Translated from the original German, UNTIL THE DEBT IS PAID is a combination police procedural and energiser bunny styled action thriller which startsTranslated from the original German, UNTIL THE DEBT IS PAID is a combination police procedural and energiser bunny styled action thriller which starts out running when Detective Jan Tommen wakes up beside his beloved girlfriend one morning to find himself as the chief suspect in a vicious murder. Unfortunately the killing occurred during a time period that he has no recollection of, and the evidence linking him to the crime scene is as strong as his alleged motive. Escaping from his own police station, he goes on the run with the support of a good friend, a medical examiner, and a reclusive computer expert. Everything the well-equipped fugitive needs to conduct their own investigation.
Because of his band of supporters, Tommen bounces a bit between his lone wolf character, and somebody that has to rely heavily on the kindness of friends. He's also a man who can absorb a lot of physical and emotional damage in the pursuit of the truth. There's a good cast of baddies and, just for a slight change, there's an unsupportive police colleague (and Tommen's preferred suspect) rather than superior.
Lots of pace, lots of action, and a strong story arc with a twist at the end, the interactions between Tommen and his supporters are the real highlight in this book. Less a character study though, this is about building relationships between an ensemble cast, whilst also ensuring that Tommen remains front and centre of the investigation, and on the run. The individual eccentricities of the others is, in some ways expected, yet believable and engaging and the interactions between them often dryly funny. The twist is well delivered, and reasonably unexpected. The only minor quibble is that sometimes the dialogue seems a little formal, stylised if you like. But that's a very minor point as UNTIL THE DEBT IS PAID is an entertaining thriller with a all-round good guy done bad central protagonist.
When the blurb says "In Northern Ireland's darkest corner" it means it. It's winter, it's wet, dark, cold and black. A landscape full of old houses, sWhen the blurb says "In Northern Ireland's darkest corner" it means it. It's winter, it's wet, dark, cold and black. A landscape full of old houses, swamps and fast running streams, there's an overwhelming sense of dark, deep, close-held, life-long, simmering secrets in the world that Inspector Celcius Daly now lives.
A Catholic Irishman, he's returned to his father's house after a stint in Scotland. His father's recent death, his own marriage breakdown - it's exactly what you'd expect of somebody living in this place, although Daly's a bit of a dark horse himself. He's also stubborn and a decent man who does not easily let go of a case when he believes something is wrong.
There is something very apt about the setting for DISAPPEARED. For a non-Irish reader it feels so right that this dark and slightly obsessive cop would be exiled to this place, full of people with the same personality traits. There's also something very apt about the intertwining of generations of families with the IRA, Special Branch, and a whole heap of secrets.
Everything about the setting, the scenario and the characters felt spot on when reading DISAPPEARED. Even the character of David Hughes, in the early stages of dementia, still with enough awareness of his own situation to know what's happening, know what he knows and more importantly, be able to identify the things he should know but can no longer recall. The dogged way that Daly pursues his investigation, despite the blatant interference of Special Branch matches the dogged manner in which Hughes sets out to right some wrongs, and the way that Oliver Jordan's young son pursues his own aims. The other element of this book that feels exactly right is the way that the Troubles inflicted damage on these generations of families, on the communities they live in, and even on the place itself.
Everything about DISAPPEARED worked. It's dark and uncomfortable reading at times, and for something that travels through as much human misery and cruelty as it does, it moves with a gentleness, a respect for the experiences of all the characters.
By way of confession - this book has been sitting on my to be read list for way too long. On the upside, DISAPPEARED has now been followed by BORDER ANGELS which was released this year and is now on the same list - marked with a much heavier handed reminder.
The second book I've read this year with a break out of jail plotline, which means nothing except in my mind. In THE SON, Sonny is a heroin addict, loThe second book I've read this year with a break out of jail plotline, which means nothing except in my mind. In THE SON, Sonny is a heroin addict, long term prisoner who escapes and goes on a retribution trail on behalf of his father. Simon Kefas is a police officer and husband haunted by his wife's infirmity. He's also the best friend of Sonny's father and the man most likely to see some connections in what seems like a series of unrelated murders.
There's no doubt whatsoever that readers are going to have to accept that a seemingly hopelessly addicted to heroin man, somebody who has been inside for 12 years, can somehow fathom a way to escape, enact that escape, and then deal with a much changed world on the outside whilst quite effectively hunting down and killing a range of people. On the one hand it makes sense as there's something supremely powerful about Sonny, and on the other hand there is possibly a dinging sort of a "what the" noise at the back of the head. There's also something about him that draws people to him - in jail he's a confessor for other prisoners. Out of jail there's something about him that even makes a hardened manager of a drug user safe haven trust him, fall for him. Change her life for him.
Certainly THE SON is testament to the authorship of Jo Nesbo. He writes great, strong, interesting and engaging characters. He puts them into strong and believable plots and then he stirs things up a lot. Whilst his main interest does appear to be the question of what a damaged human being can achieve (you'll probably recognise some of this if your a fan of his Harry Hole series), but he does that with a sympathetic touch. As always from Jo Nesbo, dark, introspective, thoughtful and fascinating.
James Morton and Susanna Lobez have written a number of Australian true crime books together now, many of which are in anecdotal format. Whilst BENT tJames Morton and Susanna Lobez have written a number of Australian true crime books together now, many of which are in anecdotal format. Whilst BENT tends towards that style again, it is considerably more detailed and employs a much clearer narrative connection than many of the earlier books this reviewer has read. As a result of this, it's a much stronger, considerably more informative read than originally expected.
Even when you realise that there's been an extensive culture of corruption throughout not just the Police in Australia since First Fleet Days, BENT really brings home how extensive, how protected and how blatant much of the corruption has been. Not just in the obvious locations such as Queensland in the Bjelke-Petersen era, and the NSW car crash of around the same time. The levels of corruption, and the length of time it was allowed to go on may have varied slightly state to state, but it is rather sobering to think that it's basically been everywhere. Whether it's disaffection, greed or temptation too great to resist, the thin line between the cops and crooks attempting to influence seems to be paper thin. Not helped by the witch hunts launched against so called whistleblowers (who let's face it are the ones who are attempting to do the right thing - yet we stigmatise / label...). What comes through so clearly is the need for leadership, supervision, guidance and intervention. Much of which is often missing, much of which seems to have been corrupted first.
BENT was fascinating and quite compelling reading. It's not a heavy academic treatise on the cause and affect, and likely ways of avoiding all corruption, but it does clarify a lot of intricacies and it certainly gives the reader a picture of the spread of the problem. And this time, because it's less choppy, and more structured and targeted it's extremely readable.
BENT leaves you considering the possible outcomes had the amount of effort, and the level of organisation that has been put into the crime side of the "policing" environments, had gone to actual crime solving.
Iwasaki Shiro is a hard-working, Japanese family man. With a controlling wife, disrespectful children, and a murder fantasy. Most of what Shiro does iIwasaki Shiro is a hard-working, Japanese family man. With a controlling wife, disrespectful children, and a murder fantasy. Most of what Shiro does is somehow never quite right. Whether it's his suggestion for changes at work that is rapidly turning out to be a disaster in the making, or his initial attempts to become a murderer. There's a bit of thought, a lot of fantasy and an inability to actually achieve much. Except that whilst planning a killing, somehow he becomes more confident, and actually sets some rules for the family.
For somebody as ineffectual as Shiro, he's a fascinating character. One of those that readers might find themselves barracking for, despite his dreadful intentions. He's obviously one of life's lost causes, although it's not until the very end of the book that the reader becomes aware of how lost.
SALARYMAN UNBOUND gives the reader a strong sense of connection to an anti-hero, as well as palpable sense of Japan. The way that the culture, expectations and society place such pressure on people to conform, and the level of discomfort that creates in somebody who really seems like an ordinary person, backed into a difficult situation. Granted, the idea that murdering somebody ... anybody, as the solution to that pressure seems extreme, but it kind of fits with this personality and the situation he's in.
Added to that sense of place, pressure and a fascinating anti-hero, is the plot which seems to roll along, in a direction that's not obvious. Despite this lack of an obvious direction, there is a sense of pace, and tension that builds, until the final twist. SALARYMAN UNBOUND delivers that twist in the same sort of matter-of-fact manner as it sets up the original idea of murder as a way of empowering a sad man. Whilst that final twist might not come as a huge surprise to some readers, it's poignant, moving in way. You can't help but feel that Shiro has never had a break in his life, but you really can't decide if that's his fault, or he's just one of lifes natural victims.
Quite a few crime fiction books use the life and crimes of a Gangster type as their central premise, with a sideline of the impact that has on familyQuite a few crime fiction books use the life and crimes of a Gangster type as their central premise, with a sideline of the impact that has on family and friends. BAD BLOOD looks at this scenario with the affected firmly at the centre of the action.
Starting out with a series of chapters that introduce a central character or scenario, readers will need to pay attention. As they will to the prologue which looks at the past of central character Harry Woods and his young, pregnant wife. In the present time, Harry's much loved wife is dead, his children grown and the family ties weakened. Once those introductions and the set-up are out of the way, the action moves forward rapidly bringing the family back together after estrangement, stretching their relationships in new directions, with new tensions.
Each of the characters in this book - Harry, his four children, their partners, his best mate, get equal billing at some point. The story revolves around damage, past decisions, power and control. It's somehow less about the long-time criminality of Harry, and more about the impacts that a life spent on the edge has had on all of them. It's also about decisions - the choice that Kelly makes to come back to the family fold, the choice that Nathan makes to try to live a different life. It contrasts those choices with the lack of conscious choice that Christopher and Evie seem to have in who they are or what they will become. There's a series of questions posed throughout the action about the ramifications of choice (or lack thereof), although that's based in a solid shell of action, tension, threat and violence.
After reading somewhere that author Casey Kelleher was strongly influenced by a well-known author of these sorts of Gangster centric novels, I was particularly intrigued to find how engaging BAD BLOOD was. I've struggled with the influencing authors work in the past, but I think the humour, the strong characterisations, and the less than black and white resolution here made this a strong, believable story. Whilst there's no holding back from the brutality of this life, it was balanced with some basic human decency and care. Whilst Harry might have a questionable moral compass when it comes to drugs, and criminal activities, he's a man who loves his kids, and struggles to this day with the fate of his wife. As clichéd as it might seem - it works in BAD BLOOD. There's something very realistic about the portrayal and the way that it does not make any attempt to explain, justify or excuse what is basically human nature.
In an interview from the Sydney Morning Herald with author Paul Daley, he describes the character of Daniel Slattery from CHALLENGE as :
“a “cross betwIn an interview from the Sydney Morning Herald with author Paul Daley, he describes the character of Daniel Slattery from CHALLENGE as :
“a “cross between Mark Latham and Holden Caulfield”. “He's a misogynist, idealist, class warrior and economic rationalist, but he's principled," says Daley. "He cares about minorities including indigenous Australians and the poor. He has a fascination and old-fashioned respect for women, lives his political life as an allegory of sorts and likes to use his stories to illustrate how others less fortunate want to live their life. But he's a very angry man too." “*
Whilst the comparison with Mark Latham might provide some political watchers with pause for thought, there's no doubt that Slattery is an interesting, albeit challenging character – regardless of where the inspiration came from. There are more references, hints and reminders dotted throughout most of the characters in this book that could have you reaching for the reference materials. As CHALLENGE is as close to a one sitting read as it gets, it may be that you're not going to want to spare the time.
Despite Slattery's most outrageous moments, there's something sadly endearing about a politician with conviction. Like 'em or loathe 'em, Slattery's epiphany is to be honest. To say what he thinks, and to mean what he says. Hear that odd rustling noise? That's party machine apparatchiks everywhere fanning themselves and reaching for the tranquillisers. The thriller aspect of CHALLENGE then becomes about the campaign to undo Slattery's leadership, right at the time that the opposition has a chance of winning an election.
That the underhandedness of the campaign has the validity that it does in this novel is a sobering prospect. That the idea that a politician might actually make a commitment to stand up for something (other than getting elected) particularly saddening in the time around the death of Mr Whitlam. One of the tributes written about his time in politics that resonated particularly is that he was the last of the leaders who “appealed less to people's material instincts than to their better instincts.”** Whilst not for a moment could you compare the fictional with the real-life, there's something in this story, in this character that is saying something about the higher principle. Albeit from a somewhat dodgy, all too human starting-point.
Which is also part of his strength, and a reminder of what's so wrong about politics these days. Slattery is undeniably no perfect character. He has made, and continues to make some questionable personal decisions, just as many of us have done and do. And he will stand up and admit, even when it's painful to do so (and not just for him). It's very telling how things from his past are twisted, manipulated and used to pressure, and ultimately build or destroy somebody, all on the whim of the “faceless men”.
CHALLENGE is definitely a thriller in style, as the race to deflect the power brokers, and flush the games builds, alongside the pressure that Slattery, as Opposition Leader feels. Darkly funny at times, especially when getting the gloves off and stuck into the hypocrisy, and the stupidity, and the bastardry, it's a reminder of just how treacherous people can be. There's some telling insights into the havoc that a politician's lifestyle can visit on those around them, and whilst they might be rewarded financially, it's a reminder that money, as is power, can be a rather meaningless outcome.
Right from the commencement of HADES, the first Archer / Bennett book by Candice Fox, it was obvious that this was a series to be watched. Dark, confrRight from the commencement of HADES, the first Archer / Bennett book by Candice Fox, it was obvious that this was a series to be watched. Dark, confrontational, emotional and compelling, that book started a journey into the consequences of human damage, and EDEN picks that up, twists it around your throat and pulls tight.
When Eden Archer goes undercover to catch a potential killer, the deprivation of the world into which she immerses herself is unsurprisingly apt. She's a woman with a dark core, a vigilante, an edge dweller, and the way she can step into the odd world of that remote farm makes enormous sense. Even if her fellow-police watchers struggle to understand that. Apart from Frank Bennett of course - part fascinated by Eden, part terrified, his ambivalence about the reason for keeping an eye on Eden is a reflection of his own personal feelings.
Bennett has problems of his own though - the death of his girlfriend in HADES is still having a profound effect on his own sanity / stability, which he's been trying to self-medicate with alcohol and wisecracks. Much of the backstory from that first book is pulled apart / and thrown against a few walls in EDEN, and it might be that missing the earlier book will mean you miss some of the nuances of these interactions. It may also be that you'll struggle to read the clues and hints in the tensions between Hades, Eden's Tip dwelling father, and Bennett. Bennett's agreement to help Hades when he finds he's being watched, stalked, ultimately harassed might be hard to fathom even after reading both books, but the hold / sway / charisma of this old man is there. Buried. Particularly in his past.
"Out there, on the surface, Heinrich's money walked, passed, tumbled from hand to hand, bumped into other piles of money and multiplied, the way that rats will triple and triple again in narrow passageways filled with torn paper. It was gathered and presented in stacks on tables in backrooms and cardrooms and changing rooms. It arrived unexpectedly into groups of men in the shadows of crowded clubs, was passed in envelopes into confused and bloodstained hands, was tucked into coat pockets as lips brushed against the rims of strained ears."
Hades, Eden and Bennett to some extent all follow that pattern, they slip unseen, quietly, ominously into situations. They are the crooks best and worst friend, avengers and perpetrators - each in their own way.
Needless to say, this reader is a huge fan of both of these books. EDEN is different from HADES in that there's a power-shift between Eden and Bennett, there's a strength transfer and a vulnerability handover. It's not so different in that the central investigation of a series of horrific crimes is one thing (and to be honest not that hard a perpetrator to pick), but the bigger thing is that constant picking away at damage. At power, control and the weirdness of the human condition.
It will not come as any surprise to readers of the Nell Forrest series that she's found another body. In a small town like Majic there's an astonishinIt will not come as any surprise to readers of the Nell Forrest series that she's found another body. In a small town like Majic there's an astonishingly high murder rate, even though this unfortunate victim seems to have been in Forrest's backyard for a very long time. About the time that her estranged father disappeared in fact – make of that coincidence what you will. Goodness knows Forrest's going to.
If there is such a thing as a preferable time to find a skeleton buried in your backyard, now is definitely not it for Forrest. She's finally moved into her new home (she's redone the butcher shop that had been her father's); she's also dealing with her ex-husband's return to town, along with new partner and baby daughter. Two of her own daughter's are about to give birth – one with a difficult decision which seems made from the outset and her own new relationship appears to be teetering somewhere a little too close to rocks.
So situation normal as far as Nell Forrest and the town of Majic are concerned.
Needless to say there's a level of lunacy about these stories which may (or may not) connect with the reader. Somehow, for this reader, the lunacy works. Perhaps it's because of Forrest's level of self-awareness. She's really under no illusions that her life is normal, that what happens around her is par for the course, and that she's in anyway even slightly in control most of the time. Once in a while she might draw breath and have a red hot go at a bit of order in the chaos but it just never seems to last. In this outing, there's also the added poignancy of the return of her father who deserted the family when Nell and her sister were very small.
His return to the fold is complicated by the discovery of the body with it's connections in time to him; with the ups and downs of Nell's daughter's lives; and with some startling revelations about the past in Majic. The discovery that not only did your parents have a sex life (which we all know we'd often prefer to deny) but that the sex life might have been a bit more risky than anybody ever wants to hear about a parent is a surprising development. Even when it goes a bit of the way to explain some of the complications of her own mother's love life.
All of this topped up by a street renaming that has everyone laughing about Nell Forrest Close being a warning, and a lot of amateur sleuthing along with a very personal threat and there's quite a lot to FORBIDDEN FRUIT.
Delivered as always with a lighter touch, and a keen eye for life in Australian country towns FORBIDDEN FRUIT is number 3 in a series on the cozier, light-hearted, slightly madcap and extremely humorous side. Definitely one that fans of that style of crime fiction should be clamouring to read, and most definitely something that Australian readers should be seeking out.
A thriller set in what's becoming the familiar territory of Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan's status as a nuclear nation plays into the action in KILLA thriller set in what's becoming the familiar territory of Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan's status as a nuclear nation plays into the action in KILL ZONE.
The idea of nuclear devices the size of briefcases going missing isn't a new one in thriller world, and to be frank I've no idea if it's realistic or not, but it certainly feels that way. The idea that the powers that be are 50% of the problem for the poor on the ground investigator is also not a new idea, but the idea that a deputy director of the CIA would be playing political games in a time of heightened terror alerts is certainly a new spin on things.
But really, the ultimate idea of a thriller of this type is that reality or not probably shouldn't come into it - it's all a matter of whether the reader is swept up into the scenario and pulled into the story. With all the black ops, double crossing, treason, nefarious goings on, special forces and a hefty dose of seemingly invincible protagonist, it definitely works in KILL ZONE. But the point that really works is the idea that the secret services are as fond of secret ops against each as they are against any "enemy".
Character development in KILL ZONE is also not bad given it's an action based thriller, and the pace is really good. KILL ZONE has action aplenty and enough tension and protagonist jeopardy to keep any fan of thrillers on the edge of their seat.
When Michael (Dan) Mori first appeared on our TV screens, and in print, defending David Hicks, his sincerity, and his belief in fair play always shoneWhen Michael (Dan) Mori first appeared on our TV screens, and in print, defending David Hicks, his sincerity, and his belief in fair play always shone through. As did the way that he appeared to consider his words, take care with the message he was delivering, and acted with the best will in the world to do what was right by his client. In short, he always seemed like a very impressive human being, and after reading his book, can't shake the feeling that we're lucky to have him here now in Australia.
David Hicks, and his time spent in Guantanamo Bay has been documented in the past in his own book, and one by an ABC journalist. I doubt there's an Australian who doesn't at least have some knowledge of the case, and an opinion. Regardless of whether or not your political leanings are to the left or the right though, there is always the presumption that justice, and a fair trial are part of what it means to live in a democracy. Personally I've no patience for, or understanding of, the "why do you need a defence in cases like this" argument. It's ignorant. Having now read IN THE COMPANY OF COWARDS, it's hard to be less convinced of the need for two sides in a trial, as it is hard to understand how the system of Military Commissions ever was allowed to come into being. And what our Prime Minister and Cabinet were doing supporting them.
Whilst I'd be the first to say that there's very little to admire about Howard's coalition government, and considerably more to regret, reading this book makes you realise how insidious the active disengagement process had become. Mori's own increasing despair at the unfairness of the system he was working within is palpable in this book, although at no point does this disintegrate into a rant. He's even-handed in the telling, which probably makes the nature of the system, and the way it was supported here, even more concerning.
It will not be at all surprising if likely suspects leap to with partisan political "takes" about this book, although to be frank, they are going to have to work hard at making this sound like anything more or less than what it is. An insider's view of the Military Commissions, and the treatment of a particular individual who was held without charge for an inexcusably long period of time, who was subjected to horrendous mistreatment and who was ultimately swept under the carpet into something / anything to get this mess out from under the upcoming Federal Election. Mori is, was and remains a man who comes across as a man who believes absolutely in due process. He's a Military lawyer, a man experienced in both prosecution and defence, and somebody who went on to become a Navy-Marine Corps Military Judge in Hawaii.
IN THE COMPANY OF COWARDS does not read like a point scoring exercise, a grandiose attempt to garner publicity, or even a blow by blow analysis of war policy. It's a look at a deeply, profoundly, terminally flawed system, implemented in haste, bolstered and carried by political masters, in an attempt to do what? As Mori says, the worst of the worst can be tried in the Military Court-Martial system (and were and have been since). Cautionary tale if ever there was one.
There was a point in the Melbourne Underworld Wars that things just got too complicated for anybody but the most assiduous follower to keep up with. TThere was a point in the Melbourne Underworld Wars that things just got too complicated for anybody but the most assiduous follower to keep up with. The connections between the crooks, the cops, and all the permutations thereof were enough to make you hope somebody was keeping some sort of map. Fortunately it seems that Liam Houlihan was, and he's used it to weave some threads through the entire mess that are both surprising and decidedly sobering.
Using a clever metaphor for the reader to engage with, you are pulled instantly into a story that would be quite a thriller ride. If it wasn't true. As it is true the layers of connection are startling; and the level of game playing and the sheer number of fingers in pies is troubling to say the least. The amount of back room deals, obfuscation, setups and sheer silly buggers being played is amazing - even for a time in the State that you already knew had been littered with some seriously dodgy goings on.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MELBOURNE is written in a lively, engaging style. It is true crime that tells a tale, readable and very easy to follow, yet detailed enough to give you a real feel for the players, and the games being played. This doesn't, however, lessen the loss of life, or the carnage left in the wake. It draws the connections between things that this reader had previously never considered, from the street, to the Underworld, through the police force and right into Spring Street. Frankly the games that were played at that level left the Underworld players looking like amateurs.
Whilst there's been a lot of books written about the various players from the Underworld side of the equation, this is the first that this reader can remember that takes that further. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MELBOURNE gives the reader a map of the connections, it lays out a sequence of events that seem to clarify much, and in the process it takes a good hard look at many a lot higher up in the food chain than you'd hope.
The combination of cars and girls makes absolute sense to me. Include them in a series of noir styled, dark and pointed short stories, and CARS &The combination of cars and girls makes absolute sense to me. Include them in a series of noir styled, dark and pointed short stories, and CARS & GIRLS from the Pankhurst Collective was both unexpected and an absolute pleasure to read.
Whilst the central theme of cars and girls carries through each of the stories in the collection, they are a varied bunch, in setting, style and resolution. The exciting thing though is that no punches are pulled. This is a dark and frequently violent collection, full of explicit sex and gun battles putting the central female characters in the sorts of roles normally allocated to men. And doing it seamlessly.
Given that each story has it's own particular flavour and style, there are some aspects (other than the darkness and the violence) that hold throughout. Each story is fast-paced, strong, gritty and in your face. That's not to say that anything is particularly gratuitous, it's finely balanced noir. There's tension and pace in most of them, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, although to be fair, the first story, 500, is of a slightly less frenetic pace, and perhaps a little more predictable than what's to come.
The collection is made up of 500 by Zoë Spencer, Road Runner by Tee Tyson, Barracuda by Madeline Harvey and Crown Victoria by Evangeline Jennings.
CARS & GIRLS definitely isn't a book for fans of traditional women protagonists. You get the distinct feeling the only use that any of these women would have for a teapot couldn't be discussed in polite society. It is, however, one for readers interested in something different, smart, stylish, and undeniably very clever.