Review: When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Another year, another exceptional thriller by Michael Robotham. The guy is as sure a thing as you get in the genre. You reach for one of his books and you know you will be lost to your world for the entirety of its pages.

“When You Are Mine” is being touted as a standalone, which is a shame, because I’d love to revisit Philomena McCarthy sometime in the future. The events of this novel leave an indelible scar. And the kind of terrain you could mine for a whole series.

Philomena’s father is London gangster Edward McCarthy, the ‘teflon man’ who reinvented himself after a lifetime of criminality and steered into outwardly legitimate money-making schemes. But she can’t shake his notoriety. Particularly given her career choice: Phil is a police officer with the Metropolitan Police.

When Philomena is called to the scene of a domestic assault, she clashes with the bloodied young woman’s boyfriend and arrests him. The trouble for her is, Darren Goodall is a highly decorated (and very much her senior) detective sergeant, with friends in even higher places. Which means her upwards career trajectory is suddenly in a tailspin.

But Phil can’t leave it alone. She is disgusted by Goodall’s flagrant sullying of the badge and all it means, which is enhanced when she learns his wife and kids live in fear, under his thumb. And she has formed an imprudent friendship with the woman he attacked, Tempe; despite warnings from her friends and fiancé that Tempe has secrets of her own, and shouldn’t be trusted. 

As “When You Are Mine” races along, the plot pivots in surprising directions, and Philomena is forced to reassess her own code of morality as her wedding day looms. The final pages brilliantly pull together the story’s many threads, guiding readers to a devastatingly wistful conclusion.

Signature Robotham, for whom the hits just keep on coming.

ISBN: 9780733645921
ISBN-10: 0733645925
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Available: 30th June 2021
Publisher: Hachette Australia

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I generally don’t care for hard science fiction. By which I mean, sci-fi steeped in scientific accuracy and logic.

Blame a lifetime reading superhero comics. 

Superman has incredible abilities because solar energy from the yellow sun is the source of energy for Kryptonian power. That explanation is enough. You want to explain how his body metabolizes that sunlight? Ugh. Please — don’t.

Same goes for Green Lantern’s power ring: a weapon capable of transforming the wearer’s thoughts into physical constructs through sheer willpower. I don’t need a physics lesson. That’s all I need. 

But somehow, Andy Weir has this ability to make what I’d otherwise consider mind-numbingly tedious explanations on quantum physics, rocket science, chemistry, engineering — basically anything remotely scientific and mathematical — absolutely enthralling, and more often than not, insanely nail-biting. He dumps his heroes in life threatening predicaments, and works with the reader through the solution, which is always constructed around veritable science, and deciphered for the layman. And when things get speculative, you buy into it, because he’s earned it.

“Project Hail Mary” will be one of my favourite novels of the year. 

I know it will be, because as I raced through its pages I was combatting conflicting urges to read faster, and to slow down; to savour it. That’s always special. And honestly, I think the less you know about it the better. If the logline has you intrigued — a sole surviving astronaut, Ryland Grace, is on a mission to save Earth — jump in. Don’t read reviews — too late if you’re here, obviously — and go in as blind as you can. 

This is smart, compulsive, addictive science fiction. It’s destined to be adapted into a blockbuster flick, but with so much of its tension derived from Grace’s inner-monologuing and puzzle-solving, it’s not going to be an easy translation. So jump on the bandwagon now. The hype, I am happy to report, is totally justified.

Published: 4 May 2021
ISBN: 9781529100624
Imprint: Del Rey
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 496
RRP: $32.99

Review: Cruel and Unusual by Patricia Cornwell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“… he thanked God for a mercy I saw no evidence of and claimed promises too late for God to keep.”

Here we go. The fourth book in the Kay Scarpetta series, and I feel like Patricia Cornwell is really hitting her stride. This is everything I want from my crime fiction: a super compelling hook fleshed out in a serpentine plot, its now firmly-established characters enmeshed in a wider conspiracy.  

Continue reading

Review: The Girl Remains by Katherine Firkin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Following on from her debut “Sticks and Stones,” Katherine Firkin reunites readers with Victorian Police Detective Emmett Corban as he reopens a twenty-two-year-old cold case when human bones are discovered on an isolated beach in the coastal town of Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula.

On the night of 22 September, 1998, three teenage girls — Gypsy, Scarlett and Cecilia — set off into the darkness, weaving their way through shrubbery, following a trail towards Blairgowrie’s notorious Koonya Ocean Beach: ‘a magnificent stretch of coastline, punctuated by towering sandstone rocks and crashing waves.’ Only two of the girls — Gypsy and Scarlett — returned. And for more than twenty years, the disappearance of Cecilia May has baffled detectives. It remains a mystery, waiting to be solved. 

Emmett Corban, his new partner Lanh Nguyen, and a cohort of investigators, are tasked with digging into now decades-old trauma and secrets. In doing so, they unravel a wickedly complex tapestry, which includes a registered sex offender who confessed to the murder despite having a rock-solid alibi; Gypsy and Scarlett’s sketchy recollections of what precisely happened that night; and a visitor to Blairgowrie who is determined to exact her own brand of justice.

“The Girl Remains” is an earnestly crafted police procedural. Firkin isn’t trying to put some magical spin on the conventional elements of the detective genre, which makes it catnip for armchair sleuths like myself. Her step-by-step description of procedural details, from reviewing old case files to reinterviewing suspects and witnesses, totally immerse readers in the investigation. And the sprinkling of personal dramas — including Emmett’s news-photographer wife, Cindy, gatecrashing the investigation — adds further spice. The purity of its unfurling, even as it criss-crosses between its expansive cast, makes it a pleasure to read.

Published: 4 May 2021
ISBN: 
9781761042621
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
RRP: $32.99

Review: Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is an audacious, twist-filled thriller whose enjoyment hinges on whether you’re able to buy into its central conceit, which morphs outlandishly from its opening premise, when Abigail Baskin enters her marriage to ridiculously wealthy Bruce Lamb carrying a secret.

During her bachelorette party weekend a few weeks before her wedding, Abigail slept with a stranger named Scottie. Although she’s wracked by guilt, she decides not to mention her one night stand to Bruce: the ramifications would be severe given his (ominous) stance on fidelity. So she’ll live with the secret, and it will be hers alone. Or so she hopes. Soon Scottie emails Abigail suggesting they share a deep connection. They’re soulmates. They should be together.

Abigail ignores him.

She marries Bruce, and towards the end of their wedding night, she thinks she spots Scottie. Again, she considers owning up to Bruce. Their honeymoon to a secluded Maine island serves as the perfect distraction. Abigail can deliberate, in peace, in these tranquil surroundings.

But Scottie’s there too. And another guest, who shares Abigail’s plight: a secret from her husband. What happens next is bloody and violent, and will stretch some reader’s credulity to the limit; maybe beyond. There’s no question that Peter Swanson has crafted a breakneck thriller. And it goes places I didn’t expect it to, which is preferential to another assembly-line thriller. Nothing about the opening of “Every Vow You Break” telegraphs its wild climax, which sees Abigail taking on a virulent manifestation of powerful men committed to patriarchy. Ultimately implausible, but also unputdownable. 

ISBN: 9780571358502
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 30th March 2021
Publisher: Faber

Review: Repentance by Eloísa Díaz

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In my experience, readers who besmirch crime fiction do so because of the supposed ‘limitations of the form.’ Crime novels have no ‘literary merit’ (a dubious concept) because they are merely ‘entertainments’ ― thanks, Graham Greene.

But here is a novel I would happily recommend to any reticent crime reader, whose mystery is vital to its plot, but whose solving is secondary to the exploration of its central character, and the city of Buenos Aires. It’s entertaining, sure: but it’s also got plenty to say about greed, corruption, guilt and redemption.

I wonder where it would fit on Greene’s spectrum of ‘entertainments’ and ‘novels?’

Eloísa Díaz’s “Repentance” vividly depicts the brutality, uncertainty and fragility of life in Buenos Aires during two tumultuous periods in Argentina’s history. In 1981, the Dirty War was at its peak. By its end, 30,000 people would be ‘disappeared’ by the state as the country’s military dictatorship turned against its own people.

Among them: the brother of Policía Federal inspector Joaquín Alzada.

Twenty years later, as thousands of protestors start revolting against the government, an unidentified corpse is discovered in a skip behind the city morgue. Then a woman from one of the city’s wealthiest families goes missing, and the only clue to her disappearance is a number plate linked to a high-ranking government official. Alzada is ruled off the case. She hasn’t been missing long enough to warrant an investigation. But Alazada can’t leave it alone. He decides to present the corpse from the morgue as the missing woman’s… and open a murder file.

This gritty, absorbing novel is served well by Díaz’s concise prose. I could’ve done without the overuse of italics to demarcate Alazada’s inner monologue, but it’s the one flaw in a novel I rushed to finish, only to have it linger in my thoughts long after I was done. It’s an absolutely enthralling portrait of the darkest days of Argentine suppression and sedition, and one man trying to make sense of it.

ISBN: 9781474613842
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion
Publish Date: 4-Feb-2021
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Old Enemy by Henry Porter

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The arrival of a new Henry Porter novel will forever be accompanied by a sense of sweet nostalgia. When his debut “Remembrance Day” was published in 1999, I distinctly remember my father reading a copy of it poolside in a Phuket resort — I think the Jack Higgins quote on the cover was the key selling factor, ‘The best book of its kind I’ve read since “The Day of the Jackal'” — while I read my copy of Raymond Benson’s James Bond novel “Doubleshot.” Back then, Dad did all the book buying. Nowadays it’s me sharing my Henry Porter’s. The cycle is complete.

“The Old Enemy” is the perfect culmination of Porter’s two most recent spy thrillers. Though it can be read as a standalone, it rewards readers who’ve been with this cast of characters from the beginning, when former MI6 agent Paul Samson was tasked with tracking a thirteen-year-old Syrian refugee with vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terrorist cell (“Firefly”), and later hired by philanthropist Denis Hisami to find his kidnapped wife — and Samson’s former lover — Anastasia (“White Hot Silence”).

In “The Old Enemy” we learn much of the turmoil faced by Porter’s characters in these preceding volumes was orchestrated by a Cold War-era nemesis that has infiltrated the highest echelons of the UK and US government and industry. They’ve assassinated one of Britain’s finest spymasters (and one of Porter’s legacy characters, who has appeared beyond this trilogy) Robert Harland, exposed Denis Hisami to a nerve agent, and dispatched a hitman to assassinate Samson.

Porter keeps his complex story from snarling by crosscutting chapters between Anastasia and Samson as they work to expose and dismantle this immense Kremlin cabal from different sides of the world. There’s a barrage of finely-paced action set-pieces, electrified by his crisp prose, but Porter writes espionage fiction for the more discerning thriller reader, with a greater focus on character and atmosphere. If you’ve done all of le Carré, Cumming, Greene and Ambler, and still crave more? Porter’s the guy you should be reading.

ISBN: 9781529403299
ISBN-10: 1529403294
Series: Paul Samson Spy Thriller
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Available: 26th October 2021
Publisher: Quercus Books

Review: The Truth About Her by Jacqueline Maley

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The battles and joys of single parenthood are depicted vividly in Jacqueline Maley’s “The Truth About Her, ” which presents newspaper journalist Suzy Hamilton navigating through a particularly tumultuous Sydney summer. 

After Tracey Doran takes her own life in the wake of Suzy’s searing exposé that disclosed the young wellness blogger’s various deceptions, she is approached by Tracey’s mother to write a follow-up piece — the ‘truth,’ which takes into account her history and the myriad experiences that transmuted into such extraordinary fraud. Suzy accepts the task, not only to assuage any residual guilt, but because she needs the money. Following the spectacular collapse of her career, she finds herself creeping ever closer to the poverty line, working dually as a freelance writer and tending a local bar. Excavating Tracey’s life forces Suzy to audit her own; her relationships, both familial and romantic; her career; her capacity as a parent. 

The opening fifty or so pages of “The Truth About Her” have the energy of a thriller, which then slows to something more introspective, and perhaps a little too overwrought for my tastes. Maley quarries deep to discover emotional truths about the meaning of truth, love and parenthood, and she handles these hefty themes with sensitivity, honesty, and realism. I just think I would’ve preferred a slightly condensed version, some of her potent observations sharpened, or detached from the novel’s melange, which might’ve made the experience more affecting for me.

ISBN: 9781460759165
ISBN 10: 1460759168
Imprint: 4th Estate AU
On Sale: 07/04/2021
Pages: 368
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In Patricia Cornwell’s third Kay Scarpetta mystery, Richmond’s chief medical examiner hunts a serial killer who has been operating more than two years.

The press have dubbed the murders “The Couple Killings.” Not the most inventive moniker — but an apt one. When “All That Remains” opens, we learn there have been four sets of victims so far; eight young people — couples who have disappeared without a trace, only to be eventually discovered within a fifty-mile radius of Williamsburg. The FBI and the Richmond Police Department have few clues to work with. Scarpetta herself has so far been unable to determine their cause of death, left with only bones and rotted clothing scattered with leaves to work with. And now there’s a ninth and tenth victim — one of whom is the daughter of Pat Harvey, the high-profile female national drug policy director and vice-presidential hopeful.

Several characters who’ve featured in the series’ two preceding entries reappear; Detective Pete Merino, obviously; FBI Special Agent Benton Wesley; and newspaper reporter Abby Turnbull, whose sister was herself murdered by a serial killer in “Postmortem,” and is still dealing with the psychological fallout. Scarpetta’s investigation unspools over weeks and months, but there is nothing glacial about its pace, and in fact the extended time-frame makes for an intriguing change of rhythm compared to most novels I’ve read in the genre.

On this expansive canvas, Cornwell is able to complicate relationships between characters, and demonstrate the painstaking processes involved in forensic science. Readers of this kind of fiction (myself included) are so accustomed to forensic answers being offered with an exaggerated immediacy; but in reality, it’s slow, meticulous work. And as always, there’s nobody better than Cornwell at eloquently and compulsively describing these methodologies and techniques.

In my review of “Body of Evidence” I mentioned my disappointment at that novel’s culmination; too similar to the ending of Cornwell’s debut. No such resemblance here. Oh, sure — it mightn’t be as intense; but it’s a worthy conclusion, splendidly binding the threads of all that came before it. Well-drawn characters and a well-tuned pace make this a winner.

ISBN: 9780751544480
ISBN-10: 0751544485
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Published: 1st November 2010
Publisher: Little Brown

Review: The Others by Mark Brandi

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Even with two extraordinary novels under his belt, this stands as a radical achievement for Mark Brandi. “The Others” is a spare yet emotionally sumptuous psychological drama, laced with page-turning suspense, and a creeping sense of dread that turns into something excruciatingly claustrophobic as it builds to its heart-pounding crescendo.

In my mind, “The Others” is an antithetical revision of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” In both books there are two main characters, a father and a son, who are each other’s universe, and whose existence consists of surviving from one day to the next. But the challenges facing McCarthy’s protagonists were clear, to them and the reader: they’re scavengers in a post-apocalyptic world, the dangers clear and present. The world of eleven-year-old Jacob and his father in “The Others” is rather more implicit, framed through the prism of the elder, who insists a plague has decimated society, and their only chance of survival is to remain secluded on their farm, away from ‘the others.’

In both “The Road” and “The Others,” the boys look to their father for reassurance, safety, and to make some kind of sense of this chaotic world. The father in “The Road” provided a glimmer of lightness and hope. Jacob’s father offers something darkly capricious. It’s hinted at throughout Jacob’s narration — which is presented as a diary, replete with sketches and dictionary definitions of newly-discovered words — and made patently clear at various intervals, when his father’s eyes shine ‘black as pitch,’ and he spews menacing explanations for his wavering behaviour: ‘Sometimes, you have to do the most terrible things. Sometimes, you just have to.’

Rendered in plainsong prose that perfectly encapsulates the perspective of its young protagonist, “The Others” is easily one of the most compelling and compulsive books I’ve read in ages. A story of paternal love twisted into something ruinous, about a boy trying to live under the rule of his father’s authoritarian regime while compelled to see and understand the world for himself, it seizes you by the throat from its opening pages and never lets go.

ISBN: 9780733641145
ISBN-10: 0733641148
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Available: 30th June 2021
Publisher: Hachette Australia