The UNDERBELLY series is a set of shortish books written by journalists Silvester and Rule covering various events in the criminal underworld of Victoria in particular.
Underbelly 9 covers the shooting of Andrew Veniamin by Mick Gatto, and Gatto's subsequent trial and aquittal, the case of a serial stalker, abalone poachers, the death of a woman and her daughter at the hands of her husband and a number of other stories.
All of these stories are told with Silvester and Rule's classic irreverant, tell it as we see it style.
THE PERFECT SUSPECT- Vincent Varjavandi
The author of THE PERFECT SUSPECT is a surgeon who, it would appear, has a strong interest in the welfare of children. Readers of this novel could probably be excused if they assume that the character of Tom is based on the author himself, although obviously, you'd hope without the tragic family background! Early in the novel, the medical background of our central character - Tom - and the death of his wife is rapidly established. Only a matter of weeks later, Tom returns to Australia and is shocked to find a delivery of black roses at his home - seemingly from the killer of his wife. Tom moves to practice medicine in Sanctuary - trying to start again. In Sanctuary, while Senior Sergeant Jack Maguire is dealing with day to day policing matters, something considerably more sinister and terrifying starts - firstly with the brutal death of a woman - witnessed by a brain damaged young girl who has been used as bait to get the victim to open her door. And the killing continues from there.
This is a first novel so unsurprisingly there are a few things that don't work as well as they could. What does work really well is the lifting of suspense and the generally creepy and decidedly sinister characterisations. There's plot twists, that, okay, they weren't that hard to second guess - but in some way that worked. You sort of know what is coming and still there was that creepy feeling at the back of the neck. What didn't work so well is that the plot was overly complicated at times; there was too much made early in the book about the good and caring nature of the central character Tom - it got a bit cloying and potentially distracted from the suspense; and there was the use of a few too many unlikely scenarios and the "gut instinct" school of problem resolution.
But there is an interesting sense of place at play as well. Despite the prologue set in New Orleans - this is very much an Australian book. The resort of Sanctuary (should we be drawing conclusions about Sanctuary Cove) has an Australian feeling to it and there's just a smattering of slang and location - not enough to confuse / enough to place. Interestingly there's a strong relationship being developed between the central police character - Jack Maguire - and his new assistant Detective Constable which could, perhaps, be hinting at another direction for a future novel. Either way, there's potential being shown here and fans of general thrillers - even Medically based thrillers should give this new Australian author a try.
HODDLE STREET: THE AMBUSH AND THE TRAGEDY - Peter Haddow
This was published some considerable time ago, but for some reason in the last few weeks I've been drawn towards some True Crime books. This was a particularly harrowing read, all about the events of Hoddle Street in 1987 - told as short snippets from the viewpoint of many of the people involved - the dead, the injured and the police desperate to get the manic situation under control. I think it was that method of telling the story that made it all the more stark. Excellent book to give you a true feeling for how the unimaginable and unexpected affects everyone.
PACKING DEATH - Lachlan McCulloch
This is the true crime story of (then) Detective Senior Constable Lachlan McCulloch and the undercover operation he ran to crack the notorious Pettingill family drug trafficking network in the immediate aftermath of the not-guilty verdicts handed down to members of that family for the execution style murder of two young police constables. McCulloch worked with two female informers over a long period of time, generating a lot of taped surveillance and drug deals to build up a case which resulted in over 15 major convictions. Underneath the flippant and light style of the writing is the story of a very very scary experience.
True Crime written by the real thing - an undercover cop with many many years of experience.
PIG'S HEAD - David Owen
There are good cops, there are bad cops...and there is Pufferfish, aka Detective Inspector Franz Heineken.
Pufferfish (Contusus brevicaudus): Body moderately short, pectorals rounded. Slow swimmer. Scavenger in the mud, at home in the murky shallows, where it roots out and feeds on detritusbody able to bloat and even explode under extreme provocation.
A severed head rolls out of the runnish in a crowded Tasmanian caravan park, and the hunt is on for the killers ... and for their victim, a man no-one seems to miss, a man no-one wants to know.
An old release - originally published in 1994, Pig's Head is the first in the 4 Pufferfish novels by David Owen and so far it's been the only one I've never been able to get my hands on. Imagine my sheer delight when Kill City in Swanston Street revealed 2 copies!
Detective Inspector Franz Heineken (or Pufferfish as he calls himself) is called into investigate the discovery of a severed head in the rubbish at a crowded Tasmanian caravan park. Initial concerns are that the caravan park, which is fenced and shutdown every night to keep out undesirables, may still contain a deranged killer, but quickly it becomes obvious that the killer is not your typical head removing lunatic and what's more to the point, Pufferfish himself has allowed them out of the park.
The investigation moves between Tasmania and the mainland as the killer is tracked and the incredibly difficult task of identifying the victim continues at Pufferfish pace.
*** From the back of the book:
Pufferfish (Contusus brevicandus): Body moderately short, pectorals rounded. Slow swimmer. Scavenger in the mud, at home in the murky shallows, where it roots out and feeds on detritus. Inflatable body able to bloat and even explode under extreme provocation.
Great series - huge pity there were only 4 of them!
SPIDER TRAP - Barry Maitland
The bodies of two young girls are found, shot and discarded in an old abandoned warehouse in the Cockpit Lane district in Brixton, London. Nearby the activity of the police investigation sparks the interest of a young schoolboy who is obsessed with a school myth about "Brown Bread" and an abandoned wasteland near the warehouse and his school. Nobody really knows what "Brown Bread" is, but the whole school has known for years that it's hidden on that bit of wasteland. The problem is that the wasteland reveals 3 skeletons and they don't seem to be the "Brown Bread" that everyone's been talking about. The skeletons have been there since the Brixton riots around 20 years ago.
The Cockpit Lane area is the heart of the West Indian Community in London and Brock has previous history with them, and with one of the original crime families from before the West Indian invasion. The Roach family are now worth serious money and it seems, have gone straight, but it was a different story for them at the time of the Brixton riots.
There was something really engaging about this book. The investigation of the death of the two girls is sidelined by the discovery of the 3 skeletons, but there are some elegant twists and turns which tie everything together. There are some really engaging and involving stories around the victims, the West Indian Community and how many of the younger members of that community came to be in London. There is a great supporting cast within the West Indian community, and there are some complicated and involving connections between them, Brock, Kolla, the victims and the local villains. These interplaying connections added a level of reality to the entire storyline. There is some private life goings on for both Brock and Kolla. Brock's personal life story goes to how he reacts and feels about being dragged back into his own past. Kolla's becomes integral to the storyline of the investigation but is not a distraction from that.
SPIDER TRAP is ultimately a really engaging story which is very readable.
MURDER BY WASH OF LIGHT - Geoff De Fraga
When a famous, but hated, movie producer seems to have been killed by the very film technique he claimed to have invented, journalist Peter Caridman turns detective. The tightly woven plot, against a glamorous Canberra background, moves to a brilliant conclusion.
Originally published in 1970, this title was reprinted in 1991 by Weldon Publishing.
From the book: "When a famous, but hated, movie producer seems to have been killed by the very film technique he claimed to have invented, journalist Peter Cardiman turns detective. The tightly woven plot, against a glamorous Canberra background, moves to a brilliant conclusion".
I guess the "glamorous Canberra background" should have stuck up a warning flag - since WHEN has Canberra been glamorous! This was an okay sort of a plot - small number of characters so it wasn't too hard to figure out who the murderer was and it wasn't too tricky to guess the reason, but ultimately this was disappointing because Cardiman was such a stuffed shirt. His attitudes to the women around him, even for the 70's were just irritating and ultimately the whole thing just read very arch and overly superior.
FALLOUT, THE - Garry Disher
The Fallout is one of the Wyatt Series of Disher's novels. Wyatt is a career criminal involved in everything from art theft, bank robberies, fraud and whatever is going really.
The Fallout is Wyatt's sixth job, taking off where Port Vila Blues finished. On a boat with policewoman Liz Redding, and a fortune in stolen gems, Wyatt finds himself joining forces with his nephew to pull off an art heist in Melbourne, not really aware of exactly what his nephew has been up to.
Another shoot 'em up, charge around thriller which can be read without the preceding books, although Port Villa Blues first would have saved a bit of confusion in the early book about what was actually going on.
THE RAFT - Alan Mills
It should have been a simple holiday in far North Queensland. A chance for Martin and Lydia Napier to repair their faltering marriage. A time-out with their young daughter Ami from a pressured city life. It should have been...
But the brutal power of nature means a drastic change of plans for the Napier family when they're forced to flee rising floodwaters. Within hours the family find themselves marooned with a small group of surviviors on the roof of an isolated farmhouse, with dwindling hopes of rescue and a killer in their midst...
THE RAFT was originally published in 2005 before the author's recent CITY OF ANIMALS.
Lydia and Martin Napier have gone through personal tragedy, their once perfect lives have been turned upside down and they are now struggling with the news that Martin has just lost his long term job writing and drawing an ongoing comic strip.
Lydia's boss offers them the use of his property in Far North Queensland as a chance to get away and decide what they will do. The arrive, with their small daughter Ami, in Cairns at the same time as a cyclone rolls in, cutting off the farm and surrounding areas with massive flooding and torrential rain.
Whilst trying to escape the remote property, they end up stranded back there with a policeman, his prisoner and a truck driver who have also been caught in the rising flood waters.
The book intersperses chapters of the "action" with time that Martin spends in hospital recovering from injuries sustained in the ordeal. During this time he is remembering and taking local police through the events, and there is a gradual unfurling of all that happened in that cut off farm house.
There is something of the film script about this book - it's written in a very big and bold style - there is lots of action and drama and the pre-requisite number of evil and threatening baddies lurking throughout the entire book.
This is probably a book for fans of the big bold blockbuster style of rolling action, but beware - cliches and stereotypes are pretty thick on the ground.
BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR - Angela Savage
Who said crime doesn't pay? Australian expat Jayne Keeney lives in Thailand and works in Bangkok. When she heads north to Chiang Mai to visit her good friend Didier, she soon discovers that the local police have an especially cosy relationship with money and illegal acts. When Jayne learns of this, she realises she is in danger.
Angela Savage won the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript by Emerging Author in 2004 for this book, then called Thai Died.
Jayne Keeney is an expat Australian woman who, in order to avoid a predictable life, left Australia and started teaching English in Thailand. Whilst helping out a student by doing some surveillance on a cheating partner she discovers she has quite a flair for detecting, and that there is a demand for this type of service. She gives up teaching and sticks to working as a private detective in Bangkok doing a good trade in following suspected partners. After a particularly violent turn of events during one such job she seeks some solace in the company of her dearest friend Didier de Montpasse in Chiang Mai. Didier and Jayne share a passion for crime fiction, even though they don't exactly see eye to eye over genre (Didier's a cozy fan, Jayne is strictly hard boiled).
As soon as Jayne arrives there is some apparent tension between Didier and his Thai lover Nau. After a night out with Didier at a gay bar in an out of way part of the city, the next morning Jayne finds the papers leading with stories about a brutal murder in the bar that she was drinking in earlier. Things rapidly take a much bigger turn for the worse and Jayne finds herself having to investigate what really happened in that bar.
This book covers a considerable amount of ground in and around the sex trade in Thailand - local, sex tourism and paedophilia. There are some big players making a lot of money from this trade and there are lots of connections to the police investigating the bar deaths.
Savage has spent some considerable time working in and around Bangkok on Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS programs and she obviously has an understanding of Thai customs and of the people. The story is peppered with Thai words and phrases and Jayne speaks fluent Thai. The book has a very clear sense of place and the Thai characters and location are clearly defined and interesting.
The compelling thing about this book is that it's a crime fiction novel which is touching on a number of very serious social issues: child sexual exploitation, AIDS/HIV, sex tourism and official corruption, but the book tells the message, reveals the consequences, and avoids lecturing. This is a first novel and there are some problems with some of the motivations and behaviour of some of the characters, but these are minor in the overall use of a really interesting and unusual background. BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR also introduces a central character with an eye to future books.