Australian author Shane Maloney wields the pen like no other writer imaginable, stripping each social veneer away in such a terribly effective fashion that we cringe as we recognize the creatures dwelling beneath. The Murray Whelan novels, of which NICE TRY is number three, are bitingly funny in the best and worst of ways. They pick, poke and eviscerate, yet manage to champion how we handled the past that has somehow thus carried us to our present. Maloney sets his novels in the past, but only just, so that our memories are at least a little foggy about the finite details of the political decisions of that day gone yet we still manage to largely recall the main events.
NICE TRY ages Murray to a point where he is less the avenging hero and even more so now a man doing the best he can in a bad situation, keeping a loose hand on the tiller when it comes to morality decisions. Effective results are what he specializes at, and it is not as though the world has been changed by what he sometimes has needed to do. It is impossible not to enjoy these novels for the incisive and laugh out loud hilarious monologues of Murray, and while the crime plot of NICE TRY has been more carefully constructed than has those of the series priors, whodunit is still not the question of the day. Enjoy the sharp mind of Shane Maloney.
OPEN FILE - Peter Corris
I wondered where Peter Corris would take Cliff after the loss of his PI licence (which, it seems, he's unlikely to ever get back), but I didn't really expect it to be the 1970's. Once you're back in that old case with a few well chosen "commentaries" Corris places you firmly in the 1970's very adeptly - from the opening observations of the Ananda Marga compensation case; the shock and concern that early AIDS cases raised; the death of Bob Trimboli and even the simple lack of mobile telephones, there's a clear sense of the time.
OPEN FILE takes you right back through that 1970's investigation - the disappearance of Justin Hampshire - his mother and father (separated and not getting on at all), his younger sister (very troubled), the police that get themselves involved, the politician and his son and Frank and Hilde.
Does Cliff finally get to close the file? You'll have to read the book to find out. Where is Cliff going from here - I guess he's off on his travels, but then at the end of OPEN FILE he's only on his way to the airport. A lot can happen between Glebe and Sydney airport.
UNDERBELLY, THE GANGLAND WAR - John Silvester and Andrew Rule
First he got lucky.
Then he got life.
They called Carl Williams 'The Truth' but the truth was he was just a fat kid with a pill press and a taste for fast food, fast women and fast bucks. He got lucky the day Jason Moran shot him in the belly instead of in the head.
UNDERBELLY - THE GANGLAND WAR is probably a compilation book of a lot of the sections previously covered in the earlier Underbelly books by journalists Silvester and Rule. The book, interestingly, is freely available and openly publicised in Victoria - the state where the TV show Underbelly is banned from airing on TV here. I've no idea what that says about the way that the Supreme Court ban worked, but the book is going to be some way of a consolation to those who are keen to see the TV show.
The book takes you back through the majority of the murders and lunacy that is / was Melbourne's Underworld war. The style is typically laconic and frankly laugh out loud at points - which makes you feel just a bit odd really. These guys were killing their way to the top and you can't help thinking about Chopper Read's defense that he only ever killed bad guys. Still, it's an interesting stroll through the alternative side of Melbourne and it's certainly extremely entertaining.
THE PYJAMA GIRL MYSTERY - Richard Evans
The Pyjama Girl was an unknown woman, found dumped by a road near Albury in 1934. She had been brutally murdered. Who she was, and who killed her became Australia's great unsolved crime for decades.
THE PYJAMA GIRL MYSTERY is less about resolving who killed her, and more about how the police investigation at the time proceeded. The book lays out all of the circumstances around the location of the body; the steps taken to try to identify the body; and ultimately the trial and manslaughter verdict against Antonia Agostini.
The body had been ultimately identified as Agostini's wife - Linda. But was that a valid identification (and I've got to say from the photos included I'd have to have my doubts), and did Agostini really kill his wife (whose body has never been found), and who is the Pyjama Girl.
Fascinating for the analysis of the police investigation; enlightening about crackpots through the ages; one of the really interesting things about this book is the glimpses into 1920's / 30's and 40's Australia.
HEAD SHOT - Jarad Henry
The blurb on HEAD SHOT says Jarad Henry has worked in the legal criminal justice system for the past ten years. It shows. There is a credibility to HEAD SHOT that implies that Henry knows how things work. He has met the people and walked the streets. Anyone who has been following the saga of the Melbourne gangland killings and the success of the Purana taskforce in securing convictions in relation to the killings, will find more than a few parallels in HEAD SHOT. I don’t know exactly what Henry’s job has been the past few years, but I suspect there could be a true crime book there that might prove even more fascinating than HEAD SHOT.
Henry has a second novel BLOOD SUNSET due for publication in May, 2008 and I, for one, can’t wait.
THE TROJAN DOG - Dorothy Johnston
The Sandra Mahoney series is computer crime fiction - with THE TROJAN DOG being the first in the series. EDEN is the latest - which I reviewed recently.
THE TROJAN DOG has Sandra - with a husband working overseas - single handedly raising her young son, and working on a short-term contract in a Government Department, finishing off a report on out-sourced / home based workers. The head of the Department is an old "friend" of her mother's - an unpopular woman, she is soon accused of fraud and facing criminal charges. Sandra isn't convinced that Rae is guilty and she digs around. With help from one of the resident IT staff in the department - Ivan, the Russian "eccentric" and later on a local policeman - Brook - she is more and more convinced that there's fraud going on - but not by Rae.
The early parts of this book are hard to follow and stay with. There's a lot of build up and a lot of wandering around in Sandra's personal life that just go on and on, without the story seeming to move forward with any speed. Once Brook joins the chase then things get a bit more focused and the story actually proceeds. Sandra's an odd sort of a character as well - she's very hard to get a handle on - in some ways quite standoffish and offputting for the reader, it's something that continues into the later books as well - she's just very hard to get onside with, which makes reading these books quite an interesting experience. A lot of the time is spent considering why it's so hard to be on Sandra's side as she fights on the side of the good.
Still, the idea of computer fraud as a crime (rather than the more standard fare of murder and mayhem) is interesting. Set in Canberra this is definitely a book that tells you something about the tensions in working in the public service - at a time of expected changeover of political masters.
SHOOTING STAR - Peter Temple
Anne Carson: fifteen, beautiful, wayward. Abducted.
The rich Carsons have closed ranks and summoned Frank Calder, subject to strict instructions. This is not the first kidnapping in the Carson family and hard lessons have been learned.
But are the two events connected? And is greed the motivation? Revenge? Or could it be something else? To find out, Frank Calder must go beyond his brief.
And his every step into the darkness may end a girl's life.
Frank Calder is a bit of a maverick. Ex-cop / ex-soldier - current day "mediator". He's the sort of bloke that gets called in to sticky situations where unusual solutions are required. He's worked for the Carsons before. When a crazed gunman took store staff hostage, Frank wandered into the situation to save the hostages. Which he did. Quietly, efficiently and unusually.
So when Anne disappears on the way home from school and a ransom demand is received by the family, the Carsons again turn to Frank. He wants them to call in the police, but they did that once before and one of their own very nearly died. This time they want to do exactly what the kidnappers ask and once they have Anne back, they'll deal with the kidnappers themselves. Frank finds himself having to wade around in the families dirty French soap smelling laundry to get to the bottom of a possible motive.
SHOOTING STAR is classic Peter Temple. The prose is sparse, the central character is a bit of a maverick with a heart, he has connections, he uses them. The Carson families skeletons are all a bit on the unsurprising side - large, very wealthy families seem to have these little peculiarities, but the methods of uncovering them are fast, tight, and often quite funny.
All of the characterisations are interesting - Calder himself, his offsider Orlovsky, the Carson patriarch Pat, his sons, their sons, the wives, the granddaughters - the hired help. And throughout the story there are those standout little passages that you can expect from Temple - the observational points. Orlovsky as an immigrant in his own country, Calder as a man who only smokes when bad things are about to happen, Pat Carson and his whiskey bottle - all that money and that compound.
Wonderfully paced, with a good resolution, SHOOTING STAR is already a classic of Australian Crime fiction.
HEAD SHOT - Jarad Henry
There are days when the fact that I'm often so far behind with local authors that I could kick myself, and today is definitely one of those days.
HEAD SHOT is the debut novel for Jarad Henry, with Blood Sunset - his second book to be published by Allen & Unwin in 2008.
HEAD SHOT is a police procedural that's written with enormous aplomb and deftness. The author has a background in the criminal justice system and that experience shows through, but doesn't overwhelm the reader. This is not a police procedure manual, but a great book about a young cop who makes a convenient patsy for the corrupt and flat out criminal.
Set in Melbourne, the story is placed realistically in and around that town, and reading it now, with the knowledge of not too long ago underworld behaviour - well it really works as a fictional story, but there's just a little edge there that seems very realistic.
McCauley is a good cop, just over obsessed with his job, and weighed down by the implications of the job and the accusations made against him. He finds himself partnered unexpectedly with a young female cop - Brit - Constable Cassie Withers who married an Australian, moved to Melbourne and joined the police force. Both characters have shattered personal lives behind them - but for different reasons, and both characters work well. Either arguing the point with each other, not trusting each other, or working together.
I'm serious when I say I'm kicking myself for taking so long to read this book.
THE SHADOW MAKER - Robert Sims
A heartless, sadistic predator is roaming the streets of Melbourne. He is attacking women, sexually abusing them then brutally mutilating them. The first victim has her eye sockets burnt out, but she is a lucky one; she isn’t killed. Detective Marita (Rita) Van Hassel from the Sexual Crimes Squad is asked to assist in the investigation. Her profiling skills can’t pin down the man behind the increasingly violent crimes, but what does become clear is that she is being hunted as she hunts for him.
THE SHADOW MAKER is a debut novel by Australian author Robert Sims. Dark violence is balanced with an everyday normality which lightens things just enough to keep you from locking yourself in your wardrobe. It is not a book for the squeamish. Unfortunately I fit into this category, so I did not relax into this book despite the fact it is very well written. The suspense builds from the first page with various threads picking up the pace until the final confrontation which explodes off the page.
Rita’s character is as elusive as the man she is hunting. She did not open up to me very much at all during the story. There is obviously going to be more from this character, I get the distinct impression that this is just the beginning of a series featuring Rita. Hopefully the author will work on more in-depth characterization in the next book, if there is one. As it stands, Rita is still a closed book.
SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY - Geoffrey McGeachin
All Alby wants is a decent coffee and a day off. But there's a hijacked tanker with a deadly cargo in Sydney Harbour, and bullets are flying on board a US Navy cruiser. Three sailors are dead and a Seahawk chopper is missing.
SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY continues the Alby Murdoch story where D-E-D Dead! left off. Post the hilariously over the top events at the end of the first book, Alby finds himself thrust into leadership of D-E-D, not that it's all bad. He manages to not get too involved in the day to day, and there's always Julie. Julie helping out on operations is one thing, Julie asleep, in not a lot, on your couch is another altogether. Mind you Alby's pretty well convinced he'll never get to have his way with Julie, it's a pity that for an intelligence agent, he can be as thick as the walls of an 80,000 tonne tanker.
Which is exactly what brings Alby and Julie's happy, relaxed long-weekend to an abrupt end. Nobody's quite sure how a tanker that big could be hijacked in the first place, in the second place how did it end up moored right up beside Fort Denison in the middle of Sydney Harbour, but the more pressing problem is how much of Sydney will be left if the LNG on board goes up in flames. The added complication of the nearby US Navy cruiser that "may or may not" be carrying nuclear weapons and Alby's day is about to get a whole lot more complicated. But every bad situation has to have a an upside and maybe, just maybe, Lieutenant Kingston could be it.
Slightly more assured than the first book, SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY is a romp through the intricacies of being a spy in a complicated world. No more do spies get the luxury of ultra-sleek Aston Martins and Martinis on call; Sydney's latter day Spy gets a rusted out 4WD and the occasional bottle of red. And breakfast has become a major problem. Alby has really got to get people to stop shooting at him at his favourite breakfast haunts - the poor man may be reduced to a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice like the rest of us mere mortals. At the centre of SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY, amongst the severely tongue in cheek dialogue (harbour duty officers getting alert and alarmed - which will probably mean more to your average Australian reader...), there is buried in here, a good mystery. Were there nuclear arms on that cruiser? Are they still there, or have they gone missing? Who is the mysterious Reverend Priday and his gorgeous daughter and what on earth does all this have to do with whales?
You could be reading this book first if you want to, there's the odd reference to events in D-E-D Dead!, but not enough to throw you. Having said, that, read them both.