Book Review: The Toy Thief by D.W. Gillespie

The Toy Thief by D.W. Gillespie

The Blurb:

As a girl, Jack lives with her father and brother after her mother passed away during childbirth. Her father is a well-meaning construction worker who treats her more like a roommate, while her brother, Andy, is an introverted loner prone to violent outbursts, a virtual mirror to his sister who is outspoken to an extreme. The story opens on a sleepover with nine year old Jack and her close friend. While putting on a pretend show, the two girls leave a video camera running, and when Jack replays the tape the next day, she sees her friend’s toy being snatched off the end table and out the back door by a swift, nearly unseen hand. Excited and bewildered, she tries to show the tape to her thirteen year old brother, Andy who is still furious about the spat he and Jack got into the night before. Without another word, he smashes the tape of the intruder. That night, determined to catch the creature she now calls The Toy Thief, Jack sets up a series of traps, all of which fail miserably. Once she awakens in the middle of the night, she finds her friend’s toy has returned, brought back by The Toy Thief, an impossibly tall and rat-like creature with glassy eyes. Just then, Andy steps out of his room, and as The Thief flees in a panic, Andy realizes his sister is telling the truth. The two of them are able to surmise that The Thief most likely travels through a tangled section of woods called The Trails, and they go out in search of it. After returning unsuccessful, Jack awakes the next morning to find Andy missing from his bedroom. As her father informs the police, Jack knows it’s up to her to find him. Jack must venture into the dark place WHERE TOYS GO to get him back. But even if she finds him, will he ever be the same? FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

This was a fantastic horror offering! Gillespie combines those universal childhood fears of the disappearance of something beloved and the thing under the bed to give us a story that resonates viscerally with the reader.

In terms of story and plot, The Toy Thief reminds me strongly of an early Stephen King short story (Some of his best work, in my opinion) given guts and sinew pulled over the bones to form a full-length story.

Maintaining the creep factor is incredibly hard over a few hundred pages. And while there are a few spots where the story lags, in general the pacing is strong and consistent. Gillespie is also a dab hand at creating fantastic mental imagery with his writing. The weirdness and wrongness of the toy thief shine through, as does the quiet disfunction of Jack’s family.

This is a well-written, well-plotted, and original horror story. Fans of the genre will enjoy this new entry!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China By Matthew Reilly

3 out of 5 Stars

 

It’s summer, time to sit back, relax, and enjoy some brainless fun. This is the season for all those huge, plotless action blockbusters come out during this time of year; summer is made for mindless entertainment. Hence this pick, a 400+ page rollicking thriller: Jurassic Park, with dragons.

I’m absolutely serious. The book begins with the prerequisite shady death, cluing us in to serious problems within the titular Zoo. We’re then introduced to CJ Cameron (a strong female lead, yay!), expert herpetologist (she studies reptiles, get your mind out of the gutter), vet for the San Francisco Zoo, and occasional reporter for National Geographic. It seems CJ’s boss over at Nat Geo got an invite he can’t refuse: There’s a mysterious new Zoo opening up in the remote Guangdong Province of China, and CJ is the perfect person to document the grand tour for the magazine (did I mention she speaks mandarin?).

Arriving in China, we meet the mysterious corporate and political entities who are behind the creation of the zoo, and now are preparing to show it off to the western world for the first time. CJ brings along her little brother, former war-zone photographer, as her back up. We also meet the US diplomat to China, his (rather mysterious) aide, a New York Times journalist, and a popular internet blogger. The group flies from Hong Kong in a private jet with blacked out windows, finally landing at the entrance to “The Great Dragon Zoo” of China. And before you ask, yup, these are real life dragons. Turns out dragons are more or less living fossils, like the coelacath, hibernating since the age of dinosaurs. The Chinese government stumbled upon a nest of the reptiles, and decided to build a huge tourist attraction around them. What could go wrong?

Matthew Reilly knows what his reader is there for: shit hits the fan a mere hundred pages into the book (whereas Crichton waited nearly 200). Limbs start flying, blood starts gushing, and CJ and the rest of the humans trapped in the Zoo must find a way to survive the dragons and make their escape.

Alas, Reilly is no Crichton. After a bit, the plot becomes simply unbelievable. And before you point out that I’m talking believability in a book about dragons, remember: In Jurassic Park, Crichton introduced us to genetically revived dinosaurs stomping around the Caribbean, eating mathematicians, but we believed it. Jurassic Park was a hit because while the subject matter was out there, the story was so down to earth that it seemed just this side of possible.

The dragons, naturally, are very intelligent. Think velociraptors who went to school for 8 years to get their doctorate in badassery. At times, I’m pretty sure they’re smarter than most of the humans in the cast. Additionally, most of the time our heroes are saved, not by their own wit, but by the little fish-big fish scenario, where our valiant heroes are menaced by something impossibly ferocious with no hope of escape when BAM! something even bigger and more terrifying eats the first monster. Once or twice I can take, but constant little fish big fish gets a bit old.

Aw well. I certainly didn’t pick this book for its intellectual merit. And it did manage to keep me entertained for the most part. So read it, if you enjoyed Jurassic Park, or Meg, or Jaws. You’ll likely have fun, and that’s what summer is all about.