Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

9780733642517.jpgThere are breakneck thrillers — and then there’s The Chain.

Adrian McKinty steps on the gas early in this pulse-pounding, nerve-shredding, high-octane tale — and he doesn’t let up. On a Thursday morning, 7:55am, a teenage girl, Kylie, is sitting at the bus stop checking the likes on her Instagram feed, when a man wearing a black ski mask approaches her, gun pointed at her chest. His instructions are simple: keep calm, wear a blindfold, and behave. Her fate, he explains, depends on what her mother does in the next twenty-four hours.

Kylie’s mother is Rachel, who — when we smash-cut to her in the second chapter — is driving towards her appointment with the oncologist. Just a routine check-up to confirm her breast cancer is still in remission. But she’ll never get there. One phone call is all it takes to derail Rachel’s life. It comes from someone utilising a speech modulation machine. It tells her she’s not the first and she won’t be the last; that it’s not about money, it’s about ‘The Chain;’ and that the call that will follow is the most important of her life. Which it is. Because the next time her phone rings — an ominous Unknown Caller — it’s from a panic-stricken woman with one chilling revelation: she has Kylie. And if she’s to survive, Rachel must accomplish two tasks. The first is relatively straightforward: a ransom. Which is to be expected in the case of a kidnapping. Rachel’s second objective is more puzzling. She must kidnap someone else to replace Kylie in the chain. And with that, the caller hangs up. And McKinty’s mile-a-minute thriller truly begins.

The Chain is turbocharged entertainment; a cinematic blockbuster, full of intriguing characters and violent action. I am a huge admirer of McKinty’s Sean Duffy series  —each one are sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thrillers, which rip along at a cracking pace, and pack more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast — but this something else. This is McKinty cut loose; unchained, if you’ll pardon the pun. You won’t read a faster-paced, white-knuckle, lip-chewing thriller this year. Maybe ever. It’s fast, furious and unforgettable. 

ISBN: 9780733642517
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 368
Available: 9th July 2019

Review: Mission Critical by Mark Greaney

9780751569988A crisp, unpretentious action thriller packed with extravagant shootouts, in which the bad guys are the very worst, but the good guys are always that little bit better. In the world of action lit, Mark Greaney’s ‘Gray Man’ is up there Mitch Rapp, Jason Bourne and Orphan X.

Mission Critical, the eighth book in the series, sees Court Gentry — aka “Violator,” aka “the Gray Man” — involved in a CIA-sanctioned mission to stop a diabolical plot conceived by a pesky Russian sleeper agent, and a North Korean scientist, involving weaponised pneumonic plague and a meeting of the West’s key intelligence personnel. Aided by Zoya Zakharova and Zack Hightower, Gentry finds opposition in the form of not only weapon-wielding henchmen, but CIA and British Intelligence moles, too.

No points for subtlety, but Greaney knows precisely what his audience wants, and is more than happy to deliver. He is a writer of cinematic talent, whose pedal-to-metal style of storytelling will leave you breathless. It is the literary equivalent of sitting down to watch the latest Mission Impossible blockbuster.

ISBN: 9780751569988
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 152mm x 42mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones.jpg“I had absolutely no interest in being someone else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.”

This book — bloody hell.

There are very few books that so completely and utterly annihilate my poor excuse for a social life and devour every available moment of my day. There are books I like, and books I love. And Daisy Jones & the Six is a book I love. Like, truly adore. This is a book I could not get enough of. I am genuinely a little heartbroken it’s no longer in my life; that it exists purely in memory.

But, damn, we had some good times.

“You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them… You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, There was a line here once, I think.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book is about Daisy Jones and The Six, the iconic (but sadly fictional) 1970s rock band that topped the charts and sold out stadiums, then suddenly disbanded after their greatest performance. Readers nostalgic for the 1970s, when rock n roll was at its zenith, will really dig this. The thing is: I am not one of those readers. Sure, I like the Stones; there’re a bunch of Beatles tunes on my Spotify playlist. But my music tastes run a little more mainstream. And softer. I’m a Robbie Williams kind of guy; Bruno Mars; Take That; Dido; Coldplay.

But something about this story — more precisely the way it’s told, in an oral history format (the narrative is composed exclusively of transcribed interviews) — sunk its hooks into me. And at the moment, I feel like those hooks will be implanted forever. Not for the rock n roll, but because at its heart, this is a nuanced love story (and not a purely romantic one), and a goddamn good one, starring a trailblazing talent in Daisy Jones, who is unapologetic in her sexuality, and lives life on her own terms; whose addition to The Six catapults them to fame; but at a cost, and to the chagrin of the band’s leader, Billy Dunne; who spends the book battling his own demons as he struggles to find equilibrium between rockstar and family man.

Can we get an encore? Please?

“Some of us are chasing after our nightmares the way other people chase dreams.”

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hutchinson
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

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