London Rules
Mick Herron (Hachette $34.99)

This is the fifth in Mick Herron's Slow Horses series about a rag-tag bunch of has-been spies, managed by hygiene-challenged, misanthrope Jackson Lamb. MI5 has relegated them to menial duties because firing them outright would be more bother than it's worth. The title's a play on the Moscow Rules created by the CIA in the Cold War and made famous by John le Carre - but the capital's version has a simpler intent - "cover your arse".

It's set in the aftermath of Brexit and sees the UK dealing with another string of terror attacks and the attendant arse-covering of its political and intelligence leaders.

Again Herron presents a compelling character-rich thriller, rife with political intrigue and moments of laugh-out-loud comedy.

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"You know the biggest threat Parliament faces?" posits the PM early in this cautionary tale - "...democracy... it's like someone gave a loaded gun to a drunk toddler".

Val McDermid calls Herron the "John le Carré of our generation" - and like the Master - Herron's critically-acclaimed novels deserve a readership beyond the thriller genre; and London Rules is a good place to start.


The Wanted
Robert Crais (Simon & Schuster $32.99)

The 17th Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel finds Cole helping out a solo mum who finds a $40 000 Rolex in her teenage son's bedroom. Soon Elvis and Joe are chasing the boy and his posse of amateur thieves around the better streets of LA.

Also chasing them are a pair of wise-cracking bad guys Howard and Stemms, straight out of a Tarantino movie.

Turns out the gang has unknowingly stolen something some very powerful people hold very dear.

The best parts of this are when it's dealing with Cole's still-single relationship status and Crais' depiction of his beloved L.A.

Crais hints at an attraction between the solo mum character and Elvis – but has he really gotten over Louisiana lawyer Lucy Chenier?

As engaging and entertaining as it is I like Crais best when he goes darker and deeper (try 1999's fine L.A. Requiem).

Still, The Wanted will satisfy fans of the unlikely duo and brings a nice human touch to Elvis.


The Chalk Man

C.J. Tudor (Michael Joseph $37.00)

Tudor's a Nottingshire single mum in her late 30s - who wrote this while running a dog-walking business. In many ways this is an accomplished debut - Tudor mixes timelines with skill; there's lots of cool 80s pop culture references, and the depiction of small-town childhood is spot on.

The book centres on five childhood friends in a small English tourist town who use stick figure chalk men to communicate.

Then the bodies start turning up.

The book's narrated by middle-aged teacher Eddie - who - red flag alert - still lives in his ramshackle childhood home. Eddie introduces us to a great cast of characters - Nicky, Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey - both as kids and adults.

The problem is there's just too much going on - abortion, alzheimers, sleepwalkers, child abuse, corrupt priests, suspicious albinos and a particularly silly scene at a funeral.

Great concept; flawed execution - but there's enough here to suggest Tudor won't have to return to dog walking duties anytime soon.

Unsub
Meg Gardiner (Penguin Random House $37.00)

Although she has fans like Stephen King and Don Winslow - (King called her Evan Delaney series "the finest crime-suspense series... in the last twenty years") - this Texas-based novelist isn't well known here.

Unsub is the first novel in a series featuring homicide investigator Caitlin Hendrix and topped many critics best-of 2017 lists. Years after his last murder serial-killer The Prophet is back terrorising San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. Hendrix - the daughter of the cop originally charged with capturing him (and who has never really recovered from the experience) inherits the chase. Inspired by the still-unsolved Zodiac case Unsub (ie unknown subject) works best when Gardiner keeps it character-driven. The last third gets a little silly; when The Prophet started quoting Dante I started losing interest.
Hendrix is a great character, and Gardiner a skilled writer, but the end-game serial-killer machinations let this one down.