Review: Camino Winds by John Grisham

9781529342468Much like its predecessor “Camino Island,” John Grisham’s latest is a lightweight thriller, efficiently paced and plotted, rendered with all the virtuosity of an experienced genre practitioner. It is Grisham at his most pulpy.

Camino Island is a resort island in Florida inhabited by some of America’s most popular writers, all coalesced into a literary cabal by local bookshop owner Bruce Kable. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Leo, who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, one of Bruce’s author pals turns up dead — actually, murdered.

Nelson Kerr, a former trial lawyer-turned-whistle-blower-turned-bestselling-thriller-writer, had plenty of enemies, but distracted by the hurricane clean-up (and addled by their own ineptness) the local cops are unable to find a suspect. So it’s up to Bruce and his writers to solve Kerr’s murder, which enmeshes them in a plot involving his unpublished manuscript, Medicare fraud, an unapproved Chinese drug, and nursing home abuse — not to mention professional hired assassins.

“Camino Winds” unravels leisurely, but assuredly. This is not a white-knuckle thrill-ride, but a methodical procedural. Various characters flit in and out of Grisham’s spotlight as the investigation takes on a larger scope. His handling of its many pieces is impressive, but the discerning reader might take issue with his workmanlike approach.

ISBN: 9781529342468
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 28-Apr-2020

Book Review: Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

9781444707892Stephen King’s masterful psychodrama “Lisey’s Story” sustains a throb of dread throughout its chunk, dollops of the weird, surreal and nightmarish served throughout to form a potent concoction; one of King’s most introspective and haunting tomes.

Two years after the death of her husband, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Scott Landon, Lisey begins clearing his workspace, cluttered with detritus only writers accumulate. It’s not the peaceful, purgative process she might hope it to be: academic vultures are desperate for access to Scott’s archive of unpublished works — to pick over his corpse — and one named Joseph Woodbody has gone so far as to hire a crazed killer to scare her into donating them to the University of Pittsburgh.

But what nobody understands — nobody but Lisey — is how Scott conjured his idea. Or rather, where. Scott had a supernatural ability to visit another world, where his imagination could run riot, and the darkness and light of his subconscious manifested extraordinary beauty and inconceivable  horror. It is a place called Boo’Ya Moon, and to confront her own demons, and the ghosts of Scott’s past, it’s a place Lisey must also venture.

“Lisey’s Story” is an unflinching examination of the darkest recesses of the human mind. It is King at his finest: an epic tale, quietly told, about marriage, family, loss and creativity; about the glimmer of happiness at the end of a long road of suffering.

ISBN: 9781444707892
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 704
Published: 13th September 2011
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Review: The Terminal List by Jack Carr

the-terminal-list-9781982157111_lgYou are familiar with the premise of “The Terminal List” because you’ve seen a version of this story played out a million times before. But if you’re like me — you enjoy a dose of action-lit in their monthly reading — Jack Carr’s political / revenge thriller hybrid is a competent recycling of familiar ingredients.

Navy SEAL Commander James Reece is the sole survivor of a mission gone wrong in Afghanistan. He had a bad feeling about the op from the start, and back home, his attempts to mollify his concerns and unearth the truth are stonewalled by the top brass.

Soon, during a routine CT scan, Reece learns he has a brain tumour. Alarmingly, so did other members of his team, which can’t be a coincidence. Then he discovers the bullet-riddled corpses of his pregnant wife and baby daughter at his house in Coronado, California. And Jack knows he has become unwittingly embroiled in the machinations of a secret cabal. But his enemies have made a fatal error. They’ve unleashed an apex predator; stripped a trained killer of the only things that kept him human and reigned in. And a man like that, with nothing to lose, wants only one thing: revenge.

The action comes thick and fast, and crackles with insider information, some of which has been redacted by the Department of Defence, leaving a trail of blacked-out sentences and words throughout the text, which prove more distracting than intriguing. Carr’s level of detail when it comes to weaponry and tech is almost Clancy-level, and his hero’s homicidal tunnel-vision delivers a high body count and ingenious methods of killing for readers who might think they’ve seen it all before.

“The Terminal List” is not a novel that delves into the morality of Reece’s kill spree. Revenge does not poison his soul. This is action-lit at its purest, for fans of Flynn, Hurwitz, Greaney, and Ludlum of yore: one crusading individual against an impossibly powerful adversary. It won’t turn you into a fan of the genre, but for stalwarts, there’s plenty to enjoy.

ISBN: 9781982157111
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 8-Jul-2020
Country of Publication: United States

Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

9781529391541Stephen King is never more virtuosic than when he’s at his most concise. I love “The Stand”, and “Duma Key,” and “Under the Dome” — but it’s in the shorter form, where his ideas are honed knife-sharp, that his stories become incandescent.

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of four novellas that demonstrate King’s storytelling pliability. The titular novella — a sequel to “The Outsider” and the Mr. Mercedes trilogy — is the most straightforward and (dare I day) ‘generic’ of the bunch. Holly Gibney notices something peculiar about a reporter, Chet Ondowsky, reporting on an explosion at a middle school, and soon learns it’s no coincidence he’s first on the scene at incidents of mass casualties. “If It Bleeds” is a clever mashup of police procedural and pulse-pounding horror, and is entertaining as heck, but is definitely King writing at his ‘safest.’

My favourite story is the collection’s opener, “Mr Harrigan’s Phone,” about an iPhone possessed by a supernatural force hellbent on punishing wrongdoers. But of course, it’s about far more than that; it’s the humanity of the characters, and King’s examination of their willingness (or trepidation) to utilise the ‘ghost in the machine’ that makes it a standout, and one of King’s most haunting stories in recent times.

“Rat” is another classic that sees King mining familiar ground, but still digging up gold. Drew Larson is a struggling writer, cut off in the wintery backwoods by a cataclysmic storm, where he encounters a talking rat he is certain must be a consequence of a fever dream. But when the Rat asks what price Drew is willing to pay for personal success, and they agree terms, Drew’s life is unalterably changed. As unsettling as it is intriguing, as King — through Drew — contemplates creativity and the writing life.

“The Life of Chuck” is the strangest, most beguiling story of the quartet, transpiring in reverse chronological order as it unveils the biography of Chuck Krantz, beginning with the end of the world, as Chuck lays dying from a brain tumour, and ending with his childhood, where he learns ‘every year you life, that world inside your head will get bigger and brighter, more detailed and complex.’ It’s not esoteric, but it’s definitely King at his most nuanced, and effective.

A strong collection from King, which will sate his legion of fans, and likely inspire new ones. These stories showcase the breadth of King’s powers, and would be perfect for any reader keen to sample his work for the first time.

ISBN: 9781529391541
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 21-Apr-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Long Range by C.J. Box

x293“Long Range” — the twentieth Joe Pickett novel — is a companionable entry in the series that sees the Wyoming game warden’s irrepressible ally Nate Romanowski — baddest of ex-military badasses — the primary suspect in the attempted assassination of Twelve Sleep County Judge Hewitt. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a Sinaloan drug cartel hitman named Orlando Panfile has arrived in Wyoming to avenge the deaths of the four assassins Nate dispatched in “Wolf Pack” (2019). Incarcerated by local authorities, Nate is helpless as the killer closes in on his wife and newborn.

This is standard fare for C.J. Box and his longtime hero Joe Pickett. But it would be crass to lament that we have seen and read it all before. I love Box’s strong cast, the tendrils of continuity that exist between his books, and his evocative descriptions of the Wyoming landscape. His novels are distinct for it. Certainly, in many respects, “Long Range” is made out of pieces of Joe’s previous adventures, not much of it new, but rest assured, each element is polished to a gloss, and the pages fly.

The trouble is, it’s hard to sustain suspense when we know, deep down, none of our heroes are going to be permanently damaged. Bruised and battered, sure — but nothing more than that. So by centring the drama around their mortality, which we know is never truly in question, rather than the complexity of its mystery, the book actually becomes less dramatic. Entertaining, for sure; and fans will love their annual visit to Twelve Sleep County, and checking in on Joe, Marybeth, and their daughters. This book may not be as knuckle-biting as Box’s best, but his taut, clean writing ensures his latest is never anything less than gripping.

ISBN: 9781788549288
Imprint: Head of Zeus – GB
On Sale: 09/03/2020
RRP: 32.99 AUD

Review: The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

9781760895679In his debut novel “The Bluffs,” Kyle Perry demonstrates a remarkable ability to imbue the forbidding landscape of the mountains in Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers with potential otherworldly hostilities, infusing enough pulse-pounding, page-turning excitement — and refined police procedural mechanics — to keep you up way past bedtime. Blending the supernatural into crime novels is a tradition that goes back to Poe and Conan Doyle — and “The Bluffs” shows how evocative the combination can be.

When a group of teenage girls on a school excursion go missing in the remote wilderness of the collection of mountain bluffs that comprise the northern edge of the Central Highlands plateau in Tasmania, the citizens of Limestone Creek are immediately on edge. Three decades ago, another group of young girls disappeared in the bluffs, and the legend of  ‘the Hungry Man’ — ‘who likes little girls, with their pretty faces and pretty curls’ — still haunts the town.

Limestone Creek is laden with dark secrets and rife with corruption. Much like the people of Kiewarra in Jane Harper’s “The Dry,” and the citizens in Chris Hammer’s Riversend (“Scrublands”) and Port Silver (“Silver”), there are monstrous connections between the residents of Limestone Creek. It falls on former Sydney Detective Con Badenhorst — plagued by his own demons — to find the girls, and determine what happened, while prime suspect Jordan Murphy —  local drug dealer and father of one of the missing students — launches a rogue parallel investigation. Answers await both men on the bluffs.

With its hint of the uncanny, “The Bluffs” reminded me of Michael Koryta’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead” and his Mark Novak duology; crisp writing and steady suspense amplified by its setting. Kyle Perry shows that evil lurks not just in the hearts of humankind, but in the treacherous rugged terrain that surrounds us.

Published: 2 July 2020
ISBN: 9781760895679
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: A Burning by Megha Majumdar

a-burning-9781471190278_lgMegha Majumdar’s debut explodes with narrative force. It begs comparison to Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance in terms of its scale and thematic scope — but tackles its subject matter far more succinctly. Seth and Mistry wrote sweeping epics that submerged readers in the lives of its characters; luxuriated (successfully) for hundreds of pages in their portraits of India. A Burning is a staccato-paced, whiplash of a novel. Its three interwoven stories crisscross throughout its lean page count, contributing to a fast-paced examination of contemporary India; its systemic corruption, and its gaping class and religious divisions. 

On the night of a devastating terrorist attack in Kolkata, a poor, young Muslim girl named Jivan posts on Facebook: “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” The next day she is arrested as a terrorist collaborator. The alibi of a trans woman (or “hijra”) named Lovely could set Jivan free — but might also cost the aspiring Bollywood actress the fame and glory she desires, but has always seems so out of reach. Jivan’s former gym teacher has no compunction falsifying his own testimony to indict Jivan; he’s desperate to ascend the political ladder, and willingly commits countless morally-questionable acts to cement his status in the populist Jana Kalyan Party.

If these three stories were disentangled and laid out separately, the characters in A Burning might feel constructed purely for Majumdar to make a point about the injustices of being an outcast in India, rather than flesh and blood, and textured; a novel about politics rather than a novel about people. It is the architecture of Majumdar’s narrative that makes the novel work. By forsaking breadth, many of its scenes feel like vignettes; pencil sketches rather than inked portraits. Much of its pace is manufactured through expository, dialogue-heavy sections. But its form perfectly fits its content. It is intense, direct, and daring: a gleaming spotlight illuminating an unjust reality, building to a wrenching, inevitable conclusion that crushes like a bulldozer. Few novels have probed the sickness inherent in India’s inequality more evocatively than this.

ISBN: 9781471190278
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Available: 8th July 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd

Review: When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

9780733644849Although elements of When She Was Good play according to the form of a traditional police procedural, Michael Robotham’s latest — a direct sequel to Good Girl, Bad Girl (2019) — is more than about the hunt for criminals and the simple question of guilt. This is a story of  lingering human evil and trauma that is capable of destroying lives in both the past and present, transcended beyond genre fodder thanks to Robotham’s unparalleled ability to evoke true human emotion through fully realised characters — and a pulse-pounding ratcheting of tension as it builds towards its climax.

Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven has finally tracked down Sacha Hopewell, the young constable who carried Evie Cormac — dubbed “Angel Face” by the press — out of a house in north London seven years ago, where she was discovered hiding only a few feet away from the decomposing body of a man who had been tortured to death. Cyrus and Evie are inextricably linked through their separate traumas, and he is determined to untangle the truth of her past — despite Evie’s own reluctance and fear about what he might uncover.

Then Cyrus is called to the scene of retired police officer Hamish Whitmore’s suspected suicide — but Cyrus isn’t so sure, and advises Detective Lenny Parcel to label the death a homicide. He learns Whitmore has been running an unsanctioned investigation into a series of child murders attributed to deceased paedophile Eugene Green. Scrawled on one of Whitemore’s notes is a name that sends chills down Cyrus’ spine: Angel Face. As Cyrus and Sacha edge closer to discovering Evie’s true identity and harrowing past, a covert and powerful cabal take desperate and lethal measures to silence her. Cyrus had hoped the truth would set Angel Face free. It may get her killed.

Robotham navigates dark and unsettling territory in this lacerating and haunting page-turner, which is as tightly plotted and explosively tense as it is poignant and wrenching. It’s also one of the standout thrillers of 2020.

ISBN: 9780733644849
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2020
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson

9780718189075Nothing could ever match the percussion-blast finale of Ragnar Jónasson’s first Hidden Iceland novel, The Darkness. But this third novel in the trilogy — or the first, chronologically, for its characters — is just as monumental, as it kickstarts the chain of events that ignited the psychological unravelling of detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir that has metastasized throughout the series.

When Jónasson introduced readers to Hulda Hermannsdóttir in The Darkness, she was 64-years-old and approaching retirement. In The Island she was in her fifties, in her prime as an  investigator; and in The Mist she is in her forties, and on the precipice of an unfathomable personal tragedy, whose aftereffects are deeply felt in every instalment of the series, and indeed in the second half of this one. Jónasson’s decision to tell Hulda’s story in reverse chronological order might sound gimmicky, but it’s a beguiling dynamic that augments these novels above the standard police procedural. All three have been slim, slick, and razor-keen, encompassing the very best of Icelandic noir traditions.

In The Mist, Jónasson parallels Hulda’s investigation into the disappearance of a girl from Gardabaet with a night of utter terror for Einar and Erla Einarsson at their isolated farm house in the east of Iceland during a violent snow storm. The suspense Jónasson evokes here is on the level of Stephen King’s Misery;  the twisty payoff as satisfying as the best of Harlan Coben. You could binge all three gleefully in an evening.

ISBN: 9780718189082
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Apr-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

9781760877989Veteran journalist Jack McEvoy — hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow — has burned all his bridges and been relegated to reporting on consumer issues for a nonprofit investigative news organisation called Fair Warning. It’s good, honest work in a world where traditional newsrooms have been hollowed out and replaced by click-bait websites, and the president is openly hostile towards the media — but it’s not the kind of work that gets Jack’s blood pumping. Death is his beat; it’s the oft-repeated mantra of the series. So when a woman he had a one-night stand with is brutally murdered, and Jack becomes a suspect, he finds himself suckered into the murder beat once more, hunting a sadistic killer .

Shrikes — also known as butcherbirds — are  carnivorous passerine birds famous for impaling their prey on twigs and barbed wire, and for their killing methodology: Shrikes grasp their victims by the neck with their beaks, squeeze the spinal cord to induce paralysis, then shake vigorously until their quarry’s neck snaps. It’s how the latest serial killer stalking Los Angeles got his name: his female victims have all been discovered with their necks broken in very specific fashion.

In searching for a connection between the victim how and why did the Shrike pinpoint these women as targets? — Jack former FBI agent Rachael Walling (a series regular in this series, and the wider “Bosch” universe) uncover the corruption ripe in the DNA testing business. There are very few regulations regarding who genealogy and DNA companies can sell your DNA to while making a profit. And the repercussions are unfathomable. Not now, perhaps; but what about the future, when usernames and passwords become defunct, and DNA becomes our exclusive identifier, and you’ve given yours away?

What separates Connelly from the competition is his interest in the blockbuster moments as much as the cartilage that binds them. He delivers authenticity as well as suspense. Fair Warning is a methodical procedural, pockmarked with insights about the changing shape of journalism and warnings about the current state, and future, of genetic testing. And its denouement hints there’s more to come from Jack. Hopefully we’re not waiting another ten years for the next instalment. Or maybe we can have the Bosch / Ballard / McEvoy / Haller crossover dreams are made of.

ISBN: 9781760877989
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 26-May-2020
Country of Publication: Australia