“Of course, I know there are LGBTQIA activists out there who fought for centuries for me to have the right to fuck up like this… I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress.”
This tremendous queer coming-of-age story feels heart achingly familiar and extraordinary at the same time. Stunningly rendered in grayscale, with tinges of pink, by artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is about two High School girls — Frederica (Freddy) Riley and Laura Dean — in a seriously toxic relationship, and spans a formative year in their lives; through the highs and lows of young, raw, love and the repercussions their noxious romance has on those around them.
Set in Berkeley, California, the cast is extremely diverse, with a broad range of sexualities, race, gender expressions and body shapes presented, not just as background, but as substantial characters, dealing with their own trials and tribulations that don’t always come to the fore — this isn’t their story, it’s Frederica’s — but lends the narrative credibility. This world feels lived in; the characters breathe.
Complex characters, authentic dialogue, and messy-but-beautiful friendships; Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell have created a modern classic of graphic storytelling. Readers who’ve aged beyond Raina Telgemeier’s work should seek this out immediately. Read it, love it, cherish it. You won’t regret it.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: First Second
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: 7-May-2019
Country of Publication: United States
Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) | C.J. Sansom | Pan MacMillan UK | 2003 | RRP $19.99 | 9781447285830
In C.J. Sansom’s first Matthew Shardlake mystery, the hunchbacked lawyer is dispatched by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, to investigate the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton at a Benedictine monastery in Scarnsea, Sussex, as the King’s disbanding of the monasteries gathers pace.
Executed with consummate skill, the novel’s blend of whodunit tropes and rich historical texture makes for fascinating reading. The monastery setting, filled with enigmatic characters, and dark, lingering shadows, is suitably spooky, and Shardlake’s exploration of its halls almost approaches horror. Some of the detective work is a tad plodding, but the pacing seems deliberate on Sansom’s part, as he gradually weaves a tapestry pockmarked with credible suspects, daring the reader to form their own conclusions.
Sansom’s recreation of sixteenth century England and his ability to lace his fiction into the confines of truth is remarkable. It’s as vividly presented as Rome in Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy. As a series opener, it inspires confidence. I’ve already got the next few on my stack.
The Catch: A Slough House Novella | Mick Herron | John Murray | 14 January 2020 | RRP $22.99 | 9781529331677
As I (impatiently) await the release of a new Slough House novel, this snack-size interlude serves as a wonderful reminder of just how brilliant Mick Herron’s series of espionage novels are; not reliant on Hollywood pyrotechnics or gunplay, but compelling because of the interplay between distinguishable characters, and their clever plotting. The Catch is one of those rare novellas that deepens and enriches the lore of its creators world.
Intelligence Service operative John Bachelor — although it’s a stretch to call him ‘operational’ — is living rent-free in a dead spook’s apartment. Poor John, a ‘Milkman’ for the service, is down on his luck; and the arrival of two Regent’s Park heavies early one morning hardly signals a change in his fortune. They’re looking for a man named Benny Manors, who Bachelor was being paid for by the service to monitor, but whose lackadaisical tendencies have allowed Manors to vanish. If Bachelor doesn’t find Manors — and quickly — he faces not only the end of his living arrangements, but quite possibly the end of his life. Little does he realise he is merely a pawn in a game being played by powerful figures attempting to control a scandal involving a member of the Royal family and a paedophile.
Another well-crafted entry in Herron’s fiendishly good Slough House series. Don’t let its slight page count fool you; The Catch provides twists aplenty.
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Fifty-Fifty | Steve Cavanagh | Hachette Australia | 25 February 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781409185857
Fifty-Fifty is vintage Steve Cavanagh: the setup is scintillating, his trademark twists are generously piled on, and the payoff is suitably pulse-pounding.
On the night of their father’s brutal death, two sisters — Sofia and Alexandra Avellino — dial 911 and blame each other for the murder. The women are trialled at the same time, in front of one jury. One of them has been framed; the other is a murderer. Unless they were both involved? Lawyers Eddie Flynn (The Defence, The Plea, etc) and Kate Brooks steadfastly believe their clients are innocent. As they clash in the courtroom, it begins to dawn on them; one, or both of them, are being played by a killer.
Cavanagh expertly manipulates the reader through his labyrinth plot, daring us, and his protagonists, to assume the innocence and guilt of both sisters at various stages, before unveiling a piece of evidence or witness that undermines any presupposed theory. Cavanagh writes blockbuster Grisham-esque thrillers: his plots are sensational, the pacing is pure Hollywood, but they’re grounded by embattled characters readers can’t help but root for. Fifty-Fifty is spectacular entertainment, easily read as a standalone, but also an important milestone in the Eddie Flynn canon.
Death in the East | Abir Mukherjee | Harvill Secker | 19 November 2019 | RRP $33.00 | 9781787300583
“…if the universe gave you a chance for redemption, you’d bloody well better take it, because second chances were rare and third chances were non-existent.”
Abir Mukherjee adds to his impressive slate of historical crime novels with Death in the East, the fourth mystery starring Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee. The mastery of his craft is on full show here, as Mukherjee expertly entwines two murders 17 years apart and on different continents: one in 1905, London, when Wyndham was a young, inexperienced constable; the other in 1922 Assam, the ‘present day’ in the series continuity, where Wyndham has sought the aid of a sainted monk to help conquer his opium addiction.
Mukherjee’s interrogations have the rare quality of gradually illuminating and thickening characters, plot, and setting. Alongside an ingenious murder method, Death in the East is abrim with racial tension, methodical detective work, and the hero’s appealing struggle to balance a thirst for revenge with his desire for justice. This might just be Wyndham and Banerjee finest hour. Mukherjee should be celebrated for his sterling consistency. There is no better author of crime fiction writing today — this series is excellent.
Bernardine Evaristo’s extraordinary eighth novel, and deserved winner of last year’s Booker prize, provides bold, contemporary perspectives on feminism and race through 12 interconnected stories that unravel through radiantly lyrical, iconoclastically stylistic prose.
Any fear I had of the mental taxation it might require to enjoy Girl, Woman, Other — with its scarce punctuation, unexpected line breaks, and paucity of capitalisation — was completely misplaced; this is a blazingly readable firecracker of a novel. The experiences of the 12 black, British characters, who exist in different decades and touch each other’s lives both plainly and subtly, coexist in an exquisite harmony that I won’t soon forget.
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Amnesty | Aravind Adiga | Pan Macmillan AU | February 2020 | RRP $30.00 | 9781509879045
“There is a buzz, a reflexive retinal buzz, whenever a man or woman born in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh sees another from his or her part of the world in Sydney — a tribal pinprick, an instinct always reciprocal, like the instantaneous recognition of homosexuals in a repressed society. Because even if both of you believe that one brown man holds no special significance for another in Sydney — a city and civilisation built on the principle of the exclusion of men and women who were not white, and which fully outgrew that principle only a generation ago — which is to say, even if you want to stay icebox or indifferent in the presence of the other brown man, you are helpless.”
Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga returns with the story of a day in the life of Dhananjaya ‘Danny’ Rajaratnam, an illegal Sri Lankan immigrant, who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a murder, and must decide whether coming forward with information that would aid the police investigation is worth the risk of deportation. As he evaluates the morality and consequences of either decision, we learn of Danny’s past, and his daily struggles to survive as a cleaner in Sydney; living in a grocery storeroom under the thumb of its tyrannical owner; wracked by the fear of the authorities who want him expelled; and the desperate measures he must go to in order to assimilate into Australian society.
What makes Amnesty propulsive, powerful and unsettling in equal measure is Adiga’s ability to render this tale apolitically. The novel neither berates nor bolsters Australia’s immigration policy, merely spotlights a singular human story that so often gets lost amidst the debate, framed around a young man’s quest to negotiate the blurred line between justice and responsibility. It’s a story of dreams; those already shattered, those for the future, and the cost of making them a reality.
This timely novel depicts the struggles faced by immigrants — legal and illegal — with heartbreaking specificity; the constant fear of being discovered by immigration officers alongside the desire to acclimate to a society that doesn’t want you. It’s one of best, and most bittersweet novels I’ve read in some time; as a reader, you are burdened by the knowledge that whatever Danny chooses to do, the ramifications will be ruinous. Sober and erudite, Amnesty is another tour-de-force from a brilliant writer whose literary powers show no signs of abating.