Review: THE CARTOGRAPHER, Peter Twohig

  • first published in Australia by Harper Collins Publishers 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9316-1
  • source: library book
  • 386 pages

Synopsis (author site)

An eleven-year-old boy witnesses a violent crime. Just one year before, he looked on helplessly as his identical twin died  violently. His
determination that he himself is the link changes his life.

The Cartographer is a captivating novel about a tragic figure in a dark place. The nameless child who tells the story handles the terrors of his life by adopting the strengths of fictional pop culture characters he admires, drawing on comics, radio and television dramas, and movies, finally recreating himself as a superhero who saves himself by mapping,
and who attempts to redeem himself by giving up his persona so that another may live again.

His only mentors are a professional standover man, his shady grandfather, and an incongruous neighbourhood couple who intervene in an oddly coincidental way.

In the dark, dangerous lanes and underground drains of grimy 1959 Melbourne, The Cartographer is a story bristling with outrageous wit and irony about an innocent who refuses to give in, a story peopled with a richness of shifty, dodgy and downright malicious bastards, mixed with a modicum of pseudo-aunts, astonishing super heroes, and a few
coincidentally loving characters, some of whom are found in the most unlikely places.

http://browseinside.harpercollins.com.au/index.aspx?isbn13=9780732293161

My Take

This novel came highly recommended by  a friend whose judgement I trust, but perhaps it is just an indication of how widely our tastes diverge, that I can’t share her enthusiasm.

I think I lost my way about halfway through the book after our narrator, 11 years old and often unreliable, survived yet another “adventure” in the name of mapping a safer world. I lost sight of what this book was about, what mystery I should be helping to solve. It was probably all there, just not plainly enough for me. There are some delightfully humorous passages, but I sometimes also doubted the authenticity of the narrator’s voice. Juvenile narration is difficult to do at the best of times, but I felt our unnamed hero had too much latitude for his age.

I think there were connecting threads between various incidents in the story but the author made me work too hard to cobble them together. Perhaps at times I am a lazy reader…

My rating: 3.5

Check another review

Review: LIFE OR DEATH, Michael Robotham

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Why would a man escape from prison the day before he’s due to be released?Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is.

For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released.

Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

My Take

Australian author Michael Robotham, already acclaimed both in Australia and internationally, takes a different direction in this novel: not the next in his Ruiz and O’Loughlin series set in Britain, but a stand-alone set in Texas. For me it shows another step, a necessary one, for Robotham in his development as a novelist. And one that I think will be popular with American readers.

Audie Palmer is a survivor – first of all from a gunshot that shattered his cranium, and then a decade where every other inmate in the prison seemed to want to be the one who killed Audie Palmer. As the day for his release looms Audie knows he is not going to make it to freedom alive.

The story is told from Audie’s point of view, but in the third person, and we gradually piece together Audie’s life before the armed robbery, and then his part in the robbery. We understand what has kept him going for a decade and why he escapes the day before his release date. But will he survive on the run as he tries to put the record straight?

There is a cinematographic quality to this story and I would not be surprised to find it optioned for a film.

LIFE OR DEATH puts Robotham right up there with modern crime fiction writers. It is a tightly plotted thriller with a roller coaster of suspense. It has made it  into my top 5 reads for this year.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also reviewed
BOMBPROOF
SHATTER
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME
5.0, THE WRECKAGE
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY
5.0, WATCHING YOU
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)

Review: IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE by Adrian McKinty

InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyIN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE completes what is surely one of crime fiction’s best trilogies*. Collectively the set has used an assortment of routine crimes and their investigation as an avenue into the crazy, mixed-up world that was Northern Ireland’s Troubles; offering the kind of insider perspective on everyday life that non-fiction can never quite manage. And while the first two books were both outstanding, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is…perfect.

As the book opens series hero, Sean Duffy, has been expelled from the police, ostensibly for running someone over with his police vehicle but really because of the many feathers he has ruffled and lines he has crossed in the events depicted in earlier instalments. Just as he is contemplating a move to Spain, where his police pension might stretch a little further and the weather will definitely be sunnier, he gets an offer he can’t refuse. His old school mate and IRA leader Dermot McCann is one of the prisoners who escaped from the Maze prison on one horrendous night and Special Branch wonder if Duffy’s personal connection might enable him to uncover information about McCann’s whereabouts and current plans.

I think my favourite of the many lovable things about this novel is its intricately clever plot that includes a romping, old-fashioned locked-room mystery. I’ll admit to being wary at the first sign of this classic trope because many modern attempts go horribly awry through thinking this an easy plot element to achieve. But McKinty has not succumbed to the lure of the paranormal nor unfairly hidden some snippet of information from the reader and the fact his characters are aware of the infamy of the type of puzzle they’re trying to solve somehow makes it seem all the more legitimate. Being a huge fan of the locked-room story I’d have been happy enough with this alone, but the plot holds much more including an ending that inserts Duffy very credibly into one of the period’s most dramatic real events. Said ending is wickedly unforgettable but not over-the-top and this is such a rare thing in crime novels these days it must be applauded.

Escaped violent prisoners, girls dead too young, injustice in myriad forms and the ever-present worry there might be a bomb under one’s car shouldn’t make ripe ground for laughter but there is a wry humour pervading this novel; lifting the depressing sensibility it might (surely would?) otherwise have. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, the reader is rarely in any doubt that serious business is at hand. This perfect balance between seriousness and humour is evidenced by the novel’s opening sentences

“The beeper began to whine at 4.27pm on Wednesday, 25 September 1983. It was repeating a shrill C sharp at four-second intervals which meant – for those of us who had bothered to read the manual – that it was a Class 1 emergency. This was a general alert being sent to every off-duty policeman, police reservist and soldier in Northern Ireland. There were only five Class 1 emergencies and three of them were a Soviet nuclear strike, a Soviet invasion and what the civil servants who’d written the manual had nonchalantly called ‘an extra-terrestrial trespass’.”

InTheMorningIllBeGoneAudioPossibly even more important than offering a ripper yarn with an undercurrent of humour is the undoubted insight the novel offers into this turbulent time and place. There are banalities and absurdities; terror and dullness; the personal and the political are irretrievably and dangerously intertwined; right and wrong are everywhere: jumbled, often indistinguishable. The problem with most of the non-fiction I’ve read on this topic is that it tries to make sense of it all whereas McKinty seems to have realised the futility of that and just depicted what was: a surreal and often nonsensical morass of humanity at its worst. And best.

I could go on some more but if I haven’t already convinced you to give this one a go then there’s no hope for you. From its Tom Waits’ borrowed title to the very last word of chapter 32 IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is a treat. It offers everything I look for in a novel: lovably imperfect characters, an enveloping sense of its time and place, emotional highs and lows and some of the best laughs you’ll find between two covers. I recommend it to everyone: crime fan or not. And if you happen to be a lover of audio books do yourself a favour and grab the Gerard Doyle narration.


*there are rumours of a fourth Sean Duffy book in the works but, for now at least, this is a complete set.

My review of this book’s predecessors IN THE COLD COLD GROUND and I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET


Publisher: Print – Serpent’s Tail [2014]; Audio – Blackstone Audio [2014]
ISBN Print version: 9781846688201 ASIN Audio version: B00HWH90XM
Length: 326 pages / 9 hrs 51 minutes
Format: paperback / mp3
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A pair of thrillers: Greg Barron’s SAVAGE TIDE and Steve Worland’s COMBUSTION

It’s probably not fair of me to lump books together like this purely because they share a genre but I’m afraid my reading has outpaced my reviewing by a country mile over the past month or so and I’m a little desperate to catch up

TheSavageTideGregBarron21017_fGreg Barron’s SAVAGE TIDE is the follow up to ROTTEN GODS and once again pits intelligence officer Marika Hartmann and friends against a particularly nasty breed of evil-doers bent on causing the collapse of civilisation. It opens with a confrontingly realistic massacre of a group of school children and their teachers in eastern Africa. The people responsible for this atrocity are led by one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. And this incident is only the beginning of what he has planned.

Marika works for the squirreliest arm of Britain’s Secret Service and along with ex-Special Forces operative PJ Johnson and a small team they cross some of the hottest spots in the world today a they try to get ahead of the terrorists. Who make the job even harder by having a well-placed operatives in unexpected quarters including near the centre of operations at Marika’s home base.

Barron make this more than the standard thriller on two levels. He offers intelligent insights into the mass of complexity that is modern international relations and includes some fantastically memorable characters. Like Kifimbo, a soldier and Marika’s local guide in Somalia, who is haunted by the things he has seen and becomes attached to the infant survivor of the massacre he witnesses. And Ayanna, the Somali village girl who dreams of a different life than the one she is destined for. Even the bad guys are fleshed out so that readers understand what motivates their actions even when we find them abhorrent.

As with the first book I did find SAVAGE TIDE a bit long, too densely detailed at some points, but it seemed to move at a quicker pace and I was compelled to keep reading. The short chapters, each showing action from London to Iran to Somalia and a half-dozen other places besides, help provide the sense of speed the novel offers. It’s always a good sign that a book will leave a lasting impression when, days later, I am still wondering how a character is coping with the injuries they incurred. I hope there’ll be a third novel in the series so I can find out.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

CombustionSteveWorland22197_fCOMBUSTION is also a second novel in a series and though in this instance I haven’t read the first Worland provided enough information about events that unfurled there for me not to feel left out (yet not too much that I feel I couldn’t go back and read the first). An alleged environmentalist with more money than sense unleashes his horrific plan to ensure people finally stop relying on fossil fuel-burning engines on the freeways of Los Angeles and it falls to NASA astronaut Judd Bell and his Australian, helicopter-pilot friend Corey Purchase to stop the mayhem.

Worland makes no secret of the fact his background is in movies, in fact his website’s claim is that his books offer the best action movie you’ll ever read. There are some up-sides to this background – the action is full on and there isn’t a lot of unnecessary filler – though overall this style of book is not really my cup of tea. I have been known to skim-read the action passages in thrillers (fight sequences and descriptions of equipment and weaponry being among my least favourite subjects to read) but in this instance doing so wouldn’t leave a lot else behind. We do get a bit of a back story to Judd and Corey but there’s really sod all to explain how the madman at the centre of the evil plot got to the point where he could internalise the hypocrisy of claiming to be an environmentalist while plotting to kill millions and ruin the west coast of America for a decade or so. But the action is made enjoyable by the vein of humour, depicted most notably in the easy banter between Judd and Corey and the unique relationship between Corey and his faithful dog Spike.

I do have to have a tiny whine about two elements of the writing though. By the end of the novel I was gritting my teeth at the constant brand name dropping as characters glanced at their Tag Heuers, reached for their iPhones (no Android devices in the whole of LA apparently), leapt into their Priuses (Priusi?) and otherwise acted like shills for the hippest of (presumably deep-pocketed) companies. And while I know this is going to highlight my status as a grumpy old woman (as if I’ve been keeping that a secret) I’d also had enough of gratuitous italicisation. As in “…the rubble is right at his heels…” and “…seems to gather speed…”.  Why?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Of course discussing books together like this almost demands comparison, however unreasonable that may be, and as I did read the books in close succession I did compare them naturally anyway. For my taste SAVAGE TIDE is the preferable novel because I like subtext and learning what makes people tick more than I like the adrenalin-rush action of things blowing up and in-the-nick-of-time escapes (though SAVAGE TIDE has those elements too). But COMBUSTION is a lot of fun and, if they get the casting right keep their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, will make a romp of an action movie.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
SAVAGE TIDE
Publisher Harper Collins [2013]
ISBN 9780733294366
Length 482 pages
Format paperback

COMBUSTION
Publisher Penguin [2013]
ISBN 9781921901119
Length 323 pages
Format paperback

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Review: MURDER AND MENDELSSOHN by Kerry Greenwood

MurderAndMendelssohnKerry22100_fI have dipped in and out of Kerry Greenwood’s historical crime series set, mostly, in 1920’s Melbourne (with occasional forays further afield) which is an indication that it is a series I like but do not love. This instalment is probably a good example of why the series has never been one of my firm favourites. For, despite the prominence of the word in the title, there’s not actually a lot of murder or anything else vaguely criminal.

It’s the 20th novel to feature independently wealthy, private detective Phryne Fisher and sees her and her unique family ostensibly embroiled in the hunt for the killer of a choir conductor (and then another). I say ostensibly because there is a lot else going on here that seems to be more important to just about everyone in the book than finding out who killed the disagreeable conductor. Firstly there are the goings on of the choir which Greenwood depicts using her own extensive knowledge of choral singing to good effect. The problem for me is that what I know about choral music could fit easily on the back of a small postage stamp and I felt lost more than once when the book dived into specialist details such as a discussion of this composer over that one or the merits of a particular interpretation of a piece of music. I’ve read plenty of books in which topics I know little about have come alive but that didn’t happen for me on this occasion.

The other main thread of the novel revolves around Phryne’s obsession with the love-life of an old war time friend. He is a doctor whom she knew when she was driving ambulances in the war and the pair share turbulent memories. But now John Wilson is in the throes of unrequited love for a Holmes-like mathematician who gives lectures about the science of deduction. A good deal of the story is taken up with Phryne’s efforts to make the aforementioned expert see what’s right under his nose and I was a bit bored by it all. There was, after all, never any doubt Phryne would get her way (she always does) and while it’s always nice to get a happy ending to a love story I wasn’t terribly interested in the nuances of how they got there. I also found the universal acceptance of the openly homosexual couple to be a bit unrealistic for the time period. Some conflict or lack of acceptance of this paring from some corner of their world would have added a bit more credibility and the dramatic element I was looking for.

Despite these misgivings there are still things to enjoy about the novel. As ever, Greenwood’s writing is top-notch and peppered with humour and Phryne’s mixture of wit, intelligence, courage and love of all life’s pleasures are as endearing always. The depiction of her highly functional ‘family of choice’, consisting of a selection of adopted children and good friends, is another pleasing element. The idea that families can be made and connected by things other than blood is something Greenwood explores in both her long-running series and it adds an interesting element to her writing. The book also offers a realistic depiction of the various long-term effects of the Great War on those who served in it.

I’m sure Phryne’s fans will enjoy this story but if you’re new to the series I wouldn’t recommend this particular instalment as the place to start. Happily this is one of those series you can read enjoyably out of order or without having read each instalment so I’d opt for MURDER IN MONTPARNASSE, in which Phryne and her two wharfie friends investigate a cold case from the war years, or MURDER IN THE DARK which offers a Christmas-time house party and multiple kidnappings for the readers’ entertainment.


awwbadge_2014This is the 11th book I’ve read and 10th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

Kerrie reviewed the same book last year.


Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2013]
ISBN: 9781742379562
Length: 376 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by https://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE VANISHING MOMENT by Margaret Wild

TheVanishingMomentWildM22110_fI only discovered after I’d finished reading THE VANISHING MOMENT that two of Margaret Wild’s earlier novels were written in verse but I’m not surprised. The book – a novella really at a deliciously short 184 pages – has the kind of economy with words that I would expect of a poet and its use of language seems very deliberate. As though each word has been the subject of thoughtful consideration before being included which doesn’t seem to be the case with every book I read these days.

It is the tale of three young people whose lives appear to have nothing to do with each other. Though there couldn’t be too many readers who don’t anticipate some kind of coming together it’s not clear what form this intertwining will take and Wild does a good job of building this suspenseful part of the story. Arrow, still troubled by a tragedy which occurred in her childhood, has finished high school but doesn’t know what to do with herself and is being increasingly pressured by her parents to do something other than laze about. Marika is of a similar age but is more ‘together’ in that she knows she wants to be (or already is?) an artist – a sculptor in fact – and is taking steps to get there. The tragedy in her life is yet to come when the book opens. Bob is a young man with a troublingly good memory whom both young women will eventually meet.

Given the novel is marketed as YA and includes a paranormal theme it would have been easy for me to dismiss it but I quickly found myself engrossed. Although in the end it is very important to the story as a whole, the supernatural element doesn’t really occupy an enormous amount of the book (which is as I like it) and I enjoyed reading about these two young women and how they coped (or didn’t) with the traumas they both experienced. Their characters are nicely fleshed out and their tribulations are realistic and genuine (as in they’re not taking to their beds because of a bad haircut or something equally inane).

The book does rip along (as it would with that length) and Wild does keep readers intelligently in suspense for most of the tale. I do have to admit though that I found the final act a little disappointing. It seemed a bit too…convenient…I suppose is the best word. The rest of the book showed a lot of maturity but the last quarter or so reminded me it was targeted at a much younger audience than I’ll ever be part of again and felt a little unsophisticated relative to the earlier part of the novel.

Overall though I liked the book and the way it played with the boundaries of genre. It’s not a traditional crime novel in that there are no procedural elements and whodunit is never the central question but there are crimes and these events, and how people react to them, are pivotal to the story. So I would thoroughly recommend THE VANISHING MOMENT, especially to younger readers though it isn’t one of those YA novels that offers an alien world to people over 30. If you are going to read it I’d avoid the blurb and a lot of reviews which give away far more than they should. I went into this one knowing absolutely nothing about the story and am sure that had a lot to do with my enjoyment.


awwbadge_2014This is the 10th book I’ve read and 9th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2013]
ISBN: 9781743315903
Length: 184 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: FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty

  • from Audible.com
  • stand-alone novel published in 2011
  • Narrated by: Gerard Doyle
  • Length: 9 hrs and 37 mins 
  • Format: Unabridged audio

Synopsis (Audible.com)

Richard Coulter is a man who has everything. His beautiful new wife is pregnant, his upstart airline is undercutting the competition and moving from strength to strength, his diversification into the casino business in Macau has been successful, and his fabulous Art Deco house on an Irish cliff top has just been featured in Architectural Digest. 

But then, for some reason, his ex-wife Rachel doesn’t keep her side of the custody agreement and vanishes off the face of the earth with Richard’s two daughters. Richard hires Killian, a formidable ex-enforcer for the IRA, to track her down before Rachel, a recovering drug addict, harms herself or the girls.

My Take

This makes very good listening.

Killian comes out of retirement to find Richard Coulter’s wife – the money on offer is far too good. Half a million dollars seems a lot of money for dealing with a custody case. At first Rachel Coulter alone knows why her ex-husband is having her hunted down. There’s a lot more at stake than two little girls.

The tension rises as Coulter pours more resources into the hunt. Killian realises that he himself is being tracked.

This is a difficult book to review without revealing too much of the story and so I’m not going to tell you much more. Despite his background as an IRA enforcer Killian comes over as a likeable character, but his willingness to be ruthless also comes in handy. The story is based mainly in Ireland.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also reviewed

FIFTY GRAND
4.6, THE COLD COLD GROUND
4.8, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET

Review: SILENT KILL, Peter Corris

  • #39 in the Cliff Hardy series which began in 1980 with THE DYING TRADE
  • Published 2014 by Allen & Unwin Australia
  • available in Amazon Kindle
  • ISBN 978-1-74331-637-5
  • 255 pages
  • Source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)
Politics, murder and sex push Hardy to the limit.

When Cliff Hardy signs on as a bodyguard for charismatic populist Rory O’Hara, who is about to embark on a campaign of social and political renewal, it looks like a tricky job – O’Hara has enemies. A murder and a kidnapping soon cause the campaign to fall apart.

Hired to investigate the murder, Hardy uncovers hidden agendas among O’Hara’s staff as well as powerful political and commercial forces at work. His investigation takes him from the pubs and brothels of Sydney to the heart of power in Canberra and the outskirts of Darwin. There he teams up with a resourceful indigenous private detective and forms an uneasy alliance with the beautiful Penelope Marinos, formerly O’Hara’s PA.

A rogue intelligence agent becomes his target and Hardy stumbles upon a terrible secret that draws them into a violent – and disturbing – confrontation.

My Take

Peter Corris’ latest episode in the Cliff Hardy series SILENT KILL shows clearly he hasn’t lost his touch. He certainly is in the ranks of excellent writers of crime fiction internationally as well as on the Australian stage. As the blurb says, he is “the godfather of Australian crime fiction.”

In Rory O’Hara’s quest to launch a new Australian political party, Australian readers will recognise references to Clive Palmer’s recent, and more successful, bid for Parliament. But someone doesn’t want Rory O’Hara to succeed, and after he is injured when he is run down in the street, Cliff Hardy is employed by a backer to join the campaign and seemingly to protect Rory. Then things get really serious, and not even Cliff Hardy can prevent a murder.

So, a few thousand kilometers later, Cliff Hardy closes in on his quarry. The original financial backer of Rory’s tour has dropped out, but new money from a surprising source has employed Cliff to track down a killer. And it seems Cliff is not the only one on the trail. He will probably be doing someone else a favour.

I haven’t read all the Cliff Hardy series, but I am sure fans will be glad to see that Peter Corris is still hard at work.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also reviewed
APPEAL DENIED
DEEP WATER

Review: ST KILDA BLUES, Geoffrey McGeachin

Synopsis (Publisher)

Melbourne’s first serial killer is at work and only one man can stop him.

It’s 1967, the summer of love, and in swinging Melbourne Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been hauled out of exile in the Fraud Squad to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of a powerful and politically connected property developer. As Berlin’s inquiries uncover more missing girls he gets an uneasy feeling he may be dealing with the city’s first serial killer.

Berlin’s investigation leads him through inner-city discothèques, hip photographic studios, the emerging drug culture and into the seedy back streets of St Kilda. The investigation also brings up ghosts of Berlin’s past, disturbing memories of the casual murder of a young woman he witnessed in dying days of WW11.

As in war, some victories come at a terrible cost and Berlin will have to face an awful truth and endure an unimaginable loss before his investigation is over.

ST KILDA BLUES is the third novel in the Charlie Berlin series. Both previous novels, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL and BLACKWATTLE CREEK, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction in 2011 and 2013 respectively.

My Take

There is such an assured hand behind these crime fiction novels from Australian author Geoffrey McGeachin. There are plenty of historical details to place this novel in 1967, and to anchor it firmly in Melbourne. 

It is twenty years since the first novel in the series and Charlie’s son Peter has gone into the army, and his daughter Sarah has gone to Israel to learn more of her Jewish past. Charlie’s wife Rebecca has become a well known photographer with her own studio in the CBD. There’s plenty in the novel to fill in the details of what has happened in the Berlin family in that twenty years.

While there are those who recognise Detective
Sergeant Charlie Berlin’s value to the Victorian Police force, there are
also those who would love to see him fall flat on his face.

It appears that nine teenage girls have gone have gone missing in Melbourne in the last year. When number 3 was reported Charlie was taken off the case and sidetracked to the Fraud squad. Now somebody has decided that he should take over the investigation again, but on the quiet. The State Premier is Sir Henry Bolte, his own position on a knife edge, and he wants all stops pulled out. Only one of the girls who have gone missing has turned and she was found dead on the shores of the Albert Lake. An observant copper gives Charlie and his offsider Bob Roberts their first clue. 

There is a side story that surfaces in the first half of the novel about a boy who was sent to Australia from the UK shortly after the Second World War, as part of a child emigration scheme. He arrives in Adelaide and is then taken north to a mission station. This is an interesting plot line because the treatment of such children has been the focus of recent investigations, worldwide, into the way children were treated in orphanages. In Australia the investigation has provoked a Royal Commission into Child Abuse.

So there is plenty in this novel for the reader to think about. The historical validity owes a lot to meticulous research, while the principal characters come through loud and clear. There’s also a distinctively Australian flavour to the novel.

My rating: 4.9

I’ve also reviewed

4.4, D-E-D DEAD!
4.8, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL
4.9, BLACKWATER CREEK 

Review: FATAL IMPACT by Kathryn Fox

dc7f2-fatalimpact1I’ve been known to lament the degradation in quality of long running series as authors (and editors and publishers and all the rest) become complacent in the knowledge that people will buy a book with a well-known name on the cover regardless of the quality of the content. So it is only fair I am equally vocal when a series gets better as it goes along as is the case with Kathryn Fox’s series featuring forensic pathologist Anya Crichton. FATAL IMPACT is the seventh book of the series and any kinks from the earlier books are well and truly ironed out, while all the elements I’ve liked before have been kicked up a notch.

Fox deliberately uses the tropes of the genre to explore different topical socio-political issues in her novels having previously dealt with such thorny topics as the culture and attitude towards sexual assault and violence in sporting teams and the difficulties the legal system has in achieving anything like justice for some victims of crime (or victims of particular crimes). Here she takes Anya to Tasmania (where we learn Anya grew up) which is the perfect setting to take a look at the issue of food. Can we grow enough to feed us all? Is genetic modification the answer? What restrictions should we place on foreign countries owning our arable land and exporting any produce?

But I don’t for a moment mean to suggest the book reads like an environmentalist’s lecture. It is from the outset a romp of a tale that fits somewhere between procedural and thriller on the genre scale and it would only be the most jaded of readers who would remain un-hooked. As the book opens Anya is asked by a concerned woman to investigate a troubling situation. One of the woman’s grandchildren has died previously and her daughter and remaining grandchildren are now living ‘off the grid’ in some kind of community with which communication is difficult. When Anya visits the home with other authorities she finds one child dead and her mother and other daughter missing. It is soon determined that the child died from food poisoning and there are other cases breaking out elsewhere in the state. As Anya waits to find out the source of the contamination she visits her mother whom she finds in an unnaturally, though possibly warranted, paranoid state. After all she’s surrounded by corrupt politicians, organic farmers fighting Monsanto-like corporations and local communities so desperate for jobs and economic prosperity they turn a blind eye to things that might otherwise alarm them.

It takes real skill to produce a ripper of a yarn that is at the same time thought-provoking. To additionally depict more than one view of a complex issue is even more rare and I applaud Fox for pulling it off. She does so mainly through depicting her central protagonist as not being completely informed about food politics at the outset of the book and allowing her to meet various experts and opinion-holders on both sides of the fence. As the novel progresses she draws her own conclusions based on the facts and information she collects (a radical concept in this age of shock-jock spouted mumbo-jumbo masquerading as knowledge).

To round out this highly satisfying reading experience there are an interesting cast of characters including Anya’s eccentric mother, with whom she has obviously had a strained relationship that gets tested almost to breaking point here, and an intelligent internal affairs policeman who is called upon to investigate the local coppers.

As should be obvious at this point I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. It is full of surprises, never lets up its frenetic pace, provides much food for thought (pun intended) and is entirely able to be read without any prior knowledge of the series. What are you waiting for?


awwbadge_2014This is the 9th book I’ve read and the 8th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I’ve read four of Kathryn Fox’s earlier novels since I started blogging: SKIN AND BONEBLOOD BORNDEATH MASKCOLD GRAVE


Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2014]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781742612324
Length: 389 pages
Format: paperback
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