Posts Tagged ‘thriller novel’

Short takes: ‘Ready Player Two,’ ‘The Biggest Bluff,’ ‘Up the Walls of the World’ and ‘Sharp Objects’

December 30, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 30, 2020

Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel, Ready Player One, posited a mid-21st-century world in which the main characters were obsessed with 1980s movies and video games. The story’s insistence that entertainment from the author’s adolescence would be prized by teenagers three generations later comprised a novel-length form of wish fulfillment.

Nevertheless, Ready Player One was a bestseller, and Cline optioned the book’s film rights the same day he signed a publishing deal. The resulting movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and co-written by Cline himself, was if anything a more streamlined and enjoyable piece of entertainment than the original text.

As was perhaps inevitable, last month Cline published a sequel under the title Ready Player Two. (Naturally, a film adaptation is in the works.) The new book recycles some important elements of the old one: Wade Watts and his pals again embark upon a quest to find a bunch of objects a programmer has hidden in the Oasis, the vast networked gaming domain that inhabitants of an overpopulated Earth use to relax in the year 2047 or thereabouts.

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Short takes: ‘Evil Geniuses,’ ‘Logan’s Run,’ ‘John Dies at the End,’ ‘Agent Running in the Field,’ ‘Hangsaman’ and more

December 4, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 4, 2020

Well, it’s been another month and a half since I last wrote about the movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read or heard. I would have liked to have written about a few of the following items, especially the first one, in more detail than I have here; alas, circumstances prevented that from happening.

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History by Kurt Andersen (2020): The journalist and recently retired radio host explores how a determined group of conservatives — many of them quite wealthy or connected to those who were — succeeded in making our country safe for oligarchy over a 40-year period. Working primarily in the realms of economics, law and politics, various individuals and groups with varying degrees of coordination systematically undermined unions, conventional American notions of fairness and the idea that businesses should do anything other than accumulate vast amounts of wealth for a small number of executives and business owners or shareholders.

Andersen writes engagingly and earnestly about a concerted effort that has been so successful that the results have sometimes dismayed its own engineers. He also argues that a type of socialism, notably in the form of a universal basic income, will be necessary to stave off the deleterious long-term effects of automation and the devastating short-term effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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Short takes: ‘Stagecoach’ and ‘The End of October’

July 8, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 8, 2020

Many years ago, a textbook for my college film course contained a very enthusiastic passage about Stagecoach, John Ford’s 1939 Western. I have only the vaguest recollection of what it said (although it’s possible I still have the text somewhere — locating it is a project for another day). I think the author or authors were enthusiastic about the movie’s tight pacing, its character-driven plotting, and some well-executed action sequences.

I got around to watching the movie a few days ago when I noticed that it’s available on one of the streaming services I use. My reaction to the picture was… different from that of my textbook’s author(s).

The tale is set in the Arizona territory perhaps a decade after the end of the Civil War. The picture opens with a brief prologue in which some Army officers establish that Native American warriors led by Geronimo are raiding white settlers. Then we see the titular stagecoach arrive in a dusty town. As the horses are changed out, passenger Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) and driver Buck (Andy Devine) disembark to develop the plot.

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Adventure and intrigue await a small party of climbers at the top of the world in Dan Simmons’s ‘The Abominable’

December 6, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 6, 2019

1924. Europe is recovering — some parts more quickly than others — from the Great War. The world’s highest summit, Mount Everest, has yet to be scaled, although the Royal Geographic Society and other adventurers are keenly interested in doing so. Mountaineering in general is a hazardous endeavor, even as some climbers have begun using bottled air to battle the oxygen deprivation that is endemic at higher altitudes.

Near the beginning of The Abominable, Dan Simmons’s 2013 novel, a 37-year-old English war hero secures backing from the family of a British aristocrat who’s disappeared on the perilous slope. Together with two fellow climbers — Jean-Claude Clairouox, 25, certified by the world’s oldest association of mountain guides, and the narrator, Jacob Perry, 22, a recent Harvard graduate and member of an esteemed Boston clan — Richard Davis Deacon gathers the equipment and expertise that the trio will need to find a body high up on the colossal peak.

“The Deacon,” as his friends call him, wishes to conduct the trip in secrecy in an effort to avoid interference from potential rivals. Deacon has other reasons for the clandestine approach, as Perry and the readers will discover in the course of events. Together with a party of Sherpas, a cousin of the missing Lord Percival Bromley who operates a Darjeeling tea plantation, and a hardy doctor with an unusual background, the climbers confront a variety of antagonists, not least of which is the massive mountain’s challenging terrain and formidable weather.

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Characters attempt to stave off madness amidst the deep freeze in Matthew Iden’s entertaining thriller ‘The Winter Over’

March 18, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 18, 2018

Matthew Iden’s 2017 novel The Winter Over is an entertaining thriller set at an isolated Antarctic station beset by a growing number of troubling events.

The main character is an engineer who as the book opens is about to spend her first winter at Shackleton South Pole Research Facility. (This fictitious base is modeled after a real place, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.) Cass Jennings and her colleagues are disturbed to discover, just days before the start of roughly nine months of isolation, that a resident has frozen to death.

That’s hardly the only blow to morale. A few weeks after the deep freeze has cut the station off from the outside world, unexplained glitches disrupt Shackleton’s heat, electrical and communications systems. The outpost’s troubles begin accumulating, placing Jennings and everyone else under extraordinary pressure.

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Super-detective Jack Reacher stars in Lee Child’s taut ‘Tripwire’

May 21, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 21, 2013

Jack Reacher, the über-capable fictional former Army detective, made his feature film debut in the 2012 movie that bears his name. But the ex-MP who could has been around since 1997, when England-born Lee Child released Killing Floor, the first of what is now a 16-book series.

Some months ago, I read and enjoyed Echo Burning, which lists as the seventh Reacher book in its narrative (not real-world publication) chronology. A few weeks ago, I began Tripwire, which dates to 1999.

The story begins when a New York City detective searching for Reacher encounters our hero in a strip club in the Florida Keys. Reacher, wary of attention, lies about his identity. A few hours later, the detective is dead, and the hero knows that he must find out who killed him and why.

The quest leads Reacher to the New York City suburbs, where he unexpectedly finds himself attending a wake for his friend and former commanding officer, Leon Garber. Yet this discovery, like many in Tripwire, simply leads to more questions. Jodie Garber has been searching for Reacher because that was what her father was doing. But why was Leon doing so? Read the rest of this entry »

Über-detective unravels a Texas family’s tangled legacy in ‘Echo Burning’

February 5, 2013

You can’t beat Jack Reacher one on one. You can only hope to outmaneuver him.

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of Jack Reacher, the super-competent über-detective who is the star of Lee Child’s series of thriller novels. Reacher is a retired Army MP, or military policeman, an efficient killer with a razor-sharp intellect and in-depth experience with forensics and human psychology. If he had to engage Superman or Batman in man-to-man combat, Reacher could win — given enough time, information and resources to prepare effectively.

Before this week, I was familiar with Child’s work only through the recent movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise. On a relative’s recommendation, I dove into Reacher’s 2001 novel, Echo Burning, in which the almost oppressively effective hero finds himself plunged into a messy situation in the hot, sparsely populated Echo County in rural Texas.

The book pits Reacher against at least two sets of antagonists. One is the Greer clan, a tight-knit family with extensive roots in Echo that doesn’t cotton to outsiders.

Unfortunately for them, while hitchhiking in Texas, Reacher is picked up by Carmen Greer. A Latina out of California who has married into the family, Carmen is still considered an outsider, despite having borne her husband a lovely daughter. Worse yet, her husband beats her savagely. Even worse he’s about to get out of prison. Worst of all, the improbably named Sloop Greer blames Carmen — correctly so! — for his having been sent to prison on tax evasion charges.  Read the rest of this entry »

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