Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: THE DARK LAKE

THE DARK LAKE by Sarah Bailey (Grand Central Publishing, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama. 

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her? 

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.

Australia and New Zealand have always had some very fine crime writers (going back more than a century - the bestselling crime novel of the 1800s was written not by Conan Doyle but a Kiwi lawyer and wannabe playwright and set in Melbourne), but international eyes are turning more towards Downunder lately thanks to the Edgar Award and CWA Dagger Award shortlistings of the likes of Jock Serong, Paul Cleave, and particularly Jane Harper, who won the CWA Gold Dagger last year.

Sarah Bailey joins an incredibly strong contingent of female Australian crime writers bringing fresh blood and fresh ideas to the #southerncrosscrime (Australian and New Zealand crime) ranks in recent years; along with Harper, multiple-award-winning Emma Viskic, and Candice Fox, who's collaborated with James Patterson on Australian-set thrillers (Patterson certainly follows the trends) as well as writing her own award-winning series, are particular standouts and relatively new voices.

There's a lot to like about Bailey's debut, THE DARK LAKE; it's an interesting and very solid debut from an author who delivers a polished tale and shows plenty of promise. Being hyper-critical, it's not quite the quite a slam-dunk 'oh my God, this is amazing' debut akin to Harper and Viskic in recent years, but that's more to do with the originality of its sublime peers. This is still a good read.

I'm a fan of rural noir, so I was immediately intrigued by Bailey's set-up; the drama teacher of a small town's high school is found strangled in the lake. The lead investigator, Detective Gemma Woodstock, knew the victim back when they were teenagers, setting up lots of that lovely small-town 'everyone knows everyone, lots of past histories but also secrets and things people don't know' vibe.

Bailey sets the hook quite well, and I found myself eagerly turning the pages to find out just what happened, while at the same time never feeling quite 'onside' with the main 'hero'. Gemma is a young mother who treats her partner badly, while obsessing over her colleague, with whom she's been having an affair. While Bailey gives us insights into Gemma that make her quite human - and a character doesn't have to be likable to be compelling - I just never quite gelled with Gemma, meaning I was following along the story more out of intellectual interest rather than being fully emotionally engaged. Perhaps a bit nitpicky, because it is a good read, but the balance wasn't quite right for me.

Bailey does a great job bringing the Australian small-town to life, the interlocking relationships and the secrets hidden away behind suburban doors. She has a nice touch for setting, and some good characterisation overall, and beyond the main players - which is always great to see.

THE DARK LAKE has more of a slow build, getting deeper and more engaging as it goes on, rather than being a page-whipping ripsnorter. I don't mind that, and find myself really enjoying many aspects of the book, while just wishing I engaged slightly more with the main characters. That could have taken the book from good/very good towards great. Bailey shows plenty of writing chops, and she'll definitely be one to watch in future. A good read from another talented Downunder author.



Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: THE SILENT DEAD

THE SILENT DEAD by Claire McGowan

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Victim: Male. Mid-thirties. 5'7". Cause of death: Hanging. Initial impression - murder. ID: Mickey Doyle. Suspected terrorist and member of the Mayday Five.

The officers at the crime scene know exactly who the victim is. Doyle was one of five suspected bombers who caused the deaths of sixteen people. The remaining four are also missing and when a second body is found, decapitated, it's clear they are being killed by the same methods their victims suffered. Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is assigned the case but she is up against the clock - both personally and professionally.

With moral boundaries blurred between victim and perpetrator, will be Paula be able to find those responsible? After all, even killers deserve justice, don't they?

Claire McGowan is one of a new generation of British & Irish crime writers who in the past few years have quickly ascended from fresh voices breaking in to established must-read status (for me, at least, and I suggest should be for you too - Eva Dolan is another on the same list). McGowan writes intelligent crime fiction that ticks boxes across the board: good crime plotlines, interesting and well-drawn characters, plenty of depth to go with page-turning pace, a great and rich sense of setting, and plenty of underlying issues among the people and places she sets her tales.

But there's also much more here than just ticking all boxes on what can make for a good or great crime novel; McGowan has that magic touch for balancing various aspects, and putting enough of a fresh spin on things to make the sum even greater than all its very good component parts.

There's plenty of marrow in the well-constructed bones.

I first encountered McGowan's series heroine, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, in a terrific short novella published in between series novels. That looked back to a teenage Maguire and gave an insight into some things that set her on the path to fighting crime and finding justice (or trying to).

McGowan loses none of the verve and power of that story in a full-length novel, while adding further depth and layers. THE SILENT DEAD is an excellent read, a compulsive page-turner that draws you in early and keeps you riveted throughout, while offering lots of thought-provoking depth and rich characterisation to go along with the intriguing 'who's behind all of this, and why?' storylines.

Maguire is heavily pregnant in THE SILENT DEAD, unsure which of her two past lovers is the father. It's a complicated situation on several fronts, especially given their identities - a man who's a been a big part of Maguire's history, and a man who plays a key part in her professional present.

Add in a complicated case: the abduction and killing of suspects in an horrific bombing that sought to reignite 'the Troubles' - is it vigilantes seeking overdue justice, paramilitaries cleaning house of bad PR, or something else going on? - and Maguire's life is teetering on the edge in several ways.

Determined to show that she's still highly capable, and valuable to the investigation, despite her 'condition', Maguire barnstorms her way around. There's a lot to admire about the character, who isn't without her flaws, but comes across as very human and engaging. There are understandable reasons for her choices and actions, even if readers might wish she'd made different ones at times. In this way, and others, McGowan does a great job drawing us in and bringing us alongside Maguire and her colleagues as they investigate a case that tears them in all sorts of directions.

THE SILENT DEAD will intrigue your head and tug at your heart. A very fine crime novel.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: ROBICHEAUX

ROBICHEAUX by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Dave Robicheaux is a haunted man. Between his recurrent nightmares about Vietnam, his battle with alcoholism, and the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Molly, his thoughts drift from one irreconcilable memory to the next. Images of ghosts at Spanish Lake live on the edge of his vision.

During a murder investigation, Dave Robicheaux discovers he may have committed the homicide he’s investigating, one which involved the death of the man who took the life of Dave’s beloved wife. As he works to clear his name and make sense of the murder, Robicheaux encounters a cast of characters and a resurgence of dark social forces that threaten to destroy all of those whom he loves. 

There’s a brutal poetry and strange majesty to two-time Edgar winner James Lee Burke’s novels, a beguiling mix of beautiful passages and vile deeds, God-kissed landscapes and grotesque characters. Burke’s latest book sees the return of grizzled Louisiana investigator Dave Robicheaux for a twenty-first turn on the dancefloor – and Robicheaux has plenty of eclectic partners to zydeco with.

Sparked by the tragic death of his wife in a motor vehicle accident, the aging Robicheaux is teetering and about to topple. Assailed by his decades-long battle with alcoholism and penchant for morose thoughts and musings on history and morality, he tumbles off the wagon. Hard.

He wakens from a blackout the lead suspect in the killing of the man blamed for his wife’s death.

And that’s not the only problem in Robicheaux’s life, as he and old pal Clete Purcel crisscross paths with a corpulent gangster who wants to be a Hollywood producer, dirty cops, venal criminals, race-baiting power players, and a slimy local politician and a local bestselling author whose moneyed lifestyles badly spackle over the sins of their pasts they continue to struggle with. Oh, and a bizarre killer who gives ice-cream to kids and abhors impoliteness, before blowing people’s heads off.

ROBICHEAUX is another masterpiece from Burke. The past elbows hard into the present, Robicheaux is haunted by dreams of Vietnam and ghostly sightings of Confederate soldiers, and the best and worst of humanity is often jarringly contained within the same characters. There are beautiful passages of writing, where Burke seems to tiptoe along a tricky tightrope, bulls-eyeing onto lyrical and thoughtful while avoiding tumbling headlong into florid. A master at work.

Robicheaux may be a ‘noble mon’, as Clete is wont to say, but there are plenty of times he hurts and kills others without hesitation. He's got more layers than a box of onions, and at times can seem a bit of a contradiction; he's utterly human, raw at times, authentic and complicated. He lives in a violent world, where those wearing the white hats and the black hats are both prone to physical force. And at times it can be tough just who are meant to be the good guys or bad guys (though there are, as always, some particularly noxious characters who populate this latest Robicheaux tale).

Overall, ROBICHEAUX is a heady gumbo of a literary thriller where everything is multi-layered, blending, contrasting, and stacked with flavor. It won't be to everyone's taste, but is quite exquisite.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed more than 200 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at books festivals in Europe on three continents, on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: TEQUILA BLUE

TEQUILA BLUE by Rolo Diez, tr Nick Caistor (Bitter Lemon, 2005)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s not easy being a cop in Mexico City. Meet Carlito, a police detective with a complicated life. A wife, a mistress, children by both. He resorts to money laundering and arms dealing to finance his police activity. The money for justice must be found somewhere.

The corpse in the hotel room is that of a gringo with a weakness for blue movies. Carlito’s maverick investigation leads him into a labyrinth of gang wars and corrupt politicians.

This searing tale of a deeply flawed man trying to do some good within a corrupt system clocks in at less than 200 pages, but packs a huge wallop. Small but powerful. A word of warning: it’s what I’d call a ‘marmite book’, in that it’ll divide readers into love or hate camps.

One thing's for sure, it’s certainly not boring or run-of-the-mill.

Carlito Hernandez is a complicated man with a complicated life. He’s an underpaid detective in Mexico City, battling criminals while trying to earn enough to allow him to do his job, and also support the kids he has with both his wife and mistress. The consequences of his appetites.

Like many colleagues, Carlito has both personal and professional ‘side action’ going on: protection rackets and arms dealing helps pay his bills. It's just the way things are done in Mexico.

Carlito’s an interesting character: both deeply loving and rather selfish. He fights crime, and commits it. He has some sort of sense of honor, while doing dishonourable things to find justice – or pleasure.

When the body of a ‘gringo’ is discovered in a hotel room, it creates lots of new headaches for Carlito. His bosses want the case wrapped up in a certain way. But his maverick pursuit of the murderer pulls him into a maze of pornography, gang wars, and corruption among the country’s elite.

This is not an ordinary crime novel, or one that fits within much of the genre produced by US and UK writers. It is packed with machismo and misogyny along with corruption and crime. There's a sweaty seamy-ness to it. A thick atmosphere of grit and grime, dust and danger.

It hovers between energetic and over-the-top. But for me, for me, TEQUILA BLUE clicked.

I thought it was brilliant, scathing and satirical – like author Diez (an Argentinean native imprisoned decades ago by its military junta, who now lives in Mexico City) had a knowing wink and sly grin on his face as he was writing. Others may roll their eyes at over-the-top machismo, or struggle with the attitudes of some characters. But regardless of where you stand on that front, Diez delivers electric prose, with a biting social conscience beneath a grimy veneer of sex, drugs, and violence.

Marmite, but magnificent.

This is an extended version of a review I wrote for the first edition of Mawake Crime Review, a new project in Crimespree magazine focused on great crime fiction from Africa, Asia, Australasia and Latin America. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: FORCE OF NATURE

FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper (Little, Brown, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of THE DRY, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path. But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

How do you follow up a debut that was arguably the best crime novel, debut or otherwise, of its year? That's the question facing Australian Jane Harper, who burst onto the scene with the searing Outback-set murder mystery THE DRY, which scooped numerous awards and 'best of the year' accolades, including the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger for the best crime novel in the world last year.

In FORCE OF NATURE, Federal agent Aaron Falk is squelching through mud and battling the wintry chill in the Giralang Ranges outside of Melbourne, rather than battling the heat in the parched and drought-striken farmland landscapes of his childhood hometown in THE DRY. His vision is obscured by rain instead of sweat, but he's battling the elements as well as criminals, just the same.

Falk and his AFP colleague Carmen Cooper are in the Giralangs, a place with a morbid history, because the hiker missing from a 'team building exercise' was in fact their inside woman for a fraud case their financial crimes unit is building against Bailey Tennants, the company doing the retreat.

As they investigate what happened on the multi-day hike, Falk and Cooper uncover a tale of brittle group dynamics, suspicion, and eroding trust. It was an arduous hike for the office workers, and among the mud and strain something went horribly wrong. The four women who walked out say Alice was causing problems then left of her own accord, striking out on her own to get help against the wishes of the rest of the group. But are they telling the truth? Was Alice waylaid by Mother Nature, one of the women themselves, or someone else who is stalking the Giralangs?

Harper does another fantastic job creating a brooding, atmospheric tale where nature itself casts a character-like shadow over the storyline. There's an eeriness to the majestic Giralangs, a sense of timelessness mixed with a simmering sense of danger. Falk's own father used to walk these trails, as did a vicious serial killer who hunted his prey nearby. What sort of dangers lurk now?

With its isolated and malevolent setting, FORCE OF NATURE is like a modern version of a classic ‘country house’ murder mystery: a dislikeable victim, limited suspects, and plenty of secrets.

Overall, Harper's sophomore novel is an absolute cracker, further developing the character of Falk while showcasing the author's great touch for intertwining fascinating plot-lines and powerful landscapes. For me personally I'm not sure if FORCE OF NATURE quite reaches the heights of the superlative THE DRY, but it makes a bloody good attempt. It certainly cements Harper as a terrific new voice in global crime writing who won't ever have to worry about being a one-hit wonder.

A top crime novel from a top author. More please.



Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson



Review: THE SILENT ROOM

THE SILENT ROOM by Mari Hannah (Minotaur Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. On route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the investigation. 

With a manhunt underway, Ryan is warned to stay away. Keen to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, he goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many.

Former probation officer Mari Hannah has built a fine crime writing reputation on the back of her tales set in the north of England starring Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels - in fact last year she won the prestigious CWA Dagger in the Library, a prize for a crime writer's body of work rather than a particular single book. Here, Hannah veers from her popular and acclaimed Kate Daniels series to deliver a hard-hitting standalone thriller (that has itself sparked a new series).

And she does it with considerable aplomb.

THE SILENT ROOM kicks into high gear early, as a prison van carrying a disgraced cop is hijacked by armed men on the way to Durham Prison. But has former Special Branch officer DI Jack Fenwick been broken out by the villains he was allegedly working with, or has the former top cop been actually been kidnapped? Is Fenwick a danger, or in danger?

Fenwick's protégé and friend DS Matthew Ryan has been suspended and is under surveillance in the wake of his boss’s arrest on corruption charges then subsequent break-out/abduction, but still believes Fenwick is one of the good guys – a sentiment few of his colleagues share.

As a manhunt gathers steam and an official investigation sputters, Ryan goes off-grid with a collection of unlikely allies to try to dig out the truth, including retired Special Branch cop Grace Ellis and her shady contact Frank Newman.

Hannah delivers pace and excitement in spades with THE SILENT ROOM, a ripsnorter of a thriller where most of the main cast move among shades of grey. She brings the characters to life as conflicted and multi-layered human beings, rather than just moving pieces for the action-packed storyline. THE SILENT ROOM is almost like a spy thriller blended with a cop story, with all the intrigue and looming threat of covert operations and can-we-really-trust-them allies/enemies seasoning in the investigation of who it was that broke Fenwick out.

There’s a lot to like about this tale which will have you whirring the pages while caring about the people involved. A very good read from a very good crime writer.

Note: THE SILENT ROOM was originally published in the UK and Commonwealth in 2015, but has now been released by Minotaur Books in January 2018. For UK readers there is now a second DS Matt Ryan tale, THE DEATH MESSENGER, published in November 2017. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed more than 200 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at books festivals in Europe on three continents, on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Twenty year old ideas and fan-girling at festivals: an interview with Lucy Cameron

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the second edition of 9mm for 2018, and the 174th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

Today I'm pleased to welcome a fresh voice in British crime writing to Crime Watch, Scotland-based Lucy Cameron. I've met Lucy at a few crime writing festivals since I moved to the UK for family reasons three years ago. It's been cool to catch up with her and chat every so often about the progress of the debut crime novel she was working on, NIGHT IS WATCHING, and its journey through to eventual publication last year.

You can see Lucy talking about her book here:



After studying fine art before working in retail management, Lucy began focusing more on her own writing when she moved north of the border to Dumfries, a small town in Scotland. She lives in a shed in her Dad's garden where she writes by candlelight. She has a love of film and theatre, and made her scriptwriting debut as part of the National Theatre Scotland's 'Five Minute Theatre Show' project. Last year she joined fellow Scottish crime writers and theatre-lovers Douglas Skelton, Caro Ramsay, Michael J Malone and Neil Broadfoot for performances of the stage comedy mystery 'Carry on Sleuthing', a "tittersome evening of murder, mystery and mirth".

So keep an eye out for Lucy Cameron at crime festivals, on booksellers' shelves, and onstage in 2018. But for now, the now-Scottish lass becomes the 174th victim to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH LUCY CAMERON 

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
In straight at the deep end with that question, I like it. Hmmm, I love Ash Henderson in Stuart MacBride’s Birthdays for the Dead, but as there are only two books in that series I’ll discount him. It’s a tough call between Davie McCall in Douglas Skelton’s series or Val McDermid’s Tony Hill. As I feel Tony Hill may be being influenced by the television series (no bad thing), I’ll settle on Davie McCall. What a character.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Brother in the Land by Robert Swidells. I didn’t read massively as a child as I found reading difficult but this book really sticks with me. I am not sure love is the right word, but as with all good art, it moved me, stayed with me and I thought about the characters and their situation long after I finished the book.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Prior to writing my debut novel I had written a few short stories and done odd bits of stage and screen writing. Nothing that ever made it to production – Other than a five-minute play I wrote and directed for The National Theatre Scotland’s 24-hour Theatre project which was great fun.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love the theatre and volunteer backstage in my local theatre where I stage manage, help with set building, and backstage production. My brother and his family also recently moved to town so I enjoy hanging out with them and being an aunty.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Dumfries is a beautiful town. We have one of the oldest working camera obscuras here too and it’s a must see. Even today it’s like magic so imagine what it must have been like two hundred years ago.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I once had a hair cut that was like Meg Ryan so can I pick her? Actually I’d really like Jennifer Carpenter as she kicks butt in Dexter and I’d love to be as cool as her.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Night is Watching is my debut, and currently only, book so it’s my favourite. I’m really proud to have finally gotten the story down and published, having had the idea twenty years ago. I also feel the characters have now developed and am excited to see what happens to them next. 

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
My initial reaction was joy beyond words. I lived next door to my dad at the time and ran to his house with my laptop so he could check I had read the offer email correctly. We then ran around in circles of joy and shared a bottle of Aldi champagne. Looking at the book still makes me really happy.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Nothing strange has happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will. I am still in awe of all the writers I have admired for so long that I am now getting to know – Don’t tell them but I am totally fan-girling on the inside as I sit and have a coffee or a wine in their company.


Thank you Lucy, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Lucy Cameron and her writing at her website here

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: THIRTEEN

THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh (Orion, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

They were Hollywood's hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.

This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. All the evidence points to Robert's guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie's mind.

What if there's more than one actor in the courtroom? What if the killer isn't on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

In less than three years, Irish author Steve Cavanagh has gone from promising new-kid-on-the-legal-thriller-block to an absolute standout, "read whatever he puts out" crime writer. In baseball parlance (Cavanagh's books are set in the States, after all), he's developed from talented rookie to a perennial All-Star, delivering at a high level year after year.

His fourth legal thriller, THIRTEEN, has a compulsive hook: a serial killer finagles himself onto the jury for a high-profile celebrity murder trial. But why, to what end? It's a delicious set-up, but the fantastic thing about Cavanagh's latest Eddie Flynn tale is that THIRTEEN delivers so much more than just a high-concept premise that makes for a cool hashtag or marketing campaign.

There's a propulsive narrative drive (I read it in one sitting), plenty of action and intrigue inside and outside of the courtroom, and further development of the character of Eddie Flynn. A hustler and con man turned lawyer who's apt to use a few tricks, Eddie still retains a sense of honour and justice - even if it gets battered at times, ground down by the road roller of the criminal justice system.

In THIRTEEN, Eddie is faced with every defense lawyer's worst nightmare: a client his gut tells him is innocent of the brutal crime, even if the facts all point to guilt. Is Eddie good enough to overcome the odds? Or has his celebrity client used his Hollywood skills to pull the wool over Eddie's eyes?

Cavanagh takes the reader on a merry dance, switching between Eddie's perspective and that of the killer on the jury. It's a chess match that Eddie doesn't even know he's playing, even as he battles against the prosecution's very strong case while juggling the ways his own life outside the courtroom is teetering on a precipice. Eddie knows his life needs to change, and puts it all on the line for a shot at reclaiming his family, but is it  enough? Has he unwittingly put himself in the firing line again, the very thing that's stopped his previous attempts at reconciliation with his wife and daughter?

THIRTEEN is the kind of book where Cavanagh keeps the needle high and his foot to the floor, while delivering plenty of oomph throughout the ride. He brings the New York courtroom setting to vivid life,  taking readers into the inner workings of the jury system while keeping a nice balance and never overwhelming with legal details. There's a host of strong characters, returning and new, conflicts that feel authentic and organic rather than author-hand-forced, and plenty of action to get the heart racing as our brains wonder just how things might unfold. A terrific read that delivers on multiple levels.

Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn just might be the best tandem to hit the courtroom crime scene since Michael Connelly introduced 'Lincoln lawyer' Mickey Haller to the world over a decade ago.


Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, and on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson