Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

9780143789871.jpgWith a plot that blasts along faster than a speeding bullet, and more hairpin turns than an alpine highway, Greenlight is one hell of a debut, and one of the year’s best thrillers. Seriously, this one will leave you breathless.

There’s a book coming out later this month by Chris Hammer called Scrublands. You might’ve heard of it. Not just from me — although you might recall I declared it an early contender for Book of the Year — but from various other bloggers, bookshops and media outlets. It’s being touted as the Next Big Thing in Australian Crime Fiction; primed to explode like Jane Harper’s The Dry. As it should. It’s brilliant.

But when the dust is settling in September  once you’ve had the chance to read and adore Chris Hammer’s debut  another book is going to drop, which deserves the same kind of pre-publication buzz; that should be talked about amongst booksellers in the build-up to is release. Another debut, by another Australian writer, who clearly knows his stuff, given his occupation at Curtis Brown Australia.

The author’s name is Benjamin Stevenson. His book is called Greenlight. And it’s a whirlwind of suspense, intrigue and excitement.

Jack Quick is the producer of a true-crime documentary interested in unravelling the murder of Eliza Dacey, in what was originally considered a slam-dunk case despite the circumstantial evidence that convicted Curtis Wade, who was already a pariah in the small town of Birravale, which is famed for its wineries. Jack’s series has turned the tide on the public’s perception of Wade  he is the victim of a biased police force, they scream  but just as Jack’s set to wrap on the finale, he uncovers a piece of evidence that points to Wade’s guilt, the broadcasting of which would ruin his show.

Understanding the potential repercussions of whatever he decides, Jack disposes of the evidence, thus delivering the final episode of his show proposing that Curtis is innocent. That, he thinks, will be the end of that. But when Curtis is released from prison, and soon after, a new victim is found bearing similarities to Eliza’s murder, Jack is forced to deal with the consequences head-on: his actions might’ve helped free a killer. And so, Jack makes it his personal mission to expose the truth.

Australian crime fiction is currently rife with small-town-murder plots, but Greenlight feels particularly original thanks to its protagonist. By the nature of his profession, Jack Quick is naturally egotistical —  his job is not simply to tell stories, but to shape them, and form narratives that are compelling, not necessarily honest. But he’s also seriously damaged from a particular childhood experience, and suffers from bulimia, which is an eating disorder I wouldn’t dream of pairing up with the hero of a whodunnit, but works effectively here. Stevenson’s story, too, is packed with red-herrings and stunning revelations; readers will be white-knuckled grasping their copies of his debut as he deviously weaves a web of suspicion around the many characters before revealing the killer in the jaw-dropping climax.

Greenlight will have you biting your nails down to the quick as you desperately turn its pages. In a year boasting several impressive debuts, Benjamin Stevenson’s ranks highly among them. Put simply, Greenlight is a knockout.

5 Star

ISBN: 9780143789871
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 3-Sep-2018
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: The Washington Club by Peter Corris

9781760110215.jpgAfter reading the final Cliff Hardy caper, Win, Lose or Draw, I was in the mood for another, and so dipped into my collection of unread Peter Corris novels and grabbed The Washington Club — the nineteenth novel starring the irrepressible private eye.

The usual plaudits apply: The Washington Club is another slickly plotted mystery, which unfolds at breakneck speed. This time, Cliff finds himself drawn into the investigation of a rich developer. His wife, Claudia Fleischman, has been charged with the murder, and Cliff’s tasked with the job of finding the real killer. Easier said than done, of course, and this case turns out to be one of his deadliest.

It was interesting returning to a younger — late forties — Cliff Hardy. The violence is more brutal, and the sex is graphic. That’s not a bad thing; it just gives the novel a harder edge, which had been blunted in later novels, in line with Hardy’s ageing. And while all of these hard-boiled novels follow a formula, this one’s ending is tremendous — real edge-of-your-seat stuff, and if I didn’t know the series would continue, I’d be left wondering about Cliff Hardy’s future in the private enquiry agent business.

ISBN: 9781760110215
Format: Paperback (198mm x 128mm x 23mm)
Pages: 260
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Dec-2014
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

Review: Signal Loss by Garry Disher

9781925355260.jpgHis long-running series re-branded “Peninsula Crimes,” Garry Disher’s seventh Challis and Destry novel is a fine police procedural. Its Mornington Peninsula setting makes for a refreshing break from the urban landscapes that dominate the genre, and Disher’s exploration of ice production and addiction in rural Australia is fittingly topical.

In Signal Loss, two plot threads weave around each other like a double helix, never intersecting, just occurring concurrently. The novel starts off with two hitmen being hired to eliminate a seemingly low-level target. They can’t quite understand why they’re being paid $50,000 for such an easy job, but who’re they to argue? It sounds like an easy job, in and out, easy as. But they didn’t count on the bush fire, which leaves both men dead, and the Mornington Peninsula police — Challis in particular — convinced the local ice epidemic has introduced some major big-city players. Meanwhile, Ellen Destry, in charge of the sex crime unit, is hunting a serial rapist who leaves no evidence behind.

The plot has its share of boilerplate elements, as all police procedurals do, but its the colourful cast of well-formed characters, with their distinct personalities, that makes Signal Loss so compelling. Readers who’ve yet to sample Disher’s Peninsula Crimes series shouldn’t be worried about coming in late in proceedings; this seventh book serves as a perfect introduction.

Disher’s crime novels are at the top of the genre’s food chain and Signal Loss is another well-crafted police procedural.

ISBN: 9781925355260
Format: Paperback (235mm x 158mm x 31mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 31-Oct-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