Smoke by Michael Brissenden – Our Review

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Our Review…

If you are looking for a razor sharp, intelligently written crime thriller that doesn’t follow the usual colour-by-numbers tropes of the genre, then Michael Brissenden’s new novel, Smoke, might be for you. Most readers will know Brissenden’s familiar face from ABC television, where he has filled a variety of roles – Foreign Correspondent, Canberra political reporter, Four Corners presenter – over a thirty-year career in journalism. Now turning his journalist’s eye to fiction, Smoke is his fourth book, following American Stories (2012), The List (2017) and Dead Letters (2021).

Like his fellow journalist-turned-novelist, Chris Hammer, Brissenden has a knack for getting to the heart of a story – in this case, the discovery of a body in a shed after a catastrophic bushfire. Was it murder? Or had the victim met a tragic end trying to defend his property? The book is set in the small town of Jasper in the Californian Sierras, but the themes are universal: localised corruption, a detective with a shadowy past, a climate ravaged setting and the devastating effects of fire on small communities – with a smattering of racism and misogyny thrown in for good measure.

As in all good writing though, the themes never overwhelm the story, which focuses on the return of Detective Alex Markov to her hometown after whistleblowing on her LAPD colleagues. In the aftermath of the fire, she revisits old friendships, creates new enemies and digs a little too deeply into local government graft for the comfort of many. Don’t rock the boat is the mantra for most of Jasper’s residents, but when Alex does just that, her life and those of her family are placed in jeopardy.

This is a fast-paced thriller that will keep you guessing until the last page. Brissenden is a confident and intuitive writer who never takes his reader’s intelligence for granted, teasing us with just enough to detail to allow us to formulate our own theories on what secrets Jasper holds. Smoke is a nuanced, clever, rollercoaster ride of a book. I highly recommend it.

Review by Mark Smith @ Great Escape Books