Uriah Rennie was the English Premier League’s first Black match official. He was a trailblazer. Or, at least, he should’ve been — Rennie retired more than a decade ago, in 2008. Yet he remains the only Black referee to officiate a match in the world’s biggest football competition.
Ashley Hickson-Lovence’s “Your Show” isn’t about Rennie’s legacy, but I can’t help but reflect on it, and the complete lack of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) representation in football beyond the players on the pitch. At least a third of the players we watch every week must be BAME; something is prohibiting their representation in other facets of our game; something deep-rooted, malignant and noxious.
“Shadows Reel” is not the place to start the Joe Pickett series. Never mind that it’s the twenty-second instalment — really, the expanse of a series should never prohibit new readers from jumping into the fray — but C.J. Box’s latest picks up directly from last year’s stellar “Dark Sky,” with Joe’s old pal, master-falconer Nate Romanowski teaming up with Black Lives Matter activist Geronimo Jones to hunt down Axel Soledad, who we last saw beating Nate’s wife, threatening his baby, and stealing his birds.
In Jessamine Chan’s “The School for Good Mothers,” Frida Liu — a recently divorced Chinese American mother of 18-month old Harriett — makes the imprudent, sleep-deprived decision to leave her daughter at home alone for a few hours to head into the office and catch up on work. When the authorities discover Harriett unattended, Frida’s parental rights are rescinded pending the outcome of her stay at a live-in rehabilitation program for bad mothers. If she can prove herself a better mother, she’ll be reunited with Harriett. If not, her parental rights will be severed entirely, and she won’t be able to see her daughter again — ever.
I believe Harlan Coben is at his best when he writes about everyday people — like you and me — thrust into crazy situations. Take “No Second Chance,” for example, which is about Marc Seidman’s desperate measures to recover his kidnapped daughter. Or “Run Away,” when Simon Greene spots his runaway daughter in Central Park, reigniting his quest to reunite his family.
After two exceptionally intricate and absorbing thrillers (Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight), Benjamin Stevenson is back with a rollicking, twist-filled Gordian knot of a mystery that maintains the thematic through-line of his work: the bond between brothers.
Set in a remote, snowed-in Australian mountain resort during the Cunningham family reunion, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone embraces the genre’s staples with a knowing wink and a nod to the reader. Its opening page lists the 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction by Ronald Knox, who belonged to the Detection Club; an assembly of legendary mystery writers including Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.
“The Apollo Murders” is a brilliantly imagined and superbly crafted alternate history Cold War thriller where Apollo 18 — cancelled in reality because of budgetary cuts — launched into space in 1973.
The crew’s initial mission objective is to collect lunar geological samples and sabotage a Russian moon rover. But things escalate quickly, and their task becomes more complicated and spectacular: destroy a Soviet spy satellite which, despite intelligence reports, isn’t the easy, unmanned target they expected.
“First Person Singular” is an enjoyable short story collection by Haruki Murakami, with whom I’ve had such fond experiences through his fiction. But the further I delved into the eight stories on offer here, the more I realised that my nostalgia for the past was fulfilling me more than the book in my hands. Which isn’t to say any of these tales, or the quality of their writing, is substandard — Murakami hasn’t suddenly devolved into a hack producing work for a spare dime — but there’s a definite sense he coasted through their creation.
A crowd-pleasing sense of familiarity is often enough for readers to coast through a novel, or short stories, on a sea of goodwill. But my barometer for any collection is my capacity to recollect specific stories (or at least moments from them) in the days after I’ve finished. There’s just not enough bite to “First Person Singular” for it to resonate.
The stories gently probe themes of youth, love and memory, and provide tender meditations on music, childhood and (in one of my favourite tales) baseball. Many of the stories are tinged with Murakami’s trademark surreality — talking monkey, anyone? — but they’re all framed through a homogeneous first person narrator, so they’ve blurred indistinguishably in my mind.
But even Murakami writing with his transmission lodged firmly in first gear provides indelibly graceful prose, and very occasionally, the glint of ingenuity. It’s a shame none of the stories sustained that magic for quite long enough. They’re all eminently readable, but their spark never ignites a flame.
This debut suspense thriller by Ellery Lloyd — the pseudonym for wife-and-husband writing team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos — explores the dark underbelly of Insta-fame, and the dangers (and superficiality) of living life on the internet.
“People Like Her” is slick, suspenseful and smartly plotted. It has three separate perspectives: London-based Instagram sensation Emmy Jackson, better known as “Mamabare,” celebrated for always telling the unembellished truth about parenthood; her husband Dan; and the mysterious antagonist scheming against them, targeting one of their children, for reasons that come to light in the novel’s final third.
Everything about Emmy’s Mamabare personality is premeditated. Bad hair days are prearranged; the mess of the kids’ playroom is controlled. But despite the artificiality of her posts, Emmy believes her intentions are pure, even when they’re guided by paid sponsorships. Dan is thankful for the income — Emmy is the sole breadwinner of the family while he toils away at his novel — but he remains concerned about the constant invasion of his family’s privacy. And he should be.
Emmy’s off-the-cuff, unsubstantiated parental advice has the potential for unintended consequences. And indeed, unbeknownst to her, one glib remark has set off a chain of events leading to an unquenchable thirst for revenge by a person with the audacity and skill to pull of the unthinkable.
“People Like Her” builds steadily, ratcheting up to revelations that turn out to be red-herrings, keeping readers on tenterhooks as the menacing presence closes in on the Jackson’s. It’s never anything less than utterly absorbing, at times nail-bitingly harrowing, lives and relationships in the balance as the climax looms. It’s just a shame that the payoff is rushed, the novel’s coda all-too predictable, plucked from the genre playbook. It’s entirely efficient and satisfactory, but in a crowded field you need that standout twist, something to make the reader gasp, to stand apart. There’s enough here to suggest Ellery Lloyd is capable of producing something like that. In the meantime, if you’re after a page-turner to propel you through a weekend, give it a whirl.
It’s been a while between drinks for Michael Brissenden and his cop hero Sid Allen. “The List,” published in 2017, was a satisfying thriller, if not a tad mechanical in its unravelling: a blend of “Bosch” and “24,” one part police procedural, another part political thriller. Its direct sequel “Dead Letters,” one of those dreaded sophomore novels, is superior in every way: tighter-plotted, richer in character, and pacier.
It opens with the murder of Dan LeRoi, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, whose burgeoning political career is cut short by four bullets to the head. The crime scene is chaotic, a kaleidoscope of local and federal investigators, the media swarming on the biggest news story of the year.
Among them is journalist Zephyr Wilde, a Lois Lane facsimile, whose tenaciousness is rooted in her tragic past. When she was a kid, Zephyr’s mother was killed by an unsub. It’s a cold case that’s remained on ice despite her dogged attempts to probe deeper, fuelled by letters from her long-dead mother that keep appearing in her mailbox. Breaking the golden rule of their professions, Sid and Zephyr partner up to look into LeRoi’s murder against the backdrop of a looming federal election. In doing so they awaken dark, dangerous forces operating within the corridors of power in Canberra. Brissenden weaves these threads together with skill, and pulls the curtain down with a couple of piercing twists.
Despite a deluge of brilliantly distinct local crime fiction published over the last half-decade, Australia — specifically Sydney, the city closest to my heart — is still looking for its answer to Michael Connelly and his (now former) LAPD detective Harry Bosch. The crime genre is so malleable, but the police procedural is my favourite form. Michael Brissenden’s Sid Allen series might be just what I’m looking for.
ISBN: 9780733637445 ISBN-10: 0733637442 Format: Paperback Language: English Number Of Pages: 368 Available: 27th January 2021 Publisher: Hachette Australia
David Mitchell’s “Utopia Avenue” is a rags-to-riches rock ‘n’ roll story that begins in London, 1967, and ends in tragedy in San Francisco a little more than a year later. It examines the lives of the quartet that make up Utopia Avenue — troubled guitarist Jasper de Zoet, bassist Dean Moss, keyboardist and singer Elf Holloway, and drummer Peter ‘Griff’ Griffin — as it charts the development of their three albums, and their burgeoning success and fame.
“Utopia Avenue” is a crowd-pleaser. It is zesty entertainment, despite its overwhelming familiarity, the destination of its arc visible from its opening pages (and its blurb). This is the story of a band that made it big, embellished with connections to Mitchell’s earlier work, which will add delicious texture for some readers, and befuddle others. It’s all part of the ‘Mitchell Experience.’ But his name has clout. It is laden with expectation. I expect Mitchell to enliven. I expect him to subvert. And he doesn’t here to the extent I wanted him to.
“Utopia Avenue” ticks all the boxes of the archetypal ‘rise to the top’ tale of a rock band, replete with ego clashes, confrontations over creative differences, drug problems, a host of parasitic record-label personalities, and a flood of cameos by stars of the period (including Bowie, Jagger and Zappa). It is saturated in 1960s counterculture, and the racism and sexism of the time. And it’s depicted vividly and lovingly. Overstuffed at times, sure; but written so assuredly and with such verve, sprinkled with a slight dusting of the fantastical, you’ll forgive its similitude. What it lacks in sparkling ingenuity it more than makes up for in spellbinding storytelling.
ISBN: 9781444799439 Format: Paperback Language: English Number Of Pages: 576 Published:14th July 2020 Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Country of Publication: GB