FAST ACTION THRILLERS AND A DEADLY HEIST: NEW CRIME FROM M. W. CRAVEN, RUTH WARE AND ANDREW NETTE
Fans of fast action crime thrillers will enjoy these new releases by M. W. Craven, Ruth Ware and Australian Andrew Nette.
I have a real soft spot for gritty heist novels of the kind written by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake), Max Allan Collins, Wallace Stroby and Australian Garry Disher, and wished that there were more being written now. Welcomely, local pulp expert Andrew Nette has recently produced a follow up to his very good Australian noir novel, Gunshine State, from a few years ago, and has brought back professional crook Gary Chance for a new heist in Orphan Road (Down and Out Books, 29 May 2023).
Orphan Road opens strongly with Chance’s attempted takedown of a crooked cult, which is scamming money off its gullible members, going astray. Still short of money Chance heads to Melbourne and a job offer from a former employer, the notorious Vera Leigh. Once the associate of crooks, Vera now runs a declining S&M club in a suddenly trendy area of Melbourne. A shadowy real estate developer is trying to squeeze her out, but Vera has a rescue plan involving a stash of uncut South African diamonds that went missing during Melbourne’s Great Bookie Robbery in 1976. Everyone associated with the robbery is now dead, but Vera thinks she has a lead on where the diamonds might have ended up, and she wants Chance’s help to retrieve them. Problem is, they are not the only ones looking.
This is a tough, taut crime novel with plenty of moral ambiguity and an enjoyable cast of crooks and lowlifes. The pacing is brisk and the action moves smoothly from the outskirts of Byron Bay to Melbourne to America and back to Melbourne for a bloody showdown. Nette maintains high interest throughout and the conclusion is gripping and poignant.
Nette tells his unsentimental story in an appealing stripped down style, which suits the unadorned plot and helps to keep it all moving along nicely. Mixed into the plot are some sharp eyed descriptions of the fringes of society and a memorable cast of characters, including an ageing Mafia type and a pair of unpleasant local Nazis. There is also plenty of interesting detail around the Great Bookie Robbery.
The end result is a good piece of Aussie noir that is enjoyably different from most other crime fiction being written in Australia at the moment. Highly recommended.
Orphan Road is available in paperback and on Kindle from Down & Out Books through the usual online sources. Thanks to the publishers and Andrew for a copy of the book for review.
M. W. Craven’s Fearless (Constable, 29 June 2023) is a wild ride of a thriller that brings to mind Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books.
Temporarily, I hope, deserting Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, Craven heads to America and a new central character in the form of Ben Koenig. A former elite US Marshal, Koenig has been off the grid for six years drifting from place to place across America. Totally untraceable, he is an invisible presence, until his face is plastered across every television screen in the country. Someone from Koenig’s past is desperately seeking him for a deadly act of revenge. Breaking from his self imposed exile, Koenig heads to the town of Gauntlet in the hellish heat of the Chihuahuan desert searching for a young woman and willing to kill anyone that gets in his way.
This is a fast paced tale full of frantic action and lots of violence. Koenig is a tough, but engaging, character who comes with an interesting backstory that is gradually revealed through the book. He also has some quirky edges and there are moments of witty humour. After some initial maneuvering, the plot settles into a straight ‘stranger versus corrupt town’ story, although there are some twists and turns.
Fearless lacks some of the deductive reasoning that readers liked in the Poe and Bradshaw books, but there is still plenty of astute observation and the story proceeds in unexpected directions. As with the earlier Craven books, there is also plenty of arcane information about everything from the dark web to rattlesnakes to solar power to the health risks around bar nuts:
“the average bowl of bar nuts contains traces of over one hundred unique specimens of urine. Men and women coming back from the bathroom without washing their hands.”
Credibility is stretched at times, but overall Fearless is a very enjoyable read that will keep you happily entertained over a weekend or so.
Fearless is released on 29 June 2023. Thanks to the publishers and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book for review.
Ruth Ware is also trying something different with Zero Days, (Simon & Schuster, 9 July 2023).
Best known for her intricately plotted murder mysteries, Ware heads down a very different path with Zero Days, which is a classic chase thriller with a quickly approaching deadline.
Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband Gabe are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes wrong, Jack is detained by the police. When she finally arrives home she finds Gabe murdered. She is devastated, but it soon becomes clear that the police have only one suspect in mind – her.
Jack must go on the run to try and clear her name and to find her husband’s real killer. But who can she trust when everyone she knows could be a suspect? And with the police and the killer after her, can Jack get to the truth before her time runs out?
Zero Days bursts out of the blocks at a fast pace and maintains the momentum all the way to the end. Told in the first person, through the eyes of Jack, Ruth keeps the tension and the emotional drama at a high level throughout. There is a decent mystery around what happened to Gabe, although the killer is easy to work out, and a good amount of uncertainty around where the book is heading. The details of Jack’s efforts to keep one step ahead of the police are convincing and there are some solid twists and turns. I enjoyed Jack as a narrator, but had some questions in my mind about her actions early in the book. However, it is very easy to settle back and enjoy the race to the finish.
I suspect that Zero Days will not appeal to the usual readers of Ruth books, who will probably be after a more plot driven mystery, but I found it to be an enjoyable thriller read.
Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an early copy of the book.