Review: Blue Moon by Lee Child

9781787630277In his 24th adventure, nomadic vigilante Jack Reacher cuts a wide swath through an unnamed city’s rival gangs in his quest to help an elderly couple under threat from loan sharks.

The first half is genius; vintage Reacher, the physical embodiment of a spanner in the works, an agent of chaos for the Albanian and Ukrainian crime bosses, who misconstrue his actions for their rivals. The pacing is sharp, the transitions between characters smooth, and the violence hits hard and fast; like Reacher. But when the narrative turns, and Reacher declares war on the city’s organised crime, the novel becomes too reliant on gunplay, which is less high-octane (as I imagine it was intended), and more absolutely bonkers. The body count in Blue Moon is stratospheric; ridiculously so. At one point, bodies are literally piled in a doorway as rank and file gang members attempt to swarm Reacher. Maybe I could get past this , the sheer exuberance of Reacher’s kill count, if the shoot-em-up set pieces were a little more imaginative and extravagant; but they’re just so banal, in terms of setting and execution. Nobody writes choreographed fight scenes like Lee Child; but something is lost when he translates his specific style to shootouts.

Reacher’s mortality has floated to the surface in recent books, but in Blue Moon he’s in God Mode; a one-man killing machine, doing bad things to bad people in the worst possible way. At one point he deadpans, “Normally I kill them, kill their families, and piss on their ancestors’ graves.” Oh, Jack; don’t become a caricature of yourself. The book speeds along at an agreeable clip, but I’ve always thought Reacher works best in Sherlock Holmes mode rather than John McClane action hero. Middling for this brilliant series; but an average Reacher is better than most thrillers on the shelves.

ISBN: 9781787630277
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 29-Oct-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

9781869713393If J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie was a slow-burner of a psychological thriller, thick with a constant undercurrent of menace, his follow-up, In the Clearing, is a pared-down firecracker, the danger clear and present, even if its exact shape remains opaque until its climax.

Chapters alternate between Amy and Freya, dual storylines building in intensity as the page count deepens. Amy is an adolescent fully indoctrinated in the ways of the Blackmarsh; a cult whose home is in remote bushland known as ‘the Clearing.’ She knows what’s expected of her, how to placate her elders, and make sure life in the community remains harmonious. Until a newcomer destabilises her beliefs, and Amy begins to wonder what life is like on the outside. Freya is a mother, who faces a daily struggle to seem normal; your everyday mother and neighbour, nobody worthy of a second glance. But it’s clear she’s struggling with traumas from her past, which threaten to completely undo her carefully constructed life; particularly when a young girl goes missing, and someone from her past arrives in town, tearing open old wounds.

Pomare’s prose purrs so smoothly, you’ll read In the Clearing in one sitting, barely comprehending you’ve been turning its pages. It stays true to the genre’s conventions, and if you’re like me, you may pick some of its bombshells: but each one lands so plausibly, and at such speed, with such gravitas, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

ISBN: 9781869713393
Format: Paperback
Available: 31st December 2019

Review: A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais

a-dangerous-man-9781471157615_lgRobert Crais is one of the most dependable names in thriller-lit, and Joe Pike and Elvis Cole are two of its most indelible protagonists. A Dangerous Man is the eighteenth in the series — but newcomers won’t feel left behind — and its setup is deliciously unpretentious: Pike is parked outside a bank when Isabel Roland, a young teller, is plucked off the street by two men in an SUV. Pike — ex-marine, turned-vigilante — intervenes (obviously), less by choice, more by instinct, and rescues the young woman, only for her to be kidnapped again days later. Looping in his partner, Cole, the duo amass a sizeable body count as they search for Isabel and uncover the reason why she’s a target.

A Dangerous Man is taut, slick and action-packed; a Jack Reacher style page-turner, but with the fat trimmed.  There are few thrillers writers that cut to the chase quite as quickly as Crais and able to maintain the same velocity for three hundred pages. I enjoyed it, immensely; until I got to the end and started thinking about it, specifically in relation to the Bechdel test and realised every woman in the book is a victim, and their page-time is dedicated almost entirely to being chased, kidnapped, or discussing the attractiveness of Pike. It’s anachronistic, unnecessary, and a blemish on an otherwise consummate thriller. Recommended, but with reservations.

ISBN: 9781471157622
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 18-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Beware of the Dog by Peter Corris

9781760110154Middling among the distinguished author’s score of mysteries, but even the most routine Peter Corris novel offers incidental pleasures, and as a historical document of early-nineties Sydney, it’s well worth tracking down a copy of.

This tale of an affluent family’s murderous dysfunction sees Cliff Hardy’s gun stole and wanted by police in relation to a shooting. Corris wires together every cliche of the private eye genre electrifyingly; he treads familiar ground, but with such relish, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

Solid, unspectacular, but utterly engrossing.

ISBN: 9781760110154
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 200
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Review: Lost You by Haylen Beck

9781911215608Once again writing under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch, twist-filled psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for her child.

Lost You opens in a holiday resort in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In an anxiety-inducing scene, three-year-old Ethan squirms in a woman’s arms as she climbs to the hotel’s roof. Police and hotel security surround the area; she can hear cries of alarm from guests below. One foot in front of the other she continues to move across the rooftop, towards its edge, Ethan still struggling, their fates seemingly entwined. Which they are, and have been for a long time, as readers learn when the narrative spirals backwards, revealing Ethan’s true parentage, and the desperate, ruthless actions a mother is capable of when her child is at risk.

With shades of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, the less you know about Lost You the better. It delivers twist after twist, and although connoisseurs of the genre might pick some, I’m positive even the most prolific psychological thriller reader won’t anticipate every swerve in this tale. Beck’s latest is a chilling, gripping thriller you’ll put your life on hold for to finish. A consummate tale of suspense.

ISBN: 9781911215608
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

nobody-moveIn Nobody Move Denis Johnson embraces classic noir in all its violence, bleakness and black humour. It’s a slender, sparse hardboiled tale about a triumvirate of hard-on-their-luck, morally bankrupt people — gambler Jimmy Luntz, debt collector Gambol and gorgeous divorcée Anita — whose stories all interlock as they struggle for survival.

With dialogue as sharp as Elmore Leonard’s and littered with characters the grandmaster would be proud of, Nobody Move won’t convert non-noir acolytes — this is a fairly traditional tale in the style of Westlake, MacDonald and Thompson — it’s a searing example of the genre, and so far removed from anything else I’ve read by Johnson. Train Dreams was a tiny masterpiece; Jesus’ Son and The Largesse of the Sea Maiden a potent smattering of tales. Next on my list, the novel: Tree Of Smoke.

ISBN: 9780312429614
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 196
Published: 27th April 2010
Country of Publication: US

Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

9781760632991A fine-tuned mystery wrapped in an involving story of community and family dynamics that is satisfying on every level.

Forgoing the evocative opening imagery of Scrublands, and the scorching momentum it sparked, when a young priest calmly turned his rifle on his congregation, Chris Hammer eases into his second novel to star Martin Scarsden, with the veteran journalist driving into Port Silver — a hotspot of regional gentrification, and the home Martin waved good riddance to decades earlier — with two young hitchhikers he picked up along the way nestled in his backseat. Their cheerful spirits alleviate the tension he feels returning to a place laden with traumatic childhood memories.

Martin has emerged from the fallout of events in Scrublands with a new partner, Mandy Blonde, and her young son, Liam. Mandy has inherited an old house in the seaside town, and this is their chance to start afresh; Riversend, its history of violence, now a distant speck behind. But when Martin arrives at Mandy’s temporary homestead, he finds his best friend from school days brutally murdered, and Mandy leaning over him — the obvious suspect. Certain of her innocence, and exasperated by the police investigators who can’t seem to look beyond her, Martin launches his own investigation into the murder, prying open memories from the past, forcing confrontations with those he thought he’d vanquished long ago. Then another horrific event occurs, on an even grander scale — Australia’s own rendition of the Jonestown massacre — and Martin realises the heart of Port Silver is black as pitch.

Silver is a slower burn than Scrublands, but it feels deliberate, its plot set to simmer as Hammer establishes the geography of Port Silver, as well as its major and minor players, and dips into Martin’s childhood memories, and his struggle to marry the two sides of himself: the battle-hardened, world-weary reporter who makes a living exposing and transcribing the very worst of humanity, and the man who wants to start a family. The context is important, because when Hammer lights the fuse, and the plot kicks into higher gear, the stakes feel more extreme, and definitely more personal; the reader is invested in the vast cast that populates Port Silver. And the final two-hundred pages truly gallop, destined to be inhaled in one white-knuckled sitting.

With Silver, Chris Hammer proves himself once again to be a skilful practitioner of the crime genre, and in Martin Scarsden has created one of its most textured and fascinating protagonists.

ISBN: 9781760632991
ISBN-10: 1760632996
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 576
Available: 1st October 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU