Review: Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell

A stylistic metamorphosis — from first person to third, with James Patterson-inspired chapters that can run as short as a couple of paragraphs — can’t salvage the twelfth Kay Scarpetta novel, “Blow Fly,” which is the overwrought culmination of various plot threads from the last few books in the series. 

That means, yes  — more of French serial killer Jean-Baptiste Chandonne, aka Loup-Garou, now on death row; and more of his equally depraved brother Jay Talley, who is on a kidnapping, torture and killing spree. But the seismic revelation here is our discovery — and Scarpetta’s — of the truth about Benton Wesley’s death and — SPOILER! — his not-so-miraculous return; and the involvement of Scarpertta’s niece, Lucy Farinelli, and the ever-irascible Detective Pete Marino.

Read more

Review: The Way It is Now by Garry Disher

This is another assured and modest crime novel by Australian grandmaster Garry Disher, whose books are so enjoyable precisely because they lack even the slightest glimmer or pretension. In a genre that increasingly demands a killer hook boiled down to a single sentence, Disher’s focus is on character, and scalpel-sharp dissections of his selected themes. 

The title of “The Way It Is Now” denotes the focus of his latest: the evolution of society and its attitudes during the 20 years of Charlie Deravin’s career with the police. When it opens in January 2000 he’s new on the job, managing the fallout of the disintegration of his parents’ marriage, and working in tandem with his brother to evict his mother’s creepy housemate. Soon after, with Charlie embroiled in the police search for a missing school boy, his mother disappears. She is eventually assumed dead, and Charlie’s father is deemed the likeliest suspect, though nothing is ever proved.

Read more

Review: The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell

“The Last Precinct” picks up right where “Black Notice” left off: Kay Scarpetta, injured and reeling from her brutal takedown of the French serial killer, Loup-Garou — ‘the Werewolf.’ Which makes the abrupt shift to first person present tense (from first person past tense) all the more discombobulating; a minor pet peeve, but something that stuck in my craw for the duration.

This eleventh novel in the series is overstuffed; pockmarked with intrigue, but its narrative impetus curtailed by excessive talking and retreading over events from Scarpetta’s previous cases. The individual pieces are fascinating, but the fused result is muddled, like the merging of multiple jigsaw puzzles; one at a time, please.

Read more

Review: Silverview by John le Carré

So here it is, John le Carré’s last completed novel, “Silverview,” which reads like an epilogue for its newly-introduced characters, most of the action and excitement having already occurred off-page decades ago. But that doesn’t diminish its charm. 

Set in the distant aftermath of the Cold War, its featured spies long-retired or headed towards that point, le Carré unearths the enduring half-life of a spy’s life in this honed volume that highlights his greatest gifts: to make the mundanity of espionage and geopolitics enthralling, and to evoke incredible suspense through dialogue. The result here is slightly uneven, but never anything less than compelling, its two narrative strands threading together a little more contrivedly than le Carré’s best, but still better than many of those who’ve followed in his footsteps.

Read more

Review: The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield

“The Apollo Murders” is a brilliantly imagined and superbly crafted alternate history Cold War thriller where Apollo 18 — cancelled in reality because of budgetary cuts — launched into space in 1973. 

The crew’s initial mission objective is to collect lunar geological samples and sabotage a Russian moon rover. But things escalate quickly, and their task becomes more complicated and spectacular: destroy a Soviet spy satellite which, despite intelligence reports, isn’t the easy, unmanned target they expected. 

Read more

Review: The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly’s police procedurals have always viewed law enforcement with skepticism. They have never assumed the justice system functions efficiently. Harry Bosch was always portrayed as an outsider in an insider’s job, dedicated to his mission more than he was to the Los Angeles Police Department; he was in the department, but not of it.

Renée Ballard, Bosch’s unofficial apprentice and the star of “The Dark Hours,” is the same. She is the quintessential police detective. She lives to solve cases, but constantly finds herself bogged down in petty departmental politics and bureaucracy, particularly now, with the LAPD’s policies focused on optics, because the public’s mistrust of law enforcement is at an all time high. Here, she juggles two investigations: the murder of former gang member Javier Raffa, and the hunt for a pair of serial rapists dubbed “The Midnight Men.” 

Read more

Review: If Not Us by Mark Smith

With “If Not Us” Mark Smith joins the legion of authors confronting the unfolding catastrophe of climate change. 

Some authors have chosen to set their cli-fi in climate-ravaged near-futures; the damage done, humanity left to deal with the repercussions of a ruined world. Smith’s YA novel is set in the present, when there is still a chance for us — individually and collectively — to make a difference. And we have to — because if not us, who?

Read more

Review: 2 Sister Detective Agency by James Patterson & Candice Fox

In my mind, Candice Fox writes crime novels befitting adaptation by HBO, while Jame Patterson’s books are skewed towards network television. 

By this I mean, Patterson has morphed into a franchise. He’s a guaranteed  bestseller. But Fox is edgy; she writes non-conforming thrillers that don’t abide by the genre playbook. Patterson is the polar opposite: he is reliably entertaining, but he obeys certain rules: short chapters, expunged of detailed descriptions and digressions. His storytelling has a rhythm. Read enough of them and you begin to anticipate the cadences. Fox, meanwhile, throws out the sheet music each time. So I find their frequent collaborations fascinating.

Read more

Review: The Shadow House by Anna Downes

“The Shadow House” is a pacy domestic thriller tinged with horror; not the kind that makes your skin prickle, or your heart explode at the sound of leaves crunching outside your window à la Stephen King (although, yeah, maybe check that out); rather the discomforting kind of horror that evokes a creeping sense of dread.

At the heart of Anna Downes’s second novel are two women both trying to escape the trauma of their pasts and manage through the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Their plot lines, separated by six years, are linked tangentially at first, then become increasingly knotted. 

Read more

Review: Better Off Dead by Lee Child & Andrew Child

“Better Off Dead” is Andrew Child’s second time behind the wheel of his brother Lee’s Jack Reacher franchise, and it’s another perfectly formed action thriller that sees the former military policeman turned nomadic dispenser of extrajudicial justice face up against criminal mastermind Waad Dendoncker in a remote town on the US-Mexico border. 

Its opening reminded me of the seventh Reacher novel, “Persuader,” which also began in medias res: there, Reacher shot a cop while attempting to foil a kidnapping; here, we’re introduced to Dendoncker at the morgue as he identifies the body of a man, confirmed dead by the coroner: it’s — no, it can’t be! — Jack Reacher.

Read more