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

Review: Useful by Debra Oswald

UsefulAt various junctures in our lives we have – and will indubitably continue to – ponder our place in the universe. Have we achieved all that we possibly can? Have we done our very best with the faculties available to us? Should we have strived for more? And is there still time to make amends? This line of questioning inevitably leads to a variety of possibilities: impassioned declarations that never have any hope of transpiring; more realistic avowals that require grit and determination; the inadequate variety, easy to accomplish, but ultimately lame; or there’s complete surrender – accepting the things too hard to change, content to continue down a path leading nowhere, or otherwise, leap off that path through brutish means, into complete oblivion. When we meet Sullivan Moss in Debra Oswald’s Useful, he has reached this point, perched atop a rooftop, ready to jump, the asphalt below a fitting conclusion to a life lead poorly.

Things do not proceed according to plan.

Surviving his attempted suicide through comical circumstances, Sullivan wakes in hospital and makes one of those brash, ill-conceived proclamations we’re liable to make when not in full control of our senses: he is doing to donate his kidney. He knows he’s messed up – screwed up his life in a variety of ways, both consciously and subconsciously – but he’s got a body full of functioning organs. Why shouldn’t someone else benefit? Someone worthy of salvation? Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Nothing worthwhile ever is. There are a multitude of tests – physiological and medical – he must pass in order to fulfil his objective. And as Sullivan begins cleaning up his act, he discovers there are things – people – worth living for. And no sooner does that realization strike, Sullivan’s penchant for imprudence strikes again…

Useful is a sharp-edged but sweet-centred story about life, and the expectations we have of others as well as ourselves. Oswald utilizes a brilliant and quirky cast of characters, and has concocted a novel as emotionally resonant as it is glib. It doesn’t quite possess the same humour as Simsion’s Rosie books – although there are moments of hilarity – but it’s got just as much heart. A great feel-good read that has far more depth than readers might expect.

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Rosie ProjectTHE ROSIE PROJECT is whimsical and charming in all the best ways. It is a celebration of life and love, and the differences that define us, but are ultimately meaningless when we meet the one. Graeme Simsion’s debut is a romantic comedy that stringently adheres to the conceits of the genre rather than attempt to transcend them. But it’s executed to perfection, rendering all those tropes into a seamless, engaging narrative.

Don Tillman’s personality and eccentricities are indicative of Autism / Aspergers / OCD. Every facet of his life is regimented; to the extent he creates a questionnaire – titled “The Wife Project” for prospective partners to complete in order for him to gauge compatibility. I appreciated Simsion’s decision not to explicitly label Don as a sufferer of a particular condition – there’s no need for him to. Don as socially awkward, self-aware person, and that’s not all the matters. He’s a loveable character – infuriating at times, but relatable.

When Rosie enters Don’s life he immediate registers her as an unsuitable partner. She’s his antithesis; tardy, a smoker, and her mathematical skills aren’t of the standard Don requires. But you just need to see the title of the book to know how the story is going to play out. There are a few twists along the way, thanks to the subplot involving the search for Rosie’s father, but THE ROSIE PROJECT is a novel you predict the ending of before you begin, and enjoy because of the journey towards it.

A light-hearted and feel-good novel that’s surely destined for Hollywood, I expected THE ROSIE PROJECT to be an easy read; a palette cleanser between novels of greater substance. I did it a disservice. It’s got plenty of substance, a lot of laughs, and even more heart.

Review: Hades by Candice Fox

HadesHADES is a dark and brutal debut crime novel by Australian author Candice Fox, and the beginning of the Bennett/Archer series. It’s distinguished by its heroes and its villains, and the fine line that separates the two. Indeed, HADES is at its best when it explores the moral spectrum and how childhood impacts adulthood, and sets the course for our lives, an irrepressible undercurrent that is impossible to escape from, leading us to an inevitable end.

The procedural elements of HADES are fairly underwhelming, albeit queasily gruesome at times, and the methodology and mindset of the serial killer is somewhat innovative: he murders for body parts, and offers these organs to those in need of them, providing the DIY surgeries himself – for an inflated price, of course. It’s a kind of warped Robin Hood attitude with a horrific twist. But as pitiless as the killer is, the hunt to bring him to justice is formulaic: confidently penned, no question, but hardly revolutionary.

The sheer depravity of the villain is necessary however, as it provides contrast for the novel’s protagonists, none of which are likable, but are white knights in comparison. Eden, Eric, Hades and Frank are all uniquely flawed, but we root for them because the evil force they’re combatting is far worse. Eden and Eric – children of Hades Archer, the Lord of the Underworld, who’ve grown up to become police detectives – have evil inside them, a burning desire to do wrong. For the most part they control it, and transfer their violent impulses to those they deem worthy of receiving it. But evil is cancerous. It festers inside, and Fox deftly handles their struggle to inhibit their dispositions. As readers, we know it’s only a matter of time before they seek release. We just hope it’s on someone deserving.

The straightforward serial killer / organ stealer plotline serves as the foundation on which the author can liberally punctuate with character moments. Fox niftily weaves the narrative between the past and present, and effortlessly shifts between character perspectives. Frank Bennett is really the focal point: we witness events primarily through his eyes, told through stylish first person narration that occasionally resonated Chandler. Frank is flawed, but his aren’t as exaggerated as his fellow detectives. He’s a normal man who has made mistakes; inevitably, we come to believe, because of his occupation and its cyclic nature, buried amongst the worse of humankind, day in, day out. Fox leaves him in a very interesting place at the end of the novel, setting up future Bennett/Archer novels, of which a second is currently being penned, and is scheduled for release in December 2014.

HADES is a stunning debut. Take it at face value – a ruthless, addictive page-turner – or take it slow and contemplate its deeper themes. You’re in for a treat either way. With a single novel, Candice Fox has demonstrated her prowess. Expect to see her name on bestseller lists for a long time to come.