Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, Michael Robotham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1127 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (July 11, 2017)
  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01N7SVPRI

Synopsis (Amazon)

Everyone has an idea of what their perfect life is. For Agatha, it’s Meghan Shaughnessy’s.

These two women from vastly different backgrounds have one thing in common – a dangerous secret that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Both will risk everything to hide the truth, but their worlds are about to collide in a shocking act that cannot be undone.

My Take:

Here is another cracker from Australian author Michael Robotham.

Two women, Meg and Agatha, living in suburban London, are joined by a bond of pregnancy. They will even give birth within days. But Agatha knows much more about Meg than vice versa. And they come from very different backgrounds and life experiences. They are the narrators of the story and so we often get two versions of the same events.

Initially I felt very critical of the apparent thin-ness of the “official” blurb, but then in writing this “review” I became very aware of how difficult it is to talk about the story without revealing too much. (I hope you don’t feel that I’ve told you too much as it is).

So, let me just recommend the book to you. It is a stand-alone, told through excellent character development, and with mounting suspense and plot twists as the book progresses. Underpinning everything is a commentary on modern living.

Michael Robotham remains at the top of my list of modern Aussie crime fiction authors.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
BOMBPROOF
SHATTER #3
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME #4
5.0, THE WRECKAGE #5
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY #6
5.0, WATCHING YOU #7
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)
5.0, LIFE OR DEATH Shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Gold Dagger
4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES

About the Author

Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist whose psychological thrillers have been translated into twenty-three languages. In 2015 he won the prestigious UK Gold Dagger for his novel Life or Death, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. Michael has twice won a Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s best
crime novel for Lost in 2015 and Shatter in 2008. He has also twice been shortlisted for the CWA UK Steel Dagger in 2007 for The Night Ferry and 2008 with Shatter. He lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

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: 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

A double dip into historical crime fiction by Aussie women

My reading mojo took a holiday in November (because this) but the books which got me back in the saddle were the latest instalments of two of my favourite series by Australian women crime writers. The present-day world, even in fictional form, proved too darned depressing lately but visiting these bygone eras evocatively brought to life was just what I needed.

adonationofmurderyoungThe 5th instalment of Felicity Young’s series set in that awkward period that isn’t quite within the Edwardian era but is before the start of WWI is A DONATION OF MURDER. Perhaps not surprisingly given that it’s 1914 and talk of war is everywhere, the book is a little darker than its predecessors. But just as good.

Here Dr Dorothy ‘Dody’ McCleland is performing a routine autopsy when her subject wakes up! Dody feels somehow responsible for the woman’s plight and takes her home for the night after she reveals that escaping a man was what led her to be picked up as a frozen dead body from the street. But, naturally enough, things are not what they seem Dody is exposed to a seamier side of London life than she’s used to. While all this is going on Dody’s lover, Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, is wrapped up in a case involving brutal burglaries and also has to worry about betrayal from within his own force.

I love the way the two lead characters of this series are developing both individually and as a couple (they are a couple even if they have to hide their relationship from many people). They are both realising that compromises have to be made if they are to be together more formally and the way they both approach this notion is well drawn as they display the conflicting feelings that compromise brings with it.

As is always the case with this series readers are introduced to an aspect of life in the era which is fascinating and troubling all at once. Here we see the operation of a criminal gang and the lack of value gang leaders place on the lives of those that work for them.

And, of course, it’s a ripper of a yarn.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

givethedevilhisdueaudioBy rights I should have discussed the 7th instalment of Sulari Gentill’s wonderful series set in 1930’s Australia when I read the print version last year. But as I didn’t do so at the time I feel it’s not breaking the rules to discuss GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE now that I’ve listened to an audio version narrated wonderfully by transplanted English actor Rupert Degas (note to publishers…you’ve done the first and last instalments as audiobooks, can I have the other five books in the series now please?)

The series hero, Rowland Sinclair, is to drive his much-loved S-Class Mercedes in a celebrity race for charity at Sydney’s Maroubra speedway (known in the book and in real life as a “killer track”) but he’s barely driven a practice lap before a journalist who interviewed him about the race is found murdered. One of Rowland’s best friends and housemates comes under suspicion of the murder so the whole gang must once again put their sleuthing skills into action.

There really is nothing I don’t love about this series – the characters, the cameos by real people from history, the humour – but I was particularly struck this time by how much history can teach us (should we choose to learn). One of the recurring themes it explores is the rise of fascism in the 1930’s and what steps can be taken by those who are fearful of it to get others to see what is so troubling. Here Rowly elects to put on an exhibition of paintings inspired by his trip to Germany and the brutality he saw and experienced there (detailed in PAVING THE NEW ROAD). This puts him at odds with his brother and many people in the community who just can’t see that things are as bad as Rowly and his friends know them to be. This element of the novel feels eerily (and sadly) relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

Rowly has a pretty rough time of it in this instalment – both physically and emotionally. There’s a truly poignant passage in which he discovers that one of his artistic heroes is anti semitic and this really puts poor Rowly in a spin but I love the way Gentill depicts this and shows his friends helping him to deal with it.

And, of course, it too is a ripper yarn.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What both these books and the series they represent have in common is that they are terrific examples of the historical crime genre. They offer interesting insights into their respective eras, compelling storylines, really well drawn characters who have foibles alongside their nicer traits and a view of the world that is hopeful without ignoring life’s harsher realities. Read ’em both, you won’t regret it.


AWW2016I’m counting these as book 18.5 and 19.5 that I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge (one book was written by a father daughter team so I’m only counting it as a half). For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

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

tellthetruthshamethedevilI was intrigued to see that Melina Marchetta had written a crime novel for adults because she’s bucking a trend. These days it seems nearly all the crime writers I know of are moving away from writing for adults towards the presumably more lucrative YA market whereas Marchetta, who has won a string of local and international awards for her YA novels, has gone in the other direction. I knew nothing about the book before diving in other than that it was for adults and at least vaguely a crime novel.

Perhaps not surprisingly given her previous work TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL does feature more teenagers than the average book for adults but the story’s main character is Bashir “Bish” Ortley, a senior desk-based officer with the Metropolitan Police in the UK currently on suspension for reasons I won’t go into here. When the book opens Bish is at home teetering on the edge of a personal abyss when he learns that there has been an explosion on a tourist bus full of teenagers in Normandy. Bish’s daughter Bee is on such a trip and he is immediately galvanized into action. He and his mother soon arrive at the Calais campground where the explosion took place and discover death, barely controlled chaos and a whole lot of fear. It soon becomes known that one of the teens on the bus is the daughter of a notorious terrorist, a woman who confessed more than a decade earlier to a bombing in England which killed 23 people. Violette LeBrac is at once a ‘person of interest’ but she manages to disappear from the campground before much official questioning can take place. Bish, being currently unemployed and having a personal stake in matters, becomes semi-officially involved in the subsequent hunt for Violette and the younger boy who disappears with her.

This is one helluva story. It does rely on some potentially unlikely coincidences – it reminded me of Kate Atkinson novels in that way – but Marchetta’s skill at weaving all the complex strands of narrative together allows the reader to believe it all. This overall sense of credibility is aided by the many real-world elements incorporated into the storyline such as the role social media plays in most lives these days and the ever-present tension between society’s demands for punishment and revenge and the fact that most individuals have a basic humanity to them. And then there’s the fact that it’s a damned fascinating story and perfectly paced to boot. Where so many thriller writers go wrong (for me) is that they never let their characters, or their readers, catch their breath. TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL is full of suspense (it kept me awake way too long on a week night because I had to know what happened) but there are pauses and light moments and characters have time for some introspection even while chaos unfolds around them.

As a nearly 50 year old woman I’m not all that interested in stories which only show the world from teenagers’ eyes so have been a bit bemused by the recent explosion in YA popularity among adults and was a little wary when I realised so much of this book would focus on teens. But Marchetta has done a great job of allowing us to see things from all her characters’ perspectives. The dialogue in particular is spot on and the subtle differences between adults talking to each other, teens talking to adults and teens talking to each other shows both where the adult and teen worlds are similar and where they’re wildly different. It’s a real highlight of the book. In fact the characterisations as a whole are a highlight. Whether it is Bish himself or Violette or her mother – whom Bish is forced to visit in prison to gain what insights she’s prepared to share that might help him to locate Violette – or any of the more minor characters they are all very believable and compelling.

In short, I loved TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL. It’s got action, suspense, humour, sadness and enough hope to ensure the reader is not left feeling suicidal at the end. It has a very ‘of the moment’ sensibility in that it tackles very topical issues such as the role of social media in the modern world and the complex way we collectively deal with horrendous crimes such as terrorism, but all of this is done intelligently so that the book won’t feel out of date in a year’s time. Highly recommended.


AWW2016This is the 15th book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge (well technically it’s 14.5 as one book was written by a father daughter team). For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Penguin [2016]
ISBN: 9780670079100
Length: 405 pages
Format: paperback

Review: COMMON PEOPLE by A.E. Martin

CommonPeopleMartinThe full title of the this novel – at least the edition I read – is COMMON PEOPLE: MURDER IN SIDESHOW ALLEY which gives a little more of a flavour of what is to come. The book’s original American title – THE OUTSIDERS (1945) – also offers a good feel for its story’s subject matter Initially published as a serialised story in an Australian magazine in 1943, as a novel it was first released a year later and tells the story of a group of ‘freaks’…carnival and circus acts who do what they can to get by in a world that either pointedly ignores them or stares rudely. The central character is not really one of them but feels an affinity with these outsiders having grown up an orphan and never really fitting in with ‘normal’ people. Pelham – or Pel as he’s generally known – is what today we’d call an entrepreneur but who is described in the book as

…he was city – a lurker, a fellow who lived on his wits, with no trade, no profession, relying on his imagination for his bread and butter.

His central work in this story is the financing. promoting and running of a 10-week show displaying the world’s most successful starving man to the people of London. Business-wise things are going well but on the eve of his big show’s commencement an old friend of Pel’s is murdered. This horror happens in the flat underneath the one in which Pel and his sideshow act friends are celebrating so they all become potential suspects and at least one policeman is champing at the bit to arrest at least one of ‘the freaks’.

The character of Pel must surely be at least a little autobiographical given A.E. (Archibald Edward) Martin’s own potted history which includes several years on the European carnival circuit with Houdini as his mentor. He also worked as a journalist, magazine owner, travel agent and publicist for a variety of the kinds of acts we meet in the book before turning his hand to writing (both fiction and non fiction). This breadth of experience gives COMMON PEOPLE its authentic feel and the sense that the reader is being drawn into a different world rather than being asked to point and snigger at it which could so easily have happened. There’s no hint that the author is laughing at or exploiting these people which gives the reader permission to simply be fascinated in learning about this truly absorbing world.

The plot rocks along at a fair pace with Pel hooking up with a couple of more enlightened policemen than the one who sneers at and suspects all the carnival acts. Even so there are a couple of genuine suspects among the crowd and suspicions must be worked through before a satisfactory resolution comes to pass. All the while we are treated to the trials and tribulations of being a carnival act or the promoter of one which provides the story with a lot of warm humour.

My only disappointment in reading the book – given the author was born in my home town – is that there is very little Australian about it. Aside from one character claiming to be an Australian that is. But for someone not terribly fond of the circus I found myself completely absorbed in this tale and its characters and gripped by the classic whodunit suspense. I’m grateful (as ever) to the people at Wakefield Press who included this story in the series of forgotten Australian crime classics they released in the 80’s and 90’s.


Publisher: this edition Wakefield Press [1994]
ISBN: 9781862543034
Length: 212 pages
Format: paperback

Review: THE LAKE HOUSE, Kate Morton

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1848 KB
  • Print Length: 606 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (November 1, 2015)
  • Publication Date: October 21, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00X74TJ4Y

Synopsis  (Amazon)

A missing child

June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country
house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old
and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t have. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable
Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape.

My take

Where do I begin? I suspect this will remain at the top of my “best for 2016” list for a very long time.

The author cleverly weaves a number of strands of mystery together. It is not just what happened on Midsummer’s Eve at the Edevane’s country house, Leoanneth in 1933, but what actually happened to Alice Edevane’s father in World War One to give him recurrent nightmares and to make him a man who is dangerous to his own children. And then there is what Sadie Sparrow actually did to cause her to be sent on an enforced holiday.

The stories are told so cleverly that you feel there is always something new to learn. The characters are so well drawn but even then some are wrapped in mystery.  There are red herrings galore and just when you think you have it all worked out you realise there is something else to consider.

A terrific read!

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN

Review: OUT OF THE ICE, Ann Turner

  • source: e-ARC from publisher through NetGalley
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia (June 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2016
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01C36E2XO

Synopsis (NetGalley)

By the bestselling author of The Lost Swimmer, a tense, eerie thriller set in the icy reaches of Antarctica

When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.

Despite new life thriving in the icy wilderness, the whaling station is brimming with
awful reminders of its bloody, violent past, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura is separated from her colleague. She emerges into an ice cave where, through the blue shadows, she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help.

But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura begins to sense that her own eyes cannot be trusted. Is her mind playing tricks? Has she been in the ice too long?

Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by unhelpful scientists, unused to questions from an outsider. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the ice cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced all around the globe, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she sees the dark side of endeavour and human nature, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way…

My Take

Australians have a long connection with Antarctica and a mystery novel set there is very attractive.

Highly reputed marine biologist Laura Alvarado is an expert on the Environmental Impact of humans on Antarctic wildlife particularly on penguins, whales and dolphins.  She is in Antarctica currently on an unusually long 18 month contract.

She is requested is to go to the old Norwegian whaling station at Fredelighavn, currently the subject of an Exclusion Order, to assess whether it should be opened for tourism. The station has been closed since 1957 and reports are that many of the formerly endangered species, whales and penguins etc., are flourishing. Laura is to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment. There is a British base nearby called Alliance on South Georgia Island. She will be given assistance at Alliance and will travel to Fredelighavn on a daily basis.

Laura is surprised at the level of non-cooperation she meets among the scientists at Alliance but puts it down to the top secret nature of their research.

I thought the parts of the plot set at Alliance and Fredlighavn were very well done with good character development and a rising level of suspense. The story of the Norwegian whalers who set up the village at Fredelighavn was interesting. I was less than comfortable when the plot took an extravagant direction and tracked paedophilia across the globe.

Having said that, I think the plot would make a stunning film, thought-provoking on many levels.

My Rating: 3.8

I’ve also read  4.4, THE LOST SWIMMER

About the author (publisher)

Ann Turner is an award-winning screenwriter and director, avid reader, and history lover. She is drawn to salt-sprayed coasts, luminous landscapes, and the people who inhabit them all over the world. She is a passionate gardener. Her films include the historical feature Celia starring Rebecca Smart—which Time Out listed as one of the fifty greatest
directorial debuts of all time, Hammers Over The Anvil starring Russell Crowe and Charlotte Rampling, and the psychological thriller Irresistible starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt. Ann has lectured in film at the Victorian College of the Arts. Returning to her first love, the written word, in her debut novel The Lost Swimmer
Ann explored themes of love, trust and the dark side of relationships.

Review: THE LOST SWIMMER by Ann Turner

TheLostSwimmerAnnTurner24087_fTo me THE LOST SWIMMER reads like a book written by a committee. At least that’s the only way I can think of to describe its disjointedness and almost schizophrenic sensibility.

The biggest issue of this kind is what kind of book it is. I’m not normally one to get hung up on labels (in fact I’ve been known to lament their restrictiveness) but someone – I’m not sure if it’s the publishers or author or someone else in the chain – has gone to some lengths to market this book as literary. The word appears in publicity material – both with and without the word thriller attached – and there are even a series of book club questions in the edition I read (which, I’m afraid, I always find insufferably patronising). Not only does this over-emphasis give the impression that someone thinks literary fiction is intrinsically better than the popular kind (another sentiment guaranteed to get my hackles rising), but it draws attention to the fact that the book doesn’t fit any definition of literary fiction I can think of. It’s at least as much plot driven as it is focused on exploring any particular theme, it does not demonstrate much in the way of social commentary (insightful or otherwise) nor are its characters terribly well developed. It’s protagonist – an Australian archaeological professor called Rebecca Wilding – is not noticeably more complex than the average human and the rest of the characters are entirely one-dimensional. Some of the descriptive passages provide good imagery but I suspect that owes more to the author’s screen-writing credentials than any literary sensibility the book has in its own right.

But the book isn’t what I’d call a thriller either. There is a lot of stuff happening all the way along but most of it isn’t very suspenseful and much of it is simply odd. For example there’s a whole passage involving an altercation between Rebecca, her dog and a kangaroo that I’m sure was meant to be metaphorical (confirmed by the inclusion of this passage in one of the book club questions) but just felt way too contrived to me. The book’s major dramatic event doesn’t happen until about two thirds of the way through, which wouldn’t have mattered except that the publicity made such a big deal of it that I was waiting for it from the outset. Impatiently. Until that point there is just a lot of white noise. The university where Rebecca and her husband both work is going through hard financial times and both their faculties are having to radically cut costs and sack people. Then Rebecca is accused of financial fraud. At the same time she begins (for no reason that I can actually pinpoint) to suspect her husband of having an affair. After the big event the book is more squarely thriller-like, though there are a lot of implausible coincidences crammed into the last third of the book in order to bring about a resolution.

Another aspect of the book I struggled with is Rebecca herself. On the one hand she is head of a university department an expert on a particular archaeological period and has a good reputation amongst her colleagues. In short she is fairly ‘together’ and competent. She rather suddenly develops a kind of paranoia – about her husband’s potential affair and the activities of her boss – but there’s no consistency to her thinking or behaviour. I’m not troubled by whether or not her fears have validity – that’s a legitimate question for the narrative to answer – but Rebecca just doesn’t seem to me to be a recognisable person from the beginning of the book to the end. In one chapter she behaves one way. In the next another that doesn’t gel with what went before. One moment she’s wondering which of the women in his life Stephen is having an affair with and being surprised to learn he has started investing in the stock market after they’d agreed he never would. The next she is asking her friends to ‘give her some credit for knowing her husband’. I suppose this could all be put down to Rebecca’s status as a first-person narrator – often unreliable beasts – but to me it just tell as if each version of her had been written by someone different.

THE LOST SWIMMER was the most reviewed crime novel for last year’s Australian Women Writers challenge so I was keen to read it but found myself disappointed. I concede that’s partly to do with the expectations that the publicity and popularity inevitably set but that’s not the whole story. I think the book tried too hard to be something it isn’t and in so doing failed to be what it ought to have been. In reaching for but not achieving literary status it neglected the foundations of a good suspense novel; taking too long to build up its drama and being too obvious in its plotting (I lost count of how many times I muttered ‘show don’t tell’ under my breath as I was reading). It did keep me reading to the end but, if I’m to be totally honest, more so I could sit back in smug satisfaction at having predicted the main plot points than because I was genuinely interested in what happened to Rebecca or her husband.


As is always the case other opinions are available and many of them are more positive about this book than I feel, including my fellow Fair Dinkum co host who reviewed the book in April last year


AWW2016This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challange check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster [2015]
ISBN: 9781925030860
Length: 341 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.