The 50/50 Killer - Steve Mosby

**** Amazing, but not credible

Despite my overall positive opinion on this novel, there are so many aspects that have left me puzzled.
The plot is that of the classic ferocious serial killer, who for inscrutable reasons attacks couples, but with the peculiarity of letting one of the two choose who must die, and ends up starting a perverse game with the police.
One of the first things I noticed during my reading is the total absence of a geographic reference. I realised that it was set in the United Kingdom only when a character talked about pounds, but for the rest I had difficulty seeing a precise setting. This thing disoriented me and immediately gave the story a sense of unreality.
At one point, I guessed the identity of the killer, but not all his complicated machinations, and I still don’t get the sense of the latter, since they are self-destructive. You have the impression that the 50/50 Killer did not intend to get caught, yet he ends up doing things to himself that would make his life more difficult in the future, if he escaped from the police. I don’t understand this excess just to put in place such a complex plan. I don’t understand him giving such importance to this plan, despite the circumstances. The author didn’t succeed in convincing me. This character is so central in the story that I’m not content with his madness as a motivation for his actions.
Even his behaviour at the end didn’t convince me. It was too easy to beat him and this gave me little satisfaction. It seemed a solution conceived for the sole purpose of completing the story, but lacking any own intrinsic logic.
Moreover, I could not feel a bond with any character, including the first-person narrator (Mark, the young detective). I have found the inwardness of each of them unconvincing, also because it’s supported by an external reality without clear references.
In particular, I found irritating the paranoid behaviour of Eileen (the wife of Mark’s boss). I couldn’t understand the necessity of it, until it finally became clear to me that this was just a gimmick to create a twist. Even in this case, there is no intrinsic logic or at least it hasn’t been sufficiently shown in the text to make it credible.
I also hated the use the name at the beginning of each section of the book to indicate the character of the point of view. It’s absolutely superfluous and consequently annoying. It seems that the author thinks his readers aren’t able to extract it from the text, which is really bad because it means that he thinks his own text isn’t well written or his readers aren’t smart enough (or both!).
Overall, I found the story depressing and not just because it begins and ends with a funeral.
I was tempted to give it only three stars, but in the end I got up to four, because the killer’s deception is really well thought out and developed and you must acknowledge the author for this remarkable originality, not so much in the idea itself but in the way he was able to put it into practice.

The 50/50 Killer on Amazon.

Westworld: where everything is allowed

The theme of artificial intelligence that evolves into self-consciousness is one of the most beloved and feared themes of science fiction in recent decades, but at the time of Michael Crichton’s “Westworld” it was still moving its first steps in the genre and it’s no coincidence that this film has become a true cult. For this reason, deciding to offer this theme by revisiting the storyline according to the current times in a high-profile, complex-looking TV series was a potentially risky project, especially since it wasn’t the first attempt. Back in 1980 CBS had tried that with “Beyond Westworld”, failing miserably (the series was cancelled after three episodes of the five already produced).
It could result in a success as well as in another flop.
But such fear didn’t stop HBO, the creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and the executive producers JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk (Bad Robot). And luckily, I would add.
The result is “Westworld”, whose first season, which includes ten episodes of 57 minutes (except the last one which lasts 91 minutes), was aired in the autumn of 2016.
And it was undoubtedly a success, so that the series was confirmed for a second season.

The background of the story is not unlike that of Crichton’s film. In a near future, a western themed park called Westworld, whose residents are androids, was created, and visitors are free to do anything without any moral or legal repercussions. The fundamental difference with the film is that the androids of this Westworld really believe that they are human beings with free will. They are real artificial intelligences, they have no idea that their memory, and sometimes also their identity, is tampered with at the beginning of each new narrative cycle. They aren’t shown to us as puppets. On the contrary, we experience much of the story from their point of view.
Absolutely unaware, the residents live innumerable times the same days, which begin with the arrival of visitors by train and continue with interactions with the latter, resulting in unpredictable developments that blend with the patterns defined by the creative department of the park.
This is only the starting point for the development by the androids of self-consciousness, accelerated by Dr Ford, played by great Anthony Hopkins, who is the creative director of the park and head of the development team. In a recent software upgrade, Ford provided the androids with so-called remembrances, meaning an access to fragments of memories belonging to past narrative cycles that are made available to them when triggered by new events. The goal, in theory, would be to make their reactions more natural and the visitors’ experience more realistic, but the consequence on the androids is that their behaviours become abnormal, unpredictable, bringing some of them to the awareness of their condition of pleasure tool and to the desire to get rid of their chains.

Within the plot are shown some characters, which are entrusted with the main narrative threads of the series. We have Dolores Abernathy (played by Evan Rachel Wood), the beautiful resident who wakes up every morning in her home, greets her parents, goes to the town where the train is coming, and here every time she makes different encounters. Dolores is one of the oldest androids in the park and her memory conceals the secrets that will come out with the progress of the story. She is entrusted with one of the paths to achieve the self-consciousness that one of the two founders of the park, Arnold (who died many years before in unknown circumstances), wished for his creatures.
Then there is Maeve Millay (played by Thandie Newton), the smart maitresse of the saloon, who, due to the remembrances, beside having access to events related to old narrative cycles, begins to realise that she has lived the same day several times.
Among those who work at the park stands out Bernard Lowe’s character (played by Jeffrey Wright), Dr Ford’s programmer and right-hand man, who, following the work of his boss, is aware of strange events concerning the behaviour of the residents as well as many intrigues related to Delos, the company that owns the park.
Among the visitors the most interesting is definitely William (played by Jimmi Simpson), who came to the park with his future brother-in-law, more as a duty than for real interest. At the beginning William is not attracted to that kind of fun and tends to see residents as people, especially Dolores.
Finally there are the characters played by the two great stars of the series: The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and the aforementioned Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
We know nothing about the Man in Black, except that he is a rich visitor who has been in the park for thirty years and is obsessed with the search for an imaginary labyrinth, the legacy of the work of the equally elusive Arnold.

Added to these main characters, which appear in all or almost all the episodes of the series, and the storylines of which they are protagonists, is the rest of the excellent cast, creating a story with various facets, which you can grasp in its entirety only in the last episode, when the first season’s narrative arc ends, revealing most of its secrets.

A special mention is due to the series soundtrack (available as a double album), composed and played by Ramin Djawadi, former author of the soundtrack of Game of Thrones, Person of Interest and Pacific Rim. Alongside original pieces, such as the beautiful open credits theme, it features a number of covers of modern tracks, masterfully reinterpreted on the piano in a western style, making them difficult to recognize. Among these are: “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, “Paint It Black” by Rolling Stones, “A Forest” by Cures, “No Surprises” by Radiohead, and “Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse.

But what characterises the most “Westworld” is its complexity. It is not an easy-to-use series in the sense that it forces the viewer to concentrate on the plot, to make their memory work, and above all to ask themselves questions. It would be too easy to let yourself be guided by the story, but soon you realise that there is something that does not match: so many small details, inconsistencies, which must be there for a reason and that are part of the great deception through which the screenwriters drive you. It’s a deception both for the viewers and the protagonists, the androids, and is favoured by the fact that the latter are immutable over time and have a limited sense of time within each single narrative cycle. Even when residents have managed to unlock their memories of past cycles, they aren’t able to place them in a human temporal context.
Time is the key factor. You have the impression that everything is going on at the same time, but it’s all part of the big deception.

Even the topic of an artificial intelligence that evolves is developed in a fairly original way from what we have so far been accustomed to seeing. The AIs aren’t helpless children (such as Chappie) or entities wishing to dominate or exterminate humans (such as Skynet or Cylons). Westworld residents are androids that think they are human and find out they have been betrayed. Their reactions are human and ultimately they are presented as victims of their own creators to whom they are rightly rebelling (only to their creators, not to all humanity), not by madness or wickedness or misunderstanding, but because they have suffered an injustice.
This central theme is mixed with others which often appear in science fiction, such as the presence of characters ignoring their own nature and their past, which strongly resemble those of Philip K. Dick’s. There is the illusion of free will, the infinite repetition of a day or a story in a certain place and, of course, the evolution of artificial intelligence that ends up feeling alive, human, and rebels as such.
The labyrinth so much sought by the Man in Black is not, actually, destined for humans. It is part of the androids’ path towards self-consciousness. Along with this path, carried out by Dolores and Maeve, there is William, a good man, almost a pure one, who in Westworld ends up discovering the dark side of his soul. This is because Westworld is not just a fun park, but it is above all a place where visitors, after eliminating all the limits they have to undergo in real life, find out who and what they really are and, just like in William’s case, end up evolving into something different.

As you can see, these aren’t simple themes at all, and being able to develop them, creating a story that could keep interested a varied audience like the one of TV series, was not easy at all. This complexity, in fact, often results in a slow pace of narration, which really takes off after a few episodes, testing the viewers who, as soon as the series was broadcasted, were forced to wait a week to see the subsequent episode. Certainly a second vision, in retrospect, would help to clarify some remaining doubts.
A particularly interesting aspect is the comparison between the warm, sunny, and dusty park cinematography, and the cold, dark, and aseptic “behind the scenes”. Thanks to this, we can perceive the difference between fiction, which is shown to be reassuring, and reality, which is rather disturbing.
Moreover, a peculiarity of this series is that it takes place only in these two locations. We don’t see the outside world. We know, because it is obvious, that the story is set in the future, but at least in this first season it is impossible to determine how far this future is from us. With the exception of androids, the technology that is shown appears more evolved than ours, but not overly.
It is spontaneous to ask yourself at this point whether in the coming seasons, which could take any unexpected turnaround compared to the open ending of the first one, we will be shown this future. If the level of originality remains the one seen so far, I’m ready to bet that they will surprise us.

The original Italian version of this article appeared on on 15 March 2017.

The Bourne Legacy - Eric Van Lustbader

***** The heir of Bourne (and Ludlum)

The change of pen is evident, though, I have to give merit to Van Lustbader for trying to approach Ludlum in so many small details (for example, the use of swear words, though not so excessively). But the difference is there. Van Lustbader’s writing is much more tidy, but devoid of the madness that Ludlum gave to his characters and made them fragile, fallible, and hence human. This new Jason Bourne is much more clear headed and controlled. One can take as a pretext the passing of time and a greater maturity of the character, who seems to keep control of his psychosis, but there are aspects that a reader, accustomed to the protagonist of the old trilogy, does miss. Although Bourne mentions the existence of a dual personality within himself, I couldn’t see it. There is no trace in the book of the continuous struggle between Jason Bourne and David Webb in his mind, often full of bickering.
This new, indestructible Jason Bourne reminds me of that of the movies and has nothing to do with the man who continued to live on the brink of failure, both physically and mentally, seen in Ludlum’s books.
I must say that, especially at the beginning, this lack has diminished my involvement in the character’s vicissitudes, until an essential element of the plot was brought to light (the title comes from it). From that point on, Van Lustbader played his cards well in digging into the psychology of the character and in his interaction with his “heir”, pushing me to continue reading and stirring up the pleasure of waiting for the moment when I would read again.
I didn’t like the total absence of Marie, who was only mentioned, while in the old trilogy she was a crucial character in the evolution of the protagonist.
Compared to Ludlum’s books, where I never knew what would happen on the next page, Van Lustbader’s story is quite predictable for those who have a bit of experience in action stories. The fact of following a certain natural pattern of evolution of the story is not a demerit in itself, but, compared to Ludlum’s undisciplined prose, Van Lustbader’s one suffers badly.
Rather, I don’t understand the need in such a well-constructed book to use mean tricks like breaking a scene between two chapters. Every single scene is so well written and arouses such curiosity that there is no need to force the reader not to stop at the end of a chapter.
The last part of the book is perfect, to say the least, as it merges introspection (of all characters) and action in a balanced and engaging way. What a shame Bourne makes an inconsistent choice towards the end, that is, not telling anything to his wife. This is totally out of character. But on the other hand, the fact that he thinks so little about his wife in all the novel, while she was constantly the centre of his thoughts in the trilogy, pushes him away from Ludlum’s Bourne, making him once again less human.
And even the choice made by his “heir” is not sufficiently motivated: it is just a pretext to leave the situation pending.
The epilogue has an open ending, as you would expect, which gives hope for the following novels. This, together with the virtual perfection of the last chapters, especially on the emotional level, has pushed me to give the book five stars, despite its defects, proving once more that the ending of a book has a huge influence on the reader’s opinion.

The Bourne Legacy on Amazon.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

**** Genial anti-hero, forgettable case

With this novel I discover an anti-hero who can’t help but immediately become an idol. Cormoran Strike, son of a rockstar and a supergroupie, and a veteran of Afghanistan, where he has lost one foot and one leg in an explosion, is a private investigator who has just been abandoned by his girlfriend. Everything seems to be failing in his life, when a new interim secretary and a wealthy customer appear; the latter wants to hire him to demonstrate that his sister, a famous top model, hasn’t committed suicide.
The story takes place in the streets of a familiar today’s London, in the world of fashion to which Strike doesn’t belong, but to which he must adapt to carry out his investigation. And he does it well, causing more than a laugh in the reader!
This is a very long novel, which, although offering some glimpses on the main character’s life and although he is undergoing some growth throughout the story, is in all respects a mystery.
Much of the text consists of interrogations and other details of the investigations, which somehow make you lose the feeling of the passing of time. There is so much to prevent the reader from joining points to figure out who the killer is, unless they point directly to the less likely without knowing why.
But in the end who cares of Lula Landry’s murderer?
I have to say that overall I liked it.
There are two things that have prevented me from giving the fifth star.
The first is the author’s (who we know is nothing less than JK Rowling) tendency to change the point of view in the middle of a scene. This has made me lose connection with the story and forced me to stop reading and go back to catch the transition.
The second is that, despite there was all it takes for a greater presence of a subplot related to the main character (which is the best thing in this book), this subplot is only marginal. It’s a shame, because Strike himself is much more interesting than the case, whose resolution has not impressed me and that I have largely forgotten.
If it had not been for the wonderful (certainly not aesthetically!) main character, I wouldn’t have been able to give the book a positive review.

Fury On Sunday - Richard Matheson

***** Short but intense

This short novel is the crazy race of a character who in a few hours succeeds in destroying what remains of his life. Convinced that he was robbed of the woman he loves, he escapes from the asylum, where he is detained for killing his father, and in which he is also victim of abuse, to “save her”. But that woman never shared his feelings. It’s all a creation of his mind.
And the book represents a journey first of all in the mind of the protagonist, the discovery of how madness is generated, and the way it drives him to act.
Even this time, Matheson amazes me with a story completely different from his previous ones. Through the points of view of the five main characters, through the personal way in which each one of them interprets the story, one layer at a time the plot details are revealed. The tone of the whole novel is dramatic, dotted with violence and death. As a reader, I was worried about the fate of the victims, but also of the crazy protagonist, who is in his own way a victim capable of eliciting pity.
The choice of who kills and who survives in the end is not random. Along with the sinking of the protagonist into his delirium, the rise of another character and the redemption of the last victim are revealed.

Fury on Sunday on Amazon.

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

**** Too many unfortunate coincidences

This novel is characterised by an intricate plot, which the author has been able to handle with care and attention. The many threads are then joined in the end.
The transition between the two timelines is always intelligently done, keeping the reader glued to the book. That’s why I was looking forward to reading it before sleeping.
Perhaps the pace with which the story develops is a little slow and it made me a bit too eager to go further to know what would happen. I could not tie up with the character of the narrator (Libby), but I really liked that of her brother, even though it had moments of unjustified inconsistency.
In my opinion, the main problem of this novel is the presence of excessive coincidences, bad luck and mischief. Too many, all concentrated in a single day.

Moreover the ending is under tone. Once clarified what has happened, the author stops showing and begins to tell, as if she was looking forward to close the book. This left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Dark Places on Amazon.

Normal - Graeme Cameron

**** Betrayed by the ending

The story of this novel is original and full of twists. It somehow reminds me the Dexter series, but the British touch is evident in the way of thinking, talking, and acting of the main character (but also of the others) ... and in the impressive number of teas being prepared!
The look and the name of the protagonist are never mentioned in the text, leaving the reader free to imagine him as they prefer. Despite the fact that you are dealing with a person who kills in cold blood to satisfy his own impulses, the author makes you identify so much in his mind that, after the initial estrangement, you end up being a fan of his, especially when he meets Rachel and loses control of his distorted world due to the fact that he has fallen in love.
For 90% of the book, the author literally laughs at the adventures of a serial killer and then eventually everything collapses. The author covers himself, making the character say that fairies have happy endings, but things are different in real life. Oh no! I wasn’t reading a real-life report, but fiction. In real life I would never sympathise with a serial killer and laugh of his crimes. And therefore, for consistency, I was expecting the same surreal look and a conclusion that did not fall into “normality”, but that, with another twist that I could never foresee, left me with a smile. Instead, the story becomes melodramatic and comes to a foreseeable ending in a realistic context, an ending I feared would come since when I read the book description and decided to read it anyway, yet I was hoping to be wrong.
Too bad, because the author didn’t want to or didn’t know how to dare and unfortunately eventually the appreciation of a book by the reader depends precisely on the fact that they find an ending worthy of the rest of the story.
I gave it four stars, although I didn’t like the ending, because it kept me glued to the e-reader until I finished it, because it made me laugh so much, because it is really well written and the author’s style is really engaging, and because I loved the protagonist madly until the end.

Normal on Amazon.

The Concrete Blonde - Michael Connelly

***** Less original than the previous ones, but technically perfect

This third novel in the Bosch series is so far the one I liked the most. Although it is apparently more straightforward than the previous ones (which I usually do not like), the author played his cards very well.
Finally we find out about the event that represented the character’s genesis: the fact that he killed a disarmed man, thinking the latter was about to pull out a gun. The man in question was nothing more than a serial killer, but Bosch had acted without calling the backup and for this reason he had been demoted in his police job.
Four years later, while Bosch is under civil lawsuit for that killing, by the serial killer family, a new homicide comes up carrying the same signature, but it had occurred later.
Has Bosch killed the wrong man? Or is this an emulator?
The story takes place between court and case resolution. This is a pretty conventional serial killer case, where the killer is one of the characters in the story and needs to be identified. The author tries to take you in many wrong directions. It would all be easy (or almost) if there was no trial in the middle that distracts you and makes you change perspective.
This novel is not as original as the two previous ones but is technically perfect and, unlike the previous ones, also gives the reader the little satisfaction of having the elements to understand in advance who the killer is. That doesn’t mean the reader is bound to succeed, though.
In this context the private aspect of the protagonist’s story continues to develop, which remains central in the plot of the book and is likely to have dramatic implications. 
The reassuring ending seems like the prelude to a new storm.

Central Park - Guillaume Musso

** A fake thriller

This book is not yet available in English, but you can find it in other languages, including Italian, Spanish, German, Greek, Dutch, Russian and many more, and of course in French.

I found this book beautiful until approx. 80%. It was characterised by an intricate story, a succession of twists, and continuous action.
But I noticed: Alice was too much over the top; Gabriel obviously hid something and strangely she did not realise it, or when she did, she was ready to believe his next explanation without asking too much questions; it did not make sense that Alice would not go to the police; in retrospect (knowing the ending) it was even absurd that they decided to steal a mobile phone and a car, and that they got away with it; the story of the date in the watch had made me realise right away that there was something wrong with the timing.
More things I didn’t like, because they gave the idea of ​​being planned arbitrarily, were the transition to flashbacks with the ‘I remember’ introduction and the habit of breaking the scene at the end of a chapter and get it back in the following one. The latter is really a mean trick to push the reader to continue reading and creates dissatisfaction if what the reader wants to do is to stop their reading (you cannot spend all day reading).
In spite of all, I thought I was reading a crime thriller and I expected that in the end the author would bring together the threads, making it at least plausible.
How wrong I was!
In the ending part, the novel implodes.
My suspension of unbelief slipped inexorably until it escaped me, even my judgment dropped from 5 to 3 stars in a few pages. The explanation that the author decides to give about the events is totally improbable. I don’t want to go into detail to avoid too many spoilers, but I can at least say that there isn’t any reason why the male protagonist (Gabriel) should’ve come to do all that he did to get what he wanted. He could do it in a lot easier way. It seems he made it precisely to create a story invented for the benefit of readers. Only you should never come to think of this about a character. If you do, it means that the reader no longer has the illusion that somehow the story might really happen.
In other words, the assumption on which the whole novel is based is not plausible.
Moreover, the epilogue is terrible and this is why my judgment collapsed to 2 stars (it didn’t drop to 1 because, if anything, the book is well written and seems well translated in my language). During the ending I really thought the author had gone mad.
[Warning: spoilers ahead.]
The story ends with the most incredible of romantic endings, without the slightest clue being given in the rest of the book. It comes out of blue, without a reason, without you noticing the slightest emotional connection between the protagonists in the novel.
To make things even worse there are those final lines, along with Gabriel’s long monologue placed on a separate page, halfway through which I just scrolled to get to the end.
[End of spoilers.]
In short, if you want to read a crime thriller, read something else.
One could attribute a new genre to this book: fake thriller.

Red Mist - Patricia Cornwell

***** Great crime thriller despite some lack in originality compared to the previous ones in the series

Recently Cornwell is taking the insane habit of killing a recurring character in each book, or at least this is what happened in the last two I read. I hope she will calm down, otherwise there won’t be many of them in the future!
But let’s talk about the book.
It starts with a very slow pace in the first part, so that the first corpse arrives very late. I still liked the way the author builds the whole story from Scarpetta’s point of view, exploiting the dialogues with other people, and wrap it out in just over a day.
In my opinion, however, the choice of this approach in this novel presents two problems. The first is that for much of the book, which is long enough, there are only her and a few other characters, making the development of the plot even more static. Fortunately there is Marino, but Lucy and Benton come late and seem almost insignificant in the story. The second is that Cornwell used a very similar structure in the previous book, so it feels that the latter lacks originality.
On the other hand, I do not mind at all that the case is closely related to the previous book, since it gives continuity to the sub-plots, which therefore become prevalent. This makes the book accessible only by those who have read at least the preceding one, but in this way the continuous explanations related to it become useless and contribute to the slowness of the book.
It is very difficult if not impossible to understand the identity of the culprit. In the aftermath, you realize some details that could be noticed by the reader, only that they are lost in a bunch of information Cornwell puts in her books, most of which does not have a real significance in the plot’s economy.
However, I found the scientific element used to explain the murders very interesting. A biologist like me could not help but appreciate it!
Even this time the final resolution fooled me. It comes in a single paragraph, indeed in a single period. In the hurry to know what would happen, I did not read the last clause and then in the next paragraph I found that the culprit had been hit, but I had not noticed that. For the umpteenth time I had to go back and re-read. There is nothing to do: it always happens like this.
The final chapter of the epilogue serves only to unite all the points and knocks back the rhythm that was created, leading to a conclusion without infamy and without praise.
You would ask why I gave 5 stars despite all these flaws. Well, because, taken individually, this is a well-constructed and well written book (though I don’t like some of Cornwell’s stylistic choices, but I appreciate her consistency in using them). Certainly it would have had a greater impact on me, if the former did not present a similar structure.
I know Cornwell prefers to write in first person from Scarpetta’s point of view. I admit, however, that I prefer her books written in third person, because the stories are more open and less static, and because this way she has the opportunity to explore views other than those of Kay Scarpetta, who - let’s say it - is not exactly the most pleasant person!

Red Mist on Amazon.