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
Format: Trade Paperback
The work of novelist Daniel Silva is inextricably linked to current events, his thrillers either ripped from the headlines, or frighteningly prescient. As his hero Gabriel Allon has ascended to the head of Israeli intelligence, the scope of Silva’s novels has expanded. His recent fiction has explored Islamist extremism, the diminishment of the United States as an intelligence powerhouse, and the rise of Russian influence. His twentieth novel in this long-running series is smaller in scope, but with ramifications just as significant: a murder mystery in which the victim is Pope Paul VII.
Following the death of the Supreme Pontiff, Allon is whisked away from his family vacation in Venice to meet with the pope’s personal secretary, Archbishop Luigi Donati, who is adamant the Holy Father did not die of his purported natural death. Allon investigates, and uncovers the secret machinations of a secret right-wing cabal with toxic influence throughout Europe, who are determined to uncover the lost Gospel of Pilate, which offers revelatory new information on Christian anti-Semitism.
“The Order” is steeped Catholic history. Much of the joy comes from ascertaining how much of what we’re reading is accurate and factually based, and how much is dramatic license. Forget the girls, guns and gadgets of Bond and the exaggerated combat of Bourne. This is a thriller without most of the genre hallmarks Hollywood has set in stone, and it’s all the better for it. Maximum intrigue, minimal gunfire: Daniel Silva is le Carré class. You won’t read a better spy novel this year. And most importantly, for longtime readers, there are hints to what’s next for Allon, when his life as a spy reaches its inevitable conclusion.
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 22/07/2020
List Price: 32.99 AUD
“The Hunted” is an absolutely merciless thriller set in the Australian outback. It’s violent and scary and relentless, and so filmic in its unfolding, it’s easy to see why Hollywood is already scrapping it for parts. It is a novel of pure action; a shotgun blast of mayhem; bullets, blood and explosions organised around the barest bones of plot and character — because such elements would only impede its relentless velocity.
Gabriel Bergmoser has supercharged the survival thriller. “The Hunted” is one of the most aggressive novels I’ve ever read. Imagine “Mad Max” meshed with “Wake in Fright” written by Matthew Reilly, which should tell you: don’t get too attached to its characters.
It observes the time-honoured tradition of the genre: it begins with a large cast and dooms them, in this instance, at the hands of a seriously depraved rural community of hunters. We fear for each of them, because the novel does not have a settled protagonist, so everyone is expendable. Narratively this is a risk, which works for the most part, but a part of me does wonder how “The Hunted” would’ve played out with an archetypal ‘hero’ to root for, because there isn’t a lot of room here for personality development. I never assumed anybody was safe: but I never really cared who lived or died. A ‘white knight’ to pull focus from these lightly-sketched characters might’ve actually enhanced them.
In survival thrillers like this, it’s more often not the slashing we enjoy, but the build-up towards it; the impending menace, the imminent threat, the lighting of the fuse and its burn; the generation of fear rather than its final manifestation. But “The Hunted” is all about the manic exhilaration of the third act, when the shit hits the fan, and it’s pedal to the metal visceral action. It hits hard and fast, a constant barrage of audacious violence that doesn’t exhaust, because this is not a book that outstays its welcome. It is as lean as it is mean, and it’ll leave you drunk on adrenaline, and meditating on the pointlessness of violence and the savagery of men.
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 31/07/2020
List Price: 29.99 AUD
You are familiar with the premise of “The Terminal List” because you’ve seen a version of this story played out a million times before. But if you’re like me — you enjoy a dose of action-lit in their monthly reading — Jack Carr’s political / revenge thriller hybrid is a competent recycling of familiar ingredients.
Navy SEAL Commander James Reece is the sole survivor of a mission gone wrong in Afghanistan. He had a bad feeling about the op from the start, and back home, his attempts to mollify his concerns and unearth the truth are stonewalled by the top brass.
Soon, during a routine CT scan, Reece learns he has a brain tumour. Alarmingly, so did other members of his team, which can’t be a coincidence. Then he discovers the bullet-riddled corpses of his pregnant wife and baby daughter at his house in Coronado, California. And Jack knows he has become unwittingly embroiled in the machinations of a secret cabal. But his enemies have made a fatal error. They’ve unleashed an apex predator; stripped a trained killer of the only things that kept him human and reigned in. And a man like that, with nothing to lose, wants only one thing: revenge.
The action comes thick and fast, and crackles with insider information, some of which has been redacted by the Department of Defence, leaving a trail of blacked-out sentences and words throughout the text, which prove more distracting than intriguing. Carr’s level of detail when it comes to weaponry and tech is almost Clancy-level, and his hero’s homicidal tunnel-vision delivers a high body count and ingenious methods of killing for readers who might think they’ve seen it all before.
“The Terminal List” is not a novel that delves into the morality of Reece’s kill spree. Revenge does not poison his soul. This is action-lit at its purest, for fans of Flynn, Hurwitz, Greaney, and Ludlum of yore: one crusading individual against an impossibly powerful adversary. It won’t turn you into a fan of the genre, but for stalwarts, there’s plenty to enjoy.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 8-Jul-2020
Country of Publication: United States
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
Somehow Meg Gardiner manages to take stock suspense plots — a dedicated and relentless FBI behavioural analyst pursuing an ingenious serial killer — and dress them up into the kind of pulse-pounding, irresistibly readable thrillers you can’t help but in inhale in one sitting.
In The Dark Corners of the Night, the third novel in the UNSUB series, Caitlin Hendrix targets a Los Angeles killer who breaks into houses late at night when the family is home, executes both parents, and leaves the children alive as witnesses. He calls himself The Midnight Man. And he might just be the most vicious murderer Caitlin and the FBI’s elite Behavioural Analysis Unit has ever faced. Until the sequel, you’d assume. Which can’t come soon enough.
This is a world class thriller by one of the world’s premier thriller writers. Meg Gardiner has turbocharged the thriller genre. If you need some edge-of-your-seat escapism — and who doesn’t right now — look no further.
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 02/18/2020
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
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
Lately Stephen King has seemed determined to thrill rather than chill, forsaking the spine-tingling spookiness of his seminal (and my favourite) books — hello, Pet Sematary; hi, It; good to see ya, Cujo! — in favour of telling exhilarating, completely absorbing, rollicking reads, replete with the kind of dazzling pyrotechnics and fantastic characters only he could conjure. The Institute is exactly that: a masterclass of entertainment, in which paranormally blessed kids are conscripted into a secret government lab in Maine (naturally) and forced to endure horrific tortures.
The book opens with Jack Reacher-like wanderer Tim Jamieson — ex-(decorated) cop — taking a job in the small South Carolina town of DuPray. King lays all his cards on the table: this guy is going to be a hero. We’re rooting for this guy. The question King dangles is, what force is he up against? We don’t get an immediate answer. Instead, smash-cut to Minneapolis, where the super-intelligent Luke Ellis is kidnapped from his own home while his parents are murdered, and transported to the facility known as ‘the Institute,’ run by the evil Mrs Sigsby. After the first hundred pages, readers know Luke and Ellis’s paths will cross: but when, and how? And what will the ramifications be?
Cancel all your plans and settle in for the ride. This is escapism at its purest and finest.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 10-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom