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review 2015-01-10 15:30
A sub-Crichtonian disapointment - No Harm Can Come To A Good Man by James Smythe
No Harm Can Come to a Good Man - James Smythe

As those of us who have nothing better to do than stalk me know, I really like James Smythe's books. When this first cropped up on my radar, for some reason I thought it was YA, which it isn't, so I wasn't really on the look-out for it. Happily, I have a rather fabulous local library who have a knack for carrying all the books I want to read including this one.


No Harm Can Come To A Good Man is what, back in the day, we called a techo-thriller. It's set in the near future, in a world one piece of technology further along than ours. ClearVista is an algorithm which extrapolates all known data to accurately predict the future. Want to know if you're going to get a job? ClearVista can steer you right. Keen to determine if the time is right to be impregnated? ClearVista is totally with it. Want to know how many seconds your son can survive underwater? ClearVista knows.


ClearVista is the most powerful tool in the aspiring US Presidential candidate's armoury. But for Lawrence Walker, widely assumed to be a shoe-in for the role, the video of his future shows him sitting before his terrified family, holding a gun which will be fired.


For Lawrence and his PR guy, Amit, there's clearly an error. Something's gone wrong with the algorithm, but how? And why? And while Amit tries to find the answers, Lawrence is under pressure and failing to respond well.


It's a fun premise this future prediction, and the story works extremely well with it. However, although there were certain aspects I loved, the actual book was quite disappointing. 


It takes an awfully long time to get going. There's a large amount of necessary set-up which doesn't quite throw the reader - who is given the description of the video as a prologue - enough bones to feel a sense of mounting tension. That prologue feels like a lazy editorial decision after the main book was done, especially when on page 200-ish, a character dramatically finds out the bang on the film has been isolated and they've confirmed it's ... a gunshot. Even without the prologue, it's a real 'Ya thunk?' moment. 


The king of the the techo-thriller is the late Michael Crichton, a writer I loved as a teen. Smythe and I are about the same age and were inhaling Stephen King's oeuvre at the same time so it wouldn't surprise me if he was also reading Crichton when I was (although I'll bet his Mum didn't take Rising Sun away from him for being age inappropriate). No Harm's flat writing style feels like a deliberate imitation. Unfortunately, the characterisation suffers, the same as it did in Crichton's work. Lawrence Walker is just some guy who has some things happen to him; his wife, Deanna, is just some guy who has some things happen to her; Amit is the everyman sidekick. It's difficult to care what happens to them and even at the moments of high emotional drama, I remained at a remove. The *really* dramatic moments felt over-the-top and I had some trouble taking it as seriously as it took itself.


This is a rather inbetween-y book which doesn't quite do enough of anything. It's not really a thriller although it has aspects of one (that's an observation, not a complaint), and the ideas - which I loved - are almost too sophisticated for the rest of the book. If I handed it to my Mammy (big fan of the 'rollicking good yarn'), I don't think she'd get those parts and would instead find an okay book which would make a jolly good film. I (who understood The Matrix first time round), found a rather 2d thriller enormously improved by the resolution of its sub-plot, which would make a jolly good film.


Without the idea this would probably be 2.5 stars simply for the time it took to get going, so I'm going to give it 3, although I'm not going to look askance at anybody marking it lower.

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review 2014-08-16 09:10
Do yourself a favour and read this in one sitting - Confessions by Kanae Minato
Confessions - Kanae Minato

[This ARC was provided to me for the sum of precisely no monies by the publisher, Mulholland books, with thanks to the ever glorious Bookbridgr.]


Everybody has pet likes, and one of mine is Japan. I've never been and likely never will - I have enough problems with English, non-Roman scripts are so far beyond my abilities I'm more likely to pwn Martin Amis in a poetry slam than cope with the Japanese language. If you think I'm joking about the English, earlier today it took me three goes to get the spelling of "persuasive" correct enough for Chrome's spell-checker to understand what I was attempting. 


Kanae Minato's Confessions has been a huge bestseller in its native country, the film adaptation was nominated for an Oscar in 2011, but I requested it basically because I really like Japan. Which was lucky because this book is amazing.


Middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi's four-year-old daughter is dead, drowned in the school's swimming pool in what everybody believes was a tragic accident. Yuko knows better. She knows her daughter was murdered by two of the students in her class and so, on her final day as a teacher, she announces this fact to her students, tells them what really happened, and what she has done about it. 


Confessions is what it says on the tin: the personal perspectives of this event and what follows. It begins with Yuko's lecture, written as it is spoken, then moves on to other stories told in different ways by various people involved in what happens. In lesser hands this could become dull or repetitive, but Minato's plotting is taut, her ideas horrific, and she performs the literary equivalent of a magician whipping a silken handkerchief to reveal his disappointingly un-dismembered assistant. And then she does it again. Then a couple more times with feeling. To the end, Minato is yanking back great swathes of fabric, forcing you to reassess and rethink what you've been told. It was only at the top of the final page that I understood what was going to happen by the bottom - and it is perfect. 


The story feels a little odd at first. The writing - which has the flatness I typically expect from a Japanese translation - sits uneasily with the story conveyed. The juxtaposition of realism and an almost absurd level of dramatic reveal pushed my credibility, but what felt discordant became understandable with the perspectives of other narrators. Trust Minato the writer, but do not trust her characters. Confessions should be an object lesson for anybody hoping to pen a psychological thriller of their own. 


I define a five star book as one which makes me want to run up to people in the street and make them read it. If I knew where you lived I'd be standing over you now. Confessions is dark, horrific, and immaculately done: you really want to read this one.


5 stars.



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text 2014-08-12 09:59
Dora's ARC - Confessions by Kanae Minato
Confessions - Kanae Minato

It arrived last night, I'm already 2/3s of the way through.


This book is good.


It might even be looking at a full five stars.



[For your reference, this book was provided to me for no monies by the fabulous Bookbridgr]







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