Review: American By Day by Derek B. Miller

9780857525376Derek B. Miller’s American By Day is that rare breed of crime novel that actually has something to say, and wants to make you think.  Amidst an enthralling murder mystery are musings on the differences between American and Scandinavian cultures, analysis on race relations within the American justice system, and an examination of police brutality.

Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård of the Oslo Police is cleared of any wrongdoing after gunning down a Kosovan immigrant during a confrontation. But she can’t help but deliberate and go over how events played out, and whether she could’ve done something differently; whether the man really had to die. And what better for some quiet introspection than on her family farm, where her father still resides. But upon her arrival, he quickly hands over a ticket to America. Sigrid’s brother Marcus has seemingly vanished in upstate New York, uncontactable for long enough to raise concern. Her father wants Sigrid to find Marcus and make sure he’s safe. She doesn’t have a lot to go on, just a place of residence, but Sigrid is a top-class investigator, and despite her reservations about the USA, she accepts her father’s mission. Turns out, Marcus disappeared following the death of the woman he loved, an African American professor named Lydia Jones, which is more than a little suspicious, thus making him a person of interest for local sheriff Irving Wylie.

American By Day is clever, devious and morally complex. While some of Sigird’s observations about the differences between American and Norwegian culture and policing are a little too on-the-nose, and characters are prone to occasional soliloquies, the novel is never anything short of compelling. Miller’s ability to craft thrillers with true emotional and thematic depth make a lot of his fellow authors look pallid and formulaic.

ISBN: 9780857525376
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

ScrublandsWith Scrublands, Chris Hammer has fashioned a meticulously written and propulsive crime novel, notable for  its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully-drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.

The last crime novel that actually earned the Thriller of the Year / Book of the Year banner emblazoned on its advanced reading copy cover was Jane Harper’s The Dry. Booksellers are inherently cynical about such statements, because nowadays just about every book that comes our way says the same thing. And of course, thanks to the success of The Dry, now every Australian crime novel is written “in its vein.” But there were rumblings about Chris Hammer’s book before reading copies began circulating. Industry buzz was — well, buzzing — and intensified until, finally, the book arrived in my hands.

On a flight from Hobart to Sydney, I opened to its prologue and began reading. Those two hours in the sky disintegrated. I was annoyed when the seat belt sign flashed; one of those rare times I would’ve welcomed the pilot’s voice crackling over the intercom, apologising that we’d have to circle the airport for an hour or two. Alas, no; I alighted the plane, Scrublands grasped tightly in my hands, not in my bag. I snatched moments to read during the walk to baggage claim; lost myself in its relentless grip as I waited for the train; and once I was home, I didn’t put the book down until I’d witnessed how Hammer tied all his wonderfully woven threads together. Which he does, with aplomb, that belies his status as a debutant.

So, does Scrublands earn its Thriller of the Year tag? Absolutely. Is it my favourite book of the year so far? Well, it’s only June, but since you’re asking the question: at this very moment, yes it is.

Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero, reporter Martin Scarsden, on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation, which will ultimately have a profound effect on the veteran newsman. Readers who despair after a hundred pages that all the plot lines Hammer has launched can’t possibly fit together needn’t worry; they do indeed fit, and the monstrous connections that emerges between the inhabitants of the small Riverina town of Riversend are truly devastating. As he vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape, Hammer keeps the twists coming and provides column-inches of background expertise on the hard business of hard news, and the psychological impact of bearing witness to, and transcribing, innumerable tragedies.

Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that. It’s relentless, it’s compulsive, it’s a book you simply can’t put down. We’re in a Golden Age of Australian crime fiction, and with Scrublands, Chris Hammer has joined the elite, up there with Jane Harper, Candice Fox, Emma Viskic, Sarah Bailey, Mark Brandi, and the grand master himself, Peter Temple.

ISBN: 9781760632984
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Firefly by Henry Porter

9781787470538.jpgEight years after writing The Dying Light, Henry Porter returns with Firefly; a fast-moving, intelligent thriller that proves his writing and the appeal of his characters are as fresh as ever.

Henry Porter deserves to be revered among the greats of spy fiction. Readers of Charles Cumming, Mick Herron and, yes, even the grandmaster himself, John le Carré, will bask in Porter’s backlist — the Robert Harland series in particular —  and his latest, Firefly, will surely be remembered as one of 2018’s great espionage novels.

Firefly introduces Luc Samson, a former MI6 agent, now private eye and missing persons expert. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage, Samson was booted from the Secret Intelligence Service because of his gambling habit, which he assures himself — and others — is calculated and measured, despite the size of the bets. But he’s the best man for the operation MI6 has planned, and so Samson is brought back in from the cold, tasked with locating a thirteen-year-old refugee, codenamed Firefly, who has made his way from Syria to Greece, and soon the mountains of  Macedonia. He possesses vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans; which means they’re hunting young Naji Touma, too.

On a rudimentary level, this is a chase novel: two competing forces hunting down a young boy who, at the age of thirteen, has already witnessed too much death and devastation. The narrative bounces between Samson’s perspective and Naji’s, and deliciously details their near-misses and the boy’s encounters with danger. It’s proper white-knuckle stuff for the most part, and only once threatens to jump the shark, when Naji and a new friend, Ifkar, are confronted by a bear. Thankfully most of the skirmishes are more grounded than this example, and Naji’s desperate, hopeless struggle to survive is what truly makes the book thrum, and gives it heart.

The action bristles and the characters seduce: Firefly is an intricate, layered thriller that delves into the Syrian refugee crisis. Brilliantly set up, tautly executed, and brutally human, Porter’s latest is as engrossing and well-crafted a thriller as you are likely to read this year.

ISBN: 9781787470507
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley

9781911231196Too boilerplate to be earthshaking, Nathan Ripley’s Find You in the Dark is nonetheless an entertaining thriller that ably sets up a potential sequel.

Nathan Ripley clearly understands, on a fundamental level, how to tell a good story, taking flawed but likeable — or at the very least empathetic — characters and spinning them into a plot filled with action, velocity and suspense. His attempt in his debut, Find You in the Dark, to blur the distinction between madness and sanity, and justice and mercy, is admirable, if not a little too premeditated in its execution to be ranked among the genre’s finest. The book is smart, its plot calculated and precise; but its characters are rather flat and lifeless, pawns on the author’s chessboard rather than authentic personalities.

Martin Reese, a retired internet millionaire, is obsessed with finding the remains of long-missing Tinsley Schultz, whose murder two decades ago inspired his first interactions with her sister, Ellen. They’re now married with a daughter, and in clandestine fashion, Martin has spent years uncovering the graves of serial killer victims, and taunting the police for his ability to do their job. But things go awry when he discovers the remains of a fresh corpse at the expected burial site of his wife’s sister, and the serial killer known as the Ragman becomes the puppeteer in a nightmarish game involving Martin and newly promoted police detective Sandra Whittal, who is convinced of his guilt.

All the ingredients are here for a pulse-pounding, suspenseful psychological thriller, but in execution it’s all a little ho-hum. Find You in the Dark aims to be a gripping, hair-raising, nerve-shredding chiller; instead it’s a merely adequate, though entirely readable potboiler. It’ll kill some hours, and keep you glued to its pages; but there’s not enough here to get the blood pumping and the heart racing.

ISBN: 9781911231196
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Text Publishing
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 2-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

The Disappeared by C.J. Box

The DisappearedAn eighteenth round of trouble for Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett brings with it the gripping story of suspense—laced with heavy emotion and family drama—that readers have come to expect.

C.J. Box has reached that highest echelon of crime writers thanks to the sheer brilliant consistency of his novels, which makes reviewing the latest Joe Pickett novel rather difficult, because there’s really nothing new to say, just a refrain of my usual chorus: if you’re not reading this series, you’re missing out on one of the genre’s A-Grade authors, and one of its best characters.

Enjoyment of The Disappeared doesn’t necessarily hinge on your familiarity with what’s come before, but it helps. The Joe Pickett series has always leaned heavily into continuity between novels, various characters popping up in primary or secondary roles as each instalment hits. Readers have harboured suspicions of the new governor, Colter Allen, since his brief introduction in an earlier novel; this time we get to see our mistrust come to fruition. Joe was a reluctant troubleshooter for the previous governor, and Allen can’t see why the game warden wouldn’t be happy to maintain his role.

In this instance, he wants Joe to investigate the disappearance of high-profile ad-agency CEP Kate Shelford-Longden, who vanished somewhere between Silver Creek Ranch and Denver airport several months ago. Allen is feeling the pressure from various forces, both international and domestic, and has decided that Joe’s got a better shot at discerning what happened than the Carbon County Sheriff  and the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.

Thankfully, Joe has an in: his daughter, Sheridan, works at Silver Creek as a horse wrangler, and got to know Shelford-Longden during her stay. So, too, did Sheridan’s new boyfriend, Lance, who also works at the ranch, and is the latest in a long line of young men looking to break the Pickett curse of falling for questionable personalities.

As if the Shelford-Longden case wasn’t enough, Nate Romanowski—the “outlaw falconer” Joes been specifically ordered to keep away from— soon enters the picture to ask Joe a serious, and seemingly unrelated, favour. These dual investigations unspool with superb velocity, and as always, the highlight is less the heart-pounding moments of action, rather the superb banter between characters. There’s a soap-operatic quality to these stories now, and I say that with the greatest respect; while the crime and its subsequent investigation in Box’s novels are always rendered adroitly, I’m just as interested to see how the various members of the Pickett family are faring.

C.J Box remains an original voice in American crime fiction. Even better, as we approach the twentieth entry in the Joe Pickett series, The Disappeared shows there remains plenty of territory for the author to explore.

ISBN: 9781784973186
Format: Paperback (228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

9780571335664Prepare to be played like a violin as Laura Lippman wrings suspense out of every possible aspect of her revitalisation of the classic noir tale of the sexy stranger passing through town.

During a beach vacation with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Polly Costello — just one of the names readers will soon learn to identify her as — gets up and walks away; out of the sun, and apparently, out of their lives. Gregg is apoplectic, but not as shocked by her abandonment as every other husband might be; Polly is, after all, he reasons, a wildcat he picked up in a bar four years ago. So while he’s stuck playing single dad, Polly starts a new life, which is merely a phase in her long-term plan. She gets a job as the waitress at the High-Ho during the peak of the summer season; so, too, does the mysterious, attractive stranger she met on her first day on the lam. Only they didn’t meet by accident; Adam Bosk has been watching Polly for some time, and at first, his job as chef at the High-Ho is merely a cover story to stay close to her. But their chemistry is undeniable, and they quickly become lovers, both with secrets that could not only end their relationship, but cost their lives.

It’s not murder that makes Sunburn thrum; it’s deception, and the consequences of secrets, and the lengths people will go to in order to keep them sacrosanct. Lippman, who plots more conscientiously than anyone else in the field, digs deep into her characters, then deeper, into past and present until all is revealed, right up until the shocking climactic confrontation.

This is a gripping, wrenching, brilliant piece of noir, and quite possibly the best novel super-scribe Laura Lippman has penned. Sunburn will delight long-time fans and make the author new ones.

 

ISBN: 9780571335664
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

9781408889541Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap in Stuart Turton’s high-concept, propulsive murder mystery.

A man with no memory wakes terrified in a forest. He glimpses a woman chased through the trees, her name on his lips: Anna. Then a gunshot rings out. And The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle begins.

As far as taglines go, Stuart Turton’s debut mystery novel has a great one: “Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie”. Which is so, so much better than the usual “Thriller of the Year” line that gets used constantly, and conjures, at best, an eye roll; probably not the emotional response marketing departments are hoping for. Not that a great tagline maketh a great book, but damn, you’ll pique my interest, and at the very least entice me to sample the opening chapters.

And the opening chapters got me. They got me good.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle needs to be read in a spoiler-free bubble. The less you know about its labyrinthine plot the better. It is an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery that takes place in the classic setting of the 1920s country house — Blackheath — with a sensational twist: our protagonist will re-live the same day, through the eyes eight separate individuals, until he identifies the killer. Every morning he wakes up in a different body, or host, with memories of his experiences in the previous hosts — and the personalities of his hosts battling for supremacy within his mind — but if he doesn’t discern the killer by the end of day eight, he’ll return to day one, and be forced to re-live the cycle, again and again; a cruel kind of purgatory.

The plot is complicated, myriad of clues laced throughout the narrative. Meticulously plotted and stylishly written, this is a page-turner with a distinct twist and surprises right up to the very end. It is a mystery novel on an epic scale, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read a more tightly-constructed, better-plotted thriller this year.

 

ISBN-10: 1408889544
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom