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

 

Review: Win, Lose or Draw by Peter Corris

9781760294786Win, Lose or Draw is the 42nd and final book in the long-running Cliff Hardy series, and is Peter Corris’s last novel (the reasons for which you can read about here). And while I’ll certainly miss my annual summer sojourns with the Aussie private detective, there’s something immensely satisfying about an acclaimed series ending on a high note. There’re no unnecessary theatrics to mark ‘the end’;  the final scene is not of Cliff clutching his chest as his troublesome heart finally beats its last. Win, Lose or Draw simply epitomises what has made the Cliff Hardy series resonate, and what’s lead to Corris being named the grand master of Australian crime fiction.

Win, Lose or Draw amalgamates some fairly well-trodden PI tropes — a missing girl, drugs, yachts, and the sex trade — into a finely-tuned, utterly compelling mystery. Hardy follows a trail from Sydney to Norfolk Island, Byron Bay, Coolangatta, and back again, utilising unlimited expenses thanks to the girl’s father; Gerard Fonteyn, a wealthy businessman, who is desperate for the safe return of his daughter. Hardy comes up against some hard-hitting gangsters, corrupt cops, and gradually unravels the truth behind Juliana Fonteyn’s disappearance.

Peter Corris’s final book moves like a well-oiled machine. It’s polished and primed, boasting the knife-sharp dialogue and wicked humour that the series is celebrated for. There’s no tying-up of loose ends; no callbacks to previous cases, or cosmetic appearances by characters who’ve populated previous novels. Win, Lose or Draw is simply another world-class novel by one of Australia’s best and most consistent crime novelists. Let’s not mourn the fact this is the end; let’s celebrate 42 cracking mysteries.

ISBN: 9781760294786
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

crimson-lakeAustralian crime fiction is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to a handful of fresh female voices. Jane Harper’s The Dry was 2016’s darling and rightfully so — I called it “the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene” in my review, and named it my Book of the Year — and in 2015 I was absolutely blown away by Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay: “stripped-down and raw, and packs one helluva punch.” And then, of course, there’s Candice Fox, who has carved out a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing with her Bennett / Archer trilogy (Hades, Eden and Fall), and  who ranks as one of my absolute favourite authors. Perhaps it’s too early to predict 2017’s Aussie crime fiction blockbuster, but one thing is for certain: Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake will feature in the conversation.

Crimson Lake introduces former Sydney-based police detective Ted Conkaffey, who was accused, but not convicted, of abducting a 13-year-old girl. But the accusation is enough. To his wife, his peers, and the general public, a lack of conviction isn’t proof of innocence, just evidence of a lack of proof. Ted is an outcast. The life he had is over, and so he flees Sydney to Cairns: specifically the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake. There he meets Amanda Pharrell — an accused and convicted murderer now operating as a private detective — and partners with her to investigate the disappearance of local author Jake Scully.

Veteran Fox readers will notice some thematic similarities between Crimson Lake and her Bennett / Archer trilogy. She is the absolute master of the enigmatic protagonist: characters with deep, dark secrets, who readers will follow and support, but with occasional hesitancy; because what if the worst is true? What if we’re  actually cheering on a killer in Amanda Pharrell? And Ted — our narrator — what if he’s hiding the truth from us? What if he is guilty of abducting the girl, and leading readers astray? We’re never quite certain — not totally — until the novel’s very end of how trustworthy and reliable Ted and Amanda are, which makes Crimson Lake incredibly compelling and propulsive.

Candice Fox’s prodigious ability to keep coming up with unforgettable characters elevates Crimson Lake beyond the standard police procedurals that proliferate the genre. Oh sure, Ted and Amanda’s investigation into Jake Scully’s disappearance is effectively handled — plenty of twists and red-herrings, and a heart-stopping climax to satisfy plot-focused readers — but it’s their uneasy comradeship, and their secrets which threaten to bubble to the surface, that make the novel a blast. It boasts Fox’s signature style, edge and humour to delight established fans, and will surely win new ones, too.

One of the best Australian crime writers just levelled up. If you haven’t jumped on the Candice Fox bandwagon, now’s the time. Crimson Lake will be one of 2017’s best crime novels, and Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact. Read Crimson Lake — you’ll see.

ISBN: 9780143781905
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia