Review: Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

9781925498820Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake in Fright is a lean, mean, memorable tale of suspense and human fallibility. And while its early tension eventually tapers to a fairly pedestrian conclusion, there’s no denying its compulsive page-turnability.

Cook’s novel recounts John Grant’s journey into a living nightmare in the small outback town of Bundanyabba. It’s typically noir, with every choice he makes being the wrong one, every single decision leading to horrendous consequences. It is a seductive tale of one man’s descent into hell and an unflinching examination of what it means to lose control.

Wake in Fright is a story of high tension, which dissipates as its momentum sputters towards its conclusion when Grant is allowed time to mellow and meditate on the decisions that bring him to a particular moment. Reflection is all well and good — necessary, even — but in this instance, it curtails everything that so riveting about the novel’s beginning. Rather than being nuanced, or massaged into the well-oiled plot, it’s bluntly spelled out.

That said, Wake in Fright is a novel you’ll smash through in a few hours, utterly enthralled by this everyman’s downfall. Cook reminds us how susceptible we are to our base desires, and how destructive they can be if we let them lead us.

ISBN: 9781921922169
Format: Paperback (199mm x 129mm x 15mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 26-Apr-2012
Country of Publication: Australia

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: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

9780751567397When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, his daughter, Helena, tracks her father through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan while reflecting upon her childhood as his prisoner. Pitched as a breathless race-against time to stop the Marsh King from reaching her family, The Marsh King’s Daughter is less of a pulse-pounding thriller and more of a coming-of-age tale, with the bulk of the story comprised of flashbacks to Helena’s youth. Trouble is, though fascinating and insightful, these flashbacks serve onto to derail the momentum of the chase, the result of which is an enjoyable, if somewhat uneven novel.

Born and raised in a swamp, Helena had no idea that she and her mother were captives until they were rescued. Trained to trap, hunt and kill, Helena and her mother’s rescue plucked her from anomalous existence to another: a foreign world of electronic gadgets, the internet, and a population grossly enamoured in the goings-on of celebrities. She isn’t comfortable in this world; misses the solitude of the wilderness. Meeting her husband, Stephen, eased the transition; so too the birth of her daughters, which focuses Helena, gives her a purpose, makes her something other than merely a survivor. She’s never told Stephen about her past; lied from the beginning, wanting to separate herself from the past. So when when notorious kidnapper, rapist, and murderer Jacob Holbrook escapes police custody thirteen years after she helped put him away, not only does Helena worry for the safety of her children, the sanctity of her marriage is also under threat.

Conceptually, there’s a lot to love about The Marsh King’s Daughter. Who better to track the Marsh King than his daughter, who learned everything from him? And initially, as the narrative flits between past and present, the pages almost turn themselves, Karen Dionne superbly ratcheting the tension. But just when the novel should be shifting gears, propelling readers to its climax, the novel stalls; more flashbacks, more backstory. It’s all interesting stuff, but it dampens the intensity of the chase, and the confrontation between father and daughter. Helena’s conflicted feelings towards Jacob — part love, part hate — make for fascinating reading, but strip the Marsh King of his ferocity. The more light you shine on a monster, the less frightening he is. They hunt in the dark for a reason.

Its unevenness aside, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a propulsive read. It’s a fine character-driven psychological thriller for readers who’ve grown tired of such novels set in the suburbs, and looking for a fresh landscape to explore.

ISBN: 9780751567397
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom