Tom Clancy’s Point of Impact by Mike Maden

9780718188160.jpgMike Maden takes over the reins of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Jr. series with Point of Contact, which features plenty of page-turning propulsion and the high-stakes excitement fans expect. Perfect for the armchair action-junkies who like their books blockbuster-movie paced and their characters uncomplicated.

When former US Senator Weston Rhodes approaches financial analyst firm Hendley Associates — the cover for the top-secret American intelligence agency The Campus — to look into the books of Singapore-based Dalfan Technologies, Jack Ryan Jr. and Paul Brown —  a seemingly harmless, mild-mannered forensic accountant — are tasked with the mission. But neither man fully trusts one another: Paul can sense there’s more to the President’s son than mets the eye, and Jack Ryan Jr. recognises something’s off about the supposed desk jockey. But soon enough, against the backdrop of North Korean missile testing and a deadly cyclone encroaching on the island nation, Jack and Paul find themselves with bigger problems than their mutual distrust; the kind of trouble that comes in the form of trained assassins and a threat to derail the world economy.

Clancy fans will feel safe in the hands of Maden, an author with a bunch of techno-thrillers already to his name. There’re some moments when the plot grinds —  a ridiculous amount of time is spent on Jack Ryan Jr. learning knife combat, for example — but that’s all par for the course. Point of Contact doesn’t win any points for style or substance, but it does its job, and fills the Clancy-shaped hole in our lives that Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood filled in ably.

ISBN: 9780718188160
ISBN-10: 0718188160
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Melan9781925498592ie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day is an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, which spotlights the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. These are 14 powerfully perceptive stories, written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess. While the terrain covered might be familiar, Cheng’s take on our treasured multiculturalism feels fresh.

Some of the pieces in Australia Day have been published elsewhere, including in the Griffith Review and Sleepers Almanac, but I’d yet to sample Cheng’s work prior to cracking the spine of this collection, and in truth, through my own ignorance, I knew little about her fiction. It was only thanks to the cherished booksellers grapevine that my attention was piqued, and I’m ever-so-grateful that community highlighted another gem. Cheng’s mastery of the form seems to deepen with each story, and at various moments I was jubilant and disheartened by her depiction of our society, but constantly awed by the deftness of her prose. Most admirable is Cheng’s capacity to both indict and acquit Australians throughout her stories: she is equally scathing as she is complimentary, and neither is ever overtly expressed, always nuanced.

Australia Day is a stunning reminder of our great nation’s diversity. Regardless of our heritage, where we’ve come from, or where we’re going — race, religion, ethnicity be damned — we are all inextricably linked by the land we inhabit and share. Melanie Cheng’s short story collection is a celebration of our multiculturalism, even when some of her insights prove uncomfortable. It’s necessary reading, not only because it’s a microcosm of who we are, but because each story is a gem, and a joy to behold.

ISBN: 9781925498592
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 3-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Defectors by Joseph Kanon

DefectorsJoseph Kanon’s Defectors moves deliberately but colourfully, with intelligent prose and a strong Cold War period feel. With his recent literary gems (Leaving Berlin, Istanbul Passage), the heir apparent to John Le Carré is doing a wonderful job re-sparking interest in classic spy fiction. Nobody is doing it better. Frankly, nobody can do it better.

In 1949, CIA agent Frank Weeks was exposed as a Communist spy and defected to the Soviet Union. Twelve years later, in 1961 when the Defectors opens, his brother, Simon, a New York-based book publisher, gets drawn into a dangerous scheme when Frank dangles the proposition of a tell-all memoir. Simon travels to Moscow, anxious about reuniting with his brother, whose treachery resulted in his dismissal from his work as an analyst (a position he had held with the OSS during World War II), not to mention discomfort over the his secret affair with Frank’s wife, Jo.

But more than that, Simon’s concern is based on uncertainty over Frank’s intentions. The man has made self-preservation an art form, and there is no way his KGB masters will agree to an unadulterated exposé — so what is the true purpose behind Simon’s visit? And will Simon agree to whatever scheme Frank has set in motion? Whatever he decides, there will be a cost.

Like Alan Furst’s The Foreign Correspondent and Le Carré’s The English Spy, Kanon’s latest perfectly encapsulates the potency of a spy thriller devoid of explosions and shootouts. This is a thriller that eschews video game shoot-’em-up style action, and instead relies on the the complexities of its characters and their confused loyalties to maximise suspense. Defectors is a virtuoso display by an author at his peak. It’s a masterful thriller, pure and simple.

ISBN: 9781471162626
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

9780751567397When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, his daughter, Helena, tracks her father through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan while reflecting upon her childhood as his prisoner. Pitched as a breathless race-against time to stop the Marsh King from reaching her family, The Marsh King’s Daughter is less of a pulse-pounding thriller and more of a coming-of-age tale, with the bulk of the story comprised of flashbacks to Helena’s youth. Trouble is, though fascinating and insightful, these flashbacks serve onto to derail the momentum of the chase, the result of which is an enjoyable, if somewhat uneven novel.

Born and raised in a swamp, Helena had no idea that she and her mother were captives until they were rescued. Trained to trap, hunt and kill, Helena and her mother’s rescue plucked her from anomalous existence to another: a foreign world of electronic gadgets, the internet, and a population grossly enamoured in the goings-on of celebrities. She isn’t comfortable in this world; misses the solitude of the wilderness. Meeting her husband, Stephen, eased the transition; so too the birth of her daughters, which focuses Helena, gives her a purpose, makes her something other than merely a survivor. She’s never told Stephen about her past; lied from the beginning, wanting to separate herself from the past. So when when notorious kidnapper, rapist, and murderer Jacob Holbrook escapes police custody thirteen years after she helped put him away, not only does Helena worry for the safety of her children, the sanctity of her marriage is also under threat.

Conceptually, there’s a lot to love about The Marsh King’s Daughter. Who better to track the Marsh King than his daughter, who learned everything from him? And initially, as the narrative flits between past and present, the pages almost turn themselves, Karen Dionne superbly ratcheting the tension. But just when the novel should be shifting gears, propelling readers to its climax, the novel stalls; more flashbacks, more backstory. It’s all interesting stuff, but it dampens the intensity of the chase, and the confrontation between father and daughter. Helena’s conflicted feelings towards Jacob — part love, part hate — make for fascinating reading, but strip the Marsh King of his ferocity. The more light you shine on a monster, the less frightening he is. They hunt in the dark for a reason.

Its unevenness aside, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a propulsive read. It’s a fine character-driven psychological thriller for readers who’ve grown tired of such novels set in the suburbs, and looking for a fresh landscape to explore.

ISBN: 9780751567397
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Best Books of 2017 – So Far!

Best Books of 2017 - so Far!

A graphic novel, a brilliant retelling of a Shakespeare play, a standout second novel from the 2015 Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna, a couple of mile-a-minute page-turners, and a brilliant debut literary crime novel from a fresh Australian voice; these, and more, are my picks for the books that have already made 2017 a stellar year for reading. And we’re only halfway through it!

Continue reading “The Best Books of 2017 – So Far!”

Review: Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

9781501160998Poignant and harrowing, Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Roughneck is a deeply moving and beautifully illustrated story about family, heritage, and breaking a family’s cycle of violence and abuse.

Derek Oullette’s glory days are a distant speck in the rear-view mirror. His hockey career – which prospered on his reputation as a bruiser – ended a decade earlier following a ferocious incident on the ice. Since then he’s lived off his reputation in the remote northern community where he grew up – the fictional Pimitamon – drinking too much, fighting anybody who crosses him. Basically, he is his father reincarnated, prone to the same lapses into violence, one misstep away from prison.

Derek’s sister, Beth, has her own demons. A drug addict, tormented by an abusive ex-boyfriend, when she shows up on Derek’s doorstep, the siblings flee to a secluded hunting cabin in the woods, living off the land as they reconnect and face up to the painful secrets of their past and their Cree heritage, to find their future. But as Beth’s ex-boyfriend closes in, he threatens to unravel the hard work the siblings have put into placating their tumultuous lives, and hoisting them back into the cycle of self-destruction.

How does someone whose life is so imbued in violence – as Derek’s was, professionally – cope when the game forces them out into the real world, where there’s no funnel for that pent-up rage? Roughneck is about the cyclical nature of violence and abuse, and the quest for redemption, which touches on the history of exploitation faced by the Indigenous people of Canada without getting bogged down in the minutiae. It’s a book that validates Jeff Lemire as one of Canada’s greatest living storytellers, in any medium, and can stand proudly beside his magnum opus, Essex County. This is one of the best graphic novels of the year. Heck, it’s one of my favourite stories of the year.

ISBN: 9781501160998
Format: Hardback (254mm x 184mm x 30mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Camino Island by John Grisham

9781473663732John Grisham forgoes his trademark courtroom drama for a multi-layered caper story, which isn’t much of a thriller or mystery, but is entertaining nonetheless. His latest is a lightweight page-turner, hardly vintage, but ensures a few hours of escapism.

Camino Island opens with a heist strangely lacking in suspense, but high in stakes. The prize? The five manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s only novels, valued at $25 million, under lock-and-key in a high-security vault located deep beneath Princeton University. But there’s no such thing as the perfect crime, and this gang of five made mistakes, which result in a couple of arrests. Despite pressure from the FBI’s Rare Asset Recovery unit, the remaining thieves vanish without a trace, and for a time, their investigation stalls, until a man on their watch list – an infamous bookseller on Camino Island named Bruce Kable – comes to their attention. More specifically, his collection of rare manuscripts. Determined to employ a mole to get close to Kable and assess his possible criminality, Mercer Mann, a struggling writer burdened by debts – and coincidentally, a former frequent-traveller to Camino Island – is somewhat reluctantly pulled into the fold.

Grisham’s unravelling of this cat-and-mouse tale is rather perfunctory, if not overwhelmingly sedate. Camino Island is never boring; it just never threatens to get your pulse pounding. The manner in which Grisham ties his various plot threads is impressive, and showcases his skillful plotting, but is stylistically bland. It’s a fine thriller, just not a sparkling one, to be read and enjoyed, then shelved and forgotten.

ISBN: 9781473663732
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 6-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom