Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

9781869713393If J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie was a slow-burner of a psychological thriller, thick with a constant undercurrent of menace, his follow-up, In the Clearing, is a pared-down firecracker, the danger clear and present, even if its exact shape remains opaque until its climax.

Chapters alternate between Amy and Freya, dual storylines building in intensity as the page count deepens. Amy is an adolescent fully indoctrinated in the ways of the Blackmarsh; a cult whose home is in remote bushland known as ‘the Clearing.’ She knows what’s expected of her, how to placate her elders, and make sure life in the community remains harmonious. Until a newcomer destabilises her beliefs, and Amy begins to wonder what life is like on the outside. Freya is a mother, who faces a daily struggle to seem normal; your everyday mother and neighbour, nobody worthy of a second glance. But it’s clear she’s struggling with traumas from her past, which threaten to completely undo her carefully constructed life; particularly when a young girl goes missing, and someone from her past arrives in town, tearing open old wounds.

Pomare’s prose purrs so smoothly, you’ll read In the Clearing in one sitting, barely comprehending you’ve been turning its pages. It stays true to the genre’s conventions, and if you’re like me, you may pick some of its bombshells: but each one lands so plausibly, and at such speed, with such gravitas, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

ISBN: 9781869713393
Format: Paperback
Available: 31st December 2019

Review: The Artist’s Portrait by Julie Keys

9780733640940In her virtuosic debut novel, Julie Keys masterfully renders the lives of two women — one (purportedly) Muriel Kemp, an infamous artist from Sydney in the 1920s, now in her eighties, living out her twilight years in isolation, prone to severe irascibility; the other, Jane Cooper, a young nurse and aspiring writer — whose unlikely friendship is tested by the potential falsehood of Muriel’s claims, not least of which is the fact that according to official history, and the foundation dedicated to (and named) in her honour, Muriel Kemp died in 1936. 

The true brilliance of The Artist’s Portrait is its architecture. Readers follow two narrative threads: one from the perspective of a young Muriel Kemp as she clashes with the conservatism of the 1920s Australian art world, and the disgusting trivialisation and outright dismissal of women artists; while the second thread transplants us 70 years into the future, 1992, when a chance encounter with her neighbour leads to Jane Cooper taking on the role of Muriel’s biographer, and attempting to make sense of the tapes Muriel has recorded for her, which don’t match up with established facts.

What’s undeniable, Jane quickly comes to realise, is that Muriel’s history is complicated and tempestuous, littered with mystery, murder and disappearances. Unravelling the truth serves as a perfect distraction for Jane, as she deals with tensions and secrets within her own family, and faces up to her pregnancy; not just reality of caring for a child as a single mother, but the echo of Muriel’s words: “If you were serious about being a writer, you’d get rid of that baby.” Is Muriel’s adamancy of this point simply a reflection of her upbringing, and the abhorrent patriarchy she spent years confronting? Or is tied to something far more personal and heartbreaking?

Some novels are such good company that you don’t want them to end. The Artist’s Portrait is one such novel. Engrossing and compelling in equal measure; a tale about long-buried secrets and the revelations that change everything.

ISBN: 9780733640940
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publication Date: March 2019

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