AUGUST CRIME READING: Donlea, Pomare and Monroe
My mid August reading has been dominated by three very different crime novels, all of which have intriguing premises at the core of their plots.
Charlie Donlea’s Twenty Years Later (Penguin) is built around a clever idea. Twenty years ago Victoria Ford was accused of the salacious murder of a well known author. She was discussing her case with her New York lawyer when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. In desperation she phoned her sister from the North Tower begging her to prove her innocence. Now twenty years later Victoria’s remains have finally been identified by the New York medical examiner’s office. Popular TV host Avery Mason hears of Victoria’s case and decides to look into it, but as she digs into the original murder she comes to realise that the evidence against Victoria was far from simple and that others are keen to ensure that the old crime remains buried. Complicating things is Avery’s own secretive past, which is threatening to come to the surface, potentially ruining her lucrative career as a TV host.
Over the course of his first five books, Charlie Donlea has established himself as a master of the ‘cold case’ genre and Twenty Years Later is sure to cement his standing as a leading figure in American crime writing. Donlea excels in this sort of multiple viewpoint investigation of an old crime and, despite starting a little slowly, Twenty Years Later steadily draws the reader in and keeps them keenly turning the pages until the end. The various twists and turns are nicely staged and Donlea keeps the reader on edge as the book goes in some surprising directions.
The characters could have been fleshed out a little more, but they are certainly serviceable and most of them are interesting and engaging, especially the jaded detective who originally investigated the murder and now has the chance to finally solve it. I took a little time to warm to Avery, but as the book progressed she developed into a more interesting character than the arrogant, shallow TV host she first appears to be.
The opening sections moved a little slowly, but as the story nears the final denouement the tension increases and the reasons for their inclusion becomes clearer.
I really enjoyed Twenty Years Later. It is not a violent, suspenseful thriller, but Donlea does a good job of keeping the reader interested and keenly turning the pages until the final reveal. Highly recommended.
Four stars out of five!
Twenty Years Later was released in Australia in early August 2021. It seems that it will be released in the United Kingdom and the United States in December 2021.
Here is a link to my review of Donlea’s previous novel, The Suicide House: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/deadly-podcasts-the-suicide-house-by-charlie-donlea-the-night-swim-by-megan-goldin/
Charlie Donlea will be appearing in an online event on Wednesday 25 August at 8pm (AEST) as part of the Bad Sydney Crime Writer’s Festival: https://events.humanitix.com/bad-online-twenty-years-later
J. P. Pomare has also come up with an interesting concept in his latest novel, The Last Guests, which will make you think twice about staying in an Airbnb again!
The story revolves around the idea of online voyeurism, with paying customers being able to watch unsuspecting guests in B&Bs via cameras secreted throughout the premises. New Zealanders Lina and Cameron become caught up in it when they decide to rent out Lina’s inherited lake house on weekends, in order to make some much needed money. Unfortunately things do not go as they plan, especially as both Lina and Cameron have secrets they want to keep hidden.
The basic set-up of The Last Guests is relatively simple, but Pomare quickly weaves in various twists and turns and complexities, and the book soon heads down some unexpected paths. Suspicion and tension quickly mounts as the very believable characters become trapped in their secrets and there are some jolting surprises along the way to the dark conclusion.
The story is also enhanced by the vivid descriptions of the New Zealand countryside and Pomare’s subtle melding in of themes about modern day war crimes, post traumatic stress and personal privacy. In all, it is another clever tale by Pomare, who is a rising star on the Australian and New Zealand crime scenes, and confirms the strong promise he showed in his first three books.
A solid four stars out of five!
The Last Guests was released by Hachette in Australia on 28 July 2021. It will be released in the United Kingdom on
24 August 2021.
J S Monroe makes good use of the mystique around crop circles in his latest novel The Man On Hackpen Hill (Head of Zeus).
Monroe started out writing very good spy thrillers in the 2010s under the name Jon Stock, but more recently he has moved into broader crime novels, in the style of Harlan Coben, with clever ‘what if’ scenarios at their core.
In The Man On Hackpen Hill he skillfully develops the idea of a killer using crop circles to to send obscure messages. Crop circles are a common occurrence in the golden wheat fields of rural Wiltshire, but when the police find a body in the middle of a circle designed around a complex chemical formula they realise that there is something more sinister at play than the usual ‘crop circle looney’. DI Silas Hart, who has appeared in supporting roles in Monroe’s earlier books, is given the sensitive task of solving the mystery and finds himself caught up in a complex web of nutty conspiracies and allegations about the secret work at the nearby Porton Down military research facility. When further bodies appear, pressure grows to solve the case without offending the authorities at Porton Down.
Monroe skilfully moves the viewpoint between Hart and two young people, Jim, a scientist at Porton Down and Bella, a very inexperienced trainee at a newspaper. Gradually the roles of Jim and Bella in the gruesome discovery becomes clearer as the sinuous plot smoothly glides its way to an unexpected conclusion, and both of them play an important role in the final denouement.
This is an enjoyable crime thriller with interesting background material on crop circles, drugs, the radical treatment of mental health issues and the experimental work being undertaken at Porton Down. Hart is an engaging character who has steadily developed over the course of the books, and really comes into his own this time around. The supporting characters of Bella and Jim are also interesting, and poignant, and their potentially unreliable viewpoints add a good deal of suspense to the story.
In all, The Man On Hackpen Hill, is a very original and highly contemporary thriller that raises some important issues while entertaining the reader with surprises and suspense. The ending is a little abrupt, but overall it is a very enjoyable read.
Four stars out of five!
The Man On Hackpen Hill will be released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 2 September 2021.
Here is a link to my review of Monroe’s previous book, The Other You: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/criminally-good-isolation-reads-some-recent-reading-during-lockdown/
So three very good and quite different crime novels. I don’t like ranking books I read, but in terms of reading enjoyment I Twenty Years Later was my favourite, followed closely by The Man On Hackpen Hill and The Last Guests. All three, however, are well worth reading!