Your House Will Pay
Steph Cha
(Faber Fiction $32.99)

Cha calls her fourth novel a "social crime novel". It's a departure from her first three books which were all genre centered P.I novels. This is a fictionalised account of the 1991 shooting of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper.
The tragic incident is a slow ticking racial timebomb that gives the novel its narrative tension as Cha moves expertly from past to present.

Cha has chiseled a mesmerising story out of LA's shameful past and present

She zeros in on two characters - Grace, a pharmacist and dutiful Korean daughter and Shawn Matthews - the brother of the young victim, a one time gang banger who is attempting to go straight - but as the Shakespearean-like title (actually taken from 80s hip hop track Batterram) suggests the legacy of crime echoes through generations.
It's an issue-based book reminiscent of George Pelecanos at his best. Cha has chiseled a mesmerising story out of LA's shameful past and present; and she sticks the ending.
I read this with the slow dawning realisation that here was an already fine young writer break through to another level.
Superb - and sure to be among 2020's best.

The Guardians
John Grisham
(Hachette, $37.99)


This sees Grisham circling back to the law thrillers that have made him one of the world's most popular writers and the subject matter - the freeing of innocent men and women from jail - is one close to his heart. Last year's The Reckoning was an ambitious historical novel that alienated some long-time fans, its predecessor Camino Island a "beach read" that - while entertaining - didn't entirely convince. This does. Cullen Post is a lawyer/minister who left his law job after a nervous breakdown. He now works for Guardian Ministries - driving the highways of the South - trying to convince witnesses to come clean and tell the truth. His aim is to ensure those wrongly convicted never get served their last meal. Grisham based Post on real life innocence crusader James McCloskey and the case at the centre of the novel - a black man who murders his lawyer - is also based on fact.
An engrossing read that impresses less with its thriller element - (although who can forget that crocodile episode!) - than as a character study of a man unwavering in his earthly mission. The result is the best Grisham for many years.

Blue Moon
Lee Child
(Bantam Press, $38)

Doing a good turn for a fellow traveller gets Reacher into a world of trouble. He notices an old man has a big wad of cash in an envelope hanging outside his pocket. Another man in the bus has too, which doesn't escape Reacher's attention. Of course Reacher saves the man from a mugging and is soon helping him with his money troubles which involves playing two East European gangs off against each other.
Reacher also meets a waitress, Abby, who gives him much more than shelter for the night and allows Child a chance to show Reacher's more romantic side, describing their night together as - "Experimental all around. Twenty whole minutes, soup to nuts".
The body count gets a little ridiculous as the plot proceeds but this is Reacher after all, America's moral avenger, dishing out old school justice and then hopping a Greyhound to another town.
Fans won't be disappointed but they will have to steel themselves to the news that this will be the last Reacher book written solely by Child. He announced last month that he'll be phasing out of Reacher duties and passing the baton to his younger brother Andrew Grant.

In the Clearing
J.P. Pomare
(Hachette, $34.99)

The second novel from Pomare is another psychological page-turner that explores issues of memory, power and control. Freya is a yoga teaching, kombucha drinking single mother in rural Australia - outwardly normal - "but if you were to slide a scalpel from my head down to my toes, an entirely different woman might climb out".
Like his debut Call Me Evie, which won Best First Novel at the Ngaio Marsh awards last year, this is a difficult book to write about without giving spoilers. Pomare sets up two narratives one concerning Freya and another focusing on Amy - a young girl in a cult-like commune that kidnaps children and "realigns" them. As the novel progresses we learn more about Freya who lost a child in suspicious circumstances. When Freya reads about another child abduction and her ex appears in town, her anxiety kicks into high gear; after another child goes missing we begin to question her view of events.
Pomare delivers another compelling, tightly wrought tale of isolation and fractured families that shares some of the chilling narrative symmetry of his debut.

A Minute to Midnight
David Baldacci
(Pan Macmillan, $29.99)

Thirty years ago Atlee Pine was brutally assaulted and left for dead and her twin sister Mercy was abducted. A Minute to Midnight (the second in the Atlee Pine series) opens with Pine visiting the man she suspects of the crime in prison; he toys with her much like Hannibal toys with Clarice in Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs. Pine is an FBI agent in Arizona who is struggling not to let her past trauma define her. The assault claimed her sister and soon after her father shot himself and she has no idea where her mother is. If Baldacci lays it on a bit strong Pine's a likeable, feisty character but this reads like it was dashed off; writing up to four books a year (which is what Baldacci has been doing recently) may be taking its toll.