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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2014 Australian crime fiction releases – January update

Here’s the first list for this year of books we know about that are due for release in the next few months, do let us know if there are any gaps in this list. Links below go to the publisher, book or author’s website and the blurbs are taken from the same places.

January

  • SilentKillCorrisPeter Corris SILENT KILL – When Cliff Hardy signs on as a bodyguard for charismatic populist Rory O’Hara, who is about to embark on a campaign of social and political renewal, it looks like a tricky job – O’Hara has enemies. A murder and a kidnapping cause the campaign to fall apart. Hired to investigate the murder, Hardy uncovers hidden agendas among O’Hara’s staff as well as powerful political and commercial forces at work. His investigation takes him from the pubs and brothels of Sydney to the heart of power in Canberra and the outskirts of Darwin
  • OneBoyMissingOrrStephen Orr ONE BOY MISSING – It was a butcher on smoko who reported the man stashing the kid in the car boot. He didn’t really know whether he’d seen anything at all, though. Maybe an abduction? Maybe just a stressed-out father. Detective Bart Moy, newly returned to the country town where his ailing, cantankerous father still lives, finds nothing. As far as he can tell no one in Guilderton is missing a small boy. Still, he looks deeper into the butcher’s story—after all, he had a son of his own once. But when the boy does turn up, silent, apparently traumatised, things are no clearer. Who is he? Where did he come from and what happened to him?

February

  • DeservingDeathHowellKatherine Howell DESERVING DEATH Two female paramedics murdered in a month. Is it coincidence, or are they victims of a serial killer? Detective Ella Marconi isn’t sure, but goes hard after her key suspects, including police officer John Morris. But each turn of the case throws up more questions and entanglements, and Ella and her partner, Detective Murray Shakespeare, struggle to find the truth among the lies. Ella also attempts to balance work and her relationship with Dr Callum McLennan, which is both growing both stronger and more difficult as they face Callum’s mother’s disapproval and the anniversary of his cousin’s murder. .
  • InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyAdrian McKinty IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is the final installment of the Sean Duffy Trilogy in which Sean Duffy’s got nothing. And when you’ve got nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. So when MI5 come knocking, Sean knows exactly what they want, and what he’ll want in return, but he hasn’t got the first idea how to get it. Of course he’s heard about the spectacular escape of IRA man Dermot McCann from Her Majesty’s Maze prison. And he knew, with chilly certainty, that their paths would cross. But finding Dermot leads Sean to an old locked room mystery, and into the kind of danger where you can lose as easily as winning.
  • TheScentOfMurderYoungFelicity Young THE SCENT OF MURDER – For Doctor Dody McCleland, the unearthing of an ancient skeleton in a dry riverbed is a welcome break from the monotony of chaperoning her younger sister at a country house near the isolated hamlet of Piltdown. But when she begins her analysis of the bones, Britain’s first female autopsy surgeon discovers they are much more recent – and they are the result of murder. With Chief Inspector Matthew Pike’s help Dody begins to investigate. Soon she finds herself pitted against ugly traditionalism, exploitation, spectral dogs, a ghostly hunt and a series of events that not only threaten her belief in scientific rationalism, but threaten her life itself.

March

  • TheTrainRiderTony Cavanaugh THE TRAIN RIDER The third novel to feature ex-Victorian cop Darian Richards who was forced away from the job when a killer could not be caught. Now, retired, watching the Noosa River flow by, the nightmares had finally stopped. Then three girls go missing from Queensland trains. Darian knows that the killer is playing him. He has a choice to make. But when the decision means a girl will die, there is no choice. He has to stop this man once and for all. Forever.
  • FatalImpactFoxDRAFTKathryn FoxFATAL IMPACT When a girl’s dead body is found in a toybox, forensic physician and pathologist Anya Crichton joins the police hunt in her home state of Tasmania for the girl’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. Anya pairs up with Internal Affairs detective Oliver Parke to unravel the sinister connections between a fatal epidemic, the shady deals of a multinational corporation and the alleged murder of a local scientist. 

And while it’s not new it is worth mentioning that a new edition of Peter Temple‘s THE BROKEN SHORE will be released in February as a tie in with the movie to air on the ABC starring Don Hany as Joe Cashin