Review: THE BANK MANAGER, Roger Monk

  • first published by the Horizon Publishing Group 2016
  • ISBN 13: 978-1-922234-573
  • 337 pages
  • source: my local library
  • paperback also available from Amazon

Synopsis (Publisher)

Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw is transferred  to a country town.

Just an ordinary, average Australian country town where nothing ever happens — except blackmail, fornication, embezzlement, revenge, avarice, brutality, snobbery, rape … and murder.

Like any other ordinary, average Australian country town.

My Take

We first met DS Brian Shaw in Roger Monk’s first crime fiction book, THE BANK INSPECTOR.
I felt his character emerged rather more clearly in THE BANK MANAGER.

The year is 1950. Superintendent Matthews of  the South Australian Police Headquarters decides to try stationing detectives in different regions in the state. This will mean when a serious crime occurs a detective will not have to be sent out from Adelaide, he will already be more or less on the spot.
Brian Shaw’s boss Inspector Williams breaks the news to him that he will be reporting to the Midway police station on Yorke Peninsula as officer in charge of all detective functions.

Shaw does not have very long to settle in. The day after he arrives the manager of the Midway branch of the Great Southern Bank disappears on his way back from visiting a local agency. His car mysteriously turns up in his garage overnight but there is no sign of Frank Anderson.

I very much enjoyed this carefully plotted story. There is a good sense of South Australian country life just after World War Two, and some interesting characters.  Brian Shaw is seen by some families as an eligible bachelor, and receives a number of social invitations which gives the reader a good idea of the structure of this country town.

Unfortunately there is no sign of an e-book, but South Australians at least can easily get a copy of both titles through their local library. I look forward to the next in this series.

My rating: 4.8

I’ve also read 4.8, THE BANK INSPECTOR

Review: THE BANK MANAGER by Roger Monk

TheBankManagerMonkFollowing the adventures depicted in this novel’s predecessor Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw is assigned to provide an on site detective presence for the Yorke Peninsula, north west of Adelaide. The year is 1950 and until this time all police detectives have been based in Adelaide which proves expensive and wastes time when investigations requiring their expertise happen outside the city. Brian Shaw, and his personally selected offsider Senior Constable Harry Fetter, are to act as a sort of pilot program for the notion of having detectives based in key locations all around South Australia. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking the two policemen ensured their program’s success via some kind of personal intervention when the normally uneventful (fictional) town of Midway sees high drama the same week that the Adelaide policemen arrive. The manager of one of the town’s two banks disappears one Tuesday afternoon, failing to return from his regularly scheduled visit to an outlying town to provide banking agency services. Frank Anderson is well liked and respected; a happily married man. His family, the town residents and the police are baffled to explain the reason for his disappearance let alone the manner.

As with THE BANK INSPECTOR  the book has an authentic historical feeling to it. Monk has depicted the pace and lifestyle typical of such places with affection, obviously using his own experiences as a country banker to draw on. There’s no big city sneering at country bumpkins here; if anything the slower pace and inter-connected nature of the town’s residents are highlighted as positive attributes of country living. The difficulties that Shaw and Fetter encounter in uncovering what has happened to Frank Anderson really highlight how policing has changed with the advent of technology. About all Brian Shaw can rely on is shoe leather, the town grapevine and his own wits.

Perhaps the pace at which the story unfolds would be a little slow for some readers but I enjoyed the way the book offered a real sense of the time it must have taken for such investigations to unfold. And there is a lot else to enjoy in the book as we meet all the town’s residents, several of whom attempt to ensnare Brian Shaw as an eligible bachelor for their unmarried daughters, and often provide humorous elements to proceedings.

I found the characterisations here stronger than in the first novel. Brian is more well fleshed out we seem to spend more time learning his inner thoughts. His sense of nervousness and excitement at being given such an opportunity is palpable, as is his excitement over a growing love interest (I’m not letting on whether it’s one of the town’s daughters or not). Among the other well-drawn characters my favourite is Miss Iris Wearing: the last surviving member of a wealthy family. She can be haughty, even rude, but reveals both softness and nerves of steel to Brian Shaw in some very engaging passages.

I can thoroughly recommend THE BANK MANAGER to fans of historical crime fiction, especially those who prefer plot and character to guns and blood. There are deaths in the book but minimal depictions of violence, even the kind that happens after death in the form of autopsies and the other grim realities more modern settings seem to demand these days.


Publisher: Horizon Publishing Group [2016]
ISBN: 9781922238573
Length: 335 pages
Format: paperback

Review: THE BATTLING PROPHET, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is on leave, staying with an old friend near Adelaide. Ben Wickham, a meteorologist whose uncannily accurate weather forecasts had helped farmers all over Australia, lived
nearby. Ben died after a three-week drinking binge and a doctor certified death as due to delirium tremens – but Bony’s host insists that whatever Ben died of it wasn’t alcohol…

From Audible

Ben Wickham, a famous meteorologist whose uncannily accurate forecasts have helped famers and graziers all over Australia, has died after a three-week drinking bout.

The doctor certifies that his death was cause by heart failure due to alcoholic poisoning.
But Ben’s neighbour and drinking partner, John Luton, is convinced his
friends didn’t die from too much gin. He manages to lure Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte to his riverside cottage near the South Australian coast, on an unofficial visit for a spot of fishing.

Bony, thinking at first he’s on holiday and paying a casual visit, is intrigued and decides to investigate.

My Take

Weather forecasts are extraordinarily important in the driest continent in the world. Farmers and graziers base their activities on them, but if drought is forecast then they will not re-stock their land, nor will they harrow in preparation for seeding. So lots of people stand to lose income if farming activities don’t occur.

Ben Wickham tried to interest the Australian government in purchasing his weather predictions in advance and, when they rejected him, then approached overseas governments. Since Wickham died lots of people, not all Australian in origin, have become very interested in finding his will, and the books in which he wrote his predictions for future weather. They are all convinced that his best mate John Luton is hiding something. After Luton takes a beating from some outsider Bony realises that some major steps have to be taken. But someone higher up in government wants Bony off the scene and he is peremptorily recalled Queensland, and even escorted to the South Australian border.

A story with quite a bit of outback humour as well as some serious thought. There are some very quirky characters and the author has tried give us some idea of their colloquial language.

Of particular interest to me is that so many of the Bony stories have a link to South Australia. This one appears to be set somewhere near the River Murray. Ironically the year of publication, 1956, is also the year of the flooding of the Murray, in contrast with the drought conditions of the novel.My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES 

Review: MAN OF TWO TRIBES, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

With two camels and a dog, Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte sets off across southern Australia’s Nullarbor Plain in search of a missing
woman. He finds much more than he bargained for. Set in some of the most mysterious and unforgiving territory in the world – the Australian
desert – Man of Two Tribes is vintage Upfield.

From Audible:

Myra Thomas, accused of murdering her philandering husband, is foundnot guilty by a sympathetic jury. But while travelling from Adelaide toPerth on the Transcontinental Railway express, she mysteriously disappears during the overnight journey across the vast, featureless desert.
Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte takes the case and
sets off to search for her over the flat wasteland of the Nullabor
Plain. At first it seems that the harsh environment will give him no clues, but Bony soon finds more than he bargained for? landing himself in a bigger mystery, and a fight for survival…

My TakeThe Woomera Rocket Range, a collaborative effort between a number of International groups including the British and Australia, began immediately after World War II in 1946, with a joint project running until 1960. It is located in north-west South Australia, about 500 km north west of Adelaide. British nuclear tests at Maralinga, a series of seven nuclear tests were conducted within the Woomera area between 1955 and 1963. More recently, the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, a detention centre,  opened nearby in 1999 and operated until 2003.

The focus in the opening pages of the story is a woman, recently acquitted of murder, who has disappeared without trace from the East-West railway travelling from Adelaide to Western Australia. There is some indication that she may have connections with international espionage and Bony is sent out on an undercover mission to see if he can locate her.

There are various Aboriginal legends associated with the Australian outback but here Upfield tells one about a monster, maybe a version of the Rainbow Snake, supposedly occupying the underground limestone caverns of the Nullarbor Plain which the train line traverses. This has the effect of both deterring aboriginal trackers from looking too closely for the missing woman, and also provides an explanation of any strange noises heard at night.

