This is a year of truly brilliant Australian crime fiction debuts, and Shelley Burr’s Wake ranks right among them. Not only is it clever, devious and morally complex, but its roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.
The nuts and bolts of Wake will be familiar to any reader with an infinitesimal knowledge of the Australian crime genre. Once again, we are in a small, drought-ridden town. This time it’s Nannine, sparsely populated, infamous for the unsolved disappearance of Evelyn McCreery nineteen years ago, when she vanished from the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Mina.
“All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others.”
Ethan Frome is a masterpiece. Alongside Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, it’s one of the best novellas I’ve read. I need more time to decide whether it has earned a place among my esteemed Favourite Books Ever — but the fact I’m even having the debate surely says it all. I can’t tell you whether I consider it Edith Wharton’s magnum opus, because this is the first time I’ve read her. But rest assured, The House of Mirth is in next month’s reading stack. Alongside Raymond Carver, Wharton’s an author I’m going to be returning to constantly in 2022.
Gabe Ahern is your archetypal action hero from the school of hard knocks — physically battered, emotionally scarred, encumbered with a flickering moral compass. Haunted by the role he played in his wife’s death, now a recluse with a limp and a drinking problem, he makes a living trapping wild dogs for local station owners in the rugged Western Australia terrain; sometimes legally, oftentimes not. He wants nothing to do with anybody. He stays away from them, and they stay away from him.
C’mon — you know there’s always an until in a novel like this, when the reclusive hero is drawn into somebody else’s drama; something only they can solve.
After a brilliant trilogy of Ireland-based mysteries, Dervla McTiernan returns with The Murder Rule — a twisty legal thriller set in Richmond, Virginia, which exists somewhere between (vintage) John Grisham and Steve Cavanagh on the genre’s spectrum.
Compared to her Cormac Reilly series, The Murder Rule moves like a rocket. Opening with an email exchange between University of Maine law student Hannah Rokeby and Robert Parekh, who is responsible for the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project (a non-profit legal organisation whose mission is to exonerate individuals who have been wrongly convicted), Hannah (rather underhandedly) wrangles herself a job with the project, and a place on the team assigned to the Michael Dandridge case.
Don Winslow’s trilogy launcher builds like a summer storm — its tranquil beachside opening belies the violence, bloodshed and bodycount that ensues following the destruction of the armistice between two rival mob families.
City on Fire is classic Winslow: an epic story tightly focused on a core group of characters. Danny Ryan is the headliner. His father once ran the Irish mob that, to this day, controls the docks in the upper south side of Providence, Rhode Island. Today, 1986, he’s the son-in-law of the gang’s current leader, John Murphy. For years they’ve lived in relative harmony with the Italians — Danny’s even done some work for the Moretti brothers, Peter and Paulie. If they’re not exactly friends, there is at least respect between the rival factions; an understanding that peace is less costly than war.
And then Danny’s brother-in-law Liam shatters the ceasefire on the night he drunkenly assaults Paulie’s new girlfriend. Such a transgression can’t go unpunished. But as the saying goes, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Once the violence starts, it doesn’t stop: the only endpoint is mutual destruction. And Danny wants out. But the ties that bind him to Dogtown are strong.
Winslow’s trademark staccato prose makes the pages fly. City on Fire zings like a high-tension wire. The final 100 pages are a suspense masterclass, punctuated by gut-wrenching heartache. The next volume can’t come soon enough.
ISBN: 9781460756478 Format: Paperback Number Of Pages: 384 Available: 4th May 2022 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
I’d never read Raymond Carver before Elephant, but fell in love with his minimalist approach in this collection featuring the final seven stories he wrote. Carver’s language is deceptively simple, and sunk its claws into me unlike any writer I’ve read in years. I finished Elephant and immediately wanted to devour more; promptly ordered in his other collections, which I’ll sprinkle into my reading throughout the year.
Four books deep into Emma Viskic’s oeuvre and it’s clear she’s one of the best contemporary practitioners of the private-eye genre. I’ve been a big fan from the start, called Resurrection Bay a tour-de-force back in 2015 before realising each successive offering was going to be better than its predecessor, and gloriously add to the overall grand tapestry of her overarching narrative: the (attempted) redemption of Caleb Zelic.
The easy pitch for the series is: deaf private eye obstinately confronts the corruption rife in his hometown of Resurrection Bay, while bungling every single one of his personal relationships. Those Who Perish follows that same basic throughline. While Caleb’s relationship with his pregnant ex-wife Kat seems back on track, his brother Anton has relapsed into his drug habit, and they’ve been estranged for months. An anonymous tip-off alerts Caleb to his whereabouts, which is into the sights of a sniper, who has already killed at least once.
I feel like Ben Sanders doesn’t get mentioned often enough among the thriller-lit community, but the New Zealander is one of the best in the business when it comes to hard-hitting, trimmed-to-the-bone crime fiction. His latest, Exit .45, is the third in the Marshall Grade series, which reads like a marriage between Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder.
It’s hard to describe Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s not really a novel, with a single narrative strand; but I wouldn’t describe it as a collection of short stories, either. It’s more of a literary symphony. By which I mean it’s chapters, featuring overlapping characters and situations, synthesize into a mellifluous harmony.
The opening chapters introduce us to music producer Bernie Salazar and his assistant Sasha, a closeted kleptomaniac. Tertiary characters, who make an appearance or are briefly mentioned, become the focus of ensuing chapters; the same character never narrates more than one chapter; and Egan gleefully shifts the action backwards and forwards through time as she interrogates the interconnectedness of dozens of lives.
In Predator, Book of the Dead, and Scarpetta (books fourteen through sixteen in the Kay Scarpetta series), a major character discovers they have a brain tumour; one sexually assaults another; two marry each other; and one gets shot in the head. In more than one of these books, the culprit has a personal vendetta against one of the main cast members; their crimes are connected to their hatred of Kay, or Lucy, or Benton, or Marino; or a mixture of them.
The series is now too convoluted and soap operatic; the simplicity of those early first-person narrated Scarpetta’s has evaporated. Once, it was enough for a body to arrive in the morgue; for Kay to commence the autopsy; for her to realise something amiss, and proceed to involve herself in the investigation with her law enforcement partners. Now, every psychopath has a personal connection. That’s fine, once in a while. But Kay can’t be the spark for every killer’s spree.
I really want the series to get back on track, and I’m committed to seeing it through; the remaining books, including the just-published Autopsy, are in my reading pile. But my excitement has diminished.