Review: GHOST GIRLS by Cath Ferla

GhostGirlsFerlaGHOST GIRLS is not a novel to read on an empty stomach. Its forays into the Asian restaurants and noodle bars of Sydney – their tastes and smells all evocatively described – will have your mouth-watering too much to concentrate. That’s the upside of the book’s authentic sensibility. The downside of that realism is that the reader can’t pretend the novel’s depiction of abused and exploited foreign students isn’t something going on right under our noses.My office is in the midst of several campuses teeming with foreign students and the best restaurants nearby are those which serve this clientele so as soon as I’d started reading GHOST GIRLS I couldn’t help but look at these kids (I’m old, to me they are all kids) with the worry that something like the book’s events could be happening to some of them.

Our journey into the world is via Sophie Sandilands: a young teacher of English to foreign students. She is the daughter of an Australian PI, now dead, and his Chinese wife who disappeared without trace many years ago. And that isn’t the only tragedy in Sophie’s background. So when one of her students commits suicide and some students are revealed not to be who they purport to be Sophie feels obligated to find out more.

What she uncovers is horrific. Not so much in a bloody way (though there is a little of that) but more in a “this kind of stuff could be going on next door and I wouldn’t know about it” way. Many of the students are under pressure from home to perform at almost impossible levels yet they struggle to make enough to live on doing the kinds of jobs available to them. Some of them make unwise if more lucrative choices and some have even that – the choice – taken out of their hands. It is confronting and heart-breaking all at the same time.

Sophie is a nuanced character who I enjoyed getting to know – not least because her love for good food and nice tea offered some much needed relief from the necessarily sombre narrative. She is tenacious and caring and if she sometimes does things that put her in jeopardy her reasoning is always sound within the context of her personal story. Other characters are equally well drawn, though not all are as delightful. The people who exploit the students only do so because of demand. And the man who represents that demand here – a middle-aged husband and father to a young girl who all-too slowly comes to realise the kind of ripple effect his base desires have – is awkwardly credible too. Perhaps because I’d already started looking at the students I see every day with fresh eyes I couldn’t help but also look at the men around me with the same new awareness. Which of you is like him?

As with all the best crime fiction GHOST GIRLS is first a ripping yarn and its exploration of modern life does nothing to undermine that. It’s lack of easy answers to the complex issues it explores is fitting: there aren’t easy answers to be had. I am impressed that this is a debut novel for Cath Ferla – it seems too assured both thematically and stylistically for that – and can’t wait to see what she delivers next.


AWW2016This is the fourth book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Echo [2016]
ISBN: 9781760401177
Length: 280 pages
Format: paperback

Review: DEADLY DIPLOMACY by Jean Harrod

DeadlyDiplomacyHarrodWhere she has followed the dictum to ‘write what you know’ Harrod’s efforts in DEADLY DIPLOMACY are successful. Her many years in the diplomatic service lends authenticity to the book’s depiction of British diplomat Jessica Turner’s efforts to support the sister of a British women who is murdered in Queensland. The victim was involved with a Very Important international trade deal so as well as trying to alleviate the fears of the victim’s paranoid sister Turner must liaise with harried local police and juggle strained high level relationships between private and public organisations. When allegations of corruption and the death of a Federal politician form part of this narrative’s mix, things really do get interesting for Turner and, by extension, the reader.

Other elements of the novel were, for me, less successful. The most significant of these was the high body count and violence which turned what could have been a thoughtful story into a bloodbath of the type that doesn’t interest me terribly much. I was surprised to see the Sydney Morning Herald describe the book as a ‘light mystery’ given the number of brutal killings, including a completely pointless (story wise) graphic murder of a teenage girl. The fact that these crimes are being committed by one of the ‘crazed chap who loves killing‘ type of characters makes it worse for me. I accept that nature (or nurture?) throws up one of these nutters every now and then in the real world but not nearly as often as this kind of thriller would have me believe. And regardless of their epidemiological likelihood they are boring. A person who kills because he (or she) likes to kill offers little of interest to a reader looking for character development and motivation.

