Review: Redemption Point by Candice Fox

9780143781882.jpgCandice Fox, arguably Australia’s finest crime writer, has penned another taut and seductive thriller.  Redemption Point, the standalone sequel to 2017’s Crimson Lake, is meticulously plotted and magically propulsive, and shows precisely why Fox is the poster-woman of Australian crime fiction.

When former NSW Police Detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley, he disappeared to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake in Queensland, where he met the brilliant, but slightly deranged, Amanda Pharrell; an accused and convicted murderer operating as a private detective. Following the events of Crimson Lake, Conkaffey and Pharrell,  now investigative partners, are called to a roadside hovel called Barking Frog Inn, where the bodies of two young bartenders have been found, apparently victims of a robbery gone wrong. Hired by the father of one of the victims, Conkaffey and Pharrell ignore the warnings of the local cops and insert themselves into the investigation. But Ted’s attention is quickly diverted elsewhere when the father of Claire Bingley — the young girl he supposedly abducted — arrives in town seeking vengeance.

With precision and clarity, Fox unravels two disparate, but equally unsettling and compelling investigations. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell are wonderfully epic heroes; tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable, and bolstered by a colourful supporting cast, whose aspirations and intentions are shrouded in mystery, purposefully enigmatic until Fox chooses to unveil their true natures. She merges a labyrinthine plot, deft characterisation and top-notch police procedure into a gut-wrenching, wickedly-addictive page-turner. There is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime. Seriously, those final hundred pages need to be swallowed in a single gulp.

ISBN: 9780143781882
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 29-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Book of Dust, Vol. 1 – La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

9780857561084.jpgConfession time, ladies and gentlemen.

(And this one’s a biggie).

I have never read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

This was not intentional. I was not, have not, and never will, revolt against Philip Pullman’s impressive body of work. It’s just a series that skipped me by. Honestly — and this might be the most horrifying admission of all — I didn’t know the books existed until I saw the film adaptation of Northern Lights. Which I didn’t particularly enjoy, by the way, so who can blame me for not dashing to my nearest independent bookstore and laying down my hard-earned dollars for it?

So, yes: there it is. There is a glaring hole in my reading history. I hereby turn in my Bookseller ID until further notice. But I’ll have you know, having just finished (mere moments ago) The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage, I have a beautiful hardcover of the Northern Lights trilogy on order, and it will be mine by week’s end. Because, my goodness, did I love this first book in a new trilogy set in that same universe. I mean, seriously. What a delight. What a ride. What an adventure. It’s a less a book I read, more a book I experienced. Which makes me wonder how those who read the original trilogy must be feeling, having already sampled this universe and its characters, who are aided by their knowledge of its history and wonders. Even more dazzled, no doubt. Desperate for the second volume, which is a whole year away.

I was tempted to read His Dark Materials books prior to the release of The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage, because I could feel the excitement bubbling from various components of the book world. I decided not to, purely because I wanted to see how newcomers to this world would react to stepping into it for the first time. As a bookseller, I am often asked what books are the best jumping on points in various series, and I wanted to be able to insist readers could start afresh with The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage. And they can. They absolutely can.

Sure, new readers will undoubtedly miss certain winks and nods Pullman intersperses into his tale, and certain characters who play vital roles in His Dark Materials make appearances here, which we can’t fully fathom — The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage is very much a prequel, after all. But Philip Pullman is one of the best storytellers on the planet, and he knows how to tell a brilliant story without weighing it down in continuity. Don’t be scared by what you don’t know coming in blind: delight that you’ve so much to learn and discover!

It’s the vividly drawn characters that truly resonate. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Pollstead and Alice Parslow are two young heroes you’ll want to follow to hell and back, and indeed, we do. The story is told in two parts, the first of which wonderfully builds tension around a certain baby named Lyra who was recently consigned to the sisters of a priory nearby Malcolm’s home, who has become a target of menacing villain. The second part of the story is donated to Malcolm and Alice’s helter-skelter escape from a devastating flood, and their determination to protect young Lyra from those who’d do her harm.

There’s more to it than that, naturally — but this is a novel that deserves to be read without forewarning of its wonders and horrors. Just know that The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage moves at a cracking pace, and Pullman’s prose never falters. There are moments you’ll be clasping the book white-knuckled, heart pounding; others when you’ll want to weep as our exhausted heroes attempt to overcome impossible opposition.

The Book of Dust, Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage is an extraordinary start to what promises to be another blockbuster trilogy. This is the complete novel: it makes you think, feel, and desperate for more.

ISBN: 9780857561084
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 560
Imprint: David Fickling Books
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 19-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

9780718187446 (1)With The Chalk Man, C.J. Tudor has crafted a slick, razor-sharp novel of psychological suspense, which dangles the possibility of a supernatural influence on events sparingly enough to keep the story rooted in reality. This is a tense, cleverly-constructed thriller, and debut author Tudor deftly unspools the harsh realities of stale, childhood friendships, humankind’s capacity for debauchery, and the pain of confronting the past, even as she unravels her tautly-plotted mystery. The Chalk Man is book that will appeal as much to readers of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as it will Stephen King enthusiasts looking for something to rival Misery, and provides some not-so-subtle winks at the grand-master’s It.

It opens in 1986, when Eddie Adams, a seemingly average twelve-year-old, who hangs out with his mates (using chalk messages as secret codes), does his best to outrun local bullies, and stay out of the lives of his parents (his mother is an abortion provider, and her father is a struggling freelance writer) finds the decapitated and dismembered body of a local girl. In the current day, 2016, Eddie is now an insular school teacher, who is contacted by someone from his past claiming he knows who really killed the girl. This alone might not be enough to instigate a personal crusade, but when chalk, and chalk symbols, start appearing around the quiet village Eddie has never moved away from, it’s clear someone has an agenda.

The Chalk Man flits between events in these timelines, exposing how Eddie’s various relationships have changed, painting a portrait of a man with secrets of his own, even as he seeks the the truth about what happened two decades ago. These chapters — short and sharp, which always end on cliffhangers — build momentum, and a propulsive page-turnability veteran suspense writers will envy. Readers will question the motives — even the sanity — of every character who appears in these pages, and that includes Eddie. Vitally, Tudor doesn’t attempt too many genre hijinks or red-herrings to bolster her narrative; her vision is clear, her storytelling is crystalline. The Chalk Man is tour de force, a blistering novel of psychological terror and menace.

ISBN: 9780718187446
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 11-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Origin by Dan Brown

Origin - Dan Brown.jpgFollowing the execution of renown futurist Edmond Kirsch at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao prior to an announcement that, he claimed, would challenge the fundamentals of human existence and thereby replace religion with science, Harvard Symbology professor Robert Langdon is embroiled in a plot to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret, while targeted by a mysterious enemy who always seems one step ahead. And while the early chapters are promising, Origin lacks the thrills and smarts of  Langdon’s earlier capers, with author Dan Brown delivering a formulaic, vaguely compelling romp.

In trademark fashion, ideologies clash in Brown’s latest thriller. Religious leaders incandescent about the ramifications of Kirsch’s findings are potential suspects in his murder, but that drama is diminished by the telegraphing of the story’s overarching villain very early on in the piece. Much of the plot’s momentum is built on Kirsch’s revelations, but readers are made to wait so long for those details, you’ll fear there’s no way it’ll live up the hype, and of course, it doesn’t. Kirsch’s proclamations are the stuff science fiction authors have been hypothesising for ages, and while Brown is certainly entitled to explore this theme too, it lands with a whimper.

The lacklustre punchline mightn’t matter if the lead-up ever moved out of first gear. Origin is insufferably plodding and formulaic, the latter of which can be overcome if the plot, and the prose, had even a fragment of gusto. Richard Stark’s Parker novels retained the same blueprint, but were always exciting, because the stories were told briskly and enthusiastically, replete with interesting characters. Brown’s tale is populated by colourless characters, many of whom are allowed too many pages for mundane internalised monologues. It says something when your post interesting character is an A.I. named Winston. There is just so little bravado in this tale; there’s no velocity. Every thirty or forty pages I would pause and reflect on how another author might streamline certain chapters and scenes; how it could be made pacier.

Packaging religion, science and art, alongside cryptic puzzles and last-minute escapes-from-dire-peril into a cohesive, page-turning potboiler is Dan Brown’s speciality. It was done with aplomb  in Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, and less successfully with its successors. Origin isn’t anywhere near to the author’s best. The hunt for Kirsch’s answers to the questions that have perennially plagued mankind — Where do we come from? Where are we going? — tugs on your curiosity, but its pedestrian unravelling will repress your need to know. 

ISBN: 9780593078754
Format: Hardback (240mm x 156mm x mm)
Pages: 544
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 3-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom 

 

 

Review: Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

9781780894249.jpgHarlan Coben’s propensity for writing thrillers that keep you turning the pages hours after you meant to turn out the light continues with Don’t Let Go, a standalone novel set in the world of fan-favourite protagonist Myron Bolitar.

Nobody’s ever been able to explain what Leo Dumas and his girlfriend, Diana Styles, were doing on the railroad tracks the night they were killed by a train, or why Maura Wells, girlfriend of Leo’s twin, Napoleon, “Nap,” disappeared that night. They’re questions that have haunted Nap for more than a decade, and have shaped the way he has lived his life: isolated, an avenging angel of a cop who isn’t afraid to break (or bend) the rules of law to enact his interpretation of justice. Indeed, Don’t Let Go is told almost entirely from his perspective, Nap relaying events to his dead brother, as though he’s listening. It’s clear from the very beginning: Nap hasn’t forgotten what happened that night, and it’s still affecting him today. He is determined to find the truth, to uncover what truly happened that night, and understand how those events connect.

When Maura’s fingerprints are discovered in a car driven by a murdered Pennsylvania cop, sergeant Rex Canton — also one of Nap’s high school classmates — Nap immediately inserts himself into the investigation. When Hank, another classmate, is also found murdered, Nap realises the connection between everyone: at school they were members of the Conspiracy Club, who spent much of their time sussing out the true purpose of the secret military installation in town. Obvious conclusion: they uncovered something, learned something they shouldn’t, and now they’re being hunted down. But if that’s the case, why wait fifteen years between murdering Leo and Diana to now target the others? Nap knows he’s missing a vital piece of the puzzle, and to find the answer means delving back into his painful past.

One of the great thriller writers of our age, Harlan Coben’s clever, fast-moving and multi-faceted yarns always demand to be read in one sitting. Don’t Let Go is no different. This is an exhilarating and unputdownable novel that asks whether the truth can really set you free, and whether some secrets are better left buried. More impressively, it’s a pacy thriller with a romantic heart, never once threatening to become overly sentimental. Coben’s gift is his ability to handle all the elements of a great thriller — a thrumming, zig-zagging  plot, sharp dialogue, empathetic characters — with inimitable brio. Don’t Let Go is the work of a consummate storyteller.

ISBN: 9781780894249
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Smile by Roddy Doyle

9781911214762.jpgSmile is Roddy Doyle at his very best: a mesmerising, bleak novel about institutional abuse in Ireland, which is as penetrating and devastating as it is masterfully sumptuous thanks to its shocking final twist. Smile is a triumph. Doyle has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.

Alone for the first time in years after splitting from his TV celebrity wife, Victor Forde drops into Donnelly’s pub for a pint one evening, an establishment close to his new (and very humble) abode; a place where, he thinks, he might become a regular. It’s here he encounters a man named Fitzpatrick, who Victor can’t remember, but goes along with the man’s assertion they were school pals. Fitzpatrick seems to know everything about Victor, including personal details that he is adamant he’s shared with nobody else, but desperate for friendship, Victor is willing to go along. When he returns to his flat, to the uncompleted manuscript that haunts him, he reflects on the life that has brought him here. The thing is: Victor isn’t a wholly reliable narrator.

The falsehoods start small. Victor tells the barman he put a fiver on Costa Rica in the Word Cup, then informs the reader that he in fact hasn’t. Well, we’ve all done that, right? A little white lie; what’s the harm? When he queries Fitzpatrick on whether he has read his book, he immediately informs us that there is no book. It remains, as it has for many years, unwritten. Then the inconsistencies and the omissions become increasingly prevalent: Victor references a sister and a grownup son, but neither are elaborated on, and feel more like caricatures than characters, lacking any depth or colour. And there’s the matter of Victor’s wife, too. Ah, beautiful, irresistible, loved-by-all Rachel, with a sexual appetite that’ll make readers blush, who for some reason,  unknown to us, or Victor, or his newfound friends at Donnelly’s, loved only Victor; always Victor, forever Victor, this woman, who seems like a fantasy, like every man’s dream, who could’ve had any man she wanted. Why Victor?

Smile unfolds non-chronologically, which infuses the novel with a powerful surrealism. We bounce between episodes, the centrepiece of which is when one of the teachers at the Christian Brothers school Victor attended molests him under the guise of teaching him a wrestling move. Deftly explicated, which makes it all the more heart-wrenching, this was the event that instigated the corrosion; that effectively ended Victor’s chance at a normal, happy life. Because however much of the story he weaves about his life and its apparent successes is true, it’s obvious he is a very damaged man. We just don’t quite realise the severity of it until the final pages, when Doyle turns the whole novel on its head. Some readers might see the twist early, but it’s executed effectively nonetheless, and is a searing reminder of how potent the author’s fiction can be.

Written with precision and thoughtfulness, Smile underscores the repercussions of institutional abuse. It doesn’t do so without zealous overstatement or with detailed depictions of the horror experienced. It simply portrays the stunted life of a lost and broken man, and makes you wonder: is there any hope for those touched by unspeakable evil? Roddy Doyle seems to think not.

ISBN: 9781911214762
ISBN-10: 1911214764
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x 16mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Sep-2017
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