Review: If Not Us by Mark Smith

With “If Not Us” Mark Smith joins the legion of authors confronting the unfolding catastrophe of climate change. 

Some authors have chosen to set their cli-fi in climate-ravaged near-futures; the damage done, humanity left to deal with the repercussions of a ruined world. Smith’s YA novel is set in the present, when there is still a chance for us — individually and collectively — to make a difference. And we have to — because if not us, who?

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Review: 2 Sister Detective Agency by James Patterson & Candice Fox

In my mind, Candice Fox writes crime novels befitting adaptation by HBO, while Jame Patterson’s books are skewed towards network television. 

By this I mean, Patterson has morphed into a franchise. He’s a guaranteed  bestseller. But Fox is edgy; she writes non-conforming thrillers that don’t abide by the genre playbook. Patterson is the polar opposite: he is reliably entertaining, but he obeys certain rules: short chapters, expunged of detailed descriptions and digressions. His storytelling has a rhythm. Read enough of them and you begin to anticipate the cadences. Fox, meanwhile, throws out the sheet music each time. So I find their frequent collaborations fascinating.

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Review: The Shadow House by Anna Downes

“The Shadow House” is a pacy domestic thriller tinged with horror; not the kind that makes your skin prickle, or your heart explode at the sound of leaves crunching outside your window à la Stephen King (although, yeah, maybe check that out); rather the discomforting kind of horror that evokes a creeping sense of dread.

At the heart of Anna Downes’s second novel are two women both trying to escape the trauma of their pasts and manage through the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Their plot lines, separated by six years, are linked tangentially at first, then become increasingly knotted. 

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Review: Better Off Dead by Lee Child & Andrew Child

“Better Off Dead” is Andrew Child’s second time behind the wheel of his brother Lee’s Jack Reacher franchise, and it’s another perfectly formed action thriller that sees the former military policeman turned nomadic dispenser of extrajudicial justice face up against criminal mastermind Waad Dendoncker in a remote town on the US-Mexico border. 

Its opening reminded me of the seventh Reacher novel, “Persuader,” which also began in medias res: there, Reacher shot a cop while attempting to foil a kidnapping; here, we’re introduced to Dendoncker at the morgue as he identifies the body of a man, confirmed dead by the coroner: it’s — no, it can’t be! — Jack Reacher.

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Review: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

This is a fabulous continuation of Pat Barker’s feminist retelling of Homer’s Iliad, although given my elementary knowledge of Greek mythology and history, “The Silence of the Girls” and “The Women of Troy” are forming my baselines on the subject. I’m interested to see how my eventual reading of Homer’s text is shaped by my reading of Barker’s interpretation first. 

The opening is powerfully visceral. “Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.” Achilles’ son Pyrrhus, desperate to live up to the reputation of his dead father, sits alongside his fellow Greek soldiers as the Trojans wheel the gigantic wooden horse into the city of Troy. 

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Review: The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg

Natalia Ginzburg’s “The Dry Heart” is a spare, sombre novella about a decayed marriage. It opens with its narrator shooting her husband Alberto between the eyes, then rewinds to the beginning of their relationship, which seemed destined for capitulation from its commencement. 

Upon their first meeting, the narrator states, “I didn’t really like him,” and later on, Alberto declares his love for another woman. And yet, they are married, and through plainspoken, vivid language, Ginzburg details the capriciousness of their connection, which grows increasingly tenuous and vitriolic. Until, one day — blam.

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Review: Judas 62 by Charles Cumming

In “Judas 62,” Charles Cumming masterfully evocates the risk, tension and precariousness of a spy’s life.

The tale is split between 1993 and the present day, with Lachlan Kite of Box 88 in the starring role of both. Box 88 is a covert transatlantic spy agency, invisible even to the world’s prominent espionage organisations. Kite has been an operative since his youth, and in ’93, still a student, he is dispatched to Russia to manage the extraction of a chemical weapons specialist eager to defect.

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Review: Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell

This is the tenth entry in the Kay Scarpetta series, and by now there are thick tendrils of continuity that bind each instalment together. I’ve read every Bosch; every Rebus; every Pickett; every Davenport — and no other series is as tethered, book to book, than Patricia Cornwell’s. 

The central mystery in “Black Notice,” involves an unidentified body discovered in a cargo ship recently arrived from Belgium. It’s vintage Cornwell: the case burgeons fantastically, eventually involving Interpol, and a visit to Paris in aid of Scarpetta’s hunt for the French serial killer Loup-Garou; the Werewolf. Of course the climax is typically brusque, but by now I am accustomed to a long fuse that doesn’t necessarily fizzle, but also doesn’t explode as I’d hoped.

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Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

I have no real affinity for Greek mythology — it might even be a stretch to call my knowledge rudimentary, since it probably dates back to High School history lessons — and I’ve never flicked past the first dozen or so pages of Homer’s “Iliad.” So I can’t quite articulate why I was drawn to Pat Barker’s speculative account of the fate of the women taken captive during the Trojan War, “The Silence of the Girls.”

I’ve gone on the record previously about my relative aversion to historical fiction. Anything set pre-1900s generally doesn’t appeal. I can’t tell you why. There’s just no allure. There are exceptions, of course: C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series springs to mind. But even Hilary Mantel’s blockbuster Wolf Hall trilogy failed to bewitch me, and it wasn’t because of the quality of the writing. 

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Review: Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell

Remember Carrie Grethen? 

You know: she was the partner of Kay Scarpetta’s serial killer nemesis Temple Gault, who our favourite Virginia Chief Medical Examiner dispatched a few books back, in “From Potter’s Field.” 

Well, she’s back, folks — escaped from a New York City hospital for the criminally insane. And she’s made no secret of her desire to exact revenge on Kay, her hyper-intelligent niece Lucy, and Benton Wesley, her FBI-profiler boyfriend.

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