Cara Hunter — My New Crime-Writer Obsession

Close to HomeOver the last decade or so, I feel like a new prerequisite of crime fiction has been unwittingly established, that demands an unconventional protagonist. You know, a detective with an outlandish flaw: they’re brilliant, but — oh no! — they’re also a bloodthirsty serial killer. Their skills of deduction are unparalleled, but — say it ain’t so! — they’re addicted to the taste of human flesh; they’re a cannibal. They’re the greatest detective to ever walk the earth, but — no, it’s not possible! — they’re a ghost, intangible and invisible to everyone but a Golden Retriever named Lancelot.

There’s nothing wrong with such protagonists — well, the Golden Retriever thing might be a step too far — but personally, all I want from my crime novels are complex plots packed with legitimate red herrings and believable characters. My favourite mysteries are compulsive page-turners grounded in reality. That’s why I love John Rebus, and Harry Bosch,  and Sean Duffy — and now, Cara Hunter’s Adam Fawley.

I binged Cara Hunter’s two books recently — her debut, Close to Home, and her second, In the Dark — after being recommended them by fellow Australian bookseller Jay Dwight. And I’m obsessed. And impressed. Because Hunter’s books are perfect encapsulations of my idea of the best crime fiction: fast-paced, laced with genuine intrigue and suspense, featuring an incredible cast of characters you’ll want to spend more time with, both in the squad room and outside of it. Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his team of detectives deserve to become household names. I’ve no doubt they will be. And not because of their quirks or eccentricities; because they’re normal people, like you and me, with families, and ingrained flaws and foibles. They’re not perfect. They’re human, prone to mistakes. They’re real.

In the DarkClose to Home spotlights Fawley’s investigation to the disappearance of a young child. In the Dark sees him tasked with untangling a case involving the discovery of a woman and child locked in a basement. They’re standalone novels — tendrils of continuity link the two, in the same way that each Bosch and Rebus novel are sequential, but are ultimately independent stories — although I do recommend reading Close to Home first, simply to observe the perceptible improvements in Hunter’s storytelling between books, which is impressive to begin with, but seismic with regard to its refinement. Both are frenetically-paced, unputdownable whodunits. Both prove that if you’re a serious lover of crime friction, Cara Hunter’s burgeon series should take pride of place in your collection.

I am counting down the days until No Way Out is in my hands.

Close to Home

ISBN: 9780241283097
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 24mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 14-Dec-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

In the Dark

ISBN: 9780241283202
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 27mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 12-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gone By Midnight by Candice Fox

9780143789154.jpgSince her debut, Hades, Candice Fox has consistently stretched and reshaped the Australian crime novel by creating in each of her books a deliciously chilling ambience and an aura of pervasive evil, alongside narratives that are so hard charging and irresistibly readable they demand to be read in a single sitting. Gone By Midnight is no different.

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, a young boy goes missing. Left alone with his three mates in the comfort of a lavish hotel room while his mother dines downstairs with her fellow parents, when Sara Farrow checks on the kids at midnight she discovers her child, Richie,  gone — without a trace, it seemed, as CCTV footage confirms he never left the building. With her wretched past, Sara knows the police will instinctively turn their gaze onto her, which will distract them from tracking down the true culprit. So she hires disgraced  cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell — the unlikeliest of dynamic duos, who’ve starred in Fox’s stellar Crimson Lake and Redemption Point — to shadow the police investigation, follow their own leads, and  locate her child.

But unrelated factors threaten to derail Ted and Amanda’s enquiries: a rogue Crimson Lake cop has set her sights on Amanda, and will stop at nothing to see her dead and buried, and not at all painlessly; and two years after false accusation robbed him of his previous life as a respected detective and family man,  Ted’s daughter is staying with him — just in time to be in the crosshairs of Richie’s abductor.

The Conkaffey / Pharrell series continues to split focus between exploring the procedural conventions of the whodunit genre and developing its heroes. Fox, who loves her characters colourful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn’t much matter whether they’re naughty or nice, or some shade between. Indeed, the true pleasure of Gone By Midnight isn’t the mystery at its core — which is suitably labyrinth and gripping — but witnessing its brilliantly quirky cast interact: Ted desperately hoping to rebuild his life, tantalised by the prospect of a new romance; Amanda struggling to overcome the demons of her past, and constant flirtations with the darker underbelly of her soul.

Gone By Midnight is Candice Fox at her riveting best. In this golden era of Australian crime fiction, Fox should be identified as the writer who redefined the genre in terms of its form, content and style.

ISBN: 9780143789154
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 31mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 22-Jan-2019
Country of Publication: Australia


Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

ScholarDervla McTiernan came out swinging with The Ruin (2018), but The Scholar is a knockout. A relentlessly paced, bombshell-laden plot combined with sharply-drawn, empathetic characters make this is the whodunit that should put McTiernan in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Denise Mina and Tana French.

Doctor Emma Sweeney’s discovery of a young female hit and run victim outside Galway University late one evening is the starting point for the second mystery featuring Detective Cormac Reilly —  although it’s a slight misnomer to label this singularly as a ‘Cormac Reilly’ novel; McTiernan has concocted a brilliant ensemble cast featuring the likes of Callie O’Halloran and Peter Fisher, whose interactions and banter are a real draw. Emma Sweeney works at Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics, and her partner just so happens to be Cormac Reilly, who she calls immediately upon discovering the body, thereby compelling him to lead an investigation that otherwise would never have been assigned to him.

Even without his personal connection to the case, Reilly knows the case is going to be complicated and — worse — political when the victim is identified as Carline Darcy. As in, heir to Darcy Therapeutics Carline Darcy, whose grandfather is an incredibly influential figure, not just in Galway, but in all of Ireland. So the pressure for Reilly to close this investigation quickly, and if at all quietly, is extreme. But just as the case seems destined towards one conclusion, further evidence puts Emma Sweeney firmly in the investigator’s headlights.

McTiernan keeps every stage of the investigation clear, compelling and compulsive. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, with a vivid cast of major and minor characters, The Scholar is one hell of a read, and it’s going to take something very special indeed to deny it being my favourite crime novel of 2019. And I know, I know — I’m saying this in November 2018.

ISBN: 9781460754221
ISBN 10: 1460754220
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2019
Pages: 400
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos

9781409179733.jpgA new George Pelecanos crime novel is always something to celebrate, especially nowadays, when he’s veered into the land of television, writing and producing shows such as The Wire, Treme and The Deuce, so the release of his prose work is increasingly sporadic. The Man Who Came Uptown is a welcome return five years after his last novel, The Double, and three years since his collection of short stories, The Martini Shot. And while much of this story is classic crime noir — cops and PI’s moonlighting as criminals; ex-cons trying to live a straight life, enticed back into the same dark undercurrent they’re trying to escape  — it’s also about the redemptive and transformative power of books. Anyone thinking that sounds too sanctimonious, or that Pelecanos has gone soft — stop. This is as gritty as everything that’s come before. The violence on the page is brutal, and you’ll be lost in the haze of the characters’ amorality. The Man Who Came Uptown is crime writing of the highest order — a taut page-turner with a stunning climax, and far greater depth than your average whodunit or potboiler.

The lives of three characters are entangled in The Man Who Came Uptown. Phil Ornazian is a middle-aged private investigator in D.C. who makes the bulk of his money stealing from criminals. He rationalises this by considering it ‘vigilante justice,’ — these’re bad people’s money, after all — and imperative for the financial security of his young family. He operates with a guy named Thaddeus Ward, an ex-cop turned bail-bondsman, who packs quite the armoury. But some jobs require a third person — a driver — and Oranizan knows just the dude to assist their next hit: the titular ‘man who came uptown,’ Michael Hudson. In street parlance, ‘going uptown’ means getting out of jail, and the only reason Michael got his freedom is because of Oranzaian, who banked the favour for the right time. Which is now.

Thing is, Michael is keen to avoid repeating past mistakes. He’s got a steady job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant not much, but it’s a start, something to build from   and he wants to make good on his promise to stay straight. In prison — thanks to its mobile librarian, Anna, who is the book’s third central character — Michael discovered the joy of reading, and the ability to escape his cell through the power of the written word. The first thing he purchased out of prison was a bookcase, and he’s determined to fill it. And Anna’s periodic reappearances in his life reaffirm his desire to remain on the side of the angels. But Ornazian has the power to send Michael’s life spiralling, and doing this one job might get him off his back. Or it might lead to more illicit work. And straight back to prison.

The Man Who Came Uptown is a book about survival; how life sometimes forces you into a corner, and individual fortitude and morality often determines how far you’ll go to get out of it. Sometimes karma catches you; sometimes it doesn’t. Live a good life and bad things can still happen; the opposite is also true. One thing is certain: you’ll race through Pelecanos’ latest to learn the fates of his characters.

ISBN: 9781409179733
Format: Paperback / softback (236mm x 179mm x 20mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 6-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

9781787476011.jpgI was partway through the first story in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection Friday Black when I dropped the book onto my lap and in a whispered breath said aloud to an empty room: “Bloody hell.”

Actually, that’s not quite true. I was a little more profane. But the room was empty. And in its silence, I knew: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah — clearly a writer of prodigious,arresting talent, having sampled just a couple thousand words of his work — is an author we’re going to hold in the highest of esteem for a long, long time to come.

The stories contained inside the beautifully packaged Friday Black are at times painful, funny, shocking and crushing; always whip smart, and never anything less than thought-provoking. It’s a volcano of a book that discloses hard, painful, and necessary truths, ruthlessly and lyrically deriding America’s racism, its legal system, gun culture and healthcare. Adjei-Brenyah manipulates and mutates the reality of modern day, divided America to fit the ingenious scenarios he conjures, but a consistent layer of truth, no matter the ‘unreality’ of some stories, grounds each tale so that each lands like a gut punch.

A cutting and resonant debut — not to be missed.

Review: The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs — A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte

Dinosaurs.png“Somewhere around the world — from the deserts of Argentina to the frozen wastelands of Alaska — a new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week,” writes Steve Brusatte, a young American palaeontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of his field, in his new book, The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs A New History of a Lost World. Then, to emphasise the significance of this statement, he reiterates (with intentionally placed ellipses): “[that’s] a new dinosaur every . . . single . . . week.”

This translates to about fifty new species each year, all thanks to new and emerging technologies that allow the palaeontologists of today — and indeed of tomorrow — to not only unearth new fossils, but enhance our understanding of dinosaur biology and their evolution. Which means some of mankind’s most exciting discoveries about the Earth’s most fearsome creatures are yet to be made. If that doesn’t excite nascent palaeontologists, nothing will.

Excitement is the key word here. Brusatte’s devotion and love of his field is positively palpable as he lyrically retells the history of the dinosaurs through the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, aided by illustrations and photographs that further refine his  breakdown of what happened when and why. Brusatte‘s retelling of the rise and fall of dinosaurs is interspersed with revelations of his own expeditions, his contemporaries, and those in whose footsteps he follows. His enthusiasm is inspiring, and while I’m not yet ready to hand over my bookshop keys in exchange for a trowel, I can imagine this book propelling somebody younger into a career in palaeontology. Anybody with even the slightest interest in dinosaurs will devour The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs A New History of a Lost World. Exceptionally readable and compelling. Non-fiction at its best.

ISBN: 9781509830077
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 08/05/2018
Imprint: Macmillan
Pages: 416
Price: $32.99