Review: Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

9780718185480The badass amalgamation of Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Batman is back in a fourth instalment in the Orphan X saga — and this time it’s personal!

Evan Smoak is Orphan X, aka ‘The Nowhere Man;’ a one-time government assassin (as part of the covert ‘Orphan’ program) turned into a pro bono harbinger of justice, whose Bat Signal is a cell phone number. Over the course of this scenery-smashing series, a mysterious foe has been targeting Orphans for assassination. When we last caught up with Evan (2018’s Hellbent) he identified the orchestrator of the killings: none other than the President of the United States, the morally bankrupt Jonathan Bennett. Now, in Out of the Dark, it’s Evan out for blood; in Washington DC to exact revenge on the most powerful and well-protected man on the planet. Piece of cake, right?

Naturally, Evan is side-tracked by a ‘Nowhere Man’ case, but this time it feels like more of a subplot than imperative to the narrative; like Hurwitz was conscious he needed to give readers a break from Evan’s hunt for the President, just to remind readers he’s not exclusively a rogue government assassin, and that he abides by a moral code. When Trevon Gaines discovers his immediate family have been slaughtered by drug-smuggling he inadvertently crossed, he calls Evan’s encrypted line, and thus Orphan X finds himself aiding an intellectually challenged, but incredibly sweet and well-intentioned young man, which leads to a brilliant climactic battle that had me genuinely dumbfounded as to how Hurwitz would write Evan out of a particularly harrowing quandary.

Gregg Hurwitz has crammed an insane amount of action into his Orphan X quartet, but he doesn’t relish in the bloodbaths his characters unleash with stunning regularity. Bodies are bruised and bloodied amidst the chaos, and there’s always a moment of reflection when — win, lose or draw — its perpetrators realise their lives will never be anything but violent; it’s cyclical and senseless, and by mastering its craft they’ve fallen into an inescapable chasm that renders any chance of a normal life impossible. Even when Evan wins, he loses.

Fast, furious, frenetic; Out of the Dark  ends Evan Smoke’s inaugural story-arc, tying off several loose threads from previous novels. Wherever the character goes from here, I’ll be there with him. Nobody writes a better high-stakes action thriller than Hurwitz.

ISBN: 9780718185497
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Past Tense by Lee Child

9780593078198.jpgPast Tense is fuelled not by nerve-shredding tension or a confounding mystery, rather the tantalising inevitability of Jack Reacher’s collision course with a group of kidnappers who’ve abducted a young couple for an abhorrent purpose. It sticks to the trusted formula, and boasts the unpretentious, staccato prose Reacher’s legions of fans demand — and its insight into Reacher’s past makes it a worthy addition to the canon.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jack Reacher, on his way no nowhere — well, the West Coast, if you must know — hitchhikes his way into a small, middle-of-nowhere town  Laconia, New Hampshire, in this instance  and steps right into trouble. It’s the archetypal setup for a Reacher thriller, and Lee Child has mastered its unfolding over more than two decades and twenty-three books. Past Tense follows suit, for the most part, with two slight variances: Laconia is the place where Reacher’s father, Stan, grew up, which means this time there’s a personal connection; a history that Reacher wants to explore, for no other reason than he may never pass through the town again. And meanwhile, not too far away, in a isolated motel, readers witness the terror facing a young Canadian couple who find themselves unwilling participants in a psychotic game.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are more than side-characters, or victims waiting to be saved by Reacher. They’re fully-formed, empathetic characters, whose storyline is actually more compulsive than Reacher’s. There’s an urgency to their plight, which doesn’t seep into Reacher’s enquiries until very late on in proceedings. And indeed, it’s fascinating, and exciting, awaiting the moment of intersection between these characters, which doesn’t last long, but is incredibly satisfying when it happens.

Reacher’s mortality has floated to the surface in recent books, so too his own personal realisation of his complete and utter loneliness. Reacher’s interest in his family history maintains this theme, but thankfully, Past Tense is unblemished by the slight melancholic feel that pervaded the finale of The Midnight Line. Come the end of Past Tense, you’ll be fist-pumping the air and awaiting Reacher’s next adventure. There is no doubt: Lee Child and Jack Reacher remain the most reliable entertainers in the genre.

ISBN: 9780593078204
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Nov-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Man Between by Charles Cumming

ManBetweenAt first I wondered whether its setup might be a little too on the nose — a spy novelist drawn into real-world espionage — but Charles Cumming’s sophisticated treatment of the narrative, combined with his polished prose, make The Man Between a winner. This is a taut and exciting tale of spy craft, reminiscent of genre masters  John le Carré, Mick Herron and Daniel Silva, that’ll have you turning the pages in a frenzy to learn the fates of its characters.

Kit Carradine is a successful thriller writer who has grown tired of days spent in front of his desktop computer, conjuring fictional scenarios for imagined heroes. He envies the life of his father, a British spy whose career was cut agonisingly short because of Kim Philby’s betrayal —  so when British Intelligence invites him to enter the clandestine world of espionage for the good of Queen and Country, Kit willingly becomes embroiled in a terrifying plot to destabilise the West. Not that he expected to play such a vital role in proceedings; or in fact become a pawn in a game played by duelling intelligence services.

Lara Bartok  is a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement whose attacks on prominent right-wing politicians have spread hatred and violence throughout the West. Kit’s objective is to make contact with her in Morocco — a simple handover, nothing more — and return to his life as though nothing happened. Of course, things don’t pan out as Kit, or his handler (who has secrets of his own) expect.

Kit Carradine is an interesting protagonist.  He is genre-defying, in that he is a civilian thrust into the life of a spy, but acutely aware he’s living the realisation of a trope of countless thrillers we’ve all read. Having made a career of imagining narratives and writing his characters out of dangerous scenarios, he has unconsciously trained himself to have the mental fortitude for the life of a spy; a quick-thinker, often able to talk his way out of trouble. But there are occasions when Kit comes across as a little too cool-headed, and his persona a tad contrived; when he seems impossibly placid given the life-or-death situation he funds himself in. Thankfully Cumming rarely allows the reader time to draw breath; just when you begin to question (and envy) and deliberate over Kit’s exceptional bravery, the story veers in a new direction. And ultimately, this is a genre that demands, at the very least, a slight willingness to accept the improbable.

The Man Between is a smart, gripping, torn-from-the-headlines page-turner. And quite possibly the beginning of a new series, which you’ll want to jump on board with from the start.

4 Star

ISBN: 9780008200329
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

 

Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

9780143789871.jpgWith a plot that blasts along faster than a speeding bullet, and more hairpin turns than an alpine highway, Greenlight is one hell of a debut, and one of the year’s best thrillers. Seriously, this one will leave you breathless.

There’s a book coming out later this month by Chris Hammer called Scrublands. You might’ve heard of it. Not just from me — although you might recall I declared it an early contender for Book of the Year — but from various other bloggers, bookshops and media outlets. It’s being touted as the Next Big Thing in Australian Crime Fiction; primed to explode like Jane Harper’s The Dry. As it should. It’s brilliant.

But when the dust is settling in September  once you’ve had the chance to read and adore Chris Hammer’s debut  another book is going to drop, which deserves the same kind of pre-publication buzz; that should be talked about amongst booksellers in the build-up to is release. Another debut, by another Australian writer, who clearly knows his stuff, given his occupation at Curtis Brown Australia.

The author’s name is Benjamin Stevenson. His book is called Greenlight. And it’s a whirlwind of suspense, intrigue and excitement.

Jack Quick is the producer of a true-crime documentary interested in unravelling the murder of Eliza Dacey, in what was originally considered a slam-dunk case despite the circumstantial evidence that convicted Curtis Wade, who was already a pariah in the small town of Birravale, which is famed for its wineries. Jack’s series has turned the tide on the public’s perception of Wade  he is the victim of a biased police force, they scream  but just as Jack’s set to wrap on the finale, he uncovers a piece of evidence that points to Wade’s guilt, the broadcasting of which would ruin his show.

Understanding the potential repercussions of whatever he decides, Jack disposes of the evidence, thus delivering the final episode of his show proposing that Curtis is innocent. That, he thinks, will be the end of that. But when Curtis is released from prison, and soon after, a new victim is found bearing similarities to Eliza’s murder, Jack is forced to deal with the consequences head-on: his actions might’ve helped free a killer. And so, Jack makes it his personal mission to expose the truth.

Australian crime fiction is currently rife with small-town-murder plots, but Greenlight feels particularly original thanks to its protagonist. By the nature of his profession, Jack Quick is naturally egotistical —  his job is not simply to tell stories, but to shape them, and form narratives that are compelling, not necessarily honest. But he’s also seriously damaged from a particular childhood experience, and suffers from bulimia, which is an eating disorder I wouldn’t dream of pairing up with the hero of a whodunnit, but works effectively here. Stevenson’s story, too, is packed with red-herrings and stunning revelations; readers will be white-knuckled grasping their copies of his debut as he deviously weaves a web of suspicion around the many characters before revealing the killer in the jaw-dropping climax.

Greenlight will have you biting your nails down to the quick as you desperately turn its pages. In a year boasting several impressive debuts, Benjamin Stevenson’s ranks highly among them. Put simply, Greenlight is a knockout.

5 Star

ISBN: 9780143789871
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 3-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

9780733637933.jpg

In a genre overstuffed with pretenders, Michael Robotham somehow manages to crank out one winner after another. His latest — possibly the final book in the Joe O’Loughlin series, if we’re to believe the endnote — works as both a compulsive mystery and a meditation on fatherhood.

Clinical psychologist Joe, who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, is called to his father Michael’s hospital bedside following a brutal attack that has left him in a coma. But when he arrives, it’s not his mother or sister watching over William — a celebrated surgeon and family man — but a complete stranger; another woman, Olivia, who claims to be his wife.

His other wife.

Joe immediately refutes her assertion, but there’s too much evidence vindicating her relationship with his father. Somehow, William has maintained a secret life for twenty years; he has lied and deceived Joe and his family for two decades. But is his current situation a consequence of his dual lives, or something random? Is Olivia to blame, or her son? But then, where was Joe’s own mother on the night of William’s attack?

The beauty of Robotham’s thrillers is that they rely on human relationships rather than explosions and blasts from sawn-off shotguns to fuel their nerve-shredding tension. As events unravel, Joe’s investigation into his father’s attack spins out into a web that snares a wide cast of characters. Robotham expertly plants red herrings; every time the reader thinks the plot will fall into predictability, the ground shifts and the direction changes. And the end, when it comes, is a satisfying surprise, a pulse-pounding, breathtaking climax built on clues that were on the page all along.

If you have a taste for crime fiction and haven’t read the Joe O’Loughlin series, you could start here — this might be ‘the end’ for Joe, the book works perfectly as a standalone — while rusted-on fans will delight in Robotham’s latest; quite possibly his best.

ISBN: 9780733637933
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

9781473676404A brilliant addition to Stephen King’s impressive body of work, The Outsider is meticulously plotted and impossibly compulsive.

Don’t pick up  The Outsider unless you have some time on your hands. Its first 200 pages are so high-octane and frenetic, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down until you’ve unravelled the novel’s mystery and discerned who lives and who dies. Here more than ever before, King keeps his foot hard on the throttle from beginning to end.

When an eleven-year-old boy is found brutally murdered in a town park, eyewitnesses identify the culprit as Little League coach Terry Maitland. DNA evidence and fingerprints verify their accounts: as unlikely as it might initially seem to the lead investigator, Detective Ralph Anderson, there is no doubt that this well-loved family man committed this unforgivable atrocity. Enraged by what he considers a personal betrayal, Anderson makes a spectacle of Maitland’s arrest. It’s only afterwards he learns about Maitland’s watertight alibi. Impossible, because their evidence is irrefutable, too. Which means — what? A double? An evil twin? A clone?

Eventually The Outsider tapers into comfortable King territory; most of the answers the author provides aren’t especially innovative or shocking, but the journey to that endpoint  is intoxicating. You know, of the stay-up-all-night-and-forget-everything-else-in-your-life  variety. This is a book peopled by rich characters faced with unimaginable scenarios: they carry their scars — physical and moral — around with them. It is a story of real life, despite its blatant impossibilities; of human frailties, and violence and its effect. The Outsider is never better than when it explores its characters’ feelings of grief and loss.

Anybody who blew through the Bill Hodges trilogy — who’ll whoop with delight when a character from that series makes an appearance here — will devour this genre-blending freight train of a novel. The pace is frantic, the writing snappy, the characters unforgettable. Strap yourself in and prepare for one hell of a ride.

ISBN: 9781473676404
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publication date: January 2016
Dimensions: 234mm X 153mm
Availability date: June 2018

Review: Firefly by Henry Porter

9781787470538.jpgEight years after writing The Dying Light, Henry Porter returns with Firefly; a fast-moving, intelligent thriller that proves his writing and the appeal of his characters are as fresh as ever.

Henry Porter deserves to be revered among the greats of spy fiction. Readers of Charles Cumming, Mick Herron and, yes, even the grandmaster himself, John le Carré, will bask in Porter’s backlist — the Robert Harland series in particular —  and his latest, Firefly, will surely be remembered as one of 2018’s great espionage novels.

Firefly introduces Luc Samson, a former MI6 agent, now private eye and missing persons expert. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage, Samson was booted from the Secret Intelligence Service because of his gambling habit, which he assures himself — and others — is calculated and measured, despite the size of the bets. But he’s the best man for the operation MI6 has planned, and so Samson is brought back in from the cold, tasked with locating a thirteen-year-old refugee, codenamed Firefly, who has made his way from Syria to Greece, and soon the mountains of  Macedonia. He possesses vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans; which means they’re hunting young Naji Touma, too.

On a rudimentary level, this is a chase novel: two competing forces hunting down a young boy who, at the age of thirteen, has already witnessed too much death and devastation. The narrative bounces between Samson’s perspective and Naji’s, and deliciously details their near-misses and the boy’s encounters with danger. It’s proper white-knuckle stuff for the most part, and only once threatens to jump the shark, when Naji and a new friend, Ifkar, are confronted by a bear. Thankfully most of the skirmishes are more grounded than this example, and Naji’s desperate, hopeless struggle to survive is what truly makes the book thrum, and gives it heart.

The action bristles and the characters seduce: Firefly is an intricate, layered thriller that delves into the Syrian refugee crisis. Brilliantly set up, tautly executed, and brutally human, Porter’s latest is as engrossing and well-crafted a thriller as you are likely to read this year.

ISBN: 9781787470507
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom