REVIEW: Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman

Series: N/A
Book Number: N/A
Read this book for: noir, femme fatales, no investigators, surprise plot twists, thriller, American thriller, unfortunate circumstances
Quick Review: Brilliant plotting, breathless pacing, and completely unable to be put down once you’ve started it; this is a must-read for noir fans.


When the beautiful young videographer offered to join his campaign, Senator Lee Rogers should’ve known better. But saying no would have taken a stronger man than Rogers, with his ailing wife and his robust libido. Enter Barton Brock, the senator’s fixer. He’s already gotten rid of one troublesome young woman—how hard could this new one turn out to be?

Pursued from Washington D.C. to the streets of Paris, 18-year-old Fanny Cours knows her reputation and budding career are on the line. But what she doesn’t realize is that her life might be as well…

ARE SNAKES NECESSARY is a noir novel billed as a ‘female revenge story’. It is definitely that, in several ways, but it is also a well-plotted, gripping thriller.

Hard Case Crime has a knack for finding incredible writers and storytellers that are dipping their toes into the noir genre (check out reviews for screenwriter Donald E. Westlake’s FOREVER AND A DEATH, and Stephen King’s THE COLORADO KID, as well as Scott Von Doviak’s excellent CHARLESGATE CONFIDENTIAL). This novel is no exception. Brian De Palma is a legendary filmmaker — having directed Scarface, Dressed to Kill, and The Untouchables — and here, with the help of accomplished author Susan Lehman, he shows that he is also a fantastic storyteller in print.

The writing style of the novel comes directly from De Palma’s film background; sparse, quick-moving prose, present tense delivery, brilliant descriptors that are an evocative shorthand for what is going on in a character’s mind. It almost reads like a screenplay, but that pacing and near-abrupt style adds to the noir feel.

And this is a noir novel, all the way through. It is filled with femme fatales, rogues and scoundrels, shadowy fixers and a somewhat jaded outlook. Despite all that, it walks the line between too much and too little admirably, refusing to take itself too seriously, and managing to steer shy of being too camp.

Part of what keeps it from veering into the too-camp territory is the plot, which is a truly stunning series of masterstrokes. Without spoilers, this novel manages to wrap together several increasingly disparate plots in several surprising, satisfying ways. Needing to know what happens next in the crazy rollercoaster of events kept me turning pages without putting the book down even once; I sat down and read this from cover to cover in one sitting.

If you are interested in tight, fascinating plotting, nods to noir films, and a delivery that is paced in a way that will not let you go once you begin, definitely pick up ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?

REVIEW: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #5)

Series: Charles Holborne
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: legal thriller, 60s London, semi-historical, amateur detective, based on a true story, realistic
Quick Review: A brilliantly written court case, a fascinating whodunnit and interesting circumstances combine for a page-turner that is both sensational and realistic.


London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

THE WAXWORK CORPSE is the fifth Charles Holborne legal thriller, based on a real Old Bailey case, from Simon Michael. It follows the rest of the series and provides yet another a taut, well-written, and highly believable legal thriller.

This is the fifth novel in the series (you can read the review for the opening novel, THE BRIEF on the blog), and I do recommend reading the other novels before jumping in to this one. This installment contains some spoilers for previous novels. However, you can read it as a stand-alone if you don’t mind the spoilers – everything is self-contained and there’s enough explanation that you aren’t left wondering too much about mentions of prior events.

Even more than the first novel, this book is about the court case. If you want a good legal thriller — tightly procedural, realistic, detailed and interesting — this is the book for you. Michael’s experience at the Bar shines through in the way that he writes courtroom drama, and the little details that can make or break a case. The way the case is written, which comprises the majority of the novel, makes this story well worth the read on its own.

On top of the great legal writing, however, is an interesting case. The high-profile characters, a near-perfect murder, and the details that lead to discoveries are only a small part of the novel, but those bits are enough to satisfy whodunnit fans. The investigation is a minor area of the plot, but still one that keeps you turning pages.

There is also some development and backstory layered in to Holborne’s character in this novel, and Michael does a great job of adding that depth without it feeling forced or too heavy-handed. Holborne actually develops and changes a bit as a character through the course of this novel — a rare feat for a lead in a series that has already stretched to five books, and one that is extremely gratifying to watch.

If you are at all interested in legal thrillers, THE WAXWORK CORPSE is one that you must read. This series is one of the finest examples of the genre.

REVIEW: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: Australian mystery, noir detective, damaged detective, dark secrets, intertwined plot, literary mystery

Quick Review: A beautifully written noir piece with a slow-burn pace; it takes a while to get into but once hooked, you won’t be able to put it down.

***

Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then. He was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you’ve come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before. Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is beaten and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced. And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go.

THE BROKEN SHORE is a 2005 mystery from writer Peter Temple, winner of the Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. It is an Australian piece of crime fiction, given to me as a gift by some thoughtful friends who recently visited the country and picked out the most perfect ’souvenir’ to bring back – a fantastic crime novel that I likely would never have been aware of otherwise!

This is a stand-alone novel, but it feels like part of a series; there is so much backstory about the main character, Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Cashin, that it feels like there should be volumes before to fill in some of the blanks. Rather than being a detraction, however, the lack of history makes you desperate to learn more about the character, and as you start to get more bits and pieces of information, the character becomes more and more fascinating. While there are still things you would like to know about him by the end of the novel, it does not feel like you are missing anything crucial. There has also been a sequel/companion novel published, called TRUTH.

In fact, much of this novel remains vague, open, and unclear on the characters and events that happen. If you are one of those readers who needs concrete answers, with all loose ends tied up and everything neatly filed away, this might be a challenging read for you. The novel answers enough questions to create a satisfying resolution, but also leaves enough questions to remain pleasingly open to interpretation. This increases the novel’s sense of dark realism.

This novel is very stylistically noir – a little bit cynical, a little bit darker than reality – but does not become overdramatic. Everything, from the characters to the pacing of the plot, combine to make a story that draws you in completely. The pacing is slow and a little bit confusing at first, but as some of the threads find one another and weave together, you find out a bit more about the characters and the plot picks up. It comes to a head with some action and a clever resolution that is even more gratifying given the level of unknown that you started with. It is far from simple, but still streamlined, once you reach the end.

A quick caveat: one of the things that contributed to the confusion I felt at the beginning of the novel is the amount of Australian slang contained in the novel. If you are not Australian or familiar with the more colloquial parts of the language, the first third of the novel has a bit of a steep learning curve. However, once you start to understand the language, and the plot picks up speed, the confusion evaporates.

THE BROKEN SHORE is an incredible piece of writing that fans of noir and literary crime fiction should definitely consider! We’re adding more Australian crime fiction to the reading lists on the strength of its plot and writing.

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: classic Holmes pastiche, Sherlock Holmes, cozy mystery, supernatural elements, classic mystery, whodunnit

Quick Review: A classic and seasonal Holmes story, full of brilliant deductions, solid characterization, and a writing so familiar that you could imagine Conan Doyle penning it himself.

***

It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.

Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…

Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.

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REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)

Series: Drabble & Harris

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: UK mystery, period mystery, historical references, action, adventure, thriller, heroes in danger, amateur investigator

Quick Review: A period, action-packed adventure – the English Indiana Jones.

***

Ernest Drabble, a Cambridge historian and mountaineer, travels to rural Devon to inspect the decapitated head of Oliver Cromwell a macabre artefact owned by Dr Wilkinson. Drabble only tells one person of his plans Harris, an old school friend and press reporter.

On the train to Devon, Drabble narrowly avoids being murdered, only to reach his destination and find Dr Wilkinson has been killed. Gripped in Wilkinson’s hand is a telegram from Winston Churchill instructing him to bring the head of Oliver Cromwell to London.

Drabble has unwittingly become embroiled in a pro-Nazi conspiracy headed by a high-status Conservative member of the British government.

And so, Drabble teams up with Wilkinson’s secretary, Kate Honeyand, to find the head and rescue Harris who is being tortured for information.

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REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)

Series: Killing Eve

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: female assassin, female investigator, spy thriller, assassin thriller, contemporary and stylish, international locations, UK based

Quick Review: Not long, but a fantastically paced, stylish spy thriller.

***

She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

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REVIEW: The Nursery by Asia Mackay (Lex Tyler #2)

Series: Lex Tyler

Book Number: 2

Read this book for: spy thriller, strong female characters, assassin character, dangerous mums, action thriller, UK novel

Quick Review: Fast, fresh and interesting, with a fun, human-feeling cast of characters, and a relentless plot.

***

Lex Tyler is trying to have it all. But being a working mother is so much more difficult when you’re a secret agent for an underground branch of the security services. Platform Eight have been tasked with tracking down and eliminating the traitor in MI6 who has been selling information to the highest bidder through a headhunting website for the criminal underworld that connects intelligence operatives with all manner of bad people with a simple right swipe. Deals get made. Secrets get sold. Missions fail, and agents die.

Lex’s own home life is not much easier. With a husband who rings her in the middle of a gunfight to complain she’s yet again forgotten to pick up his dry-cleaning, and a two-year-old daughter who has a newfound love of biting, surviving both the Terrible Twos and a traitor might just be too much for one exhausted mother to handle.

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