Review: The Night Market by Jonathan Moore

9781409159780Harry Bosch meets Blade Runner in this brilliant thriller.

Jonathan Moore’s frightening near-future thriller The Night Market is a thought-provoking noirish crime novel set in a gorgeously realised subtly-futuristic, overwhelmingly dystopian version of San Francisco, where copper thieves run rampant, drones buzz above the heads of the city’s citizens, and ostentatious consumer consumption runs riot. Think of a Michael Connelly Harry Bosch novel set in a Blade Runner-esque world.

When a man is found dead — his corpse in a terrifying state of decay  — in one of the city’s luxury homes, SFPD Homicide detective Ross Carver and his partner are called to the scene to lead the investigation. But before they’re able to get beyond a cursory glance at the victim, six FBI agents — or are they? —burst in and forcibly remove them from the premises. The detectives are hastened into a disinfectant chamber, sprayed with a metallic-tasting liquid, then rendered unconscious. When Carver wakes two days later in his apartment, he has no memory of the events that occurred; but his mysterious neighbour, Mia, is strangely determined to help Carver remember.

The Night Market steadily ramps up its revelations, and it gradually becomes clear there are larger forces at play. Moore resists the temptation to have Carver follow breadcrumbs into the darkest corners of his incredibly-imagined world, keeping the narrative tight and focused. Moore’s latest novel — the first of his I’ve read, but surely not the last — is a tense, gritty thriller, and near-perfect in its overall execution, with an ending that lingers well past the final page. Seriously, this is a book that nails its finale; it’s pitch-perfect and haunting. It’s one of my favourite thrillers of the year so far.Stars

ISBN: 9781409159766
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 11-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

Review: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

9780008286637Back in 2014, when The Southern Reach trilogy was published, two of my colleagues at the bookshop I worked at would debate the series with varying intensity. Annihilation, if memory serves correctly, was agreed upon as the best instalment, in which four female scientists — a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist — journey into the unknown as part of the twelfth expedition into a cordoned landscape named Area X. The question being debated behind the counter at the bookshop was whether its two sequels augmented or diluted the brilliance of Annihilation. Four years later, I’m too late to join that debate, but have embarked upon my own journey of discovery, compelled by the impending release of the film adaptation starring Natalie Portman.

I am not a connoisseur of speculative fiction. I read, maybe, half a dozen science fiction novels a year, and rarely touch the fantasy genre. There’s a joke around the bookshop: “if it has dragons, Simon won’t read it.” But Annihilation doesn’t feature dragons, and it’s bite-sized, a couple hundred pages, which are two things immediately in its favour. Things aren’t explained in Annihilation; they’re experienced, which is a fine distinction. The narrative is framed as the biologist’s journal, and it possesses an uncanny eeriness that lingers long after the book has ended. There’s a level of ambiguity other writers might not get away with, fuelled by a desire to detail the amazing world they’ve constructed; Vandermeer is happy to paint his portrait languorously and leave certain elements inconclusive.

The prose is perfunctory rather than lavish, intentionally so. Again, this is a story told from the perspective of a scientist, who details her observations with clear-cut crispness. At first, its relative dryness bothered me; I found the protagonist difficult to relate to, as we’re barely provided glimmers of her personality. As the novel continued, I understood its intention; once I accepted its style, I enjoyed it all the more.

As the start of a trilogy, Annihilation does precisely what it needs to: leave an impossible number of questions unanswered, but at the same time, confident in the author’s ability to explain everything. I’m incredibly fascinated to see how Alex Garland adapts the source material.

ISBN: 9780008139100
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 16mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 20-Jul-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

9780241244906 (1).jpgSometimes, when I’m maxed out on jadedness — which is rare, I’d like to clarify— I wonder whether the world needs another story about a young person chasing the American dream. This thought typically occurs when I’m shelving books, and finding stock already wedged in too tight, which leaves me with no other option but to place the book face-out in front of spine-out books; a booksellers nightmare, a true last resort. I will glower at the troublesome book and puzzle over its merit; its worthiness. That was the case with The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers, which recounts the story of a Yemeni immigrant seeking his purpose in life, finding it, and then chasing it despite impossible odds.

This is a feel-good, fist-pump story, replete with humour and danger — and coffee, so much coffee! — and told in the author’s brilliantly digestible prose. But although the specifics of Mokhtar Alkhanshali’s journey are unique, the overall narrative arc The Monk of Mokha encapsulates, isn’t. We know how Mokhtar’s story is going to end from the beginning; with success; overcoming every obstacle in his way.  And I suppose, with the United States reverberating from a period of Trump Turbulence, it’s good to be reminded of the fortitude and determination of certain individuals; but come the book’s end, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed, like the book was a tad under cooked in certain places. Like, despite the facts at his disposable, Eggers failed to take full advantage.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali is a Yemeni-American  grower, roaster and importer of coffee from his homeland. This ain’t no ordinary brew, however; Port of Mokha espressos are priced at $16 USD at Blue Bottle coffee shops, which reflects the difficulties of production and shipping from a country in chaos. But Mokhtar worked hard for his success, and Eggers details his early life: dropping out of college, working as a doorman in an upmarket apartment block, moving from job to job, desperately searching for direction, a purpose. The question that kicked off Mokhtar’s quest was simple: why was coffee no longer imported from Yemen? Searching for answers inspired his idea for a business; but the development of that business was routinely blunted by Yemen’s implosion, as sectarian war and famine threatened to dismantle his operation. Indeed, the The Monk of Mokha takes on an Argo vibe when Mokhtar attempts to flee the country, braving militia roadblocks, kidnappings and  mortal dangers in order to get his first coffee samples to a producers’ conference in Seattle, which of course happens to the make or break for his business. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

The final 50 pages — which read like a thriller — are breathless and exciting, but lack the emotional evocation required to make the scenes truly resonant. Mokhtar’s escape is incredible, but there’s never any sense of how he feels about being in danger; you never smell or taste his fear, never feel his panic. The scenes are diligently rendered, but lack emotional depth; like being thrust from an intimate portrait of a young man’s journey into the climactic scenes of a Matthew Reilly novel. It’s jarring, and I was grateful when we returned to the United States, and got more introspection from Mokhtar, and shared in his delight as his battered plans came to fruition. Which was when I answered the question I’d posed to myself when the book arrived in the shop and I was desperately trying to find a home for it: of course we need more stories about people chasing the American dream. To inspire us; remind us nothing is impossible; that we are all capable of great things.

ISBN: 9780241244906
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 25-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Wanted by Robert Crais

the-wanted-9781471157509_lgI fell into a week-long reading lull recently; started a couple of things but just couldn’t get into them, so set them both aside, half-finished, left to die. To get myself back in the groove, I reached for one of the sure-thing’s in my reading stack; my term for the books I know I’ll smash through quickly, genre fiction, usually thrillers. In this case it was Robert Crais’ The Wanted,  which provided the kick-start I needed. Because few writers are capable of crafting thrillers as lean, mean and propulsive as the creator of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

In The Wanted, Elvis Cole is hired by Devon Connor to investigate her teenage son’s sudden profligacy. There’d been hints he was up to no good, and the sight of a Rolex strapped to his wrist confirms it. Initially Devon just wants to know precisely what her son is up to; she presumed some sort of criminal activity, drugs maybe, but the truth is far worse. Tyson’s gotten himself involved with a duo of burglars who specialise in high-end thefts. But they’ve stolen from the wrong person, and now Tyson and his comrades find themselves hunted by two wisecracking, murderous killers. Even worse — they might be dirty cops.

Its pace is reckless, its action is plentiful. The Wanted provides primitive pleasures, but they’re genuine ones. Crais has refined his formula with each successive book, and his latest is one of his best. In these final weeks of summer, The Wanted deserves a place in your beach bag.

ISBN: 9781471157509
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 24mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Dec-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

9781101985557Darkly and extravagantly imagined, full of pulse-pounding action and brutally emotional highs and lows, Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB was a tremendous work of suspense fiction, and my favourite thriller of 2017. Its sequel, Into the Black Nowhere, doesn’t quite reach those same heights, lacking the character depth and intricate plotting of its predecessor, but is nonetheless a breakneck ride from first page to last. Gardiner steps on the gas early, and it’s pedal to the metal until the very end.

This time round Caitlin Hendrix of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is tasked with hunting down the Texas-based ‘Saturday Night Killer’. Disturbingly adept at abducting women from seemingly safe venues, somehow gaining the trust of his victims before brutally dispatching them, the killer is identified by Hendrix and her peers in the opening hundred pages of Into the Black Nowhere, sacrificing mystery for the suspense involved in trying to get under his skin and indict him. Just when you think things are wrapping up a little too neatly and succinctly, the Saturday Night Killer escapes custody, planning revenge on those who helped play a role in identifying him. And as fast as Hendrix’s FBI unit is, the killer is even faster; impossibly so. Could the killer have an accomplice?

A furiously-paced tale that you’ll devour in a single go, Into the Black Nowhere is replete with bloodshed, mayhem, and twists. Meg Gardiner’s prose will draw you in, her short, sharp chapters ratchet the tension, and the payoff lands like an unexpected punch to the stomach. This is turbocharged entertainment, pure and simple.

ISBN: 9781101985557
Format: Hardback
Imprint: Dutton Books
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2018

Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Untitled design.pngDebut author Naima Coster has written a breathtaking novel that navigates emotional minefields with realism and grace. An early contender for book of the year.

 

Set against the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn, Naima Coster’s freshly rendered family saga explores how familial ties fray and bind again in tumultuous circumstances. Penelope Grand, former artist and current waitress, reluctantly returns home from Pittsburgh to care for her ailing father, Ralph, who lives secluded in his house on Halsey Street. Penelope’s discontented mother, Mirella, abandoned Ralph after an accident that almost crippled him, returning to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to live the life she always dreamed of. But Ralph’s been unhappy for some time, a ghost in a shell since even before his tumble down the stairs, when his iconic record store closed. Penelope’s return doesn’t serve as the restorative act she intended. Indeed, perhaps their fissures run too deep.

Penelope sublets a place a few streets from her childhood home, but this isn’t the Brooklyn she remembers. Her landlords are new to the block, having just moved from the West Village, and they are perfect embodiment’s of the shift in populace. The Harpers are a young, white, wealthy family, as equally attracted to the neighbourhood because of its history as they are wary of it. Penelope has always felt a deep sense of dislocation within herself, and it’s a gut-punch to realise her home will never again be what it once was. Still, for the sake of her father, Penelope commits to her new life in Brooklyn, until a postcard from her estranged mother forces her to deal with a past she’d tried to forget.

Halsey Street alternates between Penelope’s perspective and Mirella’s, moving back and forth in time, charting the history of the Grand family, from Mirella and Ralph’s early courtship and the inaugural days of their marriage, Penelope’s dismal freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design, her childhood trips with her mother to the DR, and in the present day, their final shot at reconciliation.

Coster’s psychological acuity belies her status as a debut author. Halsey Street is empathetic but never sentimental, and dares to probe the dynamics of a fractured family, whose crevices can’t be blamed on a single person, rather shared amongst its three members. There were moments when I loathed these characters and their selfishness, but of course, it’s those infallibilities that make them so relatable.  This is a rich and layered story, and the only disappointing thing about it is that, at time of writing, there are no plans for an Australian release.

ISBN: 9781503941175
ISBN-10: 1503941175
Format: Hardback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Little A
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

9781925603057

According to its preface, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Accident on the A35 is the translation of an unpublished Raymond Brunet manuscript, released after his mother’s death. Burnet’s first novel, The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau, was presented as the translation of French author Brunet’s first novel, originally published in the early 1980s. But if this kind of meta-narrative element fries your brain, you needn’t worry; The Accident on the A35 can be enjoyed on its own merits as a character-focused mystery.

Clearly influenced by Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret novels, The Accident on the A35 is less about the investigation of a crime and more about its resolution. The book opens with George Gorski, a detective in the sleepy town of Saint Louis, called to the scene of a road accident. It appears an open-and-shut case, but Gorski is encouraged by the dead man’s wife to dig deeper into precisely what her husband was doing travelling on the A35 that night. Meanwhile, the dead man’s teenage son, Raymond, happens across an address scrawled on a note in his father’s office, and decides to pay it a visit. There he meets a young woman named Delph, who he begins to obsess over, which changes the course of his friendships and relationships.

Despite its glacial pace, there is something remarkably seductive about the novel.  It succeeds because of its compelling portraits of its two main leads.

ISBN: 9781925603057
Format: Paperback (234mm x 154mm x 21mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia