Rapid Reviews: good, bad, ugly and otherwise

This month’s selection of crime-thrillers reveals two superb offerings from established favourites; two which we rather wish had stayed on the shelf, and an outstanding debut from a talented new author…

WELCOME TO COOPER by Tariq Ashkanani
What a gloriously nasty piece of work this is; a twisted tangle of corrupt cops, the mobsters who manipulate them and a scheming serial killer who might just get away with multiple murders.

Morally bankrupt Detective Thomas Levine is banished to the back of beyond – the town of Cooper, Nebraska – after betraying his colleagues in the big city to save his own sorry skin. He’s easily embroiled in Cooper’s vicious conspiracies, while seeking to atone for his own sordid history.

A razor-sharp slice of modern American noir – and truly accomplished for a debut novel. Can’t wait for the next from this new author.
9/10

I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM by Eric Rickstad
This coming-of-age tale draws on the tropes of the traditional Gothic mystery; hidden secrets passed down through generations, a tangled family history, deranged relatives imprisoned in the attic, estranged siblings who unwittingly fall in love, a message from a dead parent which propels a young man into an increasingly violent situation.

Frankly, it’s pretty implausible when presented as a costume drama and stretched my credibility beyond breaking point as a contemporary thriller. It doesn’t help that the adolescent protagonist is a disagreeable malcontent, nor that the writing is boilerplate at best. The succession of ghastly revelations and improbable plot twists left me frustrated that I’d wasted good time on an under-par book.
5/10

PSYCHOPATHS ANONYMOUS by Will Carver
I’m guessing that Will Carver and I share many of the same delinquent influences, because I delight in his wonderfully warped, knife-edge blend of caustic social commentary and gruesomely graphic noir. This standalone rant is a superb example of the sustained polemic and it draws on some of my all-time favourite bad boys. Think American Psycho meets Fight Club, channelling a significant slice of Will Self’s early work. I can’t quite remember which of Will Self’s novels started with someone musing about lopping the head off a fellow passenger on the London Underground and [censored] the stump, but boy did one of the scenes in PA ring big bells.

Likewise, one of the less-remembered rules of Fight Club was that ‘if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight,’ and something very similar happens here. No spoilers. Actually, this isn’t quite Carver’s best – I think the device has worn thin by the time we get to the final reveal – and his central character isn’t particularly engaging… which is tough, because she dominates the entire tale.

Even so, it’s a wild ride which breaches most of the boundaries of good behaviour, yet resonates with a powerful moral message at its core. Crime fiction ain’t literature? Phooey.
8/10

DARK SACRED NIGHT by Michael Connelly
The Harry Bosch series of LAPD procedurals has been running so long I’ve lost track of which notional number this one should carry, but this intriguing investigation is part of the ‘next generation’ featuring female detective Renee Ballard. She’s on the graveyard shift, picking up the pieces which the robbery-homicide squad can’t be bothered to pursue; Harry is semi-retired and looking into cold cases.

Author Connelly is a practised hand when it comes to blending authentic procedures with quirky characters and a genuine sense of jeopardy. The result is reliably entertaining – Bosch is definitely faring better in his later career than Reacher, J…
8/10

THE FOREST OF SMOKE AND FOG by Alex McGlothlin
With this book’s title and synopsis, I’d hoped for something atmospheric and intriguing, along the lines of the excellent Dark Pines series. Instead I found myself bogged down with boilerplate characters straight from central casting – the greedy, grasping brother who’s keen to sell of his family inheritance; the wayward son who’d rather be a beach-bum but has to fulfil the role of prodigal saviour. The tiresome plot has them bickering over their father’s estate, with dull corporate machinations to exploit an unsullied expanse of Appalachian forest.

It all lumbered along without poise or any particular purpose, hindered by sketchy editing where repeated dialogue zigzagged between past and present tenses. Mind you, that was the only actual tension in the chapters that I read… and yes, I took the unusual step to ditch out of this without finishing. That’s how little it grabbed me.
2/10

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All reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

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If your tastes in crime fiction extend to the unconventional…

…say hello to assassin JJ Stoner and the Killing Sisters

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