Review: Deep State by Chris Hauty

b57vov4v5ph3fwodehkr0v3kt7cq0y_5hwvgtmimcr-pzw6060Deep State | Chris Hauty | Simon & Schuster |
14 January 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781471191992

“No one voluntarily leaves Washington. You’re either voted out, fired, or you die.”

In screenwriter Chris Hauty’s debut thriller, army veteran Hayley Chill — an implausible blend of every action hero ever put to page — interns for the White House chief of staff and finds herself mired in a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. Is the dastardly Deep State finally making a move? Or is this something else entirely?

Artless narration, frustrating omniscient present tense narration and threadbare characters renders a decent plot mechanical and lifeless. Deep State might make for a decent summer blockbuster (of the Olympus Has Fallen variety), but as a novel, it’s completely void of any suspense or excitement. The final twist might work on screen, but rendered in prose, it’s more puzzling than shocking, and had me skimming back pages to check for any foreshadowing. Nope. I love a killer twist; but the author’s got to earn it. It’s fine to misdirect the reader, but it’s cheating not to have a single signpost for your denouement.

There’s promise in Hauty’s plotting, but for a thriller about the lurking malice and secrets of the deep state, there’s a distinct lack of menace, and despite her kick-ass attributes, there is nothing about Chill that catapults her above the crowded heroes of thriller-lit.  This is one of those rare times I’m going to say you’re better off waiting for the movie.

Review: Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

9781787300583Death in the East | Abir Mukherjee | Harvill Secker | 19 November 2019 | RRP $33.00 | 9781787300583

“…if the universe gave you a chance for redemption, you’d bloody well better take it, because second chances were rare and third chances were non-existent.”

Abir Mukherjee adds to his impressive slate of historical crime novels with Death in the East, the fourth mystery starring Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee. The mastery of his craft is on full show here, as Mukherjee expertly entwines two murders 17 years apart and on different continents: one in 1905, London, when Wyndham was a young, inexperienced constable; the other in 1922 Assam, the ‘present day’ in the series continuity, where Wyndham has sought the aid of a sainted monk to help conquer his opium addiction.

Mukherjee’s interrogations have the rare quality of gradually illuminating and thickening characters, plot, and setting. Alongside an ingenious murder method, Death in the East is abrim with racial tension, methodical detective work, and the hero’s appealing struggle to balance a thirst for revenge with his desire for justice. This might just be Wyndham and Banerjee finest hour. Mukherjee should be celebrated for his sterling consistency. There is no better author of crime fiction writing today — this series is excellent.

Review: The Godmother Hannelore Cayre

the20godmother2028online29The Godmother | Hannelore Cayre | translated by Stephanie Smee |Black Inc | September 2019 | RRP $28.00 | 9781760641610

“My fraudster parents had a visceral love of money. They loved it, not like you love an inert object stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it like a living, intelligent being that can create and kill, that is endowed with the capacity to reproduce.”

Hannelore Cayre’s The Godmother arrived at the bookshop billowing a trail of hype, anticipation and acclaim behind it. Winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction, and adapted to screen, this bite-sized slice of French noir tells the story of Patience Portefeux, a widowed 53-year-old translator for the Paris drug squad, who lives meagerly, struggling to provide for her daughters and her aged mother’s care. When she comes into contact with the mother of a drug trafficker, she uses information gleaned from the police wiretaps she translates to secure a large quantity of hash. Under the alias the Godmother, she constructs a small criminal empire, thereby securing her financial future, and her family’s, and marinating over the moral implications of her decision.

It’s eminently readable, and efficiently translated by Stephanie Smee, but there’s a distinct lack of tension or excitement in The Godmother. It reads at a lackadaisical pace, which never threatens to become boring, but never got my blood boiling. It’s a fascinating portrait of a woman pushed to extremes, and her sardonic observations of French society are lacerating, but it faded in and out of my life with a glimmer rather than the explosion I was hoping for. I was never particularly anxious about Patience’s fate, and for a novel that’s fundamentally about a woman exposing herself to a city’s underworld and steeping herself in a corrupt world, that’s a real killer. It’s not bad; I just prefer my crime fiction with underlying menace.

Review: A Time to Scatter Stones by Lawrence Block

cover-block“It would take me longer these days, because my pace is slower than it used to be. And it would take energy, of which I seem to have a finite supply.”

More than forty years since he debuted in The Sins of the Father, and almost a decade since he last appeared in The Night and the Music, unlicensed private investigator Matthew Scudder makes a return in a book that’s less of a mystery and more of a meditation on mortality.

By his own admission, Scudder is an old man now, retired, living a quiet life with his longtime partner, Elaine. He no longer chases trouble, and it rarely finds him. That is until Ellen, a friend of Elaine’s — a prostitute trying to quit the life — asks Scudder for help escaping an abusive client who can’t let her go. Scudder isn’t quite the man he was, but that doesn’t stop him getting involved.

This is a novel that thrives on the readers’ sense of nostalgia for one of crime fiction’s most enduring protagonists. I’ve read most of the series, and appreciated spending another couple hundred pages viewing New York from Scudder’s perspective as he laments the changing face of the city. The narrative engine is a tad too languid for my tastes, and made me miss the days of the younger, swashbuckling Scudder, who was full of blood and thunder. I love it when authors age their protagonists in real time, or semi-real time; Rankin’s done it perfectly with Rebus, and so has Connelly with Bosch; but some characters only work in their pomp, and maybe it’s best to let characters live their lives off the page.

Fans of Block or Scudder will inhale A Time to Scatter Stones in one sitting, and find much to enjoy; a final hurrah But newcomers should look elsewhere, and come back to this one later, when you’ll truly appreciate its nuances and callbacks.

ISBN: 9781596068933
ISBN-10: 1596068930
Series: Matthew Scudder
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 160
Published: 31st January 2019

Review: Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore

where-the-truth-lies-9781925685862_lgAn investigative journalist haunted by her past scrutinises the exorbitant number of  injuries and deaths of Grange Industry personnel at the Port of Melbourne in Karina Kilmore’s debut crime novel. But despite some compelling subject matter — big business clashing with the unions, the changing face of journalism, the government’s infringement on the public’s right to know — Where The Truth Lies is a low octane mystery laced with interesting elements that never quite mesh into an intoxicating page-turner, and frequently upends its own dramatic potential.

Take its main character, Chrissie O’Brian, a pill-popping, alcoholic journalist with The Argus, who is desperate to prove herself in the patriarchal newsroom, and desperate to escape her tragic past, for which she has assumed all blame. It would make sense (to me, at least; but who am I?) to prolong the the revelation of why she left New Zealand for Melbourne; build tension, make the reader question the veracity of O’Brian; yes, we want her to uncover the truth behind the deaths at Port of Melbourne, but what is she guilty of? Instead the events from her past are described in a simple flashback, stifling its gravitas.

Kilmore provides column-inches of background expertise on the harsh reality of the newspaper business and the Australian media landscape — she has 25 years of experience under her belt, so she has walked the walk — and the novel ticks along nicely during these moments; in fact, I’d love to sit in these scenes for longer, have the focus on breaking a story, pushing it through internal bureaucracy and dealing with government heavy-handedness. But these insights can’t buoy a plot that never really shifts out of neutral. My hope is that with the introduction of her lead out of the way, Kilmore’s sophomore novel leans into the aspects that sparkled here.

ISBN: 9781925685862
Pub: Simon & Schuster Australia
Pages: 352

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