Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

x293Wolf Hall | Hilary Mantel | 4th Estate | 2009 | RRP $22.99 | 9780008381691 | 672 pages

Armed with a cursory knowledge of Tudor history, but determined to finally read Hilary Mantel’s lauded trilogy opener in preparation for the publication of The Mirror and the Light, I read Wolf Hall in patches over the course of two weeks, and found myself simultaneously impressed by the scope of the work and its fascinating historical detail, and bewildered by the sheer number of characters and machinations.

Mantel luxuriates in this retelling of Henry VIII’s notorious marriage to Anne Boleyn and the rise of Thomas Cromwell. Rich historic details are presented at a stately pace as Mantel deftly balances the grand scale of her story with the interpersonal stories of its jam-packed cast. It’s impossible not to be impressed by Wolf Hall, it’s an audacious project saturated in sumptuous prose; but I always felt like a fly on the wall, and kept at arms length from its characters, rather than invested in their thoughts and feelings. It felt like I was reading a wonderfully spun historical account rather than actually partaking in it. Honestly, I was left a little cold; perhaps if I was better educated on the history I’d have enjoyed it more.

Review: Deep State by Chris Hauty

b57vov4v5ph3fwodehkr0v3kt7cq0y_5hwvgtmimcr-pzw6060Deep State | Chris Hauty | Simon & Schuster |
14 January 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781471191992

“No one voluntarily leaves Washington. You’re either voted out, fired, or you die.”

In screenwriter Chris Hauty’s debut thriller, army veteran Hayley Chill — an implausible blend of every action hero ever put to page — interns for the White House chief of staff and finds herself mired in a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. Is the dastardly Deep State finally making a move? Or is this something else entirely?

Artless narration, frustrating omniscient present tense narration and threadbare characters renders a decent plot mechanical and lifeless. Deep State might make for a decent summer blockbuster (of the Olympus Has Fallen variety), but as a novel, it’s completely void of any suspense or excitement. The final twist might work on screen, but rendered in prose, it’s more puzzling than shocking, and had me skimming back pages to check for any foreshadowing. Nope. I love a killer twist; but the author’s got to earn it. It’s fine to misdirect the reader, but it’s cheating not to have a single signpost for your denouement.

There’s promise in Hauty’s plotting, but for a thriller about the lurking malice and secrets of the deep state, there’s a distinct lack of menace, and despite her kick-ass attributes, there is nothing about Chill that catapults her above the crowded heroes of thriller-lit.  This is one of those rare times I’m going to say you’re better off waiting for the movie.

Review: Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

9781409185857

Fifty-Fifty | Steve Cavanagh | Hachette Australia | 25 February 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781409185857

Fifty-Fifty is vintage Steve Cavanagh: the setup is scintillating, his trademark twists are generously piled on, and the payoff is suitably pulse-pounding.

On the night of their father’s brutal death, two sisters — Sofia and Alexandra Avellino — dial 911 and blame each other for the murder. The women are trialled at the same time, in front of one jury. One of them has been framed; the other is a murderer. Unless they were both involved? Lawyers Eddie Flynn (The Defence, The Plea, etc) and Kate Brooks steadfastly believe their clients are innocent. As they clash in the courtroom, it begins to dawn on them; one, or both of them, are being played by a killer.

Cavanagh expertly manipulates the reader through his labyrinth plot, daring us, and his protagonists, to assume the innocence and guilt of both sisters at various stages, before unveiling a piece of evidence or witness that undermines any presupposed theory.  Cavanagh writes blockbuster Grisham-esque thrillers: his plots are sensational, the pacing is pure Hollywood, but they’re grounded by embattled characters readers can’t help but root for. Fifty-Fifty is spectacular entertainment, easily read as a standalone, but also an important milestone in the Eddie Flynn canon.

Review: Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

9781787300583Death in the East | Abir Mukherjee | Harvill Secker | 19 November 2019 | RRP $33.00 | 9781787300583

“…if the universe gave you a chance for redemption, you’d bloody well better take it, because second chances were rare and third chances were non-existent.”

Abir Mukherjee adds to his impressive slate of historical crime novels with Death in the East, the fourth mystery starring Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee. The mastery of his craft is on full show here, as Mukherjee expertly entwines two murders 17 years apart and on different continents: one in 1905, London, when Wyndham was a young, inexperienced constable; the other in 1922 Assam, the ‘present day’ in the series continuity, where Wyndham has sought the aid of a sainted monk to help conquer his opium addiction.

Mukherjee’s interrogations have the rare quality of gradually illuminating and thickening characters, plot, and setting. Alongside an ingenious murder method, Death in the East is abrim with racial tension, methodical detective work, and the hero’s appealing struggle to balance a thirst for revenge with his desire for justice. This might just be Wyndham and Banjeree’s finest hour. Mukherjee should be celebrated for his sterling consistency. There is no better author of crime fiction writing today — this series is excellent.

Review: The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy

the-gypsy-goddessThe Gypsy Goddess | Meena Kandasamy | Atlantic Books | April 2015 | RRP $23.00 | 9781782391807

“Because I have taken pleasure in the aggressive act of clobbering you with metafiction devices, I can hear some of you go: what happened to the rules of a novel?

They are hanging on my clothesline over there.”

This novel about the 1968 massacre of 44 Dalit agricultural labourers in Kilvenmani village, in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu, South India, and the struggle of an author to tell the story, is mesmerising and frustrating in equal measure. It features some of the most exquisite, lurid passages I’ve read in years, but its fractured format negated its overall impact. I was left more frustrated than charmed; annoyed by the constant shifts in perspectives and voices — from breathless single-sentences, to second-person narrations, to communist pamphlets —  that never quite gelled cohesively.  Meena Kandasamy deserves credit for playing with the form, and I’m keen to read more of her work, because some of the prose truly sings, but ultimately, I would’ve preferred a straightforward retelling of these horrific events. Or maybe I’m just a simpleton.

Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

9780241364901Bernardine Evaristo’s extraordinary eighth novel, and deserved winner of last year’s Booker prize, provides bold, contemporary perspectives on feminism and race through 12 interconnected stories that unravel through radiantly lyrical, iconoclastically stylistic prose.

Any fear I had of the mental taxation it might require to enjoy Girl, Woman, Other — with its scarce punctuation, unexpected line breaks, and paucity of capitalisation —  was completely misplaced; this is a blazingly readable firecracker of a novel. The experiences of the 12 black, British characters, who exist in different decades and touch each other’s lives both plainly and subtly, coexist in an exquisite harmony that I won’t soon forget.

ISBN: 9780241364901
Format: Hardback
Pages: 464
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

Review: The Godmother Hannelore Cayre

the20godmother2028online29The Godmother | Hannelore Cayre | translated by Stephanie Smee |Black Inc | September 2019 | RRP $28.00 | 9781760641610

“My fraudster parents had a visceral love of money. They loved it, not like you love an inert object stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it like a living, intelligent being that can create and kill, that is endowed with the capacity to reproduce.”

Hannelore Cayre’s The Godmother arrived at the bookshop billowing a trail of hype, anticipation and acclaim behind it. Winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction, and adapted to screen, this bite-sized slice of French noir tells the story of Patience Portefeux, a widowed 53-year-old translator for the Paris drug squad, who lives meagerly, struggling to provide for her daughters and her aged mother’s care. When she comes into contact with the mother of a drug trafficker, she uses information gleaned from the police wiretaps she translates to secure a large quantity of hash. Under the alias the Godmother, she constructs a small criminal empire, thereby securing her financial future, and her family’s, and marinating over the moral implications of her decision.

It’s eminently readable, and efficiently translated by Stephanie Smee, but there’s a distinct lack of tension or excitement in The Godmother. It reads at a lackadaisical pace, which never threatens to become boring, but never got my blood boiling. It’s a fascinating portrait of a woman pushed to extremes, and her sardonic observations of French society are lacerating, but it faded in and out of my life with a glimmer rather than the explosion I was hoping for. I was never particularly anxious about Patience’s fate, and for a novel that’s fundamentally about a woman exposing herself to a city’s underworld and steeping herself in a corrupt world, that’s a real killer. It’s not bad; I just prefer my crime fiction with underlying menace.