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.
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.
THE DEAD POOL - Sue Walker
Kirstin Rutherford returns to Edinburgh after two years. Five months ago her beloved father-in-law Jamie drowned in The Cauldron - a deep pool in the Water of Leith, only nobody had told Kirstin. Divorced from Ross, she finds that Ross has not told her about Jamie's death or his funeral for some strange reason. Even more distressing than not being told, it seems that everyone thinks that Jamie's death was either a tragic accident or suicide, but Kirstin refuses to believe that the man she knew could possibly have committed suicide. Ross is not so sure, positive his father had changed in the months before his death.
The only person who may know the truth is Morag. In the months before Jamie's death he had been working as a volunteer river guide and self-appointed park ranger, and Morag and her crowd of friends were residents along the same part of the river. Their activities - parties, games, drinking and playing hard on the banks of the river had brought them into direct confrontation with Jamie. Despite all his best efforts he wasn't able to curb their behaviour, but when two of that crowd are murdered at the Cauldron - just a few months before Jamie's own death, Morag is accused but finally released from jail due to lack of evidence. Convinced Morag is the key to the truth behind Jamie's death, Kirstin befriends her, but Kirstin soon discovers that Morag is unpredictable to say the least.
According to the bio that came with THE DEAD POOL, Sue Walker is a journalist who has specialised in miscarriage of justice cases and THE DEAD POOL follows that vein of investigation - the testing of evidence and events around the death of all three people - the two murder victims and Kirstin's father-in-law. The author is obviously deeply interested in the subject of how people can seem to be guilty of things even though there is very little actual fact behind the perception. THE DEAD POOL covers the question of whether or not Morag is guilty and if not, who else could possibly be involved. The question of Jamie's death is central to Kirstin's obsession, she desperately wants to understand what happened to her much loved father-in-law, both before he died and how he died.
The other interesting component of THE DEAD POOL was the author's choice to populate the book with a lot of difficult characters. Those of the crowd in which Morag mixed that were still around were mostly unpleasant, over the top, self-involved. This gave an interesting twist to their possible involvement in any of the deaths as even Morag was very hard to sympathise with or even like for that matter. Jamie's son Ross seems almost too good to be true, and a weird sort of user, an uncomfortable character to be around, whilst Kirstin, the central character of the book, was equally disconcerting in many ways. Ultimately the true killer wasn't that hard to pick fairly early on, and whilst a number of the side considerations of possible motives or the vague possibility of collaboration were dangled at points, the resolution with a little bit too much rushing around in the rain without the much longed for mobile telephone gave the book a bit of a flat ending.
BROKEN SKIN - Stuart MacBride
There's something immensely satisfying about reading a book that tackles some very tricky subject matter head-on, with enough of the gory details to illustrate rather than titivate and just the right level of gallows humour. BROKEN SKIN is the third book featuring DS Logan McRae and it's as good as the first two.
It's February and it's raining again. McRae is on DI Steel's team and they are most definitely not at home to her favourite term for a complete disaster, particularly as DI Insch is well on the outer. There's also an awful lot going on. There's a vicious, nasty and cruel rapist - slicing up his victim's faces with a knife, but while PC Jackie Watson is taking that particular investigation very very personally, in the early morning, the blood-drenched, horribly injured body of a man is dumped outside A&E at the local hospital. There's also a massive upswing in burglaries and a major drug investigation.
The dead man is only identified when one of the PC Rickard says that he's recognised a distinctive tattoo in explicit sex films that could be connected to the death. Unfortunately for his sense of gravitas, Rickard also seems to have very direct connections to the local bondage community and, from the victim's injuries, it's very likely so did he.
Most of the characters from MacBride's two earlier books, Cold Granite and Dying Light are back - all behaving very much to type and all getting in each other's road and up each other's noses in equal measure. The twist in the focus for this book is that both DI's have equal exposure, they are both forefront and not liking each other's presence one little bit. McRae and Watson's personal relationship is ongoing but is, in a beautiful touch, going nowhere happily. All the other members of the investigation team endure just the right amount of success, failure and merciless ribbing.
As well as those characters, the taut storytelling in BROKEN SKIN carries you along the manic multiple threads, with a really realistic feeling of a cold, wet, miserable city full of cold, wet and miserable criminals and equally cold, wet and miserable police officers. The humour is again dark, savage and thoroughly engaging - DI Steel has got to be one of the all time great offensive women, and this reader in particular, thinks she's marvellous.
Being the third book in the series, the characters are now very well established. Reading the first two books will certainly give you the background for many of the relationships and the antagonisms. Whilst that will definitely help with some of the minor threads going on, it's probably not 100% necessary, particularly if you are the sort of reader that can just accept that there's some tension and not want the details of what lead to that.
If you're a fan of the no holds barred, character driven Police Procedural, then you should definitely read BROKEN SKIN and both earlier books if they've somehow passed you by. Gruesome subject matter delivered with deftness is the mark of this author's books. Savage, dry humour is the other common factor. Logan McRae's one of those characters that you certainly wouldn't want to work with - the pace that this book maintains would kill a normal human being - but he's the sort of character you'd like to have a beer with, provided you could handle the quantities.
DYING LIGHT - Stuart MacBride
DYING LIGHT is the follow-up book to the much talked about and acclaimed COLD GRANITE and it maintains the high standard that the first book in the series reached.
It is summer in Aberdeen, the sun is shining and it is not raining anywhere near as much as it does in winter. With his love life sort of looking up and his working life running pretty well par for the course, the major downsides to the entire season seem to be that somebody is killing prostitutes and DS Logan McRae has been moved to DI Steel's "Screw-Up" squad. One botched raid, one severely injured uniformed PC and Logan's gone from Police Hero to another Internal Affairs investigation in the blink of an eye.
The focus of this book switches from DI Insch and his team (although he is still there and working on a fatal arson attack) to DI Steel and her Screw-Up Squad. DI Steel is a totally different prospect to deal with. She's abrasive, touchy, pushy and extremely unconventional. Logan's Number One priority is getting out of the Screw-Up Squad and the best way to do that seems to be a quick resolution to the increasing number of prostitute murders. Number Two priority is to try and keep his love life intact. Number Three priority is to keep avoiding journalist Colin Miller. Number Four priority is to survive another Internal Affairs investigation and keep from getting fired.
In the first book of the series, the weather was almost like another character, providing a great backdrop for the general miserableness of the crimes. In this book the summer setting, albeit slightly damp, provides a contrast for the crimes and the mood of the investigators in both Insch and Steel's teams.
DYING LIGHT is a solid, twisting police procedural with some short-lived sequences of quite graphic violence. This violence and the pitch perfect gallows humour that MacBride uses remind the reader that there is some real substance to the world being written about. The characters are very real. You feel like all of them would be instantly recognisable if you strolled in the Aberdeen nick, the local bar, the morgue or down the docks late at night.
Sometimes a second book, particularly one so close on the heels of such an impressive first novel can feel a little flat, or a little directionless. The trick of moving the focus on the DI's and their teams adds a freshness to the supporting characters and to Logan's personal interactions with his colleagues that really worked extremely well. After the sheer pleasure of reading DYING LIGHT you will be instantly left wondering where MacBride is going with the next one and very eager to find out.
COLD GRANITE - Stuart MacBride
COLD GRANITE is one of those debut books that come along and slowly cause a stir of comment and discussion in crime fiction forums. So much commentary just makes you want to get that book that everyone is talking about, but at the same time you often wonder if there's a chance that it's all noise and not much substance. COLD GRANITE is all substance.
On his first day back from extended medical leave, DS Logan just wants to get through his first day and hand responsibility back to his new DI. Despite needing to ease himself back into the job Logan finds himself investigating who is killing children. Just to add insult to injury the Chief Pathologist is his former girlfriend and her reception is just about as inviting as the Aberdeen weather in the middle of winter.
Getting himself back into the routine and back into the teams proves problematic for Logan. He's got to contend with a new DI who has an addiction to lollies, a problem with fools and a tendency to assume everyone is one. DI Steel is a well known womaniser who ends up with all sorts of political problems when a trial goes pear-shaped. WPC Watson is assigned as Logan's new babysitter, and she doesn't have the reputation of a ball-breaker for nothing. There's a new journalist in town and he's cocky and pushy. Somebody is leaking stories and Miller, the journalist, just can't seem to keep away from Logan. Children keep dying and disappearing and Internal Affairs seem to be very interested in Logan. All in all, things are not what Logan wanted or needed.
COLD GRANITE uses the weather almost as a character in its own right - it's used to enhance mood and atmosphere in a very engaging way. You feel the weather just as you feel the character's reactions and follow their desperate attempts to stop children dying.
Despite a difficult central subject, the murder of children, the author pulls off a light touch and a level of humour which isn't always just black and feels almost expected. This is a police procedural, but a good, varied story that uses the procedural elements as a framework and builds in details of the characters, their lives and their reactions in a manner that makes everyone human and many many of the people extremely likeable. There are sufficient sub-threads to add texture and realism to the environment and all of those sub-threads are finalised or pulled together elegantly at the end and there's no sense of rush to finish off the book. The language is sufficiently fluid and fluent to keep you engaged but the book does not smack of over-writing or the tendency of some first books to include all the ideas an author has ever had.
Add to that some clever twists and this is a pleasingly strong debut novel and one seriously good read.
SUCKED IN - Shane Maloney
Now pushing fifty, Murray Whelan is spinning his wheels in parliament - a toothless cog in Labor's stalled political machine.
I happily went out earlier this week and bought a copy of Sucked In and it took me roughly one day to finish it - and that was an unfair delay - I could have sat down and read it in one sitting. Needless to say the 6th book in the Murray Whelan series (for which we've all been waiting an absolute age), lives up to the expectations of the long wait!
Murray is older, slightly wiser and just that little bit more cunning. A member of the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament, he and a number of other "pollies" are "doing the rounds" in Country Victoria, when Murray's long time mentor and friend, Charlie Talbot, dies from a heart attack in the middle of the dining room of the Grand Hotel in Mildura.
It's an interesting coincidence that the day before Charlie's untimely demise, the remains of (allegedly) a long-lost union official are discovered in the mud of drought stressed Lake Nillahcootie. Merv Cutlett had gone overboard from a fishing boat during a trip to the Union "Shack" on the banks of the Lake many years before with Charlie and other union luminaries including (now) Senator Barry Quinlan.
All of this is of slight interest to Murray, up to his elbows in Labor Party machinations over pre-selection for Charlie's very safe seat in Federal Parliament. When a well-known local journalist starts to hear rumours about Merv's cause of death, and these rumours trickle through to the power brokers in the Labor Party, pre-selection battles now have to fight for attention with a bit of very overdue Union "housekeeping". All of this whilst Murray tries to teach Red how to drive, resurrect his slumbering love life, extract himself from a risky sex life, learn Greek and finagle himself into something resembling re-charged enthusiasm for the "Cause".
A slightly older Murray Whelan is something that causes pause for consideration - how long can he keep up these gymnastics - both mental and physical! But aside from that sneaking concern, SUCKED IN really delivers on a number of fronts. The "investigation" of the death weaves it's way in and out of the ongoing business of being a Politician in pre-Millennium Victoria, in a Labor Party struggling to hold a caucus meeting that would stretch the accommodations of a telephone booth. There's something really realistic about the way that things just roll along, balanced delicately on the edge of the precipice - with a lot of day to day darting around just trying to keep ahead. The political swipes are, as always, hilarious. That slightly jaundiced, True Believer view of the political system that Maloney specialises in has a particularly accuracy in SUCKED IN that you just can't help but roll around in laughter with. There are also more than just a few characters in SUCKED IN that you can pick out of the local crowd. But again, regardless of the "spot who that is" games that we locals can play, SUCKED IN is going to appeal to lots of readers, regardless of where they come from. A touch of humour, a touch of poignancy, a bloke who eventually sort of gets his man, and looks like he might just have a vague chance of getting the girl, and overall you've got one entertaining reading ride.
AMONGST THE DEAD - Robert Gott
Failed Shakesperean actor and would-be private investigator Will Power's unique detective skills are, once again, in demand. The Japanese army is rampaging through the islands of the South Pacific and Australia's front line of defence is a top-secret, crack division of men embedded deep in the tropical wilderness of northern Australia. But something is threatening their vital, covert mission: one of this elite corps is a murderer, preying on his comrades, one by one.
AMONGST THE DEAD is the third novel in Robert Gott's William Power series. William is an "aspirational" but failed Shakespearean actor, turned Private Investigator who finds himself in very unusual circumstances in the Top End of Australia during World War II in AMONGST THE DEAD.
William and his brother Brian are called upon by Australian Military Intelligence to find out the truth behind the suspicious deaths in a crack, very secret squad. William, of course, thinks, that they need him for his superior powers of detection, and because they are to be infiltrated into the squad as part of an entertainment troupe. The North Australia Observer Unit (or Nackaroo's) are a small group of soldiers and their Aboriginal assistants who patrol the Top End of the country, watching for any sign of the Japanese invasion from the Islands of the South Pacific into the Australian Mainland. Intelligence believes that the deaths of three Nackaroo's were highly suspicious, but the level of secrecy of the NAOU means that they cannot trust the investigation to just anybody, and when it comes to somebody stroking his ego, William will volunteer for just about anything.
