Review: The Rip by Mark Brandi

9780733641121.jpgI’m convinced that under the hood of Mark Brandi’s novels thrums a noir engine.

Wimmera and The Rip —  both intoxicating, unsettling masterpieces — feature characters plummeting inexorably towards obliteration, induced perhaps by events outside their control, but perpetuated by their own actions. One bad choice begets another in the hopes to solve or rectify the first. It starts as a gradual slide, then progresses into a nosedive from which there is no return. To use Otto Penzler’s words: the protagonists of Wimmera and The Rip are “entangled in the web of their own doom.”

We’re attracted to such stories because its human nature to ruminate on the bad decisions people make, and avow to avoid walking that same path. We witness their mistakes so we don’t have to make them ourselves.

Or so we hope.

With sparse, yet beautiful prose, Mark Brandi portrays destitution and addiction with neither voyeurism or judgement; instead he paints a devastating portrait of two people (and a dog) running the long marathon of struggle and survival on the streets of Melbourne. But on the streets, interpersonal relationships are just as likely to open you up to salvation as damnation. Which is precisely the case when Anton — our narrator’s companion — welcomes Steve into their lives.

Sure, Steve’s got an apartment they can crash in, and he’s got access to drugs; but there’s something wrong with the guy. Prone to fits of violence, not to mention the strong smell — like vinegar, but stronger — wafting from behind his padlocked door. Staying in this apartment, with a temperamental stranger for a flatmate, and Anton forced back into a life of crime to maintain the creature comforts of their new home, is a gamble; if it doesn’t pay off, the consequences are catastrophic. But when the alternative is life back on the streets, maybe it’s worth it; maybe it’s acceptable to close your eyes to the incongruities of the apartment, and Steve’s violent tendencies, and just accept and enjoy the daily hit that briefly whitewashes reality. When you can’t afford your next meal, can you really afford to take the moral high ground?

This is a story of real life: of human frailties and violence. It is chilling and completely credible as it speeds towards a dark inevitability. It is an incredible step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.

ISBN: 9780733641121
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Available: 26th February 2019

Review: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

9781509868070.jpgBook of the year? Maybe. Certainly one of the best.

John Carreyrou’s riveting account of the Theranos scandal reads like a thriller. Only if this was fiction, you might question the plausibility of such duplicity and malevolence. The fact this happened — that Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes got away with so much, for so long — is astounding. The mere fact she convinced people like Kissinger and Murdoch to invest too is insane.

Not familiar with Theranos? Neither was I, really. It was on the periphery of my memory. Basically, it was a multibillion dollar biotech startup that promised to revolutionise the medical industry. What it actually did was deceive investors and retail partners, and endanger the health of patients who utilised its technology. Pretty reprehensible stuff.

Carreyrou recounts the rise and fall of Theranos with incredible tempo. The narrative pulsates; the pages demand turning, one unbelievable what the f*ck?! moment leading to the next. Bad Blood is as riveting as any novel; a masterful untangling of unbelievable corruption.

ISBN: 9781509868070
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 154mm x 27mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Picador
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 29-May-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

9780241373545.jpgIn The Fifth Risk Michael Lewis scrutinises the “wilful ignorance” of the Trump administration.

This is a bite-sized, searing indictment of Trump’s government. It’s shocking — absolutely terrifying — just how little interest Trump’s appointees to head government agencies had in learning the intricacies of their departments, and how they function day-to-day. And more importantly, their value and significance to ordinary citizens. The Energy Department, Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department aren’t sexy sectors of government; but they do important — vital — work.

I’ve little interest in US Federal Government bureaucracy, but by focusing on individuals working inside these departments — touching on their backstories and their desire to serve their country in whatever capacity they’re able — Lewis humanises his reportage. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the subtler, less publicised, ramifications of a Trump government.

ISBN: 9780241373545
Format: Hardback (240mm x 162mm x 24mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

9780143789963Comprised of a series of interviews between Leigh Sales and a selection of people who have suffered an unexpected (or in one particular instance, expected) tragedy (or tragedies), and those who’ve made it their life’s work to assist those affected inthe aftermath (a police detective, a social worker, and a priest all feature), Any Ordinary Day explores how tragedy and loss can affect people, and considers the tried and tested methods of overcoming such experiences.

Leigh Sales is the perfect person to tackle an issue as nebulous as tragedy and grief, having witnessed and reported on her fair share as a journalist, and experienced some of her own. Hers is the appropriate lens to examine these catastrophes and their repercussions, kneading her interviewee’s experiences into a cohesive narrative occasional peppered with Sales’s own thoughts about the nature of emotional anguish and the ensuing fallout. Besides the final chapter — more of a coda — Any Ordinary Day is rarely preachy; and even when it flirts with becoming sanctimonious, Leigh quickly shifts focus, maintaining the sanctity of her interviewees’ experiences.

Those interviewees include Stuart Diver, who lost his first wife Sally in the 1997 Thredbo disaster and his second wife Rosanna to breast cancer; Hannah Richell, whose husband Matt died in a surfing accident; Walter Mikac, whose wife Nanette and two small daughters, Alannah and Madeline, were killed in the Port Arthur massacre; and even former Australian Prime Mister John Howard, who governed the country during some of its most shocking tragedies. Their stories are never anything less than heartbreaking, but more often than not, incredibly inspiring and ultimately, as they picked themselves up and carried on with their lives, irreparably changed, but capable of maintaining functional, meaningful lives, chock-full of the highs and lows the rest of us experience. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s very true: life carries on.

Sales also dips into the statistical likelihood of any one of us being in the wrong place at the wrong time; our chances of death by simply driving our cars to work, or stepping onto a plane to travel to our next holiday destination; or even our chances of being the victim of a random terrorist attack. Some of these passages are incredibly sobering, but the overriding message is clear: live your life and enjoy your life. Nobody is promised a tomorrow, so take advantage of today. Cherish your life, and the lives of your loved ones. Any Ordinary Day underlines a very simple mantra: live your life to the fullest. Accept that bad things can happen — the intrinsic randomness of life — but know that it’s possible to overcome any great tragedy; to survive and carry on.

ISBN: 9780143789963
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 272
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford

9781760632335Just like Fight Like a Girl, Clementine Ford’s Boys Will Be Boys is such an important book. Vital, even. Some of the truths here hurt. They made me uncomfortable. Outraged, even; at myself. At people I’ve known; at people I know. At the whole shitty state of affairs.

There have been times I’ve stayed silent when I should’ve spoken up. When I’ve witnessed toxic behaviour — or its beginning spark — and rather than intervene, I’ve walked away. Chosen ignorance over action. And it’s not that these moments have lead to egregious conduct (or is that just wishful thinking on my part? God, I hope not); but maybe, in other circumstances, they could have. At the very least, my lack of action demonstrates my acquiescence to malignant patriarchy. This needs to end.

This book cuts deep. I hope it forces men to look at themselves, and to understand the role we all can — and must — play.

We can, should, and must do better.

I can, should, and must do better.

Of course, it’s one thing to read the book and nod sagely. To acknowledge the facts, then walk into the night feeling enlightened, like that’s all we can be asked to do. Boys Will Be Boys demands demonstrative action.

Men need to change.

I need to change.

At the very goddamn least I hope this book makes men stop and think and consider who they are and what they want to be.

Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

9780751572865There’s nothing wrong with a slow-burn mystery, but there are times when Lethal White barely sizzles.

Forsaking any sense of urgency, J.K. Rowling—writing under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym—overburdens her fourth Strike / Ellacott novel with too much focus on the (still) unresolved sexual tension between the pair of private detectives and their flailing relationships outside the office, which detracts from their labyrinthine investigation into the blackmailing of a high-ranking government official — that (eventually) turns into something far deadlier.

Lethal White begins right where Career of Evil left us: Strike arriving late to Robin’s wedding, just after she says “I do” to Matthew, the fiancé everybody loves to hate —  and for good reason. The prologue treads over familiar territory, which Galbraith continues to mine: Strike and Robin internally monologuing about their conflicted feelings toward each other, and their mutual determination to maintain the status quo for the sake of their business. Flash forward a year later — yep, those conflicted feelings remain! — and a mentally ill man named Billy shows up with a barely-coherent story about having witnessed something diabolical when he was a child. Billy is the brother of Jimmy Knight, who coincidentally is one of the people blackmailing the Minister for Culture, Jasper Chiswell — and Strike’s new client. Strike quickly pegs Geraint Winn, husband of Minister for Sport Della Winn, as Jimmy’s likely partner, and sends Robin undercover to maintain surveillance on Winn. And we haven’t even got to the murder yet.

Some great character moments punctuate the convoluted plot, but for me — who kneels at the shrines of Chandler, Hammett, Cain and McBain — Lethal White is too bloated. Honestly, I found it a bit of an unbalanced slog. When enraptured by the main mystery, the narrative would cut to Robin dealing with PTSD; just as I became invested in that element, we’d smash-cut to Strike meeting his ex-fiancée. It’s like Galbraith is trying to pack the entirety of a whole season of television into one book; I’d settle for one brilliant episode.

ISBN: 9780751572865
Format: Paperback
Pages: 656
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 18-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

September Reading Wrap-Up

ClemClem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate

The first volume in Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate’s Clem Hetherington graphic novel series fuses the coolest elements of Mad Max, Speed Racer and Indiana Jones into a rollicking, think-and-you-missed-it action adventure in which two young archaeologists — Clem and her robot brother Digory — enter a perilous race to locate ancient artefacts and inadvertently discern the truth about the death of their parents.

This is great entertainment for readers aged ten and older. And ahem for 30-year-old men, too. Honestly, the second volume can’t come soon enough.

ISBN: 9780545814461
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 208
Imprint: Scholastic US
Publisher: Scholastic US
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United States


9780751566598Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

This is the 14th Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series — but my first. Rest assured, it will not be my last. Kingdom of the Blind demonstrates Louise Penny’s ability to split her focus between the fundamental police procedural conventions required of the genre and present a fully-formed and relatable cast of characters.

The two cases that occupy this book are unrelated, but twist around each other like the double helix of a DNA strand. One involves Gamache becoming the executor of the will of a complete stranger; the other sees him dealing with the fallout of a dastardly new drug on the streets of Quebec. All this whole he deals with his suspension from the police force, and the looming possibility of expulsion from the department.

It’s easy to see why Penny has earned legions of readers. Kingdom of the Blind blends a beguiling mystery with just the right dosage of social commentary. The banter between characters is pitch perfect, and the narrative kicks into a higher gear at the right moments. There’s nothing quite like discovering a new series to become invested in.

ISBN: 9780751566598
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 27-Nov-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


9781612183701.jpgCop Hater by Ed McBain

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels rang among my all-time favourite crime series. Cop Hater is the first of them, and while it’s very obviously dated and its simplicity will hurt it in some reader’s eyes as they compare it to modern crime novels — I am currently reading the new Robert Galbraith behemoth Lethal White, which is approximately the size of four 87th Precinct books! — for me it is always a blast to return to this world and brilliant cast.

Cop Hater spotlights Detectives Steve Carella and Hank Bush as they investigate the murder of one of their own. In the stifling, unbearable summer heat, someone has taken a .45 and executed a cop in broad daylight. Then it happens again, putting the whole city on red alert and its police department on edge.

This is a short, sparking masterpiece of a potboiler. It’s sparse and uncomplicated, and a perfect one-sitting read. McBain laid the groundwork for Connelly, Pelecanos and their contemporaries, and his work should continue to be read and appreciated.

ISBN: 9781612183701
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 210
Published: 8th May 2012
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer