An irregular hodgepodge of reviews and snippets of news that have a lot, or a little, to do with Australian crime fiction.
Over at the new home of the Australian Women Writers Challenge I started my reading year by posting a wrap up of the 2012 Challenge as it pertains to crime writing by Australian women. The post discusses the trends I noticed when trawling the nearly 200 reviews of crime writing that were submitted as part of last year’s challenge. It was terrific to see such a variety of crime writing by Australian women highlighted by challenge participants. Of course it’s not too late to sign up for this year’s challenge or perhaps you’d like to check out some of this year’s reviews
Following the successful and widely acclaimed adaptations of two of his four Jack Irish novels late last year Peter Temple has been garnering more media coverage than is normal for an author who turns out novels at a somewhat glacial speed. David Prestidge, writes eloquently of Temple’s Australia; from a rain-soaked and dank Melbourne to the “deeply conservative and incestuous atmosphere of [Victoria’s] small country towns“. It might not be the stuff of tourism campaigns but it is certainly a country recognisable to me.
Peter Corris‘ latest Cliff Hardy novel, THE DUNBAR CASE was reviewed at AustCrime where Karen said it was “a tight, punchy, enjoyable PI novel…just the thing for a spot of entertaining, escapist reading“. The novel immediately preceding this one in the series, COMEBACK, was reviewed at Crime Down Under where Damien wrote “Cliff Hardy is back and ready to continue on for quite a few more cases yet. He has been able to adapt to the modern world with the online presence and modern technologies required to survive. His old-fashioned detective skills are still relevant and equip him with the arsenal to get the job done“.
Tony Cavanaugh’s PROMISE was my first read of the new year and, unfortunately, not quite my cup of tea. The hero is just too…heroic…for me but the writing is good and the atmosphere suitably creepy. I know plenty of people who would like this book (the person I gave my copy to reports being “rather chuffed”) which just proves it’s all a matter of taste.
Kerry Greenwood‘s 19th Phryne Fisher novel UNNATURAL HABITS has been getting a few reviews around the blogosphere since its release late last year. Marisa Wikramanayake introduces Phryne for readers who have not yet met her “Mix a flapper in ’20s Melbourne with a radically (for the time) feminist attitude and an inclination to assume that she is James Bond and you have Phryne.” Karen at AustCrime takes the ‘cosy’ out of the equation with these thoughts
For a book that’s set in 1929 there’s something depressingly current day about the main storyline – the mistreatment, abuse and exploitation of young girls. Girls who are the victims of rape, abuse, poverty, neglect or simply girls who made a mistake, they were abandoned to systems and organisations which, whilst carefully revealed in UNNATURAL HABITS, were obviously appalling. Whilst Greenwood is cautious in her revelations of details of what went on, there is no masking the revulsion and disapproval of the institutions and facilities that treated young women, and their babies with such awful cruelty. It’s the restraint with which many of the observations are made that makes them all the more pointed.
I reviewed Robert Gott’s A GOOD MURDER, depicting the travails of a wartime travelling theatre troupe who get caught up in a murder investigation in a regional Queensland town. It’s a combination satire and farce that offers a terrifically atmospheric depiction of its time and place.
I devoured Katherine Howell’s WEB OF DECEIT, happily discovering that despite being the sixth novel in a series the quality of storytelling and character development is as high as ever. There’s one passage in which a young, pregnant woman refuses to believe the police when they try to notify her that her husband has died that has stuck with me for weeks. Howell managed to show how heart-wrenchingly difficult this scenario would be for everyone involved, to the point that I was even imagining the poor unborn child growing up without its father, without becoming schmaltzy or manipulative.
Andrew Nette‘s GHOST MONEY, set in Cambodia in the 1990’s and featuring an Australian private detective Max Quinlan, was the subject one of Margot Kinberg’s excellent In the Spotlight posts last month. Among the highlights of the novel she noted
… through the novel we get a strong sense of what it’s really like to be in Cambodia, especially the parts of the country that the tourists don’t get to see. We see the way the people live, we see how things are done in Cambodia and we what life is like in a beautiful country that’s been torn apart for decades by war, poverty and foreign politics.”.
The same novel was also reviewed here at Fair Dinkum by Kerrie who also enjoyed the atmosphere and the way Nette “uses his principal characters and those whom they meet, to deliver a series of mini-history lessons”. I’m happy to add a third voice to this particular chorus and suggest you really ought to read this novel.
Kerrie reviewed Luke Preston’s DARK CITY BLUE – a novel about a lone honest cop amidst a sea of corruption…a not entirely fictional state of affairs in Australia’s various jurisdictions over the years. It seems he has to risk becoming the thing he despises in order to get some justice for the victims of crime which is (to me anyway) an endlessly fascinating moral dilemma to ponder.
It is somewhat shameful for us Aussies that the book blogoshpere’s most ardent Arthur Upfield fan is a Canadian lawyer but perhaps Bill Selnes brings the objectivity of an outsider to his reading of Upfield’s novels. Bill chose 1938’s THE BONE IS POINTED as his favourite book read during January. It depicts the story of an investigation into the death of a much disliked stockman and through this explores complex issues such as racism and the difficulties of living as part of two cultures as Uofield’s half-Aboriginal, half-white protagonist Napolean Bonaparte must do.
Chris Womersley‘s 2007 novel THE LOW ROAD garnered a glowing review from offshore reader Raven who says “The world ticks on around the characters, but the situation they find themselves in is suffocating with tension, despite their efforts to escape and totally immerses the reader in their trials. This is a sublime and perfectly constructed literary crime thriller that I hope many among you will discover for yourselves”. I can’t agree with Raven’s sentiments (I’ve written elsewhere about not being able to finish this particular book because it made me want to curl up into the foetal position and weep) but of course you should all make up your own minds.
Both Kerrie and I seemed drawn to modern classics of Aussie crime fiction of late. I highlighted Gabrielle Lord’s DEATH DELIGHTS, which won the 2002 Ned Kelly Award for best novel and Kerrie choosing Jon Cleary’s DEGREES OF CONNECTION which won the same award in 2004. It seems both novels stand the test of time well.
Hopefully there’s a book or three here to tempt you to venture into the varied world of Australian crime fiction