Category Archives: thriller

Rabid Reads: "The Egyptian" by Layton Green

The Egyptian
by Layton Green
First Ward 2011 e-book edition
Sometimes a book with an iconic setting will come along at a point when that particular region is experiencing some sort of turmoil, and in a way it kind of dates the book. In one sense, Layton Green’s latest novel, The Egyptian, suffers from the uproar earlier this year in Egypt, which saw it’s former ruler Mubarek thrown out of office and arrested for crimes against humanity. Fortunately, The Egyptian, doesn’t focus on the politics of the region, but instead focuses intently on the cultural and historical aspects of Egypt, so political strife in the real world doesn’t really hinder the storyline. And, frankly, it doesn’t look like the media is paying much attention to Egypt anymore, so what does it matter?
The Egyptian is a follow-up novel to Layton’s debut novel, The Summoner (click here to read my review), featuring special forces agent Dominic Grey. It’s a sequel of sorts, but the storyline hear doesn’t require you to really have any familiarity with the events that occurred in The Summoner. Still set in Africa, The Egyptian concerns itself with a whole new threat. A biological research company has had some extremely secret and extremely innovative technology stolen from them, and rather that contact the authorities, they have hired Dominic Grey. But the head of the company is very secretive about the nature of what’s been stolen, initially saying only that it was a vial of liquid, and when Grey finds out what it is he finds himself drawn once more into a dangerous world of the supernatural–a quest for the fountain of youth.
The book also introduces a new character named Jax, a mercenary who has his own agenda with relation to the acquisition of the technology. There was an good dictodomy between Grey and Jax, as each had very different motives and ethical boundaries around their conduct. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these two character cross paths again, and I think it has the potential to liven up the storyline, as it did here. I also found the introduction of a journalist named Victoria to be a welcome addition to the cast in this story, and found her to be a much livelier and cheerable character than Grey’s love interest in the first novel, Rya.
That said, with all the chills and spills, I wasn’t as engrossed in this novel as I was with The Summoner, which kind of surprised me because the premise for The Egyptian seemed like something far more thrilling in nature. The main point of excitement for me came in the form of a large mummy stalking and attacking certain characters throughout the book. Now “mummy” might be how it’s seen by some, but it’s important to remember that the supernatural is only alluded to and looked at with a very scientific approach, so if you think this mummy is a genuine mummy like from the Brandon Fraser movies, you’ve got another thing coming. This isn’t that kind of series.
It’s a good book, and an acceptable follow up to the previous book, with plenty of inner conflict and character development for the Dominic Grey character. And that’s always a nice aspect to these globe-trotting thrillers, since the stereotype is that a scant few offer any character development at all in favor of the technical aspects of the story. If you enjoyed The Summer, you’ll at least like this book, I figure. I just didn’t love it.

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Filed under book review, Dominic Grey, Egypt, Layton Green, Rabid Reads, The Egyptian, thriller

Rabid Reads: "Reunion" by Jeff Bennington

Reunion
by Jeff Bennington
Nexgate Press (2011)
ASIN B004S7AR0E
Available via Amazon
High school shootings: they are practically a foreign concept in my neck of the woods. I mean, before Columbine, we here in Canada only really had the Polytechnique massacre as a touchstone to such violence, so far as I recall. And that was a shooting more associated with violence against women than bullied teens going apeshit. In either case, there’s always been a bit of an aura around school shootings that they demand the utmost reverence in how violently they render a school, a community, even a nation. So, when a book like Reunion comes around, with a school shooting and its aftermath as the subject matter for a supernatural thriller, I wondered if there might be some kind of backlash, however slight.
Turns out there wasn’t, and as I read reviews for the book over the last few months, I discovered many really enjoyed the book and its approach to the subject matter. And since it was only 99 cents on the Kindle Store when I bought it, I figured I could take a chance on it, too.
The story begins with the morning leading to a school shooting in Crescent Falls, Idaho, with a bullied, abused, neglected, and emotionally disturbed student named David Ray walks into school with multiple guns, killing eight, then turning one of his guns on himself. Twenty years later, the survivors prepare for their first high school reunion, five of whom providing viewpoints of the trauma, unresolved issues, and building tension as the reunion looms. Deputy Bryan Jacobs, one of the surviving students, is arguably the main character as he’s the first of the five to see an apparition inside the dessicated school grounds, as well as a long-lingering love interest in a former classmate and fellow survivor, Kate. Kate’s married to her high school sweetheart, Nick Tooley, however, who has turned to alcohol in his bout with depression over the years. The love triangle plays its own part in the story, but is not the only part, as they all contend with their emotions and the threat of a malevolent spirit waiting for them all to return to the school.
I wish I could say I enjoyed this novel as much as others have expressed, but I found it a real chore to work through. Some elements worked for me, such as the gradual introduction of the apparitions on the school grounds, and Nick Tooley’s PTSD and growing madness, as he believes David Ray is speaking to him from beyond the grave. But the dialogue felt so stiff, forced even, and I couldn’t rally behind any of the characters. I read one review that compared it to the kind of speech you’d hear in a daytime soap opera, and I think I can agree with that. As a result of the dialogue, and what felt at times like very predictable behavior, the characters didn’t resonate with me at all.
I find I’m in the minority, and my attitude towards the novel are of no concern by most who read it. Perhaps I over-thought it, but that’s only because I didn’t get sucked into the story. I fell out of it once the pace slowed in the wake of the shootings, like a reset button had been hit and I had to get to know the characters in their adulthood all over again, and I just didn’t care. It might be worth a chance for you, especially for a mere dollar or so on the Kindle Store, but I have a feeling there’s a better chance for me at a satisfying read when Bennington’s next novel, Act of Vengeance, comes out at the end of the year or the start of next year.

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Filed under book review, ghosts, hauntings, horror, Jeff Bennington, Rabid Reads, Reunion, school shooting, thriller

Rabid Rewind: Salt

Salt
starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
directed by Phillip Noyce
written by Kurt Wimmer
Columbia Pictures (2010)
Angelina Jolie might be the best action star of the past decade. Think about that for a second. For the first time that I can think of in cinematic history, the most bankable–and convincing–actor with a litany of action movies to their credit, Angelina Jolie tops the list. Throw out the names like Jason Statham and Vin Diesel, and while they have their own admirable level of success, does any guy come close to the A-list caliber that Jolie can claim?
Salt feels like a movie custom-made for Jolie, though it seems the role of Evelyn Salt was originally written as a male character intended for a Tom Cruise style leading man. She’s runnin’, she’s gunnin’, and looking about as sexy as she ever has the whole way through.
The initial premise is pretty slick, even if it isn’t all that original. Salt is a CIA operative getting ready for a desk job so she can settle down, until a Russian spy turns himself in out of the blue and warns that the Russian president will be assassinated by a secret spy working inside America’s borders–and that spy’s name is Evelyn Salt. From that point on, it’s a cat-and-mouse chase as Salt goes on the run, claiming innocence and desperately trying to reach her husband whom she feels is under threat of being killed off by whatever cabal is orchestrating this conspiracy.
As the movie progresses though, there is a house of cards being built, as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and events leading towards the climax become all the more dependent on things happening in a very specific way. If I had been scrutinizing that plot more closely, I probably would have found my intelligence being insulted. As it stands, I was looking for straight-up popcorn fare from this one, and was satisfied by what I got.
There are moments where it really feels like it’s trying to be The Fugitive. On that front, the movie pales. Where it shines, I thought, was where it felt more like a Mission: Impossible offshoot. It’s no Bourne Identity, but the fight scenes are tightly shot and embrace that style. And the whole “who is double-crossing who” scenario plays out with just enough intrigue to keep me from throwing popcorn at the TV.
I guess you need only be a fan of action movies and Angelina Jolie to enjoy this movie. If you’re repelled by either of those ingredients, then Salt is more likely to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

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Filed under action, Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, movie review, Rabid Rewind, Salt, spy, thriller

Rabid Reads: "The Hypnotist" by M.J. Rose

The Hypnotist (Reincarnationist #3)
by M.J. Rose
Mira Books (2010)
ISBN-13: 9780778329206
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository
When it comes to the thriller genre, I’m not often entertained. I’ve tried reading a couple of Dan Brown novels and couldn’t get beyond the first fifty pages or so. And while I finished a Robert Ludlum novel a few years back, anything in it that didn’t involve a gun fight or brawl disappointed me to no end. I did manage to find enjoyment recently in Layton Green’s The Summoner, which offered a little bit of supernatural atmosphere into the plot, so when approached to review this thriller/mystery with an exploration into the past lives phenomenon, I figured I’d give it a chance.
The book is the third in a series, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage as a reader, but the necessary bits of backstory were laid out pretty well through the novel so I didn’t feel lost at all as I read along.
Lucian Glass is an FBI agent and member of the Art Crimes unit, called in to investigate the theft and subsequent destruction of a Matisse painting, an act followed by a threat that more priceless–and stolen–paintings will be destroyed unless a coveted sculpture is given up by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From this point, Lucian is swept up in a sweeping mystery that has him trying to find the culprits behind the blackmail, thefts, and threat of terrorist action, as the massive sculpture of Hypnos is coveted by multiple parties. On top of that, Lucian is haunted by a slain lover from years past, whom he sees in the eyes of another, a woman who may be the reincarnation of his lover, or a simply using Lucian’s past as a way to manipulate him for her own gains.
The book had a good flow going through it, despite a plethora of characters and shifting points of view in chapters so short I barely had to turn a page before a new one began. Short chapters do well to give the feeling of a taut pace, but points of view shifted so suddenly at times, it felt a bit jarring. The characters are well crafted and most come off in believable fashion as they maneuver through an unbelievable plot. The end gradually ramps up and finishes off with a satisfying end, but as a reader who hadn’t read those first two books, despite each one being a stand alone novel, I felt a bit out of place when the dust had settled because any ground rules established in the first two books were a bit foreign to me.
It’s one of the better thrillers of this nature that I’ve read yet, and anyone who has walked away disappointed by the biggest names in the genre before may want to check this one out, especially since the past lives aspects of the novel fit more seamlessly into the novel than other fantastical contrivances I’ve seen in similar books. I can’t say it’s a favorite of mine, but this book has helped me to seeing that I should give more of MJ Rose’s work a chance down the line.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, MJ Rose, past lives, Rabid Reads, Reincarnationist, The Hypnotist, thriller

Rabid Reads: "The Summoner" by Layton Green

The Summoner
Gryphon Works (2010)
ISBN: 1456546864 (e-book)
The Summoner is one of those sweeping thriller novels with a tightly wound mystery and plenty of suspense. I guess you could lump it in with a Dan Brown novel, a la The Da Vinci Code, but the one Dan Brown novel I read was interminable, and I’ve frankly been soured on this type of story ever since my first taste. Layton Green’s offering, however, has kind of won me over to a degree, and offers a glimpse of what I could expect if I continue to give this kind of thriller novel a chance.
The story revolves around Dominic Grey, a security agent who specializes with diplomats and other government entities. He is in Zimbabwe to investigate the disappearance, as a U.S. diplomat vanished during a secret religious ceremony in the outback outside the city of Harare. Aided by cult expert, Viktor Radek, and a gorgeous government liaison, Nya Mashumba, Grey has navigate the tumultuous political and cultural climate of Zimbabwe, as well as avoid becoming a target by a dangerous religious sect himself.
Aside from a backdrop that is fairly new to me–can’t remember reading any stories set in Zimbabwe–The Summoner plays the supernatural angle very well, teasing there is more to the superstitions and practices of the cult Grey investigates. In fact, there is a miniature history lesson in religions and cults laid out in this books pages that thankfully doesn’t come off as dry and dull. There’s nothing worse than getting smacked over the head by a lot of info dumping, when it comes to subject matter than is likely alien to the casual reader, but Layton Green manages to find the balance and through Dominic Grey’s eyes we gradually learn about things and the threats they pose.
The pacing is pretty good, building tension and plenty of proverbial road blocks thrown in Grey’s way, though I found some of the dialogue a bit flat at times. Overall though, the characters come through nicely, and I particularly found Professor Radek to be the one I gravitated towards the most–probably because he was the expert on religious phenomena and offers those juxtapositions between the known and the unknown.
The climax is a very good pay off, in my opinion, and while it doesn’t traipse into gory territory, there is one scene late in the novel where a person in essentially skinned alive that was absolutely gruesome. And, it looks like Green has his eyes on turning Dominic Grey into a recurring character in novels, as there is apparently a sequel in the works. Don’t get worried about cliffhangers or unresolved endings though, as the book works perfectly as a stand-alone novel.
Thriller fans should be in for a treat with this one, and I’d say anyone looking for a suspenseful mystery with a relatively unique setting could find some real entertainment in this book’s pages as well. Heck, even supernatural horror fans like me might want to take a chance on it, just to try something that is not their usual brand of reading. I’m unsure if I’ll dedicate myself to the sequel and possible series of Dominic Grey novels, since I’m hip deep in so many series already, but I certainly won’t count it out as a possibility.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, cults, Dominic Grey, Layton Green, Rabid Reads, suspense, The Summoner, thriller

Rabid Rewind: Shutter Island

Shutter Island
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams
directed by Martin Scorsese
screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis
based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Paramount Pictures (2010)

In the first moments of this movie, as Leonard DiCaprio’s character, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, gets seasick on his way across the Boston harbor to Shutter Island, I begin to wonder if Martin Scorsese miscast the acclaimed actor in this role. Despite some stubble, DiCaprio still has that baby-face about him that makes it hard to see him as a grizzled marshall with a tortured past. He does well in the role it turns out, as the film progresses, but despite getting sucked into the atmosphere of the movie I never fully believed that the guy was Teddy Daniels.

If you’ve read the book by Dennis Lehane (which I reviewed here) there is very little by way of plot that needs clarifying. The film plays out pretty close to the bone of the novel. If you haven’t read the book though, and you’ve yet to see this movie and are anxious to, this is a rare occasion where I suggest you see the movie first. Why? Because there are things that you will see coming a mile away if you read the book, and a measure of suspense will be removed from your viewing experience. That being said, I–having read the novel earlier this year–enjoyed the movie despite knowing exactly what happens and made my fun in seeing how certain scenes would be translated to the screen.

The story starts out as an almost hard-boiled detective story. The psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane is situated on Shutter Island, offering not even the minutest of escapes for patients/prisoners. One woman, however, has gone missing–inexplicably disappeared from her quarters with no apparent or reasonable explanation as to how. Enter U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) who ferry across to investigate and hopefully find the escapee before the incoming hurricane destroys all hope of answers. As the mystery progresses and more questions arise, it becomes clear that Daniels is there for ulterior motives related to a traumatic event in his past. And there may be other forces at work to prevent him from solving anything on Shutter Island.

Scorsese does some interesting things with the camera work early on, which helps you feel like you’re in the room with the characters as things are being discussed. When things start entering the weird territory, that’s when things start to take on a more familiar look with playful camera tricks and juxtapositions. The costumes and set design are near flawless, making the movie seem at points to be absolutely saturated in the mid-20th century. DiCaprio’s Boston accent leaves much to be desired by my estimation, but I’m not from the area so maybe I just don’t know any better.

