The Force
Don Winslow (Harper Collins $36.99)

This epic New York cop novel doesn't do anything new but, hell, what a ride! Stephen King - ever succinct - calls it

"Godfather with Cops"

and it's packed with stock standards of the genre - lapsed Catholic, heavy drinking cops-on-the-take, shady politicians, junkie snitches, arrogant drug dealers and self-serving lawyers.

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After his acclaimed Big Books on the Mexican drug cartels Winslow's back to New York's mean streets. He worked as an investigator there in the 70s - and the move amps up his prose. The book belongs to Detective Denny Malone who, when he's not stealing dope or hiding getaway cash under his shower stall, rolls around the streets in his 67 Chevy Camaro listening to 90s hip hop.

His credo is -

"A man wants to breathe as long as he can. A king, he wants to stay on the throne"

and Winslow, no stranger to writing about moral and political corruption, charts the journey with verve. It's his most cinematic book. Serpico, The French Connection, Fort Apache, The Bronx, even Training Day seem as big an influence as Mario Puzo or James Ellroy.

Malone's dexedrine-fueled, scatter-gun poetry brings to life a city that seems both perilously on the edge and - frighteningly - just going about business as usual; a bit like America itself.

The movie adaptation - to be produced by Ridley Scott - is due 2019.

Few novels - of any stripe - can claim the accumulative power of

The Force's

electric prose or pitch-perfect pacing. Essential.


The Dark Lake
Sarah Bailey (Allen & Unwin $32.99)

"We detectives must fill in the blanks: we have the ending but not the beginning or the middle. We need to know what happened in reverse..."
Bailey's a Melbourne-based novelist and this debut about the small town summer murder of a beautiful English high school teacher is reverse engineering of the highest order.
The Dark Lake reminded me of another excellent thriller - Minnesota based writer Mindy Mejia's The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman - both share a small town setting that becomes part of the fabric of the novel, a theatrical murder and a wry and engaging police chief.
Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is a great character - flawed, vulnerable, ambitious and very good at her job (but busting a serial killer early in her career hasn't stopped the sexist attitudes). She's a young mother with a partner and having an affair with a married colleague; drinks too much and is in receipt of a complicated past.
Gemma went to school with the victim - so does a tangled romantic relationship from high school have anything to do with her murder?
Like all good thrillers finding the guilty party is less interesting than the journey getting there; yes, the plot mechanics are well-crafted, but it's the confidence and scope of the writing that linger.
An exciting new talent.

Persons Unknown
Susie Steiner (The Borough Press $35)


Lots has changed in DI Manon Bradshaw's life since Steiner's 2016 novel Missing Presumed. She's 42, pregnant and living with her sister Ellie; both of them solo mums. Manon has adopted 12 year-old Fly - a black child around which much of the plot of this centres. Family is at the heart of this novel - how to protect them, how little we know of them. There's a range of narrators - a high class plus-size hooker who extends the plot to encompass the foreign billionaires floating around London; a detective on the case; a nosey, lonely liquor store owner (who really does seem plucked from Central Casting). The book does build as it goes, but involves some rather unlikely colluding between Manon and her colleagues. At times the writing feels rushed and the plot involving the Big Bad Billionaires is rather tired. A disappointment after the very good Missing Presumed.