PUNTER’S LUCK, Peter Klein

New Holland Publishers, 2007, ISBN 9781741105711, 304 pages

Finding Wombat’s sister Judy dead was the last thing Punter had expected when Judy phoned him about his old surfing pal Wombat’s apparent disappearance. Judy usually saw her brother Vinnie (aka Wombat) at least a couple of times a week, but he hadn’t been around for at least a week, and when he failed to turn for a regular Friday night hook up she had got worried.

John Punter, former strapper and son of a well known trainer, makes his living by betting at the races, and to a large extent can do as he pleases. Through a racecourse detective Punter learnt that there were some heavies looking for Wombat. Rumour said that Wombat had been betting big and losing heavy and that the loan sharks were after him. Wombat was employed as a strapper and his room at the stables had been trashed and it looked very much like he’d done a runner.

The search for Wombat leads Punter and his friend Kate, an investigative journalist at the Age, from Melbourne up the coastal road as far north as Brisbane, uncovering connections with big money and illegal drugs.

PUNTER’S LUCK is Peter Klein’s debut crime fiction entry. (I read and reviewed the second, PUNTER’S TURF a month or so ago). Klein is certainly an Australian writer to watch.
There are many characters in PUNTER’S LUCK who reappear in the second novel: Kate the journalist, Punter’s father DJ and his brother David, Beering the racecourse detective, Punter’s cat Chan, even a reference to big Oakie White who is a central character in PUNTER’S TURF

There’s an Australian flavour to this novel that comes from the settings, places, and colloquialisms. You come away feeling that Klein has laid an excellent foundation on which to build a series. His writing is polished and assured, and story flows easily. A satisfying read.

My rating 4.4

Blood Sunset, Jarad Henry


It’s summer in Melbourne, Australia and with the city choking on the smoke from bushfires the body of a young runaway, Dallas Boyd, is discovered. At first Detective Rubens McCauley, newly back to work after recovering from a gunshot wound, registers the death as having no suspicious circumstances. However as he thinks about it more he becomes convinced the boy was murdered though it’s difficult for him to convince his superiors of this. He works alone on the case while suspended from duty but when a second teenager’s body is found his boss reluctantly allows him to return to work.

Ostensibly about the case of a murdered boy, Blood Sunset really seemed to me to be more about inner-city Melbourne. McCauley meets a series of people as he investigates the case and each one is used to show some aspect of life in the city. Sometimes these vignettes have little to do with the case, such as the scene which had me in tears where McCauley’s elderly neighbour describes the fear and helplessness he feels over one of his friends who was assaulted while withdrawing money from an ATM. At other times they’re more directly involved with the investigation such as when McCauley meets the social worker who has been assigned to the case of Dallas Boyd’s six-year-old sister who lives with the same step father who abused Boyd. Even McCauley’s personal life presents opportunities to display different sides of city life including his niece’s use of recreational drugs and his own search for the perfect pub gig. All of these threads are pulled deftly together to present a portrait of the gritty side of life in a modern city.

There is a very sound police procedural too, with McCauley doggedly tracking down leads and involving anyone he can find to help him uncover what happened to Dallas Boyd. At the very end of the book Henry did introduce one over-used crime fiction cliché, particularly unnecessary when the book is wonderfully suspense-filled without it, but overall it didn’t detract too much from the otherwise excellent story.

McCauley is a nicely complex character: sharing some of the foibles of other lone detectives in crime fiction but never becoming unbelievably dysfunctional. His struggle with some personal issues throughout the book is woven into the story well, providing interesting insight into his character without allowing the story to become angst-ridden. None of the other characters had much opportunity to be terribly well-developed and that, for me, was the only other slightly disappointing element to the book. Still, we did get some fascinating glimpses of both the city and McCauley’s personal history through meeting his estranged wife, his brother and some of his police colleagues.

I bought this book purely because it was by an Australian author and hadn’t read a single thing about it before embarking on it. I sometimes wish I could approach all books with such a lack of expectations because it offers the potential for a reading surprise which, at least on this occasion, was an entirely pleasant one.

THE DEVIL’S COMPANIONS, John Misto

ISBN 0733619517 Hodder RRP$32.95. published 2005.

What could be worse than losing a child on Christmas Eve?

Three year old Anna Brennan was abducted from her seat in a crowded church at midnight mass while her parents left her for a moment to receive Communion. She is kidnapped, believed murdered.

Twenty years later, in the process of a burglary investigation at a nun’s convent, a startling piece of evidence accidentally comes to light. Could Anna still be alive? If so, who abducted her, and why? Detective Constable Greg Raine is assigned the task of solving the case and reuniting Anna with her parents. But a nightmare of treachery and murder lies ahead. In a shattering climax, the detective unearths the secret behind Anna’s disappearance … and it’s a discovery that comes at a terrifying price.

My rating 4.2

Other reviews to check

John Misto is an Australian author, born in Sydney, who has been writing for the stage and television for 2 decades. For his work in television John has won three AFI Awards and three Writers’ Guild Awards, but THE DEVIL’S COMPANIONS appears to be his only crime fiction novel.