Archive for the UK writers Category

The Tailor of Panama

Posted in book, review, thriller, UK writers with tags , , on August 8, 2010 by richardkunzmann

John le Carré, Coronet Books (1996)

I picked up a tatty copy of the Tailor of Panama because I’d been feeling rather ashamed for never having read a John le Carré novel. And reading just a few pages, I immediately knew I’d like the rest of it. The conversational language, the peppy tongue-in-cheek descriptions – here was a confident writer patient enough to allow a good story to unravel on its own. He doesn’t feel compelled, as many thriller writers do, to barrel from one action sequence to another, to the detriment of the characters and setting.

Harry Pendel is the proprietor of Pendel & Braithwaite Limitada, previously of Saville Row, London, and through his doors pass all of Panama’s elite. They come to have the best suits in Panama fitted and to hear the latest gossip about each others’ mistresses and the political climate. Harry also owes one of these men a lot of money and has no means of paying it back. Enter Andrew Osnard, a voluminous and manipulative British Intelligence officer, who coerces Harry into providing information about all the gentlemen he fits, particularly those who might have some stake in the US hand-over of the Chanel to the Panamanian government. As Osnard’s demands for evidence of a conspiracy grows, Pendel feels obliged to invent increasingly bizarre plots to overthrow the government and shut down the Chanel.

I have it on the authority of my friends who religiously follow le Carré that this isn’t his usual offer. It’s not so much a thriller as a satire of the West drunk on its own victory over the rest of the world. If you loved Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or Grahame Greene’s Our Man in Havanna, you’ll appreciate this book – in fact, it seems like le Carré wrote it as a sort of homage to Greene.

There are a few sequences I especially liked. We are introduced to Harry Pendel as a meticulous man: he receives new clients in circumstances carefully orchestrated to make them feel like kings; he cuts their suits to precision in a secret room where he is his own master. Yet as the conspiracies grow larger and the lies devour his life, the tailor’s attention to detail slips. le Carré misses no opportunity to link the metaphors attached to a tailor — the clothes maketh the man, the story of the king with no clothes on, etc. — to great effect. The plots and sub-plots of the various actors are a joy to unravel. The more depressed and withdrawn Pendel becomes, the more convinced his wife is that he is having an affair with a younger woman. The vodka-fuelled scene in which her suspicions finally comes to a head is masterfully told – until that point the female figures in the novel are but bit-players, sidelined by the machismo of the men. But from then on, we realise that they are the only ones not consumed by their own egos.

The Tailor of Panama hangs together well on so many layers, it is a great read as a satirical spy thriller as well as good literature exploring our human immoralities.

Barbara Nadel: Chatting about her newest books and the facts of writing

Posted in crime fiction, international crime fiction, interview, mystery, police procedural, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Istanbul 2I first met Barbara Nadel at last year’s Guildford Book Festival, when we sat down with Martyn Waites to discuss crime fiction set in exotic locations. Barbara Nadel is as entertaining as she’s interesting, and you’d never guess at the kind of travel she’s done to get her story. You see, having visited Turkey all her life, and speaking the language fluently, it comes as no surprise that this Londoner’s books are set in Istanbul. I can’t think of many crime writers who will actually travel into violence-torn areas like Eastern Turkey, where River of the Dead is set; we generally live comfortable lives safely ensconced in our studies, with nothing more dangerous in the room than Topsy the Dozing Cat. Yet, there she was, Barbara telling us about an area that’s rife with superstitions and snake-god worshippers, army tanks and Al-Qaeda insurgents sneaking over the border from Iraq. Her crime fiction is as fantastic as it’s authentic, and for this reason alone worth a read.

Here she tells us more about her two latest books, River of the Dead, featuring partners Çetin İkmen and Mehmet Süleyman, as well as Ashes to Ashes, another series she writes, set during the London Blitz and featuring batty old Francis Hancock.

Richard Kunzmann: You obviously love Turkey and are drawn back there time and again. Can you tell us why the country is so attractive to you, and why you ultimately set your first crime series there?

Barbara_NadelBarbara Nadel: Turkey is not an easy place to pin down. It is quirky and in lots of ways elusive. Working within a Turkish context is in many ways rather like trying to hold on to water. But that is what I like about it. Turkey is a rapidly evolving country with a long and very involved history and so every book that I write about it is the result of a lot of research. I end up with masses of information but it is just that richness that I love. I set my first crime series in Turkey for all the reasons above and also because at that time (the 1990’s) there were no modern crime mysteries set in that country. I very much wanted to bring a place that I love and which inspires me to a wider audience.

Richard Kunzmann: How do you go about researching the books set in Istanbul?

Barbara Nadel: I visit at least twice a year; I read all the latest literature and journalism from both inside and outside Turkey; and I am in close contact with friends and colleagues based in the country. That said, inspiration for the topic of each novel can come from just about anywhere.

Richard Kunzmann: There must be difficulties in writing stories not set in the country in which you live…

Barbara Nadel: Of course because I’m not in Turkey every day, I do miss things. But a lot of novelists write about places where they do not live. Michael Moorcock for instance, continues to write about London even though he now resides in Texas. Of course one has to keep abreast of developments within a country and visit often, but there is also a ‘Turkey of the mind’, a place I carry with me all the time. This ‘mind country’ is the result of many years of contact with the place, its people and its myths.

Richard Kunzmann: How do you marry a story that is essentially Turkish with a language and style that is uniquely British?

Barbara Nadel: Although I work in English I do try to translate at least the feeling of the Turkish context. Some characters are more traditional than others and pepper their speech with religious sayings and/or ancient forms of address. People do this and it is something I try to reflect when I can. However one has to be aware of pace and so I can’t overload the text with such artefacts even though sometimes my idea about a character may include a lot of them. In addition, some of my books, namely river of the dead involve characters for whom Turkish isn’t the first language. In that novel we have people speaking Arabic, Aramaic and the Kurdish dialect, Zaza. These are all, and have to be in this case, expressed in ‘English’.

River of the deadRichard Kunzmann: River of the Dead diverges somewhat from the other Ikmen books in that much of the action occurs outside of Istanbul. Can you tell us a bit more about Mardin, and why you decided to send Suleyman out that way?

Barbara Nadel: Mardin was a city I had never visited until 2007. In the far south east of the country it is a place that over the years has suffered much from being on the front line of the dispute between the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, and the Turkish armed forces. From time to time the city has been effectively closed to outsiders because of fears about security. So Mardin is not always easy. It is however mythic. For more years than I care to remember, I’d been hearing stories about Mardin – the city of vast honey-coloured mansions, of Syrian monasteries from the fifth century, of snakes and the pagan snake goddess that must be appeased in order to keep the serpents away. So in 2007 I went and found that all the myths were true. I was fortunate enough to spend Easter with the Syrian Christians where I found myself in company with monks, clock makers and a very old lady who specialised in primitive religious art-work. The snake goddess I discovered was called the Sharmeran and, as I spent more time in the city, I saw her likeness everywhere. In the end my companions and me were speaking of her as if she were a real presence in our lives. But then Mardin, a city which rises above the Mesopotamian plain, the cradle of civilisation, is a place of miracles and of dreams. Much as İstanbul is mythical and divine, one does not get the ‘out of time’ feeling that is experienced in Mardin. I sent Mehmet Suleyman there because I wanted to see what would happen to a modern, pragmatic man in that context. I also wanted to explore some very modern issues that are currently impinging upon life in the east – international terrorism and drug trafficking. Mardin

Richard Kunzmann: The Çetin İkmen series has been a long and successful one. How do you feel it’s developed over time?

Barbara Nadel: I’ve tackled a lot of subjects over the years in the Çetin İkmen books. These have included sibling rivalry, isolation, the nature of visual art and the reality, or not, of occult practice. In recent years however I think that the subjects tackled have become bigger and more internationalist. Çetin İkmen and co move, from time to time, out of the city and in the next book, due to be published in 2010, out of the country. I feel that this reflects both Turkey’s move outwards as a society desirous of becoming part of the European Union, and the reality of crime as an international phenomenon that can not always be addressed on a local level.

Richard Kunzmann: The Francis Hancock series is relatively new and almost a complete flip of the coin to the Çetin İkmen series. How did you first conceive of the character?

Barbara Nadel: Francis is in many ways my paternal grandfather. Like Francis he was a World War 1 veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder – or shellshock as they called it back then. Not that people were given any help with the fears, delusions and hallucinations that they suffered. My grandfather, like Francis, just had to carry on working, hiding how he was for much of the time, running from bombs during the Blitz. These books are, I hope, in part a tribute to all those veterans who just carried on with lives that were often a form of torture for them.

Ashes to AshesRichard Kunzmann: St Paul’s Cathedral, the centrepiece for Ashes to Ashes is a great locale for the story. What made you think up this particular novel and how did you go about researching it?

Barbara Nadel: Ashes to Ashes revolves around an incident known as the London Firestorm. This took place on the 29th December 1940 and it was Hitler’s attempt to burn London to the ground. In particular he wanted to destroy St Paul’s Cathedral because he knew how symbolically important it was (and remains) for Londoners. Again, my research proceeded from family anecdote. My maternal grandfather (yes, we are real Londoners!) was walking home from his place of work in Fleet St when the firestorm began. He just survived and his journey through falling buildings and across melting pavements has since passed into family legend. I also of course read extensively around the subject, spoke to those who remembered the incident and spent a lot of time in St Paul’s. Like Francis, I explored the upper galleries (Whispering Gallery, Stone Gallery) and also like him I felt my legs go to jelly as I climbed up hundreds and hundreds of stairs in what felt like every tightening spirals.

Richard Kunzmann: What in your mind are the key things a writer should have or develop?

Barbara Nadel:
1) A fund of stories, anecdotes and little facts and fictions upon which to draw.
2) The kind of curiosity about people, places and things that can potentially get you into trouble.
3) Patience. For most of us, getting published doesn’t happen overnight.
4) A sense of humour. If you have a sense of humour then some of your characters will have a sense of humour too and that is so real and so attractive too.
5) The kind of grit and determination to work at a book even when your muse is nowhere to be seen!

Richard Kunzmann: And the five things writers should avoid?

Barbara Nadel:
1) Not listening, not taking honestly given advice.
2) Writing work that is ‘all about me’. No, it’s all about your characters and the situation they find themselves in. They might be based upon real people or even your own life but ‘you’ have to disappear.
3) Waiting for your muse. He or she will never come unless you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard.
4) Lack of curiosity. Deadly.
5) Being judgemental. Writers should be open in new situations. Judge only when you yourself have something to judge based upon your own experience.

Richard Kunzmann: Which authors have been your biggest influence and why?

Barbara Nadel: Lawrence Durrell has been the greatest influence upon me. He introduced me both to inventive fictional forms and the richness of character that can be possible. London writers Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair have also been inspirational. With regard to Turkey, I owe much to the work of Orhan Pamuk. All of these people get under the skin of whoever and whatever they tackle. I hope I get at least close to that.

The Barbara Nadel factfile:
Barbara Nadel was born in the East End of London and has worked as an actress, a public relations officer in the mental health services of the UK, and has taught psychology at schools and colleges.

She’s a CWA Silver Dagger winner for her book Deadly Web, and the author of more than 15 novels. Discover them at Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Barbara Nadel’s River of the Dead

Posted in crime fiction, international crime fiction, mystery, police procedural, review, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2009 by richardkunzmann

River of the deadThis book was my first visit to Istanbul, and I have to say I’m dying to go back and see the city again … only this time for real. Barbara Nadel does an exceptional job evoking its streets, the sights and sounds, the smells and textures, its denizens. When I finished reading this latest instalment in the Inspector Cetin Ikmen series, I had to remind myself that my memories of that city came from a book.

Isn’t that the best thing about reading, though?

Yusuf Kaya, a jailed psychopathic drug-dealer, has escaped from custody and left no witnesses alive. The jailbreak is a particularly heavy blow for Inspector Mehmet Suleyman, Ikmen’s trusty sidekick, as he was the one who first brought Kaya to book. Soon the investigation is torn in two: Ikmen continues to pursue leads in the capital, while Suleyman gives chase into the far eastern corners of Turkey, the wild tribal homeland of the powerful Kaya family, long known for their links to drugs and weapons smuggling. Istanbul

Ikmen and Suleyman are two detectives on the opposite ends of a spectrum: one is a chain-smoking father of a large Turkish family, an intuitive investigator whose mother was a well-known witch, while the latter is a straight-backed descendent of Ottoman princes, a calculating thinker married to a half-Irish woman. It’s a duality that probably works very well in other novels, but on this occasion they’re very much apart. Instead, Suleyman hooks up with Edibe Taner, who at first impresses us as a tough modern woman in a patriarchal world, but then it comes to light that she has links with an ancient snake-Goddess cult.

I struggled to find my way through many parts of this book because of the endless plot reversals that frustrated rather than intrigued me. Often our experienced detectives unnecessarily summarise for us what has come before, and then strangely take a direction that seems to clash with what they’ve just deduced from the evidence. Someone once said about red-herrings that they can only be called that when they’re obvious; in this novel there was a shoal of them. I also found it difficult to distinguish between the characters, because they all seemed to speak in the same voice – the dialogue is littered with language that seems more at home in a Hercule Poirot story than a modern gritty city like Istanbul, and the statement “but of course” emerged as a verbal tick of virtually every character. But let this not be a condemnation of Barbara Nadel’s work in general. Next week I’ll be reviewing her second novel for the year, Ashes to Ashes, which I found much more compelling, both for its setting and characters. Ashes to Ashes

River of the Dead truly takes flight when Barbara Nadel settles into her narrative. She takes us as easily through the backstreets and markets of a modern Istanbul, passed the mosques and churches that date back to Byzantine times, as she shows us the vast plains around Mardin, a place so steeped in history and mysticism that your heart aches to stand at the spot where Suleyman first sees that green landscape stretch out beneath him. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Scorpion clan that is Yusuf Kaya’s family, the snake-goddess worshipped by the locals, the jailed living saint – all of which is part of a Cob-webbed world that is grossly at odds with Suleyman’s digital age. The best part of this novel was Nadel’s understanding of the complex push and pull relationship between an ancient culture and a world of glass and plastic that tries to bury it.

The Hard Graft: An Interview with Martina Cole

Posted in book, crime fiction, interview, mystery, police procedural, review, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Martina ColeThere are many things you can call Martina Cole, arguably the queen of contemporary British crime fiction, but pretentious she is not. I believe first impressions last, and mine of Martina Cole could be summed up as follows: attractive, outgoing, down-to-earth, and oh so friendly.

Though Martina is the author of fifteen bestselling novels, she didn’t have an easy time growing up. Born in Essex in 1958, Martina was raised in an Irish Catholic family and educated at a strict convent school. Unhappy with the place, she left school with no qualifications. By the time she was nineteen she was crashing in a rundown, carpetless council flat, fending for herself and her new-born son. She knew early on what extreme poverty is and what it can make people do.

As we talk, the poverty of the English underclasses surfaces time and again. It’s a subject that deeply affects her and the protagonists of her books. In a husky voice, spiced with a strong east-ender accent, she says, ‘Our government keeps going on about a classless society, but it’s absolute crap. There is an underclass. So many people work hard, and do the best they can for their families, but they’re still poor. My son and me, we were quite hard up at a stage, and it was difficult at times, but I think it’s done us good to be hard up.’ I ask Martina how these hardships have affected her as an author. ‘It made me an independent person, and certainly I’m one of the few crime writers that’s actually lived in a council flat.’ She laughs, thinking about those times, an edge of relief in her voice despite the intervening years of success. ‘At the end of the day, I’d like people to know what it’s like to be poor, and to be faced with difficult choices. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. There was a point at which my life changed dramatically, but I reached that point by working very hard.’ Martina Cole 2

What attracted her to crime writing? ‘I didn’t start out specifically to write crime, but I ended up drawing a great deal from my background. I was also always interested in what goes through a criminal’s mind. I mean, what makes them do things, why do people commit crimes?’ One of her favourite characters is Magwitch in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, because he is a rogue, but essentially has a good heart. Great Expectations

‘There’s a human side to criminals that people tend to forget about. Cosy Crime just isn’t me.’ I ask her to elaborate. ‘Cosy Crime is the simple story of a detective who solves murders and hunts down this killer who is all bad. No one is ever all bad.’

Martina is clearly a person who tries to stay true to real events, real people and the community she was brought up in. For example, Martina used the experiences of a prostitute known to her as the basis of her novel Faceless. ‘True events do appear in my books, and I think it’s that sense of reality that keeps people reading.’ Martina Cole Faceless

It’s this respect she has for reality that has earned her much adoration from criminals, prisoners and police officers alike. She laughs out loud. ‘The funny thing is my books are some of those most frequently stolen from bookshops.’ The East End seems to identify closely with Martina and her novels, and the author reciprocates that relationship. She doesn’t just write about crime, she is regularly involved with creative writing workshops in prison rehabilitation programs. She wants to offer criminals an alternative. Says Martina, ‘Some of these people have never even picked up a book much less read it. I always say to them I’m one of the few people for whom crime actually does pay.’ Her laughter is easy, natural. ‘These people have so much time in jail, and I want to help them make the best of it.’ I wonder if some of these prisoners have had successes. ‘Yeah, definitely. A few have gone on to bigger things, but it’s difficult. Sometimes you work hard to build up a bond with some of them, and then they are abruptly transferred to another prison. It’s sad and difficult loosing someone that way, because what do they do next?’The Business

I ask her how writing has affected her personally. ‘It’s an odd life,’ she says, ‘especially for women. It’s not for everyone, because it’s lonely work. Other people can’t really join in, and feel pushed out all the time.’ It’s strange comparing this intensely private author with the sociable woman she is at parties. When she’s out, she’s always laughing, touching a shoulder here, an elbow there. She radiates interest in what you have to say, and who you are.

One thing is for certain about Martina Cole, and that is that she cares. After all, she’s been there, done the hard graft, and come out on top.

Watch a clip from the new TV series The Take, based on Martina Cole’s bestselling novel of the same name on Sky.

Find Martina Cole here:
website
Goodreads
Amazon

This interview originally appeared in The Citizen.

Review & Giveaway: Looking Good Dead, Peter James

Posted in book, crime fiction, police procedural, review, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2009 by richardkunzmann

I don’t easily get creeped out by books these days. Not any more. Not since Stephen King’s It permanently damaged me as a child, when I was reading it under the bedcovers late at night, torch in one jittery hand, twice frightened that my mother would catch me in the forbidden act of reading “that author with evil in his head.”

Did you know, momma, what was in mine?

Looking Good DeadSo it’s been a while that I got the willies from a book, which makes me very glad that I picked up a copy of Peter James’s Looking Good Dead. It’s a brilliant thriller. Here’s why.

Tom Bryce, a regular Joe salesman, is sitting on the train from London to Brighton thinking about his wife and kids. And like anyone who’s ever had a standard class fair, he’s stranded next to a right prick yelling into his mobile phone. So when the guy gets off the train and leaves a CD behind, Tom’s not exactly in the mood to play Good Samaritan.

This is where we all collectively yell, “Why oh why, Tom, did ya have to take the CD home?”

That night our dear friend Tom watches a snuff movie. Then his computer is hacked and before long he’s running scared and fighting for the life of his wife and kids. Never mind his own.

At the same time, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called out to a gruesome discovery in a field on the same day that he’s got a hot date lined up. But what he finds out there opens up old wounds; his own wife disappeared many years ago, and since then he’s forever been wondering what happened to her and blaming himself.

This is a superb thriller in every sense of the word. Peter James drops us right into the households of every day people. He shows us that they also read the Gruffalo to their kids, watch the Simpsons, and then he tears them to shreds, and we’re left wondering exactly who this bastard is. Peter James 2James also has a great sense of place, constantly feeding us information about Brighton without overpowering us with needless description. In fact, everything about his writing is precise and to the point. He is as efficient a writer as he is a killer of characters, is Mr James.

I wish I could stop with the laurels there, but his research and deep understanding of the Brighton Metropolitan Police shines through, especially in his treatment of cyber crime and modern technologies. Here’s another great detail: I love looking out for how authors tie their novels back to the titles. In Peter James’s case, when the words “Looking Good Dead” are spoken, you don’t know if you want to laugh or slam the book shut and run.

A well-rounded novel this: great characters, great plotting, and a story that could become all too real. I’m going to commit sacrilege in the crime-reading world and say I enjoyed this book more than Michael Connelly’s The Poet.

Just do me a favour: don’t read this under the bedcovers with a torch.

Give Away
I have one signed copy of the new hardback Dead Tomorrow up for grabs. It’ll be released 11 June 2009, so you’ve got until then to share your thoughts on Peter’s writing. The winner will be drawn from a raffle. Dead Tomorrow

Some fast facts about Peter James:
He’s incredibly rich and loves showing off the cars he’s owned while still remaining a genuinely nice guy. He didn’t just get that way through hard work on his many bestselling books, he’s also a successful filmmaker, producing amongst others The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino.

Read other reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.

Best read to the music of Joe Cocker

Review: The Third Person, Steve Mosby

Posted in book, crime fiction, Michael Marshal Smith, review, science fiction, speculative fiction, Steve Mosby, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

third-person1Steve Mosby published his first book at about the same time as me, and at about the same age, around 26. When I read The Third Person, it left me gobsmacked and not a little jealous. If he can keep up the raw energy of his debut, he could develop into a dangerous writer. Very dangerous. I haven’t read anything this dark since Michael Marshal Smith’s Spares.

Jason’s fiancé disappeared four months ago. The police say she left of her own accord, but he knows differently. Perhaps it had something to do with the macabre sites she’d been visiting on the internet; or maybe with his spurious infidelity. When a woman he met on the internet delivers his first solid clue as to what might have happened to his girlfriend, Jason decides to take matters into his own hands and begins to hunt for the murderers, rapists and art collectors who came into contact with Amy. The truth that our protagonist unravels isn’t pleasant, not pleasant at all, mostly because Jason’s story is entirely plausible if you’ve looked into the darker corners of your own soul and the internet.

I’m glad to see that Mosby hasn’t allowed himself to be chucked into a box. This book is part crime fiction, thriller, but there’s a distinctive speculative fiction undercurrent, with a dash of horror and science fiction added to the mix.

The maturity with which Mosby explores the demise of Jason and Amy’s relationship is exemplary. Maybe I think that because I was going through a really bad break up at the time I read it, and I saw my relationship mirrored in the pages, but it was more than that. My copy of the book is full of highlights where sentences capture fresh metaphors, complex emotions, and unique insights into our dark halves. Mosby uses interesting conventions to build a tense novel, and at ever corner there’s a sense of impending personal doom for our protagonist. It reminded me a lot of 8mm with Nicholas Cage; you kinda know this is all going to end terribly, but like our detectives you must have the answer before you can rest.

Every now and again there is some confusion in the logical flow of the unravelling mystery, but this in no way should digress from a superb debut novel. Note to self: Buy more books by this twisted bastard. I mean that as a compliment.

Review: Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton

Posted in book, Peter F. Hamilton, review, science fiction, South Africa, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

bcs_hamilton_pandorasstar Let me take some liberties once in a while in posting to this blog, which is supposedly dedicated to crime fiction, but in reality also to the things that I’ve enjoyed and which have influenced me to a greater or lesser extent. If you’re still clamoring as to why I’ve posted an SF review here, there’s a cracking murder investigation running through this complex story, as is an investigation into terrorist organisations.

With Pandora’s Star, Hamilton embarks on an 880-page deep space science fiction epic. In the year AD 2380 humanity has colonized over six hundred planets using a technology developed by two stoner student physicists called Wormholes. The society of the Intersolar Commonwealth is peaceful and wealthy, if plagued by an occasional attack by the Guardians of Selfhood. When the astronomer Dudley Bose observes the sudden disappearance of a star over a thousand light years away, the Commonwealth is anxious to discover what happened. In order to reach it they must build the first ever faster-than-light starship. The fact that something imprisoned an entire solar system with a massive force field does not bode humankind well at all.

AD 2380 and the Commonwealth are both alien and strangely similar to our terran societies. Wormhole trains are the major mode of transport between planets, while rich enough people live for hundreds of years using genetic rejuvenation. Illustrious family enclaves, including the powerful Mandelas from South Africa, control entire planets.

The author examines a richly inventive universe through the eyes of numerous characters on various planets, and builds his plot at a leisurely pace that allows us to get to grips with his expansive universe. It is a well-crafted novel, though some of the characters seem somewhat flat and some of the worlds over-simplified. In places it drags a bit and you’re left rather frustrated, but at no point did I feel I can chuck it aside. Is this taking suspense to the extreme? The author has obviously made certain trade-offs to present a comprehensive tale that does the many themes it explores justice. The stretch where Hamilton explores the evolution over time of a hostile alien intelligence that ultimately cloaks its star is an impeccable and thrilling piece of imaginative science and biology, and cleverly plants an “against the clock” element to the building of the FTL spaceship.

This book had me quailing for more, and now, with more new SF under the belt, I realise exactly how exemplary this book is. I also finally have all three editions in hardback and can’t wait to get started at the beginning and end at the end, as Einstein once advised.