Review: Detention by Tristan Bancks

9780143791799.jpgA thrilling, heartfelt page-turner enriched by probing social commentary, Detention is essential for opening and fuelling dialogue about the asylum seeker and refugee situation in Australia.

It is 5:28am when Detention begins, and young Afghani girl Sima and her family are pressed to the ground, among a sea of fifty other refugees,  behind the wire fence of the Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre in Midgenba. On the other side of the fence, a protestor is cutting through the fence, wire by wire, determined to free the detainees before they’re forced to return to the homelands they escaped from. Tristan Bancks — author of Two Wolves and The Fall (among others) — infuses these passing seconds with incredible heart-pounding tension, as guards patrol nearby, and her father’s final words to her before they began their breakout reverberate in her mind: “No matter what, you run.”

Finally, the fence is pried open, just enough for the human chain to squeeze through, one by one, perilously slowly, methodically and silently. Then disaster. An alarm starts blaring. Panic erupts. Guards howl. Guns are yanked from holsters. It’s absolute chaos. Sima loses her family, runs for the trees, finds herself on the grounds of a school, hiding in a toilet block as the school goes into lockdown, armed Border Force agents determinedly checking every classroom.  Which is when she is discovered by local Midgenba boy Dan, who needs to decide, quickly, whether to help Sima get away, or thrust her back into the hands of the agents hunting her.

Detention tackles big, important issues without lecturing or talking down to reader. In a world filled with toxic ideologies and divisions, Tristan Bancks shows young people have the courage to rise up and demand equality for all; to fight for human rights and ignore the banal politicising. And its breakneck pace means it’s almost impossible to put down.

ISBN: 9780143791799
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Puffin
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 2-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Hitch by Kathryn Hind

9780143794349Kathryn Hind’s Hitch — the winner of the inaugural Penguin Literary Prize — is a decidedly gripping, harrowing and unflinching tale of grit and perseverance, about  a young woman hitchhiking across Australia, desperately trying to outrun her traumatic past, whose courage and vulnerability are irresistible and believable. It is a stunning debut from a writer of considerable talent and promise.

Hitch begins with Amelia and her dog, Lucy, walking the Stuart Highway, counting the posts dotted along its length, ears piqued for the sound of oncoming vehicles, poised to hitch out a thumb and stretch a smile across her lips. We are immediately thrust into her fraught reality; without a ride, she won’t survive for long in the open; but whose to say the harshness of the outback isn’t preferable to whoever awaits in the driver’s seat of the first vehicle to stop by her side?

The initial experience of Hitch is sobering and savage, and its final effect is emotionally shattering, despite glimpses of tenderness, goodness and beauty. The novel is relentless, but in the best possible way, pushing readers through the emotional wringer but also compelling them to read on through the power of the prose. Quite simply a must read.

ISBN: 9780143794349
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 4-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone

9780733640704.jpgUnafraid of emotion, though without a moment of wretched sentimentality, Bodies of Men magnificently conveys love, courage, endurance and comradeship straining against the cataclysmic backdrop of World War II. With unobtrusively elegant prose, Nigel Featherstone has crafted a vidid evocation of the arduous complexities of love between two men inured by the traumas of conflict. The result is something very special indeed: equal parts compelling, harrowing, and tender.

The book opens in Egypt, 1941. Mere hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, a twenty-one-year-old Australian corporal, finds himself engaged in battle with the Italian enemy, and unable to squeeze the trigger and end a life. Incredibly, William is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney; the two men have always shared a lingering affinity, but despite their reunion, their assumption is they will each move on, serving their country, separately, living in each other’s memory. But despite their divergent paths — William is dispatched to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, while James Kelly goes AWOL with an unusual family with deeply-buried secrets — fate thrusts them back together in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Bodies of Men holds the reader from first page to last. With exquisite artistry, Featherstone writes about people trapped in a tragic situation struggling to reconcile their responsibilities and desires.

ISBN: 9780733640704
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 23-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

y648In The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, debut novelist Felicity McLean explores the long echoes of emotional trauma and guilt born of the disappearance of three siblings twenty years ago.

When we meet Tikka Molloy in 2012, she’s chasing a ghost from her past — literally. Sitting in a Baltimore cab, crawling towards downtown, Tikka spots the one person she will never forget, no matter how hard she scrubs at her memory, walking among the crowd of commuters headed for the metro station: Cordelia Van Apfel; the middle Van Apfel child. Without skipping a beat, Tikka is out of the cab, chasing the impossible, what simply cannot be. Because twenty years ago that week, in the summer of 1992, Cordelia and her sisters vanished. And Tikka has never been able to put the tragedy of her missing friends behind her.

Smash-cut to Tikka returning home, to Australia, and the insular community from which the Van Apfel girls disappeared two decades ago. Her sister, Laura, is about to begin chemotherapy, and Tikka is back to support her older sibling. But old memories inevitably resurface. Tikka has spent years marinating on the events that lead to that fateful day. And back where it happened, she’s determined to prod and poke at those painful memories, and ask the difficult questions, in order to determine the truth: not necessarily the specific fates of Ruth, Cordelia and Hannah; rather, her own and her sister’s culpability. Because one thing is clear, as McLean unravels her tale through flitting perspectives between eleven-year-old and present-day Tikka; there’s plenty of guilt to go around.

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is a propulsive and deeply resonant coming-of-age tale, and an absolutely enthralling account of a young woman’s effort to heal deep wounds that don’t easily show, whose voice will stay with you for a long, long time.

ISBN: 9781460755068
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 18-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Snake IslandWhen Vernon Moore learns his son Caleb — in gaol for assaulting his wife, and abandoned by his parents as a result — is being regularly brutalised by Brendan Cahill, he decides to intervene and negotiate a truce with Brendan’s father. But Vernon’s decision to approach Ernie Cahill, the head of Newbury’s drug-dealing operation, sets off an unstoppable chain of escalating violence.

Ben Hobson’s second novel is about the darkness of our hearts, and the search for lost light within them. Snake Island is not a tale of redemption, although you might catch glimpses of it. This is a book about actions and their consequences; big and small, and irrevocable. It is a violent, visceral and gripping tale about the cyclic, destructive nature of revenge; an exploration of the spectrum of morality, and the purity of hate versus the complexity of love and forgiveness, told in brisk declarative sentences that possess the cadence of a shotgun blast. The small town ambience is real enough to smell and taste; a good thing too, because I’m not sure I want to visit.

Hobson’s characters spend the novel searching for their moral centre, desperately scrabbling for a reference point against which they may measure their decision, actions, and beliefs as they’re sucked into a vortex created by violence and corruption. Its only true villains are the two members of the Melbourne drug syndicate the Cahill’s work for; whose menacing presence reminded me of Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men; everybody else is ordinary, fallible, and desperate.

As fast-paced as any thriller, Snake Island is one of my favourite books of the year so far. It is dark, lean and mean; an absolute pearler of a read.

Review: Metropolis by Philip Kerr

9781787473201.jpgThe 14th and final Bernie Gunther novel takes the world-weary investigator back to the beginning: Berlin, 1928, the eve of the Nazi rise to power, with Gunther just promoted to the Murder Commission, and two serial killers on the loose.

Published posthumously, Philip Kerr’s swansong, Metropolis, is another masterpiece — which is a word that gets thrown around too easily, but is thoroughly deserved here, and almost an understatement. Kerr created one of crime fiction’s greatest characters in the sardonic anti-hero Bernie Gunther, and by plunging readers backwards and forwards in time through Gunther’s life, exploring his post-war and Nazi era antics, Kerr concocted a thrilling tapestry of a life lived in a time of great turmoil; when Gunther’s moral code, his lethal wisecracks, and the quality of the novels he starred in, were the only guarantees, because you never knew where, and when, Gunther might pop up next.

In his first case for the Berlin Murder Commission, Gunther is plucked from Vice to hunt for a serial killer targeting prostitutes, whose calling card is slicing the scalp from his victims. Then a new killer strikes, who has their sights set on the city’s disabled war veterans, and Gunther is forced undercover as a homeless veteran, which forces him to confront his own memories of the war. But it’s not just the threat of dual murderers that has Berlin on edge; Nazism is on the rise, blackening hearts, stoking violence and anti-Semitism.

You’ll turn the pages as fast as possible to identify the killers; then go back to truly savour Bernie Gunther’s perspective on Berlin in 1928; not to mention his interactions with historical figures such as Thea von Harbou and Lotte Lenya. That’s the beauty of Philip Kerr’s fiction: they’re mesmerizing for both plot and character, and their blurring of truth and fiction, which is often closer than readers might imagine.

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

Dead If You DontThe clock is ticking for Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace — and a teenage kidnap victim plucked from the heaving Amex Stadium on the day of Brighton and Hove Albion’s first match of their debut Premier League season.

Kipp Brown is a successful businessman — and a monstrously compulsive gambler. Accustomed to the volatility of luck, a veteran of riding the waves fortune and misfortune and always coming out on top, for the first time in his life, Kipp is stuck in a seemingly irrevocable losing streak. He’s losing, often and spectacularly. And things are about to get worse.

Within minutes of arriving at the Amex Stadium for Brighton and Hove’s debut match in the Premier League, Kipp’s son, Mungo, disappears. His first thought: Mungo’s stormed off after their argument during the drive to the stadium. Mungo is a capricious teenager; he’s probably blowing off some steam. Kipp’s not too worried. Until he gets a message that his son has been taken, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay. With money he doesn’t have.

Enter: Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Who quickly realises this is no straightforward case of kidnap. In order to return Mungo to his family, Grace and his cohorts will have to dive deep into a dark, violent criminal underbelly, where nobody wants to talk to the cops for fear of retribution. By the time you’ve reached the final page, the events of 48 hours detailed in propulsive, pulse-pounding fashion have turned Brighton into one of the murder capitals of the world.

Dead If You Don’t is a tightly-plotted, fast-paced, addictive page-turner. Vintage Peter James, in other words. He packs half-a-dozen meaty, painstakingly interlinked subplots into his mystery cops, crims and victims all get their chance in the spotlight   but the economy and perceptiveness of his prose shifts these scenes seamlessly. This is another gem in James’s long-running series.

ISBN: 9781509816378
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: Pan Books
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 18-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom