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: 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
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: BAY OF FIRES, Poppy Gee

  • Published by Headline Review 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-7553-8784-7
  • 305 pages
  • Available on Amazon

Synopsis (Hatchett.com)

When the body of a backpacker washes ashore in
an idyllic small town in Tasmania, the close-knit community starts to fall apart. As long-buried secrets start to come out, the delicate balance of their fragile lives is threatened…

Deep in a national park on the east coast of Tasmania, the Bay of Fires is an idyllic holiday community. There are no more than a dozen shacks beside the lagoon – and secrets are hard to keep; the intimacy of other people’s lives is their nourishment.

The fact that Sarah Avery has returned, having left her boyfriend and her job, is cause for gossip in itself. Then, the bikini-clad body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach; a year after another teenage girl went missing. Journalist Hall Flynn is sent to the coast to
investigate, and all too quickly the close-knit community turns in on itself.

My Take

The idyllic holiday community at the Bay of Fires has been meeting each summer for years. But things change, children grow up, parents get older, and at the core of what seems like paradise, decay grows.

It takes Hall Flynn’s outsider’s eye to pick some of the fragility.

Deep in the national park on the east coast of Tasmania, three or four hours by car from Launceston, Bay of Fires is sufficiently isolated to make communications slow. The novel is set over the Christmas Day to New Year’s Day holidays.

This time the dead person is an outsider, a backpacker, and no-one is willing to put everything together. The shack owners don’t reveal all they know. Just twelve months earlier one of their own children disappeared without trace and the sea conveniently bore the blame for that too.

Poppy Gee does a clever job of weaving sub-plots, such as why Sarah Avery has come home and why Hall Flynn is not romantically attached, in with the main mystery of what happened to the backpacker.  The tension between the shack owners and the incoming campers is well depicted, as is the willingness to blame a local resident who is not “normal”. Investigating the backpacker’s death is carried out by Sarah and Hall, sometimes together, sometimes independently.

The setting almost plays the role of another character and certainly sent me off researching.

This was an engaging and refreshing read, another new author to watch.

My rating: 4.3

About the Author

Poppy Gee was born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1977. She spends every
summer with her family at their shack in the Bay of Fires. This novel
was written as part of a Masters in Creative Writing, at the University
of Queensland, which Poppy completed in 2011. This is Poppy’s first
published fiction. She has worked as a journalist, editor and book
reviewer and currently teaches journalism and creative writing. Poppy
lives in Queensland with her husband and two beautiful children. She has
nearly completed her next novel, another literary thriller set in the
Tasmanian ski village Ben Lomond.

Author’s website

Review: JENNIFER SHOT – THE FIRST SHOT, Patricia Kristensen

  • Published by Strategic Book Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-61897-163-051997
  • 258 pages
  • source: review copy
  • Available from Amazon for Kindle – read an excerpt there

Synopsis (author site)

Murder, kidnapping and cannibalism. (Cannibalism?) Must be just another day in Tasmania! What else could go wrong in the humorous murder mystery Jennifer Shot – The First Shot?

Jennifer Shot, a law student at the University of  Tasmania is trying to make some extra money as a fledgling private detective. She finds
herself targeted by a mafia hit man, Chester the Chisel, named after his weapon of choice. To further make ends meet, she rents rooms to Nathan, Rod and Cindy, two oversexed fellow law students, and a police officer with personal issues. When Jennifer’s detective job has her searching for a missing senator’s daughter, she stumbles onto an elaborate mob scheme.

Her life is further complicated by an old flame, a new love, a senile aunt and, oh yes, a killer, one who has Jennifer’s murder at the top of his things-to-do list. Who will get in The First Shot?

My Take

From the first I was attracted by the author’s refreshingly quirky sense of humour. I’m not really one for chick-lit or comedy-with-your-murder plots but Kristensen hits the nail on the head several times in the first few pages.

In the following Jennifer Shot is describing her mother’s death after her father, an undercover cop, was killed by a Tasmanian biker, when his cover was blown:

My mother followed my father off the Derwent Bridge three months later. It was not an act motivated by overwhelming grief at my father’s death, but by my mother’s need to always be right. While driving on the bridge, my mother saw people waving and yelling that the bridge was down. As she had crossed it earlier in the day, she saw no reason why it should not be there on the way back.

The combination of a big ship and a drunken captain had not fared well for the big structure. The centre of the bridge was torn out, leaving a gaping hole that then claimed the lives of sixty-three people. They drove their cars off the centre of the bridge, plunging into the Derwent River and to their death. My mother was the last to make the fall.

The passage helps put a time frame on Jennifer’s life. Jennifer was thirteen at the time she was orphaned.

The plot strained the bounds of credibility a bit too much for my liking, narrative passages at times read like they had been lifted from a travelogue (but then Tasmania is a bit out of the way for your typical crime fiction reader, and there’s a lot that needs explaining), but there were redeeming features among some of the quirky characters, and I’m sure this author will have a following.

My rating: 3.8

The title gives the clue that this is intended to be the beginning of a series. Indeed it appears that the second, JENNIFER SHOT – ANOTHER SHOT is already in the wings.

Review: THE BETRAYAL, Y.A. Erskine

  • Bantam book published by Random House Australia 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-74275-018-7
  • 416 pages
  • source: my local library
  • Available from Amazon

Synopsis (Random House Australia)

An engrossing novel of corruption and injustice at the heart of the police system, from the author of The Brotherhood.

Tasmania is in the grip of one of the longest, bleakest winters on record and it’s particularly icy at the Hobart  Police Station. Of the many golden rules in policing, one is especially sacred: what happens at work stays at work.

So when a naive young constable, Lucy Howard, makes an allegation of sexual assault against a respected colleague, the rule is well and truly broken.

Soon the station is divided. From Lucy’s fellow rookies right up to the commissioner himself – everyone must take a side. With grudges, prejudices and hidden agendas coming into play, support arrives from the unlikeliest of corners.

But so too does betrayal …

My Take

When she realises she has been sexually assaulted by a colleague, Lucy Howard decides to make a stand and to see that the perpetrator gets what he deserves. At twenty two years of age she can’t imagine what effect this will have on her work life.

Lucy’s story is played out against the backdrop of sexual promiscuity among her colleagues, of corruption in the police force and the even larger backdrop of corruption in Tasmanian politics. The story in THE BETRAYAL is told from not only Lucy’s point of view but from twelve others. This was a structure that worked well in Erskine’s 2011 debut THE BROTHERHOOD. It works well here.

THE BETRAYAL exudes authenticity and realism, and can’t help but make the reader consider what he/she would do in these circumstances. Would you report the rape regardless of the consequences for yourself? Where would you stand if a colleague reported she had been raped? Would you side with her or would you check the lie of the land?

A very strong sequel to Erskine’s 2011 debut THE BROTHERHOOD. (A Davitt Readers Choice Award winner in 2012) There are some links to the earlier novel, also available through Amazon. Story threads left hanging in that novel are tied off.  Y.A. Erskine is certainly one to put on your list of Australian authors to note and read.

My rating: 4.7

See also Bernadette’s review

About the Author

Y.A. Erskine spent eleven years in the Tasmania Police Service. She was
active in front-line policing and served as a detective in the CIB.
She is also an historian with an honours degree in early modern
history. Y.A. Erskine lives in Melbourne and is happily married with two
dogs.

Review: POET’S COTTAGE by Josephine Pennicott

PoetsCottagePennicottJo16608_fNewly divorced Sadie and her teenage daughter Betty move to the Tasmanian home Sadie inherited upon her mother’s recent death. Poet’s Cottage is in a small fishing village half a world away from the bustle of Sydney where the two have come from. It is Sadie’s mother’s childhood home and the place where Sadie’s grandmother, well-known children’s author Pearl Tatlow, died in suspicious circumstances in the 1930′s. As well as trying to build a new life for her small family Sadie is determined to write about Pearl Tatlow’s life and possibly her death, which leads her to start uncovering the hidden secrets of her family and the village.

Because these days it seems books must be labelled clearly with a single genre stamp POET’S COTTAGE has been marketed as a mystery. This is fine as far as it goes but I know several readers who would be turned off because they ‘never read crime fiction’. I’m sure they would enjoy this absorbing mixture of old-fashioned whodunnit, gothic romance and ghost story but they may never find out about it because they never venture into the crime shelves of their local book stores. Which is all a long winded way of me saying genre labelling does more harm than good (a complaint I have made before).

But I shouldn’t be grumbling when I have spent a most delightful afternoon escaping the worries of the world tucked up in my favourite reading chair in my own little cottage reading this very engaging novel. Pennicott, who earlier this year won her second Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award for the best short story by an Australian woman crime writer, has created a marvellous cast of characters who play out something of a saga in a very evocative setting.

The past and present are cleverly linked here as one of the first people Sadie meets in the village is the elderly Birdie Pinkerton who was a friend of Pearl’s and married her widower husband some years after Pearl’s death. Birdie published the only book about Pearl Tatlow ever to have been written. Although she has read the book before Sadie is thrilled when Birdie gives her an unpublished version of the book that, she is promised, contains more details of Pearl’s life than has been generally known. Chapters from this manuscript are subsequently interspersed with the modern day narrative so we readers learn about the past events at the same time as Sadie.

There is a lot more going on here than just a whodunnit, as entertaining a puzzle as that is. One of the most intriguing elements for me was the exploration of the different ways in which a single person can be perceived by those around them. Pearl Tatlow is loved by one of her daughters (Sadie’s mother Marguerite) but despised by her other daughter (Thomasina who is still living nearby to Poet’s Cottage when Sadie and Betty arrive). She is adored by her husband, fawned over by several young men, reviled by the conservative women of the town and admired by Birdie and another young girl who find her exotic and beautiful. Who is the real Pearl Tatlow and which version of her did someone want to kill?

The gothic element of the story is provided in part by the setting – the house and the location which is as close to the haunted English moors as you will find in Australia – and partly by the dark romance of several threads. There’s not a great deal of happily ever after for the lovers of POET’S COTTAGE. Throw in a couple of secret tunnels and a ghost or two and you have all the necessary ingredients.

Both the present day and historical stories within POET”S COTTAGE offer intrigue in the form of the secrets people keep, either willingly or unconsciously, and Pennicott has woven them together into a great yarn.


Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2012]
ISBN: 9781743345535
Length: 392 pages
Format: eBook (ePub)
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE BETRAYAL by Y.A. Erskine

If the phrase hadn’t been commandeered by an all together different book I would open this review by talking about its myriad shades of grey. Because in depicting a young policewoman’s decision to bring charges of rape against one of her fellow officers THE BETRAYAL’s greatest success is in showing that such an incident cannot be seen in black and white terms.

Using a similar structure to her first novel, 2011′s THE BROTHERHOOD, Erskine tells her story (and in large part it really is her story) from different perspectives. The book opens with a chapter entitled The Complainant in which a young policewoman, Lucy Howard, is raped by a so-called friend who deliberately spiked her drink so he could have sex with her while she was unconscious. The last chapter of the book is told from the perspective of Lucy’s rapist which, in its cavalier mundaneness, is much more chilling than all the italicised ‘thoughts of serial killers‘ the crime genre is so fond of. The intervening chapters show us the story from many other points of view including Lucy’s bosses, a journalist and the case’s prosecutors. Many of the players in the story actively oppose Lucy and side with her rapist, thinking nothing of spreading malicious lies or engaging in intimidating behaviour towards her. Others in the story are ambivalent about Lucy’s decision to press charges against a fellow officer even if they believe she was raped by him. Only one person, the Detective Inspector who oversees the case, really supports Lucy throughout her ordeal.

In some respects THE BETRAYAL could be considered lightweight for its genre. There’s not a single dead body in its 420 pages, no blood or gore and only a single crime in focus. But despite that, or perhaps because of it, the book is one of the most compelling I have read. Ever. Unlike more traditional crime fiction there’s no obvious path of good triumphing over evil or justice inevitably prevailing here. Because we see the story through so many eyes we don’t have an early sense of how it will play out and, by the end, we’re not really sure what form justice might take if it were to appear anyway. Could a guilty verdict make up for the abuse, bullying and vilification that Lucy receives from almost everyone in her world?

Having worked for a few months as a civilian in my local police department in the early 90′s, I’m not sure Erskine went far enough in describing the disrespect and simmering menace towards women that thrived in the environment, though I can understand those readers who struggled with this aspect of the book. It paints a very uncomfortable picture, all the more so if one accepts its realism (which doesn’t mean that all police officers are horrid or brutal misogynists, merely that those who are can get away with behaviour that would be unacceptable elsewhere)  The chapter told from the viewpoint of The Toecutter (a slang term referring to the internal affairs policewoman assigned to the case) is perhaps the most poignant . Because although Sonya Wheeler is a consummate professional in carrying out her duties she is personally torn by having to be involved at all. The passage in which she articulates her anger at how Lucy’s decision to press charges will negatively impact on all the female police officers who have struggled for the moderate level of acceptance they have attained is sobering in its authenticity.

THE BETRAYAL is not perfect. While Lucy Howard’s situation has a credible feel the character of Lucy feels a bit ‘off’ at times. On one hand she’s supposedly the best of the participants on a Detectives’ course (which one assumes requires a level of maturity and intelligence) but she’s also incredibly naive and immature and these two sides to her character don’t quite gel for me. And the book does paint an almost universally bleak picture of society in general and the police force (at least in Tasmania) specifically which must put some readers off.

But these imperfections do not take away from the book’s many strengths. In showing the dark, painful side of choosing to report a date rape and press charges the book opens up a subject that demands greater scrutiny. By including so many of the truly horrid things that can happen to a rape victim after they have been raped the book might be holding up society to a magnifying glass rather than the more traditional mirror but I have little doubt that each of the things depicted as happening to Lucy has happened to a rape victim somewhere, even if not all to the same person. And if there are readers who could be left untouched by that thought then we are, collectively, in serious trouble. This is not a book I would recommend if you’re looking for a light escape from the pressures of the real world. But when you are in the mood for something that offers genuine insight into the complexities of the modern world I would heartily recommend THE BETRAYAL.


I reviewed Y.A. Erskine’s first novel, THE BROTHERHOOD, last year.

I’m counting this towards my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for this year and it could not be a more perfect book for the challenge.


My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Random House [2012]
ISBN: 9781742750187
Length: 432 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE BROTHERHOOD, Y.A. Erskine

  • Published Bantam, Random House 2011
  • ISBN 978-1-74275-015-6
  • 379 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Booktopia)

One dead cop, one small island and an impact that will last a lifetime.

When Sergeant John White, mentor, saviour and all-round good guy, is murdered during a routine call-out, the tight-knit world of Tasmania Police is rocked to the core.

An already difficult investigation into the death of one of their own becomes steeped in political complexities when the main suspect is identified as Aboriginal and the case, courtesy of the ever-hostile local media, looks set to make Palm Island resemble a Sunday afternoon picnic in comparison. And as the investigation unfolds through the eyes of the sergeant’s colleagues, friends, family, enemies and the suspect himself, it becomes clear that there was a great deal more to John White – and the squeaky-clean reputation of the nation’s smallest state police service – than ever met the eye.

The Brotherhood is a novel about violence, preconceptions, loyalties, corruption, betrayal and the question a copper should never need to ask: just who can you trust?

About the Author

Y.A. Erskine spent eleven years in the Tasmania Police Service. She was active in front-line policing and served as a detective in the CIB. She is also an historian with an honours degree in early modern history. Y.A. Erskine lives in Melbourne and is happily married with two dogs.

My take

Hobart, small city, big town, capital of Tasmania. TASPol, a small police force where everyone knows everyone else personally, working out of Hobart, in a state where about a third of the population gets some sort of government assistance, and another quarter works for the government.

I loved the innovative structure of this book. It reminded me of clock solitaire. The story is carefully layered. We start with a hook. The officer in charge of the investigation into the death of a fellow police officer is going through the deceased’s possessions and finds some items that puzzle the reader but for the investigator seem to have only one interpretation.

And then the reader is dealt a series of “cards”, the story as seen by a range of connected participants. We learn who the police officer was and how he was killed and through each chapter we see him through the eyes of another. Each chapter adds a layer to our knowledge until eventually we come back to where the book started.

And interlaced into the story are various strands: an Aboriginal population, the remnants of Australia’s original inhabitants, now welfare dependent, and in some cases only too willing to cry victimisation and brutality; an under resourced police force with more than usual difficulties in recruiting and retaining good officers; corruption in all professions, even among those responsible for managing the legal system; and an island state with significant social prejudices. It’s a heady mix.

THE BROTHERHOOD is certainly an Australian police procedural with a difference and worthy of attention.

My rating: 5.0

Places you might like to visit

Review: THE BROTHERHOOD by Y.A. Erskine

As with all début authors, especially début Australian crime writers who don’t get a lot of attention in old media (or the new variety for that matter), I had no particular expectations of Y.A. Erskine’s THE BROTHERHOOD. I simply bought it because I’m trying to keep up with all new works by Aussie crime writers, especially the début authors. I certainly had no reason to anticipate it would be one of the very best books I’ve read all year.

John White is a Sergeant in the Tasmanian police force and the book is, on one level, the story of his murder which occurred when he attended a burglary in progress. Two Aboriginal teenagers are accused of the crime and are quickly apprehended which sets the stage for one of the most politically sensitive cases the island community has ever seen.

Although it concerns a crime and policing THE BROTHERHOOD is not a traditional police procedural. It unfolds via a series of chapters, each from the point of view of a different participant in events. We start by seeing things through the eyes of The Probationer; a young constable who only graduated from the Academy a month earlier and who accompanies John White to the house where a neighbour has reported seeing burglars. Her nervousness and excitement at her new job are palpable at the outset, as is her dawning belief by the end of the chapter that her inexperience is the reason White died. In the next chapter we switch to the view of things from The Commissioner’s standpoint. He is unpopular, a technophobe, has old-fashioned, politically incorrect views and knows that the case, if not handled well, could be disastrous so his priority is identifying opportunities to limit the damage.

Subsequent chapters show us things from the perspective of the lead detective (also White’s best friend), a local journalist, White’s wife, one of the suspects and several others. With only a single chapter from each perspective this structure could have resulted in a disjointed story with under-developed characters but neither of these things is evident here. The story flows beautifully, slowly revealing more about White (who never gets a chapter of his own though his presence is felt throughout the book), his relationships and the complex realities of modern policing. And revealing too that things are not always (rarely even?) as they appear to be. Some of the people we meet are warm and good-hearted, aiming to do the right thing even if they’re not always able to. Some are self-centred or disillusioned or never had a chance to thrive. Some are just plain awful human beings. All of them have secrets, fears, worries and dreams and all of them are compelling.

While I like my crime fiction to be political (small p intended) and/or to explore some aspect of the human condition I abhor being lectured to, preached at or told what to think. What I loved about THE BROTHERHOOD most of all was that just told its story, warts and all. It did tackle sensitive themes like communities in which long term welfare dependency is the norm, police resourcing, the dangers and unpleasantness that police face daily and, of course, the complex and often fractured relationship between Australia’s indigenous people and the justice system. In direct contrast to what most media articles on any of these issues will ever tell us, the book demonstrates that there is never a simple right and wrong side to any of these subjects. There are, as anyone but a moronic radio shock jock and his (or her) followers knows intuitively, a myriad of shades of grey and they are all on show here. Readers are given pause for thought and are allowed, should they wish, to come to their own conclusions about the rights and wrongs of individual behaviours and events.

Yvette Erskine has clearly drawn on her 11 years experience as a Tasmanian police officer to give THE BROTHERHOOD a realistic feel. It quite literally hums with authenticity. Its people are very human and its isolated island setting subtly captured. It is overall a dark book without much in the way of happy endings but, for me, it achieved a rare balance between the utter hopelessness of true noir and the occasionally unrealistic optimism of the police procedural. It is one of the very best books I have read all year and I recommend it heartily to everyone.


I have to admit this isn’t the easiest book to get hold of, even here in Oz, which is a travesty. But I did mange to find THE BROTHERHOD at: Dymocks (paper), US Kindle store (no idea if it’s available to non-Australians though).


My rating: 5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Random House [2011]
ISBN: 9781742750156
Length: 381 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it

Review: HOW THE DEAD SEE by David Owen

Embarrassingly for someone who is trying to keep on top of Aussie crime fiction releases I had not heard of this series before spying this book on the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards longlist. If this instalment is a good representation of the series then I have missed several reading treats as HOW THE DEAD SEE, the sixth book of the series, is a delight.

Detective Inspector Franz Heineken of the Tasmanian Police Force is nicknamed Pufferfish, described as

A prickly, toxic bastard, ability to inflate and even explode when severely provoked.

In this outing he is confronted by several high-profile cases including the theft of a valuable diamond necklace, the death of a well-known actor which is reported as suicide until the actor’s girlfriend claims it was murder and the vicious beating of a young Indian woman. Heineken and his team, DC Faye Addison and DS Rafe Tredway, think they know which of the island’s criminal fraternity is responsible for the necklace theft but they have a devil of a time proving it as their prime suspect has claimed police harassment before so they must tread very carefully indeed. The investigation into the actor’s death meanwhile introduces the police to an entirely new suspect pool and the somewhat debauched behaviour one might associate with Hollywood.

The book makes excellent use of the first-person point of view by showing us not only what Pufferfish sees and hears but also what he thinks about what he is seeing and hearing via a dry, acerbic internal monologue. Seeing the public/professional face of the man as well as his more private thoughts provides both entertainment and a depth to the character that it would be hard to get across in any other way (especially as the novel is refreshingly short). Although his work does take up most of his time we do get some glimpses into Heineken’s home life as we meet his slightly clandestine girlfriend and his adult daughter and learn about his idyllic-sounding beach shack.

Happily there is a first rate mystery in the book too. Often this aspect of a humourous crime novel can be a little lacking but here there are two very interesting main crimes and neither goes in the direction one imagines at the outset. Although the book maintains a fast pace, Owen has still managed to depict the complications and temporary stalling that such investigations must surely take which gives a  very believable feeling to the whole thing. Another element of the book which helps the credibility factor is the very natural-sounding dialogue both between the team members and with the various suspects.

To wrap up this very entertaining package the book also offers a strong sense of its setting. The positives (outstanding scenery, still-present sense of history and a lively community spirit) and negatives (isolation from the rest of the world, not always welcoming to strangers) of Tasmania are incorporated seamlessly into the story and the writing and overall tone of the book is very, very Australian. There were a couple of sentences even I had to read twice to understand, though as they both contained sporting metaphors it’s not terribly surprising.

Knowing absolutely nothing about a book or its author before cracking a book’s spine is a pretty rare occurrence for me these days and I savour the complete lack of expectation that accompanies the experience. It took me only a few pages to become completely hooked by this clever, topical story and its deliciously off-beat characters. Highly recommended.


My rating: 4/5 stars
Publisher: 40 South Publishing [2011]
ISBN: 9780980856415
Length: 234 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the author for review


David Owen was born in Zimbabwe and migrated to Australia via Malawi, Swaziland, South African and London. He now lives in Tasmania, the setting for his Pufferfish novels, of which HOW THE DEAD SEE is number six. The previous novels in the series are:
  • Pig’s Head (1994)
  • A Second Hand (1995)
  • X and Y (1995)
  • The Devil Taker (1997)
  • No Weather for a Burial (2010) (here’s a review at Aust Crime Fiction)

Although I have managed to be completely oblivious to this terrific series until now, Pufferfish does have his fans dotted around the globe. Here are some thoughts on the series from Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders (with more thoughts/reviews via his links)

To be honest the book is not that readily available in Australia so I’ve no idea how the rest of the world might get hold of this one (a prime candidate for eBook publishing if ever I’ve seen one) but as we have two copies here at Fair Dinkum HQ you can expect a giveaway some time soon.