Review: Mercy Street by Tess Evans

Mercy.pngMercy Street defies expectations.

When the cantankerous George – increasingly apathetic since the death of his wife three years ago – is rescued from a group of young hooligans by nineteen-year-old single mother Angie, the grateful George offers to one day return the favour, not quite expecting that day to come around so soon. Because mere weeks later, Angie shows up at his home on Mercy Street with her five-year-old daughter, asking to stay with him, just until she can get back on her feet. What else can George do but oblige – she saved his life after all. It is here when author Tess Evans dangles a formulaic scenario: readers will assume the trio will form an unlikely familial unit, suffer some sort of setback that threatens to dismantle everything, but ultimately realise they belong together; that this unlikely composite of personalities is all the family they need.

But Evans skews from that setup very quickly. Just as Angie, George, and young Rory are settling in, the young mother takes off without even a goodbye, just a note indicating she needs time to herself, but will return, eventually. George is left with a five-year-old girl, and having never been a parent, enters complete a complete unknown. Thankfully he has a officious sister, Shirley, as an advisor; so too Redgum, his mate from the local pub. Other allies pop up as well; Angie’s best friend, Bree; and the neighbours he’d barely said a word to previously. With their help, George acclimates to life as a single parent – begins enjoying it, in fact, more than he’d care to admit, or think about – which makes the threat of Angie’s return all the more catastrophic. Indeed, when Angie decides to return from her sabbatical, George is forced into unthinkable action, begging readers to ponder over where young Rory belongs: with her mother, despite her obvious failings; or with George, a man well into his seventies.

Mercy Street is a novel that begs discussion. For every reader who agrees with George’s decision, others will surely the contradictory opinion.  Evans remains a neutral narrator, despite the novel following George’s perspective for the most part. Understated and self-assured, Mercy Street is a thought-provoking read told with such grace and elegance. Sweet, funny, and poignant, this is fine Australian novel and shouldn’t be missed.

ISBN: 9781460751046
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Fall by Candice Fox

FallWith her first two novels Candice Fox carved a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing. Taut with suspense, well-oiled plot mechanics, explosive bursts of violence, and chockfull of surreal, yet somehow relatable characters comprised of a plethora of doubts, anxieties, and hidden darkness, Hades and Eden made it abundantly clear: Fox is an enormously skilful writer, and unquestionably Australia’s hottest talent operating in the genre today. Now comes Fall; polished and primed, it is a stylish, explosively tense thriller. Somehow, Fox has upped her game. This is, quite simply, crime writing of the highest order.

Fall is a culmination of plot threads from Hades and Eden, but new readers needn’t worry: Fox dexterously feeds the essential backstory, in a nuanced fashion that won’t leave veterans bemused. Detective Frank Bennett is still struggling to cope with the knowledge that his partner in the Homicide Department, Eden Archer, moonlights as a serial killer. Her targets might be society’s underbelly, but no matter how you look at it, it boils down to cold blooded murder. Thankfully there is work to keep Frank distracted, and a new case is quickly thrown into his lap. Someone is targeting Sydney’s beautiful people; nabbing joggers from the city’s premier parks and leaving their bodies for the police to find. Meanwhile, Frank’s girlfriend, Imogen Stone, is closing in on Eden’s true identity, determined to uncover the truth for fame and fortune. But when another damaged soul becomes aware of Imogen’s secret investigation, her plans go awry very quickly, and there is more than just her life on the line.

Candice Fox’s storytelling takes no prisoners. This is a novel fuelled by pure adrenaline and hidden agendas rather than a traditional whodunit in the mould of, say, Michael Connelly. It’s a pyschothriller; Fox digs deep into her character’s psyches, exposing them at their rawest, while propelling them headlong into danger. It’s a novel that has plenty to say about society’s stance on women and beauty, but it doesn’t get bogged down in its messaging. First and foremost, Fall is a thriller, and a fine one at that. Every page crackles with energy; every chapter ends on a note demanding the next page be read.

Fall will most impact those who’ve been with Eden Archer and Frank Bennett since the beginning. Though these characters have only been with us for two preceding novels, their history has weight and meaning, and it is fundamental to the novel’s gut-punch of an ending. That’s not to say the novel is burdened by continuity; far from it. Fall will surely leave even new readers gaping, and screaming at their ceilings, “How can it end like this?!” But for those of us who were there from the start?Damn. It’s wonderful to read a series that feels like it has direction rather than spinning its wheels. No doubt, Candice Fox could’ve produced several whodunits starring her conflicted protagonists, Frank and Eden. No doubt they’d have been good, too. But Fall propels their story to the next level, when its least expected. Just when you think there’s a status quo to become accustomed to, Fox pulls the carpet out from under her readers. And it doesn’t feel cheap – it’s earned.

Relentlessly fast-paced and beautifully structured, readers will bomb through Fall in no time and enjoy every second. If you haven’t read Candice Fox before, jump on the bandwagon now. This feels like her breakthrough book into the mega-sellers.Fall is that good.

ISBN: 9780857987426
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 1-Dec-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Heat by Garry Disher

Heat coverThe enigmatic, dangerous Wyatt returns in Garry Disher’s mile-a-minute crime novel The Heat.

Wyatt’s particular set of skills are becoming increasingly archaic. Gone are the days of bank heists and jewellery store robberies; advanced security measures are making it harder, and the goons are getting dumber, strung out on drugs or cocky idiots who hold their pistols sideways, thinking they’re the stars of their own action flicks. Wyatt, by comparison, is a dinosaur; but like everyone else, he needs to work, and thievery is the only profession he knows. So when a reliable contact offers him a job in Noosa to steal a painting for Hannah Sten, Wyatt accepts. It seems simple enough, and he’s done this plenty of times before; case the joint, determine escape routes and failsafes, develop a plan for every potential contingency. It’s a job that requires meticulousness, and that’s what Wyatt does best. But there’s more than one player in this game – and things go wrong very quickly.

Like the best Donald Westlake / Richard Stark Parker capers, Disher plays within the confines of the traditional heist story, and his muscular, hard-boiled prose with a distinct Australian flavour makes The Heatsomething to savour. Packed with nefarious characters, all with their own agendas and secrets, Disher weaves his tale with an assured hand. This is a fast-paced, taut crime story, rife with sharp dialogue and brutal violence. And while Wyatt’s not a character to be admired, he makes for compulsive reading.

With its high body count and intricate plotting, The Heat is perfect beach reading for the summer. Just make sure you pack sunscreen, because once you start, you won’t stop until you’ve turned its final page.

ISBN: 9781925240412
Format: Paperback (234mm x 155mm x 19mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 21-Oct-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland

CrucCrucifixion Creek is a rollicking Sydney-based crime novel by Barry Maitland, starring lone wolf detective Harry Belltree; a cop in the mould of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch.

Still haunted by the suspicious car accident that killed his parents and left his wife blinded, Belltree is faced with another family crisis when his brother-in-law, Greg, is stabbed to death. Forced off the case because of his personal connection, Belltree goes off-grid and discovers Greg’s death is connected to several others; and that each victim had ties to shady forces within the highest echelons of the state government. Fuelled more by the desire for vengeance rather than a desire to expose the truth, Harry breaks all the rules as he goes to war with his opponents.

Crucifixion Creek is a rip-roaring, action-packed read; the kind perfect for an airplane, or a day at the beach, when page-turnability is essential. Its raw pace comes at a cost, however: the characters are facsimiles with little depth, and the plot surges forward on coincidence rather than ingenuity. That said, Crucifixion Creek is merely the first of a trilogy, and it’s reasonable to assume that complexity and emotional resonance will come as Harry Belltree’s story continues.

This isn’t vintage crime fiction, but it packs plenty of pulse-pounding excitement to keep you up way past bedtime. Bring on the sequel!

ISBN: 9781925240658
Format: Paperback  (198mm x 128mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 23-Sep-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Natural.jpgThe Natural Way of Things isn’t a novel I ‘enjoyed’ in the traditional sense. Sure, it’s engrossing, and you’re likely to tear through over a couple of reading stints – but it’s an uncomfortable read. It’s unsettling, and unflinching in its portrayal of misogyny. But it needs to be. This is a subject that has to be explored candidly. Such stories need to have impact. Such stories need to resonate. And Charlotte Wood’s latest does. Boy, it does…

When Verla and Yolanda awaken, drugged and barely coherent, The Natural Way of Thingsreads like the beginning of a dystopian epic. But very quickly, Wood reveals this isn’t an impossible future. This is a novel set very much in the present, which deals with society’s abhorrent rape culture and slut-shaming, and the reality of misogyny. It’s turned up to the nth degree, but there’s truth to this fiction.

Verla and Yolanda, like the eight other women held captive by their sadistic guards in a remote, unspecified location somewhere in Australia, have all suffered from a variety of public sex scandal. Here, they are worked to the bone; degraded and violated in horrible ways, to such extremes that they eventually lose sight of their previous existence, and become focused on one thing: survival. Comparisons to The Lord of the Flies are deserved, but The Natural Way of Things is very much its own beast. Like its classic predecessor, it’ll leave you with plenty to think about.

This is a brave, terrifying novel. The Natural Way of Things is an elegant, enthralling, and provocative tale. It will leave a mark.

ISBN: 9781760111236
Format: Paperback (208mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Antonia Hayes RelativityIt must be difficult write a novel about the harming of a child and the ensuing fallout without resorting to broad black-and-white depiction of good and evil. After all, who’d dare imply sympathy for the perpetrator? We are wired – rightfully so, perhaps – to immediately condemn those accused of inflicting violence on the defenceless. We do not seek explanation or apology. We are not interested in extenuating factors. We seek only retribution.  It’s only in the aftermath, when cooler heads prevail, that we recognise the shades of grey that permeate our lives and our decisions; when that immediate and vociferous moral outrage fades, and we allow our thoughts to drift darkly, to contemplate how close we, too, have come to straying over that line. Most of us have the ability to negate this disposition; to stop before it’s too late. But imagination is a powerful tool, and my nightmares are comprised of these premonitions; what if my frustrations boiled over? What if I lashed out? It would take only a nanosecond of rage to blank out my inhibitions and do something unthinkable. My sleep isn’t plagued by demonic ghouls; I’m haunted by actions I trust I’d never take.

Relativity deals with the consequences of a man’s mistake and ultimate failure; or at least his assumed mistake, for Hayes shrouds the truth until late in her novel. Found guilty in court of leaving his infant son, Ethan, with a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome, more than a decade has passed – and the ripples are still being felt by all involved. Ethan’s mother, Claire, was hardened by the experience; she’s fiercely protective of her son, and is burdened with guilt. Her ex-husband, Mark – who relocated to Western Australia following his release from goal – resurfaces in Sydney to bury his father, and considers the repercussions of reconciliation with his wife, and reconnecting with his son. Ethan, meanwhile, is a kind-hearted, single-minded child, hyper-intelligent; obsessed with physics, capable of diluting scientific theories in a manner I can only dream of. More importantly, he is beginning to question his origin; his father is shrouded in mystery, a nameless, ethereal figure. When he intercepts a letter from his father to his mother, he sets off a chain of events, forcing Mark and Claire into confronting the past.

This is an enthralling, emotionally complex novel, steeped in physics imagery and metaphor. It works beautifully, for the most part, although it eventually outlives its welcome; the coda, particularly, felt like an unnecessary underlining of Relativity’s theme. But by then the novel had won me over. I was invested in the lives of Ethan, Claire and Mark; caught between wanting them to unite, and adamant they are fundamentally broken as a family unit.

Great works of fiction make us pause and reflect; their characters and moments have the ability to dredge up memories and fears, and touch us in remarkable ways.   Relativity is unquestionably a great work of fiction – perhaps the finest I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. Its characters are rich, its prose is graceful. It is simply superb.

ISBN: 9780670078585
Format: Paperback
Imprint: Viking Australia
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 24-Jun-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Gun Control by Peter Corris

Gun CityIn Gun Control, the fortieth Cliff Hardy novel, the veteran PI is hired by enigmatic entrepreneur Timothy Greenhall to investigate the apparent suicide of his son. It’s an odd request –by its very definition, suicide is self-inflicted, and the coroner has verified it as the cause of death – but Greenhall is determined to uncover the truth, and trace the gun back to its supplier. Exposing the truth, however, means plunging head-first into a violent world of corrupt cops and outlaw bikies, and putting some of Hardy’s long-standing alliances on the line.

Gun Control features the requisite murders, sex, pulse-pounding confrontations, and the uneasily-formed coalitions that have become a staple of the long-running series. Peter Corris spotlights several issues currently afflicting Sydney, including the regular drive-by shootings and dramatic rise in access to firearms, as well as the clampdown on bikey gangs, but it’s starkly presented, fitting with Hardy’s brusqueness: it is what it is, and survival depends on your ability to adapt to the changing nature of the streets.

The Cliff Hardy formula doesn’t vary much, but the execution is exceptionally, and constantly, surefooted. Even the tamer efforts crackle with whip-smart dialogue and brave, sparse prose. Corris is Australia’s Robert B Parker, grandiosely talented in the hardboiled arena. Gun Controlshows he hasn’t lost a step.

Allen & Unwin