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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Favourite Comic Crime Novels

Recently over on Detectives Beyond Borders, Peter cited a few examples of some of his favourite comic crime stories, listing Joe Gores (I second that), Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series (second that too), Norbert Davis (yup, yup, agree, agree). He then asked for a few of our own so, reaching for the spectrum of Australian novels, allow me to name a few from around these parts...

Max Barry - Company. This was released earlier this year and is a wickedly funny corporate satire that will appeal to anyone who has ever sat in a 5 foot x 5 foot cubicle. The ridiculousness of the petty office squabbles, accusations of who ate the last donut and the fear that the Personnel Department can strike into the rest of the organisation just rings extraordinarily truly.

Robert Gott - The Will Power novels surprised me with their great appeal, particularly when I was all set for a more serious detective mystery when I picked up the first book, Good Murder. Will Power is a man who is quick to point out the faults of others while remaining completely oblivious to his own glarin shortcomings. The farcical nature of the detective-work undertaken by Power is matched by his ability to completely and utterly piss people off within minutes of meeting him. Read Good Murder, A Thing of Blood and Amongst the Dead.

Shane Maloney - The Murray Whelan series is hugely popular in Australia thanks to the biting political satire that saturates it. Through his main character Maloney wryly comments on some of the most outlandish aspects of Australian politics and big business and while you're laughing at the comic situation, you're struck by the fact that this kind of thing has happened in real life.

Geoff McGeachin - Geoff's latest book, Sensitive New Age Spy, is the second Alby Murdoch comic spy thriller. This follows his outrageously titled Fat, Fifty & F***ed which spears wildly into madcap encounters with offbeat characters up and down Australia's Eastern seaboard. McGeachin delights in flirting with the ridiculous while retaining a tenuously sober grip on his plots delivering a more serious Hiaasen-like message. The humour is dry and his characters laconic and unmistakably Australian.

Robert G. Barrett - Speaking of unmistakably Australian, bloody hell, meet Les Norton, the knockabout Aussie larrikin brawler from Queensland who came down to Sydney to play football before a busted knee sent him to the door of an illegal casino as a bouncer. Occasionally the humour has a tendency to degenerate to the juvenile level but the series provides plenty of "brain in neutral" reading.

Scott Bywater - Published by the independent Equilibrium Books, Bywater's comic detective series features Sam Chauvel is pure satire reveling in the ineptitude and inexperience of the lead character, much like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series does.

Chris Nyst - I'm going to throw in Nyst's legal thrillers Gone and Crook As Rookwood due to the sparkling wit and wry observations on Australia's political and legal fraternities. That's for starters but what has my mouth watering in anticipation of his next book is the prospect of once again meeting up with his obnoxious defense attorney Eddie Moran who quite simply steals every scene.

I'm sure Peter will be keen to hear from anyone else with their own favourite humorous crime authors they'd like to offer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2007 Ned Kelly Award Nominees

The long list for the 2007 CWAA Ned Kelly Awards have been released. This list will be trimmed down before The Age Melbourne Writer's Festival in August /September when the Ned Kelly Awards will be awarded. Once again, after congratulating myself that I had tracked down every Australian crime novel for the year, I find that I've missed a few.

Best Crime Fiction

The Undertow – Peter Corris (Allen & Unwin)
Spider Trap – Barry Maitland (Allen & Unwin)
Without Consent – Kathryn Fox (Macmillan)
Undertow – Sydney Bauer (Macmillan)
A Knife Edge – David Rollins (Macmillan)
The Murderers’ Club – P.D. Martin (Macmillan)
The Unknown Terrorist - Richard Flanagan (Picador)
The Tesla Legacy – Robert G .Barrett (HarperCollins)
Hit – Tara Moss (HarperCollins)
Chain of Evidence – Garry Disher (Text Publishing)
And Hope to Die – John Clanchy and Mark Henshaw (J.M. Calder) (Penguin)
Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta – Marshall Brown (Random House)
The Mother – Brett McBean (Hachette Livre)
The Lady Splash – Kirsty Brooks (Hachette Livre)
The Night Ferry – Michael Robotham (Little, Brown)
Vale Byron Bay – Wayne Grogan (Brandl & Schlesinger)
The Cleaner – Paul Cleave (Random House)

Best First Crime Novel

The Betrayal of Bindi Mackenzie – Jaclyn Moriaty (Macmillan)
Behind the Night Bazaar – Angela Savage (Text Publishing)
Diamond Dove – Adrian Hyland (Text Publishing)
Equinox – Michael White (Scribe)
Upshot – John Trigger (Zeus)
Blood On A Blue Line – Steve Caple (Blue Sword Press)
The Cleaner – Paul Cleave (Random House)
Prismatic – Edwina Grey (Hachette Livre)
Carnies – Martin Livings (Hachette Livre)
Better Dead Than Never – Laurent Boulanger (C & C International Media Group)
The Curer of Souls – Lindsay Simpson (Random House)

Best True Crime

After Port Arthur – Carol Altman (Allen & Unwin)
Sick To Death – Hedley Thomas (Allen & Unwin)
Things A Killer Would Know – Paula Doneman (Allen & Unwin)
My Brother’s Keeper – Charles Miranda and Angela Kamper(Allen & Unwin)
Australian Outlaw – Derek Pedley (SlyInk)
Girls Like You – Paul Sheehan (Macmillan)
The Dodger – Duncan McNab (Macmillan)
Intractable – Bernie Matthews (Macmillan)
Inside Madness – Melissa Sweet (Macmillan)
Written On The Skin – Liz Porter (Macmillan)
The Maria Korp Case – Carly Crawford (HarperCollins)
Done Like A Dinner – Sandra Harvey Jennifer Cooke (Media 21 Publishing )
Overboard: The Stories Cruise Ships Don’t Want Told – Gywn Topham (Random House)
Killing For Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders - Debi Marshall (Random House)
Silent Death – Karen Kissane (Hachette Livre)
Cold Blooded Murder – Malcolm Brown (Hachette Livre)
Justice For The Dead – Malcolm Dodd and Beverly Knight (Hachette Livre)
Paul B Kidd – The Australian Crime File 2 (Five Mile Press)
I.J. Fenn – The Beat (Five Mile Press)

Reviewed Recently

In his column in The Bulletin this week, Robin Wallace-Crabbe casts his eye over three recent big name releases, giving each of them a measured nod of approval.

He starts off with Sucked In by Shane Maloney, the latest (6th) book in the comic political satire series featuring Victorian state MP Murray Whelan, citing the father-son relationship between Murray and his son Red as being particularly attractive. He moves on to Shattered by Gabrielle Lord - the 4th in the Gemma Lincoln series - and has remarked on the fact that the principal subject of the book is not the investigation conducted by Gemma Lincoln but rather Gemma herself. He finishes up with The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham remarking on his great eye for detail and story-telling skill.

While we're at it, Peter Temple's An Iron Rose and Bad Debts have both been released in the UK. Susanna Yager rejoices over the long awaited UK publication of An Iron Rose, 20 years after it was published here in Australia.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Matthew Reilly Is Off to Hollywood

The Arts and Entertainment blog of the ABC – Articulate – has published a recent interview with Matthew Reilly where he talks candidly about a range of exciting projects coming up. Not the least of these is his relocation to Hollywood to work on the TV pilot of his creation, Literary Superstars. On top of that is the slowly developing film adaptation for Hover Car Racer.

For the readers out there he also talks about the forthcoming Jack West novel titled The Six Sacred Stones. As Reilly explains, Jack West is pure Indiana Jones territory which pretty aptly describes the first Jack West book Seven Ancient Wonders. Be warned, though, he also talks about trying to make a point of not giving the readers what they expect, already hinting that maybe there will be a momentous twist or two in the new book.

Check out the full interview.

Don’t forget Matthew will be appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival on the following dates:

Tuesday, May 29, 6.30pm: at Blacktown Library
Thursday, May 31, 3pm: , “Crossing Over Genres”.
Friday, June 1, 10.30am: ”Being a Professional Writer”.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Review : The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims

Title : The Shadow Maker

Author : Robert Sims
Publisher : Allen & Unwin
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781741751734
Sub Genre : Psychological Thriller
Principal Protagonist : DS Marita Van Hassel
Setting : Melbourne, Australia

A good thriller will grab your attention early on with a memorable hook and maybe an unusual twist that sets the story apart from the many others out there. That probably has to go double if it's a debut novel. Robert Sims appears to have taken this mantra to heart in no uncertain terms in his highly impressive psychological thriller The Shadow Maker.

There's no better way to illustrate the attention arresting scene than by using the quote that also sits on the books back cover:

She put her fingers to her nose and sniffed something like soot or ash. At first she thought her face had been disfigured then realised there were no wounds on her cheeks. So where did the burnt smell come from? Tentatively she moved her fingertips to her eye sockets. That's when she started screaming.
Yup, the squeamish beware, but it certainly compelled me to read on.

The brutal rape and mutilation of a prostitute in a Melbourne hotel sets the grim tone of The Shadow Maker very early on. A predator is on the loose and even though he's careless about the traces of himself that he leaves at the crime scene, the police struggle to make any early inroads on their investigation.

A member of the Melbourne Sexual Crime Squad assigned to the case is Detective Sergeant Marita Van Hassel, an up and coming officer who has had training as a criminal profiler and, even though criminal profiling is still viewed with scepticism by the brass, she is thought of particularly highly.

Left at the crime scene, along with any amount of fingerprints, weapons, semen and the like, is what looks like some sort of a smart card with the legend "Plato's Cave" printed on the back. When taken back to the experts to examine, it is discovered that the card is heavily encrypted and chances of retrieving any sort of information from it will prove virtually impossible. The card was almost certainly accidentally left behind by the attacker and stacks up as the most promising piece of evidence they have.

"Plato's Cave" is significant to Rita for a couple of reasons. The first, and most glaringly obvious, is that this is the name of a nightclub owned by one of Melbourne's biggest organised crime figures. Tony Kavella has already evaded prosecution once before after being charged with running a vice ring 6 months earlier. Kavella and Rita have a strong dislike for one another stemming from this earlier bust and she jumps at the chance to rattle his cage one more time.
The problem for Rita is that due to an ongoing undercover police surveillance operation into Kavella's movements, he's off limits. Meanwhile the evidence begins to stack up higher and higher. The prostitute was a regular at the nightclub, the smart card is just the kind of thing the crime king-pin would get into and Kavella's just asking for it. And according to Rita's profile, there's more to come from their predator. He's just getting warmed up.

An escalating level of violence is the key to the tone of The Shadow Maker as the urgency to solve the crime grows at an alarming rate. As gruesome as the opening scenes are, there's more to come and the attacks are getting more reckless and frenzied.

In what seems to be a common theme in police procedurals the investigating officers are constantly hounded by their superiors who apply the usual level of unreasonable pressure to get results. This felt to me as though it were a manufactured attempt to make it seem as though Rita has to overcome enormous odds if she is to succeed. Why can't we, just occasionally, have a Chief Superintendent who firstly, has a clue about detective work, and secondly, understands that not everything just falls neatly into place?

Sims puts together a finely constructed plot that draws together a diverse array of threads filled with potential suspects any of whom could prove to be the person we're after. There is a certain casualness in the way the suspense is allowed to build in the story until suddenly you are thrown wide-eyed into the final confrontation.

