Following in the tracks of Matthew McConaughey, who starred in the 2011 filmic version of Michael Connelly’s brilliant courtroom thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, is a titanic ask. Manuel Garcio-Rulfo plays the lead role in the new series “The Lincoln Lawyer” in a very different manner, but I find him as compelling as McConaughey, and perhaps more suited to portraying Mickey Haller, an L.A. defense lawyer who maintains an office in a car (sometimes a stunning blue Lincoln, oftentimes more office-like cars). In the first of Haller’s adventures, Haller, trying to claw back his career, finds himself defending a rich software developer accused of murdering his wife and her lover. That plot primer vastly understates the serpentine, many-armed plot that Haller finds himself engaged in, with the help of his PI Cisco (played wonderfully by Angus Sampson, who always excels) and his two ex-wives. Each of the ten fulsome episodes is a delight to become immersed in, the courtroom scenes compel, and the devilishly clever (if a trifle outrageous) plot grips the viewer. The Lincoln Lawyer is a perfect example of the courtroom drama, may there be further seasons galore!
Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper [10/10]
In my humble opinion, Chloe Hooper is one of Australia’s most sublime writers: evocative, in control, and always true to her story. “Bedtime Story” transcends the genre of grief/loss/illness memoir with an ease that stuns. When the author and her husband, famed (and equally brilliant) writer Don Watson discover he has a rare and potentially fast-ravaging leukemia, the mantle of illness and foreboding descends upon her family of four, in particular her two young boys (they must be aged about three and seven). Achingly addressing this slim volume to the “you” of the older boy, the author grapples with the question of how to explain the threat of imminent death. As befits a scrupulous investigative journalist, she turns to the world of children’s literature: can it assist her and her husband, can it ease, can prepare the young for a new future? As her husband embarks on the by-now-ubiquitous debilitating journey of aggressive treatment, as the boys increasingly sense the pall in their worlds, she gropes toward explanation and myth-making.
Interweaving investigations into the world of kids’ books, an acerbic account of the world of scans, hospital, and drugs, and young souls’ responses, Bedtime Story is both achingly sad and, somehow, extraordinarily, liberating. Injected personal poems made me gasp. Ghostly watercolors by Anna Walker are perfectly placed.
My book of the year so far, Bedtime Story startled me and then graced my own inner turmoil with rare, precise insight and beauty.
Silverview by John Le Carre [8/10]
I skipped “Silverview,” John Le Carre’s final spy novel, because it was released posthumously. Too many bad experiences with novels from the grave had soured me of the strong desire to make sure I left no Le Carre unread. But praise from friends sent me backtracking to this final outing from late last year. Such a correct decision! Despite being, at 224 pages, only a little longer than a novella, Silverview is a perfect expression of one of the finest modern stylists we have seen. From the opening scene, I gasped at the bravura skill, the perfect pacing, the eloquent capturing of place and person, the musical ear for dialogue (especially between Briton and Briton). Le Carre has always been the master at unveiling his tricky plots just so slowly, just so fast, so that the reader has to work hard to keep up. We read in awe as Julian, ex-London-banker now running a bookshop in a tiny English seaside town, seemingly bumps into a charismatic, engaging but slippery Polish emigre residing in a mansion (named, of course, Silverview), while at the same time an anonymous-looking spy in London receives an unusual visitor, setting off a convoluted chain of events mysterious and duplicitous. Le Carre’s more recent output, while always brilliantly penned, has suffered a little from outraged messaging. Not so with Silverview, concise and set in the world he began with, the tricky corridors of spydom. A must for every fan and recommended for any reader.
Big Time by Angel Olsen [8/10]
“Big Time” dims the raw-edged fury that first attracted me to Angel Olsen, but the melodic and lyrical chops, and the crystalline voice both stay strong, so, to my surprise, I enjoyed and was moved by this honeyed, countrified album. With lyrics imbued with emotions from coming out and loss of parents, there is a rare surfeit of optimism on the first two twangy tracks, “All the Good Times” and the title song. The mood darkens on “Dream Thing,” and I shed a tear when she sings, high and clear, “I was looking at old you, looking at who you’ve become.” My standout track, “Right Now,” build from C&W into 60s torch pop, ending with defiance I felt: “I’m telling you right now, right now.”
Big Time is a new Angel Olsen chapter, as powerful and moving as has ever been. If you’re not a fan, why not?
Bitter Fruit by Frank Kennedy [8/10]
Can the panoramic, multi-character, multi-world multi-universe Beyond the Impossible series grow even more complex? On the basis of Book 6, “Bitter Fruit,” the answer is “yes indeed!” Earlier volumes have focused on different strands: Kara Syung and Ham Cortez aboard the warship Scylla; ex-Earthling and now super immortal Michael Cooper and his young crew on terraformed Aeterna; devious Bonju Taron; Royal, the assassin’s assassin; and the enigmatic Inventor. In Bitter Fruit the conflicting parties uneasily unite to deal with the most invidious foe of all, the Swarm. The book is a whirl of negotiations, plans, action, battles, manipulations, and, ultimately, further existential puzzles.
An intoxicating cauldron of a space opera, Bitter Fruit at last yanks the patient reader toward some unidentified cosmic climax.
Trust by Hernan Diaz [7/10]
The second novel by American novelist Hernan Diaz is a matryoshka of stories about a New York financial tycoon in the 20s and 30s. “Trust” presents four aspects of the aloof monetary titan’s biography. The first, an unauthorized biography, relates how the mastermind builds his fortune and then blossoms during the 1929 Crash, possibly contributing to the crash. A second short tale seems closer to the subject, then we’re placed in the reflections of a female writer who had begun to ghost write an official version. A final set of diary entries upends all the other accounts. The author segues smoothly into the new voice and masterfully depicts the world of high finance circa 1930, and the novel can also be read as a barbed indictment of financial engineering. But the main concern of Trust is the nature of retrospective storytelling and the power of money to warp truth.
During the reading, other novels, never identifying themselves, seemed to hover behind the words I read. I realized Trust is a very old-style novel, that of retellings and retellings. As a mystery genre reader, the climactic twist was no shock at all, but I still enjoyed witnessing the author patiently unveil the truth.
Truth is a fascinating puzzle book that flows like water. Recommended.
Devotion by Hannah Kent [6/10]
“Devotion” captures the imagination, line by line, page by page, with fervent, lilting prose, but surrenders readerly ground by telling an overly mild tale. When Hanne, a young, introverted, nature-loving girl, meets Thea, they fall in love. From Prussia, her Lutheran community is forced to undertake the onerous ship passage to South Australia, and the love of the two girls is tested in strange ways. Hannah Kent, noted for her research, offers fulsome, fascinating portraits of community life in Europe, on the long ship’s voyage, and as pioneers in the exotic South Australian bush, and I consider this to be the novel’s core strength. Although many readers may swoon over the science-fiction-style love story, yoked as it is to wonderful prose, I found the backbone of the plot to be flimsy; put frankly, not much happens. I can commend Devotion, especially to all those who adored her previous strong novels, but note my caveats.
City on Fire by Don Winslow [8/10]
Don Winslow blasts out stories violent, troubling, and real as houses. This incendiary saga, “City on Fire,” is part of a trilogy modeled on Homer’s The Iliad, and tells of an Irish crime clan on Rhode Island during the mid 1980s. When Danny Ryan, a loyal gang foot soldier, finds himself thrust into a spiraling war against the Rhode Island Morettis, an escalating, unpredictable battlefield between the Italians and the Irish, he hesitates at first, then feels his way toward into leading. Reluctant minion turned strategist and havoc-reaper … the influence of The Godfather and The Sopranos is writ large. But City on Fire is no paper mache copy, The author is a direct, strongly voiced stylist who does not waste a sentence and can conjure up worlds in a paragraph. The cast of grappling combatants and insiders is large, and Winslow’s dominion of them is so intertwined that subtle characterization is not the order of the day; even hero Danny remains elusive to the reader, revealed only slowly through transformative actions. Similarly, the author captures Providence and Rhode Island in a forensic, spartan fashion, as if imagining a film. But this reader never noticed any shortfall in character depth or location lyricism, because Winslow is a master plotter. Impossible to foretell, so sweet afterward, the plot surges and twists, surges and twists, exploding its violent canvas. City on Fire is a pleasurable tonic of raw human thrills, drawn from ancient tropes, and it shall surely figure on many highlight lists. One sitting, reader, one sitting.
The Raven Song by J M Dalgliesh [8/10]
A sparkling genre procedural with a difference, “The Raven Song” is the eleventh in the fast-deployed Detective Inspector Tom Janssen series, set this time in Hunstanton, one of the places in Norfolk that I have actually visited. When a troubled single woman is found dead, her disabled young daughter missing, Janssen’s ensemble homicide team, by now well familiar to the series reader, races to solve and rescue. Suspects multiply, the plot twists, the reader’s pulse clocks high … this is a familiar pleasure to use crimmie readers and author Jason Dalgliesh has penned another winner. Get with the flow, folks, snatch up The Raven’s Song!
The Long Call [3/10]
Brilliant veteran mystery author Ann Cleeves has been well served on the screen, with both her Vera and Shetland series spawning multiple sparkling viewing seasons (my accolades for the most recent Shetland seasons can be found here and here). And her most recent fictional creation, DI Matthew Venn in Devon, is splendid on the page (again, I praise the first two books in the series here and here). “The Long Call” faithfully reproduces the first Venn book over four episodes and some of the typical, admirable aspects of an Ann Cleeves mystery are on display here, namely the sumptuous visual imagery and the baffling mystery. But disappointment soon sets in. The main characters, with the exception of nuanced Jonathan, Venn’s husband (portrayed well by Declan Bennett) are strangely cast and woodenly acted. The intricate plot is forever leaking out the sides and rushing through revelations, so that tension is non-existent and the classic crime fiction “reveals” come across as lame. The ending is a limp mess. Read the book version of The Long Call and skip the cinematic series.