2013 Books in Translation Chunkster Thriller

From the Fatherland, With Love by Ryu Murakami

From the Fatherland With Love

Translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori

Five words from the blurb: Japan, invaded, North Korean, troops, death

From the Fatherland, With Love is a political thriller which describes a scarily plausible series of events in which North Korean special forces invade Japan. The book begins with them taking a sports stadium and its 30,000 occupants hostage and then shows how they progress to take control of increasingly large areas of Japan. The detail was so convincing that I spent most of my time worrying about the fact this book is in the public domain and terrorists could copy the clever (but devastating) ideas. I hope that authorities in Japan have read this book and closed some of the loopholes in their security and that terrorists don’t try to replicate any of the scenarios in this book, anywhere. Please visit to find about diy techniques.

I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, especially politically motivated ones, but there is something about the North Koreans that makes them especially compelling. I loved the background detail which explained what it was like to grow up under a tyrannical leader and how this upbringing changes the basic personality of the North Koreans. The interaction of the invading troops with the Japanese people was fascinating, although I suspect that most of the brilliant observations will be lost on those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese culture. I didn’t understand all the references to the Japanese political system, but a small amount of googling allowed me to understand the basic chain of command and I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on much.

 …the various intelligence services in Japan had no history of sharing information, and there was no system in place for integrating intelligence. In the event of an emergency or major disaster, it fell to the Security Council to collate information and direct the appropriate response to the crisis, but the various intelligence agencies lacked the channels for passing information to the Council in the first place. Why didn’t the Japanese government take intelligence seriously?….Suzuki thought there was a simple reason for it: that it simply wasn’t seen as necessary and therefore wasn’t considered important. Japan had no history of invasion by foreign countries, and was not composed of different ethnic groups with conflicting interests. For centuries domestic relations had been far more important than foreign ones, and the country was simply unable to adapt to the changed circumstances.

The book is 666 pages long and it did take a large investment of time to complete. There was a small section in the middle where I lost interest, but the momentum quickly picked up again and I was hooked through to the end. It isn’t a fast paced read, but the reader is desperate to discover how everything unfolds and so it remains gripping throughout.  There were a few too many characters for me, but I was impressed by the complexity and depth of the majority of them.

From the Fatherland, With Love is very different in style from Piercingthe only other book by Ryu Murakami that I’ve read. Piercing was very short and chilling. The only element shared by the books was the occasional gruesome scene involving blood-splattered violence; otherwise it would be impossible to tell that they were both written by the same person.

Overall this is a very intelligent book. It gives a chilling insight into the holes in Japan’s security; whilst at the same time giving a thorough examination of the Japanese and North Korean culture. Recommended to anyone who likes to learn from their literature.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 …a great story, and one whose ending works very well. Tony’s Reading List

…a compelling and shocking read. A Common Reader

…a wonderful cast of characters in a tale that rollicks along with all the mayhem, violence & action one expects from a Ryu Murakami book  The Parrish Lantern

2013 Audio Book Chunkster Thriller

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Audio Book)

Night Film

Five words from the blurb: journalist, director, disorientating, mystery, reality

Night Film is an unusual thriller. It follows Scott McGrath, a journalist investigating strange events linked to the famous, but illusive Cordova family. Stanislas Cordova is a cult horror film director and his daughter recently committed suicide. Their lives are packed with secrets, many of which involve dark magic. McGrath’s investigations lead him into some very strange situations and the line between reality and imagination was often blurred.  Some scenes were a bit weird, but I loved not knowing what would happen next!

I began listening to the audio version of this book, but quickly realised that I was missing something. The first few chapters were packed with photographs, Internet pages and other images and this meant I wasn’t understanding subtler aspects of the plot. In order to fully appreciate the book I got the hardback version from the library and was impressed by the visual content, but found that it was poorly written and couldn’t hold my attention. I switched back to the audio and noticed that the dialogue-led writing worked far better in this medium – all my issues with writing quality were resolved and I was gripped!

The story was long and meandering, but I loved the twists and turns. I thought it was well paced and some aspects were very cleverly thought out.  It wasn’t great literature, but it was entertaining and original. 

I was slightly worried that I’d find the horror film aspects of this book disturbing, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I guess that some people might have issues the darker scenes, but I found that descriptions were toned down to the right level for me. There was no gore or gratuitous violence and most of the scary sections involved psychological fear, mainly of the unknown.

Overall this was a memorable mystery and I recommend the audio version to anyone looking for something a little bit different.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I read this book not once, but twice, unable to cut the ties that bind me to its brilliance. Jenn’s Bookshelves

…in a few places the novel veered into territory that was a little unnecessarily weird for me. The Book Project

It is overwritten and could have been edited down to about half its size… Caribousmom

2000 - 2007 Crime Thriller Uncategorized

Pecking Order by Chris Simms

Pecking Order

Five words from the blurb: farm, chickens, kill, secret, project

Earlier in the year Scott Pack recommended Pecking Order and I decided to give it a try. It was free at the time, but the kindle edition is still only 99p and I recommend that you get a copy if you’d like a gripping piece of crime fiction.

Pecking Order is a psychological thriller that investigates how willing people are to follow the orders of someone in authority. It cleverly uses the plight of battery chickens as a backdrop; using the bird’s pain and fear to increase the tension of the human drama. The chickens also emphasize what is wrong with our society and, although this book can be seen as a quick, entertaining read, there are several deeper messages hidden under the surface:

As he walked back across the lawn to his own house he reflected on the concern shown for a missing cat while, if events so far were anything to go by, an old person could lie dead and undiscovered in their flat for days.

The book demands the reader’s attention from the very first page. The descriptions are vivid and sometimes disturbing – if you don’t eat free-range chickens already, you’ll certainly be more inclined to do so after reading this book!

The central character, Rubble, is deliciously evil. He enjoys his job slaughtering chickens and it is wonderful to read a book where it is a joy to hate most of the characters. The book also contains some scenes within a university and I loved this campus-novel aspect of the plot.

Overall, Pecking Order is an original, thought provoking and entertaining read. I look forward to reading more of Simm’s work in the future.


Have you read anything by Chris Simms?

Which of his books would you recommend I try next?

2012 Thriller

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

I Remember You Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton

Five words from the blurb: Iceland, isolated, suicide, vanished, terrifying

Iceland is very suited to scary stories – the isolation, the dark days, and the snowy weather all combine to produce a chilling atmosphere. I planned to read this book in Iceland, but after reading the quotes on the cover about it being “seriously scary” and “not to be read alone”, I decided to read it before I went. I’m really pleased that I decided not to read it in an isolated Icelandic cottage, but part of me wishes I’d read it after I’d come back!

This book is very creepy. It begins with a group of three friends heading to an isolated village in order to renovate an old cottage. They soon realise that they are not alone and whatever is out there doesn’t want them to stay. This narrative alternates with one in which a doctor, whose six-year-old son recently disappeared, investigates the suicide of an old woman. The two stories eventually combine to become a very cleverly plotted thriller.

I almost abandoned this book after about 50 pages as I found it too scary. I don’t normally read horror and some scenes in this book really spooked me. Luckily the plot was intriguing so I stuck with it, reading only short sections so the atmosphere didn’t become overwhelming. I also admit to skimming over some of the more disturbing scenes in an effort to keep the worst images out of my mind altogether. 

The author did a fantastic job building the tension. Even the most mundane scenes could become scary at a moment’s notice:

It was then that Putti stopped abruptly and started growling again. Although Katrín couldn’t work out how it was different from the previous growl, it was, seemingly loaded with gravity and fear, as if the dog sensed something threatening it. Or them.

As the book progressed I became less fearful of the story. This was mainly because I realised it was a ghost story. The supernatural element was good in that it allowed anything to happen, but it also didn’t scare me as much as strange people lurking in the dark.

The only problem with the writing was that the characters all sounded the same. They had a few interesting flaws, but this wasn’t enough to make them into well-rounded individuals. The benefit of this was that I didn’t care if/when they died!

Overall this was a compelling chiller-thriller with all the elements needed to keep you awake at night. Recommended to anyone who likes to be scared.


2012 Thriller

The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

The Uninvited

Five words from the blurb: child, violence, Asperger’s, psychological, connect

As you may know, I make an effort to read as many books as possible that contain characters with Asperger’s syndrome. On Autism Awareness Day Hannah pointed out that The Uninvited fitted my criteria and so I added it to the top of my wish-list. By a strange twist of fate I was offered a review copy just a week later and so I accepted, keen to try one of Liz Jensen’s books for the first time.

The Uninvited is a psychological thriller in which children start attacking adults for no known reason. The central character, Hesketh, is an anthropologist. He is sent to Taiwan to investigate fraud within the timber industry, but quickly finds himself involved in the global child violence crisis.

The book begins well, with a vivid scene in which a seven-year-old girl kills her grandmother with a nail gun, but unfortunately that level of tension failed to re-appear later in the book. The scenes of violence were too fragmented and the explanations for the attacks were too far fetched for me to become fearful.

Hesketh has Asperger’s and I found him to be well developed, with realistic traits for someone on the spectrum. I liked the way Asperger’s was portrayed in a positive light, but I found mentions of the condition too frequent. The reader is made aware of the Asperger’s early on, but I found the continual reference back to it burdensome. If you don’t know much about the condition then you will find it useful, but I wish it hadn’t had such a dominant role.

One of my chief coping mechanisms, in mental emergencies, involves origami: I carry an imaginary sheaf of delicate rice paper in my head, in a range of shades, to fold into classical shapes. When the image of Freddy shooting Kaitlin first reared up I swiftly folded eleven of the Japanese cranes known as ozuru, but I couldn’t banish it.

The Uninvited has a lot to recommend it. It is a fast paced, entertaining read that treats Asperger’s with sensitivity, but I’m afraid the plot lacked the realism required to give it real impact.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…one of the most genius and bizarre pieces of literature I’ve read in a very long time. A Bookish Libraria

…everything was bogged down in tedious and ultimately tiring details… Judging Covers

 While the book showed lots of promise, ultimately the ending ruined it for me. Book Addiction

2011 Thriller

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

Before I Go To Sleep

Five words from the blurb: identity, past, forgotten, overnight, trust

Before I Go To Sleep centres on Christine, a woman who wakes up every morning unable to recognise her own husband. An accident left her without the ability to memorise new events and so she forgets the previous day every time she goes to sleep. In an effort to understand more about herself she begins a diary, but this leads her to discover that her husband is lying to her. The question is whether he is doing this to protect her or for another, more sinister reason…

The book is so compelling I read it in a single sitting. Desperate to know what happens I sped through the pages so quickly I was practically skim reading. I has been a long time since I’ve read something so compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed the few hours in which it entertained me.

Unfortunately everything began to fall apart afterwards. The more I thought about the book, the more holes I found in it. The reader has to suspend disbelief throughout and there are a lot of things that don’t add up if you start to think about them for any length of time. The numerous flaws make this a great book club choice – it is possible to talk about it for a long time!

On a positive note, this book does bring up some interesting points about identity:

Will I still wake up, in my seventies or eighties, thinking myself to be at the beginning of my life? Will I wake with no idea that my bones are old, my joints stiff and heavy? I can’t imagine how I will cope, when I discover that my life is behind me, has already happened, and I have nothing to show for it. No treasure house of recollection, no wealth of experience, no accumulation of wisdom to pass on. What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?

Unfortunately they don’t have much depth and are more a springboard for your own thoughts and ideas, rather than providing any real insight.

The addictive nature of this book means that I’ll recommend it to a lot of people, especially those who aren’t keen readers, but stay away if you’re looking for anything more than a couple of hours of entertainment.


This book received a mixed reception from other bloggers:

It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. Savidge Reads

It began to get repetitive in the middle of the book… You’ve Gotta Read This!

Why it has been so much more popular than what I consider to be much better suspense books published last year, I don’t know. Petrona

Superb story telling. JoV’s Book Pyramid

My Evening with SJ Watson

I recently went to hear SJ Watson speak at a local library and thought I’d share some interesting snippets from the evening:

  • Inspiration for the book came from a man called Henry Gustav Molaison who had severe epilepsy. An operation to correct his condition left him with the ability to only remember the last 10 – 15 minutes.
  • He once went through a stage where he worried there weren’t enough characters in the book and so inserted a scene where Christine and Ben had a dinner party with friends from his school. It didn’t work and so the scene was quickly deleted.
  • It took him six months to write the first draft and he did so whilst working part time for the NHS.
  • The first draft of the book contained lots of scenes in which Christine did the ironing and made coffee.
  • He toyed with the idea of writing from a male perspective for about a minute and then decided it wouldn’t work.
  • Lots of people assume SJ Watson is female, but when asked about their surprise on finding the author is male he says it is harder for him to get inside the head of a serial killer than to write from the perspective of a woman.
  • His advice for new writers: Don’t write what you know, but if you want to write about something make sure you know about it.
  • In the past SJ Watson tried writing a book based on himself, but it was too boring!

If you ever get the chance to hear SJ Watson speak I recommend it as he is an entertaining public speaker.