Having not read any of the Vin Cooper series this started out as an exercise in seeing if I could catch up in a hurry. So, for newcomers to the series...moreHaving not read any of the Vin Cooper series this started out as an exercise in seeing if I could catch up in a hurry. So, for newcomers to the series as well, a few points. Cooper's an interesting character in an over-the-top military style thriller. Definitely a bit of an all-action hero with the physical prowess and durability of a tank, he's also got a touch of humour about him that somehow makes him slightly less hard-boiled than you'd expect. It did, however, leave this reader with a sneaking suspicion that there could be more than just Cooper's tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
The scenario that STANDOFF puts him in is straight out of the wild ride handbook. Very very wild. Towards the end, positively lunatic. Oddly believable for a hefty portion of the plot, with only a couple of points at which the reader might be forgiven a slight sneaking doubt, particularly when it comes to motivation. Although that's really isn't all bad for this style of book.
Of course the violence is extreme, and the mayhem pretty full on. But back to the plot. Which is nicely evil to start off with, with the baddies very bad, and slightly mad; and the good guys very mad, and only sometimes bad. There's lots of twisting and turning, and some evil women who were, and then weren't, there just as sex symbols, and a reason for all the mayhem which was... well madder than most of the mad thriller type scenarios.
Which makes it all a bit hard to put into any context. On the one hand I really liked Vin Cooper. On the other I've no idea if STANDOFF's slightly weird plot is typical. Having said that, can't think of a single reason not to find out.
THE TRAIN RIDER is book three featuring Darian Richards - ex-cop, now vigilante walking a very fine line between right and wrong. He's also a violent,...moreTHE TRAIN RIDER is book three featuring Darian Richards - ex-cop, now vigilante walking a very fine line between right and wrong. He's also a violent, psychotic killer magnet.
In this case, THE TRAIN RIDER is the name of the book and the serial rapist and killer who Richards never caught. After a period of no activity, Richards is convinced that the killer is back, in Queensland as well, and playing games with him. Certainly as the violence ramps up, our killer declares himself clearly - its up to Richards alone to save the day.
Richards is a classic anti-hero. Prepared to kill if justice cannot prevail in any other way, he's very much a loner. With a best friend, a computer genius cohort, a love interest and a reluctant colleague he stomps his way through this case intent on getting this killer. Veering dangerously close to actually building a relationship with Rose (who made an appearance in the earlier books), he manages to drive her away again - this time not by using her as bait, but being around him means you get involved in things that most people don't need to know about. This time he manages to keep his best friend out of the mess, but his colleagues aren't so lucky. Albeit slightly less battered and bruised this time out.
If you haven't read the earlier books, THE TRAIN RIDER does spend a lot of time going back over past events, as well as the current thoughts of Richards on just about everything. Perhaps a little too much at times for those that did read the earlier instalments. That emphasis on the "justification / explanation / whys and wherefores" of what's going on in Richards mind was frequently heavy lifting.
This is also fiction that relies on the mad, bad, extremely violent psychopathic killer. You know the type - the ones that want to "talk" to the reader, that want everyone to know the minute details of what they do to their victims. Which given the inevitability of young woman victims, all got very tedious quite a few years ago. TRAIN RIDER makes no attempt whatsoever to explain the why's and spends a bit too much time concentrating on the what in rather gory detail. It's all become less "shocking" and more "staged" unfortunately.
Since the first book I've always maintained that Richards is a fantastic character. His flawed logic and justifications, his whatever it takes attitude, make him the sort of bloke that you'd like on your side, but perhaps not at your dinner table. In THE TRAIN RIDER he's still that bloke, but he's doing a lot to carry the day.
When THE OLD SCHOOL was released all the way back in 2010, I noted "As I was reading this book I couldn't help but create a checklist of the things th...moreWhen THE OLD SCHOOL was released all the way back in 2010, I noted "As I was reading this book I couldn't help but create a checklist of the things that make up seriously good crime fiction for me, and apply it as I went." Every box ticked needless to say, which means that the follow up has been much anticipated. It doesn't disappoint in any single way.
As with the first book we've got a very good plot, with Kelly returned from sick leave, and on light duties. Still in physical rehab her mental recovery also gets some attention, as she struggles to cope with the PTSD symptoms which overwhelm her life and her relationships. Whilst she's battling those demons, and stuck, supposedly, on office duties, her ethnicity means she's pulled, however reluctantly, into a number of investigations that intertwine into drugs, home invasions, violence and murder.
Kelly's own personal experience is visceral, raw, clear as a bell. An expose on what happens when a cop's life is endangered, threatened, turned upside down and what they have to do to get back on the job. There's some beautiful passages woven into the narrative that talk about the idea of dealing with flight or fight, and how "the job" means that bad must be confronted, must be dealt with.
"She wanted to run away. Every muscle, every nerve ending, urged her to. Instead she turned, sagging under the load she carried. This was why cops were cops. Instead of taking flight, they turned towards the fear."
"They'd had no past, no future. Just that moment, survival. 'We talked about the fight-or-flight response,'... Cynthia reckons we're stuck there, in that moment. We survived. It finished. But it's like our flight-or-fight switch is broken. We can't turn if off.'"
There is, however, absolutely no sense whatsoever of pity. Kelly's struggling. Angry, scared, confused. Regretful definitely, but pity is never to be seen. There's even distinct glimpses of hope. The tentative sense of attraction to another human being, albeit one who has seen his own share of pointless violence and despair. There's even some sense of forgiveness or at least acceptance of the part that other colleagues played in her injury, her past, present and future. Along the way there's other cops in trouble as well - this is not a one person character study. It's about the difficulties of the job as a whole.
It's also about the problems in immigrant communities. People who come from the worst possible circumstances, seeking hope and normality. How that pans out in subsequent generations, how the idea of always being an outsider, even when you're born here can have an impact. If nothing else BEAMS FALLING reminded this reader, yet again, that life is a tricky business and it doesn't matter where you come from or how you get here, it's what happens to you here and what you do about that, that matters.
Newton writes with an honesty and clarity that's both confronting and soothing. These characters suffer, they suffer a lot, and the scenario's they deal with are mucky and base and nasty and the worst of the worst. Some of them don't make it, but the ones who do survive, are battered and bruised but not always lessened by their experiences. There are points when you wonder how close to the truth BEAMS FALLING comes, and why on earth you'd get out of bed every morning and attempt to deal with it.
The first book in this series promised much, but BEAMS FALLING delivers so so much more.
The Rubens McCauley series is one of those little gems of Australian crime fiction, of which PINK TIDE is the third book. We now find McCauley in a se...moreThe Rubens McCauley series is one of those little gems of Australian crime fiction, of which PINK TIDE is the third book. We now find McCauley in a seachange respite from the rigours of inner city St Kilda, stationed in the small coastal town of Jutt Rock, admiring the scenery, chilling out, even thinking about taking up surfing.
Until the bashing of his nephew and the death of a local hero. About then everything starts to go badly pear-shaped. McCauley's stress related ailment management, his marriage, the family, the town and the community.
Scratch the surface of most worlds and you'll find a lot of simmering problems - and Jutt Rock's no different. Especially as the investigation proceeds and the tensions boil: between local surfers and footballers, locals and incomers, straight and gay communities.
Henry sets himself a lot of scope in PINK TIDE. He has a plot to unwind which is built around the death and bashing of two local young men. The dead man is a local boy, made good. A surfing hero, somebody that the town is proud to call their own. Somebody with a secret that, for reasons which continue to baffle me completely, is cause for over-reaction in some. The reaction is touched upon, the idiocy of it beautifully highlighted by some simple and touching passages.
Whilst the investigation proceeds, overtaken by the "Big Boys" from Melbourne, McCauley mostly goes it alone. Distracted and distressed by the discovery of his wife's affair, he was a damaged man to start out with and thrown badly off-kilter by the conglomeration of all events, he presses on for the truth, playing your classic lone hand. Taking risks, stomping over the rules, opening up each and every dark box he can find.
There's considerably more damage in PINK TIDE than I remember from the earlier books in the series. There's also, I can't help feeling, a bit more of an edge, more risks. It's raw in places, and it's dark and uncomfortable sometimes. It's also fast-paced and chaotic. Which is probably the best way to describe McCauley as well.
Fans of the lighter, softer side of crime fiction should take a look at the THIRTEEN from the MESDAMES OF MAYHEM.
The book was suggested to me by a rat...moreFans of the lighter, softer side of crime fiction should take a look at the THIRTEEN from the MESDAMES OF MAYHEM.
The book was suggested to me by a rather circuitous route (cousin of / who is a work colleague of / who mentioned it to...), which is the only reason I would have even tried it to be honest. But the writers in this anthology include a number of winners and finalists from Canada's Arthur Ellis awards, so it was interesting to compare against the local short story competition winners I've been reading recently.
The majority of these stories are considerably more on the cozy side than I would normally go near, but there were one or two entries that I enjoyed a lot. There's a combination of fun, humour, supernatural stuff, and some decidedly odd goings on, which makes it a good collection for readers to dip into. Whilst it does suggest that it moves from dark supernatural to comedy capers, there's little here that's dark enough for me, but for fans of cozies this would be a great introduction to some of Canada's top female crime writers.
Said it before, should say it again. Will read anything Stuart MacBride publishes... eventually. And yes I know they are extremely violent, dark, with...moreSaid it before, should say it again. Will read anything Stuart MacBride publishes... eventually. And yes I know they are extremely violent, dark, with a warped sense of humour and slightly mad edge. What, therefore, is not to love.
A SONG FOR THE DYING isn't, however, a Logan McRae novel but don't let that make you lose hope. There's an equally good cast of misfits, mad buggers, scrappers and fighters here. Which is just as well as it's not easy for an ex-cop like Ash Henderson to survive a spell inside. Especially as even there, arch-enemy, gang boss and evil bitch Maeve Kerrigan can still seem to get to him with impunity.
This is the second Ash Henderson book and I'm shocked, somewhat amazed, and more than a bit disappointed in myself to find that I've not read BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD (despite having it in my stash since release). I plead insanity. Having said that, it was only half-way through that I twigged that there was another book, so the lack of back story didn't matter a jot. Not when Henderson is in jail, not when he refers to deaths in his family in the past, nor when he's tagged and released to help out with the investigation into the return of the bizarre and sadistic killer nicknamed "The Inside Man". Out of circulation for a quite a while, the return of the Inside Man means Henderson's called upon as he's the only cop that even came close to nicking him in the past.
Needless to say the details of The Inside Man's modus operandi are revolting. After grabbing and drugging women, they are "operated on" and a cheap plastic doll inserted into their abdominal cavities, before being stitched up, dumped and then in a particularly cruel twist, their own pre-recorded message played to emergency services from the nearest payphone. Everyone is very keen to get this monster before more women have to suffer, although Henderson isn't likely to follow the rules as closely as authorities would like. Being electronically tagged to team member psychiatrist Dr Alice McDonald isn't going to stop him from going after The Inside Man in his own way, and hoovering up the problem of Maeve Kerrigan along the way.
So many of the elements of Stuart MacBride's books are there. Complicated team member relationships, put upon heroes, a bit of bizarre behaviour on both sides of the law, some whatever it takes goings on, and some mightily pissed off people with some scores to settle. The plot gallops forward and the physical damage inflicted on Henderson would make a lesser man at least take a nap sometimes. We're not, however, in Aberdeen anymore but that doesn't stop the rain and the general bleakness of the weather. There's also a certain level of violence and depravity that I've come to love in MacBride's writing. It's fiction after all, and I've always maintained I like my worst of human nature on the page rather than the streets or TV screens.
The interesting thing about A SONG FOR THE DYING is that Henderson is a lot more suspect than Logan McRae will ever be. Anti-hero he might be, as wrong as it might feel to be on his side, he's a tremendous character who you can't help but cheer on. From a long way off in the sidelines mind you. As with all the characters around him, if you get too close, you're going to get a bit of heat rash.
It was difficult to pick up MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI with many standard preconceptions. Safran's not somebody who immediately comes to mind when you thin...moreIt was difficult to pick up MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI with many standard preconceptions. Safran's not somebody who immediately comes to mind when you think True Crime writing (investigative or explorative). He certainly comes to mind when you think a bit of good old-fashioned shit stirring with a very big stick. Which combined with the Deep South, white supremacists, a possible hidden homosexual link, and six months research still wasn't exactly scanning naturally. Getting into the book however, it's hard not to hear Safran's speaking voice, even for somebody like me whose TV watching is sporadic at best, and has only occassionally taken in his work.
All of which made the style of this book somewhat surprising. Hard to describe really. Push comes to shove it came across to this reader as the story of the research into the subject matter of the book. Along the way I'm not 100% sure I'm any clearer on the truth of the death of the victim, nor the confirmation of guilt or innocence of the perpetrator. What I am a lot clearer on is the difficulties of the situation. The level of discomfort that Safran ended up feeling, poking around in the lives of others, especially in a world that's very different from the somewhat protected, Melbourne suburban environment that he comes from.
It's definitely not like any other true crime book I've ever read, and the writing style whilst engaging and quite conversational, has a rawness to it that I don't remember encountering for quite a while. It's definitely the author's voice, loud and clear. It's self-deprecating in points as well, and brilliantly draws a picture of the sheer confusion of the difference between where he comes from and where Mississippi comes from.
For this reader, it was fascinating. It's also distinctly possible that for other readers it will be the most irritating thing they (try to) read. Maybe it's going to come down to whether or not you're a Safran fan. Maybe it will be what preconceptions you come to the book with. But, in a most unexpected way it was a reading highlight for me.
Up front, the only complaint I've got about THE BLASPHEMER is that the ending came way too quickly. From the opening scenes, when an armed fanatic bre...moreUp front, the only complaint I've got about THE BLASPHEMER is that the ending came way too quickly. From the opening scenes, when an armed fanatic breaks into the house of, we discover, Abraham Khan and his wife, things just keep moving fast. Much like the cavalcade required to move Khan from one safe location to another. Much like the speed at which security operator Maya Raines has to move to keep the principal (Khan) safe.
Set in New Zealand, there's never a moment when anything "really... in New Zealand..." enters your mind. The threat from extremists, the use of drugs - both as a controlling and financing device, the radicalisation of members of the Somali community, the whole lurking mysterious man in the background works.
The action scenes are really well written, realistic and tightly drawn. The characters are strong, particularly the female lead Maya Raines - she's capable, clever and real as well.
The scenario of Security Operatives, close protection experts is interesting, and works really well as a perspective to look at terrorism. The only problem with THE BLASPHEMER is that it feels very short, and ended quite abruptly. Which could mean there's another episode in the making. But it did have a slight feeling of an episode, rather than a fully explored book. Or I could just be being greedy.
No idea whatsoever how or why, but WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO by Anya Lipska wafted into my somewhat dodgy attention span recently, and I started readin...moreNo idea whatsoever how or why, but WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO by Anya Lipska wafted into my somewhat dodgy attention span recently, and I started reading it immediately. As in read the sample, bought the ebook and read it as soon as it downloaded.
Sometimes the universe is very kind and benevolent place, because this is an excellent debut book. Set within the Polish community in England, I think I've since heard somewhere that this is the first novel of this sort out of that environment.
The story is set deep within that Polish community, many of whom are in England for work, escaping economic deprivation and sometimes official persecution in their homeland. The timeline is before the London Olympics, with much of the community working on building the Olympic venues.
Janusz Kiska doesn't work as a builder, rather he's an unofficial "fixer" for the community, a solid, taciturn man with a past and strong connections back to his homeland. One of the very early Polish arrivals in England, he sees things as a migrant, and as a long-term resident. Believable, fascinating, approachable although slightly stand-offish and touchingly sentimental, Kiska is a strong man with a strong sense of right and wrong. Thoughtful, calculating, clever and not above rule bending if required, his connections extend from recent arrivals, through to the religious hierarchy of the community and many of the leaders and power-brokers in both Polish and English society.
Natalie Kershaw is a young detective trying to forge her way in the male dominated police force. Her struggles in the force make her another outsider, especially as she's not against breaking a few rules herself. Starting a relationship with a workmate is probably the biggest rule she could have broken. Despite her doubts, she is supported by her boss, and whilst her colleagues might be a bit tricky, a large percentage of the problems she experiences could be put down to her own attitude. She's touchy, prickly and as believable as Kiska.
These two characters form less alliance, more a ceasefire when their cases of missing or dead young women connect up. Kiska working within the community and Poland with knowledge of the people, their superstitions and the language on his side. Kershaw with scientific and, eventually, the support of police resources behind her.
There's a lot working in this book. The characters are strong, and whilst we have a pairing of male and female, the romantic complications are in other directions. The plot elements are cleverly unpredictable, relying on the evils of money, drugs and sex as well as politics, influence and corruption. The book also takes the reader into a community that's not as well known, at least in these parts. Along the way there's some light cast about a background and the consequences of migration and marginalisation which was elegantly done.
Like it when a debut book puts an author on my "to be bought immediately" list. WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO was finished in a couple of greedy reading sessions, DEATH CAN'T TAKE A JOKE pre-ordered immediately. It's going going straight to the top of the pile come March 2014.
Obviously when you're a young ex-con you would restart your life outside using the skills that you learnt in jail. It made enormous sense that young e...moreObviously when you're a young ex-con you would restart your life outside using the skills that you learnt in jail. It made enormous sense that young ex-con Brendan Lavin would start a bakery under those circumstances. It also made sense that because the bakery is struggling to survive he'd be convinced to get back into the old gang for just one big job. Which goes, of course, pear-shaped. So of course he'd flee New York City and head for Shanghai...
Okay so that last bit had me a little confused. It's not the immediate path you'd imagine. And it's a real testament to TOMORROW CITY that up until Lavin starts setting up another bakery in Shanghai, well into his life in the Chinese city that I suddenly thought.. what the. It was probably about the time that his ex-gang mates started showing up in Shanghai. Mind you, the thought was easy to bury. Too busy following things as they moved at a rapid pace into more pear-shaped carry-on only this time in China.
It helps that Lavin is a really great central character, flawed but well-meaning, hard-working and only dragged back to the dark side of life with regret. Of course it also helps that the gang mates aren't so well-meaning, their ruthlessness is as stark as Lavin's conflict.
It's a wild ride at points, with some in your face violence and, courtesy of the gang, some breathtaking lack of concern for others in the world. Not so Lavin who somehow remains very human, very believable and very vulnerable. Sure he escapes the mess he gets into in Shanghai but at what cost. Maybe he can start all over again. But at what cost. I hope we find out in a subsequent book.
Translated from the original German TRETJAK is the story of a fixer, hired by the rich, to sort out life's problems - big and small.
Gabriel Tretjak is...moreTranslated from the original German TRETJAK is the story of a fixer, hired by the rich, to sort out life's problems - big and small.
Gabriel Tretjak is an unusual central character. His back story is woven into the narrative, revealing the reasons why he's a tricky character to warm to. Not done as a bid for sympathy however, there's something very matter-of-fact about Tretjak, and his background, his dysfunctional family, and his ruthless single-mindedness. Which makes the idea that he could perhaps be guilty of the murder of a famous brain surgeon feasible. The idea that he could be the ultimate in unreliable narrator's - the self-serving type - perfectly acceptable.
A complex and frequently reflective plot, TRETJAK is slightly let down by a few problems. In particular the resolution which was flagged too early, ultimately sort of collapses into place in an odd, flat and anti-climatic manner. Which isn't helped by some starkly obvious threads left unresolved.
It's an overuse of the word, but the only way to describe TRETJAK is unusual. An unusual scenario, with an unusual central character, there's something rather dry, controlled, low key about the start of this book. It could make connecting with it a bit of a problem to start off with. Stick with it though. Even with the slightly off ending, once you get used to the subdued nature, and the fact that Tretjak isn't a criminal, or a cop, or even a completely unwilling participant, this is an unusual approach to crime fiction which is worth considering.