Review: DARKEST PLACE, Jaye Ford

  • source: Random House Australia via NetGalley
  • Available for Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1122 KB
  • Print Length: 346 pages
  • Publisher: RHA eBooks Adult (February 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: January 27, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B017J5899W

Synopsis (NetGalley)

An adrenaline-pumping suspense novel from the author of BEYOND FEAR.
What if a stranger is watching you sleep – and no one believes you?

Carly Townsend is starting over after a decade of tragedy and pain. In a new town and a new apartment she’s determined to leave the memories and failures of her past behind.

However that dream is shattered in the dead of night when she is woken by the shadow of a man next to her bed, silently watching her. And it happens week after week.Yet there is no way an intruder could have entered the apartment. It’s on the fourth floor, the doors are locked and there is no evidence that anyone has been inside.

With the police doubting her story, and her psychologist suggesting it’s all just a dream, Carly is on her own. And being alone isn’t so appealing when you’re scared to go to sleep .

My Take:

Australian author Jaye Ford certainly knows how to write a good thriller.

Carly Townsend moves across the country to Newcastle, NSW, to start a new life. For the last decade she has been living with the fact that she killed her three best friends. Her new apartment is on the 4th floor of a renovated warehouse. All modern. But the first thing she learns is that there is a sad story about the girl who used to own her apartment.

Carly herself is pretty fragile, the result of two failed marriages, three miscarriages, and the death of her three friends.  She thinks she has lost the outgoing personailty she once had, and wonders if she can find it again.

She begins a business course at a local TAFE and is lucky to be befriended by twenty year old with big ideas. Carly hasn’t slept well for years but then she is woken in the early morning by a hooded man. She reports the home invasion to the police but by the third time they have had enough of her wasting their time.

Jaye Ford ceratinly knows which of our “fear” buttons to press.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also read

4.4, BEYOND FEAR
4.5, SCARED YET?
4.5, BLOOD SECRET
4.7, ALREADY DEAD

Review: MISSING, Melanie Casey

  • first published in 2016 by Pantera Press Australia
  • source: review copy from publisher
  • ISBN 978-1-921997-53-2
  • 374 pages
  • #3 in Cass Lehmann series
  • Also available for Kindle from Amazon

Synopsis (publisher)

On any night, 1 person in 200 is homeless …

Someone is targeting Adelaide’s homeless. Men are disappearing off the streets, and body parts are turning up in a local dump.

Still haunted by her last run-in with a serial killer, Cass Lehman is trying hard to focus on the future. That’s not easy when she has the ‘gift’ of retrocognition … the ability to spontaneously re-live the last minutes of a person’s life.

Cass and Detective Ed Dyson are now trying to make a normal home together, but when she gets entangled in Ed’s latest case things are far from normal.

A twisted tale of love, desperation and murder … When the psychic meets the psychotic, who will come out unscathed?

My take

Another novel set in Adelaide! The city is recognisable and this novel clings to the reputation that strange and gruesome murders occur in this “City of Churches”.

I’m not quite sure how I have missed seeing earlier novels by this author. So I really read this as a stand alone and it worked quite well. There was enough back story for me to be able to make sense of what had happened in the past, and in previous stories.

Readers are required to suspend their disbelief in paranormal powers because Cass Lehman’s matrilinear line all have “powers” of a sort. Cass has apparently used hers in the past to assist the police. The experiences are draining ones for her, and sometimes occur unpredictably.

This is a fairly grisly tale, with a number of bags of body parts being found in a dump at McLaren Vale, the wine growing district south of Adelaide. The evidence begins to point strongly to one person as the perpetrator but it is still up to Cass and Ed to prove the case.

A good read, with some fine bits of suspense.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Melanie Casey was born and lives in South Australia with her two young children and her husband (who didn’t know he was marrying a writer when he walked down the aisle).

After studying English Literature and Classical Studies, Melanie shifted to Law, and now works in government.

A chance meeting with a highschool English teacher in the supermarket made Melanie realise that she should be doing what she’d always loved, writing! Another period of study, this time at the Professional Writing School of Adelaide’s College of the Arts ensued, helping Melanie acquire the skills she needed to put her plan into action.

Hindsight is her debut novel, the first in a crime trilogy featuring Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson. The second in the series, Craven, was released in 2014. The third installment, Missing, was released in 2016.

Review: OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen

Synopsis (Publisher)

Yearning for her former life as an archaeologist, Australian librarian Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is struggling with a job she doesn’t want, a family she both loves and resents, and enforced separation from her boyfriend.

A royal Olmec cemetery is discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, containing the earliest writing in all the Americas. Dr. Pimms is elated to join the team investigating these Aztec ancestors. Triumph is short-lived, however, as Elizabeth’s position on the team is threatened by a volatile excavation director, contradictory evidence, and hostile
colleagues. With everything working against her, will Dr Pimms find the cause of death for a 3,000-year-old athlete and those buried with her?

With the archaeological intrigue of Elizabeth Peters, forensic insight of Kathy Reichs, and comfort of a cosy mystery, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a fascinating new series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

My Take

Her father’s unexpected and untimely death means that Dr Elizabeth Pimms, forensic archaeologist and Egyptologist, has to abandon work she is doing in Egypt to return to her family in Canberra and take work as a librarian, so that she can provide financial support for her brother and sister and extended family.

She is approached to do some voluntary weekend work in Canberra working on the bones of 17 skeletons retrieved from an Olmec cave in Mexico. Her work is to be unpaid because the supervisor says basically that she needs to prove herself before he will consider remuneration. Elizabeth finds this difficult to understand because he has already obviously spent considerable funds on the work in Mexico. He and she have a falling out however on the first day when Elizabeth challenges some of the conclusions he wants to publish about the remains.

The reader is given background story to the events which have resulted in the burial of the bodies. These are details that Elizabeth has no way of knowing because there are no written records relating to this site. I am not sure about the wisdom of this as a plot structure.

Elizabeth has a personal mystery to unravel related to the death of her mother in a car crash nearly a decade earlier. She has to admit that she has been wrong in her assumptions about what caused the crash. But jumping to the wrong conclusions seems to be pretty par for the course for Elizabeth.

There is a lot going on in this book but my enjoyment of it was not helped by the fact that I didn’t particularly warm to Elizabeth herself. I thought I found some inconsistencies in the background details about Elizabeth: later in the book the family celebrates her 26th birthday, but in the Prologue we are told “after twenty years of yearning, planning and dedicated study she was finally here… a skilled archaeologist and knowledgeable Egyptologist”. I found it difficult to juggle her expertise against her age, and would have been more comfortable if she had just been a few years older.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to find a new female Australian author, with a very different scenario, leading me into a world I am not really familiar with.

A second book in the series is promised: MAYAN MENDACITY. Elements of the story from OLMEC OBITUARY are left unresolved, so this should help link the two.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
L.J.M. Owen drew extensively on her education and experience when
developing the novel. Relevant qualifications include an undergraduate
degree in archaeology and a PhD in palaeogenetics from ANU, and a
graduate diploma in library management from Curtin University. See more information on her website.

Review: THE CRIME AND THE CRYSTAL, Elizabeth Ferrars

  • first published 1985
  • this edition published in 1986 by Ulverscroft in large print edition
  • #3 in the Andrew Basnett series
  • ISBN 0-7089-1485-3
  • 303 pages (large print)
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Christmas in Adelaide promises to be a pleasant vacation for Andrew Basnett, retired professor of botany and amateur sleuth. But the shadow
of an unsolved murder hangs over the lives of his hosts, Tony and Jan Gardiner. The police still  suspect Jan of her first husband’s murder – and then a second killing takes place under the same bizarre circumstances. What can a guest do in such a case but try to clear the name of his hostess and solve the crime?

My Take

I’m not sure what actually led me to select this novel from my local library but it came as a pleasant surprise to find that it was set in my home city of Adelaide. That is my reason for including the review here, because of course Elizabeth Ferrars was a British author.

Andrew Basnett comes to Adelaide to spend Christmas with his former student Tony Gardiner. Tony has recently married and he and his wife Jan live in the fictitious seaside suburb of Betty Hills, which I decided was probably either Brighton or Hove. Twelve months earlier Jan’s first husband had been murdered at a local quarry and she and Tony had married within a few months. Jan’s sister Kay has also recently married and she and her husband live nearby, a little closer to the beach.

At first I suspected that the author had got most of the details for her setting from travel brochures but then discovered she had actually lived in Adelaide for a short time (see about the author below). I’m not sure why the suburb was named Betty Hills, possibly because it is a combo of the features of more than one of the southern suburbs. Basnett takes a ride on the Glenelg Tram, visits Botanic Park, and refers to The City of Churches.

Basnett thinks things are pretty strained between Tony and his new wife, a little more than is usual in the case of relative newly weds. On Christmas Day a second murder takes place and Jan disappears. Similarities between this murder and the earlier one make it likely that the murderer is the same person.

There is nothing really remarkable about this novel, plenty of allusions to Adelaide’s tourist attractions, filling in the setting of a comfortable cozy. It does make me curious about what the other settings of the Basnett series were like:
Andrew Basnett
Something Wicked (1983)
Root of All Evil (1984)
The Crime and the Crystal (1985)
The Other Devil’s Name (1986)
A Murder Too Many (1988)
Smoke Without Fire (1990)
A Hobby of Murder (1994)
A Choice of Evils (1995)
They were all published in the last 12 years of Ferrars’ life.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read
THE SWAYING PILLARS
4.4, GIVE A CORPSE A BAD NAME

About the author 1907-1995 (Wikipedia)
Her extraordinary output owes a great deal to considerable self-discipline and diligent method. Her plots were worked out in detail in hand-written notebooks before being filled out in typed manuscript; she said that they were worked backwards from the denouement. Like every writer, she based characters and situations on people she knew and things she had seen in real life. She travelled with her husband when his academic career required, for example to Adelaide where he was a visiting professor at the University of South Australia.

Review: DUCK SEASON DEATH, June Wright

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 911 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dark Passage (December 21, 2014)
    Originally written sometime in the 1950s
  • Publication Date: December 21, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00N01TQOW

Synopsis (Amazon)

June Wright wrote this lost gem in the mid-1950s, but consigned it to her bottom drawer after her publisher foolishly rejected it. Perhaps it was a little ahead of its  time?

Because while it’s a tour de force of the classic ‘country house’ murder mystery, it’s also a delightful romp, poking fun at the conventions of the genre. When someone takes advantage of a duck hunt to murder publisher Athol Sefton at a remote hunting inn, it soon turns out that virtually everyone, guests and staff alike, had a good reason for shooting him. Sefton’s nephew Charles thinks he can solve the crime by applying the “rules of the game” he’s absorbed from his years as a reviewer of detective fiction – only the
killer evidently isn’t playing by those rules.

Duck Season Death is a both a fiendishly clever whodunit and a marvellous entertainment.

My take:

What the blurb above does not say is that the main reason this novel was “consigned to her bottom drawer” was that the author’s usual publisher rejected this offering in the 1950s because of negative reviews by three of their pre-publishing readers.

I can understand what attracted scathing comments from these readers. First of all I think Wright meant this as a spoof on the genre. The murder victim is a publisher known for his scathing comments about would-be authors and the books they gave him to read, but also an unlikeable person who tried his invective out on most of those who  came within range. The amateur sleuth who thinks the murder is not accidental is his nephew, but he didn’t like Athol Sefton any more than most people. He just thinks the local doctor and policeman are bumbling idiots.

Enter an odd plot strand – the victim himself was under observation by the Victoria police for the murder of his wife, actually a cold case, with the second suspect being the nephew who used to send her boxes of chocolates.

The style in which all this is written is, at first, a bit hard to take. She writes as if she has swallowed the dictionary, a rather pompous version of English which I think was supposed to point the finger at more academic writers from the Golden Age- lots of five syllable words appear in the narrative. The style changes a little for the better in the latter half of the novel. I think it was supposed to imitate the thinking style of the voice of the narrator which did change from section to section of the novel, but was nearly always that of the nephew.

So there we have it – a country house murder set in the style of Agatha Christie (to whom there is the odd reference), located in rural Victoria in the 1950s. The location is near the Murray River at a hotel called The Duck and Dog Inn. The timing: the opening of theduck shooting season.

I spent some time considering whether I thought Wright intended this as a spoof or not, and therefore how I should rate it. I think she did, but her original readers misunderstood, or disapproved. Other bits of humour emerge, even a romantic element. So it may well have been “ahead of its time”, but she doesn’t quite pull it off.

My rating: 3.5

I’ve also reviewed 4.1, MURDER IN THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE

See another review

Review: GHOST GIRLS, Cath Ferla

 Synopsis (Echo Publishing)

Winter in Sydney. The city is brimming with foreign students. Sophie Sandilands takes a job teaching at an English language school. When one of her students leaps to her death it becomes clear that lurking within the psyche of this community is a deep sense of despair and alienation. When it is revealed that the dead woman on the pavement has stolen another’s identity, Sophie is drawn into the mystery.

Unable to resist the investigative instincts that run in her blood, Sophie finds herself unravelling a sinister operation that is trawling the foreign student market for its victims. But as Sophie works on tracking down the criminals it becomes evident that someone has knowledge of her and the disappearances in her own past. Will Sophie solve the mystery before she too becomes a ghost?

Ghost Girls richly evokes the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Sydney’s Chinatown, and imagines dark exploitative demands behind closed suburban doors.

My Take

GHOST GIRLS took me into a world that I really hadn’t thought too much about – English language students who come to Australia, mainly from China. Many of them come with high expectations, not much money, and very homesick. I probably knew all that. But the book gives the reader a “behind the scenes” look at the sleazy Sydney underworld that preys on these students, and just how vulnerable they are.

Sophie Sandilands is part Chinese herself, brought back to the “safety” of Australia from China by her Australian father. But even then her Chinese mother disappeared and Sophie has never forgiven her father, a private investigator, for the role that he played in that.

One of the themes of the book is disappearance: David, the young boy who disappeared in a playground in Beijing while Sophie was caring for him, girls who seem to disappear without trace from the English language classes in the school where Sophie teaches. And underneath all an underworld that deals in pornography, prostitution and drug distribution.

An intriguing read.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Cath Ferla is a multi­platform writer with a background in screenwriting and script editing, print and online journalism, educational publishing and long and short form fiction. She is also a Secondary School­qualified teacher, with teaching experience and qualifications in
the area of EAL (English as an Acquired Language). She has also lived in Beijing, China and studied Mandarin Chinese.

Review: GOOD MONEY, J. M. Green

Synopsis (Scribe Publications)

Introducing Stella Hardy, a wisecracking social worker with a thirst for social justice, good laksa, and alcohol.

Stella’s phone rings. A young African boy, the son of one of her clients, has been murdered in a dingy back alley. Stella, in her forties and running low on empathy, heads into the night to comfort the grieving mother. But when she gets there, she makes a discovery that has the potential to uncover something terrible from her past — something she thought she’d gotten away with.

Then Stella’s neighbour Tania mysteriously vanishes. When Stella learns that Tania is the heir to a billion-dollar mining empire, Stella realises her glamorous young friend might have had more up her sleeve than just a perfectly toned arm. Who is behind her  disappearance?

Enlisting the help of her friend Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen, Stella’s investigation draws her further and further into a dark world of drug dealers, sociopaths, and killers, such as the enigmatic Mr Funsail, whose name makes even hardened criminals run for cover.

One thing is clear: Stella needs to find answers fast — before the people she’s looking for find her instead.

Set in the bustling, multicultural inner west of Melbourne, Good Money reveals a daring and exciting new voice in Australian crime fiction.

My Take

GOOD MONEY was shortlisted in 2014 for the Victorian premier’s literary award for an unpublished manuscript.This led to a two book deal, hence the blurb on the cover “The first Stella Hardy novel.”

The novel is one of a batch of new titles by young Australian authors published recently which reflects the current mileu of Australian society: one that is struggling to adapt to new elements of multiculturalism; growing cities in which crime and corruption seem to thrive; rural communities in steady decline; a fragile mining industry with illusory riches where the naive are the prey of the organised crime.

The author’s quirky sense of humour surfaces frequently as social worker Stella Hardy searches for her missing neighbour and is frequently summoned for help by an African client whose son has been murdered in what looks like a drug deal gone wrong. Small gobbets of Stella’s background surface to flesh out her character. In this story Stella gets herself into some horrendous situations, and I’m amazed that she survived.

An interesting read from an author worth following.

My rating: 4.3

Other reviews:
Fair Dinkum Crime
Aust Crime Fiction
The Guardian

Author’s website

Review: KING OF THE ROAD, Nigel Bartlett

  • ARC from NetGalley
  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1130 KB
  • Print Length: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (February 2, 2015)
  • Publication Date: January 28, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00NG754UK

Synopsis (Net Galley)

When David’s 11-year-old nephew goes missing and he finds the finger pointed at him, he has no choice but to strike out on his own – an unlikely vigilante running away from the police and his own family, and running towards what he hopes desperately is the truth about Andrew’s disappearance.

David Kingsgrove is a man on a mission. An ordinary man – and an extraordinary mission. It is a mission that will turn him into someone he never thought he would be: the king of the
road, the loner on the highway, the crusader for a sort of justice he has never before had to seek.

Andrew had been a regular visitor to David’s home right up until the day he disappeared, walking out the front door to visit a neighbour. It doesn’t take long for the police to decide that David – a single man in his thirties, living alone – is their suspect. Soon Andrew’s parents will share that opinion. But David knows that he didn’t take Andrew.

Realising that the only way Andrew will be found is if he finds him – the police, after all, are
fixated on David as their suspect and are not looking anywhere else – David turns to the one person who he knows will help him: Matty an ex-cop now his personal trainer, whose own son disappeared several years before.

David’s crusade to find Andrew will also take him into his own dark heart – to do things he never thought he would have to do, and go places he has never wanted to go. And the choices David makes lead us all to ask: How far would I go to save someone I love?

This is a compelling story that is almost impossible to stop reading – a hero’s journey, of sorts, with a momentum that is breathtaking even while the subject matter is confronting.

My take

This an ARC that I received from Net Galley early in 2015 and so I’m feeling a bit guilty that I didn’t tackle it before.

In many cases the police work on the premise that the perpetrator of the crime is often a member of the family. In the case of the disappearance of his nephew Andrew, David Kingsgrove is a very likely suspect, and this seems to mean that their resources don’t focus on others. David knows that he himself is innocent and so he starts looking for clues about what Andrew did when nobody was looking. He discovers that Andrew has a FaceBook account. At the same time he discovers thousands of child pornography pictures on his own computer. When the police take his computer, he knows it will be no time at all before they find them too. So he hits the road to find Andrew himself, and triggers a man-hunt by the police who believe that he has just confirmed his guilt.

A thought provoking novel, drawing together plot-lines relating to paedophilia and social media. Set in Sydney.

My rating 4.4

About the author

Nigel Bartlett is a freelance writer and editor who has worked for many of the best-known publications in Australia.

He’s a former deputy editor of GQ Australia and Inside Out magazines and has been a regular contributor to Belle and Sunday, the colour supplement for the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Herald Sun. In addition, he’s freelanced for numerous other titles, ranging from Who to Sunday Life and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as a number of high-profile websites.

In 2012 he completed a research masters in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. He lives in the inner-city suburb of Redfern.

Review: RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE, Amanda Ortlepp

Synopsis (NetGalley)

Erin Travers is running away from her life and taking her two sons with her to a small town on the ruggedly beautiful Eyre Peninsula. The close-knit township is full of happy childhood memories for Erin, but the past never stays the same and she is bringing a whole lot of baggage with her.

When the peaceful community is disrupted by arson and theft, everyone has different  ideas about who is responsible. In a small town where lives are tangled too closely together, old grudges flare, fingers are pointed and secrets are unmasked.

Brimming with malice and threat, Running Against the Tide is about long-held prejudices and fractured relationships, and cements Amanda Ortlepp as one of Australia’s most compelling storytellers.

My Take

I’m in heaven. Another crime fiction title set in authentically in South Australia.
For most of this story you might think this book is on the very outer edge of the crime fiction genre, but its place is firmly established by the end.

Erin Travers takes her two sons away from Sydney and her abusive gambling addict husband to the fictitious town on Mallee Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.  Her older son needs to find a job and teenaged Ryan will go to school. Ryan in particular finds the move away from his father hard and turns in on himself.

They move into a rented dilapidated weather board house next door to elderly oyster fisherman Jono and his wife Helen. Their friendship makes life bearable for Erin and through Helen she enters a painting in the local art competition, and Jono gives Mick some part time work on the oyster farm.

Then someone plants some iceberg roses in Erin’s back yard and things take a slightly sinister turn. Oysters go missing from the oyster farm and Ryan has a tough time settling in at school.

Another very readable story, and South Australian readers will love the setting.

My rating: 4.4

About the author.
RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is Amanada Ortlepp’s second novel.
Amanda Ortlepp is a marketing and communications professional who lives in Sydney. She was signed by Simon & Schuster Australia in a two-book deal. She lives in the Inner West of Sydney. Her first novel was CLAIMING NOAH.

Review: ALL THAT IS LOST BETWEEN US, Sarah Foster

Synopsis (Publisher)

Seventeen-year-old Georgia has a secret – one that is isolating her from everyone she loves. She is desperate to tell her best friend, but Sophia is ignoring her, and she doesn’t know why. And before she can find out, Sophia is left fighting for her life after a hit and run, with Georgia a traumatised witness.

As a school psychologist, Georgia’s mother Anya should be used to dealing with scared adolescents. However, it’s very different when the girl who needs help is your own child.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s father is wracked with a guilt he can’t share; and when Zac, Georgia’s younger brother, stumbles on an unlikely truth, the family relationships really begin to unravel.

Georgia’s secret is about to go viral. And yet, it will be the stranger heading for the
family home who will leave her running through the countryside into terrible danger. Can the Turner family rise above the lies they have told to betray or protect one another, in order to fight for what matters most of all?

Set against the stark, rugged beauty of England’s Lake District, All That is Lost Between Us is a timeless thriller with a modern twist.

My Take

While crimes are committed in this novel, not the least the hit and run that puts Georgia’s cousin Sophia into  hospital in a coma, crime really isn’t the central point of this novel. It is more about the gaps that grows between members of a family: between husband and wife, mother and daughter, when life is too busy, when you just don’t talk.

Georgia finds someone who loves running just as much as she does, but she keeps her new relationship hidden from her family and friends, and then her world falls apart when she realises who he is. She has got herself into a situation she doesn’t know how to get out of.

A very readable novel, with considerable appeal to young women, who will empathise with Georgia’s situation.

My rating:  4.3

About the author

Sara Foster is the critically acclaimed author of three bestselling psychological suspense novels. Come Back to Me was published in Australia in 2010 and reached the Sydney Morning Herald top ten Australian bestsellers list. Her second book, Beneath the Shadows,
reached No. 4 on the Australian Sunday Telegraph bestsellers list, and rights were sold in the USA and Germany. Shallow Breath, Sara’s latest release, featured in the Australian Women’s Weekly, was chosen as Book of the Week in the Sydney Morning Herald, and was longlisted for a Davitt Award. Sara lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband
and two young daughters. In addition to her novels, she has written for travel website HolidayGoddess.com, and was one of the contributors to their Handbag Guide on New York, Paris, London, and Rome. She has published independent short fiction alongside Hugh Howey in From the Indie Side, and contributed to the Dear Mum charity anthology published by Random House Australia. She is also very proud to have been one of
the original editors of the bestselling Kids’ Night In series, which has been raising money for the charity War Child since 2003.