Call Me Evie
J P Pomare
(Hachette $34.99)

A new reading year is off to a great start with this whip-smart debut from our newest thriller star. Kate's navigating her way through the usual vicissitudes of teen life in upper middle-class Melbourne - boys, mean-girls, flirty fathers of mean girls and the various sink-holes of social media - but it's a terrified Evie we meet as this psychological thrill-fest opens. Evie's terrified and seems to be held captive by her Uncle Jim in small Bay of Plenty town Maketu (Pomare himself grew up not far away on a horse-racing farm). Jim however insists he's only helping her, having whisked her away from a crime scene - though Evie suspects she's been set up to take the blame for his crimes. Pomare shifts between past and present exploring issues of memory, perception and power - the crisp prose and compelling characters betraying Pomare's more literary past, but on the evidence of this a dazzling career in genre fiction looks a much safer bet.

The Drop
Mick Herron
(John Murray $24.99)

Old spies, as many John le Carre novels attest, are perfect fodder for spy fiction and this novella by UK's new spy master weaves a fable-like novella around two of them - Solomon Dortmund (an ex Cold War operative - and one who still has a rotary phone) and "milkman" John Bachelor who eeks out an existence as a sort of spook babysitter (he was first featured in Herron's 2015 novella The List). When Dortmund sees "a drop" - an antiquated method of delivering material - in a London cafe Herron's typically bathetic plot clicks into gear.
It's Herron - so expect bureaucratic ineptitude and political face-saving (Lady Di's in fine form here) and parallels with the current UK political situation are never far away.
Herron fans note - there's no Jackson Lamb or his rag tag collection of pastured spies - but this is cut from the same cloth - funny and horrifyingly real - one only wishes it were longer.

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The Infinite Blacktop
Sara Gran
(Atria Books $32.99)

While I love the genre - the tropes of crime fiction can become tiresome. You have to be very good to make the damaged cop/PI story resonate and for every good book that comes across my desk there're ten dull ones. This is one of the good ones, but won't be to everyone's taste (if Rachel Kushner wrote crime it wouldn't be a million miles away from this).
It's Gran's third outing in the Claire DeWitt series - the self-proclaimed "best detective in the world" a PI obsessed with a (fictional) book on detection by one Jacques Silette. This jumps around in time and place (Oakland, LA, Las Vegas) as DeWitt tries to unravels the three mysteries at its center. Gran's hard-boiled world has shades of Chandler about it but is always tinged with a sense of the surreal, a blur of magic at the edges. I'm not sure Gran's meta-fiction ambitions are always realised, or that I completely understood what was going much of the time - but if you want a subversive and fresh genre crime fiction voice this is the book for you.
"Not everything in a book needs to be explained," says Gran. "Trust your reader; leave them with mysteries".

November Road
Lou Berney
(William Morrow $32.99)

Do we really need another book based around the JFK assassination? Yes - if it's as good as this. Berney brings the era alive in this outstanding thriller. Despite penning excellent books, like 2015's The Long and Faraway Gone, Berney has pretty much existed under the radar but expect that to change with this. And under the radar's exactly where his main protagonist mob foot soldier Frank Guidry wants to keep when he finds himself being hunted by his mob employers post that assassination - one he's been unknowingly implicated in (he brought the assassin's getaway car to Dallas). Starting a relationship with a young mother who has left her alcoholic husband (based on a what-if Berney's mother had left his father scenario) with two daughters in tow seems like the perfect cover. Part road story, part romance, part period piece (Berney's first) - this topped many critic's 2018 best of lists. The ending will divide readers but this is certainly worth the trip.