe-trotting, action man saves the world type yarn. I enjoyed this one as it had an historical element to it. Napoleon uncovers a weapon that had been discovered by the Ancient Egyptians. It can immobilise people in seconds but is hidden from him by one of his men. In the present day it is unleashed upon a Mediterranean island by a ruthless sociopath, bent on the political domination of North Africa. It’s classic stuff that you would likely find in a Bond or Mission Impossible film. That’s what these books are for me - the equivalent of popcorn fuelled Blockbuster films. They don’t require you to think or take it too seriously. It’s all about the fun-filled entertainment. If you enjoy that sort of read then this is for you.


Partners in Crime - Agatha Christie ****


While not as well known as Poirot and Marple, Tommy and Tuppence certainly do have their charm. This is a collection of short stories in which the aforementioned solve a mystery of some sort under the guise of private detectives. They are full of enthusiasm and have a fun and witty relationship, often comparing themselves to the greatest of fictional detectives. The stories are clever and interesting with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. Some are better than others but overall this was a fun and entertaining read. Agatha Christie was a master of the short story and this collection is a prime example.


The Island of Dr. Moreau - H. G. Wells ****


I’m a big fan of Victorian literature and love the adventure / fantasy novels of messrs Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle. When the protagonist gets stranded on an island with two strangers and a host of animals, he quickly realises that all is not as it seems. The doctor is an expert in vivisection and has spent his time on the island experimenting on a host of unfortunate creatures. The upshot is the creation of a load of hideous and terrible monsters with grotesque features and unnatural and horrifying deformities. It’s a fun and thought-provoking yarn. My only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough.


The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler **


I like to read different genres and I like to read the classic, genre-defining authors. I didn’t like this one though and I think the main reason was that I didn’t like the main character: Marlowe. The quick, punchy dialogue and prose was good and reminded me of James Ellroy. I like that style but I didn’t really get into the story. Perhaps I’m a bit thick but I found myself getting lost quite early on. I can see why it’s popular but it’s not for me.


Sole Survivor - Dean Koontz ****


A friend recommended this author to me because I like Stephen King. I’m grateful she did. It was a fun thriller come sci-fi yarn which held my interest from page one. When Joe’s wife and daughters are killed in a catastrophic plane crash, he loses the will to live. However, a series of events lead him to believe that there was more to the crash than anyone knew. He goes in search of the truth and what he finds shocks him to his core. It was a real page-turner that reminded me of Stranger Things or an episode of the X-Files. I enjoyed it and will seek out more from this author.


Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton *****


We’re all familiar with the concept of Jurassic Park. The film by the legendary Steven Spielberg is a modern classic and still one of my most thrilling trips to the cinema. I am pleased to say that the book is quite different but just as thrilling. John Hammond, an eccentric billionaire has envisioned a theme park where the attractions are living, breathing prehistoric dinosaurs. He invites a group of experts and his own grandchildren to see the park before it opens. What could possibly go wrong? What follows is a thrilling adventure expertly told by an accomplished storyteller. It was fast-paced and fun, intriguing and suspenseful. I love the film and now I love the book too.


Death in Holy Orders - P. D. James ****


Commander Adam Dalgleish of the MET is called to the remote theological college of St. Anselm’s on the east Anglian coast. There has been - what appears to be - a tragic accident involving the death of one of the students. When he arrives and begins to investigate, the bodies start to pile up. A murderer is on the loose! Until the last forty pages I was all set to give it five stars. It’s a classically-written murder mystery with good characters, an engaging plot and an atmospheric location. I was loving it all the way through but then felt a little let down at the end. There was no twist or big reveal, no shock or dramatic revelation like you get at the end of a good Agatha Christie novel. It felt a bit like a damp squib when I reached the end. That said, for the most part I did enjoy it and would recommend it to others looking for a good whodunnit.


Night School - Lee Child ***


Major Jack Reacher is summoned to a meeting with an FBI agent and a CIA agent. It is top secret. Someone is selling something for $100 million and they need to find out who, where, why and to whom. Almost the entire story takes place in Hamburg, Germany with Reacher and a small group of confidants desperately trying to find the fiend. It had everything you’d expect: the massive Reacher being short with people, fisticuffs with groups of baddies, investigations, deductions, lots of Reacher-knows-best scenarios. The story was OK if a bit claustrophobic. I didn’t like some of the content; I thought it was horrible / disturbing. But most importantly, I didn’t like Reacher. I’ve read a few of these novels now and I’ve decided I don’t like him. I know he’s the main draw of these books but he’s not for me. I just find him annoying. I would have given it two stars but the last forty pages were good enough to bump it up to distinctly average.


Blackout - Simon Scarrow ***


This is the first book I have read by this author. I know he is renowned for his Roman novels but I thought I would give this a go. Horst Shencke is a police inspector charged with tracking down a serial killer in Berlin at the dawn of WW2. He is under pressure from the Gestapo and Nazi party politics hamper the pursuit. As a character he was bland but likeable enough. It was pretty predictable in the sense that he is part of the system but secretly loathes Hitler, the Nazis and all they stand for. It was fairly slow-paced and I never felt really captivated by the story though the denouement was fun. In the end I think it was OK but nothing more.


Night Without End - Alistair Maclean ****


I’m fond of a good Alistair Maclean thriller and I love a good whodunnit. This is a fun combination of both, with much of the plot reminiscent of an Agatha Christie yarn. When a plane crashes in the remote frozen regions of Greenland, it soon becomes apparent that one of the survivors is a murderer. But who? And why? What follows is a struggle for survival against the harsh and unrelenting conditions of the arctic and the evil machinations of an evil killer. Some of it dragged on a bit and at times the never ending misery of the freezing conditions felt like too much. Overall a really good read, a thriller-murder-mystery and another feather in the author’s cap


The Collectors - David Baldacci ****


The second adventure of the Camel Club sees them solving a double murder. When the Speaker of the House is assassinated and a body is found in the Library of Congress, Oliver Stone and his band of misfits get drawn into the mystery. It was a page-turner thriller with lots of mystery, spies, assassins and political intrigue. A good solid book for fans of the genre.


The Eagle has Landed - Jack Higgins *****


The ultimate WW2 spy thriller. What a book! I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a crack team of Nazi assassins sent into Britain to kidnap Churchill. Much of the story is told from their point of view so it’s not as straight forward as, ‘these are the goodies and these are the baddies.’ It was a real fast-paced page-turner that hooked me from the word go. I haven’t read a lot of WW2 thrillers but I have read a lot of Frederick Forsyth and Alistair Maclean. This was superior to anything I’ve read by them and that is high praise indeed because I’m a big fan of their work. Check this book out for a rollicking good WW2 read. There is a war on you know!


The Turn of the Screw - Henry James ***


A classic ghost story and lauded mainstay of the gothic genre. The story was an interesting one but not nearly as intriguing and gripping as some other novellas I’ve read by Elizabeth Gaskell or Edgar Allan Poe. A governess is charged with the supervision of two children, Miles and Flora. They appear to be two little cherubs but then the governess begins to see apparitions of former employees and believes the children can see them too. It has the dark, melancholic feel of a gothic novel; the ending in particular is rather macabre. It was the writing itself which I struggled with. Some of the sentences were so long that by the time I got to the end I had forgotten what had been said at the beginning. I like Victorian literature and consider myself used to the styles and themes, but this was tough going at times. I don’t mind admitting that at points I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about! If you’re an avid reader and used to this kind of writing style, I’m sure you’ll love it. A fan of gothic ghost stories? You’ll appreciate it all the more.

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