Pulp Fiction roundup

Dene Mackenzie wraps up recent pulp fiction.

Greg Iles
HarperCollins NZ 

The latest book outlining the trials (literally) and tribulations of the Cage family draws together some uncomfortable threads in what could be the end of the line for former prosecutor Penn Cage.

Mississippi Blood is the final volume in the Natchez Burning trilogy. The first novel in the saga, Natchez Burning, was published to critical acclaim.

Penn Cage, now the mayor of Natchez, is facing the prospect of dealing with a half-brother he previously did not know existed. It is not revealing the plot in the latest book to say the brother was a result of an affair his father Tom Cage had with his nurse many years earlier and the man hates his father and the associated family.

In a recap, readers catch up with the revenge killing Penn Cage carried out, the deeds of his father both in the Korean War and in the town where he was the doctor for generations, caring for black, white, old and young, and vicious killers.

Somebody who was thought to be dead conveniently survived and is back to wreak havoc on the lives of the Cage family. It must be said the family is already somewhat troubled.

The best part of the book is reaching the end. To be fair, it is about 100 pages too long. Cutting it back from 694 pages would be a relief. Some story lines are stretched beyond belief and waiting for something to happen brings a level of frustration.

If someone has read the previous two books, repetition can be annoying. However, for someone picking up the story for the first time, the background is helpful.

Greg Iles is a marvellous writer but this is not his best work.


Lee Child
Penguin Random House 

Just when you start to get anxious about the arrival of the next Jack Reacher novel, the complete collected short stories of Lee Child arrives in the post.

Although I'm not normally a fan of short stories, No Middle Name is a valuable background read through putting some context behind the rise and continued drifting of Jack Reacher.

There are 12 stories of varying degrees of length and intensity.

Reacher can be a one-dimensional character in some of Child's latter books, particularly Night School. The majority of these short stories bring the old Reacher firmly back into focus.

The book documents Reacher's life as a child, along with his older brother who, in later books, remains just a memory.

Readers will learn about the Reacher parents and why drifting became so instilled in the life of Jack. Standing up for himself and his family became his life from an early age. His brother turned out to be bright but uncertain. Jack proved to be decisive in saving the job of his father and the academic record of his brother.

Nearly every question a reader could have about Jack Reacher is answered in this book (to be released on May 18).

The only downside would be the last three stories. Short and sharp as they may be, they lacked the energy of the previous nine.

Of course, there is a teaser with the inclusion of three paragraphs of the new novel due out in November. Not that anyone will be counting.

Dene Mackenzie has every Jack Reacher book.


Gerald Seymour
Hachette NZ

In theory, Jericho's War should have been an absolute ripper of a read.

Author Gerald Seymour is a long-time favourite and his books have been on a must-read list for years.

However, while the latest book is filled with terrific detail, descriptive writing and a depth of characters not often seen these days, Jericho's War drags.

Maybe impatience or boredom got the better of me, but I desperately wanted the story to end.

The storyline involves a former soldier who was taken prisoner somewhere in a desert by terrorists who believed Corrie Rankin was a mere aid worker. In something of a MacGyver moment, he turns a guard into an ally and, with the help of a paperclip, manages to escape.

From his comfortable desk in MI6, Rankin is cajoled to return to Yemen to oversee the assassination of the Emir, a mysterious leader of fighters against the West. A bitter former army sniper and his spotter are part of the plot, along with the former guard and a strange woman who is allowed to continue digging for artefacts from the days of Sheba in the middle of a Yemeni terrorist stronghold.

Four hundred and seventy pages later, the book ends, and not without a degree of frustration and disappointment.


Paula Hawkins
Penguin Random House NZ

As difficult as it was to believe author Paula Hawkins could improve on her The Girl On The Train, she has undoubtedly come either very close or surpassed herself with her latest effort.

Into the Water is an unusual book in that no character is particularly likeable but all have something which makes the reader wish they were the good one.

One sister is dead, apparently from throwing herself off a notorious part of a hill overlooking a stretch of water which has been long associated with suicide.

Her estranged sister turns up to identify the body and finds herself looking after her niece, who makes it plain her aunt is not wanted, not liked and will be barely tolerated as long as she does not poke her nose into the business of others.

It turns out the village is the childhood home of the two sisters and lots of secrets are starting to emerge. No-one, it seems, is immune to tragedies in the town, past and present. And no-one really wanted either sister to return.

The link between the sisters and another village family is one of torment as the surviving sister is asked to atone for the actions of the other.

There are some distinctly uncomfortable moments in the book which Hawkins has exploited for all they are worth.

Looking at the first few chapters, it was an initial disappointment to see each one was looking at the same situation from the view of a different character. In fact, this is one of the book's strengths, as to keep up with the pace of the thriller, the reader needs to know the interconnection between all players.

The ending is unexpected and will leave each reader to their own version of the truth. This is an outstanding book.

Dene Mackenzie is the business editor of the Otago Daily Times.

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