Slow burner that soon heats up

23:22, Jul 21 2014

It's been decidedly cold and dreary, making it the perfect weather to curl up with a good book. And is there anything more likely to warm the cockles of your heart on a chilly winter evening than a good murder mystery? I think not.

The Murder Bag
By Tony Parsons (Century, RRP $30)

The first of a planned trilogy featuring Detective Max Wolfe, this book has rocketed Tony Parsons into my top 5 list of favourite thriller authors.

That's quite an achievement, considering I've avoided reading any of his earlier books because I thought he came across as a bit of a sanctimonious git in his columns and opinion pieces in the British press.

If I'd been relying on the back cover blurb to make me want to pick up this book, I may never have given it a second glance because - as is so often the case these days - that prime spot to hook your potential reader failed to inform, with a bit of waffle on the editor and author but nothing about the actual story. Why, publishers, why? If I'm looking for a book in a bookstore, the first thing I do is flip the book over and check the back cover for some sort of hint as to what lies inside.


Luckily, I'd read a little about The Murder Bag online, and the publisher's blurb that came with the book managed to grab my attention before I noticed the name of the author and I'm pleased to say I was hooked. I mean really, a serial killer on the loose, cutting the throats of the rich and powerful? What's not to like? Seven privileged and wealthy young men at a posh private school became friends and now, 20 years later, they are being killed off.

Detective Max Wolf puts himself and everything he loves on the line as he follows the bloody trail from the backstreets of the city to the darkest corners of the internet in an attempt to stop the killer.

The story was a little slow to start with but that slow burn was worth the effort, with a cracking story unfolding as it built up speed.

There were enough twists and surprises to keep me interested right to the end and all-in-all, this was an impressive first effort for a crime thriller.

So often, the first one or two novels to feature a new main character are a little unsatisfying as the author tries to paint a picture of a three-dimensional person, in the hope the reader will become interested in that character enough to buy the rest of the series. However, Parsons managed to present his Detective Wolf as a fully fleshed-out character with an engaging familiarity.

While the story itself was fast-paced and a little bit gory, this was an easy read that has got me hooked. I'm looking forward to part two of the trilogy.

By Its Cover
By Donna Leon (Random House, RRP $35)

Donna Leon continues the successful Commissario Brunetti series with the 23rd book to feature the Venice- based detective.

When several valuable old books go missing from a library in Venice the staff initially suspect an American researcher has stolen them. However, Brunetti isn't so sure.

As he begins to look at some of the library's regulars, he realises the thief could not have acted alone. And when one of those regulars - ex- priest Franchini - is found murdered in his home, things take on a decidedly more sinister tone.

Named by The Times of London as one of the 50 greatest crime writers, Leon has lived in Venice for three decades and her books are as much a travel guide to the city as they are awesome crime novels: she writes in a way that is incredibly descriptive of the surroundings of this beautiful and unusual city without getting in the way of the murders, the clues and the mystery.

By Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs (William Heinemann, RRP $35)

This is the fourth novel in the Virals series of young adult novels by acclaimed forensic scientist and author Kathy Reichs and her son Brendan.

Kathy Reichs is a brainiac when it comes to bones and forensics, hence her creation of a lead character based on her own life and achievements in the TV series Bones.

Beyond that, she is a talented author who artfully blends scientific detail with good, old-fashioned story- telling.

Her earlier novels have featured Dr Temperance Brennan in murder mysteries that are packed with realistic science, but the Virals series showcases a group of mystery-busting teens - including Temperance's great-niece Tory - who all developed canine tendencies after being exposed to a wolf pup

Twin classmates of Tory and the Virals seem to vanish into thin air and when they find evidence of blood in the basement of the missing teens, they realise something bad has happened.

They try to investigate but as time goes by, their canine powers are getting harder and harder to control and hide.

I will admit that I managed to read only a couple of chapters of the first Twilight book, but I have to say this series seems to be a meatier read. Hey, I got to the end of the book and quite enjoyed it, so that's a good sign.