Review: RING OF FIRE, Peter Klein

  • was to have been published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2011.
    Recently removed from the publishing schedule.
    I certainly hope another publisher picks it up.
  • ISBN 9781742610146
  • 308 pages
  • Source: advanced review copy supplied by Pan Macmillan Australia.

Publisher’s blurb  (from the dust jacket)

A fire takes no prisoners, has no conscience and destroys indiscriminately. So, too, does the ‘Barn Burner’.

When horse racing steward Ryan Carlisle is banished to a long, hot summer on the bush racing circuit, he’s devastated. Even though this is a chance to get away from his unbearable boss, his career is at a crossroads and his divorce has left him feeling insecure.

But Ryan has no time to dwell on his misfortunes: an arsonist begins torching racing stables in a string of seemingly random attacks.

As the tally in human life and horses rises, it’s clear to Ryan the Barn Burner will not stop until caught. The police are baffled, racing officials are ducking for cover and when Ryan starts digging into his father’s past and is seconded to the Arson Squad, his involvement in the case becomes very personal. And suddenly, he needs to find the answers before he, too, is caught up in the ring of fire.

My take

I’m still reeling a bit from the information that RING OF FIRE has been removed from Pan Macmillan’s publishing schedule. I think it is a nice solid read by an established Australian author and certainly hope it gets placed somewhere.

Peter Klein has branched out a bit in RING OF FIRE. The central character is not the gambler John Punter who featured in the three titles in the Punter series (see below). Ryan Carlisle is a steward and so we see horse racing in Australia from a different and largely unfamiliar perspective.

The publisher’s information that I was sent also says

Australians are terrified by fires; they take no prisoners, have no conscience, and destroy lives indiscriminately. Klein was heavily influenced by the tragic Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and after visiting the worst hit areas of Kinglake and Marysville some months afterwards, he decided to write a novel about a fire starter.

At first it is thought that the fires that engulf training stables, and kill both trainers and horses, are accidental or perhaps even insurance scams. But as the number of fires rise, then the authorities realise there is an arsonist at work targetting those connected to the racing industry.

Perhaps a weakness in the plot structure is that I worked out who the arsonist was about half way through the story. Klein attempted to lay a couple of red herrings in my path, but they just didn’t really work.

Peter Klein also gives Ryan Carlisle a great interest in fishing, like himself, and these passages have an authentic ring to them.

RING OF FIRE is a nicely paced novel. It attempts to get past the “who” and to explore, less successfully and credibly I thought, “why”. The ending was a bit predictable.

Peter Klein still isn’t Australia’s answer to Dick (and now Felix) Francis but he is doing well.

My rating: 4.3

Check Fair Dinkum Crime’s other posts about Peter Klein

Ned Kelly Awards – short list announced

Announced 8 pm Tuesday 2 August

Best First Fiction

Alan Carter Prime Cut Fremantle Press

David Whish-Wilson Line of Sight Penguin Books

P.M. Newton The Old School Penguin Books

Best Fiction

Angela Savage The Half-Child Text

Geoffrey McGeachin The Diggers Rest Hotel Penguin

Chris Womersley Bereft Scribe Publishing

True Crime

Geesche Jacobson Abandoned- The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble Allen & Unwin

Ross Honeywill Wasted Penguin

Lindsay Simpson & Jennifer Cooke Honeymoon Dive Macmillan

 S.D. Harvey Short Story Award

Robert Goodman Southern Hemisphere Blues

A.S. Patric Hemisphere Travel Guides: Las Vegas For Vegans

Details of this year’s Ned Kelly Awards ceremony to be held as part of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.

SILK CHASER, Peter Klein

Pan Macmillan Australia 2010
319 pages
ISBN 9-781405-039765
Copy supplied for review by the publisher

Publisher’s Blurb

A serial killer is stalking young, female strappers. No one knows who it is, why he’s doing it, or who is likely to be next. The police and the race clubs seem powerless to do anything. The women are terrified and the union is threatening to go on strike and close down the entire racing industry unless security can be guaranteed and the killer caught.
Meanwhile, John Punter’s got problems closer to home to worry about. There’s a protection racket afoot and his restaurant Gino’s is getting lent on. Then there’s his new girlfriend Maxine. Everyone says she’s trouble. She’s the socialite daughter of a shock-jock announcer; the biggest rating name in radio and a major client of his father’s stable. And he’s made it clear he doesn’t want Punter hanging around…
Back at the track, as the body count mounts, Punter finds himself involved in a desperate race against time to find a crazed killer.

This is #3 of Klein’s Punter series, and I’m hooked. SILK CHASER is the best so far. Among the things that I like are the readability, the yarn that flows well, the continuing threads and characters from the previous novels, the authentic Australian flavour, and the believable scenarios.

My rating: 4.5

If you’d like to sample before you buy, the publishers have provided the first chapter online.

However, if you haven’t read either of the others in the series, PUNTER’S LUCK and PUNTER’S TURF, then this is a series where you really should take advantage of the chance to begin on the ground floor. Peter Klein has avoided overloading each novel with back-story, and while there is just enough to help the reader  understand what has gone before, reading the series in order will show you character and plot development.

You can buy SILK CHASER as an e-book in pdf, .mobi, and epub, which really means you should be able to read it on the device of your choice.
The only thing wrong with the Macmillan e-book provision is that the price ($25.45) is pretty high (unrealistically so) in my opinion.
Amazon do have it for a lower price for Kindle but by the time you take the exchange rate into account, you might save a few dollars. PUNTER’S TURF is available for Kindle at a more “usual” price.

PUNTER’S LUCK, Peter Klein

New Holland Publishers, 2007, ISBN 9781741105711, 304 pages

Finding Wombat’s sister Judy dead was the last thing Punter had expected when Judy phoned him about his old surfing pal Wombat’s apparent disappearance. Judy usually saw her brother Vinnie (aka Wombat) at least a couple of times a week, but he hadn’t been around for at least a week, and when he failed to turn for a regular Friday night hook up she had got worried.

John Punter, former strapper and son of a well known trainer, makes his living by betting at the races, and to a large extent can do as he pleases. Through a racecourse detective Punter learnt that there were some heavies looking for Wombat. Rumour said that Wombat had been betting big and losing heavy and that the loan sharks were after him. Wombat was employed as a strapper and his room at the stables had been trashed and it looked very much like he’d done a runner.

The search for Wombat leads Punter and his friend Kate, an investigative journalist at the Age, from Melbourne up the coastal road as far north as Brisbane, uncovering connections with big money and illegal drugs.

PUNTER’S LUCK is Peter Klein’s debut crime fiction entry. (I read and reviewed the second, PUNTER’S TURF a month or so ago). Klein is certainly an Australian writer to watch.
There are many characters in PUNTER’S LUCK who reappear in the second novel: Kate the journalist, Punter’s father DJ and his brother David, Beering the racecourse detective, Punter’s cat Chan, even a reference to big Oakie White who is a central character in PUNTER’S TURF

There’s an Australian flavour to this novel that comes from the settings, places, and colloquialisms. You come away feeling that Klein has laid an excellent foundation on which to build a series. His writing is polished and assured, and story flows easily. A satisfying read.

My rating 4.4

PUNTER’S TURF, Peter Klein

Pan Macmillan Australia 2009, ISBN 978-1-4050-3904-8, 296 pages.

John Punter is a professional gambler and private investigator, estranged son of one of Australia’s top horse racing trainers. He once wanted to be a jockey himself, but his size got in the way. He makes his living at the racetrack betting, winning enough to keep him going. His father regards him as a pariah, feeding off gambling rather than doing the honest work of training.

Punter numbers bookmakers, trainers, jockeys, and journalists amongst his friends. He has already had some success in finding out ‘unexplained’ occurrences both on and off the track such as tracking down a drug syndicate, nailing an insurance scam, and supplying information for stewards, and assisting racecourse detectives.

And so it is to John Punter that Big Oakie White, a well known Victorian bookmaker, turns when his daughter is kidnapped. Oakie doesn’t want to go to the police because of what happened to a fellow bookie’s wife, but now his daughter Michelle’s ear has been delivered to him, earring still attached. Oakie wants Punter to deliver the ransom money. The kidnappers lead Punter a merry dance, but he successfully rescues Michelle, although an attempt to follow the kidnappers with a tracking device fails. Punter has a pretty good idea of who the kidnappers are though, and tracking them down becomes an ongoing thread in PUNTER’S TURF.

Kate is a crime reporter with The Age, and an avid racegoer. Her request to Punter to investigate the form of a horse she is thinking of raising a syndicate of friends for begins the second major thread in PUNTER’S TURF. The horse unexpectedly stops running on its first syndicate outing. By that time Punter has joined the syndicate himself so his interest is also personal.

Some of the reviews of PUNTER’S TURF are claiming that Peter Klein is Australia’s answer to Dick Francis. Well, I don’t think he is yet, but he could be. If you enjoy reading Dick (partnered recently by Felix) Francis, then I think you’ll enjoy PUNTER’S TURF. Klein has a bit of work to do with dialogue, I thought some of the minor characters were a bit two-dimensional, and one of the elements of the ending a bit soppy and predictable, but the novel has a good Australian flavour to it, a feeling of knowledge and authority, and I’ll look for another.

My rating: 4.3

Peter Klein made an appearance at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and his bio. reads
Peter Klein has been involved in racing for over thirty years as a strapper, trainer and punter and has seen all the highs and lows of the racing game. He’s the son of well known and much loved Australian children’s author Robin Klein.

At sixteen he left home to work for some of Australia’s top trainers such as Bart Cummings, Geoff Murphy and the legendary T J Smith. During his stable hand days he was a one-time strapper of champion galloper Kingston Town and is still actively involved in racing, working in the media in his role as racing manager for Australian Associated Press.

Klein already has a biography published: A STRAPPER’S TALE, and PUNTER’S TURF is his second novel. The first was called PUNTER’S LUCK. Interestingly, I didn’t feel like I had missed out on much by reading the books out of order.

Other reviews: