But when they do, police know they are up against a monster. So cool, calculating and confident in their own ability, they are prepared to leave a calling card, saying "More to come ..."
I fell across this book a few years ago in a shop, having never heard of the author anywhere before. But if it's Australian then I'm almost duty bound to read a book (well that's my justification anyway). This is a story about a serial killer - and the police unit that is investigating - firstly the death of a teenage girl and then the death of a young boy - both killings with a similar, very clinical, method. From the book - the synopsis probably explains it best:
"In the bayside suburb of St Kilda a teenage girl is murdered. It is no ordinary murder; the method was violent, but the pretty face and body remain composed, almost serene in death. Battling conflicting evidence, no suspects, and a crime scene as cold as a Melbourne winter, the Homicide Squad is further hampered by political obstruction. When the second and third murders are committed, Inspector Ryan McAbbey assigns a taskforce and a manhunt begins. Combining hi-tech scientific techniques and old-fashioned detective know-how, the Homicide Squad pursue a ruthless killer with an agenda that will leave society reeling from the consequences."
This book was simply not my cup of tea I'm sad to say. The personal insights into the detective's lives got too heavy-handed on occasion, spreading the story of the murders out too far, the characterisations were too predictable for me - more of a fan of the quirky, the unusual, the insightful. Doesn't mean it's a bad story at all - just perhaps a little too much on the Chamomile Tea side for this stand a spoon up in it, strong black tea fan.
GRAPHIC - Shane Briant
There are a stack of books lurking in a corner in my lounge room that are from little / basically unknown Australian authors and I've been promising to catch up on my reading of them to myself for ages now. GRAPHIC was my most recent read from that pile and I'm really pleased I finally got around to it. Straight from the back cover of the book:
"A writer of graphic novels, in an attempt to rescue a kidnapped father of two children, is taken over by his own fictional creation, tough guy P.I. "Sainte-Claire", and undergoes a terrifying metamorphosis.
Set in the Sydney underworld, against a backdrop of a crime war between rival mobsters, Kings Cross' hard man Tim Brierley is pitted against Cabramatta's Vietnamese crime identity Mr Chin."
Now I'm not sure that the blurb actually does the book total justice as the "take over" or "metamorphosis" is not unconscious - there's no woo woo element here. Slowly mild-mannered graphic crime book writer (don't call them comics please), finds that adopting the clothing style, the speech patterns and the general demeanour of his main character, helps in gaining respect, in establishing a persona, in giving him the guts to go up against Brierley and Chin to help the very young (but terrifyingly grown up) daughters of the kidnapped man.
At all stages Robert is aware that he's enjoying being Saint-Claire more and more and this worries him, frightens his girlfriend profoundly and changes his life totally.
It's not the world's most complex or intricate plot and it's not one of those novels that you finish and think, wow, that was a life changing experience. Frankly the very precocious young daughters of the kidnapped man nauseated me ever so slightly, but it was a good read. Robert Howard was a great character to spend some time with, and that idea of having to put on a character, change into somebody else to handle a difficult situation, was interesting. The author's also written "Bite of the Lotus" which I'll excavate from the pile one day.
SHARK BAIT - Susan Geason
Shark Bait is the 3rd Syd Fish book (and sadly the last), which has been sitting in my shelves for years now, being carefully rationed because there are so few of them.
Syd Fish is an ex-political minder, turned Private Investigator - there is a touch of the Murray Whelan's and Cliff Hardy's about him no doubt about that. These books are light-hearted, funny and quick little books - the mystery is not the strongest point, the point is the entertainment - and there are some great quotes in this book - this gem probably sums up the style of the book the best:
"Sensing a stranger in his territory, a well-muscled number in white overalls and protective goggles - no earmuffs: that's for wimps - approached, holding an acetylene torch at a threatening angle. I backed off slightly. Pushing up his goggles to reveal a hard, stupid face and bad teeth, he asked me what I wanted. I'd finally met an oxymoron."
And there's plenty more where that came from.
SHAVED FISH - Susan Geason
Syd Fish is a failed journalist, sacked political minder and start up private investigator on the "mean" streets of Sydney.
Shaved Fish is a series of short stories which introduce the reader to the laconic, bumbling, accidental PI.
There's a good touch of humour in these stories, although many of the resolutions to the mysteries are of the "fall out of the sky into his lap" type.
Good, silly, filler in reading though.
BYE BYE BABY - Lauren Crow
Thirty years ago there was a victim. A victim of unbearably cruel actions who never saw justice. Now there's a serial killer on the loose.
DCI Jack Hawksworth doesn't know any of this when he is assigned the case. Jack is young for his rank and good-looking which makes him interesting to the media. He's also the subject of considerable interest and speculation amongst his female colleagues which doesn't help.
In separate parts of England two bodies have been found - both of them horribly mutilated, ritually humiliated... but strangely, it seems, most of the worst of the atrocities are committed after the men were heavily drugged. Aside from the method, which indicates a single killer, there's precious little obvious connection between these two victims, and Scotland Yard is called in to take over the investigation. DCI Jack Hawksworth is put in charge of the investigation, despite an horrendous outcome in his last case. He puts together a team of investigators - many of whom he has worked with before. DI Kate Carter is smart, ambitious, attractive and excited to be included in that team. Sure she has always found herself attracted to Hawk, but they have worked together before, and she's now engaged and planning her wedding. Surely they can work together. Meanwhile the killer they seek is after vengeance for crimes past and it is not until Hawk and his team can work that out, that they have a chance of stopping the deaths.
BYE BYE BABY is the first crime novel by well-known Australian Fantasy author Fiona McIntosh, which makes the reading of this supposedly debut novel make a lot more sense. There's an aplomb about the structure of the story and accomplishment to the writing that can sometimes be less obvious in a debut novel. There's also some elements in BYE BYE BABY that did stand out as the mark of a debut crime novelist. This dichotomy makes reviewing this book quite a challenge. There's a bit of tweaking of common crime fiction cliches in BYE BYE BABY. Jack Hawksworth is the gorgeous, much coveted DCI - haunted by romantic attachments in the past and the death of a policeman in his last case - these events still threaten his career. He is counseled by his senior officers to take care in his relationships with his new team - especially put together to track down this killer. Kate Carter is attractive in her own right, but she's finding herself questioning her own marriage plans and increasingly feeling attracted to Jack and cannot control jealous reactions when he is encouraging of the younger, female DS in their team. There's also the source of the original crime - the event that triggered this killer's reactions and the killer themselves. Suffice to say there's a twist in there that you can see coming pretty early in the book. There are quite a few elements to the plot that are revealed to the reader much earlier than the police come across the detail which sort of gives the reader a bit of a pantomime feeling - you sort of find yourself wanting to yell "he's behind you" - or the literary equivalent at points throughout the book. There is also some interesting characterisations going on - there are points in this book that I sincerely disliked every single person - police, victims, killer, families and all. There were other points when it was possible to empathise, to understand - but most of the time you weren't too sure whose side you were on.
What's really interesting was that you'd think that some the clunky plot elements, some of the romantic tension, the angst over personal lives, the almost voyeuristic feeling that the reader has in knowing what's going on a long time before the police work it out - would detract considerably from the book. But it doesn't totally turn you off. The aplomb of the writing, the tension of the story and the plot, the compassion you can feel for the killer keeps the reader occupied and engaged and just ever so slightly conflicted about what is really justice. The final twist ending was, to tell the truth, hard to decide on. Was it intriguing, and in a strange way, a form of ultimate justice, or was it a convenient cop-out - a desire by the author to throw that final massive twist the reader's way. It's one of those endings that some readers are going to hate, and others are going to like.
THE UNDERTOW - Peter Corris
There's absolutely nothing better in Australian Crime fiction than a short, sharp burst of Cliff Hardy in his prime. And THE UNDERTOW has all those elements that fans of the hard-boiled, down-trodden; put upon; unlucky in love; hard man; unflinching good guy - only slightly dodgy around the edges; Australian style Private Enquiry Agent, are going to love. Somehow or other, after all these books featuring Cliff Hardy, where Cliff undergoes little in the way of major personality changes, where he's still struggling to understand the girl (any girl) and his friends keep digging holes for him to fill in, there's still something wonderfully fresh and entertaining about THE UNDERTOW.
There's also just a little bit more in THE UNDERTOW, in the finale to the book that seems to indicate that Cliff might have some serious life changing experiences to deal with, that he just might not be able to talk his way out of... or maybe he will? Who knows. Frankly who cares. You're not going to be reading a Cliff Hardy book for a thoughtful consideration of the human condition, you're not going to get a different perspective on the mind of the human animal. You're going to read it for the escapist, entertaining view of a Sam Slade style hero, with just enough of the Aussie larrikin to make him 100% our own.
COLLINS STREET WHORES - Peter Ralph
Collins Street Whores starts off very evocatively (for me at least) with a powerful motorbike being ridden along the Dandenong Tourist Road - a hop skip and a jump from our front door. Unfortunately for me, the interest in the story waned pretty soon after that. Overall the plot is fairly good, but there were too many elements in COLLINS STREET WHORES that just didn't work for me. Granted this could be because anything "financial" has a tendency to bring me out in hives, but more so because there were too many characters to just not care about that much. Possibly the idea that the central woman had to be beautiful and strong and competent and rich and driving the big flash car to make her a central character, possibly the relationship between her and the "boy from the rougher side of life" sort of just clanged a bit. Possibly it was because a lot of the plot elements weren't that hard to see coming, but that they took a long time to come could have been the problem.
Collins Street Whores is not a badly written book or anything, I guess, ultimately the problem for me was that it didn't have that something different, that element that grabbed me and held my attention and I just struggled to stay focused on the story.
FRANTIC - Katherine Howell
Sophie Phillips is a paramedic based in the central Sydney area. Her husband, Chris, is a police officer. Both are besotted with their ten month old son, Lachlan. Life is perfect for Sophie until Chris is seriously assaulted one night while on duty. He hasn’t been the same since. He’s become introspective and short-tempered and Sophie is beginning to worry about whether their marriage has a future.
Sophie Phillips is a paramedic and her husband Chris is a cop. When Sophie and her paramedic partner are called to a premature labour case, the results of the early labour are tragic, and despite Sophie and Mick being very sure they have done the right thing, the baby's father - Boyd Sawyer is grief stricken and irrational - and he goes out of his way to threaten Sophie and Mick. Meanwhile Sophie and Chris's previously happy marriage has been fading recently. Chris was badly assaulted during a recent arrest and ever since then he's been increasingly moody and distant. Whilst all of this is going on, there is a band of armed robbers raiding banks throughout Sydney and they are becoming increasingly violent, with the latest raid a bank guard is shot dead.
How would you cope if you're doing your job, and things go desperately wrong. If you're suddenly threatened, how would you react when your own ten-month-old son Lachlan is kidnapped from your house and your husband is shot in the head - lucky to be still alive. Would you blame yourself and wonder if those threats are behind your son's disappearance? Would you blame your husband who has been acting oddly, and with the stench of police corruption all around you? Worse still, would both of you be able to sort out your own fears and guilt and work together to find your son?
FRANTIC takes the reader down some unexpected pathways. For a start there's a police procedural element with Detective Ella Marconi working on trying to find baby Lachlan with the police team assigned to the case. But equally in the readers focus is the experience of the paramedic within the confines of a crime, accident or simply human misadventure or misery. Sophie's own reactions to the kidnapping of her son, her own pursuit, her frantic (hence the name of the novel) attempts to find her boy, to deal with the shooting of her husband, to cope with her guilt are stark and well drawn. She thinks the most likely kidnapper for her son is the father from the earlier, disastrous ambulance call-out. She's also feeling very guilty about a one night stand with the man that she's turned to for help in finding Lachlan - her husband Chris's police partner Angus. Chris is dealing with his own feelings of guilt - he wakes up in hospital after surgery to remove a bullet from his head, and he is worried, very very worried, that the reason for Lachlan's kidnapping is connected to something corrupt in the police force that he knows a lot more about than he's let on.
The author of FRANTIC is a paramedic herself, and that perspective of a crime scene, an accident scene, an investigation is very unique - and it's written in a very accessible manner. It brings a refreshing perspective from the participants, at the same time that FRANTIC covers the reaction of a family or victim to the events that surround that crime. And there's definitely a distinct feeling of frenzy about FRANTIC. The pace of the book starts from page one and it doesn't let up until the end - mirroring the life of a paramedic firstly where they move case by case at breakneck speed, then the reaction of a frantic mother, desperate to find her son, unable to sit and wait.
Combine the unusual and well handled perspective of the paramedic, with a fast paced, tightly told thriller, and a brave and well executed finale to the story and FRANTIC was a great book - you know you're onto something good when you start a book on Saturday afternoon, finish it on Sunday night and feel somewhat disappointed that the next book - PANIC - won't be available until 2008.
CONNECTIONS - Bob Bottom
Race fixing, illegal gambling, wildlife smuggling, drugs, shoplifting, phone taps, money laundering, murder and corruption. Our convict past is not far away!
CONNECTIONS as a copyright notice in it of 1985 so that makes it over 20 years old, so what made reading this particularly startling is the way that whilst some things have changed, many many others haven't. This book takes you back through some of the standard methods of operation of Organised Crime figures in Australia, along with an outline of the big "crime" families that were around in those days.
Sure sending drugs into invalid addresses via Australia Post, so that your accomplice on the inside can grab the envelopes might not be so easy these days, as is wholesale smuggling out of wild birds, many many of the standard activities of the crims are still around, slightly modified for today's climate but the routs, crimes and killings go on.
Interesting read from an historical perspective if nothing else.
VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE - Leah Giarratano
When a middle-aged man is brutally murdered in the dunes overlooking a children's pool, it's immediately clear to Sergeant Jill Jackson that this was no ordinary victim: someone has stopped a dangerous paeodophile in his tracks. Knowing first-hand the impact of such men on their prey, Jill is ambivalent about pursing the killer, but when more men die - all known to the police as child sex offenders - she is forced to face the fact that a serial killer is on the loose.
Nobody could possibly call reading VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE a pleasure - it's an absolutely heartbreaking and very discomforting book. The author is a trauma psychologist who works with victims, and victims are very much the focus of VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE.
A young girl, victim of sexual abuse kills herself. Her psychologist Mercy treats patients who have suffered trauma, but Mercy seems to be very close to breaking in her own right. A middle-aged man is beaten to death in his hiding spot in the scrub, overlooking a children's pool. This is not a victim for whom anybody feels much compassion - a paedophile who, it turns out, has connections to a major paedophile ring. The main investigator on the case, Sargeant Jill Jackson daily fights her own demons, the legacy of being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by paeodophiles as a young girl, she manages her ongoing trauma via a series of her own obsessions - exercise, control of her environment, 100% concentration. Soon Jill, and her partner Scotty, have more murders to solve - but the victims are all paeodophiles and really - does anybody care? As the investigation continues, a ring of paedophiles, many of them successful businessmen, leaders and the privileged in society, is revealed and Jill's own past is brought more and more into the present.
There is absolutely no doubt that the central theme of this book is the damage that is done by sexual abuse. The author has provided a dense, complex concentration on human damage and the ways that various victims try to cope with their own lives - VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is a harrowing book because of it. All of the central characters of this book have been damaged, hurt, are struggling to cope with their pasts, the methods that they choose to cope starkly drawn and discomfortingly believable. There are some parts of this book that many readers will find distressing, the grooming of young children, the kidnap of a young boy....
This harrowing and detailed concentration on the victim is what could make VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE potentially difficult for the average reader. The damage and suffering of the victims is undoubted, the experience of the psychologist and other support personnel who work to help these people must be appalling, but the concentration on the abuse itself made the plot of the murder disappear and VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE became less of a crime fiction book and more an analysis of the affects of crime on a victim. Sometimes the shape shifting of expectation in a category - such as crime fiction - is a good thing, it can refresh, provide the reader with a different viewpoint, a different consideration, challenge the readers expectations and drag you out of your comfort zone to consider the unconsidered. VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is perhaps too heavy handed, too harrowing, too hard, too peopled with damage and suffering, too distressing for many readers, which would be a pity as the message is obviously important. There is a second book in the works, and I'll be reading that one as well when it comes out, as there is something being said by this author.