Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog LAND OF RED MIST by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) Historical and colonial fiction set in Malaya and a father’s letter to his son #historicalfiction #Bookreview

Hi all:

I bring you the newest book by one of my favourite writers, John Dolan.

Land of Red Mist by John Dolan

Land of Red Mist by John Dolan

What is loyalty? What drives a person to treachery? And what do we really mean when we say we love someone?

Seeking to escape the stifling atmosphere of post-war England, the callow Edward Braddock voyages to South-East Asia to work on his uncle’s rubber plantation. But it soon becomes clear that beneath the tropical sky dangers await; and most especially in the depths of the human heart.

Set in the strife-torn Malaya of the 1950s during the end days of British rule, Land of Red Mist is a tale of yearning, folly and transformation.

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma‘ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma‘ mystery trilogy.

My review:

I have been checking, and I think I’ve read and reviewed most of the books John Dolan has published so far (I haven’t had a chance to catch up with his Baking Bad, supposedly a collection of notes from his diary, but I’m sure I’ll get round to it soon), and have enjoyed everything: his adventures into mythology, his peculiar and irreverent dictionary, and most of all, his two related mystery series, Time, Blood and Karma, and Children of Karma. Therefore, it is always with trepidation that I receive the news of the publication of another one of his books. I have never been disappointed yet. And I wasn’t this time either.

For those who don’t have much time, here is a summary of my review: A great historical novel set in Malaya in the final years before its independence, about a character who encompasses both, the best and the worse of British colonialism, and a good opportunity to get a taste of Dolan’s writing for those who haven’t read his two mystery series. The action of this book takes place before those, so it can function as a peculiar kind of prequel to both, although it also closes the circle and provides some answers for those that, like me, have read them all.

Those who have read Dolan’s two previous mystery series, set mostly in Thailand, will remember that in the last book of Children of Karma, Everyone Dies, David Braddock, the protagonist, is given his father’s diary upon the man’s passing. And he hesitates a great deal before reading it because their relationship was never the best. Eventually, he reads it. Well, this is that book. And, tagged at the end, we also get to read the letter Edward Braddock wrote to accompany the diary. This is a diary written a posteriori, not something Edward wrote when things were happening, and although it is written in the first-person, as it befits a diary, it is clear that some things are glossed over and some are discussed in more detail, in order to compose the narrative he wishes to pass on. It is written in chronological order, however, it does not cover the whole of Edward’s life, but rather centres around the years he spent in Malaya, with some brief mention of his childhood (to do mostly with the time when he met his uncle Seb, who plays a big part in the novel later). Edward is fascinated by his uncle and by life in the exotic colonies, compared to the boring life his father leads, always buried in formality, bureaucracy, and convention. One of his goals throughout most of the novel is to keep away from the UK, and he goes to some extremes to try to ensure that is the case, even when he knows the end of British rule is near, and the political situation in Malaya is likely to change drastically.

This is a story of a young man who is intelligent and eager to pick up the skills necessary to make a living in Malaya, always under the wing of his uncle, and he seems to pay little attention to the risks of the situation, to the life of others around him, or to the concerns his own family might have. He is a good worker (but, then, he works in a supervisory position from the beginning and takes many things for granted), but his main concern is for himself, and for trying to be in his father’s good books without having to do exactly what his father wants from him. He is confronted with issues of loyalty from the very beginning (he is supposed to spy on his uncle and make sure he doesn’t get too cozy with the guerilla fighters, as he fought during WWII with some of them against the Japanese); and he somehow manages to keep himself afloat without upsetting the status quo. He shares characteristics of both, his father and his uncle, and overall, he is more conventional than his uncle, although he loves to think of himself as an adventurous individual, and an independent thinker.

This novel has some characteristics of a coming-of-age story, as Edward learns plenty throughout the book, about himself, his feelings, and what really matters. It is also a confession and a posthumous attempt to make things right with his son. And, although late, I must admit that especially the letter, is a very touching piece of writing.

I have talked about Edward at length, and I must confess that although I was fascinated by his life, I didn’t particularly warm to him. His is a mostly utilitarian point of view, and he had to be challenged to try and see things from anybody else’s perspective. He makes some disparaging comments about his father, but sometimes he acts in the same way, and he takes many things as a given and as a right, just because he is who he is. I won’t go into a lot of detail about what happens to him later, but let’s just say his life does not remain charmed forever, and his reaction is… complicated but understandable. Seb is a fabulous character, and I kept wondering how a novel about him would be (Hint, hint!). Although we don’t learn much about Jeanne, Edward’s sister, who also decides to try life in the colonies, I became very intrigued by her. (Yes, I wouldn’t mind learning more about her either). And Yu Yan. And Elizabeth. I’d love to get her own version of the story. Because there is a marriage, but romance… Not so much. There are plenty of other characters, all seen from Edward’s perspective, some heroic, some standard, some mysterious, and some truly horrid. And, perhaps the most important character of all is Malaya. The historical background, the international political situation, the fights, the changes the world was undergoing at the time, and the turmoil, all make for a compelling story, and this is a great way to learn about that historical period and gain a good perspective of what life must have been like in the area, especially for the Europeans living in the colonies. (There are only passing glances at what life was like for the natives).

Loyalty to the family, to your friends, and to your country (what and who really deserves your loyalty) are questioned, as are family relationships, betrayal, love, and respect, colonialism and independence, romance and love, fatherhood, blame, grief, revenge…

The book flows well and the writing style suits perfectly what we imagine would be the diary of a well-educated and travelled Englishman of the period, somebody well-informed in politics (he learns about it as he grows older), convinced of his own opinions although with some moments of hesitation and self-doubt, a good observer but not given to lengthy descriptions, rather preferring to write about the impression something makes on him. He can be witty at times, although he is not as given to philosophising or turning things on their heads as his son David is. The story is told at a good pace, it flows easily, and there are enough adventures to keep us turning the pages. Towards the end, the rhythm increases, and it is harder to keep up. Although the book is not explicit in its violence (and there is no graphic sex either), there are scary moments and some violence we are direct witnesses to (and some that are narrated second-hand), so people who prefer to avoid such subjects, should stay away.

As an example of the writing, here you have Edward’s description of his father:

My father, George Nathaniel Braddock, was by contrast a pillar of the British Establishment, a ramrod-backed soldier of the state and all that it represented: traditional values, deference to legal authority, moral superiority, and an unquestioning belief in the rightness of the Anglo-Saxon cause.

In case you wonder about the title:

The presence of jungle and swamp along parts of the route made the conditions ideal for ambushes: insurgents could wait patiently for a suitable target, then afterwards evaporate into the interior “like red mist” in the words of one of my fellow soldiers.

And here, his uncle Seb, talks about Edward’s father:

It is not blood that runs through George’s veins, Edward, but duty.

I have mentioned the letter that accompanies the novel, and it went a long way to make me make my peace with the main character, a man who lacked self-awareness but had to face some extreme and painful events in his life, and whose final words to his son are not a self-justification, but something much more beautiful.

Having said all that, I recommend this book to anybody keen on historical fiction set in Malaya post-WWII towards the end of the British home rule, to any fans of John Dolan, and to those who would like to discover a talented writer with a flair for combining great locations, with unforgettable characters, and complex plots that will keep them thinking.

 Thanks to the author for his new novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share, click, comment, and like, and never, ever stop smiling and enjoying every single minute of life. ♥


Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Everyone Dies (Karma’s Children Book 3) by John Dolan(@JohnDolanAuthor). It ends with a bang, not with a whimper.

Hi all:

I bring you the latest (and last in the series) novels by one of my favourite indie authors:

Cover of Everyone Dies (Karma's Children Book 3) by John Dolan
Everyone Dies (Karma’s Children Book 3) by John Dolan

Everyone Dies (Karma’s Children Book 3) by John Dolan

“An obsession with revenge might not be great for your mental health, but at least it’s calorie-free.”

Private detective David Braddock is holed-up on the Thai island of Samui plotting the death of Grigory Polzin, the Russian oligarch who ordered the killing of his daughter. Embittered and descending rapidly into alcoholism, the Englishman must find a way to exact his retribution before he completely falls apart.

Fate, however, has one final lesson for David Braddock: the dead don’t always stay dead.

‘Everyone Dies’ is the final book in John Dolan’s ‘Karma’s Children’ trilogy.

Author John Dolan
Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Karma’s Children’ mystery trilogy.

My review:

I love John Dolan’s books. I was lucky enough to “discover” him early on in his career, shortly after he published his first novel, Everyone Burns, in 2013. Since then, he has completed two series, the first, composed of four books (the Time, Blood and Karma series) and now, this is the third (and final) novel in his second series, Karma’s Children. And I have read them, reviewed them, and loved them all. Therefore, I approached this, the last novel in the David Braddock universe (well, sort of, as it happens), with trepidation. I wanted to know how this series ended, because there were many issues left hanging after Two Rivers One Stream (you can read my review here), but I was also sad that the end was near. Let me assure you, this book is a blast and a more than fitting conclusion to the series.

All these novels share the setting, mostly in Thailand, in Samui (well, some of the action takes place back in England, and there are some other trips and excursions along the way), and although I’ve never visited Thailand and can’t make comparisons, for me the novels have managed to create an atmosphere and a clear picture in my mind, not only of how the place looks like, but of its people, how their society works, and also what it must be like to live there day to day rather than just visiting as a tourist. The novels also share a main character, David Braddock, a British ex-pat/detective/therapist, who has issues of his own aplenty which we slowly discover through the novels. Not all the novels are narrated from the same point of view or take place in the same time-frame and following a chronological order. That gives us the advantage of getting background information and becoming familiar with the characters from a variety of perspectives, and we also become privy to some information that the main character doesn’t know (and that might make us think we are a step ahead, but, boy, are we wrong or what!).

This novel, narrated in first-person by David Braddock, the King of unreliable narrators, gives us another opportunity to share in his witticisms, his philosophising, his bad habits, and his peculiar interactions with those around him (ghosts included). I recently highlighted the first line of a book I read that I said had become one of my new favourites. The first two sentences of this book are also among the most memorable I’ve read (I’ll let you read them yourselves if you fancy the sound of the book. Remember you can check a sample on your usual online store). In case the description above is not enough, I thought I’d share how the book sums up its own content, because it will give you a fair idea of what is to come:

A tale of human mortality comprising a prologue, twenty-eight chapters, two interludes, and a Post Morten Report.

We find Braddock at a low point in his life, following the traumatic events in the previous novel and his very personal loss, and as a result, he starts plotting a revenge that would be complicated even for an experienced assassin, something he is not. His physical condition is also suffering due to his unhealthy lifestyle, but his goal keeps him going and then… I won’t go into the details of the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers, and also because this novel brings together with great flair all the loose threads, not only of this series but of the previous one, and it would be difficult to explain it all to people who are not familiar with the story so far. This is not a novel I’d recommend to people who haven’t read any of the previous ones, because although there is enough background offered to refresh the memories of those who have read them over the years, I think much of the context would be lost if somebody started reading here. I had my suspicions about some of the new plot elements that are revealed in this novel, but I didn’t guess all of them, and I was in awe at how the author managed to weave such a complex story and make it flow naturally. I enjoyed meeting again my favourite characters (some who had not appeared for a while), and I was more than happy with some of the turn of events in the novel (but again, I’ll keep my mouth shut).

I can’t resist sharing a couple of early lines from the book, as a taster:

When one’s focus is on murdering someone, the proximity of female legs —even if aesthetically pleasing— hardly registers.

“Disillusionment should start young. It stops you from becoming bitter when you’re older.”

“Grief is not the presence of some red-clawed monster; looming up at us in the night. In point of fact, it’s not a presence at all. It’s an absence. The absence of something good.”

Well-written, with a dark and sharp sense of humour, clever dialogue, wonderful characters (and some awful ones as well, but wonderful in their awfulness), a fantastic setting, plenty of great quotes (quotes of other books opening each chapter, and eminently quotable lines), and a more-than-satisfying ending, this novel has it all. I keep recommending Dolan’s books to everybody but make sure to read both series in the right order, first Time, Blood and Karma and then Karma’s Children. You can thank me later. Oh, and the author is hard at work, writing the next novel about another character in the Braddock’s universe, and I can’t wait.

Thanks to the author for both series and for the characters that have become part of my fictional universe as well, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always be smiling!

Book reviews

#Bookreview Running on Emptiness by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) Revenge, death, family and an endings of sorts

Hi all:

Today I bring you a new(ish) book, the last one (so far) in John Dolan‘s Time, Blood and Karma series. I had read the other three books in the series, a shorter story related to it, and a collaboration between the author and Fiona Quinn (Chaos Is Come Again. See review here) and I was eager to read this one. When I reviewed the third novel in the series A Poison Tree I took the chance to share the previous reviews again too, so you can read it hereAs I say in the review, it’s important that one reads all the books so don’t hesitate to read the review and the books. But without further ado, here is the review.

Running on Emptiness by John Dolan
Running on Emptiness by John Dolan

Running on Emptiness (Time, Blood and Karma, Book 4)  by John Dolan Revenge, death, family and an endings of sorts

“Today, there will be a reckoning.”

It is the summer of 2006. In Thailand, the army makes preparations to overthrow the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Against this backdrop of political turmoil, destinies are shaped as events ensnare a corrupt Police Chief and his dying wife, two warring drug lords, an embittered widow, and a vengeful gangster.

While dreams and obsessions play out on the streets of Bangkok, private detective David Braddock finds himself mired in guilt. The ghosts of his past misdeeds are coming home, and they are bringing devastation in their wake.

‘Running on Emptiness’ is the fourth volume in the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series.

The ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series will appeal to lovers of the following book categories: mystery, thriller, crime, Thailand fiction, private investigators, British detectives, and amateur sleuths.

Here the links:

And here, my review:

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read all the novels in the Time, Blood and Karma series by John Dolan and have enjoyed them enormously. I read many genres, but I am quite partial to mystery/thrillers. And these ones have a very special protagonist, David Braddock, and amateur detective (or rather a not professionally recognised and trained detective, but he is pretty good and gets paid for his efforts) and again a non-professional therapist, a British man but who lives in Thailand, an amateur philosopher who regularly visits an old Buddhist monk (his best friend), who has interesting an complex relationships with many women and a past full of ghosts.

Whilst the third book in the series, A Poison Tree explored and explained David’s back history and his life in the UK, Running on Emptiness continues with the adventures of Hungry Ghosts where we, the readers, were privy to some information that left us hanging and waiting for disaster to strike. We have a gangster determined to avenge his brother’s death (the only meaningful thing he has left to do in life), a dying woman who before ending her life in her own terms (remaining in charge of her meaning) reveals a dangerous secret, another woman who after losing her job realises she’s been living a lie and tries and find meaning by coming clean, an old man who, disappointed by his children, decides to revisit a shady past he thought he’d left behind to do the right thing. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, and that includes the characters whom we might think of as the good guys (but nobody is blameless, honest and truthful in this novel, at least none of the characters whose points of view we follow), but also the gangsters, corrupt policemen and killers. The action takes place in England (we start with a wedding and we end with a funeral) and Thailand, we have political unrest, and there is also a murder case to solve with magic trickery thrown in, where Braddock (and Dolan) follow on Agatha Christie’s footsteps and pull off a brilliant piece of sleight-of-hand engineering.

The story is told at a good pace, the writing is impeccable and lyrical at times (particularly on the parts from David Braddock’s point of view. He is witty and forever quotable), I must confess I cheered at a point towards the end (but I’ll keep my lips sealed as I don’t want to spoil it for anybody), and in the end, although there are some questions and unresolved issues, I felt we’d reached the end of an era. The complex and alternative life Braddock had built for himself, in an attempt at escaping reality, comes crushing down around him, taking no prisoners.  By the end, although Braddock might not know everything, he’s lost a lot and learned a fair deal about himself, about the people he cares about, about his friends, and about life itself.

I recommend this book to lovers of thrillers and mystery stories with great main characters, those who have a penchant for philosophy and reflections on the nature of life, particularly if you’re intrigued by Thailand, and in general those who love good and memorable writing. But, do read the whole series in the right order, because the sum of its parts is much greater than the individual novels. Congratulations to John Dolan on his epic series. I won’t forget Time, Blood and Karma any time soon. And I’ll be waiting eagerly for more of novels, in the same or other series.

Thanks to John Dolan for this amazing series, thanks to all of you for reading and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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