Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

Nothing Short of DyingFor the pure pleasure of uncomplicated, nonstop action, no thriller this year has come close to matching Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying, the first in what promises to be an adrenaline-fuelled series starring Clyde Barr.

Barr is the latest in a long line of loner heroes with violent pasts that belie their good intentions. Fresh from a stint in a Juárez prison, Barr is determined to make a fresh start, free from the chaos that has punctuated his life. But a frantic phone call from his youngest sister, Jen, halts any plans to ride off into the sunset. Jen needs his help, and as Barr himself asserts – which is a touch on the nose – “nothing short of dying” will stop him from coming to her aid. Problem is, Barr has no idea who has her or where she is. And he embarks on a spree of beat-downs and shootings that put Jack Reacher’s dust-ups to shame. Clyde Barr is a one-man army, as competent with his fists as he is with a rifle or bow. The introduction of Allie – inadvertently drawn into Barr’s violent journey – adds some much-needed emotional depth, and a touch of requisite romance.

Storey brings the rugged outdoor terrain to life, and Barr’s adeptness to life in the wild distinguishes him from the urban-minded heroes that populate most novels in the genre. When we meet Barr, he’s camping in the wilderness, having hunted for his dinner the night before; and he’s a technophobe, adverse to telecommunications and society’s reliance on electronic devices. Need someone to track footprints? Clyde’s your man. Want him to access your phone’s GPS? Look elsewhere.

Nothing Short of Dying takes off at breakneck speed and doesn’t let up. There’s not much nuance, and though the plot moves at the speed of a bullet, it moves at the same trajectory from start to finish, and offers few genuine surprises or curve balls. But for readers seeking rock ’em sock ’em action, Erik Storey’s debut will surely satisfy. If the author is able to add a touch more stylistic flair in Barr’s second outing, we could be witnessing the launch of thriller fiction’s next big brand.

ISBN: 9781471146848
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Adam Sharp.jpgHow does Graeme Simsion follow-up his dual smash-hits of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect?  By penning a novel that is just as funny and poignant, but with a tumultuous moral core. Unlike the Rosie novels –  which I always pegged as romantic-comedies, or as ‘dramedy’ to enquiring readers – The Best of Adam Sharp is far more profound. There’s a lot more for the reader to marinate over. There is greater thematic depth. And it will resonate long after you’ve closed the book.

The Best of Adam Sharp introduces our protagonist – the titular Adam Sharp – as an almost-forty IT contractor, whose life has reached that gliding point when there are few surprises left. It’s not a bad life – he lives comfortably, has a loyal partner at home, and has a few close friends – but it’s not what it could have been. Even so, it’s not like he is pining for something different; he’s made his bed and he is sleeping in it contentedly. Until he gets an email from his great lost love, Angelina Brown…

Two decades ago, on the other side of the world in Australia, Adam’s part-time piano playing introduced him to the aspiring actress and the two engaged in an unlikely love affair. It was never meant to be a long-term thing – their lifestyles prohibited a lifetime together – but despite the odds, they fell in love. Adam could’ve made a life with her – should’ve, he later things – but did not. They went their separate ways, out of touch, until now, when their extended email communique leads to Adam reuniting with Angelina in the flesh . . . alongside her husband.

The Best of Adam Sharp is about lost love and second chances. My feelings towards Adam varied during my reading; initially I was rooting for the guy, fist-bumping the air thinking, “Yeah, go get the girl, be with the person you’re meant to be with!” Then, later, my tune changed; I realised that Adam reforming his relationship with Angelina would break up a family, and those consequences seemed too grand for the sake of one man’s happiness. As I learned more of Angelina’s relationship with her husband, I reflected and decided, “No, Adam is definitely the right man for her, consequences be damned!” Only for my opinion to change twenty pages later…

This is a novel that will make you ponder the choices you’ve made. It will make you nostalgic, and reflect on where your life might be if you’d stayed with a former girlfriend; stayed in your hometown; moved to a big city; taken that job you turned down. And then it will force you to question how far you’d go for a second chance? Would you sacrifice all you have for what could be? And just because you can do something – should you?

The Life of Adam Sharp isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the Rosie novels, but humour still shines through, and plenty of moments had me guffawing. In fact, I feel like the comedy is more potent here because it’s sprinkled, rather than soaked through the text. Music plays a vital role in the narrative too, and it’s mainstream enough – The Beatles, Dylan, The Kinks – to ensure just about every reader will appreciate their references. Even when I couldn’t imagine the tune of a referenced song, I understood the subtext.

Graeme Simsion has done it again; authored a poignant, funny novel, that can stand proudly beside the Rosie novels, if not entirely outshine them. 

ISBN: 9781925355376
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 19-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

CommonwealthAnn Patchett’s Commonwealth presents the evolution of two American families fused together following the events of one hot Southern Californian day in 1964. It’s a thoughtful, poignant and moving novel, elevated beyond the traditional domestic novel thanks to the depth of its characters and their tumultuous experiences so deftly depicted by one of the great contemporary American authors.

The story opens during a seemingly innocuous christening party hosted by Beverly and Fix Keating for their second daughter, Franny. The celebrations are proceeding as planned – that is to say, mundanely – until a lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin, which immediately livens things – particularly when he is introduced to Beverly, and develops an immediate infatuation, which results in their marriage, and their move to Virginia. And so, a new familial unit is established, comprised of six step-siblings; a unique blend.

Patchett doesn’t lay out her narrative chronologically, but events transpire seamlessly, cutting back and forth in the family’s timeline, and spotlighting a variety of its members. In another writer’s hands, this approach and such an extensive cast might be unwieldy ; but we’re in a master’s. Despite the novel’s epic scope, it’s confined to a wonderfully limited page-count (just eclipsing the 300-page mark), and its tragedies and revelries are incredibly potent.

Commonwealth is honest and heartfelt, presenting a family at their best and worst and most shambolic. It is packed with truths, and powerfully illustrations the importance of family, and the strength of that unit. It’s a novel that will make you feel, and grateful for the loved ones in your life.

ISBN: 9781408880395
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 8-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

seinfeldia-9781476756103_hrI don’t watch a lot of scripted television, but when I do, it’s usually a Seinfeld repeat. It’s a show I watched religiously with my parents growing up, and a show I continue to watch with friends; there’s no better reason to unite than for a marathon of our favourite episodes. So naturally I was excited by the prospect of a book on the show. At the very least I figured I’d get some nostalgic value from it. Thankfully Seinfeldia delivers more than just that.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong went all out for her book, interviewing the show’s writers, directors, bit-players, even the creator of its theme music. The book covers the show from its inception – Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s first discussion of the subject – through to its finale, and the intervening years since its finale. But as deep as she has dived into Seinfeld, I was left wanting more from the book. In places, it feels like Armstrong has only scratched the surface – touched on areas that deserved excavating. It’s not that Seinfeldia isn’t enjoyable – far from it.  I read the book over a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed Armstrong’s intelligent analysis and research. I just wanted more of it! In particular, more information on Seinfeld’s writers room; how the writers pitched to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, how plot ideas were fleshed out. Armstrong does explain the process, and there’re plenty of anecdotes from the show’s writers’… but I am certain there was more material to mine. Perhaps that’s my bias shining through; maybe all I really want is Inside the Seinfeld Writer’s Room by the Seinfeld Writers… and believe me, I have my fingers crossed for that.

Most intriguing is Armstrong’s study of how Seinfeld impacted culture at the time, and how it has continued to do so. This is a television show that not only changed the landscape of network television, it also influenced how we speak, how we act, how we think. Particularly fascinating is the author’s assertion that Seinfeld’s take on New York City helped rehabilitate the city, which is a thought that never even crossed my mind.

So though it might not quite be the book I was hoping for, Seinfeldia is an enthralling read that has sated – for now – my desire for more Seinfeld insight. But seriously, someone get cracking on that Seinfeld Writers’ Room book…

Shut Up and Take my Money.jpg

ISBN: 9781476756103
Format: Hardback (228mm x 152mm x 30mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

9781447297574.jpgBrace yourself, dear reader. You’re about to be assailed with praise and hyperbole for Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, which, at this moment, is on track to be my favourite thriller of the year. Right now, I can’t imagine anything toppling Dark Matter from its throne.

Dark Matter is an unabashed science fiction thriller. If the thought of multi-dimension travel – of our protagonist traversing alternate worlds – is too much of a leap from the grounded reality in which you prefer your fiction, okay, fair enough, perhaps this one’s not for you. But for everybody else, willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the parameters of Crouch’s fiction, Dark Matter is a relentless and thrilling ride. What glues it together – what makes this novel work – is its heart. Dark Matter is a love story – punctuated with action and science fiction elements, certainly – but its romantic core, one man’s desire to reunite with his wife and son, is what makes the novel tick along.

Dark Matter is about the roads not taken. It’s about the choices we make – those large, momentous decisions we identify as important, and the smaller ones we barely recognise. Jason Dessen chose his family over his career as a physicist; so too his wife Daniela, who gave up her dream of being an artist. It’s not a decision they regret – they’re a content family unit, blessed with a teenage son – but inevitably there are moments when they wonder what might have been. And thanks to the Jason Dessen from an alternate reality – a world in which he focused on his career in science rather than his family, and created a multidimensional travel device – our Jason is about to discover what might’ve been.

Crouch sends Dessen to a range of close-but-not quite realities as he attempts to find his journey home, to his wife, to his son. In putting Dessen through such an emotional rollercoaster we bear witness to some truly gut-wrenching and poignant scenes. And just when you think the novel’s demonstrated all it’s got to offer – that Crouch is leading readers down a thrilling, but somewhat routine path as Dessen attempts to return to his world – he throws a curveball; an unforeseen plot twist that raises the states even higher, and propels the narrative through to its fitting climax.

Plenty of fiction has explored the idea of multidimensional travel, but rather than focus on the science, Dark Matter keeps the reader riveted because of its heart. How far is one man willing to go to reunite with his family? How much can he witness before he loses himself? You’ll tear through Dark Matter in one sitting to find out. Truly, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

ISBN: 9781447297574
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Macmillan
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Huck, Book 1: All American by Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque

Huck_vol1-1.pngThere is a unique sweetness and optimism to Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque’s Huck so rarely seen in superhero comics these days. It makes for a refreshing change of tone from what we’ve become accustomed to, and besides Albuquerque stunning artwork, is what makes this otherwise fairly old-style superhero caper truly shine.

I say “old-style” because of its simplicity. Nowadays simplicity is frowned upon; character histories have got to be convoluted; plots have got to be expansive, and are generally overwrought. Huck benefits from its streamlined narrative. It’s straightforward and uncomplicated – delightfully so. Huck is an orphan, left at a stranger’s doorstep in small town America when he was a baby. He’s grown up to make a living as a gas station attendant – and has earned a reputation as the town’s do-gooder. Huck’s got superpowers – incredible strength, the ability to leap – not fly, definitely leap – tall buildings in a single bound, and he uses his powers to benefit the town, who in return, keep his abilities secret. So naturally, when a newcomer exposes his secret, the life Huck has constructed for himself falls apart very quickly.

It’s almost impossible for me to believe Huck was written by the writer responsible for the bloody and violent Nemesis and Kick-Ass, which I suppose demonstrates Mark Millar’s range. Five or six years ago, I was turned off by his output – too one-note and violent for my tastes, – but since then, following the publication of Starlight (possibly my favourite sci-fi comic ever) and Jupiter’s Legacy, Millar’s turned himself into one of my must-read writers. Which shows, I suppose, that a reader should never totally dismiss a creator’s output based on what has come before. Millar writes Huck as a dim-witted good guy; who sees the world in black and white, and struggles when the greys expose themselves. Huck’s not bright, but he’s so damn likable; he’s the friend we all need in our lives, not for the scintillating conversation, but because he can distil our troubles into a manageable form.

Albuquerque is the true star here, though. Already a megastar, his work on Huck takes the artist to a whole new level. His style of cartooning is so unique and expressive, able to capture the emotional moments as well as the blockbuster heroic moments. And he’s coloured brilliantly here by Dave McCaig, whose work adds an almost watercolour-like quality to Albuquerque’s pencils. It’s quite possibly the work of their careers, but you wouldn’t put it past them to outdo themselves; perhaps in Huck’s second volume?

A fun, rip-roaring yet poignant superhero tale. There’s not enough heart in superhero comics being published today. Hopefully Huck rubs off on some of the capes and cowls crusading in the pages of Marvel and DC and reminds the Big Two that we want more than fisticuffs and explosions.

ISBN: 9781632157294
ISBN-10: 1632157292
Format: Paperback (275mm x 168mm x 15mm)
Pages: 160
Imprint: Image Comics
Publisher: Image Comics
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Dear Mr M. by Herman Koch

9781925355505Herman Koch’s Dear Mr. M has all the trappings of a stylish literary thriller endowed with the author’s trademark black humour and wit. And it comes so close to being something truly resonant; inches away from being one of the year’s must-read books. Alas, its sagging middle undermines a brilliant start, and lessens the impact of its climax. With a finer edit – some slicing and dicing – Dear Mr. M would be truly spectacular. In its published form, however, it has to settle for merely being ‘good.’

Koch’s latest tells the story of a fading writer;  once celebrated, but now long past the apex of his career, which was the publication of Payback, a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. It told the story of a history teacher who vanished one winter after a brief affair with a student. His body was never found. M.’s novel distorted the facts of the case, and the premise of Dear Mr M. centres around the author being held accountable for his altering of events.

The novel has an interesting structure, told from various perspectives, the most captivating of which is undoubtedly a letter to M., written by the same person the author accused of murdering the history teacher in Payback. There’s a real tension here; these segments are utterly suspenseful and creepy, which inevitably make other sections of the novel feel sluggish.

Koch rips into the literary world in Dear Mr M., poking fun at publisher dinners, promotional tours, author relationships, etc. As someone working in the industry, I found some of his comments, through his characters, especially hilarious. The novel really shines in these moments, and echoes the dark humour present in Koch’s other work; The Dinner and Summer House With Swimming Pool.

Despite its middle dragging on a bit, Dear Mr M. is a mostly gripping, brilliantly satirical literary thriller. It’s a novel I highly recommend . . . with a small caveat.

ISBN: 9781925355505
ISBN-10: 1925355500
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 29-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

9781743534908Few debuts have garnered as many accolades as Burial Rites, so if “second novel syndrome” is a real thing, it must apply doubly for Australian author Hannah Kent. Thankfully we’ve not had to wait long for Kent’s second novel — no decade-long interlude á la Donna Tartt — and it’s every bit as immersive as its predecessor. The Good People is a sparkling examination of Irish folk medicine and a lapsed belief system, and what happens when the real world – cold, stark reality – intercedes with these once-cherished folk traditions.

Set in south-west Ireland in the year 1825, tragedy unites three women together, and instigates an irreparable expedition that will challenge their beliefs, and see them clash against contemporary ideals. The tragedy in question centres around Nóra Leahy, who has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year. She is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old son, Micheál, who is severely disabled, both physically and intellectually. Micheál cannot walk or speak, and Nóra, knowing what will be said about the child, keeps him hidden from those who might consider his nature the evidence of otherworldly interference — touched by Them, the Good People.

Unable to cope on her own, Nóra hires a teenage servant girl, Mary, who quickly learns what sections of the community are saying about Nóra’s grandson: he is the cursed creature at the epicentre of their town’s grief. And in such circumstances, there is only one person they can turn to for help; one person who can force Them from Micheál, and return the young boy to his true self: Nance Roche, a woman with ‘the knowledge,’ who consorts with Them, and has demonstrated her healing abilities before. But her neighbours grow increasingly weary of Nance; the town’s new priest, in particular, is vehemently against her practices, and is gradually twisting the people’s opinion of her. Nance is determined to heal Micheál and prove her abilities to the township.

As with Burial Rites, the true genius of The Good People is Kent’s massaging of history — her many months of gruelling research — into her narrative. The Good People is layered with historical accuracy, bringing to life countless Irish customs without ever becoming bogged down in the verisimilitude. The plot is straightforward — the trio of women hurtle towards a conclusion most readers will anticipate but won’t be able to turn away from — and the characters, and their choices, will resonate long after you’ve put the book down.

Indeed, The Good People is a novel that will leave you marvelling at long-forgotten Irish customers and traditions, and have you question how the religious beliefs of today intercede with mankind’s increasingly practical and scientific nature. Kent’s artistry is that she needn’t tangibly pose the question; it’s the nuanced message of her novel, which will be enjoyed, and cherished, purely for its narrative alone.

Readers will inevitably ask, “Is it better than Burial Rites?” But I’m not sure it’s a question I can honestly answer. They’re both standouts; wonderful novels by an author with the world at her feet. The Good People boasts beautiful prose coupled with a brutal landscape and memorable characters. It’s a real literary treat.

ISBN: 9781743534908
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Picador Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 27-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman

isbn9781782066934.jpgPeter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox is an immensely satisfying noir thriller. Though the details of the plot add up to your typical potboiler story of conspiracy and corruption, of the rich and powerful preying on the poor, Spiegelman’s slight (but distinctive) twist on the formula elevates Dr. Knox above its competition.

Dr Adam Knox is a hero in the Philip Marlowe mould — but armed with a stethoscope instead of a gun. Abiding by the tropes of the noir hero, he is a well-intentioned man with a dark past, using his skills and his limited facilities to provide medical care for prostitutes, junkies, and other street dwellers of Los Angeles for whom visiting a hospital is not an option. To help make ends meet — to pay his staff, as well as rent — Knox provides an ambulatory service for LA’s shadier elements, working alongside his friend and former Special Forces operative Ben Sutter.

Knox’s life — and quite literally everyone he knows — is thrown into turmoil when a young woman named Elena deposits her son at the clinic, rushing out the door before questions can be asked. Clearly frightened, and visibly injured, Knox is certain Elena’s life is in danger — and therefore her son’s, too — so instead of contacting child services or the police, he hides Alex, and decides to unravel the mystery of Elena’s whereabouts, and her reasons for abandoning her child. The trail leads Knox into the path of violent Russian gangsters and an overtly corrupt corporation —both of whom will stop at nothing to terminate Knox’s investigation, and locate the mother and son.

Adam Knox is an enjoyable and compelling lead. We are in his headspace for the entirety of the novel, and’s the right mix of capable and completely out of his depth to make him likable. And while some of his past is unshrouded during proceedings, there’s plenty left for Spiegelman to uncover in future novels. The action and medical procedures are suitably hard-core, but never gratuitous (or overplayed), and while there’s some occasional monologuing, it’s thankfully never plodding.

Gritty, intense, and wildly entertaining, Dr. Knox is a damn fine crime novel. If Peter Spiegelman wasn’t on your radar before, he should be now.

ISBN: 9781782066934
ISBN-10: 1782066934
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 22-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Night School (Jack Reacher #21) by Lee Child

9780593073919-1-edition.default.original-1.jpgNight School takes Jack Reacher back to his army days — 1996 to be precise —and hurled into a covert investigation in Germany, alongside an FBI and CIA agent, with world-shattering consequences. The stakes have never been higher than those presented here; the twenty-first Reacher novel.

It begins in customary Lee Child style, which is to say, minimum exposition, immediate narrative momentum. No sooner has Reacher received a Legion of Merit medal than General Garber — a longstanding and important figure in Reacher continuity — reassigns Reacher to a school in Washington DC. But this is a school with (initially, at least) only three pupils: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. And their orders are simple: to interpret chatter plucked from a source in Germany — the phrase “the American wants a hundred million dollars” — and dismantle whatever reprehensible scheme is in play.

Night School is fast and furious, and epitomises what millions of readers love about Lee Child and Jack Reacher. All the trademark elements are here. Child obfuscates the magnitude of the threat Reacher and his colleagues are facing until very late in the piece —but the revelation lands with a dull thud. The stakes are too high in Night School; at least when one considers what Reacher has faced in previous novels. It makes all his other experiences pale in comparison — which might work in terms of continuity, since nothing has fazed Reacher in the inventing years, and maybe this is why — but the plot’s veer towards James Bond territory rings false, for me, at least. Other readers — and I’ll be intrigued to hear their thoughts — might think differently.

Structurally, however, Night School is immensely satisfying. Few writers are able to build momentum as effectively and concisely; and Child’s brusque prose remains as delectable as ever. Lee Child has the secret sauce, that unrivalled ability to craft genuine page-turners. In my mind, Night School doesn’t rank up there with the very best of the Reacher novels, but that said, I couldn’t put it down, and am eagerly awaiting the next one. It can’t come soon enough.

ISBN: 9780593073919
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 8-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom