Tag Archives: thriller

Madness Treads Lightly

Author: Polina Dashkova

Translator: Marian Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5

When Mitya Sinitsyn is found hanged in his apartment, nearly everyone seems to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he committed suicide. But considering how strongly his wife denies the possibility of such a thing happening, family friend and journalist Lena Polyanskaya begins to pick at the threads of his death . . . and finds the obvious begin to unravel before her. The clues she discovers begin leading her on a dangerous trail going back fourteen years to a trip she, Mitya, and his sister Olga took as young professionals together. Because somehow, something that happened on that trip was significant in a way she never realized–if she can only figure it out before she ends up dead because of it.

Madness Treads Lightly is the first Russian psychological thriller/crime novel I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s one of only a few Russian novels I’ve read, period. I should probably remedy that. In any case, this was a worthwhile read, one that would likely be enjoyed by most people who enjoy crime novels in general. Plotwise, you’ve got an interesting story–not really a mystery, since it becomes pretty clear what happened and who committed the crimes. But it’s intriguing to watch Lena go all amateur detective while still being at heart a mom and a journalist–an ordinary woman, not some insanely skilled crime fighter or anything. There’s a lot going on, and a number of interlocking plot threads to follow, but it all comes together quite well. I honestly found the native look at everyday Russian culture and society in the 1990’s to be nearly as interesting as the actual plot, though. Things like the way capitalism and crime were interconnected, foods that were common, polite social customs, etc. are fascinating to see displayed in such a way that they’re clearly just a normal, unremarkable part of the characters lives. But Russian naming conventions, though; I still don’t understand. . . . One more thing of note is that, although I would certainly consider this a thriller of sorts, it has a pacing that wouldn’t fit with the typical Western conception of that genre. It’s more of a slow, steady unfolding of one plot element after another, which sounds kind of dull when I say it, but it actually fits the story and works. Recommended.

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The Chemist

Author: Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for violence, although there’s some minor sexual content

She used to be an agent of the American government, conducting black-ops interrogations, addressing biological threats, and creating new chemical compounds designed to target the human body. Now she’s a fugitive, on the run from her own department since someone there has decided she knows too much to stay alive. She’s gotten good at surviving–staying alone, being over-prepared, trusting no one and nothing. But when the department tricks her, bringing her into contact with sweet, innocent Daniel Beach, everything changes. And suddenly, she’s got a reason to do more than just hide; now she’s prepared to fight back.

In a lot of ways, The Chemist was everything I expect from a Stephenie Meyer novel, although at the same time, it was quite different from anything else of hers I’ve ever read. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it, more than I expected to. It is a book that I think you’ll enjoy more if you know somewhat what to expect, and honestly, that’s not clear from either the title or the cover or the author’s reputation. So I’ll go ahead and tell you: this is a secret agent thriller with a bio-chemistry twist. If you’re into the whole Jason Bourne thing, this should be right up your alley. If needles give you the heebie-jeebies, be forewarned, there are a lot of them here. The book is fast-paced and an easy right throughout, with plenty of action and suspense. And of course, the one element that is definitely classic Meyer, there’s a star-crossed romance thrown into the mix. Although this is definitely a more adult book that the others of Meyer’s that I’ve read (especially with the whole torture and violent death thing), it’s light on the explicit sexual content, and there’s basically zero bad language present. But yeah, torture and violence is definitely a thing here. Tropes are also a thing–as in, the book’s absolutely full of them–but then, they’re the sort of things that are tropes for a reason, right? And this is the sort of story (again, it’s helpful to know this going in) where that’s kind of acceptable because we’re in it for the intensity of the thrills and the sweetness of the love story, not for some great literary exposition. So yes, taken as what it is, I found The Chemist to be a surprisingly rewarding read, one I would recommend, especially to fans of thrillers.

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Jurassic Park

Author: Michael Crichton

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Building a theme park on a tropical island featuring real, live dinosaurs is a breathtaking dream–but for the wealthy John Hammond, it’s a dream he’s intent on seeing become a reality. With massive funding and state-of-the-art genetic engineering, he’s managed to actually bring dinosaurs to life using ancient DNA. And before unveiling the park for the public, he’s invited a special group of consultants, investors, and his own grandchildren for a preview tour of the park. But as their visit continues, things begin to go awry one by one in the worst possible way until it’s uncertain if any of them will even survive.

Jurassic Park is the first Michael Crichton I’ve ever read, and on the whole, I found it something of a James Patterson meets Stephen King thriller, with a stronger bent in the Patterson direction. It’s definitely a thriller, with plenty of action, blood, and scares. But it’s also a slower burn at the start than I was expecting, which was actually kind of nice. Heads didn’t start rolling until, like, halfway through, which gives some time for setting and character development. Having said that, none of the characters really gelled with me other than the paleontologists, who are obviously written in such a way that you’re supposed to like them. And yes, I need to get this out of the way, the story’s kind of sexist and racist–especially notably so in how the Costa Rican workers aren’t even considered in the head-counts or as real characters at all. I’ve also heard the story criticized for plot holes, although I didn’t notice any particularly; I also wasn’t looking for that particularly. As far as thrillers go, it was an exciting and creative read, so it fulfilled its basic purpose quite admirably I think. Although I’m not enough of a scientist to tell how accurate the science used here is (and it’s probably pretty out of date by now in any case), it was interesting to see so much scientific and mathematical theory worked into the plot. That in itself definitely makes Jurassic Park way more interesting than a lot of thrillers in my opinion. Recommended if you’re in the mood for a slower-burn, dinosaur-themed thriller with plenty of suspense.

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The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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Overtime (Novelette)

Author: Charles Stross

The Laundry Files, vol. 3.5

My rating: 4 of 5

Lucky for him (ha), Bob has pulled the distinct privilege of working the night watch at the office over the Christmas holiday–by virtue of being out sick while everyone else was putting in their vacation requests. Go figure. Oh well, theoretically, it should be a boring job sitting around babysitting a phone that never rings . . . unless the unthinkable happens. But then, considering Bob works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is protecting the world from the things that go bump in the night and considering his stellar run of luck so far, why shouldn’t the unthinkable happen, right?

When I picked up Overtime, I was definitely expecting the fabulous combination of eldritch horror and office mundanity that it offered. What I wasn’t expecting was the Christmas theme. And yet, it works marvelously, providing a delightful comedy-horror plot that ties this little novelette together brilliantly as Bob deals with temporal anomalies, an eldritch interpretation of Santa Claus, and the challenges of fighting back the apocalypse using only office supplies, used Christmas decorations, and leftover treats from the office Christmas party . . . theoretically the last Christmas party the Laundry will see if the predictions offered by a Mr. Kringle (that only Bob can even remember now) are to be believed. The writing offers the same engrossing, droll style found in the earlier Laundry books (and yes, I would recommend reading at least The Atrocity Archives first for some context),  but with a slightly more story-based focus and with less techno-babble . . . probably due largely to the short length of the story. Recommended for those who enjoy a sardonic tone and a solid urban fantasy and/or comedy horror story.

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Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

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The Forest (2016 Movie)

Gramercy Pictures

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rated PG-13/Trigger warning for suicide

Sara Price receives a phone call from Japan informing her that her twin sister Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest–a place legendary for people going to commit suicide–and is presumed dead. But Sara knows better. Ever since they were kids, she’s been able to sense Jess’s existence, tell when she’s in trouble. So she knows that Jess is still alive, and as so many times before, that she needs Sara’s help. Arriving in Japan, Sara is warned off numerous times, told of the yūrei that haunt the forest, driving people to madness and luring those with sadness in their hearts to kill themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention. But Sara refuses to be dissuaded, and teaming up with reporter Aiden and trail-guide Michi, she sets off into the forest in search of her sister.

I initially picked up The Forest for the simple reason that Eoin Macken is in it. For the record, don’t do that. His role here isn’t that big, and while I liked his character, the writing here simply did not do justice to his immense skill as an actor. Having said that, I very much do not regret watching this movie. It’s an unexpected horror/thriller that refuses to fall into any of your typical genre niches neatly. There’s an Asian horror feel to it that goes beyond just the setting, but it’s not strictly an Asian horror film. Nor is it your typical jump-scare, blood and gore fest that so many horror movies are. In fact, although it seems strange to say this in regards to any horror sort of movie, The Forest is remarkably clean. Still not family friendly, obviously, what with the scariness and allusions to suicide that are prevalent, but it’s not all the sex and language and blood that so many movies of this sort seem to stoop to. Rather, this movie is a slow, atmospheric build of emotional, mental, and psychological horror over the course of the entire movie. If you’re not a fan of the slow burn, it will probably drive you crazy; give this movie a pass. But if you’ve got the patience, the atmosphere of tension that builds is quite well done–the lighting, music, acting, sets, backstory, everything working together quite brilliantly. There’s a sense of mystery that plays in well, and of course, the supernatural element as the yūrei here are real . . . at least in Sara’s head. And that’s where things get really interesting as we have this slow descent into madness from her perspective, so we as the viewers aren’t always able to tell what’s real and what isn’t either. I’ve seen a lot of controversial ratings for this movie–some very positive, others negative in the extreme–but personally, I feel The Forest is one of the best horror/thriller movies I’ve seen, period. Recommended, at least for those who have the patience for the slower pacing.

Written by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, & Nick Antosca/Directed by Jason Zada/Produced by Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, & David Linde/Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, & Eoin Macken/Music by Bear McCreary

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