Review: THE LOST SWIMMER, Ann Turner

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, traces the past for a living.

But suddenly, truth and certainty are turning against her. Rebecca is accused of serious fraud, and   worse, she suspects – she knows – that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair.

Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and
Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her, and hopefully win
Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There’s too much at stake – her
love, her work, her family.

But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and doesn’t come back.

In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations.
And with time against her, she must uncover the dark secrets that stand between
her and Stephen, and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.

My Take:

Rebecca Wilding is having a tough time at Coast University, particularly with the Dean of the Arts faculty, Professor Priscilla Chiton, who seems determined to make her life hell. Priscilla used to be a friend, but now Rebecca suspects she is having an affair with her husband Stephen, Professor of Economics. Rebecca also suspects that Stephen may be dabbling on the stock market again.

Suddenly things start to go very wrong when accounting irregularities crop up and Rebecca is accused of siphoning university funds into her own accounts.

There were some heart stopping moments in this thriller, particularly when they are driving a red sports car up a narrow road on the Amalfi Coast.

Stephen’s disappearance leads to Rebecca becoming a chief suspect for his possible murder, and she goes on the run from the police, attempting to track him down in Paris, where she thinks he is meeting up with Priscilla.

A good read: a debut novel from a female Australian author.

My rating: 4.4

About the author (publisher)

Ann Turner is an award-winning screenwriter and director, avid reader, and
history lover. She is drawn to salt-sprayed coasts, luminous landscapes,
and the people who inhabit them all over the world. She is a passionate
gardener. Her films include the historical feature Celia starring
Rebecca Smart—which Time Out listed as one of the fifty greatest
directorial debuts of all time, Hammers Over The Anvil starring Russell
Crowe and Charlotte Rampling, and the psychological thriller
Irresistible starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt. Ann
has lectured in film at the Victorian College of the Arts. Returning to
her first love, the written word, in her debut novel The Lost Swimmer
Ann explores themes of love, trust and the dark side of relationships.
She is currently working on her second novel, Out of the Ice, a mystery
thriller set in Antarctica. Ann was born in Adelaide and lives in
Victoria.

Review: WINGS ABOVE THE DIAMANTINA by Arthur Upfield

WingsAboveTheDiamantinaUpfieldI enjoy participating in the Past Offences monthly classics challenge to read a book from the nominated year but am rarely able to track down an Australian title in time. Happily for 1936 there was a relatively new narration of Arthur Upfield’s eighth novel* available for my ears.

A reviewer’s caveat: When I first started reading crime fiction seriously as an adult I naturally looked for local authors and it wasn’t long before I found an Arthur Upfield novel but I have to admit I didn’t read many. Partly this is because they are at heart not my thing (my younger self’s crass summing would have been they consist mostly of country people banging on about boring country people stuff). But partly it is also because they make for uncomfortable reading. Although Bony is depicted with as much intelligence and crime-solving skill as any of his worldwide fictional counterparts, some of the attitudes he encounters – the thoughts and feelings expressed by many of the white characters towards any of the books’ Aboriginal characters – are awfully bigoted. My younger self was quite OK with leaving the past behind and believing (hoping?) we’d all moved on a long way from that sort of thing. As well as being a whole lot less naive, older me is able to place the novels in context a bit better and I can deal more philosophically with the wincing that the attitudes induce. Though as there are still a lot of country people banging on about country people stuff the novels are probably never going to count amongst my favourites.

On to the actual review: A small plane is found abandoned in remote Queensland. There is no sign of a pilot but a young woman, who appears to be in a coma, is found within. She is removed and taken to a nearby station (similar to an American ranch) where she is looked after by the owner’s daughter though she fails to recover and hovers near death. Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the part Aboriginal, part white policeman known to all as Bony who has developed a reputation for solving mysteries of the outback, is called in on the case and must act with unusual urgency if he is to provide information to aid the young woman’s recovery as well as catch the culprit. The fact that the plane has been all but destroyed by fire before Bony can inspect it adds to the mystery and results in Bony, and two local Aboriginal men, having to use all the tracking skills at their disposal.

The Diamantina River today

The Diamantina River today

Even today the far western Queensland location in which the events of this book take place provides one of the most isolated inhabited spots in the world and WINGS ABOVE THE DIAMANTINA takes full advantage of this unusual setting. Distances are vast, people are of necessity self-reliant and mother nature has a way of letting them know that even if they think they know what they’re doing she can always surprise them. It’s a toss up whether the cloying sand cloud scenario that develops at the novel’s half-way point or the the dramatic rain storm that occurs near the end is the most memorable natural phenomenon but I bet most readers remember at least one long after the novel is over. As far as the book’s setting in time goes there are plenty of things which identify it as being between the wars but in a way the remoteness of the location makes the novel seem less dated than it otherwise might. Even with modern communications and technology remote Australia is still a pretty inhospitable place and it is not too hard to imagine a similar kind of story unfolding today.

Aside from the unusual setting the book is really a classic whodunnit; almost an outback version of the country house mystery (though not all the potential suspects are in the one house they are all within the same few miles). The scene is laid – and possible culprits identified – in the first few chapters and then our protagonist enters proceedings. Bony is introduced when he arrives at the local policeman’s official residence and interrupts the completion of some paperwork. When ready, Sergeant Cox raises his head from his desk to see

“…a man of medium height and build dressed in a light grey tweed. His tie matched his shirt and so did the soft felt hat now resting on the edge of the writing table. The visitor’s face was turned downwards to the busy fingers engaged in making a cigarette and with no little astonishment the sergeant noticed that the man’s hair was fine and straight and black and that his skin was dark brown. And then he was gazing into a pair of bright blue eyes regarding him with a smile”

Almost all of Bony’s first encounters – either in this book or others – involve some form of astonishment on the part of those he is meeting for the first time. I can’t help but wonder if such a man had existed in real life he could have been quite so jovially accepting of other people’s low expectations of him as Bony is depicted as being. For all his unique qualities though Bony is at heart very similar to the other crime solvers that populate this era’s whodunnits – Poirot et al – in that it is his particular intelligence and way of seeing the world that allows him to solve the puzzles others cannot.

For me the plot of this novel was its weakest element. Some of it is annoyingly blokey (there is a thread in which a chap falls in love with the comatose woman which I found truly creepy) and I found my mind wavering a little during some of the minutiae of the investigation. It relied on a visual imagery of relative distances between various locations I couldn’t quite imagine and was heavy on the detail for some things I couldn’t summon much interest in (I wonder if any of the physical versions of the book have a map, it would definitely benefit from one). Perhaps I am truly gruesome enough to require a dead body for my crime reading senses to be completely engaged?

That said I did enjoy the novel much more than I thought I would based on my younger self’s reading of other Upfield books. The author’s genuine affection for his adopted country (he was born in England and moved here at the age of 20) is obvious, though perhaps he owes his his unusually (for the time) enlightened attitude towards our indigenous people to the fact he was not Australian by birth? Regardless of how it was developed it is clear from the warmth and realism with which he depicts them that he has met and grown to really know people like the fictional black fellas he has created here.

The audio format: I know this format isn’t for everyone but if you are a fan I highly recommend local actor Peter Hosking’s narration (of this and the many other Australian titles he has narrated over the years). This is a novel dominated in part by dialogue and Hosking does a superb job with the different cadences and speaking styles of the disparate characters and it really does add another layer of depth to the story.

*There is much variation in online bibliographies of Upfield’s work but this is generally attributable to the fact his books were published at sometimes wildly different times in different countries, and many were published under different names elsewhere. This novel for example is known as WINGS ABOVE THE CLAYPAN or WINGED MYSTERY in the US where it was Upfield’s second published novel in 1937


Publisher: This edition Bolinda Audio [2013], Original edition Angus and Robertson [1936]
ASIN: B00BLNP5U0
Length: 7 hours 48 minutes
Format: Audio download
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: TRACKING NORTH, Kerry McGinnis

  • first published by Penguin Group Australia in 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-921901-47-8
  • Available for Kindle
  • 346 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

Kelly Roberts finds refuge in the rugged and remote cattle country of northern Australia, but when tragedy strikes she is forced to find a new life for herself and her children outside of Rainsford Station.

She retreats to the family’s only asset – a freehold block of land owned jointly by her eccentric father-in-law, Quinn. In the valley at Evergreen Springs, Quinn hopes the fractured family might all come together to start over again.

Life in Queensland’s far north is wildly unpredictable, with daily challenges and the wet season, in all its wild majesty, to survive. But when twelve-year-old Rob makes the
gruesome discovery of a dead body in the valley, real peril comes far too close to home.

Tracking North is a beautiful family story about life in the stunning Gulf Country, one of the world’s most unique and fascinating places.

My Take

First of all,  this is a book on the very edge of crime fiction, on the soft edge one might say. Certainly there is a crime, and a murder, and some violence, but essentially it is a story abut a way of life in Australia, in the Far North, and a family making its way in a world that is changing rapidly.

Kerry McGinnis has obviously drawn on first hand experience of living and working in remote Queensland, and I couldn’t help wondering how a non-Australian reader would see the landscape and life style that she describes. Perhaps it will be an eye opener.

I did enjoy the book, inveterate crime fiction reader that I am, much more than I expected to, even the romance that won its way in the end. And, as the friend who recommended it to me said, there is mystery, there is the odd puzzle to be solved.

My rating: 4.3

About the author

Kerry McGinnis was born in Adelaide and at the age of twelve took up a
life of droving with her father and four siblings. The family travelled
extensively across the Northern Territory and Queensland before settling
on a station in the Gulf Country. Kerry has worked as a shepherd,
droving hand, gardener and stock-camp and station cook on the family
property Bowthorn, north-west of Mt Isa. She is the author of two
volumes of memoir, Pieces of Blue and Heart Country, and the bestselling novels The Waddi Tree, Wildhorse Creek and Mallee Sky. Kerry now lives in Bundaberg.

Review: DARK HORSE, Honey Brown

  • first published Penguin Group 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-921901-53-9
  • 274 pages
  • source: Mt TBR
  • Available on Amazon for Kindle

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted
trail-riding business.

Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.

She settles in to wait out Christmas.

A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome.
But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness
without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance
towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.

But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy.

My Take

The narrative is told from Sarah Barnard’s point of view and so the reader shares Sarah’s anxiety when a stranger comes out of the wild weather at the Hangman’s Hut. The weather worsens and they are stranded on Devil Mountain for seven days between Christmas and New Year. There are things about Heath that don’t seem to ring true, and although she and Heath become very intimate, Sarah feels he is not who he says he is. But then how much of her own story does Sarah tell?

Mid-story there is a twist that I really didn’t see coming. Excellent psychological suspense.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Honey Brown lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. She is the author of four books: Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse. Red Queen was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and won an Aurealis Award, and The Good Daughter was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award in 2011. After the Darkness was selected for the Women’s Weekly Great Read and for Get Reading 2012’s 50 Books You Can’t Put Down campaign. Her fifth novel, Through the Cracks, was published in 2014.

Review: TELL THE TRUTH by Katherine Howell

TellTheTruthHowellAudioAs she has done throughout her series featuring Sydney police detective Ella Marconi, Katherine Howell has once again produced a story very different from its predecessors. It opens when paramedic Rowan Wylie pulls into the car park of a local Playland with his granddaughter and spots a car he recognises. He wonders if its owner, his colleague Stacey Durham, is here too and if so, why? Does she want him to apologise? After taking his granddaughter into the centre he looks for Stacey and when he can’t find her anywhere he takes a closer look at her car. Is that blood on the front seat? He calls her husband James and soon the police are involved too in the search for a woman who seems to have disappeared completely.

I was having the devil of a time getting hold of a print copy of this book so was quite chuffed when I noticed it available at Audible with a narration by Australian actor Caroline Lee. It’s so rare to have books by Australian authors available in this format and I thoroughly enjoyed the treat. Of course it helped that the book was a corker too.

The title is a an apt one and not only because at one point Stacey’s husband is directed via text message to tell the truth in order to get his wife back. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. What is it that Rowan should apologise for? What about Stacey’s sister who used to go out with James before he married Stacey, what is she not saying? And is there something strange about Stacey’s niece Paris who is a trainee paramedic who can’t seem to overcome a mental block in becoming successful at the job? And is James a distressed husband or is there something more to his aborted suicide attempt? I like the way that the book depicts the realism of policing – that it mostly involves a lot of painstaking, routine interviewing and following-up random bits of information of which only a small percentage will prove useful – but still manages to be entirely compelling by showing how all of Stacey’s friends and family have things they’d rather not say.

For readers who have grown to know Ella Marconi over the course of the series there is some positive personal development for her here in that her relationship with Callum seems to be on sound footing. This despite the fact his mother hates her (because Ella investigated a cold case in which her husband was found guilty of a 20 year old murder). Callum is more easily accepted by Ella’s family, although her Aunt’s interrogation of him about his intentions make Ella squirm (and readers chuckle). But as usual with this series the detective doesn’t take over the case completely, and the characters involved in the core story all have plenty of room to grow. The depiction of young Paris, aching to be good at something but allowing her fears to almost paralyse her, is a particularly good one.

It seems from the author’s afterword that the pressure to keep innovating and maintain such high quality has taken its toll and this is to be the last book in the series. At least for now. While I am saddened by the news (and am a little cross that I was allowed to dive in to the latest book so recklessly, if I’d known it would be the last I might have saved it up) I do admire Howell’s willingness to walk away from a success and am glad the series won’t suffer the ignoble fate of fading into second-rate territory. It is definitely one of my absolute favourite series as there isn’t a dud in the bunch and TELL THE TRUTH offers a fitting finale. I’ll await with interest to see if Howell will turn her talents to something entirely different for me to read.


aww-badge-2015This is the 8th novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I’ve reviewed all but the first published of Katherine Howell’s previous novels


Publisher: Bolinda Audio [2015]
ASIN: B00SC5W24C
Length: 11 hours, 58 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
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 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.