The New Girl — the nineteenth Gabriel Allon thriller by genre stalwart (and personal favourite) Daniel Silva — is a gripping, fast-moving and intelligent spy novel that negotiates the geopolitical fautlines of the Middle East, as the head of Israeli intelligence is compelled to aid the heir to the Saudi throne to negotiate the release of his kidnapped daughter.
If Michael Connelly is the grandmaster of the police procedural, Daniel Silva might just be the grandmaster of the spy procedural. In The New Girl he immerses readers deep in the ocean of his long-developed continuity. Silva’s novels, which once focused on the micro — tightly focused on the escapades of his former art restorer turned assassin protagonist — now have a macro approach, encompassing a broad range of characters who’ve been introduced in previous adventures, as they engage in cloak and dagger schemes. The pacing is deliberate, the action packs a punch, and everything feels rooted in the real world. Silva delivers, as always. The world of geopolitics has never been more fascinating or pulse-pounding.
On Sale: 22/07/2019
I’ve whined before about a distinct absence of “metropolitan cops” in this new age of Australian crime fiction. Los Angeles has Bosch. Edinburgh has Rebus. Quebec has Gamache. Galway has Reilly. New Orleans has Robicheaux. Once upon a time, Sydney had Cliff Hardy and Scobie Malone. Melbourne had Jack Irish. But the notion of the quintessential city detective seems to have faded. Australian crime fiction has turned its focus to our harsh landscape. Geography has become king. And used to great effect. But where are the stories that flip the coin, and tackle our big cities? Here’s one — Katherine Firkin’s debut, Sticks and Stones.
What begins as a routine investigation into the disappearance of a beloved mother quickly turns into the hunt for a merciless serial killer lead by Melbourne Detective Emmett Corban, head of the Missing Persons Unit. Corban’s unencumbered by the tropes of many series leads. He’s as clean-cut as they come, a dedicated husband and father, and a staunchly focused investigator, almost glowing with integrity. Presumably some kind of tragedy awaits him in future instalments. Cops in crime fiction never remain blindingly righteous for long. He’s kind of a blank canvas, at this point, this being his premiere, which works, because it means the pacy plot is the engine of the novel. And it certainly thrums.
Structurally Sticks and Stones reminds me of Harlan Coben and Cara Hunter; short, taut chapters, regular changes of perspective and flashbacks maintain its acceleration. It’s chockfull of thrills rather than chills. When there’s violence on the page it’s fleeting rather than gratuitous or stomach churning. Firkin’s objective seems to be to speed up the readers’ page-turn, make the experience as breathless and twisty as possible, rather than terrify and unnerve. She succeeds. Firkin knows her craft. A fine start for an exciting new series.
Published: 2 June 2020
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
This team-up between two of thriller-lit’s most enduring creations — Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent — is exactly what you’d expect it to be; nothing more, nothing less. Our heroes meet, inside Fort Knox, and become instant foes, before quickly forming a partnership that enables them to take on some bad dudes, and uncover a criminal ring operating inside the famous United States Army post. It’s bread and butter stuff from Child and Slaughter; a fun short-story-length aside, with an interesting connection to Reacher’s debut adventure, Killing Floor, with some amusing banter between the two leads, but ultimately, it reads more like a trailer for a full-size adventure we’re never actually going to see in print.
On Sale: 09/05/2019
This opener to a new series set in Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne universe — now 15 novels deep thanks to Eric Van Lustbader — sees a former Treadstone operative (the organisation that created Bourne) yanked back into the violent world he thought he’d left behind when he receives a foreboding email from a former colleague, and is soon after attacked by a kill squad.
It’s a conceit every connoisseur of action-lit has seen before, and accepts as a necessary trope, but The Treadstone Resurrection never really capitalises on the rich tapestry of Jason Bourne’s world, and is hamstrung by a comparatively dull lead, who lacks the necessary compassion to go alongside his ruthlessness. Ludlum’s heroes always had an emotional core — a beating heart in the Kevlar-shielded chest — and even though they were often one-dimensional, there was at least a glimmer of humanity inside them. Adam Hayes often laments his inability to just be a Regular Joe — all he wants is to settle down with his wife and young son, God dammit! — but their inclusion feels shoe-horned; their involvement (which is exclusively on the sidelines) is the only thing that proves Hayes isn’t merely a gut-totting cyborg.
When the action hits, it lands hard and fast. Joshua Hood’s talent lies in creating pulse-pounding, wickedly-fast blockbuster set-pieces; and as the novel moves from violent confrontation to violent confrontation, he ratchets up their scale. The trouble is, everything between these moments is anaemic, and overly-reliant on italicised flashbacks.
Number Of Pages: 384
Published: 24th February 2020
Publisher: Head of Zeus
At 1,500 pages, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is the longest book I’ve ever read, and possibly the longest book I ever want to read. I consumed it — or it consumed me — over two weeks of vacation. I ingested 300-page chunks on multiple plane journeys and bus rides, and piecemeal between festivities at a frenzied Indian wedding. It was never anything less than utterly compelling and all-consuming, but it truly sung during those uninterrupted hours of ceaseless reading; when the plot points, characters, and their innumerable strands of connective tissue truly came to the fore, alongside the luminous immensity of its scale and scope.
Seth luxuriates in this tale of Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s attempt to find her daughter, Lata, a suitable boy to marry, which is the overriding centrepiece of a novel that strives (and succeeds) to be much more than a love story. Set primarily in Brahmpur, A Suitable Boy spotlights four well-off families — particularly their younger members — in the tumultuous time of newly independent India, which is striving to find its identity in a post-English world. The novel marries familial and political drama, flavoured with plenty of local colour, and despite its enormity, never feels overstuffed. It’s a literary colossus, a brilliant book, that didn’t quite hit the same high notes for me as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, but is nonetheless a novel I’ll remember reading for the rest of my life.
Number Of Pages: 1504
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Country of Publication: GB
In this debut novel by neurodivergent author Madeleine Ryan, we spend a night in the mind of a young woman on the autism spectrum as she prepares for, and attends, a lavish Christmas Eve party in Melbourne.
Exposed to her acerbic, self-aware, painfully deadpan inner monologue, readers who loved the quirky characters in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Convenience Store Woman (and maybe even George Simsion’s Rosie trilogy) will find Ryan’s narrator just as empathetic and beguiling. But whereas those protagonists starred in narrative-driven novels laden with heightened melodrama, the lead in A Room Called Earth isn’t fated to have an eventful night; the strength of the book is that its foundation lies in the every day. Nothing extraordinary occurs at the party. What’s extraordinary is the ordinariness of her thoughts and observations; her refusal to adhere to entrenched societal expectations clashing with a desire to belong, and to make a deep, long lasting human connection. Relatable, much? However different neurodiverse people view the world, our wants and desires boil down to the same fundamentals.
Throughout her night, and into the next morning, our narrator deliberates over feminism, Indigenous Australians, love, toxic masculinity, mysticism; a whole smorgasbord of subjects float to the surface of her stream of consciousnesses, and it all meshes cohesively, and beautifully. A Room Called Earth is a fresh and exceptionally strong portrait of a young woman, void of the sentimentality and theatrics that could easily have turned the proceedings into a soap opera. It’s a smashing debut.
Publication: 1 September 2020
“The day the dead visited the surgeon, the air in his clinic was laced with formaldehyde.”
With Night Theatre, Vikram Paralkar has crafted two thirds a masterpiece, its charm only slightly diminished by the abruptness of one element of its denouement, but which is overall germane to its central themes: the mysteries of death, and the wonders of life.
Paralkar’s novel reminded me of Murakami’s ability to blend the commonplace with the surreal and nightmarish. It’s got a beguiling simple setup. A former surgeon — now relegated to derisory general practitioner duties for reasons explained in the text — is closing up his ramshackle clinic in rural India for the night, when he is visited by an egregiously wounded family. In fact, he quickly realises, the injuries sustained by the teacher, his heavily pregnant wife, and their young son during a brutal assault are unsurvivable. Somehow — impossibly — the dead have come to the surgeon for help. They’ve made a deal with an angel in the afterlife, and they need the surgeon to mend their mortal wounds before sunrise so that they may return to life. But conditions apply to their arrangement.
As this compelling story unfolds throughout the course of a single night, the surgeon’s medical skills and faith are tested like never before; the very foundations of his belief system turned inside out. Night Theatre is beguiling, unnerving and haunting; I loved it, despite my reservations about its resolution.
Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 21-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom