Delicious thrillers to gobble up

Reviews: Vivien Horler

A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham (Hodder & Stoughton)

Present Tense by Natalie Conyer (Clan Destine Press)

The Paris Diversion, by Chris Pavone (faber & faber)

John Grisham’s latest thriller A Time for Mercy had me hooked from the first page.

Stuart Kofer is a deputy sheriff in a small Mississippi town. He’s a good cop and popular with his colleagues. But he has a dark side.

Stuart likes to go out on a Saturday night and get roaring drunk. Mean drunk. He likes to fight. And if there’s no one to fight in the bar, he’ll take out his rage on his girlfriend, Josie.

The book opens with Josie waiting for Stuart to come home. She’s put on a negligee because he’d once said he liked it, and it might turn his thoughts from violence to romance.

Upstairs her children, Drew, 16 and small for his age, and Kiera, 14, are also awake, fearing that Stuart will take out his rage on their mom.

Stuart kicks the kitchen door open and immediately takes issue with the negligee. Why is Josie wearing it? She looks like a slut. Has someone been visiting while he’s been out?

The children listen to the sound of the fight, and then all goes quiet. They are sure that if Josie is okay, she would have come upstairs to check on them.

Eventually Drew goes down to see what has happened. His mother is on the floor and doesn’t seem to be breathing. Stuart is on his bed, passed out.

Drew calls 911 and tells them their mother’s boyfriend has beaten her up again and this time she’s dead. Then he goes back to Stuart’s room, takes Stuart’s Glock 9mm, and shoots him in the head.

Emergency services and the police arrive and Stuart’s colleagues are appalled. Josie, it turns out, is not dead, but has a shattered jaw. Drew is arrested.

The next morning lawyer Jake Brigance gets a call from Judge Noose. Jake admires and respects the judge, and his feelings are reciprocated. Noose wants him to represent Drew. Jake is reluctant to take on the case knowing that it will divide the town. But he cannot refuse the judge.

Everyone, from the mayor and sheriff to Stuart’s extended family, will be hoping Drew is tried and gets the death penalty. Despite his age, he can expect to be tried as an adult.

Despite Jake’s reluctance, he is a professional and while he represents Drew – Noose has promised to try to find a lawyer from out of town to take on the case after the preliminaries – Jake is determined to do his best.

And so they prepare for trial. I can’t say much more without risking a spoiler, but it’s a terrific read, and I had to stop myself gobbling it up.


Natalie Conyer was born and grew up in Cape Town but has spent much of her life in Sydney. Last year, the year she turned 70, she wrote her first novel, Present Tense, a police thriller set in Cape Town.

It has been well received in Australia and won the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for best debut crime fiction.

My first reaction was an “oh no!” when I saw it was described as “a Schalk Lourens mystery”. Didn’t Conyer know who Schalk Lourens was? Well, course she did, and the eponymous detective is forever wearily telling people that yes, he knows he’s named after a famous character in SA fiction.

Lourens, an ageing white cop in an increasingly black force, is sent to a necklacing: his former boss, Piet Pieterse, has been murdered on his Franschhoek farm. Lourens notes that what is left of Pieterse’s body stinks “of rubber and braai”.

Lourens has investigated necklacing murders before, in the old days, but this is his first white one. Was the fact that Pieterse was formerly with BOSS the reason he was killed in this gruesome way?

It emerges that on the night of his murder Pieterse was alone on the farm and had clearly been expecting someone. His wife was away and he had given his workers the night off. The CCTV camera was off and his dogs had been shot.

Straight into the investigation Lourens finds himself caught in some sort of power struggle between his immediate boss, the small but steely Colonel Sisi Zangwa, and Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Nkosi. Nkosi wants Lourens to report directly to him.

Apart from having to deal with that, Lourens is trying to cope with a wife suffering from depression, some of which may be caused by the fact that Lourens is hardly ever home.

Meanwhile an election is looming, with most people being impressed by the favourite for president. But Lourens begins to wonder if he’s as wonderful as everyone thinks.

There’s a bit of love interest – Pieterse turns out to have a beautiful and surprisingly young widow – which leads Lourens into a situation for which he’ll never forgive himself.

A good read.


The Paris Diversion is a spy thriller that takes place in Paris over the course of a single day. Kate Moore is an ex CIA operative, who is apparently living a quiet expat life. But nothing is as it seems.

A young Muslim man, wearing a bomber’s vest, is at the Louvre. A businessman is preparing a big company announcement. A sniper has the bomber in his sights. Central Paris is locked down. And Kate’s day has gone entirely pear-shaped.

This a sort of sequel to Chris Pavone’s debut novel, The Expats, and I kept feeling I would have had a better understanding of what is going on in Paris Diversionif I’d read the first book.

The Wall Street Journal described it as “deliciously twisty”, which is true, so much so that I lost the plot. Towards the end I decided not to try too hard to follow everything that was happening, and just enjoy the taut and exciting writing.

I would appear to be alone in this view – there are two pages of praise for Chris Pavone at the start of Paris Diversion by the likes of Stephen King, Jeffery Deaver, Ken Follett and Harlan Coben.

So don’t take it from me.





One thought on “Delicious thrillers to gobble up

  1. David Bristow

    So you finally finished the Grisham book :). Seems to me it is, knowingly or not, an intersection of a few other books, notably To Kill a Mockingbird reboot and Bull Mountain, “American heartland noir” by Brian Panowich. But, as the Beatles admitted in a plagiarism case (they tended to pay up they had so many, to make them go away), that they heard so many songs they really didn’t know if or what they might have referenced.
    Present Tense also sounds quite like a Deon Meyer plot, but too close to the bone for me to read. I’ve got covid-induced SA political intrigue fatigue.


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