With girlfriend DS Jacquie Carpenter back at work and little baby Nolan rapidly growing into a feisty toddler, Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell, Head of Sixth Form at Leighford High, decides to hire an au pair. The exotic Juanita Reyes seems the perfect choice.
But one afternoon the lovely Juanita disappears into thin air, and two ramblers are surprised - and not a little disturbed - when their dog digs up a body on Dead Man's Point, the lonely cliff top rising high over the sea.
MAXWELL'S POINT is the 12 book in what seems to now be a 14 book series. Having never read any of the earlier books, I was particularly curious to see whether or not the series could be picked up well down the track without this reader feeling lost, and more than a little confused.
It did take a few chapters to get used to the sense of humour and the tone of the book. 'Mad Max' is an extremely sarcastic, dryly witty, acerbic sort of a character and the tone and humour is heavy-handed. Once you get used to that, and come to understand what the outwardly awkward old Max is all about, the humour fits and can be quite amusing at times. It's also not too hard to work out that his girlfriend - mother of his son - is a fair bit younger than him, and used to his interfering ways, even if her superiors in the force are less than impressed.
Once you have got into the style and relationships of the book, the story of MAXWELL'S POINT was nicely twisty and complicated. 'Mad Max' as is his wont, gets fully involved in the search for his missing au pair, although it's not part of the police investigation. He also gets himself mildly in the way of the police who are investigating a series of bodies that start to be discovered around the cliffs and beach side of the local area, an investigation which Jacquie is involved in. There is also, in what I would suspect is an ongoing war, a skirmish between 'Mad Max' and the school authorities.
The humour and the style of 'Mad Max' might take some readers a little getting used to, it might be easy to mistake the irony as rudeness, the sly and witty commentary as superiority, particularly if you are not used to that style of humour. But the mystery revealed was fairly laid out for the reader to follow and the main characters were engaging and interesting. The fact that the book is so far into a series didn't leave the reader feeling lost or give you a feeling of missing out on something. Having said that, what really worked for me, was the sheer fun of a central protagonist that is anything but predictable.
DEATH IN HELLFIRE - Deryn Lake
When John Rawlings is asked to investigate an infamous club which is suspected of carrying on some rather shady activities, he is intrigued. The disreputable Sir Francis Dashwood is believed to be involved, as well as other illustrious members of the British aristocracy.
In disguise, and accompanied by his old companion Samuel Swann, John befriends Sir Francis and gains access to his home and family, including someone from John's past, someone whose exceptional beauty still hypnotises him.
I've never been one much for historicals, so I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed DEATH IN HELLFIRE. Asked by the blind beak himself, Sir John Fielding, John Rawlings launches himself into the investigation of the notorious Hellfire Club. Worried by the sketchy artifice he has developed to disguise himself, concerned about the rumours of debauchery but more worried about the sinister aspects of the same club, he travels to the home of Sir Francis Dashwood and inveigles himself into the family circle.
His disguise, and position within the household is complicated when he finds that one of the guests of the house is his ex-lover, actress and now wife of Charles, Marquess of Arundel. Charles is a thoroughly unsatisfactory sort of chap, and a fellow member of the Hellfire Club. There are two parts to this story - the investigation of the Hellfire Club, and the suspicious death of two of the guests of the Dashwood household, which occurred around the time of the gathering of the Club that Rawlings is able to get himself invited to.
I suspect part of the reason that I enjoyed DEATH IN HELLFIRE so much was the slightly wry sense of humour from the central character. John Rawlings doesn't take himself or the situations he finds himself in overly seriously, and there is a real wit and charm to the way that he progresses through the investigation, and to a lot of the side characters throughout the book. The writing style can be quite flamboyant but it's very engaging, and the settings themselves aren't too glamourised or, for that matter, overly dire. It also helps that the whole thing whips along at a great pace, without the need for great daring and over the top doings.
DEATH IN HELLFIRE is the 12th book in the John Rawlings series by Deryn Lake - which is a pseudonym of historical novelist Dinah Lampitt.
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.
Wow - what a great debut thriller - this was a real page turner for me the suspense was unrelenting.
Sophie Phillips is a paramedic in Sydney, Australia. Not only is her work high stress with a non-stop pace - but her home life is just as busy with a baby boy and policeman husband, Chris
The book opens right in the middle of the action - a bank robbery, the seventh in a series, has occurred and a guard is down. Sophie and her partner Mick are called to attend but are unable to save the guard. Almost immediately they are called to the emergency birth of a child - only to have the mother and baby die. Not a good day. There is not much support at home either, Chris and Sophie are having problems, and Sophie is riddled with guilt because she has had a one-night stand with her husband's partner, Angus.
The next day everything changes - the police receive an anonymous tip off that point the bank robberies at corrupt police, Chris is critically shot on his front doorstep and baby Lachlan is kidnapped. While Chris is in hospital fighting for his life, and now suspected of being linked to the bank robberies, the police search for the baby swings into action.
Sophie's distress causes her to to frantically search for her son - going against police advice. Her anguish is heartbreakingly real. Sophie thinks she knows who has her baby and is determined to bring them to justice herself, because she doesn't think the police are trying hard enough. Meanwhile Chris, recuperating in hospital, thinks that it is something he has done that has caused the baby to disappear - can he do something to get his baby back?
Detective Ella Marconi is assigned the case - trying to link all the pieces of the puzzle together - and stop Sophie from hindering in the investigation.
Is there nothing a mother under the pump won't do to get her child back?
There are a few threads to the story but it is all go, go go! The book picks you up and doesn't let you go until the explosive end when all the red herrings melt away and the truth comes out. Author, Katherine Howell, was a worthy nominee for the 2008 Ned Kelly award for best first novel. She has got the strong pull of motherhood to the T - and I very much related to Sophie and understood her reactions - takes a lot of talent to provoke such sympathy from me for a character in a book.
It is excellent reading, and I am looking forwards to getting my hands on the next book THE DARKEST HOUR which has been released - and a third is not too far away. Katherine Howell is an author to look out for.
A FLORENTINE DEATH - Michele Giuttari
Michele Giuttari is a real-life Italian policeman, head of the Squadra Mobile for around 8 years in his own right, so it's not too much of a stretch to believe that his central protagonist, Michele Ferrara, is more than a little autobiographical. The author has allowed his character to be slightly quirky, but undoubtedly he is the hero of the piece, and given the cases that Giutarri investigated, including the Monster of Florence, the reader has to assume that some of the events aren't that far from real life as well.
As the bodies are found, seemingly pointlessly mutilated, we get to know Ferrara along the way. There is a very Italian feeling to these books, probably helped by sideways forays into the world of high opera and art, food and wine, to say nothing of the references to the architecture and layout of Florence. There is a strong sexual element to this book, and the plot itself is nicely complicated, but positioned firmly in something that seems oh so Italian - revenge. Whilst it's not that hard to pick the who, the how, and even take an educated guess at the why - the entire why is revealed late in the book, as the chase of the killer draws to its end.
There's not a lot of suspense in A FLORENTINE DEATH, and, on a few occasions, there is a slightly unpleasant worshipful tone around the central protagonist. The main clanger was some simply bizarre elements to the sexual assault of one of the female characters that could risk readers wanting to throw the book against a wall, but overall, somewhat unexpectedly, A FLORENTINE DEATH was still quite interesting. Even if you knew nothing of the author's background, there is a sense of reality about the way that the events are portrayed and there's a great sense of Florence and Italy about the book. The translation reads very smoothly in English, whilst still retaining a lovely feeling of an Italian lilt and sensibility.
A FLORENTINE DEATH is the first book by Michele Giuttari. The second, A DEATH IN TUSCANY, has recently been translated.
INTO THE DARKLANDS AND BEYOND - Nigel Latta
Why are sex offenders and murderers the way they are? Can they change? And how can we protect our families? Forensic scientist Nigel Latta has spent a large part of his working life trying to answer these questions. In the first two editions of <em>Into the Darklands</em>, he took us into the minds of some of the most chilling characters to walk our streets as he attempted to help them confront the tragic consequences of their crimes.
Nigel Latta did a session at the Crime & Justice Festival earlier this year, that to be brutally honest, we all ended up attending more by good luck than our own good judgement (the session we'd booked was cancelled) so we switched. I can't remember the last time I felt so lucky to switch to a session about subject matter that so isn't something you want to think about. Not only does Nigel Latta make you think - he makes you laugh - he makes you squirm uncomfortably - he makes you just a bit weepy at points. Mostly he makes you glad that there are people like him doing the things that people like us should never expect him to have to do.
The book (and his session) talked about coming face to face with some pretty revolting offenders. His role is to either counsel some of these people - or to assist in evaluating them - or simply to try to work out if they are an ongoing danger to society. Not the sort of job that you'd immediately think of when toying with a careers options list. But he tells how he was convinced to follow this path by a seminar run to confront offenders with the results of their actions. INTO THE DARKLANDS takes you into exactly that - the darklands of offending, of some pretty horrific offending, and how people who do what they do, think, feel (or don't) and what can (or can't) be done with them to protect everyone else.
There is also a tv series, made in New Zealand, based around similar subject matter to that covered by INTO THE DARKLANDS. I'd highly recommend you read the book - sure some of the subject matter is extremely confrontational, but this is real life, and it's comforting to know that there are people working in the field who understand the concept of personal responsibility and aren't afraid to take it up to the offenders. Oh - and the TV series is coming to Australia it seems. It sounds like it would be worth watching for the same reason.
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.
BYE BYE BABY is a very thick book. At just over 500 pages, perhaps too thick.
The basic plot is pretty good, but there seems to be just a little too much window dressing. Jack is attractive to women, his past problems demonstrate that. His deputy, DI Kate Carter has a crush on him and is extremely jealous of attention he pays to any other female, despite the fact she is engaged to be married. I didn't like this particular plot thread, I felt it detracted from the story and made a character central to the book unlikeable when she didn't need to be. And perhaps its a sign of the author's inexperience with the crime fiction genre that many plot developments are telegraphed to the reader long before the police discover the clues. At times I felt like shouting at them not to be so dopey.
That aside, BYE BYE BABY differs from many books dealing with serial killers. There are shades of grey in this book which are missing from most other books with a similar theme.
Lauren Crow is a nom de plume for Fantasy author Fiona Macintosh who is making her first foray into crime fiction.
UNTIL IT'S OVER by Nicci French
Husband and wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have been churning out the psychological thrillers now for almost ten years since the release of THE MEMORY GAME. Every year another is released and they all feature variations on a similar theme, that being of the urban girl in jeopardy. UNTIL IT'S OVER lacks the density of some of the priors and is almost startlingly light in the mental conundrums we're used to seeing in novels by these authors. The suspense, such as it is when it appears, doesn't gel with the casualness in which the characters go about their lives, as they keep it all upbeat and act strangely indifferent to the murders happening around them.
Perhaps this is a deliberate play for the female market. Not romantic suspense as such, but skimming somewhere close to it. Think backpacker murders in inner city London, only it is an old house with the tenants being virtually squatters. What holds these people in the house is the prospect of losing their cheap rent when the owner decides to move his less than easy-going girlfriend in. It is so absurd to think that a legal battle could even be contemplated in such circumstances, and it simply isn't enough of a plot driver to keep all the characters rooted in what is clearly an extremely dangerous place to be. UNTIL IT'S OVER is a somewhat shallow read, nowhere near the calibre of what Nicci French is more than capable of, yet may be just the ticket if you aren't in the mood to agonize over the plight of the characters, and simply want to see how it all ends.
Kudos to the cover artist as the cover image at first appears to be a rather creepy bug! At second glance, it can be seen that it is actually a bicycle wheel with the spokes bent out of shape (very relevant to how this book begins).
FATAL FLAW - Roger Maynard
On Easter Sunday,2002, Janelle Patton was murdered on Norfolk Island. it was the first murder on the island in 150 years.
The hunt for the killer and the attendant media scrutiny threw a spotlight onto the small, insular community which perhaps changed it for ever. The suspicions created during the investigation will perhaps linger for many years.
FATAL FLAW follows the investigation, the inquest and the trial which convicted New Zealander Glenn O'Neill.
Although the record shows that O'Neill was the killer, his conviction was based on an early confession which was later recanted by him. The rest of the evidence was largely circumstantial and there were many unanswered questions which haven't completely closed the matter.
Norfolk Island is a somewhat hierarchical community, with descendents of the Bounty mutineers and Pitcairn Islander at the top. it is also a community which is very protective of itself, where the smallest conflicts can result in decades long feuds and rumours run riot.
Roger Maynard looks beneath the seemingly picture-postcard exterior of Norfolk Island and uncovers what lies beneath the surface. What it shows is that life on Norfolk Island is perhaps darker and less idyllic than the tourism publicity would lead us to believe.
KILLING JODIE - Janet Fife-Yeomans
Drug user and part-time prostitute, Jodie Larcombe disappeared from St Kilda in December, 1987. It would have been easy for police to shrug their shoulders and put it down to her lifestyle. However, the detectives assigned to her case refused to give up on her.
They were certain she had been murdered. They knew who did it, but they just couldn't prove it to the satisfaction of the Department of Public Prosecutions.
This year I have read true crime books about crooks, books about crimes and books about the personalities involved, but this is the first book I've read that tells the story from, the perspective of the investigating officers.
KILLING JODIE is an in-depth nuts-and bolts look at the investigation. Because there was no body, not only did the detectives have to collect evidence proving the Suckling had commited murder, they also had to discount the inevitable claims that Jodie was still alive.
The author, Janet Fife-Yeomans became intrigued with the case when covering the story for The Australian newspaper. In her acknowledgements she states that "I have tried to take the reader inside the investigation so the evidence unfolds for the reader as it did for the police" and she has succeeded. KILLING JODIE reads like a police procedural. We share the ups and downs of the case with the investigating officers who refused to let go, the relationships formed with Jodie's family and other witnesses during the case and the impact it had on all their lives.
Fife-Yeomans had the co-operation of both police and family in writing KILLING JODIE and has written it in such a way that it is almost impossible not to become emotionally involved while reading the book.
KILLING JODIE is a must-read for true crime devotees. If you're not, perhaps this book will change your mind.
MR SIN (The Abe Saffron Dossier) - Tony Reeves
He was known as "Mr Sin", yet despite his involvement in illegal gambling, sly grog, prostitution and money laundering for nearly sixty years, Abe Saffron faught the nick name most of his adult life. He spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on defamation suits trying to disprove what everyone except himself accepted. He was a crook.
MR SIN: THE ABE SAFFRON DOSSIER chronicles Abe Saffron's life as a major underworld figure in Sydney.
The most fascinating part of MR SIN is not the corruption. It is the extent of it and how blatant it was. Many involved made little or no effort to cover up the fact they were taking payments from Saffron and his enterprise.
Saffron's strange obsession with defending his "good name" in the courts is also explored.
Reeves isn't afraid to name names either. Some of Australia's best known identities are named in the book; Sir Peter Abeles, Sir Frank Packer, former Attorney General, Lionel Murphy and of course former Premier of New South Wales Robert Askin.
I did find the quotes from various court cases to be extremely dry reading. The rest of the book is a fascinating expose of just how corrupt things were in New South Wales for several decades.