Review: GHOSTLINES by Nick Gadd

Ghostlines - Nick, Gadd16342fI somehow missed this Victorian Premier’s Award winning novel when it was released a few years ago but am very glad to have happened upon a copy now.

At its core is Philip Trudeau, once a high-flying financial journalist and hero to impressionable students who has fallen on hard times. He lost his job at a prestigious newspaper and even did some time in prison and is now working – barely – at a suburban rag that does little more than have a few articles around all the real estate advertisements. When a young boy is hit by a train and killed Trudeau at first only feigns interest in telling his story. But the boy’s death and its apparent links to other people and events seem to follow Trudeau and compel him to investigate, no matter how much cheap grog he drinks to forget.

At first I thought I knew exactly where this book was going to go with its alcoholic loner central figure but Gadd was soon surprising. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that there are actual ghosts in GHOSTLINES and I didn’t mind at all though I normally eschew all things mystical. This paranormal element is not overwhelming though and it does add suspense in terms of forcing the reader to consider what is real and what isn’t.

Trudeau is in some ways the typical protagonist of a crime novel but he is also a lot more believable than man of his brethren. When we learn why his career, and his personal life, have crumbled, turning to the bottle seems like a sensible, if unhealthy, choice. I suppose I felt a mixture of pity for and annoyance with him for much of the book but I could completely understand why he was behaving the way he did. And we do get to see that the path of self-destruction can be…at least temporarily interrupted if not entirely abandoned…in Gadd’s deft depiction of Trudeau’s eventual commitment to investigating the story that is demanding to be told.

GHOSTLINES ends up offering a complex and compelling tale depicting an anti hero’s version of redemption set against a backdrop which involves art, fraud and financial shenanigans in a very recognisable and quite evocative Melbourne. An absolute treat to read.

Publisher: Scribe [2008]
ISBN: 9781921372049
Length: 283 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: MY ISLAND HOMICIDE by Catherine Titasey

MyIslandHomicideWhen choosing a first book to read for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge I couldn’t go past the cheerily coloured, summer-y feeling cover of Catherine Titasay’s MY ISLAND HOMICIDE. The idea of travelling virtually to somewhere I’ve never been and having an excuse to dig out my old Christine Anu CD* were bonuses.

It is the tale of Thea Dari-Jones, a 40 year-old policewoman who, as the book opens, is experiencing her first day as Officer In Charge of the small police station on Thursday Island (forever referred to as TI), one of the 300 or so islands scattered through the Torres Strait off the far northern coast of Queensland. Thea has chosen the island job because she’s a little burned out by years of big-city policing, is keen to get far away from her cheating ex-boyfriend and is more than a little curious about the place her mother was born but has never talked much about. On first impressions it looks like she’ll get the relatively peaceful life she was after but then a local woman is reported missing. Unless they’re lost at sea people don’t go missing for long on TI (the population is under 3000) and, though it takes a while to get there, the book’s title does give the game away regarding the ultimate fate of the young mother.

Titasey goes way beyond the standard picture postcard imagery to show the many layers that a novel can employ to provide a sense of place. There are descriptions of sparkling beaches and gorgeous sunsets (it is a tropical island after all) but she shows us every aspect of life including the different kinds of jobs people have, using one of the languages the locals speak to good effect (Broken English), sumptuously describing the food they eat (often after catching it themselves) and the way they spend their leisure time. The book even delves into some of the darker aspects of TI life including the prevalence of domestic violence and the corruption that can eventuate when a local economy is very heavily dependent on government services and the associated jobs.

Another element the novel gets right is using the character of Thea as a protagonist. Not only does her mixed heritage offer the potential (ultimately well-realised) for genuine insight into the multicultural mix that exists on TI but as a newcomer to the place and the job it is natural for Thea to be learning things in a way that allows the reader a believable introduction those same things. And we do go through a lot with Thea as she meets and falls in love with a local fisherman and eventually starts to learn more about her mother’s history on the island. Jonah, Thea’s romantic interest, is nicely drawn too as are Thea’s colleagues and the island people she meets through work. There is a real sense of the positive and negative aspects of life in a small community.

The element of the novel that didn’t work as well for me was that it really is stretching things to call it a crime novel (which Titasey does). After a strong start – where I thought the mix of procedural and personal just about right – the latter two thirds of the book really becomes more of romance with occasional references to police work thrown in for contrast. Thea spends a lot more time than I cared to read about staring at nothing while thinking dreamily of Jonah, worrying about having the right underwear and a whole lot of other girly stuff that, frankly, bored me witless. I know it’s probably unfair of me to say that but I think the book would be much more comfortable in the romance section of the book shop and, had it been there, at least I would have had more of an idea what to expect and made my choice whether to read it or not accordingly.

That said if you love a good romance with an astonishingly enveloping sense of place, some great characters, a healthy dose of light humour and the occasional reference to a dead body or island-style crime spree this is the book for you. Although in the end it proved too mushy for my personal taste that doesn’t take away from the fact that if I close my eyes I can just about imagine I’ve been to TI on holidays and I learned a heck of a lot of interesting things about Islander history and culture and the range of work that police in a place like TI would encounter. MY ISLAND HOMICIDE is a perfect summer read for the romantically inclined. Bet you can’t read it without wanting to cook yourself a curry.

*for the non-Australians (or those too young to remember…gulp) Christine Anu had a huge hit nearly 20 years ago with a song called My Island Home (though the song itself was originally written about a place in Arnhem Land, Anu changed some of the lyrics to fit with her Torres Strait Islander heritage when she started to sing it). Have a listen. 

MY ISLAND HOMICIDE started life as a manuscript called Island of the Unexpected which won the Queensland Literary Award for best emerging author in 2012. You can hear Catherine talk about the book and her own life as a ‘blow-in’ who arrived on TI 20 years ago on Radio National’s daily Arts show last November (which is what prompted me to buy my copy).

awwbadge_2014This is the first of what I hope will be 24 novels read and reviewed for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge. There’s still plenty of time for you to sign up yourselves and you can aim for as few as 4 books.

Publisher: University of Queensland Press [2013]
ISBN: 9780702249716
Length: 321 pages
Format: Paperback
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Review: SINISTER INTENT by Karen M. Davis

SinisterIntentKarenMDavisEven if I hadn’t known from her bio that Karen Davis is an ex-cop I think I’d have guessed fairly soon after I started reading SINISTER INTENT. It’s not so much that the set pieces and procedural elements ring true (though they do) but that the ‘in-between moments’ have the air of authenticity that only first-hand knowledge can provide. She has captured the ever-changing atmosphere of this specialised working environment with skill; showing the adrenalin that accompanies the start of a major investigation, the doldrums that can follow when there is little progress despite everyone’s efforts and the tensions that can build up between colleagues working so closely together.

This depiction underpins the topical tale of a potential bikie war breaking out in the suburbs of Sydney as drugs a found in a gang headquarters then a gang member is shot and killed, possibly by someone from a rival gang. When trying to investigate the death of Bluey the cops from Bondi Junction are up against the famed bikie’s code of silence and must struggle for every snippet of intelligence and scrap of evidence while they try to ensure that there are no retaliatory violent outbreaks.

For me the book’s strength lies in the characters on both sides of the criminal divide. Lexie Rogers is the newly promoted Detective Constable who teams up with the more seasoned DS Josh Harrison to take charge of the case and they are both interesting. Lexie has a pretty traumatic past for someone not yet 30 which offers lots of scope for insight and further development) and Josh has a demon or two of his own though neither are irretrievably damaged. Rex Donaldson is effectively in charge of the gang at the centre of the troubles but thankfully does not display most of the stereotypical traits that our politicians would have us believe all bikies possess, though he’s no fan of the police.

I’m afraid I didn’t actually find the story itself particularly suspenseful but that’s at least partially due to my personal tastes. It has a much higher quotient of romantic entanglement and sexual tension (resolved and otherwise) than I normally like, to the point I felt it strayed a little too far into ‘chick lit’ territory (a term I don’t really like but what I mean is that I cannot imagine recommending this book to male crime fiction readers I know). The fact I thought the book too long is mainly connected to my boredom with this element of the novel. The other factor in me finding this book less than suspense-filled is that I thought the culprit(s) blindingly obvious from almost the very beginning. Normally I am fairly forgiving of this because I read more crime novels than the average reader and there are usually other suspects and sidetracks to keep me guessing but I truly find it difficult to believe anyone could read this book and imagine for a moment there was ever a chance of a different person being the main guilty party.

That said I did enjoy Davis’ depiction of the investigative process and her creation of a very believable environment and backdrop against which to set her story and I enjoyed meeting all the characters, even the unlikable but very credible ones like Rex’s insecure girlfriend Kate. The book definitely holds its own in the increasingly crowded romantic suspense genre and is a solid debut novel that demonstrates the author’s potential to build a real following.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster [2013]
ISBN: 9781922052520
Length: 431 pages
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Review: BITTER WASH ROAD by Garry Disher

BitterWashRoadGarryDish21151_fI suppose the noticeable lack of crime fiction set in my home state has the advantage of not making me peer worryingly around every corner lest the figments of imagination come to life but it can make a local fan feel like a poor relation with nothing to bring to the feast that is Australian crime fiction. So I was particularly thrilled to learn that one of the country’s best crime writers, South Australia’s own Garry Disher, was publishing a new crime novel set right here. The wait, as is so often the case, was worth it: BITTER WASH ROAD is about as good as it gets.

It is the story of Tiverton, a tiny scrap of a town several hours’ drive north of Adelaide, and the policeman posted to its one-man station as his punishment for being mixed up in a corruption scandal at a suburban station. Paul Hirschhausen, inevitably known as Hirsch, displays a complex mixture of bitterness, pragmatism, paranoia and determination as he settles uneasily into the role of general fixer, father figure and upholder of those laws it suits the locals to uphold that is the lot of a country cop. Those locals are wary of Hirsch unless they want something of him; the cops from the nearest town are overtly antagonistic to someone they view as a traitor and Hirsch is looking for a place he can call home without having to sleep with one eye open.

He does so against the backdrop of a deceptively simple case in which a teenage girl’s half-naked body is found by the side of the road. Hirsch is the only person willing to treat it as anything other than the hit and run first appearances suggest, and he fights an uphill battle to gain access to forensics and interview subjects. But fight he does…slowly building up a picture of who has power in the area and what sinister uses some of that power is put to. It is a worryingly plausible depiction of the narrowness of the margin that separates good people from bad ones; and even more disturbing is the sense that the bad guys look just like everyone else.

Hirsch’s first encounter with the book’s eponymous road is just the first of many examples of Disher’s skill at drawing the reader in, making it impossible not to imagine the places and people he has created

Five kilometres south of Tiverton he turned left at the Bitter Wash turnoff, heading east into the hills, and here there was some movement in the world. Stones smacked the chassis. Skinny sheep fled, a dog snarled across a fence line, crows rose untidily from a flattened lizard. The road turned and rose and fell, taking him deeper into hardscrabble country, just inside the rain shadow. He passed a tumbled stone wall dating from the 1880’s and a wind farm turbine.

When her turns his keen observation skills to people it is, on more than one occasion, enough to make me squirm. There is, for example a passage of no more than 10 or so lines about half-way through the story that made me put the book down in something akin to horror. As Hirsch dozes in the back seat of a car the two constables up front chat breezily about their new female colleague and what they’d do to her in a heartbeat that is repugnant in its contempt for her particularly and women in general. So much so that I can’t even bring myself to quote it here to illustrate my point. But for days afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about these lines and their realism; wondering how many men there are in the world who think like constables Nicholson and Revell.

For all its darkness BITTER WASH ROAD does not leave its readers in complete despair and some moments of redemption come from pleasantly surprising quarters. Even so it is the harsh landscape and tough people that linger in my mind. That and the fact this is probably the best book I’ve read all year.

Publisher: Text [2013]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781922079244
Length: 325 pages
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GentlemenFormerlyDressedGentillI read for lots of reasons. For fun. To learn. To pass the time. To avoid chores. Because it makes me feel…however intangibly and inexplicably…better. Few books manage to let me tick all those boxes at once but Sulari Gentill’s gently humorous historical adventures featuring Rowly Sinclair and his pals have, for me, come to epitomize what makes reading the very best pastime a girl can have.

The fifth installment of the series, GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED follows on immediately from the events depicted in PAVING THE NEW ROAD. Our heroes have escaped early 1930’s Germany with bodies and souls (mostly) intact and are in London. Rowland Sinclair, youngest son of a wealthy Australian family, is keen to ensure that what he and his friends learned about the activities of the Nazis in Germany is relayed to people in power but, even with the connections offered by his politically active older brother, struggles to find anyone who will listen to his dire warnings. Before he can make much headway with his mission Rowly and his staunch friends, Edna, Clyde and Milton, are soon embroiled in investigating a bizarre murder that has even the English aristocracy, no strangers to bizarre goings-on, raising a collective eyebrow.

I’m not sure I can explain exactly what it is that sets this series apart for me but I’ll make an attempt.

I adore the almost immediate sense of being transported to the time and place of Gentill’s creation where her historical research is skilfully entwined with elements from her imagination. Was Evelyn Waugh really the pompous pratt portrayed here? Was there such a blatant attempt to make it seem as though Wallis Simpson’s affair with English nobility wasn’t with a Royal? Was the 1933 London Economic Conference really such a balls-up? Was there ever a point at which Hitler might have been stopped before he wrought his tragedy upon the world? Without ever straying into a lecturing tone the book guarantees the reader will feel smarter by the end, even if you don’t have a list of topics to google research as I did.

I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I am more than a little in love with Rowly and his three friends (in a purely platonic way of course). Yes they are extraordinarily lucky in a way that only people in fiction can truly be. But they do all know it and they share their good fortune willingly and with joy. They love life, and each other and they never miss an opportunity to help someone less fortunate than themselves, regardless of any risk to their personal safety and without passing judgement of any kind on their fellow humans. I know that grit and gangsters are all the rage in crime fiction these days, but I cannot help but long for a bit more good, old-fashioned courage and decency in both my real and fictional worlds.

There is also a romping story, fantastic dialogue, a tantalizing dose of unresolved sexual tension and a mildly absurd humour to this book. How can one not delight in the imagery of four well-dressed young people carrying around and talking to the wax head of an English Lord for half a book? Or attacking fascists being beaten away with the limbs from tailors’ mannequins?

Google research attributes to Aristotle the quote that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is just a little bit more wonderful than all its excellent elements would lead you to believe it might be. Like its central hero it is audaciously optimistic, unashamedly well-intentioned and superb fun. Read it. You’ll feel better.

GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is officially released in Australia on Friday (1 November) so if your local bookstore doesn’t have a copy you should demand they order it. Immediately.

I’ve reviewed all four of this novel’s predecessors here at Fair Dinkum Crime

awwbadge_2013This is the 18th book I’ve read by an Australian woman writer this year (It’s still not too late to join the Australian Women Writers Challenge)

Publisher: Pantera Press [2013]
ISBN: 9781921997303
Length: 361 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE CRY by Helen Fitzgerald

TheCryFitzgeraldHelen21077_fWhen we meet Joanna Lindsay, Alistair Robertson and their 9 week old son Noah they are experiencing a long, uncomfortable flight from Scotland, where they live, to Australia, where Alistair was born. Baby Noah cannot be settled and by flight’s end Joanna and her fellow passengers are frazzled, though Alistair has managed to get some sleep. During the couple’s drive from Melbourne airport to Alistair’s home town Noah goes missing which sparks a police investigation, a social media backlash against Joanna and trauma for Alistair’s ex-wife and teenage daughter.

After reading three of her books I’ve learned that Helen Fitzgerald can be extraordinarily cruel to the people she creates. Not ‘sadistic serial killer makes suits of human skin after lengthy torture sessions’ kind of cruel; rather she puts them through scenarios that are entirely believable in their ordinariness and totally horrific in their psychological impact. Here it is Joanna who is put through the wringer quite literally from the book’s very beginning to its bitter end and it is done with such skill and credibility that the reader cannot help but feel as if they too have lived through the woman’s harrowing experiences. For me this kind of tale – one where I can identify with the everyday situations in which the characters find themselves and can imagine the awfulness of the consequences when things go horribly wrong after a split second’s inattention or distraction – makes for a far more satisfying reading experience than the endless stream of serial killer tomes could ever do.

The structure of this novel works well too, offering several points of view though mainly that of Joanna and Alexandra (Alistair’s ex-wife). We get parts of the story from only one perspective and others are seen from both women’s viewpoint. Then there are the segments that show us what “the public” are thinking and saying through their tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates. As well as allowing an aspect of the story to be told inventively these snippets also offer some insight into the downside of this thoroughly modern phenomenon. The ease with which public opinions are made and changed based on rumour and ill-informed supposition is depicted very cleverly here.

THE CRY is an intelligent, surprising and totally compelling novel which I read in a single sitting (I’m not counting the several periods during which I put it down to make a nice, calming cup of tea as I soon hurried back on each such occasion). I won’t pretend it’s an easy read – especially for any new mums – but if you fancy an above average tale of psychological suspense during which you will often ponder how you would react (or have done) in the same circumstances then I highly recommend THE CRY.

awwbadge_2013THE CRY is the 17th book I’ve read that counts towards this year’s Australian Women Writers challenge.

I’ve reviewed one other Helen Fitzgerald novel here at Fair Dinkum Crime: 2011’s THE DONOR

Publisher: Faber and Faber [2013]
ISBN: 9780571287703
Length: 320 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE DYING BEACH by Angela Savage

TheDyingBeachSavageWe are not, I know meant to judge a book by its cover but even if I had known nothing about this novel I think I’d still have been just a little bit more…interested…in Angela Savage’s THE DYING BEACH than in most of the other books adorning my shelves. Eschewing the tired tropes of modern crime novel covers – the anonymous dark alley, the running man in silhouette, the half-face of a beautiful woman – its bright solid colour and unusual images suggest the possibility of something more exotic than the usual fare.

The content of the novel more than lives up to the expectation set by its engaging cover. It is set in Thailand in the mid 1990’s where Jayne Keeney, an ex-pat Australian, has been living for five years. She stumbled into a career as a private investigator but is now operating a successful business with Her business partner and lover Rajiv. The couple are on holiday in the resort town of Krabi as the book opens but their trip takes on a sour note when they learn that Miss Pla, the tour guide who they’d enjoyed so much a couple of days earlier, has been found dead. Although considered an accidental drowning Jayne can’t imagine the woman she met, an accomplished swimmer and diver, dying in that way and so can’t resist looking into the case which puts Jayne and Rajiv on a collision course with some very unsavoury characters.

There’s not much official interest in Pla’s death, or those which follow it, until Jayne and Rajiv make some startling connections to her past. Their presence in Krabi and interest in the death is a catalyst for one particularly unhinged character to take a series of bizarre actions which I’d almost suggest added an element of comic farce to events but for the fact they’re so alarmingly grim. The more traditional private eye element of the story sees the pair uncover some dirty secrets about some local development and its environmental impacts. There’s really not much let up in tension or suspense right from the outset but still Savage manages to weave in lots of fascinating details about life in Thailand. The fact that both Jayne and Rajiv (who is an Indian ex pat) are outsiders in the culture allows this to happen seamlessly so you don’t quite realise until the end that you’ve learned lots as well as been thoroughly entertained. I particularly liked the fact that the serious environmental issues the story raises are not depicted simplistically or with the patronising superiority that such stories are often guilty of when told by outsiders.

Again bucking a modern trend in crime fiction THE DYING BEACH manages to tell a complicated and at times very dark story through the eyes of two reasonably well-adjusted investigators. Of course they have their personality flaws but there is no sign of the loner alcoholic sporting a bitter ex-wife and/or estranged children here and it is refreshing. They make a good team, each bringing different skills to their professional pursuits and are likeable both as individuals and as a couple. Jayne is used to being on her own and struggles at times to remember that she must now consider Rajiv’s opinions and ideas in both her personal and professional decision making. At the same time Rajiv occasionally lacks confidence that Jayne is really committed to him, especially when the case brings them into contact with an Australian man who clearly is attracted to her. Watching the pair work out the complexities of their new relationship added an extra layer of enjoyment to the book for me.

THE DYING BEACH has it all: an exotic, evocative setting; terrifically drawn characters including good guys you can’t help but like and a story that manages to be thought-provoking and an edge-of-your-seat ride at the same time. Highly recommended.

awwbadge_2013Here’s a link to my review of this novel’s predecessor, THE HALF-CHILD or perhaps you’d like to hear Angela Savage discuss the novel on Radio National last month

THE DYING BEACH was the 15th book I read for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge

Publisher: Text Publishing [2013]
ISBN: 9781921922497
Length: 339 pages
Format: trade paperback

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Review: BAY OF FIRES by Poppy Gee

BayOfFiresGeePoppy18543_fThis novel takes its name from its setting: a beautiful stretch of Tasmania’s east coast which does exist in the real world, though here it is given a village, a shop and a camp ground which do not. The spot forms the backdrop for a group of holiday shacks which have been used by the same families for years. Last summer a local teenage girl went missing and hasn’t been seen since, now the body of a young European tourist has been found. And the question on everyone’s mind…is one of them responsible?

My family used to holiday in the same beachside location every summer so I immediately felt a connection to BAY OF FIRES. I even recognised a lot of the just-beneath-the-surface discords on display amongst the regular visitors. Gee does a good job of showing both the monotony and the comfort offered by this sort of set-up and provides two key characters to show the reader what’s really going on in this community.

Sarah Avery offers the insider’s perspective. She is the eldest daughter of one of the regular families and is a somewhat reluctant participant in this year’s holiday, partly because she is coming to grips with some troubles in her personal life. She’s staying with her parents and younger sister. Hall Flynn, a journalist for a Launceston newspaper who has been assigned to cover the story, provides the outsider’s point of view. He takes a room at the guest house at which the girl whose body has been found was staying. Between them, these two piece together the story of what has happened to the two girls, Sarah using her knowledge of the regulars and Hall using his observational skills and ability to ease himself into local events without causing too many ripples.

BAY OF FIRES succeeds as a work of observation about a small community that appears to be close-knit on the surface. The death and disappearance – and the almost total lack of formal progress on either case – highlight all the personality clashes and not-so-petty differences of opinion that have been lying dormant for years. People’s fears lead to finger pointing, attempts at vigilante justice and plain meanness and I found this element of the book – a kind of character study en masse – quite enthralling.

As a work of crime fiction I thought it a little less successful, with the resolution being somewhat obvious and the lack of police presence and progress not being explained terribly satisfactorily. That said, I did appreciate the crime’s unconventional resolution as it seemed to be in keeping with the world Gee had depicted.

Overall this début novel has much to commend it and I will certainly be on the lookout for more of Gee’s writing. In BAY OF FIRES she has demonstrated a flair for depicting evocative settings and the personality shifts that happen to average people when unexpectedly terrible things happen around them.

awwbadge_2013BAY OF FIRES is the 14th book I’ve read as part of this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Kerrie’s review of BAY OF FIRES from earlier this year.

Publisher: Headline [2013]
ISBN: 9780755387847
Length: 309 pages
Format: trade paperback
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Review: NO SAFE PLACE by Jenny Spence

NoSafePlaceSpenceJenny20333_fNO SAFE PLACE begins with middle-aged technical writer Elly Cartwright arriving at her Melbourne home one night to be greeted by an elderly neighbour with some message or other but before Mabel can get a full sentence out she collapses. Mabel, it seems has been shot and Elly is injured too. The next day she discovers that one of the software programmers she has worked closely with has also been killed and she starts to believe the deaths have something to do with her. With the help of her colleagues and some friends Elly quickly adapts to a life of ever-changing disguises while she tries to work out who’s got it in for her.

Thrillers in which an average Joe (or in this case Josephine) becomes embroiled in criminal intrigue are difficult to pull of with any sense of credibility (I’ve lost count of the number I’ve thrown at the wall) but in her début offering Jenny Spence does a decent job of it, mainly through using a nicely grounded character to propel the novel forward. While she does seem a remarkably quick thinker, in most respects Elly is perfectly normal. Being a mum she is worried that her troubles will impact on her adult daughter and she has the same gripes about work and daydreams of escape as most of us. The investigation she does, with the help of her technically minded colleagues, is within the bounds of possibility and the gang do at least involve police when they learn something serious which is a rare thing in these sorts of thrillers.

I rather liked the setting of this book too. There’s the geography: we spend time in both Sydney and Melbourne and both are recognisable, as is the friendly rivalry between the two places. But there is also the environment of Elly’s work, a small company doing one of those unseen jobs that most people don’t know exist but which many of us benefit from every day. People in fiction often seem to have much more windswept and interesting jobs than exist in real life and it’s nice to see some version of normality being displayed quite deftly.

NO SAFE PLACE is an easy but not simplistic read and is a really solid first outing from an author I’ll have on my radar from now on. The suspense was well maintained and the plot hangs together pretty well, with only a couple of minor points warranting a half-raised eyebrow. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

awwbadge_2013No Safe Place is the 12th book I’ve read and 10th I’ve reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2013]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781743313329
Length: 320 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: DEAD CAT BOUNCE by Peter Cotton

DeadCatBouncePeterCotto20469_fFor something a little different today we’re offering you two perspectives for the price of one on DEAD CAT BOUNCE, a debut crime novel by Peter Cotton who is an Australian journalist and former media adviser to several government ministers. The book is set during the last weeks of a divisive Australian election campaign (though in yet more evidence that truth is stranger than fiction Cotton’s imagination didn’t run to a second dumped PM in a three year period) and opens with the discovery of the body of the Environment Minister dumped near a Canberra landmark.

Bernadette’s thoughts are in green. I’m a politics junkie from way back and don’t consider my weekend complete without Sunday morning Insiders viewing. My crime fiction tastes lean towards procedurals and whydunnits.

Josh’s thoughts are in red. As my twitter handle suggests (@OzNoir) my genre of choice is noir which tends to lead me down the dark and shadowy back alleys of crime fiction. DEAD CAT BOUNCE was something a little different, something outside my comfort zone which still alluded to that slithering underside of crime enough to satisfy my curiosity. Not a consummate reader of police procedurals, I saw enough in the premise to warrant a look-in, and I’m glad I did.

What was your immediate reaction to the premise of the novel?
I salivated at the prospect of a book which combines two of my favourite things: crime fiction and dead politicians.

I saw satire, murder, and an Aussie setting – enough to interest me. I like books that don’t take themselves too seriously and the premise of DEAD CAT BOUNCE certainly leaned towards it being more tongue-in-cheek than hardnosed police procedural.

The central character in Dead Cat Bounce is young-ish Detective Darren Glass. Did you like him? Hate him? Find him compelling?

I liked the fact that Darren is not in the ‘so psychologically damaged it’s hard to get out of bed’ mould of crime fiction investigator and is basically a well-adjusted, fully functional human being with awesome MacGyver-like skills. The blunders he makes during the case (e.g. letting something important slip to a political blogger during an interview) give him credibility. Perversely though I did not find him terribly compelling…I never felt any lingering worry about what was happening to him when I had to put the book down as I do sometimes with characters who get under my skin. This makes me wonder if I actually do prefer the psychologically damaged characters after all.

I liked Glass more than I thought I would. His stumbling, blundering detective style, while not endearing, was a quality that made him more human than a traditional Detective (a generalisation I know). He came across as someone who lets his emotions lead him – thankfully this premise serves a purpose throughout the course of the novel and doesn’t become all-consuming in dictating his every action. I found his personal and professional life blurred the lines to the extent I had trouble distinguishing the two – not a bad thing, I wouldn’t say I found him compelling but was a little something there that other procedurals I’ve read didn’t have.

Did the story maintain your interest? Keep you guessing? Keep you awake at night? What bits did you like most?
Even for me there was a lot of procedural minutiae in the first third of this book. The Minister who was killed had been at a public function prior to her kidnapping and so police have to establish who was there, what everyone did and who they spoke to, who left early and so on. This seemed to drag on a little for me but I suspect people who don’t read as many police procedurals as I do wouldn’t notice or be bothered by this. The pace improved after this though as the action level ramped up. I did think one part of the resolution was telegraphed a little early on but there were enough more well hidden elements to keep me satisfied.

I thought it took a while to get to the good stuff. When thrust into action, Glass and the accompanying characters really took on a life of their own. The murder mystery didn’t keep me awake at night but I did spend the odd minute here and there pondering the person behind it. One thing that stuck out was how well rounded the plot was, I thought Peter Cotton came full circle with his plot devices and characterisation to perfection.

Was the Australian political setting well done?
Absolutely. Everything from the investigative problems caused by one of the key players being the country’s Prime Minister – a legitimately hard to access person – to the sometimes dangerously symbiotic relationship between the Canberra press gallery and their subjects seemed to be spot on. For the politics junkie there is much frivolity to be had in trying to work out which real-world people Cotton’s fictional politicians, journalists and bloggers represent.

A little hard for me to comment on this one as I don’t tend to get involved in politics – I’ll default to Bernadette’s take on this one.

Was there something you particularly liked about DEAD CAT BOUNCE?
The main narrative is broken up with extracts from a blog and TV newsbreaks. These were well done and really added to the authentic sensibility.

I didn’t pick a definitive suspect until relatively late in proceedings – in a murder mystery setting that always scores points. I also liked the blog/newsbreaks to keep the narrative fresh.

Was there anything you really didn’t take to about the book?
I shouldn’t criticise someone for not delivering something they never promised but, for me, the book would have been better with a dash of humour. I often struggle to take politics – and politicians – as seriously as they take themselves and I have an idea that most Australians feel the same way. But this could be me projecting my personal view of the world outwards in a way that is totally wrong.

More satire. I think Peter Cotton touched upon it; more so in a subtle manner than by using blatant overtones.

Who would you recommend the book to?
I suspect the book’s ideal reader is someone who doesn’t read a lot of police procedurals but is reasonably interested in Australian politics. But even if that doesn’t quite describe you I’d think most readers would enjoy this tale.

People who enjoy crime fiction within the Australian setting. While a police procedural it doesn’t feel as typecast as the genre suggests by virtue of its subject matter and lead character in Detective Glass. I think readers who come into this looking for a good time will feel satisfied.

In a nutshell that’s two lots of thumbs up from two readers whose tastes are not generally all that similar, proving the book offers something for everyone. Enjoy.