Review: DARK HORSE, Honey Brown

  • first published Penguin Group 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-921901-53-9
  • 274 pages
  • source: Mt TBR
  • Available on Amazon for Kindle

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted
trail-riding business.

Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.

She settles in to wait out Christmas.

A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome.
But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness
without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance
towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.

But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy.

My Take

The narrative is told from Sarah Barnard’s point of view and so the reader shares Sarah’s anxiety when a stranger comes out of the wild weather at the Hangman’s Hut. The weather worsens and they are stranded on Devil Mountain for seven days between Christmas and New Year. There are things about Heath that don’t seem to ring true, and although she and Heath become very intimate, Sarah feels he is not who he says he is. But then how much of her own story does Sarah tell?

Mid-story there is a twist that I really didn’t see coming. Excellent psychological suspense.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Honey Brown lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. She is the author of four books: Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse. Red Queen was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and won an Aurealis Award, and The Good Daughter was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award in 2011. After the Darkness was selected for the Women’s Weekly Great Read and for Get Reading 2012’s 50 Books You Can’t Put Down campaign. Her fifth novel, Through the Cracks, was published in 2014.

Review: TELL THE TRUTH by Katherine Howell

TellTheTruthHowellAudioAs she has done throughout her series featuring Sydney police detective Ella Marconi, Katherine Howell has once again produced a story very different from its predecessors. It opens when paramedic Rowan Wylie pulls into the car park of a local Playland with his granddaughter and spots a car he recognises. He wonders if its owner, his colleague Stacey Durham, is here too and if so, why? Does she want him to apologise? After taking his granddaughter into the centre he looks for Stacey and when he can’t find her anywhere he takes a closer look at her car. Is that blood on the front seat? He calls her husband James and soon the police are involved too in the search for a woman who seems to have disappeared completely.

I was having the devil of a time getting hold of a print copy of this book so was quite chuffed when I noticed it available at Audible with a narration by Australian actor Caroline Lee. It’s so rare to have books by Australian authors available in this format and I thoroughly enjoyed the treat. Of course it helped that the book was a corker too.

The title is a an apt one and not only because at one point Stacey’s husband is directed via text message to tell the truth in order to get his wife back. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. What is it that Rowan should apologise for? What about Stacey’s sister who used to go out with James before he married Stacey, what is she not saying? And is there something strange about Stacey’s niece Paris who is a trainee paramedic who can’t seem to overcome a mental block in becoming successful at the job? And is James a distressed husband or is there something more to his aborted suicide attempt? I like the way that the book depicts the realism of policing – that it mostly involves a lot of painstaking, routine interviewing and following-up random bits of information of which only a small percentage will prove useful – but still manages to be entirely compelling by showing how all of Stacey’s friends and family have things they’d rather not say.

For readers who have grown to know Ella Marconi over the course of the series there is some positive personal development for her here in that her relationship with Callum seems to be on sound footing. This despite the fact his mother hates her (because Ella investigated a cold case in which her husband was found guilty of a 20 year old murder). Callum is more easily accepted by Ella’s family, although her Aunt’s interrogation of him about his intentions make Ella squirm (and readers chuckle). But as usual with this series the detective doesn’t take over the case completely, and the characters involved in the core story all have plenty of room to grow. The depiction of young Paris, aching to be good at something but allowing her fears to almost paralyse her, is a particularly good one.

It seems from the author’s afterword that the pressure to keep innovating and maintain such high quality has taken its toll and this is to be the last book in the series. At least for now. While I am saddened by the news (and am a little cross that I was allowed to dive in to the latest book so recklessly, if I’d known it would be the last I might have saved it up) I do admire Howell’s willingness to walk away from a success and am glad the series won’t suffer the ignoble fate of fading into second-rate territory. It is definitely one of my absolute favourite series as there isn’t a dud in the bunch and TELL THE TRUTH offers a fitting finale. I’ll await with interest to see if Howell will turn her talents to something entirely different for me to read.


aww-badge-2015This is the 8th novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I’ve reviewed all but the first published of Katherine Howell’s previous novels


Publisher: Bolinda Audio [2015]
ASIN: B00SC5W24C
Length: 11 hours, 58 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: MEDEA’S CURSE by Anne Buist

MedeasCurseAnneBuist23255_fWomen who kill – especially women who kill children – are generally considered to be the very lowest of the low on the scale of human evil. Perhaps that is why the theme has never been the subject of huge numbers of crime novels. Or perhaps the reason for that is that the subject presents a raft of unique challenges for authors. Challenges I don’t think Anne Buist overcame.

Buist’s subject matter expertise is not in question. She is a professor, researcher and clinician who has worked in perinatal psychiatry and related fields for more than two decades. But this undoubted knowledge has led to one of the book’s problems. It is, at times, packed with medical jargon and it makes a lot of assumptions about readers’ knowledge of the medico-legal environment with which Buist is familiar. I cannot, for example, be the only person who has no idea what this sentence means “The differential diagnoses to consider are Dissociative Identity Disorder – D.I.D. – and personality disorder, Cluster B“. Am I meant to accept this and similar pronouncements as evidence of “science” without wanting an actual explanation? Or am I meant to think I should know what the heck personality disorder Cluster B is and be too intimidated to admit that I don’t? In addition there are several passages that revolve around legal nuances I don’t imagine the average reader would have a clue about. For example the book takes it for granted that we all have an understanding of the difference between murder and infanticide. For the record, I don’t. Still. I imagine the author was trying to use her background to take this story out of the realm of tabloid journalism which is admirable but to complete the exercise it would have helped to have some exposition. Perhaps if the main character had not been such an annoying human being (more about her later) she might have had a friend or less knowledgeable crime-solving partner type of character to whom such things could have been explained (there was potentially such a character but Natalie and Liam had a lot of sex which left no time for discussing things helpfully for the reader).

The next challenge presented by the theme is to develop a story in which that theme is handled sensitively and, as far as possible, without sensationalism. To be fair Buist has done this but in achieving it she has produced an overly complicated narrative, some of which seems completely devoid of purpose. The central character is a psychiatrist who is treating four main patients, three of whom have been accused of killing at least one child. Each case generates a raft of discussions and interactions with patients, their families, other medical professionals and various law enforcement types that have a stake in things. I assume this has been done to provide insight into the variety and complexity of these types of cases which – again – is admirable. But oh so confusing. Add in a suspected Paedophile ring and a vicious stalker for the protagonist and I’ll defy anyone to keep track of the cast, their alleged crimes and the myriad of minor characters drift in and out of the storyline. The jumble of facts and people and bits of information you think you need to keep track of resulted in a fairly superficial exploration of the central theme which is the exact thing I hoped the book would avoid.

And finally we come to the problem of a compelling central character. This problem is not restricted to books dealing with the troubling theme of women who kill but I’m sure the subject matter does take some options off the table. It would, for example, be more difficult to write this kind of novel successfully with a male protagonist. But I remain unconvinced that Dr Natalie King is the best voice these women could hope for. To me she is more the result of modern publishing’s desire for its crime solvers to be unique, tortured souls who are not like the rest of us than she is the result of a resemblance to any real-world doctor. She is a danger-junkie, suffers a mental illness but doesn’t like taking her medication, has questionable morals, lacks self-insight, sings in a band primarily so she can shock people with her lewdness. And on it goes. Most worrying of all is her disdain for the ethical guidelines of her profession. Because, of course, she knows best. I can’t pinpoint the moments but my interest in Natalie King as a character went from “I don’t like her but she’s interesting” to “oh piffle…another quirk…whatever next?” to “I wouldn’t mind if that crazy stalker killed her right about now“. In addition to being more of a laughing stock than a legitimate character Natalie and her quirks overshadowed the women who I was more interested in.

I was intrigued by the premise behind MEDEA’S CURSE. That women who kill children do not necessarily present as uniformly ‘insane’ nor are they the vengeful enchantresses of Greek mythology. And they do, on occasion, need someone to speak up for them. I was even prepared to go with the notion that the person who would do that would, of necessity, be a little out of the ordinary. But the book did not really deliver on any of this for me. The relatively delicate handling of the central theme comes at the expense of the book’s central character, who couldn’t be any more absurdly provocative if she became a murderess herself. In the end it I found this a fairly confusing tale that lost sight of being a thoughtful exploration of an interesting idea.


aww-badge-2015This is the seventh book I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself. I’m aiming to read 25 eligible books.

I’m feeling a little guilty having chosen this one for my book club to read but at least one fellow member appears to have liked it more than I did.


Publisher: Text Publishing [2015]
ISBN: 9781922182647
Length: 366 pages
Format: paperback
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This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS by Robert Gott

PortFairyMurdersGottI assume that most Australians who don’t live there associate Port Fairy with summer holidays. I certainly do, having been to the town twice – once on a fondly remembered childhood family holiday and again as an adult. It is jarring to think of the seemingly idyllic coastal spot as the setting for some gruesome murders but, as he did with THE HOLIDAY MURDERS, Robert Gott once again paints a very credible picture of wartime Australia and the dark hearts of some of its inhabitants.

This novel is very much linked to its predecessor which probably explains why the author has included a helpful summary of the first novel at the beginning of this one. When it opens the main characters are all still reeling from the brutal events that ended the first book, two in particular are struggling with the physical and psychological damage inflicted on them by Nazi sympathisers. One of the people responsible for that brutality is George Starling who eluded police then and is now set on finishing off the job he started and generally causing havoc and death. To that end he is on the trail of Joe Sable, a sergeant with the newly formed Victorian homicide squad and a man Starling didn’t quite manage to kill in the first novel.

In a completely separate thread we meet a Port Fairy family. There’s an elderly lady with a mentally disabled brother and their adult niece and nephew. In a manner that resembles the Golden Age of detective fiction the novel takes the time to establish these characters and their small community with its religious and social tensions before ripping apart the family with a brutal death or two. Although it is an interesting thread in its own right there is no real connection between this story and the hunt for George Starling, aside from the fact that the homicide squad are involved with both investigations, which gives the book a slightly disconnected feel.

The characters are a real strength of this novel. The way Joe Sable is dealing with his feelings of guilt over the events depicted in the first novel combined with his dawning awareness of what it means to be Jewish make him compelling. One of his colleagues is Helen Lord who is struggling to be taken seriously. Although her boss recognises her skills and intelligence almost everyone else thinks she is good for not much more than making cups of tea. We see more of Helen outside the office in this installment and learn something of her family history and see her complicated relationship with her mother. I also found the family at the heart of the Port Fairy thread engaging in a ‘my family’s not so bad after all‘ sort of way.

I really like the way Robert Gott writes and puts together a story. The combination here of using an interesting time period in our history, filling it with compelling characters and telling a story that unfolds in unexpected ways makes THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS an above average read. I’d recommend the book to anyone but do think it would make for a more satisfying reading experience after having read the first novel in the series.


I reviewed the first book in this series, THE HOLIDAY MURDERS, a couple of years ago


Publisher: Scribe [2015]
ISBN: 9781925106459
Length: 282 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: MEDEA’S CURSE, Anne Buist

  • first published by Text Publishing Melbourne 2015
  • ISBN 9-781922-182647
  • 366 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Forensic psychiatrist Natalie King works with victims and perpetrators of violent crime. Women with a history of abuse, mainly. She rides a Ducati a size too big and wears a tank top a size too small. Likes men but doesn’t want to keep one. And really needs to stay on her medication.Now she’s being stalked. Anonymous notes, threats, strangers loitering outside her house.

A hostile former patient? Or someone connected with a current case?
Georgia Latimer—charged with killing her three children. Travis
Hardy—deadbeat father of another murdered child, with a second daughter
now missing. Maybe the harrassment has something to do with Crown
Prosecutor Liam O’Shea—drop-dead sexy, married and trouble in all kinds
of ways.

Natalie doesn’t know. Question is, will she find out before it’s too late?

Anne Buist, herself a leading perinatal psychiatrist, has created an
edge-of-the-seat mystery with a hot new heroine—backed up by a lifetime
of experience with troubled minds.

My Take

At first I found the characters and events of this story hard to get sorted. Natalie King leads a complex and busy life working on cases where mothers have been accused, even convicted, of murdering their children. It is all made more complex by her own bipolarism, supposedly kept under control by medication, if she remembers to take it. What happens when she doesn’t is frightening to say the least. Natalie reports regularly to her supervisor Declan who attempts to provide therapy and controls to keep her focussed, but he can only work with what she tells him, or guess at what she is hiding from him.

Things become more complicated though when it appears that at least one of the fathers of the dead or missing children may be connected to a pedophile ring. Most of what Natalie knows is told to her in confidence and she struggles to know what she can pass on to the police without endangering her clients, to say nothing of endangering herself.

Throughout my reading of this novel I could not get out of my head MOTHERS WHO MURDER by Xanthe Mallett, a true crime book that I read last year. MOTHERS WHO MURDER looks at a number of Australian cases where the author feels there has been the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. I feel that this book and MEDEA’S CURSE have the same starting point in the real world, with the latter fictionalising a response from real events.

Anne Buist writes with an authority and confidence that makes the reader sure that these things do happen, even if they rarely surface in my world. This makes for a gritty and noir novel, not for the faint hearted.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Professor Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of
Melbourne and has over 25 years clinical and research experience in
perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal
system in cases of abuse,kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller.