by Jeff Popple
January is always a good month for new book releases and this year is no exception with an abundance of entertaining crime novels for the beach or the pool or between overs in the cricket.
Leading the way this year are some very good Australian crime novels.
Dave “Suburban Boy” Warner initially garnered popularity in the 1980s as a rock singer, but more recently he has been dabbling in crime fiction. Before It Breaks (Fremantle Press, $29.99) is his seventh novel, and it is an impressive read.
Set in Broome, it is a beautifully written tale that follows the investigation into the murder of a former German policeman at a remote waterhole. It combines convincing characterisations with an intelligent plot, touches of Aussie humour and some vivid descriptions of Broome and its surrounds. Warner provides a thought provoking, if occasionally sluggish, read.
Candice Fox’s first two novels about the enigmatic Sydney police detective Eden Archer and her partner Frank Bennett deservedly won Ned Kelly Awards for crime writing. Her third novel, Fall (Bantam, $32.99), maintains the high standard. Someone is killing Sydney’s beautiful people while they are jogging, and Frank and Eden are struggling to find clues to the killer’s identity. Meanwhile Frank’s girlfriend loves looking into old crime cases, but it becomes a dangerous pastime when she starts asking dangerous questions about Eden’s secretive past. Tough and thrilling, this one will keep you reading well into the night.
Australian authors have also provided a couple of good international thrillers. Alan Gold’s Bat Out Of Hell, (Yucca, $32.99), is a solid eco-thriller about a virulent plague, “Ebola on steroids”, that is being spread by infected bat colonies. The science is interesting and the vignettes that Gold creates give flesh to his theories, but the characters lack the depth to generate real suspense.
The characters are also slight in Graham Potts’ No Free Man, (Pantera, $29.99), but the story rockets along at such a frantic pace that it is easy to sit back and ignore the flaws and just enjoy the ride. From outback New South Wales to Canberra to the backstreets of Moscow, Potts ably moves his story through numerous plot developments and frequent outbursts of violence. The action and the characters have a cinematic feel to them and it will appeal to fans of Matthew Reilly.
Probably the best piece of escapist reading this summer is American Blood, (Allen & Unwin, $29.99), by New Zealand author Ben Sanders. Set in New Mexico, it is a thrilling novel, the film rights of which have already been purchased with Bradley Cooper to play the lead role. The story revolves around New York ex-detective Marshall Grade, who is now living in witness protection. A newspaper report about a missing woman reminds Marshall of a similar case and sets him on a collision course with a local drug ring with cartel connections and a hitman known as the Dallas Man. From the opening page American Blood hits the road running and the pace does not let up as the story races through a series of shoot-outs, and some neat twists, to a bloody conclusion. Highly recommended.
Providing more substance is Peter May’s Coffin Road, (Quercus, $29.99), which returns to the Scottish Outer Hebrides, the location of May’s highly acclaimed Lewis Island series. It opens with a nearly drowned man standing bewildered on a deserted beach on the Isle of Harris. He cannot remember who he is or why he is on Harris. Meanwhile the police are investigating the discovery of a bludgeoned corpse on a remote rock outcrop 20 miles offshore, and in Edinburgh a teenage girl desperately tries to discover the truth behind her father’s suicide two years before. This is a terrific novel with well-developed characters, a clever plot with a fascinating scientific issue at its core, and some gripping descriptions of seafaring action that rival those by the great Hammond Innes. It is hard to imagine that many thrillers in 2016 will be better than this.
Also likely to be popular this summer is Holly Seddon’s Try Not To Breathe, (Atlantic, $29.99). This is a clever thriller in the style of Paula Hawkins’ successful The Girl on the Train, with a barely functioning alcoholic, freelance writer, Alex, finding a renewed sense of worth through her reinvestigation of the vicious attack 15 years ago on a young local girl, Amy, who now exists in an unconscious coma. Seddon skilfully shifts the viewpoint between the various characters and also moves the story back and forth between 2010 and 1995 to create a strong sense of mystery and suspense.
As usual there is also a brace of serial killer thrillers on offer, the pick of them being Chris Carter’s I Am Death, (Simon & Schuster, $29.99). Carter, a former criminal psychologist, excels in creating chilling monsters, and this is a gripping read about the hunt for a killer who is terrorising the streets of Los Angeles.
Finally, A Is for Arsenic (Bloomsbury, $29.99) by Dr Kathryn Harkup, a chemist and devotee of Agatha Christie’s novels, provides an interesting and informative account of the poisons Christie used in her books and how the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provided vital clues to the identity of the murderer. Well written and enjoyable, this is a quirky read for mystery aficionados.
Jeff Popple is a Canberra reviewer.
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