BRISBANE, 1984. Jim Harris is a hard-drinking Australian detective on his way to a nervous breakdown. Every day, he works alongside corrupt cops and dangerous crooks. That is, until a brutal murder case unravels his career, bringing past indiscretions to light. Alone, afraid, and out of control, Harris makes a pact with himself: Four days to locate the killer. Four days to take revenge. Four days to find redemption.
Short, sharp and to the point, FOUR DAYS delivers deepest and darkest noir in the unlikely setting of 1980’s Brisbane and Cairns. In the Sunshine State corruption is rife and nowhere more so than in the police force and the licensing department in particular.
Lone wolf Detective Jim Harris isn’t exactly lily-white himself, with a complicated backstory of illicit love affairs and drug use, to say nothing of family relationships that would challenge most genealogy software. He is, however, seemingly the only cop dedicated enough to pursue the truth behind the death of a prostitute and the disappearance of a young policeman.
All of which reads like the ideal recipe for a noir styled short novel, but FOUR DAYS is something more than just a formulaic run through of required elements. Written in a sparse, pointed, slightly ironic style it seamlessly folds a quintessentially Australian sensibility and location into a sub-genre that’s more synonymous with the mean streets of the US. Whilst setting and sense of place are marginally less important than character and motivation in this story, they provide a enough as commentary on sleepy, hot seaside paradises which are really rotten to the core. It is, however, the character studies that really stand out. The miniscule line between good and bad, the anti-hero, the dissolute, the lost with something left to prove.
As expected, the violence is extreme, and the drug-taking and sex scenes vivid and unflinching, avoiding voyeurism by sheer pace, never dwelling. FOUR DAYS isn’t supposed to be comfort reading, it may make readers squirm and it may even shock, but if that sort of approach is fine with them, it will definitely keep them reading.
Review - ONLY THE DEAD, Ben Sanders
When a failed witness protection operation ends in multiple homicides, evidence suggests the crime is linked to a series of violent robberies in Auckland City.
For Detective Sergeant Sean Devereaux, solving the case is proving next to impossible. His own superiors in the police department are refusing to cooperate with his investigation. After Devereaux shoots a suspect in a botched surveillance job, he is forced to start providing the answers rather than demanding them.
ONLY THE DEAD is the third Sean Devereaux novel from NZ author Ben Sanders, but only the second I've read. Back in 2012, reading the second book, BY ANY MEANS, it was obvious then that Sanders is an author who likes to work with pace, and complexity. The plots in both these books are built on swirling / shifting sands, making sure that the reader is never exactly sure of anything. Add to that a strong reliance on a noir style, taking a central protagonist, putting them through all sorts of physical challenges, and keeping them dancing that line between good and bad, right and wrong.
Building on many of the basic elements from the earlier books, Devereaux plays a lone hand for most of the action, although he does have a good relationship with ex-cop John Hale, working PI in Auckland and good backstop. Particularly as Devereaux spends much of this book on the outer - sidelined, under suspicion, suspended. In this book he also has a rather shaky romantic relationship lurking around in the background, but that's more about a how to guide on screwing up your personal life.
In the earlier book the music, the popular culture references, and a tendency to lose the basic stylings detracted markedly from the plot, getting things bogged down often. That's been sorted out in ONLY THE DEAD, with the asides and around abouts less distracting and built into the action more naturally and seamlessly. That noir, pared down, choppy style is much more consistent, albeit heavy-handed, but combined with the types of characters, and the action it works. Well enough to make it perfectly acceptable that a place like Auckland would have a dark side, that there's violence and dodgy cops barely under the surface, and that a working PI would be meaningfully occupied.
If you've not read any of the earlier books, ONLY THE DEAD would still work. It is definitely the book where this series starts to make it's mark. Although you do have to feel a bit sorry for tourist authorities in these sorts of locations. There's enough realism here to make you wonder what they're not telling you about "the City of Sails".
HEIST - Robert Schofield
'Ford laid his fingertips gently on the cut in his shoulder where the bullet had clipped him. His best chance would be to hitch a ride south at the first opportunity, before the police started looking for him. He was alone, enveloped in the monstrous silence of the desert. Free and alone, without assistance and without excuse.'
Set mostly in Kalgoorlie and the surrounding WA goldfields, HEIST is a debut novel which is well worth checking out. Especially if you like a rapidly moving plot, a hefty dose of wounded but not beaten central hero, and some seriously madcap action.
Starting off with the audacious, and perfectly planned heist of a large amount of gold directly from the mine vault, Gareth Ford is the engineering manager who is not completely squeaky clean. The mine is running on skeleton staff because it's a big horse racing day in town, when Ford finds himself seconded as a key man to open the vault for the security van designated to pick up the huge stockpile. Which is supposedly off to the races itself for a spot of showing off on the part of the owner of the mine. Ford might not have expected to be in that position on the day, but he is the perfect patsy for man on the inside. He's got a gambling and drinking problem, and a young daughter that he's desperate to protect. What the crooks didn't bank on is just how desperate Ford is to survive and get to Perth to find her.
Along the way he teams up with a bikie leader, an ex-bikie enforcer and a cop. All of whom end up running from the cops, the bikies and an unexpectedly complicated band of robbers.
Needless to say HEIST is long on action and pace, but at no stage does that mean that characters or plots suffer. It's a great plot. Twisty, clever, believable and with a resolution that was just right.
Ford is a very strong, believable protagonist with strangely believable endurance (if you don't keep count...). Trapped in the back of a burning armoured car, he escapes, shot, burnt, dehydrated and on the run in the middle of the desert. Beaten up by the cops, he's shot again, chased by bikers with intent, he's winged, singed, bruised, battered and determined to get to his daughter. He's also clever, resourceful, and blessed with a sense of humour that couldn't get much drier if was set on fire again. He's paired up with an unlikely, prickly bunch of fellow truth seekers. "Good" cop Rosie Kavanagh has a serious case of the unimpresseds with some of the cops on the job. Banjo the hard as nails, except where his dog is concerned, ex-bikie with a ute and some very handy equipment; and Doc, Viper's president and man on a mission to prove that whilst bikie's might be fair game when it comes to a lot of accusations, they had nothing whatsoever to do with the heist of so much gold. There's a limit to what you should be expected to wear after all.
I was recently asked if HEIST was caperish or hard-boiled. Still can't really decide. It's a bit of both. It's also exciting, fun, fast and furious. And well worth reading.