Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

dissolution-a-shardlake-novel-15b25dDissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) | C.J. Sansom | Pan MacMillan UK | 2003 | RRP $19.99 | 9781447285830

In C.J. Sansom’s first Matthew Shardlake mystery, the hunchbacked lawyer is dispatched by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, to investigate the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton at a Benedictine monastery in Scarnsea, Sussex, as the King’s disbanding of the monasteries gathers pace.

Executed with consummate skill, the novel’s blend of whodunit tropes and rich historical texture makes for fascinating reading. The monastery setting, filled with enigmatic characters, and dark, lingering shadows, is suitably spooky, and Shardlake’s exploration of its halls almost approaches horror. Some of the detective work is a tad plodding, but the pacing seems deliberate on Sansom’s part, as he gradually weaves a tapestry pockmarked with credible suspects, daring the reader to form their own conclusions.

Sansom’s recreation of sixteenth century England and his ability to lace his fiction into the confines of truth is remarkable. It’s as vividly presented as Rome in Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy. As a series opener, it inspires confidence. I’ve already got the next few on my stack.

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: 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 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: Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke


Wayfaring StrangerJames Lee Burke has been writing for almost half a century, but WAYFARING STRANGER is my first, and the highest praise I can offer is that it will not be my last. What a stunning introduction to Burke’s prose, a novel that mixes several potent ingredients into one hell of a tasty dish: a sprawling historical saga across decades of American history, a love story that never wallows in cliché, and a page-turner of the best variety; the kind that doesn’t rely on cheap thrills and exaggerated violence, rather a constant sense of foreboding. At its core, though, WAYFARING STRANGER is a novel about the good and evil in men’s hearts – and how events can force even the greatest of men to overlook their values, and the impact our past can have on our futures. When you push a good man into a corner, how does he respond? 

Burke weaves several characters into his narrative. World War II veterans Weldon Holland and Hershel Pine enter the oil business after the war, utilizing German technology; a money-making business that’s bursting oppressive forces who want to see them fail. Then there’s Rosita Lowenstein, Holland’s wife, who Holland and Pine found in a deserted extermination camp, and is tarnished with the same brush as her communist family; a stain that’s impossibly to fully remove. Finally, Linda Gail, Pine’s wife, and blossoming Hollywood Actress, who combats demons of her own as she attempts to navigate the insane world of the stars. WAYFARING STRANGER paints extensive portraits of these characters as elements of their lives overlap, their stories eventually culminating in the novels’ pulse-pounding conclusion.

WAYFARING STRANGER is epic in scope; a novel that traverses decades, spotlighting the life and times of a man with seemingly infallible moral convictions, whose entire life is founded on one moment, from his childhood, when he fired at the rear window of Bonnie and Clyde’s absconding vehicle. There’s poetry in James Lee Burke’s prose, evident in Holland’s descriptions of his wife, Rosita, and the love he feels for his grandfather, a hard man, whose gruffness he has grown to appreciate. This is a powerful story, a true character study, and one that demands re-reading. WAYFARING STRANGER isn’t merely a great love story, a great historical saga, or a fast-paced thriller: it’s a wonderful novel, period. I couldn’t tell you if it’s one of James Lee Burke’s best, but if it’s not, my goodness, we’re going to need an amended star-rating system.