Review: The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly’s police procedurals have always viewed law enforcement with skepticism. They have never assumed the justice system functions efficiently. Harry Bosch was always portrayed as an outsider in an insider’s job, dedicated to his mission more than he was to the Los Angeles Police Department; he was in the department, but not of it.

Renée Ballard, Bosch’s unofficial apprentice and the star of “The Dark Hours,” is the same. She is the quintessential police detective. She lives to solve cases, but constantly finds herself bogged down in petty departmental politics and bureaucracy, particularly now, with the LAPD’s policies focused on optics, because the public’s mistrust of law enforcement is at an all time high. Here, she juggles two investigations: the murder of former gang member Javier Raffa, and the hunt for a pair of serial rapists dubbed “The Midnight Men.” 

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Review: 2 Sister Detective Agency by James Patterson & Candice Fox

In my mind, Candice Fox writes crime novels befitting adaptation by HBO, while Jame Patterson’s books are skewed towards network television. 

By this I mean, Patterson has morphed into a franchise. He’s a guaranteed  bestseller. But Fox is edgy; she writes non-conforming thrillers that don’t abide by the genre playbook. Patterson is the polar opposite: he is reliably entertaining, but he obeys certain rules: short chapters, expunged of detailed descriptions and digressions. His storytelling has a rhythm. Read enough of them and you begin to anticipate the cadences. Fox, meanwhile, throws out the sheet music each time. So I find their frequent collaborations fascinating.

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Review: Better Off Dead by Lee Child & Andrew Child

“Better Off Dead” is Andrew Child’s second time behind the wheel of his brother Lee’s Jack Reacher franchise, and it’s another perfectly formed action thriller that sees the former military policeman turned nomadic dispenser of extrajudicial justice face up against criminal mastermind Waad Dendoncker in a remote town on the US-Mexico border. 

Its opening reminded me of the seventh Reacher novel, “Persuader,” which also began in medias res: there, Reacher shot a cop while attempting to foil a kidnapping; here, we’re introduced to Dendoncker at the morgue as he identifies the body of a man, confirmed dead by the coroner: it’s — no, it can’t be! — Jack Reacher.

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Review: Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell

This is the tenth entry in the Kay Scarpetta series, and by now there are thick tendrils of continuity that bind each instalment together. I’ve read every Bosch; every Rebus; every Pickett; every Davenport — and no other series is as tethered, book to book, than Patricia Cornwell’s. 

The central mystery in “Black Notice,” involves an unidentified body discovered in a cargo ship recently arrived from Belgium. It’s vintage Cornwell: the case burgeons fantastically, eventually involving Interpol, and a visit to Paris in aid of Scarpetta’s hunt for the French serial killer Loup-Garou; the Werewolf. Of course the climax is typically brusque, but by now I am accustomed to a long fuse that doesn’t necessarily fizzle, but also doesn’t explode as I’d hoped.

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Review: Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell

Remember Carrie Grethen? 

You know: she was the partner of Kay Scarpetta’s serial killer nemesis Temple Gault, who our favourite Virginia Chief Medical Examiner dispatched a few books back, in “From Potter’s Field.” 

Well, she’s back, folks — escaped from a New York City hospital for the criminally insane. And she’s made no secret of her desire to exact revenge on Kay, her hyper-intelligent niece Lucy, and Benton Wesley, her FBI-profiler boyfriend.

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Review: The Enemy Within by Tim Ayiffe

Tim Ayliffe is one of Australian crime fiction’s most reliable entertainers, and “The Enemy Within” is another sure-footed mystery starring investigative journalist John Bailey.

It begins in medias res, with a body falling from the sky and crashing to the pavement right in front of Bailey’s eyes. Sickened by the sight, but having witnessed worse horrors in Afghanistan, he approaches the body, sidestepping the pool of blood spreading across the concrete.

Of course, he recognises the man.

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Review: The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Is this a crime novel with ghostly undertones, or a ghost story with criminal connotations? Whichever way you look at it, “The Girl Who Died” is a bit of a disappointment. It never really chills or thrills, and its climactic revelations are curiously signposted. 

The story has potential; it just feels undercooked. The village of Skálar at the northeastern tip of Iceland, with its tiny population of ten, is perfect fodder for a creepy tale. Its protagonist, young school teacher Una, provides the ideal perspective to regard its unfriendly inhabitants. It’s set in the mid-1980s, before mobile phones made contacting the outside world a breeze. 

Una is isolated. She lives alone in the creaky attic bedroom of one of the town’s residents. And at night she hears singing. Is it the young girl named Thrá, who died in the house in 1927 under mysterious circumstances, whose ghost is rumoured to still haunt it? Or is she just losing her mind?

A few months into her stay, one of her two pupils collapses during the annual Christmas concert. It’s clear something maleficent has occurred. And given Skálar’s population, the pool of suspects is limited. The question bugging Una is whether the death is connected to the disappearance of a man who visited Skálar weeks earlier.

Ghost stories should build slowly and understatedly. Tension is derived from the reader’s knowledge that something nasty is around the corner — but which corner? Ragnar Jónasson’s “The Girl Who Died” reads too fast for its own good. I’m all for a page-turner, but not at the expense of mood. Scenes here have a sketched quality. Its characters aren’t given time to breathe, so they feel superficial. 

One of the great strengths of Stephen King’s most unsettling novels is their pacing, and that’s what feels off here. King understands the scale of scariness; how to intensify from a spine-tingle to teeth-chattering terror. Jónasson nails the claustrophobic atmosphere of a tiny town with secrets. But it never really elevates beyond mildly creepy, and its mystery is undercut by flashbacks that inform too much of the novel’s resolution. Readable as ever, and a pacy distraction, but this pales in comparison to the Hulda series.

ISBN: 9780241400135
ISBN-10: 0241400139
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 384
Published: 4th May 2021
Publisher: Penguin UK

Review: The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

There is something immensely satisfying about following a writer for several years, experiencing the consistent honing of their craft, and reading the brilliant culmination of their evolution as a storyteller; which is the case with “The Housemate,” the best crime novel Sarah Bailey has produced, and one of my favourites of the year. 

It opens with rookie Melbourne newspaper reporter Olive Groves at the scene of a murder in St Kilda. She doesn’t know it, but this case — dubbed the housemate homicide — will befuddle and enamour the police, and the public, for almost a decade. Of the house’s three cohabitants, one is dead, one is missing, and the other is accused of the murder. 

Almost ten years later, the corpse of the missing housemate is found on a remote property, and Olive — now an established reporter in a dying profession — is assigned the story, alongside Cooper Ng, a greenhorn reporter, who represents the changing face of the news industry as a podcaster.

“The Housemate” is very much a procedural, just without a detective at its centre. The labyrinthine plot builds slickly, and Bailey wrings suspense out of every possible aspect of Olive’s obsessive hunt for the truth. The facts she and Cooper uncover add up, but make no sense until the key is supplied in a flurry of revelations at the novel’s climax. 

With a mystery like this, I want to ride the plot twists like a passenger on a roller-coaster. I know there will be sharp curves and abrupt changes of speed and direction. But I also know I’m strapped in. However out of control I feel, my experience is being managed. “The Housemate” is pockmarked with red-herrings. It twists, and it turns, but there’s an assuredness to Bailey’s storytelling that establishes trust. I didn’t know where we were headed, but I had faith she would get me there, and that the ending would satisfy and surprise.

Reader, it does.

ISBN: 9781760529338
ISBN-10: 1760529338
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 464
Available: 31st August 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review: The Deep by Kyle Perry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All of its bells and whistles aside, Kyle Perry’s “The Deep” reads to me like an exploration of the sliding scale or morality among his large gallery of characters, all of whom are bound by blood as members of the nefarious Dempsey family crime syndicate. 

His second novel, set in Shacktown on the Tasman Peninsula, is a battle between good and evil, you could say. Except that everyone in it is evil, at least to a degree, or has the capacity for it; but some are less evil than others, or are fighting against it; and most have their good sides. 

Its characters are knotted into a coiled mess of secrets, lies and revelations. 

The Dempsey family have run a drug ring for generations, using the fishing industry and the notorious Black Wind as cover. When thirteen-year-old Forest Dempsey — presumed dead for almost a decade — walks out of the ocean, bruised, battered, and branded, his return forcibly unites fractured members of the family; including Mackerel, desperately trying to keep out of trouble before his next court date; and his cousin Ahab, who renounced the underworld long ago. 

As they endeavour to understand what happened to Forest, the infamous drug Kingpin Blackbeard starts moving in on Shacktown, and their drug empire, compelling everyone with Dempsey blood coursing through their veins to confront their personal and familial ethos.   

“The Deep” is a mashup of Jane Harper and Matthew Reilly’s narrative sensibilities. Its location and landscape are fundamental to its being. But whereas Harper prefers a twisty slow burner, Perry chooses to flick on the afterburners, his sights set on crafting a rollicking thriller bursting with pages that grip and propel; those underwater scenes in particular. If Reilly wrote a small town mystery, it would be paced like this. The result is slightly undisciplined, but incredibly entertaining; like a whole season of television drama crammed breathlessly into 500 pages.

Published: 20 July 2021
ISBN: 9781760895716
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 464
RRP: $32.99

Review: A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m a fan of a style of crime novel that was dead, or dying, before I was born. 

Hardboiled detective fiction, exemplified by Chander, Hammett and Spillane has been replaced in popularity by psychological thrillers, unreliable narrators, and small towns with dark secrets. Lehane and Pelecanos are two modern ambassadors for the form, but with their attentions seemingly turned wholeheartedly to TV, I’m desperate for someone to carry the torch. 

Enter: Jonathan Ames.

I adored Ames’s snack-size, violent masterpiece “You Were Never Really Here.” Its simple conceit belied its stylish execution, a John Wick-esque sledgehammer to the face kind of thriller. Not for everyone, but definitely for me.  

“A Man Named Doll” is an easier book to recommend, because reduced to its finest form, it’s a straightforward mystery told through the eyes of Happy Doll, a dysfunctional ex-LAPD cop who works security at Thai Miracle Spa in a strip mall just off the Hollywood Freeway. The novel opens with a pal, Lou Shelton, asking Doll for a favour — a big one. Doll’s kidney, specifically; his are failing, and he’s running out of time. By the end of the day, Lou is dead, Doll has killed a man, and the police want him for questioning.

Doll is a mostly archetypal gumshoe transposed to present-day LA. He blunders his way into trouble (and out of it, though not without suffering). Grit and gumption are in short supply; Doll’s ineptitude is mugged shamelessly for laughs. My tastes skew more deadpan, but I can see Robert Downey Jr. starring in an adaptation, and I imagine much of the comedy will translate better to the screen.

This is a superb series opener. If the names Marlowe, Hammer, Spade, Archer and Scudder fill you with warm nostalgia, “A Man Named Doll” is for you. It’s not hardboiled detective fiction masquerading as anything. It owns what it is, wholeheartedly and delightfully. 

ISBN: 9781782276999
ISBN-10: 1782276998
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 224
Published: 29th April 2021
Publisher: Faber Factory