Review: SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE, Sarah Schmidt

  • this edition published by Hachette Australia in 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-7336-3688-2
  • source: my local library
  • 325 pages

Synopsis (Hachette Australia)

‘He was still bleeding. I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I looked at Father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinky finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it.
“Daddy,” I had said. “I’m giving this to you because I love you.” He had smiled and kissed my forehead.

A long time ago now.’

On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home in
Fall River, Massachusetts. During the inquest into the deaths, Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the murder of her father and her stepmother.

Through the eyes of Lizzie’s sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, the enigmatic stranger Benjamin and the beguiling Lizzie herself, we return to what happened that day in Fall River.

Lizzie Borden took an axe. Or did she?

My Take

This is a work of fiction based on true events, and I was never quite sure how fictionalised everything was.The evidence about the events that led to the murder Andrew and Abby Borden is presented by several narrators, looking for reasons for the murders.

We are told in the cover blurb that Lizzie Borden was tried and found innocent, and that no one was ever convicted of the crime. The novel presents a number of possible scenarios but I think you are left in no doubt at the end of the author’s conclusion.

Nevertheless it is a book that keeps you reading, and it presents an analysis of the main characters.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional writing and editing), a Master of Arts (Creative Writing), and a Graduate Diploma of Information Management, Sarah currently works as a Reading & Literacy Coordinator (read: a fancy librarian) at a regional public
library. She lives in Melbourne with her partner and daughter. See What I Have Done is her first novel.

Review: TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL, Melina Marchetta

  • first published in 2016 by the Hatchette Book Group
  • ISBN 978-0-316-3429-1
  • 407 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Booktopia)

Melina Marchetta’s gripping new novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is part family saga, part crime fiction, and wholly unputdownable.

Chief Inspector Bish Ortly of the London MET, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in a whisky bottle. Something has to give. He’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students on tour in France is hit in a bomb attack. Bish goes immediately to the scene, not in an official capacity, but because his daughter Bee was on that bus. Four people have been killed and another four critically injured.

Bee has mercifully survived, and so too has seventeen-year old Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years previously her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing twenty-three people in the process. Her mother, Noor, who ultimately confessed to helping make the bomb, is serving a life sentence. But before Violette’s involvement in the French tragedy can be established she disappears, along with a younger male student.

Bish Ortly has another interest in this case besides his daughter: he was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest.

My Take

A very readable book with plenty of puzzles to solve, and a number of personal interest stories.

The main puzzle is who has put the bomb on the bus and why? One of the victims Violette LeBrac is no stranger to terrorism and the media is quick to make the association and to infer that she has somehow been responsible for this bomb. When Violette goes on the run with another student, Bish Ortly is asked by British security to befriend the other families whose children were on the bus, to find out where Violette might have gone.

The first reviews I saw about this book talked about how good it was to see Melina Marchetta venturing into the world of adult crime fiction. Having now finished the book I’m not sure that that was her intention (even though I have been told that she herself has said so). I thought the author would still see herself writing mainly for an older YA audience, helping them come to terms with some of the serious issues of the adult world, in particular terrorism, racism, and sexuality. I didn’t think that so much for the bulk of the book, but certainly felt it in the last few pages.

My rating: 4.5
About the author

Melina Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, swept the pool of literary awards for young adult fiction in 1993, winning the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) among many others. In 2000 it was released as a major Australian film, winning an AFI award and an Independent Film Award for best screenplay as well as the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Film Critics Circle
of Australia Award.

Melina taught secondary school English and History for ten years, during which time she released her second novel, Saving Francesca, in 2003, followed by On the Jellicoe Road in 2006, and Finnikin of the Rock in 2008. Saving Francesca won the CBC Book of the Year Award for Older Readers. On the Jellicoe Road was also published in the US as Jellicoe Road, and it won the prestigious American Library Association’s Michael L
Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. In 2008, Melina’s first work of fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock, won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was shortlisted for the 2009 CBCA Award for Older Readers.

Melina’s most recent novel, The Piper’s Son, was published in 2010 and has been long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. Melina’s novels have been published in more than sixteen countries and twelve languages.

Review: THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, Liane Moriarty

  • first published 2013, Pan Macmillan Australia
  • ISBN 978-1-74261-394-9
  • 402 pages
  • Author website

Synopsis ( Author website)

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read…

My Darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others too.

Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive…

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home.
But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other – but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My Take

I have had many people recommend this author to me, and particularly urging me to read  THE HUSBAND’S SECRET and BIG LITTLE LIES which I aim to read sometime soon.

There are 3 intertwined stories in THE HUSBAND’S SECRET. The connections are not obvious at first and I felt initially that I was having to work hard to get the names and the families straight in my head. The main setting is Sydney, Australia, but I didn’t think the setting actually mattered. I could see that the stories would appeal to an American audience too.

I’ve talked with people about whether this is really crime fiction. Certainly a crime was committed and the plot reaches back nearly four decades. But in reality the book is not so much about the crime but about relationships and family. In some ways it is a lot less noir than my usual reading, but there is a strong element of psychological exploration, and the dilemma about what to do with the secret.

So, I’m not going to tell you any more, other than the book was extremely readable, and that this is an author worth following.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

A new-to-me Australian author who has recently become hugely successful
Three Wishes (2003)
The Last Anniversary (2005)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2012)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
Big Little Lies (2014)
aka Little Lies
Truly Madly Guilty (2016)

Review: DEAD AGAIN by Sandi Wallace

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

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

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

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


aww2017-badgeThis is the 6th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Atlas Productions, 2017
ISBN: 9780995377677
Length: 318 pages
Format: eBook
Source of review copy: Provided by author for honest review

Review: GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Review: THE TWISTED KNOT by J.M. Peace

Having been very impressed with J.M. Peace’s debut novel A TIME TO RUN, I approached THE TWISTED KNOT with that mixture of anticipation and worry that always surrounds second books. Happily, the worry was misplaced.

Somewhat paradoxically one of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is that it is not all that similar to its predecessor. The author’s talent is still on show and the central character from the first, police constable Sammi Willis, is also at the heart of this one but there is never any signs of this becoming the first in a line of clones that can often, understandably but annoyingly, follow a successful debut. This is different in pacing, the kind of story it tells and in its overall sensibility. It’s still very, very good though; no worrying necessary.

Here Sammi is still recovering from the events depicted in the first novel. Physically she’s OK but not quite mentally ready to return to full duties yet so she’s working on the front counter of the police station in the rural Queensland town of Angel’s Crossing. Which is where she first learns that townspeople are angry. A man accused of being a pedophile in the town some years ago is apparently ‘at it’ again. He was not convicted last time and locals are determined that this time there will be justice, even if they have to deliver it themselves. All Sammi and her colleagues have to go on is unsubstantiated rumours, no victim has come forward. And Sammi’s superior officers make themselves scarce rather than face the angry mob that confronts Sammi. What are they hiding?

It’s difficult to talk about the many fine attributes of this book without spoiling its plot but I will say the story is a ripper. It’s not the same kind of intense, frightening story the first book told but it’s equally compelling and suspenseful. Here there are layers of secrets being kept by many locals and the way these are revealed keeps readers guessing right to the end. There’s more complexity here too because it’s not quite so clear in depicting who is and who isn’t doing the right thing. Because there’s what’s legal and then there’s what’s right and they’re not always the same thing. At least not for some of the residents of Angel’s Crossing. It’s quite thought-provoking at times in the way it makes the reader contemplate what they might do when faced with some of the scenarios depicted in the book.

Peace is a serving police officer (using a pseudonym) so it’s not surprising that the way the various aspects of police work and ‘the life’ are shown have a real ring of authenticity to them. The different types of personality attracted to the work are on show as are the variety of elements of the job. Although they do exist it’s not all car chases and shoot outs and Peace does well in showing the whole job without slowing the book down or making it dull. She also does well at showing the limitations of the legal system and the frustrations that result for both officers and the public.

The character development is well done too. Sammi’s struggles to overcome the mental issues which arose after she was chased by a serial killer are problematic but no so debilitating they threaten to destroy her. It must be a difficult balance to achieve in trying to depict such a thing sensitively and realistically. There are a few hurdles in her personal life too but these are also shown in a believable, balanced way. The townspeople who are impacted by the possible resurgence of the pedophile activity are also well drawn. Their anger and desire to take matters into their own hands are entirely credible.

All in all then another terrific read from J.M. Peace. I am especially pleased when authors try new things and take some risks with their storytelling. Even if it doesn’t always work I’d rather this than a clone any day. But, in this instance at least, Peace’s change of pace and tone work very well, leaving me keen to see what she does next.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 5th book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Pan Macmillian, 2016
ISBN: 9781743538678
Length: 303 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE UNMOURNED by Meg Keneally and Tom Keneally

Robert Church is the man whose murder sets off the second adventure of Hugh Monsarrat, newly freed convict and clerk to the governor’s secretary in the still young colony of New South Wales, and the woman who is ostensibly his housekeeper but really his best friend, Hannah Mulrooney. As Superintendent of the Parramatta women’s prison (known as the Female Factory) Church took full advantage of his position’s power by starving, abusing and sexually assaulting the prisoners as well as siphoning off whatever he could to line his own pockets. Literally no one, not even his beleaguered wife, mourns his death and it would be easy for the case to be quickly dealt with if not for the fact that the prime suspect appears, at least to Monsarrat, to potentially be innocent. But everyone else, including his own boss, believes Grace O’Leary, an outspoken leader among the female convicts, guilty of the crime. Monsarrat, ably assisted by Mrs Mulrooney, has only a few days and a limited amount of official tolerance for his shenanigans, to conclude his investigation.

It is always with some trepidation I approach a book I am really hoping to like because, as happened last month, it can be disappointing. But Meg and Tom Keneally did not let me down with this second instalment of their historical crime series set in colonial Australia. Although I enjoyed this novel’s predecessor, last year’s THE SOLDIER’S CURSE, very much I thought this one even better. The story here is more complex and so ultimately a more satisfying tale to unravel. Given the murder victim’s reputation there is no shortage of suspects and even if they aren’t involved in the crime many of them have secrets they’d prefer to keep hidden. Trying to ascertain which of the many secrets provided a motivation for murder keeps our amateur sleuths, and this reader, guessing until the very end.

Even Mrs Mulrooney has something to hide and its revelation provides a turning point in her relationship with Monsarrat, though not in the way the person who reveals the secret anticipates. These two characters and their relationship – something of a surrogate mother/son one I suppose – is another highlight of the novel. Monsarrat is forced to confront his core beliefs as he comes against situations in which his own freedom, something he values very deeply, is threatened if he continues down a certain path. It’s not immediately obvious which choice he will make and it’s hard to blame someone for wanting to avoid a third foray into fairly brutal penal life so there is real tension in seeing this thread unfold over the course of the story. Mrs Mulrooney continues to grow in confidence as she writes her first letters to her son, thanks to Monsarrat’s teaching. Her observations about the difficulties involved in learning to read and write offer an excellent insight into her practical and astute character

“…I would have to say that the letters won’t behave themselves. They keep insisting on doing different things in different words. There is no logic to it, no organisation. If I ran a kitchen the way the English language runs itself, it would be in ruins.”

Despite these problems Mrs Mulrooney in turn becomes a writing teacher as well as a friend to some of the inhabitants of the Female Factory. What we learn of her personal history, including her connection to the events which occurred at Vinegar Hill in 1798 only endears her further to Monsarrat (and readers).

Once again the Keneally duo has wrapped a terrific story around a fascinating and credible depiction of life in Parramatta in 1825. The physical aspects of the setting are vividly brought to life as are the psychological and emotional elements that must surely eventuate in a place where most people are either criminals (or ex-criminals) or their captors. The power imbalances and opportunities for abuse and ill-treatment seem endless and it’s almost a miracle that some people, like Grace O’Leary, retain their humanity in the face of it all.

I can wholeheartedly recommend THE UNMOURNED to fans of historical crime fiction but would even suggest it to those who’ve not tried this sub genre before. The book has humour, a touch of romance, and intelligently explores our social and political history while introducing memorable characters and telling a ripper yarn. What more could you want?


aww2017-badgeThis is book 4 I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Penguin Random House [2017]
ISBN: 9780857989390
Length: 321 pages
Format: paperback
sOURCE: I bought it

Review: CRIMSON LAKE by Candice Fox

I’m not sure if it’s a standalone novel or the start of a new series but either way Candice Fox’s CRIMSON LAKE is determined to be memorable. Every one of its 389 pages is packed with people committing crimes, investigating crimes or trying to prove their own innocence of crimes they’ve been accused of.

Most of the story is told from Ted Conkaffey’s point of view. When we meet him Ted is living a kind of half-life after having spent 8 months on remand for the rape and attempted murder of a young girl. His case was dropped for lack of evidence not because there is any other viable suspect and the charges can be reactivated at any time. Just about everyone – including Ted’s former colleagues in the police force, his ex wife and the general public – believe him guilty despite his consistent claims of innocence. So Ted has made his way to far north Queensland and gone to ground. Crimson Lake is the sort of place where people can and do hide from their pasts. But even this place may not be up to the task of hiding from determined vigilantes (some of whom wear a uniform) a man the whole world thinks of as a guilty-but-not-convicted paedophile.

Ted is put in contact with Amanda Pharrell, the region’s lone private investigator. Amanda is afraid of cars, loves to speak in rhymes and spent 10 years in prison for the murder of a fellow teenager. She is investigating the disappearance of celebrated local author Jack Scully who, it seems, may have been taken by a crocodile. His wife wants proof that he’s really dead and that he didn’t commit suicide.

The pair form a friendship of sorts as they look into the author’s deranged fans and secret life for clues to his disappearance. The two outsiders develop a genuine, if prickly, care for each other but their interactions are charged with too much dark humour to stray into mushy territory. Which is all for the best in my opinion and this relationship is one of the book’s strengths. Other characters – good guys and bad ones – are also well drawn.

Although very complicated (seriously I’ve only skimmed a portion of the book’s happenings here) the disparate strands of storyline are not difficult to follow and for those who like their crime fiction packed with action and surprising twists look no further. The book stretched the bounds of credibility at times for me as so many elements of what happened to Ted, Amanda and Jack were the result of the kinds of extremes of human behaviour that I struggled to believe would all coalesce around such a small group of people in such a small place. But the book is an old-fashioned romp of a tale about people I had grown to care about and I will freely admit to staying up way past my bedtime to find out how CRIMSON LAKE was all going to end. Next-day drowsiness is the sign of a superior reading experience.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 3rd book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Penguin [2017]
ISBN: 9780143781905
Length: 389 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from the library

Review: THE GOLDEN CHILD by Wendy James

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. Events which occur towards the end of the book are discussed in some detail in the 6th paragraph below. It doesn’t reveal the plot’s surprise twist but it is a pretty major reveal all the same. I tried but could not manage to discuss my thoughts about the book without revealing more plot spoilers than I am normally comfortable with.

thegoldenchildjamesUsing the philosophy that underlies the advice about ripping bandaids off quickly, I’m going to get the hard part of this review out now: I didn’t like THE GOLDEN CHILD. I wanted to like it. Very much. I have read most of Wendy James’ other books and thought them all very good, with THE MISTAKE having a firm place on my ‘go to’ list of great book recommendations for any sort of reader. I bought this one on pre-order, even before I started seeing all the good reviews it has garnered. But though I kept reading and hoping my dislike was a temporary thing, the book never really grabbed me at all. I imagine the Germans have a great word to describe the particular kind of disappointment that follows the non-enjoyment of a much anticipated book. In the absence of their superior linguistic skills I’ll just say I am sad.

The book – which falls within the suspense genre at its broadest definition – is centred on the Mahoney family. Well the Mahoney women really; engineer Dan Mahoney’s role in this story is to act as the plot device for moving the family from one place to the next. Dan’s wife Beth is the 40-something mother to teenagers Lucy and Charlie, or Charlotte as she decides she will be called when the family moves from the US to Australia where Dan and Beth were both born. Beth has a blog – where she presents an idealised version of her family life to the world – but has not worked outside the home since the kids were born. Though, as she reminds us often, she was not legally allowed to work while they lived in the US, it wasn’t like she chose just to stay home. Lucy, older than her sister by a year, is a pretty average daughter and student while Charlie is the alpha female in any group. Popular. Gifted. Ambitious. Troubled?

Beth makes friends with Andi, mother of Sophie who is one of Charlotte’s classmates at the prestigious private school the girls attend in their new home. Although musically gifted Sophie struggles socially so Andi is keen to help a potential friendship develop and gets the two families together as much as possible. Alas neither Andi nor her husband notice that Sophie is being subjected to more than the usual teenage meanness. She’s being seriously bullied, both online and in real life. Readers see it all along but the fact is only revealed to Sophie’s parents in a very frightening way.

One of the things I didn’t like about this book is its treatment of its male characters. Neither Steve (Andi’s husband) nor Dan have much agency in their own right let alone as fathers or husbands. In a different book written in a different era Steve and Dan would have been the female appendages to more charismatic, important male characters so emotionally stunted and two dimensional were they. I don’t know if this was a deliberate kind of ‘turning the tables’ on gender issues in literature or there wasn’t room to flesh either of these characters out or James just wasn’t interested in their stories but this just didn’t strike me as terribly realistic for a story unfolding in the present day.

Perhaps I would have found this treatment of the male gender more forgivable if the female characters had been stronger than they were. I don’t mean I didn’t like them (that is true but not my point) but that they didn’t develop. Even when their respective worlds fracture neither of the adult female characters changes in any meaningful way nor does any of the deep soul searching that is, surely, to be expected. There’s a fluttering of angst from both and some surprisingly short-lived anger from Andi and then it’s back to the average parenting and self-absorption they were both engaged in prior to ‘the event’.

[Spoiler alert] But the aspect of the book that most disappointed me was its handling of the central thematic issue. The way that Sophie lets on to the adults in her life that things are not going well is a suicide attempt. For some days she lies in a coma and there is uncertainty about whether she will have brain damage even if she does survive. During this period her parents are appropriately angry and vengeful. Her teachers are lining up for a proportionate response and even Beth and Dan are at least slightly invested in doing something about ‘the issue’. But when Sophie pulls through with no adverse health effects things revert almost to ‘normal’. As if nothing had ever happened. Sophie herself appears to have no memory of a suicide attempt (and no mention is made of her having any kind of treatment which in the health system I work in is just entirely unrealistic for a 12 year old who has seriously attempted suicide), both sets of parents appear eager to pretend that everything is fine and the school goes out of its way to whitewash the whole affair. I could have bought one, or perhaps two, of those but the notion that everyone involved is prepared to play make believe just stretched the bounds of credibility beyond breaking point for me. I know it’s fiction but in other aspects – such as its descriptions of the escalating cruelty towards Sophie – the book has presented itself in a realistic style and I don’t think this kind of thing can be turned on and off quite so easily. [End spoilers]

Although its depiction of the bullying teenagers can dish out seems perfectly, and scarily, accurate that wasn’t enough to make this book a good read for me. I thought its characters lacked depth and its story too contrived and unbelievable. For me the central question posed by the book’s premise – how might someone cope when they learn they are the parent of a bully – is never dealt with in any substantive way. However THE GOLDEN CHILD has been getting rave reviews just about everywhere but here so, as always, other opinions are available.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 2nd book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Harper Collins [2017]
ISBN: 9781460752371
Length: 338 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM, Greg Pyers

  • this edition published by Scribe 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-925321-97-5
  • 295 pages
  • Review copy supplied by publisher

Synopsis (Publisher)

Based on a true story…At midnight on 28 December 1864, in the Australian gold-mining town of Daylesford, young newly-wed Maggie Stuart lies dead in her own blood.
Rumour and xenophobia drive speculation over the identity of her killer, and when a suspect is  apprehended, police incompetence and defence counsel negligence bring yet more distortion to the wheels of justice.

In this climate of prejudice and ineptitude, it seems only Detective Otto Berliner is able to keep an objective mind and recognise that something is terribly wrong. He intends to put matters right, though all the odds are against him.

My Take

The Author’s Note says
This story is based on a murder committed in the gold-mining town of Daylesford, Australia in 1864. The names of some characters have been changed, but all the characters herein are based on real people.

In fact many of the names of the characters are not changed.

The first two thirds of the book deal with the murder and the subsequent 3 day trial.  My research shows that the author relied very heavily on the newspaper records of the time, sometimes using them almost verbatim. This part reminded me very much of what Truman Capote called a non-fiction novel.

At first two suspects are jailed for the murder of Maggie Stuart, but
one is eventually released. The other spends 7 months in jail as the
police build a case against him. Most of the evidence is circumstantial
and some vital evidence is totally missing,

Otto Berliner is an inspector in the Victoria Police, on leave, hoping to set himself up in the near future as a private detective. He does not attend the trial, but a friend does, and he takes notes which Berliner later finds useful.

Berliner goes to New Zealand for some time and returns just a week or so before the convicted murderer is due to be executed. He is convinced that the convicted man is innocent, and so from this time, there is a race against time to see if he can discover the murderer and get a stay of exceution.

I think the structure of the novel worked against the building of real tension until the final few pages. However it does present the case against the police well, as being too quick to adopt an easy solution, and too lazy to ask real questions.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Greg Pyers grew up in the small Victorian town of Daylesford. As a boy,
he read the books of Gerald Durrell, and many years later, worked at
Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo. Greg became a full-time writer in 1998,
following eight years as an educator in zoos, and several years as a
post-primary schoolteacher. He went on to write 160 natural history
books and three novels for children. Greg Pyers was short listed in the
2005 Children’s Book Council Awards in the non-fiction category. He won a
2004 Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW for Life in a Rock Pool, Gum Tree, Creek, and Desert Dune.
In The Wilderness Society’s 2002 Environment Award For Children’s
Literature, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding
contribution to children’s environmental literature. In 2005, Greg won
another Wilderness Society Award, this time for non-fiction. The Unfortunate Victim is Greg’s first work of adult fiction.