This Storm
James Ellroy
(William Heinemann $38)

This Storm

is the second volume of the Second L.A Quartet. It's just three weeks after Pearl Harbour and local Japanese are being rounded up and sent to internment camps. As ever Ellroy casts a wide canvas - and the serpentine plot which involves a 1930s gold heist, political intransigence, dead cops and real life members of the European exile community including Otto Kempler, Kurt Weil and Orson Welles is narrated in typical rat-a-tat style -

"Dudley scoped the terrain. Eyes left: hills and Jap fishing towns. He'd raid them. He'd roust Fifth column Japs and plain old Japs set for internment. Eyes right: the cliffs, the coves, the sea."


If you're looking for character insight or development look elsewhere.

I have been a fan since the 80s (so seek out 88's

The Big Nowhere

) but - like novelist Brett Easton Ellis or filmmaker Nicolas Refn - Ellroy's art is polarising and by this late stage you're either in or out. His world is a relentlessly dark, claustrophobic place - full of coon-hounds, dope fiends, perverts, rapists, nazis, glue sniffers, whores, corrupt priests and racist cops. Here Ellroy's megalomaniac enthusiasms for a long-gone L.A (he has taken to referring to himself as

"the white knight of the far right"

) run to almost 600 pages and will try the patience of even the hardiest acolyte. At least local publishers had the good sense to dispense with the US edition's swastika cover in this part of the world.

City of Windows
Robert Pobi
(Mulholland $33)

"If you wanted to scare an urban population, few tools were as effective as a faceless man with a rifle" writes Pobi. Few crime series get out of the gate as effectively as this - a page-turner that isn't scared to get political, one critic describes it as "The Day of the Jackal for Trump's America" (second amendment apologists should stay clear). This ex antique-dealer and keen shark hunter hits the bulls-eye with his fourth novel combining an all too real plot, a compelling protagonist (Lucas Page) and some razor-sharp prose. Page is the kind of guy NASA call when they have a problem; an accident that he refers to as the Event left him with severe physical trauma, one eye and sophisticated prosthetics. He's lured back to the FBI after a serial sniper starts targeting people in a bitterly cold New York. Add in a feisty, no BS female partner, a crazy fellow prosthetic wearing jujitsu master (an Aussie no less) and Page's gaggle of adopted children and you get the start of an intriguing new series.


The Border
Don Winslow
(HarperCollins $27.00)

Winslow is a writer I've always admired but found hard to love ( 2017's kinetic cop novel The Force a notable exception). The Border is the third in a series that began with 2005's The Power of the Dog and continued with 2015's The Cartel (which Ridley Scott is developing into a movie). The Border appears to be Winslow's final word on Mexico's drug wars. Winslow has covered this area with such intensity in the previous two books I wondered what else he could say in this one. The answer - a lot. This is another impassioned, and at times gruelling trawl through the contradictions, cruelties and corruption that is the war on drugs. Art Keller's back but "more at home with the dead than the living" and even with his arch enemy - cartel boss Adan Barrera - missing - the flow of drugs never stops. Winslow's novel never pulls punches; and the torture, sadism, addiction, political double-dealing and murder on display here are - sadly - just an accurate reflection of what's been happening for decades on the border. Winslow's epic finale is an undeniably great achievement, but not an easy read.

I Spy - My life in MI5
Tom Marcus
(MacMillan $34.99)

"There are some intellectual writers who can spend 800 pages describing the weather. Whereas for me when it's hot I just write, 'It's hot'." Although ex MI5 operative Tom Marcus (not his real name) is relatively new to the writing game that didn't stop his debut Soldier Spy reaching the bestseller lists in the UK thanks to his stark, minute-by-minute narration based on his extensive experience was an MI5 surveillance officer. I Spy is his most riveting work yet. Sure, we get a little background into Marcus - who quit the MI5 after suffering PTSD - but the meat of this is an almost real-time depiction of various surveillance operations, complete with radio directions and enigmatic code names like Miranda Otter and Magenta Stoat. There're no testosterone heroics here - Marcus's job is to watch subjects without being seen using various forms of cover and disguise. The result is one of the most surprising and impossible-to-put-down thrillers of the year, and a unique insight into MI5's street operations. Highly recommended.