Review: Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone

9780733640704.jpgUnafraid of emotion, though without a moment of wretched sentimentality, Bodies of Men magnificently conveys love, courage, endurance and comradeship straining against the cataclysmic backdrop of World War II. With unobtrusively elegant prose, Nigel Featherstone has crafted a vidid evocation of the arduous complexities of love between two men inured by the traumas of conflict. The result is something very special indeed: equal parts compelling, harrowing, and tender.

The book opens in Egypt, 1941. Mere hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, a twenty-one-year-old Australian corporal, finds himself engaged in battle with the Italian enemy, and unable to squeeze the trigger and end a life. Incredibly, William is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney; the two men have always shared a lingering affinity, but despite their reunion, their assumption is they will each move on, serving their country, separately, living in each other’s memory. But despite their divergent paths — William is dispatched to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, while James Kelly goes AWOL with an unusual family with deeply-buried secrets — fate thrusts them back together in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Bodies of Men holds the reader from first page to last. With exquisite artistry, Featherstone writes about people trapped in a tragic situation struggling to reconcile their responsibilities and desires.

ISBN: 9780733640704
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 23-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Metropolis by Philip Kerr

9781787473201.jpgThe 14th and final Bernie Gunther novel takes the world-weary investigator back to the beginning: Berlin, 1928, the eve of the Nazi rise to power, with Gunther just promoted to the Murder Commission, and two serial killers on the loose.

Published posthumously, Philip Kerr’s swansong, Metropolis, is another masterpiece — which is a word that gets thrown around too easily, but is thoroughly deserved here, and almost an understatement. Kerr created one of crime fiction’s greatest characters in the sardonic anti-hero Bernie Gunther, and by plunging readers backwards and forwards in time through Gunther’s life, exploring his post-war and Nazi era antics, Kerr concocted a thrilling tapestry of a life lived in a time of great turmoil; when Gunther’s moral code, his lethal wisecracks, and the quality of the novels he starred in, were the only guarantees, because you never knew where, and when, Gunther might pop up next.

In his first case for the Berlin Murder Commission, Gunther is plucked from Vice to hunt for a serial killer targeting prostitutes, whose calling card is slicing the scalp from his victims. Then a new killer strikes, who has their sights set on the city’s disabled war veterans, and Gunther is forced undercover as a homeless veteran, which forces him to confront his own memories of the war. But it’s not just the threat of dual murderers that has Berlin on edge; Nazism is on the rise, blackening hearts, stoking violence and anti-Semitism.

You’ll turn the pages as fast as possible to identify the killers; then go back to truly savour Bernie Gunther’s perspective on Berlin in 1928; not to mention his interactions with historical figures such as Thea von Harbou and Lotte Lenya. That’s the beauty of Philip Kerr’s fiction: they’re mesmerizing for both plot and character, and their blurring of truth and fiction, which is often closer than readers might imagine.

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

call me evieIn J.P. Pomare’s cleverly claustrophobic, impossible-to-put-down debut Call Me Evie, a 17-year-old girl stranded in rural New Zealand with a man named “Jim” wrestles with her hazy memory to recall the truth about a violent incident that occurred in Melbourne.

Jim assures Kate — who he calls “Evie” — he has brought her to the small, isolated beach town of Maketu to protect her from police interrogation and the public’s vitriol awaiting her back home, and to aid the restoration of her memory by  asking probing questions about the incident that eviscerated the normality of her life. But there’s nothing magnanimous about Jim’s intentions, or his methods: Kate isn’t allowed to go online; her phone has confiscated; she’s locked in her room at night; and on the few occasions she ventures beyond the perimeter of the property, it’s clear Jim has corrupted the local population into viewing her as mentally unbalanced, a danger to herself and potentially others. All Kate wants to do is go home to align the fragments of her fractured recollections into a cohesive whole — but as her attempts to escape become more desperate, Jim becomes increasingly unhinged and unpredictable. There is little doubt from the start that their relationship is doomed; Pomare keeps readers guessing on just how everything will implode.

Call Me Evie is a slow-burner of a psychological thriller, thick with a constant undercurrent of menace, where nothing should be taken at face value, which ignites into a nail-biting finale. It’s got all the elements the genre demands — an unreliable narrator, a plot that cuts between past and present — and it twists and turns, then twists again. A page-turner for sure, but one that lingers.

ISBN: 9780733640230
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 27-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

9780349011875Some books, more than others, require a prolonged period of marination. More often than not, I can immediately distil my initial thoughts about a book into a couple of blithe sentences.  But in the case of R.O. Kwon’s stirring debut novel The Incendiaries, I had to think. I needed a period of proper deliberation. Because there’s a lot to unpack here. It is a book bigger than the sum of its parts. Tragic and cutting, Kwon’s debut left me whiplashed.

The Incendiaries deals with religious fervour and faith warped into something toxic — something dangerous and violent — when Phoebe Lin is drawn into a religious group lead by the enigmatic John Leal as a result of her traumatic past and battle with depression. Will Kendall is our primary narrator in this book that focuses on three young Korean Americans; Will, who has just transferred from Bible College to Edwards University, a lapsed evangelical struggling to fill the hole in his soul where his seemingly incorruptible faith once resided. He is uncertain of his place in the world, but finds much-needed solace in his burgeoning romance with Phoebe — which makes its corruption as a result of Edwards dropout Leal, and his extremist cult, all the more heartbreaking.

The Incendiaries begins explosively — quite literally — and then winds back the clock, detailing the events that engendered such a cataclysmic moment. With searing prose, Kwon chronicles Will and Phoebe’s ill-fated search for meaning and belonging, demonstrating the almost sheer impossibility of completely knowing someone. Charged with breathless momentum, the burning intensity of its prose makes The Incendiaries a glorious one-sitting read — and one that will haunt you.

ISBN: 9780349011875
Format: Hardback (226mm x 150mm x 22mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Virago Press Ltd
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 31-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Firefly by Henry Porter

9781787470538.jpgEight years after writing The Dying Light, Henry Porter returns with Firefly; a fast-moving, intelligent thriller that proves his writing and the appeal of his characters are as fresh as ever.

Henry Porter deserves to be revered among the greats of spy fiction. Readers of Charles Cumming, Mick Herron and, yes, even the grandmaster himself, John le Carré, will bask in Porter’s backlist — the Robert Harland series in particular —  and his latest, Firefly, will surely be remembered as one of 2018’s great espionage novels.

Firefly introduces Luc Samson, a former MI6 agent, now private eye and missing persons expert. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage, Samson was booted from the Secret Intelligence Service because of his gambling habit, which he assures himself — and others — is calculated and measured, despite the size of the bets. But he’s the best man for the operation MI6 has planned, and so Samson is brought back in from the cold, tasked with locating a thirteen-year-old refugee, codenamed Firefly, who has made his way from Syria to Greece, and soon the mountains of  Macedonia. He possesses vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans; which means they’re hunting young Naji Touma, too.

On a rudimentary level, this is a chase novel: two competing forces hunting down a young boy who, at the age of thirteen, has already witnessed too much death and devastation. The narrative bounces between Samson’s perspective and Naji’s, and deliciously details their near-misses and the boy’s encounters with danger. It’s proper white-knuckle stuff for the most part, and only once threatens to jump the shark, when Naji and a new friend, Ifkar, are confronted by a bear. Thankfully most of the skirmishes are more grounded than this example, and Naji’s desperate, hopeless struggle to survive is what truly makes the book thrum, and gives it heart.

The action bristles and the characters seduce: Firefly is an intricate, layered thriller that delves into the Syrian refugee crisis. Brilliantly set up, tautly executed, and brutally human, Porter’s latest is as engrossing and well-crafted a thriller as you are likely to read this year.

ISBN: 9781787470507
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop

9780733636349As compulsively readable as it is thoughtful and moving, Stephanie Bishop’s third novel is a literary masterpiece.

Man Out of Time is the kind of novel that deserves to be described by someone with a vaster knowledge of superlatives.  It is a book that’s a step above ‘brilliant’ and ‘magnificent’ — it rockets past those classifications early on — and by the time you’ve turned its final page, it’s overturned ‘dazzling’ and ‘remarkable.’ It’s in a different stratosphere. It has left Earth. Left the galaxy. It has broken the space time continuum with its genius. Man Out of Time is, quite simply, an intoxicating, vivid, beguiling novel about the relationship between a father and his daughter, and the legacy of his struggle to exist.

It begins with the police knocking at Stella’s door in September 2001. Her father has gone missing — not for the first time — and they’re hoping she might be able to help track him down. From there, the novel separates into two equally compelling narrative threads: the first propelling us back to Stella’s childhood, and the fateful Summer day she witnessed her father cry over his failure to make amends for forgetting to buy the doll she had hoped for, and other mistakes; and the second thread details precisely what happened to her father, Leon.  Stella’s whole life has been affected by her father’s grapple with his place in the world, and his struggle to exist. She fears that she, too, will inherit this self-destructive trait; this curse that has blighted her father and forever tarnished their relationship; that his vision of the world, and his place in it, will become hers.

Man Out of Time is potent in its subtlety. Stephanie Bishop is an exquisitely precise writer, and her rendering of this tale requires conscious unravelling from the reader; its secrets are not all laid bare. It is a rich novel that demands your full attention, and rewards you for granting it such. Man Out of Time is absolutely a book for readers of literary fiction looking to be immersed in the power of language, but I loved it most for its two empathetic protagonists, and their engrossing, toxic relationship.

ISBN: 9780733636349
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publication date: August 2018

 

Review: A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers

9781473667785.jpgA Shout in the Ruins is a sprawling, richly textured epic, covering more than 100 years, that explores the legacy and ongoing effects of the Civil War. And while Kevin Powers’ prose remains as sharp and assured as it was in The Yellow Birds — quite possibly my favourite novel about war — this book didn’t resonate quite as strongly with me, purely because of its subject matter, and the conflict that forms its nucleus. The American Civil War isn’t as transcendental — for me, at least, as a non-American with limited exposure to its history and brutalities — as the Iraq war, which was the focus of The Yellow Birds.

A Shout in the Ruins alternates between chapters set in the Civil War era and the mid-20th century. It opens with the mysterious disappearance, and rumoured death, of Emily Reid Levallois in the late 1860s, and then shifts back in time to recount the story of her life. It is a complicated novel, its narrative threads weaved together subtly, Powers’ poetry rendering a brutal portrayal of Civil War-era Virginia. Various characters flit in and out of the spotlight, but each person is essential to Powers’ tale, and the novel truly sings when a character is allowed an entire chapter to live and breathe on the page.

At its heart, A Shout in the Ruins is about the effects of the past on the present, and serves as a necessary reminder that some people still feel the ripples of a conflict more than 150 years old. Powers’ cumulative portraits of the poor souls impacted by the Civil War — during the conflict itself, and years after it ended — is a masterpiece.

ISBN: 9781473667785
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 15-May-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom