Review: DARK CITY BLUE by Luke Preston

Dark City Blue by Luke Preston‘Justice’ is more an idea than concept or purpose for policing. It’s a universal term coined to facilitate the dispensing of action through lawful conduct on those who are in breach of maintaining public order. DARK CITY BLUE squashes the safety blanket-like public and policing perception by using this as a means of defining a central corrupt body of lawmakers and turning them into first class criminals. Protagonist, Bishop, a hard-man who’s shed more blood than tears is an honest cop in a world where disloyalty is rewarded. Not the type to turn a blind eye, he embarks on a one man mission to bring down a deeply entrenched seed of criminal activity right in the backyard of the boys in the blue.

Preston wastes no time in thrusting the reader face first into the action. From the opening scene Bishop is confronted with the underage sex trade, shotguns, and dead bodies. The high octane, noir on no-doze feel to DARK CITY BLUE doesn’t let up with Bishop piecing the broken bits of a blood encrusted puzzle one shard at a time over the course of a number of violent encounters with the law and lawless alike.

Bishop’s motive is fuelled by rage, derived through the clouded eyes of a dying, abused child, in Chloe. A captive against her will serving as no more than a means to fatten the pockets of the elusive entity known as ‘Justice’. As the body bag is zipped up, darkening the youthful body within, so does Bishops mood and determination. Throughout the course of the novel, moments exist where Bishop could walk, turn to IA, or act alone as a vigilante – luckily for the reader; he decides to go at it alone. Following the deathly whispers of ‘Justice’, Bishop learns of police involvement in a heist worth 15mil and other heinous crimes that threaten to tear apart the already thin fabric that holds the police department together.

Fellow officers, judges, commanders, criminals, snitches, undercover agents, and best friends all come scrutiny as Bishop kicks tail and takes names on the path to the truth. DARK CITY BLUE is delivered in a frenetic pace, while this had the potential to overshadow the novels protagonist, Preston still manages to establish a deep and painful back-story amongst the bullets and blood. It’s easy to see how Bishop can evolve into a serious series character. One can’t help but think the complexity of his character unearthed in DARK CITY BLUE is but the tip of the iceberg.

This is one shot of oz noir adrenaline not to be missed – 4 stars.

Links:

Review: THRILL CITY by Leigh Redhead

Thrill CityWho knew a bunch of writers, a secret, and copious amounts of alcohol could lead to murder? In THRILL CITY this is exactly what recently deregistered PI Simone Kirsch finds herself up against. THRILL CITY as the name implies leads one to think of an almost Sin City-like setting, a metropolis where crime is commonplace, where the sewer dwellers scuttle across the sodden streets and the law is, as if not more, unlawful than their criminal opposites. However, what transpires in Redhead’s fourth Simone Kirsch novel is far from the underworld inspired seedy escapades of the previous instalments. THRILL CITY reads more like popular fiction with a little bit of traditional Redhead thrown in to keep series and hardboiled/noir fans semi-satisfied.

Despite a ghoulish murder and  hazy link to a bikie gang, THRILL CITY is mostly a story of Simone Kirsch and her trials and lack of tribulations that affect her personal and professional life. Her relationships with Sean and Alex are paramount to proceedings, as is best friend and sometimes sidekick, Chloe’s impending child birth. The heavy character centric focus had a tendency to stray away from the plot and action – while not necessarily a bad thing, I was hoping for more of CHERRY PIE – a high octane story full of tension, twists, and hardboiled action.

The unassuming group of suspects was a deviation from the format which made PEEPSHOW, RUBDOWN, and CHERRY PIE so enjoyable. Deriving a murder mystery from blue collars linked by a book tour was always going to wash away the grime and lighten the darker mode of storytelling. Luckily there are moments of crime that put this book back on the path to darker fiction – if only to dip a toe or two. That said, THRILL CITY is crime fiction, more mainstream than I would’ve liked and a tad longer and padded than necessary but still a must for any fan of the series.

Links:

Review: THE ROBBERS by Paul Anderson

The Robbers by Paul AndersonOn face value, ‘The Robbers’ looks to be a typical crime tale written by an author well versed in crime fictions’ true-to-life counterpart. However, the façade is quickly diminished once the pages get turning. By in large, ‘The Robbers’ is noir; the protagonists are tainted, a law unto themselves, a band of brothers with a slightly skewed moral compass, their means justify the end. Some are family men, others glorified hounds yet they all serve a common purpose – clean the street of its scum by any means necessary.

“Think footy and you think Brereton, Dipper, Rhys-Jones and Lockett. The real hard c#nts … Think Victoria Police and you think The Robbers. We still shirtfront the bad blokes.”

This line sure gets my literary senses tingling – words direct from our own brand of Aussie noir. The members that comprise the elite Armed Robbery Squad are diverse, deep, and not afraid to go against the grain. There’s something that invokes a sense of hero worship and desire to see them conquer all despite overwhelming odds against. From common criminals to IA to politicians, The Robbers are battling the world for the greater good. Sure their means are unconventional but then sometimes it takes violence to end violence.

Unofficial member, journalist Ian Malone adds another dimension to the group. His motive and means a constant question throughout the novel. Initially a carbon copy character lifted from a mainstream crime story, Anderson quickly establishes Malone as someone who has a police mentality hardened by a past many would kill to forget. Of all the colourful and interesting characters that caress the pages of THE ROBBERS, it’s Malone that tops my list.

The Free Dictionary online (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/noir) describes noir as “of or relating to a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings” and is “suggestive of danger or violence”. Anderson nails this definition – split knuckles, bloodied streets, and brutal bashings are commonplace. Readers emotions will run high and low as they laugh, cry, hate and love right alongside The Robbers.

Colourful characters, distinct Australian dialogue, and Aussie Rules references – this is a book purpose built for blokes and fans of crime fiction who like their stories dark and on the rougher side of life. 5 stars.

This review also appears on my blog: http://justaguythatlikes2read.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/review-robbers-by-paul-anderson.html

Review: THE SECRET RIVER by Kate Grenville -audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

A nominee for the Man Booker prize.

After a childhood of poverty and petty crime in the slums of London,
William Thornhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South
Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and children
in tow, he arrives in a harsh land that feels at first like a death
sentence.

But among the convicts there is a whisper that freedom can be
bought, an opportunity to start afresh. Away from the infant township of
Sydney, up the Hawkesbury River, Thornhill encounters men who have tried
to do just that: Blackwood, who is attempting to reconcile himself with
the place and its people, and Smasher Williams, whose fear of this
alien world turns into brutal depravity towards it. As Thornhill and his
family stake their claim on a patch of ground by the river, the battle
lines between old and new inhabitants are drawn.

The Secret River joins a tradition of grand historical fiction that stretches from Thomas
Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Peter Carey’s True History
of the Kelly Gang.

My Take

I should note first of all that this is not strictly crime fiction although it is based on Australia’s convict (criminal) past and the main characters are felons, and murder does occur.

What it does do for the reader is give a pretty authentic portrayal of early 19th century New South Wales, a harsh penal colony. It gives a snapshot, in a “no holds barred” sort of way, of a convict, ticket of leave, family who pioneer life on the Hawkesbury River and eventually begin to call New South Wales home.

I say it is authentic because it has all the features of research well done and resonates with what I know of colonial history, but also tells me a little more.

It highlights 19th century beliefs about the aboriginal population whom the authorities did not regard as owning the land because they didn’t farm the soil. It illustrates the resultant conflict between the aborigines and the convict/emancipist settlers on what was then the frontier of the colony.

The reading experience is made all the more enjoyable by the excellent narration skills of Bill Wallis.

So why did I read it?

I read almost exclusively crime fiction and decided that this year I would challenge myself to read outside the genre occasionally.

This is the first one I’m managed.

THE SECRET RIVER is the first of a trilogy set in early Australia.

It won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature; the Christina Stead Prize
for Fiction (the NSW Premier’s Prize); the Community Relations
Commission Prize; the Booksellers’ Choice Award; the Fellowship of
Australian Writers Prize and the Publishing Industry Book of the Year
Award.

It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin prize.

Kate Grenville’s website.

My rating: 4.8

Review: Hard Labour Anthology by Crime Factory

Australia – an island continent with a desolate inner landscape where heat rules and life has no way. TheHard Labour outer limits serve as an oasis for the populace – a place to live, flourish, and thrive. Despite the shiny veneer and overseas promo hype lies a very different Australia. One where the hopelessness and hardness of the desert meets the bikini clad million dollar smiles of advertising. Grit meets girt by sea and no amount of water can wash away the dirt. ‘Hard Labour’, the all Australian crime anthology exemplifies this in a similar yet uniquely down-under way. Language as colourful as its characters, plots as sharp as its knife wielding crims – from tales of outback horror, traitorous hit men, MMA fighting, and cults, to not so common thieves, there is a little something here for everyone.

The anthology gets off to a great start with the first short story featuring Wyatt, Disher’s own Aussie version of Parker (by Richard Stark) – the thief who’s more common man than hard criminal. In ‘Wyatt’s Art’, Wyatt faces a cross continent  smuggling ring involving more than the product he’s pushing. I liken this to ‘Parker-lite’ – the criminal element is there, however Wyatt is more of a thinking thief as apposed to violent hard man. Next up was ‘Grassed’ by Leigh Redhead (better known for her Simone Kirsch PI series) in which a physically mature 14yr old girl, Ananda is the object of 38yr Kyle’s affection. This love story ends before it begins, only it’s bones that break, not hearts. It was good to read something a little different by Redhead . ‘Grassed’ for me was on of the highlights of this collection.

The good thing about this anthology is the diversity in storytelling. ‘Killing Peacocks’ by Angela Savage writes a about a rural town where domestic violence extends its bloody tendrils to peacocks to cover a murder. The culprit, a petite package of innocence with lethal intentions uses her assets to reel in a scapegoat. ‘The Town’ by Cameron Ashley, and ‘No Through Road’ by Greig Johnstone couldn’t be more different, one looks at alcoholic squatters, the other gives new meaning to the term ‘criminally insane’. I really liked Johnston’s story, it was quick, precise and laced with dark humour. The lead criminal uses a sawed off antique shotgun for a robbery to net a measly score only to find out the shotgun he ruined was a collectable worth upwards of $10,000. Criminal masterminds at their best – not.

‘Hard Labour’ enlists some well known names in crime fiction in Helen FitzGerald (‘Killing Mum’), Adrian McKinty (‘The Dutch Book’), and Peter Corris (‘Prodigal Son’) amongst others. While each of these stories were entertaining, McKinty’s ‘The Dutch Book’ was the strongest and most involving. Written so well that it felt like a full length. In ‘The Dutch Book’ McKinty pits a small time collector against the organisation for the purpose of financial gain only to see friends, girlfriend and family safety net dwindle away. ‘Prodigal Son’ was the only true PI story in ‘Hard Labour’ and rounds out the anthology well while ‘Killing Mum’ was depressing, sober, and a glimpse at age old age no one wants to see.

To compliment the well known authors, a talented bunch of lesser knowns provides a glimpse at the future of Australian crime fiction. JJ DeCeglie’s ‘Death Cannot Be Delegated’ is about an introspective compulsive gambler who is swayed by the allure of his targets provocative manner (oh and nakedness). The hit man switches allegiance in favour of a better deal. Quick, efficient and brutal. ‘The Break’ by Andrew Prentice is about a former cop charged with assault following a citizens arrest. The characters were well developed with the short story reading more as an opening chapter to a novel. I sure hope Prentice explores this further. ‘A Forgiving Kind Of Nature’ by Amanda Wrangles was surprisingly deep for a short story – I want more!

There are many highlights to ‘Hard Labour’, ‘Underhooks’ by Liam Jose had a semi ‘Choke Hold’ (by Christa Faust) feel to it yet was more raw, brutal and entertaining. I would love to see this fleshed out to a full length. A former mixed martial arts athlete is forced back into the ring following a stint in prison for killing a competitor. Cage fighting, sex on bloodied matts and hard hitting storytelling. ‘Chasing Atlantis’ by Andrew Nette (author of Ghost Money) contains cults, double crosses, murder, a hot dame, and thievery. One of the best. Rounding out my favourites is ‘Dead Fellow Churls’ by Andrez Bergen in which a drunk cop gets caught on a stake-out and has to rely on his partner to get him out, there is a distinct femme fatale feel to this. Like ‘The Break’, ‘Dead Fellow Churls’ felt like a novel teaser rather than short story – left me wanting more.

Much like any anthology there are good and average stories depending on the reader tastes. Luckily most of the shorts in ‘Hard Labour’ hit the mark. Crime Factory have served up a well rounded and diverse entree of Australian crime fiction which has left me craving a main course. I look forward to tracking down the Wyatt series by Disher, reading ‘Ghost Money’ by Andrew Nette and getting stuck into the novels by Andrez Bergen (‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’). My wishlist has grown by a few books thanks to ‘Hard Labour’. This is a satisfying collection not to be missed – 4 stars.

Read more from Crime Factory on thier website

This review also appears on the blog Just A Guy That Likes To Read

Review: A DECLINE IN PROPHETS, Sulari Gentill

  • published by Pantera Press 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-9807418-9-6
  • 354 pages
  • Source: review copy from the publisher
  • #2 in the Rowland Sinclair series
  • Winner of Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Fiction 2012

Synopsis (from the publisher)

In 1932, the RMS Aquitania embodies all that is gracious and refined, in a world gripped by crisis and doubt.

Returning home on the luxury liner after months abroad, Rowland
Sinclair and his companions dine with a suffragette, a Bishop and a
retired World Prophet. The Church encounters less orthodox religion in
the Aquitania’s chandeliered ballroom, where men of God rub shoulders with mystics in dinner suits.

The elegant atmosphere on board is charged with tension, but civility
prevails… until people start to die. Then things get a bit awkward.

And Rowland finds himself unwittingly in the centre of it all.

“I’m afraid, Sinclair has a habit of being in the wrong place
every possible time. I would think twice about standing next to him.”

“God forbid, Rowland, you should return home without some sort of scandal… leading some kind of insane cult!”

My Take

In this sequel to A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN Rowly and his entourage have been to Europe and are returning aboard a luxury liner. When the first murder occurs it is not clear what the reason behind it is. It seems that the real target may be the Theosophist leader Annie Besant but then the attacks continue and one victim is a seemingly innocent girl.

Rowly returns home, the central figure of newspaper headlines much to his elder brother’s disgust. Wilfred has been hoping the world trip will have settled his brother down. Rowly himself would like nothing better than to be able to return to the quiet life in Sydney and to take up painting again, but Wilfred’s son is being christened and Wilfred is determined that Rowly will also take up some familial obligations. Things get nasty when the murderer from the RMS Aquitania makes another appearance.

Once again Sulari Gentill has put together an interesting mix of fact and fiction: ‘real’ people like Annie Besant, Charles Leadbetter and Norman Lindsay; and fictional creations. The mixture of fact and fiction even extends to the luxury liner she uses as her setting for the first half of the novel.  The Aquitania was the longest serving Cunard liner built in the 20th century and survived service in both World Wars. Although I could vaguely remember reading about Annie Besant, I knew next to nothing about Theosophy and went scurrying off to do some research.

The main characters from the first novel in the series, Rowly’s bohemian friends, are all there, and provide a good reason for reading these books in order.

A very satisfying read, good Australian flavour.

My rating: 4.8

Websites and other things to check: