Review: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

9781925498882Garry Disher is one of the most reliable craftsmen in crime fiction, and his latest, Under the Cold Bright Lights, epitomises his talents. This is a smart police procedural, with satisfying twists and turns, and a vigilante cop readers will want to see return.

Alan Auhl has returned to the Victorian Police Department after a brief sabbatical to work cold cases with a team of young detectives. He’s very much set in his ways, the kind of cop who prefers to get off his arse and knock on doors than run computer searches and make inquiries by phone. As such, his colleagues have dubbed him a retread, but he doesn’t mind. With his marriage in tatters, the job gives Auhl focus, and the three unrelated cases he works — four if you count a personal vendetta — demonstrate his unparalleled tenacity . . . and willingness to bend, possibly break, the law he was sworn to protect.

Auhl lives in a large shared-house — he refers to it as Chateau Auhl — which he uses to provide shelter for strays, people down on their luck, in desperate need of aid. Two of those boarders include a battered wife and her ten-year-old daughter, who are entangled in legal proceedings that will determine custody of the girl. Which means Auhl’s private life is as complicated as his professional one, as he juggles the death of John Elphick, and the discovery of a skeleton beneath a concrete slab, and the doctor who has seemingly killed two wives without leaving a trace of evidence against him.

Free of the structural problems you might expect from juggling so many unrealted plots, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a brilliant demonstration of Garry Disher’s artistry. And the doses of vigilante justice add essential pep to proceedings, providing a shot of adrenaline just when you think the book might be gliding. Gripping and intelligent, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a crackling page-turner, and proof that Disher should be held in the same regard as his international contemporaries. Connelly and Rankin fans should devour this, and Disher’s extensive back catalogue.

ISBN: 9781925498882
Format: Paperback (231mm x 155mm x 25mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Melan9781925498592ie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day is an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, which spotlights the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. These are 14 powerfully perceptive stories, written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess. While the terrain covered might be familiar, Cheng’s take on our treasured multiculturalism feels fresh.

Some of the pieces in Australia Day have been published elsewhere, including in the Griffith Review and Sleepers Almanac, but I’d yet to sample Cheng’s work prior to cracking the spine of this collection, and in truth, through my own ignorance, I knew little about her fiction. It was only thanks to the cherished booksellers grapevine that my attention was piqued, and I’m ever-so-grateful that community highlighted another gem. Cheng’s mastery of the form seems to deepen with each story, and at various moments I was jubilant and disheartened by her depiction of our society, but constantly awed by the deftness of her prose. Most admirable is Cheng’s capacity to both indict and acquit Australians throughout her stories: she is equally scathing as she is complimentary, and neither is ever overtly expressed, always nuanced.

Australia Day is a stunning reminder of our great nation’s diversity. Regardless of our heritage, where we’ve come from, or where we’re going — race, religion, ethnicity be damned — we are all inextricably linked by the land we inhabit and share. Melanie Cheng’s short story collection is a celebration of our multiculturalism, even when some of her insights prove uncomfortable. It’s necessary reading, not only because it’s a microcosm of who we are, but because each story is a gem, and a joy to behold.

ISBN: 9781925498592
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 3-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Depends What You Mean By Extremist by John Safran

9781926428772.jpgJohn Safran’s easy-reading but hard-hitting expose of Australia’s far-right and extremist movement will inform and alarm general readers, and will surely arouse the ire of those involved amongst the unabashedly diverse community of Australia’s white nationalists, anarchists, ISIS supporters, and others.

Depends What You Mean by Extremist is told in Safran’s inimitable laconic style, which means even the hideous personalities introduced throughout the text are granted moments of levity. So while it’s a frightening book — exposure to some of these people left me truly mortified and uncomfortable — it’s an undeniably entertaining yarn, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Safran’s intent isn’t to demonize the extreme alt-right — he can rely on the majority of his readership to do that anyway, without adding his own politics and opinions to the fray — but to relay his experiences and interactions with them. Through his chronicle, we witness the incertitude of their arguments, and at other moments, the unfiltered brashness of their hatred, which is usually founded on misinformation.

We exist in troubled times. Our only way to combat extremism, in all of its forms, is to be as well-educated and as informed as we possibly can be. Depends What You Mean by Extremist is therefore a vital text. It doesn’t offer solutions, rather it paints a portrait of Australia today; or at least, one man’s perspective. We can be aghast at the reality we face, but hopefully readers close the book ready to engage meaningfully rather than add their voice to the chorus of hate. Safran’s new book is an engaging and thought-provoking read. It shouldn’t be missed, nor should it be read in a vacuum. Read it, then read more. Stay informed. Stay relevant.

ISBN: 9781926428772
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty mightn’t boast the edginess or outright boldness of Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, but don’t be fooled into thinking Liane Moriarty’s latest is anything short of compulsive. No other writer — I repeat, no other writer — is as capable of thrusting readers on such an emotional, exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

In Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty explores the social and psychological repercussions of a barbecue in Sydney.  I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh! Sounds like a certain celebrated Christos Tsiolkas novel! And I suppose, as a story’s defining moment, the similarity is there to be pointed at, and possibly discussed at your future book club meeting. But Truly Madly Guilty is a very different beast, focused more on the unravelling of events leading to a catastrophic moment rather than the commentary on the middle-class provided by Tsiolkas (and just to make it clear here, The Slap is a fantastic book, and demands your attention if you haven’t read it — my storytelling sensibilities just happen to fall more in line with Moriarty’s).

The specifics of the barbecue’s catastrophic event emerge gradually. The hours leading up to that moment, the moment itself, and weeks afterwards are seamlessly intercut. Moriarty provides plenty of hints and red-herrings as to what might’ve occurred, but keeps the truth shrouded in mystery, building to the revelation, keeping readers on edge and mulling over the seriousness of what occurred. At various moments I wondered: did someone have an affair? A fistfight? A murder? I was desperate for answers, and Moriarty kept me hooked, on the edge of my seat — and when the truth was revealed, rather than deflate, rather than lose all that momentum the plot had garnered, the narrative’s focus shifts to dealing with the consequences, and poses a new question to readers: is there any coming back from this? Seriously, Truly Madly Guilty is packed with the twists and turns that put first-class thrillers to shame; and few wrap up as elegantly.

As always though, character remains king in Moriarty’s work, and the large cast presented here will live long in the memory thanks to their wildly discordant personalities and interwoven histories. There’s Erika and her husband Oliver, with their incredibly buttoned-up personalities; Clementine and Sam, and their two young daughters; and Tiffany and Vid, and their brainy daughter Dakota. Not to mention the old, irritable neighbour, Harry. Each possess characteristics readers will immediately recognise from people in their lives. Guilt manifests itself in each of them in very different ways, and all struggle to move mast the catastrophic events of the barbecue.

Unravelling at breakneck speed, Truly Madly Guilty certifies Liane Moriarty’s unparalleled ability to construct an emotionally-charged story filled with unforeseen twists. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this more than Big Little Lies — but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both unequivocally 5-Star reads. 

ISBN: 9781743534915
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry.jpgYou’re going to think I’ve lapsed into hyperbole, ladies and gentlemen, but the truth is, I’ve anything but. In fact, I’m cutting right to the chase, because if you take only one thing away from this review it should be this: until further notice, Jane Harper’s The Dry is the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene. As far as debuts go, it’s one of the best I’ve read — ever. And as a (newly reappointed) bookseller, it’s a book I can’t wait to put in people’s hands and hearing their reactions the next time they’re in store; probably the next day, because it’s the kind of novel that’ll induce an acute case of binge-reading.

The small rural town of Kierwarra is on the brink. Haunted by its past, and more recently impacted by two years of severe drought, the town is struck by an even greater tragedy following the murder / suicide of a farmer and his family. Federal police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, and his presence immediately stirs latent discontent and animosity amongst certain folk.  He might now carry a badge, but there are plenty of people in Kierwarra who’ve never forgotten, and certainly never forgiven Falk, following the suspicious death of another childhood friend. Now he’s back, and digging deeper into the murder/suicide, and unearthing the town’s dark secrets from its past and present.

From its prologue, The Dry latches hold of the reader and doesn’t let up.  Aaron Falk remains an enigmatic protagonist throughout; on the one hand, we support his mission for the truth; on the other, we’re forced us to question his involvement in the death of his friend years ago. The plot twists with an assuredness that belies Jane Harper’s ‘greenhorn’ status as a novelist. Her years as a journalist have clearly stripped away the common mistakes made by debut authors. There is a sparseness to her prose, which is complimented by characterisation and a plot of great depth. Frankly, if her writing was any sharper, it would cut.

The Dry is a stylish, compulsive whodunit that will keep even the sagest mystery reader asking questions until the very last page. And by then, you’ll be gasping.

(But don’t just take my word for it…)

ISBN: 9781743548059
Classification: Fiction & related items » Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 31-May-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Talking To My Country by Stan Grant

Stan GrantI would like to think I am mindful of Australia’s indigenous population. Not just of their history – our history – and the hardships they’ve faced, but of the continuing difficulties and obstructions prohibiting our fellow Australian’s from reaching their potential; from having the same fundamental opportunities most of us have available and take for granted.

But the truth is, as a twenty-eight-year-old white man, living comfortably, with my books piled high beside me, large collection of blu-rays shelved behind me, and my Xbox One whirring in the corner, their plight doesn’t come to mind as often as it should – as it needs to. I must hold my hand up and say I’ve been ignorant. Because I don’t see it, because I’m not faced with their bleak reality on a daily basis – partly because I don’t go looking for it, also because it’s not really reported, not like it needs to be – I’ve become desensitised, almost oblivious. That’s why Stan Grant’s Talking To My Country is so important. That’s why it is essential reading. It cuts out the bullshit, and it just tells it like it is. Grant tells us what our country was, and what it has become. It’s passionate, but it’s not preachy. This isn’t a sermon. And that’s why it’s so effective. Grant is not telling us what to do; he doesn’t pretend to have the answers. He is simply laying out the facts and pleading with us to start working together to find a solution. Because we cannot allow this to go on. The facts are damning. And while we can never make up for the sins of our past, we should be doing everything in our power to repent and ensure we cease making the same mistakes again.

The sad fact is, other Indigenous people voiced the same concerns, and highlighted the same uncomfortable truths as Grant, and I’ve not heard their words. I have no defence; I can only plead ignorance. My hope is that more Australian’s recognise Grant from his decades on our television screens and dip into his short, powerful book. I can emphasise this enough: it’s not a diatribe. It’s hopefully a conversation starter. Something to ignite a fire in the mainstream and get people talking, and turning that dialogue into something tangible. We all have our part to play. Even if it’s just putting Talking To My Country in the hands of another person, it’s a start. It’s something.  We’ve been stagnant too long. I certainly have been. It’s time to take notice; to recognise our mistakes and hopefully be part of the movement that makes amends.

Stan Grant’s Talking To My Country is poignant and powerful. Like it says on its cover, it’s the book that every Australian should read. How else will you be part of the conversation?

ISBN: 9781460751978
Format: Hardback
Pages: 240
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: That Empty Feeling by Peter Corris

Empty FeelingThat Empty Feeling is the forty-first Cliff Hardy novel, and demonstrates precisely why the Sydney-based PI and his creator, Peter Corris, have remained the pinnacle of Australian crime fiction for more than thirty years.

Hardy has reached an age when obituaries frequently present familiar names, and when he recognises Barry Bartlett’s, he reminisces to his daughter about the man, and the case, that involved him in the late eighties. Told in flashback, Corris is able to forget the contemporary age-addled Hardy and re-present the character in his prime: a drinker, brawler and womaniser; a man who won’t quit, regardless of the obstacles in his way.

A lifetime ago, Barry Bartlett fathered two children who were taken away from him when his relationship with their mother failed. In the present day, a man claiming to be his son has appeared, and Bartlett wants Hardy to verify the guy’s claims. Bartlett business dealings sees him in contact with various nefarious characters from Sydney’s underworld – and indeed, the nation as a whole – and there are plenty of people who might want to fool him; even the police. It’s immediately clear that Hardy’s latest case will require more than just a standard background check; before long he’s involved with a murder, a kidnapping, and an extravagant crime that demands the attention of the Federal Police. Once again, Hardy’s in over his head – but undaunted and in typical fashion, he barrels into trouble.

Corris’ stripped-down storytelling remains pitch-perfect, and his hardboiled prose with its distinct Australian flavour is unequalled. That Empty Feeling provides a tangled mystery, plenty of fisticuffs and thrills that demand the novel be read in a single sitting. Peter Corris is called the “godfather of Australian crime fiction” for a reason, and this is a darn fine place to start.

Warning: it’s the kind of series that induces binge-reading.

ISBN: 9781760112073
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 264
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia