by Robert Harris (Hutchinson) ISBN: 978-0-09-195917-3
The Pope is dead. The eyes of the world turn toward Rome and its most powerful spiritual institution that must now find a new leader. Cardinal Lomeli is the Dean of Cardinals and the responsibility falls to him to oversee this precarious and complex process.
Cardinals from across the globe gather at St. Peter’s for a new conclave, trusting in divine guidance to elect a new Shepherd. But there are powerful factions at work and competing agendas. Not only is there the perennial tussle between conservatives and liberals, but could the time be right for the first African Pope? Likewise, Italy has not seen a native Pope for decades and there is a strong drive for an Italian candidate.
Lomeli has his work cut out for him, and as the Conclave is sequestered within the confines of the Sistine Chapel, he discovers that agendas are not as divine as they should be. He must work tirelessly to uncover conspiracies and treachery. Then there is the sudden appearance of a new Cardinal - previously unheard of, but chosen by the late Pope. Can he perhaps tip the scales of the Conclave?
Conclave is a page-turner. I could not put it down and it kept me guessing till the last line.
by James Swallow (Macmillan) ISBN: 978-1-78576-183-6
Marc Dane is a member of a special M16 team called Nomad. Whilst the focus is often on the tactical squad, Marc shies from the limelight and prefers a backup role – as a technician operating drones and computers from the mobile van. It’s a role that attracts scorn from the alpha males in the team.
But it is this role that saves his life when a raid goes badly wrong and Marc is left as the only survivor. Under immediate suspicion by M16 he finds himself on the run but bent on revenge for his team, which includes his friend and lover.
Marc must pursue an Islamic terror group ready to deploy a secret weapon in the heart of America. The terrorists however are not the only obstacle as they are supported by an international crime syndicate that’s reach extends even within Marc’s own agency. Providentially he is not alone and finds an ally in a shadowy organisation that may have a similar agenda to his own.
Nomad has all the ingredients of a fast paced spy thriller – terror cells, the dark underworld of international crime, and the shadowy subterfuge of spy agencies. This all may sound so clichéd, but Nomad works, and the best part is that James Swallow is not finished with Marc Dane.
by Daniel Silva (Harper Collins) ISBN: 978-0-00-755236-8
With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, global terrorism, and ISIS, it is not surprising that there is a plethora of novels that orbit this phenomenon. So after finishing one book on terrorism it was with a sense of trepidation that I picked up The Black Widow.
As the title suggests, Daniel Silva’s latest novel engages the theme of terrorism, and particularly the use of radicalised women becoming terrorists, specifically suicide bombers (from whence the term Black Widow originates). Silva resurrects his celebrated character Gabriel Alon, thought to be dead, to engage a new terror threat.
After a particularly brutal bombing in Paris and a rise in attacks in Israel, Alon recruits a young doctor to not only infiltrate ISIS but to travel into the heart of the Caliphate in Syria. His new protégé must win the trust of one of the masterminds of a terror cell, as well as convince them that she herself is prepared to become a martyr for the cause.
by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447278214
Cold Earth is the seventh in Ann Cleeves’s acclaimed Shetland series, now a major BBC drama. She has published 25 novels and has a large and faithful following.
On a cold and wet winter’s day, villagers in the north-eastern archipelago of Shetland gather at a graveside to bid farewell to an old friend. The service, however, comes to an abrupt end as the unceasing rains dislodge the mountainside and a river of mud and earth crash through the cemetery and surrounding countryside. The spectators, safely out of the path of the mudslide, watch as a small croft, thought to be unoccupied, is destroyed in the mayhem. But in the small cottage a body of a woman is found and it soon becomes apparent that she was dead before the landslide, strangled in a red dress.
Jimmy Perez, a local detective, must solve this murder and unearth the identity of the mysterious woman. The most endearing quality of this book is the characters: Perez, his stepdaughter, his colleagues, and his superior from the mainland Willow.
Cold Earth is a good, solid detective read but unfortunately hardly a thriller. I found the pace pedestrian at best and almost longed for the book to resolve itself.
by Megan Abbott (Picador) ISBN: 9781509817276
Devon is a young, aspiring, and extremely talented gymnast. Her path carefully mapped out by her coach and parents: nationals, the elusive status as an ‘elite gymnast’, and then the dream – the Olympics.
Her family have devoted their lives to the pursuit of this dream. Afternoons easily stretch into evenings in the car or waiting at the gym. Whole weekends sacrificed at the altar of training or tournaments. Their lives, even careers, always secondary to Devon’s training routine. And the ever mounting debt, as stardom never comes cheap.
As the path to glory is plotted in whispers, often late at night, nothing can be allowed to distract Devon. Until of course a young man enters their lives. Ruggedly handsome, stripped down to the waist erecting the latest gym equipment, the young girls and their mothers cannot help but hover and clamber for his attention.
But disaster strikes as a violent hit-and-run occurs on one of those late evenings after training. The entire community is thrown into upheaval, and slowly questions begin to surface: “Do we really know our children – really?”
You Will Know Me is a disturbing psychological thriller asking questions of all of us. What lengths will we go to for our family?
by Jack Grimwood (Penguin) ISBN: 978-0-718-18156-7
Tom Wolfe is an intelligence officer, banished to Moscow after an incident in Northern Ireland. Conveniently unavailable while a commission of enquiry takes place and his superiors decide on his future.
While stationed at the British Embassy a body is found dumped outside the walls of the Kremlin. It is a young boy, bled before he is frozen and left as a warning. Then the daughter of the ambassador mysteriously disappears and more bodies begin to turn up. As Tom becomes embroiled in the disappearance of the young girl he finds more allies in the Russians than with his own embassy, the ambassador himself losing patience with his methods. Tom must not only solve a crime but find redemption and confront his own past.
Moskva is a brilliantly crafted thriller set towards the end of the Cold War as relations between the Soviets and the West begin to thaw. Echoes of Russia’s history and recent wars reverberate through the narrative and add insightful depth to the novel.
I loved this book.
by Pope Francis (Blue Bird) ISBN: 978-1-5098-2493-9
Pope Francis is undoubtedly the most visible and well-liked Pope in recent history. He is renowned for his humility and willingness to stay connected with all of society, particularly the poor and marginalised.
Mercy is a topic close to his heart, one which has characterized his life and ministry. It therefore came as no surprise when he declared this to be the theme for his papacy. It is also fitting that this is the subject of his first publication as Pope.
For Francis, mercy cuts to the core of human relationships – both those with God and with each other. Mercy is not exclusive to those who seek it from God, but something that we are called to extend to others.
The Name of God is Mercy is not a theological treatise but a snapshot of conversations between Francis and Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli. It is short, readable, and insightful. As such it provides an insight into Francis’s thoughts and worldview.
Unfortunately the length of the book (less than 150 very small pages) considering the obscure, frankly inaccessible import is a noticeable irony of which I am sure Francis himself would not approve. But for those wanting an insight into perhaps one of the most influential figures of our time, it is invaluable.
by Bear Grylls (Orion) ISBN: 9781409156826
Bear Grylls is a world-renowned adventurer and survival expert. He has capitalised on his lifelong passion by producing an array of television shows and publications focusing on the outdoors, survival and exploration.
I was therefore somewhat surprised to see a fictional novel by this well-known celebrity. But Grylls has not strayed far from what he knows.
His character, Will Jaeger is a typical “Born Survivor”. An ex-military type, he is imprisoned on a hostile island and tortured, but escapes against all odds with the help of a colleague and friend. A story of revenge, further rescue, and survival ensues.
Fans of Grylls will no doubt enjoy his foray into the thriller genre. This is certainly an action-packed story with obvious insight into the rugged outdoors. Personally, I was not taken by the plot or the premise and feel there is far better on offer in this competitive genre. At best, this is an enjoyable holiday read.
by Ian van der Waag (Jonathan Ball) ISBN: 9781868424184
A passing glance at the history section of the local book store will testify to the sustained interest in historical military conflicts. Whilst many books tend to focus on a specific period, there is often little by way of general overview, certainly in relation to South Africa. That is, until now.
A Military History of Modern South Africa begins with the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the 20th Century. The book provides a broad context to the time period, and then continues through the formation of the Union and South Africa’s involvement in both World Wars. Touching also on quieter periods between conflicts, he builds toward the regional struggle in Southern Africa, which he terms ‘the Hot War’. The book then concludes with the formation of the South African National Defence Force post-2000 and the new role for the armed forces in Southern Africa.
As an associate professor and head of the Department of Military History at Stellenbosch University, van Waag is certainly well qualified to fill the needed gap with this single volume. Those interested in this topic will enjoy an engaging overview, but perhaps almost textbook approach to South Africa’s colourful military past.