Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Book Review: Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Who is the greatest fictional detective in literature? Sherlock Holmes? Robert Langdon? Hercule Poirot? Auguste Dupin? 

After I finished Still Life with Crows, I believe Aloysius XL Pendergast, who is a special agent of the FBI, should join the rank as a formidable detective in literature.

Let me put it this way: Imagine, a serial killer is running loose in your neighborhood. Who you gonna call? I tell you, Agent Pendergast is the man for the job.

Who is Agent Pendergast? He is a fictional character, created by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, who are two novelists writing in collaboration. Pendergast made a debut in Relic, a techno-thriller novel published in 1995. Since then, Agent Pendergast's adventures have spanned over 15 books up to date. Still Life with Crows is standing as the fourth installment in this thrilling series of novels. Reading Still Life with Crows makes your heart pound against your chest, as if you are hanging on for your dear life on a roller coaster ride.


In America's heartland rests a small Kansas town called Medicine Creek. Nothing changes in this town; its surrounding cornfields seem boundless, and along the town's main street squats a two-block stretch of dusty and old businesses.

Although Medicine Creek is dwindling, but its residents are leading a peaceful life. Amidst a summer's blazing heat, Medicine Creek's serenity shattered, abruptly, when a series of ghastly murders and mutilated bodies were discovered in the town's seminal cornfields.

These harrowing murders drew Agent Pendergast's attention to Medicine Creek. He arrived at the town, aiming at catching the killer like a hunting wolf sniffing for its prey. But soon Pendergast discovered the one behind these murders is no ordinary serial killer. This time, Pendergast stares into the eyes of evil, an evil lurking under the shadows from Medicine Creek's haunted past.

My thoughts on this book:

Macabre, is my choice of word for describing Still Life with Crows. In this fast-paced thriller novel, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child spun a riveting yarn. Its story morbidly fascinates a reader with bizarre murders, and it will send a chill down your spine. Taut with nerve-wracking suspense, this book's convoluted plot turns and twists as its storytelling blasts a reader in the face with unexpected surprises. This book kept me turning the pages from its beginning until its very end, and I loved every page it.

Characters, Still Life with Crows boasts a cast of vividly colored characters. Agent Pendergast, charismatic and intelligent, rocks the story's centre stage with a performance worthy of Sherlock Holmes. This man's deductive power is simply off the chart! Yet, the adventure in Still Life with Crows does not light its stage with a one man show. Supporting characters, notably a Goth teenage girl named Corrie Swanson, shined brightly along side Pendergast's staging. The author(s) blended Corrie's side story smoothly into the main plot like a pair of matching gears.

Without a terrifying, dangerous villain a thriller novel cannot come to life. This book takes its readers on a perilous journey, a journey staring into the face of an utterly terrifying villain. I will not spoil the story in this review, but I think it suffices to say the villain in this book is an individual so strange, so menacing, yet so fascinating that most fictional villains pale by comparison.

A good thriller novel can make a reader's heart pound frantically even if you are resting in the comfort of a couch. Still Life with Crows kept me at the edge of my seat. The cornfields! In this book, scenes of abominable horror transpired in the cornfields, and those scenes are among the most frightful events I have ever encountered in a novel. When I was turning the pages in this book, its atmospheric settings engulfed me in torrents of suspense, horror and mystery. I could not put this book down! I burned with the need to know the story's end and I finished this 560 page book in 2 sittings. A word of advice, I recommend reading this book during a weekend instead of on a night after work, lest you stay up the whole night racing through the book and then struggling at work the next day because you are sapped of energy.

My review for Still Life with Crows comes with high praises. But you might ask:

“Is there any negative aspect about this book?”

I answer this question with a big “NO”. In all honesty, I could not recognize any item to be criticized in this book. I loved Still Life With Crows from the first page until the very last one. I had a blast of a time reading it. This book, and its predecessor (The Cabinet of Curiosities, check it out if you haven't read it yet) nestled themselves at the very top of my list for favorite thrillers novels. I highly recommend Still Life with Crows to lovers of the thriller genre, especially if detective and horror stories appeal to you.

P.S. I will be away on a holiday in the upcoming 2 weeks. During this time, I will not be able to read books or writing reviews. But fear not, my gentle readers, Daniel's Corner Unlimited shall return in the month of April. So until the next time, happy reading!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Book Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence #3)

“Now I have to wait for the next book.”

The problem of being captivated by an unfinished series of fantasy novels, is that you have to wait for the next book. In the fantasy genre, authors usually plan on writing long series, lengths varying from 7 to 10 books, and the wait for the next book often stretches to several years.

It is almost like dining on a beautiful, 7 course meal but knowing the dishes will only arrive at your table, sequentially, once in every few hours. That, is how I felt when I turned to the last page in The Republic of Thieves, the 3rd entry in Scott Lynch's highly acclaimed fantasy series, The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence.

Starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora, I stepped into the adventures of The Gentlemen Bastards three weeks ago. Every page of story in The Lies of Locke Lamora charmed me, and the novel joined my list of favorite books. When the time came for reading its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, the book did not disappoint despite having some pacing issues. Next up, I eagerly opened The Republic of Thieves. This book is the 3rd installment in the series, and I enjoyed this novel so much that I dreaded the inevitability of reaching its final page, knowing that agonizing months await me before the next book can finally greet my reading world.

However, before I return to waiting for the next book, I would like to share my thoughts on The Republic of Thieves. Hopefully my review will convince you to start reading this series too, so you can join me in the agonizing wait for the next book and sharing my pain. Just kidding!

Let me begin with a synopsis for the novel.


Locke lies on a sickbed, slowly dying while a lethal poison tears through his body.

Unfortunately, no physiker or alchemist possess the skills to purge the poison from Locke's frame. His dearest friend and fellow Gentlmen Bastards, Jean Tannen, looks on at Locke, in grief and in anger at the poisonous sickness stalking his friend's life.

At the moment when the poison was about to extinguish the last breath of life in Locke, an enemy from their past, a Bondsmage, materialized in front of Locke's bed, offering a bargain in exchange for ridding the venom from his body.

What is the catch? This Bondsmage promised to expel the poison from Locke's body, provided that Locke and Jean agree to take on an assignment in the city of Karthain. This assignment, should Locke and Jean agree to contract it, requires them to act as experts to help winning an election for a political faction supported by Bondsmage. The difficulty is, there are two political factions in Karthain, and their opponent's political campaign is led by Sabetha Belacoros, a woman who not only dominates Locke's love life, but she is also an ex-member of Gentlemen Bastards with wits and cunning rivaling Locke's own.

Locke and Jean have no option but to take on the assignment in exchange for the cure. So begins a spectacular match consisting of intrigues and stratagem, intertwined with old romances and personal history, a history tracing its root to a theatrical known as The Republic of Thieves.

My thoughts on this book:

I find Scott Lynch's writings admirable because he is not afraid to try new things. He began The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence with a revenge story, then he expanded the series with a sequel about pirates sailing on a nautical adventure. Lynch continues to reinvigorate this series in the 3rd installment by telling a story about romances and political heists. That is right, The Republic of Thieves is both a political heist story as well as a tale of romance, where readers finally meet Locke's love interest, Sabetha Belacoros, who was mentioned multiple times in the previous two novels but never made an actual appearance until now.

Sebatha made an impressive entrance onto the stage of The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence. She entered the story as an antagonist to Locke and Jean's operation in this book. Audacious and clever, Sabetha mirrors Locke both in personality as well as abilities and skills. She proves herself a worthy opponent, trading blows of intrigues and stratagem against Locke and Jean. Their rivalry creates an electrifying story about a political heist, where most actions do not reside in physical combats, but instead the actions take places in the form of Locke and Sabetha outsmarting each other to win the election for the political faction they each represent. Furthermore, the story of Locke and Sabetha's rivalry is abundant with humorous touches. When I was reading this book, there were many occasions when lighthearted humors brought smiles on my face. In my opinion, the theme of political heist aligned with The Genlemen Bastards Sequence perfectly, especially because this is a fantasy series of a grimdark persuasion.

Aside from the political heist story, this book also explores Locke and Sabetha's romantic relationship, one that takes place in the present as well as how their romance originated in the past. These two, parallel stories not only gave depth to Locke's character, but they also provided readers with insight into the background of the overall story. In other words, The Republic of Thieves contains two narratives. It is a book flashing between the past and the present. One narration takes place in the present election in Karthaine. The second narration unveils the curtain of history behind Locke and Sabetha's romantic relationship.

One might expect this type of storytelling, flashing between the present and the past, may confuse readers with time jumps. However, Lynch's storytelling works exceedingly well here. Starting from the first book in this series, Scott Lynch has been employing this storytelling device to all novels in The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence, where each chapter consists of two parts: The first part focuses on the events at the present, and the second part details a story that took place in the past. This narrating format gave Lynch an edge as a storyteller to jump straight into the story, painting vivid, detailed portraits for his world and characters, yet smartly evading a slow buildup at the beginning of his book(s). It is also worth mentioning that surprisingly, Lynch's unusual storytelling format provided smooth transitions in between chapters without ever raising a sense of disruption.

The Republic of Thieves is an excellent novel. However, I still opine the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, is the best novel in The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence (so far). Having said this, I prefer The Republic of Thieves to its predecessor, Red Seas Under Red Skies. In The Republic of Thieves, I found the political heist story intriguing, it matches the overall theme of this series like a swimming fish in the water. On the other hand, the tale of romance between Locke and Sabetha fleshed out the key characters in this series, giving them depths. I had a great time reading this book and I cannot wait to read the next book. As I said earlier, now begins the agonizing wait for the 4th book in this series. The next installment is titled “ The Thorn of Emberlain”.

P.S. I have attached a link to a book trailer for The Republic of Thieves, it is made by the publisher Gollancz.