Bony of course is the “man of two tribes”, being a half-caste aborigine, but his Queensland tribe has little in common with the Aboriginal people living on the Nullarbor, apart from the markings on his body that show he is a warrior of some note. At the same time he is a very articulate person, highly qualified with a university degree, and a reputation for never failing to successfully conclude a case.

An interesting story but I did feel that it stretched the bounds of credibility. Basing the story around the Nullarbor Plain and Woomera does show how in touch with current events Upfield was. At the time of publication 1956, 8 years before his death, he was 66 years old and there would be another 8 Bony novels.

My rating: 4.0

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY

Review: RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE by Amanda Ortlepp

RunningAgainstTheTiedOrtleppAlthough set in a fictitious town Amanda Ortlepp’s RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE takes place in a very recognisable rural South Australia. The small Eyre Peninsula town of Mallee Bay is dominated by the oyster farming industry, local tourism and a sense of community (or the horror of everyone knowing everyone else’s business if you’re reading the book with my a city person’s eyes). Remembering the place fondly from her childhood holidays Erin Travers relocates there with her sons Mike and Ryan when her Sydney life collapses. Mike soon has a job with a neighbour’s oyster farming business and Erin starts to set down new roots with a win in the local art competition and a love interest but youngest son Ryan struggles to fit in at all. When increasingly worrying things start to go wrong for the Travers’ and others in the town suspicions fall easily. But not everybody is what they seem to be.

I am a city girl through and through and would need motivation along the lines of an impending annihilation of all large metropolises to force a move to somewhere as remote as Mallee Bay so could easily have found this book a struggle. Instead though I was quite intrigued by Erin’s story and the way Ortlepp tells it. What went wrong with her marriage? Why take the boys so far from their father? How much does everyone in her life know about all this? Does the town’s resident Lothario have sinister intent with respect to Erin? Is she seeing dead people? And what about the boys? Is each as he appears is one or other of them hiding secrets? Ortlepp does a great job of making the reader question or suspect everything and everyone in the tradition of the best suspense novels.

The setting is an evocative and authentic one. I spent my share of childhood holidays in a town called Coffin Bay which is on the same peninsula as Ortlepp’s fictional creation and I recognised many of the qualities she depicts. We get a sense of the town’s geography, including its heavy reliance on the sea for what it contributes to the local economy, and the people who make up the community. There are several nicely drawn characters who collectively remind us all that we should not rush to judgement based on first impressions. Of course this is in part to keep readers guessing about who to trust but there’s some natural and engaging character development too.

Strictly speaking RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is a suspense novel rather than pure crime fiction but it is very readable and does set the heart beating quickly when things get dangerous for multiple characters. I always know I am completely hooked when I have an internal struggle between wanting to read to the end yet wanting to put the book down in case something horrid happens to someone I have come to care about. I suppose it’s the literary equivalent of watching a thrilling movie with your hands partly covering your eyes and it’s a great feeling.


AWW2016This is the 7th 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: Simon & Schuster [2016]
ISBN: 9781925030631
Length: 359 pages
Format: paperback

Review: PROHIBITED ZONE, Alastair Sarre

  • first published Wakefield Press 2011
  • ISBN 978-1-86254-943-2
  • 363 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Wakefield Press)

Steve West, mining engineer and ex-footy star, just wants a dirty weekend in town, but he can’t stop people telling him their secrets.
When crusading Kara incites a breakout in the desert, Westie finds himself her reluctant accomplice. Soon he’s got a runaway asylum seeker in tow, and all the world, it seems, on his tail.

There is a way out – but it’s in the prohibited zone.

My take

The Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (IRPC) was an Australian immigration detention facility near the village of Woomera in South Australia. Unauthorised arrivals, which had exceeded the capacity of other detention facilities. It was originally intended to hold 400 people, however at its peak in April 2000 it had nearly 1,500 detainees. After ongoing public pressure in response to several well publicised riots from 2000, accusations of human rights abuses, and capacity issues, the centre closed in April 2003. (Wikipedia)

Thirteen years on the issue of how to handle illegal immigrants still plagues Australia’s political parties and so the issues behind this novel are still familiar to Australia readers. It wasn’t really until after the closure of Woomera that Australians became aware of how inhumanely its residents had been treated. (See Four Corners programme)

Set very squarely in the South Australian landscape with lots of landmarks that local readers will be familiar with, PROHIBITED ZONE is very readable, the characters colourful, and the scenarios quite credible.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Alastair Sarre was born in Leigh Creek, a coal-mining town in the outback of South Australia. He studied forestry at Australian National University and worked for a mining company for a couple of years before returning to Canberra to complete a writing
diploma. He has worked as a science editor and freelance writer specialising in forestry and spent time in Japan before moving with his family to the Adelaide Hills. Prohibited Zone, his first novel, was shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript.

Review: HINDSIGHT, Melanie Casey

  • first published 2013, Pantera Press
  • ISBN 978-1-921997-34-1
  • 356 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Publisher)

Cass Lehman has a terrifying ‘gift’… She sees what others can’t…

The youngest in a family of extraordinary women with supernatural talents, Cass is cursed with the  not-so-sexy gift of seeing the past… but not just any past; she sees death.
For years she’s hidden herself away in her family home. Now desperate
for a better life, she ventures into sleepy Jewel Bay, only to stumble
upon murder and mayhem and a killer at large who’s been lurking in their
midst…

Taking a chance, Cass volunteers to assist Detective Ed Dyson with
the investigation. Will Cass be able to save the latest victim… and
herself?

My take

This is the first novel in Casey’s Cass Lehman series set in Adelaide’s Fleurieu Pensinsula and Adelaide.

Cass Lehman is psychic, more precisely she has the ‘gift’ of retrocognition … the ability to spontaneously re-live the last minutes of a person’s life. She has spent nearly a decade as a recluse, living quietly with her mother and grandmother, both of whom have similar gifts. Now she has decided that she should be using her gift more productively: perhaps she can be of assistance to the police in homicide cases.

Ed Dyson’s pregnant wife Susan disappeared without trace two years ago and since then Ed has been keeping his own case files on missing women. But it takes Cass to see a pattern that he has missed.

This novel does a good job of introducing the people who will be the main characters of this series, and, while not everything is entirely plausible to me, the storyis interesting.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.5, MISSING

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: 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: RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE, Amanda Ortlepp

Synopsis (NetGalley)

Erin Travers is running away from her life and taking her two sons with her to a small town on the ruggedly beautiful Eyre Peninsula. The close-knit township is full of happy childhood memories for Erin, but the past never stays the same and she is bringing a whole lot of baggage with her.

When the peaceful community is disrupted by arson and theft, everyone has different  ideas about who is responsible. In a small town where lives are tangled too closely together, old grudges flare, fingers are pointed and secrets are unmasked.

Brimming with malice and threat, Running Against the Tide is about long-held prejudices and fractured relationships, and cements Amanda Ortlepp as one of Australia’s most compelling storytellers.

My Take

I’m in heaven. Another crime fiction title set in authentically in South Australia.
For most of this story you might think this book is on the very outer edge of the crime fiction genre, but its place is firmly established by the end.

Erin Travers takes her two sons away from Sydney and her abusive gambling addict husband to the fictitious town on Mallee Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.  Her older son needs to find a job and teenaged Ryan will go to school. Ryan in particular finds the move away from his father hard and turns in on himself.

They move into a rented dilapidated weather board house next door to elderly oyster fisherman Jono and his wife Helen. Their friendship makes life bearable for Erin and through Helen she enters a painting in the local art competition, and Jono gives Mick some part time work on the oyster farm.

Then someone plants some iceberg roses in Erin’s back yard and things take a slightly sinister turn. Oysters go missing from the oyster farm and Ryan has a tough time settling in at school.

Another very readable story, and South Australian readers will love the setting.

My rating: 4.4

About the author.
RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is Amanada Ortlepp’s second novel.
Amanda Ortlepp is a marketing and communications professional who lives in Sydney. She was signed by Simon & Schuster Australia in a two-book deal. She lives in the Inner West of Sydney. Her first novel was CLAIMING NOAH.