Cara Hunter — My New Crime-Writer Obsession

Close to HomeOver the last decade or so, I feel like a new prerequisite of crime fiction has been unwittingly established, that demands an unconventional protagonist. You know, a detective with an outlandish flaw: they’re brilliant, but — oh no! — they’re also a bloodthirsty serial killer. Their skills of deduction are unparalleled, but — say it ain’t so! — they’re addicted to the taste of human flesh; they’re a cannibal. They’re the greatest detective to ever walk the earth, but — no, it’s not possible! — they’re a ghost, intangible and invisible to everyone but a Golden Retriever named Lancelot.

There’s nothing wrong with such protagonists — well, the Golden Retriever thing might be a step too far — but personally, all I want from my crime novels are complex plots packed with legitimate red herrings and believable characters. My favourite mysteries are compulsive page-turners grounded in reality. That’s why I love John Rebus, and Harry Bosch,  and Sean Duffy — and now, Cara Hunter’s Adam Fawley.

I binged Cara Hunter’s two books recently — her debut, Close to Home, and her second, In the Dark — after being recommended them by fellow Australian bookseller Jay Dwight. And I’m obsessed. And impressed. Because Hunter’s books are perfect encapsulations of my idea of the best crime fiction: fast-paced, laced with genuine intrigue and suspense, featuring an incredible cast of characters you’ll want to spend more time with, both in the squad room and outside of it. Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his team of detectives deserve to become household names. I’ve no doubt they will be. And not because of their quirks or eccentricities; because they’re normal people, like you and me, with families, and ingrained flaws and foibles. They’re not perfect. They’re human, prone to mistakes. They’re real.

In the DarkClose to Home spotlights Fawley’s investigation to the disappearance of a young child. In the Dark sees him tasked with untangling a case involving the discovery of a woman and child locked in a basement. They’re standalone novels — tendrils of continuity link the two, in the same way that each Bosch and Rebus novel are sequential, but are ultimately independent stories — although I do recommend reading Close to Home first, simply to observe the perceptible improvements in Hunter’s storytelling between books, which is impressive to begin with, but seismic with regard to its refinement. Both are frenetically-paced, unputdownable whodunits. Both prove that if you’re a serious lover of crime friction, Cara Hunter’s burgeon series should take pride of place in your collection.

I am counting down the days until No Way Out is in my hands.

Close to Home

ISBN: 9780241283097
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 24mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 14-Dec-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

In the Dark

ISBN: 9780241283202
Format: Paperback / softback (198mm x 129mm x 27mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 12-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gone By Midnight by Candice Fox

9780143789154.jpgSince her debut, Hades, Candice Fox has consistently stretched and reshaped the Australian crime novel by creating in each of her books a deliciously chilling ambience and an aura of pervasive evil, alongside narratives that are so hard charging and irresistibly readable they demand to be read in a single sitting. Gone By Midnight is no different.

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, a young boy goes missing. Left alone with his three mates in the comfort of a lavish hotel room while his mother dines downstairs with her fellow parents, when Sara Farrow checks on the kids at midnight she discovers her child, Richie,  gone — without a trace, it seemed, as CCTV footage confirms he never left the building. With her wretched past, Sara knows the police will instinctively turn their gaze onto her, which will distract them from tracking down the true culprit. So she hires disgraced  cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell — the unlikeliest of dynamic duos, who’ve starred in Fox’s stellar Crimson Lake and Redemption Point — to shadow the police investigation, follow their own leads, and  locate her child.

But unrelated factors threaten to derail Ted and Amanda’s enquiries: a rogue Crimson Lake cop has set her sights on Amanda, and will stop at nothing to see her dead and buried, and not at all painlessly; and two years after false accusation robbed him of his previous life as a respected detective and family man,  Ted’s daughter is staying with him — just in time to be in the crosshairs of Richie’s abductor.

The Conkaffey / Pharrell series continues to split focus between exploring the procedural conventions of the whodunit genre and developing its heroes. Fox, who loves her characters colourful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn’t much matter whether they’re naughty or nice, or some shade between. Indeed, the true pleasure of Gone By Midnight isn’t the mystery at its core — which is suitably labyrinth and gripping — but witnessing its brilliantly quirky cast interact: Ted desperately hoping to rebuild his life, tantalised by the prospect of a new romance; Amanda struggling to overcome the demons of her past, and constant flirtations with the darker underbelly of her soul.

Gone By Midnight is Candice Fox at her riveting best. In this golden era of Australian crime fiction, Fox should be identified as the writer who redefined the genre in terms of its form, content and style.

ISBN: 9780143789154
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 31mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 22-Jan-2019
Country of Publication: Australia


Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

ScholarDervla McTiernan came out swinging with The Ruin (2018), but The Scholar is a knockout. A relentlessly paced, bombshell-laden plot combined with sharply-drawn, empathetic characters make this is the whodunit that should put McTiernan in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Denise Mina and Tana French.

Doctor Emma Sweeney’s discovery of a young female hit and run victim outside Galway University late one evening is the starting point for the second mystery featuring Detective Cormac Reilly —  although it’s a slight misnomer to label this singularly as a ‘Cormac Reilly’ novel; McTiernan has concocted a brilliant ensemble cast featuring the likes of Callie O’Halloran and Peter Fisher, whose interactions and banter are a real draw. Emma Sweeney works at Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics, and her partner just so happens to be Cormac Reilly, who she calls immediately upon discovering the body, thereby compelling him to lead an investigation that otherwise would never have been assigned to him.

Even without his personal connection to the case, Reilly knows the case is going to be complicated and — worse — political when the victim is identified as Carline Darcy. As in, heir to Darcy Therapeutics Carline Darcy, whose grandfather is an incredibly influential figure, not just in Galway, but in all of Ireland. So the pressure for Reilly to close this investigation quickly, and if at all quietly, is extreme. But just as the case seems destined towards one conclusion, further evidence puts Emma Sweeney firmly in the investigator’s headlights.

McTiernan keeps every stage of the investigation clear, compelling and compulsive. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, with a vivid cast of major and minor characters, The Scholar is one hell of a read, and it’s going to take something very special indeed to deny it being my favourite crime novel of 2019. And I know, I know — I’m saying this in November 2018.

ISBN: 9781460754221
ISBN 10: 1460754220
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2019
Pages: 400
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs — A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte

Dinosaurs.png“Somewhere around the world — from the deserts of Argentina to the frozen wastelands of Alaska — a new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week,” writes Steve Brusatte, a young American palaeontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of his field, in his new book, The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs A New History of a Lost World. Then, to emphasise the significance of this statement, he reiterates (with intentionally placed ellipses): “[that’s] a new dinosaur every . . . single . . . week.”

This translates to about fifty new species each year, all thanks to new and emerging technologies that allow the palaeontologists of today — and indeed of tomorrow — to not only unearth new fossils, but enhance our understanding of dinosaur biology and their evolution. Which means some of mankind’s most exciting discoveries about the Earth’s most fearsome creatures are yet to be made. If that doesn’t excite nascent palaeontologists, nothing will.

Excitement is the key word here. Brusatte’s devotion and love of his field is positively palpable as he lyrically retells the history of the dinosaurs through the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, aided by illustrations and photographs that further refine his  breakdown of what happened when and why. Brusatte‘s retelling of the rise and fall of dinosaurs is interspersed with revelations of his own expeditions, his contemporaries, and those in whose footsteps he follows. His enthusiasm is inspiring, and while I’m not yet ready to hand over my bookshop keys in exchange for a trowel, I can imagine this book propelling somebody younger into a career in palaeontology. Anybody with even the slightest interest in dinosaurs will devour The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs A New History of a Lost World. Exceptionally readable and compelling. Non-fiction at its best.

ISBN: 9781509830077
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 08/05/2018
Imprint: Macmillan
Pages: 416
Price: $32.99

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Sentence is DeathI was effusive in my praise for Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 novel The Word is Murder, calling it “one of the best and most compulsively readable mysteries of the year.” It’s a line I could repeat here for the second book in the Daniel Hawthorne series, The Sentence is Death. Quite frankly, there is no more bewitching stylist in crime fiction than Horowitz, who has delivered another slick, taut, inventive, and utterly engrossing whodunit. There’s no doubt about it: we’re in the presence of one of the masters of crime fiction.

The Word is Murder opened with a wealthy woman  found strangled in her home six hours after she has arranged her own funeral, a beguiling premise that demanded attention. The Sentence is Death presents another enigma: celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce is discovered bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with an insanely expensive bottle of wine, which makes little sense, given Pryce was a teetotaller. Even more bizarre is the three-digit number painted on the wall beside the corpse. For Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his compatriot (and the tale’s narrator) Anthony Horowitz (newcomers to the series, don’t be alarmed by this meta element — just trust me, it works) there are almost too many suspects. Pryce, by the very nature of his profession, and as a consequence of his profession, was a man with many enemies. So who delivered the fatal blow  and why?

The Sentence is Death is the kind of book you’ll cancel a night out for and stay up until dawn reading. Horowitz has a gift for the blindside; nudging readers towards one conclusion before smartly pulling the rug out from underneath them, reformatting clues on the fly, presenting them from a different angle. Horowitz is Holmes, and the reader is a very obliging Watson. Even as you hurriedly turn the pages to find out what happens next, a part of you will be wanting to slow down; to savour and admire the seamless plotting mechanics. You won’t want it to end.

ISBN: 9781780897080
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 29-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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