Monday, September 4, 2017


AMPLIFY by Mark Hollands (2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Music promoter Billy Lime is in trouble. The tour of rock legends, The Pagan Virtue, is the biggest in music history. Their concerts in Australia should be a career highlight if Billy can keep the warring musicians off the drugs, out of the bars and on the stage.

When lead singer Jet Kelly is poisoned, Billy's world starts to crumble. Motorcycle gang the White Sharks has stashed $100 million of cocaine inside the band equipment bound for Sydney, and the cops mark Billy as a killer and drug runner. How will Billy Lime keep the show on the road ...

This was a very pleasant surprise; a rip-roaring debut full of vivid characters and happenings that was a very enjoyable read; unique, interesting, and action-packed. Amplify takes us backstage into the world of rock music and events promotion, and is pretty sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in style.

It's not a perfect book by any means - there are occasional moments which are a little cheesy or over-written, veering 'airport thriller' in nature, but Amplify is just a lot of fun, a compelling page-turner. I actually read this last year, and did a 'mini-review' at the time. It was one of my favourite finds of 2016, a real gem, thanks to its unique setting and viewpoint, and tense, entertaining storyline.

Amplify is peppered with plenty of nasty, dark deeds, but maintains a fun, almost light-hearted vibe throughout. Almost a bit tongue-in-cheek, like an Oceans 11 or Guy Ritchie-style movie.

Caper-esque and full of crazy characters, humour and high-stakes action. It would have been easy for the set-up and setting to fall into cliche, but I thought debutant Hollands did a terrific job balancing plot, character, and setting - throwing in some unique touches and depth, without slowing the pace.

Music promoter Billy Lime lives a sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll life. He's no wallflower; he drives a bright lime green sports car, and has associates that span all sorts of spectrums, from bikers to money managers to rock stars. The rock industry can be big business, and plenty of people want a piece.

Lime's plans are thrown into disarray thanks to tax investigations and the lead singer of an aging band whose upcoming tour is going to rake in the dough getting poisoned. Under pressure on several fronts, Lime is forced to hustle to work out what's the heck has been going on, and how he can keep his head above water. A can of worms opened - or even Pandora's Box.

One heads-up: this is set in a realistic version of the rock'n'roll world, covering everything from the corporatisation of artists to the dingy backstage hook-ups and hotel parties. It also delves into biker gang life and other quite masculine areas of the world. There's misogyny and unlikable characters, people treating women carelessly or badly, amongst plenty of partying, fun and engaging personalities. For some readers this might not be a setting they enjoy or approve of, although I thought it read quite authentic. There are several strong female characters that balance out the airhead groupies and biker molls, including managers and more who help Lime and hold things together.

Overall, an exciting debut in a fascinating setting that provides tension, action, and laughs.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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