Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: ICE NATION by Jason Bray

Publisher Bonnier Publishing Australia
Length 244 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series standalone 
My Copy provided by the publisher

Ice Nation provides a front-line account of the investigative techniques and tenacity of the police in the war on drugs in rural communities in Victoria and border-towns of New South Wales. 

The narrative flows like fiction akin to the Underbelly stories to capture the human-element of drug trafficking; the chapters encapsulating stories of the violent perpetrators, innocent and no-so victims, and family members. 

Ice kills. That is the message of Ice Nation, and what better way to deliver that message than someone who has seen the affects up front and personal than author Jason Bray, a police officer tasked with bringing down a dangerous and unpredictable rural drug syndicate in the Australian state of Victoria.

Whilst not delving all that deep into the manufacturing side of the drug trade, Ice Nation does provide the reader with a detailed look at the way the drug affects the lives of the people directly or indirectly exposed to it. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Short, sharp, and punchy chapters provided context and depth to the members of the drug syndicate who fell into the black-hole of drug trafficking only to walk away with less than they started. Ice Nation is a great snapshot of the quick rise and fall of a drug syndicate in rural Australia. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: THE CYCLIST by Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher Bastei Entertainment
Length 190 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series standalone 
My Copy provided by the publisher

Judd is a former almost-Navy SEAL, now working a standard nine to five office job, slowly wading through the days in a daze of white-collar tedium. 

He's haunted by an unfortunate mishap which nearly cost his training officer his life when he pumped his instructor full of led during a drill. His instructor, menacingly named 'The Cleaver', won't leave Judd alone, and the two make for an interesting dynamic, a kind of friend/enemy push-pull. 

Needing an outlet, Judd clocks up the kilometers on his bike, a habit which keeps him sane. He's also met someone online, an attractive cyclist based in Scotland named Cat who eventually convinces Judd to visit her in her homeland. 

Leaving his life behind Judd falls into a modern day honey-trap. 

The Cyclist is a damn fine book. The characters are well rounded and the linear plot, straightforward and as sharp as a knife blade. To use a somewhat corny term the book is 'all thriller, no filler'. 

My rating: 5/5. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Review: BLACK DAHLIA, RED ROSE by Piu Marie Eatwell

Publisher Coronet
Length 8hrs 59mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series standalone 
My Copy I bought it

For readers familiar with the noir soaked unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, this book recounts much of the information already printed and glamorized in film but it does so in a way that is refreshing and feels 'new'. If anything, Black Dahlia Red Rose reads more like crime fiction with a rolling narrative emphasizing the criminal investigation and spotlighting one key suspect in particular, Lesley Dillon who was staying as the Astor Hotel, the suspected place of Shorts brutally violent murder (the hotel is still standing today but only rents rooms by the hour and has no advertising, website, or phone listing according to the author). 

The Dahlia case aside there's a lot of page time dedicated to the alleged corruption of the LAPD of the time which immediately get's the reader thinking of cover-ups and coercion. The Gangster Squad features heavily and is portrayed as a beacon of justice despite some of the squad members more questionable interpretation of the thin blue line, a line they weren't afraid to cross.

My rating: 5/5. This is a great book which true crime enthusiasts will lap up. Jeff Harding narrated the audio edition and did a nice job of ensuring the tone of the book didn't come across as a newsreel, rather, complimenting the free flowing narrative of the investigation.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: THE RUIN by Dervla McTiernan

Publisher Harper Collins
Length 380 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series Cormac Reilly #1
My Copy provided by the publisher

This police procedural set in mostly in Galway, Ireland introduces new series protagonist Cormac Reilly; a smart and dedicated Guard who isn't afraid to go against the grain to solve a case - even if it means investigating his colleagues. 

The Ruin is a story of two tales intertwined by murder and circumstance. When Jake Blake goes missing, his partner, Aisling Conroy fears she's lost her loved one following the discovery of her pregnancy, however, it's not a matter of cold feet, with something more sinister the cause; suicide. Aisling starts questioning herself while trying to piece together a fractured picture of Jake - suicide doesn't 'fit' with Jakes profile, and when his long-gone sister, Maude returns poking holes in the guards case, murder becomes most likely.

20 years earlier, Jake was the victim of domestic abuse; the guard called to his residence, Cormac Reilly, took him to the hospital along with his sister who promptly disappeared, only to resurface in the present day. The clever interlocking of cases around Cormac was well executed. 

The Ruin is a quick read such is the quality of the writing and easily flowing narrative. The characters are complex and well rounded. This feels like the beginning of what could be a long running series with bit players in the guard given complimentary page-time; just enough tease them out in readiness for further exploration. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. The Ruin captures the rainy and grey of Galway while shining a light on an interesting protagonist with an equally interesting backstory that I'm keen to read more of. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: IQ by Joe Ide

Publisher Orion Publishing Group Limited
Length 9hrs 8mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series IQ #1
My Copy I bought it

Few novels are able to capture the reader's attention and maintain a firm grip all the way through - IQ is one of those few; from the opening stanza I was hooked.

IQ (Isaiah Quintabe) is a modern day Sherlock Holmes but comes across more grounded and 'real'. He's a young guy getting by on the kindness of his neighbors who supplement his 'free-lance detecting' with food and other means, all useful but rarely result in a payday. When IQ's longtime acquaintance Dodson, a guy on the fringe of the underworld brings IQ a case worth 20k to find out who is trying to kill a rap mogul, IQ, while skeptical, agrees, after all, who couldn't use that kind of cash?   

What follows is a past and presence tense narrative switching between the rap mogul mystery and IQ as kid growing up without parents and trying to live-up to the high standards his deceased older brother held him by - there's also a large portion of backstory dedicated to the 'bond' IQ has with Dodson which adds another layer to the story. 

Author Joe Ide does a great job at balancing humor and violence while ensuring his characters have enough page time to grow and develop into well rounded people who read 'real'.  The narrator of the audiobook, Sullivan Jones captures the essence of the novel and further exemplifies the storytelling.

My rating: 5/5, IQ is awesome. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: THIS IS HOW IT ENDS by Eva Dolan

Publisher Raven Books
Length 336 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

Ella is an activist for a just cause – she’s at the forefront of a movement to halt the ever expanding London skyline; the corporate empire dredging out the lower socio-economic families in rundown apartment housing for capital gain, pimping overseas investment growth.

Molly is a tenant and former big league activist in her own right, past her corporate-fighting days, she’s now a top class photographer content to sit on the sidelines, capturing key moments of rallies, movements, celebrations, and heartbreak to ensure the public eye isn’t tainted by political spin.

The two form a bond through a common interest which evolves into a near mother-daughter relationship, a relationship which is tested to extremes when Molly unwittingly becomes an accomplice to murder.

Told through present and past tense via alternating multi POV chapters between Ella and Molly, This is How it Ends is a cleverly written novel which traps the reader into the semi-false narrative of its protagonist. 

My rating: 4/5 I loved the way This is How it Ends ended - a twist I didn't see coming which flipped the script on its head. I'll have to track down more books by Eva Dolen, if This is How it Ends is anything to go by, they're bound to be good. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: THE FIGHTER by Michael Farris Smith

Publisher No Exit Press
Length 223 pages
Format softcover
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

Jack is a renowned cage fighter who has spent his adult life making a living off a sport which nearly kills him. Through bad choices he’s acquired a cash flow problem with some unsavory characters. Well past his prime he finds himself once again thrust into the violent world of underground fighting in order to pay off his debt and keep the beloved home of the person who raised him when no one else would.

The Fighter is a character driven story which emphasises the emotional connection the young and impressionable/pliable have with those in positions of power and influence; that unmistakable bond between child/young person and carer which carries and strengthens through a lifetime.

Rich and compelling, this is a story of full of heart and heartache, strength, determination, and bloody means to an end. The Fighter is very much on the knife edge of noir but has a literary quality too which makes it so good to read.

Punch-drunk Jack, and tattooed enigma Annette, coupled with the homely Maryann, the mother-figure in Jack’s life are characters with great depth and complimentary narratives.

My rating: 5/5. Think Donald Ray Pollock mixed with a little Daniel Woodrell and you’ll gain an appreciation for what The Fighter brings to the table. 

You can read my review of Desperation Road by clicking the link below:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Pick of the Month [February 2018]

I read 17 books in February to continue a strong start to the new reading year; of those, I gave 7 books 5 stars on Goodreads which included 2 published this year in Punishment by Scott J Holliday - a creepy crime fiction with futuristic themes, and the excellent true-crime book by Michelle McNamara about the elusive Golden State Serial Killer.  

Review: PUNISHMENT by Scott J Holliday

Review: I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara

Other notables include the excellent Western Australian crime fiction book, Clear to the Horizon by Dave Warner, popular crime fiction from James Patterson and Candice Fox in Fifty, Fifty - the sequel to Never, Never, and perhaps one of the best audiobooks I've listen to in The Girl Before by Rena Olsen, narrated by Brittany Pressley. 

Review: CLEAR TO THE HORIZON by Dave Warner

Review: FIFTY, FIFTY by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Review: THE GIRL BEFORE by Rena Olsen (Goodreads)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pick Up A Pulp [32]: THE JADE-EYED JINX by Carter Brown

Her teeth chattered suddenly: "I know it's out there, Rick. I can feel it!" She closed her eyes tight shut, "You know what it is prowling around out there, don't you? It's death!"

The Jade-Eyed Jinx (published 1963, my copy - Horwitz, first edition), features Hollywood studio fixer and private-eye Rick Holman once again on the case to catch a wayward starlet. 

Carola, an Italian beauty and big budget star in the making has run off with her leading man, Don Gallant, both hiding out in a secluded cottage-turned love nest, away from the prying eyes of the press insulated from the pressures of the film business. 

The problem is; Don's married to another prominent starlet, Carola is involved in a relationship with her agent, and the studio boss has puppy-dog eyes for Carloa. The set-up is pitch perfect drama turned deadly when Don is shot at the cottage with both Carloa, Don's wife Monica, and Monica's closest friend Janie all found on the scene when Rick makes his appearance. 

The plot is a pretty straight forward whodunit with Rick steadily undertaking a process of elimination until the suspect confesses in a grande finale standoff commonplace in Carter Brown mysteries. 

My rating: 2.5/5 stars. While entertaining and a quick read, The Jade-Eyed Jinx lacks the polish of other books featuring Rick Holman. The linear plot and strange dialogue point towards a rush job, common in pulps of the 1960's such was the speed the authors churned them out. 

One of the best Carter Brown books featuring Rick Holman I've read is The Girl From Outer Space, you can read the review by clicking the link below.

Pick Up A Pulp [30]: THE GIRL FROM OUTER SPACE by Carter Brown


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review: I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara

Publisher Harper
Length 352 pages
Format ebook
Published 2018
Series standalone
My Copy provided by the publisher

I'll Be Gone In The Dark is a haunting and disturbing book, beautifully written and densely populated with facts and footnotes all of which convey the authors fierce determination to catch a long hidden serial killer and rapist responsible for over 50 acts of unimaginable cruelty in California during the 1970's and 1980's.

Due to the authors' unexpected passing prior to the completion of the book, two thirds of the content comprises her eloquent sweeping narrative which is as addictive to read as it is informative. Whilst the last third is made up of published articles, penned thoughts, collaborator commentary and useful insight into Michelle McNamara as more than an armchair detective, but as a person with a passion for justice. 

Such is the subject matter, I found myself waking in the middle of night to near every bump, crunch, and gust of wind thinking a killer was casing my home, probing my property for entry points and studying my surroundings for whatever nefarious purpose he had in mind. Few true crime books have had such an effect on me as I'll Be Gone In The Dark. 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Despite the drop-off in content quality in the later stages of the book, this is an excellent read, thoroughly researched which purveys the authors' dogged determination to catch a killer.   
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