From the Book: Special Agent Sarah Reilly is the daughter of an FBI Legend. Her Father made his reputation hunting down one of America's worst serial killers. Now it's her turn.
Michael MacConnell's debut book MAELSTROM is - paraphrasing his own words - a book designed to appeal to thriller and crime fiction devotees; not falling into the trap of being too similar to other authors in either genre. So I read MAELSTROM with that aim in mind.
It's definitely a thriller style book - there is lots of fast paced action combined with a sinister, lurking vigilante presence - metering out their version of justice to killers - people that the vigilante's think need to be removed from society. The background of this vigilante group is slowly revealed and there's a wealthy man funding the group for what he believes are noble and true reasons. There's a sense of menace and extreme violence in their acts, there's definitely a sense of forcing those killers to face their enemy on more equal ground - giving them some sort of perceived chance - more than they ever gave their victims.
There's also elements of crime fiction in the book in that there is a serial killer with a standard modus operandi - killing violently, seemingly randomly - but there is a pattern that can be discerned and clues to his methods if the investigators dig. There's a copycat killer - muddying the waters of the investigations, threatening the very lives of all the investigation team.
There's also the beautiful, young FBI agent - Sarah - with her mane of red gold hair. She has to live up to the reputation of her father, and to complicate her life even more, the reputation of her lover - a fellow agent - well known and well liked.
Maybe it is a "girl thing" but this constant idea that every female character has got to be physically attractive and that state has to be commented on is getting boring. As is the idea of the menacing vigilante team - working outside, around and above the law by dint of the amount of money that the team "leader" has (can a vigilante team ever just be a bunch of average people who have just had enough - but that's digression.)
Not to say there's not some good things in this book - the quiet menace of the opening segment is truly sobering. The first appearance of the vigilante group is shocking. They seem to appear from nowhere - for a short while the reader is slightly wrong-footed. There's romantic attachment, which, despite a deep feeling of foreboding, was actually handled well - with a slightly different twist which was refreshing. But there are also some things that don't work - the use of Australian terminology by American characters jars, the appearance of the beautiful FBI agent; the motivation, structure and behaviour of a team of vigilantes that seem to be able to commit mass violence and then just disappear was just that bit too far of a credulity stretch.
Whether or not MAELSTROM meets the authors aim is going to be very much to the individual reader's taste.
THE PERFECT SUSPECT- Vincent Varjavandi
The author of THE PERFECT SUSPECT is a surgeon who, it would appear, has a strong interest in the welfare of children. Readers of this novel could probably be excused if they assume that the character of Tom is based on the author himself, although obviously, you'd hope without the tragic family background! Early in the novel, the medical background of our central character - Tom - and the death of his wife is rapidly established. Only a matter of weeks later, Tom returns to Australia and is shocked to find a delivery of black roses at his home - seemingly from the killer of his wife. Tom moves to practice medicine in Sanctuary - trying to start again. In Sanctuary, while Senior Sergeant Jack Maguire is dealing with day to day policing matters, something considerably more sinister and terrifying starts - firstly with the brutal death of a woman - witnessed by a brain damaged young girl who has been used as bait to get the victim to open her door. And the killing continues from there.
This is a first novel so unsurprisingly there are a few things that don't work as well as they could. What does work really well is the lifting of suspense and the generally creepy and decidedly sinister characterisations. There's plot twists, that, okay, they weren't that hard to second guess - but in some way that worked. You sort of know what is coming and still there was that creepy feeling at the back of the neck. What didn't work so well is that the plot was overly complicated at times; there was too much made early in the book about the good and caring nature of the central character Tom - it got a bit cloying and potentially distracted from the suspense; and there was the use of a few too many unlikely scenarios and the "gut instinct" school of problem resolution.
But there is an interesting sense of place at play as well. Despite the prologue set in New Orleans - this is very much an Australian book. The resort of Sanctuary (should we be drawing conclusions about Sanctuary Cove) has an Australian feeling to it and there's just a smattering of slang and location - not enough to confuse / enough to place. Interestingly there's a strong relationship being developed between the central police character - Jack Maguire - and his new assistant Detective Constable which could, perhaps, be hinting at another direction for a future novel. Either way, there's potential being shown here and fans of general thrillers - even Medically based thrillers should give this new Australian author a try.
DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER - Jeff Lindsay
Dearly Devoted Dexter is the second book from Jeff Lindsay "staring" forensic blood splatter specialist and serial killer Dexter Morgan. Dexter is, by his own observation, not exactly a normal human being. He has a busy sideline in righteous serial killings - he kills people who undoubtedly have avoided retribution for crimes they have committed. Dexter and his darker side "The Dark Passenger" work very hard at their chosen craft and Dexter spends a large amount of time explaining himself, his motives and his methods in an internal voice, shared with the reader.
Dexter was adopted as a small child and his foster father, a cop himself, taught him all sorts of tricks whilst grooming him for his role of avenging angel. His sister, Deborah, was groomed for a role in the police force and it is her Dexter is having lunch with one day (she knows all about Dexter's extra-curricula activities) when they are called to a particularly gruesome crime scene. Dexter develops a sneaking sense of regard for a serial offender who has a line in gruesome that makes Dexter look like a bit of an amateur. Meanwhile Dexter is quietly executing his own plans for some retribution against a pair of child molesters. Unfortunately this plan is being seriously interfered with by local Police Sergeant Doakes who is absolutely convinced that Dexter is up to something and undertakes some pretty close surveillance.
Dexter's own crime scenes are elaborate and graphically described but that is absolutely nothing compared to the crimes that he finds himself having to investigate, firstly, by happy co-incidence with Doakes, which gets Doakes off his own back and away from his own activities. Secondly because his sister's own personal life is involved.
As in the first Dexter book (Darkly Dreaming Dexter) there is a heavy dose of black humour in DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER. Dexter is very self-deprecating, whilst simultaneously firmly convinced of the necessity of his actions. Nearly all of the insights into Dexter and how or why he does what he does are through Dexter's own internal musings. This provides an unusual insight into the mind of Dexter the serial killer but I could see how after a couple of books you could possibly be wishing that Dexter would just stop talking for just a few pages. Black humour, slightly on the heavy handed side with a very unusual central character, it will be interesting to see how long the Dexter series can continue.
EL DORADO - Dorothy Porter
I'll be perfectly honest - I circled El Dorado in the Readings tent at the Melbourne Writers festival for days. It's a contemporary Australian crime fiction thriller. It was long-listed for the 2007 Ned's and I'd promised myself to read the entire list of nominees this year. So why was I circling?
Well El Dorado is a verse novel - poetry and I admit I'm never convinced about reading poetry. Sure I love listening to some bush poetry, and I love to listen to some I guess you'd call them performance poets - ask everyone about dragging me away from Lem Sissay's performances at last year's MWF - but reading an entire verse novel.... a crime verse novel. Errrrrrrrrrr
So I circled.
The opening verse is a ripper mind you:
The little girl's
is sticking stiffly
as if reaching
to grab an angel's foot.
Then I found this stanza on page 8 and I was heading for the cash register:
It's not often
Detective Sergeant Rodney Mason
but a man
with no imagination
and no sense of smell -
'the wife reckons
I never buy her flowers' -
is right at home
in the city morgue
El Dorado is fascinating. As a story it switches from dark comedy, to tragedy. The personal lives of the investigating team are laid bare, the raw grief of families who lose a child to a murderer, the panic and worry as it becomes increasingly obvious that not only do they not know who, they don't understand why. There's pace, there's a progression of the story and it's done in pared down, beautifully worded verse.
El Dorado is a great crime novel. It's compelling verse. All I can say is don't circle it like I did - grab a copy and try it - you'll probably find yourself mildly astounded.