Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

9781760632991A fine-tuned mystery wrapped in an involving story of community and family dynamics that is satisfying on every level.

Forgoing the evocative opening imagery of Scrublands, and the scorching momentum it sparked, when a young priest calmly turned his rifle on his congregation, Chris Hammer eases into his second novel to star Martin Scarsden, with the veteran journalist driving into Port Silver — a hotspot of regional gentrification, and the home Martin waved good riddance to decades earlier — with two young hitchhikers he picked up along the way nestled in his backseat. Their cheerful spirits alleviate the tension he feels returning to a place laden with traumatic childhood memories.

Martin has emerged from the fallout of events in Scrublands with a new partner, Mandy Blonde, and her young son, Liam. Mandy has inherited an old house in the seaside town, and this is their chance to start afresh; Riversend, its history of violence, now a distant speck behind. But when Martin arrives at Mandy’s temporary homestead, he finds his best friend from school days brutally murdered, and Mandy leaning over him — the obvious suspect. Certain of her innocence, and exasperated by the police investigators who can’t seem to look beyond her, Martin launches his own investigation into the murder, prying open memories from the past, forcing confrontations with those he thought he’d vanquished long ago. Then another horrific event occurs, on an even grander scale — Australia’s own rendition of the Jonestown massacre — and Martin realises the heart of Port Silver is black as pitch.

Silver is a slower burn than Scrublands, but it feels deliberate, its plot set to simmer as Hammer establishes the geography of Port Silver, as well as its major and minor players, and dips into Martin’s childhood memories, and his struggle to marry the two sides of himself: the battle-hardened, world-weary reporter who makes a living exposing and transcribing the very worst of humanity, and the man who wants to start a family. The context is important, because when Hammer lights the fuse, and the plot kicks into higher gear, the stakes feel more extreme, and definitely more personal; the reader is invested in the vast cast that populates Port Silver. And the final two-hundred pages truly gallop, destined to be inhaled in one white-knuckled sitting.

With Silver, Chris Hammer proves himself once again to be a skilful practitioner of the crime genre, and in Martin Scarsden has created one of its most textured and fascinating protagonists.

ISBN: 9781760632991
ISBN-10: 1760632996
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 576
Available: 1st October 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

9781925773088“Just writing a book to know who is the killer is wasting paper and time,” said Man Booker International Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk in an interview with The Guardian, which immediately made me circumspect about diving into her newly-translated 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to crime fiction; it’s my desert island genre of choice.

Although murder — a string of them in an isolated Polish village on the Czech border — drives the plot forward, this isn’t a whodunit or a mystery in the traditional sense. The denouement, when it comes, revealing the perpetrator behind the crimes, doesn’t stun, although it’s apt. It feels right, the preceding pages building towards a destination savvy readers already know, but will find satisfaction in reaching nonetheless. But Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is an accomplishment not because of its flirtations with noir, but for its meditation on environmental and ecological issues; specifically hunting, both for sport and meat.

The ageing, ailing and lonely Janina Duszejko spends her days using her Ephemerides to map the stars; translating William Blake; and looking after the homes of the city-dwellers who only show up to the village in the summer. She used to have her two beloved dogs for company, and their disappearance has left a gaping hole in her heart and soul. The death of her cantankerous neighbour upends her placid lifestyle, and propels her headfirst into the first of what will become multiple police investigations. Her theory that the local wildlife is retaliating against the local hunters who prey upon them falls on deaf years; and when not simply ignored, is laughed at. But Duszejko is adamant; the unbalance in power between nature and human is being addressed. Her absolute certainly adds an element of magical realism to proceedings.

This is a book that forces you to slow down and think. It’s a great book for any reader looking for something different from their crime reading experience; lyrical, poetic and haunting. Not necessarily an easy undertaking, but a worthy one.

ISBN: 9781925773088
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

9780241410912.jpgMary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is a wrenching American generational saga about the heavy burdens of family and guilt, and the redemptive power of love.

Narrated from multiple perspectives, whisking readers from the early 1970s until today, it probes the depths of human trauma — physical and emotional — and our capacity for forgiveness, as it highlights the defining moments in people’s lives.

At times Keane’s third novel reminded me of my favourite experiences with Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett; deeply involving, emotionally rich, a book to settle into fully, even as it breaks your heart and opens it up. There’s nothing pretentious about it; just a good story, with characters you love, alongside strong themes, perfectly crafted. A must-read cocktail.

ISBN: 9780241410912
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

9780733638053Michael Robotham has never been better than with this deliciously compulsive series opener starring forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven and the enigmatic Evie Cormac.

Good Girl, Bad Girl opens in Langford Hall, a high security children’s home in Nottingham. Haven is there to assess one of the residents; a girl without a past, memorialised by the press as “Angel Face” when she was discovered in a secret room in house in north London, at the age of eleven or twelve, hiding only a few feet away from where the police discovered the decomposing body of a man who had been tortured to death. Given a new name by the authorities ⁠— Evie Cormac ⁠— she ended up at Langford Hall after a series of failed attempts to assimilate into foster homes.

Six years after being found, Evie is determined to be declared an adult, and earn her freedom; Cyrus is tasked with evaluating her for possible release. But it’s immediately clear something about Evie is amiss. Not just her general unruliness and propensity for violence; she is a possible “truth wizard,” aka a human lie detector, which is subject Haven wrote a thesis on. Evie intrigues Haven, and he can’t help but empathise with her, having lived through a tragedy of his own. Which leads to an impulsive decision by him to temporarily foster her ⁠— just as he becomes involved in a murder investigation: the suspicious death and possible rape of Jodie Sheehan, a 15-year-old figure skating star-in-the-making.

Frankly, crime fiction doesn’t get more enjoyable than Robotham’s latest. Since Life or Death he has maintained an unbelievable level of consistency; and each time you think he might’ve peaked, he surprises you again. Robotham’s ability to deliver twist after heart-stopping twist is unrivalled, but his greatest gift, and the element that shines through with every book is the humanity of his characters. The crackling, page-turning tension is derived not from trickery, but thanks to protagonists you care for, and root for.In Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac, he has created a duo readers will want to meet again and soon.  With its clever action and characters who breathe, Good Girl, Bad Girl is one of the unmissable crime novels of 2019.

ISBN: 9780733638053
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 26-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

Review: Frankisstein by Jeanette Winterson

FrankIn Frankisstein Jeanette Winterson explores the repercussions of artificial intelligence and cybernetics in relation to transsexuality and transhumanism. Victor Stein, the charismatic and lauded professor, envisions a bodyless utopia in which gender, race and sexuality are meaningless. He points to Ry Shelley — a young transgender doctor, and his lover — as an example of what the future holds: “You aligned your physical reality with your mental impression of yourself,” Stein says. “Wouldn’t it be good if we could all do that?” This novel is Winterson’s evocative meditation on that question.

Frankisstein is entertaining and thought-provoking, full of moments of absurdity, hilarity and profundity. But these moments never quite gelled into a seamless narrative that totally hooked me. The book dances between a present day fictional cast and historical figures of yore, Mary Shelley most prominent of all, although Lord Byron, Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace also feature, reminding readers that ideas of the past continue to impact the present and future. Winterson’s depiction of Mary Shelley’s life, pockmarked with tragedy and loss, is touchingly evoked, and stands in great contrast to the flamboyancy of  the present day cast; particularly Ron Lord, a Welsh sex-bot salesman, who provides some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.

Winterson’s reimagining of Frankenstein is a clever hybrid of historical and speculative fiction. It’s made me want to re-read Mary Shelley’s book —and indeed read more about her life — and return to Frankisstein with this knowledge in the forefront of my mind. The sheer scope of it, and the ideas for the future it presents, make it worth a second read. I think your enjoyment of it might depend on your familiarity with the text if pays homage to. But even then, for me, it wasn’t quite as dazzling as the sum of its parts.

ISBN: 9781787331419
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 9-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

LoveFavel Parrett’s exquisitely rendered third novel is a beautiful, heart-wrenching encapsulation of the European immigrant story that portrays the plight of familial separation; the guilt and forlornness of those who have departed,  the struggle of those left behind, and the love, however distant, that forever binds them.

If that description sounds overly sentimental, rest assured: There Was Still Love possesses the same hypnagogic subtly as its predecessors, and Parrett’s lyrical economy, coupled with her story’s understated poignancy, eviscerates any threat of sappiness. Her latest reads like a dream, and through the eyes of its young narrators, and a narrative that shifts in time and location, we are presented with an unforgettable tale about dislocation and distance.

Engaging and carefully constructed, upon finishing (which you will, quickly), readers might be tempted to start again, not wanting to let it go, and to truly savour Parrett’s prose. There Was Still Love is a true reading highlight of the year.

ISBN: 9780733630682
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 224
Available: 24th September 2019

The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far!

 

TOP 10BOOKS OF 2018 (1).png

As I deliberated over my favourite books of 2019 so far, I realised: Oh my God, I’ve read a lot of great books this year. And also: Oh my God, the back half of the year is packed— packed! — with amazing books, including the thriller of the decade (Adrian McKinty’s The Chain) and an Australian love letter to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men (Ben Hobson’s Snake Island). Not to mention a new Sarah Bailey, Nina Kenwood’s stunning YA debut, Tristan Bancks’ Detention

But this list The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far! — is about books available from your local independent bookshop today. Don’t worry about the future. There’s plenty to enjoy now.

Continue reading “The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far!”