Review: In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

9781409176893 (1)Classic Rankin — top-notch police procedure  merged with deft characterisation.

Having conjured twenty-two novels worth of exploits for the irascible and incomparable John Rebus over the last thirty years, it would seem entirely reasonable for Ian Rankin to begin repeating himself, or for his series to start running out of steam. Indeed, even Rebus references the “managed decline” of his post-retirement life in In a House of Lies, and his treatment of the Saab that’s been as much an ever-present in these books as Rebus himself.  But even as Rebus gradually succumbs to a lifetime of bad habits — not just the drinking and smoking, but integrating himself into trouble, and his recurrent dalliances with vigilantism Rankin’s novels go from strength to strength as he shows a greater willingness to dive deeper into the moral ambiguity of his protagonist. Rebus was always an anti-hero — hard as nails, roguish; but always convinced of his own moral code — but as he faces us to his own morality, with the burden of empty years spent ruminating on his actions, Rankin paints a powerful portrait of a man lacking the assuredness that defined him.

Rebus’s ‘old school’ methods are thrust back into the spotlight when the skeletal remains of a private investigator are discovered more than a decade after the man’s disappearance  in a location that was, apparently, searched during the initial investigation. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of the new inquiry, tasked with combing through the mistakes of the original case; while Malcolm Fox, formerly of Professional Standards, has the job of specifically looking for misdemeanours, of which there were evidently many — several of which can be tied back to Rebus’s nemesis, the wily, power-hungry crime boss, ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty.

Rankin’s insight into character and motive is as keen as ever. He deftly cuts between his three primary leads as they follow wonderfully woven, unspooled threads that eventually tie together. As always, the resolution is incredibly satisfying, but is almost besides the point: we’re here for the characters, especially Rebus, whose wit remains as razor-sharp as ever. In A House of Lies encapsulates precisely why Rankin is the grandmaster of the genre, and why Rebus remains one of its most iconic and complex creations.

ISBN: 9781409176893
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 4-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Second Sight by Aoife Clifford

second-sight-9781925596892_hr.jpgA superbly constructed, tautly-paced, wrenchingly suspenseful mystery by an author who has earned a place among the top tier of Australian crime writers.

Having escaped the confines of her small, coastal hometown, Eliza Carmody had few reasons to ever return. Feeling betrayed and isolated by her family who’ve remained in Kinsale, and haunted by the events of New Years Eve in 1996 when one of her closest friends — Grace — disappeared, Eliza has reinvented herself in the big city as a successful lawyer. Unfortunately for Eliza, her career-defining case — defending a large cooperation against a bushfire class action by the town decimated by the flames — forces her to confront her past. That town, which was almost wiped off the map? It’s Kinsale.

As Eliza travels into town to meet up with an expert witness, a horrendous road rage incident unfolds before her eyes, climaxing with a deadly assaulted perpetrated by her childhood friend, Luke Tyrell. Already offside with the locals as a consequence of the looming legal battle, Eliza’s natural curiosity to determine precisely what propelled Luke onto this dark path leads her into confrontations with various figures from her past: her sister; her brother-in-law, now the local cop; and her father, a former police officer, now unresponsive after a car accident. When bones are discovered at a historic homestead in town, Eliza is certain they’re linked to that fateful New Year’s Eve.

The overriding theme of present-day Australian crime fiction, as evidenced by recent blockbusters such as The Dry, Scrublands, The Dark Lake, and the soon-to-be-published Greenlight, is small towns haunted and mutated by buried secrets. In this regard, Second Sight maintains that trend. What impressed me most about Aoife Clifford’s novel second novel is: (a) how well-concealed those secrets are, (b) how much perfect sense they make when they’re revealed, and (c) the devastating impact the exposure of these secrets has on the parties involved.

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” — a Flannery O’Connor quote that constantly resonates in my mind when I’m reading good crime fiction — could be this novel’s tagline. Second Sight is a virtuoso exploration of guilt and remorse; and a darn fine page-turner.

4 Star

ISBN: 9781925596892
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Australia
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Publish Date: 1-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

Other WomanThe best spy novel you’ll read this year, The Other Woman is a tour de force of slow-burn tension and intrigue.

