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: 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: DEAD CAT BOUNCE by Peter Cotton

DeadCatBouncePeterCotto20469_fFor something a little different today we’re offering you two perspectives for the price of one on DEAD CAT BOUNCE, a debut crime novel by Peter Cotton who is an Australian journalist and former media adviser to several government ministers. The book is set during the last weeks of a divisive Australian election campaign (though in yet more evidence that truth is stranger than fiction Cotton’s imagination didn’t run to a second dumped PM in a three year period) and opens with the discovery of the body of the Environment Minister dumped near a Canberra landmark.

Bernadette’s thoughts are in green. I’m a politics junkie from way back and don’t consider my weekend complete without Sunday morning Insiders viewing. My crime fiction tastes lean towards procedurals and whydunnits.

Josh’s thoughts are in red. As my twitter handle suggests (@OzNoir) my genre of choice is noir which tends to lead me down the dark and shadowy back alleys of crime fiction. DEAD CAT BOUNCE was something a little different, something outside my comfort zone which still alluded to that slithering underside of crime enough to satisfy my curiosity. Not a consummate reader of police procedurals, I saw enough in the premise to warrant a look-in, and I’m glad I did.

What was your immediate reaction to the premise of the novel?
I salivated at the prospect of a book which combines two of my favourite things: crime fiction and dead politicians.

I saw satire, murder, and an Aussie setting – enough to interest me. I like books that don’t take themselves too seriously and the premise of DEAD CAT BOUNCE certainly leaned towards it being more tongue-in-cheek than hardnosed police procedural.

The central character in Dead Cat Bounce is young-ish Detective Darren Glass. Did you like him? Hate him? Find him compelling?

I liked the fact that Darren is not in the ‘so psychologically damaged it’s hard to get out of bed’ mould of crime fiction investigator and is basically a well-adjusted, fully functional human being with awesome MacGyver-like skills. The blunders he makes during the case (e.g. letting something important slip to a political blogger during an interview) give him credibility. Perversely though I did not find him terribly compelling…I never felt any lingering worry about what was happening to him when I had to put the book down as I do sometimes with characters who get under my skin. This makes me wonder if I actually do prefer the psychologically damaged characters after all.

I liked Glass more than I thought I would. His stumbling, blundering detective style, while not endearing, was a quality that made him more human than a traditional Detective (a generalisation I know). He came across as someone who lets his emotions lead him – thankfully this premise serves a purpose throughout the course of the novel and doesn’t become all-consuming in dictating his every action. I found his personal and professional life blurred the lines to the extent I had trouble distinguishing the two – not a bad thing, I wouldn’t say I found him compelling but was a little something there that other procedurals I’ve read didn’t have.

Did the story maintain your interest? Keep you guessing? Keep you awake at night? What bits did you like most?
Even for me there was a lot of procedural minutiae in the first third of this book. The Minister who was killed had been at a public function prior to her kidnapping and so police have to establish who was there, what everyone did and who they spoke to, who left early and so on. This seemed to drag on a little for me but I suspect people who don’t read as many police procedurals as I do wouldn’t notice or be bothered by this. The pace improved after this though as the action level ramped up. I did think one part of the resolution was telegraphed a little early on but there were enough more well hidden elements to keep me satisfied.

I thought it took a while to get to the good stuff. When thrust into action, Glass and the accompanying characters really took on a life of their own. The murder mystery didn’t keep me awake at night but I did spend the odd minute here and there pondering the person behind it. One thing that stuck out was how well rounded the plot was, I thought Peter Cotton came full circle with his plot devices and characterisation to perfection.

Was the Australian political setting well done?
Absolutely. Everything from the investigative problems caused by one of the key players being the country’s Prime Minister – a legitimately hard to access person – to the sometimes dangerously symbiotic relationship between the Canberra press gallery and their subjects seemed to be spot on. For the politics junkie there is much frivolity to be had in trying to work out which real-world people Cotton’s fictional politicians, journalists and bloggers represent.

A little hard for me to comment on this one as I don’t tend to get involved in politics – I’ll default to Bernadette’s take on this one.

Was there something you particularly liked about DEAD CAT BOUNCE?
The main narrative is broken up with extracts from a blog and TV newsbreaks. These were well done and really added to the authentic sensibility.

I didn’t pick a definitive suspect until relatively late in proceedings – in a murder mystery setting that always scores points. I also liked the blog/newsbreaks to keep the narrative fresh.

Was there anything you really didn’t take to about the book?
I shouldn’t criticise someone for not delivering something they never promised but, for me, the book would have been better with a dash of humour. I often struggle to take politics – and politicians – as seriously as they take themselves and I have an idea that most Australians feel the same way. But this could be me projecting my personal view of the world outwards in a way that is totally wrong.

More satire. I think Peter Cotton touched upon it; more so in a subtle manner than by using blatant overtones.

Who would you recommend the book to?
I suspect the book’s ideal reader is someone who doesn’t read a lot of police procedurals but is reasonably interested in Australian politics. But even if that doesn’t quite describe you I’d think most readers would enjoy this tale.

People who enjoy crime fiction within the Australian setting. While a police procedural it doesn’t feel as typecast as the genre suggests by virtue of its subject matter and lead character in Detective Glass. I think readers who come into this looking for a good time will feel satisfied.

In a nutshell that’s two lots of thumbs up from two readers whose tastes are not generally all that similar, proving the book offers something for everyone. Enjoy.

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.

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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: 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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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.

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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