Fast paced, heaps of action, a lot of lurking baddies, a flawed hero and comparisons with the work of Tom Clancy and Matthew Reilly are going to be coFast paced, heaps of action, a lot of lurking baddies, a flawed hero and comparisons with the work of Tom Clancy and Matthew Reilly are going to be coming in droves.
NO FREE MAN is the debut thriller from ex-RAAF member Graham Potts, taking it's protagonist, Stepan Volkov straight to the heart of ... well everything it seems. Starting out in a small Australian town, Volkov wasn't expecting to be identified by the most unlikely of people to walk into that pub, right at that time. Connections to Australia are maintained as local agents Hartigan and Singh set off in pursuit of Volkov and the Russian crime syndicate - Organizatsiya that he works for. Along the way there is a lot of action, fights, explosions, shooting, much rushing about and some seriously astounding heroics with a most unlikely array of weapons.
This novel is very much a bigger than reality thriller. The action is absolutely the point and the heroics positively exhausting. There's lots of pace, there's a lot of movement and there seems like an inexhaustible number of threads coming and going. Alas that's possibly where NO FREE MAN is slightly less successful than it could be as it was easy to get a bit lost in all the goings on, names, moves and changes. Certainly this reader spent a bit of time backtracking to work out quite a few of the what / who / wheres and whys.
On the upside the anti-hero nature of the Volkov works well, and really, if you are looking for a novel which is one of those big, over-the-top action based thrillers where they why and the what are considerably less important than the action, NO FREE MAN is going to be just the thing.
The second in the Harry Belltree trilogy, events in ASH ISLAND follow closely on from CRUCIFIXION CREEK. Short-listed for the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards CRThe second in the Harry Belltree trilogy, events in ASH ISLAND follow closely on from CRUCIFIXION CREEK. Short-listed for the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards CRUCIFIXION CREEK set up a different character for Maitland to work with in Australian, Indigenous Detective Harry Belltree. There is still, however, that use of a defining geographical location as is always the case in any of Maitland's novels - in this case much of the action centres around Newcastle's Ash Island.
Considerably more action orientated, Belltree is also very different from Maitland's other police characters (Brock and Kolla) in that to call him morally ambiguous is possibly understating the case. He's also well out of his comfort zone having been transferred to Newcastle after final events in the earlier novel very nearly killed him. If you've read CRUCIFIXION CREEK already you'll know that this covered a lot of things to do with development, corruption, drugs and bikie gangs, touching briefly on the car crash that killed Belltree's parents and blinded his wife. ASH ISLAND however, builds on that aspect considerably whilst also getting stuck into mining, politicians, land rights and, as always, a hefty dose of corruption and nasty goings on.
Having said "if you've read CRUCIFIXION CREEK" it is almost mandatory that you do read these two novels in sequence. There's a lot of back story to Belltree, his parents, wife and supporting characters, such as journalist Kelly Pool, that you're just going to have to know to make any sense of what's happening in ASH ISLAND, despite some reiteration of background and details.
There's no fudging the fact that whilst CRUCIFIXION CREEK was a great series commencement, there are aspects of ASH ISLAND that are less successful. Whilst there is advancement of an underlying conspiracy with new plot elements introduced, as well as that backwards concentration on the fatal car accident, there is overall less tension here. Obviously because this is part two of the trilogy you can't expect that everything is going to be resolved in ASH ISLAND, but that's not the overwhelming problem. Rather there's a slight sense of wandering, less direction somehow with some hefty personal leaps and bounds that just felt silly contributing overall to a somewhat anti-climactic feeling.
That's not to say that the third book in the series won't be high on the reading list when it comes out, as there's absolutely no doubt that whatever is going to happen to Belltree, he's not going to go down without a bloody good fight.
The first in a new series of books set in India, THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is lyrical and amusing writing, steeped in a sense of place and culture that wiThe first in a new series of books set in India, THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is lyrical and amusing writing, steeped in a sense of place and culture that will leave readers craving more.
Young Orko Deb is the much doted on son of a mechanic father, not at all interested in stepping into his father's footsteps. Instead he finds himself seconded to work for an uncle who operates his own fledgling security company. Most of their employees, like his uncle, are ex-services and considered to be most reliable and diligent security guards. The violent murder of the resident of an apartment complex under their watch, and the mysterious incapacitation of one of those guards, added to the use of a very convenient murder weapon, is particularly distressing to all, especially when the circumstances lead police to a quick decision of guilt by location.
Set within the bustling streets of India, Deb's investigation takes him from the offices of the company, which double as their living quarters, via trains and on foot, through the city, and into the outskirts and country-side. Along the way he encounters dodgy property developments, observant cafe owners, and the guards that work for his uncle and now him. The sense of the places that he moves through is woven beautifully into his activities - be it via the description of a meal, or a place, a roadside stop, an internet cafe or even just in the way that daily life works. Given that the descriptions are wonderfully lyrical and evocative, it does mean that the pace of THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is slightly slower than some readers might be used to, but this is immersion reading.
The characters aren't forgotten within the plot as well and everybody: Deb, his uncle, the guards, the police, the houseboy, internet cafe owner and friends of all are nicely developed. The slightly sketchy police investigation is compensated for by the opportunity for the reader to get to know the head investigator and the pressure he's under. The sharing of information over a drink and a meal in the security company offices a perfectly reasonable way of setting up that revelation. Provided, of course, that the air-conditioning is turned on early enough. Add to that the little touches of interaction between uncle and nephew, and the way that Deb steps into his role as general assistant to his uncle, and investigator of a crime in order to clear the fledgling company's name, makes enormous sense.
The plot itself is nicely twisty with the reader following the trail closely beside Deb. His diligence is admirable and his investigative technique partly intelligent analysis of the facts, and partly an ability to be non-threatening / someone to whom people happily divulge information they would not be so forthcoming with the police on. He's also capable of a reasonable amount of bravery, albeit carefully risk managed by somebody for whom caution is a comfort zone.
THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is just the thing for readers who are happy to have their crime delivered gently, and with respect, particularly if love of place and culture is high on the preference list.
SIX FOUR is one of those books that demands considerable commitment from readers. At a whopping 656 pages, it's a considerable weight to be holding onSIX FOUR is one of those books that demands considerable commitment from readers. At a whopping 656 pages, it's a considerable weight to be holding onto for a long period of time, which you will be, as it's a very detailed, dense and potentially frustrating read.
A form of police procedural crime novel, set within the confines of a police station and a stalled investigation, SIX FOUR, is, in the beginning, a study in police / media relationships. The central protagonist, Mikami, a career police officer now seconded to the media office, has a brief to improve co-operation between the media and the police. The media have their own press office within the police station with ongoing access to information about cases. A large part of this novel is devoted to the building, unravelling and reconstructing of this relationship with the demands from the media particularly startling. Aside from the fact that this ongoing temper tantrum from them distracts constantly from Mikami's concerns about a 14 year old open case of the kidnap and murder of a seven-year-old girl, the media's behaviour is breathtakingly over the top, and drawn out. Oh so very very drawn out.
Readers may therefore find themselves drawing considerably on reserves of patience, unless of course, this ongoing sort of quasi-political / power battle is of particular interest. For fans of more traditional crime fiction, when aspects of the cold case manage to work their way into the narrative there is much to reward. It's hard not to be struck by the coincidence of patience required by the reader and the patience that Mikami shows in doggedly wanting to solve this old case, perhaps for the sake of a still grieving father more than anything else. He has though, a very personal reason for reacting that way, and the trials of Mikami and his wife Minako, the constant wonder he feels over his beautiful wife choosing him, his downplaying of his intelligence and his compassion, these aspects of SIX FOUR are part of what also rewards that patient reader. And a word of warning - you may also find that a tendency for names to be very similar will have you backtracking to check who is who, or resorting to a handy character / job description list to keep track.
Lacking, as it does, a form of "procedural arc", instead SIX FOUR relies on Mikami's chasing down of loose ends, some of them particularly odd to his acute investigative eye. Towards the end of the novel, once the obsession with media relationships has been sated, and the real possibility of solving a fourteen year old case starts to burn more brightly, there is an unexpected sense of tension and expectation. There's also a lot of descriptive elements, and a hefty dose of distractions and seemingly inconsequential elements built in, even at this stage of the book.
SIX FOUR isn't going to be to everyone's taste, no doubt whatever about that. There will be readers that will want to run screaming from the media pack and their unfettered grab for power (and for that matter their astounding laziness), and there will be readers that want to slap each and very boss / higher-up that Mikami has to deal with. There will also be readers that are absolutely enthralled by the detailed manner in which so many aspects of this community, it's police station and their media work. For them, the 656 pages may not feel like such a hefty level of commitment.
The fourth book in the Nell Forrest series, DASTARDLY DEEDS sees heroine Nell on a much needed holiday cruise around the Mediterranean. Except it seemThe fourth book in the Nell Forrest series, DASTARDLY DEEDS sees heroine Nell on a much needed holiday cruise around the Mediterranean. Except it seems that everyone has decided to go with her - her mother and her partner, her ex-husband and his new partner, her sister, a couple of daughters, and the police detective that used to be her lover. Instead of the chef and a thief though the cast also includes more locals, a class reunion, a murderer and a possible suicide.
For new readers to the series, humour plays a very big part in these books. It's a questioning, self-deprecating, observational style of humour in which almost every situation goes pear-shaped and therefore has a funny side. Very Australian way of looking at things, and something that reminds this reader of a saying my mother in law was fond of espousing "if you think life was meant to be taken seriously, take all your clothes off and look in a mirror". Can't help thinking Nell would get that immediately.
Whilst character plays an enormous part in these novels (and it's probably a series that would work best from the start as the pairings, relationships and pasts are complicated), it's not at the expense of plot. The whole series is not action based however, most of the "detecting" in these is done by way of observation and conclusion drawing, and a hefty bit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not necessarily fem-jep, it always feels like Nell gets herself into daft situations because of stubbornness or even the occasional bout of daftness, but never wilfully doing something flat out stupid.
Definitely humorous and on the lighter side, DASTARDLY DEEDS is the latest offering in a series that is cosy in styling, with a touch of risqué. Populated with some wonderfully eccentric characters and situations, the whole thing makes for a highly entertaining package.
Set in Dunedin, New Zealand, local writer Jane Woodham obviously loves the place that she lives in. Incorporating a lot of local landmarks, geographicSet in Dunedin, New Zealand, local writer Jane Woodham obviously loves the place that she lives in. Incorporating a lot of local landmarks, geographical elements and a strong sense of place, TWISTER is her debut novel featuring DSS Leo Judd and a series of investigations into everything from animal torture to gay bashings, and the death of a young schoolgirl.
Starting out in an apocalyptic style, Dunedin is gripped initially by a flu epidemic, and then, after five days of biblical rain, an unusual twister rips through the place, causing havoc, and exposing the body of a missing schoolgirl in a local creek. DSS Judd is the lead investigator on the case, a difficult position for him to be in after the unsolved disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier. He also isn't overly aware that his marriage is teetering on the edge, with his wife Kate contemplating leaving him to move in with her lover Rea.
TWISTER is extremely heavy on the personal elements, particularly the will she / won't she moving out of Kate. Rea is an old family friend, neighbour and somebody with who Kate shares a very big personal secret. She's much more forthright than Kate and applying hefty pressure for a decision to be made, and them both to be able to move on. This thread inserts itself into the investigative aspects of the book in such a hefty manner that it does frequently take over, although for those that are more interested in inter-personal relationships, and the pressures of coming out after many years of heterosexual relationships that might well be an interesting aspect. It could also result in an enormous amount of flicking, searching constantly for the crime threads, in what felt at times more like a romance novel.
Whilst the character of Kate is definitely a little on the wishy-washy side, that of DSS Leo Judd is stronger. They are both obviously still deeply affected by the disappearance of their daughter, but for Judd there's that professional disappointment as well as the personal loss. The fact that he's never been able to resolve what happened to his daughter gives this current investigation a little more of an edge, although again, that can sometimes be a little washed out by the real-estate conversations and the gardening, and the swimming and everything else.
Because of the byways, side-alleys and distractions liberally inserted into the action in TWISTER, this is definitely not a novel for those for whom plot and resolution are everything in their crime fiction reading. For anyone who is looking for something with all of those complications, with the emphasis on personal elements, and with such a strong sense of place, it would be well worth a look.
Readers of Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series (of which this is book 5), might be excused for wondering if he's more than a little fascinated by lockeReaders of Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series (of which this is book 5), might be excused for wondering if he's more than a little fascinated by locked room scenarios. The use of that scenario in 2014's IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE is referred back to directly in RAIN DOGS. There's a larger scale setting here with an entire castle, but the mystery relies heavily again on the concept of a victim and no way for a murderer to have gotten in or out of the scene of the crime. The coincidence of two locked room cases in one investigative career is almost more than Duffy can swallow, and initially, it seems unbelievable that Lily Bigelow's death could be anything other than suicide. Everyone, including Duffy, is almost ready to accept that solution, until something feels off and copper instincts cut in.
Set in Belfast in the 1980's, as is always the way with the Duffy books McKinty starts out with an absolute belter of an opening. Granted Muhammad Ali's visit in the form of a "peace tour" might be fictional, but everything about the visit and the character of Ali - right down to his face to face with a bunch of skinheads opposed to him on the grounds of the colour of his skin - works incredibly well. As does the idea that hardened, cynical, vaguely depressed Duffy might be just a little star struck. Which probably turns out to be one of the only personal highlights for him early in this book as his romantic life takes a downturn and his life of work, listening to records, illicit cannabis smoking and constant checking for car bombs seems to grind on with a hefty sense of pointlessness.
The strength of this series has always been the character of Duffy and the way that he lives his life and investigates his cases. As we know he's a Catholic cop in a Protestant dominated force, living in a Protestant dominated area, and his life can seem like a mild case of ongoing train just clinging to the rails. These novels always incorporate real-life events within the fiction, and as these aspects start to be revealed in RAIN DOGS it quickly becomes apparent that the "why" of Bigelow's death is considerably more important than the who or the how. Given that the series is set in the 1980's, and allowing for what world-wide is now known about organised paedophile rings, and high-profile offenders, some of the revelations in RAIN DOGS still have the capacity to surprise and horrify.
RAIN DOGS is another strong entrant in a series that hasn't hit a bung note. The reality of life in Belfast in that time is illustrated in the most sobering of manners yet again. The mystery elements are strongest when motivation is being sought, the gallows humour at it's finest when Duffy and his colleagues are under the most pressure. At the end of it all Duffy's solved the case, dealt with a most unexpected personal outcome, and lives to take up the struggle another day.
The forty-first Cliff Hardy book came out earlier this year. That Empty Feeling is classic Cliff Hardy - stripped down, hardboiled, quintessentially AThe forty-first Cliff Hardy book came out earlier this year. That Empty Feeling is classic Cliff Hardy - stripped down, hardboiled, quintessentially Australian-noir ticking all the required boxes - pace, twists, turns, sex, violence and pitch-perfect dialogue. This time around, the cynicism and world-weariness have a little poignancy attached to them as well. The discovery of the obituary of an old client - Barry Bartlett sets Hardy off reminiscing, harking back to the late 1980's.
Back then, Hardy had taken on a case for Bartlett sorting out a family mystery. Barry's two children, and their mother, had returned to England many years before and the question now was whether the man who had returned was indeed the son he claimed to be. This is well before Google, Social Media and DNA were available, but even allowing for some old-fashioned checking methods, you'd think it wouldn't have been that difficult to resolve. But this is a Cliff Hardy investigation, and nothing's ever as simple as it seems.
Setting the action back in the 1980's has allowed Corris to revisit the time of some of Hardy's greatest excesses. The stuff that probably gave him his current day heart condition, and a large part of his general demeanour. Taking Hardy back also provides plenty of opportunity to reminisce about the inner-Sydney suburbs as they were - before living there became trendy. It's not hard to see a certain sense of regret at what's been lost in those places, along with the sorts of activities that Hardy himself is no longer up for - he might still be able to throw a few punches and drink a couple of glasses of wine, but his days of excessive drinking and hefty brawling are long gone.
For long-term fans of this series there are some wonderfully poignant touches, early days in friendships with ongoing characters such as cop Frank Parker and journo Harry Tickener, none of which detract from the story itself - which ends up revealing a lot about Bartlett, and the corporate excesses and shenanigans of the time.
Part of the power of That Empty Feeling is that sense of looking backwards to a time when Hardy and his mates were younger, fitter and fearless. It's also a story very much of that time - a world away from now - where life was a lot less regulated, risks seemed a lot more fun, information was a lot more guarded, and we were all a lot freer because of it. Because of that viewpoint it's hard not to sense a slightly sadder side to Hardy. He seems to have reached that stage in life where reading obituaries is a morning ritual, and the past has always been a much happier place. Here's hoping his excursion back in time has reminded him that there were a lot worse things in the 1980's than big hair and awful taste in clothes.
Thank goodness the earlier books in this series are now available, because understanding Hanne Wilhelmsen requires back story. Especially now as it'sThank goodness the earlier books in this series are now available, because understanding Hanne Wilhelmsen requires back story. Especially now as it's hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion that there's just a little bit of her in Saga Norén. Maybe only a little, but still bells are ringing.
A classic slow burning Scandinavian thriller with some balance between the personal and the professional, there is a lot of back story in DEAD JOKER. Which fans of this series may appreciate, whilst some readers might feel it just creates a lot of pages. Personally, this reader loved the chance to fill in so much of what makes Wilhelmsen tick, where she struggles, and the colleagues she's closest to - including the wonderful Billy T. Everybody really needs a friend like Billy T, although he might sometimes wonder why he has a friend like Wilhelmsen.
The crimes and investigations at the centre of DEAD JOKER involve a couple of horrific, violent events, particularly in the case of Halvorsrud's wife, where he has been an enforced witness to his wife's awful death. For the longest time the investigation team struggles to find any connections between the two killings, or to explain how it is that their chief suspect has a very good alibi (any more on that would be way too much of a spoiler).
Combine the hefty personal components with some interesting sidelines into the workings of the Norwegian justice system and DEAD JOKER obviously isn't supposed to be a thriller, or a rapid, superficial read. All the book's in this series I've been fortunate enough to read thus far require commitment, and concentration. They aren't trying to be just entertaining, they are deep, introspective, thoughtful and often confrontational. They are built around real characters for whom life often goes pear-shaped (and that's not just the victims). And they are absolutely fascinating and worth every minute of your reading time.
DEAD WOOD is the second book from Tasmanian author s.j. brown, located in his home state, featuring Police DI John Mahoney.
Set within the fallout of tDEAD WOOD is the second book from Tasmanian author s.j. brown, located in his home state, featuring Police DI John Mahoney.
Set within the fallout of the GFC, the novel explores the haves and the have not’s as a result of financial shakedown, within the framework of the very brutal murder of a prominent member of the local business community. Using that structure provides the author with another angle to explore as well - the big fish in a small pond, and the high profile that salacious goings on can give local events.
In the first book in the series, HIGH BEAM, there was a tendency for over-wordiness and too much filling in of everything for the reader, which has been addressed in DEAD WOOD. The plot is much more to the fore, and the prose crisper and to the point. Mahoney remains a dedicated yet slightly disillusioned character although he is starting to settle back into life in Hobart, and cut himself some slack into the bargain. It’s also an interesting touch to have the old cop return home, and find himself surrounded by a new generation with their new methods and technology. Of course you’d expect old and cunning will beat young and tech savvy but there’s some subtlety in the presentation.
The use of the smaller capital city location, providing a form of enclosed society, works well for the plot points developed in DEAD WOOD - the need for speed of resolution coming from a community shocked by the murder makes sense in a location where murder is unusual, and victims high profile.
The minor quibble this time out, as is often the way with this reader, is the dialogue which is not quite as natural or flowing as is my personal preference. Reading some passages aloud they seem quite formal, lacking that feeling of natural to and fro from people working together under pressure.
Aside from that minor quibble it’s good to see the improvements in DEAD WOOD, and nice to see another series coming out of such a beautiful location.
DARK MURDER is the first book in a new series built around the character D.I. Stephen Greco. Greco first appeared as supporting cast in an earlier serDARK MURDER is the first book in a new series built around the character D.I. Stephen Greco. Greco first appeared as supporting cast in an earlier series of books by Helen H. Durrant, but now he's mirrored his ex-wife's move to a new town after their divorce, wanting to continue a good relationship with his young daughter Matilda. His new job at Oldston CID starts off with a series of baffling murders, where the brutal disfigurement of the victims seems to be the only connection. Greco instantly has a number of problems when it comes to solving these cases - the lack of a clear motive or connection, and his own team. Made up of what seems to be the district misfits he's under no illusions that part of his new responsibility is to meld this group of detectives together. Or some of them may just find themselves without a job in the future. Not really knowing who he is dealing with on the side of the good or the bad isn't helped by his own particular quirks - including is a mild dose of OCD which he tries desperately hard to hide.
DARK MURDER has a lot of heavy lifting to do as it launches this new series. Introducing Greco, the complications of his personal life, and his personality traits and OCD is quite a lot to start off with. Start adding colleagues with child care problems, drinking, gambling and complete de-motivation as well as problems getting along with other team members, and you get a lot of background to build, establish and provide reader's a way to connect with along the way. Add to that setting up a fictional location, and building a community within that and there's an awful lot of balls in the air. Perhaps that's why it might be obvious that not all good people are perfect, and not all bad irretrievably evil, but it was hard to tell if Greco is intended to be a likeable character who didn't quite hit all his marks or somebody a little more edgy, tricky if you like.
The plot's got some very strong aspects to it, although some of those are let down a little by a tendency to over-explain and a lot of repetition which sucked the pace out at important points. It's obviously not supposed to be that difficult to pick a lot of the who and why in the lead-up to the conclusion, and that could be why the ending seemed somewhat deflated, lacking much in the way of climax or urgency. The concentration instead seems to be very much on setting up the cast and getting them into their location.
DARK MURDER is the first book by Helen H. Durrant that I've been able to read, and whilst there were some quibbles with this outing, some of the drawbacks make sense in terms of that heavy lifting of setting up for an ongoing series. Certainly it's a series this reader would be interested in following - especially if the central character turns out to be a tricky bloke to deal with - have a bit of a weakness for those prickly, difficult types.
Candice Fox is on the verge of scoring a rare hat-trick at this year’s Ned Kelly awards with the release of the third book in her Frank Bennett and Ed
Candice Fox is on the verge of scoring a rare hat-trick at this year’s Ned Kelly awards with the release of the third book in her Frank Bennett and Eden Archer series. Full review at Newtown Review of Books with a bonus link to Lou Murphy's review of the first book - Hades.
Crime fiction with a vampire as the central protagonist, set on the island of Malta. If this sounds like your ... err cuppa ... give it a try.
Jack SanCrime fiction with a vampire as the central protagonist, set on the island of Malta. If this sounds like your ... err cuppa ... give it a try.
Jack Sant is a Knight of Malta, a sort of consultant detective keen to solve the country's worst cold cases, and a vampire.
A scenario that is greatly assisted by this author's style of laying it on the line as part of the story progression - so as a woman is attacked late at night, and rescued, the backgrounds of both attackers and rescuer just fall into place. No big deal is made of the vampire aspects, as is no particular big deal made of the attacker's fate. From there on the connections between these unlikely events and people fall into place in much the same manner, as does their connection to Sant's cold case interest.
Along the way there are some slight twists on the better known aspects of vampire lifestyle, including how to handle food at dinner parties, and a slightly weird thing that goes on with Sant hypnotising people to forget any revelations he chooses to make. (Both of these things may not be that unusual but for somebody who is particularly uneducated in the ways of vampires, they came as mild surprises).
It's a very short novel and there seems to be a lot of character and build up with a bit of plot rushing along the way, although the use of the noir, first-person style might have contributed to that perception as well. There's a lot of Sant's interest in the case that just has to be accepted, quite a few of the connections that he uses to investigate that just have to be rolled with and some slightly odd scenes in which you just have to assume that Sant is sensing the happenings. Add to that quite a lot of Maltese words / phrases scattered throughout that turned out to be surprising hard to glean - so the links to a definitions were actually required and it was possible to feel a little disconnected at points.
Having said all of that, vampire crime fiction isn't a particular area of expertise and this reader could very well have missed some elements whilst simply trying to get a handle on the overall concept. The shortness of what's an opening salvo in an intended series certainly lets readers get a taste of what they were in for with Jack Sant and if you're into this style of fiction then it feels like this would be a very good series to get started with now.