William is not sure if it helps or complicates the investigation when they discover their third brother - Fulton - is a member of the suspect squad. The inclusion of the entertainment troupe is further complicated by the fact that William's Shakespearean recitation is not exactly the entertainment most appreciated by the troops and that doesn't help William's overall mood, somewhat strained already by the persistent rain, mould, heat, mud, long days walking through the Top End bush, encounters with Crocodiles, Dengue Fever, and murder.
AMONGST THE DEAD has a lovely comic twist with William Power undoubtedly being one of the most over-developed "theatrical" egos doing the rounds. He is, unfortunately, also a bit of a twit, which means that his concept of solving the deaths of the soldiers and two more deaths in the squad after he and Brian arrive, seems to involve a lot of blundering around, an awful lot of shooting his mouth off at the most inappropriate times and an enormous chunk of the investigation feeling well sorry for himself. He also, alas, can't see the woods for the trees, and when he is ultimately accused of killing the two men who died after he arrived, rather than see the wood for what it is, he's too busy feeling righteously indignant followed by madly accusing everyone else around him, to really see what's going on.
Of course, the point of AMONGST THE DEAD is that William doesn't really solve anything - he's the method by which other people sort out a mess that has to be sorted out. But the book doesn't suffer at all from this variance from the norm in crime fiction - if anything it adds a different dimension. In William you have a "hero" that you can truly laugh at - that you just want to sidle up to and whisper "dear me, old chap, put down the Shakespeare script, have a peek over the chip on your shoulder and I suspect you'll see something to your advantage". Having said that - he's marvelously awful - you just can't disagree with Shane Maloney's quotation on the press release. "Literature has had its share of heroes, heroes of many kinds: classic heroes, super heroes, accidental heroes, flawed heroes, anti-heroes. And now, at last, it has a dickhead hero".
THE SACRED BONES - Michael Byrnes
THE SACRED BONES is another entry in the recently well-populated field of confrontational religious themed thrillers. When a well armed, well organised small group break through the walls of the mosque in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem they appear to have been very well informed. Blowing a hole in the wall in exactly the right place to reveal an unknown burial crypt, they move straight past a number of ossuaries taking only the one deepest in the chamber. Their escape, facilitated by a stolen Israeli helicopter, leaves Palestinians outraged over the desecration of sacred ground and Israeli's equally outraged over the deaths of thirteen soldiers during the resulting fire-fight.
In the meantime Italian anthropologist Giovanni Bersei and American geneticist Charlotte Hennesey have been summoned to Vatican City to analyse a mysterious archaeological treasure that could prove to be one of the greatest secrets, the ossuary contains a human skeleton, approximately 2,000 years old, obvious speared, obviously crucified. Forces within Vatican City are very troubled over the existence of the skeleton and the implications to the very foundations of belief.
Starting out reading THE SACRED BONES it was very very hard to shake the feeling that if you can manage to offend 3 major worldwide religions then you've got the possibility of a run away best seller. Fortunately the story helps a little in dispelling that fear as, frankly, there's some points of supposed scientific revelation in here that were impossible for this reader (no doctor / geneticist granted) to swallow. Maybe part of the reason for that was some credibility gaps for the main "experts", who seemed to ask questions and make statements that just didn't stack up, maybe part of the reason was that the story had elements that were just too way out to be feasible and hence, the book read as an outrageous over the top thriller.
And as an over the top thriller there were some really funny elements - two of the main characters in severe danger of dying in a hail of sniper bullets, and the scenes around the destruction of the car they were driving were laid out in such detail it was hilarious. The time it takes for the two experts to eventually have the discussion about "whose bones do you think they could be" - the reader can have a wonderful time playing "go on ... say it .. I dare you" games. The sinister security consultant for the Vatican "lurking" around in the shadows everywhere that Charlotte goes, who then conveniently leaves doors open for discoveries to be made. The much commented on loveliness of Charlotte - more homely geneticists obviously would not qualify for this particular task. The Irish (yes Irish) priest, with the murderous background who manages to kill a lurking, dangerous killer in the middle of Rome with seemingly nobody noticing. All great over the top stuff.
THE SACRED BONES might not make it as an entrant in the encouraging controversy stakes but for a totally over the top, really silly bit of light entertainment, it was good fun to play spot the cliché in.