Review: Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

9780749020729.jpgSuzanne Rindell’s Three-Martini Lunch has been in my reading stack since its publication last year, but it was only recently, during the New Year long weekend, when there was less pressure to read a forthcoming release, that I got the chance to dip into it. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Rindell’s second novel, but the fact it’s set in the cut-throat world of publishing in late 1950s New York was enough to pique my interest. And as it turns out, it’s more than a homage to the beatnik generation; it’s an incredibly poignant and evocative tale about the price we pay going after our dreams.

The novel revolves around the lives of three young people trying to make their mark in the world of publishing in post-war New York. Miles Tillman is a bright young African American who is graduating from Columbia University, and is is determined to write his first novel when he gets sidetracked into a search for his dead father’s wartime diary. Eden Katz is a Jewish girl from Indiana with dreams of becoming an editor. And Cliff Nelson is the son of a famous publisher, desperate to become the next Hemingway, but easily distracted by, well, everything and anything. Their lives bisect each other’s in various ways throughout the book as their aspirations intersect.

Three-Martini Lunch is a tremendous novel, which captures the lavishness and inhibitions of late-1950s New York. As envious as I am of those times, to a degree, when long, luxurious lunches were a mainstay of the publishing industry, Rindell’s book also serves as a stark reminder of the sexism, casual racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism that was rampant at the time. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

More importantly, this is a novel in which the main characters feel genuine. Not always likable, but always relatable. I was absolutely enamored and enthralled by their stories.

ISBN: 9780749020729
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allison & Busby
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publish Date: 19-May-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

crimson-lakeAustralian crime fiction is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to a handful of fresh female voices. Jane Harper’s The Dry was 2016’s darling and rightfully so — I called it “the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene” in my review, and named it my Book of the Year — and in 2015 I was absolutely blown away by Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay: “stripped-down and raw, and packs one helluva punch.” And then, of course, there’s Candice Fox, who has carved out a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing with her Bennett / Archer trilogy (Hades, Eden and Fall), and  who ranks as one of my absolute favourite authors. Perhaps it’s too early to predict 2017’s Aussie crime fiction blockbuster, but one thing is for certain: Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake will feature in the conversation.

Crimson Lake introduces former Sydney-based police detective Ted Conkaffey, who was accused, but not convicted, of abducting a 13-year-old girl. But the accusation is enough. To his wife, his peers, and the general public, a lack of conviction isn’t proof of innocence, just evidence of a lack of proof. Ted is an outcast. The life he had is over, and so he flees Sydney to Cairns: specifically the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake. There he meets Amanda Pharrell — an accused and convicted murderer now operating as a private detective — and partners with her to investigate the disappearance of local author Jake Scully.

Veteran Fox readers will notice some thematic similarities between Crimson Lake and her Bennett / Archer trilogy. She is the absolute master of the enigmatic protagonist: characters with deep, dark secrets, who readers will follow and support, but with occasional hesitancy; because what if the worst is true? What if we’re  actually cheering on a killer in Amanda Pharrell? And Ted — our narrator — what if he’s hiding the truth from us? What if he is guilty of abducting the girl, and leading readers astray? We’re never quite certain — not totally — until the novel’s very end of how trustworthy and reliable Ted and Amanda are, which makes Crimson Lake incredibly compelling and propulsive.

Candice Fox’s prodigious ability to keep coming up with unforgettable characters elevates Crimson Lake beyond the standard police procedurals that proliferate the genre. Oh sure, Ted and Amanda’s investigation into Jake Scully’s disappearance is effectively handled — plenty of twists and red-herrings, and a heart-stopping climax to satisfy plot-focused readers — but it’s their uneasy comradeship, and their secrets which threaten to bubble to the surface, that make the novel a blast. It boasts Fox’s signature style, edge and humour to delight established fans, and will surely win new ones, too.

One of the best Australian crime writers just levelled up. If you haven’t jumped on the Candice Fox bandwagon, now’s the time. Crimson Lake will be one of 2017’s best crime novels, and Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact. Read Crimson Lake — you’ll see.

ISBN: 9780143781905
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders

9781760294892.jpgAmerican Blood introduced Marshall Grade, a former NYPD detective, who worked undercover trying to dismantle a particularly vicious crime syndicate, until his cover was blown, and he was forced into Witness Protection. But such was the reach of Marshall’s enemies, he sublet his WITSEC safe-house (much to the chagrin of his handler, Lucas Cohen) in order to circumvent any possible paper trail, and lived under the radar in Albuquerque, until he was forced back into action, and back into the limelight. The result was a stylish, action-packed thriller, which begged for a sequel. And here we have it: Marshall’s Law.

This time round, Sanders’ comparison to Elmore Leonard — John Sanford, too, I think — is more than justified. While Marshall is the titular character, and a hero in the Jack Reacher mould — easy to root for, wholly capable of dismantling any threat without breaking into too much of a sweat — the ensemble cast is intrinsic to this novel’s success. Lucas Cohen makes another appearance — indeed, it’s his attempted kidnap that sparks Marshall’s Law into life, and the question his would-be captors ask: Where’s Marshall?

He’s back in New York, actually — trying to start afresh, still shadowed by his violent past. But he can’t do nothing in the face of a potential threat, which is what he believes the attack on Cohen signifies. So he starts to investigate, and quickly discovers he’s the target of a corrupt businessman named Dexter Vine, who is in debt to some very bad people, and has hired Ludo Coltrane to find Marshall at any cost, who himself brings in Perry Rhode s to assist, whose willingness to be a trigger man can’t overshadow his potential liability to the Vine / Coltrane operation.

Sanders flicks between these characters’ perspectives, building a head of steam, ratcheting up the tension, and bringing the cast together in a wonderfully brutal and bloody climax. Trouble is, there’s not much of a muchness between Cohen, Marshall, Coltrane, Vine and Rhodes. Sure, they’ve diverging desires and backgrounds, but ultimately, they’re boilerplate tough guys. There’s nothing empathic about any of them, or anything particularly quirky or offbeat. That was Leonard’s mastery: taking a formula and embellishing it with his trademark zaniness and humour.

Bullet-holes and body-blows abound in Marshall’s Law. It’s a tightly-constructed, stylish and effective thriller, which confirms Ben Sanders as one of the new generation of thriller writers to watch.

ISBN: 9781760294892
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

9781925355871.jpgWith more twists than a double helix, Kill the Next One is a relentlessly-paced, unputdownable psychological thriller. It zigs one way, then zags another, providing the kind of stomach-clenching, unsettling suspense readers associate with Lauren Beukes and Stephen King. Nothing should be taken at face value, but rest assured, Federico Axat is a brilliant guide.

Just like Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series, Kill the Next One needs to be read unspoiled. This is a book that relies on the potency of its labyrinthine twists, and prior exposure has the potential to ruin the whole experience. The set-up barely scratches the novel’s surface: family man Ted McKay is moments away from pulling the trigger on the Browning pressed against his head. Then the doorbell rings, and Ted is presented with the notion of becoming part of a suicidal daisy chain: in exchange for killing someone who deserves to die, he will be killed, making his passing easier for his family. Easier to live knowing your husband / father was the victim of a random act of violence than by self-inflicted means … right? Things spiral wildly from there, quite brilliantly, and nothing is what it seems.

There’s a delightful boldness – – an incredible audaciousness — to Kill the Next One. Expertly paced and plotted, and extremely visceral, with bucket-loads of surprises and genuine chills, it’s sure to be one of the most-talked about thrillers of the year. Let’s hope Kill the Next One isn’t Axat’s only book to receive an English translation. He’s a writer to watch, and this book is one to savour.

ISBN: 9781925355871
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

9781910701881The author of Sapiens — also a must-read — returns with another enthralling work of potent brain fuel. Seriously, whatever Yuval Noah Harari writes, I will read. And I’m not a guy who reads a ton of non-fiction.

This time, Harari explains humanity’s rise and ponders our future. He poses that humanism is the dominant ideology of the modern age, but warns it carries the seeds of its own destruction.  Homo Deus is less of a prophecy and more of a conversation: what sort of future do we want? Human nature will be transformed in the 21st century — into what? 

Whether or not you agree with Harari’s assertions and proclamations, his latest work is highly captivating.  Will his outlandish visions come to pass? Well, who knows? But the very idea of it’s possibility — that it might happen — is chilling.

ISBN: 9781910701881
ISBN-10: 1910701882
Format: Paperback (235mm x 155mm x 34mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 8-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

9780545540629Raina Telgemeier continues her exploration of tween and teenage social and family life in her heartfelt graphic novel Ghosts, which adds a twist of the supernatural to proceedings.

Catrina and her mixed family (Latino/white) have moved from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast in the hopes that the cooler climate will help with her younger sister Maya’s cystic fibrosis. Cat isn’t happy with the relocation – is moody throughout the opening pages – while Maya’s elation is both heartening and heartbreaking; her obvious joy for life, and desire to explore and go on adventures, is contradicted by her degenerative condition.

When the girls meet their neighbour, Carlos, who is Bahía de la Luna’s resident “ghost tour” guide, he explains that the town is filled with spirits, who feed off cool winds. With the Day of the Dead approaching, spiritual activity is at an all-time high; and while the prospect of seeing ghosts excites young Maya, it terrifies Cat, who must combat her fear of the unknown to protect her sister.

Ghost’s best, and most poignant moments, feature Maya being treated for her cystic fibrosis. The scene where Maya gleefully asks if she can shake her can of nutritional supplement is especially heartbreaking; so too her forced seclusion from Halloween festivities. Raina Telgemeier deftly balances the book’s various themes, from the exploration of Mexican-American family life, Maya’s illness, the ancient “Day of the Dead” tradition, and Catrina’s desperate struggle to form new friendships in a new town. Her illustrative style is a pure joy to behold; cartoony, yet incredibly expressive. From a visual standpoint, this is undoubtedly the best work we’ve seen. Impossibly, Telgemeier improves with each successive work.

Background material includes some process material, which the wannabe-creator in me finds incredibly fascinating, but of particular interest, especially to younger readers, is her synopsis on the graphic novel’s key themes.

While I don’t think Ghosts had the same impact on me as, say, Drama – I’m far more of a sucker for High School drama tales involving the complex inner-workings of teenage relationships – there’s no question, Telgemeier’s latest is a work of the highest quality. She has reached that highest echelon of creator: her work demands immediate reading upon publication.

ISBN: 9780545540629
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Graphix
Publisher: Graphix
Publish Date: 13-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Cross Kill by James Patterson

9781786530011 (1)This bite-sized Alex Cross thriller sees the return of his long-thought-dead nemesis first introduced in Along Came a Spider, Gary Soneji.

Stories at the speed of life. All killer, no filler. The ultimate form of storytelling. These are just some of the taglines associated with James Patterson’s line of Bookshots titles. And while the latter instigates an irrepressible eyelid twitch, I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the sheer pace of Cross Kill. As a lapsed Patterson reader, and a one-time big fan of his Alex Cross series, Cross Kill served as a nice reminder of what I enjoyed about his particular brand of storytelling all those years ago. It annihilated two hours of my evening like the snap of a finger, and so, I suppose I got what I paid for, and what was promised on the blurb.

It helps that Cross Kill flashes back to Patterson’s early Cross novels, when I was devouring them one-by-one from my father’s bookcase. Gary Soneji was Cross’s first epic villain – but he was seemingly killed more than a dozen novels ago, or more than ten years ago according to Patterson’s continuity. His return is impossible, but Cross is adamant it was Soneji who took a shot at him – and put a bullet in his partner’s head.

Unfolding at a wicked pace, there’s little meat on the bones of Cross Kill, but its events should have huge repercussions for the Alex Cross series moving forward; assuming everything’s not just swept under the rug for the next full-length novel. If you’re already a valiant Patterson reader, you’ll no doubt dig this, and it’ll sate your cravings until later in the year. If you’re not a fan, this won’t do much to persuade you to switch sides: it’s chock-full of his stylistic trappings, just thoroughly condensed, with all the nuance of a semi-trailer careening through a brick wall. But when you’ve been absorbed in gargantuan literary novels, as I have recently, this served as effective relief. And I’ll admit, I’m interested in picking up the next Cross novel to see how Patterson confronts this story’s dramatic moments.

ISBN: 9781786530011
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 144
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom