There are authors we’ve heard of, and know we ought to read, but relegate to the tokenistic ‘one day’ stack, which either exists in our heads, or in an actual pile of books we’ve consolidated over however many years you’ve been on the planet.
(For me, it’s a bit of both).
Nabokov has always been on my list. “Lolita,” obviously. “Pale Fire,” too; although skimming its pages, the lizard part of my brain thought — too hard. I didn’t know much about “Pnin,” besides the fact it’s small, and therefore (I assumed) digestible.
In Chris Hammer’s compulsively readable and deeply satisfying fourth novel, Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is dispatched to the outback town of Finnigan’s Gap to investigate the death of an opal miner found underground, crucified and left to rot.
Fans of the Martin Scarsden trilogy will feel right at home with “Treasure & Dirt,” and newcomers will see right away what the fuss has been about. All of Hammer’s considerable strengths are on display: his keen eye for detail, assiduous plotting, vividly-etched characters, and the ability to evocatively render imagined townships, and fill them with local colour.
In “Deep Into the Dark,” a series opener by P.J. Tracy, readers are introduced to LAPD detective Maggie Nolan and an army veteran recently returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, Sam Easton.
Characters ostensibly like Easton are a dime and dozen in thriller-lit, on the page and screen; ex-soldiers on missions of retribution, leaving swaths of bodies behind them. Tracy’s interpretation is more nuanced; more human than trope, though obviously his military training comes into play in the novel’s climactic stages.
Tim Ayliffe is one of Australian crime fiction’s most reliable entertainers, and “The Enemy Within” is another sure-footed mystery starring investigative journalist John Bailey.
It begins in medias res, with a body falling from the sky and crashing to the pavement right in front of Bailey’s eyes. Sickened by the sight, but having witnessed worse horrors in Afghanistan, he approaches the body, sidestepping the pool of blood spreading across the concrete.
Of course, he recognises the man.
Truncated to a logline, you might think “Razorblade Tears” is your standard revenge fantasy thriller about two bereaved fathers from a small town in Virginia who unite to hunt down the men who killed their sons.
But this is no “Death Wish” retread about middle-age pacifists turned apex predators by the murder of their loved ones. The two fathers at the centre of S.A. Cosby’s second novel, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, are morally complex and deeply flawed; ostensibly bad men whose lives have been pockmarked by violence and prison sentences. Their sons, happily married to each other, were shot execution-style outside an upmarket wine store on their anniversary, and the police aren’t anywhere close to solving it.
“Apples Never Fall” exists somewhere in the borderlands between psychological thriller and family drama. Suffused with domestic unease, and punctuated with emotionally astute and deeply empathetic observations about motherhood, marriage, and siblings, it’s Liane Moriarty exploring familiar themes at breakneck pace.
Joy and Stan Delaney have been married for almost half a century, and after dedicating their best years to their world famous Sydney-based tennis academy, they’ve finally retired.
They can’t quite figure out what comes next.
I love a thriller whose premise can be boiled down to one sentence. Steve Cavanagh is the master of it. That tantalising “what if?” hook.
In the case of “The Devil’s Advocate” — his sixth Eddie Flynn novel — it’s diabolically simple: what if the district attorney responsible for sending more men to their deaths than any other DA in the history of the United States had spent his career orchestrating murders, and manipulating evidence and juries, to guarantee guilty verdicts?
Ruth McIver’s “I Shot the Devil” is set up like a conventional crime novel, but it’s more complex and emotionally-charged than your average whodunit.
Erin Sloan, a journalist too close to the story, revisits the notorious Southport Three murders from almost twenty years ago, when five teenagers walked into the West Cypress Woods, and only three came out.
When the dust settled on the initial maelstrom of sensationalised media reportage and incompetent policework, the two deaths were deemed a consequence of a murderous satantic ritual orchestrated by Ricky Hell, who was shot and killed at the scene.
The sixth entry in Ragnar Jónasson’s “Dark Iceland” series is a gloriously unpretentious mystery.
“Winterkill” presents police inspector Ari Thór with the crumpled body of a nineteen-year-old girl on the main street of Siglufjörður in the early hours of Easter Thursday. The circumstances around her death suggest suicide: a fatal fall from the balcony of an apartment whose occupier was away at a conference in Reykjavík.
Like only she can, in “Beautiful World, Where Are You” Sally Rooney observes, with great exactitude, the birth, decay and resilience of relationships.
Set against the milieu of Brexit and Trump, Rooney’s novel is, as ever, a subtle masterpiece of construction, alive in its nuances. Its protagonists are two Irishwomen in their late 20s, both involved in romantic entanglements, Alice and Eileen; the former is a famous novelist recovering from a recent psychiatric hospitalization; the latter a poorly paid editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin.
They keep in touch primarily through long, expository emails that philosophise on the current social and political climate. Alice and Eileen are so brilliantly erudite, there’s never a hint of soapboxing; these protracted exchanges are at the core of their friendship. It’s what sustains their relationship.
“Beautiful World” builds towards Alice and Eileen finally reuniting in person with their partners, exposing feelings coiled just beneath the surface. This culmination feels neither contrived or artificial. That’s Rooney’s gift. Books of this type typically present characters we desire to see together, and a lot of devices to keep them apart. The complexity of the relationships here are rooted in the mundane, as potentially ruinous as anything manufactured by plot.
Number Of Pages: 352
Available: 7th September 2021