LATE SEPTEMBER READING: TOUGH ACTION THRILLERS
Dodgy characters, tough action and plenty of violence have been the common elements of my late September thriller reading!
Simon Conway has been cited as a rising star on the British spy fiction scene since the success of his award winning A Loyal Spy back in 2010. After a couple of quiet years, he attracted a lot of attention last year with The Stranger, which blasted out of the blocks with plenty of action, some great Middle Eastern set-pieces and a wild, blood soaked conclusion that left several questions unanswered.
The Saboteur (Hodder & Stoughton, September 2021) takes up where The Stranger left off, with the terrorist Guy Fowle being freed by a Russian hit squad who want access to the millions he has salted away. MI6 agent Jude Lyon is soon on his trail, as Fowle begins to put in place a Russian ‘doomsday’ plan designed to bring Britain to its knees.
The Saboteur is a very fast paced thriller that smoothly moves through one bloody set-up after another. Conway keeps his foot firmly on the accelerator as the body count mounts and the book rockets to a large scale, explosive finale. There is enough convincing spying and military detail to keep fans of action thrillers happy, but the story lacks the bureaucratic and political manoeuvrings that made The Stranger so interesting.
Jude and his colleagues, and enemies, have a credible gritty feel to them and the background information is interesting and seamlessly inserted into the story. There is also some good reflections on the current geo-political situation.
In all, it is an enjoyable, page turning thriller, provided you are willing to suspend a reasonable amount of disbelief.
The Saboteur was released in Australia on 1 September 2021 by Hachette.
Also featuring a blistering pace and lots of wild action, is the latest collaboration by James Patterson and Candice Fox, 2 Sisters Detective Agency (Century, 28 September 2021).
Candice Fox wrote one of the best locally set debut Australian crime novels of the past 10 years with Hades back in 2014 and followed it up with the equally impressive Eden. Her output since then has been mixed, but she always brings her own unique style to everything she writes.
Since 2016 she has been writing books in collaboration with James Patterson, as well as her own solo efforts. The latest collaboration is 2 Sisters Detective Agency (Century), which features a pair of mismatched sisters and a rapid-fire plot about drugs, gangsters and some very unpleasant rich kids.
Set in Los Angeles it revolves around attorney Rhonda Bird. When Rhonda returns home to LA to bury her estranged father, she discovers that he has left her two final surprises. The first is a private detective agency. The second is a teenage half-sister named Baby. There is also a large stash of cash and some gangsters who want their money and drugs back. Meanwhile a squad of spoilt rich kids are on the loose administering their own form of justice for perceived slights, until they pick the wrong victim and find themselves being hunted by a deadly assassin.
2 Sisters Detective Agency features Patterson’s trademark short chapters, brisk writing, sketchy characters and non-stop action, and the book careens through LA without ever drawing breath. It sticks very much to Patterson’s winning formula, but Candice also adds in enough of her own quirky touches to keep it interesting. The violence is nastier than you would usually find in a Patterson book, the body count is also higher and more indiscriminate, and there are a couple of darkly memorable scenes involving the out-of-control teenagers. There is also an underlying theme about the moral corruption of money, which nicely skewers the growing financial inequity in America.
None of the characters are particularly likeable, but the story unfolds with such brio and excitement that it is easy to settle back and go along with the ride.
A light entertaing read.
2 Sisters Detective Agency was released in Australia on 28 September. It will be released in the United Kingdom on 30 September 2021 and in the United States on 5 October 2021.
Steel Fear (Canelo Action) by Brandon Webb and John David Mann is a terrific mixture of murder, mystery and thriller action set aboard a large United States aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln.
When Navy SEAL sniper Finn sets foot on the USS Abraham Lincoln, he senses something is wrong. Leadership is weak. Morale is low and there is no rigor to the day-to-day procedures on board the vessel. When crew members start disappearing one by one, what at first seems like a random string of suicides and accidents soon reveals something far more sinister: that a possible serial killer is onboard. Finn, who is under his own cloud of suspicion following his last mission does not want to get involved, but as he walks the decks and familiarises himself with the rhythm of the ship, he becomes mixed up in the hunt for a killer.
This is a first rate novel that grabs attention from the opening chapter and does not let go until the final page. Drawing upon Webb’s experience as a Navy SEAL, the details of life onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln are smoothly and convincingly conveyed and the reader is quickly immersed in the daily life of the boat. As an outsider, Finn is a good and informed guide to the workings of the aircraft carrier and his observations are astute and interesting.
As the book progresses Finn’s character and the details of his last disastrous mission are gradually revealed and the reader becomes just as caught up in wanting to know what happened to Finn as they do in identifying the murderer. The dual storyline and shifting viewpoints works well, and the nicely paced story builds to a tense and unexpected climax below the decks.
A very enjoyable read.
There have been some really good thrillers released in 2021 and Steel Fear is certainly up there with the best. Four and a half stars out of five!
Steel Fear was released in the United States in August 2021. It does not appear to be locally released in Australia, but it is available through Amazon Australia in book form and on the Kindle.
Thanks to George Easter at Deadly Pleasures for recommending this book to me: http://new.deadlypleasures.com/
I am very late to Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State, which came out in 2016, but I am glad that I have finally caught up with it.
Nette runs the Pulp Curry website, and is the co-author of three excellent books on popular culture between the 1950s and the 80s. An renown expert on paperback fiction, he has brought his enthusiasm for pulp writing to this pitch perfect Australian noir tale about a robbery gone wrong.
Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job sees him in Queensland working for Dennis Curry, an ageing Surfers Paradise standover man. Curry runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller Philippine businessman and drug dealer called Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao.
While the job may seem straightforward, Curry’s crew is anything but. Frank Dormer is a secretive former Australian soldier turned private security contractor. Sophia Lekakis is a highly-strung receptionist at the hotel where Gao stays when he visits Surfers. Amber is Curry’s attractive female housemate and part of the lure for Gao. And in the background there is a dodgy collection of crooked cops just waiting for their opportunity too. Chance knows he can’t trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry’s plan goes wrong.
This is a taut, tough crime novel told in a brisk economical manner, with plenty of action and betrayal. The plotting is intelligent and engaging and the characters are well sketched and interesting. There is also an appealing subtlety to some of the minor characters, which is not obvious at first glance. The Australian locations are nicely evoked and authentic and the book builds to good, gripping conclusion.
Gunshine State obviously invokes comparisons to heist novels by Richard Stark, Max Allan Collins and Australia’s Garry Disher, but there is enough uniqueness and freshness for it to stand by itself. And the title’s witty play on Queensland’s status as the Sunshine state, is terrific.
The sections set in Asia did not work quite as well for me, but overall this is a really good, tough crime novel. Four stars out of five!
Nette is purportedly working on a sequel to Gunshine State and I can not wait to read it.
Gunshine State is available in paperback and on the Kindle. Details on Nette’s books on popular culture and his entertaining blog can be found here: https://www.pulpcurry.com/about-pulp-curry/