The writing itself is also awkward at times. This is a plot driven book with lots of dialogue to move things along and quite a bit of that dialogue doesn’t ring true. It’s fair enough that Jessica Tuner and the victim’s sister – both English women who have only been in Australia a short time – are not attuned to local speech patterns and terminology but the rest of the characters are meant to be locals. I can’t imagine too many Australians wouldn’t twig early on that this is a book written by an outsider (and one with a different take on social class than most Aussies) but I suppose no one else will know or care. I see that the author’s second book takes Jessica Turner to a different setting and I imagine I won’t know enough about that place to be able to tell if the dialogue is equally out of place so perhaps this really doesn’t matter much in the big scheme of things.

The story itself rips along and engages the reader in wanting to learn the reasons for its events and whether or not the victim’s diary will reveal enough secrets to warrant the killing spree its existence has caused. With the violence level dialed down a couple of notches I could easily be persuaded to check back with Jessica Turner and the world of international diplomacy which does seem like fertile ground for great yarns.


Publisher: York Authors Coffee Shop [2015]
ISBN: 9780992997137
Length: 329 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE LOST SWIMMER by Ann Turner

TheLostSwimmerAnnTurner24087_fTo me THE LOST SWIMMER reads like a book written by a committee. At least that’s the only way I can think of to describe its disjointedness and almost schizophrenic sensibility.

The biggest issue of this kind is what kind of book it is. I’m not normally one to get hung up on labels (in fact I’ve been known to lament their restrictiveness) but someone – I’m not sure if it’s the publishers or author or someone else in the chain – has gone to some lengths to market this book as literary. The word appears in publicity material – both with and without the word thriller attached – and there are even a series of book club questions in the edition I read (which, I’m afraid, I always find insufferably patronising). Not only does this over-emphasis give the impression that someone thinks literary fiction is intrinsically better than the popular kind (another sentiment guaranteed to get my hackles rising), but it draws attention to the fact that the book doesn’t fit any definition of literary fiction I can think of. It’s at least as much plot driven as it is focused on exploring any particular theme, it does not demonstrate much in the way of social commentary (insightful or otherwise) nor are its characters terribly well developed. It’s protagonist – an Australian archaeological professor called Rebecca Wilding – is not noticeably more complex than the average human and the rest of the characters are entirely one-dimensional. Some of the descriptive passages provide good imagery but I suspect that owes more to the author’s screen-writing credentials than any literary sensibility the book has in its own right.

But the book isn’t what I’d call a thriller either. There is a lot of stuff happening all the way along but most of it isn’t very suspenseful and much of it is simply odd. For example there’s a whole passage involving an altercation between Rebecca, her dog and a kangaroo that I’m sure was meant to be metaphorical (confirmed by the inclusion of this passage in one of the book club questions) but just felt way too contrived to me. The book’s major dramatic event doesn’t happen until about two thirds of the way through, which wouldn’t have mattered except that the publicity made such a big deal of it that I was waiting for it from the outset. Impatiently. Until that point there is just a lot of white noise. The university where Rebecca and her husband both work is going through hard financial times and both their faculties are having to radically cut costs and sack people. Then Rebecca is accused of financial fraud. At the same time she begins (for no reason that I can actually pinpoint) to suspect her husband of having an affair. After the big event the book is more squarely thriller-like, though there are a lot of implausible coincidences crammed into the last third of the book in order to bring about a resolution.

Another aspect of the book I struggled with is Rebecca herself. On the one hand she is head of a university department an expert on a particular archaeological period and has a good reputation amongst her colleagues. In short she is fairly ‘together’ and competent. She rather suddenly develops a kind of paranoia – about her husband’s potential affair and the activities of her boss – but there’s no consistency to her thinking or behaviour. I’m not troubled by whether or not her fears have validity – that’s a legitimate question for the narrative to answer – but Rebecca just doesn’t seem to me to be a recognisable person from the beginning of the book to the end. In one chapter she behaves one way. In the next another that doesn’t gel with what went before. One moment she’s wondering which of the women in his life Stephen is having an affair with and being surprised to learn he has started investing in the stock market after they’d agreed he never would. The next she is asking her friends to ‘give her some credit for knowing her husband’. I suppose this could all be put down to Rebecca’s status as a first-person narrator – often unreliable beasts – but to me it just tell as if each version of her had been written by someone different.

THE LOST SWIMMER was the most reviewed crime novel for last year’s Australian Women Writers challenge so I was keen to read it but found myself disappointed. I concede that’s partly to do with the expectations that the publicity and popularity inevitably set but that’s not the whole story. I think the book tried too hard to be something it isn’t and in so doing failed to be what it ought to have been. In reaching for but not achieving literary status it neglected the foundations of a good suspense novel; taking too long to build up its drama and being too obvious in its plotting (I lost count of how many times I muttered ‘show don’t tell’ under my breath as I was reading). It did keep me reading to the end but, if I’m to be totally honest, more so I could sit back in smug satisfaction at having predicted the main plot points than because I was genuinely interested in what happened to Rebecca or her husband.


As is always the case other opinions are available and many of them are more positive about this book than I feel, including my fellow Fair Dinkum co host who reviewed the book in April last year


AWW2016This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challange check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster [2015]
ISBN: 9781925030860
Length: 341 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: RESURRECTION BAY by Emma Viskic

ResurrectionBayViskicRESURRECTION BAY does not waste any time letting you know what kind of book it’s going to be. It opens with one young man cradling the presumably lifeless body of a mate while paramedics look on warily. At least Caleb Zelic assumes Gary is dead. “Had to be dead. Couldn’t breathe with his throat slit open like that.” Indeed.

We then piece together that Caleb and Gary were childhood mates. Caleb, runs a private security company and had asked Gary, a policeman, to help him on an investigation. Which has apparently resulted in Gary’s death.

Fueled by a mixture of guilt, paranoia and a desire for justice Gary and his business partner, a fifty-something, female, ex-cop called Frankie, search for the killer. They are thwarted by having precious-little information with which to start, not knowing which police officers involved in the official investigation are corrupt and which aren’t and an assortment of personal baggage that could, in fact does, derail them at any point.

It’s bloody gripping tale that doesn’t let up for a single one of its deliciously short 262 pages. That alone would be enough to recommend it. But there’s more.

Its characters are intriguing. Imperfect, sometimes outright daft, fallible. Humans. Caleb is profoundly deaf from a childhood illness. He prefers to lip read and talk to communicate though he signs as well with people he loves. What he won’t do – to the point that it sometimes causes him more harm than needs be – is let on when he needs help. For reasons that a psychologist wouldn’t need too many billable hours to discern, I found this quality, this stubborn pride or whatever it is, endearing. Though at the same time I could understand why it drove his ex-wife mad with frustration. Without making a show of it Viskic does a great job of giving readers a glimpse of what life might be like for someone deaf – its challenges and compensations – but her real skill is in making Caleb a complete, well-rounded human being for whom deafness is just another thing to deal with.

Everyone we meet in this ensemble cast is connected to Caleb in some way. Frankie battles her own demons – addiction and the resultant social isolation – and is difficult for Caleb – and readers – to know well. Kat, conversely, wears her emotions more openly, and it’s not hard to see why Caleb is still in love with her despite their separation. As regular readers of this blog would know I’m not much of a romantic but I was rooting for them to work out their troubles. The other players – the in-laws, the childhood friends, the suspicious cops – are all vibrant even if they only appear for a few lines.

The book’s title comes from Caleb’s home town, Gary’s and Kat’s too for that matter, and action eventually moves there from Melbourne when Caleb needs a place to lie low and recover from injuries he’s received in the course of the investigation. There’s a nice juxtaposition between city and small town life and both settings have a very authentic feel to them which rounds out all the elements I look for in my reading.

RESURRECTION BAY is sad and funny and thrilling and very, very good. It’s even got a kicker of an ending. You should read it. Now.


AWW2016This is the first novel I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challange check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Echo Publishing [2015]
ISBN: 9781760068769
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: FLASHPOINT by Felicity Young

This is 2008 review of a book called A CERTAIN MALICE that I originally posted to my other blog but I’m re-publishing it here and now because the book has been re-released in eBook format under a new title: FLASHPOINT. This is in preparation for its never before published sequel FLAREUP being published in February this year. That’s great news all round. Back in the day I used to give ratings out of 5 and this one scored a 4.5 so I’m keen for a sequel.


FlashpointYoungCam Fraser is a former National Crime Authority officer who, with his teenage daughter Ruby, has moved from Sydney to become Senior Sergeant in the Western Australian country town of his birth. Almost as soon as he arrives a building at a private girl’s school in the town is burned down and a body is discovered in the ashes. To investigate the crime Cam has help from a squad of rookies and one experienced officer who is the subject of a series of complaints. In addition both he and his daughter are still recovering from the tragedy that led to them leaving Sydney.

Fortunately for me this book was well worth the four months it took to track down a copy of it. The story is believable, has a well paced suspense and rates highly on my ‘readability’ scale which is a vague term I use to describe how interested I am in turning each page. I finished the whole thing in two sittings and I’m not even going to complain that one of those sittings kept me up until 2:00am on a school night. I simply had to know if my predictions for whodunit were accurate which is always a sign of a good read (for the record, they weren’t).

Although recognisably Australian in its setting and language the book achieves this state naturally. Sometimes with Australian books I cringe at the use of colloquialisms that would only be found in a Paul Hogan ad and never in real conversations. FLASHPOINT achieves its Australian sensibility beautifully and without appearing to try too hard.

I quickly became engaged by the protagonist and the minor characters, especially the troubled Ruby and rookie cop Leanne, who all seemed very credible. It was also interesting to see the sub-plot with Vince develop in a more realistic way than some of the ‘cops protect cops at all costs’ plots that have permeated crime fiction for years.

On top of all this the book is less than 300 pages, an increasingly rare occurrences in modern crime fiction so something to be treasured indeed.


Publisher: HarperCollins [this edition 2015, original edition 2005]
ISBN: 9781460706244
Length: 291 pages
Format: eBook
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Review: GOOD MONEY by J.M. Green

GoodMoneyGreenI imagine it is pretty difficult to come up with a new angle from which to approach the crime genre. J.M. Green has achieved a genuinely refreshing take by introducing a social worker as the central protagonist in GOOD MONEY. Stella Hardy is forty-something, lives in Melbourne, works for WORMS, yearns for cheap wine and a good man and tries to do the right thing but doesn’t always succeed. In what I hope is the first of many appearances she is drawn into two investigations – the death of one of her young, migrant clients and the disappearance of a neighbour who was hiding some secrets – that lead her from the seedier parts of the city to, literally, the middle of nowhere.

Although there is much more besides it the element which established the book as realistic for me was the daft acronyms that the bureaucratic entities Stella deals with use. I’ve spent a good portion of my working life in similar surroundings to Stella and when, a few pages in, she heads off to her job at WORMS (you’ll have to read the book to find out what it stands for) I knew this was both a book I would ‘get’ and one I would believe. There’s an even more absurd (yet entirely credible) acronym further in. Delicious authenticity.

Stella is another strong factor in the credibility column. She is imperfect but not so dysfunctional that you wonder how she stays in a job let alone out of an institution where inhabitants are required to wear padded jackets that do up at the back. And none of her adventurous activities are so silly as to induce eye rolling. This might sound like a small thing but it isn’t. I’ve got a pile of books from this month alone that will remain forever unfinished because my eyes nearly rolled out of my head while reading them. I am well and truly done with authors who expect me to swallow the notion that the stupid things their characters do make them windswept and interesting. The minor characters here include Stella’s recently paroled brother, her policewoman best friend and an artistic love interest and all are engaging and help to give the book its natural feel.

At its core though GOOD MONEY is simply a great yarn, offering a mixture of humour, heart and action that should appeal to a wide audience. With its new migrant characters, drug dealing as an industry and mining executives behaving badly it is topical enough to be interesting but not so now as to ensure it is irretrievably dated within a few months. In short it’s a great read and if wishing can make it so the first of many tales featuring Stella Hardy.


aww-badge-2015This is the 18th novel I’ve read and 12th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and sign up for 2016’s challenge yourself. Next year there’ll be a bingo card to fill out should you wish to make your challenge participation a game


Publisher: Scribe [2015]
ISBN: 9781925106923
Length: 278 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE WHISPERING WALL by Patricia Carlon

This 1996 cover adorns the first version of the book to be published in Carlon's native Australia

Like many Australian authors Carlon’s books were first published outside Australia but this book was part of a 1990’s classic crime series put together by a South Australian publisher

Sarah Oatland is 61 and has had a stroke. She cannot walk, talk or move. She can see, hear and think but no one knows these things about her, at least at first. She is being cared for at home thanks to her wealth.During the day her bed is wheeled to the window of her large room where, due to an acoustic eccentricity of the house, she is able to hear everything said in one of the downstairs rooms. When her husband was alive they once spent the night listening to guests talk disparagingly of them but now she only hears the doctors discussing her dispiriting prognosis with her nurse. Until her parsimonious niece fills the house with paying lodgers and Sarah listens to Valma and Murray Phipps plot the death of Valma’s stepfather so they can inherit his money. Sarah’s growing terror at being able to do nothing, literally, in the face of the seemingly inevitable murder is palpable.

Of course there’s a noticeable lack of technology and twitter has only one meaning but these small details aside there is nothing much to place this tale in any specific time. Equally, no location external to the house gains any foothold in the reader’s imagination. This novel is all about what happens inside the house. It seems impossible that such a richly drawn story progresses forward almost entirely based on what an immobile woman hears but it is a testament to Carlon’s writing skill that such a narrow perspective provides a more thoroughly gripping read than many of today’s much-hyped blockbusters. This is a genuinely suspenseful domestic setting and seemed to me to be as scary today as it would have been on publication.

One of the reasons I think the book is so successful is that the characters are all very ordinary. Even the would-be killers are not knife-wielding psychopaths or of a similar ‘outlier’ personality that would make it possible to believe such sinister behaviour only goes on in books. They are just greedy and impatient and not very nice (obviously given they are plotting the murder of a harmless old man) but they are quite normal. Sarah’s frustrations and limitations are depicted realistically too – she cries and gets upset as you would in such circumstances – but her innate intelligence shines through and the reader can enjoy being inside Sarah’s head even while being increasingly worried for her health and well-being. There are, eventually, couple of characters who cotton on to the fact Sarah knows what is going on and try to help her communicate and the way everyone reacts to Sarah’s changing circumstances – the realisation that she is not just a fish on a slab – is another subtly drawn standout feature of the novel.

 

If you are looking for a timeless tale of how an insular environment can create a truly suspense-filled experience THE WHISPERING WALL is highly recommended. In fact my only gripe is how little is known about this author in her home country. Given the quality of this book and the fact that it stands up so well nearly 50 years after being released it is galling to realise that Patricia Carlon is virtually unknown here and that most of her novels have still never been published in this country. Shame on us.


aww-badge-2015
I chose this book as my contribution to this month’s crime classics challenge hosted at Past Offences. Each month participants read a book published or watch a movie released in the nominated year which this time around was 1969.

This is the 16th book I’ve read and the 12th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

Review: DOUBLE MADNESS by Caroline De Costa

DoubleMadnessDeCostaIn the aftermath of 2011’s Cyclone Yasi a woman’s body is found in Far North Queensland’s remote wilderness. She has been tied in position with silk scarves and the expensive high heels she is wearing indicate she was unlikely to have made her own way to the location. But there is no obvious cause of death and with no missing persons reports matching the woman’s description it takes Cairns police detective Cass Diamond and her colleagues some time to first identify the woman and then piece together the circumstances that led to her death.

There is a lot to like about this debut novel. The standout element is probably the setting – both in terms of geography and social context. The success of this aspect of the novel no doubt draws on De Costa’s own experiences as a professor at the School of Medicine at James Cook University which allow her to depict Cairns and its surrounds very realistically. Opening the novel with events taking place amid a real recent cyclone quickly allows the reader to imagine themselves in the setting, and De Costa follows up with rich detail of how the lives of the relatively closed medical profession all interact to provide both an interesting community and a suspect pool.

Often when characters of minority backgrounds are depicted in popular culture the entire focus is on the element that marks them out as ‘different’. It is as if every thought or line of dialogue the person has is invisibly prefaced by the sentiment “As a disabled/Aboriginal/gay person I feel/think…”  I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not but I loved the fact that Cass Diamond, who is Aboriginal, is not depicted in this way. When it is natural as part of the story reference is made to Cass’ cultural background but there are plenty of times when she is simply a mum, a cop or a friend experiencing things in the same way as any other mum, cop or friend might do. Early on I found myself thinking ‘Hallelujah this is not going to be one of those books in which everything that happens has some kind of special meaning because Cass is Aboriginal‘. Cass is a terrifically engaging character displaying a great mix of humour, determination and intelligence and I would be happy to see more of her in the future.

The novel takes its name from the psychosis which two of its characters display. We learn something about this via the police investigation as the life of the victim is slowly fleshed out, but there’s also a secondary narrative that provides glimpses of the lives of the various people who have interacted with the central couple. This is a complex structure but De Costa pulls it off, although there are one or two superfluous interludes that indicate the novel was trying a bit too hard to provide a large pool of potential culprits.  Or perhaps I am being unfairly harsh because my aging brain found it a tad difficult to keep track of the large cast, almost all of whom were doctors.

The novel explores several themes with a light but deft touch, the most interesting of these to me being the natural human reaction to certain kinds of crime. Without giving too much away much of the core case is revealed to revolve around numerous people being blackmailed, essentially for having sex with someone they ought not to have been having sex with. The novel poses the notion that the average person is likely to feel sympathy for the blackmail victim, even when the behaviour for which that person was being blackmailed might normally be considered immoral. I found this an interesting concept to ponder and wondered if it is true whether it is a relatively recent phenomenon and whether it is the same across different cultures. I suppose these thoughts were prompted by the juxtaposition of me reading this novel  in the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hacking incident. At least some of the social media commentary arising from this sordid tale lead me to believe that not everyone’s sympathies might lie with the blackmail victims as proposed in DOUBLE MADNESS but I enjoyed the topical nature of the theme and the fact it gave me issues to think about at my leisure.

I was a little wary at the outset of this novel given ‘woman tied up and left for dead’ is a somewhat tired trope in the crime genre but De Costa takes the story somewhere very different from the run-of-the-mill slasher nonsense. It’s a fabulously Australian story with an engaging protagonist and remained completely compelling even when I realised I didn’t much care for the murder victim (yes I know that reveals rather a lot about my own personality but it can’t be helped, I struggle to care about the deaths of some fictional people). Top stuff.


aww-badge-2015This is the 11th book I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge (though I’ve 14 books). Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Margaret River Press [2015]
ISBN: 9780987561564
Length: 357 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE DYING TRADE by Peter Corris

2012 Edition

2012 Edition

Despite Cliff Hardy’s creator, Peter Corris, having long been described locally as the godfather of Australian crime fiction I had never read one of the books featuring the Sydney-based private investigator until a couple of years ago and even then I chose to read a current book rather than delve into Hardy’s past. But this month’s Past Offences challenge to read a crime novel from 1980 gave me the motivation I needed to start at the beginning.

As well as being Peter Corris’ first foray into crime fiction THE DYING TRADE presented Australia’s first hard-boiled private investigator of any substance in the form of Cliff Hardy. The opening lines of the book make it very clear who Cliff is and demonstrate the kind of succinct yet image-rich writing style Corris would become known for

I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9:30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall.

As well as being a dedicated drinker and having a somewhat cynical sense of humour, as we learn here, we also soon discover that Cliff was once a soldier, that as well as drinking to excess he smokes in a way that would be almost impossible these days given how many places the practice is illegal, the only sport he is interested in is boxing (in his most un-Australian trait he is disinterested in any brand of football) and that he is not beyond using violence to achieve his ends (though he suffers at least as much as he dishes out).

Although Corris makes no secret of the fact his inspiration for the Hardy stories were the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler there is no mistaking that Hardy and his environment are entirely Australian. He lives in an inner-city Sydney that, at least in 1980, was still pretty close to its working class roots, and as the novel unfolds offers an intimate look at the entire city and its myriad social and geographic boundaries.  The cynicism has an Australian flavour, as does the way Hardy views different kinds of crime and the criminals who perpetrate them, operating on the basis that the worst crimes are those that generally go unpunished if not entirely unreported because they are committed by people with the money and power to make unpleasantness disappear.

The story starts out with deceptive simplicity: Hardy is asked by a wealthy businessman to investigate harassing phone calls and other threatening behaviour his sister is experiencing. But almost no one, perhaps aside from Hardy himself, is who they first appear to be in this novel so Hardy has to unravel layers of family secrets and broader corruption while dodging car bombs and other attempts to hide the truth. The resolution leaves Hardy, the novel’s surviving characters and the reader somewhat exhausted from the succession of sucker punches that fill the second half of the book.

I must admit that having only ever read very late novels to this series I had struggled to understand the widespread reverence for Cliff Hardy that I see in local crime fiction circles. But THE DYING TRADE does make it abundantly obvious why the character and his world are much admired. Well worth a read.


Publisher: Text Classics [This edition 2012, original edition 1980]

ISBN: 9781921922176

Length: 284 pages

Format: Hardcover Creative Commons Licence

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Review: THE INSANITY OF MURDER by Felicity Young

TheInsanityOfMurderYoungIn Edwardian England the suffragettes are so frustrated at the lack of success they’ve attained via political means that they introduce a more militant form of campaigning. Unfortunately their decision to blow up a building – criminal enough in its own right – becomes disastrous when it claims human life. For Dr Dody McCleland, a female autopsy surgeon, the case proves problematic as her own sister was involved. Thinking he is doing the right thing Dody’s friend (and not-so-secret lover) Chief Inspector Matthew Pike arranges for Florence’s release from prison, though the ‘rest home’ to which she is sent in replacement is scarcely less harmful to its inmates and Dody and Matthew are soon uncovering truly appalling practices.

As with its three predecessors this book uses the solving of a crime by compassionate investigators as the means of highlighting a fascinating historical subject. In this instance it is the appalling way that many women – having few rights of their own – were subjected to enforced detention and various barbaric forms of ‘treatment’ for the mental ailments they were perceived to be full of (almost always by the men who believed the women to be their possessions). The view that some men have of some (all?) women is perhaps best demonstrated by this sentiment, espoused by the head of the home to which Florence and other ‘imbalanced’ women have been consigned

Doctor Fogarty says reading’s the very worst thing a woman of delicate inclinations should be doing – it’s one of the reasons so many women get themselves into trouble these days. So to answer your question, no miss, we have no library here.

While there’s always a gentle undercurrent of humour, here much of it provided by a delightfully larger-than-life character called Lady Mary who is the mother of a nobleman and regular escapee of the facility that Florence ultimately attends, serious issues are handled with deference and intelligence. While the treatment of women is, as always, the main topic being explored the broader social context of class and racial injustice is also much in evidence.

Equally as intriguing as the historical setting are the characters. In contrast to her younger sister – the impulsive, well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless Florence – Dody McCleland chooses to advance the cause of women by being the kind of woman she thinks everyone should have a right to be. She has fought to gain her qualifications and has taken on the only work available to her but always performs it to the best of her abilities. Her personal life is not straight forward either as she must keep her relationship with Matthew a secret (or try to) even from some of the people she loves. Matthew too has to balance his professional duties with the expectations others have of him and the social norms of the day. These, for example, prevent him openly promoting a person he thinks most qualified because Constable Singh is a foreigner and his very presence in the Force is cause for unrest. I really enjoy the way Young has developed these two central characters and kept them growing and responding to the world around them. I’m also pleased that this series hasn’t become one of those with an unresolved sexual tension at its core. Although their relationship is a difficult one Dody and Matthew’s is at least a realistic one.

It’s probably hard for me to judge as I’ve devoured this novel’s predecessors but I do think you would be able to read THE INSANITY OF MURDER independently as it’s a stonkingly good story in its own right. Its historical context is worryingly credible, its characters are charming and real and the suspense builds nicely towards a surprising ending. What are you waiting for?

THE INSANITY OF MURDER will be officially released on 1 August.


aww-badge-2015This is the 12th novel I’ve read and the 10th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I have reviewed all three of the preceding three novels in this series – A DISSECTION OF MURDER (aka THE ANATOMY OF DEATH), ANTIDOTE TO MURDER and THE SCENT OF MURDER


Publisher: Harper Collins [2015]
ISBN: 9781460704677
Length: 320 pages
Format: eBook
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