Review: THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY, Caroline Overington

  • this edition published by Harper Collins Publishers 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9975
  • 332 pages

Synopsis (back cover)

Loren Wynne-Estes appears to have it all: she’s the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s landed a handsome husband, a stunning home, a fleet of shiny cars and two beautiful daughters …

Then one day a fellow parent taps Loren on the shoulder outside the grand school gate, hands her a note … and suddenly everything’s at
stake.

Loren’s Facebook-perfect marriage is spectacularly exposed revealing an underbelly of lies and betrayal. What is uncovered will scandalise a small town, destroy lives and leave a family divided.

But who is to be believed and who is to blame? Will the right person be brought to justice or is there one who got away?

My Take

The blurb on the back of the book tries very hard not to reveal any plot details, and so I think I should follow that line. That makes reviewing it extremely hard.

The book is set in a suburb of Los Angeles with deep social divisions demarcated by the river that runs through the suburb. Loren and her family(husband and twin girls aged 5) live on High Side but she was born on Low Side. When she was young her mother left her father for another woman who already had a daughter Loren’s age, Molly. Loren eventually goes to work in New York where she meets a man from High Side. She returns to Los Angeles and and they eventually marry.

The story is told by a number of narrators: Molly, a journal that Loren wrote, a journalist interviewing Loren’s husband David, and the judge in a trial where David is being tried for murder,

It is a book that holds the reader’s interest throughout but I guarantee that most readers will not predict the ending.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Caroline Overington is a two-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who is currently a senior writer and columnist with The Australian. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Only in New York and Kickback which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Since then she has had her first novel Ghost Child published in October 2009 to great acclaim.

She has written eleven books, including LAST WOMAN HANGED, which won the Davitt Award for True Crime Writing in 2015.  Caroline has also profiled many of the world’s most famous women, including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.

I’ve also read
4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY
4.5, NO PLACE LIKE HOME
4.7, I CAME TO SAY GOODBYE
4.5, CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

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: NO PLACE LIKE HOME, Caroline Overington

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • File Size: 434 KB
  • Print Length: 203 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (September 25, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DBOF5FW

Synopsis (Amazon)

From bestselling author and award-winning journalist Caroline Overington
comes another thought-provoking and heart-rending story, that reaches
from the heart of Bondi to a small village in Tanzania.

Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s
newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb
around his neck.

Just a few minutes later he is locked in a shop on the upper floor. And trapped with him are four innocent bystanders.

For police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Senior Sergeant
Boehm, it’s a story that will end as tragically as it began. For this is
clearly no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as
frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word.

The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented
schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician;
and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in
Bondi that day is far from innocent.

And of course there’s Ali Khan. Is he the embodiment of evil, as the villagers in his Tanzanian birthplace believe? Or just an innocent boy, betrayed at every turn, who
just wants a place to call home?

My Take

The story takes readers through the background of all the people who are locked in the shop with Tanzaniaan refugee Ali Khan. The narrator is former Catholic priest, police chaplain Paul Doherty, who contacts each of the people locked in the shop after the event for trauma counselling.We benefit from the research he has done about each of these people.

Part of what each reader must ask herself is how you would react in this situation. The shopping centre is in lock down with the voice of Senior Sergeant Boehm booming instructions over a loud speaker system. And yet Ali Khan is showing no sign of understanding.

The book also broaches issues with which Australians are familiar, or are we? Do we really know how refugees are treated under the Australian border protection systems? What are the detention centres housing refugees and asylum seekers really like? Why was Ali Khan, a genuine refugee who has an Australian passport, in Baxter and Villawood for four years?  This is a book that will make you think.

And Paul Doherty has his own problems too, his own crisis of faith, which perhaps does not make him the best narrator.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME is written as a thriller, and, true to form, we do not find out what happened in the last minutes of the siege until the very end.

A good read by an Australian author to look for.

My rating: 4.5

I have also read 4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY

Review: SISTERS OF MERCY, Caroline Overington

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 614 KB
  • Print Length: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (October 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008NEZXG6
  • source: I bought it

Synopsis (Amazon)

Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington is the haunting story of two
sisters – one has vanished, the other is behind bars…Snow Delaney was
born a generation and a world away from her sister, Agnes.

Until recently, neither even knew of the other’s existence. They came together
only for the reading of their father’s will – when Snow discovered, to
her horror, that she was not the sole beneficiary of his large estate.

Now Snow is in prison and Agnes is missing, disappeared in the eerie red
dust that blanketed Sydney from dawn on September 23, 2009. With no
other family left, Snow turns to crime journalist Jack Fawcett,
protesting her innocence in a series of defiant letters from prison. Has
she been unfairly judged? Or will Jack’s own research reveal a story
even more shocking than the one Snow wants to tell?

With Sisters of Mercy Caroline Overington once again proves she is one of the most exciting new novelists of recent years.

My TakeI may not have been able to avoid spoilers here

This book has an interesting structure: the main narration is by Jack “Tap” Fawcett, a journalist who has been following the disappearance of Agnes Moore, a British visitor to Sydney, and the trial of her sister Snow Delaney for cruelty to the disabled children in her care.

Through letters from prison to Jack, Snow recounts her life story to the point where her father dies and she discovers through the lawyer who is the executor of her estate that she has an older sister to whom she must offer half of her considerable inheritance.

The author uses world and Australian events such as “the dismissal” of Gough Whitlam in 1975 to place the novel in time. Agnes Moore, born in London in 1940, was evacuated to Australia during the war and spent her childhood in Western Australia before returning to Britain as a young woman. I did wonder at the time of reading how effective this historical setting technique would be for non- Australian readers.

Because of the recounting of Snow’s life the novel takes a long time to get to the disappearance of Agnes, Snow’s older sister who has come from England to Sydney to meet her. I’m not sure we really needed all that back story. Snow’s life is described through her letters to Jack, and in the light of later revelations, we do have to question her reliability as a narrator.

Although an afterword tells us SISTERS OF MERCY is entirely a work of fiction, I couldn’t help wondering how much of the truly horrific things that Snow Delaney does have come from cases the author has come across as a journalist.

At the end of the novel there is a set of questions for reading groups intended to help them get more out of the novel by considering some aspects and incidents in depth. I read SISTERS OF MERCY for my face to face reading group and unfortunately I’ll be absent for the discussion. I’d love to be a fly on the wall because there is really plenty to talk about. It is a novel that frustrated, horrified, and captivated me all at the same time.

This is the first book I’ve read by this Australian author.

See Review by Bernadette.

Review: SISTERS OF MERCY by Caroline Overington

I suspect SISTERS OF MERCY doesn’t quite qualify as crime fiction but as it is at least ostensibly about a missing person’s case and much of it is made up of letters written by its main character from prison I have decided to incorporate it into my personal, broad definition.

On the surface it is about the disappearance of an English Grandmother, Agnes Moore, who goes missing in a Sydney dust storm, having travelled to Australia to meet the sister she never knew she had until the death of their father, who lost track of Agnes while away at war, a few weeks earlier. But really this is the story of that sister, Snow Delaney.

When we meet her Snow is in prison for a crime that is not revealed until near the end of the novel. She writes a series of letters to Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett, one of the journalists who covered her trial. At first she seeks corrections of fact but slowly reveals her life story in an effort not to justify, she doesn’t feel like she has done anything warranting justification, but to provide evidence of the proof of her version of events. And, almost irrespective of whether you believe Snow’s version or not, it’s a fascinating story. Snow moves from a childhood overshadowed by a cold, undemonstrative mother to an adulthood lacking emotional maturity and ends up in a most unusual place.

I loved the character of Snow though she is not loveable in herself. But she is a character impossible to ignore. Is she evil? Self-deluded? Coldly calculating? Pragmatic? Disturbed? Somewhere in the middle? As a young nurse she trains to work with people who have been living in mental institutions for many years as there is a government push to identify people who can live in the outside world. But the lofty ideals of the program are at odds with the reality of dealing with the severely mentally disabled and Snow is soon disheartened. However, her involvement does lead to her meeting Mark Delaney who will become her lifelong partner. A gambling addict and philanderer Mark doesn’t seem like much of a catch but is the closest thing to an object of affection in Snow’s life. As Mark never does a day’s paid work Snow must work to support them both and Mark’s addiction. Ultimately the couple become foster carers for severely disabled children, a task they seem, at least in Snow’s eyes, uniquely suited to.

We do, via Jack Fawcett, learn a little about Agnes Moore and the somewhat lackadaisical search for her though neither of these characters is even half as fully realised as Snow and that, for me, was something I was looking for to offset the overwhelming nature of Snow and her view of life.

The essay that prompted me to read this book discusses a legitimate concern that could be levelled at the book which is derisive about several almost sacred cows. I don’t share all of those concerns though certainly can see why the essay’s author is troubled by certain aspects of the book. But we seem to agree that even with, or perhaps especially because of, these imperfections it is a book worth recommending. The issues that Overington raises in it are incredibly important and, as is often the way, largely ignored by society in their day-to-day application. It is true, for example, that few people would argue against the principle that the severely disabled (those who require around-the-clock care) should be looked after. But when it comes to the practicalities few of us know – or , if we’re brutally honest, really want to know – just what hard, exhausting graft is involved. Is our collective abdication of responsibility to faceless bureaucrats something we can, or should, be able to live with? Overington’s depiction of an overwhelmed system bogged down in assessing gradations of disability and arbitrarily assigning  ‘adequate’ levels of entitlement to those who manage to qualify is harsh but, to my second-hand knowledge, realistic.

There are other elements that I could highlight if I had the time but I hope I’ve given you enough of an impetus to want to read this unsettling but compelling book. You won’t regret it.


Reading this book also reminded me why I hate the phrase women’s fiction, a subject I ranted about at my other blog

This is the 15th book I’ve read for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2012


My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Random House [2012]
ISBN: 9781742750446
Length: 246 pages
Format: eBook (ePub)
Source: I bought it
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