The Disappeared by C.J. Box

The DisappearedAn eighteenth round of trouble for Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett brings with it the gripping story of suspense—laced with heavy emotion and family drama—that readers have come to expect.

C.J. Box has reached that highest echelon of crime writers thanks to the sheer brilliant consistency of his novels, which makes reviewing the latest Joe Pickett novel rather difficult, because there’s really nothing new to say, just a refrain of my usual chorus: if you’re not reading this series, you’re missing out on one of the genre’s A-Grade authors, and one of its best characters.

Enjoyment of The Disappeared doesn’t necessarily hinge on your familiarity with what’s come before, but it helps. The Joe Pickett series has always leaned heavily into continuity between novels, various characters popping up in primary or secondary roles as each instalment hits. Readers have harboured suspicions of the new governor, Colter Allen, since his brief introduction in an earlier novel; this time we get to see our mistrust come to fruition. Joe was a reluctant troubleshooter for the previous governor, and Allen can’t see why the game warden wouldn’t be happy to maintain his role.

In this instance, he wants Joe to investigate the disappearance of high-profile ad-agency CEP Kate Shelford-Longden, who vanished somewhere between Silver Creek Ranch and Denver airport several months ago. Allen is feeling the pressure from various forces, both international and domestic, and has decided that Joe’s got a better shot at discerning what happened than the Carbon County Sheriff  and the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.

Thankfully, Joe has an in: his daughter, Sheridan, works at Silver Creek as a horse wrangler, and got to know Shelford-Longden during her stay. So, too, did Sheridan’s new boyfriend, Lance, who also works at the ranch, and is the latest in a long line of young men looking to break the Pickett curse of falling for questionable personalities.

As if the Shelford-Longden case wasn’t enough, Nate Romanowski—the “outlaw falconer” Joes been specifically ordered to keep away from— soon enters the picture to ask Joe a serious, and seemingly unrelated, favour. These dual investigations unspool with superb velocity, and as always, the highlight is less the heart-pounding moments of action, rather the superb banter between characters. There’s a soap-operatic quality to these stories now, and I say that with the greatest respect; while the crime and its subsequent investigation in Box’s novels are always rendered adroitly, I’m just as interested to see how the various members of the Pickett family are faring.

C.J Box remains an original voice in American crime fiction. Even better, as we approach the twentieth entry in the Joe Pickett series, The Disappeared shows there remains plenty of territory for the author to explore.

ISBN: 9781784973186
Format: Paperback (228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Female PersuasionAn addictively readable masterwork about inter-generational feminism and three bright, earnest young people trying to make their way in the world. This is a rich, engrossing feast of a novel you will lose yourself in.

Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion could be my book of the year.

I know, I know. It’s April, we’re only four months into the year, and I’ve already thrown Naima Coster’s Halsey Street (which needs to be published in Australia, dammit!), Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, and Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage into the ring as contenders for the top honour. So I suppose I should clarify that when I say this is potentially my book of the year, I mean it’s in that upper echelon of books that get highlighted in green in my Excel spreadsheet aptly named 2018 Reading List. A rare honour.

The Female Persuasion is ostensibly about feminism, but is less focused on its political motivations and ideals, instead more concerned with why its two core characters turned to it in the first place. We are introduced to Greer Kadetsky during her first weekend at Ryland College—a mediocre school she’s attending because of a dumb mistake her parents made—when she is groped at a frat party, and finds the College’s response inadequate, to put it mildly. Soon afterwards at a college rally, she meets Faith Frank, a second-wave feminist icon, and despite her ever-present nerves at speaking out, finds her voice and recounts her assault to the crowd. Faith, impressed by Greer’s articulation, hands over a business card. It’s a defining moment. Years later after graduation, Greer gets a job working for Faith’s foundation, Loci, which sponsors conferences about women’s issues, and forms a special bond with its founder. Although cognisant Faith’s approach to feminism isn’t exactly cutting-edge, Greer nonetheless latches on to her opportunity to enter the conversation and make her presence known.

The Female Persuasion charts ten years in the life of Greer and Faith’s relationship, and those closest to them. In fact, it’s these “side characters” — Greer’s boyfriend, Cory, and her best friend, Zee — who provide some of the novel’s most poignant and affecting moments. Wolitzer vividly evokes their similar, yet disparate lives, presenting them as deeply interesting young people who leave college with a desire to make a difference, but whose paths divert along their way to adulthood, Cory in particular a victim of a horrible happenstance. Greer, Faith, Cory and Zee — these are all characters easy to fall in love with — and how their lives intertwine makes for brilliant, compelling reading. Their emotional depth is astounding; Wolitzer left me wishing she’d extend her narrative to reveal the next decade of their lives, too.

Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel  captures the tumultuous and aspirational days of youth, detailing the inevitable compromises and treacheries that take inevitably occur — the small brutalities we inflict on each other, sometimes consciously, other times not — and the lessons learned from them. The story of this young trio trying to find themselves in the midst of so many conflicting influences and personal crises swallowed me whole.

ISBN: 9781784742379
Format: Paperback
Pages: 464
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Deceivers by Alex Berenson

9780399176166A suspenseful, professional-grade geopolitical thriller, which features all the action and intrigue readers of Daniel Silva and Charles Cumming demand.

The Deceivers, the twelfth novel in the John Wells series, is actually my first, but certainly won’t be my last. Although its premise and archetypes are bracingly familiar, this is an expertly packaged globe-spanning thriller, with plenty of page-turning propulsion and a dangling climax that makes Berenson’s next book a must-read.

The Deceivers opens with small-time drug dealer Ahmed Shakir fooled into participating in a terrorist attack at a Dallas baseball game, which sees him, and hundreds of others, killed in a mammoth explosion. President Vinny Duto summons ex–CIA agent John Wells to travel to Bogotá, Colombia, to investigate a lead on the attack. It’s clear Wells and Duto have a long history — obviously explored in earlier books — and I can’t wait to delve backwards to see what’s lead to their shared animosity. As Wells investigates, Senator Paul Birman,  the greatest threat to Duto in the next election, is seeing his popularity spike as he spits after the Dallas attack. But Birman’s success is fundamentally down to the intelligence of his cousin Paul, a decorated war veteran and, it turns out, a spy for the Russians. Meanwhile, former Army sniper Tom Miller is compelled by the beautiful newcomer to his life, Allie, to utilise his deadly skills on targets of her choosing. All these loosely-connected threads eventually tie together in a bloody, pulse-pounding conclusion.

Alex Berenson’s The Deceivers is grand entertainment, intricately plotted, and timely.

ISBN: 9780399176166
Format: Hardback (229mm x 152mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: Putnam Publishing Group,U.S.
Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group,U.S.
Publish Date: 6-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United States

One by Andrew Hutchinson

9781741667882A wild fever-dream of a novel, Andrew Hutchinson’s One is a symphony of memory, love, grief and obsession; a riveting, pulsating read, supercharged with feeling, fuelled by a mystery that unspools at an electrifying pace.

Our unnamed narrator, obviously a troubled young man, broken-hearted and alienated from friends and family, has just come off the night shift and arrives home to find a woman sleeping in his driveway. She claims to have once lived there, which hardly seems a satisfactory explanation for such odd behaviour, but given the man’s own fragile mental state, he accepts this, and drives her home — whereupon another man crashes into the back of them. The woman claims this man is a stalker, and they need to escape; and so they do, to the coast, a road trip during which the man’s memory begins playing tricks on him, and he can’t shake the feeling that he’s been through something similar to this experience before.

One has the velocity and suspense of a thriller, the kind that demands reading in one sitting. Hutchinson writes brilliantly about the nightmarish underside of love, his insights sharply observed and, ultimately, morally challenging. One is vividly cinematic yet subtle and full of moral ambiguity,  and is as impossible to put down as it is to forget.

ISBN: 9781741667882
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Vintage (Australia)
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 2-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

9780571335664Prepare to be played like a violin as Laura Lippman wrings suspense out of every possible aspect of her revitalisation of the classic noir tale of the sexy stranger passing through town.

During a beach vacation with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Polly Costello — just one of the names readers will soon learn to identify her as — gets up and walks away; out of the sun, and apparently, out of their lives. Gregg is apoplectic, but not as shocked by her abandonment as every other husband might be; Polly is, after all, he reasons, a wildcat he picked up in a bar four years ago. So while he’s stuck playing single dad, Polly starts a new life, which is merely a phase in her long-term plan. She gets a job as the waitress at the High-Ho during the peak of the summer season; so, too, does the mysterious, attractive stranger she met on her first day on the lam. Only they didn’t meet by accident; Adam Bosk has been watching Polly for some time, and at first, his job as chef at the High-Ho is merely a cover story to stay close to her. But their chemistry is undeniable, and they quickly become lovers, both with secrets that could not only end their relationship, but cost their lives.

It’s not murder that makes Sunburn thrum; it’s deception, and the consequences of secrets, and the lengths people will go to in order to keep them sacrosanct. Lippman, who plots more conscientiously than anyone else in the field, digs deep into her characters, then deeper, into past and present until all is revealed, right up until the shocking climactic confrontation.

This is a gripping, wrenching, brilliant piece of noir, and quite possibly the best novel super-scribe Laura Lippman has penned. Sunburn will delight long-time fans and make the author new ones.

 

ISBN: 9780571335664
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

9780143786115Tim Winton is my own personal enigma. It’s not that I don’t value, understand, or respect his stature among Australian literary superstars — or indeed his place as one of the world’s finest contemporary writers — it’s just that I’ve yet to read one of his books that’s resonated with me as strongly as, say, Cloudstreet or Breath did for so many of my peers. I have read both of these and enjoyed them, absolutely  admired them for their craft, but whereas so many others felt compelled to wax lyrically about them and offer voracious applause, I was a step back, clapping politely. I guess everyone has those authors, and those books, that are so highly regarded by seemingly everybody else on the entire planet, but left you feeling that little bit cold. You wish you could feel its embrace, all you want to do is curl up with everybody else, feel the love; but something’s holding you back, something you can’t quite explain. Nevertheless, a new book by Tim Winton was hardly something I could leave unread on the shelf. I dove into The Shepherd’s Hut, ready to be wowed, hoping this would be the one connected, that struck all the right chords and would have me singing from the same hymn sheet as everybody else.

It came very, very close. In fact, I’d so as far as to call The Shepherd’s Hut by favourite book by Tim Winton.

Jaxie Clackton is on the run, having found his father crushed to death under a Toyota Hilux. It’s an accident, but young Jaxie is convinced it won’t be viewed as such by the locals, who were all aware how savagely Sid Clackton beat his teenage son and late wife. They won’t need much convincing to believe it’s murder. So Jaxie hurriedly packs for an immediate departure — leave some vital pieces of kit behind — and vanishes into the harsh desert, whereupon he eventually happens across an old shepherd’s hut with a single, strange occupant named Fintan MacGillis; a priest with a dark secret. And whose secluded home might not be the safe haven it initially appears to be.

Jaxie is a product of his childhood. He has grown up surrounded by violence, and the tools of violence. He is an angry young man, and he stays angry, throughout the text, until its end and presumably into the future. There were long periods I hated this young protagonist. I empathised with his plight, and understood where his rage stemmed from. But there were times, nonetheless, when I might’ve hoped the harsh desert landscape would swallow him whole. This, despite his honest appraisal of himself, and his own awareness at his inherent brokeness. But I couldn’t repel the book’s hold over me.

The Shepherd’s Hut is brutal. Bruisingly so. It is a masterly encapsulation of toxic masculinity. This is Winton covering familiar territory, but it’s injected with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that adds up to a taut page-turner. Now I desperately want to go back and re-read Cloudstreet and Breath.

ISBN: 9780143786115
Format: Hardback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 12-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

9781408889541Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap in Stuart Turton’s high-concept, propulsive murder mystery.

A man with no memory wakes terrified in a forest. He glimpses a woman chased through the trees, her name on his lips: Anna. Then a gunshot rings out. And The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle begins.

As far as taglines go, Stuart Turton’s debut mystery novel has a great one: “Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie”. Which is so, so much better than the usual “Thriller of the Year” line that gets used constantly, and conjures, at best, an eye roll; probably not the emotional response marketing departments are hoping for. Not that a great tagline maketh a great book, but damn, you’ll pique my interest, and at the very least entice me to sample the opening chapters.

And the opening chapters got me. They got me good.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle needs to be read in a spoiler-free bubble. The less you know about its labyrinthine plot the better. It is an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery that takes place in the classic setting of the 1920s country house — Blackheath — with a sensational twist: our protagonist will re-live the same day, through the eyes eight separate individuals, until he identifies the killer. Every morning he wakes up in a different body, or host, with memories of his experiences in the previous hosts — and the personalities of his hosts battling for supremacy within his mind — but if he doesn’t discern the killer by the end of day eight, he’ll return to day one, and be forced to re-live the cycle, again and again; a cruel kind of purgatory.

The plot is complicated, myriad of clues laced throughout the narrative. Meticulously plotted and stylishly written, this is a page-turner with a distinct twist and surprises right up to the very end. It is a mystery novel on an epic scale, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read a more tightly-constructed, better-plotted thriller this year.

 

ISBN-10: 1408889544
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom