Review: The Girl on the Page by John Purcell

Girl on the PagePitch-perfect in every tone, note and detail, the (un)glamorous world of book publishing is an excellent lens for John Purcell’s examination of what it means to balance ambition and integrity. The Girl on the Page starts as a satire, but quickly subverts initial expectations, adding on layers of emotional depth and complexity to its characters with every page, creating evocative portraits of brilliant creative minds in crisis.

Amy Winston is a hot-shot young editor in London who made her name — and a fortune! — turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child-esque mega-bestseller. But while her professional life is all roses, her personal life is a mess. Not to disparage her life of hard-drinking and bed-hopping, but it’s not exactly conducive to long-term happiness and continued success. Her new assignment — guiding literary great Helen Owen back to publication — isn’t an enviable one, but if anybody can fabricate a bestseller, or at least  something that’ll earn back a smidgen of Helen’s outrageous advance, it’s Amy Winston. But when she arrives at the doorstep of Helen Owen and her husband, Booker-shortlisted author Malcolm Taylor, Amy is confronted by more than just a questionable manuscript: the marriage between this literary power couple appears to have fractured as a result of Helen’s new book, which Malcolm as deemed unworthy of her true talent. Which puts this trio in a terrible position, where either decision — to publish, or to not publish — will result in ruin.

Purcell vividly realises his characters’ emotional journeys, and the reverberations of their fortunes and fates will be felt by readers long after they’ve closed the book. You could strip The Girl on the Page of all its publishing insider juiciness; what remains is a searing take on integrity, commerce, and the consequences of compromise. Purcell is a born storyteller, having spent a lifetime surrounded by books and learning from the masters of the craft. The Girl on the Page is moving, hilarious, and ultimately heart-wrenching. It’s a love-letter to literature, sure; to its creators, and its readers. But it’s so much more than that, too.

ISBN: 9781460756973
Imprint: 4th Estate – AU
On Sale: 24/09/2018
Pages: 352
List Price: 32.99 AUD

 

Review: Redemption Point by Candice Fox

9780143781882.jpgCandice Fox, arguably Australia’s finest crime writer, has penned another taut and seductive thriller.  Redemption Point, the standalone sequel to 2017’s Crimson Lake, is meticulously plotted and magically propulsive, and shows precisely why Fox is the poster-woman of Australian crime fiction.

When former NSW Police Detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley, he disappeared to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake in Queensland, where he met the brilliant, but slightly deranged, Amanda Pharrell; an accused and convicted murderer operating as a private detective. Following the events of Crimson Lake, Conkaffey and Pharrell,  now investigative partners, are called to a roadside hovel called Barking Frog Inn, where the bodies of two young bartenders have been found, apparently victims of a robbery gone wrong. Hired by the father of one of the victims, Conkaffey and Pharrell ignore the warnings of the local cops and insert themselves into the investigation. But Ted’s attention is quickly diverted elsewhere when the father of Claire Bingley — the young girl he supposedly abducted — arrives in town seeking vengeance.

With precision and clarity, Fox unravels two disparate, but equally unsettling and compelling investigations. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell are wonderfully epic heroes; tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable, and bolstered by a colourful supporting cast, whose aspirations and intentions are shrouded in mystery, purposefully enigmatic until Fox chooses to unveil their true natures. She merges a labyrinthine plot, deft characterisation and top-notch police procedure into a gut-wrenching, wickedly-addictive page-turner. There is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime. Seriously, those final hundred pages need to be swallowed in a single gulp.

ISBN: 9780143781882
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 29-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Wilder Country by Mark Smith

9781925498530.jpgThe sequel to Mark Smith’s The Road to Winter is a page-turner with a heart and soul, tightly packed with exquisitely rendered action and nail-biting scenes of peril, all layered with emotional authenticity. Wilder Country is an exceptional tale of young people forced to grow up too soon, take on responsibilities far beyond their purview, and make decisions nobody should have to.

The severe winter has prohibited the Wilders — a violent band of plague-survivors — from closing in on Finn, Kas and Willow. But with the arrival of Spring comes the acceptance that the peace and relative tranquillity of the last few months is over. The Wilders will be hunting for the trio, lead by the savage Ramage, who will stop at nothing for revenge following the events of The Road to Winter. But even with that looming threat, Finn and Kas have not forgotten the promise they made to Rose — to find her baby, Hope, and bring her back. That vow will force them directly into a confrontation with the Wilders, but in a ruined world, honour matters more than anything else, and Finn and Kas will stop at nothing to see their promise fulfilled.

Maintaining echoes of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, author Mark Smith pulls out all the stops, propelling readers on an  action-packed, wild ride with unexpected twists and turns, and vitally, characters readers care about. Wilder Country doesn’t shy away from difficult truths and important moral lessons resultant of a dystopian society, and on more than one occasion the young characters have to battle with the concept of right and wrong, and whether the laws of the old world are amenable with their new reality. Kas seems more willing and able to adapt to the new ways, where might makes right, whereas Finn is more reluctant to pull the trigger. The dynamics of their relationship is what makes the novel shine.

As compelling as its predecessor, and respectful of the capacity of its readers, Wilder Country pulls no punches, and is a pulse-pounding, addictive page-turner full of depth and emotion.

ISBN: 9781925498530
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

 

Review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

And Fire front low res.jpeg

In 2015, Emma Viskic produced one of that year’s best crime novels. Resurrection Bay was a tour-de-force excursion into good, evil, and the labyrinth of human motivations. Even better, Viskic created a brilliant protagonist with the profoundly-deaf and irrepressibly obstinate Caleb Zelic, who returns as the lead in the fantastic noir thriller And Fire Came Down. 

Haunted by nightmares from the events of Resurrection Bay, his personal life a mess just as much as his professional one, Zelic is pulled back into the darkness when a young woman is killed in front of his eyes moments after pleading for his help in sign language. Determined to uncover her identity and discern the reason for her death, Caleb quickly discovers the trail leads straight back to his hometown. But Resurrection Bay is currently buckling from irrepressible racial tensions; not to mention the catastrophic bushfire alert that has the whole town on edge. Caleb’s homecoming couldn’t come at a worse time: and the consequence of his return could prove deadly for his loved ones.

Zelic is the traditional hardboiled detective: a tough, cynical, almost-broken guy, who solves cases with dogged persistence and an inability to let go, rather than astounding insight or, really, any speck of nuance. His deafness allows Viskic to pervert traditional scenarios and create obstacles that other investigators in the genre traverse with ease: for example, Zelic can’t eavesdrop on suspects; can’t hear his opponents sneak up on him. But importantly, his disability never undermines his investigatory capabilities. Sure, it lands him in trouble, but you get the feeling with or without his hearing, Zelic would stumble into the same situations. He’s just got that type of luck. He’s just that kind of man. Trouble follows him, and when it takes a break, he’s chasing it instead.

This is crime fiction at its best. Emma Viskic deserves a place near, perhaps at the top of, the Australian crime writers’ league. Loved Jane Harper’s The Dry? Read this. Loved Candice Fox’s Hades trilogy and Crimson Lake? Read this. Ever wanted to sample a slice of Australian crime and see what our local talent has to offer? And Fire Came Down is your book. No hyperbole, just fact: Viskic’s second book might well end up my favourite crime novel of 2017.

 

ISBN: 9781760402945
Format: Paperback
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia
Publish Date: 1-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

9781743549094.jpgJane Harper knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, then slowly tighten her grip until escape is impossible. The Dry was a stylish, compulsive whodunnit, centred around a small rural town, and the unearthing of dark secrets from its present and past. It was a superbly riveting demonstration of intelligent crime writing, and its successor, Force of Nature, provides further proof: Jane Harper knows all there is to know about detonating the gut-level shocks of a great thriller.

The premise of Force of Nature is deceptively simple: five women head off into the bush on a corporate retreat, and only four come out the other side. The well-being of the missing bush walker, Alice Russell, is of particular interest to Federal Police agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper: she’s the whistle-blower in their latest case. Their honed cop instincts can’t believe it’s purely a coincidence that Russell has vanished on a trip organised by the corporation she is covertly helping to dismantle. So off they go, from Melbourne to the rugged terrain of the Giralang Ranges, determined to disentangle the mess of deceit, deception and suspicion formed between the remaining four women during their ill-fated hike.

There’s a distinct Liane Moriarty vibe to Force of Nature and the nature in which its plot uncoils, flitting between multiple perspectives, and the past and present; a little like Truly Madly Guilty, but with a sharper edge. Jane Harper’s brilliance in characterisation and evocative prose is in full display here, as she grants herself a large cast of characters to probe the psyche’s of, teasing the truth, dangling the explanation as to what actually happened to Alice Russell, then pulling away. You’ll switch between your own guess of her fate, and the perpetrator — if indeed there is one — every few pages.

Once you start Force of Nature you’ll read it straight through, quickly, compulsively, happy to be in the hands of a born storyteller. Its setting and characters are uniquely Australian, but not grindingly unsubtle, and its perfect melding of plot, personality and graceful prose are sure to shoot it up to the top of best-seller lists. In a crowded market, Jane Harper shines at the quality end. She knows her characters, her locale, and her plot. Force of Nature is masterfully paced, wonderfully rendered, and devastatingly entertaining.

ISBN: 9781743549094
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The List by Michael Brissenden

9780733637421Michael Brissenden’s debut novel, The List, has all the elements of a rollicking thriller: a diabolical threat, political intrigue, set locally in Sydney. It sits somewhere between a Harry Bosch mystery and a Tom Clancy technothriller, but unfortunately, the sum of its parts doesn’t equate to greatness. The List nails the raw pace required of a thriller, but it lacks the high-octane theatrics that elevated the best of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, and lacks the serpentine plot of an A-list crime novel. The novel’s characters and locales lack colour and life, and the telling details that are the hallmarks of the genre’s greats. It’s an effective page-turner, but not propulsive. It’s a little too beholden to the books that’ve come before it, not quite doing enough to stand out from the crowd.

Sidney Allen is part of the Australian Federal Police’s K block, tasked with doing whatever it takes to stop terrorist attacks on home soil. When young Muslim men on the Terror Watchlist start turning up dead, Allen and his partner, Haifa Hourani, are assigned to the case. As they dig deeper, they uncover an incredible terrorist plot that would decimate Sydney. It’s Bosch meets 24 as they race against time to stop the impending attack.

Neither Allen or Hourani are convincing protagonists. Though we are assured they are skilled investigators – the best of the best – we never actually get to witness their genius or aptitude in action. Events happen around them, or to them, with great regularity, but they never seem to chart their own course. Their backgrounds are passé; the love of Allen’s life was murdered by the terrorist operating under the pseudonym ‘the Scorpion,’ so obviously he’s fuelled by a lust for revenge; and Hourani struggle between her Muslim faith and her desire to protect others from its extremist would be fine, if only her elucidation of that fact didn’t feel like the author standing on his soapbox.

It is absolutely correct that authors provide a fair and balanced portrayal of Muslims in their fiction. Readers are smarter and more widely-read than ever; we expect, and deserve, more than cookie-cutter ‘extremist Muslim’ villains chased by Caucasian white men. I applaud Michael Brissenden for touching on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia, exploring how Islamic ways can align with Australian norms, and demonstrating ISIS’ mastery at messaging and manipulation. But too often these passages – whether they’re internal monologues or dialogue between characters – read like the author’s rhetoric; like chunks of an essay. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about these passages; the message belongs, but it’s delivery is clunky. It weakens the overall narrative, and slows down the pacing.

The List is a passably entertaining thriller with very few surprises. If Brissenden can iron out some of his debut’s kinks, and focus more on the action, his sophomore effort might be something to behold. As it stands, The List is a perfunctory thriller that’ll be lapped up by the genre’s acolytes. Brisk and easy, it’ll suffice for your next long-haul flight.

ISBN: 9780733637421
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Fall by Tristan Bancks

Fall Tristan Bancks.jpgThe Fall is the kind of thriller I would’ve loved as a child and absolutely adored as an adult. It’s a sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements, and nail-biting suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. It’s a page-turning masterpiece for readers young and old.

As is the case with all great crime novels, the set-up is simple. In the middle of the night, Sam — son of irascible crime reporter Harry — is woken by angry voices from the apartment above. He edges to the window, to check the scene above, and sees a body fall from the sixth-floor balcony. When Sam goes to wake his father, he discovers Harry is gone. And when Sam gets downstairs, the body has vanished.  But Sam knows what he saw — and worse for him, somebody else knows what he witnessed. Someone who wants Sam silenced at any cost.

The Fall is a pulse-pounding thriller with the heart and soul so often missing from its contemporaries. The strained relationship between Sam and Harry — and indeed Sam and his mother — is truly evocative, and adds a powerful emotional layer to proceedings; but never at the expense of the plot’s raw pace, which rips along phenomenally.

Tristan Bancks has concocted a thriller that has everything you could ask for – a twisty plot, memorable characters, and plenty of action. If there’s a child in your life who has been glancing at the line of Michael Connelly novels on your shelf, or skimming through your Raymond Chandler collection, put a copy of The Fall in their hands.

ISBN: 9780143783053
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s Books
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia