Review: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

9780141037592It’s been 77 years since Knopf published The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s first novel. We’re still feeling the repercussions today, and really, still awaiting his successor. Chandler is that rare literary breed: unsurpassed. And, possibly, unsurpassable.

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two daughters, things get complicated – fast. And while Marlowe’s profession is known for its impediments, these are the kinds of complications a person in any walk of life wants to avoid: kidnapping, pornography, murder. It’s a case any other private eye would walk away from. But not Marlowe. And not because of any chivalrous streak that exists somewhere inside of him. No, quite simply, he has bills to pay, and this is the one job he’s good at. As he puts it: “I’m selling what I have to sell to make a living.”

I’ve got my issues with The Big Sleep, despite its ranking as one of my all-time favourites. For a short novel, it’s too convoluted, and in my opinion, many of its elements are contrived. But stylistically, it’s brilliant. Perfect noir, touched with linguistic flourishes contemporary authors constantly seek to emulate, but never manage. It’s the kind of novel that can be read a thousand times, and its enjoyment never fades. So, for another year or so, The Big Sleep is shelved. But it’s always close to hand.

ISBN: 9780141037592
Format: Paperback (181mm x 111mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty mightn’t boast the edginess or outright boldness of Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, but don’t be fooled into thinking Liane Moriarty’s latest is anything short of compulsive. No other writer — I repeat, no other writer — is as capable of thrusting readers on such an emotional, exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

In Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty explores the social and psychological repercussions of a barbecue in Sydney.  I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh! Sounds like a certain celebrated Christos Tsiolkas novel! And I suppose, as a story’s defining moment, the similarity is there to be pointed at, and possibly discussed at your future book club meeting. But Truly Madly Guilty is a very different beast, focused more on the unravelling of events leading to a catastrophic moment rather than the commentary on the middle-class provided by Tsiolkas (and just to make it clear here, The Slap is a fantastic book, and demands your attention if you haven’t read it — my storytelling sensibilities just happen to fall more in line with Moriarty’s).

The specifics of the barbecue’s catastrophic event emerge gradually. The hours leading up to that moment, the moment itself, and weeks afterwards are seamlessly intercut. Moriarty provides plenty of hints and red-herrings as to what might’ve occurred, but keeps the truth shrouded in mystery, building to the revelation, keeping readers on edge and mulling over the seriousness of what occurred. At various moments I wondered: did someone have an affair? A fistfight? A murder? I was desperate for answers, and Moriarty kept me hooked, on the edge of my seat — and when the truth was revealed, rather than deflate, rather than lose all that momentum the plot had garnered, the narrative’s focus shifts to dealing with the consequences, and poses a new question to readers: is there any coming back from this? Seriously, Truly Madly Guilty is packed with the twists and turns that put first-class thrillers to shame; and few wrap up as elegantly.

As always though, character remains king in Moriarty’s work, and the large cast presented here will live long in the memory thanks to their wildly discordant personalities and interwoven histories. There’s Erika and her husband Oliver, with their incredibly buttoned-up personalities; Clementine and Sam, and their two young daughters; and Tiffany and Vid, and their brainy daughter Dakota. Not to mention the old, irritable neighbour, Harry. Each possess characteristics readers will immediately recognise from people in their lives. Guilt manifests itself in each of them in very different ways, and all struggle to move mast the catastrophic events of the barbecue.

Unravelling at breakneck speed, Truly Madly Guilty certifies Liane Moriarty’s unparalleled ability to construct an emotionally-charged story filled with unforeseen twists. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this more than Big Little Lies — but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both unequivocally 5-Star reads. 

ISBN: 9781743534915
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

The Novel We’ve All Been Waiting For

There are aren’t many authors I’ll drop whatever I’m reading to pick up their latest book. Michael Connelly, of course; Lee Child; Ian Rankin; Matthew Reilly; Stephen King; Duane Swierczynski; Greg Rucka; Dennis Lehane.

And Liane Moriarty.

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to have this drop into my lap today.

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Ah, the perks of being a bookseller . . .

Suffice to say, I’ve got my day off tomorrow sorted.

Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

MidnightBased on real events taken from historical records, David Dyer’s The Midnight Watch is about the crew of the Californian, a British ship that stopped in an ice field near the Titanic during its fateful voyage. But this is no old-fashioned paean to heroism — because the Californian failed to help the flailing Titanic despite witnessing eight distress rockets fired high into the night sky. Dyer’s novel is about the relationship between Herbert Stone, the ship’s second officer, and his captain, Stanley Lord, whose inaction forbade any chance of rescue. It is told from the perspective of an American Journalist named John Steadman – the author’s own creation – who is determined to learn the truth behind the events of that night, fuelled by a devastating personal tragedy from years past.

The dramatis personae and the sheer magnitude of the disaster provides The Midnight Watch with all the stuff of a great novel. But despite its elegance, and Dyer’s indubitable ability to craft a gripping yarn, the novel rarely elevates above a rote historically-accurate re-tread of events. Of course, Dyer has coloured characters and personalities, and you would be hard pressed to read a more compelling interpretation of events aboard the Californian — but the novel deserves a stronger, more persuasive protagonist than Steadman. He plays an essential cog in Dyer’s machine, and is vital to the narrative hitting the right notes, but his journey reads very mechanically.

The Midnight Watch is clearly the work of an author passionate about his subject, who proves more than capable of streamlining the happenings of that day into an absorbing tale. At its heart, this is a novel about a man who evidently failed his mandate by ignoring the Titanic’s distress signals — yet never admitted his failings. It’s about his second in command, forever torn between loyalty to his captain and the moral obligation to do the right thing. And it’s about the horrendous truth of the Titanic’s final hours; how the rich were favoured over the poor when rafts were deployed. Those unfamiliar with what happened that day – beyond the ship’s sinking – will be enraptured by Dyer’s novel, and will inspire additional research. Those equipped with that knowledge already mightn’t be quite as enamoured, but even so, Dyer’s humanising of the drama makes The Midnight Watch a worthy expedition.

ISBN: 9781926428727
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Batman by Ed Brubaker, Vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker, Scott McDaniel & Karl Story

Batman-Brubaker-cover.jpgEd Brubaker’s BATMAN run in the early 2000’s, alongside Greg Rucka’s stint on DETECTIVE COMICS, rank as my favourite period in Batman comics history. Yes, in my mind, it even eclipses the brilliant work being done by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo right now — and that stuff is great. Some of my adoration is nostalgia, sure — I was fourteen when the issues first landed at my local newsagency — but make no mistake, Brubaker’s BATMAN comics are unmissable. Full of hardboiled narration, the perfect blend of super-heroics and dark, gritty crime, Batman by Ed Brubaker features all the ingredients the award-winning writer has plucked for his legendary Marvel Comics work and his brilliant creator-owned comics.

Batman by Ed Brubaker introduces the killer Zeiss who, with his specially-designed goggles, has the capability of memorising the Caped Crusader’s many fighting styles, thereby giving him the edge in combat.  His arrival in Gotham City ignites a chain of events that weigh heavily on Batman. First, Jeremy Samuels —Bruce Wayne’s chief of security before the death of his family drove him over the edge — is paroled from prison, but quickly finds himself back amongst the criminal element, a pawn in Zeiss’s game, which is itself tied to the Penguin; then Mallory Moxon and her father, Lew — once a Gotham mob boss – return to the city, and quickly find themselves the target of the master-assassin Deadshot.

The trouble with this collection is that – because of the nature of comics – there are a variety of plot holes and sudden divergences in its focus. The Zeiss plot takes a backseat when the company-wide crossover event Our Worlds at Waroccurred, and the collection doesn’t adequately explain when / why Jim Gordon retires from the GCPD (he was shot) or when Sasha (Bruce’s bodyguard) learns his secret identity. This isn’t Brubaker’s fault – at the time, BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS (in fact, the whole line of ‘Bat-Family’ titles) were linked, so the universe was cohesive; but read like this, in standalone form, more than a decade later these holes are gaping. Veteran comics readers will power through undaunted; new readers might be slightly perturbed.

Scott McDaniel’s dynamic artwork is just as memorable as Brubaker’s writing; I can’t think of one without the other. McDaniel is, simply, an eminent storyteller, and excels when gifted whole pages or large panels to demonstrate his style. The combat scenes are spectacularly choreographed, and he’s just as skilled at the quieter moments. Batman in the shadows, crouched above Gotham in the rain, has never looked so menacing.

When I reminisce on my ‘golden years’ of comic book reading, I think of Ed Brubaker’s BATMAN. This collection served as a wonderful trip down memory lane, but besides that, I was thrilled it has stood the test of time.

ISBN: 9781401260651
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 9-Feb-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: That Empty Feeling by Peter Corris

Empty FeelingThat Empty Feeling is the forty-first Cliff Hardy novel, and demonstrates precisely why the Sydney-based PI and his creator, Peter Corris, have remained the pinnacle of Australian crime fiction for more than thirty years.

Hardy has reached an age when obituaries frequently present familiar names, and when he recognises Barry Bartlett’s, he reminisces to his daughter about the man, and the case, that involved him in the late eighties. Told in flashback, Corris is able to forget the contemporary age-addled Hardy and re-present the character in his prime: a drinker, brawler and womaniser; a man who won’t quit, regardless of the obstacles in his way.

A lifetime ago, Barry Bartlett fathered two children who were taken away from him when his relationship with their mother failed. In the present day, a man claiming to be his son has appeared, and Bartlett wants Hardy to verify the guy’s claims. Bartlett business dealings sees him in contact with various nefarious characters from Sydney’s underworld – and indeed, the nation as a whole – and there are plenty of people who might want to fool him; even the police. It’s immediately clear that Hardy’s latest case will require more than just a standard background check; before long he’s involved with a murder, a kidnapping, and an extravagant crime that demands the attention of the Federal Police. Once again, Hardy’s in over his head – but undaunted and in typical fashion, he barrels into trouble.

Corris’ stripped-down storytelling remains pitch-perfect, and his hardboiled prose with its distinct Australian flavour is unequalled. That Empty Feeling provides a tangled mystery, plenty of fisticuffs and thrills that demand the novel be read in a single sitting. Peter Corris is called the “godfather of Australian crime fiction” for a reason, and this is a darn fine place to start.

Warning: it’s the kind of series that induces binge-reading.

ISBN: 9781760112073
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 264
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Fall by Candice Fox

FallWith her first two novels Candice Fox carved a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing. Taut with suspense, well-oiled plot mechanics, explosive bursts of violence, and chockfull of surreal, yet somehow relatable characters comprised of a plethora of doubts, anxieties, and hidden darkness, Hades and Eden made it abundantly clear: Fox is an enormously skilful writer, and unquestionably Australia’s hottest talent operating in the genre today. Now comes Fall; polished and primed, it is a stylish, explosively tense thriller. Somehow, Fox has upped her game. This is, quite simply, crime writing of the highest order.

Fall is a culmination of plot threads from Hades and Eden, but new readers needn’t worry: Fox dexterously feeds the essential backstory, in a nuanced fashion that won’t leave veterans bemused. Detective Frank Bennett is still struggling to cope with the knowledge that his partner in the Homicide Department, Eden Archer, moonlights as a serial killer. Her targets might be society’s underbelly, but no matter how you look at it, it boils down to cold blooded murder. Thankfully there is work to keep Frank distracted, and a new case is quickly thrown into his lap. Someone is targeting Sydney’s beautiful people; nabbing joggers from the city’s premier parks and leaving their bodies for the police to find. Meanwhile, Frank’s girlfriend, Imogen Stone, is closing in on Eden’s true identity, determined to uncover the truth for fame and fortune. But when another damaged soul becomes aware of Imogen’s secret investigation, her plans go awry very quickly, and there is more than just her life on the line.

Candice Fox’s storytelling takes no prisoners. This is a novel fuelled by pure adrenaline and hidden agendas rather than a traditional whodunit in the mould of, say, Michael Connelly. It’s a pyschothriller; Fox digs deep into her character’s psyches, exposing them at their rawest, while propelling them headlong into danger. It’s a novel that has plenty to say about society’s stance on women and beauty, but it doesn’t get bogged down in its messaging. First and foremost, Fall is a thriller, and a fine one at that. Every page crackles with energy; every chapter ends on a note demanding the next page be read.

Fall will most impact those who’ve been with Eden Archer and Frank Bennett since the beginning. Though these characters have only been with us for two preceding novels, their history has weight and meaning, and it is fundamental to the novel’s gut-punch of an ending. That’s not to say the novel is burdened by continuity; far from it. Fall will surely leave even new readers gaping, and screaming at their ceilings, “How can it end like this?!” But for those of us who were there from the start?Damn. It’s wonderful to read a series that feels like it has direction rather than spinning its wheels. No doubt, Candice Fox could’ve produced several whodunits starring her conflicted protagonists, Frank and Eden. No doubt they’d have been good, too. But Fall propels their story to the next level, when its least expected. Just when you think there’s a status quo to become accustomed to, Fox pulls the carpet out from under her readers. And it doesn’t feel cheap – it’s earned.

Relentlessly fast-paced and beautifully structured, readers will bomb through Fall in no time and enjoy every second. If you haven’t read Candice Fox before, jump on the bandwagon now. This feels like her breakthrough book into the mega-sellers.Fall is that good.

ISBN: 9780857987426
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 1-Dec-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

Rain-Dogs-UK-cover.jpgIf there was ever any doubt, Rain Dogs proves Adrian McKinty’s name belongs right up there with the legends of the genre ― and that the return of Sean Duffy warrants as much celebration as the release of a new Bosch or Rebus novel.

In the fifth installment of McKinty’s Sean Duffy series, the spotlight is shone on the increasingly weary, but no less dogged detective inspector, in 1987; still dealing with the violence of The Troubles, and being a Catholic policeman in the hostile Royal Ulster Constabulary. Then there’s another failed relationship – a woman who’d rather be anything than a policeman’s doting wife – and the conundrum of a ‘locked room’ murder case.

The death of Lily Bigelow inside Carrickfergus Castle is deemed a suicide by Duffy’s colleagues. At first glimpse, there is no evidence of foul play, and the castle was locked and sealed shut when the young reporter died. The only thing keeping the case open and unsolved is Duffy’s inkling that there is more to Lily’s death than meets the eye; some of the finer details aren’t coalescing into a cohesive whole. And despite protestations from his superiors, and forces above even them, Duffy’s never backed down from political pressure; it’s justice, not appeasement, that matters most.

cKinty is a master of pacing, stretching out the mystery, and peppering its procedural elements with bursts of earned emotional gravitas. Indeed, even as the intensity of Duffy’s investigation subsides, something else in his personal life rises to the occasion, and proves just as compelling, and in one instance, has everlasting consequences for the series.

It’s a sure bet that you won’t read a tighter-plotted, richer-peopled, enthralling page-turner of a mystery this year.

With thanks to Seventh Street Books for providing a digital review copy of
RAIN DOGS (9781633881303) in exchange for an honest review.

ISBN: 9781781254554
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 21-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

Black and Blue.jpgThe eighth of the Inspector Rebus novels, and cemented as a landmark entry in the Tartan Noir genre, Black and Blue is vintage Ian Rankin. Without question, it is one of the author’s best, and a premiere example of what the crime fiction genre can accomplish; more than awhodunit, it is a searing commentary on mid-nineties Scotland, told so palatably, so relentlessly, its themes and allusions are almost transient, but undeniably resonant. If only one Rankin novel is to survive the apocalypse, let’s hope it’s this one.

Rebus is working on four cases at once, trying to catch a killer he suspects of being the infamous Bible John – a killer whose exploits struck fear into the hearts of the population, until he suddenly vanished in less than a wisp of smoke. Decades later, a killer with an eerily similar modus operandi is stalking the streets, dubbed ‘Johnny Bible’ by the press, naturally. His exploits awaken the Bible John’s murderous instincts, who is determined to eliminate the ‘Upstart’ and ensure it is he who is remembered; not his unwelcome acolyte. At the same time, Rebus is tasked with leading the investigation into the murder of Allan Mitchison, who worked for one of the major oil rigs; all the while, Rebus is being shadowed by the media, who are determined to reveal a perceived miscarriage of justice decades earlier.

Rankin impressively entwines these plot threads, weaving in Rebus’s much-loved cast of colleagues and foes, and pushing Rebus to breaking point. Black and Blue exposes Rebus’s flaws, humanizes him beyond the point most writers would cross. Rebus is not especially likable, but the chinks in his armor are relatable. When you find yourself tutting at his drinking habits, or abhorring some of his attitudes and harsh wit, consider how you’d come across if the spotlight was turned on you, as Rankin shines his on Rebus. Whatever your thoughts on his personality, there is no denying Rebus’s doggedness. His resoluteness is laudable, even when it flares displeasingly.

There are flashier crime novels and authors to enjoy, but nobody can match the scope of Rankin’s plotting, nor his willingness to dig deep into his characters, and society as a whole. Black and Blue is, quite simply, stunning – even almost twenty years after its publication.

Review: The Drop by Michael Connelly

TheDrop-high-resMy year-long binge-read through the Harry Bosch novels has underlined the impressiveness of Michael Connelly’s feat. Recently I posted my thoughts on the latest Jack Reacher thriller, Make Me, and lamented Lee Child’s recent inability to maintain the series’ momentum. There’s a staleness to the latter Reacher novels that is non-existent in the Bosch novels. I put this down to Connelly’s willingness to write outside Bosch’s sphere; the Mickey Haller novels allowed him to flex different creative muscles and therefore return to Bosch in rejuvenated spirits. Child, meanwhile, has remained with Reacher; unabated for twenty-one novels.

Of course, the Bosch novels are inherently procedurals, and there is a degree of uniformity with each instalment. But Connelly has a wonderful ability to play within the confines of the genre and keep things fresh. For example, The Drop sees Harry assigned to the Open-Unsolved unit. By having his protagonist working cold cases, Connelly reveals a different side of police work; and in this novel especially, he deftly weaves Harry between a politically-sensitive and current case, and a two-decades-old cold case.

The current case – designated as imperative due to the personnel involved – sees Bosch charged with the investigation into George Irving’s fatal fall from his seventh-story room at the Chateau Marmont. If that name rings a bell, you’re clearly familiar with Harry Bosch continuity; George’s father is city councilman Irvin Irving, the ex-deputy police chief whom featured prominently in Connelly’s early novels as one of Bosch’s primary foes. George’s death looks like suicide, but the councilman is adamant foul play was involved; his son was murdered. And despite their chequered past, Irving knows Bosch will discern the truth; he is familiar with Harry’s mantra: everybody counts, or nobody counts.

The cold case involves DNA evidence from a 1989 rape and murder, which is linked conclusively to Clayton Pell, a known predator with a long history of sex crimes. He’s served time for similar crimes, and he’s an entirely plausible suspect. Cased closed, right? A slam dunk. Only, Pell was just eight years old when the victim was slain. Something is amiss, and Harry won’t stop until he finds the true culprit.

Connelly weaves Bosch between these two cases with great skill, building momentum in both, and leading readers to a stunning climax, underlining once again that Connelly’s the master of the final gut-wrenching twist. The Drop is one of Harry Bosch’s finest hours.

ISBN: 9781925267297
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2015
Country of Publication: Australia