Review: TRULY MADLY GUILTY, Liane Moriarty

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

What’s meant to be a relaxed backyard barbeque splits apart a group of friends who can’t change what they did and didn’t do that sunny afternoon.

Marriage, sex, parenthood and friendship: Liane
Moriarty takes these elements of our lives and shows us how guilt can expose the fault lines in any relationship, and it is not until we appreciate the fragility of life that we can truly value what we have.

  • Long-listed for Indie Book Awards 2017.
  • Short-listed for ABIA General Fiction Book of the Year 2017.

My Take

My first reaction is that this is not crime fiction, but there is plenty of mystery, puzzles that the reader wants to solve.

There are 3 couples at the backyard barbeque, 3 children from two of the families and a childless couple. The scope of the book then extends to a grumpy next door neighbour and the parents of two of the couples. The first mystery is what happened at the barbeque, what caused it, and also what preceded it.  This mystery results in plenty of tension. So I’m not going to tell you what happened at the barbeque – that would spoil the story for you. One of the characters is going around giving talks about her experience at the barbeque, but what happened?

The second focus of the book is definitely relationships, things people say and do not say, things people do. Some of these relationships have been built on over decades, and perspectives on their nature vary from character to character.

The result is, from my point of view, a very long book, and perhaps at times I was guilty of speed reading, but as you can see from my rating, I did enjoy it.

My Rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.6, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET
4.8, BIG LITTLE LIES

Review: A ROYAL MURDER, Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

  • this edition published by Wakefield Press March 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-74305-524-3
  • 229 pages
  • #2 in the Rebecca Keith series
  • source: review copy supplied by the publisher

Synopsis (Wakefield Press)

The duffle bag appeared to be made from expensive silk, embossed with what Rebecca thought was Chinese calligraphy. She was in no doubt that the bag contained a body. The protruding bloodied leg was a giveaway.

A macabre murder during the Women’s Australian Open golf tournament at one of Australia’s most prestigious golf courses sees food and wine journalist and amateur golfer Rebecca Keith on the murder trail once more. Fortunately, Rebecca’s sleuthing takes her on a journey of eating and drinking through many of Adelaide’s bars and restaurants. Little
does Rebecca know that her visits to nearby Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island will reveal clues that will become crucial in the hunt for a killer.

A Royal Murder, a light-hearted thriller full of intrigue and betrayal, features a full cast of eccentric characters set against the rich backdrop of South Australia and its lush food and wine culture.

My Take

I couldn’t resist taking a look at Sandra Winter-Dewhirst’s second offering, particularly as it is set in my hometown and she is a “local” author. She does a good job of spruiking local tourist attractions, both physical places, and popular events, and local readers will enjoy being able to visualise where the action is taking place.

It is a light hearted romp laced with a bit of romance, some quirky humour, and a trio of murders. As the blurb says, there are a range of eccentric characters, and semi-believable scenarios.

A satisfying read.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read THE POPEYE MURDER

About the author
A journalist for more than thirty years, Sandra Winter-Dewhirst spent ten years as the state director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in South Australia, overseeing television, radio, and online production. Educated at Adelaide University and the University of South Australia, graduating with degrees in the arts and journalism, she has sat on a range of arts boards and media advisory councils. Sandra has a passion for food and wine and, when time permits, tries to hit a golf ball.

Her first novel in the Rebecca Keith series is The Popeye Murder. For more information and for news about the next book, visit myadelaidehome.blogspot.com.au.

Review: THE BONE IS POINTED, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis:  (Audible)

Arthur Upfield’s The Bone is Pointed follows Inspector Bonaparte who solves mysteries in the Australian outback. Published in the 1940’s, this story not only offers up a good  mystery but also a portrait of the aborigines and Australia in the early 20th century. Peter Hosking tackles this story with verve. He speaks with a clear Australian accent while developing the characters believably, giving each his own attributes. Meanwhile, his varied pacing makes the story easy to follow. Mystery lovers and history buffs alike will have fun with the Inspector Bonaparte Mysteries.

Jack Anderson was a big man with a foul temper, a sadist and a drunk. Five months after his horse appeared riderless, no trace of the man has surfaced and no one seems to care. But Bony is determined to follow the cold trail and smoke out some answers. 

My Take

In this tale Bony appears as a Queensland C.I.B. detective on leave, turning up at an outback station where a rouseabout has gone missing during a storm. His horse turns up at the station the morning after the storm riderless and there is no trace of Jack Anderson. No black trackers are available because the whole local tribe has gone to visit a female elder thought to be dying. By the time a tracker can be found heavy rains have obliterated Anderson’s tracks.

During the story Bony becomes ill with the “Barcoo sickness” but station owner is convinced that the bones has been pointed at him. At first Bony is determined that he will not succumb but he becomes weaker and weaker despite the attempts of the local policeman to help him.

Bony is also proud of his reputation that no case that he has tackled has ever gone unsolved, but that is because he stays on the case until the very end, despite telegrams from his superiors that he must return to the city immediately.

What impressed me was the detailed observations of Aboriginal culture and customs that the author must have recorded. He also presents both sides of the argument with regard to preserving aboriginal heritage. One station family in particular recognise the damage that contact with white people has done to the aborigines, but at the same time are a bit patronising in the way they deal with the aborigines on their station. The character who has disappeared has mistreated aboriginal stockmen, whipping one almost to death, and so is very unpopular. No-one can work out why “Old Lacey” the station owner has kept him on.

There is more than one mystery in this book, and it is good reading, despite the warning from the publisher that Arthur Upfield reflects attitudes of his time, not necessarily views we would share today.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES
4.4, THE BATTLING PROPHET
4.3, MR JELLY’S BUSINESS 
4.5, DEATH OF A LAKE 

Review: ON THE JAVA RIDGE, Jock Serong

  • this edition published by Text Publishing 2017
  • ISBN 9781925498394
  • 312 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

Shortlisted for the Indie Awards 2018

On the Java Ridge, skipper Isi Natoli and a group of Australian surf tourists are anchored off the Indonesian island of Dana. In the Canberra office of Cassius Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, a federal election looms and a hardline new policy on asylum-seekers is being rolled out.

Not far from Dana, the Takalar is having engine trouble. Among the passengers on board fleeing from persecution are Roya and her mother, and Roya’s unborn sister.The storm
now closing in on the Takalar and the Java Ridge will mean catastrophe for them all.

My Take

It is a week to the Australian Federal election, and the Prime Minister and the Minister for Border Security are emphasising the success of the government’s policy on boat asylum seekers. Arrivals in Australian waters are almost unknown because all boats heading for Australia are being processed by the Indonesian authorities. Surveillance of Australian waters has been outsourced and the Australian  Navy will now take no action to assist asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Two boats, very similar in design, but one much better equipped, are heading towards Australia through Indonesia. One is a surf charter boat containing Australian tourists looking for big waves to surf and the other is an Indonesian fishing boat filled with Middle Eastern refugees. That these two boats will meet is an inevitable part of the plot.

Predictably part of the plot is about how the government’s new hardline policy will impact on both these boats, but my wildest dreams did not predict the ending.

The book raises some interesting scenarios among them an explanation of why so few boats have reached Ashmore Reef recently. The Prime Minister sees Cassius
Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, as a weak link, a loose cannon, although his hold on his own seat is thought to be better than that of the Prime Minister. Interesting insights into the workings of the Australian Cabinet.

My rating: 5.0

Also reviewed by Bernadette

I’ve also reviewed
5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET

Review: DEATH OF A LAKE, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Features Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte(Bony), a detective of mixed European and Aboriginal heritage.
On a vast sheep station in the outback Raymond Gillen goes swimming in the lake one night and is never seen
again. Bony arrives disguised as a horsebreaker and uncovers a story of sexual tension and murder. The lake is evaporating in the intense drought, only when it is drained will the mystery be solved.

My Take

The audio book begins with the usual warning that the publisher does not ascribe to Upfield’s now politically incorrect views. However they do reflect popularly held opinions, particularly abour aborigines, in the 1950s.

The story moves a bit slowly in this tale because Lake Otway, a lake that had filled three years before because of flooding in the north, is in the process of evaporating and dying. There are wonderful descriptions of what happens as the lake gets shallower and shallower and smaller and smaller. At the same time the rabbit population blows out. The daily temperature is well over 110F and the outstation near the lake burns to the ground one night.

You can’t help but be impressed by Upfield’s detailed observations of life on Outback stations.

Bony turns up (undercover) to investigate the Ray Gillen’s disappearance and discovers that all the hands living at the outstation have, unusually, stayed on since Gillen’s disappearance, not taking holidays and so on. Something is keeping them all there.

The tension builds very well, and the narration by Peter Hosking is in a class of its own.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES
4.4, THE BATTLING PROPHET
4.3, MR JELLY’S BUSINESS 

Review: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS by Garry Disher

Garry Disher’s latest novel is a standalone story (at least for now) set against the backdrop of greater Melbourne, occasionally stretching as far as Geelong. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS opens in a small town on the urban fringe. A dangerous snake has hidden itself under an old, unused concrete slab in the backyard of a young family’s home. When the slab is dug up as part of snake catching efforts a skeleton is found. We meet the book’s central character, Alan Auhl, when the cold case squad he works with is called in. At first they must identify the person, not easy due to the house’s history as a rental home, before moving on to discovering what led to their death and burial. The process the team has to go through is well depicted, giving a good sense of how painstaking it must be to investigate cases from even the relatively recent past.

Several other strands play out alongside the story’s main plotline. Auhl is contacted for news each year by the daughters of a man killed some years ago whose murderer has never been caught. Then there’s the tangled case of the doctor who alerts the police that his wife might be a murderer. Auhl is skeptical because he believes the doctor has killed two of his previous wives but was clever enough to get away with it. And we haven’t even gotten to Auhl’s personal life yet. He lives in the big old house he inherited from his parents and rents rooms out to a mismatched collection of waifs and strays. These include Neve Fanning and her daughter Pia who are trying to escape the clutches of Neve’s abusive ex husband who has the money and connections to use the legal system to his advantage.

These days picking up a new police procedurals is a bit risky as the trend for damaged central characters can make for repetitive reading. But Disher is a true master of his craft so manages to make Auhl stand out from the pack without using tired tropes such as the almost ubiquitous addiction. That doesn’t mean he’s all sweetness and light though. His nickname in the office is Retread because he’s returned from retirement and is the oldest person in the team by quite some years. I can attest personally to the authenticity with which the complexities of being an ‘older worker’ in a workforce entranced by youth is depicted. His marriage is…awkward to say the least and at one point he crosses a behavioural line that will surely haunt him but all this just makes for an interesting character that doesn’t feel like a rehashing of all those who have come before him.

And the story itself is a ripper. Disher juggles all the threads expertly and maintains just the right levels of suspense and heart. Readers aren’t led to believe that strange cold cases can be solved in a moment but nor are we bored to tears by too much detail. There is a good mix of the personal and professional too with Auhl’s home life offering lots of interest.

It doesn’t really come as a surprise that Garry Disher has produced another fantastic book but when someone is as consistently good as Disher it can be easy to take them for granted. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS could easily be the start of a new series but stands equally well as a single novel, and is highly recommended for fans of top notch procedurals. It’s fast paced, sparsely written and genuinely surprising.


Publisher: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925498882
Length: 285 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from a friend

Review: TOO EASY by J.M. Green

TOO EASY is the second novel to feature sometimes self-deprecating, always amusing social worker Stella Hardy and proved the perfect start to my reading year. The combination of a plot depicting organised chaos, insightful social commentary, genuine humour and engaging characters was exactly right.

Though it’s easy enough to follow, the plot is complex and has many elements that I don’t want to give away but it starts with Stella receiving a call from her best friend. Phuong is a police detective whose boyfriend, also a policeman, is under a corruption cloud. He wants to find a particular drug dealer to corroborate his version of a questionable incident and Phuong thinks that Stella, who has a different sort of connection to Melbourne’s dodgy underbelly than the police, might be able to help with the hunt. Stella and Phuong almost come to blows over the request and what Stella thinks of as Phoung’s lousy taste in men but their friendship is a strong one. The search though puts Stella in the path of a murderous bikie gang, other corrupt police and teenagers whose lives are being threatened in a truly grim way. At the same time her own love life undergoes a test as her artist boyfriend finds a new muse.

Whether they be total geniuses or alcoholic loners I can struggle to believe in many crime fiction protagonists. But Stella Hardy seems like a real person I might actually know. Heck at times she seems like one of the voices inside my own head. The depiction of her as being good at her job (at the wonderfully named WORMS) but struggling with the inane bureaucracy rings absolutely true. As does her knack of setting somewhat unrealistic personal goals – such as becoming a gourmet cook – and spectacularly failing to meet them. That she faces everything in her life with a combination of wry humour and stubbornness help make her into an authentically Aussie woman.

The story that unwinds in TOO EASY is at times madcap but somehow even the most outlandish elements of it have the same aura of truthiness as Green’s characters. It is full of people doing stupid things for entirely believable reasons – either good or bad – and events build up at just the right pace.

There was a time not so long ago when the general consensus seemed to be that the only truly Australian stories could take place in ‘the Outback’. J.M. Green is one of a new breed of artists proving that urban locations and city dwellers can offer equally compelling depictions of what it is to be Australian. She has captured the essence of Melbourne living, provided a thoroughly modern heroine and a supporting cast that oozes familiarity in a story that is an absolute hoot, where even the scary bits are tinged with comedy.


Publisher: Scribe, 2017
ISBN: 9781925322025
Length: 292 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: WIMMERA by Mark Brandi

Told in three parts WIMMERA focuses on two people. In the first part we meet Ben and Fab; best friends in their final year of primary school. In their small rural town they are left to their own devices for great swathes of time. Not due to bad parenting but because that’s the way the world was then. The boys watch TV, play backyard cricket, go yabbying and camping. They can talk endlessly of mindless things such as the intricate rules for their favourite activities but they actively avoid discussing the big, scary stuff. Like why Ben’s 14-year old neighbour hung herself on the family clothesline or the fact that Fab’s father beats him regularly. No one, not even the adults, talks about those things. Towards the end of this part of the book readers know that something has gone awry for one of the boys but we have to speculate about the details. In the book’s second and third acts we find out a little more as the boys’ history is investigated, but even by the end of the novel there’s still a lot we don’t know.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say I loved WIMMERA given it is so sad and full of melancholy. But what other word is there?

I loved that it depicts an Australia I instantly recognised. Although it is set in rural Victoria I think WIMMERA owes more to its core events taking place in the late 1980’s than to its geography. Things – often awful or frightening things – that are known but not spoken of are at the heart of this story and that kind of secret keeping is – or was – not reserved for country towns. The inner-city street I grew up on was equally good at hiding things. That said, the book’s physical setting is utterly authentic too.

I loved that the book’s central characters are neither heroic nor extremely flawed. They’re ‘normal’, for want of a better word. They do good things and not-so-good things and fumble their way through life, like most of us. Maybe other readers look for inspiration from fictional characters but I like it best when people in fiction are as clueless and awkward as I usually am.

I loved that the book left so much unsaid. At 262 pages WIMMERA is one of the shortest modern novels I’ve read. And though it clearly annoys some readers I found the lack of detail very fitting. This is, after all, big scary stuff. Not the kind of thing people talk about. It feels very realistic to me that people like Ben and Fab – growing up when and where they did – would never tell all. Probably couldn’t tell all even if they had the desire to.

Like its geographic namesake WIMMERA is quite beautifully sparse and reveals its secrets unwillingly. Surely only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by Ben and Fab’s story even though they struggle so hard to share it. Or perhaps because they struggle so hard to share it. Highly recommended.


Publisher: Hachette, 2017
ISBN: 9780733638459
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE LIGHT ON THE WATER, Olga Lorenzo

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin Australia 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-92526-654-2
  • 350 pages
  • Longlisted Best Adult Novel – Davitt Awards 2017

Synopsis (publisher)

A little girl disappears in the wilderness. Two years later her mother is arrested for her murder. A provocative and unflinching literary novel of love, guilt and grief set against the wilderness of the Australian coast.
Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne’s story.Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to
her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.

A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement.
This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.

My Take
Aida, 6 years old and autistic, runs ahead of her mother on an overnight camping trip and bushwalk to Wilsons Promontory and disappears. Anne has already questioned her own wisdom in taking Aida for this walk, and when Aida cannot be found, others question it too. Hours turn into days, weeks, and months and there is no news about what has happened to Aida. Media attention ensures that Anne is unable to appear in public without people recognising her face and often saying dreadful things. A FaceBook page she sets up turns nasty. Friends turn away when they see her.
Eventually it becomes obvious that the police are considering charging Anne with negligence or worse.
A very thought provoking read, probably on the outer rim of crime fiction.
My rating: 4.4
About the author

Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother’s House,
which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards.
She has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest
at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from
Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. Olga
has taught writing at RMIT University and in a variety of other
Melbourne tertiary institutions for nineteen years, and has a Masters
and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She
previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.

Review: BARKING DOGS, Rebekah Clarkson

  • this edition published 2017 by Affirm Press
  • ISBN 978-925475-49-4
  • 230 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Affirm Press)

Everybody thinks they know this story. But do they? If you took a bird’s-eye view of any sprawling Australian regional town, you’d see ordinary Australians living on their ordinary suburban blocks. Get closer. Peer through a window.

In the town of Mount Barker, you might see Nathan Hearle obsessively
recording the bark of a neighbourhood dog, or the Wheeler family sitting
down for a meal and trying to come to terms with a shocking discovery.
You might hear tales of fathers and their wayward sons, of widows who
can’t forgive themselves, of children longed for and lost, of thwarted
lust and of pure love. Within the shadows is an unspeakable crime.

Rebekah Clarkson has created a compelling, slow-burning portrait of a
town in the midst of major change as it makes the painful
transformation from rural idyll to aspirational suburbia. What looked
like redemption is now profound loss. What seemed spiteful can now be
forgiven. A novel in stories, Barking Dogs is an assured debut from one of Australia’s most respected storytellers.

My Take

This book is an anthology of connected short stories written over half a decade or so. Not only are they connected with some characters appearing in or referred to in more than one story, they nearly all focus on the Adelaide hills town of Mt Barker, currently undergoing incredible change with an influx of new residents, in a myriad of new housing “estates”.

The book does not qualify in my mind as crime fiction, although there are plenty of mysteries to be unravelled, and certainly a crime or two committed. Between them the stories explore a range of contemporary issues: the pressures of modern living on young families, the onset of dementia, the effects of death from cancer on a family, barking dogs. Older folk, long time residents, live cheek by jowl with newly arrived families with younger children.

The stories were of particular interest to me because it is an area we travel through every weekend. We have friends who’ve moved from suburban Adelaide into one of the new Mt. Barker estates. Over the years we have seen farmland sold, cleared, scoured and subdivided into new estates with improbable names. These stories remind the reader that not every rainbow leads to a pot of gold.

The publisher refers to this anthology as a “novel in stories”, but I beg to differ. It is as if somehow a “novel” brings higher acclamation. These stories are well crafted and cleverly written. But they don’t have a completeness, or denouement, that a novel tries to achieve. In a sense too there is plenty of room left for further stories.

Just one thing extra I could have wished for – a table of contents at the beginning listing the stories by title.

My rating: 4.4

About the author:

Rebekah Clarkson’s award-winning fiction has been published widely, most recently in Best Australian Stories, Australian Book Review and Something Special, Something Rare: Outstanding Short Stories by Australian Women (Black Inc.).

Her stories have been recognised in major awards in Australia and overseas, including the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and Glimmer Train’s
Fiction Open. She has a BA in Aboriginal Studies and a PhD in Creative
Writing from the University of Adelaide, where she also teaches. She has
taught Fiction Writing at the University of Texas in Austin.