Review: Keeper by Greg Rucka

9780553574289Greg Rucka is an unsung genius of thriller writing, whose debut Keeper still sparkles more than 20 years after its publication. His professional bodyguard protagonist, Atticus Kodiak, has as much brio as Jack Reacher; but his heroics are packaged in adventures anchored by dynamic characters, and a willingness to dive deep into social issues without forsaking the vitality of the narrative. In this case, it’s America’s abortion debate, which remains salient today, more than four decades after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and two decades since Keeper landed in bookstores, with opponents and supporters of abortion rights are still arguing over the issue.

In Keeper, Kodiak is hired to protect the director of a Manhattan abortion clinic whose life has been threatened by militant pro-lifers lead by a zealous charlatan, Jonathan Crowell. Kodiak, whose girlfriend has just undergone an abortion herself, is personally committed to Felice Romero and the safe-guarding of her daughter, Katie, who has Down syndrome. So when his protective details fails to stop a particularly heart-wrenching murder, Kodiak doubles-down on protecting his charge, and uncovering the identity of the killer, and putting them in the ground.

Rucka, whose prose has echoes of Robert B. Parker and Chandler, maintains a rapid pace, steadily increasing the tension as the narrative builds to its cinematic climax at a cemetery. The ingredients are familiar, but in Rucka’s hands, the recipe is fresh and exciting.

ISBN: 9780553574289
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 332
Imprint: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc
Publish Date: 5-May-1997
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Dying Trade by Peter Corris

9781921922176Published in 1980, The Dying Trade introduced readers to one of Australian crime fiction’s most enduring and endearing protagonists, Sydney-based private investigator Cliff Hardy. At the time of his death last year, Peter Corris had written more than forty mysteries starring the hardscrabble gumshoe. I’ve read maybe half of them, and even the mid-grade mysteries are buffed to high gloss thanks to the author’s economy with words, and acute sense of place; Corris’s ear is finely attuned to the voices of Sydney’s distinct neighbourhoods. Not to mention the first-person narrator makes for good company.

The pleasures of The Dying Trade may be primitive, but they’re genuine. There are echoes of Chandler and Hammett, but Hardy’s first outing isn’t some lame Aussie pastiche. Here, Hardy is hired by a wealthy property developer to determine who is harassing his sister. But of course there’s far more to it than that; and as Hardy digs deeper, he discovers dark and deadly secrets connected to the Gutteridge family.

What makes The Drying Trade, and the entire Hardy series so compelling, is the author’s ability to extricate moral complexity from absolutely everyone on the page; suspects, victims, even the protagonist himself.

ISBN: 9781921922176
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 372
Imprint: Text Classics
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 26-Apr-2012
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Neon Prey by John Sandford

neon-prey-9781471184383_lgRelentlessly formulaic, this is assembly-line stuff from John Sanford. Lucas Davenport remains a strong enough protagonist to keep the pages turning, but it’s starting to feel like the author is phoning it in. Neon Prey is slick, swift, and utterly forgettable. It hits all the right beats, but with an impotence that undermines any tension or compulsivity.

Thing is, there’s enough here to elevate this manhunt beyond routine. The ingredients just seem undercooked. Initially Clayton Deese seems like your run-of-the-mill gun-for-hire criminal. But when he skips bail after job goes wrong, U.S. Marshals start digging deeper into his background and discover Deese is actually a prolific cannibal serial killer, who has gone undetected for years. Enter: Lucas Davenport, whose job is to hunt Deese down and bring him in, or put him down. But for all his supposed menace, Deese never feels terrifying. He’s a sketched villain rather than a fully-formed threat. He’s a bad guy because he does bad, bloody things, that we sometimes see on the page, but it all happens so hurriedly, there’s absolutely no resonance. Sandford has created some truly terrifying villains; Deese is not one of them. A problem when he’s the driving force of the narrative.

Not much of a thriller, not much of a mystery. Sandford has a brilliant ear for dialogue, and it’s the character interactions that make Neon Prey worth sticking with, assuming you like the cut of the author’s jib. Sandford has done better, and hopefully will again. The thirtieth novel in the series is out next year.

ISBN: 9781471184390
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 25-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

9781760876012-1I have read all 32 — now 33 with The Night Fire — of Michael Connelly’s crime novels at least twice, and I’m almost certain I’ve read each instalment in the Harry Bosch series on three or four separate occasions. These books are nestled in my bookcase, spines proudly creased, pages yellowed; worn, and loved, and returned to. If one author epitomises precisely what I want from my crime fiction, it’s Connelly: enthralling police procedurals without the outrage pyrotechnics that blight many of his peers.

There has been a notable shift in Connelly’s writing since the premier of the Bosch television series. In the early days, the books focused on a single investigation. Think of Angels Flight, when Bosch investigated the murder of a high profile black lawyer; or City of Bones, when a chance discovery leads Bosch to discover a shallow grave in the Hollywood hills. More recently, Connelly’s novels have handled multiple narrative threads; separate investigations, not always connected, twisting around each other. Think The Wrong Side of Goodbye and Two Kinds of Truth.  These novels read more like a television series; each chapter an episode contributing to an overarching story. One style is not better than the other, necessarily; in fact, I appreciate the evolution and refinement of Connelly’s craft.

The Night Fire is a perfect encapsulation of this ‘new’ brand of Connelly. Once again uniting former LAPD detective Harry Bosch — approaching 70, but who still bleeds blue despite giving up his badge years earlier — and Renee Ballard — an active cop who works midnight shift; the ‘late show’ — this new novel focuses primarily on their dual investigation into the cold case of the unsolved killing of ex-con John Hilton, whose murder book was hidden away in Bosch’s recently-deceased former partner’s study, for reasons unknown, but which we’ll discover. At the same time, Ballard is working her own case: the arson that killed a homeless man inside his tent. And as if Bosch didn’t have enough on his plate, dealing with a medical diagnosis that ties back to 2007’s The Overlook, he finds himself involved in the defence of the client of his half brother, Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller. Because if the defendant on trial isn’t responsible for the murder he’s accused of, there’s still a killer out there, who the police aren’t looking for. a

Connelly’s genius is his ability to render the slow, meticulous, dogged pursuit of murderers absolutely captivating. He is the unrivalled master of the police procedural. The Night Fire is a maze of distinct investigations, and Connelly is the perfect guide. Nothing excites me more in crime-lit than when Bosch has jazz playing on the stereo, he’s poured himself a mug of black coffee, and is about to open a murder book. I hope he’s got a few more cases left in him, but contented knowing Ballard is a more than capable replacement; not just a Bosch facsimile, but a character who lives and breathes in these pages.

ISBN: 9781760876012
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 21-Oct-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

x293A rich and compelling mystery that will hook new readers, while its subplots and provocative, sharply delineated characters will keep established fans glued to the page. Somehow, Dervla McTiernan keeps topping her own best work. Her third novel is a triumph. 

Detective Cormac Reilly and Garda Peter Fisher face the possible ruin of their careers in The Good Turn. With Reilly’s team fractured by their involvement in a special task force, Fisher makes a cataclysmic error of judgement during an investigation into the abduction of a young girl. He is consequently sequestered to Roundstone, a village on the west coast of Ireland, and the place he grew up, where Fisher’s estranged father remains the top cop of his own personal fiefdom. Relegated to the wearisome duties of a small-town police officer, Fisher distracts himself by digging into a closed murder case, where the pieces don’t quite fit. Meanwhile, while Reilly attempts to clear Fisher’s name in Galway, he unearths a corrupt cabal within his own department, which threatens his own place within it.

The Good Turn features the strong writing and intelligent plotting we’ve come to expect from McTiernan; but best of all are her characters: edgy, complex, interesting to a one. Edgar and Gold Dagger-winner worthy; nailed on for one of them, surely; deserving of both. As we close on the door on Cormac Reilly — at least as the centrepiece of McTiernan’s lengthening tapestry of crime novels — it’s safe to assume DS Carrie O’Halloran will be just as endearing.

ISBN: 9781460756799
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2020
Pages: 384
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: Darkness For Light by Emma Viskic

9781760685812In Darkness For Light, her third crime novel starring Caleb Zelic, Emma Viskic marries themes of loyalty, betrayal, friendship and love into a taut, exceptional thriller. While some writers settle for shaping their novels as instalments in an ongoing serial drama, each one intended to set up the next, Viskic seems determined to make each one count and resonate. No longer merely a bright star on the Australian crime-writing firmament, Emma Viskic should now be considered a master of the genre, and Caleb Zelic one of its most endearing protagonists: a flawed, valiant hero, hard-fisted yet soft-hearted, who’s impossible to dislike. 

ISBN: 9781760685812
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Lady in the Lake.jpgI ended my review of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn (2018) declaring it the best book the author had ever produced — a bold statement, given her extraordinary catalogue of mysteries and thrillers. But somehow, impossibly, Lippman has done it again, elevating her craft to an entirely new stratosphere. Lady in the Lake is Lippman’s boldest, most ambitious novel to date; part mystery, part character study, part rumination on the racism, sexism and classicism of Baltimore in the 1960s.

The story belongs to Madeline Schwarz, a mid-thirties Jewish housewife who leaves her husband and son to pursue her dream of becoming a newspaper reporter, and Cleo Sherwood, a black cocktail waitress, whose body is found in a lake in a city park months after she vanished. Maddie becomes obsessed with the case, and Lady in the Lake follows her long investigation into the young mother’s fate, dealing with the vicious patriarchy of the newsroom (and the world beyond) and juggling an illicit romance with her lover; a black policeman, who has ambitions to make detective.

The narrative cuts from Maddie’s perspective to the ethereal, ghost-like omniscience of Cleo, and various first-person interludes from side-characters. This collage of voices might grind another story to a halt, or at least undermine its pace, but in Lippman’s hands they add luminous depth, and turn what might’ve been a simple procedural (albeit a good one) into something genre-defying.

Lady in the Lake is an addictive mystery served with a panorama of nuanced characters who come alive in its pages with intelligence and depth. Alongside Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar, it’s firmly locked in as one of my favourite crime novels of the year.

ISBN: 9780571339440
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom