Savages: The Wedding by Sabri Louatah
Crime , Literature , Review , Thriller / 02/03/2018

Savages – The Wedding is the first book in French author Sabri Louatah’s Saint-Etienne Quartet.  Originally written in 2011, the subject matter is if anything more relevant now than it was then, given the terrorist attacks in France over the last few years. Savages opens on the campaign trail for an Algerian candidate for the French presidency. Idder Chaouch has brought in American campaign advisors to help him turn around a campaign that is potentially sinking. The extended prologue focuses on Chaouch, his family and in particular, his daughter’s tv-star boyfriend Fouad Nerrouche, who is using his star power to boost the campaign. The book then jumps forward to the day before the election and the marriage of Fouad’s brother Slim and charts a growing collision between the personal and the political. Taking his cue from tv programs like The Wire, Louatah ranges across a number of likeable and unsavoury characters, with the real tension building in the background of what is already a fairly heightened situation. But the narrative focus of Savages, if it has one, is Fouad’s cousin Krim. Krim has fallen in with a bad crowd and has found himself out of a job and on the wrong…

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
Crime , Review , Thriller / 23/02/2018

Hellbent is the third in Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series. But if you have not read the other two (Orphan X and The Nowhere Man) and are in need of a pacey thriller you should not let that stop you. After a masterclass cold open, Hurwitz provides a quick two page expository primer before jumping straight back into the action. Evan Smoke was an Orphan, one of a bunch of highly trained secret agents working for a shadowy American espionage force. Evan has left the agency and set himself up as The Nowhere Man, an unstoppable coming to the rescue of people in need. But the agency, and particularly his nemesis and agency head Van Sciver, want him dead. Most of Hellbent is focused on Smoke organising his revenge against the Orphan program for killing his mentor Jack. But he does this saddled with his last mission from Jack: to protect Joey, a sixteen year-old Orphan in training who also escaped from the program. And of course, not wanting to put his Nowhere Man persona on hold, also helping out a father who wants to rescue his son from a deadly gang of thugs in Los Angeles. Evan Smoke is…

A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre
Crime , Historical , Review , Thriller / 09/02/2018

George Smiley, cold war warrior for “the Circus” (ie MI6), first appeared in 1961 in Call for the Dead. and was the character who established John leCarré as one of the masters of the cold war spy genre. Smiley appeared in seven books between 1961 and 1979. It seemed, as the cold war was coming to a close, so too was Smiley’s work and leCarré moved on, returning briefly to Smiley’s world in 1990’s The Secret Pilgrim. With Russia well and truly back in the news and spycraft, arguably, not what it once was, it seems like the perfect time for leCarré to once again revisit this old stomping ground. A Legacy of Spies focuses around Peter Guillam, one of Smiley’s people. At the start of the novel he is living a quiet retired life on a farm in his native France. But the past is never far away and he is called back to England to answer for his part in the death of two people at the Berlin Wall many years before. The deaths themselves were part of an operation called Windfall, one that Smiley and his boss, Control, kept from their superiors for a very real fear…

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke
Crime , Recommended , Review / 30/01/2018

Attica Locke’s Pleasantville, the sequel to her nominated debut novel Blackwater Rising was one of the standout crime novels of 2015. It went on to win the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2016 and was long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction. That book centred around race, politics and crime in Houston. In her latest book, Bluebird Bluebird, Locke moves away from the urban and well into the rural. The majority of the action set in the little East Texas town of Lark where it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Darren Matthews has followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become a Texas Ranger. The Texas Rangers are a highly respected, statewide police force in Texas. But few in the force are black and this creates challenges for Matthews and the work that he wants to pursue involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. When the book opens, Matthews has turned in his badge but is convinced by an old friend in the FBI to take a look at two murders in Lark, the first of a young black man from Chicago and the second of a young, female local a few days…

Hangman by Jack Heath
Crime , Review , Thriller / 29/01/2018

Jack Heath is well known for plenty of books for children and young adults but, clearly, some elements were missing. These included, among other things – violence, blood, drugs and serial killers. And so we get Hangman, which has lashings of all of these elements and is a cracking read full of well crafted twists and turns.  Timothy Blake is a consultant for the FBI. He is brought in to help them solve crimes, to bring an attention to detail to crime scenes that the normal police do not have. Partly this is because Blake is particularly good at solving puzzles and the other, known only to the FBI director who has hired him, is because he is a psychopath. Following the bizarre kidnapping and rescue of 14 year-old Cameron Hall, Blake is paired with Reece Thistle, an FBI agent who seems to understand him. But soon Blake’s world starts to spiral out of control and a second, similar kidnapping ends up pushing him close to the edge.  Heath has drawn on a range of well known literary outsiders in creating Timothy Blake who is part Hannibal Lecter, part Dexter and part Sherlock Holmes. But, despite these clear influences, Blake does not come across as a pastiche. Through a very self-aware first person narration and flashes of backstory, Heath manages to bring Blake out behind…

It Devours by Fink and Cranor
Fantasy , Review , Science Fiction / 30/11/2017

Fans of the long running Welcome to Night Vale podcast will have been eagerly waiting the new novel from its creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. While the first Welcome to Night Vale novelisation felt like an extension of and introduction to the world of the podcast, It Devours is an experiment in something a little different. Nilanjana is a scientist who came to Night Vale four years earlier but is still considered an outsider. She meets Darryl, a proselytiser for the Church of the Smiling God, a bizarre newish religion which gave him a sense of community when his parents died. But as is always the case in Night Vale, something is not quite right. Pretty soon the town is facing an existential threat and the two come together to try and save Night Vale. While no prior knowledge of Night Vale is required, it certainly helps, and those in the know will get much more out the book. The narrative is partially based on a long running storyline, visits some well known Night Vale locales and features plenty of regular characters from the podcast. To enjoy the ride, those unfamiliar with the bizarre little town of Night Vale…

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
Crime , Review , Thriller / 29/11/2017

John Grisham delivered not one but two novels this year. While there was some crime and legal shenanigans involved, the first,  Camino Island, was more of an excursion for Grisham into the world of writing and writers. The second, The Rooster Bar, is more in Grisham’s wheelhouse – a thriller of sorts based mainly  around the underbelly of legal training and practice.  Grisham took his inspiration for The Rooster Bar from an article called the Great Law School Scam. This was an exposé of private universities, set up as diploma factories for law degrees that in the end are not worth the paper they are printed on. The Government lends money to the students which goes straight into the coffers of the law school, the students themselves rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, get a substandard education and have no career prospects when they graduate.  The Rooster Bar is about four such students – Todd, Mark, Gordy and Zola. All are in the last year at the not very prestigious Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington DC and all have debts in excess of two hundred thousand dollars which they will have to start repaying as soon as they graduate. But the four have other things on their minds. Zola and…

The Stranger by Melanie Raabe
Review , Thriller / 10/11/2017

One of the keys to a good thriller is the hook, a tense situation that can only ramp up. Melanie Raabe showed herself a dab hand at this in her debut novel The Trap. Even the title hinted at something menacing and the execution paid off. Her follow up does the same. Just the title, The Stranger, hints at danger. And again, she manages, for the most part, to pull her execution off. Sarah has been living alone with her son for seven years since her husband went missing in Columbia. It has taken all that time but she is just starting to get her life back together. She has new friends and has developed relationships with her work colleagues. Then the call comes – her husband has been found and is being flown home the next day. Only when she goes to the airport, despite smiling and saying all the right things, she is convinced that the man who has come home is not her husband Philip. When the two go back to their house the stranger threatens to reveal her darkest secret if she goes to the police and a cat and mouse game between the two begins….

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Review , Thriller / 27/10/2017

Nelson DeMille has been pumping out thrillers for almost 40 years. Starting with By the Rivers of Babylon in 1978. His career has included a number of series including, most recently the John Corey novels which began with Plum Island and ended with appropriately A Quiet End. While The Cuban Affair is a stand alone novel it feels like DeMille is contemplating a new series of books with a new hero Daniel ‘Mac’ MacCormick. Mac, an veteran of a number of tours of Afghanistan (or as he calls is Allfuckedupistan), now runs a charter boat out of Key West. He hangs around in the local bar and takes tourists fishing or on sunset cruises with his crew mate Jack, himself a Vietnam vet. Both are somewhat bored with their lives so that when Mac is approached by some Cuban Americans to go into Cuba and retrieve a huge sum of money hidden before the revolution, he jumps at the chance. Helping him in his decision is the beautiful Sara Ortega who is to accompany him and a payday of three million dollars. This is a slow but intriguing set up. The timeframe of the book is during the Cuban Thaw…

Munich by Robert Harris
Historical , Recommended , Review , Thriller / 19/10/2017

Robert Harris has long had a fascination with the events surrounding Neville Chamberlain’s trip to Munich in 1938 to negotiate with Hitler. That meeting, which ended with Chamberlain famously returning to Britain waving a piece of paper and declaring “Peace in our time”, has long been seen as the epitome of the appeasement policy that presaged World War II.   In 1988, on the fiftieth anniversary of that meeting, Harris was involved in a documentary called God Bless You, Mr Chamberlain. As the name of his documentary suggests, Harris has a more grey interpretation of Chamberlain’s actions than the popular historical account. And this view of the man and his actions informs much of his latest novel about these negotiations.  Early on in Munich it is clear that in 1938 the British were not ready for a war. Chamberlain is told that that the country needs at least a year to recruit, train and arm their forces. So that while Chamberlain honestly strives for peace, desperately trying to avoid a repeat of Word War I, he is also aware of a need to stall for time. As he observes: “The main lesson I have learned in my dealings with Hitler is that one simply can’t play poker with a gangster if one has no cards in one’s hand.” In Harris’s telling, Chamberlain does everything he can to box Hitler in to an agreement, knowing it…

The Perfect Couple by Lexi Landsman
Review , Thriller / 12/10/2017

Australian author Lexi Landsman’s second novel is a domestic thriller with an international twist. Marco and Sarah are a pair of archaeologists working on a site in Italy. Marco is the more famous of the two and is leading a dig to try and discover a priceless necklace, previously thought lost at sea hundreds of years before. They seem happy, but already early in the piece the cracks are starting to show in the relationship. When Sarah actually discovers the necklace at the same time as learning that Marco is having an affair, all hell breaks loose. Landsman uses a number of familiar tropes to drive the action and the tension. When Sarah discovers the necklace and calls in Marco, she relates in first person all of the ways in which they are breaking their own rules in order to increase their potential fame. These lapses in procedure leave them exposed when the necklace is subsequently stolen. On the night when all of the major events happen Sarah has a car accident which robs her of the previous two days of memory. She, conveniently, does not remember anything about the necklace or her husband’s infidelity. Later, Landsman ramps up the…

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for and Eye by David Lagercrantz
Crime , Review , Thriller / 25/09/2017

Steig Larsson had originally intended his Millenium series to run for ten volumes but only managed to finish three. The decision of Larsson’s estate to appoint Lagercrantz to continue the series was no whim. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web David Lagercrantz took the extremely popular Millennium series and made it his own. The first of Lagercrantz’s forays into the world of Salander and Blomkvist showed not only a deep understanding of those characters but was in many ways a better novel than any in the original trilogy. When the latest volume opens, Lisbeth Salander is in prison due to her actions in the previous book. With plenty of popular fiction now venturing into women’s prisons, placing Salander in this environment seems a little lazy. There are the usual tropes here – Benito Andersson, a queen bee who rules the prison with an iron fist, corrupt guards and a helpless victim, Faria Karzi. But Lisbeth Salander is such a unique character that there is interest even in putting her in this situation. Salander is not really interested in prison politics, more about finding a way to investigate a new lead into her past while also protecting Faria. She puts…

The List by Michael Brissenden
Review , Thriller / 31/08/2017

Coming not long after Steve Uhlmann and Peter Lewis’ Marmalade Files and hot on the heels of Tony Jones’ The Twentieth Man, Michael Brissenden, another ABC journalist, has penned a thriller. The List seems designed with the tag “ripped from the headlines” in mind. It concerns itself with the repercussions of recent wars in the Middle East, the effect it has had both on soldiers and on the recruitment of young Muslims in Australia, and more broadly Australian religious tolerance and multicultural ideals in a world dominated by terrorism and a national security debate. In the middle of this powderkeg is the Australian Federal Police’s K-unit, a bridge between the operations of that force and Australia’s security organisation ASIO. Sid Allen and his partner Haifa Harouni, are brought in when young radicalised Muslim men in Sydney are found dead and with their right arms cut off. This is just the first act in a much deeper plot that goes back to Afghanistan and turns into a race against time for the investigators. As is usually the case with the thriller genre, both of the main characters have skin in the game. Sid’s girlfriend and former colleague Rosie was killed in…

On the Java Ridge by Jock Serong
Recommended , Review , Thriller / 11/08/2017

Jock Serong seems to determined to shine a light on every dodgy part of Australian culture. In his Ned Kelly Award winning debut Quota it was the illegal abalone and drug trades in a small coastal town. In his follow up, The Rules of Backyard Cricket it was corruption in professional sport. And now, in On The Java Ridge, he takes on Australia’s border protection attitudes, policies and practices. The Java Ridge is a tour boat for rich Australian surfers. Built to represent an Indonesian fishing vessel, it is taking seven surfers out to remote Indonesian Islands in search of perfect waves. At the same time, people smuggling boat the Takalar has left Indonesia, its passengers, including ten year old Roya, hoping to find refuge in Australia. The two crews come together when the Takalar is wrecked on the fringing reef of a tiny island where the surfers have made camp. Serong has crafted an incredibly tense novel. He does not pull any punches in the plight of the refugees and the surfing party, both thrown into disarray by the wreck and dealing with significant injury and death. And their subsequent search for safety is nerve wracking. At the same time,…

The Twentieth Man by Tony Jones
Crime , Historical , Review , Thriller / 07/08/2017

ABC journalist and host of Q&A Tony Jones put the cat among the pigeons last year when he suggested that there was Croation terrorism in Australia in the 1970s. There was fierce debate at that time around this suggestion about Croatian extremists and the involvement of the Communist Yugoslavian Government in potentially creating or manipulating the threat. In The Twentieth Man, Jones doubles down on his claims, in a historical thriller that gives Australian its own Day of the Jackal. The Twentieth Man opens with a historical bombing in the heart of Sydney in 1972. The bombs are planted by an anonymous Croatian terrorist seeking to destroy targets associated with the Yugoslavian government. Jones uses this opening to introduce a range of characters and it is a while before the narrative settles down around a few key players, particularly Anna Rosen, junior ABC journalist and daughter of a known Communist, Al Sharp, with the Federal Police, and rogue ASIO agent Tom Moriarty. Later in the book the action moves to Yugoslavia where a group of twenty Croatians have infiltrated the country with the aim of creating a popular uprising against the Communist Government. The Twentieth Man of the title is the survivor of this mission. Jones has crafted a fine historical thriller. The threat, when it emerges, is…

Watch Over Me by Claire Corbett

Claire Corbett’s debut novel, the fantasy/crime genre mash up When We Have Wings was shortlisted for both the Ned Kelly Award for best first novel and the Barbara Jefferis Award given for the depiction of women in Australian fiction. Her new novel, Watch Over Me is far from When We Have Wings, but is also concerned with the plight of women, in particular during wartime. Set in a contemporary but slightly alternate world, it explores the impacts of war and occupation on both the conquerors and the conquered. Nineteen year-old Sylvie’s hometown, the northern European city of Port Angelsund, has been occupied by a force known as the Garrison. Garrison have come to secure a rich energy source off the coast and the rest of the world looked on as the city was occupied. Now Sylvie lives in a world of checkpoints, drones, violence and constant surveillance while the population waits for possible salvation from the equally violent Coalition. When Sylvie is rescued from an abusive situation by a Garrison special forces officer a connection is made that eventually sees her in his arms. Sylvie ends up caught between protecting her mother and younger brother, her revolutionary older brother and…

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham
Crime , Recommended , Review , Thriller / 18/07/2017

Michael Robotham’s crime thrillers stand out from the crowd for a number of reasons. One of these is the psychological depth that he often gives to his “bad guys”. They may do the wrong thing, they may do evil things, but as a reader we can understand at least some of their drivers and motivations. But they are still for the most part, secondary characters. In The Secrets She Keeps, both the criminal and victim are front and centre and the focus is squarely on their motivations and actions. It is the police and investigators that are kept in the background. The Secrets She Keeps alternates its narrative between Agatha and Meghan. At the start of the book both are eight weeks pregnant and both have secrets, damaging secrets, that they are keeping from their families and from the world. Agatha, who opens the book, works in the local supermarket and clearly is having a tough time. You initially have some sympathy for her as she watches successful Meghan and her mothers’ group but the creepiness factor comes in early when it turns out that she is doing more than causally watching Meghan. Meghan, on the other hand, seems to…

My Name is Nobody by Matthew Richardson
Review , Thriller / 07/07/2017

There comes a point in every fictional spy’s life when they have to go off the reservation. Where their organisation has disavowed all knowledge of them and they need to work outside the system to uncover a mole or other rodent within their organisation. For Solomon Vine, the opportunity to do this comes around page 10 after he is accused of shooting Ahmed Yousef,  suspected terrorist mastermind minutes after he reveals to Vine that he has a secret “that changes everything” and that he will have to be set free. Fast forward a few months and Vine is suspended and facing being drummed out of the Service for his supposed involvement in the shooting. He is brought in ‘unofficially’ by his old handler when his colleague and sometime rival Gabriel Wilde, who was also there the day Yousef was shot, is kidnapped. Something is fishy and it revolves around a potential mole in the organisation only known as “Nobody”. The identity of Nobody is the secret which Yousef was shot for and he is still alive, in a coma in a London hospital. My Name is Nobody is perfect fodder for fans of espionage TV shows like Spooks. Solomon Vine…

The White Road by Sarah Lotz
Literature , Review , Thriller / 25/05/2017

The White Road is a hard novel to pigeon hole. Part adventure novel, part slacker comes of age novel and part ghost story. Sarah Lotz plumbs the depths and scales the heights in a book that is not for claustrophobes or those with vertigo. The book opens with slacker Simon Newman preparing to do a caving expedition in Wales with a dodgy guide. Together with his friend Thaddeus, Simon is creating a website of odd things. The caves, known as Cwm Pot, have been closed since four cavers died but Simon wants to go through and get footage of the bodies for the website. The caving trip is nail bitingly tense. Lotz pulls out all stops to bring home the claustrophobia and terror of being stuck underground as the waters rise. When we next meet Simon he is on a mission to climb Mt Everest. He is following in the footsteps of Juliet, a climber whose unedited diary is included in the text. Thaddeus has booked him a space on the trip by lying about his climbing experience. Again, his secret mission is to film the dead, abandoned on the mountainside. During the expedition Simon befriends Mark, who has a…

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Crime , Review , Thriller / 19/05/2017

Dennis Lehane takes a swerve away from his long running Kenzie and Genaro series (which includes Gone, Baby Gone) and his recent prohibition and gangsters trilogy to deliver a psychological thriller of sorts. Since We Fell is a book that is hard to categorise. In some ways it is an extended character study and in others it is an extremely long con not only of some of the characters but of the reader. For that reason it takes a long time for the novel to really come into focus with some readers possibly only hanging in to resolve the strong opening hook. Since We Fell opens with a bang, literally. Rachel shoots her husband on the deck of a boat and he flops over the side. Why she has taken the shot and what happens next will have to wait as Lehane takes us back to Rachel’s childhood and her difficult relationship with her mother. Following her mother’s death, Rachel goes on a years long search for the father that she never knew and who her mother refused to tell her about. Through this search she meets Brian, a private detective who, after much trauma on her part comes spectacularly…