My Name Is Revenge is in two parts. There is a novella, and an essay reflecting on the historic events that inspired that novella, and meditating also on how history can inform fiction. In the essay the writer says she hopes everything she writes will ‘arouse curiosity’. Both the novella and the essay do just that, and also much, much more. Both pieces are informed by a passion to express the haunting of almost unimaginable historical crimes, and the tragic shapes that vengeance for those crimes can take.
A real act of terrorism in Sydney in the 1980s inspired Ashley Kalagian Blunt to write My Name is Revenge (a finalist in the 2018 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award). Full review at Newtown Review of Books
The Lost Man, Jane Harper
The man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.
Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland.
They are at the stockman's grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last chance for their middle brother, Cameron.
I'm going to start this review in an odd way, by declaring that I didn't like Jane Harper's second book FORCE OF NATURE as much as I had been expecting to. Initially I thought this was because it read like an idea that Aaron Falk had been hammered into it later on, weakening the plot, motivations and sense of place to the point where they seemed to sort of float along to an inevitable ending. Having now finished Harper's third (non-Falk book) THE LOST MAN, the reasons are clearer.
Harper is at her best when she's writing about people at the absolute and utter edge and THE LOST MAN has edges everywhere. It might look like a novel about the death of the middle Bright brother Cameron, but it's more a story about people on the edge, existences eked out in harsh circumstances, constantly with an eye to the extremes - weather / distance / isolation; past mistakes that continue to haunt; family secrets and struggles; and questioning and probing and complicated lives.
The Bright family are custodians of a lot of secrets, and they deal with the fallout of a lot of mistakes. Three brothers - Nathan, Cameron and Bub are the product of their family circumstances, the isolation, the tensions from the past even before Cameron's body is found at the foot of the stockman's grave, a landmark that's old and small, but casts a long and dark shadow.
Oldest brother Nathan is separated from his wife, the daughter of a local station owner, and he misses his son Xander more than he can say. Nathan lives on his own property, abutting the family station, but Xander's return to spend Christmas is overshadowed by the death of Cameron. Cameron, his wife and daughters, live on the family property with the boy's mother, and the youngest brother Bub. Their father died many years ago in a car accident, but much like the stockman's grave, his presence looms over everything. There are secrets here - in the legend of the stockman, in the memory of the father, in the way Nathan has withdrawn from family and the local community, and in the death of Cameron that hang dark and heavy.
Harper has built a wonderful sense of place, and life into THE LOST MAN. From the self-sufficiency and stockpiling of a property so far from everywhere, to the planning that's involved behind every event and move, to the heat, and the isolation, which isn't as isolated as a casual observer might think. Strangers are noticed in these parts, strange goings on are noticed, cars seen where you wouldn't think they could be seen, events remembered, things noted. Even in a place so remote, the idea that Cameron would be found dead from exposure, so far from his car, a car that Nathan can't understand was missed by everyone, is odd, wrong, out of kilter.
As is the reason Cameron would be out there in the first place - he knew the rules / the warnings / how to survive in the bush. Something's wrong - and everybody seems to know just a little bit - their mother / Cameron's wife / his daughters / his brother Bub. Nathan might have withdrawn from the family a while ago but his spider sense is telling him something's wrong. But what?
And so it is that we return to Harper at her best when she's exploring edges. The edginess of the place, of the people and their existence is backed up by the edginess of this family, balanced so acutely it hurts to read about them. These people are real, this situation is real and in THE LOST MAN Harper has created another astounding work that perfectly evokes a complicated, heart-breaking, all-too-believable family tragedy.
Kill Shot, Garry Disher
The latest gripping story in the popular Wyatt thriller series kicks off in Sydney and then unfolds on the beaches of Newcastle
Some people just work better alone. Wyatt’s one of them. He’s been getting by on nice quiet little burglaries—one-man jobs—when he gets wind of something bigger.
A corporate crook, notorious Ponzi schemer, set to face court and certain jail time. He’s about to skip bail the old-fashioned way: on a luxury yacht with a million dollars in cash.
Wyatt thinks it sounds like something he should get into.
He’s not alone.
Plan for the best, expect the worst, note the exit points.
Good bit of general life advice this, although at the time Wyatt is standing, motionless, waiting for any signs his entry into the house he's about to rob has been noticed. Perhaps not a recommended scenario for the rest of us. Mind you, Wyatt doesn't get noticed that often, and even when people think they know who he is, pinning him down will always prove more difficult than they could possibly imagine. Even going home is an exercise in watching for Wyatt:
Still he waited, the night swollen with the sounds he was accustomed to. Another half-hour passed before he crossed the street and let himself in. He sat in an armchair for some time, thinking about the evening. He'd made no errors. There was nothing to improve on.
After all these years, you'd like to think that Wyatt has his act together. His constant vigilance, his care, precision and cautiousness, combined with a willingness to simply walk away at the slightest sign of interest in him is a well crafted routine. Which is just as well, because in KILL SHOT, there are a few people actively looking for him.
He's not a complete loner, so he has weak points, vulnerabilities. It's his working relationship, veering towards friendship with Kramer, that makes him particularly vulnerable. Kramer is the man who passes potential heist targets onto him, arranges the fences, let's him know any intelligence that will help make sure that whatever the job, it's done quickly, quietly and most importantly anonymously. The personal is what makes him vulnerable though. In the past there was something, short and sweet with Kramer's daughter Phoebe, but now that Kramer is in jail, and Phoebe is caring for her disabled mother, Wyatt's role is to ensure that the proceeds of any joint jobs are trickle fed to the family. It's not perfect but the authorities haven't taken their eyes off the Kramer family and they would dearly like to track down the proceeds of crime that Wyatt has salted away for them. Pity that Kramer's son Josh is an idiot, who somehow manages to drop Wyatt's existence (and that of the money) into the ear of a very dodgy security guard - Lazar's security firm is going broke and a nice stash of cash is exactly what he'd like.
Meanwhile a Newcastle cop's instincts are working overtime and glimpses of an unknown, lean, precise, watchful bloke poking around where he shouldn't be are enough to ring some loud bells, even if every other cop working all the related jobs thinks that DS Greg Muecke is on a wild goose chase.
The Wyatt novels are predictable on many levels. Always there is the basic modus operandi of the man himself. The cautious, controlled, cold robber - the man who uses the money he makes to survive, never to enjoy. The lone-wolf character with a basic moral compass that may not match everyone else's, but it's there and extremely visible. The Wyatt novels are also wonderfully unpredictable on many levels. There are glimpses of loss, of regret and even a bit of longing in places. There are signs of humanity, the slightest hint of personal feelings.
All of this is delivered in the classic pared down, matter of fact manner that's part of expectations that a reader is well within their rights to have when picking up the latest Wyatt novel. Garry Disher is one of the great writers that Australia has produced, and should be celebrating. His consummate skill in creating a character that's so wrong on so many levels and yet engaging, sympathetic and ... likeable is evident, and KILL SHOT delivers on the expected and unexpected in equal measure.
Evil Has a Name - The Untold Story of the Golden State Killer Investigation - Paul Holes, Jim Clemente and Peter McDonnell
It’s difficult to imagine a reign of terror quite like that of the length and level of ferocity delivered by the Golden State Killer. Those who have jumped onto the true crime podcast bandwagon in the last few years will have already heard a tonne of discussion about the collection of frightening cases that were all eventually attributed to the one serial perpetrator. Spread over a large geographic area, these sadistic crimes spurned enormous manhunts and were able to make entire Californian towns alter their behaviour out of fear. No one was safe.
Because of the blizzard of online discourse out there about the Golden State Killer (as he was coined by the late true crime author Michelle McNamara, and was perhaps how the killer most referred to as of late), a new generation has recently been made aware of what Californian detectives were dealing with in the mid 1970’s to mid-1980’s period. The sheer scope of the investigations, both separate and combined at different levels of cross county cooperation, was mind boggling. For those wishing to know how such a spider’s web became untangled just this year, an audiobook that sifts through and collates the reams and reams of information is now here to detail exactly how it was done.
EVIL HAS A NAME - The Untold Story of the Golden State Killer Investigation is an excellent summarized audio documentary of what led to an arrest after over forty years of investigators chasing what appeared to be a ghost. From whoa to now, this true crime audiobook/long form podcast does an excellent job in selecting the pertinent details that show the processes and advances in technology which gave such a herculean task the focus required to bring about a result. The host intrusion into the narrative is minimal (appreciated greatly by someone who listens to and reads a lot of true crime) and the audio snippets from the reporters and investigators over the years are slotted alongside the narration of Detective Paul Holes and the wrenching accounts of the survivors.
There’s plenty of moments during this audio book where things start to make sense; as in the pieces that you thought you knew finally are slotted into the timeline of such a convoluted case. Snippets are explained, and repetitive information is filtered out to create a piece that wastes no time in over dramatics or salacious detailing. The horror is not ignored; it is more that its inclusion is not delivered in such a way that it becomes a tool of entertainment. The focus is always on the those that worked tirelessly and never gave up, and the survivors who put themselves through further anguish by continuing to talk about their experiences, bravely relating what they observed about the GSK during their own attacks.
Host Jim Clemente is a familiar voice to those who listen to the Wondery podcast REAL CRIME PROFILE and his audio appearances IN EVIL HAS A NAME serve to direct the flow of events, pulling the thoughts of the listener back into line where required. The insights of the man who was there, retired Detective Paul Holes, are invaluable in giving weight and insight into what he was experiencing as the case became so enormous that all possible contacts, resources and police hunches needed to be utilized.
ABOUT THE HOSTS:
Paul Holes is the forensic criminologist and retired Costa County Detective who spent 20 years trying to crack the Golden State Killer case, and finally did.
Jim Clemente is a retired FBI profiler and former New York City prosecutor who has investigated some of the highest profile criminal cases in US history, including the Unabomber.
Transcription, Kate Atkinson
In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever.
In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’
There are some writers who you’d like to read but just never seem to get around to. Until I’d read Transcription, in my case Kate Atkinson was one of those authors. For crime/mystery fans Kate Atkinson wrote the Jackson Brodie novels which were adapted for television as Case Histories with Jason Issacs in the lead role. Having enjoyed Case Histories, I’d planned to read the Jackson Brodie novels but just never did. Even with Transcription I’d picked it up a few times but put it down because there was something else which caught my eye. Happily, I did finally purchase Transcription and I’m certainly glad I did, I just may also get around to those Jackson Brodie novels as well.
Transcription begins in 1981 with Juliet Armstrong lying on a pavement having just been hit by a car after attending a Shostakovich concert in Wigmore Hall, London. She’s thinking of the rest of the Shostakovich series she’ll miss, her son in Italy, the impending royal wedding and, at 60 years of age, had her life been long enough or was it an “illusion, a dream that had happened to someone else”. From there Transcription takes us back to two important periods in Juliet’s life, 1950 when she’s working for the BBC in London and 1940 when she was recruited to work for MI5 during the Second World War, those periods are about to collide.
There are a number of aspects to Transcription which I enjoyed. The first of these is the strength of Juliet Armstrong as a character and first-person narrator. This style of novel is often difficult and although the narration does grate a little towards, especially in the 1950 sections of the book, there is always a gem of a thought which reminds you just how enjoyable this book is to read. Secondly, Kate Atkinson is a master at highlighting the mundane parts of life. The sheer boredom of Juliet transcribing secret meetings with German sympathisers, and yet almost getting to know them personally through their voices, is expertly captured. Also, there’s the unexpected sacrifices which war brings like being no longer able to get a good coffee because the Italian owner of her favourite café is now interned and the embarrassing task of going to the toilet in Wormword Scrubs, which MI5 used as a headquarters during WW2, because there’s no doors on the cubicles. Lastly, Transcription is also a very good thriller which carefully builds Juliet’s sense of doom that the things that she, and others, did during the war are now coming back to haunt her and she doesn’t know the price she’ll need to pay.
I started this review with a quote from Winston Churchill. It’s the epigraph at the beginning of Transcription and it perfectly encapsulates this beautiful book. Now, I must do something about those Jackson Brodie novels.
Man at the Window, Robert Jeffreys
An atmospheric crime novel with a burning moral dilemma at its heart.
When a boarding master at an exclusive boys’ school is shot dead, it is deemed accidental. A lazy and usually drunk detective is sent to write up the report. Cardilini unexpectedly does not cooperate, as he becomes riled by the privileged arrogance of those at the school. He used to have instincts. Perhaps he should follow them now…
There's something very satisfying about the emergence of a new crime series set in Australia - this time 1960's Perth. This one includes a hat tip to a number of the older stylised detectives of popular TV series in that Detective Cardilini's is portrayed as, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a grumpy old sod. He's got a reputation for being lazy and a drunk; and a recently deceased wife and a young adult son that he doesn't get on with (and who doesn't have much time for his father). This makes for a life that feels more stalled than lived, mostly via self-inflicted causes, which makes him a bit of a tricky character to deal with.
There's something there in the early stages of this investigation that will spark a reader's interest (and a titchy tiny bit of sympathy or connection), when it is quickly obvious that the reason he's been assigned to the shooting murder of a posh private school master is more to do with an urgent need for a quick determination of accident and some immediate sweeping of issues under the carpet. Something about this haste, and pre-supposition on the part of everyone from the hierarchy of the police, through to the school itself, gets right up Cardilini's nose. What starts out as a bit of stubbornness on his part, quickly turns to suspicion that there is nothing accidental about this shooting at all. Complicated by a suggestion that his support for the official accident line will result in a small indiscretion on the part of his son being ignored, allowing him to enter the Police College and finally get some direction in his life.
To get to the solution Cardilini has to step on a lot of toes - his bosses, the school, parents, current and past students, and he risks his son's future into the bargain. At some stage he's also got to give up drinking and get control of his personal life.
In the initial stages of THE MAN AT THE WINDOW there's a bit of an issue with balance where the general gloom of Cardilini and his personal circumstances make him hard work to get to know. But there's an intriguing idea at the core of this plot with the supposed accidental shooting of the school master, commented on via the voice of a young boy, obviously a victim of an ongoing sexual abuse crime at the core of the school's cover-up. The fact that it takes so long for somebody to twig that this is the likely cause of some odd behaviour is probably indicative of the timeframe of the novel - it's hard to remember what's almost a default conclusion for us these days, was possibly less front of brain in the 60's.
There is a tendency for some plot elements to drag a bit in parts in THE MAN AT THE WINDOW, but stick with it. This is, after all clearly telegraphed as the start of a new series and there's more than enough potential to let any slight quibbles in the opening foray roll.
Live and Let Fry, Sue Williams
For Cass Tuplin, proprietor of the Rusty Bore Takeaway (and definitely not an unlicensed private investigator), it’s weird enough that her neighbour Vern has somehow acquired a lady friend. But then he asks Cass to look into the case of the dead rats someone’s dumped on Joanne’s doorstep.
She’s barely started when Joanne goes missing, leaving hints of an unsavoury past. Then a private investigator from Melbourne turns up asking questions about Joanne’s involvement in a fatal house fire—and before you can say ‘unauthorised investigation’ Cass is back on the case.
There are times in life when you just need something frivolous, fun and slightly tongue in cheek. Australian readers are lucky to have the Cass Tuplin series from Sue Williams to fulfil that need.
The tongue in cheek bit is the important thing to remember when it comes to Cass Tuplin books - from the titles: MURDER WITH THE LOT / DEAD MEN DON'T ORDER FLAKE and now LIVE AND LET FRY you can kind of gather there's a good old-style fish and chip shop somewhere in the mix here. In this case in the fictional Victorian Mallee town of Rusty Bore, just down the road from Hustle, not far from Sheep Dip, and a few hours straight road travelling through Ouyen to Mildura. Some of us have probably taken an educated guess at the likely inspiration and one or two of us may have actually ordered a minimum chips in such a locale. Cass Tuplin is most definitely not a licensed investigator, she's a good neighbour, an inveterate sticky-nose with a sideline in caring about people, mother of two sons (one uptight cop / one laid back environmentalist) and she's most definitely not cut from the same cloth as a well-known ex-proprietor of a similar establishment from Queensland.
You expect with a Cass Tuplin book that you're going to get a hefty dose of daft fun and it's served up neatly wrapped in butchers paper in LIVE AND LET FRY. It would help a lot if you've read the two earlier books as the cast of eccentric locals is important, and their back stories interwined to the point of knotted. You might want to take a seat for a minute as this is going to get complicated but Vern (who runs the convenience store in Rusy Bore, is Cass's closest neighbour, once was suitor, now besotted with the new woman in Sheep Dip, who has opened a bookshop in an old church (why nobody can quite fathom)), wants Cass to help get to the bottom of odd phone calls and dumped mutilated rats on his Joanne's doorstep. Which leads Cass via Sheep Dip and a tattooed hitman, to a private detective named Mel, a property developer and his chauffeur/helicopter pilot, a missing pump leading to lost love, Mildura based environmental consultants, a dead bloke in a house fire, a dead woman in a river, a casino and harbour development, some odd photographs, a residence attached to a fish and chip shop filled with ferrets (not good for Health and Safety), her policeman son's marriage collapsing, his complicit boss, a long-distance love affair in trouble, a hefty belt over the head in a toilet block in Ouyen, a bus crash in Bolivia and a paddle steamer. And some solid connections between them all. I kid you not, and all in pretty rapid succession so you'd better be paying attention.
Needless to say madcap, fast paced, silly and fun. All delivered in Cass's own personal style which is a sort of combination caring, blithely unaware, manipulative, helpful, blundering, clever, self-deprecating, self-aware and blissfully unself-aware. Simultaneously.
This is one of those series that has developed into something delightfully entertaining, Cass's tone and style have matured into just the right level of personal daft, and the eccentricities are nicely balanced against a plot that's actually quite believable. Definitely one for fans of something that will make them laugh, and for those of us who live around the same locale, one that will make you wonder whether or not this author has been doing some ear-wigging around the local fish and chip shop.
Redemption Point, Candice Fox
When former police detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley, he hoped the Queensland rainforest town of Crimson Lake would be a good place to disappear. But nowhere is safe from Claire’s devastated father.
Dale Bingley has a brutal revenge plan all worked out – and if Ted doesn’t help find the real abductor, he’ll be its first casualty.
This second book in the Ted Conkaffey series clearly demonstrates why Candice Fox has won two Ned Kelly Awards for crime writing. Full Review: Newtown Review of Books
Heaven Sent, Alan Carter
Detective Sergeant Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong is light on sleep but high on happiness with his new wife Sharon Wang and their baby girl. But contentment is not compatible with life in the Job, and soon a series of murders of Fremantle’s homeless people gets in the way of Cato’s newfound bliss. As New Wave journalist Norman Lip flirts online with the killer, it becomes apparent that these murders are personal — every death is bringing the killer one step closer to Cato.
Sometimes you start reading a series book about a favourite character, and really start to wonder if the author is annoyed with them, subconsciously punishing them for being too popular, or just enjoying applying the thumb screws for a change. Whatever is going on, Alan Carter isn't making it easy for the popular, easy-going, and seemingly content Philip 'Cato' Kwong in HEAVEN SENT.
Settled in his personal life with a new wife, new daughter and a tricky but improving relationship with his teenage son, Kwong's professional life is relatively stable as well - at least he's not serving his time in the remote reaches of WA on the "stock squad". He's back in Fremantle, and seconded to major crime when a series of murders of homeless people escalates. Whilst Kwong is dealing with the more traditional elements of a serial killer investigation, journalist Norman Lip is taking a more dangerous path - flirting online with the killer. Especially as it starts to look like this killer has thought this through much more carefully than Lip and has a very personal grudge against Cato Kwong.
For readers new to this series, you'll find plenty here to give you hints and tips about Cato Kwong's background - including the acquiring of his nickname. You'll find out enough about his policing past to fill in the gaps, and more than enough about his personal life to explain his satisfaction with his current circumstances, and his almost wilful blindness to some of the struggles his wife Sharon is experiencing with new motherhood. If it's any consolation his domestic blindspot also includes his teenage son who is struggling with two parents who have moved onto other partners, other kids, and other lives. There's plenty there to make the reader really want to give Kwong a good shouting at in places. Which is the great part of this series - Kwong feels like a real person, he's a good cop, who is capable of making good, inspired and profoundly daft decisions. He's a good bloke who loves his family and totally and utterly doesn't get what's happening around him all at the same time. He's caring, concerned, blithely ignorant and utterly interconnected. In other words he's real, and annoying and endearing all at the same time.
The plot here is also something that readers who are new to the series will be able to go with also, as will welded on fans (HEAVEN SENT is book number 4). As always there's a social issue at the core - in this case homelessness in a society that's seemingly well off and privileged. The sense of community is strong, with homeless support services, police and local government all too aware of the people who live rough in the place. The fact that the killer is also able to tap into that local knowledge creates a claustrophobic overlay, reminding you that few people are ever really truly under the radar.
Dotted throughout, as always, are perfect little observations, Sharon Wang in her struggles with new motherhood and isolation, is still able to summons a bit of fierce when required. Kwong's old love interest and colleague Tess, reminds us of the never-ending problem of toxic male violence that many women live with. Naomi Lip, journalist Norman's sister, wheelchair bound and physically restricted reminds us that mental acuity, wit and ability are often less visible, but much stronger.
HEAVEN SENT has been much anticipated, as it's been a bit of a gap since the last outing with Cato Kwong. Let's hope there's plenty more to come.
A Body of Work, Janice Simpson
What happens when the keynote at an important arts festival is found dead? Join Brendan O'Leary whose life is spiralling out of control and Ange Micelli, fourth daughter of Italian migrants, who's fit, fiery and ready to go. Together they make a formidable team in this fast-moving thriller that uncovers much more than just the murderer. Welcome to modern Melbourne, UNESCO City of Literature, home to arts festivals galore as well as the internationally famous Melbourne Cup horse race.
NOTE: This review was originally published in 2013 - the book has now been released.
A debut police procedural from Melbourne based, ex-Ballarat dweller, JM (Janice) Simpson, A BODY OF WORK makes good use of both of those locations. Brendan O'Leary is now a Melbourne based detective, with family contacts still in Ballarat. His DC Ange Micelli has a very Melbourne background, descended from Italian migrants, an inner city dweller who is very focused on career, feeling a bit of pressure over family versus career. When they are called upon to investigate the murder of socialite, author, and very well connected local girl Deborah Dangerfield, they are dragged into a minefield. There are connections between the victim and O'Leary that go back to their Ballarat childhoods. There are implications at the highest level of politics and influence in Victoria. There's a lot more connections to be revealed as the story progresses.
A BODY OF WORK is a police procedural at its heart with the death and investigation remaining the central focus. Along the way the personal connections between O'Leary, the victim and their respective contacts and families are revealed, without losing the essential style. There is a hefty dose of the personal along the way, but it doesn't distract unnecessarily.
It's a complicated and quite complex plot, and as you can probably tell from the number of times it's been mentioned - the resolution relies on a lot of connections between the victim, her family, society and political heavyweights, and O'Leary himself. This aspect is well told, but there is a large amount of it and that might make some readers wonder just how small a world we're talking about here.
There's a great sense of place about the whole thing though, and the setting of a literary festival in Melbourne (down to the Malthouse Green Room :) ) through to contemplation on the side of Lake Wendouree and a family farm outside Ballarat all worked and felt very real and authentic. The Australian tone of the language worked and the interactions between all the characters were strong.
I suppose the only quibble I'd have is that there is a lot to this plot and some of those connections felt a little overdone. Plus there seemed to be the odd continuity problem which had me a bit confused at points. Minor problems though in a debut novel that definitely shows promise.