Review: A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri

9781447264569Following a spate of hardboiled crime fiction and blood-soaked thrillers, I was in the mood for something a little different last weekend. Still crime, since I can’t seem to gravitate away from the genre at the moment — I’m entrenched! –but something less intense. I found it in Andrea Camilleri’s A Voice in the Night; the 20th Inspector Montalbano mystery.

I’m familiar with Inspector Salvo Montalbano by reputation rather than experience; maybe even glimpsed a few minutes of the TV show back in the day, though it never seemed my cup of tea. The novel opens with the irascible Inspector’s waking on the day of his 58th birthday — his age and subsequent flagging dexterity plays a key role in proceedings — and quickly presents two distinct cases for Montalbano to solve. The first involves the apparent suicide of a supermarket manager mere hours after he was questioned by police following a robbery. The cops quickly learn of the manager’s mafia connections…

The second case reintroduces a character who appears earlier in the novel — Giovanni Strangio, whom Montalbano had arrested for erratic driving — who reports the murder of his live-in girlfriend. What makes this case even stickier is that Stangio is the son of the province president. So things are going to get political, however the cookie crumbles.

A Voice in the Night is a lighthearted mystery, told with razor-sharp prose. This is a novel about powerful men thinking they can get away with anything — even murder — and one slightly-bumbling detective’s attempt to halt their misdeeds. It’s an easy read, but packed with incident and intrigue. Just the kind of crime novel I was looking for. I wouldn’t call this a knock-your-socks off, standout crime novel, but it’ll keep you enthralled to the final page.I’ll be checking out Camilleri’s backlist for sure.

ISBN: 9781447264569
ISBN-10: 1447264568
Format: Hardback (223mm x 144mm x 30mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Mantle
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 6-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Travelling Companion by Ian Rankin

9781786690661.jpgOver the course of his career, Ian Rankin has amassed an incredible portfolio of short stories, and his latest, a novella published as part of the Death Sentences line of books – the mission statement of which is to present short stories about deadly books from the world’s best crime writers – is a stellar, and has certainly whetted my appetite for the new Rebus novel, Rather Be The Devil, which will be published in the coming weeks.

Ronald Hastie is a recent college graduate who is obsessed with the works of his literary hero, Robert Louis Stevenson, with a particular fondness for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ronald’s in Paris for the summer of 1982, working part-time at the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop. He’s enjoying his vacation from Edinburgh, free from the ties that bind, able to explore the great city his literary hero once visited.

And then the chance of a lifetime drops into young Ronald’s lap.

A collector claims to have the original manuscripts of both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the never-published The Travelling Companion, both of which were thought to have been destroyed. And he’s happy to share. Ronald jumps at the opportunity to read these, and along the way, meets the collector’s mysterious assistant, a young woman, whose presence, alongside those manuscript pages, stirs an uncanny recklessness, and a dangerous obsession, within him. It’s almost as though Ronald is becoming a different person… like he’s being transformed.

Rankin’s The Travelling Companion is short, but very sweet. It’s a love-letter to one of Stevenson’s seminal works, and has inspired me to re-read the classic. It’s a masterfully compelling novella. You’ll breeze through it and enjoy every word. Now, bring on Rather be the Devil.

ISBN: 9781786690661
ISBN-10: 1786690667
Format: Hardback (180mm x 110mm x mm)
Pages: 48
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 7-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

4LK.jpgI wouldn’t be such a prolific reader, and certainly wouldn’t be bookseller, if not for Matthew Reilly. Specifically, his book Ice Station, which I read at such an integral stage of my life, around the age of 13, when I was drifting away from prose, and focused almost exclusively on comics. You hear stories like this all the time from his legion of fans; how Reilly’s action-packed books proved to be a revelation for readers, demonstrating that it’s possible to transpose the incredible thrills of summer movie blockbusters to the page. Turns out books can provide the same kind of entertainment. Who knew, right? After Ice Station, Contest, and Temple, during the wait for Area 7,  I read books by Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins, Dan Brown; the usual band of high-action thriller writers. And eventually, much (much) later, I expanded my “literary horizons” (ugh sorry, that phrase makes me queasy, but it’s for want of something better); started reading crime, then moved onto other genres, eventually dipping into literary fiction. Seems funny to say it, but there’s no way I would’ve read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life –- probably my favourite book (as in, like, ever) — without Matthew Reilly. I owe him a lot.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms begins with Jack West Jr. waking up in an unknown location and immediately thrust into battle. We quickly learn he has been chosen, along with a dozen other elite soldiers (including a very familiar face, much to my surprise and delight), to compete in a series of spectacularly deadly challenges in order to fulfil an ancient ritual with world ending consequences. So, yeah; the stakes, as always, are astronomically high. This isn’t a game West can escape from. For the sake of his loved ones — for the sake of everyone — he’s got to compete.

Reilly delivers fantastic stunts and vehicular mayhem in incredibly creative combat arenas. The plot and characters are ludicrous, but its all stupendous fun, and it moves at the velocity of a speeding bullet. Faster, actually. Reilly rarely lets his readers — or indeed his characters — rest. There are brief interludes between all the thrills, when the unflappably indestructible West gets the chance to lick his wounds, and Reilly gets the chance to feed readers background information. Sure, it can be a little clunky at times  — only Reilly could get away with the sentence, “Vacheron grinned evilly,” and the book is entirely void of subtext — but The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a rollicking blockbuster ride and perfect weekend fodder.

When it comes right down to it, other authors can try (and have tried) to emulate him, but nobody is better at the high-octane-high-body-count thriller than Matthew Reilly. It’s his domain, exclusively. Fans will delight in Jack West Jr.’s return, and of course, plenty of thread is left dangling for the inevitable sequels. Bring ’em on, I say! Perfect beach reading.

Source: Purchased
ISBN: 9781743534953
Format: Hardback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 18-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: Australia


Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

Escape Clause Sandford.jpgA while back, Virgil Flowers was just a supporting character in John Sandford’s long-running Prey series. He’d help Lucas Davenport out on an investigation, then fade into the background again until Sandford revived him for another cameo appearance. But here we are now, with Escape Clause, the ninth book in the Flowers series, and perhaps the best, thanks to its fresh take on a traditional plotline. This time around, Virgil is hunting a group of thieves, who have stolen rather precious loot from the Minnesota Zoo: two Amur tigers, whose bodies could be mined for various remedies. Question is, can Flowers apprehend the thieves before the tigers are killed?

Whenever I think about my favourite crime writers, I always overlook Sanford, which is a serious injustice on my part. Sandford’s novels aren’t ground-breaking, but they are exemplary, exceptionally well-constructed, and highly polished police procedurals / thrillers. He writes the kinds of books you’ll bomb through in no time, and enjoy every second. So, what makes his novels – Escape Clause, in particular – so compulsive, then? Beyond his stark style and ability to craft brutally violent, adrenaline-pumping action scenes, it’s Sandford’s villains that truly stand out, never more evident than that of Winston Peck VI, an M.D. barred from practicing after it was discovered he was groping unconscious patients.

Make no mistake: Peck is a bad dude, but he’s not a killer. At least, he never planned to be, but as the authorities close in on him, he does what he feels he must in order to survive. If that means ending a few lives, well, so be it. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it. He’s not a psychopath. Or is he…? Some of the novel’s best moments see Peck debating his mental state, adding layers to what could’ve been a very rote villain. Lots of crime writers nail their protagonist and the puzzle that needs solving; few are as capable of conjuring such enigmatic bad guys.

Exciting, absorbing and intriguing, Escape Clause is the perfect crime thriller for this time of the year, as the weather begins to warm up, and readers are looking to wile away a few hours at the beach with an enthralling book. It’s not all flawless; there’s a secondary plot thread involving Virgil’s girlfriend’s sister, which feels very much tacked on, and a tad unnecessary – but it doesn’t overshadow the effectiveness of the ‘A’ plot.

If you’ve never read Sandford before, don’t feel put off by the fact this is the ninth entry in a series. Escape Clause is a fine place to start, and I bet it’ll have you scouring your local bookstore for Virgil Flowers’s earlier capers. Then, don’t forget, you’ve got the Lucas Davenport books to savour. Man, those of you who are new to John Sandford are in for such a treat.

ISBN: 9781471154300
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Wayward by Blake Crouch

Wayward Blake Crouch.jpgAt the end of Pines, the first novel in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy, Ethan Burke learned the truth about the seemingly idyllic town of Wayward Pines; the reason why there’s an electrified fence and razor wire surrounding its perimeter; snipers scoping its borders every minute of every day; 24/7 video and tracking surveillance; and why the world beyond can’t be contacted. Burke has been nominated sheriff of the town, and his responsibility is no longer just the safety of his family, but of a little less than 500 townspeople. But do they deserve to know the truth? More importantly, could they handle it?

It’s next to impossible to discuss Wayward without giving away essential plot points, and believe me, you don’t want to know a thing. Suffice to say, this is brilliant second chapter in a trilogy, which doesn’t suffer from typical “midway point” fatigue. Sure, there’s plenty of setting up for the slam-bang third novel, The Last Town, but Wayward is a very satisfying, frenetic thrill ride. This trilogy is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and Blake Crouch is quickly clawing his way onto my list of favourite writers. It’s morally complex, emotive, and just plain unputdownable.

And the cliffhanger – – wow. Where’s my copy of The Last Town? Everything else is on hold until I see how this story ends. I just wish these books were more readily available in Australia. They deserve to sit on every the shelf of every thriller reader.

ISBN: 9781477808702
Format: Paperback (208mm x 137mm x 25mm)
Pages: 322
Imprint: Thomas & Mercer
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publish Date: 17-Sep-2013
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Order to Kill by Vince Flynn & Kyle Mills

“It’s a beautiful night and we have a cooler full of beer and a stolen A-bomb. It don’t get any better than that.”

9781471148293.jpgIf that sort of nonchalance about nuclear weapons doesn’t gel with your particular sensibilities, Order to Kill might not be the book for you. But if you’re looking for a lean, mean, action-packed geopolitical thriller, look no further. With his second Mitch Rapp novel, based on the late Vince Flynn’s take-no-bullshit, tough-as-nails CIA agent, Kyle Mills proves the series is in good hands.

Following on directly from the events of last year’s The Survivor, Mitch Rapp and his allies are tasked with keeping Pakistani nukes out of terrorists’ hands. But Russian President Maxim Vladimirovich is determined to use these nuclear weapons for his own nefarious purposes: destroying Middle Eastern oil fields to divert revenues to Russia. Naturally he assigns his most capable man for the job:  the super-talented assassin Grisha Azarov, who we’re reminded is every bit Rapp’s equal.

Order to Kill features several entertaining action scenes, all brutal and certain to get your adrenaline pumping. It’s visceral, but not overly gratuitous. Mitch Rapp is every bit the great American Hero, who refuses to conform to bureaucratic standards, even dodging a phone call with the President of the United States at one point. That said, there’re a couple of ludicrous moments when Mills overplays the whole tough guy thing; one that particularly grated (and this is a slight spoiler, so be warned) was Rapp throwing a high-ranking military official out of a helicopter because he disagreed over tactical matters. It would almost be laughable, if not for the novel’s high stakes. And that clearly wasn’t the author’s intent.

The final confrontation between Rapp and Azarov is brilliant; tense and dramatic, and plays out with a nice twist that belies the typical conventions of the genre. Sure, the overall plot plays out fairly predictably, but Order to Kill is a taut thriller, with the expected villainy, cliffhanger-ending chapters, and plenty of shootouts. So, precisely what Vince Flynn fans want from Mitch Rapp’s escapades. Kyle Mills is carrying on that tradition seamlessly.

ISBN: 9781471148309
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 11-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Wrong Side of Goodbye Michael Connelly.jpgHarry Bosch’s journey with the LAPD came to a fittingly acrimonious ending in the final pages of The Burning Room a couple of years back. But while his departure made sense from a character perspective, I had my concerns for the future of Michael Connelly’s long-running series. We’ve seen Harry leave the LAPD before (which produced one of my favourites Bosch novels, Lost Light) but the blue religion and department politics play such a key role in Connelly’s work. How could Bosch possibly endure?

We got a partial answer with last year’s The Crossing; a rollicking team-up with the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. It set up the obvious question: who is Harry Bosch without the badge? And how can he carry on his mission without it? Because working for Haller wasn’t sustainable; not in the long-term. The Wrong Side of Goodbye provides all the answers we need, and sets the series up for the foreseeable future. Bosch’s LAPD years are over, but the character’s best years might still be ahead of him.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye follows two distinct investigations, which unravel around each other but never intersect. One involves mega-wealthy industrialist Whitney Vance, who hires Bosch as a private investigator to locate a potential heir. His other case involves a serial-rapist dubbed the Screen Cutter, which Bosch is working as a part-time reservist for the San Fernando Police Department. Although it’s an unpaid position, it allows Harry the chance to once again wield a badge and carry on his mission, which is all the payment he needs.

The novel delves into Bosch’s Vietnam years, and his early years in an LAPD uniform. While Connelly has touched on these background details in the past, it’s never been to this extent, and he leaves a ton left over to excavate in future instalments. I always wondered whether Connelly might produce a novel set in the Vietnam or just after, focused entirely on Bosch’s war years or his early years with the LAPD; The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a far more nuanced approach, and I hope we see more information drip-fed to us in future books.

Michael Connelly’s latest is another masterpiece of crime fiction. Some authors get to a point where you run out of superlatives for their fiction; Mr Connelly reached that point long ago. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is the standard to which police procedurals should be held. No doubt the author will raise the bar even higher with his next release.

ISBN: 9781760293833
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

9781925355871.jpgWith more twists than a double helix, Kill the Next One is a relentlessly-paced, unputdownable psychological thriller. It zigs one way, then zags another, providing the kind of stomach-clenching, unsettling suspense readers associate with Lauren Beukes and Stephen King. Nothing should be taken at face value, but rest assured, Federico Axat is a brilliant guide.

Just like Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series, Kill the Next One needs to be read unspoiled. This is a book that relies on the potency of its labyrinthine twists, and prior exposure has the potential to ruin the whole experience. The set-up barely scratches the novel’s surface: family man Ted McKay is moments away from pulling the trigger on the Browning pressed against his head. Then the doorbell rings, and Ted is presented with the notion of becoming part of a suicidal daisy chain: in exchange for killing someone who deserves to die, he will be killed, making his passing easier for his family. Easier to live knowing your husband / father was the victim of a random act of violence than by self-inflicted means … right? Things spiral wildly from there, quite brilliantly, and nothing is what it seems.

There’s a delightful boldness – – an incredible audaciousness — to Kill the Next One. Expertly paced and plotted, and extremely visceral, with bucket-loads of surprises and genuine chills, it’s sure to be one of the most-talked about thrillers of the year. Let’s hope Kill the Next One isn’t Axat’s only book to receive an English translation. He’s a writer to watch, and this book is one to savour.

ISBN: 9781925355871
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Pines by Blake Crouch

pines-blake-crouch-coverI loved Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter earlier this year, so I made it my mission to seek out more of his work, which lead me to Pines, the first book in the Wayward Pines trilogy. It reads like a crossover between the Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks, but its sheer pace and relentless twists set it firmly apart, and makes the book its only special, unmissable thing. It’s a rollicking, suspenseful, rocket-fast thrill-ride. I’m not waiting another second to read the second book in the series. It’s the next book on my reading stack.

Secret service agent Ethan Burke wakes up in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. Things immediately seem awry. Nobody knows who he is, he can’t get in touch with the outside world, and the behaviour of much of the townsfolk is nonsensical, if not downright hostile; and what’s with the electrified fence that surrounds the town? The closer Burke gets to the truth, the more likely it seems there’s no escape; that Wayward Pines is the town in which he’ll be buried and forgotten.

Pines is the kind of book that’s best read spoiler-free. If you’ve already watched the television series, frankly, I’m not sure how the various twists will impact. But if you go in without knowing where it’s all headed, each dramatic reveal has tremendous impact. Your willingness to suspend some belief and accept the climactic revelation will determine your overall enjoyment — but for me, Blake Crouch knocked it out of the park. He is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.

ISBN: 9781612183954
Format: Paperback (208mm x 137mm x 25mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Thomas & Mercer
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publish Date: 21-Aug-2012
Country of Publication: United States

Review: SAS Rogue Heroes – The Authorized Wartime History by Ben Macintyre

9780241186633Last year I was blown away by Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends and quickly worked my way through much of his back list. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction; and I especially don’t read a lot of history — though that’s gradually changing, through no conscious effort on my part — but Macintyre’s work is nothing short of exceptional, blending fact with a fast-paced narrative that’s reminiscent of page-turning thrillers. His latest book, SAS Rogue Heroes: The Authorised Wartime History, takes aim at Britain’s Special Air Service — the SAS — and provides incredible insight into its formation, and its exploits during World War II. What separates Macintyre’s book from others, besides his pedigree, is that Macintyre has been granted access to the previously-clandestine SAS archives. As such, he provides illumination previous books on the subject have not, and provides the definitive account of the SAS’s operations during the Second World War.

The soldiers in the SAS were a rowdy, undisciplined, breed of men, who somehow functioned as a small, independent army dedicated to inflicting a disproportionate amount of damage to the enemy. Founded by renegade David Stirling, they were essentially a group of guerrillas who ducked behind enemy lines and created havoc. They broke the established rules of warfare — in fact, some of their deeds were considered rather “unsportsmanlike” to their superiors — and demonstrated incredible courage and tenacity.

The book is split into chapters which essentially spotlight specific missions, and personnel. The disparate mindsets of the SAS soldiers is particularly interesting, and it’s incredible that such a colourful cast of characters were able to gel, and become such a potent attacking force. Despite their bravado, and in certain circumstances, downright coldness and barbarity, Macintyre paints these men as real people, with real emotion coursing through their veins; they just didn’t have an outlet for that pent up rage and sadness that naturally ensues in wartime. There is real physiological insight here, which is often overlooked for analysis of operations and combat.

SAS Rogue Heroes: The Authorised Wartime History ranks up there with Ben Macintyre’s finest work. This is a book that will make you appreciate the extremes the men of the SAS were put through in order to change the course of the war. An incredibly insightful, inspiring, and action-packed read. Even if you’ve previously read about the exploits of the SAS during World War II, this book is a vital addition to the canon.

ISBN: 9780241186633
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 22-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom