Review: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS by Garry Disher

Garry Disher’s latest novel is a standalone story (at least for now) set against the backdrop of greater Melbourne, occasionally stretching as far as Geelong. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS opens in a small town on the urban fringe. A dangerous snake has hidden itself under an old, unused concrete slab in the backyard of a young family’s home. When the slab is dug up as part of snake catching efforts a skeleton is found. We meet the book’s central character, Alan Auhl, when the cold case squad he works with is called in. At first they must identify the person, not easy due to the house’s history as a rental home, before moving on to discovering what led to their death and burial. The process the team has to go through is well depicted, giving a good sense of how painstaking it must be to investigate cases from even the relatively recent past.

Several other strands play out alongside the story’s main plotline. Auhl is contacted for news each year by the daughters of a man killed some years ago whose murderer has never been caught. Then there’s the tangled case of the doctor who alerts the police that his wife might be a murderer. Auhl is skeptical because he believes the doctor has killed two of his previous wives but was clever enough to get away with it. And we haven’t even gotten to Auhl’s personal life yet. He lives in the big old house he inherited from his parents and rents rooms out to a mismatched collection of waifs and strays. These include Neve Fanning and her daughter Pia who are trying to escape the clutches of Neve’s abusive ex husband who has the money and connections to use the legal system to his advantage.

These days picking up a new police procedurals is a bit risky as the trend for damaged central characters can make for repetitive reading. But Disher is a true master of his craft so manages to make Auhl stand out from the pack without using tired tropes such as the almost ubiquitous addiction. That doesn’t mean he’s all sweetness and light though. His nickname in the office is Retread because he’s returned from retirement and is the oldest person in the team by quite some years. I can attest personally to the authenticity with which the complexities of being an ‘older worker’ in a workforce entranced by youth is depicted. His marriage is…awkward to say the least and at one point he crosses a behavioural line that will surely haunt him but all this just makes for an interesting character that doesn’t feel like a rehashing of all those who have come before him.

And the story itself is a ripper. Disher juggles all the threads expertly and maintains just the right levels of suspense and heart. Readers aren’t led to believe that strange cold cases can be solved in a moment but nor are we bored to tears by too much detail. There is a good mix of the personal and professional too with Auhl’s home life offering lots of interest.

It doesn’t really come as a surprise that Garry Disher has produced another fantastic book but when someone is as consistently good as Disher it can be easy to take them for granted. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS could easily be the start of a new series but stands equally well as a single novel, and is highly recommended for fans of top notch procedurals. It’s fast paced, sparsely written and genuinely surprising.


Publisher: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925498882
Length: 285 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from a friend

Review: TOO EASY by J.M. Green

TOO EASY is the second novel to feature sometimes self-deprecating, always amusing social worker Stella Hardy and proved the perfect start to my reading year. The combination of a plot depicting organised chaos, insightful social commentary, genuine humour and engaging characters was exactly right.

Though it’s easy enough to follow, the plot is complex and has many elements that I don’t want to give away but it starts with Stella receiving a call from her best friend. Phuong is a police detective whose boyfriend, also a policeman, is under a corruption cloud. He wants to find a particular drug dealer to corroborate his version of a questionable incident and Phuong thinks that Stella, who has a different sort of connection to Melbourne’s dodgy underbelly than the police, might be able to help with the hunt. Stella and Phuong almost come to blows over the request and what Stella thinks of as Phoung’s lousy taste in men but their friendship is a strong one. The search though puts Stella in the path of a murderous bikie gang, other corrupt police and teenagers whose lives are being threatened in a truly grim way. At the same time her own love life undergoes a test as her artist boyfriend finds a new muse.

Whether they be total geniuses or alcoholic loners I can struggle to believe in many crime fiction protagonists. But Stella Hardy seems like a real person I might actually know. Heck at times she seems like one of the voices inside my own head. The depiction of her as being good at her job (at the wonderfully named WORMS) but struggling with the inane bureaucracy rings absolutely true. As does her knack of setting somewhat unrealistic personal goals – such as becoming a gourmet cook – and spectacularly failing to meet them. That she faces everything in her life with a combination of wry humour and stubbornness help make her into an authentically Aussie woman.

The story that unwinds in TOO EASY is at times madcap but somehow even the most outlandish elements of it have the same aura of truthiness as Green’s characters. It is full of people doing stupid things for entirely believable reasons – either good or bad – and events build up at just the right pace.

There was a time not so long ago when the general consensus seemed to be that the only truly Australian stories could take place in ‘the Outback’. J.M. Green is one of a new breed of artists proving that urban locations and city dwellers can offer equally compelling depictions of what it is to be Australian. She has captured the essence of Melbourne living, provided a thoroughly modern heroine and a supporting cast that oozes familiarity in a story that is an absolute hoot, where even the scary bits are tinged with comedy.


Publisher: Scribe, 2017
ISBN: 9781925322025
Length: 292 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: WIMMERA by Mark Brandi

Told in three parts WIMMERA focuses on two people. In the first part we meet Ben and Fab; best friends in their final year of primary school. In their small rural town they are left to their own devices for great swathes of time. Not due to bad parenting but because that’s the way the world was then. The boys watch TV, play backyard cricket, go yabbying and camping. They can talk endlessly of mindless things such as the intricate rules for their favourite activities but they actively avoid discussing the big, scary stuff. Like why Ben’s 14-year old neighbour hung herself on the family clothesline or the fact that Fab’s father beats him regularly. No one, not even the adults, talks about those things. Towards the end of this part of the book readers know that something has gone awry for one of the boys but we have to speculate about the details. In the book’s second and third acts we find out a little more as the boys’ history is investigated, but even by the end of the novel there’s still a lot we don’t know.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say I loved WIMMERA given it is so sad and full of melancholy. But what other word is there?

I loved that it depicts an Australia I instantly recognised. Although it is set in rural Victoria I think WIMMERA owes more to its core events taking place in the late 1980’s than to its geography. Things – often awful or frightening things – that are known but not spoken of are at the heart of this story and that kind of secret keeping is – or was – not reserved for country towns. The inner-city street I grew up on was equally good at hiding things. That said, the book’s physical setting is utterly authentic too.

I loved that the book’s central characters are neither heroic nor extremely flawed. They’re ‘normal’, for want of a better word. They do good things and not-so-good things and fumble their way through life, like most of us. Maybe other readers look for inspiration from fictional characters but I like it best when people in fiction are as clueless and awkward as I usually am.

I loved that the book left so much unsaid. At 262 pages WIMMERA is one of the shortest modern novels I’ve read. And though it clearly annoys some readers I found the lack of detail very fitting. This is, after all, big scary stuff. Not the kind of thing people talk about. It feels very realistic to me that people like Ben and Fab – growing up when and where they did – would never tell all. Probably couldn’t tell all even if they had the desire to.

Like its geographic namesake WIMMERA is quite beautifully sparse and reveals its secrets unwillingly. Surely only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by Ben and Fab’s story even though they struggle so hard to share it. Or perhaps because they struggle so hard to share it. Highly recommended.


Publisher: Hachette, 2017
ISBN: 9780733638459
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

I’m sure all authors wish for the kind of success Jane Harper had (indeed is still having) with her debut novel THE DRY but I imagine most would, at least fleetingly, think twice about wishes coming true when presented with the need to produce the next novel. Happily for Harper, and her readers, she has soldiered through that intense pressure and delivered another cracking read. Among the many things I admire about FORCE OF NATURE is that it isn’t the same novel wrapped in a different skin and some risks have been taken with the narrative choices.

One of the things that does carry across though is Harper’s skill at creating a setting with an almost physical presence for the reader. Here we are in a fictional but recognisable bushland area called the Giralang Ranges east of Melbourne. It is isolated, cold and claustrophobic due to the dense foliage. Easy to become lost in. As if that isn’t troublesome enough it is the scene of an infamous series of killings two decades earlier. The perpetrator of those crimes was found but, local legend has it, the killer’s son still roams the area. Into this suitably nightmare inducing setting Harper drops a group of employees from a Melbourne company embarking on one of those corporate retreats designed solely to be such a horrendous experience that staff never complain about their normal office environment ever again. They are separated into two groups – men and women – who must trek through the Ranges for several days on separate, but close, tracks. In the women’s group things go awry and one of them – Alice Russell – goes missing.

Being lost in the bush is a well-mined plot line for Australian artists of all kinds but Harper easily holds her own in the space. The storyline is genuinely original, no mean feat in itself, and the way it unfolds adds a lot of tension. There are two strands: one moving forward from when retreat begins and one beginning when the search for Alice gets underway. This dual thread works really well. Adding to the suspense is that we are almost spoiled for choice as to what might have happened to Alice. Has she wandered off? Is she the victim of the serial killer’s son? Did one of the women do her in because she’s not very nice?

Or has she been killed because of what she knows? Aaron Falk, an Agent with the financial crimes unit of the Australian Federal Police and protagonist from THE DRY, has been working with Alice as a whistleblower at her company. Her involvement was meant to be a secret but Aaron and his partner, Carmen, worry that her actions may have resulted in Alice being placed in danger. Their superiors are worried that she hasn’t handed over all the documents she promised which endangers their case. So the pair become involved in the search and in trying to piece together what led up to her disappearance. I liked reading about Aaron again and seeing him in a work setting rather than dealing with something personal. Though one of the risks Harper has taken with this book is to make his role somewhat smaller than the traditional procedural might do with its hero. For me this worked well as it allowed us to really get to see the victim’s world and did not bog us down in procedural elements. If the series is to be a long one this is a sound strategy as it means we won’t become bored with the main character.

Jane Harper is proving to have a real skill at taking quintessentially Australian settings and making them truly frightening. Not through an overt violence or gruesomeness but by teasing out just enough information to make the reader’s imagination take flight. And telling a ripper yarn. FORCE OF NATURE is good from beginning right through to the end which is, these days, a rarity. If you are an audiobook fan I highly recommend Steve Shanahan’s narration which is outstanding and adds another layer to the storytelling here.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 14th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Wavesound Audio, 2017
Narrator: Steve Shanahan
ASIN: B075QM2Q8N
Length: 8 hours, 56 minutes
Format: Audio book
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: A DANGEROUS LANGUAGE by Sulari Gentill

A blogger I visit regularly recently posted their musings on a particular aspect of the attraction of old-fashioned detective novels which they summed up as a sort of ‘agreed artificiality’. Or, in more depth defined as

“…that quality of creating a particular type of world in which both the reader and the author are in collusion on certain ground rules which make the reading experience more enjoyable by distancing them from the reality of what would otherwise be a harrowing read.”

Although I’m not a huge reader of the golden-age detective novels being discussed in that post, I was nodding my head in agreement with the sentiments expressed and could not help but think that is exactly how I feel about the Rowland Sinclair series even though it’s closer to an artificial adventure novel than a detective one. Written today, the books are set in the 1930’s and depict the experiences of an idealistic group of young Australians who embrace the fortunes life has dealt them and display lashings of honour and backbone whenever their luck turns sour. For me the series offers a safe, sometimes slightly surreal place from which to explore such dark subjects as murder, the rise of fascism and how much of a pain older brothers can be even when you love them to bits.

In the eighth instalment of the series it is 1934 and Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, son of a wealthy pastoralist family whose fortunes have not been dented by the Great Depression, heads to the Melbourne International Motor Show with his friends Clyde and Milton to pick up a new car. All agree the Chrysler Airflow is a suitably beautiful replacement for the beloved Mercedes he lost in events depicted in this novel’s predecessor. While in Melbourne Rowly is approached to assist the local Movement Against War and Fascism; a cause he is very supportive of since he and his friends visited Germany and saw first-hand what the Nazis were up to (see 2012’s PAVING THE NEW ROAD). He agrees to assist the movement by trying to ensure that prominent European peace activist Egon Kisch makes it to Melbourne in time to speak at a planned peace rally. Before he can make that happen he heads to Canberra where his friend Milton is to be engaged in a bit of stealthy activism on behalf of the Communist Party. On the way there the lads encounter a dead body which they worry might be the fourth member of their group, the sculptress Rowly loves silently, and when they reach the nation’s new capital someone is murdered. Mayhem, of course, ensues.

Given that a good chunk of the action here takes place in Canberra, a city that only exists because of politics, A DANGEROUS LANGUAGE is a bit more political than some of the other books in the series. I really enjoyed the way this shines a light on some aspects of our history that are rarely the subject of popular culture (honestly you could be forgiven for thinking the only things of importance Australians have ever done is play sport and go to war) (and yes that order is deliberate). Gentill just gets better and better at weaving historical fact into her stories and the part of the book in which Rowly and Clyde meet up with Kisch is just one example of this. I won’t spoil the details for you but knowing the story of Kisch’s visit to Australia pretty well (thanks to a high school history teacher who nearly got herself fired for teaching Catholic kids about a Communist in a positive light) I can attest to the fabulous way solid facts have been strung together with imaginative but entirely plausible madcap fun.

As always though it is the characters that are the highlight of the book. In this outing Clyde Watson-Jones, the landscape painter in Rowly’s group of adventuring artists, takes more of a central role and I enjoyed getting to know him in more depth. He has always been the group member least comfortable with living off Rowly’s wealth so he takes any opportunity to offer something meaningful in return such as looking after Rowly’s various vehicles. But here he has matured to the point that he is able to poke gentle fun at his friend about the difference in their respective social status, such as when the pair are forced to take tourist class berths on a ship rather than the first class suites that Sinclairs are more used to. But at heart the book shows how these differences – of class or religion or politics – are not important when it comes to standing up for one’s friends and doing the right thing. It’s not unreasonable, especially with the lens of the current political climate, to think that might be the most artificial element of all the book’s fictions – the notion that our similarities are more important than our differences – but if so it’s an artifice I’m happy to buy into for a while.

Unlike his two friends Rowly is not a member of the Communist Party (despite what his older brother and others may believe when they call him Red Rowly) but he is sympathetic to some of the issues the Party supports, especially their opposition to the rise of fascism. His total belief in the worrying behaviour of the Nazis has come between Rowly and his older, far more conservative, brother Wilfred and the pair’s strained relationship is wonderfully drawn. Gentill teases out the nuances of what’s going on between the two so that the reader is able to really feel for both men who are, at heart, good people each believing he is in the right. The peaks and troughs of this relationship are depicted without the sibling bond being broken irretrievably.

Even though I have blathered on for far too long I’ve only scratched the surface of  A DANGEROUS LANGUAGE. There’s a marriage proposal, two broken leg accidents, an international air race and a potentially murderous politician amidst this tale of excitement, friendship, humour and being honourable even when you’re scared. Read it, you won’t regret it.


A DANGEROUS LANGUAGE is officially released in Australia on 1 October (though I spied copies in my local bookshop earlier this week)

I have reviewed this book’s predecessors:

If you prefer audio books instalments 1-4 and 7 of this series are available already, wonderfully narrated by Rupert Degas and books 5 and 8 are due for release early next month (at least they are on the listings Audible makes available to me in Australia).


aww2017-badgeThis is the 12th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Pantera Press
ISBN: 9781921997662
Length: 384 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: provided by the publisher

Review: GOODWOOD by Holly Throsby

Although the specific, eponymous town of Holly Throsby’s debut novel GOODWOOD does not exist in reality, her depiction of small town Australian life oozes the kind of authenticity that can only derive from genuine affection for its real world counterparts. In part the book is a coming of age story and in part a crime one, but mostly it is a story of place. A sad, beautiful and whimsical character study of Goodwood. A town that was peaceful and carefree before. Before teenager Rosie White said goodnight to her parents and was never seen again. And before, only a week later, the much-loved local butcher seemingly drowned while out fishing, though without a body his fate was as uncertain as Rosie’s. Jean Brown, a year younger than Rosie and narrator of the town’s story tells as that her home is irrevocably changed by these events

At school, the normal feeling of things had stopped and the unease had set in. The news of Rosie White was everywhere. It had travelled down the telephone lines and across dinner tables onto the pages of the Gather Region Advocate. It had taken up residence in the minds of students and teachers. It sat in the silence between sentences; in the things that people did not say. Goodwood had never been visited by such collective worry, and we were not familiar with the burden of the unknown.

Given that Throsby is better known as an award winning singer-songwriter it ought not to be surprising that GOODWOOD has a poetic, often lyrical quality to its writing. The repetition of certain phrases or images for example serves a functional purpose in helping get across that there is a kind of rhythm to the town’s life, but it also reminded me of the way a chorus works in music. Overall the writing is quite simple I suppose but I would take issue with those who have labelled it simplistic. To me it felt like Throsby had chosen the right language and tone for this particular story. Language laden with artifice or dense phrases would have been all wrong. And the book is very, very readable. I devoured it in a couple of sittings.

The dedicated fan of traditional crime fiction might be disappointed with GOODWOOD’s lack of procedural elements. Or even its lack of obvious crime given that whether or not anything criminal has taken place is unclear until the very end of the book. But what the book does have is a very careful unpicking of the big and small secrets that people keep. Even people in small towns where everyone knows everything about everyone. Throsby shows what superhuman effort can be needed to tell. Whether it was Jean screwing up the courage to tell the town’s policeman what she had found in the clearing, or permanently frightened Doe Murray who had to try 26 times before she summoned the will to leave her house and make her own report to the same policeman these portraits were outstandingly done. And there is suspense here, partly because the book isn’t following any well-worn path so the seasoned reader’s assumptions about who’s probably done what to whom are likely to be off-base.

Having been underwhelmed recently by crime novels written by people famous in other fields, I didn’t really have huge expectations for GOODWOOD but I was pleasantly surprised by its thoughtful and authentic feel. Its depiction of the town’s mysteries being solved in large part through waiting for people’s secrets to come bubbling to the surface has a real ring of truth to it. As does the picture of the town as a whole – both before and after the disappearances. Top reading indeed.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 11th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN: 9781760293734
Length: 378 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: OUT OF THE ICE by Ann Turner

I imagine it’s thanks to her screen writing background that Ann Turner is a dab hand at depicting a strong sense of physical place in her novels. In this, her second standalone thriller, Turner takes us to Antarctica which she brings alive in a way that few novels set there manage to do. There is, of course, the usual focus on ice and wildlife but by setting a good portion of the book in an abandoned Norwegian whaling village Tuner provides a human scale to the place which, perhaps paradoxically, makes it all the more wondrous. Showing the village as a place where whole families once lived and played in between working hard in an industry most would now find abhorrent is well done and offers a genuinely fascinating view of this little-understood part of the world.

Alas, for me at least, the remaining elements of the book were not nearly as successful.

Turner’s heroine, scientist Laura Alvarado, is asked to make a report about the possibility of removing the aforementioned whaling village, Fredelighavn, from the Antarctic Exclusion Zone and opening it as a tourist destination. Although Laura is against the idea at the outset it is assumed by those who matter that she will be objective and so she is cajoled into agreement. Her problems begin when she arrives at the scientific research base nearest to the village and is treated like some kind of pariah by most of the people there. Who just happen to be men. Is it a sexism thing? Then in the village itself (a relatively short ride away from the research base) odd things start to happen. It seems like people have been there recently even though no one is meant to be there without permission. And Laura thinks she sees actual people. Is that a real woman or the ghost of the last whaling captain’s wife? And is there really a teenage boy trapped in an ice cave or is Laura going ‘toasty’ (the phrase used to describe the particular kind of madness that strikes people who have stayed too long in Antarctica)?

My problem was that I didn’t care. I was bored early with Laura who is meant to be around 30 and behaves, mostly, like a particularly petulant and juvenile 14 year old. She rushes to judgement, swoons like a schoolgirl on multiple occasions and behaves erratically or stupidly almost all of the time. I know that might be realistic as far as human beings go but it’s just not very interesting to read about. And the fact that she does a decade’s worth of maturing over the course of the last 25 or so pages of the book make it worse somehow. There are a lot of other characters but none really are developed beyond a single dimension so they didn’t offer much in the way of engagement for me.

As for the the storyline…I found it to be absurd and not in a good, Douglas Adams-y way. More like someone threw a magnetic poetry kit at the nearest fridge door and used the resulting randomness as the basis for a plot. I know we are readers are meant to suspend disbelief when reading fiction but I’d have need to put my critical faculties in a blender to swallow the credibility gaps here. I’m not even concerned with the main “strange things going on in a really hard to get to place” element of the plot which I could have lived with. But all the little things surrounding that just didn’t ring true. Mostly because they were based on Laura’s random conjectures and/or official organisations or their representatives behaving in ways that wouldn’t happen. And you don’t want to get me started on the sappy, daft ending.

I did enjoy the parts of OUT OF THE ICE that depicted the historical use of Antarctica. which included a nice little side-trip to Nantucket to meet with the last whaling captain’s granddaughter. But as a work of narrative thrills I was sadly disappointed.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 11th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781925030907
Length: 360 pages
Format: eBook (iBooks)
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham’s standalone novels have a tendency to cajole me into empathising with people who I wouldn’t expect to find sympathetic. In 2014’s LIFE OR DEATH I found myself on the side of a convicted robber and with THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS I ended up feeling compassion for two women who present, at least initially, as downright unlikable.

Agatha is single(ish), works as a supermarket shelf stacker and will lose her job – and what paltry benefits it comes with – when her baby is born later in the year. Meghan has a successful and loving husband, a pigeon pair of children soon to be supplemented by an ‘oops baby’ and her mummy blog has recently been plucked from obscurity by a women’s magazine. It’s not a complete surprise then that Agatha fantasizes about having Meghan’s life. But we’re not in SINGLE WHITE FEMALE territory here; there’s something far more subtle than sheer covetousness for the sake of it going on.

Although it is suspenseful, especially in its second half, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is more of an exploration of its two central characters than the term ‘thriller’ might suggest. We realise almost immediately that all is not as it seems with Agatha, but as her secrets (and she has many) are revealed Agatha morphs from the scary, one-dimensional character of many ‘airport reads’ into a woman who has had more than her fair share of life’s travails and understandably yearns for the kind of life she sees other people leading. While I baulked at some of Agatha’s methods I grew to admire the strength of her determination and could identify with the depth of her need. It became really easy to like Agatha and to somehow want her to succeed, even though for her to do so would harm Meghan and her family irrevocably. And I didn’t want that either as I grew to know Meghan. Whose life is not as perfect as it appears to outsiders and who has at least one element of her life she’ll fight to keep secret. I suppose it’s not exactly a revelation that people are rarely what they present to the world but depicting that kind of dichotomy is often done in a pretty ham-fisted way whereas here it has a real ring of authenticity and is, more than once, quite beautifully sad.

The novel also offers some cuttingly sharp observations about modern living but it’s hard to say much about these without giving away spoilers. Given that even the publisher’s blurb for this book is remarkably (and wonderfully) scant on the plot’s surprises I’d hate to give the game away so will just say that I enjoyed the book’s take on the modern media landscape and our collective culpability when rushing to judgement about things or people we know bugger all about.

In short, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is a terrific, character-driven novel of considered suspense. Its subject matter will be tough going for those who have shared Agatha’s particular problems but because her experiences are only ever shown to help us understand her choices, the depiction shouldn’t elicit the kind of manufactured outrage so popular in today’s world.

My experience of this book was only enhanced in the audio format very ably narrated by experienced voice artist Lucy Price-Lewis. She managed to convey the different narrative voices with subtle but observable differences and didn’t over dramatise (a pet peeve of mine).


My fellow Fair Dinkum host has already had her say about the print version of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS.


Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2017
Narrator: Lucy Price-Lewis
ASIN: B06Y26WYRJ
Length: 11 hours, 58 minutes
Format: Audio book
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: DEAD AGAIN by Sandi Wallace

DEAD AGAIN is the follow up to 2014’s TELL MY WHY and takes readers back to a deceptively peaceful-looking rural Victoria. At the novel’s outset journalist Georgie Harvey has been commissioned to write a feature on the two-year anniversary of devastating bushfires that killed many people and saw countless homes lost. She begins attempting to draw out individual stories of several survivors but soon starts concentrating her efforts on one family in particular. Meanwhile, in nearby Daylesford, the policeman who Georgie met in the first novel is investigating a series of local burglaries and dealing with a dangerous domestic violence situation.

Although the central setting here is a fictional town it’s clear that the parts of this novel dealing with the bushfires and its survivors is drawing on very real-world experiences of such events. There is a genuine authenticity to the feelings expressed and behaviour exhibited by the survivors. I admire this realism but it is also one of the things that made the novel a difficult one for me, though perhaps not for the expected reason. It made it almost impossible for me to read about Georgie and her behaviour which I found abhorrent. The way she bullies her way into people’s lives – assuming she has a right to do so because there’s a story there – made my skin crawl. When she deliberately engages a child survivor of the bushfires explicitly against the girl’s mother’s request I wanted to report her to whatever authority I could find. I know this says more about me and my hatred of invasive journalism than it does about the book but as a reader I can’t help but drag along my own biases and journalists with questionable ethics are a particular bugbear of mine. I would like to have seen some consideration of the ethical issues associated with Georgie’s journalism, aside from the very casual brush-off she gives the matter herself.

I don’t know if my intense dislike of Georgie’s behaviour overshadowed the rest of my reading experience or whether it would have been the case anyway but I struggled to engage with this novel as a whole. The investigative thread that Georgie teases out from her coverage of the fire survivors is actually an interesting one but the other threads – the ones taking part in policeman John Franklin’s part of Victoria –  never really engaged me. In fact this content seemed to be acting solely as a means of keeping the potential romance between John and Georgie alive. For about half of the book there seems to be no reason at all that we regularly switching between what’s happening in Bullock (the fictional town Georgie is working in) and the day-to-day life of John Franklin other than we know the pair have some kind of ‘connection’.

For me anyway DEAD AGAIN feels like it’s trying to be too many things at once: jumbling police procedural, modern romance and investigative thriller elements in a way that nearly works but doesn’t quite do so. The combination of a journalist and police investigator has potential but here it felt forced and unrealistic which jarred with the more authentic elements of the novel which include many of the minor characters in addition to the parts of the story dealing with bushfire survivors. Georgie’s professional lack of ethics and her ever-present willingness to fling herself into incredibly dangerous situations made her a chore to read about for me and though I often proclaim I don’t need a protagonist to be likeable I do need them to engage me in a way that doesn’t make me want to fling their book at a wall in sheer frustration.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 6th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Atlas Productions, 2017
ISBN: 9780995377677
Length: 318 pages
Format: eBook
Source of review copy: Provided by author for honest review

Review: GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty

I should have read GUN STREET GIRL ages ago. I love the way McKinty writes. I was on the panel that awarded this book’s predecessor a Ned Kelly Award. And I really wanted to see what would happen with the fourth book in a planned trilogy (it doesn’t hurt that this scenario has echoes to Douglas Adams, another favourite author who doesn’t think in straight lines). But I went a bit overboard with my objection to all books girl-ish and let GUN STREET GIRL languish on my Audible playlist while I pointlessly and quietly protested. Until now. When shameless selfishness demanded Gerard Doyle read me another Sean Duffy story. Protest against the world’s endless capacity to avoid discussing women as adults be damned.

Not that they aren’t fully formed works of art in their own right but I find the best way to get in the mood for a Sean Duffy story is to first listen to the Tom Waits song from which the book’s title is taken. Not so much to hear the title in a lyrical context (though that is always a pleasure) but to start the process of sinking into Duffy’s world. His way of thinking and observing life. Duffy and Waits share some characteristics; both favouring the dark, even grotesque elements of human nature. Though Duffy is, I think, more likely to soften his observations with humour. Mostly gallows humour it must be said. But bloody funny nonetheless.

It is 1985. Four years since readers first met Sean Duffy. Though he has been through much more than the average person might do in a whole lifetime and not just because he’s the lone Catholic cop in a Belfast police station at the height of the troubles. Though that doesn’t help. Even at a church social for singles the women steer clear. And Duffy doesn’t blame them. As a Catholic policeman “…[his] life expectancy could be measured in dog years“. Little wonder he relies on vodka gimlets and the odd line of cocaine to see him through the day.

In GUN STREET GIRL Duffy and his colleagues are presented with a mystery wrapped in politics and greed; the usual mess for them to unravel. Though at first it looks like nothing much at all. Michael Kelly shot and killed his parents then jumped off a cliff. Then his girlfriend gases herself to death in her car. Or perhaps not. The Carrickfergus station’s newest recruit, DC Lawson, spots some inconsistencies at the latest crime scene and he and DS McCrabban convince Duffy there is more to this situation than meets the eye. And so they dive into a world of arms dealers and spooks and mysterious Americans. While the rest of the city riots. Again.

This series, and perhaps this book most strongly, has a sense of authenticity. The backdrop – bureaucratic madness disguised as strategic thinking and Thatcher’s iron will forcing itself into every corner of the not-so united Kingdom – is entirely realistic. It’s easy too to believe that the things Sean Duffy sees and experiences might very well have happened, even if not all to the same person. And for those readers who lived through the 80’s the cultural references, especially the music, offer the closest thing to time travel any of us are likely to get.

From its opening debacle to its final sadness GUN STREET GIRL had me hooked. At times it is variously funny, heart-breaking, worrying, scary and maddening. But most of all it is a ripper of a ride. And if you like voices in your head there is no better combination than Gerard Doyle as Sean Duffy.


I’ve reviewed all three of the previous books in this series THE COLD, COLD GROUND, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET and IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE


Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
ASIN: B00TXXIPLG
Length: 9 hours 52 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Source of review copy: I bought it