Laura Lippman (William Morrow $32.99)
Quite a change of pace for Lippman after the excellent and almost confessional Wilde Lake. Sunburn is a celebration of her love of the hard-boiled genre and clearly inspired by the works of James M. Cain. Set in the mid-90s it's centered around an attractive wife-on-the-lam Polly Costello. Polly's the eternally calculating femme fatale, using men like stepping stones "one after another, toward the goal" - and has left two husbands and two kids behind already. Inevitably a PI sent to track her down (something to do with a fraudulently claimed insurance policy from her last husband who she stabbed while he slept) falls for her charms. He's soon cooking at the diner in nowhere town Belleville where she's waitressing (and reading Cain in her spare time!). Deception, greed, murder and money are at the heart of this rather fun and fabulous book which pushes the genre in new directions while never compromising its dark, fatalistic roots.
Kent Anderson (Mulholland Books $32.99)
This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and it doesn't disappoint. It's Anderson's third novel in 30 years - all feature Hanson - a Vietnam vet turned damaged cop and clearly an alter-ego of sorts for the author – who also served in law enforcement and in battle.
Sympathy for the Devil (1987) (set in the Vietnam war) and Night Dogs (a 1996 novel set in Portland where Hanson works as a cop) gained Anderson a reputation for powerful, unflinching prose. Night Dogs remains one of my favourite novels of the 90s and these days is often represented on the "greatest and most underrated" lists. Green Sun isn't a huge departure and is just as strong – this time Anderson has Hanson patrolling the troubled streets of East Oakland in the 80s. It's an episodic, impressionistic novel, another gripping character-study of a man and a society on the edge - its realism so acute that it veers at times into surrealism. Highly recommended.
Capture Or Kill
Tom Marcus (MacMillan $34.99)
Marcus is a dyslexic ex MI5 agent who by his own admission has never read a book in his life. He left the Security Service recently after a decade on the frontline and only started writing as a form of therapy after he was diagnosed with PTSD. Capture Or Kill is his first novel and what it lacks in literary sophistication it more than makes up for in action and on-the-ground authenticity. The opening chapter deals with a surveillance operation that relies on old-fashioned human grit rather than any Bourne-like wizardry and is all the more compelling for it. Marcus's protagonist Matt Logan is part of a team tracking two brothers suspected of terrorist involvement, but soon tires of the red-tape goes his own way.
Henry Porter (Quercus $34.99)
Porter's spy fiction has earnt him a growing reputation in the UK and Firefly introduces a new protagonist - Luc Samson, a former MI6 agent. He's called back into service to find Firefly – the code name given to a thirteen year old boy who has escaped Syria with vital knowledge of the IS networks.
That knowledge ensures he's followed by an IS assassination squad. Samson's task is to track him down and bring the wily teen to safety, and thwart a terrorist attack. It's a timely, but long-winded, novel following the refugee journey from Syria across an unwelcoming Europe – and Porter writes powerfully of the crowded migrant camps and indignities they face. At times Porter endows the boy with a mythic-like aura - initially we're told Firefly is saved from drowning by a dolphin and he later fights off a bear in the Macedonian forest - but this works best when Porter keeps to the chase and he does a fine job folding the documentary-like reportage of the refugee experience into the usual machinations of the spy novel.