Chasers, Lorenzo Carcaterra

August 1st, 2007

Title: CHASERS
Author: Lorenzo Carcaterra
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition released: July 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7432-8538-4
341 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

According to the bio that came with the book, CHASERS is the 5th book by Lorenzo Carcaterra and a followup to APACHES. The author lives in New York and has written scripts for films and TV shows, including Law and Order. Perhaps that's where the style and content of CHASERS comes from, because this is a very specific type of thriller book, possibly appealing to a particular type of taste.

Set in 1985 in New York, machine-guns are used to murder a target in a Manhattan restaurant, killing innocent bystanders in the process. The brutal slaying propels the surviving members of the Apaches into the investigation of a Colombian drug cartel run by an ex-priest.

The Apaches are a group of controversial ex-cops famous for their take no prisoners, tolerate no garbage style. Original members of the group are joined by some new recruits - a wounded arson investigator, an HIV-positive specialist in forensics and a retired police dog. From the blurb on the book "Now this dedicated team will become Chasers, working multiple cases that will converge into one explosive, all-out New York City street war".

To like CHASERS if might be best if you're a fan of endless dead bodies, assorted gangs facing off against each other (at some point you were left wondering if there was room for anybody else in the city); blood running in the streets; wise-cracking, deeply cynical New York Cops; dialogue that flows through the ear like a staccato dentist drill; vengeance; and rampant gratuitous, almost celebrated, violence.

And boy oh boy is there a lot of everything that's just a bit stomach churning. Spattered gore doesn't begin to explain it, mentioning that there are a lot of dead bodies in this novel doesn't do justice to the dismembering, mayhem and general discarding of human beings left right and centre throughout the book. There's nothing wrong with a high body count in a thriller after all, but somewhere buried under the assorted body parts you'd hope there would be a story being told. This searching for the story under the gore is complicated further by the nature of the dialogue, every single character using the same slick, smart, sassy, street talk (or whatever you'd call it style) that meant that most of the time it was almost impossible to tell which character said what.

I guess ultimately CHASERS could read like a film adaption waiting to happen (although what rating you'd give this level of mayhem beggars the mind), but as a book (for a fan of the occasional over the top thriller) it left a bit to be desired.

The Dead Pool, Sue Walker

July 31st, 2007

Title: THE DEAD POOL
Author: Sue Walker
Publisher: Penguin
Edition released: June 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7181-4887-4
296 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

Kirstin Rutherford returns to Edinburgh after two years. Five months ago her beloved father-in-law Jamie drowned in The Cauldron - a deep pool in the Water of Leith, only nobody had told Kirstin. Divorced from Ross, she finds that Ross has not told her about Jamie's death or his funeral for some strange reason. Even more distressing than not being told, it seems that everyone thinks that Jamie's death was either a tragic accident or suicide, but Kirstin refuses to believe that the man she knew could possibly have committed suicide. Ross is not so sure, positive his father had changed in the months before his death.

The only person who may know the truth is Morag. In the months before Jamie's death he had been working as a volunteer river guide and self-appointed park ranger, and Morag and her crowd of friends were residents along the same part of the river. Their activities - parties, games, drinking and playing hard on the banks of the river had brought them into direct confrontation with Jamie. Despite all his best efforts he wasn't able to curb their behaviour, but when two of that crowd are murdered at the Cauldron - just a few months before Jamie's own death, Morag is accused but finally released from jail due to lack of evidence. Convinced Morag is the key to the truth behind Jamie's death, Kirstin befriends her, but Kirstin soon discovers that Morag is unpredictable to say the least.

According to the bio that came with THE DEAD POOL, Sue Walker is a journalist who has specialised in miscarriage of justice cases and THE DEAD POOL follows that vein of investigation - the testing of evidence and events around the death of all three people - the two murder victims and Kirstin's father-in-law. The author is obviously deeply interested in the subject of how people can seem to be guilty of things even though there is very little actual fact behind the perception. THE DEAD POOL covers the question of whether or not Morag is guilty and if not, who else could possibly be involved. The question of Jamie's death is central to Kirstin's obsession, she desperately wants to understand what happened to her much loved father-in-law, both before he died and how he died.

The other interesting component of THE DEAD POOL was the author's choice to populate the book with a lot of difficult characters. Those of the crowd in which Morag mixed that were still around were mostly unpleasant, over the top, self-involved. This gave an interesting twist to their possible involvement in any of the deaths as even Morag was very hard to sympathise with or even like for that matter. Jamie's son Ross seems almost too good to be true, and a weird sort of user, an uncomfortable character to be around, whilst Kirstin, the central character of the book, was equally disconcerting in many ways. Ultimately the true killer wasn't that hard to pick fairly early on, and whilst a number of the side considerations of possible motives or the vague possibility of collaboration were dangled at points, the resolution with a little bit too much rushing around in the rain without the much longed for mobile telephone gave the book a bit of a flat ending.

The Last Testament, Sam Bourne

July 28th, 2007

Title: THE LAST TESTAMENT
Author: Sam Bourne
Publisher: Harper Collins
Edition released: July 2007
ISBN: 978-0-00-720333-8
442 pages
Review by: Karen Chisholm

The blurb for THE LAST TESTAMENT reads along the lines of "The Biggest Challenger to Dan Brown's Crown" and "A brilliant new high-concept religious conspiracy theory thriller", which might put some readers off, or at the very least set you up with some pre-conceived conceptions about the book. Ignore all of that and you'll be getting a fast paced, believable thriller which sets itself within a current day conflict in a very realistic manner.

In the dying days of the regime in Iraq, the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities is looted. A young boy takes an ancient clay tablet, hidden away in a forgotten vault.

At a rally for the signing of an historical peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli security forces shoot dead a Jewish man, pushing his way through the crowd towards the Israeli Prime Minister. Instead of a gun, the man they thought was an assassin held a blood-stained note, addressed to his old friend the Prime Minister.

The peace negotiations falter as a series of tit for tat killings start up in both the Palestinian and Jewish territories. Washington takes the rather unusual step of calling in once star negotiator Maggie Costello, despite the fact that her last involvement in official negotiation ended in semi-disgrace. Costello arrives in Jerusalem and is instantly plunged into a mystery rooted in the last unsolved riddle of the Bible, with extremists on both sides not afraid to kill and menace to push the negotiations in the direction that they want.

THE LAST TESTAMENT is a thriller with a certain level of suspension of disbelief required from the start. Early on the reader is really wondering why on earth Maggie would be called back to work as a negotiator - her personal life and her previous entanglements in other negotiations would seem to make her a bit of a liability! On the other hand, when she arrives in Jerusalem and basically heads off out of the negotiation arena, on her own private quest to solve a riddle, you're really wondering what on earth is going on for a while. But, ultimately, if the test of a good thriller is whether or not you're more than happy to let some of the niggling inconsistencies roll whilst the story drags you along, then THE LAST TESTAMENT delivers in spades.

Sure there's a premise at the base of THE LAST TESTAMENT that has the potential to cause religious debate and maybe even controversy, making it another potential entrant in the "stirring up religious debate" category of thrillers that have been doing the rounds recently. Whether or not that's a category of book that suits you will be very dependent on each individual reader.

Maggie's not a bad character - she's a bit flawed, a bit insecure, a bit useless when it comes to sorting out her own life - but she knows it and she's not self-pitying about it. The other main character, Uri - son of the murdered suspected assassin is a bit ethereal in the book - there's a little of his background, enough to flesh him out a bit, but not enough to ever really let the reader inside his head too far and that's a bit tantalising. There are some other secondary characters that are interesting, some that are perhaps a little too predictable, but they fit within the general persona of the novel and the location it is set in.

Where THE LAST TESTAMENT appealed was in the realistic feel of the location of the story, and the way that the events moved rapidly. There are some twists and turns at the end, some of which were predictable and some were not. Even the more predictable elements weren't bland though, there were some nice gotcha moments that gave them some spark and interest.

Melbourne Writers Festival - our programme's finalised

July 26th, 2007

Well, having just bought 85 tickets for the festival I think you could say we're pretty well organised. (I hasten to add that's for 6 of us), but if you're interested the programme that we've mapped out is here:

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/node/2100

If you're going to be around at any of these events, or at the festival - let us know and we can all say hi.

Ned Kelly Short List

July 26th, 2007

I've updated the Ned Kelly Short list with links to all authors and books over on the main site:

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/blog

Please go and have a look and see what appeals :)