The cast is just about pitch perfect–outside of DiCaprio–and I found Michelle Williams to be a particular treat in the latter half of the film where we really get to know her character as Teddy Daniels’ dead wife. As for Ben Kingsley, well–it’s Sir Ben at his usual effortless self.

Like I said, see the movie if you haven’t. And if you haven’t read the book either, I suggest waiting until after watching the film unless you want your reading experience to be the one with the surprises. It’s your call. Just make sure you watch the movie and read the book.

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Filed under adaptation, Ben Kingsley, Dennis Lehane, horror, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese, Michelle Williams, movie review, mystery, Rabid Rewind, Shutter Island, thriller

Rabid Rewind: A History of Violence

Title: A History of Violence
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: John Olsen; based on the graphic novel by John Wagner & Vince Locke
Released: Alliance Atlantis (2005)
Genre: Suspense/Thriller

As a small town kind of guy, the setting of A History of Violence felt at once Rockwellian and familiar. The townsfolk were just so damned chipper and friendly, and to a degree felt a bit saccharine, I had trouble accepting them as real people. But I think there needed to be that kind of visual contrast, since the two homicidal maniacs that descend upon the town in the first act were wildly malevolent.

More than the introduction of two gun-toting, thieving killers to such a humble setting, however, is the intervening actions of diner owner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), that is really where the heart of the movie is first exposed. The mild-mannered pillar of the community, for a few frenzied seconds, responds to the threat of violence with an equally vicious display and kills the two gunmen. And as his actions become the new buzz with local media, a new dark specter–Ed Harris playing Philly gangster, Carl Fogarty–arrives to confront Tom Stall.

It’s an engaging premise for a film that amplifies what already has the potential to be a good revenge-style flick: Is Tom Stall really the Philly gangster Joey Cusack, as Carl Fogarty asserts, and living a life of exile? Or is it that Carl has tragically identified an innocent husband and father as an opposing gangster who tried to tear out his eye with barbed-wire?

On top of that, there is the exploration of Tom’s son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), as he reconciles his own passivity and encounters with bullies against the celebrated actions of his father against the two criminals at the diner. The humiliation he endures prior to the incident only intensifies when his father becomes a local hero.

Then there is Tom’s wife, Edie (Maria Bello), who wrestles with her own doubts about Tom’s identity as Fogarty and his henchmen relentlessly antagonize and intimidate the entire family. It’s a pretty powerful bit of acting from her that escapes the threat of winding up that fretful helpless wife, as she shows herself to be equally assertive and confrontational at certain points in the film.

The title of the movie alone should let any audience know that A History of Violence is a not-so-subtle examination of western culture’s preoccupation and celebration of violence. The movie walks a line between reality and fable as the story progresses, and the ending shows how scarred a family can be when an outside force imposes itself so suddenly and ferociously.

While I really liked the movie, both on an intellectual level as well as a prurient one, I was surprised at how there was no regard given to the graphic novel which inspired it. Yes, it is acknowledged in the opening credits and the back of the DVD, but in all of the DVD extras no one made any mention of the source material. I heard plenty of praise for the screenwriter who adapted it, Josh Olson–even showing in constantly kissing the feet of David Cronenberg on stage and at Cannes, but no celebration of the men who created the tale. If not for minuscule recognition afforded to John Wagner and Vince Locke, I would have had no idea this movie was either an adaptation or the work of people other than Cronenberg and Olson. A shame, really, as I would like to read the graphic novel to see just how far the movie deviates and becomes its own creature compared to the book.

Nit-picking over writing credits aside, this is a fantastic film. It’s not a feel-good film with promise of a happy ending, but it is a great piece of film making and storytelling that people ought to see for themselves.

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Filed under A History of Violence, adaptation, David Cronenberg, Ed Harris, Maria Bello, movie review, Rabid Rewind, suspense, thriller, Viggo Mortensen, William Hurt