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Untouchable (Sydney, NSW Australia)

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by Michael Robotham
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Award winning performance, 21 July 2006
This review is from: Lost (Hardcover)
After delivering a pulsating debut thriller with The Suspect and introducing us to a couple of characters in Dr Joseph O'Loughlin and DI Vincent Ruiz , who are as opposite to one another as you would want to meet, Michael Robotham has followed up with Lost another riveting thriller.

Lost carries on with O'Loughlin and Ruiz again featuring very prominently. But Robotham has performed a sneaky little switch. In The Suspect, the story was told from the first person perspective of Joe O'Loughlin, a clinical psychologist who had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The first person perspective is again used in Lost, but this time, the story is being told by Vincent Ruiz and Ruiz is a much more abrasive, in your face character with a very dry sense of humour.

The story opens as Ruiz is being pulled out of the Thames. He is in a pretty bad way thanks in large part to the bullet that had passed through his leg. He wakes from surgery to find that he has no memory of the incident or of the week leading up to it.

With the help of friend and clinical psychologist Dr Joseph O'Loughlin, Ruiz can piece together enough details to work out that he was working on the disappearance of 8 year old Mickey Carlyle and he was on the Thames to make a kidnapping payoff. The problem with this scenario is that the Mickey Carlyle case was closed 3 years ago and a man is already in prison for the young girl's murder. From what he can gather he has been working the case alone, independent of the police department, a fact that has made him extremely unpopular with his superiors.

Set at a reasonably moderate pace, Lost is shrouded in mystery as the majority of the storyline focuses on the frustration of Ruiz as he struggles with memories that lie just out of reach. Bit by bit he retraces his steps with the excitement provided by unsuccessful attempts made on his life.

Robotham writes with an easy, practiced style that combines the intensity of extreme danger with a witty, dry delivery. It's intense and relentless providing an engrossing story with an unknown element that remains in place right up until the final few chapters.

Lost won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel (the Australian equivalent the Edgar Awards) and delivers an outstanding thriller with complex characters, pressure coming from both within the police force and from a dangerous unknown assailant and a strong unexpected ending. This is a very satisfying novel that I found compulsive reading and would recommend it to all psychological thriller fans.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2014 6:21 PM GMT

The Suspect
The Suspect
by Michael Robotham
Edition: Paperback

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Debut, 28 Nov 2005
This review is from: The Suspect (Paperback)
Michael Robotham’s debut novel is a psychological thriller that is deeply involving, running smoothly from the narrative of psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin. The Suspect takes us into a dark world of troubled minds and we watch the beginning of the disintegration of a strong family life. This was a book that I found (at the risk of flying straight into overused cliché) difficult to put down.
As well as working in his day to day practice, O’Loughlin is the kind of man who gives up his time to counsel prostitutes in ways in which they might be able to work more safely. It’s while talking at one of these gatherings that he meets Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, who has walked in with a picture of a murdered woman hoping to get her identified by one of the attendees. In the course of their confrontation, Ruiz decides that O’Loughlin’s keen eye for detail and professional credits might be useful in providing some insights into the dead woman, so he invites him into the investigation as a consultant.
It’s not until after viewing the body that the stunning realisation dawns on Joseph O’Loughlin…he knows who the dead woman is, not only that, he knew her very well because she was once a patient of his. That he didn’t immediately tell Ruiz about this makes the detective a little wary.
Back within his practice, O’Loughlin has been meeting with Bobby Moran, a very disturbed person who has been describing violent dreams and is afraid that these dreams may begin to manifest themselves in his waking life. As the sessions progress, O’Loughlin can’t help but notice the similarity in the details of Bobby’s ramblings and certain aspects of the murder case that he is helping out on. Could it be possible that he is treating the murderer?
But Ruiz is collecting evidence and the evidence isn’t pointing at Bobby Moran, the evidence is pointing at Joseph O’Loughlin.
The moment Joseph O’Loughlin goes from consultant to prime suspect is the moment that the story kicks up into a high speed desperate chase along an unpredictable road. O’Loughlin’s life is in danger of falling apart, kicked out of his house and now pursued by the police he is left with only one avenue open to him: gather enough evidence to prove his innocence. So he flees to Liverpool, the city in which he once lived, in a lonely bid to sift through past cases hoping that something stands out. What he finds will unearth an unimagined horror that still looms ahead of him.
This is an immediately engaging story that takes a likable, yet humanly flawed protagonist and then puts him through the emotional wringer. His reactions are wholly realistic and he deals with his problems as any of us would. Equally, Detective Ruiz is alternately measured, disbelieving and aggressive, just as one would expect an overworked homicide detective to be. The two contrasting characters make good foils for one another.
As far as debut novels go, Australia’s Michael Robotham has produced a thriller of high class. There is surely the prospect that we are in for some very entertaining reading in the future. Admittedly, I am cheating a little here because I make my last statement with the knowledge that, with his second book, Lost, Robotham took out the 2005 Ned Kelly Award for Best Australian Crime Book. Even more reason to get started on Michael Robotham thrillers.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 14, 2009 4:27 PM BST

Tonight I Said Goodbye (Lincoln Perry)
Tonight I Said Goodbye (Lincoln Perry)
by Michael Koryta
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful PI debut, 6 Jan 2005
This is an enjoyable debut private investigator mystery that delivers a solid introduction to Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard as well as a well-worked mystery and even a surprise or two at the end. It's the kind of page-turner that has left me eagerly awaiting the next book featuring the Cleveland detectives. It won Michael Koryta the 2003 St Martins Press PWA Prize for Best First PI Novel, a terrific achievement but made more notable by the fact that he was 20 when he wrote the book. I was curious to find out whether the book would live up to the hype. My hopes were high and I'm pleased to say, I haven't been disappointed.
Set in Cleveland and told from the first person perspective of Lincoln Perry, the two detectives are hired to investigate the death of a fellow PI and the disappearance of his wife and daughter. The case leads them into a fiery confrontation with Cleveland's richest and most influential businessman as well as the Russian mafia.
I would put the tone of the book on the lighter side of hardboiled with subtle injections of humour through Perry's sharp tongue softening the mood. Neither PI carries any issues into the story, at least none of great note and although there are occasionally some violent scenes, Koryta doesn't get carried away with lurid descriptions designed to shock. This is another great book for PI fans.

Fade to Blonde (Hard Case Crime (Mass Market Paperback))
Fade to Blonde (Hard Case Crime (Mass Market Paperback))
by Max Phillips
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardboiled Hollywood, 30 Sep 2004
Brand new publisher Hard Case Crime has hit another winner with the suitably hardboiled FADE TO BLONDE, taking us on a rough ride through the more insalubrious parts of Hollywood. Hard Case Crime co-founder and author Max Phillips has produced a quality mystery to kick-start the label very effectively. Suffice to say, if this nugget is an indicator of the quality to come, then hardboiled readers have found themselves a valuable gold mine.
Ray Corson would like to make it in Hollywood some day as a writer, but in the meantime is willing to do just about any job to bring money in and food on his table. He's tiling a roof one day when the beautiful Rebecca LaFontaine approaches him with a plea to help her get rid of Lance Halliday, who has threatened her after their relationship went sour.
It's not a lot to start with but, as I said, Corson is prepared to do just about anything and the chance to help a beautiful woman sounds like a pretty good deal to him. So just how far will Ray go to help a beautiful woman? It initially leads him is into the grim underbelly of the Hollywood scene, crowded with gangsters, porn producing pretty boys, sleazy women and failed actors and he takes it further by working as an enforcer for a drug-dealing gangster.
Starting off with few leads - and those that he has only insubstantial - Corson stampedes his way through the rough underworld with barely a care for his own safety and suffers for it as a consequence. His own recklessness doesn't stop him from delivering a resounding denouement that delivers a superb twist and a satisfying ending.
Max Phillips has captured the mean streets of 1950's L.A. with this hardboiled crime novel that recalls the pulps from the period in which it is set. It's a fast-moving story that passes from high class joints to cheap dives all comfortably filled with an assortment of Hollywood's criminal element.

Skinny Dip (Hiaasen, Carl)
Skinny Dip (Hiaasen, Carl)
by Carl Hiaasen
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humorous Mystery, 12 Sep 2004
One of the more satisfying discoveries for a dedicated crime and mystery reader like myself is the subgenre of humorous hardboiled crime. As paradoxical as it sounds, the combination of strong criminal themes and farce make for some very entertaining books. Elmore Leonard is a master as is Donald Westlake but the most consistently comical and original, in my opinion, is Carl Hiaasen. In SKINNY DIP, Hiaasen has once again presented us with a highly unlikely, yet hugely entertaining story, thrown in an array of unique characters resulting in a very fast-paced and enjoyable book.
When Joey Perrone is thrown overboard while cruising on a luxury liner off the Florida coast, she is too surprised to scream. At the time she was celebrating her second wedding anniversary and the main source of her shock came from the fact that it was her husband, Chaz who did the throwing. The thing that really has her perplexed is that this is the first sign that Chaz was less than happy with their marriage.
Joey is fortunate enough to grab hold of a passing bale of marijuana that happened to be floating by and manages to hold on until she is saved by Mick Shanahan. Shanahan is an ex-cop who has escaped the troubles of civilisation and now minds an island for a rich old Mexican author, giving him the solitude he enjoys. When he picks up Joey and hears her story he is all for calling the police and having Chaz arrested. Joey is not so eager, knowing the uncanny ability her husband has had at avoiding prosecution in the past. Besides, she still doesn't know why her husband tried to kill her, so she'd like to satisfy her curiosity and maybe get a little payback along the way - and it's the payback that provides a good deal of the entertainment.
Meanwhile, Chaz is doing his best impersonation of a grieving husband, distraught by the prospect of his wife falling overboard and either drowning or being eaten by a shark. From the very start we understand that Chaz is a disagreeable, self absorbed man, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that the man is also an incompetent fool and we get to delight in the way his world falls apart thanks to his foolishness.
While he thinks he has committed the perfect murder, Detective Karl Rolvaag is more than a little suspicious and investigates strenuously, or at least, he does until Chaz's boss, a wealthy and therefore influential man, pressures the police department to show a little less enthusiasm. Of course, this doesn't sit well with Rolvaag at all and his efforts redouble in response.
Due to Chaz's incompetence, his boss assigns a bodyguard to watch over him, introducing us to my favourite character of the book, Tool. Tool is a hulking behemoth of a man simply covered from tip to toe in hair. He has a dependency on painkillers and a hobby of collecting roadside accident markers. It turns out he is wonderfully insightful - in a hairy, hulking behemothy sort of way - and turns out to have a touchingly soft side. Sure he's a drug dependent killer, but he is also stole every scene he was in.
This is a wildly amusing story with multiple storylines that careen toward each other resulting in a tremendous crescendo. Joey and Mick play out their revenge plot, Rolvaag plays his likable, competent detective role while Chaz doggedly digs himself deeply into trouble without ever being aware of how out of control his life has become.
Carl Hiaasen consistently produces highly amusing stories set in Florida and this is another fine example. His characters range from mildly offbeat (his police detective Karl Rolvaag is an excellent example) to outrageously out of control (and here I'm talking about Tool). Slipped in among the light tone and humorous attitude of the story, Hiaasen stealthily inserts his environmental messages. Although they are added with a derisive tone to them, they are obviously heartfelt comments about the way parts of Florida are being decimated through overdevelopment or just plain irresponsible human habitation. The clever thing about Hiaasen's environmental comment is that he doesn't take it so far as to feel as though he is preaching to us.

by Mo Hayder
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Building Slowly, 12 Sep 2004
This review is from: Tokyo (Hardcover)
Mo Hayder's first two books were gut-churning psychological thrillers dealing with some of the most difficult crimes to come to terms with. Child abuse, child pornography, graphically vivid descriptions of serial killer victims and periodic tours inside the mind of a pathological killer made for intriguing though harrowing reading. In TOKYO, Hayder's third novel, she has moved away from those earlier themes and has written a present day thriller with ties to a horrific past.
The story opens as Grey, a young Englishwoman, from whose perspective the present-day story is told, meets with a Chinese university professor named Shi Chongming, in Tokyo. Grey, for this is the only name she gives herself, is hopelessly obsessed with the Japanese of China and the massacre in Nanking in 1937. She has lived, breathed, eaten and slept the story of Nanking to the point where she was admitted to a mental institution. This revelation about herself is merely the tip of a vastly complicated psychological iceberg as Grey's disturbed past is gradually revealed to us. The reason she wants to talk to Shi Chongming is because she had heard that he had actual footage of some of the atrocities in Nanking and is desperate to see it for herself.
While this present-day opening is described to us, we are also taken back to 1937 and the lead up to what will become the Nanking Massacre. We follow a young Shi Chongming who lives in Nanking and scoffs at the thought that a city the size of Nanking could possibly be under any threat falling to the invading Japanese army. The Nanking part of the story is told from a first person perspective by Shi Chongming and becomes a moving account of the growing desperation and then despair felt by those Chinese who chose to stay and surrender rather than leave their homes in the face of the Japanese invasion. It's a moving account that is tied in nicely to Grey's insistent requests.
Understandably, Shi Chongming is unwilling to recall his memories of Nanking, at first denying any knowledge of it at all before relenting and admitting he did in fact possess what she was after. But before he agrees to show anything to Grey he proposes that she perform a task for him as a trade. This task is destined to place Grey in great danger as she comes in contact with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Driven as she is, Grey agrees to the proposal.
What follows is a slow to unfold waiting game as Grey works as an escort at an exclusive club and strives to win the confidence of her dangerous targets. At the same time, she remains uncertain exactly what it is she is supposed to be doing for Shi Chongming. This left a huge part of the book that appeared directionless to me and had my mind wandering as I waited for something to happen. What growing tension that was building was doing so at a phenomenally slow rate. A frenetic chase scene towards the end of the book gave it an exciting conclusion but by this stage it struck me as too little and too late.
While I found the pacing of the story itself a little slow, where Hayder excels is in her character description and development. As each new character is introduced, they are described in great detail giving them true personalities with tremendous depth and pasts that account for their actions and feelings in the present. This extends beyond Grey and Shi Chongming to Jason, Grey's enigmatic room-mate and the two Russian escorts with whom Grey lives and works. It includes Shi Chongming's wife in 1937 and an extremely moving friendship he develops with a former colleague and his family who also chose to remain in Nanking when the Japanese invaded.
In her earlier books, Hayder displayed a tendency to going into way too much detail when describing any acts of violence, to the point where some readers have sworn never to read another of her books. Although there are fewer violent scenes in TOKYO, they are similarly graphically described. And it's not so much the description of the violent act that could cause distress so much as the description of the result of the violent act that is a little over the top. People who are easily repulsed by graphic descriptions will probably not appreciate these scenes.
TOKYO leads to a shocking conclusion as both the present day story and the 1937 Nanking tale both provide dramatic revelations, but I found I had to wade through too many flat spots in the middle before getting to the exciting parts. Readers who appreciate the mixture of a Japanese setting and Sino-Japanese history plus a, shall we say, carefully paced plot would probably better appreciate the story.

Two-way Split
Two-way Split
by Allan Guthrie
Edition: Paperback

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Crime Novel, 20 July 2004
This review is from: Two-way Split (Paperback)
Every now and then I come across a book that takes me completely by surprise. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up my copy of TWO-WAY SPLIT by Allan Guthrie although I had my suspicions it would involve the darker side of life. At least I was correct in that assumption. What I wasn't prepared for was the superb depiction of a group of troubled people unknowingly digging themselves deeper and deeper into terrible trouble.
Robin Greaves, his wife Carol and her lover Eddie Soutar are robbers who are planning on robbing a post office in a daring daylight raid. Their plan, in order to get the cashiers to cooperate, is to utilise the two ingredients that they believe is common in all successful robberies: hostage taking and violence. It's not a perfect plan but it's a pretty good one and should have a good possibility of success. But a few ingredients are added to the set-up that not only tips the balance towards a more precarious outcome, but also turns the story into a melange of unexpected twists and turns.
The first glimmer that all may not go smoothly comes when Greaves finds out through a private investigator that Carol and Eddie are having an affair. Understandably Robin doesn't take the news well and the simmering rage he harbours looks like it could bubble over at any moment.
Possible problem number two is the revelation that Robin has already spent some time in a mental institution. In itself this wouldn't exactly be a problem, but we also know that he hasn't been taking some sort of medication for almost five months. When going into a tense situation carrying weapons, one wouldn't think that the ideal person to be watching your back is a betrayed husband, who may not be 100% mentally stable, would one?
Another problem is that a man named Pearce, a recently released prisoner who has done time for murder is planning on visiting his mother at lunchtime. Oh yeah...his mother works in a post office.
The final little fly in the ointment is the appearance of Don. (Keep an eye out for Don).
Guthrie has chosen to tell this story along a timeline, heading each new chapter with a timestamp which serves to remind us just how quickly the events unfold. It's a wonderfully tough crime novel set in Edinburgh in a suitably sleazy part of town where the feeling of desperation simply oozes off the pages. Massage parlours, broken down tenements and dirty alleyways form the grim backdrop to this dark story of greed, violence and betrayal.
There are no heroes in TWO-WAY SPLIT, in fact none of the main characters are particularly likable but what they lack in endearing personality they more than make up in complex obsessions. The gang of Robin, Carol and Eddie are doomed to fail from the start. What's unclear is just what character deficiency will be the one to ultimately trip them up. Pearce probably comes closest to hero status, at least displaying some sort of empathy with others. But he is also established as a man of extreme violence, much of it controlled and rather cold-blooded giving him a frighteningly dangerous air about him. And as for Don, well you'll just have to wait and read about him yourself.
At only around 180 pages long, it is an extremely fast-paced book with not a word wasted on overly long descriptions of incidental details. From the build up of the robbery to the robbery itself and beyond to the thieves apartment den, this is a tightly woven story that flow together seamlessly as all the main players are drawn inexorably together for a thrilling finale.
Although I've painted a picture of a rather dark story of violence, hatred and evil, it's a fascinating story that will keep you guessing as there is no telling in which direction Guthrie will take it next. From a simple robbery to a showdown of unbelievably unusual proportions, it's an engaging example of tartan noir that is very difficult to put down once picked up.

The Madman's Tale (Katzenbach, John)
The Madman's Tale (Katzenbach, John)
by John Katzenbach
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Murder Mystery With A Difference, 7 July 2004
This is a psychological thriller set in a mental hospital, and is told by a schizophrenic. Francis Xavier Petrel is a former patient of Western State Hospital and is writing down his memories of his time at the hospital after meeting another former patient and agreeing that certain incidents simply had to be revealed. Running true to his status as someone who is mentally ill, he chooses to write his story on the walls of his apartment.
The story is essentially a murder investigation, but it's an investigation with a difference because it is run completely within the mental hospital raising all sorts of pitfalls and barriers. Trying to locate a suspected serial killer by pinpointing unusual behaviour is virtually impossible because everyone there is responsible for abnormal traits of one form or another. When the resident's routines are disrupted there is generally widespread emotional upheaval which puts everyone in the hospital under immense pressure. Interviewing witnesses is almost irrelevant with most of the patients either catatonic or delusional so that very little valuable information can be obtained.
Together the three main characters conduct their investigation as best they can, hampered by the fact that one of them is known to be suffering schizophrenia and another has been arrested for murder and is being assessed on his sanity. This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill murder investigation. While the investigation continues with very little progress being made, the unthinkable realisation hits home...the killer, who is in all likelihood a serial killer, is still living in the hospital locked up with everyone else just biding his time and waiting to kill again. Yikes!
Thanks to constant flashes forward to the present where we see the effects that reliving his memories has on Francis, we are given hints as to what is going to happen later on in the story. Rather than spoiling the story for me, it tended to create a tremendous feeling of anticipation, with just enough information being given out to create uncertainty about the direction the story will head next. The flashes to the present also revealed that Francis is becoming more unstable as he neglects his medication due to his single-minded determination to tell his story. In the end, he is in a race against his own mind to get his story out before madness completely engulfs him.
John Katzenbach has once again produced an outstanding psychological thriller combining a terrifying murder investigation conducted under tight restrictions with the unusual but very interesting surroundings of a mental hospital. I was pulled completely into the story and found myself frantically choosing suspects and then discarding them in an effort to work out who the killer was.

by Jilliane Hoffman
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Debut, 24 Jun 2004
This review is from: Retribution (Hardcover)
After beautiful young law student Chloe Lawson is brutally raped and horribly disfigured then left for dead in her bed by a masked intruder, she drops out of her life in New York City. She begins to live in terror of a repeat attack. The opening few scenes of this gripping legal thriller are shocking in their violence but they set Chloe's victim mentality up perfectly.
We then jump forward 12 years to Miami, Florida where Chloe has reinvented herself as C.J. Townsend, an Assistant State Attorney, and a darn good one at that. She is working on a serial killer case, currently 11 victims strong, that has suddenly broken wide open with a suspect in custody. C.J. will be prosecuting and is looking forward to the challenge. When she meets the suspect in court, she realises that he's the man who raped her 12 years ago and suddenly her case and her life spins out of control once again.
It's a serial killer story, but it's more. And it's more than just a legal thriller. There is a fascinating moral and ethical dilemma that a rape victim is placed in when she is unexpectedly given her chance at revenge. The question is, will she take it? This book was satisfying on many levels, but mainly because it forced me to think while I was being entertained. This is a wonderful debut by Jilliane Hoffman.

Just One Look
Just One Look
by Harlan Coben
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-Paced Thriller, 21 Jun 2004
This review is from: Just One Look (Hardcover)
When a mysterious photo appears in Grace Lawson's holiday snaps she is completely unprepared for the effect it will have on her life. It's an old photo and one of the people in it looks a lot like her husband, even though he denies it's him. However, when her husband disappears, the only thing she can think of that may be related is the photo.
What ensues is a desperate hunt for Grace's husband. But he can only be found by working out the significance of the mysterious photo and the identities of the people pictured in it. To add to the terror is the presence of an assassin named Eric Wu, first introduced to scare the pants off us in TELL NO ONE. Eric Wu is a martial arts expert, specialising in incapacitating or killing his victims simply by attacking pressure points on the body. He is a man completely devoid of emotion, effectively a killing machine and a formidable opponent. He has been hired to eliminate the people in the photo and it looks as though nothing's going to stop him.
Harlan Coben has once again produced a thrill-ride of a book with unexpected twists, unlikely heroes and an unusual outcome at the end. His new speciality of books about marriages in which secrets come back to haunt the spouses is continued here and it works just as well her as it did in his first stand-alone, TELL NO ONE.

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