Wednesday 7 April 2010

Book review : Venom - Joan Brady

The opening chapters of this book made my head spin ! Within a few pages, we jump from Illinois to Belarus to Alabama to Washington DC to London and various points in between. We meet hitmen, beekeepers, aid workers, ex crims, old ladies, radiation experts and corporate bigwigs. As the book is only just beginning, we don't know who or what is important so we have to try to keep track of everyone and everything. It's like trying to untangle separate threads in a huge pot of spaghetti and see which ends are tied together and which strands are totally separate. However alert you're feeling, it can get pretty confusing, so reading this book in bed just before shutting down for the night gave me a few problems keeping up with the narrative.

Had I read Joan Brady's previous novel, Bleedout, I would have known from the outset that the ones to watch were David Marion (the hardened criminal fresh out of jail) and Helen Freyl (radiation physicist and owner of a honey bee farm) and it would have surely been much easier to follow. But Venom does work fine as a stand-alone novel and I didn't even realise it was a sequel until I started doing some research to write the review.

So what is Venom about ? To quote the blurb on the back of the book, "Venom brings David and Helen together as they fight for survival against a backdrop of industrial espionage, corporate greed and human tragedy." Add in an against-all-odds love story, mysterious hidden basements, gory murders of anyone who touches on the truth, secret organisations and Chernobyl victims and you have a lot going on !

The basic story is nevertheless straightforward. Helen's bees produce a special venom that can create a cure for cancer and repair the damage caused by radiation. In an ideal world, the answer is simple - the drug needs to be manufactured and sent out to those who need it most, starting in Belarus. But we don't live in an ideal world and money and power are much more important than easing human suffering. As the book unfolds, we come to realise just how far this greed will go. As Helen and David start to unravel the truth, they end up running for their lives but can never be sure just who the baddies are that are after them.

It's fast-paced, action-packed and - once I'd worked out who was who and how they all tied together - totally unputdownable. If, like me, you find it hard to get into, I recommend you don't give up - if you can battle through the first third of the book, things do settle down and start slotting together and then you've got a real pageturner in your hands.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £12.99

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (4 Feb 2010)
ISBN-10: 0743267907
ISBN-13: 978-0743267908

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