Review: TRULY MADLY GUILTY, Liane Moriarty

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

What’s meant to be a relaxed backyard barbeque splits apart a group of friends who can’t change what they did and didn’t do that sunny afternoon.

Marriage, sex, parenthood and friendship: Liane
Moriarty takes these elements of our lives and shows us how guilt can expose the fault lines in any relationship, and it is not until we appreciate the fragility of life that we can truly value what we have.

  • Long-listed for Indie Book Awards 2017.
  • Short-listed for ABIA General Fiction Book of the Year 2017.

My Take

My first reaction is that this is not crime fiction, but there is plenty of mystery, puzzles that the reader wants to solve.

There are 3 couples at the backyard barbeque, 3 children from two of the families and a childless couple. The scope of the book then extends to a grumpy next door neighbour and the parents of two of the couples. The first mystery is what happened at the barbeque, what caused it, and also what preceded it.  This mystery results in plenty of tension. So I’m not going to tell you what happened at the barbeque – that would spoil the story for you. One of the characters is going around giving talks about her experience at the barbeque, but what happened?

The second focus of the book is definitely relationships, things people say and do not say, things people do. Some of these relationships have been built on over decades, and perspectives on their nature vary from character to character.

The result is, from my point of view, a very long book, and perhaps at times I was guilty of speed reading, but as you can see from my rating, I did enjoy it.

My Rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.6, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET
4.8, BIG LITTLE LIES

Review: A ROYAL MURDER, Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

  • this edition published by Wakefield Press March 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-74305-524-3
  • 229 pages
  • #2 in the Rebecca Keith series
  • source: review copy supplied by the publisher

Synopsis (Wakefield Press)

The duffle bag appeared to be made from expensive silk, embossed with what Rebecca thought was Chinese calligraphy. She was in no doubt that the bag contained a body. The protruding bloodied leg was a giveaway.

A macabre murder during the Women’s Australian Open golf tournament at one of Australia’s most prestigious golf courses sees food and wine journalist and amateur golfer Rebecca Keith on the murder trail once more. Fortunately, Rebecca’s sleuthing takes her on a journey of eating and drinking through many of Adelaide’s bars and restaurants. Little
does Rebecca know that her visits to nearby Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island will reveal clues that will become crucial in the hunt for a killer.

A Royal Murder, a light-hearted thriller full of intrigue and betrayal, features a full cast of eccentric characters set against the rich backdrop of South Australia and its lush food and wine culture.

My Take

I couldn’t resist taking a look at Sandra Winter-Dewhirst’s second offering, particularly as it is set in my hometown and she is a “local” author. She does a good job of spruiking local tourist attractions, both physical places, and popular events, and local readers will enjoy being able to visualise where the action is taking place.

It is a light hearted romp laced with a bit of romance, some quirky humour, and a trio of murders. As the blurb says, there are a range of eccentric characters, and semi-believable scenarios.

A satisfying read.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read THE POPEYE MURDER

About the author
A journalist for more than thirty years, Sandra Winter-Dewhirst spent ten years as the state director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in South Australia, overseeing television, radio, and online production. Educated at Adelaide University and the University of South Australia, graduating with degrees in the arts and journalism, she has sat on a range of arts boards and media advisory councils. Sandra has a passion for food and wine and, when time permits, tries to hit a golf ball.

Her first novel in the Rebecca Keith series is The Popeye Murder. For more information and for news about the next book, visit myadelaidehome.blogspot.com.au.

Review: THE BONE IS POINTED, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis:  (Audible)

Arthur Upfield’s The Bone is Pointed follows Inspector Bonaparte who solves mysteries in the Australian outback. Published in the 1940’s, this story not only offers up a good  mystery but also a portrait of the aborigines and Australia in the early 20th century. Peter Hosking tackles this story with verve. He speaks with a clear Australian accent while developing the characters believably, giving each his own attributes. Meanwhile, his varied pacing makes the story easy to follow. Mystery lovers and history buffs alike will have fun with the Inspector Bonaparte Mysteries.

Jack Anderson was a big man with a foul temper, a sadist and a drunk. Five months after his horse appeared riderless, no trace of the man has surfaced and no one seems to care. But Bony is determined to follow the cold trail and smoke out some answers. 

My Take

In this tale Bony appears as a Queensland C.I.B. detective on leave, turning up at an outback station where a rouseabout has gone missing during a storm. His horse turns up at the station the morning after the storm riderless and there is no trace of Jack Anderson. No black trackers are available because the whole local tribe has gone to visit a female elder thought to be dying. By the time a tracker can be found heavy rains have obliterated Anderson’s tracks.

During the story Bony becomes ill with the “Barcoo sickness” but station owner is convinced that the bones has been pointed at him. At first Bony is determined that he will not succumb but he becomes weaker and weaker despite the attempts of the local policeman to help him.

Bony is also proud of his reputation that no case that he has tackled has ever gone unsolved, but that is because he stays on the case until the very end, despite telegrams from his superiors that he must return to the city immediately.

What impressed me was the detailed observations of Aboriginal culture and customs that the author must have recorded. He also presents both sides of the argument with regard to preserving aboriginal heritage. One station family in particular recognise the damage that contact with white people has done to the aborigines, but at the same time are a bit patronising in the way they deal with the aborigines on their station. The character who has disappeared has mistreated aboriginal stockmen, whipping one almost to death, and so is very unpopular. No-one can work out why “Old Lacey” the station owner has kept him on.

There is more than one mystery in this book, and it is good reading, despite the warning from the publisher that Arthur Upfield reflects attitudes of his time, not necessarily views we would share today.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES
4.4, THE BATTLING PROPHET
4.3, MR JELLY’S BUSINESS 
4.5, DEATH OF A LAKE 

Review: ON THE JAVA RIDGE, Jock Serong

  • this edition published by Text Publishing 2017
  • ISBN 9781925498394
  • 312 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

Shortlisted for the Indie Awards 2018

On the Java Ridge, skipper Isi Natoli and a group of Australian surf tourists are anchored off the Indonesian island of Dana. In the Canberra office of Cassius Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, a federal election looms and a hardline new policy on asylum-seekers is being rolled out.

Not far from Dana, the Takalar is having engine trouble. Among the passengers on board fleeing from persecution are Roya and her mother, and Roya’s unborn sister.The storm
now closing in on the Takalar and the Java Ridge will mean catastrophe for them all.

My Take

It is a week to the Australian Federal election, and the Prime Minister and the Minister for Border Security are emphasising the success of the government’s policy on boat asylum seekers. Arrivals in Australian waters are almost unknown because all boats heading for Australia are being processed by the Indonesian authorities. Surveillance of Australian waters has been outsourced and the Australian  Navy will now take no action to assist asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Two boats, very similar in design, but one much better equipped, are heading towards Australia through Indonesia. One is a surf charter boat containing Australian tourists looking for big waves to surf and the other is an Indonesian fishing boat filled with Middle Eastern refugees. That these two boats will meet is an inevitable part of the plot.

Predictably part of the plot is about how the government’s new hardline policy will impact on both these boats, but my wildest dreams did not predict the ending.

The book raises some interesting scenarios among them an explanation of why so few boats have reached Ashmore Reef recently. The Prime Minister sees Cassius
Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, as a weak link, a loose cannon, although his hold on his own seat is thought to be better than that of the Prime Minister. Interesting insights into the workings of the Australian Cabinet.

My rating: 5.0

Also reviewed by Bernadette

I’ve also reviewed
5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET

Review: DEATH OF A LAKE, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Features Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte(Bony), a detective of mixed European and Aboriginal heritage.
On a vast sheep station in the outback Raymond Gillen goes swimming in the lake one night and is never seen
again. Bony arrives disguised as a horsebreaker and uncovers a story of sexual tension and murder. The lake is evaporating in the intense drought, only when it is drained will the mystery be solved.

My Take

The audio book begins with the usual warning that the publisher does not ascribe to Upfield’s now politically incorrect views. However they do reflect popularly held opinions, particularly abour aborigines, in the 1950s.

The story moves a bit slowly in this tale because Lake Otway, a lake that had filled three years before because of flooding in the north, is in the process of evaporating and dying. There are wonderful descriptions of what happens as the lake gets shallower and shallower and smaller and smaller. At the same time the rabbit population blows out. The daily temperature is well over 110F and the outstation near the lake burns to the ground one night.

You can’t help but be impressed by Upfield’s detailed observations of life on Outback stations.

Bony turns up (undercover) to investigate the Ray Gillen’s disappearance and discovers that all the hands living at the outstation have, unusually, stayed on since Gillen’s disappearance, not taking holidays and so on. Something is keeping them all there.

The tension builds very well, and the narration by Peter Hosking is in a class of its own.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES
4.4, THE BATTLING PROPHET
4.3, MR JELLY’S BUSINESS 

A Tribute to Bernadette in Oz

You knew her as Bernadette in Oz. She created this blog to cater for Australian crime fiction in July 2009, to complement her more genre-wide blog Reactions to Reading. Like me she was a crime fiction addict. Reading anything else felt a bit like a waste of time.

The news of her passing a few days ago came as a monumental shock.

I first met Bernadette soon after she created Fair Dinkum Crime. She lurked on my blog MYSTERIES in PARADISE, left almost frightening comments particularly where she thought I had got it wrong or had been far too generous and then she asked if we could meet. I was surprised to learn that she lived only a matter of suburbs away. She had a proposition for me. She asked over coffee if she could copy some of my reviews of Australian crime fiction to her new blog which was to review Australian crime fiction only. That arrangement began in July 2009. Then in June 2011 she made me an editing contributor.

Bernadette joined our local monthly crime fiction reading group sometime in that period and has been an active member ever since. She was always a champion of Australian crime fiction, particularly women writers, and she extended her interest more widely to some British and some translated crime fiction, particularly by female writers. We relied on her to tell us what was new, and what was worth hunting down. She was also a champion of local libraries. Our group members used to have an “in-joke” when talking about a book we had just been reading – we knew which ones Bernadette would have hated.

For Bernadette pulled no punches in her reviews. She was very thorough in identifying where she thought the author had got it wrong, and fulsome in her praise of those she thought had written a great book.

Tributes have begun to flow on other blogs and you might like to read some:

I am not sure at this stage what the future of Fair Dinkum Crime is. I’m not even sure that I know all I need to know about maintaining it. In many ways it was Bernadette’s baby.

Review: THE LIGHT ON THE WATER, Olga Lorenzo

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin Australia 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-92526-654-2
  • 350 pages
  • Longlisted Best Adult Novel – Davitt Awards 2017

Synopsis (publisher)

A little girl disappears in the wilderness. Two years later her mother is arrested for her murder. A provocative and unflinching literary novel of love, guilt and grief set against the wilderness of the Australian coast.
Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne’s story.Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to
her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.

A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement.
This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.

My Take
Aida, 6 years old and autistic, runs ahead of her mother on an overnight camping trip and bushwalk to Wilsons Promontory and disappears. Anne has already questioned her own wisdom in taking Aida for this walk, and when Aida cannot be found, others question it too. Hours turn into days, weeks, and months and there is no news about what has happened to Aida. Media attention ensures that Anne is unable to appear in public without people recognising her face and often saying dreadful things. A FaceBook page she sets up turns nasty. Friends turn away when they see her.
Eventually it becomes obvious that the police are considering charging Anne with negligence or worse.
A very thought provoking read, probably on the outer rim of crime fiction.
My rating: 4.4
About the author

Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother’s House,
which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards.
She has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest
at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from
Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. Olga
has taught writing at RMIT University and in a variety of other
Melbourne tertiary institutions for nineteen years, and has a Masters
and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She
previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.

Review: BARKING DOGS, Rebekah Clarkson

  • this edition published 2017 by Affirm Press
  • ISBN 978-925475-49-4
  • 230 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Affirm Press)

Everybody thinks they know this story. But do they? If you took a bird’s-eye view of any sprawling Australian regional town, you’d see ordinary Australians living on their ordinary suburban blocks. Get closer. Peer through a window.

In the town of Mount Barker, you might see Nathan Hearle obsessively
recording the bark of a neighbourhood dog, or the Wheeler family sitting
down for a meal and trying to come to terms with a shocking discovery.
You might hear tales of fathers and their wayward sons, of widows who
can’t forgive themselves, of children longed for and lost, of thwarted
lust and of pure love. Within the shadows is an unspeakable crime.

Rebekah Clarkson has created a compelling, slow-burning portrait of a
town in the midst of major change as it makes the painful
transformation from rural idyll to aspirational suburbia. What looked
like redemption is now profound loss. What seemed spiteful can now be
forgiven. A novel in stories, Barking Dogs is an assured debut from one of Australia’s most respected storytellers.

My Take

This book is an anthology of connected short stories written over half a decade or so. Not only are they connected with some characters appearing in or referred to in more than one story, they nearly all focus on the Adelaide hills town of Mt Barker, currently undergoing incredible change with an influx of new residents, in a myriad of new housing “estates”.

The book does not qualify in my mind as crime fiction, although there are plenty of mysteries to be unravelled, and certainly a crime or two committed. Between them the stories explore a range of contemporary issues: the pressures of modern living on young families, the onset of dementia, the effects of death from cancer on a family, barking dogs. Older folk, long time residents, live cheek by jowl with newly arrived families with younger children.

The stories were of particular interest to me because it is an area we travel through every weekend. We have friends who’ve moved from suburban Adelaide into one of the new Mt. Barker estates. Over the years we have seen farmland sold, cleared, scoured and subdivided into new estates with improbable names. These stories remind the reader that not every rainbow leads to a pot of gold.

The publisher refers to this anthology as a “novel in stories”, but I beg to differ. It is as if somehow a “novel” brings higher acclamation. These stories are well crafted and cleverly written. But they don’t have a completeness, or denouement, that a novel tries to achieve. In a sense too there is plenty of room left for further stories.

Just one thing extra I could have wished for – a table of contents at the beginning listing the stories by title.

My rating: 4.4

About the author:

Rebekah Clarkson’s award-winning fiction has been published widely, most recently in Best Australian Stories, Australian Book Review and Something Special, Something Rare: Outstanding Short Stories by Australian Women (Black Inc.).

Her stories have been recognised in major awards in Australia and overseas, including the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and Glimmer Train’s
Fiction Open. She has a BA in Aboriginal Studies and a PhD in Creative
Writing from the University of Adelaide, where she also teaches. She has
taught Fiction Writing at the University of Texas in Austin.

Review: THE DARK LAKE, Sarah Bailey

  • this edition first published 2017 by Allen & Unwin Australia
  • ISBN 978-1-76029-589-9
  • 429 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin Australia)

A hot summer. A shocking murder. A town of secrets, waiting to explode. A brooding, suspenseful and explosive debut that will grip you from the first page to the last.

There were a few minutes when I was alone with her in the autopsy room. I felt wild. Absent. Before I could stop myself I was leaning close to her, telling her everything. The words draining out of me as she lay there. Her long damp hair hanging off the back of the steel
table. Glassy eyes fixed blindly on the ceiling. She was still so beautiful, even in death.

Our secrets circled madly around the bright white room that morning. Rocking back and forth on my heels as I stood next to her, I knew how far in I was again, how comprehensively her death could undo me. I looked at Rosalind Ryan properly for the last
time before breathing deeply, readying myself, letting her pull me back into her world, and I sank down, further and further, until I was completely, utterly under.

A beautiful young teacher has been murdered, her body found in the lake, strewn with red roses. Local policewoman Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock pushes to be assigned to the case, concealing the fact that she knew the murdered woman in high school years before.

But that’s not all Gemma’s trying to hide.
As the investigation digs deeper into the victim’s past, other secrets threaten to come to light, secrets that were supposed to remain buried. The lake holds the key to solving the murder, but it also has the power to drag Gemma down into its dark depths.

The Dark Lake is an addictive crime thriller, a mesmerising account of one woman’s descent into deceit and madness, and a stunning debut that is already causing a stir around the world.

My Take

Gemma Woodstock is a Detective Sergeant in the town she grew up in.  Rosalind Ryan has recently returned to Smithson to teach in the high school she once attended. When she is murdered shortly after a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the school, Gemma’s boss questioned whether there was a conflict of interest in her being involved in the investigation. But she assures him that there is no question about that – her special knowledge of the town and its people will be invaluable. She and Rosalind were in the same class but that was all.

Gemma obviously believes that being involved in the investigation will give her an edge in solving the murder, as well as keeping elements of her own past hidden. There is at least one big secret that she doesn’t want anybody to know.

The author uses a time frame device to reveal snippets of the past, generally labelled “Then”, alongside carefully dated chapters (together with times) to encapsulate the present. I am never sure when we have carefully labelled time episodes whether I have got the timeline right in my mind. I find myself hoping the author hasn’t played a trick on me, put something out of sequence.

Her relationship with the deceased is not the only thing that Gemma is trying to hide, but I’ll let you find the rest out for yourself.

A good read from a new Aussie writer that I will have to watch out for.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Sarah Bailey is a Melbourne based writer with a background in advertising and communications. She has two young children and currently works as a director of creative projects company Mr Smith. Over the past five years she has written a number of short stories and opinion pieces. The Dark Lake is her first novel.

If you are interested in reading something more by Sarah Bailey I have found on Google books what appears to be a set of short stories titles THIS IS HOME

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Review: AND FIRE CAME DOWN, Emma Viskic

  • first published August 2017 by Echo Publishing
  • source: an ARC from the publisher
  • ISBN: 9781760402945
    Format: Trade paperback
  • 326 pages

 Synopsis (Echo Publishing)

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic used to meet life head-on.
Now he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed after pleading for his help in sign
language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. And the trail
leads straight to his hometown, Resurrection Bay.  The town is on
bushfire alert and simmering with racial tensions. As he delves deeper,
Caleb uncovers secrets that could threaten his life and any chance of
reuniting with Kat. Driven by his demons, he pushes on. But who is he
willing to sacrifice along the way?

My Take

Returning to Resurrection Bay means dealing with events he’d rather forget but the death of the girl who comes to him for help in Melbourne means that Caleb Zelic has no choice. He has been working in Melbourne as an independent investigator but he really has few clients.

The contact details for him that the girl had were written on a receipt that came from Resurrection Bay and the first person he asks about her is able to identify her. Immediately after he visits her father Caleb is attacked and warned off.

As he investigates further Caleb realises that there is a trade in ice happening in Resurrection  Bay and trying to work out who is behind it gets more and more dangerous. A young aboriginal man is murdered and at his funeral Caleb meets up with his wife Kat and her family.

There are a number of very complex relationships in this novel, and the picture painted of the small coastal community of Resurrection Bay is very grim.  I had trouble remembering what happened in the original title in this series, and my advice to the reader would be to read them in order.

My Rating: 4.3

I’ve also read
4.3, RESURRECTION BAY

About the author
Emma Viskic is an award-winning Australian crime writer. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Resurrection Bay, won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, as well as
an unprecedented three Davitt Awards: Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers’ Choice. Resurrection Bay was iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of 2015. She has also won the Ned Kelly and Thunderbolt Awards for her short form fiction.

A classically trained clarinettist, Emma’s musical career has ranged from performing with José  Carreras and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, to busking in the London Underground. Emma studied Australian sign language (Auslan) in order to write Resurrection Bay.