Review: The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

9781760527334When eleven-year-old Tippy Chan learns of her teacher’s murder, she forms ‘The Nancys’ — an amateur detective club inspired by Nancy Drew — with her visiting Uncle Pike and his new boyfriend, Devon. Together, the trio converge on Riverstone  — a small town in New Zealand with a kaleidoscopic population of less than 4000 and nose their way into trouble.

This is an ebullient, delightful novel, difficult to describe in a way that conveys its greatness without making it sound schmaltzy. On the one hand, it’s warm and funny; its laughs procured from Pike and Devon’s mordant humour; its affability derived from the Nancys’ burgeoning affinity, and their generous hearts. But The Nancys is also a stellar mystery, layered with red-herrings and suspense, the killer’s identity ably concealed until the final pages in a powerful denouement that has heartbreaking repercussions for Tippy.

The Nancys avoids the trap of condescension that ensnares too many well-meaning books written for adults starring preadolescents. Rob McDonald understands the innocence and purity of this phase in life — when the real world constantly threatens to invade, like a looming shadow, on the colourful pop of childhood — and he wonderfully captures the excitement, hilarity and occasional disillusionment of Tippy’s growing discernibility as she her fellow Nancys intervene in the townspeople’s affairs.

Written with verve, humour and heart, this is a stunning debut, one of those very special books that enthrals from its opening, and leaves you with pangs of regret, desperate to spend more time with its characters. This is hopefully not the last time we’ll meet this investigative trio: maybe a trip to Sydney is on the cards for Tippy?

ISBN: 9781760527334
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 400
Available: 3rd June 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Wolf Pack by C.J. Box

y648In his nineteenth Joe Pickett novel, C.J. Box reminds readers that among the weeds of the seemingly idyllic Twelve Sleep County is a world filled with violence, fear and anger. What begins as a routine inquiry into the misuse of an unregistered drone aircraft that terrifies a herd of mule quickly spirals into something far more menacing and deadly, as Joe, Katelyn Hamm and Nate Romanowski, are pitted against a quartet of savage killers.

It is Joe’s counterpart in Shell County, Fish and Game Warden Katelyn Hamm, who spots the massacre of the mules, and urges Joe to aid her investigation when the rogue aircraft heads into his turf. Joe obliges, and traces the aircraft to the compound of the mysterious Bill Hill, whose arrogance astounds Joe; Hill is fearless, and is certain he’ll face no charges for his crime. More worrisome for is his assertion it will be Joe who is reprimanded should he even try. And sure enough, two surly FBI agents from Washington DC soon arrive in town, who first warn off Katelyn, then Joe, who doesn’t take kindly to overzealous officialdom. Rather than accede, Joe’s interest in Bill Hill is piqued; but just as he closes in on the truth about Hill, a kill squad attached to the Sinaloa drug cartel make their own move; and Joe and his allies are caught smack bang in the middle.

Wolf Pack coruscates with everything needed for a humdinger of a thriller: a cast of characters you care for (and have since day dot), a plot that thrums, and a denouement that lands like a gut punch. Joe Pickett’s 20th can’t come soon enough. Somehow, impossibly, this series just keeps improving.

ISBN: 9781788549240
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

Review: The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

9780143793533.jpgA deliciously engaging exploration of love, parenthood and belonging, The Place on Dalhousie charts familiar fictional territory, but Melina Marchetta’s inimitable artistry elevates the novel far beyond the sum of its parts into one of my favourite books of the year.

It opens in 2009, when Rosie meets Jim — “SES Jesus”, as Rosie thinks of him, because of his orange overalls and facial hair — in a town that’s about to be flooded by the Dawson River in Queensland. She’s been in town for five weeks now, caring for a cantankerous old lady named Joy Fricker, and recovering from the abrupt departure of her boyfriend, Luke. She’s not looking for a relationship, but partakes in what she assumes is casual sex, ignoring her burgeoning attraction to this stranger, not just to his body but his personality, his genuineness.

Two years later, Rosie has returned to her family home on Dalhousie in Sydney, that her father, Seb, was in the process of rebuilding, but never completed. In his place is Martha, who married Seb less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother, and who Rosie can’t help but loathe. It is a house they both lay claim to; a place neither can let go of. But beyond their mutual enmity, both women have other issues plaguing their lives; Rosie is coping with the living, breathing consequence of her liaison with Jimmy (who is about to re-enter her life); and Martha is battling to come to terms with the total upheaval the death of Seb had upon her existence.

This is a book with so much heart, and traverses such a rich emotional landscape, with a deftness rarely displayed. Hard to put down, impossible to forget, The House on Dalhousie is one of those precious books you don’t want to end. I would’ve happily spent another 300 pages with Rosie, Jimmy, Martha, Ewan and co.

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Viking Australia
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 2-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

Review: The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar

9780708899335“When you put American clothes on a brown-skinned doll, what do people see? The clothes? Or the whole doll? Or only the skin?”

Poet Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel tells the story of Mother, an Indian-American woman in her 40s with three daughters and ‘a husband who knows which kiosk sells the best croissants at Charles de Gaulle Airport better than he knows where the cough medicine is stored at home.’ It opens with Mother sprawled on her driveway, bleeding out, gunned down in an unexplained robbery, and from this moment, spools backwards to retell her life in snatches of short, sharp and lyrical revelatory memories, connected by moments of extreme persecution and racism, and the complete perversion of power by the authorities.

The fragmented narrative makes The Atlas of Reds and Blues a propulsive read, pockmarked by powerful sentences and paragraphs that powerfully convey the fear and frustration felt by Mother. It’s evocative and arresting, and an important novel that says a lot in such a finite number of pages. It’s the kind of book you read quickly, then ruminate on for days.

ISBN: 9780708899335
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 272
Imprint: Fleet
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley

9781787331112.jpgThe story of Christine, Alex, Lydia and Zachary — a quartet of friends; two couples — is not a wildly original one. Following the sudden death of Zachary, “the one we couldn’t afford to lose,” muses Christine, the equilibrium of their relationships is thrown wildly off kilter; tested, pulled, and contorted like never before. Over the course of its pages, Late in the Day recounts the evolution of their friendships, ignited in their early 20s, and retained now, in their 50s. No wheels are being reinvented here: like Elizabeth Strout an Anne Tyler, Tess Hadley peers into the familiar world of family and friendships with merciless intimacy. But the execution is so gloriously appealing and beautifully measured that surrendering to its charms feels like the only option.

Hadley has a sharp, penetrating eye for the nuances of human relationships. Her rendering of Christine, Alex and Lydia struggling to reconcile the loss of Zachary is exquisitely deft, as it warps from anguish over his absence from their lives, to the total destabilisation it causes. Late in the Day is a candid and intensely realised examination of grief; psychologically astute, beautifully written, it is my first sampling of Hadley’s work, and will not be my last. A few years back I became infatuated with Anne Tyler; then Elizabeth Strout. I can already tell — this will be the year of Tessa Hadley.

ISBN: 9781787331112
Format: Hardback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 14-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Room For a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

9781925773545Melanie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day was an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, that highlighted the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. The fourteen powerfully perceptive stories were written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess — and left me wanting more. Room For a Stranger was worth the wait: Cheng’s trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here, in a novel that transmutes the texture of human relationships into smart, sensitive, engaging art.

Margaret “Meg” Hughes, an Australian woman in her seventies, lives a in her family home with Atticus, an African grey parrot, her only companion. Hers is a life of contented isolation; accustomed to the long silences, the sparseness of her daily routine, the pain in her arthritic knees. But following a break-in more melodramatic in her mind’s eye than it was in reality, perhaps, but still discombobulating she can’t bare the solitude and her vulnerability, so for her own protection, applies to share her home with a university student. Andy, from China is facing problems of his own; failing his university course that his parents are paying for while they struggle with health and financial issues. He feels burdened with guilt by his inability to match his father’s lofty expectations. You could not put two more dissimilar people together; seemingly destined to clash as a consequence of age, gender, race and culture. The lesson here is that there, at the core of humankind, there is more that unites us that diversifies us.

Cheng conjures genuine tenderness and empathy for her characters as she explores their histories, what individuates them, and the compassion that ultimately unites them. Her writing is simple, restrained and intelligent; its insights razor-sharp. Room For a Stranger is the kind of book that seduces you from its first page, and with its keen observations, makes you examine your own relationships anew.

ISBN: 9781925773545
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 224
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 7-May-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

9780718185480The badass amalgamation of Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Batman is back in a fourth instalment in the Orphan X saga — and this time it’s personal!

Evan Smoak is Orphan X, aka ‘The Nowhere Man;’ a one-time government assassin (as part of the covert ‘Orphan’ program) turned into a pro bono harbinger of justice, whose Bat Signal is a cell phone number. Over the course of this scenery-smashing series, a mysterious foe has been targeting Orphans for assassination. When we last caught up with Evan (2018’s Hellbent) he identified the orchestrator of the killings: none other than the President of the United States, the morally bankrupt Jonathan Bennett. Now, in Out of the Dark, it’s Evan out for blood; in Washington DC to exact revenge on the most powerful and well-protected man on the planet. Piece of cake, right?

Naturally, Evan is side-tracked by a ‘Nowhere Man’ case, but this time it feels like more of a subplot than imperative to the narrative; like Hurwitz was conscious he needed to give readers a break from Evan’s hunt for the President, just to remind readers he’s not exclusively a rogue government assassin, and that he abides by a moral code. When Trevon Gaines discovers his immediate family have been slaughtered by drug-smuggling he inadvertently crossed, he calls Evan’s encrypted line, and thus Orphan X finds himself aiding an intellectually challenged, but incredibly sweet and well-intentioned young man, which leads to a brilliant climactic battle that had me genuinely dumbfounded as to how Hurwitz would write Evan out of a particularly harrowing quandary.

Gregg Hurwitz has crammed an insane amount of action into his Orphan X quartet, but he doesn’t relish in the bloodbaths his characters unleash with stunning regularity. Bodies are bruised and bloodied amidst the chaos, and there’s always a moment of reflection when — win, lose or draw — its perpetrators realise their lives will never be anything but violent; it’s cyclical and senseless, and by mastering its craft they’ve fallen into an inescapable chasm that renders any chance of a normal life impossible. Even when Evan wins, he loses.

Fast, furious, frenetic; Out of the Dark  ends Evan Smoke’s inaugural story-arc, tying off several loose threads from previous novels. Wherever the character goes from here, I’ll be there with him. Nobody writes a better high-stakes action thriller than Hurwitz.

ISBN: 9780718185497
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom