Review: Win by Harlan Coben

The trouble, I think, with making the long-running sidekick of an established crime series the lead is that it diminishes the facets of their character that made them cool in the first place. Specifically the kind of sidekick who is notorious for last-minute rescues, or doing the dirty work the hero refuses to muddy their hands with; like Nate Romanowski from C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries, or case in point, Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III, from Harlan Coben’s eleven-book long Myron Bolitar series.

Win’s always been happy to handle the messier side of Myron’s vigilantism. He has a natural predilection for violence, rooted in his tumultuous childhood. He’s brilliant in a supporting role: ridiculously wealthy, a self-trained combatant, incredibly intelligent. And hedonistic as hell. Win is basically Batman without the Batsuit, only because he prefers the feel of thousand-dollar tailored suits against his skin.

In “Win” he is approached by the FBI to accompany them to one of most prestigious buildings in Manhattan, the Beresford. An unidentified older man has been found dead. Win doesn’t recognise the victim — but he immediately spots the Vermeer painting hanging on the man’s wall as one stolen from the Lockwood family home twenty years ago. So, too, a suitcase with Win’s initials. The case gets more convoluted when the dead man is identified as the leader of a radical left group responsible for the accidental deaths of seven people decades ago. Then comes a connection to another crime from the past, also close to home: the traumatic abduction and abuse of Patricia Lockwood; Win’s cousin.

There are lots of pieces to this puzzle that eventually connect satisfactorily, though without Coben’s trademark blockbuster final twist. “Win” is a breeze, the definition of a perfect beach read, laced with plenty of moral ambiguity and pockmarked with action, and the author’s established cracking dialogue and wit. But without Myron to gloss over his harshness, Win is an unsympathetic protagonist, and honestly, I think Coben has proved his storytelling is better suited to standalone novels that focus on the everyperson  rather than “heroes.” 

Published: 16 March 2021
ISBN: 9781529123852
Imprint: Century
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 400
RRP: $32.99

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

9781408889541Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap in Stuart Turton’s high-concept, propulsive murder mystery.

A man with no memory wakes terrified in a forest. He glimpses a woman chased through the trees, her name on his lips: Anna. Then a gunshot rings out. And The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle begins.

As far as taglines go, Stuart Turton’s debut mystery novel has a great one: “Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie”. Which is so, so much better than the usual “Thriller of the Year” line that gets used constantly, and conjures, at best, an eye roll; probably not the emotional response marketing departments are hoping for. Not that a great tagline maketh a great book, but damn, you’ll pique my interest, and at the very least entice me to sample the opening chapters.

And the opening chapters got me. They got me good.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle needs to be read in a spoiler-free bubble. The less you know about its labyrinthine plot the better. It is an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery that takes place in the classic setting of the 1920s country house — Blackheath — with a sensational twist: our protagonist will re-live the same day, through the eyes eight separate individuals, until he identifies the killer. Every morning he wakes up in a different body, or host, with memories of his experiences in the previous hosts — and the personalities of his hosts battling for supremacy within his mind — but if he doesn’t discern the killer by the end of day eight, he’ll return to day one, and be forced to re-live the cycle, again and again; a cruel kind of purgatory.

The plot is complicated, myriad of clues laced throughout the narrative. Meticulously plotted and stylishly written, this is a page-turner with a distinct twist and surprises right up to the very end. It is a mystery novel on an epic scale, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read a more tightly-constructed, better-plotted thriller this year.

 

ISBN-10: 1408889544
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Word is Murder.jpgWith its unorthodox protagonist, clever plotting, brilliantly imperfect characters, and escalating sense of urgency and intrigue, The Word is Murder is an instant crime classic that will keep you reading as fast as you can.

Like the best mysteries, the plot of The Word is Murder can be summed up simply: a wealthy woman is found strangled in her home six hours after she has arranged her own funeral. Who killed her? And why? Enter: former police detective turned private investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his reluctant sidekick, Anthony Horowitz. Yes: as in, The Author Of The Very Same Book You Are Reading, Anthony Horowitz; who penned the bestselling Alex Rider series, the last official James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, two Sherlock Holmes mysteries, not to mention his work in television; and as The Word is Murder opens, is currently in the middle of re-writes for the second Tintin film, and doesn’t feel particularly compelled by Hawthorn’s officer to trail the unconventional detective as he works the case, but is gradually lured by the enigma of Diana Cowper’s murder.

The novel is told entirely from Horowitz’s perspective. He seamlessly blends the real world with his fiction, constantly throwing in references to his everyday — his ongoing writing projects, dealing with agents and publishers, looming deadlines — that enhance rather than hinder the narrative, adding a layer of authenticity to the book’s great tapestry. Horowitz is the master at pulling away the surface of his characters to expose their deeper—and often ugly—layers, and isn’t afraid to put himself under the same microscope. The clashing of personalities — especially between himself and Hawthorn — is authoritatively evoked, and readers will find themselves turning pages not just to uncover the truth behind Mrs. Cowper’s murder, but to spend more time inside Horowitz’s head to enable another glimse of the enigmatic detective.

The mystery itself is  meticulously crafted, unfolding with increasing velocity as the dots start to connect for both the protagonist and the reader, the clues, of which there are many, laid bare. Even better, Horowitz produces a couple of bombshell twists, saving one revelation for the final pages, which proves bittersweet: by the time readers reach this stage of The Word is Murder, they’ll be distraught knowing the end is so very near, sated perhaps by the knowledge that this is the first book in an intended series.

The Word is Murder is one of the best and most compulsively readable mysteries of the year. Hugely satisfying on every level.

ISBN: 9781780896854
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 24-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson

9781444786927

Peter Robinson’s multilayered twenty-fourth Alan Banks novel is a mystery that depends less on action than on his detectives’ thought processes. Sleeping in the Ground moves gently, but assuredly, Robinson’s unravelling of the novel’s core conundrum done with great care. It’s well-plotted and satisfying right to the end.

Sleeping in the Ground opens with a carefully planned and executed shooting at a wedding in a small Dales church. Superintendent Banks, fresh from attending the funeral of his first love — a recurring thread — leads the manhunt for the killer, who is quickly identified and located. Case closed? Not quite. It all seems a bit too neat and tidy for Banks. Too easy. And when certain discrepancies come to light, Banks and his team are forced to re-work the case from a fresh angle, which seems them investigating a murder from decades ago.

The action flits between series favourites, Banks sharing the spotlight with Annie Cabbot and rookie DC Geraldine Masterson, the narrative shifting into a higher gear as various investigatory threads are tied together. Sleeping in the Ground combines conscientious detection with heartfelt reflections on life and the roads not taken. Pulses won’t pound, but this is an enthralling mystery, and a fine addition to the Banks canon

ISBN: 9781444786927
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 13-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

9781784295158.jpgPhilip Kerr is a novelist who has mastered the art of blending fact and fiction, convincing the reader that the events taking place must be real. His mastery of place and dialogue is extraordinary and unrivalled. Every new Bernie Gunther novel is something to look forward to, and The Other Side of Silence ranks right up there with the series’ best, and a must-read for fans new and old.

The war has been over for more than a decade in Philip Kerr’s new book starring former German detective Bernie Gunther. But for a guy who survived that conflict – – who should perhaps be counting his blessings having lived through so much – – is exceptionally weary. In fact, when The Other Side if Silence begins, he is contemplating taking his own life; not that it’s really his life, because in 1956, Gunther is living under a pseudonym and working as a hotel concierge on the French Riviera. The life he knew is over. Now he spends his days trying to stay off the radar and keep out of trouble; purposefully boring and uneventful. But of course, for a man like Bernie Gunther, trouble is never far away, and this time, that trouble takes the form of Anne French, an English writer, and an old wartime acquaintance named Harold Henning, who was responsible for the death of thousands – including one of the loves of Bernie’s life. These two forces pull Gunther into a blackmail plot involving one of Britain’s most famous writers of the 20th century, W. Somerset Maugham, and the Cambridge Spies.

These ingredients make for one of Kerr’s best novels yet.

ISBN: 9781784295158
Format: Paperback  (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 29-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The FarmThe greatest threats to our happiness often exist in the most idyllic of settings, and stem from those closest to us. Our wellbeing is shaped by friends and family; our community, both nearby and abroad. They are essential cogs in the machinery of our lives. Without them, we fall apart. We become isolated and desperate. Most crushing of all is when one of our most trusted confidants betrays us. Losing friends and family is an unfortunate reality of life. But the cognizant act of betrayal stings the most. It opens the kind of wound that can never truly heal. The kind of wound that makes us desperate and act irrationality. It is the kind of wound that forces Tilde to confront her son, Daniel, in London, about brutal crimes that transpired in her native homeland, Sweden. Crimes she believes her husband – Daniel’s father – was involved in.

Tilde claims to have evidence: proof of wrongdoings, and a shortlist of suspects. She is certain there is a large conspiracy working against her, of which her husband is a part, trying to hide the truth. She has no one else to trust. No one but Daniel, her only son. She assures him that all she wants is his ear: for him to listen and form his own conclusions. But for Daniel, it’s not as simple as that. Because mere hours before Tilde arrived, he received a phone call from his father, still on their farm in Sweden, during which he revealed Tilde had been committed to a mental hospital – and has somehow escaped.

The burden is solely Daniel’s: can he believe his mother? Can his father be trusted? What exactly happened on their farm in Sweden? And how far is he willing to go to expose the truth?

THE FARM is a novel about isolation and the disintegration of relationships. It is bleak read, but compelling throughout, as Tilde lays out her narrative piece by piece. It’s an extraordinary narrative structure: the novel consists mostly of dialogue between mother and son. It could be reiterated as a radio drama, if the voices were able to transmit the necessary gravitas. The rigidity of the novel’s arrangement is interspersed with deeper insights into Daniel’s life, our narrator throughout, who has secrets of his own, and which gradually come to light.

The pace never lulls. Not a single sentence is wasted. Author Tom Rob Smith demonstrates his literary finesse, weaving a complex tale with brilliant discipline. This is a perfect thriller that doesn’t rely on end-of-world scenarios and hyperbolic threats. It is about relationships, and how ultimately capricious they are: the kind of notion that’s sure to keep you up at night.