Review: Hitch by Kathryn Hind

9780143794349Kathryn Hind’s Hitch — the winner of the inaugural Penguin Literary Prize — is a decidedly gripping, harrowing and unflinching tale of grit and perseverance, about  a young woman hitchhiking across Australia, desperately trying to outrun her traumatic past, whose courage and vulnerability are irresistible and believable. It is a stunning debut from a writer of considerable talent and promise.

Hitch begins with Amelia and her dog, Lucy, walking the Stuart Highway, counting the posts dotted along its length, ears piqued for the sound of oncoming vehicles, poised to hitch out a thumb and stretch a smile across her lips. We are immediately thrust into her fraught reality; without a ride, she won’t survive for long in the open; but whose to say the harshness of the outback isn’t preferable to whoever awaits in the driver’s seat of the first vehicle to stop by her side?

The initial experience of Hitch is sobering and savage, and its final effect is emotionally shattering, despite glimpses of tenderness, goodness and beauty. The novel is relentless, but in the best possible way, pushing readers through the emotional wringer but also compelling them to read on through the power of the prose. Quite simply a must read.

ISBN: 9780143794349
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 4-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Kill Shot by Garry Disher

9781925773224Garry Disher is one of the most reliable practitioners in crime fiction, and his creation, Wyatt, one of the genre’s most enigmatic antiheroes. Like Richard Stark’s long-running Parker series — the chief inspiration for Wyatt — the joy of these books are the mechanics of the plotting and Disher’s ability to take resolutely unsympathetic characters and somehow make their journeys further into the depths of moral ambiguity (and in many cases, outright corruption) indelibly compulsive.

Wyatt is an analogue man operating in a digital world. In the modern age of high-tech security keypads, retina scans, CCTV professional thieves have the odds stacked even further against them. Lately Wyatt has stayed in the black thanks to a series of one-man burglaries, but he needs a bigger job, something with a better payoff. Sam Kramer — Wyatt’s fixer, working from inside prison, using his network of informants, lawyers, police and hard men — has identified just the target. Jack Tremayne is facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme, but has salted away close to a million in liquid assets Kramer’s source is certain he intends to use to skip the country. So the job is simple; conceptually, at least: nab Tremayne’s getaway fund before he has the chance to use it. Trouble is, Kramer and Wyatt aren’t the only ones interested in the funds, and violence quickly ensues as a parade of nasty men close in on the money.

Kill Shot is another winner from Disher, who, as ever, builds suspense without a shred of overstatement. Crisp, unsentimental, and deeply satisfying. If you’re looking for a crime writer to fill the void left by Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy this summer, Garry Disher is your man.

ISBN: 9781925773224
Format: Paperback / softback (232mm x 154mm x 21mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

ScrublandsWith Scrublands, Chris Hammer has fashioned a meticulously written and propulsive crime novel, notable for  its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully-drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.

The last crime novel that actually earned the Thriller of the Year / Book of the Year banner emblazoned on its advanced reading copy cover was Jane Harper’s The Dry. Booksellers are inherently cynical about such statements, because nowadays just about every book that comes our way says the same thing. And of course, thanks to the success of The Dry, now every Australian crime novel is written “in its vein.” But there were rumblings about Chris Hammer’s book before reading copies began circulating. Industry buzz was — well, buzzing — and intensified until, finally, the book arrived in my hands.

On a flight from Hobart to Sydney, I opened to its prologue and began reading. Those two hours in the sky disintegrated. I was annoyed when the seat belt sign flashed; one of those rare times I would’ve welcomed the pilot’s voice crackling over the intercom, apologising that we’d have to circle the airport for an hour or two. Alas, no; I alighted the plane, Scrublands grasped tightly in my hands, not in my bag. I snatched moments to read during the walk to baggage claim; lost myself in its relentless grip as I waited for the train; and once I was home, I didn’t put the book down until I’d witnessed how Hammer tied all his wonderfully woven threads together. Which he does, with aplomb, that belies his status as a debutant.

So, does Scrublands earn its Thriller of the Year tag? Absolutely. Is it my favourite book of the year so far? Well, it’s only June, but since you’re asking the question: at this very moment, yes it is.

Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero, reporter Martin Scarsden, on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation, which will ultimately have a profound effect on the veteran newsman. Readers who despair after a hundred pages that all the plot lines Hammer has launched can’t possibly fit together needn’t worry; they do indeed fit, and the monstrous connections that emerges between the inhabitants of the small Riverina town of Riversend are truly devastating. As he vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape, Hammer keeps the twists coming and provides column-inches of background expertise on the hard business of hard news, and the psychological impact of bearing witness to, and transcribing, innumerable tragedies.

Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that. It’s relentless, it’s compulsive, it’s a book you simply can’t put down. We’re in a Golden Age of Australian crime fiction, and with Scrublands, Chris Hammer has joined the elite, up there with Jane Harper, Candice Fox, Emma Viskic, Sarah Bailey, Mark Brandi, and the grand master himself, Peter Temple.

ISBN: 9781760632984
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

9780143786115Tim Winton is my own personal enigma. It’s not that I don’t value, understand, or respect his stature among Australian literary superstars — or indeed his place as one of the world’s finest contemporary writers — it’s just that I’ve yet to read one of his books that’s resonated with me as strongly as, say, Cloudstreet or Breath did for so many of my peers. I have read both of these and enjoyed them, absolutely  admired them for their craft, but whereas so many others felt compelled to wax lyrically about them and offer voracious applause, I was a step back, clapping politely. I guess everyone has those authors, and those books, that are so highly regarded by seemingly everybody else on the entire planet, but left you feeling that little bit cold. You wish you could feel its embrace, all you want to do is curl up with everybody else, feel the love; but something’s holding you back, something you can’t quite explain. Nevertheless, a new book by Tim Winton was hardly something I could leave unread on the shelf. I dove into The Shepherd’s Hut, ready to be wowed, hoping this would be the one connected, that struck all the right chords and would have me singing from the same hymn sheet as everybody else.

It came very, very close. In fact, I’d so as far as to call The Shepherd’s Hut by favourite book by Tim Winton.

Jaxie Clackton is on the run, having found his father crushed to death under a Toyota Hilux. It’s an accident, but young Jaxie is convinced it won’t be viewed as such by the locals, who were all aware how savagely Sid Clackton beat his teenage son and late wife. They won’t need much convincing to believe it’s murder. So Jaxie hurriedly packs for an immediate departure — leave some vital pieces of kit behind — and vanishes into the harsh desert, whereupon he eventually happens across an old shepherd’s hut with a single, strange occupant named Fintan MacGillis; a priest with a dark secret. And whose secluded home might not be the safe haven it initially appears to be.

Jaxie is a product of his childhood. He has grown up surrounded by violence, and the tools of violence. He is an angry young man, and he stays angry, throughout the text, until its end and presumably into the future. There were long periods I hated this young protagonist. I empathised with his plight, and understood where his rage stemmed from. But there were times, nonetheless, when I might’ve hoped the harsh desert landscape would swallow him whole. This, despite his honest appraisal of himself, and his own awareness at his inherent brokeness. But I couldn’t repel the book’s hold over me.

The Shepherd’s Hut is brutal. Bruisingly so. It is a masterly encapsulation of toxic masculinity. This is Winton covering familiar territory, but it’s injected with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that adds up to a taut page-turner. Now I desperately want to go back and re-read Cloudstreet and Breath.

ISBN: 9780143786115
Format: Hardback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 12-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

9781925498820Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake in Fright is a lean, mean, memorable tale of suspense and human fallibility. And while its early tension eventually tapers to a fairly pedestrian conclusion, there’s no denying its compulsive page-turnability.

Cook’s novel recounts John Grant’s journey into a living nightmare in the small outback town of Bundanyabba. It’s typically noir, with every choice he makes being the wrong one, every single decision leading to horrendous consequences. It is a seductive tale of one man’s descent into hell and an unflinching examination of what it means to lose control.

Wake in Fright is a story of high tension, which dissipates as its momentum sputters towards its conclusion when Grant is allowed time to mellow and meditate on the decisions that bring him to a particular moment. Reflection is all well and good — necessary, even — but in this instance, it curtails everything that so riveting about the novel’s beginning. Rather than being nuanced, or massaged into the well-oiled plot, it’s bluntly spelled out.

That said, Wake in Fright is a novel you’ll smash through in a few hours, utterly enthralled by this everyman’s downfall. Cook reminds us how susceptible we are to our base desires, and how destructive they can be if we let them lead us.

ISBN: 9781921922169
Format: Paperback (199mm x 129mm x 15mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 26-Apr-2012
Country of Publication: Australia