Shadows Reel by C.J. Box

“Shadows Reel” is not the place to start the Joe Pickett series. Never mind that it’s the twenty-second instalment — really, the expanse of a series should never prohibit new readers from jumping into the fray — but C.J. Box’s latest picks up directly from last year’s stellar “Dark Sky,” with Joe’s old pal, master-falconer Nate Romanowski teaming up with Black Lives Matter activist Geronimo Jones to hunt down Axel Soledad, who we last saw beating Nate’s wife, threatening his baby, and stealing his birds. 

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Black River by Matthew Spencer

Regulars of this parish I call my blog will know I’m always harping on about my love for police procedurals and my desire for them to be (more) prevalent in the burgeoning Australian crime writing field. Well, lo and behold, Matthew Spencer has answered my call: his debut, “Black River” reads like a Sydney-based Ed McBain 87th Precinct novel, with all the mechanics down pat. Which means it’s very much my cup of tea. And, coincidentally, its primary setting — an independent boys’ boarding school in North Parramatta — is inspired by my (and the author’s) old school; so I had fun identifying specific locations from the campus I spent nine years exploring. (Well, okay — sitting in the library…)

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Wake by Shelley Burr

This is a year of truly brilliant Australian crime fiction debuts, and Shelley Burr’s Wake ranks right among them. Not only is it clever, devious and morally complex, but its roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.

The nuts and bolts of Wake will be familiar to any reader with an infinitesimal knowledge of the Australian crime genre. Once again, we are in a small, drought-ridden town. This time it’s Nannine, sparsely populated, infamous for the unsolved disappearance of Evelyn McCreery nineteen years ago, when she vanished from the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Mina.

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City on Fire by Don Winslow

Don Winslow’s trilogy launcher builds like a summer storm — its tranquil beachside opening belies the violence, bloodshed and bodycount that ensues following the destruction of the armistice between two rival mob families.

City on Fire is classic Winslow: an epic story tightly focused on a core group of characters. Danny Ryan is the headliner. His father once ran the Irish mob that, to this day, controls the docks in the upper south side of Providence, Rhode Island. Today, 1986, he’s the son-in-law of the gang’s current leader, John Murphy. For years they’ve lived in relative harmony with the Italians — Danny’s even done some work for the Moretti brothers, Peter and Paulie. If they’re not exactly friends, there is at least respect between the rival factions; an understanding that peace is less costly than war.

And then Danny’s brother-in-law Liam shatters the ceasefire on the night he drunkenly assaults Paulie’s new girlfriend. Such a transgression can’t go unpunished. But as the saying goes, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Once the violence starts, it doesn’t stop: the only endpoint is mutual destruction. And Danny wants out. But the ties that bind him to Dogtown are strong.

Winslow’s trademark staccato prose makes the pages fly. City on Fire zings like a high-tension wire. The final 100 pages are a suspense masterclass, punctuated by gut-wrenching heartache. The next volume can’t come soon enough.

ISBN: 9781460756478
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 384
Available: 4th May 2022
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Review: Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

Four books deep into Emma Viskic’s oeuvre and it’s clear she’s one of the best contemporary practitioners of the private-eye genre. I’ve been a big fan from the start, called Resurrection Bay a tour-de-force back in 2015 before realising each successive offering was going to be better than its predecessor, and gloriously add to the overall grand tapestry of her overarching narrative: the (attempted) redemption of Caleb Zelic.

The easy pitch for the series is: deaf private eye obstinately confronts the corruption rife in his hometown of Resurrection Bay, while bungling every single one of his personal relationships. Those Who Perish follows that same basic throughline. While Caleb’s relationship with his pregnant ex-wife Kat seems back on track, his brother Anton has relapsed into his drug habit, and they’ve been estranged for months. An anonymous tip-off alerts Caleb to his whereabouts, which is into the sights of a sniper, who has already killed at least once. 

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Review: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

Multifaceted and layered, elegiac yet intensely compulsive, Dirt Town is quite simply one of the best, most sustained pieces of crime fiction I’ve read in some time ― and I’ve read some good ones lately. Hayley Scrivenor has reconfigured familiar components into a mystery focused more on character development than on reaching its “big reveal,” or “whodunit.”

In Durton, a small country town in Australia dubbed “Dirt Town” by its children, twelve-year-old best friends Ronnie and Esther leave school together on a Friday, and separate on their way home. Only Ronnie makes it back, and five days later, her best friend’s body is discovered, buried and wrapped in plastic. So who killed Esther Bianchi?

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Review: The Torrent by Dinuka McKenzie

Australian crime fiction fans are spoiled for choice nowadays. Whatever your predilection, there’s an author crafting a mystery or thriller styled to your taste. For the longest time I’ve searched for an Australian answer to Britain’s Sarah Ward and Cara Hunter, and I think I’ve found it in Dinuka McKenzie. The Torrent combines clever plotting, sure pacing and fully rounded characters into a superb small town police procedural.

There’s nothing high-concept or ostentatious about the Banjo Prize-winning author’s debut: The Torrent is engaging and compelling because of the purity of its storytelling mechanics. McKenzie’s narrative is so sure-footed, it’s hard to believe this is her introduction. Whereas so many first-time authors juggle too many narrative balls, or entwine storylines that are slow to gestate, or whose complexity completely undermines the book’s momentum, McKenzie has focus. NSW Detective Kate Miles works two cases that overlap ― a brutal robbery and assault at a local McDonalds, and the reopening of a closed case involving the accidental death of a man during torrential flooding ― but there is clarity in their connection and uncoiling.

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Review: Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

After two exceptionally intricate and absorbing thrillers (Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight), Benjamin Stevenson is back with a rollicking, twist-filled Gordian knot of a mystery that maintains the thematic through-line of his work: the bond between brothers.

Set in a remote, snowed-in Australian mountain resort during the Cunningham family reunion, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone embraces the genre’s staples with a knowing wink and a nod to the reader. Its opening page lists the 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction by Ronald Knox, who belonged to the Detection Club; an assembly of legendary mystery writers including Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

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Review: Trace by Patricia Cornwell

After a few lacklustre entries in the Scarpetta series (culminating with “Blow Fly,” which asphyxiated from profuse intertextuality), I was convinced Patricia Cornwell’s literary franchise had lost its way and apprehensive about continuing my journey through each instalment. But actually, “Trace” is a return to form, and in fact a perfectly suitable jumping on point for series newcomers. 

Here, Cornwell brings Kay (and Pete Marino) back to Richmond (where she was previously the Chief Medical Examiner) as a consultant for the newly-installed chief. She’s there to determine 14-year-old Gilly Paulsson’s cause of death, which has the local experts stumped. 

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Review: When We Fall by Aoife Clifford

There’s no shortage of small towns with deadly secrets in the thriving landscape of Australian crime fiction. The trope is perpetuated globally, obviously — hell, Jack Reacher wanders into a new one every year — but our geography, so wide and varied, is perfect fodder for writers of mystery fiction. That said, you’ve got to give your setting soul, and its population a heartbeat, for it to stand out; which is why Aoife Clifford’s “When We Fall” is so luminescent in a jam-packed field.

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