The Scarlet Cross by Lyn McFarlane

In her debut The Scarlet Cross, Lyn McFarlane uses genre fiction to explore weighty social issues relating to the abuse of institutional power, the management of mental health, and harassment in the workplace — while narrative momentum is powered by St Jude Hospital nurse Meredith Griffin’s investigation into the deaths of three women who all suffered identical fatal injuries, and whose corpses bore distinct lacerations.

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French Braid by Anne Tyler

My relationship with Anne Tyler seems to me like a fine wine — it improves with age. I marvel at her ability to recycle familiar themes and reconstitute them. It is incredible to think that she has been examining middle-and-working-class Baltimorean families for almost 60 years and is still able to glean the tiniest, subtlest observations that bring her characters to life, and contribute to their authentic veneer. There is no such thing as a bad Anne Tyler novel: they exist on a sliding scale that wavers between good and great. This one is somewhere in the middle, which means it’s definitely worth your time. 

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The Island by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s The Island is an audacious, breathless, pulse-pounding survival thriller that’ll have readers biting their nails to the quick as they race through its pages to see who makes it out alive.

An idyllic working vacation to Australia turns holiday from hell when a family from Seattle ventures onto Dutch Island in Victoria, where trespassers aren’t so much prosecuted as they are, well, executed by the close-knit and sadistic clan who calls it home.

The family in question consists of father Tom, his new wife Heather, and his adolescent children, Owen and Olivia. Although Tom’s in Melbourne for a medical conference, he agrees to play tourist for a day to gratify his kids and possibly ease some of the tension between them and their step-mum. 

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To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

This is my first Hemingway in more than 20 years, when I read The Old Man and the Sea as a teenager and was rendered aghast by how much tedium could be squeezed into fewer than 100 pages. I’ll revisit it one day, maybe; old and wiser, and all that  — but first, a sojourn through the vast swathes of Hemingway’s I haven’t read.

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Sirerra Six by Mark Greaney and Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz

Fifteen years ago my reading consisted exclusively of action thrillers from the likes of Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy ― basically the stuff on my dad’s shelves. Over time, my reading tastes have broadened (I’m reticent to use the word “matured,” as I once might’ve, in an effort to appeal to the “literati,” because I think that does an injustice to the authors who pen them) and I’ve become a little more conscientious about selecting which thriller writers make the cut. 

Guys like Mark Greaney and Gregg Hurwitz write major cinematic blockbusters; other authors are a little more direct-to-video ― you know, cookie-cutter heroes, conventional plots; not necessarily bad, but certainly not as enterprising. 

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I studied John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in High School; read it in bite-size chunks alongside my SparkNotes guide (or was it CliffsNotes?), excavating themes, motifs and an abundance of literary devices for class discussions and essays. 

It was assigned reading, therefore a chore, so I don’t really remember my feelings on the story on an emotional level. I returned to it almost 20 years later, swallowed it whole during my (train delayed) morning commute. My overriding impression: it’s sensational; a seminal work of literature. Basically, exactly what my English teachers called it way back when. Only now, read for pleasure, I can see why. 

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The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide

I’m rather conflicted over Joe Ide’s The Goodbye Coast. I want to be clear — it’s a really good crime novel. Cannily plotted, with tight prose, sharp dialogue, and a swift tempo. The stumbling factor is that it’s a contemporary reimagining of Raymond Chandler’s legendary PI Philip Marlowe, but besides Marlowe’s name and the Los Angeles setting, that legacy adds nothing to the story. And without the first person hard-boiled narration, it doesn’t even read like a facsimile. It feels like something completely different. Which is fine. Great, even. But it wouldn’t escape my mind: this is supposed to be a Philip Marlowe novel.

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Wake by Shelley Burr

This is a year of truly brilliant Australian crime fiction debuts, and Shelley Burr’s Wake ranks right among them. Not only is it clever, devious and morally complex, but its roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.

The nuts and bolts of Wake will be familiar to any reader with an infinitesimal knowledge of the Australian crime genre. Once again, we are in a small, drought-ridden town. This time it’s Nannine, sparsely populated, infamous for the unsolved disappearance of Evelyn McCreery nineteen years ago, when she vanished from the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Mina.

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

“All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others.”

Ethan Frome is a masterpiece. Alongside Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, it’s one of the best novellas I’ve read. I need more time to decide whether it has earned a place among my esteemed Favourite Books Ever — but the fact I’m even having the debate surely says it all. I can’t tell you whether I consider it Edith Wharton’s magnum opus, because this is the first time I’ve read her. But rest assured, The House of Mirth is in next month’s reading stack. Alongside Raymond Carver, Wharton’s an author I’m going to be returning to constantly in 2022.

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