The best new crime reads in August
Our crime specialist shares 9 great crime reads to look out for this month.
This month’s crime new releases are a veritable smorgasbord for lovers of the genre. Truly, it’s a feast of veterans and old favourites. Once again I’m stepping into Fiona’s big shoes, and I must say, choosing the books to review in this column was really tough. Sadly, time and editorial demands meant exciting new books from stalwarts such as Stephen King, Daniel Silva, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and Anthony Horowitz didn’t make the cut. The talent and chutzpah of Australian crime writers continues in August, and across the board the standards are extremely high, as are the body counts.
CRIME BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Orchard Murders by Robert Gott
For our Crime Book of the Month we return to 1944 and gloomy, wartime Melbourne in Robert Gott’s The Orchard Murders, the fourth instalment in his Holiday Murders series. I’ve long been a fan of Gott’s books, and was simply itching to read this. If we chose the book of the month based on body count alone, this would win by a country mile. A mass homicide in Nunawading leads under-resourced and overstretched homicide detective Titus Lambert to enlist the help of Helen Lord and Joe Sable, former homicide detectives now established as private investigators. Shifty, shady idolater Anthony Prescott and his bizarre cult pose a clear and present danger to the team. Resolving such a heinous crime becomes an exercise fraught with peril.
Gott’s use of language in this finely written book is superb. He is an exceptional storyteller, and the plot unfolds effortlessly. It’s a joy to find writers who can command their craft in such a way so the action doesn’t feel forced or contrived. Lord and Lambert are as brilliantly unflappable as ever, and I can’t help but cheer for the ensemble’s newcomer, Dr Clara Dawson. Her determination, blunt manner and ribald vocabulary are great – she’s no shrinking violet! We can’t say its champagne crime fiction as it’s not from the Champagne region, but this sure as hell is sparkling crime fiction.
NEW CRIME FICTION
The Last Guests by J.P. Pomare
When struggling New Zealand couple Lina and Cain are encouraged to list their lakeside property on a holiday rental site by friends, this seems the answer to their financial and marital woes. But somewhere from a distance, they are being watched. Suspicions form, highlighting the fractures in their relationship. Who is this shadowy figure and what the hell is going on? In this new book, J.P. Pomare steps into fresh territory providing readers with an unsettling look at voyeur culture. An entertaining read, despite the slightly mismatched pace and levels of tension.
The Enemy Within by Tim Ayliffe
Newsroom/investigative journalism is increasingly emerging as a popular subgenre of crime fiction. In Australia, Tim Ayliffe, Tony Jones and Michael Brissenden (all current and former ABC journos) are at the vanguard of this. I wonder if they have their own book group? In Ayliffe’s latest, we see former war correspondent John Bailey (just call him Bailey) investigating far-right extremists with links to narcotics importation. The stakes and body count climb together, and it all gets a bit personal when a close friend is the victim of a targeted killing. This is a gritty and sophisticated plot, and Ayliffe deserves full marks for including canine sidekick Campo, Bailey’s rescue greyhound. What a noodle she is!
1979 by Val McDermid
Val McDermid’s lockdown project is a brand-new series that taps into her own early career as a journalist. The setting she transports us to is the heady first days of 1979 and the backdrop of Scotland’s attempted devolution referendum. Daily Clarion junior investigative journalists Allie and Danny begin working on a big scoop with high stakes where failure is not an option: infiltrating a cell of extremist Scottish nationalists. 1979 kept me on tenterhooks right up until its satisfying yet bittersweet end. An immensely enjoyable book, 1979 is undeniable proof of McDermid’s storytelling prowess, and will surely delight longtime fans and new readers alike. Bring on the next book!
The Long Game by Simon Rowell
DS Zoe Mayer returns to active service in this second instalment from Simon Rowell, partnering with bestest service doggo Harry, and some other two-legged cops, to investigate the stabbing of surfer dude Ray Carlson. What seems like a cut and dried murder investigation on the surface unfolds in dramatic fashion as links between Carlson’s death and two other active cases emerge. Even as the pieces start to fall into place, something doesn’t feel quite right for Zoe. Gripping and pacy, The Long Game is another great read from a local author. I can’t wait for the spin-off series featuring canine investigator Harry.
Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea
In her impressive debut, A Voice in the Night (released last month), Sarah Hawthorn crafted a brilliant tale of intrigue set 20 years after 9/11. This month, Charlie Donlea looks back at the same event, raising the stakes with his appropriately titled novel. Two decades after 9/11, TV host Avery Mason’s interest is piqued in a cold case that was abandoned after the terrorist attacks: the deaths of novelist Cameron Young, and also that of his alleged murderer Victoria Ford. Can she prove Ford’s innocence and solve the murder? I’ve never read Donlea before, but this is a very clever, twisty thriller with a plot that takes readers right up to the last page. Very impressive!
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
Belmont Academy is full of entitled rich kids whose chequebook- brandishing parents stand ready to smooth a route to the Ivy League – the very type of parent ‘Teacher of the Year’ Teddy Crutcher despises. Annoyingly for him, parents and even the staff are determined to meddle in his affairs. For their own good, they need to be taught a lesson! For student Zach Ward, the mysterious deaths at the school don’t really add up, and aspersions are cast in all the wrong directions. Darkly funny, vividly imagined and lots of fun, these are just the sort of deadly hijinks I’d expect at a prestigious private school!
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
One of Megan Abbott’s many talents as a writer is her ability to hit the bullseye of the intersection between crime, thriller and literary fiction. Orphaned sisters Dara and Marie, and Dara’s husband Charlie, run an ageing ballet school inherited by the girls. An introduction to builder Derek helps clarify the need for renovation. But Derek’s presence soon proves disturbing for the women, particularly for Marie who is quickly bewitched by him. A troubled Dara starts to look deeper, and while digging into Derek’s life, uncovers a devastating betrayal. Toying with themes of desire, betrayal and control, The Turnout is a brilliant slow-burn read.
CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie
It’s clear that the demand for true-crime anything isn’t waning, but this is something slightly different to sink your teeth into. CSI Told You Lies explores the history and important work of the world-class Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). Through interviews, we meet the men and women who, with considerable compassion, use their expertise to establish causes of death following homicides, assaults or large-scale disasters (including the Black Saturday bushfires and the Boxing Day tsunami). The book is peppered with fascinating familiar cases, both long past and (fairly) recent, but for me, the most interesting element was the experts themselves. Read this if you loved Leigh Sales’ An Ordinary Day.
Also out this month:
The Doll by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir; The Cellist by Daniel Silva; Just Murdered: Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries by Katherine Kovacic; Billy Summers by Stephen King; Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena; Double Deal by John M. Green; A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz; and Unholy Murder by Lynda La Plante.