Book review

The Institute

by Stephen King

49919128. sx318 sy475

Much to like about this Stephen King, I thought. The first forty or so pages set up the story of Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop who decides on the spur of the moment not to fly from Tampa to New York, but instead to hitchhike. He wends his way along, and ends up at the town of DuPray, North Carolina, where he spots an ad for a “night knocker” – someone to work as an adjunct to the local sherrif’s department, walking the streets at night. Again, he decides more or less on the spur of the moment to pause his cross-country journey, and takes up the job.

Then the story suddenly shifts to Luke Ellis, a genius-level twelve year old boy in Minneapolis. He appears to have a small telekinetic ability – when he’s excited, small objects might unexpectedly rattle about or fall over. He has loving parents, and a great deal to look forward to – MIT have offered him a scholarship already.

Then, suddenly, he is kidnapped, and his parents are murdered, by a well-trained and ruthless team. He wakes up in a room that appears similar, but not quite identical, to his own bedroom. And now he’s inside The Institute, in rural Maine, with a handful of other children who also have psychic gifts – some are”TK”, telekinetic like Luke, others are “TP” and can read surface thoughts. He soon learns that after a few weeks of tests, the children disappear into the Back Half of the Institute, and are never seen again.

The tests they undergo range from the mild to the brutal, but it’s the adults in charge that are in many ways most horrifying. That’s at the heart of the book for me: the moral corruption of the adults who run the Institute, inured to what they are doing to the children for “the greater good”. The children are just children – some compliant, one or two defiant, all scared and trying to hide it. The adults are the horrors. There are several references to Nazi experiments on prisoners, and many of these adults are cast in the same light: some believe in some absolute “truth” that justifies whatever they need to do, while others are by nature, or perhaps simply through long exposure, sadistic and brutal.

Uncomfortable reading at times, but largely well done by Mr King. For me the very last chapter was superfluous – the story could have ended 10 pages earlier, and would have been better for it, so I knock a third of a star off for that. But the preceding 500+ pages were good to great – the second half in particular really gripped me and I found it hard to put down. Three and two thirds of a star, rounded up to four.

Book review

The Sentry

by Robert Crais

The Sentry by Robert Crais

I’m not going to review this book, featuring Elvis Cole, a Private Investigator, and his friend, Joe Pike. Cole is cool (he shares his house on the hills above LA with his cat, and he shares his beer with his cat). Pike is beyond cool, and one of my favourite fictional creations (the cat hates him).

Instead, I’m just going to give you a series of quotes from it. If that doesn’t make you buy it, nothing will.

This was why the men down south used him for these jobs and paid him so well. Werewolves caught their prey.

The nature of his life had cost him the woman he loved and the little boy he had grown to love, and left him alone in this house with nothing but an angry cat for company and a pistol that did not need to be put away.

Prisons were filled with convicted murderers who got a drumstick when they wanted a thigh, or who felt dissed when a woman wouldn’t speak to them on a bus, or who decided a bartender was ignoring them. When a man felt frustrated or angry enough, any reason would do.

Pike had focused on a goal and would drive forward like a relentless machine. Back in Cole’s Ranger days, they had called this mission commitment, and Pike’s mission commitment was off the charts.

Pike was a man who showed nothing, projecting a zen-like detachment that Cole sometimes found amusing, but also admired. Cole often wondered what such calm cost his friend, and whether Pike had no other choice but to pay it.

“Yes. Of course, I will call.” “Stay with Artie. Watch his temperature.” “You are a strange man.”

That’s it. Go read it. Or anything with Pike in it, they’re all great.

Book review

The Quantum Spy

by David Ignatius

The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius

So very disappointed in this novel, I’m sorry to say. It’s set in the present day, with China as the baddie for our intrepid CIA spies, and it has a bit of a techie theme, with the plot loosely set around the search for real life quantum computing. I had high hopes – quantum stuff, spies, high-tech thriller potential, what’s not to love?

Well, what’s not to love is cardboard characters straight from central casting (the hard-as-nails CIA deputy director, the geeky CEO of a tech company, the conflicted American-Chinese), the wildly telegraphed plot line, the simple straight-line narrative thread, written so you didn’t have to worry about losing the thread when you got up from the sunbed where you were reading this to buy an icecream (or a margarita, as you choose).

Some bits weren’t bad – there were some nice snippets of “tradecraft”, and the tech stuff about quantum computers was actually very well done, from a techie POV. And the scenes were set in some interesting places, generally very credibly described. But still not enough to get past the disappointment.

Book review

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)
Read date: August 2018

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a worthy successor to the first two in the Millennium trilogy, and a gripping conclusion to the various storylines. It took me about 50 pages to get back into the plot and remember what had happened to the main characters, but the author does a good job of leading you through this, building the scaffold around you where the action will unfold.
Plot is gripping, as I say, and my wife said when I was still 100 pages from the end that she was looking forward to me finishing, and her getting her husband back!

Tone is similar to the previous two stories, in that the style is slightly dry and stepped back. That works well with Salander’s character, and to a certain extent also with Blomkvist, but less so I felt with some of the more emotionally aware characters such as his sister, and the leading police officers.

Overall – very well done, and even at 750 pages, never a dull moment.

View all my reviews