Greg Fleming reviews the latest crop of crime fiction and points out some of the year's best reads.

Night School
Lee Child (Bantam Press $38)

"In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school" is how this 21st Reacher novel opens.

But this isn't any old school, there's just three in the class an FBI agent a CIA analyst and Reacher - and they aren't swotting army regulations - there's someone selling some dodgy Saudis in Hamburg something for $100 million. Who, why and what are the questions this top-level class is tasked with answering.

As always with Reacher the journey - figuring out what's what - is the interesting part. Reacher uses all his skills (mostly mental in the first half) to narrow down the possibilities. Oh and it's 1996 - which limits the tech aspects and sees some old school spy-craft being employed. There's a lovely scene in a barber shop where Reacher spies a style-guide on the wall and works out a vital plot point.

Child has some fun too - "The last time he had seen a bone had been on an X-ray" he writes describing up an over-weight detective.


Whether Reacher saves the world is a moot point considering the Cold War setting, but, Night School will be compulsory swot and stocking stuffing for Reacher fans.

The Student Body
Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan Publishing $30)

Auckland ex-detective Simon Wyatt had a day-job that put him in the midst of murder and mayhem and he's drawn on that for this murder tale - written during a lengthy recovery from Guillan Barr Syndrome. From his hospital bed Wyatt returns to his West Auckland beat. A teen's murdered on a school trip to Piha.

Nick Knight's leading the Suspects Team - and there's no shortage of them - parents, teachers, Ranui hoods and fellow pupils. That makes for a compelling tour through the mean and moneyed streets of West Auckland.

Knight of course has the pre-requisite troubled past - a murdered fiancée, a defence attorney Dad he doesn't get on with, and a complicated love-life. The police-procedural aspects - as you'd expect - resonate with an insider's knowledge - and even if the plot's tidied up a little too hastily - this is a promising debut.

Picks of the year
The Wrong Side of Goodbye
Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin $36.99)

Bosch is back and between long commutes on LA freeways and worrying about his teenage daughter he's chasing two cases. A serial rapist and another where an elderly billionaire searches for a possible heir. Connelly - now 60 - writes movingly here as the embattled Bosch gets another chance on the payroll.

But it just may be that the private detective work involving the dying scion throws Bosch the greater challenge.

As always LA is captured wonderfully - the grit, the sun, the shabbiness. Bosch the Good Cop - now in his golden years - remains the brooding, stubborn and tenacious figure millions of readers have come to love.

Hidden Bodies
Caroline Kepnes (Simon & Shuster $32.99)

Her debut You introduced Joe - a sexy, charming serial killer - this is even better. Part thriller, part cultural satire (I don't think you'll find Kepnes wearing an I Love LA t-shirt), part trashy aeroplane read. Midway through Kepnes seems to lose control of the plot, but that's a good thing - as she pits Joe against the uber-wealthy of LA. Patrick Bateman eat your heart out.

A Time To Die
Tom Wood (Hachette $34.99)

Although this English writer enjoys a growing reputation this was the first Victor the assassin novel I read. Wood says got into the book business "to pen thrillers with the boring bits taken out" and A Time To Die - certainly does that.

There's no love interest, back story or stabs at redemption. It's the action thriller in pure Darwinian form; kill or be killed - assassin fiction at its best.
Wood's achievement is to get the reader to root for this assassin with no past or surname and no sign of a guilty conscience. The good news is there are five previous Victor the assassin thrillers to get your teeth into this summer.

The Travelers
Chris Pavone (Faber & Faber $ 32.99)

This is part Jay McInerney novel of manners, part spy thriller. I've heard it's a hit with travel writers everywhere - are there really famils this exciting! Our jaded hero Will Rhodes works for venerable, glossy travel mag Travelers. He packs light and often as hopping a plane means escaping a crumbling marriage and a difficult home-reno. There's plenty of five-star hotels, exotic locales, expensive French wines, Michelin star restaurants and beautiful and willing Aussie freelancers - and that's just the first 100 pages.

Local highlights
Red Herring
Jonothan Cullinane (Harper Collins $37)
American Blood
Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin $32.99)

The annual Ngaio Marsh crime fiction awards are fast becoming the most interesting in the local literary community - Paul Cleave won this year - and 2017's likely to keep the judges busy. I reviewed Auckland writer Ben Sanders' superb American Blood (a Ngaio finalist) in January and anyone not hip to Sanders' razor-sharp skills should check it out - look out for my take of his new one Marshall's Law which is out in time for Xmas.


Red Herring was another local highlight. Cullinane - a postie and first-time author at 65, delves into the 1951 Waterfront Strike and delivers a wry, entertaining novel that should find a readership far beyond the genre.

Internationally the popularity of crime fiction continues to grow but it's the range, quantity and quality of local writers which has been 2016's biggest surprise. New writers like Ray Berard, Ian Austin, Jonothan Cullinane and Simon Wyatt - join our flag-bearers - Vanda Symon, Paul Cleave and fast-rising talents like Sanders - all with their own twist on a well-thumbed genre.

We all know Nordic Noir - well we have a growing library of Kiwi Noir - which one enterprising fan has christened it with its own twitter hashtag #yeahnoir. Dive in this summer.