Mystery and crime books from Australia. News, views, reviews, releases and author appearances - crime fiction in Australia. Crime novels, mystery novels, detective stories, police procedural books, thrillers and soft-boiled mysteries

Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 New Releases

As we consign the year 2007 to the history books and every newspaper, literary blog and on-line forum have compiled their Best of 2007 lists (I was away that day), we now look ahead to what's in store for us in 2008.

The Age has jumped in first with their in depth look at the forthcoming releases for the year.

Paring it down to new Australian crime releases (as well as correcting an error or two) I can give you a brief run down of what we can look forward to plus a few rumours that are still to be confirmed.

In January, The Tattooed Man by Alex Palmer (HarperCollins) will be released as will the debut novel Fivefold by Nathan Burrage (Random House).

Moving on to February, Fan Mail by P.D. Martin (Pan Macmillan) will take the number of Sophie Anderson books to 3.

In March, Murder on the Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin) will be released. I expect this will be a follow up novel to the 2006 The Apricot Colonel.

April will see the release of Sydney Bauer's 3rd novel, Alibi (Pan Macmillan) featuring lawyer David Cavanaugh.

May gives us 3 releases at this stage. Katherine Howell's second novel The Darkest Hour (Pan Macmillan) comes out, as does Shatter by Michael Robotham (Sphere) and a debut novel A Deadly Business by Lenny Bartulin (Scribe).

In July we can look forward to Leah Giarratano's 2nd thriller titled Voodoo Doll (Random House).

In August, the 3rd book by James Phelan , Blood Oil, is due to be released.

The hints keep coming that Garry Disher's new novel will be out in November and it will be a new Wyatt novel. I'll keep my ears and eyes peeled for more word on this front. I'm still waiting for confirmation that the new novel by Peter Temple (possibly titled Truth) will be coming out at some stage during the year. There will be a new John Birmingham book out later in the year but the title is still to be finalised. I've also jotted Tony Park's name down because he keeps mentioning on his blog that work is progressing well on novel number 5.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review : Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

Title : Skin and Bone

Author : Kathryn Fox
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781405038225
Sub-Genre : Police Procedural / Thriller

Similar to Michael Robotham's practise of taking minor characters from his previous books and featuring them as protagonists in the next, Kathryn Fox has promoted Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer from bit player in the Anya Crichton books (Malicious Intent, Without Consent) to lead in Skin and Bone. In so doing she has moved the focus away from the forensic pathology side of criminalistics and moved to the coal-face of the homicide detective office in a police procedural story that twists behind a series of cunning facades.

The pressure is on Detective Kate Farrer right from the first page of Skin and Bone. She has just returned to work after recovering from a hellish ordeal a few months earlier and is determined to carry on with her usual high quality efficiency. Our first impression of her, though, is that she is far from rehabilitated and is still hampered by side-effects from being held captive, battling panic attacks and claustrophobia. She also has to go through the added aggravation of breaking in a new partner. Then there's the rampant chauvinism thrust at her by some of her fellow detectives.

The story opens at the scene of a suspected arson that is complicated by one victim found in the ashes, making it a possible murder investigation. The victim appears to be female and the presence of a nappy bag in the house suggests that the dead woman has also recently had a baby but there are no remains found in the wreckage, meaning that there is also a missing child to worry about. Her new partner is DC Oliver Parke, a young and enthusiastic family man with whom Kate is particularly aloof, allowing herself to be irritated by his attempts to win her favour.

Before Farrer and Parke can get started on the complicated arson/murder/missing investigation they are handed a second case to look into. To Kate's great annoyance the new case is a missing person case that has been given a high priority because the woman who has gone missing is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who is in turn a friend of the police commissioner. It's a case that looks like it will lead nowhere and can only waste time that would be more valuably spent on their original case.

The missing woman is Candice Penfold and when they begin their investigation they learn that she had been involved with a man named Mark Dobbie. Dobbie had been pursuing her sister and, when he was soundly rebuffed, turned his attention to Candice. His police record flags him as a definite avenue though which they can travel and what they find is a repulsive piece of work who believes is God's gift to women. He is a man who obsessively works out and who uses women in the most abhorrent ways. The man is obviously a piece of trash and he has committed more than his fair share of crimes in the past, some of which are unearthed by Kate and Oliver...but the question of whether he is involved in Candice's disappearance remains unclear.
Just as all the pieces appear to be falling into place in a complicated investigation, a series of seemingly unrelated incidents tumble in on each other. The results of which mean that Kate 1) loses her prime suspect, 2) finds herself in danger of losing her job , and 3) comes within a whisker of losing her life.

Skin and Bone is anything but straightforward. Not only are there a multitude of complexities laid into the parallel investigations, but there is a rich development in the relationship between Kate and Oliver providing it's own fascination. A further dimension of intrigue is injected into the story by the inclusion of a side-story that will sound familiar to many Australians Australian readers will also recognise a particular side-story that sounds similar to a recent high profile trial in Sydney.

As a police procedural, the story builds gradually in momentum as leads are chased down, suspects are interviewed and dismissed and forensic evidence is examined. But that's not to say that the story wanders in any way. In fact, with two key investigations to take care of, there is a feeling that progress is constantly being made.

On the whole I found Skin and Bone to be an extremely entertaining novel. However, there are a couple of problem areas that had me scratching my head. The first comes when Kate Farrer suddenly decides to interview the friend of her prime suspect, which wouldn't normally seem so unusual, except she decided to pop over to his house at 5 in the morning. It was a totally implausible scenario and comes across as a clumsy attempt to set up a thrilling scene.

My only other problem is that the plot is overly dependent on coincidence. As a reader you kind of guess that when a protagonist works on two cases at the same time there's more than a reasonable chance that they will somehow be related to each other, but in this case, the piece just seem to snick together too neatly for my liking.

Skin and Bone is a solid murder thriller that is strong in character development. The issue of the mistreatment of women by men is a strong theme throughout the book, not just of the murder victims but also the treatment that Kate herself has to endure. Kate Farrer proves to be a fiercely independent woman who starts out as a fairly unlikable protagonist but who grows and develops greatly as the story progresses. One feels there is more to learn about the Sydney homicide detective.
You can find out more about Kathryn Fox including the UK release date for Skin and Bone by visiting her website.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Summer Read Author Appearances

The State Library of Victoria's Summer Read program runs from 20 November to 1 February with participating authors contributing to the SLV's blog. Additional features of the program are a series of author appearances at various libraries around Melbourne. So pull out your diaries and mark the following dates down

Garry Disher will be visiting the Hastings Library on the Mornington Peninsula on Tuesday, January 15th at 6:30pm. An appropriate location given the setting of his Challis and Destry books, the latest of which is Chain of Evidence. Booking details here.

Dorothy Porter, author of the verse novel El Dorado will be at the Caulfield Library on Thursday, January 17 from 7:00 - 9:00pm. To make a booking you can visit this website.

Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove, will be speaking at Sam Merrifield Library on Thursday, January 17th at 7pm. This is a free event but places must be booked beforehand. Details available here.

A week later, Adrian will be out at the Gisborne Library from 7:30 - 8:30pm. The date to remember for this one is Thursday, 24th January. Details here.

You can meet James Phelan, author of Patriot Act at Geelong City Library on Thursday, January 24th at 6:30pm. All the details can be found here.

An important decision will have to be made because Michelle de Kretser, author of The Lost Dog will be at the City Library, also on Thursday, January 24th at 6:30pm. To book to meet Michelle just visit the website.

Now, if it's a riotous night you're after then you can't go past a chat with Max Barry, author of The Company. He will be at the Brighton Library on Thursday, 31 January at 6:30pm. Booking details here.

That's a pretty good start to the year for the Victorian crime readers among us. Get along and support the local authors. I've picked a selection of crime/thriller authors from the list (I use the term crime/mystery rather loosely for some of the authors listed above), but there are many more appearances on the program. If you'd like to attend an author appearance check out the full list here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reading : The Low Road by Chris Womersley

I’ve just started reading The Low Road by Chris Womersley today, in fact I’m only around 40 pages into it. I’d heard some good reports of the book and it has lived up to my expectations so far. Even at this early stage though I’m struck by the intensity of his prose and the quality of the language in which even the most mundane of scenes are described. There is a strong air of despair to the story, a feeling that things are not going to go easy for those who are trapped within the covers.

There's something about the way the early scenes are described that strikes a chord within me, I reckon they're worth repeating here:

Wild slept in the back seat of his car for two nights before checking into a dingy motel at the frayed hem of the city, where practical buildings are low to the ground.

It could have simply been the edge of the city but the more descriptive phrase leaves you in no doubt about the part of town he was staying.

Stretching into the distance was a relentless urban grammar of rooftops, antennae, wires and flickering lights. A flock of birds rose and arced against the clouds like a slow throw of pepper.
Wonderful imagery, in my opinion. And then there's the moment Lee aught the bullet.

With a grimace he lifted the blood-soaked t-shirt to expose a black, pea-sized hole, fringed by a mineral crust of dried blood. The surrounding skin was swollen, tender. There was blood all over his hands and smears of it on his jeans. His own blood, presumably, although he couldn’t be entirely sure. He flinched at the memory of that woman and the jump of her gun. That blunt truck of surprise. Her slow blink. Bang.

The story starts with Lee lying shot in the side and slowly bleeding in a grimy motel room, a bag of stolen money lying on the floor nearby. Joining him is Wild, a disgraced doctor on the run who reluctantly tends to Lee’s injuries. They both have a common goal, they both have to get away, but they’ve also got trouble on their tail in the form of a man named Josef.

Good noir thrillers really draw you into the depths of the story, dragging you down so that you really experience the story rather than simply read it. Right now, I can feel the first subtle tugs. It's a journey I'm fully prepared to take.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reading : The Big Score by Peter Corris

I’m currently reading the latest Cliff Hardy book by Peter Corris, The Big Score. This is another collection of short stories featuring the tough Sydney private enquiry agent.

The stories are obviously fairly recent because Cliff has the use of a mobile phone, doesn’t smoke, uses Viv Garner as his solicitor and is going out with Lily. But they also fall before his last novel, Appeal Denied, because Cliff still holds his PEA license.

I am partway through the 5th of 11 stories that make up the book and they have all been consistently punchy, running to around 10 pages per story. As in real life, not all of Cliff’s investigations end neatly or satisfactorily, often times we just have to content in knowing who dunnit and how rather than the fact that they are going to pay for doing it.

Each story exhibits the usual display of guts and/or ingenuity on Hardy’s part and, for fans of the series, continues on the solid tradition that has made the series so popular for so long in which Hardy wades in boots and all and bugger the sensitivities of those around him.

Book Details:
The Big Score by Peter Corris
pub. Allen & Unwin
ISBN. 9781741752236
214 pages

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Six Sacred Stones - The Comic

In a nifty promotional idea, Simon and Schuster have announced a competition for US and Canadian residents in which you are asked to create a comic strip based on Chapter 1 of Matthew Reilly's new action thriller 6 Sacred Stones. The competition website includes a link to an excerpt of the first chapter so budding comic writers be inspired to create a masterpiece.

The winning entry is going to be included in the mass market edition of the book. You've got until 11:59 ET on March 1, 2008 to get it in so get cracking and do Reilly's non-stop action proud.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ross Duncan Review and Interview

The folks over at The Compulsive Reader have been busy with a steady stream of reviews and interviews. One of their more recent subjects has been Ross Duncan, author of All Those Bright Crosses. The transcript of the interview conducted by Magdalena Ball can be read on The Compulsive Reader website or, alternatively, you can sit back and relax and listen to the audio version of the interview.

Accompanying the interview is a review of All Those Bright Crosses in which Magdalena effecitvely captures the unmistakable strengths of the book.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Garry Disher Answers the Parker Question

A few days ago I posted about Garry Disher's articles at the State Library of Victoria Great Summer Reads Blog. Peter from Detectives Beyond Borders put the question of the relationship between Disher's Wyatt and Richard Stark's Parker to him.

Garry Disher has wasted little time in penning his response to Peter and it makes for still more fascinating insight into Wyatt the character as well as the place of the criminal as protagonist in the crime genre.

In another post Disher spoke (among many other things) about the popularity of his books in Germany which prompted the question from one reader asking him why he thought he had won such popularity from the German readers. It's a question that he again goes to great lengths to answer.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spinetingler Award Nominations

Many crime fiction fans would already be aware of, and have devoured, each on-line edition of Spinetingler Magazine and so would be aware of the new set of awards that were feted a few months ago. The nominations for the inaugural Spinetingler Awards have now been announced with the usual “Best Novel” type categories joined by one or two new ones not seen at the Edgars, Anthonys, etc.

All the details of the awards and the nominees are listed on the CrimeZine site, but of interest to Australian readers are the inclusion of Text Publishing, picking up a nom in the Best Publisher category and Daniel Hatadi earning a Special Services to the industry nomination for his wonderful Crimespace site.

(Added later 'cos I'm not quite as up on things as perhaps I could be) As Sandra Ruttan has pointed out, Amra Pajalic has also received a nomination in the Best Short Story On the Web category for her story The Living Dead which appeared in Spinetingler Magazine.

These awards are interactive in that we can all vote for them by sending an email to Sandra Ruttan at Spinetingler Magazine. Voting is open now and will remain so until December 30, 2007. Only one email will be accepted per person so you need to send your votes in for all categories in the one message. Sandra has listed all the pertinent instructions at CrimeZine so pop on over and check it out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Garry Disher Tells All

I came across this extremely interesting article by Garry Disher on the State Library of Victoria blog today. In it he examines in great depth the ideas, planning and characters that go into his two series, the Wyatt series and the Challis and Destry series.

Of particular interst to me was his discussion of the persona of Wyatt and his own theory about why he thinks a criminal protagonist is so appealing to readers. He also slips in the tantalising news that he is in the process of writing a 7th Wyatt book. (The speculation / rumours from earlier in the year are true).

The six Wyatt books are : Kickback, Paydirt, Deathdeal, Crosskill, Port Vila Blues and The Fallout

He then turns his attention to the Challis and Destry books listing the main elements of the series and how he comes up with ideas for the crimes contained in each book. He also eplains why the series has expanded from being known as "The Challis Series" to "The Challis and Destry Series".

The four Challis & Destry books are : The Dragon Man, Kittyhawk Down, Snapshot and Chain of Evidence.

A couple of days earlier, Disher contributed another article to the SLV blog titled "Becoming a Fiction Writer...get some tips from Garry Disher". This reads as more of a bio on Disher explaining his background and upbringing before going on to give a few tips on how he thinks talented young writers might succeed at their craft.

As I said earlier, the two articles make for some very interesting reading, particularly if you are a fan of Disher. And if you're not (yet) but enjoy top quality hardboiled crime fiction, it's well worth the effort to track down the books listed above.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Reading : The Beijing Conspiracy by Adrian d'Hage

I've just finished Adrian d'Hage's second epic thriller, The Beijing Conspiracy which is a tumultuous follow-up to his debut novel, The Omega Scroll. The book illustrates a doomsday type scenario that sounds all too plausible given the real-life events that we have witnessed in recent years. It serves as a warning and a plea for clear-headed thinking with an emphasis placed on understanding from both sides.

Terrorist warnings are delivered to the White House with threats from al-Qaeda that attacks will be made unless certain demands are met. Naturally, with US elections approaching the President refuses to be seen as bowing to terrorist demands and ignores the warnings. What follows are massive attacks around the world, but these attacks are meant to act as precursors for a much more significant attack should the US continue to refuse to entertain their demands.

Bio-terrorism also raises its terrifying head in the form of the development of a deadly ebola-smallpox strain that is being developed by biochemists around the world. With no known antidote for the vicious virus, unleashing it on the world would have catastrophic results. And with the Beijing Olympics fast approaching, the perfect conditions would be in place for a monstrous bio-terrorist attack.

This is a hectic thriller that doesn't hold back on delivering solid action sequences, many with devastating results. The US and her allies are not spared from the onslaught and it looks very likely that the cost will be millions of lives around the world.

Underlying this, though, as I said earlier is the insistent plea for understanding and level-headedness. It holds a timely warning about religious fervour and the damage that it can cause...from both sides.

It's not often that you can take away a meaningful message from an action thriller of this proportion, but in the case of The Beijing Conspiracy, d'Hage delivers his message with perfect poise and most importantly, the logic of his argument makes a lot of sense.

Friday, November 16, 2007

2007 Davitt Awards

I’m just playing catch up here. Back on November 2nd the 2007 Davitt Awards were announced by the Australian Sisters In Crime. The Davitt Awards are given to the best crime novel by an Australian women published in the previous year.

Best (Adult) Crime Novel
Undertow (Macmillan) by Sydney Bauer

Best True Crime Book
Silent Death: The Killing of Julie Ramage (Hodder) by Karen Kissane

Readers Choice Award
Devil’s Food (Allen & Unwin) by Kerry Greenwood
Silent Death: The Killing of Julie Ramage (Hodder) by Karen Kissane

Best Young Adult Crime Novel
The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie (Pan Macmillan) by Jaclyn Moriarty

The full rundown of the awards ceremony including quotes from the winners can be found at the Sisters In Crime website.

The judging panel comprised Jane Sullivan (Sunday Age literary columnist), Dr Shelley Robertson (Sisters in Crime member, forensic pathologist), Rosi Tovey (former owner of Chronicles Bookshop in St Kilda, Sue Turnbull (Head of Media Studies, La Trobe University, Sisters in Crime national co-convenor and Sydney Morning Herald crime columnist), Katrina Beard (Sisters in Crime national co-convenor, and reviewer) and Vivienne Colmer (Sisters in Crime national co-convenor, and reviewer).

This is a valuable award handed out each year recognising some of the best Australian books that are released each year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reading : The Killing Hour by Paul Cleave

There's a thin line between living in the Noughties and living in the *gulp* Eighties...

Take 1 big truck, pit it against a measly thin cable strung too low across a quiet suburban street. *Ping* say goodbye to broadband internet connection and (even harder to break to the kids) forget about your pay TV for a few days.

Sneaking on and adding a quick blog post at work is about as much as I’m going to be able to manage for the time being until someone comes to fix our connection.

I hate Free-To-Air TV with a passion.

Meanwhile, I’ve started The Killing Hour by the Ned Kelly Award short-listed nominated New Zealand author Paul Cleave. A detailed posting of my thoughts will be forthcoming just as soon as I thought the tangled mess out of my cluttered brain. The early chapters look promising.

A quick teaser for The Killing Hour : Charlie Feldman wakes one morning covered in blood and sporting a huge bump on his forehead. He has woken after experiencing terrible nightmares and an even more troubling knowledge that the police will soon be coming to talk to him about the murder of 2 women who were killed the night before.

Detective Inspector Bill Landry is on the case and spots the blood-soaked sheet of paper with Feldman’s name scrawled on it lying next to the dead woman’s body. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given just 6 months to live, Landry wants to finish his service in a blaze of glory.

The Cliff Hardy series : The Dying Trade

The Cliff Hardy series written by Peter Corris is now over 30 books strong and forms a formidable cornerstone for Australian detective writing. Back in 1980 Cliff was introduced to the world as a hard-drinking tough guy with a ready wit that he was willing to unleash on deserving stuffed shirts. This article is the first in a series that will map Cliff’s development through the years and will present and dissect each book, highlighting notable quotes, the appearance of regular characters and other features important in the sculpting of Australia’s foremost fictional detective.

Indroducing Cliff Hardy

We meet Cliff Hardy in the exact spot from where all private detectives worth their salt should be introduced, behind his shabby desk in his shabby office. In this case no-one walks into his office, instead the phone rings and he is summonsed to the home of Bryn Gutteridge at Vaucluse, one of Sydney’s most exclusive addresses.

Quite a lot can be gleaned about Cliff Hardy from the very opening paragraph of the series, aspects about his life that would come up numerous times throughout the next 30 books:

“I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9.30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall. I didn’t travel. I spent the day on Bondi beach and the evening with tonic water and Le Carre, so I was clear-headed and clean-shaven, doodling on the desk blotter, when the phone rang.”
He doesn't mention her by name (yet) but his ex-wife Cyn is briefly spoken of. Cyn appears in a short story in Heroin Annie, but she is constantly in Hardy's thoughts and is mentioned at some point in the majority of the books. One gets the feeling he never really gets over her.

A feature of many of the Cliff Hardy books is the way in which the locale is described through Hardy’s eye. He warms things up in The Dying Trade when he visits the exclusive suburb of Vaucluse.

Vaucluse is several million tons of sandstone sticking out into Port Jackson. The sun shines on it and the residents think it vulgar to talk about the view. I permitted myself a few vulgar thoughts as I pushed my old Falcon along the sculptured divided highway which wound up to the tasteful mansions and shaved lawns.
We get a description of Cliff from the man himself as he is about to meet his first client:

The rich always have lots of mirrors in their houses because they like what they see in them. We passed at least six full-length jobs on the trek which put expensive frames around a thinnish man with dark wiry hair, scuffed suede shoes and an air of not much money being spent on upkeep.
And it’s always fun to examine the experience of someone being knocked out as long as it’s not ourselves. When it comes to Cliff Hardy, this is the first of many such instances:

I caught a glimpse of a man with a bandaged face sitting on a bed before I felt like I’d been dumped by a gigantic wave : a ton of metal tried to tear my head from my shoulders and sandbags crashed into my belly and knees. I went down into deep dark water watching a pin-point of light which dimmed, dimmed and died.
Hardy becomes introspective as the case becomes complicated:
The villain was in custody as they say, but villains were coming out of the woodwork and the past was sending out tentacles which were winding around the
necks of people living and dying in the present. It’s a dying trade I’m in.
Plot Summary

Cliff is hired by Bryn Gutteridge because his sister is being harassed via threatening phone calls and letters. She is so affected by the harassment that she has checked herself into a clinic where she is undergoing treatment to deal with the shock. It’s Cliff’s job to find the source of the calls and report back to Gutteridge.

In short order Cliff initiates 2 explosive confrontations the like of which fans of the series will become used to as typical of Hardy’s aggressive style. The first of these comes when he intercedes in a domestic dispute between Ailsa Sleeman (Bryn and Susan Gutteridge’s stepmother) and her toy boy, chucking the bloke in the backyard swimming pool. The second comes when he shows up at the Longueville clinic to see Susan, confronts the clinic’s owner, Dr Ian Brave, pushing his weight around and getting himself knocked out for the first time in the series.

By the time he scrapes himself up and makes it home nursing the first impressions he has made, Bryn Gutteridge rings to call him off the case in fear for his life. Hard on the heels of this setback comes a call from Ailsa Sleeman – she now wants to hire Hardy after an attempt is made on her life. Some major upheaval was taking place in the whole family and Cliff is now well and truly roped into it.

What follows is a case that grows in complexity as Gutteridge family secrets are unearthed and picked apart revealing the kind of intrigue that threatens to rip it completely apart. Fortunately with Cliff Hardy’s sharp mind complemented by an even sharper tongue we are guided through a mystery that culminates in the most amazing (and unexpected) ending.

Random Facts of Interest
The following are peculiarities about Hardy that you will find are updated as the series progresses

  • Cliff’s office is located in St Peters St, Kings Cross.
  • He lives in a small two-storey sandstone terrace in Glebe close to the dog track.
  • His fees are $200 retainer plus $60 a day expenses.
  • He smokes roll-your-own cigarettes.
  • Drinking plays a major part in Cliff’s life at this stage. It appears that Peter Corris intended to give Hardy all of the PI vices common to the great hardboiled detectives.
  • He drives an old Ford Falcon and parks it in the backyard of a tattoo parlour for $10 a week.
  • He is knocked out by a blow to the back of the head once in this book.
  • His first wife – Cyn – is mentioned twice by name during the course of The Dying Trade and is referred to in the opening paragraph.

The Cast

Bryn Gutteridge - Cliff's first client, a rich bastard living in Vaucluse.
Susan Gutteridge - Bryn's brother, Cliff first meets her in a clinic where she is undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Dr Ian Brave - psychologist who runs the clinic in Longueville.
Ailsa Sleeman - stepmother of Bryn and Susan, she will later hire Cliff when her life is threatened. She also provides a brief romantic interlude for our intrepid investigator.
Harry Tickener - an up and coming journalist who was caught tailing Cliff. This will be far from the last time we meet this resourceful hack.
Grant Evans - Cliff's contact in the NSW Police Force.

Note: If you have a copy of a book with a cover that is different to the covers displayed in this article would you mind emailing me a copy of the cover please.

Technical Notes

First Edition : Hardcover
Publisher : McGraw Hill Book Company
Date Published : 1980
ISBN : 0 07 072928X
No pages : 229

Next book : White Meat

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading : Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood

I recently finished reading Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood and came away largely unsatisfied. This is the 4th book in the cozy series featuring gourmet baker Corinna Chapman, the earlier books being Earthly Delights, Heavenly Pleasures and Devils Food.

I admit I'm not a fan of the soft-boiled sub-genre but didn't mind the first 3 books because they were all reasonably well-paced with a nicely developed mystery. Trick or Treat found me struggling to finish and there were 2 main reasons for this. The first is that the story simply drags with very little direction being shown. Traces of plot can be sensed in between the exhaustive descriptions of the “delectable” food being consumed.

The second problem is a real bug-bear of mine and a specific reason why I rarely read this sub-genre – the anthropomorphism of cats that simply gets completely out of hand in this book. Virtually every character in the book owns a cat and every cat has an endearing personality trait (or at least that’s what we’re led to believe) which was as difficult for me to swallow as a fur ball. Too many times the flow of the story was interrupted while we were regaled with the foibles of this cat or that which in the end simply acted as filler for the rest of the story.

More mystery, fewer cat indulgences would return this series to a more palatable level for my liking.

Mixed in with the filler is quite an involved subplot that involves a missing Nazi treasure that was sunk somewhere in the Greek islands. Corinna also has to deal with the stress of health issues threatening to close down her bakery plus competition in the form of a new chain bakery that has opened up around the corner undercutting her prices and stealing her clientele.

With the help of her super-perfect boyfriend, Daniel and the unbelievably supportive tenants in her building she fights her way through it all so that she may bake another day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reading : Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

Similar to Michael Robotham’s tendency of taking minor characters from his previous books and featuring them as protagonists in the next, Kathryn Fox has promoted Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer from bit player in the Anya Crichton books (Malicious Intent, Without Consent) to lead in Skin and Bone.

Kate Farrer is returning to work after recovering from a hellish ordeal a few months earlier and is determined to carry on with her usual high quality efficiency. However she’s hampered by side-effects from being held captive, battling panic attacks and claustrophobia and has to go through the added aggravation of breaking in a new partner. Then there’s the rampant chauvinism thrust at her by some of her fellow detectives.

Skin and Bone starts with an arson that is complicated by one victim found in the ashes, making it a possible murder investigation. The dead woman has also recently had a baby but there is no sign of it in the wreckage, so there’s also a missing child to worry about. Finally, she is assigned to a missing person case when the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and friend of the police commissioner – the father not the daughter – vanishes without a trace.

This is proving to be a strong, character driven police procedural novel with just as much interest coming from the interaction between Kate and her new partner (non-romantic, praise be) as there is in the way they go about solving the respective cases.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Meet Katherine Howell and Leah Giarratano in Sydney

This Sunday, 11 November Leah Giarratano (Vodka Doesn't Freeze) and Katherine Howell (Frantic) will be appearing at the Newtown Festival talking about crime fiction. Katherine and Leah will be taking the stage in The Writers Tent from 11:30. All the details can be found at the Newtown Festival website. The event is put on by the Better Read Than Dead Bookshop and should prove to be a fascinating day for book lovers.

Also appearing at the festival will be Thomas Keneally, Hugh Mackay, Anita Heiss, Traci Harding, Karen Miller, Ian Irvine and The Chaser team.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reading: Punter's Luck

A debut novel slipped quietly onto the shelves last year with little or no fanfare. Punter’s Luck by Peter Klein (pub. New Holland Press) is very much in the style of Dick Francis being set in and around the Australian horse-racing industry. Klein is a former strapper and knows the racing scene inside out which stands out in the way he captures the excitement and adrenaline of race day.

The story itself is a very involving thriller in which professional punter and son of a prominent horse trainer, John Punter, gets himself caught up in a missing person case. The missing person is his best friend, a man nicknamed Wombat and on his trail are some mightily pissed off drug dealers who have lost a large sum of money. Inevitably everyone involved has links with one another and the horse-racing industry which drags it all back into Punter’s closer circle.

Punter’s Luck is definitely worth the effort of tracking down and reading. It’s a fast-paced story that contains all of the elements that has made Francis’ books so hugely popular with the added drawcard for Australian readers of having a local flavour.

Friday, October 19, 2007

RIP: Steve J. Spears

I was saddened to hear of the death of Australian playwright turned crime novelist Steve J. Spears. Spears passed away in his home in South Australia last Tuesday, succumbing to lung cancer and a brain tumour. He wrote numerous plays including his most notable being the award-winning The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin which earned him international recognition. He also wrote many scripts for television shows and children’s books.

Over the last few years, though, he wrote detective novels in a series titled The Pentangeli Papers featuring wannabe actress private detective Stella Pentangeli and the brilliant Inspector Ng. According to the Wakefield Press website, Steve was planning on writing 13 books for the series but the count only made it to book 3.

All 3 books bear the hallmark Spears wit and humour making them highly entertaining books to read, not to mention well-crafted mysteries to boot.

The 3 books of The Pentangeli Papers are:
Murder At the Fortnight (2003)
Murder By Manuscript (2004)
Innocent Murder (2005)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Outpost - Issue 5 Released

It has been a year and The Outpost, a crime and mystery zine of short stories from Down Under continues to keep on keeping on. Issue 5 has just been released and once again there are 8 new stories ready to go.

As with the last issue, there appears to be a bit of preponderance of stories based around familial revenge. I don't know what's going on in and around the 'burbs of Australia, but in the minds of our authors there's a heap of payback for cheating so and so's.

To get your quarterly fill of the short stuff from Australia you can check this little lot out...

The Clough Family by Ross Duffy
Night Fever by Breanda Cross
Both Sides of the Same Coin by F.N. Karmatz
The Camp Three Incident by Malcolm Reid
Typhoid Mary by David Walker
Suspicions Aroused by Kerry Ashwin
Second Guess by Christian Fennell
A Buzzing In the Air by S. M. Chianti

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hook, Line and Sinker by Susan Geason

It’s a good news day today. I’ve just been told that there has been a 4th Syd Fish detective novel written. Not only that, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and, it would seem, the short-sightedness of Australia’s publishers, we have the opportunity to enjoy the 4th Syd Fish detective novel for nix.

Back in the early 1990s, author Susan Geason introduced us to the Sydney-based private detective who featured in 3 books (Shaved Fish, Dogfish and Shark Bait). It looked as though the sleuth with his sharp wit and diverse array of connections was here for a long stay, but he disappeared after the 3rd book and hasn’t been seen since.

That is, until now.

It seems that Geason wrote a 4th book titled Hook, Line and Sinker that was completed in 2001. Incredibly though, she was unable find a publisher for Syd Fish IV. Instead, the book is available for download in its entirety from Susan’s website. (Just click on the book's title above)

And if the opening paragraph is anything to go by, we're in for another lively Syd Fish adventure:

To avoid the axe murderer on the loose in Kings Cross, I kept to the main streets on my way to Victoria Street to lunch with Lizzie Darcy. It was a perfect Sydney summer’s day: the smog levels were miraculously below hazardous; there was no bushfire smoke, and the graceful plane trees were in full leaf. Only the sight of all those perfect, tanned blond backpackers doing nothing soured the experience.
I would also encourage you to go back and experience the tight plotting and lurid Kings Cross atmosphere of the earlier Syd Fish by hunting down copies of Shaved Fish, Dogfish and Shark Bait. After that, you might like to try the cracking stand-alone thriller Wildfire.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Reading: Bleak Spring by Jon Cleary

While reading Bleak Spring by Jon Cleary it occurred to me just how dramatically attitudes and accepted standards have changed over the last 10 to 15 years. Remember now, I’m a guy and my observations are coming from a guy’s perspective so perhaps I’m about to be howled down because you feel things haven’t changed terribly much in your opinion – and that’s cool, but my feeling is that we’ve moved on significantly to the point where the attitudes portrayed in Bleak Spring are outdated.

‘I know that!’ snapped the magistrate, giving him the edge of her tongue as if he were her dumb husband. ‘I take it there’s someone here from the DPP then? There’d better be.’
‘Here ma’am.’ Another woman appeared: crumbs, thought Malone, the bloody law is becoming cluttered with them.

This is merely one example of numerous times that the role of women were either commented on disparagingly or else women were portrayed in their “proper” place – in the kitchen, ready to make a cup of tea for their lord and master.

The idea of Scobie Malone commenting on how the "place is becoming cluttered" with women really got me thinking about the series and I started to think back over all the books I have read so far, and I can't for the life of me remember a female police officer in any significant role. Hardly reflective of modern Australian society.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Inside the Mind of Shane Maloney

See what happens if you mooch around the internet long find yet another brilliantly entertaining interview with Shane Maloney. Well, that's what happened tonight anyway.

Lucinda Schmidt (The Sydney Morning Herald & The Age) has collared Maloney and wrung a first rate profile out of the creator of Murray Whelan that should inspire hope for budding authors everywhere who are trying to get published.

Shane explains how his first manuscript (Stiff) was saved from the Text Publishing slush pile by publisher Michael Heywood, single-handedly saving the publishing company from financial ruin.

The story works it's way through to a snappy question / answer section that defines Maloney's clever wit to a tee.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Quoting : Maelstrom by Michael MacConnell

As I said earlier, I finished reading Maelstrom by Michael MacConnell yesterday and found it to be a whirlwind ride, a serial killer story with a difference. I'll just chuck a few quotes from the book out there to let you get acquainted with a few of the characters and MacConnell's style.

Where better to start than with the opening paragraph which puts us in a car with...

The (toey) prey...

Terry pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator. Beside him, his girlfriend Janice slept soundly, oblivious to her boyfriend's reckless abandonment of the speed limit. While he normally paid little attention to road rules, today he had good reason to arrive at their destination speedily. Having made him wait more than 12 months - at last, at long last - Terry Chambers was going to screw Janice Falsom.

Terry didn't know it yet but he and Janice Falsom were already screwed...

So, on to The Killer and a chilling description of a guy with whom you get the impression is not going to be particularly receptive to pleas for mercy...

He was a chameleon. He moved, killed, and then moved again. He had no need for frivolous, specific or bizarre rituals. He borrowed the means from those his research had lead him to. The Violet-Eyed Man's motivation was simple - he liked to kill. After decades of introspection, it was the only conclusion he had been able to reach regarding his true nature. The means itself wasn't important.

Then there's the difference I was talking about, these guys provide the X-factor that quickly drew me into the the story, they are The Hunters...

Sarah could turn her head just enough to see another stranger approaching them, this time from the direction of the burning truck. although physically he looked nothing like the man who had tazered her - the man he had called Bates - he was, at the same time, exactly like him in ways that were less tangible. Sarah, stunned but still focused, noticed his nondescript outdoorsman's clothing, his loose walk, the way he scanned the surrounding area without seeming to, and the restrained menace in his fluid movements.
They were predators.

The protagonist of Maelstrom is FBI agent Sarah Reilly, daughter of Harry Reilly a legend within the Bureau...

He was fifty-one years old and his body was still thickly muscled, primarily from a youth spent in the coal mines of South Jersey. On top of his square-shaped Irish-American head were more dark hairs than there were grey and his green eyes still had a youthful twinkle that could make the ladies giggle and blush. He had a wonderful daughter, Sarah who - after having graduated with a degree in Criminalistics from Notre Dame - had finished first in her class at the FBI academy at Quantico. Most significantly in his life, he had Louise. His wife put up with his countless eccentricities and annoying habits and put him in his place if he got too cocky.

Michael has fed me few juicy tidbits about himself but I still haven't gotten around to updating his page with any details. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about Michael and his activities you can visit his website.

Football Season's Over, Bring On Summer

Well, now that the footie season is over we can anticipate the start of the local cricket season. And while I was disappointed to watch Collingwood go down by less than a goal to the Cats in the Qualifying Final, at least we can hold our heads high, proud in the knowledge that we put in for the entire 4 quarters. I mean, we could have been absolutely humiliated by, say, 119 points or something. Congratulations to Geelong who thoroughly deserved to win the 2007 AFL premiership.

Anyhow, my wandering attention can now return to the upkeep of the Crime Down Under blog and website which has been drifting like a Russell Robertson kick.

So what's coming up at Crime Down Under? Buggered if I know, but here's a dot-pointed list of my grand plans over the next week or so.

  • I have begun re-reading Peter Corris' Cliff Hardy series and will be posting a series that will lay each of his books absolutely bare under a barrage of microsopic examination. Naturally, I'll be starting with The Dying Trade which, I notice, I haven't reviewed yet - but that will change mark my words.
  • The new issue of The Outpost is nearing completion and will be released in a matter of days - if you haven't read Issue 4, now's your chance.
  • I'm also preparing my report on the October New Releases, but if you want a sneak peek you can find them on the What's New page of my website.
  • I have just posted my review of Maelstrom by Michael MacConnell. In a shameful display of cross-pollination I will be posting it here next weekend.
  • I have recently discovered a couple of newly released books that I somehow missed in my travels through the www. I shall now proceed to name them and will expand upon them later...ready? The Dog Trap by Jame McLean (Little Lantana Productions) and The Lost Dog by Michelle De Kretser (Allen & Unwin).

So hang onto your hats, we're on the downhill run to Christmas, the sledging has already begun in India and I can't guarantee there won't be some words of "friendly advice" handed out around here too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Maelstrom Released in October

Waaay back at the start of August I announced that the debut thriller by Michael MacConnell, Maelstrom, was going to be released that month. Well apparently there have been a few cover-related glitches that have caused a postponement of the publishing date. The word is though, that the book has now been finished, complete with a cover, and will be published by Hachette Livre in October.

As a refresher, here’s how the synopsis for the book reads, taken from the publisher’s website:

Sarah Riley is the daughter of FBI legend Harry Reilly. Her father made his reputation hunting down on of America’s worst serial killers. But Harry never met the violet-eyed man. Sarah has inherited her father’s impulsive intuition and is making a name for herself as a rookie FBI agent. Given the job of investigating a recent double murder, she uncovers some strange anomalies in the modus operandi of the killer… and a maelstrom of evil is unleashed as a killer finds himself hunted by more than one adversary. A chilling thriller that introduces a new heroine… someone who will give Clarice Starling a run for her money.

With the promise of a serial-killer plot, and a Silence of the Lambs comparison to boot, I'm still looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this one.

(At some point I might get around to adding Michael's bio to his author page over at, too)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I See You on the Streets of Australia

You’ve got to hand it to some publishers who are going out of their way to come up with bold new marketing techniques to put their new releases in the hands of readers.

On September 3 Hachette Livre unleashed I See You by Gregg Hurwitz (titled The Crime Writer in the US) on Australia using to “spread the word” of the new release. Hachette have issued an announcement saying that they would spread 200 copies of the book which have been registered with their own unique identification number and left in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Hobart.

The concept of is to provide a means of sharing the enjoyment of reading through its members by leaving books for others to find. The books are adorned with bright Post-It notes urging people to pick them up and instructions that invite the finder to make a journal entry at It’s then possible to track how far the book has travelled as well as what the readers thought of it.

Will the concept be successful? Is there any way to measure success?

Checking out the bookcrossing site, I found that only 73 releases for I See You have been logged by LittleBrown (out of the advertised 200) and 5 of those have had finders report back. I suppose one argument is that there are 5 people who may not have otherwise picked up the book but after 2 weeks it seems that the response has been a little quiet.

Still and all, the campaign is only 2 weeks old at this stage so it may still be about to take off as more of the books are registered.

Be on the lookout for I See You by Gregg Hurwitz.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Release : Eden

Eden by Dorothy Johnston is the 3rd book in a series set in Canberra and featuring Sandra Mahoney. She runs a security consultancy business that was born in The Trojan Dog and was more fully developed in The White Tower. We now get to see the result of even more experience in Eden.

Wakefield Press have published all books in the series with Eden being published this month (September). From the publisher’s blurb it looks as though we’re investigating the death of a Canberra politician. But as a bit of a teaser there is mention that the (male) politician may have been photographed in a dress and a blonde wig. One senses we’re going for the saucy angle, here.

The Sandra Mahoney books have grown on me with the first one (The Trojan Dog) leaving me cold, but the second (The White Tower) hit the mark nicely providing a very satisfying mystery. I’ll be trying to get my hands on a copy of Eden shortly to see just how it stacks up.

BTW : Dorothy Johnston is also the author of One For the Master which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 1999.

For all the latest Australian book releases in crime visit the Australian Crime Fiction Database.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review : Bye Bye Baby by Lauren Crow

Title : Bye Bye Baby
Author : Lauren Crow
Publisher : Harper Collins Australia
Date Published : August 2007
ISBN : 0732284457
Sub- Genre : Psychological Thriller

A brutal tale of revenge that will have many readers torn between what is right and what is just is the theme of Lauren Crow’s debut thriller Bye Bye Baby. This is a psychological thriller that takes you deep into many tormented minds laying emotions bare in confronting fashion. Crow also does a tremendous job of allowing us to identify fully with her characters, whether they be good or bad, allowing us to decide on our feelings towards them.

A despicable crime was committed 30 years ago, schoolyard bullying was taken to a much more dangerous level than normal and lives were changed beyond repair as a result. Now those responsible must pay…and the price is their lives.

The deep wound that he and the others had inflicted upon me all those years ago had only pretended to heal. Beneath the scab of the new life I’d built, the injury had festered.

The first body was found in Lincolnshire. The man had been drugged with Rohypnol, stabbed in the chest and then been emasculated and had his lips cut off before his face was daubed with blue paint. It was a very distinctive murder. So when the second body turned up in another part of the country with the same distinctive MO, the police quickly realise that they have a serial killer on their hands and call in Scotland Yard.

Heading the investigation is DCI Jack Hawksworth, one of the finest young detective at the Yard who is widely acknowledged as the rising star in the force. Blessed with good looks he backs it up with a strong temperament and a personality that encourages a fierce loyalty in his subordinates. He puts together a strong team of detectives, among them is DI Karen Carter, a particularly sharp and insightful investigator in her own right.

The investigation progresses apace and while it does we are given first hand insight into why Jack has been promoted to DCI at such a young age. We also learn of the admiration that Karen Carter has for her boss, an admiration that goes beyond the professional. It’s something that Hawksworth is unaware of but, for the engaged Detective Inspector, it’s a distraction that impinges on her concentration and decision making ability. (It’s pretty obvious from early on that her feelings will become important later in the story). The tensions and emotions that develop throughout the book are finely handled by the author making them an important part in the development of the plot.

An unusual feature of the book is that we become closely acquainted to the killer and, at times, feel as though we can readily identify with the emotions that are displayed. You can even be forgiven for asking yourself whether you wouldn’t be tempted to do the same thing if you were put in a similar situation, making this a very involving book.

Lauren Crow writes with great maturity and style. The story contains a series of plot twists but she chooses not to draw them out for unreasonable lengths of time, instead she uses them to progress the story to its next level. I found that by the time I realised where I was being led, my suspicions were quickly confirmed and we were moving on.

Only occasionally did the dialogue deteriorate although when it did, it did so in jarringly obvious fashion. The most noticeable occasion occurred when a father was talking to his son and said, “I beseech you, son.” Beseech? In my 40 years on this earth I can’t say that I have ever heard a single person actually use that word in conversation. This minor negative can be easily overlooked, however.

Bye Bye Baby is more confronting than your average psychological thriller and Crow's detailed character analysis ensures that this is also more than a simple police procedural mystery. The story satisfies on many levels, the well-ordered investigation, Jack Hawksworth’s barely in control personal life, and the need of the killer to continue seeking revenge. There is a tangible deadline set from early on and everything leads inexorably to that point.

With any luck this is the first book in a series to feature DCI Jack Hawksworth and DI Karen Carter. Their relationship is far from what you might expect and he is the kind of character who begs to be continually discovered.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Angela Savage Reflects

Angela Savage has managed to overcome the blow of failing to pick up the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel with Behind the Night Bazaar. In fact, she has turned things around with a magnificently choreographed piece of basking in the reflected glory of two winners by posing, rose-between-two-thorns-style with Adrian Hyland and Garry Disher. Angela has posted the photo on her blog for all to admire. Very nicely done, Angela.

One wonders what happened to the photos Angela had taken with Michael Robotham and Jaclyn Moriaty, Richard Flanagan and Laurent Boulanger, Barry Maitland and Adrian Hyland, etc, etc.

In an earlier post on her blog, Angela has promised to maintain her blog but will cut back her posts in favour of her next novel. That will be fine Angela because we all want to know what Jayne Keeney has been up to this past year.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Golden Serpent Trailer on YouTube

Last week I posted the video trailer of Sensitive New Age Spy by Geoff McGeachin as a bit of a teaser for the book and as an example of the maketing methods that are embarked upon these days. I also posted my review of Golden Serpent by Mark Abernethy, his debut thriller.

Well, after a bit of searching I have since found the publicity trailer for Golden Serpent too, which is as action-packed as the book itself.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Reading : Bye Bye Baby by Lauren Crow

I've just finished reading an outstanding debut novel by Lauren Crow titled Bye Bye Baby. It's a moving thriller involving an abused child who comes back 30 years later to begin meting out justice. The justice is a particularly brutal death for the bullying boys who were responsible so many years ago.

Introduced in the story is a young Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector named Jack Hawksworth who heads the investigation into the killings. He is a charismatic man who gets the best out of his team with a sharp analytic mind combined with outstanding people skills.

Crow does an outstanding job of getting inside the head of the killer and even going so far as making us sympathetic to their plight. No, you're not actually cheering for the killer to get away with it but you can also see that there's more than 1 victim in this story.

This is a terrific book for police procedural readers who like books like Peter Robinson's DI Banks books or Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla books. The characterisation is strong throughout the book and plays a major part in the success of the story along with a good feel for how far to take a plot twist not to mention how much to reveal and when.

I was a little unsure whether to count Crow as an Australian author, after all, she was born and raised in Brighton, England (where parts of Bye Bye Baby is set) and has only recently moved to Adelaide. But then I came across a reference to a person wearing a "daggy tracksuit" and later on Jack is treated to a mug of Milo which sealed the deal for me. Australian author...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Review : Golden Serpent by Mark Abernethy

Title : Golden Serpent
Author: Mark Abernethy
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Date Published: 2007
ISBN-13: 9781741752250
Sub-Genre: Action Thriller

The espionage / thriller subgenre has been through a bit of a change of direction over the past few years. In the 60s and 70s it was all about the Cold War and US and British spies fought the Russians and the East Germans. In the 80s we drifted over to a war against South American drug lords thanks to a Tom Clancy novel or two. These days the enemy is the terrorist. And whether he comes from the Middle East or Indonesia, Russia or East Germany or Colombia, the stakes are usually the same. The lives of millions of unsuspecting people are in the hands of a few brave soldiers working covertly at an incredibly high level of efficiency.

Mark Abernethy continues this fine tradition with his stirring debut thriller, Golden Serpent. It's a novel that is quite reminiscent of a Tom Clancy thriller or, if you want to remain closer to home, a David A. Rollins thriller.

The protagonist is Alan "Mac" McQueen, a spy with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) who is within spitting distance of retirement. But getting out of the intelligence game is a lot more difficult than simply applying for a new job and his superiors give him one last assignment.

Mac's assignment is to locate and return an Australian agent who had been posted to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta but is now missing. She may have been kidnapped or she may have turned and has disappeared of her own free will. Either way she has to be found.

To help him on his mission he has at his disposal a team of US Green Berets who will provide a lot of the hands-on "wet work". They will also provide us with heaps of action sequences to get our teeth into. But once he arrives in Jakarta and contacts his informant there Mac soon learns that this job will be anything but straightforward. There are killers on his trail and he's not sure whose side they're actually on. Before he knows what has happened he has strong suspicions that someone from his office is working against him.

His mission becomes even more complicated when he learns that one of the men he is chasing is Abu Sabaya, one of the most highly organised and dangerous terrorists in the world. This comes as a nasty shock to Mac because he thought he had killed Sabaya 5 years earlier. Now he finds that not only is he alive but he is also in possession of a bulk load of a deadly nerve agent known as VX and is threatening to unleash it on one of the most populous cities in Asia.

If only that was all Mac had to worry about. This is only the beginning of a very bad week for the retiring intelligence agent.

Covert operations involving highly trained men such as US Green Berets or British SAS soldier, who have been given a licence to infiltrate enemy camps and use whatever force they deem necessary is generally a recipe for a fast-paced thriller. This is exactly what Golden Serpent delivers. Plenty of Aussie dialogue is mixed in with full-on action sequences performed by professional soldiers unencumbered by annoying obstacles like consciences and rules of engagement. When the mission involves using whatever force is deemed necessary you can be sure that there will be plenty of force used.

The book reaches ever-increasing high points as one mission carries on into the next, each one more dangerous that the last. Failure carries ever greater implications as we go along, too, as we are taken from one crisis to the next. It slowly becomes apparent that we are being drawn into a complicated scenario with the waters muddied by a complex web of lies and deceit making it difficult for Mac to operate.

Abernethy uses a subtle but effective technique to generate an insidious fear of the unknown feeling about the mission by never letting us catch a glimpse of the men that Mac is pursuing. Their names are mentioned often so that they are given an other-worldly aura about their power, but they remain tantalisingly insubstantial for much of the story.

Often times in these kinds of books (action / adventure) the hero is portrayed as an emotionless automaton who wades into battle with nary a second's thought to the danger that lies ahead. These kinds of guys are about as difficult to feel any affinity with as you can get with the average Joe reader encumbered with a normal helping of fear. With Alan McQueen you've got a guy who is fully responsive to what lies ahead and his body reacts in much the same way as I would imagine mine would - the sweating, the racing heart, the adrenaline, the vomiting - all natural human reactions and all attributable to our hero.

Fans of high volatile, well-planned covert operations will enjoy Golden Serpent as it charges fearlessly into battle. A balance of action and political intrigue backed by a protagonist with whom it is easy to identify makes it an easy to digest thriller.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

September 07 New Releases

The number of new release Australian crime novels for September has dwindled down to 4 books that I am aware of at this stage. Here's the quick rundown for those of you who simply have to get your fix of Aussie reading.

Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood (pub. Allen & Unwin) : This is the 4th book in Kerry's "other" series, i.e. the Corinna Chapman series. This is a series on the cosy side with Corinna owning a Melbourne bakery and living in an apartment building that is choc-a-block full of eccentric characters. Among the fantastic muffin recipes and trips to a hellfire-type nightclub accompanied by Mistress Dread, Corinna and boyfriend Daniel also find time to pick their way through the odd mystery. In Trick or Treat it appears Corinna is in for some competition on a couple of fronts.

Dead Lonely by Helen Fitzgerald (pub. Allen & Unwin) : A debut novel, this is a thriller about betrayal and murder. When one friend seduces another friend's husband a holiday in the Scottish Highlands tuns more into a nightmare.

The Low Road by Chris Womersley (pub. Scribe Publications) : Another debut novel, this is a much darker urban thriller this looks like a wild ride as the main characters are either running from their past lives or past sins or simply wandering aimlessly giving in to a drug-addled miasma. From the write-up of this book it sounds like a dark character-based thriller for noir readers.

Bloody Ham by Brian Kavanagh (pub. BeWrite Books) : Apparently this book is still going to be published in September although details are a little sketchy. It's the 3rd book in the Belinda Lawrence series, a cozy mystery series. A film is being made in a historic house in Surrey when first a leading player drops dead followed by a crew member being stabbed to death. Belinda finds herself in the frame for the deaths and is forced to investigate to clear her name.

Reading : Safari by Tony Park

August saw the release of Safari, Tony Park's 4th action adventure thriller which is again set in Africa and, like his other 3 books, Far Horizon, Zambezi and African Sky, combines the wonder of the untamed wilds of the continent with a solidly crafted thriller.

In this case the setting is initially Zimbabwe with comment made on the plight of the African wild dog before moving on to the Democratic Republic of Congo where we are introduced to the mountain gorillas that inhabit the region.

Poaching of the African wildlife has long been a problem with the numbers of many animal species now severely depleted. Park uses the poaching issue coupled with the troubled living conditions in Zimbabwe following the devastation caused by political turmoil in the country as the founding fact upon which the story is set.

Legal hunting versus illegal poaching - it seems to be a matter of semantics except that it is legal to shoot a poacher if it is considered that it is done in self defence. A good proportion of the book is about this fine distinction and forms the basis of a fascinating thriller as the confrontations begin to take place.

Safari takes you to an exotic location and Park does an outstanding job of seducing you with the majesty of the setting through his superior descriptive prose. If you like to travel the world vicariously through books reading Safari will give you a great feel for Zimbabwe. Chuck in a horrifying scenario of murder and outlandish criminal behaviour as well as a complicated romantic interlude and you've got another highly compelling book on your hands.

Tony Park is making a habit of writing these "highly compelling" books and it's well worth your while checking out all 4 of them. Not only that you can anticipate his 5th book sometime in 2008 with work apparently well under way.

To get inside the head of Tony Park as well as plenty of info about his travels in Africa (and also to see him bathing al fresco) you might like to check out his blog.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sensitive New Age Spy Promo on YouTube

The latest in book promotion techniques has just been unleashed by Geoff McGeachin with the launch of his publicity video for Sensitive New Age Spy on YouTube.

Reviews in newspapers are so nineties and internet reviews in e-zines and blogs are a dime a dozen these days. But nothing beats snappy montages of plot teasers interlaced with (fantastically well-written, ahem) blurbs about the book all topped off with just a hint of skin to get you interested in a book.

So what does it all look like? Pretty damned good, if you ask me - which I believe you just did. But don't take my word for it, have a look for yourself.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Positive Peter Temple Reviews Continue

Peter Temple has had some good press for The Broken Shore, he's won the odd award or two for it, too. But when it comes to positive reviews, I doubt he's received the plaudits that he has received in a review of the book at Material Witness.

It's hard to ignore raves such as: "a book that is so powerful, so atmospheric, so well written, that time seems to stand still while reading it."

Followed later in the piece by "This is a staggeringly good novel, which has just about everything."

And finished off with : "The Broken Shore is, lights out, the best book I have read this and probably last year."

All of this is completely true, of course, (he says in a totally unbiased, unjingoistic way) and continues on the wave of acclaim that has been sweeping across international borders of late. With news that Temple's new book (titled Truth) is in the offing in 2008 and containing characters from The Broken Shore, it is already the book whose publication I am most anticipating for the new year.

You can also read a pretty good review of The Broken Shore here too.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Katherine Howell is Idiosyncratic

I was sitting down to read my regular dose of Sarah Weinman and her idiosyncratic thoughts when who should I see is guest blogging for the day? Why it was none other than our very own Katherine Howell.

Sarah has very kindly given Howell the opportunity to introduce herself to the US readers with her debut novel Frantic not yet available, it’s a splendid opportunity to sow the seeds of interest. With the frenetic pace of paramedics hard at work to set the tone, this is the kind of book that thriller readers will eat up with a spoon.

In her post, she talks about her experience as a paramedic and how she (eventually) used those experiences as a basis for her books. She finishes her piece with the news that not only does her publisher love her yet to be released second book, Panic, but she is hard at work on the outline of her 3rd book and even has some ideas for her 4th.

Plenty for us all to look forward to.

In the meantime, read Katherine's very entertaining post about the paramedic who became a thriller writer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2007 Ned Kelly Awards

The 2007 CWAA Ned Kelly Awards were announced and handed out this evening at the Melbourne Writers Festival in the Festival Marquee.

Best Crime Novel

Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher (Text Publications)

Best Debut Novel

Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland (Text Publications)

Best True Crime (tie)

Written on the Skin by Liz Porter (Macmillan)
Killing For Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders by Debi Marshall (Random House Australia)

Lifetime Achievement Award

Sandra Harvey and Lindsay Simpson

My congratulations go out to all winners - first timers one and all. It's wonderful to see Garry Disher picking up the award with the 4th book in the Hal Challis series, a book that saw the series forge in a new direction, one that has been rewarded. Well done, too, to Adrian Hyland once again reinforcing the popular view as to the high quality of Diamond Dove - the first Emily Tempest novel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tangled Web Interview with Peter Temple

Fans of Peter Temple's work should rush over to the Tangled Web website to catch Bob Cornwell's interview and comprehensive reflection on Peter Temple's catalogue. he takes us through his writing process, the evolution of The Broken Shore and his emergence from being a South African / Australian author to finally gain the worldwide acclaim (I think) he deserves.

There's lots I could focus on in this piece but I'll save it for your own enjoyment at Tangled Web. What I will report is the terrific news that the next Peter Temple book, titled Truth will be published next year...and that it's the second of a trilogy, following on from The Broken Shore but featuring Joe Cashin's superior, Inspector Villani.

Do I sense the impending birth of the 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner?

What I do know is that, even though I don't want to wish my life away, I'm going to be counting the days until it's publication.

Now, what are you still doing here? Go and read the Tangled Web interview.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Indigenous Literacy Day

A Media Release has arrived in the mail promoting the upcoming Indigenous Literacy Day, an extremely worthwhile cause that deserves support. The release explains:

All Australians can help raise $100,000 for remote Indigenous communities by buying a book on the inaugural Indigenous Literacy Day on September 5th.

Over 200 booksellers and publishers will donate 5% or more of their day's profits as part of the major new campaign.

Working in partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation and with the support of the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Booksellers Association, Indigenous Literacy Day aims to raise funds to buy books and resources for remote Indigenous communities.

Raising awareness of illiteracy in these areas is critical, as many Indigenous Australians struggle to read everyday items like newspapers, medication labels and bank statements, and literacy rates in these communities have been found to be worse than in many third world countries.

The idea for Indigenous Literacy Day grew from the success of the 2006 Australian Reader's Challenge (ARC) in which over 14,000 participants, including schools, libraries, booksellers and publishers raised $80,000.

For a list of participating publishers and booksellers and more infromation on Indigenous Literacy Day please visit:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reviews and opinions

Erica at Creative Dabbling has shared her thoughts on Appeal Denied by Peter Corris. As she points out Cliff Hardy is the quintessential Sydney bloke who has had a particularly tough time of it over the years. She gives us an insightful short review of the 31st Cliff Hardy detective novel.

Perry at Matilda has found that All Those Bright Crosses by Ross Duncan has fit neatly between the frenetic page-turning pace of a thriller and the slow introspective journey that examines life. He points out that the book is: Flint's journey towards an inner sense of peace as he comes to terms with himself.

Meanwhile, Susanna Yager at the Telegraph in England has read Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland and has proclaimed it an "amazingly accomplished first novel with a memorable heroine". She goes on to say that Hyland's hard-hitting prose has conjured up not only the atmosphere but the spirit of this remote little community and its colourful inhabitants. He is definitely a writer to watch.

Not to mention an interesting review of Marele Day's first Claudia Valentine mystery The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reading : Shark Arm Unhooked by Breanda Cross

Proof once again that you don't have to delve through the major book publishers to uncover a gem of a book. I have been given the opportunity of reading a book that few others will have had the opportunity to. That book is Shark Arm Unhooked by Breanda Cross. The book was published back in 2005 by Zeus Publications and as great an opportunity the publisher gives new authors to get their work out there, you don't see the books in the bookstores around the country.

Take it from me, you want to go looking for Shark Arm Unhooked.

It's set in Sydney in the mid-1930's and brings to vivid life the criminal underworld that inundated the inner-city around Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Significantly, real life criminal characters from the time such as Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh feature prominently in the telling of the story. These two women were infamous for their rivalry sparking vicious razor gang wars as they fought over the title of Queen of the Underworld and Breanda Cross captures them in all their backstabbing best.

The story is told by Lottie Lyons, an 80-something woman who is relating her story to a journalist who has come calling. She remembers back to when she was 10 years old and the events that led up to an unsolved mystery in which a human arm was found after a tiger shark was bagged off a Sydney beach.

I was reminded while reading of similarities in mood and style with Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog and Wendy James' Ned Kelly Award winning Out of the Silence.

It was easy to become completely engrossed in the book, getting a terrific sense of what life must have been like in the 1930s. Petty crooks, major crime figures, rich low-lifes and sly-grog shop owners all make up a colourful array of characters inhabiting Surry Hills. The story is told be a rather unreliable source, being a 10 year old girl who by her own admission, wasn't present at many of the events described, but you tend to overlook this fact while enjoying the story itself. It all adds up to an absorbing read.

That this book has been largely ignored is, in itself, a crime and I heartily recommend picking up a copy if you can find one. It may be possible to order a copy through Seek Books - it's definitely worth the effort.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Age Gives Michael Robotham the Once Over

With his latest thriller, The Night Ferry, going gang-busters all over the globe what with nominations for a CWA Steel Dagger and a Ned Kelly Award, Michael Robotham once again has some explaining to do. Fortunately, Peter Wilmoth of The Age was on hand to apply the blowtorch or, at least, ask him some pertinent questions.

Robotham is always good for an amusing story or two about his journalistic / ghost-writer past and Wilmoth has little trouble drawing some of the better ones out of him.