Eliza Carmody returns home to the country to work on the biggest law case of her career. The only problem is this time she’s on the ‘wrong side’ – defending a large corporation against a bushfire class action by her hometown of Kinsale.
When Eliza Carmody returns to the small seaside town she grew up in, some things have changed, and a lot hasn't. Often the way when you return to the small town of your youth. Carmody's changed a bit though, and this daughter of the local cop, now lawyer, is there as the legal representative of a large corporation, defending a bushfire class action bought by residents of Kinsale, after it was nearly wiped out in a massive bushfire.
On the way into town to meet up with an expert witness a road rage incident unfolds in front of her, rapidly spiralling into deadly assault, made even more shocking because the perpetrator turns out to be her childhood friend, Luke Tyrell. The victim is an Irish traveller, and the attack is shockingly quick, extremely violent, and cannot be excused by the trauma the bushfire had caused Tyrell. Right from this opening rush of action, Carmody is troubled. Representing the corporation being sued is enough to put her offside with the town, her own experiences growing up there had been difficult, and her family fractured enough already, to have her hypersensitive about perceptions on both sides.
That hypersensitivity in Clifford's hands translates elegantly into foreboding. As the narrative winds its way back through Carmody's childhood, and the present, the after-affects of the fire, and assault, right up until the discovery of an old skeleton, buried near the historic homestead, The Castle, Carmody is slightly out of kilter. She's dealing with changing life circumstances as her desire for career and success falters; and her best friend is happy, pregnant and content to remain in their home town, working as the local doctor. The sister she has a very fraught relationship with is also back, her brother-in-law now the local cop, and her father unresponsive after a car accident.
Back when she was a teenager, the night of a big party near The Castle, the night that some friendships were strained between a group of teenagers, whilst other relationships were strengthened, somebody disappeared. Nobody ever knew what had happened, now Carmody feels like she never did enough to find out why.
It's an interesting juxtaposition - the single-minded determined career woman, ambitious and focused; versus the young teenager, struggling with a tricky relationship with her father and sister, missing her dead mother desperately, confused and scattered enough to accept that one of her best friends can simply disappear into the night. The adult woman wondering what the teenage girl was thinking, slowly explaining it as her father and sister's recollections are revealed, and people all over town start to open up about what they know.
Clifford is working with a heap of themes here - small towns, inter-family tensions, buried secrets, things that a community collectively wants to forget, things that fester and grow and eat away. Upheaval is often what cracks some of these lightly held threads together, and a bushfire of the magnitude of the one that hit Kinsale is the perfect catalyst. It's shaken the foundations of the town, it's dragged somebody back into their orbit that's desperate enough to get to the bottom of past events that she's prepared to rock those foundations further, and she's a perfect character to do that. An insider who is also an outsider, fragile and crazy brave into the bargain.
Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth
Two brothers are exposed to the brutal realities of life and the seductive cruelty of power in this riveting debut novel—a story of savagery and race, injustice and honor, set in the untamed frontier of 1880s Australia—reminiscent of Philipp Meyer’s The Son and the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
An epic tale of revenge and survival, Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping and utterly transporting debut, bringing to vivid life a colonial Australia that bears a striking resemblance to the American Wild West in its formative years.
Australian author Paul Howarth’s debut novel is a blood soaked, confronting exploration of the Australian frontier of the late nineteenth century. Not for the faint of heart, this coming of age story is reminiscent of the works of modern American western writers like Cormac McCarthy.
When the book opens it is 1885, Billy and Tommy are sixteen and fourteen year-olds living on their family property in the drought affected wilds of central Queensland, in North-Eastern Australia. Their father is just managing to eke out a subsistence living on a slowly dying property while also feuding with his much more powerful neighbour John Sullivan.
The boys’ world is thrown into disarray when they come home from a day out to find their mother and father dead and their younger sister shot. They ride to the neighbouring Sullivan property where they are quickly convinced that the culprits are members of the local Aboriginal tribe, the Kurrong. Sullivan has been steadily trying to wipe the Kurrong out and uses the boys to bring in the sadistic head of the Native Police, Noone. The two, fuelled by thoughts of revenge, are allowed to ride out with Sullivan, Noone and his posse of Aboriginal trackers to find the people responsible. But before long, Tommy realises that what they are doing has very little to do with justice.
Howarth does a good job of drawing Tommy – his naiveté and his confusion as the mission he is on spins out of control in ways that, as a fifteen-year-old, he cannot prevent. Tommy is constantly having to reevaluate himself and what he believes in while being groomed by the men around him to become a killer. He watches helplessly as Billy falls under their spell and lines himself up with a man who Tommy is sure is up to no good.
Only Killers and Thieves is violent and confronting, moreso knowing that it is based on historical events. Howarth does not shy away from the things that humans will do when they have decided that another group of people are less than human and therefore not worthy of any human rights or decency. The treatment of the Aboriginal people that the group encounter on their travels is shocking and often hard to stomach. And in an age where revisionists are trying to ignore this element of Australian history, to be reminded of it in such a stark and unvarnished way is important even while it is difficult to read.
The twist in this tale is obvious from fairly early on and Howarth does not hide it. But its obviousness to the reader is not the point. Howarth is looking at the journey that Tommy takes, his willingness to believe a certain narrative, the way his experiences shape not only his search for the truth but also his response to those revelations. Tommy eventually comes to realise that when he is told that the local Aboriginal people are “killers and thieves” that this epithet works much more succinctly to the white people that he has dealt with.
Only Killers and Thieves is an accomplished debut. Howarth manages to shine a stark light on a disturbing and often ignored aspect of Australian history – the systematic ‘dispersal’ of Aboriginal people to allow for the spread of agriculture. He does this through a series of well drawn if archetypal characters and with a sympathetic central character who ends up growing up in all the wrong ways.
The Nowhere Child by Christian White
‘Her name is Sammy Went. This photo was taken on her second birthday. Three days later she was gone.’
On a break between teaching photography classes in Melbourne, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes Kim is that girl.
In Melbourne, 30 year old photography teacher Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger who shows her a photo of a young girl, with deep blue eyes and a mop of shaggy black hair. 28 years ago two-year-old Sammy Went disappeared from her family home in Manson, Kentucky in the US. No trace of her was ever found but there was always the thought that she was abducted - not killed as originally feared. This stranger believes that Kim is Sammy, and THE NOWHERE CHILD is the story of what happened to Sammy Went, what it did to her family, and what the accusation will now do to Kim Leamy, her much loved stepfather Dean and her half-sister.
It's worth noting that THE NOWHERE CHILD was the 2017 recipient The Victorian Premier's Unpublished Manuscript Award. Then named DECAY THEORY for reasons which are explained in the book, this is proving to be an award worth following very closely, past recipients including THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion, FOREIGN SOIL by Maxine Beneba Clarke, FEVER OF ANIMALS by Miles Allinson, THE DRY by Jane Harper and AUSTRALIA DAY by Melanie Cheng.
Back to THE NOWHERE CHILD though, and there's something in this stranger's story that triggers a response in Kim. Although her mother died four years ago, there is something in her stepfather's reaction that bothers her. There's something in the story that this American tells that bothers her, and there's more that he brings to the table that sends her to America and the truth. It will come as no surprise to many readers that White has a background in cinematic writing as whilst this is really a character driven thriller, there's something visual about the settings, and the way that the focus is constantly pulled forward, through a rapidly twisting and turning plot, with even the expected revelations handled elegantly, never once letting the reader relax and assume too much.
Taking Kim from Australia and a safe, and known family life; into the world of a conflicted and torn apart other family, where there are secrets upon secrets, built into small town prejudice, driving by a seriously bizarre Pentecostal sect called the Church of the Light Within whose members handle rattlesnakes, believing that their connection with God comes from dancing with, handling, and even being bitten by the snakes. The plot effectively carries two timelines - the present and Kim's search for the truth, and the events around Sammy's abduction - the effect it had on the Went family, the parents and the two remaining children, and on the small town of Manson Kentucky, already struggling with divisions between the majority sect followers and outsiders - some of whom, like Sammy's family, have moved away from the sect - hating what they do and what they stand for.
The final twists and turns, when they arrive work, and even if you have guessed at the possible outcome, are still moving, sad and uplifting all at the same time. THE NOWHERE CHILD is pointed commentary on fundamentalism of all persuasions, and a good reminder that the past doesn't always go quietly.
Scrublands, Chris Hammer
Sent to report on the aftermath of a multiple shooting one year on, Martin Scarsden is operating largely on the automation of years of reporting experience. A terrifying war zone incident has left its mark on the journalist who is grimly carrying on with his career despite the sizeable dents made into his mental wellbeing.
What is evident early on to Martin is that the events as reported by a colleague at the time of the shootings are not marrying up with the recollections being related to him now in the present day. For such a remote community, the loss of five of its men was a huge blow and has wrought huge changes in the lives of people used to the world largely only passing through their tiny home town. When two bodies are found in the local dam, the outside world again turns its attention to Riversend.
What might strike the reader first is that SCRUBLANDS reeks of authenticity. Everything from the language of the residents, the post-apocalyptic feel of the outback bush town, the malevolence of an Australian summer (where yes, everything pretty well wants to kill you) is dead on point. Australian readers will recognize so much in this novel they’ll just about be able to convince themselves they’ve visited this fictional location at some point. The map at the front of the book is a welcome inclusion (you have to love a good map, they are always useful) and that will help the reader navigate about the town right along with protagonist Martin who is encountering Riversend for the first time also.
The setting of SCRUBLANDS is almost another character as the climate of the outback lends its own threat of possible destruction by bushfire at any time. It is wielded to great effect as all the necessary adjustments to living in a town undergoing an extended drought require constant attention.
Dealing with one crisis after another, the least of which being the possible early demise of his career, Martin Scarsden needs to stay on point and you do feel for the character as he battles to keep himself focused on the task at hand. Some inclusions may make you groan (the May/December hook up, throwing an inexperienced townie into a bushfire effort, the set up and strike down of Martin repeatedly from town hero to unwelcome intruder) but we can put those down to first fictional novel inclusions. (Chris Hammer also has written a well-received work of nonfiction).
Set yourself aside a day where its just you and the pets in the house and you’ll keenly knock off the reading of SCRUBLANDS in one sitting. This will be the novel that all crime fiction fans will want to make sure they’ve demolished before their next mixed gathering and let’s call it now, this novel would translate extremely well to the small screen. Readers of crime and mystery are more than ready to take in another bush crime novel, and SCRUBLANDS is a terrific read that has ‘bestseller’ written all over it.
The Woman in the Woods, John Connolly
Asked by lawyer Moxie Castin to investigate who or what caused the death of a woman found buried in the woods, private detective Charlie Parker can’t say no. There’s history between Charlie and Moxie, and Charlie knows full well that the finding of a Star of David on a nearby tree at the burial site would not be the only reason Castin has such a keen interest. Yes, the deceased had evidently given birth just before she was murdered, and the local police expect to find the body of a newborn nearby.
Sixteen novels in and are we tired of hearing about the troubled Charlie Parker? No, indeed we are not. He has marvellous entertaining friends too. THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS is brilliant, and its hard to fault at all a series that bundles you so successfully through the emotional washing machine with each novel. At the end of each Parker book we have been through a hell of a ride, and we are inevitably changed. Or at least until the next Parker outing anyway; then we will possibly have even more love and grief wrenched out of us for someone we just want to see toddle happily off on a beach holiday.
This is one damaged man, but the changes wrought by Parker’s other worldly interactions are not necessarily always to his disadvantage. Connolly has a delicate task ahead in not making Charlie too much of a super hero or the immortal of private detectives. This might be why Charlie generally has the stuffing beaten out of him at least once in each novel, to keep him humble, even though the man seems quite resistant to actually dying. Charlie straddles the worlds of good and bad, alive and dead. Each encounter Charlie has with the darkness threads through his psyche and subtly alters the man into something increasingly thought of as ‘other’. We don’t want to go too far down that road.
THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS has a plot that makes you grateful you’ve read all the priors for some back story. This series has travelled so far from the first book (EVERY DEAD THING, published 2009 – yikes) that you are doing yourself a major disservice if you haven’t read all the others. It’s quite an evolution; both that of Charlie himself and of us as readers of top notch quality crime fiction. Connolly has only a handful of peers in this genre that write as such a consistently high level so even if you’re not a fan of the ‘woo-woo’, you need to read these books.
If that’s not enough gush for you, let me make simple on the recommendation. If you love this writers’ books, you will also love this one. If you haven’t read them before, you’ll still be fine with this one, but the experience will be a little golden (and easier!) if you pick up some of the key priors. THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS is a beautifully crafted work of crime fiction from one of our modern masters.
The Portrait of Molly Dean, Katherine Kovacic
An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years...
Living in an area that's got more than it's fair share of talented artists, there's something strangely appealing about crime fiction set in the art world. (I'm not implying anything about the people that live here, nor their likelihood of becoming victims and/or perpetrators). But it's a little mined area of interest, and in Katherine Kovacic's novel, THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN, it's gold.
Molly (Mollie) Dean was a real person, teacher, writer, poet, artist's model and lover of Meldrumite painter and Melbourne art world identity Colin Colahan. (For more on her see A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA). Combining her true life story, of which little is known, with a current and fictional past is a brave undertaking, and it's very well envisionaged here. Starting out when art dealer, and free spirit herself, Alex Cayton stumbles across a lost portrait believed to be of Molly Dean, which she subsequently buys, and then sets out to uncover more details about the origins of the painting and Molly herself. Interspersing that with chapters from Molly's perspective, Kovacic builds a possible explanation of Molly's death that ties in with the details that Alex discovers in the current day. Potentially slightly messy, it's seamlessly and rather elegantly done.
Part of what makes it all work is the dual echoes - the characters of Alex and Molly have some believable synergy to them - both individuals, both strong, both determined. The current day investigation uncovers clues and insights into Molly's murder, as Molly herself moves inexorably to her fate. Both these women are engaging, both of them quirky, both of them daft and clever all at the same time.
This plot device just flat out works. After reading Gideon Haigh's true account of Mollie Dean's life and death (the aforementioned A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA), there is much that remains unknown about Mollie and her murder to this day. His book almost invites the reader to draw their own conclusions from a scant but compelling set of clues, and Kovacic seems to be doing just that. Creating an immensely readable, thoroughly entertaining novel along the way.
A Scandal in Bohemia, Gideon Haigh
An unsolved murder takes one of Australia’s foremost writers of non-fiction into the 1930s Bohemian demi-monde, exploring the fate of a talented young woman trying to make her way in that artistic, sexualised, ‘liberated’ world.
As enigmatic in life as in death, Mollie Dean was a woman determined to transcend. Creatively ambitious and sexually precocious, at twenty-five she was a poet, aspiring novelist and muse on the peripheries of Melbourne’s bohemian salons – until one night in 1930 she was brutally slain by an unknown killer in a laneway while walking home.
Gideon Haigh must like a challenge if the story of the murder of Mollie Dean is anything to go by. There's not a lot known about Mollie - during her lifetime, or sadly about her violent and vicious death. What little is known is gleaned from small clues left behind, a single photograph, some of her published writing, newspaper reporting and extrapolation of the contradicting societies in which she mixed.
A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA starts out concentrating on those societal aspects. Mollie Dean's life initially took the expected path of the daughter of a respected school teacher and a difficult mother, after a good education, she went into teaching, specialising, and succeeding, based on scant records, with special needs classes in particular. There are elements of her early life, however, that give some clues as to why she yearned to veer from that path. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was, by accounts of friends and family, an awful woman. Pushy, demanding and self-involved, her desperation to control Mollie (and her salary), right down, it would seem, to attempts to marry Mollie off to her own young lover, were obviously part of Mollie's longing for "a room of one's own". The echoes here with Virginia Woolf's essay are obviously relied on heavily by Haigh in drawing out a picture of a young woman, a would be writer and poet, who tries many times to remove herself from a toxic family, seeking comfort, acceptance and validation in the artistic and bohemian circle of artists and thinkers surrounding Max Meldrum and Mollie's own lover Colin Colahan.
Attempting to outline the world that Mollie was trying to find a way in, Haigh has done considerable work in identifying the leading figures in the group, outlining their complicated relationships - friendship and sexual - drawing a picture of two very different worlds. A home life blighted by an overbearing mother, who went so far as to have Mollie followed at times (not from care or concern but control), and the free, easy, and literate life of the artistic community. It's very easy to see how a young woman of that time would be drawn to the artistic group, drawn to life as the lover of a talented, albeit somewhat insipid sort of a man. All of that stacks up against the sad and vicious murder of Mollie, and what now seems to have been the disinterested way in which the investigation was treated.
Haigh approaches these books in a manner which reminds you of the lead of an investigation team. Using genealogical sources, public records source, police records and scant snippets of information gleaned from many sources, he pulls together pictures of the time, and the people. Obviously here he's very hamstrung in being able to draw a detailed picture of Mollie Dean and the murder investigation that commenced after her death because so little remains in the records about her and it. There's plenty of conclusions to be drawn from that, and Haigh, as in his last historical true crime book Certain Admissions, leaves the reader to their own devices in that area. That lack of detail is probably going to be very frustrating for some readers, and for others, overwhelmingly instructive.
From this account it seems that Mollie Dean was a beautiful, clever, talented young woman who was keen to make a mark and achieve something in her life. Her life was taken from her in the most brutal of manners because somebody wanted to control that. Who did that and why, readers will have to decide for themselves.
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
Murder wasn't the hard part. It was just the start of the game.
Joshua Kane has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He's done it before. But this is the big one.
This is the murder trial of the century. And Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house.
But there's someone on his tail. Someone who suspects that the killer isn't the man on trial.
Kane knows time is running out - he just needs to get to the conviction without being discovered.
For the only way to guarantee a guilty verdict is to get a seat on the jury.
Steve Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn legal thrillers have been one of the best thing to happen to the courtroom drama in a long time. Part of the reason is that Cavanagh is continually trying to work out how to top himself in terms of upping the tension on his protagonist. And when the first book, The Defence, started with Flynn being strapped into an explosive vest and having his daughter kidnapped, the bar has always been pretty high.
The premise of the fourth Eddie Flynn novel is irresistible. Joshua Kane is a high functioning, socially disconnected serial killer who does not feel pain. And he has a plan. But while Kane’s story is very much part of the narrative, his connection to the high profile case that Flynn has been brought in on only emerges slowly. Flynn has been hired by high flying lawyer Rudy Carp to second chair on the defence of movie star Bobby Solomon, accused of murdering his wife and their security guard. Flynn, with his radar for guilt and innocence, believes that Bobby is innocent and takes the case. Before long Kane’s roll in this affair becomes clear as he is not only the actual killer but has taken another man’s identity to get himself on the jury for the trial itself.
To talk any more about the plot would be to reveal many of the twists and turns. Suffice to say that once again, Flynn uses not only his legal knowledge, deductive powers and his group of investigative friends but his skills as a con man to work the case. Flynn’s tactics put Kane’s plans under pressure and the two begin a cat and mouse game, only Flynn for the most part is unaware that there even is a game going on.
Thirteen is another great entry in what is already a great series. Once again, Cavanagh has crafted an absolutely page-turning thriller. A heady mix of legal manoeuvring, Flynn’s con artist techniques and action (Flynn once again cops a lot of punishment). The Eddie Flynn books are not a true reflection of the American legal system but really, that doesn’t matter. What they are is fun, engaging legal action thrillers with a great central character.
Perfect Criminals, Jimmy Thomson
Ten years after surviving special operations in Afghanistan, Danny Clay is working as a scriptwriter in the emotional war zone of TV production. His best mate and editor is Vietnamese neighbour Zan who may or may not have killed a man with her bare hands. When their writer friends start dying in mysterious circumstances, Danny must resurrect his old army sapper skills to prevent himself and Zan becoming the next victims.
The world sure as hell needs something to laugh at, and it could use a lot more caper novels. Especially ones where things are manic, odd, downright daft on occasions and a bit of just good old fashioned silly fun. With car chases obviously. PERFECT CRIMINALS fits most of those requirements, with just a few minor quibbles. Danny Clay is ex-military, a scriptwriter now, he's a veteran of special operations with PTSD. His best friend, sort of pining love interest, Zan is the Australian born daughter of Vietnamese refugee parents, the girl next door, with a twist. She's scrupilously tidy, organised and together, as compared to his car crash life, there is less sexual tension and more longing between these two.
When friends who are also writers, start dying in mysterious circumstances, Danny finds himself calling on his old army sapper skills to prevent Zan and he becoming victims as well. Meanwhile a mysterious figure is shooting paintballs at nightclub patrons, while a very odd couple of killers are on the move.
Action-packed definitely, hilarious sometimes, there's more than enough odd to satisfy fans of romp styled capers in PERFECT CRIMINALS. It's a pity that there's some less than satisfactory stylings of female characters, and some of the opportunities to fire shots across the bows of Hollywood misfire. The subplot of a sexually harrassed assistant producer was flimsy and very disappointing, compared in particular with the way the stuntman turned hero of the day was handled which was really good.
The wheels within wheels and elaborate connections were delivered well, there's heaps of pace, and Danny, for all his faults, is kind of likeable in an "every now and again he needs a good glaring at" way. The character of Zan is loaded with potential, as is their ongoing friendship / romance / clash, and there's certainly plenty here leaving you looking for more of the same romp type caper with hopefully a little fine adjustment in places.
Review - The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan
Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly has moved with his girlfriend to a new town and is once again a newbie in the ranks of the local police branch. Tasked to cast a fresh eye over their cold cases, Cormac is diligently ploughing through the work but is keen to take on something more high profile. It does niggle that he is not tackling anything current and that his new Galway colleagues aren’t that welcoming, but there is at least one friendly face in the office and Cormac knows he must prove his worth once again to a new audience.
You’ve heard a fair bit of buzz about this novel? There’s an excellent reason for that! THE RUIN is a ripper of a read and remarkably polished for a debut novel. Additionally, it is impressive as series entries face a much harder task in engaging instantly the fickle minds of crime readers. The series read is (happily) prolific in the crime fiction sphere. There is a huge demand for police procedurals in particular and this rides largely on the strength of that immediacy of engagement with the cast of characters. The reader needs to be sold as quickly as possible, and this is achieved here in THE RUIN with gratifying ease.
THE RUIN is so confidently written with fully rounded characters that we are assured of some great reading from this series in the future. Cormac Reilly is a refreshing change from the rumpled, often archaic male protagonist that we are used to seeing leading our fictional crime investigations. It does feel like the days of encountering that kind of protagonist might be over. The novel does seems a bit over populated perspective wise at times but the dual lead of Aisling and Cormac gives a good balance to the investigation and its corresponding impact on the bereaved left behind.
Launching into this book you might think there had been a series predecessor as it is well threaded with lots of scope for possible future plot points to come. Looking forward to catching up with the cast of THE RUIN soon! Congratulations to us all, here is the newest addition to our stable of favourite crime authors.