UPDATE 5.2019 - irritatingly, all the links to Jon Evans' novels below were to copies available free of charge on Feedbooks, which has now shut down its self-publishing platform - so the links no longer work. Happily though (as at the time of updating), you could still find all the novels listed below on Wattpad free of charge - the main disadvantage is that you can only read them through Wattpad's interface on a web-enabled device (unlike Feedbooks, there's no option to download an ePub or .mobi file that you can read on an e-reader). If you want copies that you can read on a Kindle, they are all available from Amazon at pretty low prices (but not for free).
Jon Evans is that rare beast – an author who has had a fair amount of commercial success but appears to be entirely happy to make most of his work available for free online. Many of his novels have been conventionally published in a number of territories and have attracted impressive reviews from the likes of The Times, The Economist and The Washington Post (although as will be apparent from this timeline, his path to publication was far from smooth and resulted in the usual 100+ rejection slips etc). But I get the impression that he is somewhat frustrated with conventional publishing – see this interview – which may explain his decision to publish much of his work for free online.
Like many authors, he appears to have supported himself by doing other stuff that is (generally speaking) far more lucrative than writing novels e.g. penning articles for periodicals and doing a series of tech sector jobs. This has also allowed him to travel extensively (you can read about some of those travels on his blog here). Anyway, both the travel and the tech jobs are the main inspiration behind his novels, which you might call “techno-travelogue thrillers” (that is, if you wanted to dream up a really horrible-sounding new category for them, which is exactly what I have just done – oh dear, never mind).
In “Dark Places”, software engineer Paul Wood stumbles
across the dead body of a hiker whilst trekking in Nepal. Local police dismiss
it as suicide, but Paul becomes convinced that there is a backpacker serial
killer on the loose – someone he may even have met. The search leads him to some dark places on
the internet as well as in real life. The travel and tech elements are convincingly
done. Evans is also good on
the sense of camaraderie that develops from going on a trip in a group to
somewhere off the normal tourist trail.
I very much enjoyed Paul Wood’s dry sense of humour, so was delighted to find that he reappears in “Blood Price.” Whereas “Dark Places” was essentially a crime/detective novel (a sort of contemporary take on “how to commit the perfect murder”), the second book moves more into political thriller territory, starting off in post-Balkans War Bosnia, where Paul encounters some thoroughly unpleasant people smugglers. But the tech element remains prominent, as does the travel – taking in Central America as well as the Balkans and culminating in a finale at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. And whilst Paul was very much the focal point of “Dark Places”, here other characters get to play a bigger role, particularly his girlfriend, Talena.
I would happily have read another Paul Wood novel, but “Invisible Armies” takes a different turn by introducing an entirely new female heroine, Danielle Leaf (how refreshing to have a woman as the main character in a thriller – sadly, I struggle to think of many other examples, but maybe that's my own fault for choosing the wrong books). That said, it retains the backpacker travel, tech and political thriller elements. I didn’t feel the characterisation was quite as well done as in the first two novels, but this book is in some respects more ambitious in terms of its subject matter and plotting. Evans switches to a third person rather than a first person narrative voice and you often find yourself wondering whose side you should be on (and who is on whose side). Danielle, for example, gets involved with some rather extreme elements in the anti-globalisation movement – which left me feeling slightly queasy at times, although that queasiness was easily overcome by the fast-paced plotting. I can’t put it better than this reviewer on Goodreads, who summed it up like this:
“The most remarkable part is how uncomfortable the book managed to make me feel about the main characters as they went through their story arcs. There is true tension between liking and relating to them, and being repulsed by what they're doing.”
“Night of Knives” doesn’t manage to pull off the same trick of making you wonder who exactly you should be rooting for – but is similarly ambitious in terms of the tech, travel and political thriller elements. It starts off with the central character, Veronica Kelly, being kidnapped in the Congo. As with the other novels, it’s a very pacy read, although for me, the ending felt a bit rushed - and as with “Invisible Armies”, I felt the characterisation could have done with some more attention (be warned that the copy on Feedbooks also seems to contain some errors – although these didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of it).
Anyway, if you like thrillers, these are all well worth a
try. And in contrast to many books
in this genre, the travel, tech and political elements will give you some interesting food for thought as well. At the time of writing, all 4 were available from Feedbooks here or, if you prefer (and the site doesn't make you feel like a grumpy old bastard - which is what it tends to do to me), Wattpad.
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Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Book reviews