Review: Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon

9780241304037There’s very little mystery and even less suspense in “Maigret and the Ghost,” my first dalliance with Georges Simenon and his famous protagonist. And yet I was absolutely charmed by the French detective’s 62nd case, and Simenon’s depiction of the plodding reality of police work: endless phone calls, witness statements and interviews — with plenty of time for beer and sandwiches, and visits to bistros, naturally.

Let me refine that opening statement for the sake of clarity: this book is a mystery, but not a whodunit, even though the perpetrator of the crime isn’t revealed until its latter stages. Its length — “Maigret and the Ghost” clocks in at less than 200 pages — means that readers have a fair understanding of the culprit by the halfway mark; there are simply not enough pages for explosive red herrings. What we don’t know — what Maigret unravels — are the machinations behind the attempted murder: why was Inspector “Hopeless” Lognon of the 18th arrondissement gunned down in a Paris street, outside the home of a mysterious woman who has subsequently disappeared?

Maigret’s investigation leads to conversations with a charismatic cast of onlookers, and to a Dutch art critic named Norris Jonker, and his wife Mirella, whose home, it appears, is frequently visited by prostitutes. The novel boils down to a series of conversations, of which Maigret’s interrogation of the Jonkers is the most absorbing, as he picks away at the loose threads of their story. They’re hiding something — but is it connected to Longon?

Sometimes when I’m reading a mystery or thriller I’ll chart the dramatic trajectory of their plots as a writing exercise. That proved fruitless with “Maigret and the Ghost.” The novel really only has one pace. It’s not languid, nor is it in a rush. We’re reading to Simenon’s distinct schedule. And it’s a treat. My first Maigret — with more to follow.

ISBN: 9780241304037
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 160
Published: 3rd December 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB

Review: A Song For the Dark Times by Ian Rankin

Unlike some writers who want their heroes to remain supermen forever, Ian Rankin has paid attention to John Rebus’s years, and found stories to exploit them. Not that Rebus’s mortality is the focal point of “A Song For the Dark Times;” but it’s always there on the periphery. In his twilight years, with his physicality and raw machismo dwindling, every flash of violence has greater consequence. We’re not just worried about Rebus taking a punch; we’re worried about what happens when he throws one, too.

There is something sadly discomforting in witnessing the irascible former maverick inspector in decline, forced into a downstairs apartment because Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease has made the climb up to his series-enduring tenement in Marchmont untenable. Not that he intends to putter away his golden years: Rebus has commandeered a selection of unsolved case files. Fodder for another time, however. Any plans Rebus has to reopen old murder files is interrupted by a call from his daughter Samantha. Her partner Keith — father to their daughter Carrie — is missing.

While Rebus journeys to the very far north of Scotland — inserting himself into the investigation of which Samantha is the primary suspect — detectives Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox work a murder case involving a very wealthy, and very well connected, international student in Edinburgh. Rankin builds intrigue like a symphony conductor. The cases overlap through several key witnesses and suspects, but their connection, although obviously manufactured for the sake of the narrative, doesn’t feel contrived.

As ever, Rankin’s themes are timely and prescient. Here he tackles the subject of Scottish land ownership, the festering desire for retribution, and the toxicity of secrets, while peeling back layers of the country’s past. Much of the novel revolves around Camp 1033, a WWII internment camp that housed ‘aliens’ and captured soldiers. Ignorance on my part, but I had no idea such camps existed in Scotland; once again Rankin provides a history lesson alongside a cracking yarn.

Tautly constructed, compulsively paced, and consistently arresting. Routine brilliance from Ian Rankin. He delivers, every time.

ISBN: 9781409176985
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 320
Available: 29th September 2020
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co

Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

9781760877415In “Trust” Chris Hammer creates a microcosm of secrets, scandal, and skulduggery enmeshed in the threat of constant violence. In his hands, Sydney becomes a city of shadows; a place where menace lies around every corner, and dark intentions brew within every building. A malevolent cabal has spread long tendrils of corruption through every facet of the New South Wales government — and veteran newspaperman Martin Scarsden is determined to expose it.

“Trust” is so tightly wound up, it’s like a rubber band ready to snap; already stretched to breaking point after its opening dozen pages, by which time Tarquin Molloy has stolen confidential data from the trading floor of a bank, and Mandalay Blonde — Scarsden’s partner, but deserving of equal billing here, such is her importance and prevalence — abducted from her home in Port Silver. These events are tied to a subversive criminal enterprise that exists at the highest echelons of New South Wales politics.

This is Hammer writing pedal-to-the-metal, with a hook as enticing as “Scrublands,” enhanced by superior writing and plotting. Rather than rest on his laurels, Hammer has pushed himself beyond his previous mysteries, which were already A-Grade. In “Trust” he has crafted a byzantine plot with so many threads that never tangle. There’s a pulse-pounding shootout, a horrific torture scene (that stops short of being grossly visceral), and countless revelations and twists. Hammer orchestrates it all with virtuosic aplomb.

ISBN: 9781760877415
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 480
Available: 13th October 2020

Review: Long Range by C.J. Box

x293“Long Range” — the twentieth Joe Pickett novel — is a companionable entry in the series that sees the Wyoming game warden’s irrepressible ally Nate Romanowski — baddest of ex-military badasses — the primary suspect in the attempted assassination of Twelve Sleep County Judge Hewitt. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a Sinaloan drug cartel hitman named Orlando Panfile has arrived in Wyoming to avenge the deaths of the four assassins Nate dispatched in “Wolf Pack” (2019). Incarcerated by local authorities, Nate is helpless as the killer closes in on his wife and newborn.

This is standard fare for C.J. Box and his longtime hero Joe Pickett. But it would be crass to lament that we have seen and read it all before. I love Box’s strong cast, the tendrils of continuity that exist between his books, and his evocative descriptions of the Wyoming landscape. His novels are distinct for it. Certainly, in many respects, “Long Range” is made out of pieces of Joe’s previous adventures, not much of it new, but rest assured, each element is polished to a gloss, and the pages fly.

The trouble is, it’s hard to sustain suspense when we know, deep down, none of our heroes are going to be permanently damaged. Bruised and battered, sure — but nothing more than that. So by centring the drama around their mortality, which we know is never truly in question, rather than the complexity of its mystery, the book actually becomes less dramatic. Entertaining, for sure; and fans will love their annual visit to Twelve Sleep County, and checking in on Joe, Marybeth, and their daughters. This book may not be as knuckle-biting as Box’s best, but his taut, clean writing ensures his latest is never anything less than gripping.

ISBN: 9781788549288
Imprint: Head of Zeus – GB
On Sale: 09/03/2020
RRP: 32.99 AUD

Review: The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

9781760895679In his debut novel “The Bluffs,” Kyle Perry demonstrates a remarkable ability to imbue the forbidding landscape of the mountains in Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers with potential otherworldly hostilities, infusing enough pulse-pounding, page-turning excitement — and refined police procedural mechanics — to keep you up way past bedtime. Blending the supernatural into crime novels is a tradition that goes back to Poe and Conan Doyle — and “The Bluffs” shows how evocative the combination can be.

When a group of teenage girls on a school excursion go missing in the remote wilderness of the collection of mountain bluffs that comprise the northern edge of the Central Highlands plateau in Tasmania, the citizens of Limestone Creek are immediately on edge. Three decades ago, another group of young girls disappeared in the bluffs, and the legend of  ‘the Hungry Man’ — ‘who likes little girls, with their pretty faces and pretty curls’ — still haunts the town.

Limestone Creek is laden with dark secrets and rife with corruption. Much like the people of Kiewarra in Jane Harper’s “The Dry,” and the citizens in Chris Hammer’s Riversend (“Scrublands”) and Port Silver (“Silver”), there are monstrous connections between the residents of Limestone Creek. It falls on former Sydney Detective Con Badenhorst — plagued by his own demons — to find the girls, and determine what happened, while prime suspect Jordan Murphy —  local drug dealer and father of one of the missing students — launches a rogue parallel investigation. Answers await both men on the bluffs.

With its hint of the uncanny, “The Bluffs” reminded me of Michael Koryta’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead” and his Mark Novak duology; crisp writing and steady suspense amplified by its setting. Kyle Perry shows that evil lurks not just in the hearts of humankind, but in the treacherous rugged terrain that surrounds us.

Published: 2 July 2020
ISBN: 9781760895679
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

9780733644849Although elements of When She Was Good play according to the form of a traditional police procedural, Michael Robotham’s latest — a direct sequel to Good Girl, Bad Girl (2019) — is more than about the hunt for criminals and the simple question of guilt. This is a story of  lingering human evil and trauma that is capable of destroying lives in both the past and present, transcended beyond genre fodder thanks to Robotham’s unparalleled ability to evoke true human emotion through fully realised characters — and a pulse-pounding ratcheting of tension as it builds towards its climax.

Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven has finally tracked down Sacha Hopewell, the young constable who carried Evie Cormac — dubbed “Angel Face” by the press — out of a house in north London seven years ago, where she was discovered hiding only a few feet away from the decomposing body of a man who had been tortured to death. Cyrus and Evie are inextricably linked through their separate traumas, and he is determined to untangle the truth of her past — despite Evie’s own reluctance and fear about what he might uncover.

Then Cyrus is called to the scene of retired police officer Hamish Whitmore’s suspected suicide — but Cyrus isn’t so sure, and advises Detective Lenny Parcel to label the death a homicide. He learns Whitmore has been running an unsanctioned investigation into a series of child murders attributed to deceased paedophile Eugene Green. Scrawled on one of Whitemore’s notes is a name that sends chills down Cyrus’ spine: Angel Face. As Cyrus and Sacha edge closer to discovering Evie’s true identity and harrowing past, a covert and powerful cabal take desperate and lethal measures to silence her. Cyrus had hoped the truth would set Angel Face free. It may get her killed.

Robotham navigates dark and unsettling territory in this lacerating and haunting page-turner, which is as tightly plotted and explosively tense as it is poignant and wrenching. It’s also one of the standout thrillers of 2020.

ISBN: 9780733644849
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2020
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson

9780718189075Nothing could ever match the percussion-blast finale of Ragnar Jónasson’s first Hidden Iceland novel, The Darkness. But this third novel in the trilogy — or the first, chronologically, for its characters — is just as monumental, as it kickstarts the chain of events that ignited the psychological unravelling of detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir that has metastasized throughout the series.

When Jónasson introduced readers to Hulda Hermannsdóttir in The Darkness, she was 64-years-old and approaching retirement. In The Island she was in her fifties, in her prime as an  investigator; and in The Mist she is in her forties, and on the precipice of an unfathomable personal tragedy, whose aftereffects are deeply felt in every instalment of the series, and indeed in the second half of this one. Jónasson’s decision to tell Hulda’s story in reverse chronological order might sound gimmicky, but it’s a beguiling dynamic that augments these novels above the standard police procedural. All three have been slim, slick, and razor-keen, encompassing the very best of Icelandic noir traditions.

In The Mist, Jónasson parallels Hulda’s investigation into the disappearance of a girl from Gardabaet with a night of utter terror for Einar and Erla Einarsson at their isolated farm house in the east of Iceland during a violent snow storm. The suspense Jónasson evokes here is on the level of Stephen King’s Misery;  the twisty payoff as satisfying as the best of Harlan Coben. You could binge all three gleefully in an evening.

ISBN: 9780718189082
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Apr-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

9781760877989Veteran journalist Jack McEvoy — hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow — has burned all his bridges and been relegated to reporting on consumer issues for a nonprofit investigative news organisation called Fair Warning. It’s good, honest work in a world where traditional newsrooms have been hollowed out and replaced by click-bait websites, and the president is openly hostile towards the media — but it’s not the kind of work that gets Jack’s blood pumping. Death is his beat; it’s the oft-repeated mantra of the series. So when a woman he had a one-night stand with is brutally murdered, and Jack becomes a suspect, he finds himself suckered into the murder beat once more, hunting a sadistic killer .

Shrikes — also known as butcherbirds — are  carnivorous passerine birds famous for impaling their prey on twigs and barbed wire, and for their killing methodology: Shrikes grasp their victims by the neck with their beaks, squeeze the spinal cord to induce paralysis, then shake vigorously until their quarry’s neck snaps. It’s how the latest serial killer stalking Los Angeles got his name: his female victims have all been discovered with their necks broken in very specific fashion.

In searching for a connection between the victim how and why did the Shrike pinpoint these women as targets? — Jack former FBI agent Rachael Walling (a series regular in this series, and the wider “Bosch” universe) uncover the corruption ripe in the DNA testing business. There are very few regulations regarding who genealogy and DNA companies can sell your DNA to while making a profit. And the repercussions are unfathomable. Not now, perhaps; but what about the future, when usernames and passwords become defunct, and DNA becomes our exclusive identifier, and you’ve given yours away?

What separates Connelly from the competition is his interest in the blockbuster moments as much as the cartilage that binds them. He delivers authenticity as well as suspense. Fair Warning is a methodical procedural, pockmarked with insights about the changing shape of journalism and warnings about the current state, and future, of genetic testing. And its denouement hints there’s more to come from Jack. Hopefully we’re not waiting another ten years for the next instalment. Or maybe we can have the Bosch / Ballard / McEvoy / Haller crossover dreams are made of.

ISBN: 9781760877989
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 26-May-2020
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Poet by Michael Connelly

9781760113247On the eve of the publication of the third Jack McEvoy novel Fair Warning — amid my re-read of every book Michael Connelly has published — I went back to where it all started for the intrepid newspaperman: 1996’s The Poet. The book holds up. In fact, it’s even better than I remember.

Mysteries about serial killers are my least favourite type of crime novel. When they’re done well — Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB, for example — they’re brilliantly pulse-pounding and terrifying, laden with tension and byzantine twists and turns. I understand their popularity; the cat-and-mouse game of predator/prey has been fodder for great stories for eons. But I often find serial killer stories luxuriate in the depravity and gruesomeness of the violence, and lose any semblance of realism as the killer hunts their prey and evades capture through theatrics, slowly getting under the skin of their pursuer(s), driving them mad, until the grand denouement. My favourite crime novels deal with “smaller,” less grandiose murders. I have a morbid fascination with the evil that men do — the “everyman” — rather than organised, methodical killers with an insatiable appetite for murder. Connelly’s The Poet is the exception. It’s my favourite serial killer novel.

Jack McEvoy is the crime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. He has seen death in all of its forms. Death is his beat. But nothing prepares him for the death of his brother — a Denver homicide detective, haunted by a case he was unable to solve — who evidently turned his gun on himself in the backseat of his car. Jack doesn’t buy it. Driven by grief — remorse that he’ll never make pace with Sean — and his suspicions about the dying message his brother left behind (a quote from a work by Edgar Allan Poe), Jack uncovers a series of similar killings that have occurred across the country. It looks like someone is executing police officers and camouflaging their murders as suicides. And it appears these killings are connected to the murder of several children.

The Poet is an impeccably crafted crime novel by an absolute master. Its twists, turns and revelations are pitch-perfect. Rich in character, and ripe with thrills and chills that affected me once, ten years ago when I first read it, and did so for a second time. Just try putting it down.

ISBN: 9781760113247
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Nov-2014
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Trouble Is What I do by Walter Mosley

9781474616522When 92-year-old Mississippi blues musician Phillip “Catfish” Worry approaches Leonid McGill with the simple task of hand-delivering a letter to a wealthy heiress revealing her black heritage, the private eye accepts, unknowingly becoming the eye of a storm involving her flagrantly racist and vindictive father, and a notorious assassin with Catfish firmly in his sights.

The Leonid McGill series — Trouble Is What I Do being its sixth instalment — embraces the hardboiled private detective genre invented by Hamnett, refined by Chandler and Macdonald, and emulated by countless others; but few as successfully as Walter Mosley. The story is deceptively simple, its eclectic cast, crisp, lean and spare prose the perfect vehicle to highlight the systemic racism still prevalent in society.

It’s slick, quick, bread-and-butter stuff from Mosley, whose mastery of the genre is still evident even when he’s not at his peak. The biggest problem with his latest is that it reads like something he could write in his sleep. An entertaining addition to the McGill canon, best enjoyed by those already familiar with the ex-boxer and underground fixer turned PI.

ISBN: 9781474616522
Format: Hardback
Pages: 176
Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 27-Feb-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom