Review: THE TWISTED KNOT by J.M. Peace

Having been very impressed with J.M. Peace’s debut novel A TIME TO RUN, I approached THE TWISTED KNOT with that mixture of anticipation and worry that always surrounds second books. Happily, the worry was misplaced.

Somewhat paradoxically one of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is that it is not all that similar to its predecessor. The author’s talent is still on show and the central character from the first, police constable Sammi Willis, is also at the heart of this one but there is never any signs of this becoming the first in a line of clones that can often, understandably but annoyingly, follow a successful debut. This is different in pacing, the kind of story it tells and in its overall sensibility. It’s still very, very good though; no worrying necessary.

Here Sammi is still recovering from the events depicted in the first novel. Physically she’s OK but not quite mentally ready to return to full duties yet so she’s working on the front counter of the police station in the rural Queensland town of Angel’s Crossing. Which is where she first learns that townspeople are angry. A man accused of being a pedophile in the town some years ago is apparently ‘at it’ again. He was not convicted last time and locals are determined that this time there will be justice, even if they have to deliver it themselves. All Sammi and her colleagues have to go on is unsubstantiated rumours, no victim has come forward. And Sammi’s superior officers make themselves scarce rather than face the angry mob that confronts Sammi. What are they hiding?

It’s difficult to talk about the many fine attributes of this book without spoiling its plot but I will say the story is a ripper. It’s not the same kind of intense, frightening story the first book told but it’s equally compelling and suspenseful. Here there are layers of secrets being kept by many locals and the way these are revealed keeps readers guessing right to the end. There’s more complexity here too because it’s not quite so clear in depicting who is and who isn’t doing the right thing. Because there’s what’s legal and then there’s what’s right and they’re not always the same thing. At least not for some of the residents of Angel’s Crossing. It’s quite thought-provoking at times in the way it makes the reader contemplate what they might do when faced with some of the scenarios depicted in the book.

Peace is a serving police officer (using a pseudonym) so it’s not surprising that the way the various aspects of police work and ‘the life’ are shown have a real ring of authenticity to them. The different types of personality attracted to the work are on show as are the variety of elements of the job. Although they do exist it’s not all car chases and shoot outs and Peace does well in showing the whole job without slowing the book down or making it dull. She also does well at showing the limitations of the legal system and the frustrations that result for both officers and the public.

The character development is well done too. Sammi’s struggles to overcome the mental issues which arose after she was chased by a serial killer are problematic but no so debilitating they threaten to destroy her. It must be a difficult balance to achieve in trying to depict such a thing sensitively and realistically. There are a few hurdles in her personal life too but these are also shown in a believable, balanced way. The townspeople who are impacted by the possible resurgence of the pedophile activity are also well drawn. Their anger and desire to take matters into their own hands are entirely credible.

All in all then another terrific read from J.M. Peace. I am especially pleased when authors try new things and take some risks with their storytelling. Even if it doesn’t always work I’d rather this than a clone any day. But, in this instance at least, Peace’s change of pace and tone work very well, leaving me keen to see what she does next.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 5th 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: Pan Macmillian, 2016
ISBN: 9781743538678
Length: 303 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: TIME TO RUN, J.M. Peace

  • review copy supplied to me by publisher, Pan Macmillan Australia
  • ISBN 978-1-74353-786-2
  • published July 2015
  • 228 pages
  • Kindle version available from Amazon

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The hunt is on

A GRUESOME GAME

A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.

A FRANTIC SEARCH

Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the
disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent
die on her watch.

A SHOCKING TWIST
The killer’s newest prey isn’t like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.

A RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

A stunning, tautly written thriller from police officer turned writer, J.M. Peace.

My Take:

My feeling is the plot of this novel relies heavily on stories from true crime such as the Ivan Milat murders. Certainly that reinforces in my mind that events such as those described in this piece of fiction can actually happen.
I don’t mean to detract from the good job the author has done with plot and with character development. I was struck also by the way the tension ratchets up in the second half of the novel. We know that Sammi is racing against time for her life.

This is an impressive debut title.

My rating:  4.5

About the author
J.M. Peace is a serving police officer who would rather be writing about
policing. Over the past 15 years, she has served throughout south-east
Queensland in a variety of different capacities. Her voice of authority
shines through in her debut crime thriller, A Time To Run.
J.M. Peace she has also written various short stories, blogs regularly
about policing and writing and is currently working on her second novel.
JM lives on the Sunshine Coast, juggling writing and police work with
raising two kids along with her partner. She blogs at http://www.jmpeace.com.

Review: A TIME TO RUN by J.M. Peace

ATimeToRunPeaceFrontIt would be impossible for any Australian reader not to think of the backpacker murders when embarking on A TIME TO RUN. But if, like me, you think you are ‘over’ serial killer plots I would urge you to reconsider. It is a seriously good read.

The only thing I didn’t much like about my copy was the blurb but, as is my habit these days, I didn’t read that until I’d finished the book so my reading experience wasn’t spoiled as yours might be if you read it first. The only thing I think you need to know about the story itself is that it involves a young woman, Sammi, who is kidnapped at the end of a night out. We then follow what happens to Sammi in tandem with the unfolding police investigation into her disappearance.

A TIME TO RUN is the most perfectly paced novel I have read in a very long time. Seriously, it’s perfect. There’s not a wasted word, it never drags, action unfolds quickly enough to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down at any point (I gobbled it up in a single sitting) but not so fast that you feel like the author is trying to distract you from some failing of the book. I think I had forgotten the delight of reading a truly well-paced story because it’s a pretty rare thing in these days of endless exposition and unnecessary filler content. The book has half the pages of many modern thrillers but packs twice the dramatic punch.

For those still wary of reading another book about a serial killer perhaps I can put your mind at rest by telling you that this is not one of those books that borders on celebrating the psychopath or turning him into a star. There are, thankfully, no italicised passages of his inner thoughts. Nor is he a genius of such superior intelligence to the plodding coppers that there is doubt he can ever be captured. He is just a man. A rotten-to-the-core man. We see enough of him and his actions to understand this but the book doesn’t wallow in his degrading behaviour and violence. He is not the centre of attention. The real stars of this book are the victim and the policewoman who becomes determined to find her. I particularly liked the fact that Sammi is depicted as being a random victim through no fault of her own – there is no victim blaming here. She’s also pretty darned feisty. Despite her circumstances she finds some inner strength (and a little help from another realm) with which to attempt to outwit her captor but all her actions – her successes, her mistakes and the times when she is sure she will die – are within the bounds of credibility. Janine Postlewaite is the Detective who is alerted early to Sammi’s possible disappearance. She takes speedy action to treat the case seriously – based in part on a previous experience where a delay in starting the process led to a bad outcome for another missing person – and she is persistent and thorough and smart and dedicated. If anyone you loved went missing Janine is the kind of cop you’d pray was assigned to the case.

J.M. Peace has been a police officer in Queensland for 15 years and is still serving. This experience shows, but lightly. By that I mean she hasn’t drowned the story with fascinating but ultimately pointless insider knowledge of ‘the business’ but she has given the story an underlying authenticity. The way that evidence is identified, linkages between disparate pieces of information are made, cooperation between different branches of the police service happens all pass the truthiness test and help the reader become gripped by Sammi’s plight.

So even if the phrase Wolf Creek-style killer turns you off (as it did me when I spied it on the publicity material) I’d recommend setting aside your prejudices and give this book a go. It’s got a great Australian feel to it (so many of the so-called Australian thrillers that pass my eyes make it seem like we are the fifty-somethingth state of America), rips along at just the right pace and if it doesn’t have you sitting on the edge of your seat then there’s something wrong with you, not the book. I notice that in her acknowledgements J.M. Peace thanks her editor and I’ll second that thought. While it’s clear that Peace herself is very talented (this is a debut novel!) it’s also evident that the final product has been carefully crafted from its manuscript stage and when that process is done well it can never be the work of one person. My congratulations and gratitude to everyone involved.


aww-badge-2015This is the ninth novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2015]
ISBN: 9781743537862
Length: 229 pages
Format: paperback
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