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

 

 

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

ImmortalistsNew York, 1969. The Gold children – Varya, thirteen; Daniel, eleven; Klara, nine; and Simon, seven – visit a psychic in a grimy tenement building on the Lower East Side. Rumour has it she can predict the future; actually proclaim the date you will die. Which is both a terrifying and alluring prospect for the siblings; ultimately one too tempting to ignore. So they divvy up their allowance and make the trip. Find their way to the psychic’s door. Knock. One by one, the Gold children enter the psychic’s den. One by one, they learn their fate. And then live with this knowledge, festering in the back of their minds, a countdown to their own personal doomsday.

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists asks readers to consider how they would live with a clock ticking inside their head, counting down to a hypothetical irreversible endpoint. Would you live life to the fullest? Intentionally partake in hazardous activities, placated by the assurance your time hasn’t yet come? Or would you live a sheltered life? Protect yourself, cocoon yourself, saddled with this unwanted burden. Perhaps you’d reject the prophecy entirely; just live your life the way you want to, balanced between carefree and considered, as most of us do. The Gold children are fine projections of possible responses to such a scenario, with very different mindsets and responses to their fates.

Simon is at one end of the spectrum; who uses a hypothesised early demise as an excuse to flee his childhood home and the confines of the family business to live in San Francisco with his sister Klara, where he becomes a dancer at a gay club, and indulges numerous sexual partners. His fate is telegraphed – predictable, even – but still serves as the novel’s opening emotional gut-punch, the reverberations of which are felt through to the novel’s end. Klara, considered the outsider of the quartet, studies magic on the West Coast and eventually takes her act to Las Vegas alongside her husband and stage partner, with whom she shares a child. Meanwhile, Daniel becomes a doctor in the military, struggling with the nobility of signing soldiers medically fit, only to send them to war; and the inhibited Varya is a scientist, doing longevity experiments with primates.

The Immortalists is split into four sections, each focusing on a different sibling, but various secondary characters weave through these episodes, some in a more contrived fashion than others, in an attempt to accentuate the drama. Despite a couple of instances of events tying together a little too coincidentally, Benjamin’s novel is never anything short of compelling, and these minor flaws are completely overrun by the richness of its characters. The subtleties of their differing stances as they wrestle with the magnitude of knowing the date of their death is exceptional. Ultimately, while the ‘ticking clock’ element of the tale adds narrative impetus, readers’ emotional investment is garnered from their hope that the Gold’s fractured relationships can be healed before it’s too late.

The Immortalists is the kind of brilliant novel that swallows you whole, forces you to live in its world even when you’re not turning its pages. A meditation on predestination and guilt, this family saga might’ve landed in bookstores in January, but it’s one readers will be thinking about until the end of the year. I expect to see it on several ‘best of’ lists.

ISBN: 9781472244994
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: Tinder Press
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 9-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man.jpgTin Man is a beautiful one-sitting tale about three friends and what unites them, and what comes between them, delivered with Sarah Winman’s inimitable grace and power.

This is a story of love and friendship, and how — usually for the better, sometimes for the worst — they are inextricably linked, like the strands of a double helix. When Ellis and Michael meet as young boys they quickly become inseparable, forming an unquantifiable relationship; a love that extends beyond pure romance, rooted in the deepest of connections. But when Annie enters their lives, the fabric of their relationship changes. Tin Man depicts these shifting sands from both Ellis’ and Michael’s perspectives, events switching back-and-forth through time. It’s a book that explores both love, and lost love; of paths taken, and the pain of paths abandoned; what was, and what could’ve been. That it does all this —  so evocatively, with such nuance and empathetic characters, in fewer than 200 pages — is a testament to Winman’s storytelling. She has crafted a novel that is both hauntingly sad, yet incredibly uplifting, reminding us of the potency and everlastingness of first love.

Told with extraordinary tenderness and feeling, sonorous prose lighting its pages, Tin Man is a closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of three relationships, and our helplessness against the power of love. Superbly written and desperately moving, it is one of those few novels I want to re-read again, languorously this time, to bask in the beauty of the prose, and savour my moments with these characters.

ISBN: 9780755390960
Format: Paperback (216mm x 171mm x 17mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Tinder Press
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 27-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

9780734418074

Every so often a book comes at you from out of nowhere and just floors you. Knocks you for six. Bowls you over. Leaves you thunderstuck.

(Insert your own idiom here. I’ll wait).

Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is one of those books. Only it didn’t come out of nowhere. Not really. There’s been a lot of hype around its release. Not just from the fine folk at Hachette, Townsend’s publisher, but from my colleagues at Potts Point Bookshop, who I trust implicitly, obviously (how dare you suggest otherwise!); and other booksellers and bookish types, too. They were chanting in unison: Read this book! Read this book! Read this book! And then Nevermoor-themed umbrellas started popping up everywhere (even though rain has been scarce) and it all became too much. Nevermoor could be ignored no longer! So last Sunday I set aside some time in the morning (I had nothing planned anyway, so “setting aside some time” is a bit of a misnomer) and started in on the first book in the Nevermoor series, The Trials of Morrigan.

And so, now you can insert the idiom of your choice. Because however you want to phrase it, it’s really quite simple: Jessica Townsend’s debut is a stunning work of fiction. The hype — thank God the Hype Machine isn’t broken! — is justified. Heck, maybe even underplayed. Few books have swept me away on such an imaginative journey. Few books boast such wonderful characters, their journeys unfolding with such luminous prose. Honestly, I haven’t been this excited to sell a book in a long time. And I can’t wait to hear their feedback when they return.

The book has earned  comparisons to Harry Potter, which will be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to insisting on its greatness to customers. Everybody loves Harry Potter — I was never actually a big fan growing up, but then again, I was reading Tom Clancy in primary school when Harry arrived at Hogwarts, so I guess I’m the outlier — but there are many, many — so, so many — pretenders out there, all trying to lay claim to that throne, to be the new Harry Potter, when really, we don’t need a new Harry Potter, those books stand the test of time, we need something different, something fresh, not a retread of old ideas. Which is why Nevermoor is great: it’s influenced by Harry Potter, no question, and doesn’t shy away from that, nor should it; but it’s not a carbon copy, it’s not a rehash. It’s innovative. It’s distinct. It tips its hat to Harry, then goes along its merry way, cutting a different path.

Nevermoor is about a cursed child named Morrigan Crow, who was born on Eventide, the unluckiest day of the year, and therefore destined to die on her 11th birthday. She escapes her fate when an enigmatic figure named Jupiter North whisks her away to Nevermoor — think London, but far more colourful and exuberant, full of incredible creatures and personalities — who promises Morrigan she’ll be safe in this unfathomable netherworld . . . just so long as earns a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation, the Wondrous Society, by passing four perilous tests.

I can’t praise this book enough. It’s charming, magical, mysterious, fun and wildly inventive. And between all the fantastical moments, and the blockbuster action scenes, is  a sweet story about friendship and belonging. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is fiercely unique and one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read.

Now, what’re the chances I can get myself one of those cool Nevermoor umbrellas?

(Never mind. I’d probably just end up leaving it on the train…)

ISBN: 9780734418074
ISBN-10: 0734418078
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Lothian Children’s Books
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 10-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

9781472150882Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, returns after a seven year sabbatical from our bookshelves with her first work of historical fiction, Manhattan Beach, which perhaps lacks the unequivocal uniqueness of its award-winning predecessor, but nonetheless displays her gifts as one of today’s most elegant and versatile storytellers.

Manhattan Beach opens during the Great Depression with almost-twelve-years-old Anna Kerrigan accompanying her father to the house of New York gangster Dexter Styles, where the two men talk conspiratorially while Anna and Style’s daughter play. Unbeknownst to Anna, Styles will have a significant impact on her life.

Smash-cut to almost a decade later and Anna’s father Eddie has disappeared, leaving Anna, her mother, and her ailing, disabled sister to fend for themselves in the midst of World War II. Anna is the family’s sole provider for the family, breaking gender barriers by working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as the first female diver; a most perilous occupation. By chance she visits a nightclub owned by Dexter Styles, and when the two re-connect, Anna digs into her father’s ambiguous past, and the events that lead to his disappearance.

Egan’s irresistibly engaging characters and crystalline prose augment an otherwise conventional narrative, which forsakes much of its tension early on, when it answers the novel’s burning question: what happened to Eddie Kerrigan? Therefore Manhattan Beach rips along not because of a central mystery, but the often heartbreaking internal struggles of its characters seeking to transcend their station in life. The novel deftly illuminates issues of class, race and gender, as well as wartime mortality, Egan’s penchant for arduous research coming to the fore as she details now-archaic diving equipment and experiences.

Rich with colourful historical detail, Manhattan Beach is a masterly examination of a monumental time in America’s history.

Publisher: Hachette Australia
Imprint: Corsair
RRP: $32.99
ISBN: 9781472150882
ISBN-10: 1472150880
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 400
Available: 3rd October 2017

Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

9780751567397When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, his daughter, Helena, tracks her father through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan while reflecting upon her childhood as his prisoner. Pitched as a breathless race-against time to stop the Marsh King from reaching her family, The Marsh King’s Daughter is less of a pulse-pounding thriller and more of a coming-of-age tale, with the bulk of the story comprised of flashbacks to Helena’s youth. Trouble is, though fascinating and insightful, these flashbacks serve onto to derail the momentum of the chase, the result of which is an enjoyable, if somewhat uneven novel.

Born and raised in a swamp, Helena had no idea that she and her mother were captives until they were rescued. Trained to trap, hunt and kill, Helena and her mother’s rescue plucked her from anomalous existence to another: a foreign world of electronic gadgets, the internet, and a population grossly enamoured in the goings-on of celebrities. She isn’t comfortable in this world; misses the solitude of the wilderness. Meeting her husband, Stephen, eased the transition; so too the birth of her daughters, which focuses Helena, gives her a purpose, makes her something other than merely a survivor. She’s never told Stephen about her past; lied from the beginning, wanting to separate herself from the past. So when when notorious kidnapper, rapist, and murderer Jacob Holbrook escapes police custody thirteen years after she helped put him away, not only does Helena worry for the safety of her children, the sanctity of her marriage is also under threat.

Conceptually, there’s a lot to love about The Marsh King’s Daughter. Who better to track the Marsh King than his daughter, who learned everything from him? And initially, as the narrative flits between past and present, the pages almost turn themselves, Karen Dionne superbly ratcheting the tension. But just when the novel should be shifting gears, propelling readers to its climax, the novel stalls; more flashbacks, more backstory. It’s all interesting stuff, but it dampens the intensity of the chase, and the confrontation between father and daughter. Helena’s conflicted feelings towards Jacob — part love, part hate — make for fascinating reading, but strip the Marsh King of his ferocity. The more light you shine on a monster, the less frightening he is. They hunt in the dark for a reason.

Its unevenness aside, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a propulsive read. It’s a fine character-driven psychological thriller for readers who’ve grown tired of such novels set in the suburbs, and looking for a fresh landscape to explore.

ISBN: 9780751567397
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

9780733638459Wimmera tracks the friendship of two boys from a defining moment in their childhood, when a mysterious newcomer arrives in the small Australian country town of Wimmera, through to the discovery of a body in the river twenty years later. Mark Brandi’s debut is a simply extraordinary literary crime novel, delivered with intelligence, power and heart.

The novel opens in the midst of the 1989 summer holidays, where we’re introduced to best friends Ben and Fab. These almost-teenagers spend their days yabbying, playing backyard cricket, hypothesising revenge against school bullies, and leaving unsaid their shared discomfort over the way Fab’s father hits him, and the suicide of Ben’s next-door neighbour. When a man moves into the now-vacant neighbour’s house, Fab and Ben contemplate his presence in their hometown now; what brought him here, and where was he before? He’s a big man, obviously strong, built like a linebacker. There’s something not right about him; a meanness in his smile, a dubious glint in his eye. Unbeknownst to Ben and Fab, his arrival in Wimmera will have a major impact on their young lives — the ripples of which are still felt twenty years later, when their friendship has long since eroded, Ben now living the big city life in Melbourne, while Fab remains, stuck in a dead-end job, burdened by the weight of a decision made in his youth, soon to be crippled by it when the police discover a body in the river.

Wimmera is rural Australian noir perfected. The tone of the novel is bleak, its characters steeped in defeatism. You know from the start: nobody is going to get what they want, and everyone is going to get what’s coming to them. In his foreword of The Best American Noir of the Century, Otto Penzler described noir works as “existential pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists, who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters whose greed, lust, jealousy, and alienation lead them into a downward spiral and their plans and schemes inevitably go awry.” That’s Wimmera in a nutshell. It is unsettling and bittersweet bearing witness to two young men orbiting a black hole, but more importantly, it’s unputdownable.

Comparisons to Jane Harper’s The Dry (my 2016 book of the year) are inevitable — both Australian debuts, both set in rural Australian towns — but besides their sheer readability, these are two very different novels deserving of equal merit. Harper’s was a relentless page-turner; a race to determine the perpetrator of the crime. Brandi’s is more of a slow-burn; a character-driven, emotionally-wrenching tour-de-force.

ISBN: 9780733638459
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

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: The Whistler by John Grisham

isbn9781444791143-detail.jpgA great premise deserves better than this by-the-numbers rendition of a high-stakes investigation into judicial misconduct. The front cover promises an electrifying thriller, but Grisham’s latest doesn’t even spark.

Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, is confronted with the possibility that a highly regarded judge may be on the take. According to an enigmatic and indicted lawyer who is representing a clandestine whistle-blower, Claudia McDover is in league with organised crime. If the whistle-blower’s accusations prove correct, that would make McDover the most corrupt judge in US history. As Grisham makes abundantly clear: Stotlz and her colleagues are not cops. They don’t carry guns, they don’t deal with traditional bad guys; they root out corruption. Which means they’re totally unprepared for the dangers that await them.

The Whistler suffers from a distinct lack of thrills and gusto. There is one moment – one – genuinely shocking event, maybe 100 pages into proceedings… and that’s it. Then the novel reverts to form, and plays out just as readers will expect. It’s a little infuriating that Grisham does so little with such a potentially intriguing plot. There are minimal twists – if any – and the prose is so dry it could be sandpaper. Everything is telegraphed, and bizarrely, the novel reads like this was intentional; like Grisham made the stylistic choice. I just don’t understand it. There’s still something enthralling about the plot — a part of me thinks I retained interest because I assumed another dramatic moment was looming, which never eventuated, but kept me turning the pages — but that might be a little harsh. For all my criticism, The Whistler is a book I finished over a couple of nights.

Lacy Stoltz, the protagonist, is impressively fearless, but also rote: we never really understand what drives her, and the few glimpses we have into her life are fairly uninspired. Let me paint you a picture: she’s single, not really interested in a relationship; but is attractive enough to turn heads; lives alone with her dog; very career-focused. None of these traits are bad, you understand; but they’re not nuanced, or massaged into her personality. They are quite literally just stated on the page, and that’s about the limit of her characterisation.

Grisham’s insight into legal proceedings is, as always, highly captivating — but it’s not enough to sustain this tepid thriller. An unfortunate misstep for the multi-million copy bestseller. I’ll be interested to see what his legion of fans think. Am I alone in my reservations? I think I’ll re-read The Client or The Pelican Brief — heck, maybe even my old favourite The Street Lawyer — just to remind myself how good Grisham can be.

ISBN: 9781444791143
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 25-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman

isbn9781782066934.jpgPeter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox is an immensely satisfying noir thriller. Though the details of the plot add up to your typical potboiler story of conspiracy and corruption, of the rich and powerful preying on the poor, Spiegelman’s slight (but distinctive) twist on the formula elevates Dr. Knox above its competition.

Dr Adam Knox is a hero in the Philip Marlowe mould — but armed with a stethoscope instead of a gun. Abiding by the tropes of the noir hero, he is a well-intentioned man with a dark past, using his skills and his limited facilities to provide medical care for prostitutes, junkies, and other street dwellers of Los Angeles for whom visiting a hospital is not an option. To help make ends meet — to pay his staff, as well as rent — Knox provides an ambulatory service for LA’s shadier elements, working alongside his friend and former Special Forces operative Ben Sutter.

Knox’s life — and quite literally everyone he knows — is thrown into turmoil when a young woman named Elena deposits her son at the clinic, rushing out the door before questions can be asked. Clearly frightened, and visibly injured, Knox is certain Elena’s life is in danger — and therefore her son’s, too — so instead of contacting child services or the police, he hides Alex, and decides to unravel the mystery of Elena’s whereabouts, and her reasons for abandoning her child. The trail leads Knox into the path of violent Russian gangsters and an overtly corrupt corporation —both of whom will stop at nothing to terminate Knox’s investigation, and locate the mother and son.

Adam Knox is an enjoyable and compelling lead. We are in his headspace for the entirety of the novel, and’s the right mix of capable and completely out of his depth to make him likable. And while some of his past is unshrouded during proceedings, there’s plenty left for Spiegelman to uncover in future novels. The action and medical procedures are suitably hard-core, but never gratuitous (or overplayed), and while there’s some occasional monologuing, it’s thankfully never plodding.

Gritty, intense, and wildly entertaining, Dr. Knox is a damn fine crime novel. If Peter Spiegelman wasn’t on your radar before, he should be now.

ISBN: 9781782066934
ISBN-10: 1782066934
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 22-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom