My Year in Reading – 2018

This year I managed to read 166 books, which is 25 more than 2017, and 24 more than in 2016. Each year I aim to read at least 100 books across a variety of genres and with my propensity for genre novels, it’s a manageable target.

Now, you might be wondering — what exactly do I classify as a book in my trusty, never-leave-home-without spreadsheet? Because everybody has their own rules. Some readers, for example, might include children’s picture books in their tally; I don’t. But I do include graphic novels, collected editions of comic books, and volumes of manga (the latter of which I’ve actually not read this year, but y’know, if I had read manga, it’d be included).

Let’s break it down.

Continue reading “My Year in Reading – 2018”

Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley

jawsIt’s been more than forty years since Peter Benchley published Jaws, but I’d never read it until recently, when I stumbled across a battered copy in my father’s bookcase on Christmas Day, and in need of something to erase the hours between meals, I sat down on the couch and began turning its pages, and couldn’t stop.

The prose flits between shamelessly perfunctory and brilliantly melodramatic: in every respect it is written to be a binged blockbuster, devoured in one white-knuckled sitting, chock-full of pell-mell action,  hairbreadth escapes, and excruciating deaths. Ostensibly Jaws is about a great white shark that preys upon the small resort town of Amity, and the three unlikely comrades who are determined to kill it. When Benchley focuses the shark — its own murderous frenzy and its human hunters — the book zips along at a great pace. But when Benchley shifts focus to the humans — an adulterous affair; Amity’s power brokers’ steadfast refusal to close the beach after each attack for fear of its impact on the small town’s economy — the book stutters. Not to a halt, exactly; but a noticeable slowdown of momentum, not helped by the novel’s total lack of likeable characters, which isn’t always a bad thing, but when they’re little more than archetypes, it helps to have somebody to root for. And in a book this size — a taut 275 pages — momentum is key.

Flawed, then; but still an enjoyable thriller, perfect for this time of year, when the days are long and the sun is hot,

ISBN: 9781509860166
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Pan Books
Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Review: Kill Shot by Garry Disher

9781925773224Garry Disher is one of the most reliable practitioners in crime fiction, and his creation, Wyatt, one of the genre’s most enigmatic antiheroes. Like Richard Stark’s long-running Parker series — the chief inspiration for Wyatt — the joy of these books are the mechanics of the plotting and Disher’s ability to take resolutely unsympathetic characters and somehow make their journeys further into the depths of moral ambiguity (and in many cases, outright corruption) indelibly compulsive.

Wyatt is an analogue man operating in a digital world. In the modern age of high-tech security keypads, retina scans, CCTV professional thieves have the odds stacked even further against them. Lately Wyatt has stayed in the black thanks to a series of one-man burglaries, but he needs a bigger job, something with a better payoff. Sam Kramer — Wyatt’s fixer, working from inside prison, using his network of informants, lawyers, police and hard men — has identified just the target. Jack Tremayne is facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme, but has salted away close to a million in liquid assets Kramer’s source is certain he intends to use to skip the country. So the job is simple; conceptually, at least: nab Tremayne’s getaway fund before he has the chance to use it. Trouble is, Kramer and Wyatt aren’t the only ones interested in the funds, and violence quickly ensues as a parade of nasty men close in on the money.

Kill Shot is another winner from Disher, who, as ever, builds suspense without a shred of overstatement. Crisp, unsentimental, and deeply satisfying. If you’re looking for a crime writer to fill the void left by Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy this summer, Garry Disher is your man.

ISBN: 9781925773224
Format: Paperback / softback (232mm x 154mm x 21mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Cara Hunter — My New Crime-Writer Obsession

Close to HomeOver the last decade or so, I feel like a new prerequisite of crime fiction has been unwittingly established, that demands an unconventional protagonist. You know, a detective with an outlandish flaw: they’re brilliant, but — oh no! — they’re also a bloodthirsty serial killer. Their skills of deduction are unparalleled, but — say it ain’t so! — they’re addicted to the taste of human flesh; they’re a cannibal. They’re the greatest detective to ever walk the earth, but — no, it’s not possible! — they’re a ghost, intangible and invisible to everyone but a Golden Retriever named Lancelot.

There’s nothing wrong with such protagonists — well, the Golden Retriever thing might be a step too far — but personally, all I want from my crime novels are complex plots packed with legitimate red herrings and believable characters. My favourite mysteries are compulsive page-turners grounded in reality. That’s why I love John Rebus, and Harry Bosch,  and Sean Duffy — and now, Cara Hunter’s Adam Fawley.

I binged Cara Hunter’s two books recently — her debut, Close to Home, and her second, In the Dark — after being recommended them by fellow Australian bookseller Jay Dwight. And I’m obsessed. And impressed. Because Hunter’s books are perfect encapsulations of my idea of the best crime fiction: fast-paced, laced with genuine intrigue and suspense, featuring an incredible cast of characters you’ll want to spend more time with, both in the squad room and outside of it. Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his team of detectives deserve to become household names. I’ve no doubt they will be. And not because of their quirks or eccentricities; because they’re normal people, like you and me, with families, and ingrained flaws and foibles. They’re not perfect. They’re human, prone to mistakes. They’re real.

In the DarkClose to Home spotlights Fawley’s investigation to the disappearance of a young child. In the Dark sees him tasked with untangling a case involving the discovery of a woman and child locked in a basement. They’re standalone novels — tendrils of continuity link the two, in the same way that each Bosch and Rebus novel are sequential, but are ultimately independent stories — although I do recommend reading Close to Home first, simply to observe the perceptible improvements in Hunter’s storytelling between books, which is impressive to begin with, but seismic with regard to its refinement. Both are frenetically-paced, unputdownable whodunits. Both prove that if you’re a serious lover of crime friction, Cara Hunter’s burgeon series should take pride of place in your collection.

I am counting down the days until No Way Out is in my hands.

Close to Home

ISBN: 9780241283097
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 24mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 14-Dec-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

In the Dark

ISBN: 9780241283202
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 27mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 12-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gone By Midnight by Candice Fox

9780143789154.jpgSince her debut, Hades, Candice Fox has consistently stretched and reshaped the Australian crime novel by creating in each of her books a deliciously chilling ambience and an aura of pervasive evil, alongside narratives that are so hard charging and irresistibly readable they demand to be read in a single sitting. Gone By Midnight is no different.

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, a young boy goes missing. Left alone with his three mates in the comfort of a lavish hotel room while his mother dines downstairs with her fellow parents, when Sara Farrow checks on the kids at midnight she discovers her child, Richie,  gone — without a trace, it seemed, as CCTV footage confirms he never left the building. With her wretched past, Sara knows the police will instinctively turn their gaze onto her, which will distract them from tracking down the true culprit. So she hires disgraced  cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell — the unlikeliest of dynamic duos, who’ve starred in Fox’s stellar Crimson Lake and Redemption Point — to shadow the police investigation, follow their own leads, and  locate her child.

But unrelated factors threaten to derail Ted and Amanda’s enquiries: a rogue Crimson Lake cop has set her sights on Amanda, and will stop at nothing to see her dead and buried, and not at all painlessly; and two years after false accusation robbed him of his previous life as a respected detective and family man,  Ted’s daughter is staying with him — just in time to be in the crosshairs of Richie’s abductor.

The Conkaffey / Pharrell series continues to split focus between exploring the procedural conventions of the whodunit genre and developing its heroes. Fox, who loves her characters colourful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn’t much matter whether they’re naughty or nice, or some shade between. Indeed, the true pleasure of Gone By Midnight isn’t the mystery at its core — which is suitably labyrinth and gripping — but witnessing its brilliantly quirky cast interact: Ted desperately hoping to rebuild his life, tantalised by the prospect of a new romance; Amanda struggling to overcome the demons of her past, and constant flirtations with the darker underbelly of her soul.

Gone By Midnight is Candice Fox at her riveting best. In this golden era of Australian crime fiction, Fox should be identified as the writer who redefined the genre in terms of its form, content and style.

ISBN: 9780143789154
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 31mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 22-Jan-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

ScholarDervla McTiernan came out swinging with The Ruin (2018), but The Scholar is a knockout. A relentlessly paced, bombshell-laden plot combined with sharply-drawn, empathetic characters make this is the whodunit that should put McTiernan in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Denise Mina and Tana French.

Doctor Emma Sweeney’s discovery of a young female hit and run victim outside Galway University late one evening is the starting point for the second mystery featuring Detective Cormac Reilly —  although it’s a slight misnomer to label this singularly as a ‘Cormac Reilly’ novel; McTiernan has concocted a brilliant ensemble cast featuring the likes of Callie O’Halloran and Peter Fisher, whose interactions and banter are a real draw. Emma Sweeney works at Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics, and her partner just so happens to be Cormac Reilly, who she calls immediately upon discovering the body, thereby compelling him to lead an investigation that otherwise would never have been assigned to him.

Even without his personal connection to the case, Reilly knows the case is going to be complicated and — worse — political when the victim is identified as Carline Darcy. As in, heir to Darcy Therapeutics Carline Darcy, whose grandfather is an incredibly influential figure, not just in Galway, but in all of Ireland. So the pressure for Reilly to close this investigation quickly, and if at all quietly, is extreme. But just as the case seems destined towards one conclusion, further evidence puts Emma Sweeney firmly in the investigator’s headlights.

McTiernan keeps every stage of the investigation clear, compelling and compulsive. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, with a vivid cast of major and minor characters, The Scholar is one hell of a read, and it’s going to take something very special indeed to deny it being my favourite crime novel of 2019. And I know, I know — I’m saying this in November 2018.

ISBN: 9781460754221
ISBN 10: 1460754220
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2019
Pages: 400
List Price: 32.99 AUD