Review: MEDEA’S CURSE by Anne Buist

MedeasCurseAnneBuist23255_fWomen who kill – especially women who kill children – are generally considered to be the very lowest of the low on the scale of human evil. Perhaps that is why the theme has never been the subject of huge numbers of crime novels. Or perhaps the reason for that is that the subject presents a raft of unique challenges for authors. Challenges I don’t think Anne Buist overcame.

Buist’s subject matter expertise is not in question. She is a professor, researcher and clinician who has worked in perinatal psychiatry and related fields for more than two decades. But this undoubted knowledge has led to one of the book’s problems. It is, at times, packed with medical jargon and it makes a lot of assumptions about readers’ knowledge of the medico-legal environment with which Buist is familiar. I cannot, for example, be the only person who has no idea what this sentence means “The differential diagnoses to consider are Dissociative Identity Disorder – D.I.D. – and personality disorder, Cluster B“. Am I meant to accept this and similar pronouncements as evidence of “science” without wanting an actual explanation? Or am I meant to think I should know what the heck personality disorder Cluster B is and be too intimidated to admit that I don’t? In addition there are several passages that revolve around legal nuances I don’t imagine the average reader would have a clue about. For example the book takes it for granted that we all have an understanding of the difference between murder and infanticide. For the record, I don’t. Still. I imagine the author was trying to use her background to take this story out of the realm of tabloid journalism which is admirable but to complete the exercise it would have helped to have some exposition. Perhaps if the main character had not been such an annoying human being (more about her later) she might have had a friend or less knowledgeable crime-solving partner type of character to whom such things could have been explained (there was potentially such a character but Natalie and Liam had a lot of sex which left no time for discussing things helpfully for the reader).

The next challenge presented by the theme is to develop a story in which that theme is handled sensitively and, as far as possible, without sensationalism. To be fair Buist has done this but in achieving it she has produced an overly complicated narrative, some of which seems completely devoid of purpose. The central character is a psychiatrist who is treating four main patients, three of whom have been accused of killing at least one child. Each case generates a raft of discussions and interactions with patients, their families, other medical professionals and various law enforcement types that have a stake in things. I assume this has been done to provide insight into the variety and complexity of these types of cases which – again – is admirable. But oh so confusing. Add in a suspected Paedophile ring and a vicious stalker for the protagonist and I’ll defy anyone to keep track of the cast, their alleged crimes and the myriad of minor characters drift in and out of the storyline. The jumble of facts and people and bits of information you think you need to keep track of resulted in a fairly superficial exploration of the central theme which is the exact thing I hoped the book would avoid.

And finally we come to the problem of a compelling central character. This problem is not restricted to books dealing with the troubling theme of women who kill but I’m sure the subject matter does take some options off the table. It would, for example, be more difficult to write this kind of novel successfully with a male protagonist. But I remain unconvinced that Dr Natalie King is the best voice these women could hope for. To me she is more the result of modern publishing’s desire for its crime solvers to be unique, tortured souls who are not like the rest of us than she is the result of a resemblance to any real-world doctor. She is a danger-junkie, suffers a mental illness but doesn’t like taking her medication, has questionable morals, lacks self-insight, sings in a band primarily so she can shock people with her lewdness. And on it goes. Most worrying of all is her disdain for the ethical guidelines of her profession. Because, of course, she knows best. I can’t pinpoint the moments but my interest in Natalie King as a character went from “I don’t like her but she’s interesting” to “oh piffle…another quirk…whatever next?” to “I wouldn’t mind if that crazy stalker killed her right about now“. In addition to being more of a laughing stock than a legitimate character Natalie and her quirks overshadowed the women who I was more interested in.

I was intrigued by the premise behind MEDEA’S CURSE. That women who kill children do not necessarily present as uniformly ‘insane’ nor are they the vengeful enchantresses of Greek mythology. And they do, on occasion, need someone to speak up for them. I was even prepared to go with the notion that the person who would do that would, of necessity, be a little out of the ordinary. But the book did not really deliver on any of this for me. The relatively delicate handling of the central theme comes at the expense of the book’s central character, who couldn’t be any more absurdly provocative if she became a murderess herself. In the end it I found this a fairly confusing tale that lost sight of being a thoughtful exploration of an interesting idea.


aww-badge-2015This is the seventh book I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself. I’m aiming to read 25 eligible books.

I’m feeling a little guilty having chosen this one for my book club to read but at least one fellow member appears to have liked it more than I did.


Publisher: Text Publishing [2015]
ISBN: 9781922182647
Length: 366 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS by Robert Gott

PortFairyMurdersGottI assume that most Australians who don’t live there associate Port Fairy with summer holidays. I certainly do, having been to the town twice – once on a fondly remembered childhood family holiday and again as an adult. It is jarring to think of the seemingly idyllic coastal spot as the setting for some gruesome murders but, as he did with THE HOLIDAY MURDERS, Robert Gott once again paints a very credible picture of wartime Australia and the dark hearts of some of its inhabitants.

This novel is very much linked to its predecessor which probably explains why the author has included a helpful summary of the first novel at the beginning of this one. When it opens the main characters are all still reeling from the brutal events that ended the first book, two in particular are struggling with the physical and psychological damage inflicted on them by Nazi sympathisers. One of the people responsible for that brutality is George Starling who eluded police then and is now set on finishing off the job he started and generally causing havoc and death. To that end he is on the trail of Joe Sable, a sergeant with the newly formed Victorian homicide squad and a man Starling didn’t quite manage to kill in the first novel.

In a completely separate thread we meet a Port Fairy family. There’s an elderly lady with a mentally disabled brother and their adult niece and nephew. In a manner that resembles the Golden Age of detective fiction the novel takes the time to establish these characters and their small community with its religious and social tensions before ripping apart the family with a brutal death or two. Although it is an interesting thread in its own right there is no real connection between this story and the hunt for George Starling, aside from the fact that the homicide squad are involved with both investigations, which gives the book a slightly disconnected feel.

The characters are a real strength of this novel. The way Joe Sable is dealing with his feelings of guilt over the events depicted in the first novel combined with his dawning awareness of what it means to be Jewish make him compelling. One of his colleagues is Helen Lord who is struggling to be taken seriously. Although her boss recognises her skills and intelligence almost everyone else thinks she is good for not much more than making cups of tea. We see more of Helen outside the office in this installment and learn something of her family history and see her complicated relationship with her mother. I also found the family at the heart of the Port Fairy thread engaging in a ‘my family’s not so bad after all‘ sort of way.

I really like the way Robert Gott writes and puts together a story. The combination here of using an interesting time period in our history, filling it with compelling characters and telling a story that unfolds in unexpected ways makes THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS an above average read. I’d recommend the book to anyone but do think it would make for a more satisfying reading experience after having read the first novel in the series.


I reviewed the first book in this series, THE HOLIDAY MURDERS, a couple of years ago


Publisher: Scribe [2015]
ISBN: 9781925106459
Length: 282 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: MEDEA’S CURSE, Anne Buist

  • first published by Text Publishing Melbourne 2015
  • ISBN 9-781922-182647
  • 366 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Forensic psychiatrist Natalie King works with victims and perpetrators of violent crime. Women with a history of abuse, mainly. She rides a Ducati a size too big and wears a tank top a size too small. Likes men but doesn’t want to keep one. And really needs to stay on her medication.Now she’s being stalked. Anonymous notes, threats, strangers loitering outside her house.

A hostile former patient? Or someone connected with a current case?
Georgia Latimer—charged with killing her three children. Travis
Hardy—deadbeat father of another murdered child, with a second daughter
now missing. Maybe the harrassment has something to do with Crown
Prosecutor Liam O’Shea—drop-dead sexy, married and trouble in all kinds
of ways.

Natalie doesn’t know. Question is, will she find out before it’s too late?

Anne Buist, herself a leading perinatal psychiatrist, has created an
edge-of-the-seat mystery with a hot new heroine—backed up by a lifetime
of experience with troubled minds.

My Take

At first I found the characters and events of this story hard to get sorted. Natalie King leads a complex and busy life working on cases where mothers have been accused, even convicted, of murdering their children. It is all made more complex by her own bipolarism, supposedly kept under control by medication, if she remembers to take it. What happens when she doesn’t is frightening to say the least. Natalie reports regularly to her supervisor Declan who attempts to provide therapy and controls to keep her focussed, but he can only work with what she tells him, or guess at what she is hiding from him.

Things become more complicated though when it appears that at least one of the fathers of the dead or missing children may be connected to a pedophile ring. Most of what Natalie knows is told to her in confidence and she struggles to know what she can pass on to the police without endangering her clients, to say nothing of endangering herself.

Throughout my reading of this novel I could not get out of my head MOTHERS WHO MURDER by Xanthe Mallett, a true crime book that I read last year. MOTHERS WHO MURDER looks at a number of Australian cases where the author feels there has been the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. I feel that this book and MEDEA’S CURSE have the same starting point in the real world, with the latter fictionalising a response from real events.

Anne Buist writes with an authority and confidence that makes the reader sure that these things do happen, even if they rarely surface in my world. This makes for a gritty and noir novel, not for the faint hearted.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Professor Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of
Melbourne and has over 25 years clinical and research experience in
perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal
system in cases of abuse,kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller.

Review: DISHONOUR by Gabrielle Lord

DishonourGabrielleLord23201_fOf late, the woman variously labelled the queen or godmother of Australian crime writing has concentrated her publishing efforts on a popular series of novels for young adults but was prompted last year to publish something for her older readers. DISHONOUR, set to be a standalone novel like Lord’s early books, couldn’t be more topical with a protagonist inspired by a serving Sydney policewoman of senior rank and story elements that aren’t so much ripped from the headlines as they are predicting them. It is the story of Debra Hawkins, a Detective Inspector appointed to lead a new unit within the NSW police which aims to help the victims of violence who live within ethnic or cultural groups in which women and girls can be treated in ways that are illegal in Australia. They soon come across a woman of Iraqi heritage who is being physically abused and held a virtual prisoner by her two brothers who are, in addition to being the siblings from Hell, actively involved in the city’s drug dealing scene.

The subjects explored in DISHONOUR are worthy of exposure. The issue of violence within families is getting discussed more widely than has ever been the case before in this country (for example our current Australian of the Year is a remarkable woman who has used her son’s death at the hands of his own father to raise the profile of this subject). But adding the complexity of marginalised and politically sensitive cultural groups and their treatment of women into the mix makes it a whole different story with uncomfortable political and social connotations. Lord does not shy away from these difficulties though and uses the book not only to depict the horrendous situations that some women find themselves in within their own families, but also the alarmingly limited way in which authorities can assist them even when they do find the courage to seek help and the complications that arise when politically charged labels of racism can be thrown at those trying to help. The broader backdrop of the changes in the scale and nature of criminal undertakings in modern Sydney is also on show. For me this social context proved the most successful aspect of the novel.

The character development and storyline left me somewhat disappointed.

I’m only speculating of course but I wondered if the possibility of a series might have resulted in the holding back of some of the back story and present-day dramas that were heaped upon Debra for future installments rather than squeezing so much into a single novel. There’s the murder of her policeman father when she was 12, a stupid and potentially career-ending act she undertook on behalf of her drug-addict brother, and the fact that a criminal whose case she worked has threatened her with death and seems to be taking steps to carry out these threats which are all impacting on Debra’s life. Not to mention two serious family illnesses and a major career problem that eventuate later in the book. She is a contrast to many crime fighting protagonists in that Debra is in a sound, loving relationship and isn’t an alcoholic but she has way too much personal drama going on for me and professionally behaves more obtusely than I think (hope) someone in her position would do. I really struggled to take her seriously at times.

Ultimately for me DISHONOUR was too concerned with Debra and her personal troubles rather than the women and work she was meant to be focused on. Partly I think that is the result of the narrative choice. The entire book is told from Debra’s point of view and I think I’d have preferred it if we were also shown things from the perspective of some of the women seeking the help of Debra’s unit. The only direct exposure we have to their experiences is when they interact with Debra which, when combined with some of the fact-laden passages providing exposition, gives the sensibility that this is not primarily a story about these women and makes the book border on being didactic a few times.

The story itself was a bit of a jumble. The thread dealing with the death of Debra’s father seemed to have an obvious resolution to me from the very beginning and I found it a distraction from what I thought of as the main plot line. Even there though there was too much going on and it was all dealt with a bit superficially to the point that one element seems to have been forgotten entirely between the middle and end of the novel.

Reading DISHONOUR left me frustrated because although it raised important subjects it felt to me too eager to sideline them and focus on a fairly un-suspenseful cold case that wasn’t nearly as interesting to me. It’s as if I embarked on a choose your own adventure novel but someone else’s choices for plot development and resolution were superimposed over my own.


aww-badge-2015This is the fifth novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Hachette [2014]
ISBN: 9780733632457
Length: 372 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: PRESENT DARKNESS by Malla Nunn

PresentDarknessNunnAudioWhen PRESENT DARKNESS opens we are in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the end of 1953. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is one of the police called to the home of a white school principal. He and his wife have been brutally assaulted. Their teenage daughter says she recognises the voices of two of the black students her father invited to his home as the culprits. One of these boys is Aaron Shabalala, son of the Zulu detective who is Cooper’s best friend.

It feels odd to mention the colour of the participants in the way I have done above but skin colour is the single most important attribute each human has in the world Nunn depicts so vividly. It determines where you can live, what jobs you can get, what kind of health services you have access to, whether or not anyone in authority will give a damn when you are the victim of a crime and a myriad of other aspects of your life. I knew all of this on some intellectual level before reading Nunn’s books but I don’t think I’ve ever really understood how invasive apartheid was during every moment of every day. Cooper, who appears here in his fourth novel, is of mixed race heritage but ‘passes’ for white and compounds his law-breaking by living with a mixed race woman with whom he has now fathered a child. They live in constant fear of being found out by the wrong people. Davida, Cooper’s girlfriend, has not been out of the compound in which they are living for over a year when Cooper invites her along to an interview he needs to undertake because it will occur at an illegal club run by an old friend of his and the couple will be able to dance together for the first time. Nunn enables us to really grasp why someone would take the risk of being found out for such a simple pleasure that most of us would take for granted.

It is not just the enveloping settings that make Nunn’s books such a treat for readers; the characters are engaging too. Cooper is a complicated man. Still carrying the scars (and a ghost) from his childhood of poverty and his wartime activities he strives to be a good person but doesn’t always manage it. He struggles not to take out his justifiable anger on those who have hurt him or his loved ones but Nunn makes us care about him regardless, or even because, of his faults. Here we also meet some of Cooper’s friends from his childhood in Sophiatown which adds some depth to his back story and makes him all the more fascinating. The two friends who have seen him through previous scrapes, Samuel Shabalala and Daniel Zweigman, appear once again and together the trio are simply mesmerizing. Their collective desire to right the wrongs they see around them, despite the horrors they have all witnessed and are still experiencing daily, rekindles this reader’s faith in the human race.

To top all of this off PRESENT DARKNESS is an absolute ripper of a yarn. In some ways it is the most traditional procedural of the series but there is also plenty of the peril for our heroes and edge-of-seat drama that I’ve come to expect. Although I have loved all of its predecessors I think this is Nunn’s best novel to date. Despite the grim reality of its setting it does contain light (and even the odd glimmer of hope) along with the shade and there isn’t a single wrong note. I listened to a superb narration by Rupert Degas, who used various local accents and dialects to help the book really come alive for me, and cannot recommend it highly enough to those of you who like their crime fiction accompanied by a dose of immersive social context.


awwbadge_2014This is the second novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

You can also check out my co-host’s review of this novel from last year, or my own reviews of Nunn’s earlier novels A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE and LET THE DEAD LIE


Narrator: Rupert Degas
Publisher: Bolinda Audio [2014]
ASIN: B00KB5TZNM
Length: 8 hours 7 minutes
Format: audio book
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: HADES, Candice Fox

Synopsis (Random House Australia)

A dark, compelling and original thriller that will have you spellbound from its atmospheric opening pages to its shocking climax.

Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their
trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies
they want disposed of become his problem – for a fee.

Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants ‘lost’. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything…

Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there’s something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can’t quite put his finger on.

At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner’s sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank’s wondering if she’s as dangerous as the man they hunt. –

My Take

This is a cleverly layered novel, superbly written, that flits between the past and the present, between the serial killer case the Sydney based police are currently focussing on, and Eden Archer’s story.

Eden Archer and her brother have a secondary agenda, one which Hades, their adoptive father, has trained them for all their life. Those who get in the way, those who want to know too much and to get too close, are putting their own lives on the line.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
(from Random House Australia)

Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from
Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings.
The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer,
Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of
violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her
mother and older brothers.

As a cynical and trouble-making
teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the
calamity of her home life. She was constantly in trouble for reading
Anne Rice in church and scaring her friends with tales from Australia’s
wealth of true crime writers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. Candice lectures in writing at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, while undertaking a PhD in literary censorship and terrorism.

Hades is her first novel, and won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014. Eden, its sequel, is published in December.

See another review at AustCrime.

Review: THE LYING-DOWN ROOM by Anna Jaquiery

TheLyingDownRoomJaquieryI’m including Anna Jaquiery’s THE LYING-DOWN ROOM as part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge reading even though it is set in France and the author has lived just about everywhere. But she lives here at the moment and that’s good enough for me.

THE LYING-DOWN ROOM takes place during a stifling Parisian summer. Commandant Serge Morel and his team are called to the scene of an unusual death. An elderly woman has been murdered and displayed bizarrely afterwards. There are few clues aside from some odd-looking religious pamphlets found in the house. Several other elderly woman contact the police regarding a strange pair of religious zealots calling on them but is there a connection? And if so how on earth will police track down the pair who’ve left no indication of who they are or what organisation they are affiliated with?

It must be so hard for a modern crime writer to develop a main character that is different enough to stand out from the crowd but not so different they are just a collection of quirks but Jaquiery has managed it with aplomb. Serge Morel is a delight to meet. He is middle-aged and lives with his father. He does have a relationship of sorts – one my mother would describe as ‘very French’ – but is somewhat obsessed by an old girlfriend. He is good at his work and dedicated to it, only relieving his stress through complex origami, which also helps to gives us an indication that Morel will not be the kind of cop who rushes to judgement.. In short he has some minor flaws but is not a slave to alcohol or the other demons common to fictional detectives and yet he is intriguing. There is the makings of a good duo between Morel and his immediate subordinate, Lila Markov. She is younger and a little more vulnerable, though can hold her own with the misogynistic pathologist, and I would be keen to see more of her, and the two working together, in the future instalments I hope are to come. In fact the whole team dynamic has a realistic feel to it, helped by along by the inclusion of relatively minor points but ones which bring the group to life such as the colleague who is missing work most days because his is terminally ill and the team all struggle to overcome the awkwardness of the situation.

The story is a winner too, taking us all over Paris, into rural France and even into Russia as it provides an explanation for the woman’s death and the crimes which follow it. I thought Jaquiery did a great job of building us up to the end so that it wasn’t so much a ‘gotcha’ dénouement but a careful revelation that is entirely understandable. As well as the parts of the story that deal with the investigation and the personal lives of the investigators we also see some of the story unfold from the point of view of the main suspect and both elements are handled equally well.

THE LYING-DOWN ROOM has lingered in my mind for the week or so since I finished it which is always a sign to me of an above average read. Its characters make me want to know them more and I can’t wait to return to France and see what they are all up to. Strongly recommended.


aww-badge-2015This is the second novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia [2014]
ISBN: 9781447244417
Length: 323 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: WEB OF DECEIT, Katherine Howell

  • first published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2013
  • #6 in the Ella Marconi series
  • ISBN 978-1-7426-1030-6
  • source: my TBR

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a desperate cry for help. His frantic claim that
someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a
suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the raw terror in
his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded
when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to
commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to
interview her, and then to confuse matters further, a woman is beaten
unconscious in front of Jane’s house and Alex’s daughter goes missing.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up, and feels the
investigation is being held back by her budget-focused boss. Then, just
when she thinks she’s closing in on the right person, a shocking turn of
events puts more people in danger and might just see the killer slip
through her hands.

My Take

WEB OF DECEIT follows the same structure as Howell’s earlier novels in the series: police investigations running in parallel with paramedics whose callout allows the reader to see another side of a victim. The result is four strong characters who are dedicated to the work that they are doing. But they all have more personal relationships on their minds as well, and I think that is what makes them seem so real. None of us operates in a vacuum. Our personal lives impinge on our work and vice versa.

Here is a well plotted novel written by an accomplished and established Australian author, the first to win two Davitt awards.

I have two novels in this series to catch up on: DESERVING DEATH published in 2014, and TELL THE TRUTH due out Feb 2015. I am looking forward to reading both of them!

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also reviewed

5.0, FRANTIC – #1 (mini review) – 2007

4.6, THE DARKEST HOUR – #2 – 2008

4.8, COLD JUSTICE – #3 -2010

4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE -#4 – 2010

4.8, SILENT FEAR -#5 – 2012

Review: MASTERMIND, Helen Goltz

  • source: review copy from author
  • this edition published by Atlas Productions 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-9807532-0-2
  • 420 pages
  • #1 in the Mitchell Parker series

Synopsis (author website)

You are playing a game online; masterminding the perfect crime. Or at least you think it’s a game. A seemingly normal web site inviting game players to mastermind the perfect crime is the façade for billionaire Lawrence Hackett’s real-life game of Mastermind—an invitation-only competition for a select few to see who can perform the perfect heist and win an enormous bounty.

Special Agent Mitchell Parker and his team learn the magnitude of the international crime ring just in time. Washington, London, Paris … the clock is on. If you love it when a plan comes together, hold on tight, because nothing is about to go right! Available from Atlas Productions and Amazon
My Take

Contestants in Mastermind must plan and carry out the perfect crime. A prize pool of five million pounds will be divided among the Mastermind entrants who succeed. Entry is by invitation and only six entries will be selected to play. Each Mastermind act is allocated a supervisor and must take place in the month of November. Each Mastermind crime has to be unique, a crime that has never been carried out before. There have been two rounds of Mastermind in the past, and five crimes have been successful. The stakes are high, but the profits for the brains behind it are high as well.

Mitchell Parker’s team from the FBI’s Trans national Crimes Unit uncovers something suspicious during a routine surveillance of university activities, an extended booking of a high level science lab, and the rollercoaster ride of the novel begins there. The story is a thriller, a times a real page turner, a mix of ambitious plot lines and personal interest stories.

Helen Goltz is a new-to-me Australian author although she now has two books in this series published, and another one due out soon. I thought there were signs that MASTERMIND is a debut title, a few wavery plot lines, and some questions that at the end I had no answer to, but in general it is a good read.

Goltz also is the author of a number of other titles. See her website for more details.

My rating: 4.3

Review: WHAT CAME BEFORE by Anna George

thS2QUVYS0Even if you’re only vaguely aware of the Australian literary scene you’d be hard pressed not to have seen or heard something about WHAT CAME BEFORE over the past few months. A debut novel by Melbourne writer Anna George it has a dramatic opening in which a man starts making a statement into his dictaphone where he admits that he’s just killed his wife. The novel proceeds (or precedes mostly) from there to pick apart the two-year relationship between David and Elle and explain – as much as such things can ever be truly understood – how it came to such an end.

Where the book excels for me is in its depiction of its two central characters. Elle is a smart, capable woman yet she slides into a dysfunctional relationship with David and stays there even as her doubts increase. David is neither knuckle-dragging nor monster and is self-aware enough, at least at times, to know the difference between the man he wants to be and the one he seems to be. In short, they are not the “other” people that bad things happen to. They are just like you and me.

Even if you haven’t yourself been involved in an abusive relationship I’d be prepared to wager there isn’t a reader alive who wouldn’t recognise the realism in it. Surely we have all lied to ourselves and our loved ones about some aspect of our life that isn’t as it should be; isn’t as we display it to the world. And many will have watched someone they know be swallowed up in the kind of self-delusions that Elle, and David too, succumb to. The depiction of Elle is particularly perfect. Her excitement at the intensity of her love for David. Her willingness to throw her natural caution to the wind due to the unexpected strength of her feelings. Her dawning recognition that not everything about David is good; that sometimes he scares her. The internal arguments she has with herself about whether or not to stay and how much of his behaviour is her fault. Her determination to believe she is in control. That she can change him through sheer force of her will. Even when her strangled body is lying on the laundry floor of her home and she’s floating ethereally above it Elle is very, very believable. As is David. Even when he’s managing to blame Elle for being strangled by him.

As a story the book didn’t work quite as well for me. The opening – though dramatic – made it impossible for me to be caught up in the early, heady days of Elle and David’s relationship. In telling me that the relationship was doomed from the outset I felt…cheated…I suppose in not being able to experience the roller coaster effect of a good thing gone horribly wrong. Instead from page one I was just waiting for David to falter, as I had been told he would. Perhaps that was the author’s intent, perhaps she wanted to show that it was never a good thing to start with, but I couldn’t help thinking that in this instance I’d have preferred a more traditional placement of beginning, middle and end.

There are also some really clunky parts of the novel. Elle is a film writer and director and is in the throws of making a romantic comedy during her relationship with David. I thought the author tried way too hard to draw parallels between the film and Elle’s life, to the point I wanted to shout “OK I get it, can we move on please“. And there’s the ending which I thought gimmicky and was, perhaps perversely, disappointed by. But for me the most significant flaw is the entire thread which deals with what comes after David’s strangling of his wife. It isn’t a huge component of the novel but it doesn’t feel nearly as well put together to me as the flashbacks which make up the bulk of the narrative. And at some points it is decidedly awkward. For example at one point David has gone to visit his godfather, who is a lawyer like David. He wants a sense from Reg about his chances, legally, and is dismayed when Reg reports on recent changes to the law. For me Reg’s dialogue is too…perfect…as if it had been crafted by a speechwriter in advance of a politician’s make-or-break speech on the subject of domestic violence

‘We live to higher standards today’. Reg focuses in tight on David. ‘You cannot kill your wife because you have lost control of her.’ …
‘And we,’ says Reg, ‘cannot continue to blame women for their deaths.’ (pg85)

Don’t get me wrong, I agree completely with the sentiments expressed I just didn’t feel they were natural. If it had been a movie Reg would have turned to the camera, Frank Underwood style, and broken the fourth wall to spout these lines rather than use them as dialogue uttered in what should have been a scene of panic and confusion on Reg’s part. This, and a few other sections like it, jarred and took me out of the otherwise consuming and enveloping sense of realism the novel had.

The subject of domestic violence needs to be raised, discussed, brought out into the light. Anna George has done so thoughtfully and with rare accessibility. It is difficult, if you are fortunate enough to have never been involved in such circumstances, to understand how and why people – victims and perpetrators – end up at the point of no return. WHAT CAME BEFORE offers real insight into this complex subject by depicting both Elle and David credibly and offering a plausible explanation without ever confusing that for justification. For me the pursuit of this admittedly admirable achievement seems to have overshadowed consideration of narrative structure and style at some points but overall it’s a book I’d find hard not to recommend, even with the odd caveat.


aww-badge-2015This is the first of what I hope to be 25 reviews I will write as part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015. Why don’t you join the fun?


Publisher: Penguin [2014]
ISBN: 9780670077731
Length: 254 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.