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

Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

9781784296537At the stage of his career when many other thriller writers struggle for new ideas or settle on conventional, repetitive plots, Philip Kerr continues to crank out electrifying, utterly addictive novels of suspense. 

The thirteenth book in Kerr’s long-running series, Greeks Bearing Gifts opens in Munich, 1957, with Bernie Gunther, the one-time Commissar of the Murder Commission, now working under the pseudonym “Christof Ganz” as a morgue attendant, desperately trying to leave his past behind, and live whatever remains of his future in relative peace. But the past is something that won’t let go, and it reappears in the form of a dirty cop, and a lethal trap, which Bernie escapes, though barely. Thrust into a new career as a claims adjuster for a prominent insurance company thanks to the influence of powerful attorney Max Merten, Bernie is dispatched to Athens to assess the sinking of a ship. But his simple mission turns into something far more dangerous when he discover’s the ship’s owner, former Wehrmacht Navy man Siegfried Witzel, shot dead through both eyes. Compelled by the Greek cops to investigate, Bernie’s once again drawn back into the dark history of WWII.

Inspired by real people and events, Greeks Bearing Gifts is emblematic of why Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books are far more than a guilty pleasure. There’s the central mystery to unravel, of course, and plenty of nerve-shredding tension along the way; but there’s always another layer to Kerr’s work, in this case an exploration and analysis of Adenauer’s amnesty for Nazi war criminals, and Bernie’s struggle to fit into this new Germany and its willingness to move on from its checkered past.

Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Greeks Bearing Gifts is a masterful historical crime novel, and leaves Bernie Gunther in a tantalising place for the future that will assure readers this is not the end of our journey with one of the finest anti-heroes in literature.

ISBN: 9781784296537
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 464
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Night Market by Jonathan Moore

9781409159780Harry Bosch meets Blade Runner in this brilliant thriller.

Jonathan Moore’s frightening near-future thriller The Night Market is a thought-provoking noirish crime novel set in a gorgeously realised subtly-futuristic, overwhelmingly dystopian version of San Francisco, where copper thieves run rampant, drones buzz above the heads of the city’s citizens, and ostentatious consumer consumption runs riot. Think of a Michael Connelly Harry Bosch novel set in a Blade Runner-esque world.

When a man is found dead — his corpse in a terrifying state of decay  — in one of the city’s luxury homes, SFPD Homicide detective Ross Carver and his partner are called to the scene to lead the investigation. But before they’re able to get beyond a cursory glance at the victim, six FBI agents — or are they? —burst in and forcibly remove them from the premises. The detectives are hastened into a disinfectant chamber, sprayed with a metallic-tasting liquid, then rendered unconscious. When Carver wakes two days later in his apartment, he has no memory of the events that occurred; but his mysterious neighbour, Mia, is strangely determined to help Carver remember.

The Night Market steadily ramps up its revelations, and it gradually becomes clear there are larger forces at play. Moore resists the temptation to have Carver follow breadcrumbs into the darkest corners of his incredibly-imagined world, keeping the narrative tight and focused. Moore’s latest novel — the first of his I’ve read, but surely not the last — is a tense, gritty thriller, and near-perfect in its overall execution, with an ending that lingers well past the final page. Seriously, this is a book that nails its finale; it’s pitch-perfect and haunting. It’s one of my favourite thrillers of the year so far.Stars

ISBN: 9781409159766
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 11-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom