Review: The Rip by Mark Brandi

9780733641121.jpgI’m convinced that under the hood of Mark Brandi’s novels thrums a noir engine.

Wimmera and The Rip —  both intoxicating, unsettling masterpieces — feature characters plummeting inexorably towards obliteration, induced perhaps by events outside their control, but perpetuated by their own actions. One bad choice begets another in the hopes to solve or rectify the first. It starts as a gradual slide, then progresses into a nosedive from which there is no return. To use Otto Penzler’s words: the protagonists of Wimmera and The Rip are “entangled in the web of their own doom.”

We’re attracted to such stories because its human nature to ruminate on the bad decisions people make, and avow to avoid walking that same path. We witness their mistakes so we don’t have to make them ourselves.

Or so we hope.

With sparse, yet beautiful prose, Mark Brandi portrays destitution and addiction with neither voyeurism or judgement; instead he paints a devastating portrait of two people (and a dog) running the long marathon of struggle and survival on the streets of Melbourne. But on the streets, interpersonal relationships are just as likely to open you up to salvation as damnation. Which is precisely the case when Anton — our narrator’s companion — welcomes Steve into their lives.

Sure, Steve’s got an apartment they can crash in, and he’s got access to drugs; but there’s something wrong with the guy. Prone to fits of violence, not to mention the strong smell — like vinegar, but stronger — wafting from behind his padlocked door. Staying in this apartment, with a temperamental stranger for a flatmate, and Anton forced back into a life of crime to maintain the creature comforts of their new home, is a gamble; if it doesn’t pay off, the consequences are catastrophic. But when the alternative is life back on the streets, maybe it’s worth it; maybe it’s acceptable to close your eyes to the incongruities of the apartment, and Steve’s violent tendencies, and just accept and enjoy the daily hit that briefly whitewashes reality. When you can’t afford your next meal, can you really afford to take the moral high ground?

This is a story of real life: of human frailties and violence. It is chilling and completely credible as it speeds towards a dark inevitability. It is an incredible step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.

ISBN: 9780733641121
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Available: 26th February 2019

Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

9780241373545.jpgIn The Fifth Risk Michael Lewis scrutinises the “wilful ignorance” of the Trump administration.

This is a bite-sized, searing indictment of Trump’s government. It’s shocking — absolutely terrifying — just how little interest Trump’s appointees to head government agencies had in learning the intricacies of their departments, and how they function day-to-day. And more importantly, their value and significance to ordinary citizens. The Energy Department, Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department aren’t sexy sectors of government; but they do important — vital — work.

I’ve little interest in US Federal Government bureaucracy, but by focusing on individuals working inside these departments — touching on their backstories and their desire to serve their country in whatever capacity they’re able — Lewis humanises his reportage. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the subtler, less publicised, ramifications of a Trump government.

ISBN: 9780241373545
Format: Hardback (240mm x 162mm x 24mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

9780143789963Comprised of a series of interviews between Leigh Sales and a selection of people who have suffered an unexpected (or in one particular instance, expected) tragedy (or tragedies), and those who’ve made it their life’s work to assist those affected inthe aftermath (a police detective, a social worker, and a priest all feature), Any Ordinary Day explores how tragedy and loss can affect people, and considers the tried and tested methods of overcoming such experiences.

Leigh Sales is the perfect person to tackle an issue as nebulous as tragedy and grief, having witnessed and reported on her fair share as a journalist, and experienced some of her own. Hers is the appropriate lens to examine these catastrophes and their repercussions, kneading her interviewee’s experiences into a cohesive narrative occasional peppered with Sales’s own thoughts about the nature of emotional anguish and the ensuing fallout. Besides the final chapter — more of a coda — Any Ordinary Day is rarely preachy; and even when it flirts with becoming sanctimonious, Leigh quickly shifts focus, maintaining the sanctity of her interviewees’ experiences.

Those interviewees include Stuart Diver, who lost his first wife Sally in the 1997 Thredbo disaster and his second wife Rosanna to breast cancer; Hannah Richell, whose husband Matt died in a surfing accident; Walter Mikac, whose wife Nanette and two small daughters, Alannah and Madeline, were killed in the Port Arthur massacre; and even former Australian Prime Mister John Howard, who governed the country during some of its most shocking tragedies. Their stories are never anything less than heartbreaking, but more often than not, incredibly inspiring and ultimately, as they picked themselves up and carried on with their lives, irreparably changed, but capable of maintaining functional, meaningful lives, chock-full of the highs and lows the rest of us experience. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s very true: life carries on.

Sales also dips into the statistical likelihood of any one of us being in the wrong place at the wrong time; our chances of death by simply driving our cars to work, or stepping onto a plane to travel to our next holiday destination; or even our chances of being the victim of a random terrorist attack. Some of these passages are incredibly sobering, but the overriding message is clear: live your life and enjoy your life. Nobody is promised a tomorrow, so take advantage of today. Cherish your life, and the lives of your loved ones. Any Ordinary Day underlines a very simple mantra: live your life to the fullest. Accept that bad things can happen — the intrinsic randomness of life — but know that it’s possible to overcome any great tragedy; to survive and carry on.

ISBN: 9780143789963
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 272
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

9780751572865There’s nothing wrong with a slow-burn mystery, but there are times when Lethal White barely sizzles.

Forsaking any sense of urgency, J.K. Rowling—writing under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym—overburdens her fourth Strike / Ellacott novel with too much focus on the (still) unresolved sexual tension between the pair of private detectives and their flailing relationships outside the office, which detracts from their labyrinthine investigation into the blackmailing of a high-ranking government official — that (eventually) turns into something far deadlier.

Lethal White begins right where Career of Evil left us: Strike arriving late to Robin’s wedding, just after she says “I do” to Matthew, the fiancé everybody loves to hate —  and for good reason. The prologue treads over familiar territory, which Galbraith continues to mine: Strike and Robin internally monologuing about their conflicted feelings toward each other, and their mutual determination to maintain the status quo for the sake of their business. Flash forward a year later — yep, those conflicted feelings remain! — and a mentally ill man named Billy shows up with a barely-coherent story about having witnessed something diabolical when he was a child. Billy is the brother of Jimmy Knight, who coincidentally is one of the people blackmailing the Minister for Culture, Jasper Chiswell — and Strike’s new client. Strike quickly pegs Geraint Winn, husband of Minister for Sport Della Winn, as Jimmy’s likely partner, and sends Robin undercover to maintain surveillance on Winn. And we haven’t even got to the murder yet.

Some great character moments punctuate the convoluted plot, but for me — who kneels at the shrines of Chandler, Hammett, Cain and McBain — Lethal White is too bloated. Honestly, I found it a bit of an unbalanced slog. When enraptured by the main mystery, the narrative would cut to Robin dealing with PTSD; just as I became invested in that element, we’d smash-cut to Strike meeting his ex-fiancée. It’s like Galbraith is trying to pack the entirety of a whole season of television into one book; I’d settle for one brilliant episode.

ISBN: 9780751572865
Format: Paperback
Pages: 656
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 18-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Past Tense by Lee Child

9780593078198.jpgPast Tense is fuelled not by nerve-shredding tension or a confounding mystery, rather the tantalising inevitability of Jack Reacher’s collision course with a group of kidnappers who’ve abducted a young couple for an abhorrent purpose. It sticks to the trusted formula, and boasts the unpretentious, staccato prose Reacher’s legions of fans demand — and its insight into Reacher’s past makes it a worthy addition to the canon.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jack Reacher, on his way no nowhere — well, the West Coast, if you must know — hitchhikes his way into a small, middle-of-nowhere town  Laconia, New Hampshire, in this instance  and steps right into trouble. It’s the archetypal setup for a Reacher thriller, and Lee Child has mastered its unfolding over more than two decades and twenty-three books. Past Tense follows suit, for the most part, with two slight variances: Laconia is the place where Reacher’s father, Stan, grew up, which means this time there’s a personal connection; a history that Reacher wants to explore, for no other reason than he may never pass through the town again. And meanwhile, not too far away, in a isolated motel, readers witness the terror facing a young Canadian couple who find themselves unwilling participants in a psychotic game.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are more than side-characters, or victims waiting to be saved by Reacher. They’re fully-formed, empathetic characters, whose storyline is actually more compulsive than Reacher’s. There’s an urgency to their plight, which doesn’t seep into Reacher’s enquiries until very late on in proceedings. And indeed, it’s fascinating, and exciting, awaiting the moment of intersection between these characters, which doesn’t last long, but is incredibly satisfying when it happens.

Reacher’s mortality has floated to the surface in recent books, so too his own personal realisation of his complete and utter loneliness. Reacher’s interest in his family history maintains this theme, but thankfully, Past Tense is unblemished by the slight melancholic feel that pervaded the finale of The Midnight Line. Come the end of Past Tense, you’ll be fist-pumping the air and awaiting Reacher’s next adventure. There is no doubt: Lee Child and Jack Reacher remain the most reliable entertainers in the genre.

ISBN: 9780593078204
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Nov-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Greater Good by Tim Ayliffe

the-greater-good-9781925640915_hrA clever plot, full of twists, which takes us deep into a corrupt world.

The city of Sydney is as much the main character of Tim Ayliffe’s debut crime novel as veteran newspaper journalist John Bailey. Not since Jon Cleary’s Scobie Malone and Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy has a crime novelist dared to explore and expose the city’s underbelly.

The Greater Good is a solid mystery, grounded in muscular prose and enhanced by local colour. It embraces several conventions of the genre — the damaged hero, who drinks too much, and has a habit of getting in way over his head — and zips along at a great pace, rarely allowing the read to pause for breath. It begins when Bailey’s boss, Gerald Summers, editor of The Journal, orders the seasoned war reporter to report on the murder of sex worker whose client list includes a high-ranking government official. As Bailey digs deeper, he exposes a grand conspiracy that has international repercussions; real ripped-from-the-headlines stuff.

The first of a trilogy, The Greater Good possesses all the requisite action-suspense crime fiction addicts desire.

Format: Paperback(153mm x 234mm x 30mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Australia
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Publish Date: 1-May-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

untitled.pngSet in the unforgiving landscape of the Queensland outback, The Lost Man is a cracking page-turner  that explores the psychology of abuse and the desire for retribution.

The Dry was a transcendent work for Australian crime fiction, ushering in a new Golden Age for the genre. Its sequel, Force of Nature, vindicated those early accolades, proving that Jane Harper has the ability to produce relentlessly fast-paced and beautifully structured mysteries that fully exploit the harsh Australian landscape. Delightfully, The Lost Man amply fulfils the promise of its predecessors and sets the bar even higher. The intimate betrayals that pockmark The Lost Man are nothing short of devastating.

Anyone who read The Dry will recall its scintillating opening salvo: blowflies buzzing around the corpses of the Hadler family. It hooked you immediately; compelled you to turn its pages, to understand how this moment came to pass. The beginning of The Lost Man is just as gripping —  Cameron Bright, baking under the Queensland desert sun, crawling desperately to catch the shadow cast from the stockman’s grave, a long-standing manmade landmark; the only one for miles. When we next see Cameron, he’s dead; stared down upon by his two brothers, whose anguish over his death is overridden by a desire to know how this happened. Men and women in their line of work are survivors: they have to be. Conditioned to the tempestuous weather, accustomed to the isolation, it seems unlikely Cameron found himself alone in the middle of nowhere by accident. So was it suicide? Or did something — or someone — lead Cameron to the stockman’s grave?

Jane Harper is brilliant at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper — and often ugly — layers. In scrutinising the weeks and months prior to Cameron’s death, each member of the Bright family are forced examine the underlying toxicity that exists between them, and confront their own demons. The visceral fears and hatreds lurking below the surface of every member of the Bright family are adroitly exposed, and demonstrate that anyone has the capacity to be a monster.

ISBN: 9781743549100
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 23-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia