Review: THROUGH THE CRACKS by Honey Brown

ThroughTheCracksBrownHo22131_fAs if authors don’t have it tough enough these days with slim to non-existent advances and a staggering amount of competition, they can even be poorly served by those who are supposedly on their side. In the case of Honey Brown’s THROUGH THE CRACKS the publishers have, by including significant information not revealed until the last third of the novel, drained much of the suspense for any reader foolish enough to take even a peak at the book’s blurb. So, my first piece of advice is that if you have even a vague notion that you might read this book do not, under any circumstances, look at the back cover.

My next piece of advice is to pick yourself up a copy of the book and dive in immediately (perhaps covering it in brown paper lest you accidentally spot the giant spoiler so prominently featured in the blurb).

THROUGH THE CRACKS opens with a teenage boy locking his father in one of the rooms of the house in which he has been kept a prisoner for as long as he can remember. After suffering many years of abuse at his father’s hands Adam is finally big enough, strong enough, brave enough to turn the tables. But doing more…leaving the house for example…proves even more difficult than standing up to his father. Help arrives in an unlikely form.

Although the subject matter of this novel is about as dark as it gets Brown does not concern herself with the kind of grubby details a sensationalist media outlet, or a lesser book, might do. Some details of what Adam has experienced are provided but not in a prurient or voyeuristic way, and the shocks, inevitable as they are in such a story, come more from the perspective events are seen from. This is not the story of someone who has any knowledge of social norms, right and wrong, normality. It is the story of a teenager learning about a world he’s had precious little experience of

Adam dulled his hearing and he backed up, inside himself. He stopped looking through his eyes and looked out from them instead. It wasn’t the same way he’d retreated when being beaten or hurt. He was withdrawing for the opposite reason. He needed to see and feel everything, but without distance it was too much. Standing back, inside himself, he was able to get a better view of things…Money mattered…Meanness didn’t only take place indoors and behind high fences.

As fictional characters Adam and the homeless boy who takes him under his wing are unforgettable.

I assume it was Brown’s deliberate choice to be vague about concrete aspects of the novel’s setting. To place it in time for example you have to be reasonably conversant with Australia’s TV programming and other minor cultural references over the past 20 years or so and I really only noticed one element which told me the state in which the story is set. But specific locations – the house where Adam lived, the room into which he was fearfully locked, the temporary safe-havens he and his new friend find – are all vividly, and terrifyingly where applicable, brought to life.

I had no intention of reading this entire book yesterday evening but after the first chapter or two I was…unwilling if not unable…to put it down. In this era of giant tomes needing a jolly good edit THROUGH THE CRACKS is as long as it needs to be to tell its compelling, confronting and worryingly credible story. Without dwelling on sensationalist details the book conveys some of the myriad ways in which abuse and neglect can manifest themselves and depicts the surprising array of responses human beings can have to such circumstances. And, if you don’t read the blurb, the ending is as satisfying as they come.


awwbadge_2014This is the 7th book I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Penguin [2014]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781921901546
Length: 298 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE LOST GIRLS by Wendy James

TheLostGirlsJamesWendy21952_fThe first book of Wendy James’ I’d heard of was 2012’s THE MISTAKE and the fact it came with a Women’s Weekly Great Read sticker on its cover guaranteed I would never read it. Whatever their intent, to me those stickers say “here’s a book you know is inferior because we do not anticipate any man ever reading it“. But I was participating in the inaugural Australian Women Writers Challenge that year and promised myself I would read outside my comfort zone a little so picked up a copy and prepared to be underwhelmed. It’s a measure of James’ skill and creativity that the book ended up on my list of favourites for the year, prompted me to seek out her earlier publications and ensured I eagerly anticipated her next release. Which brings us to THE LOST GIRLS, James’ latest tale about the secrets people keep and the lies we tell ourselves just to get by. The latest of her books to get under my skin.

Set in the northern beachside suburbs of Sydney its central figure is Angie who in 1978 is 14 and staying with her cousins Mick and Jane during the summer holidays. Jane hero-worships her older cousin, Mick is besotted in a different way and everyone else seems to be at least a little awe of her. Angie is all too aware of the ripples she causes but her violent death has consequences for those left behind that last much longer than her short life.

In the present day Jane is a middle-aged mum on the verge of closing down the family business when their daughter meets a journalist interested in talking to the family members of murder victims. Via a series of interviews with the journalist and some flashbacks we learn about the events leading up to Angie’s death and its immediate aftermath from multiple perspectives including Jane’s, Mick’s and their mum’s. This gives the books one of its interesting slants by demonstrating how elastic the concept of truth can be when everyone has a different take on events and conversations.

This is not a novel of psychotic killers and genius detectives but one of average people going about their lives. We’ve all known an Angie (or perhaps you were one), or been desperate to be someone else, or reeled from the sudden collapse of a relationship or situation we’d thought impenetrable, The crimes (it is not a spoiler to let on there is more than one), the events surrounding them and their lingering aftermath are all easily imagined. These are people you’ve known, situations you’ve been in, decisions you could easily have been forced to make yourself and it is this ordinariness that got under my skin. Unlike most crime writers James doesn’t allow readers the luxury of believing that awful things happen elsewhere. Far away. She wants you to know they can just as easily rip your own world apart.


awwbadge_2014This is the sixth novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

Publisher: Penguin [2014]
ISBN: 9781921901058
Length: 270 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.