As an action-based psychological thriller, The Shadow Maker succeeds in delivering a power-packed story. And although the main characters are still as largely unknown quantities at the end of the book as they are at the start, there is a sense that there will be more to come featuring the strong-willed, but enigmatic, Detective Sergeant Rita Van Hassel.
For more reviews of Australian crime and mystery novels, visit the Australian Crime Fiction Database.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review : Frantic by Katherine Howell

Title : Frantic
Author : Katherine Howell
Publisher : Pan McMillan Australia
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781405037976
Sub-genre : Thriller
Principal Protagonist : Detective Ella Marconi

One of the most popular genres in crime fiction is the police procedural as the reader is able to become immersed in all aspects of the crime-solving procedure. Also well represented in the literary landscape is the fire department with a few authors, notable Earl Emerson, doing a wonderful job of detailing arson and other suspicious fires. But a branch of the emergency services that has been almost completely ignored is the ambulance service. Katherine Howell has started to fill that hole and, judging by the pulse-quickening, breathless action she generates, should kick-start a whole new frenzy of excitement.

Sophie Phillips is a paramedic with the New South Wales Ambulance Service stationed at The Rocks in Sydney, one of the busiest locations in Australia. Her home life is no less hectic with a husband who works as a police officer and a 10 month old baby boy.

The story speeds out of the blocks, underlining the frenetic workload that can pile onto a big city paramedic and we're carried along in the cabin of ambulance 31 as Sophie and her partner Mick speed to the scene of a bank robbery at which shots were fired. The robbery is the latest in a series that have been sweeping the city in recent weeks, but that's not Sophie's concern as she fights desperately to save the life of a bank security guard who was shot in the throat.

In quick succession she is called to another emergency or two and, just like that, Howell has created the kind of atmosphere that ensured shows like ER would enjoy huge success.

After the opening flurry of controlled chaos subsides we are given a chance to take a breath and then gain a little bit of an insight into the humanness of the people behind their professional facade. What we soon discover is that Sophie Phillips' life is as filled with personal problems as the rest of us. She and her husband have been experiencing a few ripples of unrest in their marriage which had prompted Sophie to have a drunken one night stand - with her husband's partner, no less.

The New South Wales Police Force are experiencing their own problems with a corruption scandal hanging over their heads, the likes of which has never been experienced before. An anonymous caller has notified the local media with the news that the spate of bank robberies have been carried out by police officers. The force's position isn't improved when the Police Commissioner is involved in a car accident on his way to the airport with his mistress in the passenger seat and a boot full of cash.

Corruption, scandal, emergency-fuelled action. But all of that pales into insignificance when Sophie's husband is shot on their front doorstep and her son, Lachlan, is abducted.
This brings Detective Ella Marconi into the picture. Marconi is finally getting a crack at heading up an important investigation, assisting lead detective Dennis Orchard. It's the break she's been hoping for after years of being overlooked due to a bit of a misunderstanding at an earlier crime scene when she told an Assistant Commissioner to get the fuck out of her crime scene.
The police have a number of pressing issues facing them on this one with a missing child, a shot cop, the missing child is the son of the shot cop, the possibility that it could all be linked back to the bank robbery gang. The extreme motivation to impress that Marconi harbours could help or hinder the investigation - it could go either way.

There is no let up in this story, as the title suggests it charges full steam ahead in a state of sustained urgency. There is a subtle change in the tone of the novel as it moves from the opening scenes where there is a sense of control while travelling with professional paramedics who are capable of working under pressure on a daily basis. Sharply contrasted is the panic that Sophie encounters upon learning that her son has been abducted.

A mother's distress coupled with a need to do something sends Sophie spinning off on a futile hunt as a loose cannon through the streets of Sydney. Meanwhile a highly motivated detective with a lot to prove is working the case from the police's end. It's a highly volatile mix and it's destined to come together with all manner of unexpected results.

Frantic is an outstanding thriller that I found immediately entertaining. I drew the comparison earlier to the TV show ER because it often felt as though each hour-long episode flew by in mere minutes. Reading Frantic, I had the same experience. When the paramedics are in action I was completely engrossed by the crisp, clear professional way the emergencies were handled. Equally, Howell was also able to convey a mother's anguish in an understated, yet completely convincing way.

More good news after reading the final page of Frantic with the promise of Howell's 2nd book, Panic, beckoning in the future which also features Ella Marconi. If making a positive impression is the goal of a debut novel then fans will be queuing up upon news of the release of a second. Frantic is a high-quality thriller and Katherine Howell is a name to watch out for.

For more reviews of Australian crime and mystery novels, visit the Australian Crime Fiction Database.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sensitive New Age Spy - A Translative Glossary

I noticed while reading Geoff McGeachin's Sensitive New Age Spy that someone not overly familiar with the Australian vernacular might struggle with the meaning of a few words and phrases used in the book. So I've put together a little list of translations that could come in handy while you're reading.

Graveyard Shiraz - high quality red wine from Brokenwood Wines in the Hunter Valley. The fact that Alby and Julie drank 3 bottles of it the night before is meant to make you jealous.

Bondi Icebergs - this is a reference to a swimming club who swim in the outdoor ocean-side pool throughout the winter months. The members start off the season by chucking great hunks of ice into the water before jumping in (crazy dills).

dill - an idiot, a thick-o, a dickhead.

walloper - slang for policeman.

buggered if I know - I don't know (it's not a request).

like nuns in a brothel and
like dog's balls - to be very, very obvious. (Use: Bugger me dead, that bloke sticks out like dog's balls in that Hawaiian shirt)

bugger me dead - a common Australian oath (again, this is not a request, usually...)

pash - a passionate kiss.

stubbies - a pair of shorts popular with workmen, usually you see a size 16 arse crammed into a size 12 pair of stubbies to best display a tantalising hint of bum-crack.

Blundstones - a brand of work boots.

pollies - short for politicians (which is short for lying bastards).

crook - very bad, poor. Come to think of it, this could also be used to describe pollies... (Use : he is a crook driver - must be a P-plater)

P-plater - a driver who holds a provisional licence, usually a teenage hoon who thinks the speed limits are just a rough guide.

struth - an Australian exclamation, often of surprise (Use: Struth, look how fast that P-plater's going, what a dill!)

rooted - a polite way to say fucked. (Use: get rooted!)

motza - a lot of money, usually when talking about a gambling win. (Use: we won a motza, lets celebrate with a bottle of Grange)

Grange - acknowledged as Australia's finest, highest quality red wine. I tried some once...tasted like red wine, funnily enough.

Arnhem Land - aboriginal land in the north-east corner of the Northern Territory.

larrikin - someone who is always up for a practical joke - may possibly be mistaken for a bit of a dill.

As I said all of these terms are to be found in Sensitive New Age Spy and it's quite likely I missed 1 or 2 others. If I did I guess you'll just have to wing it, ignore it or possibly stew on it and feel like a bit of a dill.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Podcast Interview with Robert Gott

Jeez there's some great sites out there on the web if you look hard enough. I'm a bit slow on the uptake so I hadn't listened to a podcast before last night...

I recently stumbled across the Naked Novelist site, a site that presents podcasts of the "Published or Not" radio show that airs every Thusday at 11:30am (855 on the am band) on 3CR in Melbourne (and live over the net, too). An earlier interview on May 11 was with Robert Gott, author of the comic mystery series featuring William Power. He talks to host Brendan Gulliver about his latest novel Amongst the Dead.

This is a very entertaining interview as Gott dissects his protagonist Will Power who is described as a "dickhead hero" by Shane Maloney, a title that Gott readily agrees with. He talks about his experiences in the top end of Australia, the setting of Amongst the Dead as well as suggesting why such an annoying man as Will Power could also be so very endearing to readers.

One snippet that I found of immense interest was the fact that when Gott originally began the Will Power series he intended it to be 3 books long, but has now expanded his plans to make it 5, giving us another 2 books (at least) to look forward to.

The Robert Gott interview is titled Show #25 Turning history into cracking good crime fiction.


Thumbs Up for Leigh Redhead

be_zen8 over at Tea and Tattered Pages has been pleasantly surprised by Leigh Redhead's Peepshow and Cherry Pie. having a little trouble getting past the whole stripper thing she has pronounced Cherry Pie a "great and fun read". I concur.

I have the feeling that reading Cherry Pie - which is the 3rd book in the Simone Kirsch series - first was fortuitous because it's in this book that the more serious character development begins to take place.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

June Releases

June promises to be a mixed bag with a little bit of everything in the 4 books that are due to be released ensuring that all tastes will be satisfied. There’s a comic spy thriller, a hardboiled detective mystery, an action adventure with apocalyptic overtones and a thought-provoking debut thriller.

Here’s a quick look at what’s coming up remembering that I will be examining, reviewing and posting about each of them individually over the next week or so.

Sensitive New Age Spy by Geoff McGeachin (pub. Viking / Penguin) - this is McGeachin’s 3rd novel but it’s the second to feature D.E.D agent Alby Murdoch. This is a sparkling comic mystery steeped in Australian humour fronted by the laconic Murdoch. The loss of a couple of items that can neither be confirmed nor denied as nuclear warheads puts Alby on high alert and headed into trouble. Released June 4.

A Little Rain on Thursday by Matt Rubinstein (pub. Text Australia) - This was the runner-up for the 2001 Australian / Vogel Award under the title Vellum. It’s a lyrical, rich mystery about the discovery of an ancient manuscript and a man’s attempt to translate it at a great cost. Rubinstein’s prose is outstanding, evocative in its construction and with a finely descriptive turn of phrase. It’s a smoothly flowing story with an ever-present undercurrent of unexplainable menace. Released June 5.

Crater by Phoenix Connor (pub. Random House Australia) - A genetically modified group of apes escape from an experimental facility and disappear into the California wilderness. They turn up later in a battle that holds the key as to whether humans will remain the dominant species on the planet. This is a debut thriller of tremendous power and pace. Released June 1.

Appeal Denied by Peter Corris (pub. Allen & Unwin) - The 31st book in the Cliff Hardy hardboiled detective series finds Cliff facing an uncertain future with his career on the line. This comes complete with the usual challenges, stand-offs and violent encounters that has made the series so popular for so long.

Shane Maloney is in Sydney

For those of you in the Sydney area, you have the opportunity to attend what promises to be a very entertaining evening at Gleebooks on Wednesday, 23 May when the bookstore will be hosting Shane Maloney in discussion with Wendy Harmer.

The prospect of the sharply biting wit of Maloney chatting with one of Australia’s funniest comedians about Sucked In should be tantalising enough to ensure a full house. You can book by calling Gleebooks (9660 2333), tickets cost $10 / $7 concession and the night gets underway at 6:30 for 7:00pm.

Geoff McGeachin - D.E.D and Lovin' It

In 2005, Australia and the rest of the world was introduced to the very secretive and rather lucrative spy organisation that goes by the name Directorate for Extra-territorial Defence or D.E.D. That introduction came in the form of the highly entertaining D.E.D. Dead by Geoff McGeachin.

Alby Murdoch is back for a second sensational undercover romp in Sensitive New Age Spy (pub. Viking / Penguin). Due for release in June, SNAS is about as Aussie as a spy book can get with irreverent laconic humour evident from the opening page. Heck, McGeachin even manages to stick a Hills Hoist on Fort Denison before the first page is over. Sydney's well-known landmarks are used to great effect and then, to make sure there's no doubt about where you are, a constant flow of Australian slang peppers the dialogue.

But all that doesn't tell you about the plot of Sensitive New Age Spy, does it. It all starts when Alby is called down to Sydney Harbour to help out the local police liason officer with a LNG super tanker that had been tied up at Fort Denison. Basically, what the ship amounts to is a potential floating bomb that could take out half of Sydney's CBD should it go off. Before the week is out Alby will have been shot at, been duped, been seduced, been demoted, been flashed by a beautiful christian, been impressed by his 85 year old next door neighbour and been to Tasmania.

Quite frankly, this is the way all spy novels should be written mixing the serious stuff with plenty of irreverent humour, fronted by a guy who wins some, loses lots but comes across as a highly competent larrikin.
When I say irreverent, this is the kind of stuff I'm talking about:
'Canberra' is apparently an Aboriginal word meaning a place where one's tax dollars are pissed away. A self-governing territory and the seat of our federal government, it has also the country's most liberal liquor laws, a thriving blackmarket trade in sky rockets and double bungers, and is home to the nation's mail-order dirty-video business. All in all, a combination to make a bloke's chest swell with patriotic pride.

Not to mention this little gem of an exchange between Alby and the gorgeous lesbian journalist Gudrun Arkell:

I nodded. 'Fancy a moonlit walk through the grapevines with your old Uncle Alby?'
'I've had some seriously creepy offers in my life, Alby, but that one really takes the cake.'
'Bloody bike dyke,' I said.
'Career public servant,' Gudrun retorted.
She always was better that me when it came to name-calling.

There's a theft, there's a major international incident in the offing, there's danger, there's even a little bit of steamy sex, but there's plenty of humour and enterainment from go to whoa. Give it a read for a great example of Australian humor tied up in a espionage-type bow.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sydney Writers Festival

We're a week out from the Sydney Writer's Festival and now might be a good time to cast our eye over the events that might attract the notice of crime buffs.

First off, we can start on Tuesday May 29 from 6:30 - 7:30 fans of the rip-roaring action adventure-type books can go and see Matthew Reilly at Blacktown Library as he talks a bit about Seven Ancient Wonders. This is a free session but it is advisable to book ahead to ensure a spot.

Thursday May 31 brings together Leigh Redhead, Jane Goodall, Lee Tulloch and Christine Cremen for a discussion titled The Next Wave of Australian Women Crime Writers as they discuss the evolution of women's crime fiction. This session is a free session and will be held at the Sydney Dance Company 2/3 from 5:30 - 6:30.

Back up on Friday June 1 for the Australian Crime session which will be held (appropriately) at the Justice and Police Museum. Dorothy Porter (author of El Dorado) and Adrian Hyland (author of Diamond Dove) will join Christine Cremen for a chat. This one's a ticketed affair costing $10 a seat and will go from 1:00pm - 2:00pm.

Later on Friday you could nip out to the Ashfield Town Hall for the Criminal Intent with Vikram Chandra and Leigh Redhead session where you can experience a "night on the mean streets". This free session starts at 6:30pm, bookings required. Vikram Chandra is an Indian author whose first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize and his latest book is titled Sacred Games. Leigh Redhead is the author of Peepshow, Rubdown and Cherry Pie. She was a 2006 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. Should be a good night.

Saturday morning is the Detectives without Borders session with Vikram Chandra, Alan Gold, Adrian Hyland and Diane Wei Liang. Chandra will take us through the criminal underworld in Mumbai, Liang will introduce us to the seedier spots of the Forbidden City in Beijing and Hyland will take us out to the dusty Outback of Tennant Creek. All chaired by Alan Gold. This free session will be held at the Sydney Dance Company 2/3 theatre at Hickson Road.

If you're feeling a bit peckish after that, you can troop across town to the Justice & Police Museum for the Murder On the Menu session. This is another ticket affair ($10 will see you through) and features Marion Halligan (The Apricot Colonel) Leigh Redhead (Cherry Pie) Don Winslow (The Winter of Frankie Machine). Love the write-up for this one "Hard boiled? Maybe. Taste Marion Halligan's Apricot Colonel, indulge in Leigh Redhead's Cherry Pie and be seduced by the perfect espresso made by Don Winslow's retired mafia hit man Frankie Machine, in a feast of culinary crime."

What should prove to be a very entertaining session (meaning, be prepared for a laugh or two) on Saturday arvo will be Greed is Good, or Life Beyond the Cubicle Farm featuring Max Barry (Company) and Shelley Gare (Triumph of the Airheads) at Sydney Theatre Richard Wherrett from 2:00 - 3:00pm. This is another ticket affair costing $10.

You can then head back down to Hickson Road on Saturday night for the Don Winslow in conversation session from 4:00 - 5:30pm. Don Winslow is the rapidly rising star of the American crime writing fraternity. The hero of his new novel is a brilliant creation – a sophisticated but laid-back gangster with a heart of gold. It's no surprise that Robert De Niro snapped up the film rights to The Winter of Frankie Machine and plans to star in the movie. (I can also recommend reading the Death and Life of Bobby Z). This is another freebie and should prove to be a fascinating session.

Rounding off Saturday night, the Sydney launch of El Dorado by Dorothy Porter will be held at Sydney Theatre Richard Wherrett from 6:30 - 7:30pm.

That brings us to Sunday June 3 and you can kick it off by checking out the We can be Heroes session with Tom Keneally (author of Schindler's Ark amongst numerous other - his latest is The Widow and Her Hero) and Alexis Wright (Carpentaria). The write-up for this one looks enticing: What does it mean to be hero in this day and age? Why do people sacrifice all in the name of an idea, or for a code of conduct, or for their country? Ideas of Australian heroism are explored in Tom Keneally's The Widow and Her Hero. In Alexis Wright's Carpentaria, the coastal town of Desperance is populated by extraordinary figures who stand like giants in a storm-swept world and where "legends and ghosts live side by side". Tickets cost $10 and it will be held at Sydney Theatre Richard Wherrett from 9:30 - 10:30.

On Sunday at 12:30 will be the On Redemption session with Sarah Hopkins (The Crimes of Billy Fish), Michael Robotham (The Night Ferry) and chaired by James Bradley (The Resurrectionist). This session will be about the possibility of escaping your past or at least, facing up to it. It's another free session but, again, advisable to book ahead.

On at the same time (decisions, decisions) is Richard Flanagan in conversation at the Sydney Theatre. His latest novel is The Unknown Terrorist and his The Sound of One Hand Clapping has been acclaimed around the world. He will be talking with Malcolm Knox (A Private Man). Tickets cost $10 for this session.

Sunday afternoon, and the Literary Mysteries session will be held at Bangarra Mezzanine from 3:30pm. This session will feature Mark Ragg (The Dickenson Papers) and Matt Rubinstein (A Little Rain on Thursday). They will talk about their literary mysteries set on Sydney's streets in this free session.

I have just picked out a bare selection of what looks to be a very lively and entertaining program. Crime readers or not, there's definitely something for everyone who has ever picked up a book. I've advised on whether session are free or ticketed but all details, including maps on the location of venues can be found on the SWF website. Check it out.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

That Other Thing I Do

I'll be off to beddy-byes early tonight in preparation for the other thing I do when I'm not reading. The Sydney Morning Herald Half-Marathon is on once again and I will be lining up with another 4999 dedicated athletes for the 2 laps around Sydney's CBD.

With my 40 year old hammies just holding up to the rigors of training and my back sort of no, I'm hopeful of once again cracking the 90 minute barrier. So keep an eye out for chest number 4844 - that'll be a grimace on his face, not a smile.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A couple of ABC Radio Interviews

The Book Show on ABC Radio recently recorded an interview with Shane Maloney to talk about his new book, Sucked In, the 6th in the Murray Whelan series. Go here the hear Shane speak about Murray's progression throughout the series. The interview begins at around the 29:30 mark of the show and I can attest that it's a very entertaining interview.

A few days later ABC Radio's Richard Fidler interviewed Katherine Howell, author of Frantic. The interview was recorded back on the 15th. That interview can be heard here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

25 Writers of the Future

Last month Waterstone's Bookstore produced a list of 100 favourite books by polling its staff as part of its celebration of 25 years in business. The clever promotions continue this month with another list, this time of British authors. I've reproduced the press release below.

Booksellers named 25 British authors who they expect to entertain, enlighten and enthrall readers for the next quarter century.

Bookseller Waterstone's, which published the list to celebrate its 25th anniversary, said it had asked for nominations by editors, literary agents and publishers and got more than 100 suggested names."We received a wonderful and eclectic array of nominations covering all tastes and genres," said Gerry Johnson, managing director of Waterstone's."It was incredibly tough to choose just 25 of them, but I think our final list includes a sparkling selection of talent -- these authors will be on the bestseller and the awards lists for years to come."

Following is a list of the authors named:

-- Naomi Alderman
-- Susanna Clarke
-- Siobhan Dowd
-- Jasper Fforde
-- Julia Golding
-- Emily Gravett
-- Steven Hall
-- Jane Harris
-- Peter Hobbs
-- Marina Lewycka
-- Robert Macfarlane
-- Gautam Malkani
-- Jon McGregor
-- Charlotte Mendelson
-- Richard Morgan
-- Maggie O'Farrell
-- Helen Oyeyemi
-- Jo Pratt
-- Dominic Sandbrook
-- CJ Sansom
-- Chris Simms
-- Nick Stone
-- Louise Welsh
-- Ben Wilson
-- Robyn Young

It might be a worthwhile exercise to do our own nomination of Australian authors who we think will dominate our own market over the next 25 years. From the crime genre I can think of a few right off the bat but I need a bit of help across the other genres. So how about it - send me your own nominations - across any genre, send 'em in and we'll see what we've got.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Book Launch of Dorothy Porter's El Dorado

The book launch of Dorothy Porter’s new verse novel El Dorado will take place at the Arts Metro Building in Brisbane on Wednesday, 23 May. The evening will start at 6:00pm and will end around 8:30pm and there is a small entry charge. The event has been organised by the Brisbane’s Better Bookshops people and tickets can be arranged by visiting the website.

Now, I know there's a clash with the first State of Origin match at Suncorp Stadium but I'd imagine it will be sold out that night, so what better alternative than pop over and check out the book launch (It’ll be all bad for the Maroons anyway…)

The verse novel is not something that I am overly familiar with, but by all accounts El Dorado is an intense psychological thriller. Lovers of dark subject matter will be able to immerse themselves in the story of a serial killer whose victims are children. A wonderful review of the book can be found at M/C Reviews, I recommend having a read.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mini Review - Heart Shaped Box

I don't read many horror books or stories about the supernatural (apart from Stephen King - like everyone else, I s'pose), but every now and then one manages to fall open in my hands and I find myself lured right in. One such has done that right now - Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Gollancz). I'm no fan but I'm guessing that it's no accident that this is also the title of a Nirvana song.

It's a creepy thriller about Jude Coyne, an aging ex-death metal rocker who is a collector of all manner of macabre artefacts. When he comes across the opportunity to buy a ghost via an internet auction he dives right in thinking it would be great publicity. But what he actually achieves is the unleashing of a malevolent being, the stepfather of an ex girlfriend, actually, who will pursue him to his grave...The dead pull the living down. Down into the cold. Down into the hole. You will die...

Pushing aside the supernatural aspect for a moment though, Heart Shaped Box is as in-depth a character analysis as you can imagine, a deeply involving self-examination for Jude as he is forced to face his past and the fact that he has been a cruel man who is also haunted by the events of his childhood.

Horror fans will get a real kick out of this debut novel with plenty of moments where the hair on the back of your neck will stand up. But fans of good meaty psychological thrillers will find this fascinating reading with more than a smattering of disturbed noir elements.

But hang on a second, earlier I mentioned Stephen King - did anyone pick that up??? Well Joe Hill is actually the son of - 'course, you probably already knew that, but then again not knowing takes the pressure off King the younger. Either way, this is an outstanding debut novel no matter who his father his.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sucked Shane Maloney's wit

Rather than wax lyrical about the witty delivery and irreverent humour with which Shane Maloney writes, I thought I would take a few choice quotes from his latest Murray Whelan mystery, Sucked In.

On a woman he's had his eye on in the Greek class he's been taking:

Lanie's may not have been the face that launched a thousand ships, but it definitely floated my little rubber duckie.

Murray on his party's present predicament:

They outnumbered us two to one in the lower house, five to one in the upper house. We weren't just a minority. We were an endangered species, a puny splinter with little option but to keep our heads down and our powder dry. Not that we had any powder. We lost the formula two elections ago.

Some of the double-entendres while Murray was engaging in a quickie in the chamber of the Legislative Council:

She was likewise engaged, negotiating a break in my strides. As I found the passage I sought, she seized upon the pressing issue.


'You want spill,' I muttered through clenched teeth. 'Keep glad-handing me like that, I'll give you spill.'

and finally...

Kelly abruptly jack-knifed upright, bucking me off at the exact moment my honourable member reached the climax of his oration.

Wonderful to see that romance is alive and well in the Victorian parliament.

Shane Maloney has plonked Murray Whelan into the middle of a political stoush with a federal Labor MP dropping dead and any number of wanna-be replacements stepping up to elbow their way into his seat. But the discovery of a body that was found in the drained Lake Nillahcootie could be that of a union leader, disappeared feared drowned 20 years ago.

Murray gets himself involved in the inquiry into the origins of the body and uncovers a dirty little cover-up that he could find very useful.

Sucked-In is typical Shane Maloney which is to say, endlessly entertaining, wryly amusing and totally original.

Now I just need to extract the digit and finish my review of the book.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Katherine Howell Appearance

Tweed Heads locals can get out to visit Katherine Howell at the Angus And Robertson bookstore on Saturday, 12 May at 10:00am. She will be signing copies of her recently released debut thriller, Frantic. The store is located at the Tweed City Shooping Centre at South Tweed Heads and I'm sure Katherine would love to see as many there as possible.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Frantic by Katherine Howell

The second debut Australian crime novel to be released in May (launched last weekend, actually) is Frantic by Katherine Howell (pub. Pan Macmillan).

Howell was an ambulance officer for 15 years and has used that experience in Frantic to great effect. The start of the book flies along in a blur of emergency-induced activity as the paramedic protagonist Sophie Phillips and her partner are called to a series of accidents and other jobs that ambulances frequently attend.

It felt like an episode of ER and was completely absorbing.

On top of all that drama comes an even graver situation when Sophie's husband is shot on their front doorstep and her 10 month old son is abducted. Suddenly this becomes an emotionally harrowing story in which a mother's anguish is captured and conveyed in vivid detail.

In short, this is a top-drawer debut and well worth checking out.

There's already a second book by Katherine Howell in the works featuring the police detective introduced in Frantic. Detective Ella Marconi will be seen again in 2008 in Panic.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sucked In Launch - See Shane Maloney

Just a quickie about the launch of Sucked In by Shane Maloney which will be taking place tonight. Shane has invited everyone who can make it along with the following little description of what you're in for:

"The official launch of Sucked In will be celebrated with witty speeches and cask wine at Paddy's Bar, upstairs at the Victorian Trades Hall, Lygon Street, Carlton at 6pm on Thursday 10 May 2007. All Welcome. Limit of 3 party pies per person. Drinks at bar prices once the free grog runs out. Books for sale. Author signing. Check guns at door."

The witty speech will be conducted by comedian and actor Mick Molloy, who played Angelo Agnelli MP in the highly acclaimed telemovies of Shane's first two novels.

Festivities start at 6:30pm and the bods from Text would like a bell to let them know you're coming. You can call Kirsty at Text on 03 8610 4510, or an email could do the trick too.

The chance to hear Mick Molloy crap on should be worth taking the time. Pity I'm not in Melbourne.

I finished Sucked In this evening and it simply drips in political satire that sparkles with Maloney wit. Six long years we've been waiting for this episode in the Murray Whelan journey and it's well worth the wait.

Oh yeah...and the launch tour doesn't end with one appearance, oh no. Shane's hitting the road over the next few months with fleeting visits to Brisbane and Sydney on the agenda. Details on his website here.

The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims

Just lately there has been an encouraging number of debut crime novels by Australian authors on the scene with a couple this month and, hmmm let’s see…around 5 more in the next couple of months. Fresh new voices – delightful.

Anyway, the latest to pass in front of my hungry eyes was The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims (pub Allen & Unwin), a psychological thriller set in Melbourne. The book’s protagonist is Detective Sergeant Marita Van Hassel, an up-and-coming police officer with the added bonus of having had training as a criminal profiler.

An attention-grabbing opening gives the book a great start with the introduction of an attacker who rapes and mutilates a prostitute in a city hotel. What follows is a nicely paced story that opens up to head off to a myriad of possible directions. The content ranges from the gruesome to the fascinating, all delivered by Sims’ arresting style that concentrates largely on the progression of the plot. This was an engrossing book to read.

Certainly, the book has the look and feel of being the first in a series to feature Van Hassel (and maybe we’ll become more acquainted next time around) which is good news for those of us who love the familiarity of returning to “the old gang”.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Happy Birthday: Peter Corris

Ok, I can't let the 65th birthday of Peter Corris pass by without sending out some best wishes and highlighting the work of Australia's "godfather of Australian crime fiction". With the 31st Cliff Hardy novel to be released next month (titled Appeal Denied and published by Allen & Unwin), he continues to lead the way.

I'm still making a concerted effort to catch up on all the Cliff Hardy books - and having a wonderful time doing so, I might add - with about 8 or 9 books to go. The Cliff Hardy books are relentlessly hardboiled with Cliff going through a gradual change (as one would expect) as the series progresses. His style is still antagonistic, intentionally provoking people in the hopes of getting a reaction, often succeeding and taking the odd knock to the head as a result. Set largely in Sydney, this is a detective series to savour.

With 30 books in the series, it would be pointless trying to list them all here - much easier to point you in the direction of Corris' website.

Of course, I've reviewed a few of his books as can be seen here, here, here and here. Oh yeah, and here.

Corris also has another 3 series out there with the 8 volume Richard Browning series featuring a private investigator set in the 1940s who appears to travel far and wide. Then there's the Ray "Creepy" Crawley series which has more of a spy feel to it with Crawley an Australian Security Agent. This series is 8 strong too. Finally there's the Luke Dunlop series. Dunlop is an ex-cop turned Witness Protection officer. I thought this series had a bit more legs than the 3 volumes that comprise it.

Looks like there's plenty left in the legs of the ole godfather, though. Read a Peter Corris book today.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Richard Flanagan's US Tour

Well the US book tour of Richard Flanagan rolls on as he continues to promote The Unknown Terrorist to great success as this LA Times article attests. The article provides some pretty good reading with numerous comparisons made of his work to William Faulkner's which he sounds a little awed about, not to mention a touch apprehensive.

Asked about the research he undertook for The Unknown Terrorist he quipped "Well, let's see: I spent a fair amount of time in Sydney, hanging out and drinking with cops and talking to junkies, I knew that somewhere in all that there was a story."

At the time of the article Flanagan was a panellist at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Happy Birthday: Marele Day

The creator of the Claudia Valentine series, Marele Day celebrates her 60th birthday today so I thought it would be only fitting to have a bit of an examination of possibly Australia's most popular female private eye.

Set in an around the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, Claudia's a hard-nosed investigator and while she's not a physically imposing figure, or particularly well equipped in terms of self-defense skills, she's a risk taker and it's this quality that keeps the pace lively and the action plentiful. She comes up against murderers, Chinese triads and kidnappers - your usual fictional PI fare.

The series began in 1988 and comprises just 4 books but the pace is consistently high, the cases diverse and the Sydney setting used to great effect. If nothing else the extravagent titles should be enough to tempt you to crack the cover of at least one and check out the hardboiled story inside.

The Claudia Valentine series is considered a bit of a classic in the annals of Australian crime fiction sitting at the forefront of the resurgence that the genre experienced in the late 80s and early 90s. Definitely well worth tracking down a copy the series is as follows:

The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender (1988)
The Case of the Chinese Boxes (1990)
The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado (1992)
The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi (1994)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May Releases

With the year one-third over we have again seen a slow trickle of locally published crime novels (only 7 by my count). This appears to be the trend in recent years. But as we enter May the pace is picking up with 5 new releases. We've already seen a few of Australia's bigger names release novels this year and we see a couple more this month as well as a newie from an emerging author and a couple of debuts.

The big names…
The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham (Sphere) is the third thriller by the Ned Kelly Award winning author. As mentioned a couple of days ago, this is a thought-provoking thriller that touches on surrogate parenting, but slipping into a vastly more dodgy and lucrative business of baby brokering.

Sucked In by Shane Maloney (Text Publishing). Man oh man how long have we been waiting for this to finally be released? Murray Whelan’s getting on a bit, stuck in Canberra as a minor player in the Labor Party. Then he gets caught up in the long-forgotten death of a union official. The sixth Murray Whelan book has been much anticipated.

Amongst the Dead by Robert Gott (Scribe Publications). The third book in the Will Power series takes place in Australia’s top end. It’s a great example of an unreliable narrative with plenty of humour and a nasty little murder. These books are finely crafted, wickedly amusing and well worth tracking down.

The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims (Allen & Unwin). This debut thriller introduces us to Melbourne police detective sergeant Marita Van Hassel of the Sexual Crimes Squad. Someone is preying on Melbourne’s prostitutes, raping and mutilating them and leaving them for dead. I’m reading it right now and it’s a fast-paced thriller that has been very enjoyable to date. It looks like the start of the career of an author to watch out for.

Frantic by Katherine Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia). Another debut thriller features paramedic Sophie Phillips who faces the prospect of a husband who has been shot and the abduction of her 10 month old son. Howell’s background is as an ambulance officer so I’m expecting the voice of experience to sound prominently. Looking forward to this one, with her second, Panic, already in the works.

There'll be more on each of these as I read each book.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Night Ferry - Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham’s 3rd thriller, The Night Ferry, will be released on May 3rd and I can only urge you to get out there and pick yourself up a copy. This book is a worthy follow up to the 2005 Ned Kelly Award winning Lost taking the reader into the grim world of people smuggling, surrogacy and baby-brokering.

As he did with Lost, Robotham has taken a minor character from an earlier book and developed them into the protagonist. Detective Constable Alisha Barba, a young, athletic police officer who was severely injured while working as DI Vincent Ruiz’s driver in Lost has recovered and makes a fascinating lead. Her Indian (dot, not feathers) heritage adds to her appeal thanks to a family that is vaguely reminiscent of the Kumars At No. 42. She’s a fiercely independent and resilient woman and this serves her well in this story.

The plot itself is an intriguing one dealing with a form of exploitation of women that is not only extremely unusual but also extremely disturbing. The action moves quickly from London across to Amsterdam’s red-light district and back again (and, yes, a ferry is involved that travels after dark). It’s tightly plotted, the characters are fresh and alive and the story is stingingly relevant.

While you're looking at Robotham, make sure you go back and read The Suspect and Lost, you won't regret it for a moment.