Predators and prey: evil itself; spree and serial killers, two-time losers, FBI profilers and legally-sanctioned assassins. You’ll meet all of these and more in this selection of six crime-thrillers. Among the hardboiled noir and courtroom dramas you’ll find two of the best books we’ve read recently – and one you might want to avoid…
NEVADA NOIR by David Arrowsmith
Less is definitely more in these skilfully-told stories of misdeeds and misery. Three short stories intertwine to form a powerful novella of greed, brutality, despair and – perhaps, possibly, maybe – a glimpse of redemption. Don’t be put off by the limited word-count; the author’s subtle, poetic prose delivers more depth and detail than acres of exposition.
This is the fine side of literary crime fiction, where characters are deftly sketched in a few sentences. Their hopes shrivel and blister in the scorching intensity of criminal intent; two-time losers betrayed by their innate attraction to the sleazy, to the seemingly easy. A superb debut; one which demands your attention and involvement. Let’s hope the author soon delivers full-length novel of similar accomplishment.
NINE LIES by Frank Westworth
Frank Westworth’s principal character is a predator. Killing is his business. JJ Stoner and his colleague Stretch make James Bond look like a Boy Scout. These ex-military hit-men operate in a shadowy world which, I naïvely hope, is just a figment of Westworth’s imagination, where individuals inconvenient to the government are ‘removed’ on instruction from the Hard Man – principal actor of a department which doesn’t officially exist.
Although they are calculating, vicious and cold killers, Westworth’s characters are oddly compelling. You follow their exploits with the same grim fascination as one would one of those nature films, finding oneself disturbingly rooting for the predator.
In Nine Lies, when a hit goes wrong, Stoner suddenly realises that he may have actually been the target, or at the very least, convenient collateral damage. But nothing in a Stoner story is what it at first seems. Read on – it’s worth it.
GHOST by Michael Jack Webb
There’s a great story in here, but it’s simply submerged under ten tonnes of trivia and the result is not a ‘thriller’, more of a ‘plodder’. The premise is excellent: a young female FBI agent survives a harrowing encounter with the serial killer she’s been hunting. A year later, the killings begin again and her parents go missing. Her independent investigation uncovers a century-spanning supernatural / spiritual mystery a la The Da Vinci Code.
Unfortunately, this author does not have Dan Brown’s sense of pace and presentation. Every intriguing encounter is weighed down with dense description and unlikely exposition which neither progresses the plot nor illuminates the characters. The juxtaposition of an ancient Christian sect and First Nations beliefs could’ve been brilliant, but instead this reads like a graduate-level textbook. The devil is definitely in the detail and this story provides an impossible volume of detail to wade through.
HINTON HOLLOW DEATH TRIP by Will Carver
We’ve mentioned before that Will Carver skilfully and deliberately breaks the boundaries of crime fiction. His books have few filters and his stylish writing purposefully pushes the buttons of the modern psyche. The superficial story concerns the central character of DS Pace, who has been through the mill recently (and you really need to have read the earlier books in this series to make sense of what’s happening to him).
But with outrageous impudence and a bold writing device, the author is actually screaming at us, the audience, from every page. This novel is an exploration of minor and major evils – not those of the characters, but of the readers and of the sins we commit in everyday life. Outstanding.
A LAST ACT OF CHARITY by Frank Westworth
The author has a unique writing style, making this book fast-paced and intriguing. Westworth did an excellent job of bringing characters to life, and has enriched the ever-bland world of investigative protagonists. This book, however, is not for any reader looking for a cosy mystery as it contains vivid descriptions.
It’s a good read with an intriguing plot. Recommended to anyone who loves a good thriller (and has a good digestive system).
THE REVERSAL by Michael Connelly
This is a cracking crossover in which the author brings together two of his engaging characters – LAPD detective Harry Bosch and the slightly sleazy lawyer, Mickey Haller – in a courtroom drama which is all about justice. The clever plot propels Haller from his usual role as defence lawyer to the opposing side, ensuring that an old conviction of a child killer isn’t overturned by dubious new evidence and a savvy PR campaign.
What follows is a well-written and engrossing investigation, full of misleading evidence, legal shenanigans and high-stakes tension. The domestic intertwining of the two main characters is a little less successful, I felt, but the author cleverly uses their parallel lives to illustrate what might’ve been for either man. As usual, Connelly delivers a resoundingly satisfying conclusion with plenty of ‘didn’t see that coming’ moments, but leaves the door wide open for further interplay between the charismatic protagonists.