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
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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
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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