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The Student by Iain Ryan

Nate is a college student and pot dealer living in a trailer park outside of Gatton, Queensland in 1994. Winter has left Gatton and September’s spring has dried up Nate’s pot supply causing him several problems in Iain Ryan’s The Student (Echo Press). First and foremost, Nate pays his rent with weed, so no weed no trailer. And then his friend and connection Jesse has disappeared. Eviction looms and it’s only Wednesday.

A few more pages into The Student, two bikers from the Doomriders visit Nate looking for Jesse and/or $45,000. Dennis and Hatch scare the shit out of Nate while explaining to him that he is now responsible for the money and they’ll be back to collect in a few days. It’s still only Wednesday.

Told in the first person, The Student takes place over a frantic week as Nate searches for Jesse and the money while all the time dodging customers who are unrelenting in their want of weed and the two bikers intent on getting their pound of flesh or money — they don’t seem to care. At times, Ryan has Nate slip into a stream-of-consciousness style that only increases the tension. Nate’s journey introduces us to a cast of strange characters, weird in that way that twenty-something-year-olds are as they try to discover what kind of adults they’ll be, but calling Ryan’s The Student a coming of age novel is like saying The Silence of the Lambs is about a dressmaker.

The Student makes this the fourth book I’ve read of Iain Ryan’s since November 2016. In crime fiction terms, The Student is a vanished person thriller, but that would be like categorizing Ryan’s Tunnel Island series as police procedurals. Hint, they’re not. Ryan infuses a deep dose of noir into his books, twisting the standard genres into something deviant and dark. Like Ryan’s other books, The Student is a great read filled with plenty of weirdness, violence, drugs, sex, and other sins.

Amazon: AU CA US

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Civil Twilight by Iain Ryan

Listening to Jay Stringer’s podcast, Hacks, Stringer had an interesting conversation with Josh Stallings who asked, “In American crime fiction, what does post-Ferguson America do with the cop procedural?” A damn good question.

Is the police procedural in the States and elsewhere dead? Not so much dead, just different. Iain Ryan’s Tunnel Island series is the evolution of the police procedural where there is no room for murder books, there is no right way to police, there are no heroes, there are only cops — and they are criminals, each one of them. Ryan’s Civil Twilight, the third in his Tunnel Island series, explores a world where the only difference between cops and criminals is the day job they hate.

The constables— both annoyed, both now soaked through— conducted a half-arsed grid search of the area and turned up nothing. It was midday by the time the acting coroner arrived, Doctor Hooper. He was pissy about the rain. He stood over the body and shook his head and said, “Yeah, he’s dead. Can I go back to the office now?”

Civil Twilight continues the story of pseudo-partners Jim Harris and Laura Romano as they try to keep a kind of order that allows crime to flourish in a sort of Hamsterdam way. Harris and Romano are both past flawed, they are studies of anger and addiction, of force and folly, of murder and mayhem. They are everything you don’t want in a cop. Both may think they are on the road to recovery, they really have no idea where they are walking.

They took his car but Bo drove. Harris directed him to a store not far from the house where he bought a short bottle. If Bo and Frank knew his history, they did a good job hiding it. Neither of them flinched. They sat up front and let him drink his way back to level.

At one point, Romano finds herself attracted to a potential suspect and men are one of the many things she has issues with.

Romano sat in the sand and waited. She hated the melodrama of men but it was always this way with her. Her whole life, she had made difficult decisions for a living. Under pressure, she could react. She could do things other people seemed incapable of. She could arrive at a crime scene and work it. And before the transfer to Tunnel, she’d worked cases tirelessly, alert to connections and nuances that the other detectives around her often failed to see. At the end of those cases, she had often put herself in harm’s way and lived. Never thought much of it; just did it. But this, this part of her life— this part with men— was always a train wreck. It diminished her. The distraction of it. Should she or shouldn’t she call this man again? Should she even touch him? Sleep with him? She knew women half her measure who could fuck-and-run without any of this. It didn’t make a lick of sense to her.

Ryan’s Civil Twilight succeeds at inventing something new, a police procedural that responds to our times rather than some glossed over Hollywood version of the heroic-damaged-misunderstood-audiophile detective, it is a place where life is thick with ambiguity and drowns in humanity’s disease. Ryan’s Tunnel Island series is a world of darkness where characters believe they are surviving, but unknowingly to them their existence is centered around trying not to eat a bullet, whether self-inflicted or a gift in the back of the head.

Amazon: AU CA UK US

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Harsh Recovery by Iain Ryan

Iain Ryan’s Harsh Recovery, the second book in his Tunnel Island series, has been on my TBR list since I read Drainland (review) several weeks ago. Harsh Recovery begins a few months after Drainland ends, with the two main characters struggling with addiction and the moral ambiguity of the island. If you have not read the first book, be aware that there are Drainland spoilers aplenty in Harsh Recovery, probably in this review as well. There are no spoilers for Harsh Recovery, though. If you have not read Drainland, go back and do so, but come back and read Harsh Recovery as it is even better than Drainland — something I thought not possible.

Scroll past the white space to read the rest of the review, you know because of the spoilers I mentioned.

 

 

 

 

Scroll some more.

 

 

 

 

And just a bit more.

 

 

 

 

Hash Recovery opens with Laura Romano and Jim Harris, two cops acting as judge, jury and executioner of the Rep Brothers. The police and criminals — there is not much difference between the two on this fictional Australian island — tolerate quite a bit as far as crimes and misdemeanors go, but messing with tourists and children just does not fly.

In the first few pages of Harsh Recovery, Romano, still stuck on Tunnel Island and having to spy on Harris,  is now fully vested in cleaning up the island.

Killing the Rep Brothers had been her idea.

[snip]

The mob brought them in to do the work even bad men wouldn’t go near. The Brothers killed women and children. They desecrated people. They maimed and tortured. They had to go.

The beginning chapters catch the reader up on the goings on of Tunnel Island after the barge ride in Drainland, some of the criminals killed and additions to the Merry Band of  Vigilantes. Then a body is found along the beaches, a body that has barely survived the ravages of the sea, but is recognizable to Harris as a woman who helped with the Drainland cleansing. While Harris is re-energized in participating as an actual police officer and investigating the apparent murder, Romano gets a message from Matt Dyer, the cop who sent her to Tunnel Island to snitch on Harris. She is required to spy on someone else.

Romano is still actively battling her demons of alcohol and drugs and the recovery has not been easy for her. Romano’s sickness leaves her strung out, wanting to drink, and wondering why after months of being clean that it is hitting her so hard.

Romano stopped running. A crying jag got the better of her. She folded herself down into the sand and wept. With a shaky hand she took her reward cigarette from her shorts and lit it. The tears kept coming. She wasn’t sure who she was crying for anymore. She deserved all this. And the Rep Brothers got what they had coming to them. So these feelings made no rational sense. Instead, Romano started to wonder if she was crying for something else. It was a dark feeling but she felt something deeper for the bunker and the barrels. She thought about the bodies down there: so contained, so fixed, so sealed into place. Romano thought about how quiet death must be.

When I finished reading Drainland I was actually excited about reading Ryan’s other books on Tunnel Island, but I was a little scared as well — Drainland was good, how could Harsh Recovery be better? It was. Ryan tells two stories in Harsh Recovery, Harris’ murder investigation and Romano’s stake out and has the reader moving easily between the two. There are stories to tell on Tunnel Island and I have a feeling the Ryan is just getting started. Harsh Recovery is a wonderous raucous read that tears apart the holiday postcards and shows us the debts accumulated and the deaths made in payment.

Amazon: AU CA UK US

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Drainland by Iain Ryan

Drainland by Iain RyanThis is the second book I’ve read that has taken place near and around the coast of Australia’s Queensland – for those of us unfamiliar with this area of Australia imagine the beaches of Florida and the casinos of Las Vegas all mixed in with crime, a lot crime and on both sides of the law. This first book was Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State (280 Steps) which I reviewed in the beginning of November.

Throughout the fall, I saw a lot of Iain Ryan’s Drainland (self-published) on the internets. This can mean two things: either that Ryan is doing a great job self-promoting the book or other readers were recommending the book. Turns out it was both.

Ryan’s Drainland takes place on Tunnel Island, a fictional place where all the cops are as honest as Vic Mackey. When we first meet Laura Romano, we find out she is a cop who has friends in all the wrong people. With a drug problem that includes anything that can be snorted or popped in her mouth, things come quickly crashing down on her as she is finally arrested. But she is offered a life-line as a spot on the Tunnel Island police force just opened up.

When we arrive on Tunnel Island with Romano, both the reader and Romano are trying to get their bearings on what is exactly happening in this decadent resort island. Throwing a not-so recovering drug addict who washes down pills with booze on an island filled with lackadaisical policemen, drugs, gambling and more drugs is a cluster fuck in the making.

Ryan has built an incredible corrupt world filled with dangerous criminals and equally dangerous cops. His writing on the Romano’s constant downfall is incredibly detailed as well as her battle to remain a cop.

Laura Romano looked like hell up close. Her eyes had a creamy red hue to them and seemed to elude focus. A ginger crop of her fringe lay greased to her forehead with sweat. She moved slowly, but was well trained. As soon as she stepped inside she went into cop mode, scanning.

Ryan has several other books on Tunnel Island with Harsh Recovery just out. And with a quick subscription to Ryan’s newsletter, he will give you the prequel, Four Days, gratis. If any of these books are half-as-good as Drainland, I will have some good reading in my new future.