Review: The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson

9780718189075Nothing could ever match the percussion-blast finale of Ragnar Jónasson’s first Hidden Iceland novel, The Darkness. But this third novel in the trilogy — or the first, chronologically, for its characters — is just as monumental, as it kickstarts the chain of events that ignited the psychological unravelling of detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir that has metastasized throughout the series.

When Jónasson introduced readers to Hulda Hermannsdóttir in The Darkness, she was 64-years-old and approaching retirement. In The Island she was in her fifties, in her prime as an  investigator; and in The Mist she is in her forties, and on the precipice of an unfathomable personal tragedy, whose aftereffects are deeply felt in every instalment of the series, and indeed in the second half of this one. Jónasson’s decision to tell Hulda’s story in reverse chronological order might sound gimmicky, but it’s a beguiling dynamic that augments these novels above the standard police procedural. All three have been slim, slick, and razor-keen, encompassing the very best of Icelandic noir traditions.

In The Mist, Jónasson parallels Hulda’s investigation into the disappearance of a girl from Gardabaet with a night of utter terror for Einar and Erla Einarsson at their isolated farm house in the east of Iceland during a violent snow storm. The suspense Jónasson evokes here is on the level of Stephen King’s Misery;  the twisty payoff as satisfying as the best of Harlan Coben. You could binge all three gleefully in an evening.

ISBN: 9780718189082
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Apr-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

9781760877989Veteran journalist Jack McEvoy — hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow — has burned all his bridges and been relegated to reporting on consumer issues for a nonprofit investigative news organisation called Fair Warning. It’s good, honest work in a world where traditional newsrooms have been hollowed out and replaced by click-bait websites, and the president is openly hostile towards the media — but it’s not the kind of work that gets Jack’s blood pumping. Death is his beat; it’s the oft-repeated mantra of the series. So when a woman he had a one-night stand with is brutally murdered, and Jack becomes a suspect, he finds himself suckered into the murder beat once more, hunting a sadistic killer .

Shrikes — also known as butcherbirds — are  carnivorous passerine birds famous for impaling their prey on twigs and barbed wire, and for their killing methodology: Shrikes grasp their victims by the neck with their beaks, squeeze the spinal cord to induce paralysis, then shake vigorously until their quarry’s neck snaps. It’s how the latest serial killer stalking Los Angeles got his name: his female victims have all been discovered with their necks broken in very specific fashion.

In searching for a connection between the victim how and why did the Shrike pinpoint these women as targets? — Jack former FBI agent Rachael Walling (a series regular in this series, and the wider “Bosch” universe) uncover the corruption ripe in the DNA testing business. There are very few regulations regarding who genealogy and DNA companies can sell your DNA to while making a profit. And the repercussions are unfathomable. Not now, perhaps; but what about the future, when usernames and passwords become defunct, and DNA becomes our exclusive identifier, and you’ve given yours away?

What separates Connelly from the competition is his interest in the blockbuster moments as much as the cartilage that binds them. He delivers authenticity as well as suspense. Fair Warning is a methodical procedural, pockmarked with insights about the changing shape of journalism and warnings about the current state, and future, of genetic testing. And its denouement hints there’s more to come from Jack. Hopefully we’re not waiting another ten years for the next instalment. Or maybe we can have the Bosch / Ballard / McEvoy / Haller crossover dreams are made of.

ISBN: 9781760877989
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 26-May-2020
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Poet by Michael Connelly

9781760113247On the eve of the publication of the third Jack McEvoy novel Fair Warning — amid my re-read of every book Michael Connelly has published — I went back to where it all started for the intrepid newspaperman: 1996’s The Poet. The book holds up. In fact, it’s even better than I remember.

Mysteries about serial killers are my least favourite type of crime novel. When they’re done well — Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB, for example — they’re brilliantly pulse-pounding and terrifying, laden with tension and byzantine twists and turns. I understand their popularity; the cat-and-mouse game of predator/prey has been fodder for great stories for eons. But I often find serial killer stories luxuriate in the depravity and gruesomeness of the violence, and lose any semblance of realism as the killer hunts their prey and evades capture through theatrics, slowly getting under the skin of their pursuer(s), driving them mad, until the grand denouement. My favourite crime novels deal with “smaller,” less grandiose murders. I have a morbid fascination with the evil that men do — the “everyman” — rather than organised, methodical killers with an insatiable appetite for murder. Connelly’s The Poet is the exception. It’s my favourite serial killer novel.

