Review: ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING, Evie Wyld

  • first published by Jonathan Cape 2013
  • this edition published by Random House Australia (Vintage) 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-74275-730-8
  • 229 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin Award

Who or what is watching Jake Whyte from the woods?

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be.
But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago,
in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

Set between Australia and a remote English island, All the Birds, Singing is the story of one how one woman’s present comes from a terrible past.
It is the second novel from the award-winning author of After the Fire, A Still Small Voice.

My take

Strictly speaking Evie Wyld is not an Australian author, but she grew up in Australia, this novel has been published by Random House Australia, and part of the story is set in Australia. It is probably not really crime fiction, although crimes have been committed.

When Jake Whyte was a teenager in a remote Australian town she made a terrible mistake. That’s the reason she is now living on a remote English island about as far away from Australia as she can get. It is almost like voluntary exile, paying for something she can’t forget.

There are two stories in this novel and Jake is the joining point. The fascinating aspect is the way the novel is structured, but I’m going leave that for you to discover for yourself. The interleaving of the two stories is skilfully done, but the author does make the reader work hard, at least initially. The Australian part of the story is vivid and believable, while at the same time the remote English setting feels very authentic.

I can see why it won Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 2014.
Check the judges’ notes here.

My rating: 4.9

About the author

Evie Wyld grew up in Australia and the UK. She now runs Review, a small independent bookshop in London. Her first novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award. In 2011 she was listed as one of the Culture Show’s Best New British Novelists. She was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2013 she was listed as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Evie’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, was published in 2013. It was longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She is the winner of the 2013 Encore Award, the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and the 2014 Miles Franklin Award.

Awards
2014 University of Queensland Fiction Book Award – (Shortlisted);
2014 European Union Prize for Literature – (Winner);
2014 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards – (Shortlisted);
2014 Miles Franklin Award – (Winner);
2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize – (Winner);
2014 Encore Award – (Winner);

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: DARKEST PLACE, Jaye Ford

  • source: Random House Australia via NetGalley
  • Available for Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1122 KB
  • Print Length: 346 pages
  • Publisher: RHA eBooks Adult (February 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: January 27, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B017J5899W

Synopsis (NetGalley)

An adrenaline-pumping suspense novel from the author of BEYOND FEAR.
What if a stranger is watching you sleep – and no one believes you?

Carly Townsend is starting over after a decade of tragedy and pain. In a new town and a new apartment she’s determined to leave the memories and failures of her past behind.

However that dream is shattered in the dead of night when she is woken by the shadow of a man next to her bed, silently watching her. And it happens week after week.Yet there is no way an intruder could have entered the apartment. It’s on the fourth floor, the doors are locked and there is no evidence that anyone has been inside.

With the police doubting her story, and her psychologist suggesting it’s all just a dream, Carly is on her own. And being alone isn’t so appealing when you’re scared to go to sleep .

My Take:

Australian author Jaye Ford certainly knows how to write a good thriller.

Carly Townsend moves across the country to Newcastle, NSW, to start a new life. For the last decade she has been living with the fact that she killed her three best friends. Her new apartment is on the 4th floor of a renovated warehouse. All modern. But the first thing she learns is that there is a sad story about the girl who used to own her apartment.

Carly herself is pretty fragile, the result of two failed marriages, three miscarriages, and the death of her three friends.  She thinks she has lost the outgoing personailty she once had, and wonders if she can find it again.

She begins a business course at a local TAFE and is lucky to be befriended by twenty year old with big ideas. Carly hasn’t slept well for years but then she is woken in the early morning by a hooded man. She reports the home invasion to the police but by the third time they have had enough of her wasting their time.

Jaye Ford ceratinly knows which of our “fear” buttons to press.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also read

4.4, BEYOND FEAR
4.5, SCARED YET?
4.5, BLOOD SECRET
4.7, ALREADY DEAD

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
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

Review: MISSING, Melanie Casey

  • first published in 2016 by Pantera Press Australia
  • source: review copy from publisher
  • ISBN 978-1-921997-53-2
  • 374 pages
  • #3 in Cass Lehmann series
  • Also available for Kindle from Amazon

Synopsis (publisher)

On any night, 1 person in 200 is homeless …

Someone is targeting Adelaide’s homeless. Men are disappearing off the streets, and body parts are turning up in a local dump.

Still haunted by her last run-in with a serial killer, Cass Lehman is trying hard to focus on the future. That’s not easy when she has the ‘gift’ of retrocognition … the ability to spontaneously re-live the last minutes of a person’s life.

Cass and Detective Ed Dyson are now trying to make a normal home together, but when she gets entangled in Ed’s latest case things are far from normal.

A twisted tale of love, desperation and murder … When the psychic meets the psychotic, who will come out unscathed?

My take

Another novel set in Adelaide! The city is recognisable and this novel clings to the reputation that strange and gruesome murders occur in this “City of Churches”.

I’m not quite sure how I have missed seeing earlier novels by this author. So I really read this as a stand alone and it worked quite well. There was enough back story for me to be able to make sense of what had happened in the past, and in previous stories.

Readers are required to suspend their disbelief in paranormal powers because Cass Lehman’s matrilinear line all have “powers” of a sort. Cass has apparently used hers in the past to assist the police. The experiences are draining ones for her, and sometimes occur unpredictably.

This is a fairly grisly tale, with a number of bags of body parts being found in a dump at McLaren Vale, the wine growing district south of Adelaide. The evidence begins to point strongly to one person as the perpetrator but it is still up to Cass and Ed to prove the case.

A good read, with some fine bits of suspense.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Melanie Casey was born and lives in South Australia with her two young children and her husband (who didn’t know he was marrying a writer when he walked down the aisle).

After studying English Literature and Classical Studies, Melanie shifted to Law, and now works in government.

A chance meeting with a highschool English teacher in the supermarket made Melanie realise that she should be doing what she’d always loved, writing! Another period of study, this time at the Professional Writing School of Adelaide’s College of the Arts ensued, helping Melanie acquire the skills she needed to put her plan into action.

Hindsight is her debut novel, the first in a crime trilogy featuring Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson. The second in the series, Craven, was released in 2014. The third installment, Missing, was released in 2016.

Review: OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen

Synopsis (Publisher)

Yearning for her former life as an archaeologist, Australian librarian Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is struggling with a job she doesn’t want, a family she both loves and resents, and enforced separation from her boyfriend.

A royal Olmec cemetery is discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, containing the earliest writing in all the Americas. Dr. Pimms is elated to join the team investigating these Aztec ancestors. Triumph is short-lived, however, as Elizabeth’s position on the team is threatened by a volatile excavation director, contradictory evidence, and hostile
colleagues. With everything working against her, will Dr Pimms find the cause of death for a 3,000-year-old athlete and those buried with her?

With the archaeological intrigue of Elizabeth Peters, forensic insight of Kathy Reichs, and comfort of a cosy mystery, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a fascinating new series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

My Take

Her father’s unexpected and untimely death means that Dr Elizabeth Pimms, forensic archaeologist and Egyptologist, has to abandon work she is doing in Egypt to return to her family in Canberra and take work as a librarian, so that she can provide financial support for her brother and sister and extended family.

She is approached to do some voluntary weekend work in Canberra working on the bones of 17 skeletons retrieved from an Olmec cave in Mexico. Her work is to be unpaid because the supervisor says basically that she needs to prove herself before he will consider remuneration. Elizabeth finds this difficult to understand because he has already obviously spent considerable funds on the work in Mexico. He and she have a falling out however on the first day when Elizabeth challenges some of the conclusions he wants to publish about the remains.

The reader is given background story to the events which have resulted in the burial of the bodies. These are details that Elizabeth has no way of knowing because there are no written records relating to this site. I am not sure about the wisdom of this as a plot structure.

Elizabeth has a personal mystery to unravel related to the death of her mother in a car crash nearly a decade earlier. She has to admit that she has been wrong in her assumptions about what caused the crash. But jumping to the wrong conclusions seems to be pretty par for the course for Elizabeth.

There is a lot going on in this book but my enjoyment of it was not helped by the fact that I didn’t particularly warm to Elizabeth herself. I thought I found some inconsistencies in the background details about Elizabeth: later in the book the family celebrates her 26th birthday, but in the Prologue we are told “after twenty years of yearning, planning and dedicated study she was finally here… a skilled archaeologist and knowledgeable Egyptologist”. I found it difficult to juggle her expertise against her age, and would have been more comfortable if she had just been a few years older.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to find a new female Australian author, with a very different scenario, leading me into a world I am not really familiar with.

A second book in the series is promised: MAYAN MENDACITY. Elements of the story from OLMEC OBITUARY are left unresolved, so this should help link the two.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
L.J.M. Owen drew extensively on her education and experience when
developing the novel. Relevant qualifications include an undergraduate
degree in archaeology and a PhD in palaeogenetics from ANU, and a
graduate diploma in library management from Curtin University. See more information on her website.

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
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE CRIME AND THE CRYSTAL, Elizabeth Ferrars

  • first published 1985
  • this edition published in 1986 by Ulverscroft in large print edition
  • #3 in the Andrew Basnett series
  • ISBN 0-7089-1485-3
  • 303 pages (large print)
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Christmas in Adelaide promises to be a pleasant vacation for Andrew Basnett, retired professor of botany and amateur sleuth. But the shadow
of an unsolved murder hangs over the lives of his hosts, Tony and Jan Gardiner. The police still  suspect Jan of her first husband’s murder – and then a second killing takes place under the same bizarre circumstances. What can a guest do in such a case but try to clear the name of his hostess and solve the crime?

My Take

I’m not sure what actually led me to select this novel from my local library but it came as a pleasant surprise to find that it was set in my home city of Adelaide. That is my reason for including the review here, because of course Elizabeth Ferrars was a British author.

Andrew Basnett comes to Adelaide to spend Christmas with his former student Tony Gardiner. Tony has recently married and he and his wife Jan live in the fictitious seaside suburb of Betty Hills, which I decided was probably either Brighton or Hove. Twelve months earlier Jan’s first husband had been murdered at a local quarry and she and Tony had married within a few months. Jan’s sister Kay has also recently married and she and her husband live nearby, a little closer to the beach.

At first I suspected that the author had got most of the details for her setting from travel brochures but then discovered she had actually lived in Adelaide for a short time (see about the author below). I’m not sure why the suburb was named Betty Hills, possibly because it is a combo of the features of more than one of the southern suburbs. Basnett takes a ride on the Glenelg Tram, visits Botanic Park, and refers to The City of Churches.

Basnett thinks things are pretty strained between Tony and his new wife, a little more than is usual in the case of relative newly weds. On Christmas Day a second murder takes place and Jan disappears. Similarities between this murder and the earlier one make it likely that the murderer is the same person.

There is nothing really remarkable about this novel, plenty of allusions to Adelaide’s tourist attractions, filling in the setting of a comfortable cozy. It does make me curious about what the other settings of the Basnett series were like:
Andrew Basnett
Something Wicked (1983)
Root of All Evil (1984)
The Crime and the Crystal (1985)
The Other Devil’s Name (1986)
A Murder Too Many (1988)
Smoke Without Fire (1990)
A Hobby of Murder (1994)
A Choice of Evils (1995)
They were all published in the last 12 years of Ferrars’ life.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read
THE SWAYING PILLARS
4.4, GIVE A CORPSE A BAD NAME

About the author 1907-1995 (Wikipedia)
Her extraordinary output owes a great deal to considerable self-discipline and diligent method. Her plots were worked out in detail in hand-written notebooks before being filled out in typed manuscript; she said that they were worked backwards from the denouement. Like every writer, she based characters and situations on people she knew and things she had seen in real life. She travelled with her husband when his academic career required, for example to Adelaide where he was a visiting professor at the University of South Australia.

Review: DUCK SEASON DEATH, June Wright

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 911 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dark Passage (December 21, 2014)
    Originally written sometime in the 1950s
  • Publication Date: December 21, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00N01TQOW

Synopsis (Amazon)

June Wright wrote this lost gem in the mid-1950s, but consigned it to her bottom drawer after her publisher foolishly rejected it. Perhaps it was a little ahead of its  time?

Because while it’s a tour de force of the classic ‘country house’ murder mystery, it’s also a delightful romp, poking fun at the conventions of the genre. When someone takes advantage of a duck hunt to murder publisher Athol Sefton at a remote hunting inn, it soon turns out that virtually everyone, guests and staff alike, had a good reason for shooting him. Sefton’s nephew Charles thinks he can solve the crime by applying the “rules of the game” he’s absorbed from his years as a reviewer of detective fiction – only the
killer evidently isn’t playing by those rules.

Duck Season Death is a both a fiendishly clever whodunit and a marvellous entertainment.

My take:

What the blurb above does not say is that the main reason this novel was “consigned to her bottom drawer” was that the author’s usual publisher rejected this offering in the 1950s because of negative reviews by three of their pre-publishing readers.

I can understand what attracted scathing comments from these readers. First of all I think Wright meant this as a spoof on the genre. The murder victim is a publisher known for his scathing comments about would-be authors and the books they gave him to read, but also an unlikeable person who tried his invective out on most of those who  came within range. The amateur sleuth who thinks the murder is not accidental is his nephew, but he didn’t like Athol Sefton any more than most people. He just thinks the local doctor and policeman are bumbling idiots.

Enter an odd plot strand – the victim himself was under observation by the Victoria police for the murder of his wife, actually a cold case, with the second suspect being the nephew who used to send her boxes of chocolates.

The style in which all this is written is, at first, a bit hard to take. She writes as if she has swallowed the dictionary, a rather pompous version of English which I think was supposed to point the finger at more academic writers from the Golden Age- lots of five syllable words appear in the narrative. The style changes a little for the better in the latter half of the novel. I think it was supposed to imitate the thinking style of the voice of the narrator which did change from section to section of the novel, but was nearly always that of the nephew.

So there we have it – a country house murder set in the style of Agatha Christie (to whom there is the odd reference), located in rural Victoria in the 1950s. The location is near the Murray River at a hotel called The Duck and Dog Inn. The timing: the opening of theduck shooting season.

I spent some time considering whether I thought Wright intended this as a spoof or not, and therefore how I should rate it. I think she did, but her original readers misunderstood, or disapproved. Other bits of humour emerge, even a romantic element. So it may well have been “ahead of its time”, but she doesn’t quite pull it off.

My rating: 3.5

I’ve also reviewed 4.1, MURDER IN THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE

See another review

Review: GHOST GIRLS, Cath Ferla

 Synopsis (Echo Publishing)

Winter in Sydney. The city is brimming with foreign students. Sophie Sandilands takes a job teaching at an English language school. When one of her students leaps to her death it becomes clear that lurking within the psyche of this community is a deep sense of despair and alienation. When it is revealed that the dead woman on the pavement has stolen another’s identity, Sophie is drawn into the mystery.

Unable to resist the investigative instincts that run in her blood, Sophie finds herself unravelling a sinister operation that is trawling the foreign student market for its victims. But as Sophie works on tracking down the criminals it becomes evident that someone has knowledge of her and the disappearances in her own past. Will Sophie solve the mystery before she too becomes a ghost?

Ghost Girls richly evokes the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Sydney’s Chinatown, and imagines dark exploitative demands behind closed suburban doors.

My Take

GHOST GIRLS took me into a world that I really hadn’t thought too much about – English language students who come to Australia, mainly from China. Many of them come with high expectations, not much money, and very homesick. I probably knew all that. But the book gives the reader a “behind the scenes” look at the sleazy Sydney underworld that preys on these students, and just how vulnerable they are.

Sophie Sandilands is part Chinese herself, brought back to the “safety” of Australia from China by her Australian father. But even then her Chinese mother disappeared and Sophie has never forgiven her father, a private investigator, for the role that he played in that.

One of the themes of the book is disappearance: David, the young boy who disappeared in a playground in Beijing while Sophie was caring for him, girls who seem to disappear without trace from the English language classes in the school where Sophie teaches. And underneath all an underworld that deals in pornography, prostitution and drug distribution.

An intriguing read.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Cath Ferla is a multi­platform writer with a background in screenwriting and script editing, print and online journalism, educational publishing and long and short form fiction. She is also a Secondary School­qualified teacher, with teaching experience and qualifications in
the area of EAL (English as an Acquired Language). She has also lived in Beijing, China and studied Mandarin Chinese.