Book Review: Force of Nature, by Jane Harper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_force_of_natureThis is the much-anticipated second novel from Jane Harper. Her debut, The Dry, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and the film rights were snapped up. Jane Harper lives in Melbourne and has worked as a print journalist in Australia and the UK for thirteen years.  I loved her debut and was keen to see if her second novel was as engaging. I was not disappointed.

In Force of Nature, we once again meet Aaron Faulk, a Federal Police Agent working in the rugged outback of Australia (he in The Dry, and too good to be a one-novel wonder). He is asked to help to search for a woman missing in the bush. While five women embark on a corporate team building exercise, only four make it out three days later. For Faulk, this is more than a missing person case, as the woman is his key source for an investigation into her employer’s dealings.

Faulk is a man troubled by his past, a little of which was exposed in The Dry. We again glimpse his background through a series of tramping maps left to him by his late father. These maps include the area of the search, and Faulk is forced to recall his memories and ] re-evaluate his ideas about his father.

The Australian landscape is very much a part of this story. The bush, the mountains and the struggle to exist in a small town. I like Harper’s style. She keeps the pace up but manages to capture patterns of speech and the guilt of survivors. As the story unravels, we discover all is not as it first appears. There are tensions within the family company, and suspicions among the staff. This is the stuff of an excellent crime novel.

Force of Nature is a great Australian crime novel because we are drawn into a world where land and man work together to reveal the truth. This is the Christmas novel that will be passed around our family and never actually make it back to me.

by Kathy Watson

Force of Nature
by Jane Harper
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781743549094

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Book Review: The Pacific Affair by Gary Paul Stephenson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_pacific_affairCharming yet flawed, The Pacific Affair by Gary Paul Stephenson is an entertaining read that tackles a dramatic and ever-pertinent concept, yet is let down by editorial errors and attention to the wrong kind of detail. If you are a patient reader sympathetic to encouraging new authors, read this book: if you are not, give it a skip.

The Pacific Affair introduces resourceful hero Charles Langham whose personal mission is to force stagnant politicians and international organisations to act over climate change, poverty, and (somewhat out of sync) the South American drug trade. After issuing the United Nations with an ultimatum of consequences for failure to change course, Langham garners the ready support of the vast majority of nations but makes an enemy of the President of the United States of America. Pitted against the arguably most powerful man on the planet, Langham and his team must uncover the President’s adversary motivations whilst also outrunning and outsmarting the US Navy and the President’s Special Ops team. The more Langham’s team discover, the murkier the waters become. Based on board Langham’s super yacht, the journey follows the Sundancer from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Panama to the Amazon to Tonga and beyond. While Langham’s unlimited cash, expertise, and good fortune felt incredible at times, the relevance of the theme negated these simplicities, leaving a framework for a thrilling story.

While Stephenson has a flair for imagination, the devil is not in the detail in The Pacific Affair. Stephenson haphazardly introduces a rambling cast of characters and has a tendency for lengthy descriptions of the interior design of insignificant rooms. The narrative could do without the clutter. The novel is also littered with editorial errors and formatting inconsistencies that could kill the enjoyment for grammar-sticklers. If Stephenson were able to tighten up these issues in the next novel in the Charles Langham series, the reader could fully let go and fall into the promising narrative.

Adding a bittersweet charm to The Pacific Affair is the knowledge that Stephenson suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, which he shares with the novel’s hero, Charles Langham. MS affects people in different ways, but can have physical effects such as poor balance, slurred speech, spasms, and fatigue, as well effects on a person’s memory, thinking, and emotions. Langham’s MS affliction gives the character a realness that is rare in hero figures, although the effects of the disease could have been amplified. Both Stephenson and Langham’s efforts are enormous feats for MS-suffers, which may help as encouragement for those living with the disease and also serves to help raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis.

In a political climate that is questioning the establishment repeatedly, demanding a new breed of politicians to act in the interests of the common people, the concept shaping The Pacific Affair is important and absorbing. While a dose of patience may be required, Stephenson’s well-intended The Pacific Affair is compelling.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

The Pacific Affair
by Gary Paul Stephenson
Published by Lang Book Publishing
ISBN 9780994129062

Book Review: The Moment She Left, by Susan Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_moment_she_leftThe Moment She Left is one of those books that pulls you in very quickly and keeps you turning the pages avidly until the end. I had not read any Susan Lewis novels before this one but I’ll be keeping an eye out for her from now on.

In the first chapter we’re introduced to Jessica Leonard, who was heading to meet her family, but changed plans at the last minute after getting a call as she entered the railway station. Jessica’s final thoughts are relayed from inside a garage, before the book jumps ahead two years and it’s quickly apparent she never made it home to her family that day.

What happened to Jessica that day? Who did she meet? Where is she and is she alive or dead? These questions have plagued her family – dad Blake, who blames himself for having to relocate the whole family after something happened that caused him to lose his job, severely depressed mother Jenny, and twin brother Matt.

Blake hires retired detective Andee Lawrence to go over the case again in case the police missed something. She’s in the middle of her own crisis, splitting from husband Martin and unwittingly renewing contact with former lover Graeme – who just happens to be Blake’s boss.

Graeme’s sister Rowzee has secrets of her own – a serious health issue that she doesn’t want to burden her family with. She lives with their sister Pamela, who also appears to be hiding something.

At first I thought The Moment She Left was a crime novel but it’s so much more than that. It’s a drama about ordinary people who get caught up in events that dramatically change their lives. The book has a number of twists and turns that had several characters doubting themselves. And one character is being blackmailed, handing over vast sums of cash to an unknown person who is threatening to expose their secret.

Are any of these people connected to Jessica’s disappearance? Rowzee is the one who stumbles on the truth in the end, although by then she is so affected by her illness she’s not sure what’s going on.

I really enjoyed The Moment She Left as Susan Lewis kept the pace going and her characters were likeable and believable. The ending had elements of a fairy tale to it for some of the characters, but who could begrudge that when you know what they had all been through?

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Moment She Left
by Susan Lewis
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780891859

Book Review: Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All, by Jonas Jonasson

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cv_hitman_anders_and_the_meaning_of_it_allJonas Jonasson’s previous books include The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.

Per Persson works at the Sea Point Hotel as the receptionist and has a room behind the counter. Hitman Anders is a long-time resident of the hotel – his real name is Johan Andersson. Hitman Anders came by his name after putting an axe into the head of his amphetamine dealer. Everybody is scared of him and because of this he has never paid a cent in rent.

Johanna Kjellander, a former priest, is sleeping rough since being chucked out of her parish after announcing to her congregation she didn’t believe in God, much less Jesus.

Per Persson is handed an envelope at reception containing five thousand kroner for half a job done by Hitman Andersson. Hitman only broke one arm instead of two. His drinking is a bit of a problem but he doesn’t want to end up in prison again. He lives by his reputation and everybody being scared of him.

A scheme is hatched by Per Persson and Johanna to hire Hitman out for jobs with each job having a set price. That goes awry when Hitman finds God and doesn’t want to kill any more. They then hatch another scheme where they accept jobs on his behalf with payment made before the job is done.

I found this a very funny book with a totally improbable plot and lots of bible misquotes which really was the charm of the whole book. A great read.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All
by Jonas Jonasson
Published by Fourth Estate Ltd
ISBN 9780008155575

Book Review: Predator, by Wilbur Smith with Tom Cain

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cv_predatorWilbur Smith continues the story of Hector Cross, the ex-SAS officer we have met in two previous novels. Cross lost his wife to a killer he has tracked, found and returned to the United States. The book starts with Cross awaiting the news of the death of Johnny Congo, the killer. He has been given the death penalty and all is secure for this to take place. The corruption and complexities of Congo’s contacts are detailed as we await justice.

This is a fast-paced book, swinging from the African oilfields to Alaska as we follow Cross in his role as an oilfield industry Security chief. There is a little romance, fatherhood as Hector Cross now has a young daughter to care for, and plenty of uncertainty. The baddies are very bad, the goodies are flawed, but generally try to do the best they can.

At times, I was little bogged down in detail as the four different stories played out on different continents with associated groups of friends or foes. Trying to sustain the different characters and settings, while keeping the pace up, seemed to present a real challenge. Eventually, it all comes together in a storm on the high seas.

As always, fans of Wilbur Smith will not be disappointed. You will have to read it for yourself to see if Hector Cross will live to tell another tale.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Predator
by Wilbur Smith with Tom Cain
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460752814

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Club, by Jen Shieff

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cv_the_gentlemans_clubThere are three central characters in The Gentleman’s Club, the debut novel by Jen Shieff: Hairdresser and brothel owner Rita, Hungarian immigrant engineer Istvan – who is on assisted passage, and mixed up sixteen-year-old Judith. These three characters create their own stories, but are all involved in the resolution of a child slavery crime.

The plot is a mix of romance, intrigue and determination. We follow Rita as she hopes for success of the opening of her girls’ boarding house; Judith as she is determined to do ‘right’ by the three orphan girls she has been paid to escort from England to a new life with adoptive families in New Zealand; and Istvan as he pursues his simple goal of finding work, a new life, and as he assists Judith.

The main settings are Rita’s establishment and the Brodie Home for orphaned children, run by Mr Lindsay Pitcaithly. Other characters create a mesh of personalities and problems, all of which are resolved neatly in the end. But it’s the “how” they are resolved which makes this a fascinating picture of 1950’s New Zealand life – when the NZ culture was still formative and followed much of Mother England’s, except for the kiwi “can do” attitude to any problem that arises.

Shieff has researched the times and culture of the age thoroughly, and has enabled the setting to come to life with references to familiar places, people and customs.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

The Gentleman’s Club
by Jen Shieff
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473327422

Book Review: My Name is N., by Robert Karjel

cv_my_name_is_NAvailable now in bookstores nationwide.

In this mystery-come-crime novel, Karjel takes us back and forth between December 2004 in Thailand and 2008 in the US. Ernst Grip serves as security for the Swedish Security Police, but occasionally is called back to his former role as an agent. This time his boss sends him for the Swedish Foreign Ministry to work with the Justice Department of the US about a crime committed in Topeka .

Before the latest assignment, he worked with five people who met after the Tsunami of 2004 in Thailand. This group carries a grudge against the loud-speaking leader of a conservative church, and Grip assists them in taking revenge for his outrageous public derogatory spume against the tsunami victims.

His current assignment takes him to the US, then to a remote secure island in the Indian Ocean, under the “management” of an FBI agent. His task is to try and confirm whether a captive of the US security is a fellow Swede. The captive will not speak, but Grip manages to break through and learns enough of his background and suffering to put together the full picture.

Karjel uses time swapping to good effect. We gather the bits and pieces of the mystery as each part of the twisted plot is revealed. His dialogue reflects the thought processes of the characters, conveying their urgency, their doubts, their dreams. And we, the reader, become intent on sorting out the tangled threads that form a tight knot.

Karjel original published this as De Redan Döda in 2010. This translation (by Nancy Pick) was released in July 2015.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

My Name is N.
by Robert Karjel
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN: 9780007586028
Imprint: HarperCollins – GB