Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson Cover.jpg

Publisher: Michael Joseph

Publication Date – 3 September 2018

 

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.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publication Date – 1 August 2018

 

From bestselling Australian author Lili Wilkinson comes After the Lights Go Out, an incredible and powerful young adult adventure set in the heart of the bush that asks the impossible question: should a person choose family or community in an emergency?

Seventeen-year-old Prudence Palmer is a young woman living outside the small Australian outback town of Jubilee with her father, Rick, and her younger twin sisters, Grace and Blyth.  To the other inhabitants of the town, they are just another mining family, living close to Rick’s workplace.  However, they are actually hiding a much deeper secret: they are doomsday preppers.  Convinced that the world will soon suffer some form of imminent catastrophe, Rick has moved his daughters off the grid to Jubilee and has constructed a hidden bunker out the back of his property.  Filled with a substantial amount of food, medicine, equipment, weapons and entertainment, the bunker has everything they need to survive the end of the world.  The girls have also been trained to survive and are ready to react against a variety of scenarios.

While Rick is sure a world-changing disaster is just around the corner, Pru is less certain, and is happy to keep her family’s activities a secret.  So it is a great shock to her when something actually happens and every electrical device, modern car and generator in Jubilee suddenly fails.  With Rick gone, Pru and her sisters must suddenly implement their survival plan without their father’s guidance and make the hard decision to hide their bunker and supplies from their friends in the town.  With food, water and medicine becoming scarce, and with no transportation, communications or other vital necessities, the town starts to fall apart.  As the situation gets even worse, Pru and her sisters must decide between helping their friends or doing as they have been trained and survive alone.

Lili Wilkinson is an exciting Australian author who has produced 10 intense and dramatic young adult novels since her 2006 debut, Joan of Arc: The Story of Jehanne Darc.  Her eleventh novel, After the Lights Go Out is an outstanding standalone book that could potentially replace Tomorrow, When the War Began as the go-to disaster story for Australian young adult audiences.  This book contains a dramatic and moving main story that plunges the world into chaos and places the potential survival of a small town in the hands of one young woman.

At the heart of this book lies a tough moral dilemma for the narrator Pru when she must decide between helping her local community and guaranteeing her family’s survival.  Pru’s father, Rick, a hardcore survivalist, has stocked the family bunker with enough supplies to keep Pru and her sisters alive for several years.  He has also taught his daughters to never help anyone but themselves, and to keep all their supplies for the family.  When a disaster strikes and Rick goes missing, it is up to Pru and her sisters to make the decision, and at first they choose to keep the bunker and supplies hidden from their friends in Jubilee.  As the situation in the town gets worse, Pru’s guilt conflicts with her father’s training and instructions.  This internal debate is intensified when she falls in love with newcomer Mateo and watches him and his mother doing everything they can to save the townsfolk, despite the fact they are not locals and have no significant connection to people living there.  Watching Pru’s internal struggle and the external debate with her sisters is intense, and the reader is left wondering what they would do in a similar situation.  How Pru’s eventual decision affects her family and her relationships with the people of Jubilee is very memorable, and hits all the right emotional notes in this excellent story.

After the Lights Go Out contains an intriguing examination of the doomsday prepper phenomenon that is currently occurring around the world.  The main character’s father believes every single conspiracy theory that exists and is determined to prepare his daughters for anything.  It is clear that Wilkinson has done some significant research into survivalists and their various techniques, and as a result her characters are prepared for every doomsday scenario and have a ton of supplies and a high-tech bunker at their disposal.  There is a lot of discussion and exposition about the various survivalist conspiracies, plans to live in an altered world, the necessary techniques and the ideal supplies that every prepper should have.  Despite most doomsday preppers being American, many of the techniques in this book have an Australian flavour to them, as the girls know the local fauna, flora and means of survival out in the harsh bush conditions.  While every preparation the Palmer family has undertaken is fascinating to read about, I found the examination of the improvised medical techniques the characters use to be particularly outstanding.  This includes including one memorable and somewhat graphic sequence where the narrator needs to perform some rudimentary dentistry.  Overall, the use of the doomsday preppers’ planning and theories is an incredibly intriguing part of this story that provides the reader with some cool facts and the results of the author’s in-depth research.

Wilkinson has also populated the book with some excellent characters who really bring the story together.  While the Palmer sisters are good central characters and Pru is a great narrator who has to make a huge range of tough decisions, the best character has to be the Palmer father, Rick.  Rick is a crazed survivalist who is convinced that the world is about to end and whose paranoia has driven him to outback Australia.  When one of his disaster scenarios actually comes true, he becomes even more erratic, and watching his fears overcome his love for his daughters is very tragic to behold.  There is also Mateo, the young American tourist and liberal city-slicker who is essentially the opposite of Pru when it comes to life experiences.  The relationship between him and Pru is nice.  It evolves at a natural pace and offers the reader some different insights into the situation and the motivations of the Palmer sisters.  Another effective character is Keller Reid, the older boy with an unhealthy obsession with Pru’s younger sisters.  Keller is a particularly despicable character who serves as a very annoying minor antagonist who moves the plot around.  Watching him through the narrator’s eyes, you cannot help but hate him and hope he gets some eventual comeuppance.  The other townsfolk of Jubilee are a good mixture of characters, and it’s nice seeing them come together as a community rather than break down and kill each other as Rick believed they would.

Another part of this book that stood out to me was Wilkinson’s use of the powerful Australian landscape and the examination of small country towns.  The author provides some vivid images of the distinctive Australian bush, and looks at the various features that make it an intriguing backdrop for a story about survivalists.  The author also produces some exceptional portrayals of the close communities that exists in small town Australia and how they their isolation might be both a benefit and a detriment to their survival in a doomsday scenario.  It is definitely a unique setting for a catastrophe novel such as After the Lights Go Out, and one which I felt really added to the beauty and intensity of the story.

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an incredible piece of literature from Wilkinson.  Because of its excellent story and the phenomenal look it takes at survivalists and their viewpoint of the world, I think this book is perfect for its intended young adult audience, which could prove to be very empowering and enjoyable read for them.  Parents should aware that there are some adult moments and a couple of graphic scenes, but this excellent and informative story is worth the risk.  After the Lights Go Out is a deep and powerful five-star book that provides its readers with an excellent examination of doomsday preppers.  This is definitely one of the best young adult books I have read this year and I cannot recommend this outstanding Australian book enough.

My Rating:

Five Stars