crime

Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show by Michael Connelly, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 405p. RRP: A$32.99

2.5 stars

Michael Connelly is a huge name in crime thrillers, and The Late Show introduces his latest hopeful franchisee, Renée Ballard. I’ve read a couple of Connelly’s Bosch novels, and was expecting in The Late Show an exciting thriller read.

Renée is a LAPD Detective who has been exiled to the ‘late shift’ at Hollywood Station. She’s partnered up with Jenkins, a character that we never really seem to get to know, despite having an interesting premise. She is unhappy with her new posting, because it means that she doesn’t get to ‘keep’ the cases she works during the night, instead passing them off to other Detectives in the morning. So when she gets to follow through with a serious assault of a transgendered prostitute she jumps at the chance. Ballard also finds herself embroiled in a night-club shooting where five people were shot. Things of course become complicated and she finds herself needing to solve that case while also working her night-shifts.

When I first picked up this book, I was excited that a huge triller author had written a guaranteed bestseller with a female lead, and for the first quarter of the book I was rooting for Renée and was bonding with her. However, I believe that Connelly didn’t handle this character as well as he does Bosch or Haller: Renée Ballard never really felt like a complete person, rather a collection of parts that started to infuriate me. The amount of times we hear about her paddle-boarding is nauseating, her love of surfing and her father’s death all seem to combine to add nothing to the plot but just are clumsy attempts to make Renée human, but he failed to engage me. Her housing situation had the possibility to complicate matters further, to be an interesting development, and it never came to fruition.

Not once did the fact that she was sleeping three hours a night actually impact the plot, she never made a mistake due to fatigue, and she just ran on coffee. Connelly makes such a massive deal about this, but never actually uses it to further the plot. As the book rolled on, I found the suspense wasn’t there in high doses either. The ‘thrilling’ part of the novel lacked kick. It was fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything groundbreaking. To make this book ‘friendly’ to audiences, it’s been neutered.

It was still readable, and I finished it, but it’s not a stand out novel to me. For established fans, it is probably a fair addition to the Connelly back catalogue, but I’d recommend new readers go and read some of his earlier works, especially the Bosch series.

Thank you Allen & Unwin for the review copy of The Late Show.

Review: A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride, Paperback, HarperCollins Publishers, May 2017, 608p

4.5 stars

 

I’m a huge fan of Stuart MacBride’s McRae and Steel series and although A Dark So Deadly doesn’t fit into that fictional universe, it certainly will appeal to fans of that series.  The characters in this novel are entertaining, well-drawn, and a real credit to the author. A Dark So Deadly has cemented MacBride as one of the best thriller writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and is fast becoming one of my go to recommendations for family and friends when they want a twisted crime read.

For fans of either the McRae or Henderson series by MacBride, the setting will be blissfully familiar: the Scotland that inhabits this novel is wet, miserable and full of various butties. One of the best things about this book is that you really get a feel for where the action is taking place, similar to the writing in the first three or four Logan McRae novels.

The characters of A Dark So Deadly are certainly interesting. The plot follows DC Callum MacGregor, who has recently joined the ‘Misfit Mob’ because he’s apparently rubbish at his job. The remaining members of the crew are colourful, there’s DI “Mother” Malcolmson who is recovering from a massive heart attack, DS McAdams who is dying of cancer and insists on constantly talking in verse, DC Franklin, the latest addition to the team who seems to have a stick stuck up somewhere, DS ‘Dotty’ Hodgkin, who is confined to a wheelchair and is one of the few likeable characters in the novel, and DC Watt, who is one of the least likeable characters of any novel ever written. Watching these guys try and crack a rapidly evolving case is part comedy, part tragedy, but 100% entertainment.

While not believable, the plot is certainly twisted – with red herrings and misdirection aplenty. I was sure I had worked out what was happening about three quarters of the way through the novel, and while I had guessed some things correctly, other parts of the conclusion floored me. It’s one of MacBride’s strengths, being able to keep his reader guessing until the last.

I’m tempted to classify this book as a comedy – although with such dark content it certainly would offend some lovers of that genre – MacGregor’s life just gets worse and worse and you can’t help but feel sorry, and you certainly spend a good amount of the book laughing at him and his antics. This novel is long, but the combination of the killer plot, humour,  and excellent characters, you’re happy to stick around to the last page. 

I’d recommend this novel to anyone who likes dark, twisted stories of any variety. Certainly, to people with strong stomachs. This is a standalone novel of the highest order, one where you get to bond with the characters in a manner normally found in series. A Dark So Deadly is a great place to start if you are wanting to pick up MacBride’s writing: although you might find yourself addicted, just like I have.

Review: The Mayfly by James Hazel

The Mayfly by James Hazel, (Charlie Priest, #1), Paperback, Zaffre Publishing, June 2017, 408p.

4 out of 5 stars

James Hazel’s The Mayfly is a shockingly good debut, and certainly not what I was expecting. For a first published novel, this book was very well written and quite tight in its execution of a somewhat complex plot.

Charlie Priest (which is an awesome name for a protagonist) was a detective and left the police force to be a lawyer. Priest, as a character, has some very interesting premises: he suffers from dissociative disorder, has an angry ex-wife, and appears to think he has no social skills. The way Hazel includes dissociative disorder in The Mayfly is excellent – Priest doesn’t seem to suffer from ‘multiple personality disorder’ which is the cliché I was expecting when I started this book, but rather descends into a sort of parallel reality in his head and becomes pretty much useless. What he does during this period is not revealed to the reader, but is hinted at through Priest’s brother, a serial killer with the same condition.

Did I forget to mention the brother who is a serial killer? Another thing that’s going on with Charlie Priest, his brother is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for murder. He suffers from the same condition Charlie does, and it seems to be the cause of his murderous past. William Priest was a psychologist and seems to enjoy playing games with the people in his life. I would love to see more of William and Charlie interacting in future books, their relationship seems complex and interesting.

Some aspects of this novel are predictable. I had guessed the rest of the plot about half way through and while the characters are all interesting, sometimes it seemed like every character was just too special. However, The Mayfly is still a gripping and intense crime novel, so although I had an idea of what was coming, I stuck with it to see if it was as insane of a plot as I suspected. I was not disappointed.

If this review seems to be negative, it is only because as I was reading it I was looking for weaknesses – and of course found some. Hazel has delivered a wonderful, albeit slightly flawed debut novel. I read it in a single day, and found the writing to be perfectly balanced between action and description. As the opening stand of a series of novels, it perfectly introduces all the characters and intrigues the reader as to what shenanigans are going to happen in the next instalment. I will certainly be picking up the next book by James Hazel, and if you are looking for a fresh voice in the crime fiction genre you should take a look at Charlie Priest.

Thank you to Zaffre Publishing for a review copy of this novel.

Review: First Response by Stephen Leather

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First Response by Stephen Leather, Hardcover, Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 2016, 377p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Another cracking thriller from Stephen Leather. If you have ever spoken to me about books, or read any of my previous reviews of Leather’s work, you will know that I am a pretty major fan of the Spider Shepherd series. I loan out copies of the books often because I want to convert others to the series – and most often I’m successful. Before the Spider Shepherd series began, Leather wrote a string of standalones, most of them excellent. On my bookshelves, the oldest saddest looking books are these standalone novels. Whenever I’m a little stuck for inspiration I pick up one of those older books and read. First Response is the first standalone that Leather has had traditionally published in a long time and it certainly deserves all the accolades and gushing that is now to follow in this review.

Let me start by discussing the protagonist of this wonderful story, Superintendent Mo Kamran. I loved reading about a Muslim in a position of authority in the police force. So many thrillers that the bigger authors write have a white hero defeating the great unwashed, brown enemy. Although Kamran is a Muslim, he is much more than that – he’s not perfect (which is sometimes the temptation when writing a subversive character, I’ve noticed) nor is his religion actually that important when he is doing his job. To me, this feels closer to real life.

I’d be remiss to leave out that he is dealing with a Islamic terrorist attack, but the way that is handled is amazing. The twist at the end – I didn’t see it coming. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t actually guess the whole story. It had the feeling of a murder mystery but it is firmly a thriller book, with a tense race towards a deadline. Leather has a knack in writing books that seem to straddle the action, mystery and thriller genres, and in First Response, he’s kicked that into high gear.

Due to the type of incident that Kamran is dealing with, there were lots of moving parts – and instead of having a hero cop or SAS trooper or something of the type, Kamran has an overarching view of events in the book, and interacts with politicians, police, intelligence agencies and the SAS. It felt more believable because Kamran was juggling all these different pressures and priorities and there was no single ‘hero’ who went in, all guns blazing, to save the day.

I’d love to see more of Mo Kamran, but I have this feeling that this book was a standalone and the universe won’t be expanding. First Response would make an excellent movie, with so many different incident points and a grand scale, it would certainly be something I’d go to a cinema to see on the big screen.

Review: No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

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No Safe Place by Matt Hilton (Joe Hunter, #11), Kindle edition, Sempre Vigile, May 2016. 270p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter, #10). 4.5 stars.

Old Fighters often seek that one final battle, where they can prove they aren’t over the hill, that they’re still a contender for the crown.  – No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

The Joe Hunter series is a contender for the title of most thrilling series. Each book consistently delivers more excitement, better plot and sympathetic characters. There is no doubt that Hunter would be the person I’d call if shit was hitting the fan. After so many books in the series, however, sometimes protagonists forget they should grow up. Matt Hilton has handled that brilliantly in No Safe Place – Hunter is starting to feel his age. He’s packing his backpack full of bricks to prove to himself he’s still hard.

The plot of No Safe Place is suitably twisted, with one red herring after another making it hard to decide if I knew what was coming next or not. A woman is killed in a home invasion/robbery, and Joe Hunter is hired to protect her son from further attacks. What follows is a race to find her killer, but not all is as it seems.

Hilton’s antagonists are becoming more complex with each book, and the big bad in this book certainly paid off in being understandable but terrifying. I loved the inclusion of a shaggy dog story from Hilton’s own policing career. It’s these little touches of humour and warmth that raises Hilton’s writing above many other thriller series.

Joe and Rink feel like family to me now, after reading of their adventures in the last 10 books. No Safe Place allows them the usual back and forth – the playful banter that I always mention when reviewing Joe Hunter novels is alive and well in this story. I loved that Bryony is back and making Hunter’s life more complicated in the best ways. The subtle romance that is woven through the story is slight, but doesn’t detract from the main story. Which is just how I like my romance in thriller novels.

The reason this doesn’t rate 5 stars is that it felt a little more sparse than usual. The plot wasn’t as fleshed out as usual in a Matt Hilton thriller, and it was too short. There was no subplot, and I am attached to having a subplot in these style novels.

If you are a fan of the Joe Hunter series, definitely check out this book. If you like Reacher style novels, try out a Joe Hunter thriller – they’re better.

Review: Promise by Tony Cavanaugh

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Promise by Tony Cavanaugh (Darian Richards, #1), Trade paperback from library, March 2012, 327p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Kingdom of the Strong (Darian Richards, #4)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, and even the latest book from a favourite author couldn’t drag me from my hole. The slump wasn’t all bad, as I wrote lots (just for a friend, nothing serious), caught up on some TV shows and helped a family member through a small crisis. Eventually I decided it was time to pick up a book again, and I decided to read Promise by Tony Cavanaugh. I’m glad I did – it dragged me from my slump kicking and screaming.

The fifth book in this series, Kingdom of the Strong, was published last year and made it into my Top 15 of 2015. I decided to go back and start this series from the start, in the hopes of a new release this year. One of the things that sets the Darian Richards series apart is the setting – the Sunshine Coast in Australia. As an Australian, my family holidayed in Queensland, and often on the Sunshine Coast so the descriptions of the setting are particularly vibrant to me.

Promise is a tightly written, plot driven serial killer thriller with one of the creepiest killers creating chilling havoc on every page. The baddie is hilarious and strange (letting me know he got his duct tape on special at Bunnings for 3.99) with a ritual and system to killing that made me feel quite ill. The killer reminded me of the serial killers that used to feature in Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter novels, and there are some other similarities between these two authors. However, Cavanaugh goes more the police investigation route as opposed to the vigilante.

It would be remiss of me to review this book, or any book in this series without talking about Darian Richards – Promise sets him up as such an interesting and complex character. He’s a hard-bitten ex-cop who just wants to be left alone, but can’t really leave the cop’s investigation alone either. He’s conflicted, and has a strange relationship with 92 Berettas and the women in his life. Cavanaugh has done a wonderful job building a fabulous lead character, that I want to follow over multiple books.

This leads me to one of my few complaints about this book – the background characters are weak. Casey, Maria, the police officers and Detectives all seem like caricatures of actual people. I wanted to scream at how many times Darian thought something along the lines of ‘female cops are smarter than male ones,’ I get it, you want me to think of Maria as being intelligent – and I can’t because what you make her do is stupid half the time. It’s this kind of ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’, especially when they are at odds with one another that pains me. I don’t even have an opinion on Casey yet, because he just seems wishy-washy. I know that Casey and Maria especially become strong, fleshed out characters by the fourth book, so I’m happy to run with it.

The ending was good, if a little dissatisfying, and certainly left me hankering for the next book in the series. I have book three (The Train Rider) already waiting for me, but need to get my hands on #2 first!

Bout of Books #16 Sign up & TBR

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Hey guys! I’m emerging out of blogging and reading obscurity to take part in one of my favourite bloggy/reading events – Bout of Books! I’m looking forward to dedicating a whole week to catching up with some of my favourite authors and shunning the outside world.

I am going to challenge myself this time to read over 2,000p over the week, so I won’t be committing too much else. There will be no blog updates on here, and I might complete a challenge or two, but they won’t be my priority. Also, I’ve decided not to host a challenge this BOB, so that’s a little pressure off my shoulders. Interesting to see that all the challenges will be hosted on the Bout of Books blog this year. If you haven’t before, and are interested in this wonderful event, check them out here.

Most of my Bout of Books’ing will happen on twitter, where I am @bookybecksa and am much more active than here! I’m trying twitter as my primary platform because I find blogging to be time intensive during a readathon, and I always end up having to compose and combine multiple day’s updates in one post. If I remember, I will post a summary/wrap up at the end of the week, linking that to the Bout of Books blog too.

I’ve got a cautionary TBR prepared, but will allow myself room to mood read if need be. I’ve tried to include long but easy reading books and new books by favourite authors so that I can hopefully hit my word count!

TBR

Novels

Deathlist – Chris Ryan
Fire Point – Sean Black
State of Emergency – Andy McNab
The Black Echo – Michael Connelly
First Response – Stephen Leather
Dead Girl Sing – Tony Cavanaugh

Short stories/Novellas

Budapest/48 – Sean Black
The Soft Touch – Tony Cavanaugh
The Sandpit – Stephen Leather