Review: Robert Ludlum’s The Treadstone Resurrection by Joshua Hood

47948658._sy475_This opener to a new series set in Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne universe — now 15 novels deep thanks to Eric Van Lustbader — sees a former Treadstone operative (the organisation that created Bourne) yanked back into the violent world he thought he’d left behind when he receives a foreboding email from a former colleague, and is soon after attacked by a kill squad.

It’s a conceit every connoisseur of action-lit  has seen before, and accepts as a necessary trope, but The Treadstone Resurrection never really capitalises on the rich tapestry of Jason Bourne’s world, and is hamstrung by a comparatively dull lead, who lacks the necessary compassion to go alongside his ruthlessness. Ludlum’s heroes always had an emotional core — a beating heart in the Kevlar-shielded chest — and even though they were often one-dimensional, there was at least a glimmer of humanity inside them. Adam Hayes often laments his inability to just be a Regular Joe — all he wants is to settle down with his wife and young son, God dammit! — but their inclusion feels shoe-horned; their involvement (which is exclusively on the sidelines) is the only thing that proves Hayes isn’t merely a gut-totting cyborg.

When the action hits, it lands hard and fast. Joshua Hood’s talent lies in creating pulse-pounding, wickedly-fast blockbuster set-pieces; and as the novel moves from violent confrontation to violent confrontation, he ratchets up their scale. The trouble is, everything between these moments is anaemic, and overly-reliant on italicised flashbacks.

ISBN: 9781789546477
ISBN-10: 1789546478
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 384
Published: 24th February 2020
Publisher: Head of Zeus

Review: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

9781780227894At 1,500 pages, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is the longest book I’ve ever read, and possibly the longest book I ever want to read. I consumed it — or it consumed me — over two weeks of vacation. I ingested 300-page chunks on multiple plane journeys and bus rides, and piecemeal between festivities at a frenzied Indian wedding. It was never anything less than utterly compelling and all-consuming, but it truly sung during those uninterrupted hours of ceaseless reading; when the plot points, characters, and their innumerable strands of connective tissue truly came to the fore, alongside the luminous immensity of its scale and scope.

Seth luxuriates in this tale of Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s attempt to find her daughter, Lata, a suitable boy to marry, which is the overriding centrepiece of a novel that strives (and succeeds) to be much more than a love story. Set primarily in Brahmpur, A Suitable Boy spotlights four well-off families — particularly their younger members — in the tumultuous time of newly independent India, which is striving to find its identity in a post-English world. The novel marries familial and political drama, flavoured with plenty of local colour, and despite its enormity, never feels overstuffed. It’s a literary colossus, a brilliant book, that didn’t quite hit the same high notes for me as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, but is nonetheless a novel I’ll remember reading for the rest of my life.

ISBN: 9781780227894
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 1504
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Country of Publication: GB

Review: A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

C2AD032C-4C02-4826-B2C6-0BCF66F3B779In this debut novel by neurodivergent author Madeleine Ryan, we spend a night in the mind of a young woman on the autism spectrum as she prepares for, and attends, a lavish Christmas Eve party in Melbourne.

Exposed to her acerbic, self-aware, painfully deadpan inner monologue, readers who loved the quirky characters in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Convenience Store Woman (and maybe even George Simsion’s Rosie trilogy) will find Ryan’s narrator just as empathetic and beguiling. But whereas those protagonists starred in narrative-driven novels laden with heightened melodrama, the lead in A Room Called Earth isn’t fated to have an eventful night; the strength of the book is that its foundation lies in the every day. Nothing extraordinary occurs at the party. What’s extraordinary is the ordinariness of her thoughts and observations; her refusal to adhere to entrenched societal expectations clashing with a desire to belong, and to make a deep, long lasting human connection. Relatable, much? However different neurodiverse people view the world, our wants and desires boil down to the same fundamentals.

Throughout her night, and into the next morning, our narrator deliberates over feminism, Indigenous Australians, love, toxic masculinity, mysticism; a whole smorgasbord of subjects float to the surface of her stream of consciousnesses, and it all meshes cohesively, and beautifully. A Room Called Earth is a fresh and exceptionally strong portrait of a young woman, void of the sentimentality and theatrics that could easily have turned the proceedings into a soap opera. It’s a smashing debut.

Publication: 1 September 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925849776
Pages: 304

Review: The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

9781787462977Although it’s comprised of incongruent components — the unconventional, enigmatic, titular boy (now man) from the woods, seems oddly shoehorned into this ripped-from-the-head-lines plot — there’s no denying Harlan Coben is the master of the wickedly seductive , twist-filled, stay-up-all-night thriller.

The Boy From the Woods introduces former soldier and private investigator, Wilde. That’s not his real name; you see, decades ago, when he was a mere boy, Wilde was discovered in the New Jersey backwoods, living a feral existence, with no memory of his past. And despite attempts by friends and his adoptive parents to indoctrinate him into the “real world,” Wilde prefers living alone, off the grid, unshackled by societal constraints. So, Jack Reacher in the woods, essentially.

Wilde is plucked from his solitude by his troubled godson, Matthew Crimstein. Matthew’s worried about his bullied classmate, Naomi Pine, who has gone missing, and he’s turned to his grandmother, powerful attorney Hester Crimstein, for help; who has come to Wilde for help, since this plot needs a protagonist. Wilde learns Naomi’s classmate, Crash Maynard, is responsible for the majority of her bullying; and that his father, Dash Maynard, is best pals with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers; and who may or may not have some incriminating video recordings that could destroy his  friend’s candidacy; which may or may not be connected to Naomi’s disappearance (and a subsequent kidnap, of another child; no spoilers!).

Subplots and red herrings abound; The Boy From the Woods has Coben’s trademark twists and turns, but this time his hero lacks the heart and genuineness of, say, Myron Bolitar.  Wilde’s an offbeat character, whose origin sounds fascinating on the blurb of a book, but it’s not really fleshed out enough here, and he feels tacked on to a tale that doesn’t really need him. Hester Crimstein could’ve been the protagonist of this story. She’d kick less ass, presumably — Hester’s a sixty-something lawyer, after all — but I think she’d be a superior anchor. All that said, Coben’s the master at annihilating hours in your day, and this one makes for perfect airplane reading.

ISBN: 9781529123838
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 17-Mar-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar

t2u2yfjss2tof85oppkww3ujvdfa_zszk-pesqhpmh4dda6060“The day the dead visited the surgeon, the air in his clinic was laced with formaldehyde.”

With Night Theatre, Vikram Paralkar has crafted two thirds a masterpiece, its charm  only slightly diminished by the abruptness of one element of its denouement, but which is overall germane to its central themes: the mysteries of death, and the wonders of life.

Paralkar’s novel reminded me of Murakami’s ability to blend the commonplace with the surreal and nightmarish. It’s got a beguiling simple setup. A former surgeon — now relegated to derisory general practitioner duties for reasons explained in the text — is closing up his ramshackle clinic in rural India for the night, when he is visited by an egregiously wounded family. In fact, he quickly realises, the injuries sustained by the teacher, his heavily pregnant wife, and their young son during a brutal assault are unsurvivable. Somehow — impossibly — the dead have come to the surgeon for help. They’ve made a deal with an angel in the afterlife, and they need the surgeon to mend their mortal wounds before sunrise so that they may return to life. But conditions apply to their arrangement.

As this compelling story unfolds throughout the course of a single night, the surgeon’s medical skills and faith are tested like never before; the very foundations of his belief system turned inside out. Night Theatre is beguiling, unnerving and haunting; I loved it, despite my reservations about its resolution.

ISBN: 9781788161329
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 21-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

9780143789178Candice Fox brilliantly transmutes her distinct brand of crime fiction — action-driven mysteries anchored by dynamic, unorthodox characters, sprinkled with black humour — to Los Angeles in Gathering Dark, in what readers can only hope is the beginning of a brand new series.

The imperilled runaway daughter of her former cellmate reunites ex-con Blair Harbour with Sneak Lawlor. Harbour’s not looking for trouble — the convicted murderer, out on probation, is determined to win back custody of her son — but she owes Sneak for being her only friend on the inside, never mind the overriding guilt she would feel if something happened to Dayly. That their partnership quickly allies them with one of LA’s most feared underworld figures is only the beginning of Harbour’s problems.

Meanwhile, Detective Jessica Sanchez, is facing her own crisis. She’s just inherited a $7 million mansion as a reward for solving a cold case, making her public enemy number one within the LAPD. The last thing she needs is Blair Harbour  — the woman she put behind bars ten years ago — knocking on her door, begging for help.

Fox adroitly shuffles this tangled cast towards an action-packed ending that is considerably tighter and more satisfying than your average whodunit. And while I miss her evocation of the Australian landscape, her Los Angeles feels authentic. With Gathering Dark, Fox has enlivened the standard police procedural with her customary supercharged offbeat characters, and whipcracking pace. More, please.

Published: 31 March 2020
ISBN: 9780143789178
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

9781784743482“The thing about old girlfriends, Micah reflected, is that each one subtracts something from you. You say goodbye to your first great romance and move on to the next, but you find you have less to give the next. A little chip of you has gone missing; you’re not quite so wholly there in the new relationship. And less there in the one after that, and even less in the one after that one.”

This is comfortably familiar fiction by Anne Tyler; remorselessly poignant, rendered with a unique blend of melancholy and warmheartedness that is distinctly her own style. Redhead by the Side of the Road is another beautifully written gem; and although I do wish Tyler would demonstrate slightly more ambition in the latter part of her stellar career, I’m inevitably enchanted by the subtlety and delicate touch of her writing.

Micah Mortimer’s life is strictly governed by a self-imposed, extremely regimented routine. Think you’re organised? Think again; you ain’t got nothin’ on Micah. He wakes, every morning, at 7:15am for his run, then starts his work as a freelance tech consultant for his small business ‘Tech Hermit,’ and then in the afternoon manages tasks in the apartment building where he’s s the live-in super. Micah’s life is ordered; carefully coordinated for maximum efficiency. To the extent that, from our omniscient perspective, he appears straitjacketed by his habits; emotionally blanched. Until two events destabilise Micah’s system: his “woman friend” reveals she is facing eviction from her apartment; and a teenager shows up at his door claiming to be his son.

As Tyler strips Micah of his delusions, she conveys the texture of human emotion with graceful precision. As ever, she plays to her strengths, and as always, she has created a wonderfully complicated character who lingers in your imagination long after the final page.

Published: 15 April 2020
ISBN: 9781784743482
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 192
RRP: $29.99