Review: Neon Prey by John Sandford

neon-prey-9781471184383_lgRelentlessly formulaic, this is assembly-line stuff from John Sanford. Lucas Davenport remains a strong enough protagonist to keep the pages turning, but it’s starting to feel like the author is phoning it in. Neon Prey is slick, swift, and utterly forgettable. It hits all the right beats, but with an impotence that undermines any tension or compulsivity.

Thing is, there’s enough here to elevate this manhunt beyond routine. The ingredients just seem undercooked. Initially Clayton Deese seems like your run-of-the-mill gun-for-hire criminal. But when he skips bail after job goes wrong, U.S. Marshals start digging deeper into his background and discover Deese is actually a prolific cannibal serial killer, who has gone undetected for years. Enter: Lucas Davenport, whose job is to hunt Deese down and bring him in, or put him down. But for all his supposed menace, Deese never feels terrifying. He’s a sketched villain rather than a fully-formed threat. He’s a bad guy because he does bad, bloody things, that we sometimes see on the page, but it all happens so hurriedly, there’s absolutely no resonance. Sandford has created some truly terrifying villains; Deese is not one of them. A problem when he’s the driving force of the narrative.

Not much of a thriller, not much of a mystery. Sandford has a brilliant ear for dialogue, and it’s the character interactions that make Neon Prey worth sticking with, assuming you like the cut of the author’s jib. Sandford has done better, and hopefully will again. The thirtieth novel in the series is out next year.

ISBN: 9781471184390
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 25-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey

9781526603272“If the story was not shared, nothing would change. Problems that are not seen cannot be addressed. In our world of journalism, the story was the end, the result, the final product. But in the world at large, the emergence of new information was just the beginning — of  conversation, action, change.”

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the two New York Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein  story and helped ignite the  burgeoning #MeToo movement, tell how they did it in this behind-the-scenes, blow-by-blow recount of their investigation. This story, like their series of articles implicating  the Hollywood film producer in an abhorrent three-decade-long sexual misconduct scandal, doesn’t require sensationalism; She Said powerfully and starkly depicts the reality of life as an investigative journalist, as Kantor and Twohey doggedly pursuit leads and sources, encourage witnesses to come forward and speak on the record, and deal with Weinstein’s attempts to sabotage their efforts to reveal the truth.

She Said is a powerful testament to the power of journalism, and a tribute to Kantor and Twohey’s persistance and commitment to not only uncovering the powerful men in America responsible for sexual abuse, and for covering it up, but for identifying the elements of the system that keep sexual harassment so pervasive. This is only the beginning of the dismantling of an oppressive system. She Said is vital to stoking the movement’s flame. Long-form journalism at its absolute finest.

ISBN: 9781526603272
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Bloomsbury Circus
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 10-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

9781760876012-1I have read all 32 — now 33 with The Night Fire — of Michael Connelly’s crime novels at least twice, and I’m almost certain I’ve read each instalment in the Harry Bosch series on three or four separate occasions. These books are nestled in my bookcase, spines proudly creased, pages yellowed; worn, and loved, and returned to. If one author epitomises precisely what I want from my crime fiction, it’s Connelly: enthralling police procedurals without the outrage pyrotechnics that blight many of his peers.

There has been a notable shift in Connelly’s writing since the premier of the Bosch television series. In the early days, the books focused on a single investigation. Think of Angels Flight, when Bosch investigated the murder of a high profile black lawyer; or City of Bones, when a chance discovery leads Bosch to discover a shallow grave in the Hollywood hills. More recently, Connelly’s novels have handled multiple narrative threads; separate investigations, not always connected, twisting around each other. Think The Wrong Side of Goodbye and Two Kinds of Truth.  These novels read more like a television series; each chapter an episode contributing to an overarching story. One style is not better than the other, necessarily; in fact, I appreciate the evolution and refinement of Connelly’s craft.

The Night Fire is a perfect encapsulation of this ‘new’ brand of Connelly. Once again uniting former LAPD detective Harry Bosch — approaching 70, but who still bleeds blue despite giving up his badge years earlier — and Renee Ballard — an active cop who works midnight shift; the ‘late show’ — this new novel focuses primarily on their dual investigation into the cold case of the unsolved killing of ex-con John Hilton, whose murder book was hidden away in Bosch’s recently-deceased former partner’s study, for reasons unknown, but which we’ll discover. At the same time, Ballard is working her own case: the arson that killed a homeless man inside his tent. And as if Bosch didn’t have enough on his plate, dealing with a medical diagnosis that ties back to 2007’s The Overlook, he finds himself involved in the defence of the client of his half brother, Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller. Because if the defendant on trial isn’t responsible for the murder he’s accused of, there’s still a killer out there, who the police aren’t looking for. a

Connelly’s genius is his ability to render the slow, meticulous, dogged pursuit of murderers absolutely captivating. He is the unrivalled master of the police procedural. The Night Fire is a maze of distinct investigations, and Connelly is the perfect guide. Nothing excites me more in crime-lit than when Bosch has jazz playing on the stereo, he’s poured himself a mug of black coffee, and is about to open a murder book. I hope he’s got a few more cases left in him, but contented knowing Ballard is a more than capable replacement; not just a Bosch facsimile, but a character who lives and breathes in these pages.

ISBN: 9781760876012
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 21-Oct-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

x293A rich and compelling mystery that will hook new readers, while its subplots and provocative, sharply delineated characters will keep established fans glued to the page. Somehow, Dervla McTiernan keeps topping her own best work. Her third novel is a triumph. 

Detective Cormac Reilly and Garda Peter Fisher face the possible ruin of their careers in The Good Turn. With Reilly’s team fractured by their involvement in a special task force, Fisher makes a cataclysmic error of judgement during an investigation into the abduction of a young girl. He is consequently sequestered to Roundstone, a village on the west coast of Ireland, and the place he grew up, where Fisher’s estranged father remains the top cop of his own personal fiefdom. Relegated to the wearisome duties of a small-town police officer, Fisher distracts himself by digging into a closed murder case, where the pieces don’t quite fit. Meanwhile, while Reilly attempts to clear Fisher’s name in Galway, he unearths a corrupt cabal within his own department, which threatens his own place within it.

The Good Turn features the strong writing and intelligent plotting we’ve come to expect from McTiernan; but best of all are her characters: edgy, complex, interesting to a one. Edgar and Gold Dagger-winner worthy; nailed on for one of them, surely; deserving of both. As we close on the door on Cormac Reilly — at least as the centrepiece of McTiernan’s lengthening tapestry of crime novels — it’s safe to assume DS Carrie O’Halloran will be just as endearing.

ISBN: 9781460756799
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2020
Pages: 384
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: Darkness For Light by Emma Viskic

9781760685812In Darkness For Light, her third crime novel starring Caleb Zelic, Emma Viskic marries themes of loyalty, betrayal, friendship and love into a taut, exceptional thriller. While some writers settle for shaping their novels as instalments in an ongoing serial drama, each one intended to set up the next, Viskic seems determined to make each one count and resonate. No longer merely a bright star on the Australian crime-writing firmament, Emma Viskic should now be considered a master of the genre, and Caleb Zelic one of its most endearing protagonists: a flawed, valiant hero, hard-fisted yet soft-hearted, who’s impossible to dislike. 

ISBN: 9781760685812
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Book of Dust, Vol. 2 – The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

9780241373347In this sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy and La Belle Sauvage, Lyra Silvertongue is a disenfranchised college student, seduced by the writings of a popular author, whose toxic ideas — including one that proposes daemons are mere illusions — have formed a wedge between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. Pan believes Lyra’s imagination has been stolen — a fate worse than death, leaving her hollow, lacking the spark and tenacity that bolstered them throughout their various escapades — and so sets off to find it. Which propels Lyra on a journey to locate Pan. And Malcolm Polstead (from La Belle Sauvage) to track Lyra. 

If this sounds like a lot, just wait, there’s more. Under the guidance of its sinister new leader, the authoritarian church The Magesterium is beginning to extend its powers. Meanwhile, terrorists are destroying rose crops in the name of an ambiguous Holy Purpose. The whole world is mired in a state of hyper-discontent. The parallels to our own aren’t nuanced or oblique; Philip Pullman seems determined to make the similarities as opaque as possible. Like it’s his mission to state: you think this world is fucked up? Look outside your window.

The Secret Commonwealth is wonderfully ambitious in scope and energy. Pullman’s world is sublimely imagined. It hardly matters that after more than 700 pages we’re left with more questions than answers. We know he’s more than capable of sticking the landing. It’s the long wait until the third instalment that’s the killer.

Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 9780241373347
Ages: 12+
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 03/10/2019
Pages: 784

Review: Bruny by Heather Rose

9781760875169The only access to Bruny Island — a 362-square-kilometre island located off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, separated from the mainland by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel — is by boat, or the two vehicle ferries that run across the channel. But when Bruny opens, after four years under construction, a new suspension bridge as high as the Brooklyn Bridge, and two hundred and twenty-seven metres longer, is three months short of completion. Until a deep rumble shatters the tranquillity of the morning, and the bridge quivers and shakes, and drops into the sea. The Bruny Bridge — “a project of national significance,” says premier John Coleman — has been destroyed by terrorists. But he is determined that come March next year, the bridge will open on schedule; and “the next chapter in the success story of Tasmania will begin.”

Tasmanian native Astrid Coleman, a troubleshooter for the UN, answers her brother’s call when he asks for assistance in calming the tumultuous climate back home and lending a hand into the investigation of the bridge bombing. It’s an awkward homecoming, not least because her brother and sister are combative figures on both sides of politics, and her parents are dealing with major health scares, but because of the myriad conspiracy theories flaring tempers among the locals, and igniting diplomatic tensions with Australia’s newest and most important ally, China.

Heather Rose’s Bruny is an enthralling family saga set against the backdrop of the calamity of present day international and national politics. The book has Big Ambition written all over it, defiantly blending two seemingly antithetical genres into a pacy and involving page-turner. It’s an accomplished balancing act that never tilts entirely into full-out family saga or full-blown political thriller; ultimately an evocative, powerful hybrid; gripping and atmospheric, and a stirring love letter to Tasmania. Bruny achieves what great fiction always achieves — it commands us to be aware. Of what, precisely? You’ll need to read it to find out.

ISBN: 9781760875169
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 424
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2019
Country of Publication: Australia