Book reviews: Thrillers and crime fiction

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman
Mindy Mejia (Hachette NZ $34.99)

Mejia's first foray into crime is a good one. Hattie Hoffman is a precocious, whip-smart 17 year old.
She wants "a life bigger than Pine Valley" - the small rural Minnesotan town she's grown up in.
Hattie dreams of making it as an actress in New York. Her obliging exterior - she can talk frost advisories, Pynchon or college gossip - masks a manipulative, troubled heart.
She's "unformed clay" ready to be who and what her audience wants.
Perfect for the stage (Hattie's Lady M in her school's production of Macbeth), but trickier in real life. And deadly for the people around her, especially the men.
They include - inevitably - a smitten, hipster English teacher and a football jock who Hattie toys with - despite thinking him as "dumb as a rock".
It doesn't go so well for Hattie either who turns up dead in an old barn after opening night.
Mejia - whose grandparents were farmers in rural Minnesota - captures the hardworking, no-nonsense Midwest character wonderfully.
The plot's tricky as it needs to be in these post Gone Girl times, but character and setting is king here.
If Hattie's the marquee star - other characters are just as good - especially the wry, seen-it-all sheriff Del Goodman.
Actually he deserves a series of his own.
Expect this to top the best-of lists in 11 months.

Missing, Presumed
Susie Steiner (Borough Press $34.99)

Inexplicably this slipped through the net last year. Steiner - an ex-journo - quit to write full time when her first novel Homecoming was published in 2013.
She wants her writing to have the page-turning - "propulsion of mystery along with the meandering and depth and relationship of a literary novel."
Present and correct on all counts.
DS Manon Bradshaw is a brilliant character - think Jane Tennison from the old Prime Suspect - and her "meandering" includes a search for love that's as compelling as her investigation into the disappearance of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-grad from a well-connected family.
That case delves into issues of class, race, power and truth - not forgetting the dating dilemmas of the middle-aged - should you sleep with him just to shut him up? DS Bradshaw does.
Highly recommended.

Kill The Next One
Frederico Axat
(Text publishing $37)

Lots of meandering in this too, but to less effect.

Argentinian writer Axat's third novel - this one set in the States - has an intriguing set up. Ted McKay has a brain tumour. When we meet him he's in his lounge and about to put a bullet through his brain.
But wait - someone's at the door and has a proposition - kill two deserving men before dying.
With plot twist upon plot twist - is it a dream? a conspiracy? mental illness? and why does Ted keep seeing a possum? and what's this horseshoe in his pocket? - this maze-like thriller will either amaze or annoy.

Joseph Knox
(Doubleday $37)

First-time author Knox's Sirens has been getting good advance notices - one critic describing him as - "a Ross MacDonald for the 21st century".
Knox - an ex book buyer for Waterstones - is a Manchester boy - check the Joy Division epigraph - and this starts off powerfully.
We're in the gritty, dark world of Manchester's night-life - drug dealers, secret parties, junkies and bug chasers - and yes Sirens - the beautiful, damaged women drawn there.
Speed-snorting troubled junior detective Aidan Waits is asked to look for an MP's teenage daughter - that search puts him in the middle of a drug war and much more. Manchester's seamy side is captured brilliantly but
Sirens does get a little shrill and confused as it proceeds.

- NZ Herald

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