TOUGH GUYS AND CROOKED COPS: MY NOVEMBER CRIME READING
Tough action crime novels have dominated my early November 2021 reading. Two by well known authors, the other an exceptional novel by an established writer who has chosen to use a pseudonym this time around.
Lee Child is obviously a firm adherent of that old adage ‘when you’re on a good thing, stick to it’, and he does not noticeably change the successful formula of the past 25 Jack Reacher novels with the latest entry, Better Off Dead (Bantam, November 2021).
This is the second of the Reacher novels co-written by Lee Child with his brother Andrew, and the action sticks firmly to pattern of the previous books with Reacher out-numbered and out-gunned in a small, backwater American town and trying to right some wrongs. This time he is helping an army veteran turned FBI agent, Michaela Fenton, who is looking for her twin brother who has gotten mixed up with some dangerous people.
Told mostly in the first person, this is a classic Reacher story, with a fast moving plot, an intriguing storyline, plenty of action scenes and the occasional dash of wry humour. The violence is less cartoonish than it was in some of the more recent books, such as the disappointing Blue Moon, and the story builds some decent suspense as it moves to a well choreographed finale.
As in the previous books, Reacher is supported by an interesting cast of minor characters, particularly the resilient Michaela Fenton and the villain at the centre of the plot, the mysterious Dendoncker. As usual, the depiction of small town America is gritty and convincing, and the background information supporting the plot is smoothly woven in. There is also the occasional interesting nugget of obscure detail that Child loves to throw in.
Better Off Dead is as enjoyable as any Reacher novel I have read, and the collaboration between Lee and Andrew Child seems to be progressing smoothly. Reacher’s many fans will not be disappointed with this latest entry in the series.
Better Off Dead was released in Australia on 27 October 2021. Thanks to the publishers and the Canberra Weekly for the book.
You always know what you are going to get with a Simon Kernick novel; fast frenetic action and plenty of it, and this is certainly the case with Good Cop Bad Cop.
Fourteen years ago undercover cop Chris Sketty shot to fame as the man who almost died trying to stop a brutal terror attack in the heart of London. Although he was acclaimed as a hero, some had their doubts about Sketty’s role in the events that day. With all the suspects either dead or missing, however, there is little evidence to contradict Sketty’s version. That is now set to change, with Sketty blackmailed into revealing what really happened all those years ago. Gradually over the course of a long night, the truth about the Villa Amalfi massacre, and what led up to it, is finally going to be revealed.
What starts out as a reasonably straight-forward tale, quickly starts to twist and turn, as the story races down some dark alleyways, bouncing from one surprise to another as the tension steadily increases. The shifting timeline between the past and the present, and the alternating viewpoint between Sketty and the mysterious Dr Teller who is hearing the former cop’s confession, helps to build the suspense and keeps the reader off guard as the real story is revealed. There is plenty of action and violence and the book races to a terrific climax, and a succession of surprises all the way down to the last line of the book.
Kernick has always been the wilder British cousin of Harlan Coben, and Good Cop Bad Cop delivers the twists and turns, and outrageous reversals, that we have come to expect from his books. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but it is well worth it, as it is highly entertaining read.
Four stars out of five!
Good Cop Bad Cop was released in Australia on 9 November 2021 and in the United Kingdom on 11 November 2021.
Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book to review.
Five Decembers (Hard Case Crime, October 2021) comes on the back of some outstanding reviews and enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations from overseas, and for once the hype is warranted.
James Kestrel, apparently the pseudonym for an established Hawaiian author, has delivered an outstanding piece of fiction that combines elements of the crime, thriller and romance genres with the war novel. All of which is set against a vividly described Hawaii and South East Asia in the early 1940s.
The story opens in late November 1941 with Hawaiian police detective Joe McGrady being called to a late-night double murder in a worker’s cottage on a local farm. The victims have been gruesomely slaughtered and when McGrady returns to the murder scene after calling for support, he becomes involved in a shootout with the supposed perpetrator. It seems like a simple murder case, until it turns out that one of the victims is a young Japanese woman and the other is the nephew of a Navy Admiral. When it looks like another person was also involved, McGrady finds himself in pursuit of the killer as the attack on Pearl Harbor nears.
To reveal more of the story would be a crime, as much of the pleasure of Five Decembers comes from the way in which the plot heads in unexpected and interesting directions. Not surprisingly given the period in which it is set, Five Decembers is as much a reflection on war and what it does to people, as it is a crime novel. The characters grow and change throughout the book, and Kestrel is particularly adept at creating strong, interesting female characters who have considerable depth and credibility to them. This strength of characterisation adds a real sense of poignancy to the book at times, and is hard not to become emotionally caught-up in the plight of the protagonists.
At its core, however, Five Decembers is a crime novel, and Kestrel does a marvellous job of maintaining suspense and keeping the story ticking over at a good pace. There are a couple of neat twists towards the end and the book builds to a suitably tough and exciting climax. An outstanding novel.
Five Decembers is close to five out of five stars for me, and probably falls just a little short through some minor stretches of credibility towards the end. Easily one of the best, if not the best, crime/thrillers of the year!
Five Decembers was released in the United States in October 2021. It has not been released locally in Australia, but can be obtained through Amazon and other booksellers, or on Kindle. Many thanks to George Easter at Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine for recommending it to me.