In Booker-shortlisted author Daisy Johnson’s unsettling second novel, two sisters — July and September — move across the country, with their mother, to a long-abandoned family home, where the deep bond they’ve always shared begins to contort into something noxious, something wicked, that reveals itself in its sharpest form when they meet a boy.
Sisters is a compelling and nuanced psychological drama you read feeling like there’s a fist in your stomach, squeezing your guts. There’s a great slathering of tension, that ratchets up adroitly, building to a climax that isn’t necessarily ferocious, but suitably haunting and disturbing. Johnson excavates maximum suspense from the most quotidian of human relationships, and the novel’s slight size does nothing to impede its richness; rather, it’s enhanced by its brevity, making it an all the more potent concoction.
Published: 2 July 2020
Imprint: Jonathan Cape
Format: Trade Paperback
On the eve of his retirement as “the Nowhere Man” — a harbinger of justice for those in need of desperate aid — former clandestine government assassin Evan Smoak — the infamous “Orphan X” — finds himself pitted against a seemingly endless supply of gun-totting goons as he attempts to liberate Max Merriweather from the looming threat of the bad guys who murdered his cousin.
Gregg Hurwitz writes with the pace and economy of a blockbuster action movie. Think Michael Bay’s The Rock or Bad Boys; not so much Transformers; thrillers with some semblance of heart and humanity. He understands the lurid pleasures readers want from their action-lit, and delivers in spades. In Into the Fire, Smoak is forced to infiltrate a police precinct; go undercover (and unarmed) into a maximum security prison; and face off against a barrage of gunmen nursing a concussion, armed with only a sniper rifle. All par for the course for Hurwitz’s hero, who readers know will walk out of every confrontation (relatively) unscathed; the pleasure comes from witnessing how he escapes these impossible odds.
The fifth book in the series, Into the Fire leans heavily into its established continuity. In some respects, this feels like a bridging novel between the next momentous phase in the life of Orphan X. Plot threads related to his Max Merriweather mission are suitably tied; but there’s plenty left dangling to suggest the next novel could be truly cataclysmic for Evan. New readers will still enjoy the bombastic action and bodycount, but longtime fans will truly appreciate the repercussions it potentially has for the series moving forward.
In the hotly-contested field of action-lit, Gregg Hurwitz comes out on top, time and time again.
Published: 11 February 2020
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel is more than a dazzling and seductive alternate history about a world in which Hillary Rodham decided not to marry Bill Clinton to maintain her independence. It’s a searing commentary on the unjust compromises and aspersions faced by female politicians compared to their male counterparts, and how much harder it is for women to make their way in politics, or any facet of public life; any walk of life, in fact.
Hillary is merely the vehicle Sittenfeld uses to showcase this inequality; but saturating her fiction in the texture of Hillary’s reality, with one major twist, adds a brilliant vitality to the work, and a layer of verisimilitude that using a totally fabricated character would not have allowed. This narrative decision is utterly seductive, and Sittenfeld clearly had great fun contemplating the seismic ramifications that one different decision might’ve produced. Where is Donald Trump in this new world? Barrack Obama? Indeed, what actually happened to Bill Clinton; did he achieve his political ambitions without Hillary as his first lady? Sittenfeld answers all of these questions, and more. I was addicted to learning more, and incredibly impressed by her ability to humanise Hillary, and turn her into a sympathetic character rather than a caricature. I’ve no doubt it’ll be one of my favourite books of the year.
Number Of Pages: 400
Available: 19th May 2020
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
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