Review: Whispering Death by Garry Disher

At the beginning of the sixth Challis and Destry novel, set on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, Inspector Hal Challis is saying a temporary goodbye to his colleague and girlfriend Ellen Destry as she heads of to Europe for some intensive study that will enable her to establish a new Sex Crimes Unit on her return. The timing proves to have a dark irony to it when a young woman is raped by someone wearing a police uniform. At the same time as the investigation into this vicious crime gets underway there are warnings that the man responsible for a series of armed bank robberies looks to be making his way to the area and Challis gets himself in hot water with his superiors over speaking out about the lack of resources available to him.

All of this accounts for about half the threads in this brilliantly constructed novel that offers all you could wish for in a police procedural. The complex story could easily be a disaster in a lesser writer’s hands but Disher manages these storylines and half a dozen others with seemingly consummate ease. There’s no chance of becoming bored as readers move from a burglar’s pre-crime survey to the examination of a crime scene to a witness interview. So that the pace doesn’t become so fast the poor reader is in danger of whiplash the book provides a good mixture of emotionally gripping scenes, like interviewing the rape victim, and those which allow the reader’s heartbeat to slow down a little. My favourite of these are the ones depicting the delicate investigation into a socially conscious graffiti artist who is spray painting messages like A CASHED UP BOGAN LIVES HERE and I’M COMPENSATING FOR A SMALL DICK on the driveway entrances of the area’s rich and tasteless residents.

The character development is equally strong with both one-off, bad-guy characters and members of Challis’ team all receiving attention at some point or another. Challis, who has had his fair share of professional and personal troubles in the past, is pretty happy here and is readying himself for a new phase in his life as his relationship with Ellen grows stronger. With her out of the action for most of the novel we spend more time with DC Pam Murphy who has some troubles of her own, not least of which are the physical symptoms which result when she stops taking anti depressants. She proves to be an interesting character to get to know more deeply and is a nice counterbalance to poor Scobie Sutton who doesn’t seem to be quite cut out for the darker side of police work and isn’t as creative as he really needs to be either. Sometimes in fiction long-running characters feel like they’re in a kind of suspended animation so that each time we meet them they’re having the same problems (such as an unresolved sexual tension between two characters). Disher allows his regular characters to move on in their professional and personal lives in a way that is very natural and more satisfying for the reader, though it probably means the author has to work harder to find new sources of suspense and tension in each story.

To round out the novel there’s also a nice undercurrent of social commentary about important issues such as police resourcing, the investigation of sex crimes against women and the problems that arise in societies where some people have nothing and others seem to have everything. It is thoughtful without preaching on any particular issue.

A final positive note to Whispering Death is that it doesn’t demand readers have read all the previous novels in the series in order to fully enjoy this one. I’ve read the early books in the series but somehow missed the last couple but did not feel at any disadvantage. There’s enough back story provided to enable someone brand new to the series to feel ‘clued in’ but not so much as to provide too many spoilers for those who might choose to read the previous novels after reading this one. So you have no excuse then not to track down this truly outstanding example of the modern police procedural. Now.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Text Publishing [2011]
ISBN: 9781921758591
Length: 330 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: Borrowed from library

Review: The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald

It’s probably stretching the friendship to discuss this book at Fair Dinkum as Helen Fitzgerald no longer lives in Australia (though she did until she was 23), the book is not set here and it only borders on being crime fiction (sitting more comfortably in the comic/noir/suspense category if there were such a thing). But I liked it a lot so decided it fit within our flexible guidelines.

The Donor has a simple, though hideous, premise. Will Marion’s twin teenage daughters, Georgie and Kay, both develop a rare genetically inherited kidney disease. They will die without each having a transplant and Will is desperate for a solution but what is the right one? Should he find their mother? Try his parents? Donate one of his own kidneys? But to which daughter? How far would a man go to save his children?

You might think it would be hard to find the humour in dying teenagers and desperate fathers but Fitzgerald makes it look easy as The Donor is full of rich, dark humour. It’s in the depiction of Will as Scotland’s most hapless chap; full of ideas but rarely getting beyond the point of making a list about how he would achieve his latest notion (such as the one he makes detailing the relative merits of different suicide methods). It’s in his choice of temporary relief from his circumstances and the humiliating way he must make his way home afterwards. It’s in the short, clever sentences that you sometimes have to read twice to be sure you’ve gotten all their meaning. I loved, for example, the way we learned about Will becoming a single dad:

“Will was thirty-three when Cynthia went out to the shops”

I just love the way that line conveys so much in so few words.

To counterbalance the humour there is a vein of almost (but not quite) unbearable sadness that undoubtedly draws in part on Fitzgerald’s experience as probation and parole worker. As the most heavily fleshed-out character Will himself is both sad and funny at different points in the novel and as a reader I moved from mild annoyance at his lack of oomph to being wholly in his corner and willing him to success (whatever that might look like). But his wife, the girls’ mother, is just sad from start to finish, though very credibly drawn as a person whose entire life is consumed by addiction. The girls themselves are equally believable; displaying the mixture of childish and adult emotions that any 16-year old would do, never mind one who is facing such a gloomy future.

I read the book in a single afternoon which is due in equal parts to its short (at least these days) length of around 60,000 words and the compelling nature of the story. The very ordinariness of the people and their situation is easy (and therefore terrifying) to identify with and you can’t help but turn one more page to find out what will happen.  The presence of a vaguely surreal sense of humour throughout saves the book from being anywhere near the maudlin, ‘misery-lit’ category so popular in some literary circles. Highly recommended.

There’s a guest review of one of Helen Fitzgerald’s earlier novels, Dead Lovely, at Fair Dinkum

My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Faber and Faber [2011]
ISBN: 9780571254378
Length: 309 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: borrowed from the library

The Fair Dinkum Quiz #2

To celebrate our 150th post here at Fair Dinkum Crime (doesn’t everyone celebrate the big 150?) we’ve got a copy of Katherine Howell’s latest novel VIOLENT EXPOSURE to give away. Kerrie and I both liked the book a lot (as you can tell from her review and mine). The book has been freshly delivered from the publisher so it’s in pristine, un-read condition too.

It would be just too easy to let anyone enter the draw so we’ve devised a wee quiz. You need to send us an email telling us which of these are crime fiction titles by Australian authors and which are band names (Australian or otherwise). There are five bands and five book titles in the list you just need to tell us which is which

1. Split Enz
2. Guns N Rosé
3. The Cooper Temple Clause
4. Split
5. Murder by Death
6. Murder Must Wait
7. The Dead Kennedys
8. An Easeful Death
9. The Dismemberment Plan
10. The Vaults of Blackarden Castle

The Rules

  • Open to anyone on planet earth (it will be shipped from Australia, possibly by slow boat depending on where you live)
  • All correct entries will go into the draw for the prize
  • Entries must be received by midnight on October 3 Australian Central Time (GMT +9.5)
  • Emails must be sent to

VIOLENT EXPOSURE, Katherine Howell

Format: Kindle Edition

  • File Size: 620 KB
  • Publisher: Macmillan Australia (December 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought the e-book but was also supplied with a hard copy for review by Macmillan Australia.

Publisher’s Blurb

When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?

As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords’ fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it’s too late.

My take

The structure of VIOLENT EXPOSURE is similar to earlier novels in this series (this is #4): parallel plots that advance in tandem, each generating their own sense of suspense. The link between the main  plots is Detective Ella Marconi. This time, in addition to Marconi providing links to plots of previous novels, there is a continuing thread linking VIOLENT EXPOSURE to the first novel FRANTIC in which the baby son of a police officer and a paramedic was kidnapped. The links reinforce the close nature of the paramedic community.

There is plenty in VIOLENT EXPOSURE to keep the reader engaged: believable characters and scenarios, as well as a building tension as the Marconi and her team race to find Connor Crawford.

Marconi has moved from Sydney’s Cold Case Unit, where she was taking this easy after a bullet wound, into the “real world” of severe crimes. Other strands of the novel involve the paramedics where a trainee does not seem to have the sense of commitment required, and the struggle one of the paramedics and his wife are having to bring a baby to full term.

There is a further crossover between the police and the ambos (paramedics) where one of the latter is running a drama class that is part of a “street kid” project. One of the drama class participants works for the victim in her garden centre. Again this sense of coincidence reinforces how small the worlds are that we move in.

The title also makes the reader contemplate the effects on both police officers and paramedics of constant exposure to violent crimes. Do they become inured to bloodshed, less sensitive emotionally, or undermined morally?

For me VIOLENT EXPOSURE was further affirmation that Katherine Howell’s novels are both unique and of world-class.

My rating: 4.8

Other titles reviewed:

Katherine Howell’s website

Other reviews to check:

Event: When Genres Attack – Crime Discussion

Three terrific Aussie crime writers will be appearing as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival later this month and I for one am jealous that I won’t be there.

Lenny Bartulin, Malla Nunn and P.M. Newton are the authors

20 September @ 7:30pm is the date and time

More information is at Shearer’s Books

If you’re in Sydney do head along (and if you have some thoughts to share with us please send them along for posting here at Fair Dinkum)

She Kilda Again: Australian Women’s Crime Writer’s Convention 2011

To mark the 20th anniversary of Sisters in Crime Australia a weekend-long celebration of women’s crime writing is being held in Melbourne.

The convention will involve all leading Australian women crime novelists (there are dozens of names, I couldn’t pick out just a few to highlight) together with true-crime writers, screen-writers, producers, booksellers, publishers, lawyers, judges, police, forensic specialists, journalists, librarians, academics, critics and (mostly) readers and viewers. It will discuss and analyse books, film and television shows, law and justice issues, new trends and critical issues of the genre. International guests will include Margie Orford (South Africa), Shamini Flint (Singapore) and Vanda Symon (New Zealand).

The convention includes a launch of the Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut (the latest volume of award winning stories from the Scarlet Stiletto short story competition) and a ceremony for the 11th Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women.

When: 7-9 October, 2011

Where: Rydges Hotel, Swanson Street, Carlton, Victoria

More information: Head to the convention website for a full program and important updates

Sadly neither of your Fair Dinkum correspondents can make it to Melbourne that weekend but if any of our readers attend events feel free to send us your thoughts/reviews/pictures of writers in compromising situations for publication (or blackmail) purposes 🙂

Hopefully we’ll be able to keep up with the big news via twitter (following @SheKilda would be a good start)

Review: THE OTTOMAN MOTEL by Christopher Currie

Simon Sawyer is 11 years old when he and his parents travel to Reception, a small town on the east coast of Australia, to visit Simon’s grandmother who the family have been estranged from for some years. On the advice of one of the locals Simon’s parents decide to do some sightseeing before their visit to grandma and Simon stays at their motel by himself. He dozes off when he wakes at 10:00pm that night he realises his parents have not returned and he soon learns that no one has seen them since the afternoon. He is taken in by a widowed B&B owner who has an odd collection of family and guests.

As a born and bred city girl it is the small town with its thin veneer of civility hiding an evil heart that is always guaranteed to scare me witless and Currie has created yet another atmospheric excuse for me to stay safely within the confines of my anonymous urban sprawl. Reception is not the kind of town tourist bureaus would highlight, harbouring all manner of dark secrets and people who have fled other, mostly problem-filled lives to settle there. There’s a real sinister mood to the novel as readers are introduced to a succession of gloomy characters such as the ageing and secretive crab fisherman, the guilt-ridden policewoman, the widowed B&B owner and his peculiar children. This family takes in Simon while the search for his parents gets underway which introduces Simon to his grandmother, a permanent guest at the B&B and yet another Reception resident with secrets to hide.

I’m not a huge fan of books which feature children as main characters as they are often given more adult traits than the average kid. However Simon is believably drawn, capturing the mixture of burgeoning independence and fear at possibly being all alone in the world quite beautifully. His interactions with the B&B owner’s two children, still recovering from the loss of their mother several years earlier, and Pony, an orphan boy who lives there too, are also very believable. These relationships and the children’s’ reactions to unfolding events add an interesting perspective to this story which is, in essence, the opposite of the more traditional missing child mystery.

The story itself is good though for me it was a slightly weaker element of the book than the excellent characters and atmosphere. Although I found it compelling enough to want to read on quickly there were just a few too many implausible happenings for me to be wholly sucked in. The resolution in particular was not quite as satisfying as I’d have liked; I didn’t mind the loose ends but felt a little cheated by the very vaguely described outcome of the main plot thread. Overall though I thought this a solid debut novel and will be keen to read more from its young author. Its mixture of influences, which clearly include some horror and science fiction in addition to mysteries, and evocative writing style made for a quick, engaging and unpredictable read.

THE OTTOMAN MOTEL has been reviewed at Cally Jackson Writes and The Book Nerd Club

I first came across THE OTTOMAN MOTEL via this interview with the author at my favourite Australian news site

My rating: 3.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Text Publishing [2011]
ISBN: 9781921758164
Length: 290 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: borrowed from the library

More Award News for Aussie Crime Fiction

The Asher Literary Award is named after Mrs Helen Waltraud Rosalie Asher who came to Australia as a post-WWII German refugee from fascism. The award is won by a female author of a literary work which carries an anti-war message or theme. The 2011 winner was announced yesterday (1 September) in Melbourne and one of two joint winners this year is P.M. Newton for THE OLD SCHOOL. The other winner is Roberta Lowing for RUIN, a poetry collection exploring the tragedy of the Iraq War.  Among the many social and political themes THE OLD SCHOOL tackles with sensitivity and intelligence is the long-lasting fallout from the Vietnam War.

Fair Dinkum Crime congratulates Pam (PM) on her well deserved win.

A fair dinkum month – August 2011

Australian crime fiction in the news and on the web

We found a new blog we think worth highlighting because it’s hosted by a self-confessed crime fiction tragic who lives in Tasmania. The blog is called Tas Book Lover and its host, David, flew out of the blogging box by jumping into a bunch of challenges and reviewing one or two (or 14) Aussie crime fiction novels:  Peter CorrisTORN APART, Garry Disher‘s THE FALLOUT, Kathryn Fox‘s DEATH MASK, Geoffrey McGeachin‘s THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL, Garry Disher‘s CHAIN OF EVIDENCE, Robert G Barrett’s THE TESLA LEGACY, David Owen‘s NO WEATHER FOR A BURIAL, Michael Robotham‘s SHATTER, Peter CorrisFOLLOW THE MONEY, Geoffrey McGeachin‘s SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY, Garry Disher‘s WYATT, Adrian Hyland‘s GUNSHOT ROAD, Garry Disher’s SNAPSHOT and Adrian Hyland‘s DIAMOND DOVE. Not bad for not-quite-one-month’s reviewing eh.

And while we’re discussing websites Aust Crime Fiction has had a layout update which looks nifty and makes it even easier to find some good Aussie authors to try out. While tootling ’round the newly spiffy site I noticed Karen had posted a nice list of where to start with Australian Crime Fiction.

Karen of the aforementioned Aust Crime Fiction has also been reviewing Aussie crime fiction like crazy…Lenny Bartulin‘s DE LUXE, Barry Maitland‘s CHELSEA MANSIONS, John M Green‘s BORN TO RUN, Garry Disher‘s CROSSKILL, Boyd Anderson‘s LUDO, Robin Adair‘s THE GHOST OF WATERLOO and Miranda Darling‘s THE SIREN’S SONG.

Readings bookshop in Melbourne posted a short video review of three new works of Aussie crime fiction, giving a great wrap to Alistair Sarre‘s PROHIBITED ZONE about someone who escapes from the refugee detention centre at Woomera (as one of the few books set in the home state of Fair Dinkum HQ one of us should get around to reading this one soon). The other two books that are mentioned are Stuart Littlemore‘s HARRY CURRY: COUNSEL OF CHOICE (this one has a curiosity factor as Littlemore is one of Australia’s most high profile lawyers and QCs and was the original host of the long-running national TV show that provides analysis on the media) and Garry Disher‘s WHISPERING DEATH (more about this elsewhere)

Barry Maitland tells Readings Books about the inspiration behind his latest novel CHELSEA MANSIONS

Garry Disher‘s most recent novel, WHISPERING DEATH was reviewed by Andrew Nette at Pulp Curry who said that Disher “avoids the pedestrian nature of many police procedurals through his ability to chronicle the underbelly of life in Melbourne’s growing outer suburban fringe, including the gap between rich and poor and stress created by rapid population growth, including for the police” (nice…gotta get my hands on this one).

Michael Robotham talked to South African paper Times Live about leaving journalism, ghost writing and the amount of research that went into his latest novel THE WRECKAGE. He did an interview with Radio New Zealand too. Michael’s earlier novel BLEED FOR ME was reviewed at Mystery*File where reviewer LJ Roberts enjoyed “the balance of introspection and suspense” and THE WRECKAGE was reviewed at Mean Streets and The Mystery Reader

Normally a writer of novels exploring male angst Nick Earls has turned to crime fiction for his 12th book THE FIX (though it started life as a screenplay).

Sulari Gentill‘s A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN was reviewed at Where the Writer Comes to Write

Here at Fair Dinkum HQ

2 Aug – we announced the Ned Kelly Awards shortlists (and our tweeting of this post was the way at least 1 of the shortlisted authors discovered the news which was a nice thing for us but had me wondering why the authors weren’t told by the Awards organisers)

3 Aug we pondered our scoring of the various longlisted titles for the Ned Kelly Awards (in particular lamenting the absence of Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road from the list)

8 Aug – we shared our cautious optimism over the news the Guy Pearce is to play title role in two tele movies based on the first two novels of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish quartet

11 Aug – I reviewed Geoffrey McGeachin’s THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL: With down-to-earth, very believable characters and a strong, enveloping sense of place and time this is a top notch work of historical crime fiction.

14 Aug – I reviewed J D Cregan’s THE WONDER OF SELDOM SEEN: I enjoyed the book’s originality, mixture of light hearted whimsy and dramatic moments and found it easy to forgive the places where the plot was a little over the top or the internal logic was a bit off.

17 Aug – Kerrie reviewed Chris Womersley’s BEREFT:  which she found carefully crafted, demanding the reader’s full attention, and providing some arresting imagery but noted that crime and justice take a back seat.

25 Aug – Bernadette reviewed Kel Robertson‘s RIP OFF: funny, cleverly written and delightfully playful with the genre’s conventions

31 Aug – we posted the winners of the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards; thanks to tweeting by several ceremony attendees the post was published only a few minutes after the final award was announced

Hopefully you can all find something full of Aussie goodness amongst all of that. In case you’re looking for more I’ve added some new links on the links page (naturally, where else would one add links?)

If I missed your review of an Aussie crime fiction novel drop us a line at fairdinkum crime [at] gmail [dot] com, I use google alerts and RSS feeds to supply me with news but I have been known to hit mark all as read a bit too quickly some days 🙂