Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

9781529335392.jpgFinally, a legal thriller with something to say, infused with more than just rudimentary courtroom drama and token plot twists, that positively glows with ambition and scope as it tackles weighty themes of parenthood, justice, guilt,  immigration, and the precariousness of truth. Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is electrifying; a much-needed jolt to a stagnant genre; as literate and thoughtful as it is fast-moving and relentless.

Young and Pak Yoo live in Miracle Creek, a small town in Virginia, with their teenage daughter, Mary. After immigrating to Virginia from Seoul, they start a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) business that operates in the barn behind their home. Treatment involves sitting in a chamber — referred to as the “submarine” — and breathing pure, pressurised oxygen. The theory is, because damaged cells need oxygen to heal, extra oxygen can result in faster healing of a variety of conditions, including cerebral palsy, male infertility and autism. 

Miracle Creek opens with Young Yoo narrating her version of events on the night of the fatal explosion at the submarine, that left two people dead, her husband in a wheelchair, Mary permanently scarred, and others seriously injured. It then cuts to one year later, and the beginning of the murder trial of Elizabeth Ward, who has been accused of starting the fire that lead to the explosion in order to kill her eight-year-old son Henry, who was undergoing HBOT for his autism. The narrative jumps between various characters, and flits back and forth between the night of the explosion and the present, exposing the true events of that night, and the culpability of everyone involved in the tragedy, directly and indirectly.

Bold and devastating, Miracle Creek is a must-read revitalisation of the legal thriller itself.

ISBN: 9781529335392
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 23-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

9781869713393If J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie was a slow-burner of a psychological thriller, thick with a constant undercurrent of menace, his follow-up, In the Clearing, is a pared-down firecracker, the danger clear and present, even if its exact shape remains opaque until its climax.

Chapters alternate between Amy and Freya, dual storylines building in intensity as the page count deepens. Amy is an adolescent fully indoctrinated in the ways of the Blackmarsh; a cult whose home is in remote bushland known as ‘the Clearing.’ She knows what’s expected of her, how to placate her elders, and make sure life in the community remains harmonious. Until a newcomer destabilises her beliefs, and Amy begins to wonder what life is like on the outside. Freya is a mother, who faces a daily struggle to seem normal; your everyday mother and neighbour, nobody worthy of a second glance. But it’s clear she’s struggling with traumas from her past, which threaten to completely undo her carefully constructed life; particularly when a young girl goes missing, and someone from her past arrives in town, tearing open old wounds.

Pomare’s prose purrs so smoothly, you’ll read In the Clearing in one sitting, barely comprehending you’ve been turning its pages. It stays true to the genre’s conventions, and if you’re like me, you may pick some of its bombshells: but each one lands so plausibly, and at such speed, with such gravitas, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

ISBN: 9781869713393
Format: Paperback
Available: 31st December 2019

Review: Lost You by Haylen Beck

9781911215608Once again writing under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch, twist-filled psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for her child.

Lost You opens in a holiday resort in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In an anxiety-inducing scene, three-year-old Ethan squirms in a woman’s arms as she climbs to the hotel’s roof. Police and hotel security surround the area; she can hear cries of alarm from guests below. One foot in front of the other she continues to move across the rooftop, towards its edge, Ethan still struggling, their fates seemingly entwined. Which they are, and have been for a long time, as readers learn when the narrative spirals backwards, revealing Ethan’s true parentage, and the desperate, ruthless actions a mother is capable of when her child is at risk.

With shades of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, the less you know about Lost You the better. It delivers twist after twist, and although connoisseurs of the genre might pick some, I’m positive even the most prolific psychological thriller reader won’t anticipate every swerve in this tale. Beck’s latest is a chilling, gripping thriller you’ll put your life on hold for to finish. A consummate tale of suspense.

ISBN: 9781911215608
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: White Hot Silence by Henry Porter

9781787470811

In last year’s Firefly, Henry Porter introduced Luc Samson, a former MI6 agent turned private eye and missing persons expert. Booted from SIS because of his gambling habit, Samson was pulled back into the fold to locate a thirteen-year-old refugee, codenamed Firefly, who possessed vital intelligence relating to an ISIS terror cell, and had made his way from Syria to Greece, then the mountains of Macedonia.

White Hot Silence takes place three years later, with Samson once again plucked from everyday life as a restaurateur to locate his former lover, Anastasia Hisami, who has been kidnapped in Italy while doing charity work with her husband’s foundation. More troubling? There hasn’t been a ransom demand. Anastasia’s kidnap coincides with her philanthropist husband, Denis Hisami, dealing with a crisis involving one of his investments — he suspects money laundering — and the arrival of Immigration and Customs Enforcement demanding his passport. Hisami refuses to believe it’s a coincidence.

White Hot Silence is a cinematic, suspenseful, professional-grade spy thriller with a dash of romance, featuring characters from the author’s abundant backlist. Porter proves once again that he can rework familiar genre material and bring it to new life. Fans of Mick Herron, Charles Cumming and Daniel Silva looking for their next fix of espionage action should look no further.

ISBN: 9781787470811
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 25-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

9781785152191.jpgIn a year of brilliant thrillers — think McKinty’s The Chain or Crouch’s Recursion — readers don’t need to settle for anything but the absolute best when it comes to turbocharged literary entertainment. Which is unfortunate for Thomas Harris, and the first book he’s published in thirteen years, because it is devastatingly archaic by comparison. It’s not even a fun throwback to a bygone era; Cari Mora is completely lacking in thrills, chills and even the shadow of a memorable character; and despite its lean page count, it is a slog to get through. The Silence of the Lambs this ain’t.

The plot involves a booby-trapped stash of Pablo Escobar’s gold, hidden in the basement of a luxurious mansion on Miami Beach, and a whole bunch of very bad dudes out to claim the treasure for themselves. Which actually doesn’t sound so bad I bet Donald Westlake, writing under his Richard Stark pen name, could’ve done something amazing with that set up but its unfolding chafingly uninventive and peopled with a two-dimensional, ridiculously villainous cast (there’s the guy who walks in for one scene to eat a human kidney — just ’cause; and the hairless albino whose favourite method of torture is a liquid cremation machine.

There’s the titular heroine, Cari Mora, a gorgeous former-FARC guerrilla, who works in the mansion as a housekeeper, whose backstory is sketched haphazardly, but at least provides the story with a glimmer of heart and humanity. But she’s not enough to sustain interest. The narrative lurches from one point of view to the next at one point we even get to witness the inner thoughts of a crocodile but it’s done without any panache. Uninspired and unsatisfying; for Harris completists only, and only if you must.

ISBN: 9781785152191
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 153mm x 24mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: William Heinemann Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 16-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Mission Critical by Mark Greaney

9780751569988A crisp, unpretentious action thriller packed with extravagant shootouts, in which the bad guys are the very worst, but the good guys are always that little bit better. In the world of action lit, Mark Greaney’s ‘Gray Man’ is up there Mitch Rapp, Jason Bourne and Orphan X.

Mission Critical, the eighth book in the series, sees Court Gentry — aka “Violator,” aka “the Gray Man” — involved in a CIA-sanctioned mission to stop a diabolical plot conceived by a pesky Russian sleeper agent, and a North Korean scientist, involving weaponised pneumonic plague and a meeting of the West’s key intelligence personnel. Aided by Zoya Zakharova and Zack Hightower, Gentry finds opposition in the form of not only weapon-wielding henchmen, but CIA and British Intelligence moles, too.

No points for subtlety, but Greaney knows precisely what his audience wants, and is more than happy to deliver. He is a writer of cinematic talent, whose pedal-to-metal style of storytelling will leave you breathless. It is the literary equivalent of sitting down to watch the latest Mission Impossible blockbuster.

ISBN: 9780751569988
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 152mm x 42mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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