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.

Awards news in Aussie crime writing

While I was busy being knocked flat by a killer virus (OK it didn’t actually kill me, I just wished it would for a while) in the past few weeks both our major awards for crime writing announced their shortlists and one of them has even announced its winner. So, a belated congratulations to all the nominees.

Davitt Award for best crime novel by an Australian woman

◾Honey Brown, DARK HORSE (a compelling suspense novel with a genuinely surprise ending)
◾Ilsa Evans, NEFARIOUS DOINGS (a funny light-hearted tale about the mysteries beneath the surface of small-town Australia)
◾Annie Hauxwell, A BITTER TASTE (a dark tale of desperation set amidst modern London’s underclass)
◾Katherine Howell, WEB OF DECEIT (a classic procedural which keeps a frenetic pace while managing to depict the real impact of crime on all who are touched by it)
◾Hannah Kent, BURIAL RITES (a haunting work which the author calls speculative historical biography about the last woman hanged in Iceland)
◾Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

DarkHorseBrownHoney21306_fThough I’m not quite convinced Burial Rights really belongs in the crime genre, this is an exceptionally strong field showing the depth and diversity of Aussie women’s crime writing. The winner of this award (announced last weekend) was Honey Brown’s DARK HORSE and it is a superb novel so congratulations to Ms Brown but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you rush out and procure all six novels. For pictures of the awards night and information about winners in the other categories head over to the Sisters in Crime website.

Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel by an Australian writer

The winners of the 2014 awards will be announced this coming Saturday as part of the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The shortlisted books in the best novel category are

  • Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD (a whistleblower cop’s punishment is duty in rural South Australia where corruption looks like allowing the murderer(s) of a young girl to walk free)
  • Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT (a local forensic procedural that outshines many of its international competition)
  • Adrian McKinty, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (a darkly funny locked-room mystery set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s troubles)
  • PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING (if The Wire were a book and set in Australia it would be this one; a more harrowing depiction of modern policing you are unlikely to read)
  • Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING (a missing child in small-town South Australia fails to generate the usual media frenzy but does attract the attention of one jaded but doggedly determined cop)
  • Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (as above…a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

I didn’t manage to write reviews of all this list either (note to self: must try harder) but again this is a terrific lot of books and I have no hesitation in recommending them all. For judges comments about the shortlist and information on the nominees in the other Ned Kelly Awards categories head over to the Australian Crime Writers Association website

For once I have read all the books on both the ‘best novel’ shortlists for the country’s major crime writing awards and find myself able to sincerely recommend each and every book. Yay for Aussie crime writers.

Review: THROUGH THE CRACKS by Honey Brown

ThroughTheCracksBrownHo22131_fAs if authors don’t have it tough enough these days with slim to non-existent advances and a staggering amount of competition, they can even be poorly served by those who are supposedly on their side. In the case of Honey Brown’s THROUGH THE CRACKS the publishers have, by including significant information not revealed until the last third of the novel, drained much of the suspense for any reader foolish enough to take even a peak at the book’s blurb. So, my first piece of advice is that if you have even a vague notion that you might read this book do not, under any circumstances, look at the back cover.

My next piece of advice is to pick yourself up a copy of the book and dive in immediately (perhaps covering it in brown paper lest you accidentally spot the giant spoiler so prominently featured in the blurb).

THROUGH THE CRACKS opens with a teenage boy locking his father in one of the rooms of the house in which he has been kept a prisoner for as long as he can remember. After suffering many years of abuse at his father’s hands Adam is finally big enough, strong enough, brave enough to turn the tables. But doing more…leaving the house for example…proves even more difficult than standing up to his father. Help arrives in an unlikely form.

Although the subject matter of this novel is about as dark as it gets Brown does not concern herself with the kind of grubby details a sensationalist media outlet, or a lesser book, might do. Some details of what Adam has experienced are provided but not in a prurient or voyeuristic way, and the shocks, inevitable as they are in such a story, come more from the perspective events are seen from. This is not the story of someone who has any knowledge of social norms, right and wrong, normality. It is the story of a teenager learning about a world he’s had precious little experience of

Adam dulled his hearing and he backed up, inside himself. He stopped looking through his eyes and looked out from them instead. It wasn’t the same way he’d retreated when being beaten or hurt. He was withdrawing for the opposite reason. He needed to see and feel everything, but without distance it was too much. Standing back, inside himself, he was able to get a better view of things…Money mattered…Meanness didn’t only take place indoors and behind high fences.

As fictional characters Adam and the homeless boy who takes him under his wing are unforgettable.

I assume it was Brown’s deliberate choice to be vague about concrete aspects of the novel’s setting. To place it in time for example you have to be reasonably conversant with Australia’s TV programming and other minor cultural references over the past 20 years or so and I really only noticed one element which told me the state in which the story is set. But specific locations – the house where Adam lived, the room into which he was fearfully locked, the temporary safe-havens he and his new friend find – are all vividly, and terrifyingly where applicable, brought to life.

I had no intention of reading this entire book yesterday evening but after the first chapter or two I was…unwilling if not unable…to put it down. In this era of giant tomes needing a jolly good edit THROUGH THE CRACKS is as long as it needs to be to tell its compelling, confronting and worryingly credible story. Without dwelling on sensationalist details the book conveys some of the myriad ways in which abuse and neglect can manifest themselves and depicts the surprising array of responses human beings can have to such circumstances. And, if you don’t read the blurb, the ending is as satisfying as they come.


awwbadge_2014This is the 7th book I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Penguin [2014]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781921901546
Length: 298 pages
Format: paperback
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