Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

9780143789871.jpgWith a plot that blasts along faster than a speeding bullet, and more hairpin turns than an alpine highway, Greenlight is one hell of a debut, and one of the year’s best thrillers. Seriously, this one will leave you breathless.

There’s a book coming out later this month by Chris Hammer called Scrublands. You might’ve heard of it. Not just from me — although you might recall I declared it an early contender for Book of the Year — but from various other bloggers, bookshops and media outlets. It’s being touted as the Next Big Thing in Australian Crime Fiction; primed to explode like Jane Harper’s The Dry. As it should. It’s brilliant.

But when the dust is settling in September  once you’ve had the chance to read and adore Chris Hammer’s debut  another book is going to drop, which deserves the same kind of pre-publication buzz; that should be talked about amongst booksellers in the build-up to is release. Another debut, by another Australian writer, who clearly knows his stuff, given his occupation at Curtis Brown Australia.

The author’s name is Benjamin Stevenson. His book is called Greenlight. And it’s a whirlwind of suspense, intrigue and excitement.

Jack Quick is the producer of a true-crime documentary interested in unravelling the murder of Eliza Dacey, in what was originally considered a slam-dunk case despite the circumstantial evidence that convicted Curtis Wade, who was already a pariah in the small town of Birravale, which is famed for its wineries. Jack’s series has turned the tide on the public’s perception of Wade  he is the victim of a biased police force, they scream  but just as Jack’s set to wrap on the finale, he uncovers a piece of evidence that points to Wade’s guilt, the broadcasting of which would ruin his show.

Understanding the potential repercussions of whatever he decides, Jack disposes of the evidence, thus delivering the final episode of his show proposing that Curtis is innocent. That, he thinks, will be the end of that. But when Curtis is released from prison, and soon after, a new victim is found bearing similarities to Eliza’s murder, Jack is forced to deal with the consequences head-on: his actions might’ve helped free a killer. And so, Jack makes it his personal mission to expose the truth.

Australian crime fiction is currently rife with small-town-murder plots, but Greenlight feels particularly original thanks to its protagonist. By the nature of his profession, Jack Quick is naturally egotistical —  his job is not simply to tell stories, but to shape them, and form narratives that are compelling, not necessarily honest. But he’s also seriously damaged from a particular childhood experience, and suffers from bulimia, which is an eating disorder I wouldn’t dream of pairing up with the hero of a whodunnit, but works effectively here. Stevenson’s story, too, is packed with red-herrings and stunning revelations; readers will be white-knuckled grasping their copies of his debut as he deviously weaves a web of suspicion around the many characters before revealing the killer in the jaw-dropping climax.

Greenlight will have you biting your nails down to the quick as you desperately turn its pages. In a year boasting several impressive debuts, Benjamin Stevenson’s ranks highly among them. Put simply, Greenlight is a knockout.

5 Star

ISBN: 9780143789871
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 3-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

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

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

 

 

Review: Redemption Point by Candice Fox

9780143781882.jpgCandice Fox, arguably Australia’s finest crime writer, has penned another taut and seductive thriller.  Redemption Point, the standalone sequel to 2017’s Crimson Lake, is meticulously plotted and magically propulsive, and shows precisely why Fox is the poster-woman of Australian crime fiction.

When former NSW Police Detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley, he disappeared to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake in Queensland, where he met the brilliant, but slightly deranged, Amanda Pharrell; an accused and convicted murderer operating as a private detective. Following the events of Crimson Lake, Conkaffey and Pharrell,  now investigative partners, are called to a roadside hovel called Barking Frog Inn, where the bodies of two young bartenders have been found, apparently victims of a robbery gone wrong. Hired by the father of one of the victims, Conkaffey and Pharrell ignore the warnings of the local cops and insert themselves into the investigation. But Ted’s attention is quickly diverted elsewhere when the father of Claire Bingley — the young girl he supposedly abducted — arrives in town seeking vengeance.

With precision and clarity, Fox unravels two disparate, but equally unsettling and compelling investigations. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell are wonderfully epic heroes; tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable, and bolstered by a colourful supporting cast, whose aspirations and intentions are shrouded in mystery, purposefully enigmatic until Fox chooses to unveil their true natures. She merges a labyrinthine plot, deft characterisation and top-notch police procedure into a gut-wrenching, wickedly-addictive page-turner. There is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime. Seriously, those final hundred pages need to be swallowed in a single gulp.

ISBN: 9780143781882
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 29-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

9781760630775Two Kinds of Truth harnesses the strengths of Michael Connelly’s two longest-running series, uniting Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller in a book that’s a distinctive blend of police procedural and legal thriller, which is as much an addictive page-turner as it is a provoking meditation of the moral ambiguity that permeates society.

Thirty years ago former LAPD Detectives Francis Sheehan and Harry Bosch were certain Preston Borders raped and murdered three young women. He was eventually convicted of killing Danielle Skyler, and given the death penalty. He’s been sitting in San Quentin ever since, waiting for that fateful day. But now it looks like he’ll get out, thanks to an analysis of unexamined evidence from 1988, which has revealed DNA  on Danielle’s pyjama bottoms belonging to Lucas John Olmer, who died in prison, and is unconnected to Borders. Guided by his lawyer, Borders has filed a habeas corpus petition, and in doing so, accused the LAPD — specifically Bosch, since Sheehan is dead — of planting evidence against him.

Now working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department, Bosch knows neither he or Sheehan did anything untoward that lead to Border’s conviction. But the mere hint of corruption would be enough to taint Bosch forever, sullying his reputation, and would force him to surrender his badge, and therefore his mission. So while his half-brother Mickey Haller prepares Bosch’s legal defence, Harry re-opens a case he’d thought long-closed, while also working with his SFPD colleagues to investigate the murder of José Esquivel Sr. and Jr., which thrusts him into undercover work as an addict and potential drug mule.

A little mystery and a lot of mayhem keep the plot boiling, and while the two cases remain unconnected, one influences the other with almost catastrophic consequences. We’ve not seen Bosch this far our of his comfort zone since he travelled to Hong Kong in 9 Dragons on a mission of vengeance. While the mystery in Two Kinds of Truth doesn’t possess the depth and complexity of Bosch’s most memorable cases, the standout scene, which is reserved for when Haller takes the stage in the courtroom, propels the book to Connelly’s usual Gold-Star standard. The Mickey Haller books have always evocatively portrayed the murky machinations of the legal system, and the brief episode here will have readers craving the next book in that series.

Michael Connelly does a masterly job of unravelling dual storylines, once again proving himself a consummate plotter as he steadily complicates an already complex narrative. His mysteries, and the Harry Bosch series, continue to burn bright.

ISBN: 9781760630775
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 25-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

9781780894249.jpgHarlan Coben’s propensity for writing thrillers that keep you turning the pages hours after you meant to turn out the light continues with Don’t Let Go, a standalone novel set in the world of fan-favourite protagonist Myron Bolitar.

Nobody’s ever been able to explain what Leo Dumas and his girlfriend, Diana Styles, were doing on the railroad tracks the night they were killed by a train, or why Maura Wells, girlfriend of Leo’s twin, Napoleon, “Nap,” disappeared that night. They’re questions that have haunted Nap for more than a decade, and have shaped the way he has lived his life: isolated, an avenging angel of a cop who isn’t afraid to break (or bend) the rules of law to enact his interpretation of justice. Indeed, Don’t Let Go is told almost entirely from his perspective, Nap relaying events to his dead brother, as though he’s listening. It’s clear from the very beginning: Nap hasn’t forgotten what happened that night, and it’s still affecting him today. He is determined to find the truth, to uncover what truly happened that night, and understand how those events connect.

When Maura’s fingerprints are discovered in a car driven by a murdered Pennsylvania cop, sergeant Rex Canton — also one of Nap’s high school classmates — Nap immediately inserts himself into the investigation. When Hank, another classmate, is also found murdered, Nap realises the connection between everyone: at school they were members of the Conspiracy Club, who spent much of their time sussing out the true purpose of the secret military installation in town. Obvious conclusion: they uncovered something, learned something they shouldn’t, and now they’re being hunted down. But if that’s the case, why wait fifteen years between murdering Leo and Diana to now target the others? Nap knows he’s missing a vital piece of the puzzle, and to find the answer means delving back into his painful past.

One of the great thriller writers of our age, Harlan Coben’s clever, fast-moving and multi-faceted yarns always demand to be read in one sitting. Don’t Let Go is no different. This is an exhilarating and unputdownable novel that asks whether the truth can really set you free, and whether some secrets are better left buried. More impressively, it’s a pacy thriller with a romantic heart, never once threatening to become overly sentimental. Coben’s gift is his ability to handle all the elements of a great thriller — a thrumming, zig-zagging  plot, sharp dialogue, empathetic characters — with inimitable brio. Don’t Let Go is the work of a consummate storyteller.

ISBN: 9781780894249
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Sins of the Father by Lawrence Block

9780752834528

Lawrence Block’s first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Father, is exactly what I want from a crime novel. It’s spare and lean, and propulsive. No gimmicks, stripped of anything even remotely superfluous. The mystery, which seems open and shut, is of course anything but, and quickly unravels into something more menacing. And as a series-starter, it prevails, brilliantly and unequivocally. It tells the reader: this is Matt Scudder; get used to the name. He’s stickin’ around awhile.

The Sins of the Father sees Scudder hired by a distraught father to investigate the recent stabbing murder of his estranged daughter. Not to solve it, because the apparent killer — his daughter’s gay male roommate — has already been arrested, and self-inflicted his own punishment, by hanging himself in his cell. No, the girl’s father merely wants to understand why anyone would want to kill his daughter, and what circumstances lead to her murder?

The Scudder novels always have two protagonists: the man himself, naturally, and New York City. The two are inseparable, like Batman and Gotham City, and Superman and Metropolis. And mid-1970’s New York is a hell of a place, rife with strange and dangerous characters and corner-street bars. Scudder’s NYC isn’t a place I’d necessarily want to visit, but I’m always more than happy to witness through his eyes. With token brusqueness and larconic wit, he delves into the lives of the murdered woman and her roomate, untangling sordid lives, where no one is innocent, even if they’re not necessarily guilty of the crime being investigated.

The Sins of the Father is brilliant. The plot hums along without a wasted sentence, and despite its confined length, Block still allows snippets of Scudder’s personality and foibles to shine through. It’s going to floor you with ingenuity; it’s not breaking any moulds, it doesn’t redefine the genre: it’s just a really, really well written crime novel. Which is par for the course, obviously; we’re talking about Lawrence Block, here.

ISBN: 9780752834528
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 6-Jul-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Golden Prey by John Sandford

Golden PreyGolden Prey is the 27th novel starring Lucas Davenport, and while it’s not a standout entry in John Sandford’s long-running series, it is a well-spun, fast, proficient thriller. Its pleasures are primitive, but they’re genuine. Sandford remains the king of the page-turner.

The key to a long-lasting, relevant series is both tonal consistency and a willingness to subvert continuity. After umpteen novels as an investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Golden Prey sees Davenport donning his U.S. Marshals Service badge for the first time. Whereas previously his turf was isolated to Minnesota, Davenport now has carte blanche to pick his cases, and hunt killers anywhere across the country. His first target: the notorious gun-slinging thief Garvin Poole, whose last job — a ballsy assault on a drug-cartel counting house — left behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl.

Davenport’s hunt for the killer is complicated by a pair of brazen, sadistic torturers also on the lookout for Poole. Hired by the cartel to both retrieve the money and send a message to other would-be thieves, the “Queen of home-improvement tools” is a particularly awful type of murderer, who derives genuine pleasure from her activities. And while her partner isn’t quite as vicious, make no mistake: he’s a stone-cold killer. Also making Davenport’s life more difficult is the internal bureaucratic resentment that has festered since his appointment as a U.S. Marshal. At the BCA, Lucas was top dog. As a U.S. Marshal, he needs to prove himself to his colleagues. Poole — a longtime target of the Marshals — would be a serious feather in his cap, and a step in the right direction.

Golden Prey is essentially a cat-and-mouse game, in which the roles of hunter and prey are continually reversed. It’s fast-moving, slick, and not overly deep; the kind of book you’ll rip through in a night or two. A conventional thriller elevated by Sandford’s masterly juggling of characters and subplots.

ISBN: 9780399184574
Format: Hardback (231mm x 150mm x 41mm)
Imprint: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publish Date: 25-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

9780733638015.jpgIn Michael Robotham’s sure and practised hands, domestic noir has achieved new heights. With its perfect blend of sharp plotting, great characterisation and a powerful narrative, The Secrets She Keeps might well be the spiritual successor to Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train we’ve all been waiting for.

The Secrets She Keeps revolves around two central themes: the attainment of a (perceived) perfect life, and the extremes we are capable of going to in order to keep our darkest secrets safe. Our narrators — Agatha Fyfle and Meghan Shaughnessy. — come from vastly different backgrounds, but are united by two unconnected and deeply personal secrets, both of which have the potential to unravel their lives. Agatha thinks Meghan has it all — two perfect children, a handsome and successful husband, a happy marriage — while all she has is an absent boyfriend (and father of her unborn child) who won’t return her calls. If only Agatha could see the inner-workings of Meghan and Jack’s marriage; see past the sheen and the smiles plastered on their faces in public. Is a third child really the antidote to their woes? And if it is, suppose that antidote was maliciously removed… the consequences would be devastating.

In this standalone psychological thriller, Robotham explores the lengths we’ll go to bury the truth beneath a flood of lies. He never writes a dull page, ratcheting up the tension, pressing his foot against the accelerator, until the pages start turning themselves. The Secrets She Keeps is gripping and heartbreaking in equal measure. You will doubt everything and everyone, because ultimately, the characters at the novel’s centre simply can’t be trusted. They are liars, cheats and scoundrels. And they are so utterly compelling, you might breeze through this one in a single sitting. It’s ‘forget your job, meals, friends and family’ kind of good.

ISBN: 9780733638015
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 11-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Prussian BlueI had two thoughts when I was handed a proof copy of the new Bernie Gunther thriller. The first, obviously, was: Yessssssssssssssss! Which I might’ve vocalised too, come to think of it, right there in the middle of the store, in front of customers. My second thought: Look at the size of that thing! Because it’s a fat book, Prussian Blue, clocking it at over 500 pages. Not that it felt like it once I started reading. The twelfth Bernie Gunther novel is just as unputdownable as its precursors, this time flicking back and forth between Nazi Germany in 1939 and the French Riviera in 1956, with two seemingly unrelated tales eventually tying together.

The French Riviera, 1956: Bernie is forced to flee France for West Germany after refusing to carry out a hit for Stasi chief Erich Mielke, killing a Stasi agent in the process. Nazi Germany, 1939: Bernie is dispatched to Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, where a sniper has assassinated Karl Flex, a civil engineer in Martin Bormann’s employ, on the deck of Hitler’s villa, the Berghof. Bernie must solve the crime before Hitler returns to Berchtesgaden to celebrate his 50th birthday.

At its heart, Prussian Blue is a whodunit, easily enjoyed as an archetypal police procedural, if that’s all you want from your crime fiction. What elevates it above its competition is the context in which Bernie must run his investigation: amidst the corruption and brutality of the Nazi regime. As always, the verisimilitude of Bernie’s world really shines through, and his wit is drier than ever. With Gunther, Philip Kerr has created the perfect vehicle to explore the grey edge of morality; but one must think it’s only a matter of time before he’s pushed from that precipice.

In a standout series, this is one of its best. Prussian Blue will be lapped up by long-time fans, who’ll already be awaiting the confirmed thirteenth Bernie Gunther caper, Greeks Bearing Gifts; for everybody else, this is a fine place to start your love affair with Kerr’s roguish detective. Then again, you can’t really go wrong. Philip Kerr and Bernie Gunther are that good.

ISBN: 9781784296490
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 560
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom