Review; MURDER AND MENDELSSOHN, Kerry Greenwood

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

The divine and fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure in a vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

To the accompaniment of heavenly choirs singing, the fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure with musical score in hand.

An orchestral conductor has been found dead and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson needs the delightfully incisive and sophisticated Miss Fisher’s assistance to enter a world in which he is at sea. Hugh Tregennis, not much liked by anyone, has been murdered in a most flamboyant mode by a killer with a point to prove. But how many killers is Phryne really stalking?

At the same time, the dark curls, disdainful air and the lavender eyes of mathematician and code-breaker Rupert Sheffield are taking Melbourne by storm. They’ve certainly taken the heart of Phryne’s old friend from the trenches of WW1, John Wilson. Phryne recognises Sheffield as a man who attracts danger and is determined to protect John from harm.

Even with the faithful Dot, Mr and Mrs Butler, and all in her household ready to pull their weight, Phryne’s task is complex. While Mendelssohn’s Elijah, memories of the Great War, and the science of deduction ring in her head, Phryne’s past must also play its part as MI6 become involved in the tangled web of murders.

A vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

My Take

Followers of my blog will realise that it has taken me a bit longer to read this novel than is usual for me. Part of the reason is that I spent the weekend at a crime fiction convention, but it is also true to say that I found MURDER & MENDELSSOHN a little more challenging to read.

It was partly due to the setting that surrounds the murder of the orchestral conductor of the Harmony Choir. The author uses her own experiences of singing choral music to explore how the conductor and choristers feel about Mendelssohn, including some scripts in detail.

There are many possible murderers when first one conductor, then another is murdered. Neither of the conductors has many friends in the choir or the orchestra but murder seems rather extreme.

There is also a sideplot where it appears someone is trying to kill ex-code-breaker Rupert Sheffield. We learn a few never-revealed-before facts about Phryne’s role in
intelligence gathering, and particularly about her connections with MI6.

Greenwood also uses the novel as an opportunity to explore homosexuality and this side plot takes up quite a bit of space, detracting a little from the main murder plot. Phryne herself also seems a little more promiscuous, while her lover Lin Chung is overseas.

I did enjoy the glimpses of the splendour of Melbourne’s grand old dame, the Windsor Hotel, where some of the characters are staying, and where I have also stayed a couple of times.

So this, the 20th in the Phryne Fisher series, didn’t delight me as much as #19 UNNATURAL HABITS.
But I’ll be still lined up for #21.

My Rating: 4.3

I’ve reviewed

Review: THE CRY, Helen Fitzgerald

  • Published 2013, Faber & Faber UK
  • ISBN 978-0-571-28770-3
  • 307 pages
  • source: library book

Synopsis (Amazon)

He’s gone. And telling the truth won’t bring him back…

When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

The Cry is a dark psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.

My Take

Anybody who has flown a long flight, say Glasgow to Dubai, in the company of a small child, or been sitting near one, can empathise with the situation when the child constantly cries. That’s where we start with Joanna and Alistair and their baby Noah. For Joanna this becomes the trip from hell, although Alistair seems to be able to sleep through it all. The second leg of the journey from Dubai to Melbourne is only a little better.

The journey starts badly at departure when airport security declares that the bottles that Joanna’s antibiotics and Noah’s Calpol are too big. That leads Joanna into making a crucial error.

The family is on its way to Melbourne so that Alistair can claim custody of his teenage daughter from his ex-wife who brought Chloe back to Australia illegally. When Noah goes missing from the car when they are driving to Geelong, the custody of Chloe still looms large for Alistair in particular. It becomes even more crucial when Noah remains missing.

This story twists in directions the reader just couldn’t predict. The general public becomes involved in the search for Noah not only through media releases but also through social networking like Facebook and Twitter. Joanna and her reactions to her baby’s disappearance come under public scrutiny, with the rumour mill coming perilously close to the truth.

Although firmly set in Australia (Joanna and Alistair land in Melbourne when small towns near Geelong are threatened by bushfires) the setting could almost be anywhere and Helen Fitzgerald has the reader asking how they would have reacted in similar circumstances.

A really good read, touching issues that go well beyond the disappearance of a baby.

My rating: 4.7

See other reviews

I’ve also reviewed

Novels by Helen Fitzgerald (from Fantastic Fiction)

Dead Lovely (2007)
My Last Confession (2009)
The Devil’s Staircase (2009)
Bloody Women (2009)
Amelia O’Donohue Is So Not a Virgin (2010)
Hot Flush (2011)
The Donor (2011)
Deviant (2013)
The Cry (2013)

About the author (Fantastic Fiction)

Helen FitzGerald is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria,
Australia. She nows lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.
Helen has worked as a parole officer and social worker for over ten
years. Her first novel, Dead Lovely, was published in 2007.

See the author’s blog.

Review: SILENT VALLEY, Malla Nunn

  • Published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2012
  • Alternative title BLESSED ARE THE DEAD
  • ISBN 978-7426-1088-7
  • 311 pages
  • #3 in the Emmanuel Cooper series
  • source: review copy from publisher

Synopsis (publisher)

A remote town. A girl of rare and exquisite beauty. A murder that silences a whole community.

The body of a seventeen-year-old girl has been found covered in wildflowers on a hillside in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Durban. She is the
daughter of a Zulu chief, destined to fetch a high bride price. Was Amahle as innocent as her family claims, or is her murder a sign that she lived a secret life?

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. He must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone – from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl – has something to hide.

With no cause of death and no motive, Cooper’s investigation is blocked at each turn. Can he tough it out, or will the small-town politics that stir up his feelings about the past be more than he can bear?

In this page-turning tale of murder and mystery, Nunn entangles us in a rich and complex web of witchcraft, tribalism, taboo relationships… and plain old-fashioned greed.

My Take

This novel is set in South Africa in October 1953. It is a world still divided by apartheid, blacks are always treated as “kaffirs”, and white supremacy is assumed.

With Emmanuel Cooper comes his Zulu constable Shabalala. Apartheid means he can’t stay in the same hotels as Cooper, or dine at the same tables, but he can get the “real” story from the servants, and he understands local Zulu customs.

SILENT VALLEY is a very atmospheric novel. Malla Nunn is able to transport 21st century readers to a very different culture, and help us to see the crime with very different eyes.

Life is not easy for Emmanuel Cooper. He is descended from Boers and is still not accepted in police circles dominated by whites even though he has the patronage of Colonel van Niekerk who is also an Afrikaaner. van Niekerk will take the credit for Cooper’s successes, but will quickly disown him when he fails.

If you’ve never read any of this series before I would suggest you start at the beginning, so you get the full story (although of course you can read SILENT VALLEY as a stand alone). But there are characters who were created in the first and second novels who are important in the third and so you will understand more if you read them in order. They are available for Kindle.

My rating: 4.9

I’ve also reviewed



About the author

Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth
in the 1970s. She attended uni in WA, and then the US. In New York, she
worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay before returning to
Australia where she began writing and directing short films and
corporate videos, three of which have won numerous awards and have been
shown at international film festivals. Her debut novel A Beautiful Place to Die
was published to international acclaim and won the 2009 Sisters in
Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female
author. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

Book Review: UNNATURAL HABITS, Kerry Greenwood

  • Published by Allen & Unwin 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-74237-243-3
  • 332 pages
  • #19 in the Phryne Fisher series
  • library book
  • read an extract

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

1929: pretty little golden-haired girls are going missing in Melbourne.
But they’re not just pretty. Three of them are pregnant, poor girls from the harsh confines of the Magdalen Laundry. People are getting nervous.

Polly Kettle, a pushy, self-important Girl Reporter with ambition and no sense of self preservation, decides to investigate–and promptly goes missing herself.

It’s time for Phryne and Dot to put a stop to this and find Polly Kettle before something quite irreparable happens to all of them. It’s a tale of convents and plots, piracy, murder and mystery . . . and Phryne finally finds out if it’s true that blondes have more fun.

My Take

Nearly a quarter of a century on from the start of the series, Phryne Fisher is going as strong as ever. This remarkable, seemingly ageless, sleuth has gathered quite a household around her now, and also has the local police in her pocket. Most of Melbourne’s high society either count her as a friend, or they owe her something, and so she has passage into places that the police on their own could never penetrate, like the Blue Cat Club and the Abbotsford Convent and the Magdalen laundry.

For me Kerry Greenwood seems to have captured well the essence of society’s attitude to unmarried mothers, as well the growing militant unionism of the late 1920s. A mark of her indefatigable research.

These novels carry the hallmarks of most cozies, with a tinge of Australian history and attitudes. There’s plenty of humour, and loads of well drawn characters. At the same time they are well plotted, and I think UNNATURAL HABITS is almost Greenwood at her best. Their growth in popularity, and that of the Miss Fisher television series, ensure they are also available overseas, at least in e-format, for a reasonable price.

My rating: 4.8

I have reviewed

Phryne Fisher series
1. Cocaine Blues (1989)
aka Death by Misadventure
2. Flying Too High (1990)
3. Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
4. Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
5. The Green Mill Murder (1993)
6. Blood and Circuses (1994)
7. Ruddy Gore (1995)
8. Urn Burial (1996)
9. Raisins and Almonds (1997)
10. Death Before Wicket (1999)
11. Away with the Fairies (2001)
12. Murder in Montparnasse (2002)
13. The Castlemaine Murders (2003)
14. Queen of the Flowers (2004)
15. Death By Water (2005)
16. Murder in the Dark (2006)
17. Murder on a Midsummer Night (2008)
18. Dead Man’s Chest (2010)
19. Unnatural Habits (2012)
20. Murder & Mendelssohn (2013)

Review: GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, Maggie Groff

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Intrepid investigative journalist Scout Davis has given herself a holiday, but when Hermione Longfellow accosts her in the supermarket, she stops to listen.

Most people in Byron Bay are aware of the
eccentric Anemone sisters. Always dressed in black, they rarely leave their home nestled in the hills – but Scout is sure that the drinking of chicken blood is just idle gossip. When Hermione asks Scout to track down her sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout jumps at the opportunity.

Another source of intrigue falls close to home when Scout’s sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behaviour. And as if that wasn’t enough, Scout’s journalist boyfriend
is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible local cop Rafe – who coincidentally is also Toby’s best friend…

Delightfully witty and addictively fast-paced, this is the second hilarious outing for unforgettable sleuth Scout Davis.

My Take

I wasn’t sure whether this title by 2013 Davitt Award winner Maggie Groff (she scooped the Australian Sisters in Crime pool of Best Novel and Best First novel with MAD MEN, BAD GIRLS a few weeks ago) would actually be my cup of tea. It seemed that it would be “lighter” than my usual crime fiction fare. But then I chose it for my face to face reading group to read in the coming month, so in a sense I was committed.

I did have my doubts in the first 50 pages or so, but then things settled down a bit, and I must admit to enjoying both the plot and the plotting skill. The blurb on the front cover calls sleuth Scout Davis ” a successor to Evanovich”, and I thought I could detect a bit of Phryne Fisher there too.

I also enjoyed the quirky humour – who would call their cat Chairman Meow? – but underneath it all there is some serious, realistic characterisation and some careful plotting. There are a couple of other humour lines such as the guerilla knitting group that I thought were a bit superfluous but I guess they show another dimension of Scout’s character.

I think this series has a future.  My rating: 4.6

International readers can find it here on Amazon US for Kindle or audio.

See Bernadette’s review

2013 Ned Kelly Shortlists announced

The shortlists for the Ned Kelly Awards for excellence in Australian crime writing were announced by the Australian Crime Writers Association at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival. The winners in each category will be announced during the Brisbane Writers Festival on 7 September 

The following links are to the reviews created on Fair Dinkum Crime except where noted. You’ve got a month to get reading so you can compare your thoughts with the judges’.

Best First Fiction

Best Fiction

The links below take you to various reviews because we’re just not into true crime here at Fair Dinkum

True Crime

Review: IF I TELL YOU.. I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU, edited by Michael Robotham

Kindle edition available July 24

Australia’s best crime writers – Michael Robotham,
Kerry Greenwood, Shane Maloney, Peter Corris, Tara Moss and more – share the secrets to their success, their best- ever writing tips and their favourite ‘must reads’. An ideal guide for aspiring writers and crime
fiction fans alike.


Crime fiction is the single most popular genre in international publishing and Australia has some of the finest practitioners when it comes to walking the mean streets and nailing the bad guys.

Whether you’re a fan of crime fiction, true crime or a would-be crime writer, this collection of essays will provide laughter, understanding, insight, ideas, advice and hopefully some inspiration. Learn about Shane Maloney’s near-death experience in a freezer, Leigh Redhead’s adventures as a stripper and Tara Moss taking a polygraph test to prove her
doubters wrong.

There are stories of struggle and triumph, near misses and murderous intent, as our best crime writers lay bare their souls and reveal their secrets as never before, along with their rules for writing and reading lists.

But beware. They will have to kill you…

My Take

All royalties from this book go towards the Australian Crime Writers Association, which runs the annual Ned Kelly Awards and was established to promote crime writing and reading in Australia.

So while I read this copy from my local library, I also bought a copy for my Kindle.

Here’s a unique opportunity to find out what makes some of your favourite Aussie authors tick. The book consists of 20 very readable essays. I’ve sat through a lot of author talks at the Adelaide Writer’s Week and reading these essays reminded me of some of the more candid of those sessions. The five “must-reads” at the end of each essay give further insight and for me, reminded me that I have never read Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP.

The Table of Contents reads a bit like a Who’s Who of successful Australian crime writers, so here is a chance of finding a new author or two, or just relaxing in the company of someone you already follow. The format was a winner for me – each essay is twelve to fifteen pages long and is followed by “My Rules” which of course vary from writer to writer, and then “Five Must Reads” with similarities from author to author.

The final essay is from Peter Lawrance and picks out some of the highlights in the history of the Ned Kelly Awards, founded in 1996. Peter is a long-time convenor and organiser of the NKs.

Well done to whoever had the idea of putting this anthology together. It should be must reading for all crime fiction courses, whether for readers or budding writers.

My rating: 4.8

Review: I HEAR THE SIRENS ON THE STREET, Adrian McKinty – audio book

  • this unabridged version available from Audible
  • Book published 2013
  • #2 in the Sean Duffy series (The Troubles Trilogy)
  • Narrated by Gerard Doyle
  • length 9 hrs 42 mins

Synopsis (Audible)

A torso in a suitcase looks like an impossible case, but Sean Duffy
isn’t easily deterred, especially when his floundering love life leaves him in need of a distraction. So with detective constables McCrabban and McBride, he goes to work identifying the victim.

The torso turns out to be all that’s left of an American tourist who once served in the
U.S. military. What was he doing in Northern Ireland in the midst of the 1982 Troubles? The trail leads to the doorstep of a beautiful, flame-haired, twenty-something widow, whose husband died at the hands of an IRA assassination team just a few months before.

Suddenly Duffy is caught between his romantic instincts, gross professional misconduct,
and powerful men he should know better than to mess with. These include British intelligence, the FBI, and local paramilitary death squads – enough to keep even the savviest detective busy. Duffy’s growing sense of self-doubt isn’t helping. But as a legendarily stubborn man, he doesn’t let that stop him from pursuing the case to its explosive conclusion.

My Take

This is the sequel to THE COLD, COLD GROUND which I reviewed last year. Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in 1982. When a male torso turns up in a suitcase, the suitcase turns out to have belonged to a man murdered by the IRA the previous year. The widow lives on an isolated estate and from the beginning Detective Inspector Sean Duffy can see that there are elements of her story about her husband’s murder that don’t quite jell. One thing leads to another and Sean identifies the body as that belonging to an American tourist. Even there, there is something wrong with the story.

With his passion for tying up loose ends Sean eventually follows the story even when he has been expressly warned off. This is noir crime fiction laced with Sean’s own peculiar sense of humour. There’s not just the blackness in the plot, but blackness in the setting – Northern Ireland on the brink of economic disaster, its last remaining industry whimpering to its death.

Adrian McKinty is a master story teller, the writing well polished, the characters well drawn. The dangers of living and working in Northern Ireland in the Troubles are vividly brought to life. He takes us to a time and place few of us have experienced first hand.

The narrator Gerard Doyle does an excellent job.

My rating: 4.8

See Bernadette’s review.

Davitt Awards 2013: record 61 books on longlist

The Sisters in Crime Australia have a record 61 Books in contention for the 13th Davitt Awards (2013) for the best crime books by Australian women.

Six Davitt Awards will be presented at a gala dinner on 31 August by leading New Zealand crime writer, Vanda Symon, at the Thornbury Theatre in Melbourne: Best Novel (Adult); Best Novel (Children’s and Young Adult); Best True Crime Book; Best Debut Book (any category); Readers’ Choice (as voted by the 600 members of Sisters in Crime Australia).

See more details and the longlist here.

Ned Kelly Awards: Longlists 2013

The 2013 Ned Kelly Awards longlists are now available at the newly created Australian Crime Writers Association website.

See the guidelines for the awards here.

Check the longlists for Best Fiction, First Fiction, and True Crime here.

The short list will be announced as part of the Byron Bay Writers Festival on the 2nd August.

The winners will be announced at the Awards Night that will be part of the Brisbane Writers Festival.