Review: A ROYAL MURDER, Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

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

Synopsis (Wakefield Press)

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

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

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

My Take

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

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

A satisfying read.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read THE POPEYE MURDER

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

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

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

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

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

My Take

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 4.5

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

Review: BARKING DOGS, Rebekah Clarkson

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

Synopsis (Affirm Press)

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

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

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

My Take

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 4.4

About the author:

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

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

Review: THE 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