Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 31 March 2022.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 1 August 2020)
Length: 328 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of the brightest and best Australian authors, Lili Wilkinson, returns with another intense and captivating young adult fiction novel that takes the reader on a clever thrill ride, The Erasure Initiative.
Lili Wilkinson is an extremely talented writer who has written several bestselling young adult fiction novels since her 2006 debut, Joan of Arc: The Story of Jehanne Darc. I first really got into Wilkinson’s work back in 2018 when I was lucky enough to receive a copy of After the Lights Go Out. After the Lights Go Out was an incredible and amazing young adult fiction novel that followed the daughter of a survivalist in outback Australia as she attempted to navigate a real-life apocalyptic event. This was a truly impressive novel, and not only did I give it a full five-star rating but I also consider it to be one of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have ever read. As a result, I was extremely excited when I saw that Wilkinson had a new book coming out, especially as The Erasure Initiative had such an awesome-sounding plot behind it.
A teenage girl wakes up on an advanced self-driving bus. She has no memory of who she is, where she is or what she has done in her past. The only clue to her identity is a nametag that reads CECILY. But she is not alone. On the bus with her are six other people, some who seem familiar and some who do not. These include an attractive guy, a beautiful girl with severe anger issues, a brilliant high schooler, a tattooed man with violence boiling just beneath the surface, an extremely confident and controlling women and a disorientated old lady. Like Cecily, none of the other people on the bus appear to have their memories, but each of them has a secret worth dying for.
As Cecily and her new acquaintances attempt to make sense of who they are and what is happening to them, a series of ethical questions are posed to them. Each person on the bus must participate and choose an outcome to a hypothetical scenario, with the decision the majority chooses taking place before their eyes. Soon, the participants are tested in even more shocking ways, as the various ethical questions become personal and deadly. Determined to find a way out of this situation, the passengers attempt to uncover the truth behind their incarceration on the bus. But the deeper they dig the more secrets about their past are revealed and the more discord grows amongst them. How are each of these people connected and what actions in their past resulted in them being placed on the bus? More importantly, what is the Erasure Initiative and what impact will it have on all of them?
This was a heck of a novel from an author who I am a major fan of at the moment. Wilkinson did an outstanding job crafting together this compelling and thought-provoking standalone novel which combines an extremely gripping and clever storyline, with some rather fantastic and inventive ethical dilemmas. The end result is an impressive young adult fiction novel that I absolutely loved and which I was able to read in extremely short succession, especially once I became addicted to The Erasure Initiative’s captivating narrative and needed to find out how the book would end.
I really have to highlight the incredible narrative that Wilkinson came up with for this fantastic novel. The story is told from the point of view of the main character, Cecily (if that is her real name!) and shows her slowly unwind the events occurring around her. Wilkinson starts the story off strong, presenting the reader with a series of enticing mysteries, including who the main characters are, what they are doing on the bus, who is behind their predicament, and what secrets each character’s apparent amnesia hides. As the story progresses and the characters start to get a sense of who they are and how they feel about each other, they are beset not only with the strange ethical questions but with a series of hints at their past and what they are there for. This is assisted by a series of in-narrative documents and articles that appear at the start of multiple chapters, providing the reader with more clues towards the character’s past lives. These hints and reveals are done perfectly by Wilkinson, with a lot of the key information initially redacted to give readers a basic shape of the character’s past and personalities, without revealing the whole picture. This all leads into the story’s big reveals that start about halfway through the book. While I was able to predict a couple, including who the novel’s antagonist was, there were quite a few reveals I did not see coming, and one in particular had me reeling at its cleverness and the author’s excellent use of misdirection. By the end of the book, all of the various twists and secrets come together perfectly, and the overall conclusion of the novel is extremely satisfying, especially as I quite enjoyed where the characters ended up. Overall, this was a pretty epic story, and I really enjoyed seeing how it turned out.
One of the most intriguing parts of The Erasure Initiative’s story was the way that the author examines ethics and how humans view right and wrong. The novel follows several amnesiac characters as they are forced to participate in a series of ethical dilemmas, most of which are some variation of the ‘trolley problem’. Watching the characters react to the numerous variations of the problem and try to come up with the answer they think is right is really quite fascinating, especially when it is influenced by several additional factors, like who is involved, certain alterations in a person’s appearance and more. All of this results in a number of thought-provoking scenarios for the characters, which is further complicated by the people not knowing who they are thanks to their amnesia. This leads to all manner of additional fascinating examinations of self and personality as the people try to determine who they are based on the few clues or details they have been given, like attempting to work out whether the people who woke up with a certain colour shirt are law-abiding citizens or criminals. I really liked the various reflective looks at people’s personalities, as the characters looked in on themselves or passed judgements on their fellow passengers. The eventual reveal of the cause of the amnesia and the forced ethical examinations results in even more discussions about morals and personalities, as the characters come to terms with who they are and what choices they made in their previous lives. All of this added an extremely compelling and interesting edge to the entire story, which certainly makes The Erasure Initiative stick out and become even more memorable.
Like most of Wilkinson’s work, The Erasure Initiative is marketed towards a young adult audience, and I can guarantee that this is the sort of book I would have really appreciated when I was a teenager. As I have mentioned above, this book contains quite an impressive story, and one of the great things about it is that it does not talk down to its intended audience. Indeed, Wilkinson has included some very complex and clever themes about identity, personality, decision making and ethical behaviour that I feel younger readers will really appreciate and take the time to consider. Many of the characters and their decisions will easily resonate with a teenage audience, and this is a very worthwhile book for them to check out. The book does contain some mature themes and content which potentially makes it a bit inappropriate for younger readers and early teens, although most of the inclusions are tastefully done and in keeping with current social norms. This is also one of those young adult novels that is extremely accessible to older readers, and I feel that there is a lot in The Erasure Initiative for post-teen readers.
With The Erasure Initiative, amazing Australian author Lili Wilkinson has once again produced an incredible and powerful young adult fiction novel that comes highly recommended. I loved the amazingly clever story, especially thanks to the memorable ethical elements and this is a fantastic novel for a huge range of different readers. Wilkinson is fast becoming one of my favourite Australian authors, and I cannot wait to see what outstanding story she comes up with next.
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. For my latest edition of Waiting on Wednesday, I have a hankering for some compelling mysteries, so I am going to have a look at two upcoming novels featuring some very unique murders.
The first of these books is the intriguing-sounding Either Side of Midnight by Australian author Benjamin Stevenson. This upcoming book, which is currently set for release on 1 September 2020, has the compelling story hook of a disgraced journalist attempting to prove that a very public suicide was actually murder. Either Side of Midnight will serve as a sequel to Stevenson’s debut novel, Greenlight, which was released back in 2018. Greenlight was a fantastic and enjoyable Australian murder mystery novel that made amazing use of the true-crime documentary trope to produce an enjoyable and thought-provoking narrative, featuring a complex protagonist, Jack Quick, who had to deal with the consequences of manipulating evidence for television ratings. This upcoming sequel will focus on Quick after he is released from jail, and it will be interesting to see how much this character has evolved from the first book. I am really looking forward to this upcoming novel, and I am curious to see how Either Side of Midnight will measure up compared to Stevenson’s fantastic debut. There is a lot to be excited for when it comes to this second novel, and I am rather keen to see how its extremely fascinating plot premise turns out.
An electrifying thriller with a mind-bending premise: One million viewers witness a popular TV presenter commit suicide live on air – yet his twin brother is convinced it was murder.
How can it be murder when the victim pulled the trigger?
At 9.01 pm, TV presenter Sam Midford delivers the monologue for his popular current affairs show Mr Midnight. He seems nervous and the crew are convinced he’s about to propose to his girlfriend live on air.
Instead, he pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the head.
Sam’s grief-stricken brother Harry is convinced his brother was murdered. But how can that be, when one million viewers witnessed Sam pull the trigger?
Only Jack Quick, a disgraced television producer in the last days of a prison sentence, is desperate enough to take Harry’s money to investigate.
But as Jack starts digging, he finds a mystery more complex than he first assumed. And if he’s not careful, he’ll find out first-hand that there’s more than one way to kill someone . . .
The other complex murder mystery novel that has caught my attention is Inside Out by Chris McGeorge, which is set for release towards the end of the year. McGeorge came onto the scene a few years ago and has been producing some amazing murder mystery novels that are twists on the classic locked room mystery novels. His new upcoming novel, Inside Out, looks to be another captivating standalone book that contains an excellent sounding new mystery. This novel has another fascinating story premise, and I cannot wait to see what the solution to this fantastic scenario is.
Hachette Australia Synopsis:
Cara Lockhart has just commenced a life sentence in HMP New Fern – the newest maximum security woman’s prison in the country. She was convicted of a murder she is adamant she didn’t commit.
One morning she wakes up to find her cellmate murdered – shot in the head with a gun that is missing. The door was locked all night, which makes Cara the only suspect. There is only one problem – Cara knows she didn’t do it and she has no idea who did.
Being the only one who knows the truth, Cara sets about trying to clear her name, unravelling an impossible case, with an investigation governed by a prison timetable. Cara starts to learn more about her fellow prisoners, finding connections between them and herself that she would never have imagined.
Indeed it seems that her conviction and her current situation might be linked in strange ways…
I think that both of these upcoming novels sound really incredible and loaded with potential. Either Side of Midnight and Inside Out should prove to be fantastic reads, and I cannot wait to see what dastardly and complex mysteries these two talented authors have produced.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 2 April 2020)
Series: Flavia Albia – Book Eight
Length: 399 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Get ready for an outstanding historical murder mystery as one of my favourite authors, Lindsey Davis, returns with another book in her amazing Flavia Albia series, The Grove of the Caesars.
“Don’t go to the Grove.”
Rome, 89 AD. Flavia Albia, professional informer and all-around busy body, is still adjusting to domestic life with her new husband. When he is called away for a family emergency, Flavia takes up the reins of his construction business and begins to supervise several of their projects, especially a demolition and construction job within the sprawling gardens outside the city that Caesar long ago gifted to the people of Rome.
Ignoring the subtle warnings of those men familiar with the gardens to stay away from them and their accompanying sacred grove, Flavia visits the worksite, where she finds a series of mysterious scrolls buried in a cave. Why has someone buried a mass of scrolls from obscure Greek philosophers, and what dark secrets do the scrolls hold? Before Flavia can investigate any further, a woman is brutally murdered at a party held at the grove, and two of Flavia’s slaves go missing.
It turns out that there is a killer lurking in the sacred grove; one who targets women and who has successfully avoided detection for years. With the local vigiles failing to properly investigate the crime, Flavia decides to take on the case. However, can Flavia catch a murderer clever enough to escape justice for two decades, especially once the Emperor’s sinister secret agent Karus takes over the investigation? Forced to work with Karus once again, can Flavia find justice for all the murdered women, or will she end up as the next victim of one of Rome’s most dangerous killers?
The Grove of the Caesars is a deeply compelling and highly entertaining novel that once again follows the clever and likeable protagonist, Flavia Albia, as she investigates a gruesome murder in the heart of ancient Rome. This is the eighth book in the excellent Flavia Albia series, which acts as a sequel to the 20-book long Marcus Didius Falco series of historical murder mystery novels. I have been a major fan of the Flavia Albia books for years, having read and reviewed all the previous novels in the series as soon as they came out (make sure to check out my reviews for the previous three books, The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy and A Capitol Death). All of Davis’s previous novels have been extremely enjoyable, and I have been looking forward to reading The Grove of the Caesars for some time now, and once again Davis did not disappoint. The Grove of the Caesars is another outstanding read that successfully combines together a great murder mystery storyline with a detailed historical setting and engaging central protagonist to produce a captivating narrative that I ended up reading in very short order.
At the centre of this amazing novel is a captivating and dark mystery storyline that sets the protagonist against a cunning and vicious serial killer. The Grove of the Caesars actually has two mysteries contained within it, one involving buried scrolls that the protagonist finds hidden within a cave, and the more pressing case of the murderer within the gardens. Flavia ends up working on both cases simultaneously, and the two mysteries wrap together quite well to produce a great storyline, especially when also combined with some of the other plot elements that Davis throws into it. Both of these mysteries are really clever, and the author makes sure to fill the book with all manner of alternative suspects, intriguing swerves and false leads to keep the reader guessing right up to the end. There were a number of fantastic elements to these mysteries, from the impressive way that they were investigated to the stunning developments and the great conclusions both of them had, including some surprising revelations that came out at the end of the case of the buried scrolls. Davis once again makes sure to portray the investigation in a very modern manner, so that this case felt more like a contemporary mystery novel at times, which I thought worked really well with her enjoyable protagonist and which fit in with the very modern way that the author portrays her historical setting. I was a bit surprised about how dark this book got at times, as Davis, usually has a bit of a lighter tone with her writing, even though they follow murder mysteries. However, the central case of the serial killings was pretty gruesome at times as the antagonist, who displayed a number of characteristics associated with more modern serial killers, did some rather horrible things to his various victims. While it did give this book a bit of a stronger tone at times, I felt that having such an evil antagonist really helped to drag me into the story, as I looked forward to seeing him get caught, and this was overall a really excellent mystery storyline.
Another key aspect of the story is the detailed and compelling historical setting of ancient Rome. Historical Rome always has such potential as a setting, and Davis always does a fantastic job of bringing the city to life in all its chaotic glory, while also making all the inhabitants seem a lot more modern in their actions and attitudes. The Grove of the Caesars was no different, and I really enjoyed seeing the fun way that Davis melds her captivating mystery with this cool setting to create a great story. However, Davis also makes sure to set this story apart by her exploration of one of ancient Rome’s most fascinating features, Caesar’s gardens. The gardens are a sprawling set of sacred groves, forested areas, winding paths, statues and other intriguing features that were originally commissioned for Caesar himself and then gifted to the city after his death. Davis does an amazing job exploring this historically impressive garden, including its location, features and history, and I had a fantastic time learning more about it. It also serves as a really distinctive and compelling setting for The Grove of the Caesars’s story, and I enjoyed seeing the protagonist explore it trying to find hints and clues to the various crimes. I also enjoyed the more sinister air Davis gave the gardens once the reader knows that there is a killer stalking them, especially at night, and which helps to add a bit of tension to the story in the scenes where the protagonists is walking in the gardens alone.
One of the best parts of this book has to be the fun central protagonist, Flavia Albia, who is one of my favourite main characters in fiction at the moment. Flavia serves as The Grove of the Caesars’s sole narrator and point-of-view character, and it is through her eyes that we see most of the story unfold. For the most part, Flavia is a very confident and collected individual with bundles of sass and sarcasm and an unbelievable amount of life experience and cynicism after years spent working as an informant and investigator in Rome. It is thanks to this entertaining world view that most of the book’s humour is derived, as Flavia is full of all manner of funny comments and amusing observations about the world around her. This provides a much lighter tone for most of the novel, as Flavia can be rather sarcastic and witty, even during the darkest of moments. However, in The Grove of the Caesars she does get rather angry in places, especially after witnessing so much violence against women and other helpless characters, and her rage towards the book’s primary antagonist is quite palpable at times, making for some rather dramatic scenes. I also enjoyed the way that Davis works in a large amount of the protagonist’s home and family life into the story, and it is always entertaining to see Flavia interact with her outrageous and eccentric extended family, who offer help and hindrances to her life and investigations in equal measures. I also liked how the author has continued the storyline that sees Flavia and her husband take in and adopt a variety of interesting stray characters they encounter in their cases and add them to their growing household. It was rather fun to see characters who were first introduced in prior books make an impact on this novel’s mystery, and it makes for a fun continuity. I look forward to seeing more of Flavia Albia in the future, and I cannot wait to see what crazy adventures she gets up to next time.
I also have to highlight the wildly entertaining big story moment that occurred about two-thirds of the way into the book. In her last few books, Davis has taken to include a major sequence that features Flavia finding herself in the midst of an over-the-top situation. This includes the very funny sequence in Pandora’s Boy which saw an all-out brawl between a huge group of mixed participants in a collapsing temple, or the rather outlandish chase sequence that occurred in The Third Nero, that featured legionnaires, heavy Persian cavalry, chariots and an elephant in the heart of Rome. In The Grove of the Caesars, Davis makes sure to include another of these outrageous moments, this time featuring a desperate boat chase taking place in the middle of a park, thanks to a disused maritime gladiatorial arena. This chase sequence is filled with all manner of mishap and chaotic moment, as Flavia and several other key characters take to several dilapidated boats to try and resolve the situation, which has a rather extreme ending. Needless to say, this was my favourite part of the entire book, and I found myself laughing several times as events unfolded.
Lindsey Davis has once again shown why she is one of the best authors of historical murder mysteries, as The Grove of the Caesars is a wildly entertaining and addictive read. Davis has pulled together and exceptional story, filled with two compelling mysteries, great characters and an intriguing and distinctive historical setting. I had an amazing time reading this book, and it gets a full five-star review from me. I am eagerly awaiting Davis’s next novel (apparently titled A Comedy of Terrors), and I cannot wait to get my next Flavia Albia fix, this time next year. In the meantime, make sure to check out The Grove of the Caesars if you are in the mood for an exciting and clever read.
Publishers: Gollancz and Orion Audio (Audiobook format – 15 November 2018)
Series: Rivers of London – Book 7
Length: 10 hours 25 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to dive headfirst into one of the best urban fantasy series in the world today, with the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, Lies Sleeping.
London is a magical place, especially for Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard. Peter is a member of an elite unit of the London Metropolitan Police, known as the Folly, which is tasked with investigating magical crimes and protecting the city from all sorts of magical threats. The person at the top of the Folly’s most wanted list is Martin Chorley, also known as the Faceless Man, a magical criminal mastermind who is determined to do whatever it takes to gain power. However, despite the Met and the Folly’s considerable resources, Chorley is always able to stay one step ahead of those chasing him.
During a routine attempt to subtly panic several of Chorley’s known associates, a magical creature attacks a potential witness. Peter’s investigation soon reveals that the witness had ordered the forging of a large and mysterious bell, which Chorley is desperate to get his hands on. As Peter and his team dig deeper in the bell’s construction, they quickly begin to realise that Chorley is the final stages of his master plan, a plan tied deeply into the heart of London’s dark and bloody history, and one which could cause untold disaster for the entire city.
As the clock ticks down, Peter needs to work out the connection between London’s past and the mysterious magical events occurring all over the city. Can Peter and his team once again save the day, or will their adversary finally obtain the power he has always desired? Moreover, what will Peter do when he comes face to face with the woman who betrayed him to Chorley, his old partner in the Met, Lesley May?
Ben Aaronovitch is a highly regarded author with an interesting writing history to his name. His writing career began back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he wrote a couple of Doctor Who television serials, including the highly regarded serial Remembrance of the Daleks, as well as three entries in the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who books. The Virgin New Adventure series chronicled the adventures of the Doctor after the television show’s hiatus in 1989. Aaronovitch’s three entries in this book series sound incredibly interesting, although they were considered to be somewhat controversial at the time due to their more adult content. Aaronovitch did not get around to writing his fantasy work until 2011, when he wrote the urban fantasy Rivers of London. This was the first book in the author’s Rivers of London series of books (alternatively known as the Peter Grant series or the PC Grant series), for which the author is best known for. The Rivers of London series is very highly regarded, and Aaronovitch has worked hard to expand on the story and universe of this series, writing a number of novellas, short stories and graphic novels on top of the series’ main seven books.
Before Lies Sleeping, I had never got around to reading any of Aaronovitch’s books, despite hearing good things about his main series. As a result, I was very happy that I finally managed to check out the series earlier this year. I did receive a trade paperback edition from Hachette Australia, but in the end, I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. I have to say that I was extremely impressed with this brilliant book and found that I really enjoyed the excellent and captivating story. Lies Sleeping easily gets a full five-star rating from me, and I fully intend to go back and check out the other books in this series. This book is an excellent blend of the fantasy and crime fiction genres, both of which come together perfectly to create an extremely compelling and complex read.
Lies Sleeping will prove to be extremely appealing to huge range of people; not only pre-existing fans of the series but also those readers who have not read any of the Rivers of London books before. As a first-time Aaronovitch reader, I found that it was incredibly easy to step in and enjoy this series, as the author did a fantastic job making Lies Sleeping accessible to everyone. While Aaronovitch has created a huge amount of lore around his series, including in his novellas and comics, the reader does not need to have any knowledge of these or the previous six books in the series to fully understand the entirety of Lies Sleeping’s story. However, those readers who do have experience with this series will love how the story continues to development, as well as the massive and surprising twists that occur throughout the book.
At the core of this book lies a series of intriguing mysteries that take place throughout London. In order to achieve his villainous goals, the antagonist has embarked on a series of seemingly random and chaotic crimes and ventures, all of which apparently form part of his master plan. These various mysteries or criminal events were really interesting, and I liked trying to work out how they would all come together. I particularly liked how various parts of these mysteries were deeply tied into the history of London, and the protagonist needed to gain a historical understanding of some of various myths and legends surrounding London. Watching the protagonist attempt to unwind the complex plan of the book’s villains was extremely compelling, and I had a great time trying to work out what was happening myself. One or two threads of these mysteries did go unsolved in this book, and I will be curious to see if they are picked up in any of the future entries in this franchise.
Aaronovitch is clearly a very creative writer, as he utilises a huge range of different and fairly unique fantasy elements throughout this book. While there are a large number of wizards, spells and elvish beings throughout the book, the main focus is on the titular rivers of the series. The more common magical beings encountered in this series are the personifications of the various rivers and waterways (current and historical) that flow through and around London. These beings are similar to gods, although the term genius loci may be more appropriate, and have a huge range of powers. These are a really intriguing addition to the book, and it was interesting to see the protagonist attempt to deal and interact with the various river characters, including his girlfriend, Beverly Brooke (yes, the main character of this series is dating a river). There is also a huge range of other genius loci, or similar beings, that are featured within the story, including the mysterious and insane Mr Punch. The magic that the human characters utilise is complex and slightly less ostentatious than some classic pieces of fantasy, but when the master wizards get to work it can be quite impressive.
One of the things I liked best about this book is how the author could create a realistic British police narrative and ensure magic became part of the procedure. The Folly may be a special branch of the Metropolitan Police, but it is still part of the police force, and as such the characters are forced to follow standard procedure when investigating magical crimes. Having these elite magical characters fill out paperwork and other various elements of day-to-day police life was deeply amusing. I did like seeing how regular law enforcement tactics, anti-crime strategies and police combat techniques could be utilised against magical opponents. The overall fantasy elements of this book are really enjoyable, but I really liked to see them be blended with a classic British police story.
Aaronovitch has done a fantastic job creating a huge and intriguing group of characters for this series. The protagonist of Lies Sleeping and the Rivers of London series is Peter Grant, police officer and official wizard’s apprentice. Peter is the sort of protagonist I really enjoy (sarcastic, funny and determined) so I quite enjoyed having him narrate the story, making a number of great jokes throughout. The other police characters make up a great supporting and diverse cast, with a range of different abilities and characteristics. I especially liked the classy and wise Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last officially sanctioned English wizard and Peter’s mentor. He is an extremely charming and old-fashioned character who has a huge amount of magical power at his fingertips and who can be quite intimidating if he puts his mind to it. I also quite enjoyed the other magical characters that appeared throughout the book, as Aaronovitch has created a bevy of river gods and associated genius loci characters. I liked how many of these ancient characters portrayed modern characteristics and ways of speaking, even when talking in a historical context. Long-time readers of the series will also enjoy the further exploration of several recurring characters, including finally revealing the backstory of the mysterious Mr Punch.
While the protagonists and supporting cast are great characters, I really liked the antagonists in this story. The main villain of the story is Martin Chorley, also known as the Faceless Man. He is an excellent antagonist who is built up as a master planner, master magician and crazy villain before you even see him in the book. His master plan was fairly complex, and the character’s overall arc in this book featured some massive twists that I did not see coming. Lesley May is another really complex character who is a great addition to the series. Her relationship with Peter is one of the best parts of the book, as even after her betrayals earlier in the series, he is still trying to save her from herself. The way this works out in the end is quite dramatic, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from there.
While a large part of this book is set out more as a slow and steady police procedural, there are some fantastic action sequences within Lies Sleeping. These come about when the protagonist attempts to stop the plans of the Faceless Man, and all manner of chaos erupts. Nothing highlights this better than an extended action sequence which involves Peter chasing after a van on a bicycle, throwing fireballs, while all manner of debris is magically flung at him and several pursuing police vehicles. The magical duels between some of the participants, mainly Nightingale and Martin Chorley, can be particularly impressive, but I personally liked how many of the confrontations devolved into fist fights as both sides attempt to distract the other and disrupt their castings. Plus, where else are you likely to see British police with truncheons attempt to fight evil wizards? These amazing action sequences really added to the story, and it was great to see all this magic in action, rather than being theorised the entire time.
While I would have already been tempted to give Lies Sleeping a five-star review, the thing that definitely clinches it for me is the amazing audiobook adaption of the novel, narrated by actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. At nearly 10 hours and 30 minutes, this is a moderately easy audiobook to get through, and I had an absolute blast listening to it. Holdbrook-Smith has an amazing voice and his work narrating this audiobook was just incredible. His voice for protagonist and story narrator Peter perfectly encapsulated the character and got the full force of his witty and enjoyable personality across to the reader. I really liked all the voices that Holdbrook-Smith created for the various characters featured throughout Lies Sleeping, especially for some of the magical creatures, who had an air of ancient wisdom in their voices. However, without a doubt my favourite voice was the one for Nightingale. The voice chosen for Nightingale is full of all sorts of old British class, and I thought it fit the character perfectly and was one of my favourite parts of this whole audiobook. Aside from the outstanding voice work, I also quite liked the jazzy music that was played at the start of each chapter. It gave the book a real noir private investigator feel, and I like how it added to the tone of the book as a whole. The audiobook version of this book also helped me understand the story a bit better as an outsider to the series, and that, combined with Holdbrook-Smith’s brilliant voice work, makes me completely happy to recommend the audiobook format of Lies Sleeping.
Aaronovitch once again delivers a spectacular read that expertly combines amazing fantasy and crime fiction elements into one widely outstanding narrative. There are so many excellent elements to this book, and I had absolutely loved my first foray into the Rivers of London series. I strongly recommend listening to the Lies Sleeping audiobook, narrated by the very talented Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, but those readers who prefer to read their books will also find much to enjoy about this fantastic book. This is one of the best urban fantasy books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I fully intend to go back and check out all the preceding books in this series, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next. Five stars all the way.
From the creative mind of Laura Shepherd-Robinson comes this powerful, dark and extremely captivating historical murder mystery, which might just be one of the most impressive debuts of early 2019.
In June 1781, a horrific murder is discovered on the dock of the slaver port of Deptford, outside of London. The body has been brutally tortured in a variety of ways associated with the slave trade, and his chest has been branded with a slaver’s mark. The dead man was Tad Archer, a passionate abolitionist who had been causing trouble throughout Deptford as part of his abolitionist campaign.
Days later, Captain Harry Corsham, a war hero who fought in the American Revolution, currently attached to the War Office and about to embark on a promising career as a politician, receives a visit from Tad’s sister, who is searching for her missing brother. Tad, an old estranged friend of Harry’s, was apparently in Deptford to expose a secret that could potentially end the British slave trade. Travelling to Deptford, Harry discovers the terrible fate of Tad and is determined to bring his killer to justice.
In order to discover who is responsible for his friend’s the murder, Harry must uncover the secret that Tad believed could permanently end the slave trade. But as Harry investigates further, he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that reaches to the very heart of the realm. Powerful forces wish to see murder covered up and anyone connected to the dark secret silenced. Harry soon finds himself on the wrong side of men who can easily destroy his career and family. Undeterred, Harry presses on with his investigation, but he may prove to be unprepared for the cruel killer stalking him through Deptford.
Blood & Sugar is the debut novel of Laura Shepherd-Robinson, a fantastic new voice in the historical murder mystery genre. Shepherd-Robinson has created an outstanding novel that masterfully blends a fantastic and clever murder mystery with some powerful and evocative historical content. The result is a terribly addictive novel that highlights this debuting author’s obvious ability to craft an excellent and compelling story. From how the story is written, Blood & Sugar will probably be a standalone novel, although I do hope that Shepherd-Robinson sticks with the historical fiction and murder mystery genres, as she has an amazing talent with both.
At the heart of this amazing book is a complex and intriguing murder mystery that sets the book’s protagonist off on a dangerous and dark investigation of the slave trade. While the investigation is originally focused on the murder of Tad Archer, it spirals out into to encapsulate several additional murders and a larger and more widespread conspiracy which may or may not be connected to the initial murder. Each of these mysteries is clever, well thought-out and guaranteed to grab the reader’s curiosity and keep them going through the story to work out the incredible solution. The author has also populated her story with a number of distinctive and complex characters, each of whom has their own hidden secrets and dark pasts. In order to solve Blood & Sugar’s overarching mystery, the protagonist has to unravel each of these character’s lies and personal secrets, each of which add a new layer to book’s excellent plot. These characters are all extremely self-serving and naturally suspicious, providing the reader with a huge pool of potential suspects. The investigation into each of these mystery elements is extremely well written, and I really loved all the solutions to the book’s various mysteries. I was really impressed with the conclusion to each of the personal mysteries that are uncovered throughout the narrative, and some of them were extremely satisfying to see come to a conclusion.
In addition to the outstanding mystery storyline, Shepherd-Robinson has also created an amazing and realistic historical setting for her story. I felt that the author did a terrific job capturing the essence of 18th century England, from the streets of London to the docklands of Deptford. There was a particular focus on the then port town of Deptford, which served as a major plot focus for the book, as well as several other riverside locations. I loved this examination of Deptford, and I found the examination of this part of its dark history to be absolutely fascinating. These locations serve as an appropriately dingy setting for such a dark story, and I really enjoyed it.
A major part of this book was the focus on the evil slave trade that was a major business during the 18th century in England. As part of the plot, the author spends a significant amount of time exploring every facet of English slavery and the slave trade in the 1780s, including the economics behind it, the burgeoning abolitionist movement, slave laws throughout England during this period and how it was a major part of Deptford’s economy and way of life. These details are extremely interesting and disconcerting, as Shepherd-Robinson pulls no punches when it comes to describing the brutal actions of the slavers and the cold business that they practiced. The slave trade also serves as an incredibly effective background motive and catalyst for the murders and the conspiracy that the protagonist finds himself drawn into. The author crafts an incredibly captivating mystery storyline around the English slave trade, and I was both intrigued and appalled to find that certain horrendous elements of this plot were based around a real-life historical slave event. Blood & Sugar is definitely a must-read for those unafraid to learn more about the cruelty of the English slave trade and who wish to see it creatively used as a major plot point in this captivating story.
While Blood & Sugar featured a number of duplicitous and villainous characters who serve as excellent antagonists, Shepherd-Robinson has also crafted a compelling and layered protagonist to tell this story as the book’s narrator. On the surface, Captain Harry Corsham is your typical English hero, a former soldier determined to find the man responsible for the death of his friend. However, as the book progresses, the reader finds out that there is a lot more to Harry’s character than first meets the eye. Harry is a deeply conflicted character in many ways, but throughout this book he struggles with his opinions about slavery and the abolitionist movement. In his past he was a strong supporter of abolishing the slave trade, but since he has entered politics and married into an influential family, he is more aware of the current political realities around the slave trade. But as he spends more and more time investigating the Deptford slave traders, he finds himself being drawn more and more into the abolitionist way of thinking. The author has also written in a fairly realistic portrayal of PTSD for Harry after the horrors he experienced fighting in the American Revolution. This is an intriguing character trait, and one that comes into play the more horrors that Harry experiences during this book. Shepherd-Robinson has also included some amazingly well-written and very surprising personal developments for her protagonist that really change everything in the latter half of the book. All these character elements add layers to this central protagonist, and I liked the emotional and ethical impacts that they caused on the story.
Overall, I thought that Blood & Sugar was a powerful and captivating historical murder mystery that expertly combines an intriguing and clever mystery storyline with some first-rate historical backgrounds and plot points. This is an exceptional debut from Laura Shepherd-Robinson which showcases her amazing talent and superb ability as a writer. This was an easy five stars from me, and I am really excited to see what sort of story this fresh and inventive author writes next.
One of the best historical fiction authors in the world today creates another exceptional piece of literature with Tombland, the epic historical crime fictional book set during the fictionally unexplored events of Kett’s Rebellion.
It is the summer of 1549, and King Henry VIII has been dead for two years. The young Edward VI is on the throne, while his uncle, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, rules the country as Lord Protector. However, the country is slowly descending into chaos as a long, unsuccessful war with Scotland, religious conflict, poverty and the corrupt actions of the rich landowners are raising discontent among England’s peasant population.
In the midst of this, Matthew Shardlake is working as a lawyer for the King’s sister, the young Lady Elizabeth. When a distant relative of Lady Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, is found murdered near Norwich and her husband, John Boleyn, is accused of the crime, the case could have political implications for Elizabeth. Matthew is sent to organise a legal defence of John and to investigate whether or not he committed the crime. Travelling with his assistant Nicholas, Matthew travels to Norwich and begins to examine the details of the case. Meeting up with their old friend Jack Barak, the three friends are convinced of John’s innocence, but malevolent forces intervene to disrupt their defence. As several deaths occur around Norwich, Matthew’s investigation is disrupted by events outside of his control.
A well-organised peasant rebellion erupts around the city, throwing everything into chaos. Led by the charismatic Robert Kett, the rebels march on Norwich and set up a large camp outside the city, filled with thousands of disenfranchised peasants. Captured by the rebels, Matthew and his companions find themselves in the midst of a dangerous and divisive situation. Nicholas’s established views about the superiority of gentlemen sees him imprisoned, while Barak finds much in common with the peasants and their cause. Matthew is forced to make a decision about where his loyalties lie, as Kett wishes him to assist in organising trials for the landowners they have captured. As the rebellion drags on, Matthew finds evidence about the Boleyn murder case in the camp. Following these leads, Matthew soon uncovers a terrible conspiracy that will not only endanger John Boleyn and his lawyers but could affect the fates of every peasant in Kett’s Rebellion.
C. J. Sansom is one of historical fiction’s most highly regarded authors, having written a series of amazing novels in the genre. His most significant body of work is the Matthew Shardlake series, which follows the titular lawyer as he finds himself forced to solve a series of elaborate mysteries during the Tudor period. All the books in this series are extremely impressive, as they all feature clever mysteries and an excellent use of the book’s historical setting. In addition to this series, he has also written a standalone historical thriller, Winter in Madrid, as well as an alternate history novel, Dominion. Tombland is the seventh book in the Matthew Shardlake series and Sansom’s first book since 2014, but considering the sheer amount of detail and the length of the text, this is hardly surprising.
Tombland is another epic novel from Sansom and one that I really enjoyed reading and ranked as one of my top 10 reads for 2018. This book contains an outstanding combination of an intense and complex murder mystery and some amazing historical settings and storylines. All of these elements are extremely amazing by themselves, but together they create one of the best reads of the year. While I really loved this book, potential readers really need to set aside a lot of time to get through Tombland. It has over 800 pages of story, with an additional 50 plus pages of the author’s historical notes and discussions about what events he included. In addition, each page has such a rich amount of detail and plot that I found myself getting through this book at a lot slower pace than I usually would. While it does take a while to get through Tombland, I personally believe it is well worth the effort, as the incredible story within had me hooked from the very first page.
This book has an intricate and powerful investigation angle, as Matthew and his associates attempt to solve a terrible murder that they believe their client has been wrongfully accused of. The mystery part of this book is very well done and features an elaborate and intriguing solution that is slowly revealed throughout the course of the book. Sansom introduces a significant number of potential suspects, all of whom have substantial motives to kill the victim, designed to throw the reader off the scent of the real solution. I liked how the case continued to expand out as the book went on, as the protagonists not only attempt to solve the original murder but must also investigate several murders committed to cover up the initial acts, as well as several attempts to eliminate John Boleyn. There are several major and surprising twists throughout the investigation, as a number of small clues and characters that at first appear minor turn out to have major implications for the overarching mystery. The solutions to the mysteries at the end of the book reveal a dark and powerful motive that has severe consequences for several of the characters involved. Overall, Tombland contained an outstanding central mystery, which is guaranteed to keep the reader deeply curious and engaged with this fantastic text.
One of the most interesting features of Tombland is the fact that Sansom has set it during Kett’s Rebellion of 1549. This is a somewhat obscure piece of history that many readers might not be familiar with, but it is an incredibly fascinating event of English history. Sansom does a masterful job of portraying the entirety of the rebellion throughout the novel and use it as a fantastic secondary storyline as the protagonists witness the beginning and end of the mystery.
Sansom does an outstanding job covering the events of this rebellion, including the events that led up it and caused the peasants to rise up against the rich landowners. As a result, he expertly examines all the events and conditions that were making the peasants and poor of Norwich, and the rest of England, discontented with the way the country was being run. In order to do this, a number of relevant elements are effortlessly inserted into the story and become key parts of the plot. These elements include discussions about the poorly run war in Scotland contributing to armed deserters on the rebels’ side, talks about the political structure of the country and thoughts about the religious disagreements and schisms that were rife in the country during that period. One of the most fascinating and significant elements that apparently led to the rebellion was the rich landowners’ focus on sheep farming and the creation of large sheep enclosures rather than the growth of traditional crops. Before reading Tombland I would never have thought that sheep farming would have the potential to be a cause of rebellion; however, Sansom is able to explain in some significant detail how sheep farming and enclosures were negatively impacting many poorer individuals in England, and how it became a key part of Kett’s Rebellion.
In addition to covering the causes of the rebellion, Sansom’s narrative grows to cover the entire length of this intriguing event. All sorts of elements of it are explored, and readers get an excellent idea of how the peasants were organised, what their motivations were, what sort of actions they were undertaking, how the government reacted to it and what the overall attitude of the participants was. This was all boundlessly fascinating, and as the reader gets deeper and deeper into the book it becomes harder to put the book down as they become extremely curious about what the overall fate of this group of people was, especially after the reader gets an idea of how big the rebellion was and what sort of victories they were able to obtain. The final results of this rebellion and the long-term impacts it had on the country are really interesting to hear about, and I had an amazing time seeing all the significant events that occurred during this underexamined historical rebellion.
As always, I was immensely impressed with the sheer amount of research that Sansom did and the historical detail that resulted from it. Tombland includes over 50 pages of the author’s notes about the event and the conclusions he drew from his extensive research. While these 50 pages are extremely interesting to read, the revelations about how many of the events the protagonist witnesses actually occurred were astounding, and it sounds like Sansom was able to recreate nearly every significant event of Kett’s Rebellion throughout the course of Tombland, with some necessary dramatic flourishes to create the overall story. It was amazing how many of these events actually occurred, and how many of the secondary characters were actually real-life people who had significant impacts on the outcome of the rebellion. Readers will also be amazed by the historical details that Sansom has included on every page of this book and will have a hard time forgetting the events of 1549 and Kett’s Rebellion.
There are several other elements I enjoyed in this book, including the seamless ways that the investigative storyline combines with the historical background of Kett’s Rebellion. So many characters that are potential witnesses or suspects in the murders that the protagonists are investigating become key figures in the historical events that occurred around Norwich. Suspects and witnesses are also found in the rebel camp, and I liked how the key to crime and the downfall of the rebels were both in the same place. I also enjoyed the examination of 16th century English legal procedures and the depictions of murder trials, and found the scenes featuring them very fascinating. The book’s focus on the divide between the rich and the poor is also a great addition to the story and gets a significant look in throughout the entire book, and it is a discussion that is still relevant to this day.
C. J. Sansom once again hits his literary ball out of the park with Tombland, another five-star historical mystery that has the perfect combination of compelling mystery and intriguing historical elements. With an incredibly addictive overall narrative and a focus on a fascinating historical event that is rarely used in other pieces of historical fiction. One of my favourite reads of 2018, I highly recommend this book, especially for people who love a great mystery.
Legendary crime author Michael Connelly returns for another clever and technically detailed crime thriller that teams up his iconic and most utilised protagonist, Harry Bosch, with his recently created female protagonist, Renée Ballard.
In the chaotic world of the LAPD, Renée Ballard is an outsider who has found herself permanently on the graveyard shift of the Hollywood beat. Returning to the near-abandoned station after a callout, Ballard is surprised to find a stranger rifling through her unit’s filing cabinets. The intruder is maverick retired detective Harry Bosch, formally of the LAPD, now currently working as a contractor for the San Fernando police.
Bosch is working a cold case for personal reasons. The victim, a 15-year-old runaway, Daisy Clayton, was brutally murdered several years before and Bosch has gotten close to the girl’s devastated mother. Initially kicking him out the station, Ballard’s subsequent investigation of Bosch’s actions reveals the full details of the case to her and she finds herself drawn to Bosch’s hunt for justice. As the two outsider detectives join forces in order to solve the case, they are once again thrust into the grimy underworld of Hollywood. But as they attempt to find justice, a cornered killer, departmental politics and the dangerous suspects of the two detectives other investigations may cause the case to come crashing down around them.
Michael Connelly is a prolific and award-winning crime novelist who has been writing since 1992. During that period he has written over 30 books, all of which are set in the same shared universe. Connelly’s debut book, The Black Echo, introduced his most iconic character, Harry Bosch, who has been the protagonist of 21 of Connelly’s books, as well as being a supporting character in several other books. Due to the author’s focus on this character, Connelly’s extended crime universe is often referred to as the Harry Bosch universe. Connelly has also written a number of other thrillers in this universe, featuring several other protagonists, such as lawyer Mickey Haller, reporter Jack McEvoy and investigator Terry McCaleb. Many of the characters introduced in previous books often have small roles in later books, while Bosch has had interactions with most of Connelly’s other protagonists. The second protagonist in Dark Scared Night, Renée Ballard, is a more recent creation who was introduced in the 2017 novel The Late Show, and this is her first interaction with Bosch in Connelly’s wider universe.
Outside of the literary world, Connelly’s works have been adapted to film and screen. His Harry Bosch novels have been adapted into the current Bosch television series, which will air its fifth season in 2019. Two of his books have also been adapted into movies. His novel, Blood Work was adapted into film in 2002 with Clint Eastwood, while his first legal novel, The Lincoln Lawyer was adapted into film in 2011 with Matthew McConaughey.
Dark Sacred Night is an excellent piece of crime fiction that presents the reader with a series of interesting investigations, told from the perspectives of two fantastic police protagonists. I listened to this book in its audiobook format, which is jointly narrated by Christine Lakin and Titus Welliver, and runs for 10 hours and 39 minutes. Dark Sacred Night primarily focuses on the investigation into a cold case of a young runaway girl who was brutally killed nine years previously. This central case is massively intriguing and takes the reader deep into the sordid and disturbing criminal nightlife of Hollywood. The main case is a gritty and unique investigation as the protagonists are forced to rely on different methods than they would usually utilise to solve the case. Rather than having any recent evidence, the detectives are forced to rely on old interviews and pieces of police intelligence to identify any potential suspects or witnesses. This is an intriguing way to investigate an old crime, and I really enjoyed the way they were forced to utilise this less substantial evidence to find their killer. This method results in the protagonists identifying and investigating several distinctive suspects, and the reader is presented with a series of false leads and suggested possibilities. I was able to identify who the killer was quite early in the book, but I still had a lot of fun following the investigation to its conclusion.
I really enjoyed the way that Connelly seeded a large number of smaller cases throughout the novel for the protagonists to solve, as well as a number of examples of police work in action. There is an interesting split here as Ballard, the full-time detective, is given a series of more official and everyday crimes to solve, such as a suspicious death, a missing persons, a theft, trespassing and a kidnapping that she investigates to various degrees throughout the book. Bosch, on the other hand, only has one case, an old, unsolved gang execution that he is pursuing in San Fernando and which is the focus for a good portion of his chapters. The inclusion of these smaller cases is a clever move from Connelly as it breaks up the story from a pure focus on the main case and presents a wider viewpoint of crime and policing in the book’s setting. It also allows the author to showcase his protagonists’ divergent investigative skills and presents the readers with an additional number of compelling mysteries and adventures that they can sink their teeth into. Some of these additional cases tie into the main mystery in some surprising ways and clues or suspects may be revealed through this.
All of these mysteries do an amazing job showing of the author’s obvious knowledge of police procedures and law enforcement techniques. Connelly, a former crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has an amazing grasp of the minutiae of police work and he expertly inserts these details into his story. As a result his police characters mostly investigate crimes, examine evidence and file the paperwork in a way that feel extremely realistic and which adds a huge amount to the books authenticity. Connelly’s police characters even feel like real cops, as the way that they act or think feels like real life police would act. All of this combines with the amazing mysteries to create a first-rate piece of crime fiction.
Dark Sacred Night is the first time that Connelly’s main protagonist, Bosch, engages with the author’s newest protagonist, Ballard. There are some interesting similarities between the two characters, which makes for a great story. Both detectives have a similar maverick style when it comes to investigating crimes, and both have been screwed over by LAPD politics and had their careers impacted as a result. As a result, both characters are dogged in their pursuit of criminals, especially those guilty of sex crimes, and both are willing to bend the rules to get their suspects. However, the main difference between them is how far they will go to get justice. While Ballard is happy to bend rules, she doesn’t go too far over the line or deliberately hurt or damage her suspects. Bosch on the other hand has a much more flexible idea of where the line is and engages in some questionable behaviour that could be seeing as going too far. The two characters work well together during this book, and I hope that Connelly continues to use his latest protagonist in the future, especially as there are some interesting stories available when it comes to her complex police past.
The audiobook version of Long Dark Night is a great way to enjoy this crime novel and I found that I quickly powered through the book with this format. The audiobook format utilises two separate narrators to describe the adventure contained within, broken up by whichever protagonist is narrating that chapter. For example, Christine Lakin narrates the chapters told from Ballard’s point of view, while Titus Welliver narrates Bosch’s chapters. Both of these narrators have great voices for their central characters, and both of them fit in perfectly in this gritty crime drama. Lakin captures Ballard’s character perfectly, and you get a real sense of the no-nonsense and wary personality that is Ballard every time you hear Lakin’s voice. Welliver’s voice, on the other hand, is deep and gruff and really fits Bosch’s old school and veteran personality. Overall there is some fantastic voice work in the audiobook format of Dark Sacred Night, and I found that listening to this mystery really drew me into the middle of this investigation and helped me remember certain details and clues.
This latest book from veteran crime author Michael Connelly is a fantastic mystery thriller that draws the reader in with two outstanding protagonists and a series of captivating mysteries. Dark Sacred Night is written in a way that is very easy to get into and the reader can enjoy the full mystery without any details of the previous books in Connelly’s shared universe. As a result, despite it being such a late book in this long-running series, Dark Sacred Night is also the perfect place to start your investigation into the crime sensation that is Michael Connelly. First rate crime fiction at it’s very best, this is an outstanding release from Connelly that is guaranteed to draw the reader into the dark and intriguing world of mysteries.
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I will be looking at the thrilling and enjoyable first tie-in novel to the Veronica Mars franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.
Veronica Mars was a highly regarded (at least for the first two seasons) teen crime television series that aired for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. The show, staring Kristen Bell in her breakout role as the titular character, was an incredibly fun and compelling mixture of teen drama and serious investigation. Veronica Mars is a teenage private investigator who finds herself investigating the murder of her best friend, following a cover up by the town’s rich and powerful inhabitants. The first two seasons featured epic season-long mysteries, while the third season contained two half-season mysteries. Each episode also featured a mystery-of-the-week storyline that would often play some part in that season’s overarching storyline. In addition to the intriguing and complex mystery based storylines, fans of the show could also enjoy the heartfelt drama and romance between the show’s main characters, as well as the interesting social dichotomy of the show’s main location, Neptune, California. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after its third season, and fans were given an unsatisfactory and incomplete series finale.
However, due to support of the Veronica Mars hardcore fans, referred to as “Marshmallows”, as well as an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, the show was revived with a 2014 Veronica Mars feature film. This new movie was set nine years after the show’s third season and showed Veronica’s return to Neptune. The creators attempted to capitalise on the success of the Veronica Mars film by creating some additional material in the Veronica Mars universe. This included the meta web series Play it Again, Dick as well as two novels set in the aftermath of the movie. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line was the first of these novels released, coming out the same month as the Veronica Mars movie, while the second book, Mr. Kiss and Tell was published a year later in 2015. Both books were written by series creator Rob Thomas and short story author Jennifer Graham, and Thomas has stated that they are both considered to be cannon.
I only ended up watching the Veronica Mars show a few years ago, but found myself really getting into the excellent storylines and memorable characters. I managed to avoid any spoilers so I was able to enjoy the incredible mysteries of the first two seasons, both of which were very clever, with complicated and hard to predict solutions. After enjoying both the shows and the movies, I also decided to check out the associated books and obtained an audiobook copy of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, which I have listened to several times. With the recent announcement of a Veronica Mars revival series airing in 2019 to be set five years after the events of the film, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to re-listen to and review The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line as part of my Throwback Thursday series. I am particularly interested to see if Thomas will continue to consider this book as canon when the new series of the show is released, as there are significant narrative developments that may prove hard to explain to those who haven’t read this book.
Neptune, California is usually the home of sun, sand, the ultra-rich, their low-income employees and a corrupt sheriff’s department. But something else has descended on Neptune: spring breakers. With busloads of college students descending on Neptune, the town has been turned into one long and boozy event. It’s all fun and games until one girl disappears from a party and her case is picked up by the conservative media as a call to action against Neptune and spring break.
After nine years away, Veronica Mars has returned to Neptune, the town where she experienced so many traumatic events. After saving her former/current boyfriend Logan from a murder investigation, Veronica has given up her career as a lawyer and has returned to her old addiction, private investigating. With her father still recovering from a suspicious car crash, Veronica has taken over Mars Investigations and is desperately trying to keep the business afloat with small, petty cases.
With the media storm around the missing girl intensifying, Veronica is called in to find her before Neptune’s spring break economy is ruined. Diving into the parties and sordid holiday fun, Veronica soon finds that the house that the girl disappeared from is owned by a dangerous pair of brothers with serious criminal connections. Though Veronica is convinced that the owners of the house are behind the disappearance, the case becomes even more complicated when a second girl disappears from the same house. Worse, the second girl has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past that will rock her to the core.
While it would have been easy for the authors just to create a lazy tie-in novel, Thomas and Graham actually created a complex and multi-layered mystery narrative that serves to keep the readers excited and guessing the entire time they are enjoying it. There is quite a lot going on within this mystery storyline, as for most of it, the protagonist is uncertain about what crime she is actually investigating. There are a lot of false leads, suspects, hidden clues and several pulse-pounding scenes in which Veronica finds her life threatened as she attempts to uncover a major break in the case. The final conclusion of the investigation is pretty clever and has a few sneaky twists that are hard to see coming. The authors also amp up the drama during certain parts of the book as Veronica is forced to confront some heavy subjects from her past, as well as the anger and despair of the people she is investigating. There is also further antagonism between Veronica and the towns’ corrupt sheriff, who Veronica is actively investigating for corruption, as well as a dramatic fight with her father, Keith, who is dismayed by his daughter’s decision to remain in Neptune as a private investigator, a decision which caused her much grief in the past.
One of the more interesting things about the original show was the social makeup of the fictional setting of the town of Neptune. In the show, Neptune is home to both a rich upper class, known as the “09ers” in reference to Neptune’s fictional postcode, and the people who work for them or are employed in the town’s businesses and local economy. As a result, several of the episodes of the original series focused on this discrepancy between these two distinct social classes, which was often represented by the rich students receiving unfair advantages at Neptune High. This was continued in the 2014 Veronica Mars movie, which showed that the sheriff’s department had become especially corrupt and were more focused on protecting the rich and powerful than arresting real criminals, as seen when they framed a side character, Weevil, with a planted gun. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line continues to explore how corrupt the city has become under the new sheriff, and how incompetent the police have become. This is shown early on in the book when Veronica is hired by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce to find the missing girls, as the town’s business leaders lack confidence in the sheriff’s investigative skills. When Veronica queries why they still support him, they make it clear that his policy of doing what the richer citizens want makes him a desirable tool. There are also some dark reveals about the serious crimes he turns a blind eye to in order to avoid confrontation and stay in power.
While there is less focus on the town’s social divide, the authors did add a new element to the plot of this Veronica Mars book: spring breakers. The plot of this book shows the town completely overrun with drunk, drugged-up and sexually excited college students keen to enjoy the beaches and parties of Neptune. Thomas and Graham pull no punches when it comes to these descriptions, attempting to fully encapsulate the chaotic and at times dangerous activities that the students get up to, often highlighting how their behaviour at times degenerates to the level of a drunken mob. This spring break background serves as an entertaining and intriguing background for the murder mystery storyline. There is a good amount of humour watching Veronica acting the part of a drunken sorority girl as she attempts to blend in with the crowd, as this is in complete opposition to her usual prickly demeanour. This spring break storyline will also be an interesting read for those planning to check out the upcoming revived season of Veronica Mars, which is apparently going to focus on a spring break serial killer which initiates a conflict between the upper and lower classes of the town.
As this is a tie-in book to a television and movie franchise, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line appeals to fans of Veronica Mars the most. Readers will be relieved to see that Veronica still maintains her trademark sarcasm and the jaded personality she developed at a young age when she learned how much other people sucked. This book is set only a few months after the Veronica Mars film, and shows the aftermaths of the events that occurred during it. Long-time Veronica Mars characters Wallace Fennel, Keith Mars and Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie all appear in the book in significant roles, while minor movie antagonist, Dan Lamb, returns in a similar role for this book. In addition, other popular characters like Logan Echolls, Dick Casablancas, Eli “Weevil” Navarro and Cliff McCormack have smaller roles within the book. While it is good to see them again, their minor appearances have mainly been added in for fan service. One of the most memorable things about this book for fans of the show are the significant developments that happen in Veronica’s personal life, as a character from her past returns with some massive changes. While these developments serve an important part of the book’s plot and offer some excellent and well-appreciated emotional moments, I will be very surprised if they carry through into the new season of the television show. Overall, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line serves as a fantastic addition to the Veronica Mars franchise and contains a huge number of elements that will prove extremely appealing to fans of the original show.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is definitely one of those novels that is best enjoyed in its audiobook format. This is because the Rob Thomas and the producers of the audiobook were able to get Kristen Bell to come in and narrate this version of the book. As Kristen Bell does a bit of in-show narration, it makes sense for her to continue it here, with Veronica serving as the only point-of-view character. Having her narrate the actions of the book and everything she sees makes it feel a lot like the television show and gives it a natural and authentic feel. It was also pretty amusing to hear Bell do the voices of her co-stars from the shows and movies throughout the book. I think she does a pretty good job of her narration of the other character’s voices, as there are distinctive approximations of all the relevant characters, in addition to new voices for the exclusive book characters. Overall, if fans of this franchise are keen to experience a new Veronica Mars adventure, this is their best option. Written by the show’s creator and voiced by its lead actresses, the audiobook version of The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is essentially just another episode of the show, and is the best way for fans of the Veronica Mars show to enjoy. At 8 hours 43 minutes, it is a quick audiobook to get through.
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is an excellent piece of the amazing Veronica Mars franchise which presents the reader with a continuation of this fun universe and allows fans of the show to see what happens next to their favourite characters. Featuring a clever and intricate central mystery that twists and turns in multiple unexpected ways, this book is a fantastic read as told by its iconic protagonist. Best enjoyed in its audiobook format with the voice of Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, narrating the story, this is a recommended read for all fans of the fans of the show, and may prove to be an intriguing introduction for newcomers to the franchise.
From debuting Australian author Benjamin Stevenson comes this chilling and intelligent murder mystery that builds a thrilling case with some sensational twists around an intriguing true crime documentary plot device.
Four years ago, in the small Australian country town of Birravale, Curtis Wade was arrested and tried for the murder of young woman Eliza Dacey. Hated by the entire town and viewed as an outsider, Curtis was quickly found guilty of the crime with very little evidence presented at the trial. Everyone was convinced of Curtis’ guilt until podcaster and documentarian Jack Quick decided to get involved.
Noting some inconsistencies in the case and sensing an opportunity for fame, Jack decided to make a true crime documentary series, presenting the local police as incompetent and biased. His series becomes an overnight hit across Australia, and his edited footage convinces many in the country of Curtis’s innocence. But the night before the finale is due to air, Jack notices a piece of crucial evidence near the murder scene that could prove that Curtis is guilty after all. Determined not to ruin his series, and convinced that no matter what happens Curtis will never see the light of day again, he disposes of the evidence. However, thanks to his series, Curtis is released on retrial, and then a second murder is committed, with several grisly details of the first case replicated. Has Jack just let a murderer go free?
Returning to Birravale, Jack must once again dive into the secrets of a town that hates him for the way his show portrayed them. As Jack attempts to solve this crime, he must overcome his own past while also dealing with the guilt of the situation. But did Curtis commit this new crime, or is he being framed by the real killer? Whoever the murderer is, Jack is wrapped up in their game and for once he needs to reveal the whole truth.
Greenlight is the first novel from Australian comedian and author Benjamin Stevenson and represents a brilliant and exhilarating debut. This book has an amazing central storyline with a massively intriguing mystery that focuses on the innocence or guilt of the man who has already been both convicted and found innocent of the same murder. The protagonist must look at whether the person he released from jail committed the murder he was originally convicted of, as well as a second, similar murder that occurred after the suspect has been released. The reader is constantly left guessing about whether the prime suspect, Curtis, has committed either or both of the crimes, or whether he is actually innocent. At the same time, the reader is presented with a series of plausible alternative suspects who have motive for either of the murders or, in some cases, the same motive for both of the killings, and this creates some exciting doubt about the original suspect’s guilt. The final reveals and twists of this case are rather shocking and will definitely provide the readers with some excellent surprises. Stevenson does a good job providing a lot of hints and foreshadowing in his text, and readers will enjoy seeing how these cleverly scattered clues are brought together in the end. Overall, this is a hell of a mystery and the author does a fantastic job tying the investigation into the book’s other elements.
One of the most noticeable and outstanding parts of Greenlight is its true crime elements and how this affects both the story and the way that the book is written. Ever since the dramatic popularity of the 2015 Netflix true crime show, Making a Murderer, various books and shows have attempted to emulate the documentary setting in their works. What I liked about Stevenson’s book was that, rather than dealing with the creation of the documentary, it is mostly set some months after the television series was released and instead takes a look at the consequences that the show has had. Not only is a potential murderer released, but various lives and careers have been ruined as a result of the protagonist’s actions. It is absolutely fascinating to see the various ways that the reaction and follow-up of the true crime television series comes into play through the story. The protagonist has to deal with a series of characters who are annoyed or angry about their portrayal in the series, which informs the help, assistance or compassion that these characters give. The success of the series also affects the police response, leaving the protagonist much more open to investigate the crime. It is also intriguing to see a television show being used as a motive for murder throughout the book, as the second murder could potentially be tied into righting the wrongs that the show caused. Stevenson covers all these elements incredibly well, and the examination of the consequences and damages of a successful true crime documentary series turns out to be the perfect backdrop for this captivating murder story.
On top of the powerful mystery and the terrific plot focus, Stevenson has also created an interesting central protagonist who serves as the point of view character for most of the book. The main character, Jack, is the documentarian who makes the show that gets the mystery’s main suspect freed from jail. Watching the guilt and shame that this character experiences as a result of his various actions, such as the creation of the show, tampering with evidence and editing the videos to tell a specific story, is a great part of this story, and it serves as a perfect motivation for this character’s continued and at times frantic investigation. Watching the character understand the full extent of his questionable actions, especially after the second murder, is an outstanding part of this book that highlights Stevenson’s strong writing ability. It is also interesting to see how his experiences creating a documentary have affected his judgement and the way he perceives the world. The protagonist now sees the slanted way many of the characters talk when it comes to case, and he is constantly trying to determine what role the people who are involved in the case would have in a television show, such as a main character or a supporting cast member. The author also creates some interesting character background for Jack that works well with this story, as guilt and trauma from his childhood combines with the current extreme blame and he is currently feeling. Stevenson also produces an accurate and powerful description of an eating disorder that Jack is suffering from, and not only is this description respectful done and informative, but it adds another level to this excellent main character.
A large amount of Greenlight’s plot is set in the fictional small, winegrowing country town of Birravale in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. This serves as a great background setting for the murder investigation as the small town secrets and attitudes play a huge role in the overall mystery. Stevenson does an amazing job portraying a winegrowing community, and provides some interesting details that come into play in a number of ways and often result in a number of potential murder motives. The small-town setting also works well with the post true crime series plot element, as the protagonist encounters an entire town that has been portrayed in a negative light throughout this series and is viewed in a different way by the rest of the country. Seeing these resultant attitudes and the impacts his series has had on the town works wonders for the main character and is a great part of this book.
In his debuting novel, Australian author Benjamin Stevenson has created an incredibly captivating mystery storyline. Greenlight contains a number of outstanding elements, from shocking plot twists and reveals, an excellent central character and an utterly fascinating central plot device, all of which come together into one amazing novel. This is an exceptional first book from Stevenson which highlights both his fantastic ability and his huge potential as a crime writer.