Review: PRESENT DARKNESS, Malla Nunn

  • US publication date June 3, 2014
  • Publisher Atria/Emily Bestler Books
  • ISBN 9781451616965
  • review copy made available through publisher via Net Galley
  • #4 in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series

Synopsis (publisher)

Five days before Christmas (1953), Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper sits at
his desk at the Johannesburg major crimes squad, ready for his holiday in Mozambique. A call comes in: a respectable white couple has been assaulted and left for dead in their bedroom. The couple’s teenage daughter identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala— the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala—Cooper’s best friend and a
man to whom he owes his life.

The Detective Branch isn’t interested in evidence that might contradict their star witness’s story, especially so close to the holidays. Determined to ensure justice for Aaron, Cooper, Shabalala, and their trusted friend Dr. Daniel Zweigman hunt for the truth. Their investigation uncovers a violent world of Sophiatown gangs, thieves, and corrupt government officials who will do anything to keep their dark world intact.

 My take

Australian author Malla Nunn continues to write very credible stories in the Emmanuel Cooper series, full of atmosphere. A white school principal and his wife who invite coloured students to their home for meals are attacked one night after dinner. Their shocked daughter identifies the two students who were at dinner that night as the culprits. One has an unshakeable alibi but the other one, the son of Cooper’s best friend, refuses to say where he was.

Parallel with this investigation is Cooper’s uncomfortable relationship with the sergeant at the Johannesburg Detective Branch. Running in the background, chapter by chapter, is also the story of a prostitute who has been taken prisoner and is being held on a remote farm.

Cooper’s own relationship with Davida, the mixed race mother of his baby daughter Rebekah, reflects the knife edge that is South African apartheid. Exposure would mean the loss of his job and probably imprisonment. 

An excellent read.  My rating: 4.8.

I’ve already reviewed

Review: BLOOD SECRET, Jaye Ford

Synopsis (publisher)

Nothing ever happens in Haven Bay, which is why Rennie Carter – a woman who has been on the run for most of her life – stayed there longer than she
should.

However, that illusion of security is broken one night
when Max Tully, the man she loves and the reason she stayed, vanishes
without trace.

Rennie, though, is the only person who believes
Max is in danger. The police are looking in the wrong places, and Max’s friends and his business partner keep hinting at another, darker side to
him.

But Rennie Carter understands about double lives – after all, that’s not even her real name …

And she has a secret too – a big, relentless and violent one that she’s
terrified has found her again … and the man she loves.

My Take

This is the third novel written by Jaye Ford that I’ve read and I have enjoyed them all. Each has taken a realistic scenario, if a little embroidered to hype up the tension, and put them in an Australian setting that I can relate to.

The structure remains interesting as Rennie puts together the circumstances of Max’s disappearance and then fits them into various scenarios, discarding them one by one. The ultimate solution is the one she really doesn’t want to believe. The story is layered. The further we read the more layers are peeled back and we learn of both Rennie’s and Max’s back stories.

Throw in too Max’s fourteen year old son who has run away from his mother who has gone for a holiday to Cairns. Hayden decides not to go with her and turns up just after his father has disappeared. He and Rennie have to work hard to get on.

So, a very readable book. My rating: 4.5

My other reviews
4.4, BEYOND FEAR
4.5, SCARED YET?

Review: DEATH BY BEAUTY, Gabrielle Lord

  • Hachette Australia
  • ISBN 9780733627309
  • $32.99
  • Paperback – C Format
  • September 2012
  • 400 pages

Synopsis (Publisher)

Australia’s queen of crime fiction, Gabrielle Lord, is back with a chilling new novel. A ‘vampire’ is stalking the
streets, attacking beautiful young women; some are murdered days later,
others aren’t touched again. Gemma Lincoln, PI,  begins to see a pattern – but can she convince the authorities to take action before another life is lost?

How far would you go to look young and beautiful?

A young woman is attacked, she claims, by a vampire . Two more are found dead and hideously disfigured. A journalist goes missing after visiting Sapphire Springs Spa. And it’s up to Gemma Lincoln, PI, to find out what is going on.

In her first week back on the job after maternity leave, finding a balance between investigating brutal crimes, caring for baby Rafi and making time for herself and Mike is all too much. Something has to give, but not while a third woman s life is in danger.

As she moves closer to tying the crimes together, Rafi disappears.
Facing a mother’s worst nightmare, Gemma discovers what she is prepared to do to save her son.

My Take

Other Australian female authors in the past, Kerry Greenwood and Jennifer Rowe to name a couple, have set their murder mysteries around a beauty farm. So what Gabrielle Lord is doing in a sense is giving it a modern take – treatments implementing DNA and modern surgery techniques.

Add too a couple of extra elements – beautiful girls being drugged by a vampire – their memories ensuring no-one will believe them, thinking they are drug-induced; and a young woman returning to work with a young child to care for.

Gemma Lincoln has this idea that she will be able to slowly re-immerse herself in her investigative work, but the nature of her job, and Gemma’s own character, ensure that a slow resumption is just not an option. Young mothers reading DEATH BY BEAUTY will find themselves wishing that they had all the backup resources that Gemma has. Add to that the fact that Gemma is living with a man who is not the baby’s father, and things become complicated.

Gabrielle Lord has been occupying her time with writing YA thrillers and this is the first Gemma Lincoln novel for 5 years. It shows that Lord has not lost the touch and kept up with the times. I didn’t like Gemma Lincoln any the more for it – but that is probably just the way she strikes me.

The story is a chilling one about how much money there is in the industry of helping women retain their beauty and even making them look 10 years younger.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve reviewed
BABY DID A BAD BAD THING
DEATH DELIGHTS (Jack McCain)
DIRTY WEEKEND (Jack McCain)

Gemma Lincoln series (Fantastic Fiction)

1. Feeding the Demons (1999)
2. Baby Did a Bad Thing (2002)
3. Spiking the Girl (2004)
4. Shattered (2007)
5. Death By Beauty (2012)

Review: FATAL IMPACT, Kathryn Fox

  • published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-74261-232-4
  • 389 pages
  • review copy supplied by publisher
  • #7 in the Anya Crichton series

Synopsis (Publisher)

When a girl’s dead body is found in a toy box, forensic physician and pathologist Anya Crichton joins the police hunt in her home state of
Tasmania for the child’s missing mother and sister.

Staying with her increasingly erratic mother, Dr Jocelyn Reynolds, Anya fears the long shadow of her  sister Miriam’s disappearance has finally driven her mother past the brink of sanity. But Anya soon discovers that Jocelyn is keeping a deadly secret.

When tests conclude a virulent strain of food poisoning was responsible for the child’s death, the outbreak begins to spread. Anya pairs up with Internal Affairs detective Oliver Parke to unravel the sinister connections between the fatal epidemic, a covered-up study, the shady deals of a multinational corporation and the alleged murder of a local
scientist. Anya has strayed into a high-stakes game so dangerous the players will kill to keep it quiet. With time running short, Anya must uncover the truth before she is silenced – permanently.

My take

I’ve long been a fan of Kathryn Fox’s work, and this novel did not disappoint me. As always Kathryn has combined interesting issues, excellent research, and a well plotted mystery that makes the pages just fly past. Although the character of Dr. Anya Crichton has now been developed over a span of seven novels, there is nothing to stop a reader from beginning with this one.

The setting of the novel is Tasmania with the issues of genetic modification of stock and products and foreign ownership of Australian land and industries running strongly in the background. Anya initially goes to Tasmania to give an address at a conference and then intends to pay a quick visit to her mother who lives near Launceston. She first of all gets caught up with the disappearance of a mother and her child, and then her father’s wife becomes critically ill. Her visit to her mother is extended when she finds her mother is not well, and then her mother’s neighbour dies.There is lots going on and the writing is fast paced.

My rating: 4.8

I’ve also reviewed

BLOOD BORN
4.6, DEATH MASK
COLD GRAVE

My mini-review for MALICIOUS INTENT – my rating 4.7

Dr. Anya Crichton has recently struck out to work on her own as a freelance
forensic pathologist.

Work is a bit hard to find but she is gaining a reputation as a credible courtroom authority. She is not without friends in the police, the New South Wales State Forensic Institute, and
among the criminal barristers. Something about the apparent suicide of Clare Matthews doesn’t sit quite right: the fact that, a nun, she disappeared shortly before she was due to take her vows, that she suicided by jumping off the Gap, that she was 6 weeks pregnant, and that she had strange fibres in her lungs. And now another case with similarities crops up: Fatima Deab overdoses on heroine after being missing for some days and her lungs contain the same fibres.
Debut publication by Australian author. It is obvious to the reader that Kathryn Fox has a lot to say, lots of issues that she wants to make us aware of, and sometimes this novel takes on a bit of a didactic tone. But the plotting is so good, the tension so well built that by the end I could forgive her anything! 

About the author:
Kathryn Fox is  a medical practitioner with a special interest in forensic medicine. She has worked as a family physician, medical journalist and freelance writer. Her debut novel received international acclaim and won the 2005 Davitt award for best crime novel. This is her seventh novel following Malicious Intent, Without Consent, Skin and Bone, Blood Born, Death Mask and Cold Grave.

Review: DRIVE BY, Michael Duffy

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)

  • File Size: 657 KB
  • Print Length: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (July 24, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E4A839M

Synopsis (Amazon)

‘If The Godfather was set in Sydney today, it would be about the
Lebs. But brothers, lots of brothers. Fathers don’t matter anymore.’
Detective Inspector Brian Harris

John Habib is the mechanic son of a Muslim Lebanese-Australian crime family in Sydney’s Western suburbs. His oldest brother is in a maximum security prison, his middle
brother is becoming increasingly fundamentalist, and his younger brother Rafi is on trial for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. John has no reason to disbelieve Rafi but there are things going on in the family that he just doesn’t understand. Why has his brother taken control of the family away from their father? Are the police really trying to set up Rafi? And what is the compelling evidence they say will put him away?
John sets out to prove Rafi’s innocence in the face of his predatory older brothers and some Lebanese-hating cops.

Bec Ralston is a good detective who doesn’t know why she’s been ordered to attend Rafi’s trial. She was previously thrown off the investigation for voicing the opinion that Rafi might be innocent. As the court case goes badly wrong, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to the senior police she respects and the truth.

My Take

To be honest, this was not an easy read for me. It is a little outside the fringes of the genre that I usually read, and felt alarmingly close to the style of true crime, which is not surprising considering the author’s background (see the note about the author below).

I struggled first of all with the three time frames that the action bounced between. The more I read though, the better this got, and I was more easily able to identify the time frame and location. The narrative voice was a little easier to handle, although there are mainly three narrators: Bec Ralston, the part Aboriginal detective constable; John (Jabber) Habib who seems to be the only “honest” person in the Habib family; and Karen Mabey the Crown Prosecutor.

I did struggle with back story and with trying to piece together what had preceded Rafiq Habib’s trial. Working out why Bec Ralston has been attached to this trial after initially being removed from the investigative team was another challenge. And then about three quarters of the way through, a bombshell drops which challenges all you think you have learnt to that point. Looking back on the novel now though, it seems that almost nothing can be taken at face value, and almost nobody is what they purport to be. And the problem is that almost everybody takes on the role of unreliable narrator. The problem is compounded by the huge amount of detailed information that the reader must try to absorb.

But I am mindful that if you are a reader of true crime or enjoy Australian noir crime fiction, then you will probably like DRIVE BY.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Michael Duffy is a former court and crime reporter for several
newspapers in Sydney Australia whose work led to the true crime books
Call Me Cruel and Bad, the story behind the television series
Underbelly: Badness.

He now writes crime novels, the first two being THE TOWER and THE SIMPLE DEATH. Drawing on his work as a journalist and radio presenter, his novels embrace contemporary themes such as globalisation and voluntary euthanasia.

DRIVE BY, about the war on drugs, was published in 2013. It introduced part-Aboriginal detective Bec Ralston.

See also the author’s website.

Review: THE RAVEN’S EYE, Barry Maitland

  • published 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-74331-350-3
  • 377 pages
  • #12 in the Bork & Kolla series
  • borrowed from local library

Synopsis (author site)

First published : 2013 Allen & Unwin, Australia; 2013 St Martin’s Press / Minotaur

A woman dies in her sleep in a houseboat on the Thames; the apparent cause of death, an unflued gas heater. It all seems straightforward, but DI Kathy Kolla isn’t convinced.

Unfortunately both Kathy and DCI Brock are up against an aggressive
new Commander who seems to have a different agenda, opposing their
investigation in favour of emerging technologies over the traditional
policing methods. Coppers like Brock and Kolla who have reservations are
being squeezed out.

To make matters worse, there’s a new Task Force moving in on their
patch, and a brutal killer, Butcher Jack Bragg, to be tracked down and
caught. It’s one of Brock and Kolla’s bloodiest investigations yet.

In this heart-thumping new novel Brock and Kolla are under pressure;
it’s a clash between the menacing ever-present eye of computer
surveillance versus the explosive threat of a man with a meat cleaver
and a grudge.

The Raven’s Eye is published in Australia by Allen and Unwin,
http://www.allenandunwin.com, and in the USA by St Martin’s Press / Minotaur, http://us.macmillan.com/minotaur.aspx.

My Take

If I wasn’t convinced of it before, this title firmly sets Barry Maitland in my mind as an Australian crime fiction author up there with the best. His writing is quietly assured, and although there are elements of the plot that strain the bounds of credibility, Maitland is very persuasive. Poor Kathy Kolla seems to be in the firing line in more ways than one in THE RAVEN’S EYE, and both she and David Brock are very plausible and likeable characters.

If you share my tastes, then you’ll enjoy this thriller written by an Australian author but set mainly in London.If you haven’t yet met this pair of sleuths then you have a manageable series of 12 titles to tackle. And you know what I will say: read them in order! Although to be honest there is not much overlap from title to title so you can read them as stand alones.

My rating: 4.7

Check out my other reviews:
BRIGHT AIR
DARK MIRROR
4.8, CHELSEA MANSIONS

The series list from Fantastic Fiction
Brock And Kolla
1. The Marx Sisters (1994)
2. The Malcontenta (1995)
3. All My Enemies (1996)
4. The Chalon Heads (1999)
5. Silvermeadow (2000)
6. Babel (2002)
7. The Verge Practice (2003)
8. No Trace (2006)
9. Spider Trap (2006)
10. Dark Mirror (2009)
11. Chelsea Mansions (2011)
12. Raven’s Eye (2013)

Review: NO PLACE LIKE HOME, Caroline Overington

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • File Size: 434 KB
  • Print Length: 203 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (September 25, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DBOF5FW

Synopsis (Amazon)

From bestselling author and award-winning journalist Caroline Overington
comes another thought-provoking and heart-rending story, that reaches
from the heart of Bondi to a small village in Tanzania.

Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s
newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb
around his neck.

Just a few minutes later he is locked in a shop on the upper floor. And trapped with him are four innocent bystanders.

For police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Senior Sergeant
Boehm, it’s a story that will end as tragically as it began. For this is
clearly no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as
frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word.

The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented
schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician;
and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in
Bondi that day is far from innocent.

And of course there’s Ali Khan. Is he the embodiment of evil, as the villagers in his Tanzanian birthplace believe? Or just an innocent boy, betrayed at every turn, who
just wants a place to call home?

My Take

The story takes readers through the background of all the people who are locked in the shop with Tanzaniaan refugee Ali Khan. The narrator is former Catholic priest, police chaplain Paul Doherty, who contacts each of the people locked in the shop after the event for trauma counselling.We benefit from the research he has done about each of these people.

Part of what each reader must ask herself is how you would react in this situation. The shopping centre is in lock down with the voice of Senior Sergeant Boehm booming instructions over a loud speaker system. And yet Ali Khan is showing no sign of understanding.

The book also broaches issues with which Australians are familiar, or are we? Do we really know how refugees are treated under the Australian border protection systems? What are the detention centres housing refugees and asylum seekers really like? Why was Ali Khan, a genuine refugee who has an Australian passport, in Baxter and Villawood for four years?  This is a book that will make you think.

And Paul Doherty has his own problems too, his own crisis of faith, which perhaps does not make him the best narrator.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME is written as a thriller, and, true to form, we do not find out what happened in the last minutes of the siege until the very end.

A good read by an Australian author to look for.

My rating: 4.5

I have also read 4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY

Aussie Author Challenge returns for 2014

The Aussie Author Challenge is back for its fifth year!Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

Whether you are a patriotic Australian, an aspiring or armchair tourist or simply an international reader wanting to discover some talented new authors and interact with like-minded readers, the Aussie Author Challenge could be for you!

The objective of this challenge is to showcase the wonderful diversity of the work being produced by Australian authors.

Due to popular demand there will be a broader range of participation levels for the Aussie Author Challenge in 2014:

JOEY, WALLABY, WALLAROO and KANGAROO

The keen eyed will notice these animals are listed in order from smallest to largest — as the size of the animal increases, so too does the challenge!

A dedicated page at Booklover Book Reviews will be your one-stop shop for the challenge.

Review: A WICKED DESIGN, Brian Kavanagh

  • Published by Vivid Publishing 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-925086-06-5
  • #5 in the Belinda Lawrence series
  • 190 pages
  • source: complementary copy from the author

Synopsis (Vivid Publishing)

Belinda Lawrence returns to her home town of Melbourne, to discover a murder that’s close to her heart.

A murder which leads to the seat of political power, Parliament House.

The various threads of deceit and intrigue are gradually
unravelled and, with Hazel Whitby at her side, Belinda is confronted by
warring political factions.

The mystery deepens with the discovery of a priceless
historical item, of value to both political powers, and which places
Belinda’s life in jeopardy.

The gregarious Major;
An enigmatic university Professor;
Two colourful antique sellers;
Eccentric retired music-hall entertainers;
And Belinda’s partner, Mark Sallinger…

…all immersed in the scheming and covert encounters besieging Belinda as she solves her most challenging mystery.

Book Five in the Belinda Lawrence mystery series.

My Take

I think the author’s decision to base this novel in his, and Belinda Lawrence’s, home town of Melbourne is a very successful one, as is his basing one of the plot lines on a piece of Melbourne’s colourful history. It also considers the ever present Republican debate, a very real Australian political divide.

A WICKED DESIGN is a well constructed cozy with a heroine who has grown in stature with every outing in this series. Belinda Lawrence and her antique dealer friend Hazel Whitby are very realistically drawn, as is Belinda’s fiance Mark Sallinger.

I have also reviewed

CAPABLE OF MURDER
THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE
4.2, BLOODY HAM
4.3, A CANTERBURY CRIME

I think each one has seen Brian’s writing become more assured.

All the books are available in print and as e-books.

My rating: 4.3

About the author

Brian Kavanagh (b. 1935) is an accredited life member of the Australian Film Editors
Guild & a member of the Australian Society of Authors. He has many
years experience in the Australian Film Industry in areas of production,
direction, editing and writing.

His editing credits include THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH,
ODD ANGRY SHOT, THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, LONG WEEKEND, SEX IS A
FOUR-LETTER WORD and the recent comedy, DAGS.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian
Screen Editors Guild and is an accredited member. An Australian Film
Institute award for Best Editing for FROG DREAMING (USA title THE
QUEST).

His website 

Review: THE MIDNIGHT DRESS by Karen Foxlee

My Take

Had this book not been chosen by my face-to-face reading group, I probably wouldn’t have come across it, but I’m glad I did. Karen Foxlee is a new-to-me Australian author.

Apart from anything else, the structure of the book is unusual and interesting. After the annual Harvest Parade in which they both participated, two girls are missing in a coastal sugar cane town in mid-northern Queensland.

Each of the chapters is headed with the name of a stitch used in tailoring or embroidery.
e.g.
Anchor Stitch
Oyster Stitch
Catch Stitch
Straight Stitch
Binding Stitch
Spider Web Stitch etc. etc. (I didn’t know there were so many stitches)

And the reader’s attention is captured straight away in the opening of the first chapter, Anchor Stitch:

Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending? There’s a girl. She’s standing where the park outgrows itself and the manicured lawn gives way to longer grass and the stubble of rocks. She is standing in no-man’s-land, between the park and the place where the mill yards begin. It’s night and the cane trains are still. It is unbearably humid and she feels the sweat sliding down her back and she presses her hands there into the fabric to stop the sensation that is ticklishly unpleasant. She lifts up the midnight dress to fan her legs. It’s true, the dress is a magical thing, it makes her look so heavenly.

After a couple of pages from this narrator, the chapter continues with the story from the beginning. Rose Lovell arrives in town with her father at the Paradise caravan park where they will live for the next few months. She meets Pearl Kelly in the next day or so when she goes to school. They will be the central characters of the story, but there is also Edie Baker, an eccentric dressmaker with a history, Rose’s alcoholic father, and Paul Rendell who runs a Book Exchange in the back of his mother’s shop.

The first chapter sets the pattern for the rest. There is always a preface from the narrator, helpfully written in italics, and then the continuing story. There’s the feeling of two paths, with the main story slowly catching up to the point where the narrator’s brief snippets begin.

The two teenage girls are trying to establish their identities. Rose has been on the move with her father for a number of years after the apparent drowning suicide of her mother. She has had little chance to establish friends, and she connects surprisingly well with both Pearl and Edie, who agrees to help her make her dress for the Harvest Parade. Pearl is trying to work out who she is too, looking for her Russian father, by writing to men surnamed Orlov in Moscow. As Rose and Edie make the dress, so the tragedies of Edie’s life emerge.

After a stuttering start, the book gathers pace. The author drops information all over the place and there are many little stories for the reader to piece together. It is a very effective technique.

So for me, Karen Foxlee is a new author to watch out for. A great book, not just a coming of age novel, but a well constructed mystery on many levels.

My rating: 4.7

The author’s debut title, THE ANATOMY OF WINGS, published in 2009 looks interesting too. (My local library lists it as teen fiction).

    Ten-year-old Jennifer Day lives in a small mining town full of secrets. Trying to make sense of the sudden death of her teenage sister, Beth, she looks to the adult world around her for answers.