NEW CRIME FICTION FOR 2024: Matt Hilton, Simon Rowell and Alex Michaelides
From northwest England to a small Greek island to Mount Macedon in Australia, these three late January releases are entertainingly very different in style and location.
Matt Hilton has a gift for writing fast moving, unpretentious crime thrillers that quickly get you in and keep you engaged until the final word. Although he is probably best know for his various American-based series, I personally prefer his standalone British novels such as The Girl On Shattered Rock.
The Girl In The Smoke, (Severn House, 6 February 2024), is also a standalone novel and revolves around a young, adopted girl called Danni. The sole survivor of a motorway pile-up which took her mother’s life, the eight year old is now safe and thriving with her adoptive family. Things seem to be improving for Danni, until the day that some bad people come knocking. They want Danni to remember exactly what happened on the day of her accident. In truth Danni has very little memory of when her mother died, but the intruders are hell-bent on extracting what memories she has.
Danni’s new mother, Josie, desperately tries to keep her daughter safe and has to outwit the three violent kidnappers in order to keep her alive. Meanwhile, Josie’s sister, Grace, is devastated when she arrives at her big sister’s house to find signs of violence and her sister and niece taken. Josie has been her protector her entire life, but now Grace needs to be the strong one. Enlisting the help of a friend with combat experience and skills, she sets out to get her family back home.
This is a great, high voltage read. Hilton quickly puts in place the basic premise of his plot and then sets the story running at a quick pace. The perspective smoothly shifts between the main protagonists, including Danni, and the suspense is kept at a high level throughout. The characters are credible, and Hilton keeps the reader guessing for a long time as to what is happening. The violence is gritty and believable, and there are a couple of good shocks along the way to the bloody ending. I have some some quibbles about aspects of the story, but it is very easy to just settle back and enjoy the ride. A good read.
The Girl In The Smoke is released in the United Kingdom on 6 February 2024. There does not seem to a release date for the physical book in Australia, but it will be available on Kindle from 6 February 2024
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy of the book.
Simon Rowell’s series about Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer of the Victorian Police Force and her trusty service dog, Harry, is an underappreciated gem of Australian crime writing.
The first two books in the series were very good, and The Long Game was one of my favourite crime novels of 2021.
The Good Dog, (Text, 30 January 2024), is the third book in the series and opens with Zoe and Harry being called to the Victorian rural area of Mount Macedon. Following reports of gunshots, the bodies of fraudster Piers Johnson and his lawyer Antony Peterson have been found in a carpark. Both are dead from bullet wounds and the gun is found nearby. It seems like a grisly murder-suicide, but something about the scene does not stack up for Zoe. Regardless, she is under pressure to wrap up the case quickly, but things become complicated when the daughter of one of the men is kidnapped.
This is another very accomplished, but understated novel by Rowell. The pacing is good, and the story is well supported by an engaging cast of credible characters. The plotting is smart and believable, and the mystery unfolds in an interesting manner with some good twists.
The plotting and the characters are well supported by Rowell’s fine ear for local dialogue, and his evocative descriptions of the Mount Macedon area. Zoe’s connection with Harry once more forms the core of the book, but it is nicely complemented by the uncertain relationship between Zoe and her new partner Ben. After some good twists, the book builds to an exciting, and unexpected, climax in the bushland, and is probably the most intense ending of the series so far.
In all, The Good Dog is a well plotted and very enjoyable police mystery that will keep you keenly turning the pages all the way to the end.
The Good Dog is released in all formats in Australia on 30 January 2024. It is released in the United Kingdom on Kindle on the same day. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Daily for an advanced copy of the book for review.
There seems to be a run of crime novels lately that have great fun in playing with the conventions of the genre, and which feature unreliable narrators who speak directly to reader. Benjamin Stevenson’s excellent Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is probably the best example, but there are others, and now Alex Michaelides joins the growing crowd with his clever crime novel, The Fury, (Michael Joseph, 30 January 2024).
The book opens with the narrator, Elliot Chase, inviting you the reader, to pull up a barstool and listen to his story, “like two friends, drinking at the bar.” It is, he tells you, “a tale of murder. Or maybe that’s not quite true. At its heart, it’s a love story, isn’t it?”
The story revolves around a murder on an idyllic, private Greek island, where the famous actress Lana Farrar, is staying with a small group of friends. As Elliot dramatically discloses in the opening:
“There were seven of us, in all, trapped on the island.
One of us was a murderer.”
Despite Elliot’s protestations that it is not a ‘whodunnit”, The Fury is full of twists and surprises, including around who the murder victim is. The story, structured as a five act play, starts at a good pace, but slows in the middle, before gathering momentum in the final stages with a swathe of unexpected turns. The characters are finely fleshed out and interesting, although most are not particularly likeable.
The main impetus of the book is Elliot’s wry, and occasionally bitchy, narration. He frequently talks directly to the reader, usually apologising for not totally telling the truth, and at one stage he digresses for several pages on how the book would proceed if it was a traditional murder mystery. Similar to Knives Out, scenes are frequently shown from one viewpoint, before being played out again from a slightly different perspective.
Overall, I quite enjoyed The Fury and found Elliot’s narration to be witty and interesting, but I suspect that others will be less taken with it. The final twists are clever, if unlikely, and there is a neat, subtle nod to Michaelides’ The Silent Patient in the concluding pages. A good read for a wet and windy day, as it is in Canberra today!
The Fury is released in Australia and the United Kingdom at the end of January 2024. It was released in the United States on 16 January 2024. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Daily for an early copy of the book for review.