Review: CRIMSON LAKE, Candice Fox

  • this edition published by Penguin Random House Australia 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-14-378190-5
  • 389 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)

12.46: Thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12.47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12.52: The girl is missing . . .

Six minutes – that’s all it took to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.

Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy number one.
Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted.

But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move.
And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide . . .

My Take

Amanda Pharrell and Ten Conkaffey must surely rate among the oddest detective duo ever created. Amanda is a convicted killer while Ted is an ex-detective, accused of  child abduction, but not convicted. Importantly, not acquitted either. He has spent 8 months on remand, then released without conviction, leaving a broken marriage, trying to find anonymity in far North Queensland.

Amanda is running a detective agency and both she and Ted have been pointed towards each other. Her current case is that of a missing, almost certainly dead, writer. Amanda is being employed by Stella, Jake Scully’s wife. She primarily wants evidence that Jake is dead so that she can claim his life insurance and get on with her life.

Once Ted teams up with Amanda he becomes an object of interest for the locals and in particular two local policemen who try to make things as unpleasant as possible for him. Journalists and local media make plenty of the new detective partnership and local hoons visit Ted’s house regularly.

A very gritty book, full of North Queensland steaminess and danger.  Several mysteries to be solved. Good reading.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also read
5.0, HADES 
4.3, EDEN

About the author

Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from
Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings.
The daughter of a prison parole officer and an enthusiastic
foster-carer, Candice spent many of her early Christmases travelling to a
Sydney correctional facility in the family minibus to knock on prison
cell windows, run around the razor-wired yard and eat fruitcake prepared
by inmates. While her mother and stepfather developed an ever-growing
mob of Sydney’s most disadvantaged children throughout her later youth,
entertainment had to be cheap. She spent her school holidays exploring
free, open spaces – farms, bushland and cemeteries.

As a cynical and trouble-making teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the calamity of her home life.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a
brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen.
At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school
through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. In 2015, she
began collaborating with best selling author James Patterson on a series
of books featuring Detective Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue.
Candice’s books Hades, Eden and Fall are published with Random House Australia and are in multiple translations. Hades and Eden both won Ned Kelly Awards presented by the Australian Crime Writers Association.

Review: CRIMSON LAKE by Candice Fox

I’m not sure if it’s a standalone novel or the start of a new series but either way Candice Fox’s CRIMSON LAKE is determined to be memorable. Every one of its 389 pages is packed with people committing crimes, investigating crimes or trying to prove their own innocence of crimes they’ve been accused of.

Most of the story is told from Ted Conkaffey’s point of view. When we meet him Ted is living a kind of half-life after having spent 8 months on remand for the rape and attempted murder of a young girl. His case was dropped for lack of evidence not because there is any other viable suspect and the charges can be reactivated at any time. Just about everyone – including Ted’s former colleagues in the police force, his ex wife and the general public – believe him guilty despite his consistent claims of innocence. So Ted has made his way to far north Queensland and gone to ground. Crimson Lake is the sort of place where people can and do hide from their pasts. But even this place may not be up to the task of hiding from determined vigilantes (some of whom wear a uniform) a man the whole world thinks of as a guilty-but-not-convicted paedophile.

Ted is put in contact with Amanda Pharrell, the region’s lone private investigator. Amanda is afraid of cars, loves to speak in rhymes and spent 10 years in prison for the murder of a fellow teenager. She is investigating the disappearance of celebrated local author Jack Scully who, it seems, may have been taken by a crocodile. His wife wants proof that he’s really dead and that he didn’t commit suicide.

The pair form a friendship of sorts as they look into the author’s deranged fans and secret life for clues to his disappearance. The two outsiders develop a genuine, if prickly, care for each other but their interactions are charged with too much dark humour to stray into mushy territory. Which is all for the best in my opinion and this relationship is one of the book’s strengths. Other characters – good guys and bad ones – are also well drawn.

Although very complicated (seriously I’ve only skimmed a portion of the book’s happenings here) the disparate strands of storyline are not difficult to follow and for those who like their crime fiction packed with action and surprising twists look no further. The book stretched the bounds of credibility at times for me as so many elements of what happened to Ted, Amanda and Jack were the result of the kinds of extremes of human behaviour that I struggled to believe would all coalesce around such a small group of people in such a small place. But the book is an old-fashioned romp of a tale about people I had grown to care about and I will freely admit to staying up way past my bedtime to find out how CRIMSON LAKE was all going to end. Next-day drowsiness is the sign of a superior reading experience.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 3rd book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Penguin [2017]
ISBN: 9780143781905
Length: 389 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from the library

A blessing of awards for Australian crime fiction

In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that the collective noun ‘blessing’ apparently applies to unicorns but since I’m not convinced fictional creatures should get a noun all of their own I thought I’d borrow it for my purpose. Due to life…and death…getting in the way I have been remiss in discussing all the recent awards that have come the way of Australian crime writers lately but I’m hoping the old adage “better late than never” still applies to most of life’s awkwardnesses.

LifeOrDeathRobothamAudioIn reverse order, timeline wise, we’ll start with congratulating Michael Robotham whose LIFE OR DEATH won the prestigious British Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger Award this week. It’s a standalone novel that starts with the premise of a young man escaping from a Texas prison on the day before he is due to be released. Driven equally by in-depth character development and a heart-stopping plot it’s easy to see why the judges were taken with this novel, even with its impressive competition. Kerrie reviewed the novel here at Fair Dinkum Crime (and though I didn’t review the novel I concur with her sentiments and can also recommend the audio version of the book beautifully narrated by John Chancer). An article in Today’s Sydney Morning Herald provides some background information on the novel and Michael’s history as a writer, including a heartfelt admission on the downside of being a ghost writer.

BigLittleLiesMoriartyNext we move to the 2015 Davitt awards for crime writing by Australian women which were announced on August 29. Best Adult Crime Novel went to Liane Moriarty for the surprise crime novel BIG LITTLE LIES. As this book is set to be a film starring ‘our’ Nicole I suspect this is not the last we’ve heard of this particular title. Other winners on the night included Ellie Marney for Best Young Adult Novel with EVERY WORD and Caroline Overington for LAST WOMAN HANGED which took out the Best Non-Fiction category. The Reader’s Choice Award (voted by members of Sisters in Crime) went to Sandi Wallace’s TELL ME WHY. And because she is one of my favourite authors ever I can’t let this occasion pass without noting the Highly Commended certificate judges gave to Sulari Gentill’s A MURDER UNMENTIONED in the Best Adult Novel category.

EdenCandiceFoxFinally we must mention this year’s Ned Kelly Awards, winners of which were announced earlier in August. Candice Fox’s second novel EDEN took out the Best Crime Novel Award while Helen Garner’s THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF won in the Best True Crime category and QUOTA by Jock Serong was voted Best First Crime novel. We’ve been a bit remiss here at FDC in not reviewing any of these but at least two of these are buried in my mountain of unread books so I will get to them. One day.

I think that’s it for all the missed news, our belated congratulations to all.

 

 

Review: HADES, Candice Fox

Synopsis (Random House Australia)

A dark, compelling and original thriller that will have you spellbound from its atmospheric opening pages to its shocking climax.

Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their
trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies
they want disposed of become his problem – for a fee.

Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants ‘lost’. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything…

Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there’s something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can’t quite put his finger on.

At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner’s sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank’s wondering if she’s as dangerous as the man they hunt. –

My Take

This is a cleverly layered novel, superbly written, that flits between the past and the present, between the serial killer case the Sydney based police are currently focussing on, and Eden Archer’s story.

Eden Archer and her brother have a secondary agenda, one which Hades, their adoptive father, has trained them for all their life. Those who get in the way, those who want to know too much and to get too close, are putting their own lives on the line.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
(from Random House Australia)

Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from
Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings.
The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer,
Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of
violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her
mother and older brothers.

As a cynical and trouble-making
teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the
calamity of her home life. She was constantly in trouble for reading
Anne Rice in church and scaring her friends with tales from Australia’s
wealth of true crime writers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. Candice lectures in writing at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, while undertaking a PhD in literary censorship and terrorism.

Hades is her first novel, and won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014. Eden, its sequel, is published in December.

See another review at AustCrime.