Review: TELL THE TRUTH, Katherine Howell

  • this edition published by PanMacmillan Australia 2015
  • ISBN 978-1-74353-290-4
  • 324 pages
  • #8 in the Ella Marconi series
  • Source: my local library
  • Also available on Kindle

Synopsis (Publisher)

Paramedic Stacey Durham has an idyllic life; her dream job, a beautiful house, and a devoted  husband. Until her car is found abandoned and covered in her blood.

Detective Ella Marconi knows information is key in the first twenty-four hours, questioning the frantic husband, Marie, the jealous sister, and Rowan, the colleague who keeps turning up in all the wrong places.

Just as Ella starts to piece together the clues, a shocking message arrives for James: You won’t see her again if you don’t tell the truth.

As she sifts through the lies, Ella’s relationship with Dr Callum McLennan is under siege, and she doesn’t know if it can survive the overenthusiasm of her family, or the blind hatred of his mother.

With the investigation hitting dead ends and new threats being made, Ella must uncover the truths buried beneath the perfect façade before the case goes from missing person to murder.

My take

TELL THE TRUTH just confirms what an excellent story teller Katherine Howell is, and what a wonderful journey she has taken us on with Ella Marconi in the last eight years.

In each of the titles different paramedics interact with crime and an investigation conducted by Detective Ella Marconi. The setting is Sydney and, while each could be seen as police procedurals, they also attest to the Australian lifestyle and the multicultural nature of Australian society.

I’m not sure that I felt that the plot, as it panned out, was entirely credible, but it made good raeding.

My Rating: 4.9

I’ve also reviewed

5.0, FRANTIC – #1 (mini review) – 2007

4.6, THE DARKEST HOUR – #2 – 2008

4.8, COLD JUSTICE – #3 -2010

4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE -#4 – 2010

4.8, SILENT FEAR -#5 – 2012

4.7, WEB OF DECEIT  #6 -2013

Review: TELL THE TRUTH by Katherine Howell

TellTheTruthHowellAudioAs she has done throughout her series featuring Sydney police detective Ella Marconi, Katherine Howell has once again produced a story very different from its predecessors. It opens when paramedic Rowan Wylie pulls into the car park of a local Playland with his granddaughter and spots a car he recognises. He wonders if its owner, his colleague Stacey Durham, is here too and if so, why? Does she want him to apologise? After taking his granddaughter into the centre he looks for Stacey and when he can’t find her anywhere he takes a closer look at her car. Is that blood on the front seat? He calls her husband James and soon the police are involved too in the search for a woman who seems to have disappeared completely.

I was having the devil of a time getting hold of a print copy of this book so was quite chuffed when I noticed it available at Audible with a narration by Australian actor Caroline Lee. It’s so rare to have books by Australian authors available in this format and I thoroughly enjoyed the treat. Of course it helped that the book was a corker too.

The title is a an apt one and not only because at one point Stacey’s husband is directed via text message to tell the truth in order to get his wife back. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. What is it that Rowan should apologise for? What about Stacey’s sister who used to go out with James before he married Stacey, what is she not saying? And is there something strange about Stacey’s niece Paris who is a trainee paramedic who can’t seem to overcome a mental block in becoming successful at the job? And is James a distressed husband or is there something more to his aborted suicide attempt? I like the way that the book depicts the realism of policing – that it mostly involves a lot of painstaking, routine interviewing and following-up random bits of information of which only a small percentage will prove useful – but still manages to be entirely compelling by showing how all of Stacey’s friends and family have things they’d rather not say.

For readers who have grown to know Ella Marconi over the course of the series there is some positive personal development for her here in that her relationship with Callum seems to be on sound footing. This despite the fact his mother hates her (because Ella investigated a cold case in which her husband was found guilty of a 20 year old murder). Callum is more easily accepted by Ella’s family, although her Aunt’s interrogation of him about his intentions make Ella squirm (and readers chuckle). But as usual with this series the detective doesn’t take over the case completely, and the characters involved in the core story all have plenty of room to grow. The depiction of young Paris, aching to be good at something but allowing her fears to almost paralyse her, is a particularly good one.

It seems from the author’s afterword that the pressure to keep innovating and maintain such high quality has taken its toll and this is to be the last book in the series. At least for now. While I am saddened by the news (and am a little cross that I was allowed to dive in to the latest book so recklessly, if I’d known it would be the last I might have saved it up) I do admire Howell’s willingness to walk away from a success and am glad the series won’t suffer the ignoble fate of fading into second-rate territory. It is definitely one of my absolute favourite series as there isn’t a dud in the bunch and TELL THE TRUTH offers a fitting finale. I’ll await with interest to see if Howell will turn her talents to something entirely different for me to read.


aww-badge-2015This is the 8th novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I’ve reviewed all but the first published of Katherine Howell’s previous novels


Publisher: Bolinda Audio [2015]
ASIN: B00SC5W24C
Length: 11 hours, 58 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: WEB OF DECEIT, Katherine Howell

  • first published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2013
  • #6 in the Ella Marconi series
  • ISBN 978-1-7426-1030-6
  • source: my TBR

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a desperate cry for help. His frantic claim that
someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a
suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the raw terror in
his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded
when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to
commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to
interview her, and then to confuse matters further, a woman is beaten
unconscious in front of Jane’s house and Alex’s daughter goes missing.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up, and feels the
investigation is being held back by her budget-focused boss. Then, just
when she thinks she’s closing in on the right person, a shocking turn of
events puts more people in danger and might just see the killer slip
through her hands.

My Take

WEB OF DECEIT follows the same structure as Howell’s earlier novels in the series: police investigations running in parallel with paramedics whose callout allows the reader to see another side of a victim. The result is four strong characters who are dedicated to the work that they are doing. But they all have more personal relationships on their minds as well, and I think that is what makes them seem so real. None of us operates in a vacuum. Our personal lives impinge on our work and vice versa.

Here is a well plotted novel written by an accomplished and established Australian author, the first to win two Davitt awards.

I have two novels in this series to catch up on: DESERVING DEATH published in 2014, and TELL THE TRUTH due out Feb 2015. I am looking forward to reading both of them!

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also reviewed

5.0, FRANTIC – #1 (mini review) – 2007

4.6, THE DARKEST HOUR – #2 – 2008

4.8, COLD JUSTICE – #3 -2010

4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE -#4 – 2010

4.8, SILENT FEAR -#5 – 2012

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: DESERVING DEATH by Katherine Howell

Dear judgemental waitress who served me a few days ago,

I suppose you thought the fact that I sat at one of your café’s tables to read a good portion of this book gave you the right to criticise my choice of reading material. But I did buy two large coffees and a sandwich, and for all but a few minutes I was your only customer. So I’m not sure you earned the right to offer that snarky “Why waste your time with that junk when there are so many proper books to read?” as you cleared my table. On top of which, you’ve no bloody clue what you’re talking about.

DeservingDeathHowellKatherine Howell’s latest novel, DESERVING DEATH, is as proper a novel as you could hope to read. In unravelling the story behind the murder of two Sydney paramedics it explores a myriad of social issues with a sensitivity that most authors could only dream of. Added to that it’s a ripper yarn. And the whole package is delivered in a delightfully concise 300 pages.

It is a pair of female paramedics, Carly Martens and Tessa Kimball, who are called to an address they know in the first few pages of DESERVING DEATH. Sadly they discover the body of a colleague and friend who has been brutally murdered in a similar fashion to another paramedic killed a month earlier. Detective Ella Marconi and her partner Murray Shakespeare, familiar to series regulars, are assigned to the case. Carly, deeply troubled by her friend’s death, seems determined to play a role in the investigation too. In classic whodunit style there are several false leads followed before the culprit is revealed.

While the plot is probably enough to keep most readers well and truly gripped DESERVING DEATH does offer a lot more. I was particularly struck by variety of topical human relationship issues the book explored. We see, for example, the complex mix of emotions experienced by Carly and her girlfriend, one of whom is fearful of her family’s reaction to the news she is gay while the other tries to cope with the fact that her part in her girlfriend’s life is a secret. Tessa’s life meanwhile offers an unexpectedly tear-inducing heartache as she struggles to deal with her alcoholic mother – so mentally and physically broken that even as she’s lying in a pool of her own urine she alternates between beseeching and castigating her daughter in her desperate attempts to gain access to more alcohol. Tessa’s behaviour in response to this onslaught might not always be admirable but it is completely realistic and very engaging (in a ‘good grief my problems aren’t that bad after all’ kind of way). And most series fans will, I’m sure, be as thrilled as I was I’m sure to learn that Ella’s love life has taken a turn for the better here but the couple struggle to maintain a healthy relationship when family baggage threatens to drive a wedge between them.

And so, judgemental waitress, while I don’t think I should have to justify my reading choices to you or anyone else, I think you should know that your mother was right – you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (I’ve no clue how else you could have developed your ill-informed opinion). DESERVING DEATH is a book anyone would be lucky to read. At least one of its myriad relationship issues would be relevant to most readers, its depiction of the life and work of paramedics and police officers is insightful and it is a bloody good yarn.

That passes all my benchmarks for a proper book and you should keep your ill-informed opinions to yourself.

Kind regards,

A happy reader and former customer

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

awwbadge_2014This is the third book I’ve read as part of my participation in this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s not too late for you to join us.

I’ve reviewed all but the first published of Katherine Howell’s previous novels

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Pan Macmillan Australia [2014]
ISBN 9781742613666
Length 303 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #7 in the Ella Marconi series

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2013 Ned Kelly Shortlists announced

The shortlists for the Ned Kelly Awards for excellence in Australian crime writing were announced by the Australian Crime Writers Association at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival. The winners in each category will be announced during the Brisbane Writers Festival on 7 September 

The following links are to the reviews created on Fair Dinkum Crime except where noted. You’ve got a month to get reading so you can compare your thoughts with the judges’.

Best First Fiction

Best Fiction

The links below take you to various reviews because we’re just not into true crime here at Fair Dinkum

True Crime

Review: WEB OF DECEIT by Katherine Howell

TheWebOfDeceiptHowellBy now the excited anticipation with which I approach each of Katherine Howell’s new novels is tinged with a smidgen of dread that her normal high quality won’t be maintained. But within a few pages of starting WEB OF DECEIT I knew my worries were needless as I was reminded that Howell has few equals when it comes to the consistency of her intricate plots that manage never to stray into ridiculous territory while gripping the reader from the outset and not letting go until the final page.

Howell’s sixth novel starts out with paramedics Jane and Alex attending a minor car crash where the victim, Marko Meixner, appears to be uninjured but possibly suffering from a mental illness as he refuses to be removed from his car and talks of being followed. After finally coercing him from his car they take Meixner to the nearest hospital and leave him waiting for a psychiatric consultation. Later that day they are called to assist with a body recovery from underneath a city train and the victim is Meixner. Jane expresses her doubts that it is a case of suicide to Ella Marconi, one of the detectives called out to the scene. Ella and her partner Murray are soon deeply involved in trying to determine if Meixner fell, jumped or was pushed under the train, all the while fighting against their new boss’ penchant for bringing cases in on budget.

The novel is aptly titled in more ways than one as its plot really does form a web of stories which meet and part and meet again in surprising ways. The police must investigate Meixner’s past, in particular a single incident from nearly 20 years ago, as well as his current life to uncover who, if anyone, might have had a motive for killing him. Is there something dodgy happening at his seemingly normal workplace or could he have become the victim of his wife’s stalker? I loved the way that each person they talk to – wife, colleagues, doctor, friends – describes a different version of the same man and it’s up to the detectives to build an accurate picture from everyone’s impressions.   This helps to keep the reader guessing about who the culprit might be, if indeed there even is a culprit, as well as offering genuine insight into the phenomenon that we humans seem to have an infinite capacity to be different people depending on the environment we’re in.

In addition to this side of the book there are threads dealing with the work and personal lives of the paramedics which, not unreasonably, intersect with the work of the police on a regular basis. Alex’s story is particularly heart-wrenching as he is the single dad to a teenage girl who is being particularly troublesome and, when the book opens, he has recently returned to work after a very stressful incident left him psychologically damaged. This incident, as well as several others described throughout the book, shows how demanding and traumatising this work must be which is something Howell, an ex paramedic herself, manages to do with sensitivity that never crosses the line into being maudlin.

To top all this off WEB OF DECEIT has real heart in its depictions of the people affected by trauma and violent crime, be they victims, investigators, paramedics or family members. When Ella and Murray are confronted with the wife of a victim who refuses to accept her husband is dead the dialogue, the awkwardness and the emotions ascribed to all involved are touchingly realistic and an example of what makes the book such a great read, if a sad one on occasion. At different times the key players are dedicated, frustrated, exhausted, frightened or desperate for a brief respite and as readers it is easy to be drawn into their emotional journeys because at least some of the situations in which they find themselves are ones we recognise from our own experiences and the rest are easily, scarily imaginable.

Fans of the series will be pleased that a development in Ella’s somewhat rocky personal life awaits them in this instalment but I have to say this is one series you can start anywhere. Personally I’d recommend you read all six books, starting with FRANTIC, but if you’ve not read any of Katherine Howell’s novels you could easily leap right in to her version of Sydney with WEB OF DECEIT. It’s a fast, clever, sometimes sad, sometimes funny romp of a tale. Highly recommended.


WEB OF DECEIT is released in Australia on 1 February 2013

I’ve reviewed three of Katherine Howell’s earlier novels here at Fair Dinkum Crime: COLD JUSTICE, VIOLENT EXPOSuRE and SILENT FEAR.

awwbadge_2013I’m counting this as my third book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for this year


Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2013]
ISBN: 9781742610306
Length: 349 pages
Format: Paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: SILENT FEAR by Katherine Howell

The reason I imagine it’s hard to balance writing a ripper of a plot with developing at least some of your characters in enough depth to make them interesting is that a lot of books don’t achieve it. Surely if it were an easy task then more books would be like SILENT FEAR which balances these two elements perfectly.

The story is full of genuine surprises starting with paramedic Holly Garland’s attendance at what is for her a routine emergency at a suburban Sydney park. A young man, Paul Fowler, has collapsed and while his friends look on in confusion two bystanders have started CPR. Holly’s first surprise is that one of the man’s friends is her own brother whom she has not spoken to in 12 years. Her second is that when she takes over attempts to resuscitate the young man, thought to have collapsed from heat stroke or a heart attack, she discovers what looks like a bullet hole in the back of his head. These are merely the twists occurring in the first few pages of the book and they really don’t let up until the very end.

The main Detective assigned to the case is Ella Marconi who will be familiar to readers of Howell’s four previous novels in the series. She is an intelligent and determined policewoman and I particularly like the way she is depicted as having an almost physical need to get to the bottom of each case. Detecting is not purely an intellectual exercise for Ella: she needs to be on the move – talking, observing, driving etc. She draws on her body’s physical reactions to aspects of the job in a way that makes her obsession with the job quite believable, and something I’m a little envious of.

Here she and her fellow officers have to trawl through Fowler’s life to find motivation for the crime. His estranged wife, boss and friends are all suspects until evidence and witness statements start to enable the police to focus on particular individuals. As they follow the painstakingly slow procedural steps readers are able to build up a picture of the dead man and his friends. Even minor characters, such as wheelchair-bound Mary who is a star witness or the obnoxious detective assigned to Ella’s squad due to his connections, are nicely drawn and add a layer of natural credibility to the overall story. Holly Garland is a fantastic character too. She is terrified that her brother’s reappearance in her life will unravel the world she has created for herself since she escaped an unfortunate childhood and we really do get a sense of her fear long before we learn what secrets she is desperate to keep.

SILENT FEAR is a perfectly paced book, offering suspense and intrigue which is made more believable than many thrillers by being set in  an ordinary suburban life that most readers will recognise, even if they’ve never visited Sydney in the middle of a blistering Australian summer. Howell’s fictional crimes are not the kind that happen to other, far away people not like us; they are the kind that you can imagine happening right next door. Or even closer to home than that.


I have also reviewed Katherine Howell’s earlier novels VIOLENT EXPOSURE and COLD JUSTICE

Kerrie has reviewed SILENT FEAR earlier this year

This is the 11th book I have read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012


My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2012]
ISBN: 9781742610726
Length: 402 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
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Review: SILENT FEAR, Katherine Howell

Synopsis (author site)

On a searing summer’s day paramedic Holly Garland rushes to an emergency to find a man collapsed with a bullet wound in the back of his head, CPR being performed by two bystanders, and her long-estranged brother Seth watching it all unfold.

Seth claims to be the dying man’s best friend, but Holly knows better than to believe anything he says and fears that his re-appearance will reveal the bleak secrets of her past – secrets which both her fiance Norris and her colleagues have no idea exist, and which if exposed could cause her to lose everything.

Detective Ella Marconi suspects Seth too, but she’s also sure the dead man’s wife is lying, and the deceased’s boss seems just too helpful. But then a shocking double homicide related to the case makes Ella realise that her investigations are getting closer to the killer, but also increasing the risk of an even higher body count.

My Take

Katherine Howell has really cemented herself as an Australian crime fiction author of international note.

SILENT FEAR follows the pattern set in earlier novels: the main plot involves a paramedic working in the ambulance service in Sydney. In this case a young man collapses in the parklands and is then discovered to have been shot. The investigating officer is Detective Ella Marconi. Ella is the thread that connects the series.

As in the other novels, there is also a thread that connects the paramedic Holly Garland and Detective Ella Marconi. In this case there is something in Holly’s past that gives a colleague a hold over her, while a new detective is making Ella’s life a little unpleasant.

Howell strikes a nice balance between descriptive detail, and an authoritative view of both paramedic and police procedures.  In the five novels in the series so far she has established an interesting character for Detective Ella Marconi, and yet it doesn’t feel like the reader can’t break into the series at any point. The result is a tightly constructed, fast paced thriller.

My rating: 4.8

Other reviews to check:

My other reviews of books in the series
THE DARKEST HOUR
4.8, COLD JUSTICE 
– includes a mini review of debut novel FRANTIC
4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE

Katherine Howell’s website

About Katherine Howell
Katherine Howell worked as a paramedic for fifteen years while completing her Bachelor and Masters degrees in creative writing. Her first novel, Frantic, was published in 2007 by Pan Macmillan and set a paramedic alongside Sydney police detective Ella Marconi in ‘an adrenaline rush of a thriller’ (Sydney Morning Herald). It won the 2008 Davitt award for best crime fiction. Her second book, The Darkest Hour, continued the pattern with Ella and another paramedic in ‘a finely paced and engrossing novel’ (Guardian UK). The third in the series, Cold Justice, made the Australian bestseller list, saw Katherine travelling on a P&O cruise as guest author, and was described by NYT bestselling author Tess Gerritsen as ‘one of my favourite books of the year’. It also won the 2011 Davitt award for best crime fiction, making Katherine the only author to have won twice. more

The most impressive Australian crime fiction in 2011

It’s list making time of year so here at Fair Dinkum HQ we’ve each made a list of the five Australian crime fiction titles that impressed us most this year. Not all are 2011 publications and some have yet to be released beyond our shores but this mixture of new titles by favourite authors and outstanding debuts is a cracker of a collection if I do say so myself.

Kerrie speaking here…

I’ve only read 16 Australian titles this year, and am already formulating New Years Eve resolutions that I will do better in 2012. Nevertheless the problem in picking my top reads is that so many of them were so good and it was difficult to draw a cut off line. Not all of the titles were 2011 publications either.

So here are my top 5.

My top pick was THE WRECKAGE by Michael
Robotham, published in 2011, in which our old friend Vincent Ruiz teams up with a new character, investigative journalist Luca Terracini. THE WRECKAGE is a contemporary thriller set against the background of both the world financial crisis and the attempts to build Iraq in the face of both greed and terrorism. It reflects both Robotham’s meticulous research, and his ability to create great fictional characters. He describes the main characters in a way that makes you really care about what happens to them.

I really can’t choose between the other four, so the order in which they appear is not preferential.

In Katherine Howell‘s COLD JUSTICE, published in 2010, paramedic Georgie Riley and Detective Ella Marconi are travelling similar paths, returning to work after traumatic incidents that resulted in hospitalisation and being off work for some months.  Katherine Howell has used a formula similar to the one she used successfully in both THE DARKEST HOUR, and her debut novel FRANTIC: parallel plots that advance in tandem, each generating their own sense of suspense. The link between the two plots is Detective Ella Marconi. Again the paramedic characters are new, while Marconi provides the common thread from one novel to the next.

WHISPERING DEATH, published in 2011, affirms that Garry Disher is a master storyteller, a tight and consummate plotter, a writer who could sit on any international podium along with richer and more famous crime fiction writers. This is #6 in Disher’s Hal Challis series, firmly bedded in the 21st century, and reflecting on the problems of maintaining a strong police force, chasing rapists, armed robbers, and home invaders, in the face of diminishing funding and stretched resources.

Set in post-war Australia, this time post World War Two, with a policeman returning to work in a world that will never be the same, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL by Geoffrey McGeachin, published in 2011, reminded me a lot of the Charles Todd series. Like Ian Rutledge in that series Charlie Berlin was in the police force before the war. Although the police force was an exempt trade he volunteered for service and was posted to the RAF in Britain. He took off on 30 missions over Germany, but, in his words, landed only 29 of them and ended up in a P.O.W. camp. For me, Geoff McGeachin has hit on a winner with this new series and I hope we see more of Charlie Berlin. It appealed to me on several fronts – historical, crime fiction, Australia.

My final choice is FINAL CUT by debut West Australian author Alan Carter, also published in 2011.  What makes this novel remarkable is the way the author ambitiously forwards two plot strands in tandem. It took a bit of getting used to at first. There is little to tell the reader that you’ve changed from one plot to another, just a change of characters. Often, but not always, the plots are basically at the same point, like the interviewing of a suspect.

But there’s much more than that to keep the reader involved. There are prior links between some of the characters which are gradually teased out for us. There are genuine murder mysteries with lots of attendant red herrings. There’s a good feel for the climate in Western Australia, both physical and economic. And there is some excellent characterisation.

And now it’s Bernadette’s turn

So far I’ve managed to read 35 books by Australian crime writers this year. I’m about half way through another one which is enjoyable but I already know it’s not quite good enough to nudge any of these off the list so I don’t feel too concerned about finalising the list a few days before the end of the year.

Y.A. Erskine’s debut novel THE BROTHERHOOD absolutely blew me away. Partly this is because I had no expectations when I opened the front cover (I knew nothing about the book other than it was written by an Aussie woman) but mostly it’s because it’s bloody brilliant. A Tasmanian policeman is shot while on duty and the events of the day are recounted from different points of view – his rookie partner, the Police Commissioner, his estranged wife, the culprit etc – who each get a single chapter from which a whole picture of the leadup to and ramifications of the shooting emerges. I loved everything about this book – the structure, the flawed but believable people, the way the story kept surprising me, the themes that Erskine explored. This book is vying with one other title for the very top spot on my favourite books of the year (Aussie or otherwise) and my only complaint is that is hasn’t gotten the wide attention it so richly deserves.

Like Kerrie I’m not going to list the rest in order of preference, they’re all worth your attention.

Kathryn Fox‘s DEATH MASK was one of the first books I read this year and it ended up being the book I voted for in the reader’s choice category of this year’s Davitt Awards. It starts out simply enough with a young woman testing positive for a sexually transmitted disease that she cannot understand how she contracted given her sexual history and so she assumes there has been some mistake at the clinic. The story’s dark turn reveals the betrayal that led to her contracting the disease which in turn prompts the protagonist of the series, Dr Anya Crichton, to study the psychology of male sporting teams. It’s a topical storyline but tackled intelligently and without the moralising, quick-fix answers that mainstream media devotes to the subject and it reminded me that the best crime fiction always examines some aspect of our society or collective behaviour in addition to telling a jolly good yarn.

Australian-born, Scotland-living Helen Fitzgerald‘s THE DONOR tackles the simple but hideous premise of what a single father is to do when his twin daughters both develop a genetically inherited kidney disease. Perhaps a life of crime wouldn’t be everyone’s choice but hapless Will Marion seems somewhat short of options to save the daughters he loves. The book is both darkly funny and almost unbearably sad but not remotely maudlin which is, I think, a remarkable achievement. The father in this story is a wonderful creation: the type of person you want to slap for being so inept one minute but the next moment you want to wrap him in a giant bear hug for trying so hard.

Sulari Gentill‘s A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is the second novel set in 1930’s Australia to feature world-wandering dilettante Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair and I adored it. Rowly and his friends start the book on board a cruise liner where a grim murder occurs and by the time all the players are in Australia things look very rocky for poor Rowly who unwilling caught up in an odd spiritual movement and may end up being considered an unsuitable role model for the young members of his conservative family. Whenever I talk about this book or its predecessor (something I do as often as I can) I break out in a wide grin as there is something quite joyous about the amusing, life-embracing characters that inhabit Gentill’s world, which is full of sumptuous details of the period. But there is sadness in Rowly’s life too and it’s this juxtaposition with his fun-loving ways that provides the spark of something special to the book. I am lucky enough to have an advanced copy of the third book in the series awaiting my perusal in early January and I am already grinning at the prospect. This book also wins my award for best cover of the year.

LINE OF SIGHT by David Whish-Wilson is another superb debut, this time set in Perth in Western Australia. It is a fictionalised account of the real life murder of a local brothel owner in the 1970’s and focuses on the struggle by one good cop to uncover the truth about the crime which appears to have been perpetrated by his fellow officers. What impressed me most about this book was its perfect capturing of the time and place (it really does feel like another country which is not surprising as the state has flirted with secession more than once). The characters stand out too, especially the man who was charged with heading up a Royal Commission into the case and who slowly came to realise that he’d been set up to find nothing at all. It was a somewhat brutal but entirely credible characterisation and I have thought about Justice Partridge many times since finishing the book.

Did you read any Aussie crime fiction that impressed you in 2011? Do share.