In a year of quite brilliant tales of espionage — Charles Cumming’s The Man Between and Henry Porter’s Firefly, to name just two — Daniel Silva’s new Gabriel Allon thriller supersedes everything that has come before it. Reminiscent of the great Cold War thrillers from yesteryear  a reflection of current events rather than exaggeration on the author’s part The Other Woman is superb work of espionage from a skilled interpreter of all things topical.

In The Other Woman, Gabriel Allon — the legendary art restorer and assassin who serves as the chief of Israel’s vaunted and deadly secret intelligence service  and his trusted team are tasked with discerning the identity of a Russian mole who has reached the highest echelons of Britain’s MI6. It is a search that thrusts Allon back in time, to one of the 20th century’s greatest intelligence scandals, a period British Intelligence would rather forget, and are therefore resentful of its resurrection. Whether or not Allon identifies the mole, his relationship with the Western intelligence agencies will never be the same again.

The book has everything for the spy fiction aficionado: ample adrenaline-surging action,  endless bureaucratic infighting, and plot-twists you won’t see coming. It works perfectly as a standalone, too: although this is Gabriel Allon’s eighteenth mission, The Other Woman resets the board for the series. Silva writes smart, sophisticated, grounded thrillers: less Ludlum and Flynn (whose explosion-filled, breakneck thrillers I adore), more akin to the fine work of le Carré and Greene. His endnote, too, is rather chilling, as he details the current state of the world, and Russia’s place in it.

Deftly plotted and elegantly written: The Other Woman might just be the spy novel of the year.

5 Star.jpg

ISBN: 9781460755471
Format: Paperback (235mm x 155mm x 37mm)
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 23-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Perfect StrangersAll the ingredients are here to make Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers another standout — brilliant characters, sharp insight into human relationships, and laugh-out loud wit but this time round, an unconvincing, and in my eyes, an outlandish plot twist — the actions of a certain character, preposterously villainous, almost James Bond-ish — marred the final third. Don’t get me wrong; Nine Perfect Strangers is as addictive a page-turner as Moriarty’s other work, and I loved spending my time in the heads of these nine (perfect) strangers during their ill-fated ten-day retreat; but this time round, the plot just felt a little too obviously manipulated.

As always with a Liane Moriarty novel, the plot is deceptively simple. In the case of Nine Perfect Strangers, nine stressed city dwellers —  burdened by a smorgasbord of worries — arrive at  Tranquillum House, which promises healing and transformation. Every attendee hopes to be transformed and reinvigorated: romance novelist Frances, for example, has just been mightily stung by an online scammer; while Napoleon, Heather and their daughter are still struggling to come to terms with the death of their son. The resort director watching over them is a woman named Masha; and she is not to be trifled with. A former hot-shot corporate type with a tragic past, she is determined to reshape her clients — no matter what the cost.

Although it deals with some heavy themes, the laugh-out-loud humour that regularly punctuates interactions between the cast makes Nine Perfect Strangers an absolute blast from start to finish. It’s a sharp-eyed, often touching portrait of the fractured lives of disparate strangers, and the unlikely ties that bind them together. Despite my  misgivings about a certain plot element, there is no denying Liane Moriarty’s irresistible storytelling. This is pure, riotous entertainment from start to finish.

4 Star

ISBN: 9781743534922
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 512
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 18-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Man Between by Charles Cumming

ManBetweenAt first I wondered whether its setup might be a little too on the nose — a spy novelist drawn into real-world espionage — but Charles Cumming’s sophisticated treatment of the narrative, combined with his polished prose, make The Man Between a winner. This is a taut and exciting tale of spy craft, reminiscent of genre masters  John le Carré, Mick Herron and Daniel Silva, that’ll have you turning the pages in a frenzy to learn the fates of its characters.

Kit Carradine is a successful thriller writer who has grown tired of days spent in front of his desktop computer, conjuring fictional scenarios for imagined heroes. He envies the life of his father, a British spy whose career was cut agonisingly short because of Kim Philby’s betrayal —  so when British Intelligence invites him to enter the clandestine world of espionage for the good of Queen and Country, Kit willingly becomes embroiled in a terrifying plot to destabilise the West. Not that he expected to play such a vital role in proceedings; or in fact become a pawn in a game played by duelling intelligence services.

Lara Bartok  is a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement whose attacks on prominent right-wing politicians have spread hatred and violence throughout the West. Kit’s objective is to make contact with her in Morocco — a simple handover, nothing more — and return to his life as though nothing happened. Of course, things don’t pan out as Kit, or his handler (who has secrets of his own) expect.

Kit Carradine is an interesting protagonist.  He is genre-defying, in that he is a civilian thrust into the life of a spy, but acutely aware he’s living the realisation of a trope of countless thrillers we’ve all read. Having made a career of imagining narratives and writing his characters out of dangerous scenarios, he has unconsciously trained himself to have the mental fortitude for the life of a spy; a quick-thinker, often able to talk his way out of trouble. But there are occasions when Kit comes across as a little too cool-headed, and his persona a tad contrived; when he seems impossibly placid given the life-or-death situation he funds himself in. Thankfully Cumming rarely allows the reader time to draw breath; just when you begin to question (and envy) and deliberate over Kit’s exceptional bravery, the story veers in a new direction. And ultimately, this is a genre that demands, at the very least, a slight willingness to accept the improbable.

The Man Between is a smart, gripping, torn-from-the-headlines page-turner. And quite possibly the beginning of a new series, which you’ll want to jump on board with from the start.

4 Star

ISBN: 9780008200329
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

 

Review: Liar Liar by James Patterson & Candice Fox

9780143787471.jpgExhilaratingly professional work by both James Patterson and Candice Fox that breaks no new ground but will keep fans happy and add to their number.

Years back, in my review of Candice Fox’s debut Hades, I suggested readers should “expect to see Fox’s name on bestseller lists for a long time to come.” This, of course, was long before her partnership with the publishing phenomenon that is James Patterson.

I called its sequel, Eden, “a tier above  the books shelved beside Fox’s name.” And the final book in the Archer / Bennett trilogy, Fall; “Crime writing of the highest order.” So it’s no wonder then, following the publication of Crimson Lake, I insisted “Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre.” And with Redemption Point, I insisted “there is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime.”

So: fair to say I’m a big Candice Fox fan, then. Something about the ingredients of her work — a darkness, an edginess for sure; but also the idiosyncratic humour that punctuates the personalities of her characters… the Fox Factor just resonates with my particular sensibilities. In fact, let’s just say it now, get it out in the open: she is my favourite Australian crime writer, who produces brilliant-page-turner-after-brilliant page-turner year-after-year.

I’ve been less upbeat about the Harriet Blue series, co-written with megastar James Patterson. Never Never and Fifty Fifty have shown glimmers of the Fox Factor, but Patterson’s brand of storytelling — short chapters, a focus on propulsive narrative rather than character — have tended to whitewash the elements that make Fox’s books standouts. I enjoyed Never Never and Fifty Fifty without being blown away — and the same can be said of Liar Liar, which is furiously fast-paced and demands to be read in a single sitting, but lacks the resonance of Fox’s Archer / Bennett trilogy and the Conkaffey / Pharrell series.

Liar Liar concludes the storyline that ran through the preceding two books: Detective Harriet Blue’s hunt for her brother’s killer. Following events from the end of Fifty Fifty, Blue’s gone rogue, ditching her badge and her network of allies; a vengeful lone wolf with only one thing on her mind: revenge. Which puts her in the sights of an ambitious Deputy Commissioner, who is leading a task force to bring her down — with force, if necessary.  Little does Harriet know she is playing right into the hands of Regan Banks, the sadistic murderer responsible for brother’s death, who is determined to break Harriet, and awaken the killer inside her.

Events unravel fairly perfunctorily; unfortunately most of the book’s big reveals (save the final pages, which suggest a fourth book, and a cool change of the status quo) are telegraphed far in advance, particularly one character’s betrayal, which seemed obvious from her first appearance. There is an expediency to James Patterson’s stories — a rush to get to the blockbuster moments rather than focusing on the cartilage that connects them (which I think is Fox’s primary strength as a storyteller) — that makes his stories unfold fever dreams that ultimately fade from memory. Liar Liar will satisfy his legion of fans, and indeed obliterated the final hours of my day. But for me, it’s merely an hors d’oeuvre before Candice Fox’s next thriller. As is always the case nowadays when I put down a James Patterson thriller — having lapped up his Alex Cross series in my teens and early twenties — I was left wishing there was less bark and more bite.

ISBN: 9780143787471
Format: Paperback (232mm x 154mm x 29mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Century Australia
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 30-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

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