Dan Fesperman, author of such seriously good books as The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, takes a completely different tack with THE DOUBLE GAME (Corvus, $36.99). This is both a spy novel and a homage to the spy novel. Washington PR flack Bill Cage, like his diplomat father a devotee of espionage stories, gets instructions from a mysterious “handler” in the form of excerpts from notable spy books such as John le Carré’s telling him to go back to his childhood haunts in Europe and contact various shady figures. People get killed. Cage starts to mistrust both his father and his teenage sweetheart, Litzi. Slightly artificial but nonetheless intriguing, exciting and ingenious.
Anne Holt, hailed by Jo Nesbø as the godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction, published THE BLIND GODDESS (Corvus, $36.99) in 1993 but it appeared in English only last year. It is the first in her series featuring Detective Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen, a gorgeous, unfailingly courteous lesbian. A Dutch student is found covered in blood and confesses to the murder of an Oslo drug dealer, but – apparently terrified of reprisals – will say little more. He overdoses after a visit from his lawyer, and prominent legal figures come under suspicion of organising the drug ring. Strong plotting and well-described relationships between the interesting, very human characters make this a forceful debut for Holt’s heroine.
They don’t make private eyes like Cliff Hardy any more so it is just as well he is still going strong – Peter Corris’s THE DUNBAR CASE (Allen & Unwin, $35) is the 38th book featuring the no-nonsense Sydneysider. His latest case looks like a piece of cake, as a university professor engages him to investigate the aftermath of a 19th-century shipwreck. But then he comes across rumours of $2 million in stolen cash buried somewhere, internecine strife in a crime family and an undercover cop who might have changed sides. Hardy remains his blunt self and just gets the job done. Classic stuff.
Peter Leonard’s BACK FROM THE DEAD (Faber and Faber, $36.99) is the sequel to his Voices of the Dead but works well as a stand-alone novel. It starts in 1971 with Ernst Hess, a successful German businessman recently unmasked as a Nazi war criminal, recovering from his apparent death at the end of the first book and out for revenge on his assailant, Holocaust survivor Harry Levin. Meanwhile, a German politician has sent a ruthless enforcer to track Hess down. The spare narrative propels the action at high speed through the Bahamas, Florida, Detroit and Europe. Nazi atrocity references lend gravitas to what might otherwise be seen simply as a thriller, albeit an excellent one.
Australian publisher Text is producing a series called Classics, reissues of significant Australian (and occasional New Zealand) books with useful introductions. One such is Boyd Oxlade’s DEATH IN BRUNSWICK ($15.99), first published in 1987 and turned into a film starring Sam Neill. Carl, an inadequate and strikingly unpleasant man in his thirties, sucks up to his visiting mother while secretly hoping she will drop dead so he can inherit her money. He kills a man in the Melbourne kitchen where he works as a chef, and his mate Dave helps him hide the body. Meanwhile, Carl is sleeping with a teenage Greek girl who has a terrifying father. Black, tough, edgy, well worth the reissue.
Bernard Carpinter is a journalist.