Review: The Deep by Kyle Perry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All of its bells and whistles aside, Kyle Perry’s “The Deep” reads to me like an exploration of the sliding scale or morality among his large gallery of characters, all of whom are bound by blood as members of the nefarious Dempsey family crime syndicate. 

His second novel, set in Shacktown on the Tasman Peninsula, is a battle between good and evil, you could say. Except that everyone in it is evil, at least to a degree, or has the capacity for it; but some are less evil than others, or are fighting against it; and most have their good sides. 

Its characters are knotted into a coiled mess of secrets, lies and revelations. 

The Dempsey family have run a drug ring for generations, using the fishing industry and the notorious Black Wind as cover. When thirteen-year-old Forest Dempsey — presumed dead for almost a decade — walks out of the ocean, bruised, battered, and branded, his return forcibly unites fractured members of the family; including Mackerel, desperately trying to keep out of trouble before his next court date; and his cousin Ahab, who renounced the underworld long ago. 

As they endeavour to understand what happened to Forest, the infamous drug Kingpin Blackbeard starts moving in on Shacktown, and their drug empire, compelling everyone with Dempsey blood coursing through their veins to confront their personal and familial ethos.   

“The Deep” is a mashup of Jane Harper and Matthew Reilly’s narrative sensibilities. Its location and landscape are fundamental to its being. But whereas Harper prefers a twisty slow burner, Perry chooses to flick on the afterburners, his sights set on crafting a rollicking thriller bursting with pages that grip and propel; those underwater scenes in particular. If Reilly wrote a small town mystery, it would be paced like this. The result is slightly undisciplined, but incredibly entertaining; like a whole season of television drama crammed breathlessly into 500 pages.

Published: 20 July 2021
ISBN: 9781760895716
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 464
RRP: $32.99

Review: Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Steph Cha’s “Your House Will Pay” [2020] was an incredibly ambitious crime novel that confronted the legacy of the 1992 Los Angeles riots as it probed the residual pain, rage and grief felt by two families almost 30 years after a young black girl was shot to death by a Korean woman, who mistakenly believed the girl was stealing from her convenience store.

“Follow Her Home” is Cha’s first novel. Its scope is vastly different. It is a more contained, personal story, that still manages to bring LA to life through the eyes of Juniper Song: a twenty-something, Raymond Chandler-obsessed, Korean-American, who finds herself entangled in the kind of knotted caper Philip Marlowe would’ve struggled to untangle.

It starts with a simple favour. 

Luke Cook, Juniper’s longtime friend since high school, is convinced his father is sleeping with a young Korean girl who works for his law firm. Luke wants Juniper to find out for sure. Which is a weird request, sure; but it gives her a chance to play out her Marlowe sleuthing fantasy. Even though last time she dug into a similar affair involving her young sister’s seduction by her teacher, it resulted in Iris’s suicide. 

The night ends with Juniper being clubbed unconscious, and awakening to find a corpse in the trunk of her car. From there, the case unsnarls into a dangerous web of unscrupulous characters, murder and betrayal; everything you’d expect from a private eye novel, but prismed through the perspective of an atypical gumshoe. 

I could’ve done without the overt Chandler worshipping, which reaches saturation point by the halfway mark. The opening homage, and a couple lines here and there, would’ve been enough for me to get the gist: Marlowe is Juniper’s inspiration; she found solace in Chandler’s novels during a tumultuous period in her life. I get it. But this unsubtlety aside, “Follow Her Home” is brilliantly compelling and deeply atmospheric — a wonderful blend of classic hardboiled tropes married to contemporary ideals. Next, please.  

ISBN: 9780571360444
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Fiction
Pub Date:February 2021
Page Extent:288

Review: A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m a fan of a style of crime novel that was dead, or dying, before I was born. 

Hardboiled detective fiction, exemplified by Chander, Hammett and Spillane has been replaced in popularity by psychological thrillers, unreliable narrators, and small towns with dark secrets. Lehane and Pelecanos are two modern ambassadors for the form, but with their attentions seemingly turned wholeheartedly to TV, I’m desperate for someone to carry the torch. 

Enter: Jonathan Ames.

I adored Ames’s snack-size, violent masterpiece “You Were Never Really Here.” Its simple conceit belied its stylish execution, a John Wick-esque sledgehammer to the face kind of thriller. Not for everyone, but definitely for me.  

“A Man Named Doll” is an easier book to recommend, because reduced to its finest form, it’s a straightforward mystery told through the eyes of Happy Doll, a dysfunctional ex-LAPD cop who works security at Thai Miracle Spa in a strip mall just off the Hollywood Freeway. The novel opens with a pal, Lou Shelton, asking Doll for a favour — a big one. Doll’s kidney, specifically; his are failing, and he’s running out of time. By the end of the day, Lou is dead, Doll has killed a man, and the police want him for questioning.

Doll is a mostly archetypal gumshoe transposed to present-day LA. He blunders his way into trouble (and out of it, though not without suffering). Grit and gumption are in short supply; Doll’s ineptitude is mugged shamelessly for laughs. My tastes skew more deadpan, but I can see Robert Downey Jr. starring in an adaptation, and I imagine much of the comedy will translate better to the screen.

This is a superb series opener. If the names Marlowe, Hammer, Spade, Archer and Scudder fill you with warm nostalgia, “A Man Named Doll” is for you. It’s not hardboiled detective fiction masquerading as anything. It owns what it is, wholeheartedly and delightfully. 

ISBN: 9781782276999
ISBN-10: 1782276998
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 224
Published: 29th April 2021
Publisher: Faber Factory

Review: Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kotaro Isaka’s “Bullet Train” gathers together an eclectic mix of underworld assassins on board the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka, their fates entwined by the powerful crime lord Minegishi, for reasons that come to light during their 240–320 km/h journey.

The action flits persistently between the perspectives of the various contract killers on board. I won’t mention them all, because every page offers a potential landmine revelation, but here’s a taster:

There’s Nanao, the unluckiest assassin in the world, who is there to steal a suitcase full of cash. There are the two fruits — the calm, scholarly Tangerine, and his Thomas the Tank Engine-obsessed partner, Lemon — who are tasked with safeguarding both Minegishi’s son, and the suitcase. Kimura is in a nearby carriage, an ex-alcoholic (and ex-assassin) and single parent who wants revenge on the teenager who pushed his boy off a rooftop. But ‘The Prince’ isn’t going to go down without a fight. His outwardly youthful innocence masks his wicked cunning. The kid is actually the most psychopathic of the lot. 

In less assured hands the reader might not be able to see the forest through the trees, but Isaka (via his translator Sam Malissa) is remarkably adept at letting each character have a moment to make a lasting impression. And while it would be an exaggeration to suggest we form any sort of emotional connection with the cast — they are most assuredly bad people — they’re delineated beyond what you might expect, thanks to regular flashbacks and philosophical asides; not to mention countless scenes involving a character holding a gun to the head of another and gabbing.

“Bullet Train” is coated with a thick sheen of surreality, its most serious moments perforated with a whimsy that never quite turns into laugh-out-loud, but renders the violence more cartoonish than gratuitous. It’s ripe for film adaptation, a kind of “Murder on the Orient Express” directed by Tarantino.

Published: 16 March 2021
ISBN: 9781787302594
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Another year, another exceptional thriller by Michael Robotham. The guy is as sure a thing as you get in the genre. You reach for one of his books and you know you will be lost to your world for the entirety of its pages.

“When You Are Mine” is being touted as a standalone, which is a shame, because I’d love to revisit Philomena McCarthy sometime in the future. The events of this novel leave an indelible scar. And the kind of terrain you could mine for a whole series.

Philomena’s father is London gangster Edward McCarthy, the ‘teflon man’ who reinvented himself after a lifetime of criminality and steered into outwardly legitimate money-making schemes. But she can’t shake his notoriety. Particularly given her career choice: Phil is a police officer with the Metropolitan Police.

When Philomena is called to the scene of a domestic assault, she clashes with the bloodied young woman’s boyfriend and arrests him. The trouble for her is, Darren Goodall is a highly decorated (and very much her senior) detective sergeant, with friends in even higher places. Which means her upwards career trajectory is suddenly in a tailspin.

But Phil can’t leave it alone. She is disgusted by Goodall’s flagrant sullying of the badge and all it means, which is enhanced when she learns his wife and kids live in fear, under his thumb. And she has formed an imprudent friendship with the woman he attacked, Tempe; despite warnings from her friends and fiancé that Tempe has secrets of her own, and shouldn’t be trusted. 

As “When You Are Mine” races along, the plot pivots in surprising directions, and Philomena is forced to reassess her own code of morality as her wedding day looms. The final pages brilliantly pull together the story’s many threads, guiding readers to a devastatingly wistful conclusion.

Signature Robotham, for whom the hits just keep on coming.

ISBN: 9780733645921
ISBN-10: 0733645925
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Available: 30th June 2021
Publisher: Hachette Australia

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I generally don’t care for hard science fiction. By which I mean, sci-fi steeped in scientific accuracy and logic.

Blame a lifetime reading superhero comics. 

Superman has incredible abilities because solar energy from the yellow sun is the source of energy for Kryptonian power. That explanation is enough. You want to explain how his body metabolizes that sunlight? Ugh. Please — don’t.

Same goes for Green Lantern’s power ring: a weapon capable of transforming the wearer’s thoughts into physical constructs through sheer willpower. I don’t need a physics lesson. That’s all I need. 

But somehow, Andy Weir has this ability to make what I’d otherwise consider mind-numbingly tedious explanations on quantum physics, rocket science, chemistry, engineering — basically anything remotely scientific and mathematical — absolutely enthralling, and more often than not, insanely nail-biting. He dumps his heroes in life threatening predicaments, and works with the reader through the solution, which is always constructed around veritable science, and deciphered for the layman. And when things get speculative, you buy into it, because he’s earned it.

“Project Hail Mary” will be one of my favourite novels of the year. 

I know it will be, because as I raced through its pages I was combatting conflicting urges to read faster, and to slow down; to savour it. That’s always special. And honestly, I think the less you know about it the better. If the logline has you intrigued — a sole surviving astronaut, Ryland Grace, is on a mission to save Earth — jump in. Don’t read reviews — too late if you’re here, obviously — and go in as blind as you can. 

This is smart, compulsive, addictive science fiction. It’s destined to be adapted into a blockbuster flick, but with so much of its tension derived from Grace’s inner-monologuing and puzzle-solving, it’s not going to be an easy translation. So jump on the bandwagon now. The hype, I am happy to report, is totally justified.

Published: 4 May 2021
ISBN: 9781529100624
Imprint: Del Rey
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 496
RRP: $32.99

Review: Cruel and Unusual by Patricia Cornwell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“… he thanked God for a mercy I saw no evidence of and claimed promises too late for God to keep.”

Here we go. The fourth book in the Kay Scarpetta series, and I feel like Patricia Cornwell is really hitting her stride. This is everything I want from my crime fiction: a super compelling hook fleshed out in a serpentine plot, its now firmly-established characters enmeshed in a wider conspiracy.  

Continue reading

Review: The Girl Remains by Katherine Firkin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Following on from her debut “Sticks and Stones,” Katherine Firkin reunites readers with Victorian Police Detective Emmett Corban as he reopens a twenty-two-year-old cold case when human bones are discovered on an isolated beach in the coastal town of Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula.

On the night of 22 September, 1998, three teenage girls — Gypsy, Scarlett and Cecilia — set off into the darkness, weaving their way through shrubbery, following a trail towards Blairgowrie’s notorious Koonya Ocean Beach: ‘a magnificent stretch of coastline, punctuated by towering sandstone rocks and crashing waves.’ Only two of the girls — Gypsy and Scarlett — returned. And for more than twenty years, the disappearance of Cecilia May has baffled detectives. It remains a mystery, waiting to be solved. 

Emmett Corban, his new partner Lanh Nguyen, and a cohort of investigators, are tasked with digging into now decades-old trauma and secrets. In doing so, they unravel a wickedly complex tapestry, which includes a registered sex offender who confessed to the murder despite having a rock-solid alibi; Gypsy and Scarlett’s sketchy recollections of what precisely happened that night; and a visitor to Blairgowrie who is determined to exact her own brand of justice.

“The Girl Remains” is an earnestly crafted police procedural. Firkin isn’t trying to put some magical spin on the conventional elements of the detective genre, which makes it catnip for armchair sleuths like myself. Her step-by-step description of procedural details, from reviewing old case files to reinterviewing suspects and witnesses, totally immerse readers in the investigation. And the sprinkling of personal dramas — including Emmett’s news-photographer wife, Cindy, gatecrashing the investigation — adds further spice. The purity of its unfurling, even as it criss-crosses between its expansive cast, makes it a pleasure to read.

Published: 4 May 2021
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
RRP: $32.99

Review: Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is an audacious, twist-filled thriller whose enjoyment hinges on whether you’re able to buy into its central conceit, which morphs outlandishly from its opening premise, when Abigail Baskin enters her marriage to ridiculously wealthy Bruce Lamb carrying a secret.

During her bachelorette party weekend a few weeks before her wedding, Abigail slept with a stranger named Scottie. Although she’s wracked by guilt, she decides not to mention her one night stand to Bruce: the ramifications would be severe given his (ominous) stance on fidelity. So she’ll live with the secret, and it will be hers alone. Or so she hopes. Soon Scottie emails Abigail suggesting they share a deep connection. They’re soulmates. They should be together.

Abigail ignores him.

She marries Bruce, and towards the end of their wedding night, she thinks she spots Scottie. Again, she considers owning up to Bruce. Their honeymoon to a secluded Maine island serves as the perfect distraction. Abigail can deliberate, in peace, in these tranquil surroundings.

But Scottie’s there too. And another guest, who shares Abigail’s plight: a secret from her husband. What happens next is bloody and violent, and will stretch some reader’s credulity to the limit; maybe beyond. There’s no question that Peter Swanson has crafted a breakneck thriller. And it goes places I didn’t expect it to, which is preferential to another assembly-line thriller. Nothing about the opening of “Every Vow You Break” telegraphs its wild climax, which sees Abigail taking on a virulent manifestation of powerful men committed to patriarchy. Ultimately implausible, but also unputdownable. 

ISBN: 9780571358502
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 30th March 2021
Publisher: Faber

Review: Repentance by Eloísa Díaz

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In my experience, readers who besmirch crime fiction do so because of the supposed ‘limitations of the form.’ Crime novels have no ‘literary merit’ (a dubious concept) because they are merely ‘entertainments’ ― thanks, Graham Greene.

But here is a novel I would happily recommend to any reticent crime reader, whose mystery is vital to its plot, but whose solving is secondary to the exploration of its central character, and the city of Buenos Aires. It’s entertaining, sure: but it’s also got plenty to say about greed, corruption, guilt and redemption.

I wonder where it would fit on Greene’s spectrum of ‘entertainments’ and ‘novels?’

Eloísa Díaz’s “Repentance” vividly depicts the brutality, uncertainty and fragility of life in Buenos Aires during two tumultuous periods in Argentina’s history. In 1981, the Dirty War was at its peak. By its end, 30,000 people would be ‘disappeared’ by the state as the country’s military dictatorship turned against its own people.

Among them: the brother of Policía Federal inspector Joaquín Alzada.

Twenty years later, as thousands of protestors start revolting against the government, an unidentified corpse is discovered in a skip behind the city morgue. Then a woman from one of the city’s wealthiest families goes missing, and the only clue to her disappearance is a number plate linked to a high-ranking government official. Alzada is ruled off the case. She hasn’t been missing long enough to warrant an investigation. But Alazada can’t leave it alone. He decides to present the corpse from the morgue as the missing woman’s… and open a murder file.

This gritty, absorbing novel is served well by Díaz’s concise prose. I could’ve done without the overuse of italics to demarcate Alazada’s inner monologue, but it’s the one flaw in a novel I rushed to finish, only to have it linger in my thoughts long after I was done. It’s an absolutely enthralling portrait of the darkest days of Argentine suppression and sedition, and one man trying to make sense of it.

ISBN: 9781474613842
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion
Publish Date: 4-Feb-2021
Country of Publication: United Kingdom