Review: ZERO AT THE BONE by David Whish-Wilson

Zero at the BoneDavid Whish-Wilson’s ZERO AT THE BONE captures the Windy City gangster era feel and brings it to boom town Perth at the height of mining’s golden age. Police are mob, yet few dare tread where the hardest criminals fail – for PI Frank Swann, his footprint leaves traces of the dead and imprints of a failed justice as he chases down a sinister scheme which all started when geologist, Max Henderson, allegedly committed suicide prompting his wife, Jennifer Henderson, to enlist his services.

The former detective still feels the pain and loss stemming from the events in LINE OF SIGHT, the predecessor to this novel. The strong sense of continuity is apparent with the protagonist referring back to the past events, with the present day plot (circa 1979) very much attributed to the earlier novel. For Swann, this case unearths a deeper plot and exposes the criminal element attached to the Rosa Gold stake.

Drug dealers, bad cops, bent bookies, jewel thief’s, and a widow’s questionable motive ensure ZERO AT THE BONE keeps reader’s guessing while providing plenty of criminal and good old fashion detective action.

Blue blood still runs rife within the veins of Swann with him coming across more cop than PI during the course of his investigation. I liked the balance in maintaining this persona from LINE OF SIGHT as it further built upon the Swann’s already well articulated passion for truth and justice. Yet what most impressed me about ZERO AT THE BONE was the long game of revenge which played out in surprising and shocking fashion.

ZERO AT THE BONE is a distinctly Australian yet all consuming crime fiction novel that grips the reader from page one and demands attention through to its violent conclusion.

When the smoke clears and the smell of cordite resonates in the air, the sticky blood red writing on the wall reads that David Whish-Wilson is a force to be reckoned with in crime fiction.

Review: RONNIE AND RITA by Deborah Sheldon

17847738Ronnie Spooner is middle-aged and single. He’s no-one; a loner who has mowed lawns for a living ever since he was a boy. When he meets Rita, they fall in love, and want nothing more than a family of their own. Too bad it isn’t possible. Or is it? What Rita asks him to do is wrong. Terribly wrong. But compared to the emptiness of Ronnie’s life so far, even wrong seems better than nothing. Acclaimed author Deborah Sheldon takes you on a twisted love story that detours into even darker territory. The things we do for love…

Author Deborah Sheldon has crafted an Aussie noir mixed with the desperation and desire of a romantic recluse and a sinister schemer. Lingering lust and crippling longing propel both Ronnie and Rita into a deep dark place where the flash of a gun barrel is the only source of light at the end of this disturbing tunnel.

Ronnie mows lawns to pay the bills and lives a simple life. Middle-aged, he still sleeps in his boyhood bedroom and lives amongst his deceased parents belongings. Timid and without much of a personal life, Ronnie thinks he’s hit the jackpot when 30-something maid Rita takes a sudden interest. Sparks fly, love is in the air – the two form a relationship at breakneck pace with Ronnie not stopping to second guess this pleasant turn of events.

Rita seems too good to be true; an attractive and unattached young woman who has taken a strong interest in Ronnie – is it love or is Ronnie an easy target?

Thrust into a web of violence and mistrust for the purpose of devising a dysfunctional and inappropriate family dynamic, Ronnie finds himself led by the outlandish and brazen actions of Rita. As time goes by this femme fatale drops the façade to provide Ronnie a mere glimpse of his future – one not bound for the warm sunshine of Queensland, rather the firers of hell.

RONNIE AND RITA is a surprisingly deep novella that includes interesting characters with fractured pasts, heinous acts with disturbing underlying causes, and a linear plot that runs rampant as the pace quickens – all wrapped in a distinctly Australian narrative.

I highly recommend this book for fans of James M Cain, Jim Thompson, and David Goodis.

You may read my interview with the author here.

Review: GANGLAND NORTH SOUTH & WEST by James Morton and Susanna Lobez

Gangland North, South & West by James MortonI’m not familiar with the previous installments in the Gangland series, hence I had no preconceptions of what to expect style and content-wise going into this book. As a result, I was somewhat surprised to read the broad spanning accounts across a century or more of crimes committed in Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory were condensed into 190 pages.

Drug running, people trafficking, mafia allegations, hit men, prostitution, mass murder, serial killings, bank robbing, gold theft, biker warfare – every element of criminal activity is touched upon, accounted and glossed over. While interesting, the brief nature left me wanting more. That said, there is a lot to mull over in this book and the authors should be commended on their effort to encapsulate so much criminal diversity into a one stop quick reference guide of sorts.

It was interesting to read that not much has changed over the course of a century in terms of the types of crime committed and the manner by which the criminals themselves undertake their unlawful activity. Of particular interest to me was the notion of my hometown (Adelaide) being dubbed the ‘city of corpses’ as opposed to the more well known and less evil moniker ‘city of churches. It was a real eye opener that’s for sure. As of publication, Adelaide had the highest number of shootouts in the country for the 2013 calendar year with 18 as of March.

GANGLAND NORTH SOUTH & WEST works best as a gateway book into the historic criminal underworld of the more unassuming Australian states. The factoids wet my appetite for more and I’ll be chasing down some of the titles mentioned in the comprehensive selected bibliography.

Review: OUT OF EXILE by Luke Preston

Out of ExileOUT OF EXILE follows Tom Bishop a damaged and dangerous ex-cop with the result simply noir – blurred justice, violence, and a case for vengeance tripping over the borders of criminality. Dig deeper, and the deluge of damned souls and corrupt cops seeps deep into the cracked Melbourne pavement. The reality not distilled by the outrageous but supported by the outlandish – this level of rife corruption and blatant disregard for civilian safety could easily happen, a factious tag-line from the Herlard or Australian. And that’s what makes OUT OF EXILE so good.

Broken out of prison, Bishop finds himself embroiled in a multi-layered crime of smoke and mirrors where the true purpose of the corrupt elite isn’t clear until the bloody ending. Raw from the loss of his daughter, Bishop’s justice radar still learns towards the blue line – this despite being involved in a kidnapping, break-in of his former foe’s house and torture of a prominent cops’ wife. While things look bad for Bishop’s predicament, his relentless pursuit of justice enforced by street law provides a constant glimmer of hope where none should filter.

OUT OF EXILE builds upon the Aussie conceptual noir, DARK CITY BLUE, the first book to feature Tom Bishop. The key players return (those not six feet under) with more character depth and the reader, more situational awareness of the fictitious Victorian police landscape. Familiarity with the characters is paramount to the reader reactions to their decisions and actions. While I think anyone could read OUT OF EXILE as a standalone, it works much better having read DARK CITY BLUE.

Author Luke Preston does a great job at keeping the reader guessing while planting landmines of explosive twists throughout the course of events. Like its predecessor, OUT OF EXILE is action an action pack non-stop noir where no one is safe from the tantalising grip of corruption and promised wealth.

Be sure to check out my main blog (link below) for an upcoming post where I interview Luke Preston!

Links:

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

Review: COMBUSTION by Steve Worland

“ThCombustione plan was, simply, to make people switch off their combustion engines. That’s why the Swarm was designed to turn a vehicle’s exhaust purple as soon as the engine was infected, then black before it exploded. It was a warning, so people understood that if they didn’t turn off their engines they would die. Of course, for the warning to be effective, some people needed to die early in the process.”

A nanotech virus, dubbed the Swarm, is released over the densely populated LA. It infects gasoline causing vehicle to explode and can survive in smog for years. The worldwide ramifications of this virus are extreme. Recent heroes (of previous installment VELOCITY) Judd Bell and Corey Purchase just happen to be in the city of angels when hell hits earth, and leap into action in an effort contain the spread and get the counteragent to the authorities before it’s too late.

The protagonists in Corey and Judd are not cast from the traditional mould. Judd’s an astronaut, Corey, a light helicopter pilot – yet I couldn’t imagine a different combination of heroes for these books.

Hindering their progress is a deadly duo with delusions of changing the world by force; Kilroy – a hired muscle of sorts, and Bunsen, the brains of the operation.

Bunsen’s warped rational leads to inducing mass hysteria and death; effectively creating a hell on earth as LA and its inhabitants burn for the sake of kick starting the widespread and prolonged use of clean renewable energy to down scale greenhouse gas omissions is as scary as it is believable.

Worlands fiction is a fast addiction. His thrillers read like big budget Hollywood blockbusters. In VELOCITY we saw the theft of a space shuttle, in COMBUSTION it’s a major US city set alight. The ambitious and all consuming scale of these stories can’t be underestimated. Despite the seemingly far reaching plots, Worland manages to create a distinct sense of plausibility further embedding the readers imagery into this dangerous landscape where the innocuous could be the catalyst for large scale devastation.

Like VELOCITY, COMBUSTION is a fast paced thriller which pulls no punches. It has a couple of great lead characters, intriguing antagonists with reasons to support their actions, and a nice ensemble cast to complement Judd and Corey. I cant wait to see what’s next from Steve Worland.

Links:

– This review of COMBUSTION also appeard on Just A Guy That Likes To Read

– Read my review of VELOCITY

– Visit Steve’s website

– Author interview

Review: WYATT by Garry Disher

Wyatt (Wyatt, #7)Garry Disher’s Wyatt character is the Australian equivalent to Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker – a resourceful and methodical professional thief who will stop at nothing to obtain the object of his desire. In this latest series instalment, WYATT, Disher not only re-establishes his most renowned character but also introduces new readers to the violent world of Aussie noir. Despite being the seventh book in the series (and the first I’ve read), WYATT reads extremely well as a standalone. Disher provides enough back-story to make the characters actually mean something while throwing references to past jobs undertaken by the professional thief. Conceptually, this hit all the targets solidifying Disher as a rare and top talent in Australian crime/noir fiction.

Wyatt’s latest job presents him with a unique opportunity to target a French jewel smuggler (Le Page) who just happens to be carrying a small fortune by way of bank bonds. An acquaintance in Eddie Oberin and his former wife Lydia convince Wyatt that the score is worth the risk despite overseas heat by way of a murdered courier Le Page may have been responsible for. What follows is a pure adrenalin soaked noir brimming with tension, violence, and a smattering of dark humour.

As my first exposure to Wyatt (apart from a short story in the Crime Factory anthology HARD LABOUR), this was a winner on all fronts. Disher mixes dark humour, violence, and engaging characters to create a truly entertaining and realistic Aussie noir that not only draws comparisons to the greats (ala Richard Stake) but supersedes them (a big call, I know, but justified in my eyes).

As a somewhat obsessive fan of noir and in more recent time an Aussie crime fiction convert (thank you Luke Preston, Andrew Nette, David Whish-Wilson, and Paul Anderson amongst others), I’m surprised it took me so long to delve into the world of Wyatt. Now that I’ve dipped my toes it’s time to get completely submerged in Disher’s work.

Links:

Just A Like That Likes To Read

Garry Disher website

Review: HINDSIGHT by A.A. Bell

Hindsight (Mira Chambers #2)Mira Chambers has the ability to see the past. While more of a curse than a gift, this robs her of seeing the present day, which in part, resulted in her incapacitation at an asylum. Sprouting off the fantastical doesn’t generally warrant a rationale minded person’s sympathy or attention. However, in DIAMOND EYES, a couple of scientists saw potential as did the military and when Mira was analysed further, her worth was realised and life compromised.

HINDSIGHT picks up right where DIAMOND EYES left off, so reading the preceding book is a must to understand what’s going on in HINDSIGHT. It’s a vasty different novel from DIAMOND EYES in that Mira’s confidence is well on the way to being fully fledged (certainty in the later stages of HINDSIGHT) and the military component is paramount to the plot, characterisation of Mira, Ben, Gabby and Lockman (as the main characters), and accounts for the majority of the action. For Mira – being perceived as a military weapon is a change from being perceived as a crazy woman who needs to be constantly medicated.

I enjoyed the pairing of Mira and Lockman – he’s almost and anti-Ben type. Everything that Ben’s not yet all that Mira wants in a way. It’s their continued relationship which adds further drama to scenes where life and death plays are made on behalf of either character.

To define HINDSIGHT into a single genre is a difficult thing. While there are elements of the fantastical, thriller, crime, and romance the story itself doesn’t really conform to a single label. The varying degrees of fiction that comprise this tale ensure it maintains a freshness throughout despite some over-the-top and perhaps unnecessary dialogue from Mira (a minor gripe). I did find that HINDSIGHT took a little while to get moving – after 100 or so pages I was left scratching my head as to where author A.A. Bell was taking Mira and Ben – before long my question was answered and soon enough all core characters experience violence up close and personal.

Mira is a unique character and she continues to grow on me the more I read of her. In DIAMOND EYES we saw her as a hopelessly misunderstood young women begging for someone to believe her. In HINDSIGHT she’s grown in confidence, responsibility and has an inner strength akin to a Marine (a slight exaggeration but one that’s justified imo – read the book you’ll know what I mean). I look forward to reading more of her story in LEOPARD DREAMING, the next book in the series.

Links:

Review: HUNTER: INTREPID 2 by Chris Allen

Hunter: Intrepid 2 (INTREPID, #2)HUNTER, the follow-up to the first in the INTREPID series, DEFENDER, is just as action packed as its predecessor. This time round, Intrepid agent Alex Morgan dons more of a police/investigator persona in search of kidnapped star Charly. Further enhancing his mission is that Charly, not only a famous pianist, is also the goddaughter of Morgan’s boss, Davenport and the daughter of a prominent ICTY judge heading up a complex trial to put away a bunch of dangerous war criminals.

Comparisons between Bond and Morgan are easily apparent yet Morgan has more of a hardened blue blooded edge – think Shane Schofield (aka Scarecrow) by Aussie author Matthew Reilly. Author Chris Allen continues to build on Morgan by bumping up the Aussie bloke angle, incorporating more of the mannerisms typical of the stereotype. This creates a more realistic feel to Morgan, making him come across as a good-hearted, honest and reliable down-to-earth character. In a way, the perfect compliment to the ruthless bad guys.

Wolves in sheep clothing, a Serbian mafia inner circle power
struggle, double crosses by informants and Interpol agents alike, all formulate the latest Intrepid novel which sees conflict traverse the globe via one long high octane action sequence which incorporates brutal hand to hand and elaborate stunts. I made the comment in DEFENDER that it was like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster and this is no different, the combat scenes are delivered in efficient brutality, the stunts akin to the finest Bond.

With HUNTER there is a noticeable focus on character development with Morgan’s boss Davenport growing into a more fatherly role and a clear sense of camaraderie evident between the two. Some major players from DEFENDER, notably Arena Hall are less prominent in HUNTER yet this is offset by the introduction new characters, with the most impressionable being Key (Messrs Braunschweiger), a man mountain who looms as a larger than life agent and fast friend of Morgan’s.

HUNTER is a must read for fans of the series. The action is first class. The writing precise and the plot wholly enjoyable throughout. Chris Allen is onto a winner with Intrepid – 4 stars.

Links:

Review: LINE OF SIGHT by David Whish-Wilson

Line of SightIn a state where police are mob and honesty a foreign concept, a murdered prostitute/Madame, Ruby Devine, provokes moral outrage from an honest cop. Something that should’ve been swept under the rug of ill justice turns Royal Commission. Accusations from both sides prove fatal; more damaging to physical wellbeing than defamation of character. For Swann, an outcast of the force he once gave his all, the mere suggestion of corruption provokes a series of events which leave him fearing for his life and those he holds dear.

Compounded by the disappearance of his daughter, the murder investigation (or lack thereof) of brothel Madame Ruby Devine, proves more sinister with rumours of the boys-in-blue being responsible for both incidents. Swann, portrayed as the epitome of justice in Australia’s 1970’s version of the Wild West, battles professional and personal conflicts on all fronts. Author David Whish-Wilson does a great job at fusing the two dynamics into a single, distinctly underworld crime that captures the period perfectly, casting a darker shade of noir without remorse on 1970’s Western Australia.

Despite assistance from some acquaintances, Swann acts as a lone wolf seeking answers where many find blood and ill fated half truths. His persistence, and underdog status captures the reader’s imagination and heart. You can’t help but barrack for this guy. Adding to the seemingly helpless crusade, Whish-Wilson creates layers of depth to the protagonist by establishing a less than perfect family life, unethical yet justified policing in prior posts (Kalgoorlie), and damning character traits that serve to prove Swann’s humanity more so than highlighting any inadequacies.

LINE OF SIGHT is as noir as Australian fiction gets. While the bleak plot leaves little room for the Hollywood sunshine and rainbows ending, it does promote a realism that’s hard to swallow – such is life. Prostitution, murder, corruption (political and police), drugs, scams, and organised crime formulate the backbone of the story, yet the characters carry the load and are bound to remain imbedded in my mind for a time to come. 4 stars.

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.

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