Jack McEvoy is the crime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. He has seen death in all of its forms. Death is his beat. But nothing prepares him for the death of his brother — a Denver homicide detective, haunted by a case he was unable to solve — who evidently turned his gun on himself in the backseat of his car. Jack doesn’t buy it. Driven by grief — remorse that he’ll never make pace with Sean — and his suspicions about the dying message his brother left behind (a quote from a work by Edgar Allan Poe), Jack uncovers a series of similar killings that have occurred across the country. It looks like someone is executing police officers and camouflaging their murders as suicides. And it appears these killings are connected to the murder of several children.

The Poet is an impeccably crafted crime novel by an absolute master. Its twists, turns and revelations are pitch-perfect. Rich in character, and ripe with thrills and chills that affected me once, ten years ago when I first read it, and did so for a second time. Just try putting it down.

ISBN: 9781760113247
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Nov-2014
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Trouble Is What I do by Walter Mosley

9781474616522When 92-year-old Mississippi blues musician Phillip “Catfish” Worry approaches Leonid McGill with the simple task of hand-delivering a letter to a wealthy heiress revealing her black heritage, the private eye accepts, unknowingly becoming the eye of a storm involving her flagrantly racist and vindictive father, and a notorious assassin with Catfish firmly in his sights.

The Leonid McGill series — Trouble Is What I Do being its sixth instalment — embraces the hardboiled private detective genre invented by Hamnett, refined by Chandler and Macdonald, and emulated by countless others; but few as successfully as Walter Mosley. The story is deceptively simple, its eclectic cast, crisp, lean and spare prose the perfect vehicle to highlight the systemic racism still prevalent in society.

It’s slick, quick, bread-and-butter stuff from Mosley, whose mastery of the genre is still evident even when he’s not at his peak. The biggest problem with his latest is that it reads like something he could write in his sleep. An entertaining addition to the McGill canon, best enjoyed by those already familiar with the ex-boxer and underground fixer turned PI.

ISBN: 9781474616522
Format: Hardback
Pages: 176
Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 27-Feb-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Dark Corners of the Night by Meg Gardiner

the-dark-corners-of-the-nightSomehow Meg Gardiner manages to take stock suspense plots — a dedicated and relentless FBI behavioural analyst pursuing an ingenious serial killer — and dress them up into the kind of pulse-pounding, irresistibly readable thrillers you can’t help but in inhale in one sitting.

In The Dark Corners of the Night, the third novel in the UNSUB series, Caitlin Hendrix targets a Los Angeles killer who breaks into houses late at night when the family is home, executes both parents, and leaves the children alive as witnesses. He calls himself The Midnight Man. And he might just be the most vicious murderer Caitlin and the FBI’s elite Behavioural Analysis Unit has ever faced. Until the sequel, you’d assume. Which can’t come soon enough.

This is a world class thriller by one of the world’s premier thriller writers. Meg Gardiner has turbocharged the thriller genre. If you need some edge-of-your-seat escapism — and who doesn’t right now — look no further.

ISBN: 9781982627515
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 02/18/2020

Review: Cleaning the Gold by Karin Slaughter and Lee Child

x293This team-up between two of thriller-lit’s most enduring creations — Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent — is exactly what you’d expect it to be; nothing more, nothing less. Our heroes meet, inside Fort Knox, and become instant foes, before quickly forming a partnership that enables them to take on some bad dudes, and uncover a criminal ring operating inside the famous United States Army post. It’s bread and butter stuff from Child and Slaughter; a fun short-story-length aside, with an interesting connection to Reacher’s debut adventure, Killing Floor, with some amusing banter between the two leads, but ultimately, it reads more like a trailer for a full-size adventure we’re never actually going to see in print.

ISBN: 97814607122692269
Imprint: HarperCollins
On Sale: 09/05/2019
Pages: 128

Review: The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

9781787462977Although it’s comprised of incongruent components — the unconventional, enigmatic, titular boy (now man) from the woods, seems oddly shoehorned into this ripped-from-the-head-lines plot — there’s no denying Harlan Coben is the master of the wickedly seductive , twist-filled, stay-up-all-night thriller.

The Boy From the Woods introduces former soldier and private investigator, Wilde. That’s not his real name; you see, decades ago, when he was a mere boy, Wilde was discovered in the New Jersey backwoods, living a feral existence, with no memory of his past. And despite attempts by friends and his adoptive parents to indoctrinate him into the “real world,” Wilde prefers living alone, off the grid, unshackled by societal constraints. So, Jack Reacher in the woods, essentially.

Wilde is plucked from his solitude by his troubled godson, Matthew Crimstein. Matthew’s worried about his bullied classmate, Naomi Pine, who has gone missing, and he’s turned to his grandmother, powerful attorney Hester Crimstein, for help; who has come to Wilde for help, since this plot needs a protagonist. Wilde learns Naomi’s classmate, Crash Maynard, is responsible for the majority of her bullying; and that his father, Dash Maynard, is best pals with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers; and who may or may not have some incriminating video recordings that could destroy his  friend’s candidacy; which may or may not be connected to Naomi’s disappearance (and a subsequent kidnap, of another child; no spoilers!).

Subplots and red herrings abound; The Boy From the Woods has Coben’s trademark twists and turns, but this time his hero lacks the heart and genuineness of, say, Myron Bolitar.  Wilde’s an offbeat character, whose origin sounds fascinating on the blurb of a book, but it’s not really fleshed out enough here, and he feels tacked on to a tale that doesn’t really need him. Hester Crimstein could’ve been the protagonist of this story. She’d kick less ass, presumably — Hester’s a sixty-something lawyer, after all — but I think she’d be a superior anchor. All that said, Coben’s the master at annihilating hours in your day, and this one makes for perfect airplane reading.

ISBN: 9781529123838
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 17-Mar-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

9780143789178Candice Fox brilliantly transmutes her distinct brand of crime fiction — action-driven mysteries anchored by dynamic, unorthodox characters, sprinkled with black humour — to Los Angeles in Gathering Dark, in what readers can only hope is the beginning of a brand new series.

The imperilled runaway daughter of her former cellmate reunites ex-con Blair Harbour with Sneak Lawlor. Harbour’s not looking for trouble — the convicted murderer, out on probation, is determined to win back custody of her son — but she owes Sneak for being her only friend on the inside, never mind the overriding guilt she would feel if something happened to Dayly. That their partnership quickly allies them with one of LA’s most feared underworld figures is only the beginning of Harbour’s problems.

Meanwhile, Detective Jessica Sanchez, is facing her own crisis. She’s just inherited a $7 million mansion as a reward for solving a cold case, making her public enemy number one within the LAPD. The last thing she needs is Blair Harbour  — the woman she put behind bars ten years ago — knocking on her door, begging for help.

Fox adroitly shuffles this tangled cast towards an action-packed ending that is considerably tighter and more satisfying than your average whodunit. And while I miss her evocation of the Australian landscape, her Los Angeles feels authentic. With Gathering Dark, Fox has enlivened the standard police procedural with her customary supercharged offbeat characters, and whipcracking pace. More, please.

Published: 31 March 2020
ISBN: 9780143789178
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

dissolution-a-shardlake-novel-15b25dDissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) | C.J. Sansom | Pan MacMillan UK | 2003 | RRP $19.99 | 9781447285830

In C.J. Sansom’s first Matthew Shardlake mystery, the hunchbacked lawyer is dispatched by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, to investigate the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton at a Benedictine monastery in Scarnsea, Sussex, as the King’s disbanding of the monasteries gathers pace.

Executed with consummate skill, the novel’s blend of whodunit tropes and rich historical texture makes for fascinating reading. The monastery setting, filled with enigmatic characters, and dark, lingering shadows, is suitably spooky, and Shardlake’s exploration of its halls almost approaches horror. Some of the detective work is a tad plodding, but the pacing seems deliberate on Sansom’s part, as he gradually weaves a tapestry pockmarked with credible suspects, daring the reader to form their own conclusions.

Sansom’s recreation of sixteenth century England and his ability to lace his fiction into the confines of truth is remarkable. It’s as vividly presented as Rome in Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy. As a series opener, it inspires confidence. I’ve already got the next few on my stack.

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.