Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 16 February 2023.
Make sure to check out my extended reviews for How to Kill a Client and Red Dirt Road.
Expert reviews of the latest and the best in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction and Crime Fiction from an Australian reviewer.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 16 February 2023.
Make sure to check out my extended reviews for How to Kill a Client and Red Dirt Road.
Publisher: Headline (Trade Paperback – 10 January 2023)
Series: Detective Dana Russo – Book Three
Length: 307 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Impressive author S. R. White continues to lead the Australian outback murder mystery scene with his new and compelling release, Red Dirt Road, the third book in his Detective Dana Russo series. I had the great pleasure of reading the second book in this series, Prisoner, back in 2021 and I really enjoyed his unique take on the outback detective novel. As such, I have been rather excited to read his new book, Red Dirt Road, especially as it featured a particularly enthralling mystery.
One outback town. Two puzzling murders. Fifty suspects.
In Unamurra, a drought-scarred, one-pub town deep in the outback, two men are savagely murdered a month apart – their bodies elaborately arranged like angels.
With no witnesses, no obvious motives and no apparent connections between the killings, how can lone police officer Detective Dana Russo – flown in from hundreds of kilometres away – possibly solve such a baffling, brutal case?
Met with silence and suspicion from locals who live by their own set of rules, Dana must take over a stalled investigation with only a week to make progress.
But with a murderer hiding in plain sight, and the parched days rapidly passing, Dana is determined to uncover the shocking secrets of this forgotten town – a place where anyone could be a killer.
Red Dirt Road ended up being a very fun and captivating murder mystery novel and one I had a wonderful time getting through. I really enjoyed White’s cool and clever plot scenario and the entire concept of a cop attempting to solve a mystery in a small town with limited suspects is a fun idea that harkens back to classic whodunits.
Red Dirt Road’s story itself hits the ground running quickly, as complex protagonist Dana Russo is forced to travel to the small town for the investigation and soon becomes wrapped up in its many foibles. This includes the sheer isolation, the lack of modern comforts and the unusual locals, many of whom are hiding from the outside world. There is also a set of creepy angel-themed statues that mysteriously move around town, the work of a guerrilla artist who has remained hidden since the murders began. With time restrictions on her investigation and with minimal help from the local police, Dana initiates an unconventional investigation that focuses on understanding Unamurra’s society and its people to solve the crime. After getting to grips with the various people living there, as well examining other clues and evidence, she is able to figure out which one of the town’s residents is the most likely killer and confronts them in a particularly fascinating reveal sequence. The full explanation for why the crime was committed, as well as the ingenious and very distinctive motivation of the murderer, was exceedingly clever, and I felt that White set everything up perfectly. While certain elements of the conclusion were a bit over-the-top, (a very unrealistic elite government SWAT team comes to town), I felt that the story was pretty damn impressive and I was absolutely blown away with the elaborate motivation that the author came up with. The plot of Red Dirt Road also simultaneously continues some of the series’ ongoing storylines, such as Dana’s personal relationship with her co-worker and the internal police politics that are impacting her career, and this ended up being quite a gripping read as a result.
One of the most noticeable things about Red Dirt Road was the unique, society-orientated investigation method that the protagonist used to understand the people of Unamurra and find out who the killer was. I personally thought that this was a very smart and intriguing way to frame a murder investigation that worked extremely well in the context of the setting and the series. When I reviewed Prisoner I noted that White likes to highlight the interrogation side of policing with his writing and this was once again in full display when it came to how Dana gathers information in Unamurra. The flurry of casual conversation she engages in ensures she picks up all the knowledge about the town and people she needs, while also putting the potential suspects at ease as they don’t understand her style or the subtle reasons behind her lines of inquiry. This information, when combined with some observations and additional background she gets from headquarters, allows her to pull together a full mental picture of the town and by understanding them and their needs she finally gets the insight she needs to understand the entire situation. This results in a very unique case, and I found myself getting really wrapped up in both the characters and the setting while trying to wrap the clues together in my head. While this style of investigation probably isn’t going to fit every murder mystery fan’s taste, I felt that it worked extremely well and I loved how the elaborate motivation was teased out through these discussions. The final confrontation with the killer and the various revelations it contained really ties all these previous discussions together perfectly and you quickly realise just how cleverly White structured his entire mystery.
On top of the cool investigation method, I also deeply enjoyed the dusty and desolate setting of Unamurra that served as the backdrop to the murders. White really tries to show the reader the full experience of such a lonely and decaying town, and thanks to the excellent descriptive writing you can absolutely picture every cloud of dust, quiet night, and the lack of movement. At the same time, the protagonist begins talking to each of the residents of Unamurra and you really get to understand the sort of people that would live in such a place, whether they are desperate, trapped, or have their own strange motivations. This excellent use of setting and compelling supporting characters greatly enhances the book’s already complex murder investigation, and I felt that White did an amazing job of working it into the larger narrative and mystery. The sheer isolation impacts every decision and insight that Dana has and you really come away trying to imagine what life in such a location would be like. While White does overgeneralise some areas of rural Australia in his book, especially as he makes the location of these crimes geographically vague, this setting added a great deal to the impact of Red Dirt Road and I deeply enjoyed my time in the elaborate setting of Unamurra.
Overall, Red Dirt Road was an outstanding new book from S. R. White that perfectly highlighted his distinctive take on a murder mystery investigation. Combining another outstanding outback setting with a unique case, Red Dirt Road will have you hooked all the way to the fantastic finale. I cannot wait to see what complex stories White comes up with in the future, but if they are anywhere near as clever and enthralling as Red Dirt Road, I know I am going to love them.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 31 January 2023)
Length: 384 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Australian lawyer and debuting author Joanna Jenkins introduces herself in a big way with her fantastic first novel, the legal thriller How to Kill a Client, which takes the reader on a fascinating journey to the dark side of Australia’s legal profession.
As the in-house lawyer at a powerful international mining company, Gavin Jones oversees millions of dollars’ worth of legal contracts each year, including to the Brisbane office of the Australian legal firm Howard Green. Using them to negotiate lucrative contracts throughout Australia, Jones has become one of Howard Green’s biggest clients and the money he controls ensures that everyone at the law firm treats him like a god.
But while everyone fawns over Jones and his power, no-one actually likes him. A cruel, petty and vindicative man, Jones has messed with the careers and lives of everyone in his orbit, especially women, who he reserves a particular disdain for. His actions ensured the suffering of everyone he has power over, including his wife, his employees, and the female partners at Howard Green, as he seeks to wreck lives, destroy careers and give himself the lifestyle he feels he deserves.
So when Jones dies suddenly and suspiciously, everyone he knew is a potential suspect; thanks to his dodgy dealings and underhanded tactics, they all had a motive to kill him. As the police begin their investigation and the lawyers at Howard Green close ranks, it falls to partner Ruth Dawson, one of the few people without a motive, to protect her firm and its secrets. However, when her investigation reveals proof of who killed Jones and other dark secrets her firm is hiding, will Ruth reveal the truth or will she bury it to protect her firm?
How to Kill a Client is a clever and tricky novel that really showcases Jenkins’s skill as a new writer. Blending a fantastic and compelling crime fiction narrative with intense looks at the lifestyle of members of a successful law firm, How to Kill a Client was a gripping and interesting read that is really worth checking out.
I loved the cool story contained within this book which came across as part legal thriller, part personal drama surrounding high-level professionals, and part intriguing murder mystery. The story dives into the chaotic world surrounding the legal firm of Howard Green and its clients and effectively introduces all the key players in this drama, who have their own views on the troubles to come. Each primary characters is connected to the eventual victim, Gavin Jones. Jenkins spends the first half of the book showcasing Jones’s terrible nature and the various ways they are messing with everyone. Cleverly utilising multiple character perspectives, you are soon drawn into the various main characters’ lives and soon see all the various reasons why each of them may have wanted to kill Jones, as well as some of the suspicious steps some of them took. Jenkins perfectly sets up everything in the first part of How to Kill a Client, and by the time you reach the halfway point, you are firmly enthralled by the narrative and want to see how the rest of the book unfolds.
When the eventual death happens (a real high point) the reader is left wondering whether it was an accident, a mistake, or a deliberate action, with the evidence pointing towards a murder. However, due to the sheer range of suspects and motives, the story produces a twisty and fun range of plotlines that you need to navigate to get to the final conclusion. Jenkins really produces an emotional and captivating second half as you try to find out who killed Jones and why. There are some brilliant revelations unfurled here, and I loved how some cunningly hidden clues in the first half of the book were utilised in the final mystery. I was very impressed with the final reveals around how the killing was committed and why it happened, and you will come away from this story very satisfied, especially as Jenkins builds in some excellent character moments and ensures that all the remaining characters get a fitting end to their arcs. I found myself getting really caught up in Jenkins’ powerful and amazing story and I honestly powered through the last half of the book very quickly to see how everything ended.
Part of the reason why How to Kill a Client is such an effective read is that Jenkins introduces an excellent cast of intriguing and complex characters who are thrust into a variety of compelling situations throughout the course of the narrative. Each of the main cast, who Jenkins effectively builds up and utilises in the plot, are quite damaged, desperate or concerned in their own unique way, while many of the supporting characters are notably selfish or manipulative for their own ends. Characters like Ruth Dawson and Viv Harrison give some compelling and honest insights into how women are treated in this influential professional setting, while Anne Jones shows the harsh reality of a women trapped in an abusive relationship. At the same time, there is a great collection of supporting lawyer characters who Jenkins uses to show off the range of people and personalities one is likely to experience in Australia’s legal services.
However, out of all the characters in this book, the one I must highlight the most is probably the murder victim, Gavin Jones, mainly because he is such a despicable figure. Jenkins really goes out of her way to make Jones into one of the most unlikable and petty characters you are ever likely to find in fiction and boy does she succeed, perfectly capturing an insecure and manipulative narcissist who enjoys controlling people. Not only does he go out of the way to try and ruin the careers of several characters just because they are women, but he also demands attention from the male characters to feed is ego, while also abusing and controlling his wife to make him feel good. In a very short amount of time Jenkins builds Jones up into such an unlikable character that the reader finds themselves trying to reach into the book and kill him before the murderer does. This naturally adds quite a lot to the mystery of the book, as his malicious professional actions, deceits, violence and puppy killing (seriously, that one really angered me), ensures that everyone he came in contact with had a reason to murder him. The huge suspect pool around this unlikable character allows Jenkins to craft an impressive murder mystery and you’ll really get drawn into finding who finally snapped and killed this infuriating character. This villainous figure, and other great characters, all added so much to the plot of How to Kill a Client and really got invested in their stories very quickly.
One of the other features of How to Kill a Client that I particularly enjoyed was the author’s detailed and intriguing examination of an Australian law firm. Clearly utilising all her past experiences as a lawyer, Jenkins perfectly showcases how a firm would work and act in a variety of scenarios, and you really get the senses of the day-to-day chaos the individuals working there would experience, which adds a lot of authenticity to the story. Jenkins also dives into the backroom drama and politics that surround such entities, as the various lawyers cut deals and fight for control over various projects or clients. There is a particularly cynical edge to the book’s portrayal of legal firms in this novel, and Jenkins shows it to be a dark and unfulfilling practice at times, especially in some of the more elite firms. The author really showcases just how bad these companies are when it comes to the treatment of women as two of the book’s central characters are female partners in Howard Green who have to constantly deal with their male colleagues’ condescension and manipulations, and there are several pointed scenes where the arrogant male managers fail to listen to the women even when they are right. There is also a focus on the way law firms sycophantically woo potential clients, bending over backwards to get hired, and this adds some intriguing angles to the drama. Finally, there is also quite a dark look at the demand for profits over people, as there is a constant fear of firings and layoffs, even for the best employees. This critical presentation of a professional law firm is pretty striking and it results in some powerful scenes throughout the course of the book, especially as the people stuck in these firms often refuse to escape it, no matter how bad it gets. I felt this examination of the profession in Australia added so much to the outstanding story and it helps to make How to Kill a Client really stand out.
Overall, How to Kill a Client was an outstanding and captivating debut from new Australian author Joanna Jenkins and one I had a wonderful time reading. Blending compelling legal elements with a fascinating, character-driven mystery, How to Kill a Client has a brilliant story that takes the reader on a powerful and twisty journey. Slick, emotionally rich, and filled with exceptional characters, How to Kill a Client is one of my favourite debuts of 2023 so far, and I cannot wait to see what epic reads Jenkins will release in the future.
Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I check out a cool upcoming crime fiction reader from acclaimed Australian author Megan Goldin, Dark Corners.
Readers of this blog will probably be familiar with my habit of supporting and highlighting Australian authors in my various reviews and posts. This is primarily because, as a book reviewer living in Australia, a lot of this local fiction gets sent to me by publishers. However, I also like supporting my fellow countrymen, especially when they are killing it across a variety of genres, and it is always fun to see an Australian representing the rest of us international markets. As such, the subject of this Waiting on Wednesday article is perhaps one of the most impressive and well-known Australian authors now, compelling crime fiction writer Megan Goldin.
Goldin has been writing for a few years now and has so far produced several amazing and highly regarded bestselling novels. I personally first became familiar with Goldin back in 2018 when I was lucky enough to get a copy of her epic thriller, The Escape Room, which I powered through in a single night. I had an amazing time with its fantastic narrative, especially as it detailed the corrupt dealings of Wall Street, and it ended up being one of my favourite pieces of Australian fiction at the time. However, Megan was far from done and she has since produced two more outstanding reads. This includes her heartbreaking and dramatic novel, The Night Swim (one of my favourite Australian novels of 2020) and the impressive thriller from last year, Stay Awake (one of my favourite Australian novels of 2022). All her books have had great concepts, backed up with excellent writing, and I would strongly recommend each and everyone of her previous books.
Unsurprisingly, I am always excited when I see that Goldin has another book on the horizon, and it looks like we will only have to wait till August 2023 for her next novel, Dark Corners. A sequel to The Night Swim, Dark Corners will bring back Goldin’s excellent pod-casting protagonist Rachel Krall, who is recruited by the FBI for an investigation. Thrust further into the deep end than ever before, Rachel will have to uncover the dark world of influencers and social media celebrities to find a deadly killer.
I have to say that I love the sound of this cool upcoming book, not just because Goldin is apparently going to unleash a serial killer on convention full of influencers. Goldin is always such an exceptional writer, and this book sounds like it will have some excellent murder mystery elements to it, which I am excited to see. I am deeply intrigued to see how this elaborate and fun sounding story unfolds, and I am particularly keen to see Goldin’s take on the influencer/social media scene. I have no doubt that Dark Corners is going to be one of the top novels by an Australian author in 2023 and I full plan to dive into this novel the second I have my hands on it.
Rachel Krall, the true crime podcaster star of Megan Goldin’s acclaimed The Night Swim, returns to search for a popular influencer who disappears after visiting a suspected serial killer.
Terence Bailey is about to be released from prison for breaking and entering, though investigators have long suspected him in the murders of six women. As his release date approaches, Bailey gets a surprise visit from Maddison Logan, a hot, young influencer with a huge social media following. Hours later, Maddison disappears, and police suspect she’s been kidnapped―or worse. Is Maddison’s disappearance connected to her visit to Bailey? And why was she visiting him in the first place?
When they hit a wall in the investigation, the FBI reluctantly asks for Rachel Krall’s help in finding the missing influencer. Maddison seems to only exist on social media; she has no family, no friends, and other than in her posts, most people have never seen her. Who is she, really? Using a fake Instagram account, Rachel goes undercover to BuzzCon, a popular influencer conference, where she discovers a world of fierce rivalry that may have turned lethal.
When police find the body of a woman with a tattoo of a snake eating its tail―identical to a tattoo Rachel had seen on Bailey’s hand―the FBI must consider a chilling possibility: Bailey has an accomplice on the outside and a dangerous obsession with influencers, including Rachel Krall herself. Suddenly the target of a monster hiding in plain sight, Rachel is forced to confront the very real dangers that lurk in the dark corners of the internet.
Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 8 August 2020)
Series: Warhammer Crime
Length: 8 hours and 30 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
After some of my recent awesome experiences with the Warhammer Crime series, I just had to check out the outstanding novel, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, which has one of the best pure crime fiction stories in this entire epic franchise.
Regular readers may have noticed I have been having an absolutely amazing time getting through a ton of Warhammer 40,000 novels in recent weeks as everything about this extended franchise has been so damn fun. One of the more intriguing sub-series of Warhammer fiction I have been tearing through has been the Warhammer Crime books which, as the name suggests, blends cool crime fiction narratives with a Warhammer 40,000 settings. The entire series is set within the massive, corrupt city of Varangantua on the planet of Alecto, and several very talented writers have come up with some exceptional novels that perfectly showcase murder, mystery and death in the midst of this great setting. I have so far deeply enjoyed the epic entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, Grim Repast by Marc Collins, and Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley, each of which have contained different, if equally exceptional stories. However, few have had the excellent central mystery of the very first full-length Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines from new-to-me author Chris Wraight, which took a veteran cop on an intensive investigation with fantastic results.
After a lifetime working for the Varangantua Enforcers, Probator Agusto Zidarov is well aware that the only certainties in the continent-spanning city are wealth, corruption and criminality. Tired of the games played between the warring gangs, trade combines, and nobles as they battle for control of the city’s resources, Zidarov is more concerned about his own life, family and secrets. However, when a simple missing person investigation gets unexpectantly complicated, Zidarov will find a terrible case that he can’t turn away from.
Called to the estate of wealthy business magnate Udmil Terashova, Zidarov is ordered to find her son and heir, who has gone missing. Forced to plumb the depths of Varangantua’s underbelly, Zidarov attempts to find any trace of the boy, who has likely just disappeared taking part in the rich’s hedonistic lifestyles. However, when an uncovered lead places him conflict with one the city’s most ruthless gangs, Zidarov soon begins to believe that there is more to this case than he initially believed.
Discovering that the gang is involved in the notorious crime of cell draining, Zidarov’s attempts to shut them down. However, his raid ends up being a bust, and the fallout results in a dead sanctioner, a wounded probator and a full-on war between the gang and the enforcers. Attempting to mitigate the consequences of his actions, Zidarov soon discovers that there is far more going on behind the scenes than he ever imagined as corporate interests work to influence the investigation. To find the truth about the city’s new crime ring and the missing noble, Zidarov is forced to probe both Varangantua’s lowest gangs and wealthiest citizens. But can Zidarov survive the encounter with his secrets and life intact?
Bloodlines is an incredible and deeply impressive Warhammer Crime novel that I had an excellent time reading, especially as Wraight perfectly blended his crime fiction story with the cool Warhammer setting. Featuring one of the more elaborate and intriguing cases in the Warhammer Crime books I have read so far, I absolutely powered through Bloodlines and this was truly an outstanding read.
At the heart of Bloodlines lies a pretty awesome and captivating narrative building on the basic crime fiction premise of a veteran cop attempting to solve a crime no one wants investigated. Taking its cues from classic noir entries (I was reminded a bit of Chinatown), Bloodlines follows Probator Agusto Zidarov, a family man with a cynical view of his job and his place in the city, as he gets dragged into a missing persons case. Initially starting off a little slow, the story quickly heats up as Zidarov attempts to find the missing heir to the wealthy Terashova family, a disappearance he assumes is a simple case of young rebellion. However, his routine investigation into the missing lad leads him to discover a cell draining operation being run by one of the major gangs, and he shifts his investigation in an attempt to shut it down. But when his plans go wrong and his colleagues end up injured or dead, Ziadarov finds himself on everyone’s firing line.
There are some interesting jumps in the case around halfway through as the protagonist soon realises there is far more going on than he initially believed and he is forced to simultaneously investigate both the gangs and some of the wealthiest families and businesses in the city. I loved this gradual escalation of the stakes of the crime as the book continues, as the original missing persons case is revealed to be far more complex and intriguing than initially believed when the protagonist discovers that he is being used by everyone. At the same time, Zidarov is forced to deal with some major personal issues, as his wife begins to resent his choices, his rebellious daughter has gone missing in a city full of predators, and certain dark secrets around Zidarov threaten to come into the light. The eventual reveal about who is responsible for the various crimes is very clever, and I liked the subtle and effective hints and clues leading up to it as the unique motivations and plots utilised intriguing aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Wraight ends Bloodlines on a great note as Zidarov gets justice through drastic means after a very intense and powerful confrontation with one of the book’s more intriguing and complex supporting characters. As such, you come away from Bloodlines feeling very satisfied, although you instantly want to see more of this great character, especially as the sinister connotations about Zidarov’s dark secret indicate that some tragic events are going to befall this character in the future.
The entirety of Bloodlines was laid out extremely well by Wraight, who uses a great style to tell a complex and captivating story. Told exclusively from Zidarov’s perspective, you are given a personal and close examination of the events of the book as Zidarov slowly and methodically investigates the various crimes. You are quickly drawn into the elaborate narrative Wraight lays out as the author does a good job of combining an excellent crime fiction storyline with intriguing character development, all set with Varangantua and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe. The noir inspired elements of Varangantua really stand out in this book, especially as Zidarov is forced to simultaneously investigate both the criminal cartels and some of the city’s wealthiest residents. Bloodlines really recalls some classic noir tales, as it focuses on the experienced and dogged investigator fighting the entire system to get answers and justice, and I loved exploring even more of this enormous city and its many colourful residents. The whole concept of cell draining, which sees thousands of people literally drained of their essence to make life-extending products, was pretty damn horrifying, and I liked how the examination of this gave Bloodline’s crimes a distinctive feel. Wraight’s great writing style really lends itself to producing a particularly impactful and compelling crime narrative, and I loved how the entire storyline unfolded, especially with the effective twists and the well thought out foreshadowing. I ended up coming away from this book quite enthralled and happy and I am really excited to read more books from Wraight in the future.
One of the things that I have so far found with all the Warhammer Crime entries is that readers really need very little familiarity with the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe to appreciate these great books. Anyone interested in a compelling and intense crime fiction story set in a cool and grim futuristic city can easy dive into one of these novels, and all these books are an awesome introduction to the Warhammer fandom. Bloodlines is no exception to this, as Wraight writes a very accessible crime fiction thriller that anyone can enjoy while simultaneously enjoying the gothic setting. That being said, Wraight does make excellent use of several intriguing elements from the Warhammer 40,000 lore to enhance his story and there are hints and discussions about elements outside of Varangantua, such as the Imperial Guard or the wider wars of the Imperium, which fans of the franchise will deeply appreciate. Wraight does do an amazing job of explaining these elements so that newer readers will fully appreciate them, however, established readers will always get a little bit more out of it. For example, the full significance of Zidarov’s secret isn’t going to be too apparent to new readers, while in-the-know fans are going to get a blast out of the potential implications. I felt that Bloodlines has a lot to offer all readers, no matter their experiences with Warhammer, and you might find yourself falling for the franchise with this first book.
Another key aspect of the Warhammer Crime series that Wraight perfectly captured in Bloodlines was the excellent utilisation of a complex and likeable central character. Wraight’s protagonist and main point of view character, Probator Agusto Zidarov, is a deeply intriguing figure who stands out from the other protagonists in the Warhammer Crime series for being much less of a damaged outsider. Instead, he is a veteran probator who worked his way up to his position with a very realistic view of the world around him than most other characters, and I liked his no-nonsense approach to his job and his city which has been formed from years on the job staying alive. Despite this veteran presence and cynicism, Zidarov is still willing to do what is right, even if it endangers him, and his dogged approach to solving the case is extremely addictive, especially as Wraight puts in some deeper motivations behind them. I really enjoyed some of the scenes where Zidarov continuously ignores his friend’s advice and keeps going forward with the case, simply explaining to them and the reader that he is unable to let it go, and he just keeps moving forward despite the inherent weariness of the character. This determined and tired cop persona is well balanced by the family man aspect of Zidarov, which is another intriguing element that you don’t see in a lot of Warhammer fiction, as most protagonists don’t have wives or children. Watching him attempt to balance his family responsibilities with that of his job adds some intriguing drama to the story, and I enjoyed seeing this portrait a ‘normal’ Warhammer 40,000 family. Wraight perfectly weaves together these dual aspects of Zidarov’s personality with a certain darker, secretive thread that really shows the character in a whole new light when revealed, and which is going to have some intriguing impacts down the line. All of this, and more, helps to make Zidarov one of the more relatable and enjoyable protagonists I have ever enjoyed in Warhammer fiction, and I really hope that Wraight produces some additional Zidarov stories soon.
Once again, I chose to listen to this cool Warhammer novel in its audiobook format, which, as always, was an excellent and deeply fun experience. The Bloodlines audiobook did an amazing job of bringing this intense and powerful story to life in some very fun ways. In particular, the complex central setting of Varangantua is really shown in all its corrupt glory when you hear it being described, and I loved how the fast pacing of the audiobook kept the story rolling by. This format of Bloodlines was also greatly helped by veteran narrator Charles Armstrong, who has so far only lent his talented voice to a few Warhammer audiobooks. Armstrong provided an excellent performance in Bloodlines, really diving into the various complex characters and helping to showcase their unique personalities and emotions. I loved the tired and resigned voice that Armstrong came up with for the main character, which really sells the audience on Zidarov’s veteran status which is the result of an exhaustive and draining career. Other great voices include that fun Irish accent he gifted to supporting character Brecht, which added to his entertaining nature, as well as some excellent voices the various suspects in the main case had. All this makes the Bloodlines audiobook the very best way to enjoy this exceptional novel and with a runtime of eight and a half hours, you can power through it in no time at all.
Overall, Bloodlines was a particularly epic entry in the Warhammer Crime series, and it is one that author Chris Wraight should be extremely proud off. Wraight did a remarkable job of blending together an intense and clever crime fiction story with the dark and grim Warhammer 40,000 setting, and the result is a brilliantly twisted case that I couldn’t turn away from. Combined with instantly likeable character, Bloodlines proved to be extremely fun and deeply captivating, and I loved how the entire book unfolded. As such, Bloodlines comes extremely highly recommended and you are guaranteed to love every second of it. I look forward to seeing how Wraight continues this character in the future, and any future books featuring Zidarov are going to be something truly amazing.
Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 3 October 2020)
Series: Warhammer Crime
Length: 9 hours and 23 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
I’m on a major Warhammer 40,000 review roll, so after checking out the awesome books Malleus and Hereticus by Dan Abnett, Sepulturum by Nick Kyme, For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell and Kingsblade by Andy Clark, I’m moving on to the awesome Warhammer Crime book, Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley, which proved to be an exceptional read.
I have said this several times in the past, but one of the true strengths of Warhammer 40,000 fiction is that the franchise can cover so many different types of stories or genres and still result in some epic reads. A particularly good example of this is the Warhammer Crime subseries that melds intriguing and classic crime fiction concepts with a grim Warhammer 40,000 setting. I have deeply enjoyed the previous Warhammer Crime books I have read, including the twisty and fast-paced crime thrillers Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, and the noir inspired psychological thriller Grim Repast by Marc Collins. As such, I just had to read another fantastic entry from this series with the intriguing Flesh and Steel by Guy Haley which saw a classic odd-couple police story meet a unique thriller from the Warhammer universe in glorious fashion.
The vast continent-sprawling city of Varangantua on the planet of Alecto is home to many vile and heartless crimes, most of which are ignored by the over-taxed enforcers of the Lex Alecto. However, some murders are so spectacular that they cannot be ignored, especially when they threaten the stability of the city’s entire economy.
Probator Symeon Noctis is a man who knows all about the obscene wealth that Varangantua can produce. A scion of one of the city’s richest houses, Noctis has fled from his cruel family and his tragic past by joining the enforcers and attempting to help the downtrodden inhabitants of the Nearsteel district. However, even someone as jaded and cynical as Noctis is unprepared for the strangeness of his next case when a bisected corpse is discovered in a neutral zone between Nearsteel and the Adeptus Mechanicus enclave of Steelmound, the two halves of the body neatly left on either side of the border.
Forced to cooperate with the Adeptus Mechnanicus, Noctis is partnered with Procurator Rho-1 Lux of the Collegiate Extremis to investigate the crime. But when all evidence suggests that the murder was committed by a mindless servitor, Noctis is dragged into a terrible conspiracy inside the Adeptus Mechanicus. Faced with tech-heresy, illegal modifications to servitors and even more bodies littering the streets, Noctis and Lux need to work together to solve this insidious crime before both their organisations are dragged down. But with more and more people gunning for them, can this unlikely duo survive to crack the case?
Now this was an awesome Warhammer Crime book. Loaded with great, complex characters, a compelling case, and some impressive Warhammer 40,000 elements, Flesh and Steel grabs your attention from the very start and refuses to let go. A fantastic novel that shows off just how incredible and inventive a tie-in to the Warhammer universe can be.
Flesh and Steel has a brilliant and deeply addictive narrative that I had an amazing time getting through. Told primarily from the perspective of protagonist Probator Symeon Noctis, the plot of Flesh and Steel revolves around an intriguing murder, where two halves of the same body have been placed on either side of the border between the main city and an Adaptus Mechanicus manufacturing enclave. With two competing jurisdictions, Noctis is forced to work with the Mechanicus investigator Rho-1 Lux, especially after the murder weapon is determined to be the victim’s servitor and additional victims are discovered. What follows is an intriguing buddy cop romp of a unique series of murders, as certain figures throughout the city are involved in crimes involving the always terrifying mindless man/machine hybrids, servitors. Forced to work together despite their differences, Noctis and Lux prove to be a skilled team, investigating both the Mechanicus and the businesses in the city. At the same time, Noctis is forced to deal with other concerns, such as an impossible missing person’s case, the machinations of his wealthy family, and his own intense personal issues as he tries to reconcile his complex life and the mistakes from his past. The result is a fantastic and moving tale that has the right blend of crime fiction, Warhammer 40,000 and character elements to it. While the mystery surrounding the various crimes isn’t too complex, especially as the perpetrators are obvious from the outset, the resulting conspiracy, and the impacts it has on the protagonists more than makes up for it, as you are drawn into a crime story that could only occur in the Warhammer universe. Haley ends the book on an interesting note that not only highlights the full extent of the protagonist’s personal issues but hints at future adventures and tragedies to come.
I really liked the cool setup-up surrounding this story, as well as the distinctive writing elements that Haley utilised, and I was particularly impressed with how the author was able to utilise some classic crime fiction scenarios in this unique Warhammer setting. The concept of a bisected body left across a border forcing a joint investigation between two agencies is reminiscent of The Bridge (or The Tunnel), and I liked the intriguing spin that Haley does on this by bringing in the Adeptus Mechanicus, who most humans have a very hard time relating to. This leads to the unique partnership between Noctis and Lux, which I felt Haley utilised to its full effect, especially as he does a remarkable job diving into each of their intriguing lives. While I mentioned that the mystery isn’t as complex as you would hope, Haley more than makes up for it by featuring some deeply compelling character elements, as well as perfectly fitting it into the already fantastic setting of Varangantua and the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe. I also really enjoyed the excellent way Haley told his story through the lens of Noctis’s journals. Not only does this provide some compelling and tragic hints at what is to come but it also paints the story through Noctis’s cynical viewpoint, which I quite enjoyed, especially as his infectious humour and sarcasm helped to make this one of the more light-hearted Warhammer Crime books at times. This distinctive and compelling read had me hooked the entire way through, and I felt that Haley came up with something extremely special for Flesh and Steel.
I was really impressed by the excellent Warhammer 40,000 elements featured, especially as some of the more distinctive elements of this universe were used to full effect to create a gripping and powerful read. Now, as with most of the Warhammer Crime books, I felt that Flesh and Steel stood well on its own and no prior reading is needed to fully understand this book, not even the preceding short story Haley published in the No Good Men anthology. Indeed, due to the great use of crime fiction elements, the strong focus on characters, and Haley’s attention to detail, readers unfamiliar with the franchise can easily jump into Flesh and Steel and have a good time, and it would serve as a good bridging novel for readers more familiar with crime fiction than anything else.
However, both new and established fans will deeply appreciate Haley’s compelling and all-encompassing examination of some very interesting elements of Warhammer lore that are cleverly and expertly utilised throughout the story. I was particularly impressed with the deep dive into the Adeptus Mechanicus, the inhuman tech-worshippers of the Imperium, who play a big role in the plot. This was honestly one of the more intriguing novels I have so far read that deals with the Adeptus Mechanicus, and I loved the author’s depictions of their elaborate and occasionally nightmarish settlement within the wider city of Varangantua. The protagonist spends quite a bit of time diving into their society, and I loved his cynical, if accurate, descriptions of them, as well as the apparently hypocritical role they serve in the wider Imperium. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Adeptus Mechanicus featured in Flesh and Steel involve servitors, the cyborgs who act as mindless manual labour machines throughout the Imperium. The creation and use of servitors, who are a common, if terrifying, background feature of the universe, becomes quite a key part of the plot, as they are end up being the murder weapons. This helps to shape Flesh and Steel into a particularly unique mystery story, one which could only occur within the Warhammer universe, and I loved the I-Robot homages (book and the movie) that resulted from them. Haley also treats us to several scenes that depict the creation of servitors, a process which involves lobotomising condemned criminals and turning them into barely human creations. These scenes honestly turn Flesh and Steel into one of the most horrifying Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and these gruesome inclusions work wonders to shock both the reader and the protagonist, while also deeply enhancing the complex murder case.
In addition, Haley also spends a good amount of time expanding on the already epic setting of Varangantua, which has been such an amazing background for the rest of the Warhammer Crime novels. There are many distinctive districts and areas to the vast city of Varangantua, and this great book introduces us to even more of them with new district of Nearsteel, which borders the Adeptus Mechanicus enclave and has its own range of issues and features. In particular, the area is slowly dying thanks to the actions of the Mechanicus, who are killing of the industries contained within, and you get to see the decay and degradation that follows. Haley keeps up the cool background of neon signs, dark bars, and corrupt police, that are a key feature of the wider Varangantua, and I loved the impressive Blade Runner resemblances that result. Haley further enhances the effect of these poorer districts by also visiting the high spires and estates of Varangantua uber-wealthy, as the protagonist, a former rich boy himself, makes several visits there. The elaborate manors, parties, and hang-outs of the gilded make for a fun and compelling comparison to the slums and desolate industrial areas of the rest of the novel, and I deeply appreciated how Haley used this multifaceted city to mirror the complex main protagonist and help show that he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. I always have a ton of fun exploring these new areas of Varangantua, and Haley really did a great job showcasing the city, and other key Warhammer 40,000 elements throughout Flesh and Steel’s narrative. I cannot wait to see what other crazy areas that Haley explores in some of his future books and stories, and I know I am going to love it.
While the story, the writing style, the dark setting and the cool Warhammer elements all made this book really stand out, I personally felt that the main strength of Flesh and Steel was the exceptional central characters, Probator Symeon Noctis and tech-priest Rho-1 Lux. Haley did a remarkable job with both these complex and damaged characters and both of them carry the main story extremely well. The combination of dramatic and tragic character arcs, combined with a fun overarching theme of them both being outsiders, is an essential part of the book’s narrative and you grow deeply connected to both the characters, and the book, as a result.
Most of the focus is on Noctis, who serves as the primary narrator, due to his personal journal (which is also an extended note to his lost daughter), being read out. Noctis is a very fun and cocky character, who seems to treat many of the events that he encounters in an inconsequential way. However, this is a major façade, as deep down Noctis is probably one of the most damaged and guilt-ridden characters you are likely to see in Warhammer fiction. A member of one of the richest families on the planet, Noctis was already pretty messed up before he became a cop, due to the terrible family dynamics and his controlling father. Further traumatic events, which are explored later in the novel, nearly break him, and he decides to escape some of his father’s control by joining the enforcers to help others. However, his family influence and wealth still follow him and he is considered an outsider by most of his colleagues. Despite this, Noctis doggedly continues and proves to be a very competent and capable investigator, even if he breaks all the rules and pisses off his boss to do so. His eye for the inequity of the city and the wealthy gives the story a bit of a preachy anti-capitalist vibe, but I felt that this fit his character arc perfectly, especially as he knows better than most just how badly the lower classes are being exploited. I also quite enjoyed how, despite Noctis’s dislike for his family’s intense wealth and intense hatred for all the nobility, he still uses their money to buy nice things for himself, including a fancy car and secure apartment. This apparent inconsistency between what he preaches and what he does, is addressed several times by both the protagonist and other characters, and his eventual and simple explanation of, “I never said I was perfect,” is a recurring theme of this character’s existence. Watching this conflicted and troubled figure attempt to reconcile his past and guilt with the current investigation and the people he meets is a powerful part of Flesh and Steel’s appeal, and the story would not be as strong without it.
The other major character is Procurator Rho-1 Lux, an Adeptus Mechanicus Tech Priest who acts as a detective and law enforcement officer who investigates crimes committed by or against the Mechanicus. Lux is a great character for a number of reasons, especially as the whole idea of a Adeptus Mechanicus cop is a pretty damn cool one. Initially shown to be an unflappable and rigid figure, you soon find a deeper layer underneath her augmentation as she proves to be just as emotionally unsure and determined for justice as Noctis. A member of an obscure order, Lux is a rare individual who converted to the machine cult rather than being born into it. This also makes her a bit of an outsider as she is not fully accepted by the Adeptus Mechanicus and is no longer fully human. This forces her to accept one of the few jobs that none of the other tech priests want, and it is interesting to see her views on humanity, the Mechanicus, and the law, which surprisingly often mirror Noctis’ cynical thoughts. Lux served as an interesting bridge between the human characters and the mysterious cyborgs of the Mechanicus, and it is fascinating to see how she changes her persona depending on who she talks to. Haley does a wonderful job of portraying Lux’s dual persona throughout the course of Flesh and Steel, and he even shows a couple of chapters from her perspective as extracts from her data core. These chapters have a more sterile and mechanical feel, and you see her data-laden observations in these compelling scenes. Probably the best part of her character arc though revolves around her interactions with Noctis, as the two form a very unusual team. Lux serves as straight person for much of Noctis’s antics, especially when it comes to their interactions with other Mechanicus figures, and usually tries to maintain her mechanical indifference. However, the two soon form an intriguing relationship, which forces Lux to examine some of her long-hidden emotions. I felt that the two played off each-other perfectly throughout the course of the book, and the joint explorations of their various pains and dark histories makes for quite a gripping read. I look forward to seeing more from this distinctive and surprisingly fun duo in the future, even if Noctic’s journals hint at more tragedies to come.
As is my usual practice with Warhammer 40,000 novels, I checked out Flesh and Steel on audiobook, which proved to be an epic and deeply enjoyable experience. Coming in at just under nine and a half hours, Flesh and Steel was a very easy audiobook to get lost in, and I felt that this amazing format really worked to enhance the exceptional story. The journal format of Haley’s storytelling, as well as the occasional jumps to other perspectives, is expertly portrayed on audiobook and I loved how some of the darker or grander elements of the book, especially the horrors surrounding the Adeptus Mechanicus workshops, became even more distinctive or sinister when listened to. It helps that the primary narration of Flesh and Steel was done by impressive voice actor, James Macnaughton, who really throws himself into the production. Each of his key characters are expertly showcased through his voice work and you really get a sense of their inner selves through his performance, whether it’s Noctis’s cockiness, disdain or self-loathing, or the strangeness of Lux, Macnaughton manages to encapsulate it all with his acting and this combines extremely well with Haley’s strong character-focused writing. A secondary voice is also utilised for the several chapters written from Lux’s perspective, and I liked how this different voice really helped to differentiate that the events were being shown from Lux’s internal processors. This performance, combined with the usual enticement of the audiobook format, ensures that this is the best way to enjoy Flesh and Steel, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to try this epic book out.
Overall, Flesh and Steel is a pretty remarkable novel from Guy Haley that has ensured my continued addiction to all things Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Crime. Featuring a complex and powerful story that simultaneously explores a compelling mystery and some brilliant characters, it is very easy to get hooked on Flesh and Steel and I had a wonderful time powering through it. I cannot rave about this book enough and I am really hoping that Haley produces a sequel to Flesh and Steel very soon.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 29 March 2022)
Series: Ernest Cunningham – Book One
Length: 384 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s fastest rising crime fiction stars, comedian turned mystery writer Benjamin Stevenson, returns with an outstanding standalone book that might be one of the best Australian crime fiction reads of 2022, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone.
One of my favourite Australian crime fiction authors now is the exceedingly talented Benjamin Stevenson, who has written some amazing works over the last couple of years. Stevenson’s writing career began in 2018 when he released the amazing murder mystery Greenlight (which was subsequently released as Trust Me When I Lie and She Lies in the Vines outside of Australia). A fantastic Australian crime fiction book with true crime elements to it, Greenlight followed a successful television producer who reinvestigates a murderer who was freed thanks to his show. Stevenson followed Greenlight up in 2020 with the epic sequel, Either Side of Midnight, which saw the same protagonist investigate an impossible murder in what was one of my favourite Australian books of 2020. Both these readers were pretty damn impressive, but Stevenson has saved his best work for the 2022 release, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, which luckily has an outstanding story that matches the very cool title.
Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.
I’m Ernest Cunningham. Call me Ern or Ernie. I wish I’d killed whoever decided our family reunion should be at a ski resort, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Have I killed someone? Yes. I have.
Who was it?
Let’s get started.
EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE
As the title and the intriguing plot synopsis above suggests, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an awesome read that sees Stevenson serve up an addictive narrative that is one part insane family drama and one part homage to classic detective novels. I had an incredible time reading this book early on in 2022 and I honestly should have written a review for it well before now.
The plot of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is pretty bonkers as it follows a very damaged protagonist, teacher and crime fiction mega-fan Ernest Cunningham, as he attends one of the most awkward family reunions in history. Written from Ernest’s perspective as part of an in-universe book, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone sees Ernest reunite with the fellow members of the infamous Cunningham family at an isolated ski resort. The black sheep of a dark family with criminal connections, Ernest has been invited to attend a special event: the release of his brother Michael from jail after Ernest testified against him. However, once his brother arrives, a series of murders start to strike the resort, killing off several people. With the ski resort cut off from the outside by the snow, it falls to Ernest to discover who is killing the remaining guests at the lodge. However, everyone in his family is a suspect, as all of them have killed someone before, including Ernest, who has just as much motive as the rest. As the book continues, it becomes very clear that someone in the Cunningham family has killed again, it’s just a matter of finding out which one did it.
I have to admit that I was pretty in love with this book from the opening pages, especially as it becomes clear early on that Stevenson planned to blend the book’s mystery with some great humour and brilliant homages to classic murder mysteries. Stevenson lays out this story in a fun way that simultaneously focuses on the infamous main family, their complex past and relationships, while also presenting a compelling murder investigation that intentionally steals a lot of cues from classic whodunnits. Stevenson introduces an outrageous cast of complex characters for the story, and they were very intriguing to follow, especially as they all have deeper issues brought on by the deaths they are responsible for. The story at time transforms into a very moving and entertaining family drama, which helps to make the story richer and even more amusing. The mystery itself is very clever, and I loved the multiple compelling twists and reveals that accompanied it as the protagonist is forced to dive back into every terrible event his family has been involved in, including murder, robbery, police corruption and kidnapping, all of which leads to final, devastating solution. While the identity of the killer is a tad obvious, the reveal of why they are committing their crimes more than makes up for it, and Stevenson came up with one doozy of a motive. However, the real highlight of the book is the way in which Stevenson sets out Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone in the manner of an in-story chronicle written by the protagonist, which simultaneously takes on every established trope and rule of old-school detective novels and moulds it into itself.
As I mentioned a few times above, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone also acts as a homage to classic crime fiction novels, as Stevenson goes out of his way to simultaneously parody and revere the iconic detective genre. The book starts with two intriguing elements: the membership oath of the Detectives Club (a secret society of classic crime fiction writers), and Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’. Both of these inclusions acknowledge the general tropes and rules of golden-age detective fiction, and they actually end up being used by the protagonist, and by extension Stevenson, as the main guideline for the mystery. The author continuously refers back to this list as the novel continues (he even suggests folding this page down so you can revisit it when needed), and I loved how this mystery came together as the author tried to avoid breaking any of these rules. The author also cheekily informs the reader in advance when in the book someone is going to die with an accompanying page number, ostensibly to allow the reader to jump ahead if needed. However, as most people will continue through at the normal pace, it heightens the suspense a little as you get closer and closer to the page on which you know a death is going to occur. Various elements like this, as well as a ton of self-referential internal monologues and discussions about the rules of whodunnits, gives this book an incredible meta feel, which Stevenson uses to full effect to tell a particularly hilarious story. The author’s background as a comedian is on full display here as he creates an incredibly funny book, even with the continued murders and human tragedy. These clever references are a great love letter to the classic detective novels, especially as he addresses them in such a satirical way, and all mystery lovers will get a real kick out this book as a result.
Overall, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an absolutely outstanding book that I cannot recommend enough. While I have enjoyed Benjamin Stevenson’s mystery novels in the past, I think that Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is where he finally reveals his full potential. Not only is the mystery itself brilliant, loaded as it is with compelling characters and a dark family history, but Stevenson finally showcases his impressive comedy skills and uses them to produce a truly delightful and incredibly addictive novel. The combination of mystery, humour and a clever homage to the classics, is an intoxicating mixture, and it was near impossible to put this book down once you started reading it. As such, I must give Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone a full five-star rating, and it was one of the most entertaining books I read in all of 2022. I have so much love for this book and I was very excited when I heard that Stevenson is releasing a sequel in October titled Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect.
Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 September 2021)
Series: Warhammer Crime
Length: 9 hours and 52 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Prepare for a gruesome and dark murder mystery novel in the gritty Warhammer 40,000 universe with the incredible and awesome Warhammer Crime novel, Grim Repast by Marc Collins.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am currently in the middle of a big Warhammer reading frenzy, having recently reviewed several awesome books, including two novels in my last Throwback Thursday posts (Xenos by Dan Abnett and Deus Encarmine by James Swallow). However, I am still not done with the tie-in books in this very cool franchise as I have just finished another outstanding read, this time a book which is part of the Warhammer Crime sub-series.
The Warhammer Crime books are a fantastic and captivating series which, as the name suggests, blends crime fiction storylines with the epic Warhammer 40,000 universe. All set within the tortured and sprawling human city of Varangantua, these great novels tell a range of entertaining and complex crime stories, including dark murder mysteries and elaborate thrillers, which make great use of the gothic futuristic setting. I have so far enjoyed two Warhammer Crime entries, Dredge Runners and The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, both of which were pretty epic reads. These initial awesome reads really sold the Warhammer Crime series to me, and I have been interested in enjoying another entry. I ended up choosing the great sounding read, Grim Repast, by rising Warhammer author Marc Collins. One of Collins’s first full-length novels, Grim Repast is an exceptional read with one of the darkest crime narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
“This city eats men….”
Veteran probator Quillon Drask thinks that he has seen all the dangers, depravities and villains that Varangantua has to offer, but he is about to discover a whole new level of horror. Already traumatised and ostracised after his last lethal case and the betrayal that accompanied it, Drask’s first new investigation is not the simple job he was hoping for, as a body has been found in the dying district of Polaris. The victim, a businessman on the wrong side of town, has been gruesomely mutilated, the implications of his injuries have frightening implications.
As more bodies are discovered, Drask finds himself chasing after a deadly killer who murders and dismembers without compunction and who has a sudden obsession with tormenting Drask. Forced to play a deadly game that uncovers the corruption of his own organisation and sets him against the city’s elite, Drask finds himself alone and afraid against an enemy he doesn’t understand. Only his twisted insights into the criminal mind, as well as the lessons of his career and devious dead mentor, offer the answers that he needs to solve the case and stop the killer. However, not even Drask’s dark mind can comprehend the true horrors that lie beneath his city, one that connects to Varangantua’s past and a dangerous hunger that has always controlled people like him.
Wow, Marc Collins really came out swinging with this epic and outstanding Warhammer Crime entry. Grim Repast is probably one of the best pure mystery novels set in the Warhammer universe that I have so far read, and I loved how seamlessly Collins was able to blend a dark, psychological crime fiction narrative with the grim and repressive atmosphere of a Warhammer 40,000 city.
Collins has cooked up a pretty wicked story for Grim Repast, which brings together multiple elements from across the genres to really highlight just how epic and complex a Warhammer story can be. Following the compelling and damaged protagonist and narrator Probator Quillon Drask through the deadly streets of Varangantua as he chases after a lethal serial killer, Grim Repast is first and foremost a crime novel, and one that really grabs the reader’s attention. Coming off as a dark psychological thriller with classic noir detective elements to it, the protagonist is forced to delve into the darkest heart of his massive, gothic city when he investigates several connected murders whose victims have been butchered in inventive and dark ways.
Collins sets up the case extremely well and then adds some intriguing complications to it where Drask is forced to investigate against the opposition of his bosses and their corporate controllers. Bringing together a ton of character growth, disturbing developments in the murder case, as well as some fun action as Drask comes face-to-face with the killer in disguise, the plot moves quickly, and you are soon very hooked on finding the killer and the people pulling the strings behind them. Forced to contend with the interference of a giant corporation, the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a dark conspiracy and, after the typical cop requirement of being suspended without his gun or badge, investigates on his own. The mystery itself is well-set out and slowly unfolds, even if the overall culprit behind it isn’t too surprising. However, the obvious suspect isn’t a narrative weakness, as the power of the story revolves around the protagonist fighting through the corruption and the insanity to confront his suspect, as well as the wider implications and horrors his investigation reveal. The last third of the story is particularly brutal and grim as the protagonist uncovers some pretty horrendous crimes tied into the dark past of Varangantua, and is forced to face them by himself. Everything ends in a pretty bloody manner, and I had a wonderful time seeing how this entire awesome crime narrative came together. I loved the cool conclusion of this book, and the hints at some potential adventures for this character is something I would be extremely keen for.
This was a very well written book, and I really appreciated how Collins was able to tell such an effective and powerful story. Featuring a quick pace and a brilliant focus on a very damaged protagonist, Grim Repast keeps you on your toes the entire time, and I loved how well it blended multiple crime fiction elements for the story while also making full use of the grim Warhammer setting. The crime itself has some outstanding elements to it, and I was getting some major Jack the Ripper vibes from the plot as Drask receives several taunting notes from the killer. Collins really brings about a dark and desperate tone around the characters and the city itself, and this lends itself perfectly to the complex crimes, especially as the murders have far deeper meaning and consequences than are initially seen. The use of corruption and dangerous corporations helped to ensure that the character had even more mysteries and obstacles to overcome, which I thought was an outstanding bonus hook to the story. The fantastic focus on murder and mystery rather than on wider universe elements ensures that Grim Repast also serves as a pretty good entry into Warhammer 40,000 fiction, especially for crime fiction lovers. While some elements of the story hint or briefly discuss larger events or bits of the universe’s wider lore, you really don’t need to understand it to enjoy this book, and anybody who loves a complex and gloomy crime fiction can easily have their first taste of Warhammer fiction here without any issues.
Perhaps one of the best elements of Grim Repast that Collins featured was the setting of Varangantua itself. While the continent-spanning city of Varangantua has appeared in the other Warhammer Crime books, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how good a setting it is until reading Grim Repast. Collins sets out to make the city as dreary, deadly and dark as possible, and you find yourself getting lost amongst its constricting streets, compelling people and many hidden dangers. The author honestly sets the city up as a character in itself, and it is quite powerful to see the protagonist move amongst its streets as Varangantua works to consume him, mind, body and soul. To just make things a little grimmer, Collins chooses to set most of the story in the section of the city known as Polaris, an icy, desolate part of town that is slowly dying due to a lack of commerce. I love how Polaris’s fortunes seem to match that of the protagonist himself, and Collins really amps up the noir vibes of Polaris with a ton of neon signs, dingy apartments and corrupt cops, making it feel that little bit more like a classic police story.
However, no matter how dingy and gothic Varangantua may be, it is still a futuristic city, so the universe’s advanced technology and other wider Warhammer elements are integrated into the city as well. There are some great scenes where the city’s law enforcement utilises interesting investigation methods to solve the brutal murders, and I liked seeing the set up of a police force within the Warhammer 40,000 setting, especially as it is as corrupt or degraded as most things within the Imperium of Man. I also really enjoyed how Collins was able to tie the mystery into the history of the city itself, with key parts of Varangantua’s past coming to the surface during the course of Grim Repast. This gives the book a lot more substance when it is fully revealed, especially as it increases the overall stakes of the book, and I really appreciated and enjoyed how Collin’s utilised this brilliant setting throughout his book.
I also have to highlight the outstanding central protagonist and point-of-view character, Quillon Drask. Collins created a wonderful character in Drask, a beaten down and emotionally damaged cop, reminiscent of classic pulp or noir detectives and investigators. Still emotionally traumatised by the betrayal of his mentor during the last case, Drask attempts to find some normalcy in his work. However, Drask is now isolated from the rest of his force, not just because of his propensity for finding the weirdest cases, but because of the taint surrounding his mentor. Drask channels much of his anger and trauma into the new case, but he soon confronts forces that even he can’t fight through. His obsession with this new case, his well-founded hatred of the aristocracy, and his desire for redemption, lead him to continue his investigation despite his boss’s orders, which leads him into all manner of trouble. Collins did an outstanding job showcasing this character’s intense mental trauma throughout Grim Repast, and he really comes across as a complex and dark individual. Despite being a troubled soul, you can’t help but like Drask, as his grim stubbornness just keeps forcing him towards the abyss, and nothing he does in the book, not even solving the murders, brings him any real comfort. I loved how Collins also explored his penchant for getting into the darkest parts of the human mind and empathising with killers, and he reminded me a bit of Will Graham from the Hannibal Lector franchise, which isn’t too surprising considering that there are some major Thomas Harris influences in this book. Drask gives a great running commentary on his dark observations of the city around him, and Collins really dives into the mind of his character throughout the course of the book. This really adds to the book’s overall tone and quality, and I absolutely loved how Collins set out his central protagonist.
If I were to make one major complaint about Grim Repast, it would be that Collins relied a little too much on people reading his short story, Cold Cases, first. Appearing in the Warhammer Crime anthology book, No Good Men, Cold Cases was the previous (and first) appearance of Quillon Drask, in which he hunted down another notorious killer. Collins brought up Cold Cases multiple times throughout the course of Grim Repast, as the events helped form the protagonist and led to his mental/profession state in Grim Repast. While I appreciate that Collins was trying to tie his new book back into this introductory story, I found it a bit confusing and irritating at times, mainly because I haven’t read Cold Cases. I kind of got a little tired of the continued references to Cold Cases throughout Grim Repast, as it messed with the initial flow and enjoyment of this novel. While you can pick up the events of Cold Cases through context as Grim Repast continues, I felt that Collins could have either eased up on the references a little or featured a better summary of this short story at the start, especially as it was such a big part of the protagonist’s motivations. While this wasn’t a massive issue in my enjoyment of Grim Repast, it bugged me the entire way through, and it is something readers interested in Grim Repast should be aware of. Overall, though, this was a pretty epic read, and I would recommend it, even with this issue.
To no-one’s surprise I ended up listening to the Grim Repast audiobook, which was pretty damn awesome. I have so much love for Warhammer 40,000 audiobooks, especially as they are always so successful at capturing the dark tone of the settings as well as the complex stories. I felt that Grim Repast was a particularly good example of this, as its audiobook really drew the reader into the cold surrounds of Varangantua and refused to let you leave. It helped that Grim Repast was narrated by the highly talented Richard Reed, who previously impressed me with his narration of Nate Crowley’s The Twice-Dead King books, Ruin and Reign. Reed has a naturally tough and rugged voice that does Grim Repast’s story a lot of justice, as his tones perfectly fit the noir-esque city of Varangantua. I especially enjoyed how he portrayed Quillon Drask throughout the book, giving him a very gravelly tone that showcased his gruff exterior, while also expertly conveying the protagonist’s inner turmoil and pain. You really get the full sense of who Drask is through Reed’s great voice work, and I really cannot emphasise how much value Reed’s narration added to this awesome audiobook. With a runtime of just under 10 hours, Grim Repast is an easy audiobook to quickly power through, and you will really find yourself getting dragged into this elaborate and powerful tale in this format.
Fans of crime fiction, Warhammer fiction and everything in between should look no further than Grim Repast by Marc Collins for their next epic read. Bringing together a complex and twisted murder mystery with the iconic setting of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Grim Repast is an outstanding amalgamation of mystery, a dark psychological thriller, and the madness of the grim Warhammer 40,000 future, all of which makes for one hell of a dark and emotionally charged story. I had an amazing time reading this powerful read, and it comes very highly recommended.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 12 January 2023.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an intriguing upcoming fantasy novel that I think has a lot of potential with Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb.
We are just around the corner from 2023 and already the new year is starting to look very promising in terms of awesome books. I am already quite excited for the next novels from some of my favourite writers, but I am also keeping an eye out for new authors who are going to be making their debut in 2023. One debuting author who has already caught my attention is M. K. Lobb, who is set to release her first novel in a few months’ time with Seven Faceless Saints.
Seven Faceless Saints, which currently has a release date for February 2023, is a fantasy novel with some excellent thriller and murder mystery elements to it. Set in a new fantasy city, the book will follow two protagonists on opposite ends of the cities corrupt ruling class, with one acting as a rebel seeking revenge, while the other serves as the head of the government’s security. However, both are dragged into a murder investigation when a dangerous serial killer stalks the streets, forcing them to dive deep into the dark heart of their city. I already really love the sound of this awesome book and I think that it could turn out to be an excellent and highly enjoyable read. Blending murder mystery, rebellion and two fantastic sounding characters in a new fantasy setting is a great starting point for an amazing read and I have a strong feeling that Seven Faceless Saints is going to be one of the top debuts of 2023.
In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.
After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit… and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.
Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?
Discover what’s lurking in the shadows in this dark fantasy debut with a murder-mystery twist, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kerri Maniscalco.