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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

5 Short Stories from Issue 3 of The Outpost

With only a week to go before Issue 4 of The Outpost is released for general consumption, I thought it would be a nice idea to remind everyone of the 5 stories that comprised Issue 3 before they are relegated to archive status. So here's a little teaser with the first few paragraphs of each story.

Something Out of the Ordinary by Kerry Ashwin

Norman Stickleback, that's me. I'm not what you would call a go-getter, I don't excel at anything, In fact at school the other kids used to call me Nothing Special N.S. or Normal Norman.

I had no great aspirations at school. No-one expected me to have any and so I didn't disappoint them. It became easy to conform to mediocrity. I can say though I only did that with an average C. As a small boy my mother would say to the shop-keeper that I was of average size for my age. My shoes were average and my hair cut was of the times, no fuss easy to manage and perfectly satisfactory as my father said.

I didn't sail through my school years nor did I fall behind. The most the headmaster could say was that I attended punctually; and that was about the sum of it. The teachers regarded me as a fixture in the classroom, third row in the middle. The rowdy lot sat at the back, the swots in the front, and I filled the gap in-between. That suited me because I hardly ever was called upon for anything. Sports weren't my thing, but I did run when required, coming the middle of the pack. Even when there were only three in the race I came second.

My parents were never ones to make a fuss and so we lived our lives in quiet anonymity. My father was a butcher and I followed in his path. He was kept busy but never over worked. My mother was a homebody, who went about her daily business with quiet contemplation. The Sticklebacks just got on with the daily grind of living.

So no-one was expecting it when I murdered my wife. Read full story...

Cold Facts by R.T. Hag

I'm remembering how they came that night. Without intent, I think. At least for the murder. That seemed to come on as tempers flew - flew up to choke good sense out of more than one of them for there were several shots and Shrider's body jolted two or three times. It was difficult to keep up with events in the middle of the heat of their tempers and the noise of gunshots inside that room, and argument that hung like sticky clods flung about and dripping from ceiling and walls. So many hateful words, accusations, as if a script had been prepared for them down to the fast pace and deadly timing.
You are right in your question. There had to be intent, at least to harm, since they took the time and forethought to bring weapons. Many. Where do so many guns come from? An arsenal comes to mind, and after the murder the guns disappeared back into pockets and folds of material of overcoats - gone. As if it hadn't been. Not so with Shrider's body giving it all away, yet not enough for forensics and you to piece identities together and make arrests.
So you hound me, as if I am implicated, perhaps by omission, by omitting some vital clue that will reveal a name and then it will all fall like dominoes, right down to the handshake from the Mayor congratulating you for ridding the town of corruption and fear. This evil that now lurks among us. And that's the thing, isn't it? That's the real horror, more so than the loss of Shrider's life. What use was he anyway? What use most of us? It is that some of us are the fiends involved. Someone's son, someone's friend, someone's alibi.

Ahh, and there it spreads, like a disease. A mate, doing a friend a favour, covering up, doing the honours so to speak. Probably, ostensibly, for some alleged lesser crime of cheating on a wife. Not the sort of thing we arrest for these days - there you're on your own, stone him in the privacy of your own home, if you can. Read full story...

Alison's Folly by Ann Lax

Several things about her neighbour irritated Alison Parsons. She'd lived next door to Simon Ford for ten years but had never managed to be on first name terms. She was also not one of the bevy of females who flocked to his house at weekends.

"I'm a good neighbour. He shouldn't be so hoity-toity," when he resisted the lures she cast in his direction. In her huff she never noticed the slighting glance he gave the cochineal frizz that she fancied gave her a youthful appearance and was suited to a weekend painter. Or that he wrinkled his nose in distaste at the 'Obsession' fragrance that wafted his way on the morning breeze.

When she related details of his great body and cobalt blue eyes to her friend, Susie, she laughed and said to 'stop drooling over him.' She bristled at the laughter and took a deep breath to control her annoyance. She plunged in again.

"Females orbit around him like swallows." She detested swallows. They messed up her eaves. "There's a new one every month. He needs to settle down with a good woman. A local politician needs a wife."

"Who did you have in mind?" said her friend. Alison had the feeling Susie was laughing up her sleeve at her. "He sounds like a wanker to me. You're a painter Why don't you ask him to pose for you? Fully clothed of course." Read full story...

The Twenty Four Hour Affair by Malcolm Reid

Lean and well preserved for his fifty plus years, James Nixon was one of the first through customs at the Sydney Airport. His slightly creased lightweight suit, manageable travel bag and inscrutable expression marked him as a regular traveler. He had experienced most things that life could offer.

After a brief, terse conversation on his mobile phone, he climbed into a waiting taxi. The voice had a pleasant Canadian drawl. "McLeary Street, Kings Cross," he instructed the driver.

Several hours later, intermittent rain had not dampened the enthusiasm of tourists and the more colorful locals. Night owls were leaving the numerous hotels and restaurants as two uniformed policemen strolled slowly down the street. They noted, with some speculation, a man on one of the benches in the small park. His tailored, grey silk suit was soaked from the recent shower and his head hung forward on his chest. The crowd, either homeward-bound or pleasure-bent, hurried past unheeding.

"Wake up, mister!" The younger policeman gently nudged the seated figure.

James Nixon slumped sideways. His glazed eyes stared at the glowing, overcast sky. His neck had been broken and he was well and truly dead. Read full story...

Finding Hao Ling by Rani Milne

"Just be careful, Mel," he tells me in that comfortably patronising voice; the one he has developed over long years of supposed superiority and wisdom. I bristle. But Jack has proven his use in a mentor capacity and so I grit my teeth and reply. Carefully.

"I'm always careful."

"I know you are, Mel. But you don't know who has taken Hao Ling or why."

"No, at the moment I don't know, Jack. But finding out is what I do. So just shut up and let me do the job you taught me. And give me your dog."

He sighs and hands over Sasha's lead. "Fine. But don't let her get wet. She'll stink up the place."

Sasha is a jaunty little fox terrier who's always up for a romp. She's the reason I'm here and putting up with Jack. After speaking to Hao Ling's parents in Singapore earlier this evening I knew I needed a dog and I needed one fast.

Hao Ling is a chemical engineering student at Sydney University. She lives in a small terrace house just off campus in Darlington with two flatmates. And a dog. The flatmates so far yielded no clues, but the dog was my lead. It was a Maltese called - wait for it - Pookie and apparently Hao Ling walked it around the university grounds every night. The engineering and architecture departments were on the Darlington side of King Street and, with the grassy areas, ample pathways and little in the way of road traffic, Hao Ling wasn't the only one who frequented the campus after dark. Every night a cross-section of inner city dwellers could be found: dog walkers who knew each other well and who used the darkened space to stretch canine and human legs. Living in closely crowded terrace houses, the uni was their backyard. Read full story...

Friday, June 29, 2007

July 07 Releases

Gospel by Sydney Bauer (pub. Pan Macmillan Australia) - Following on from Undertow, Bauer's debut thriller, this is the 2nd book to feature Boston attorney David Cavanagh. The death of US Vice President Tom Bradshaw looks like a tragic accidenton the surface but, despite attempts to cover up the truth, it becomes obvious that the man has been murdered. But that's just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg that a powerful little group will go to any lengths to protect. This is a thriller of massive proportions and forces Cavanagh to revisit his past while making his future decidedly uncertain. Released July 2.

All Those Bright Crosses by Ross Duncan (pub. Picador Australia) - This is Ross Duncan's debut novel and it's a powerful story about a life in crisis. Martin Flint is a man wracked with guilt and grief. He is in Fiji nominally pursuing a story, but in reality he is trying to flee the adversity in his life following the death of his 4 year old daughter, his descent into depression and a gambling addiction that has cost him his marriage. There's proof here that even seemingly idyllic settings have their fair share of dingy backstreets. Released July 1.

Vodka Doesn't Freeze by Leah Giarratano (pub. Random House Australia) - Another debut novel, this one is a psychological thriller written by an author who is a clinical psychologist. When they say "write what you know" then Leah Giarrantano is dead on the money. Someone is picking off the members of a long-established paedophile ring, brutally murdering them one by one. Sergeant Jill Jackson has to decide how vigorously she is going to investigate the case. I must say, this one sounds as though it has a completely intriguing premise. Released July 2.

The Calling by Jane Goodall (pub. Hachette Australia) - first thing that's noticable is that the "R" is gone from the book's cover. Jane R. Goodall has just become plain ole Jane Goodall. This is the 3rd book in the Briony Williams series (The Walker and The Visitor) and is set in 1976 amongst the Punk movement. When Briony finds herself on a "Death List" she finds herself playing a deadly game with the ultimate at stake. Another high quality thriller beckons here. Released July 5.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Nelson Conspiracy

Barry Ward has published the first three chapters of his forthcoming book based on the murder of Juanita Nielsen. The book and the blog are titled The Nelson Conspiracy and the book will soon be published in the traditional bound form so here is a chance to get a sneak peek.

As a bit of background to the story around which it is based, the Juanita Nielsen murder is one of Australia's most intriguing mysteries and all began when she went to an appointment at a Kings Cross nightclub and disappeared. She had been leading a vigorous campaign against a redevelopment in the Kings Cross area at the time of her disappearance.

While there have been coronial inquiries and numerous claims and allegations, it is likely that the full story has never been heard.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Few New Kiwi Releases

So hands up all those who can name more than one New Zealand crime writer - and you're not allowed to include Ngaio Marsh.

Time's up.

We're about to broaden our horizons by checking out a few recent releases by authors from New Zealand so sharpen your pencils. The "Down Under" part of the blog's name has given me free reign to hop across the ole ditch and, thanks to a little prompting (for which I am grateful) from Thomas Mitchell (author of the short story First Off the Blocks), I present a few of the latest offerings from New Zealand for you to hunt down.
  • The Cleaner & The Killing Hour by Paul Cleave pub. Randam House) - Firstly, The Cleaner has been longlisted for the Ned Kelly Award, not only for Best Debut Crime Novel but also for best Novel. It's a powerful story that takes you into the terrifying mind of a serial killer. He has since followed that up with The Killing Hour (published June 2007) in which a man wakes up with a bump on his head, blood on his shorts and the news that the two young women he was with the night before have been brutally murdered.

  • Overkill by Vanda Symon - this is a murder mystery set in New Zealand's South Island and introduces Police Constable Sam Shepherd. This is a small-town mystery that oozes with local flavour and is proposed as the first of a series.

  • The Windsor Conspiracy by Mike Ponder (pub. Random House) - this is an explosive thriller in which a London journalist receives the gruesome little package of a bloody finger and is told the finger belongs to Prince Charles, now a kidnapping victim. It's the start of a wild, conspiracy-filled story of murder, manipulation and some serious questions over the possible ruthlessness of a few members of the royal family.

  • Chad Taylor - his latest novel is Departure Lounge (pub. Jonathan Cape) which Taylor warns is a mystery with no resolution and that it plays with the genre. It's about a career burglar who breaks into an apartment and cleans it out before moving on to the next. Along the way he comes to an apartment whose occupants have recently died and he is startled to discover that he has a connection with them from his past which prompts a detailed examination of self.

  • Opportunity by Charlotte Grimshaw (Random House) - this is a book of dark short stories that can be read separately or combined to read as a whole novel. Her previous books - Provocation, Guilt and Foreign City lean towards the darker, more troubled side.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Review: The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Title : The Unknown Terrorist

Author: Richard Flanagan
Publisher: Picador
Date Published: 2006
ISBN: 0330422804
Sub-Genre: Thriller

Richard Flanagan is a well-credentialed author whose past novels have all been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award as well as picking up a slew of other prizes. The Unknown Terrorist is his first thriller and it makes use of the post-911 worldwide fear of terror attacks as the driving force behind this savagely relevant novel. We are taken on a nightmare ride through a city that has been whipped up into an "alarmed, not alert" frenzy.

Sydney has been hit by a terrorist bomb scare when 3 children's backpacks are found, filled with explosives, near the Homebush Olympic Stadium. Images of New York, Beslan, London and the Sari Club are prominent on the local news as the city is in turmoil over the near miss.

Oblivious to all of this is The Doll, a pole dancer working at a Sydney nightclub whose sole focus is finishing her shift with enough tips to bring her closer towards her goal of earning enough money to put a deposit on her own home. Sure she notices that the terrorist threat has reached her city, but it's not the sort of news that will affect her directly so it hardly registers with her.

The Doll's real name is Gina Davies, but her stage name is Krystal and the name she is known by at the club is short for The Russian Doll, a name that was bestowed upon her by the club's owner.

The Doll spread her legs very slowly and, finally, with a knowing, complicit look that she sealed with a smile, lowered her gaze to her hand that she had begun running between her legs, while all the time thinking of a Louis Vuitton handbag she had seen spectacularly reduced to six hundred dollars. She could buy it tomorrow if the fat suit fell for her. It would make this shitful night worth it.

The night of Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is party time and the Doll is ready to make the most of the night. While watching the parade she meets Tariq, a darkly handsome man with whom she gets swept up with in a wild night of dancing and passion. When she wakes the next morning Tariq has left her alone in his apartment and she leaves without seeing him again.

The next thing she knows she is watching the news on television as they report an unsuccessful raid on a terrorist's apartment that day. But it's not until photos of the terrorist and his female accomplice are displayed that her head starts spinning - one of the photos is of her.

At first she treats it as a bit of a joke, something that can be easily and quickly cleared up by a visit to the local cop shop, but the situation spirals dangerously out of control on the back of some sensationalist journalism and a city that is in the grip of terror that, until now, was foreign to it. Unable to contact Tariq, afraid to return to her apartment and her job, the Doll is cast adrift, a fugitive accused of the most serious of crimes - terrorism.

While life as a pole dancer hasn't exactly been easy for the Doll, she had plans for the future and was almost at the point of reaching some of her goals. This is a bleak examination of the total breakdown of a life through the momentum of lies, fears and the determination to sell a story.
The numb feeling of disbelief never really subsides from the moment Gina sees herself on the television. At times this hampers the progress of the story while she wanders aimlessly around the streets of Sydney, not knowing who to turn to for help. But it also starkly illustrates the fragility of our place in society and the ease with which everything can be pulled out from under us.

Flanagan litters the book with barely functioning characters who are managing through their professional lives while their personal lives are crumbling around them. From Richard Cody, the sleazy television journalist representative of the worst in reporting, to the drugs cop, Nick Loukakis with a crumbling marriage and an uncertain future with a former lover, it seems that no-one is destined to escape unscathed.

The Unknown Terrorist has an important message to impart, one that is made in no uncertain terms and, regardless of the Doll's destiny, it is a story that is particularly relevant in today's uncertain global climate.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Around the Traps #4

Maxine at Petrona has told us what she thinks about Adrian Hyland's debut novel Diamond Dove. Great timing for the buzz to be stirred up again because Text Publishing are about to re-release the book in its B format.

Bookboy has recently read Sucked In by Shane Maloney and has given it a glowing report discribing the series as "funny and clever and the political setting provides for a crime story with a difference."

Patrick Anderson at the Washington Post talks glowingly about the brutal style and eloquence shown in The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. He goes on to say that "The plot is not exceptional, but the novel Temple builds around it is"

Jenny Anderson at Light Reading has also commented on the Post article and goes on to add her praise to Temple's writing, defying anyone not to read his books. So there's a challenge you shouldn't defy.

Perry at Matilda discusses the Art of Reviewing and some of the cliched phrases used by reviewers themselves that are "giving him the pip". He uses a review of Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta and the use of the character description "two-dimensional" as an example, making an outstanding argument. You can then check Perry's own review of the book.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Radio Interview with Peter Corris

With the release of the latest book by one of Australia's most prolific (and popular) authors The Book Show on ABC Radio National has snagged an interview with Peter Corris. Corris chats with Ramona Koval and reads a passage from Appeal Denied.

An interesting comment to come out of the interview is that Corris likes to follow the convention of Ross McDonald's when writing a crime novel that reads: "Disorder in the past surfaces in the present and sets the plot running." It's a convention that Corris believes just about all of his books suscribes to.

He explains that he finds it easy to slip into a new Cliff hardy novel, like slipping on an old coat. Let's hope he hasn't any plans to send the coat to the Salvos any time soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reading: The Big Ask by Shane Maloney

After recently devouring Sucked In, the 6th Murray Whelan novel by Shane Maloney I found myself seeking out the backlist so that I could once again enjoy the easygoing narrative of the ALP stalwart.

The first in my backtracking effort is
The Big Ask which happens to be the 4th book in the series. In this one Murray mixes it with trucking union heavies who are trading blows over a possible leadership stoush. Along the way he gets caught up in a murder investigation, gets fired by the Honourable Angelo Agnelli, State Minister for Transport and learns that his son has gone missing. It's all go, go, go for Murray Whelan which has easily dragged me along for a very enjoyable ride.

And, yes, okay I admit it, the innuendo the sex-starved political minder spurts forth with as he's getting it on is also a bit of a drawcard. The close personal encounter in the cabin of a truck results in some priceless trucking (that's trucking) terminology.

And then it's followed up nicely with Murray lusting after a formerly available (but now sadly taken) colleague thusly:

How I longed to federate with her, to capture her preferences, to scrutinise her affiliations. To man her booth, to poll her quorum, to table her amendments, to join her in congress, to have her sit on my adminitrative committee.

From the sounds of this, if Murray doesn't find a woman soon there's going to be big trouble in the halls of power (or at least, a big mess).

He moves on to the Melbourne weather, a topic that is the source of great derision for Sydney-siders.
According to the calendar, spring was only a few weeks away. But spring in Melbourne is an elusive phenomenon, a largely theoretical construct. It finds expression less in the behaviour of the elements than in the expectations of the population. It arrives because, having endured winter, we deserve it.

I'm often bemused by the habit of Australians to complain about the "cold" weather we get during winter. This in a country where it only snows in a miniscule region and well away from the large cities. Complaining that the temperature only reached 8 degrees celsius would get absolutely no sympathy from those living in cities whose winter temperatures regularly sit below freezing for most of the winter months. (We're a weird mob).

And, finally, I get the feeling that Shane Maloney has read one or two Patrick White novels with this pithy little simile:
Behind the lenses of his sunglasses Farrell's face was as unreadable as a Patrick White novel.
Anyone who has ever opened the pages will be chuckling appreciably at that one, I'm sure.

Murray actually gets reasonably assertive in this book, actually goading someone with the classic provocation "have a go, you mug", to which he is mortified to have to back up with his fists. As Murray puts it:
If he thought I was going to box him, he'd mistaken me for a man who knew what he was doing. Get in close, I thought desperately. Compensate for my lack of skill by kneeing him in the knackers.

Go you good thing, I say.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Review : Appeal Denied by Peter Corris

Title : Appeal Denied

Author : Peter Corris
Publisher : Allen & Unwin
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781741750966
Sub-Genre : Detective
Protagonist : Cliff Hardy

The many cases in which Cliff Hardy has had to tread the fine line between legal and illegal have finally caught up with the Sydney detective. Appeal Denied is the 31st book in Peter Corris’ popular hardboiled detective series but the times are a-changing and Cliff’s days look to be numbered.

The police have been looking for opportunities to take Hardy’s licence and it has finally happened with an appeal to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal failing. He is left to ponder his life ahead with no job, no prospects and the bills continuing to arrive.

Cliff Hardy has never had any dealings with the Northern Crime Unit based in Sydney but he is less than impressed with the murder investigation they are running, an investigation that he has a personal stake in. Having lost his enquiry licence he’s not supposed to engage in any official investigative work but there is simply no way he is going to sit idly by and let a killer get clean away.

With the help of media personality and investigative reporter Lee Townsend he begins poking around and it doesn’t take long for the whiff of police corruption to start wafting out. Townsend then introduces Hardy to Detective Constable Jane Farrow who tells him of a long and sordid history of extortion and payoffs that have been commonplace in the day to day operation of the Northern Crime Unit. And the taint goes right up to the top.

Cliff is a man possessed, stoked with rage and desperate to unleash his anger on someone. He has been cut loose with nothing to get in his way and no reason to spend time at home or at his office. The prospect of possibly being hunted by dirty cops also keeps him on the move and this ensures that his unofficial investigation unfolds quickly.

Trust is a big problem for Hardy during this case, not knowing whether there is anyone he can rely on. First he meets Detective Sergeant Colin Williams, lead officer on the murder case and he seems like an honest cop but is quickly removed from the murder inquiry. The cops who replace him are definitely bent. Lee Townsend could be sincere in his quest to uncover the suspected police corruption or maybe he just senses a big story. As for Detective Constable Jane Farrow, Cliff senses something’s not quite right about her but just can’t put his finger on exactly what it is.

The style of Peter Corris is essentially economical with a lean, clear emphasis on the plot, allowing the mood to be relayed to us through Cliff Hardy’s state of mind. It’s obvious that events are beginning to take their toll on Hardy with more frequent reflection on the changes in his life and a questioning of his best way forward from here. He has always been an independent, lonely character but there is an even greater impression of a desire by him to move on.

Hardy is as dogged as ever and as willing to ignore all warnings to quit as he ever has been. In fact, I get the feeling he wouldn’t believe he was doing his job properly if he didn’t get all those warnings and didn’t see people grit their teeth in anger after he has hit them with a comment designed specifically to needle.

His instincts are sharp, he still has friends in high places and he still gets results sailing perilously close to the wrong side of the law. Appeal Denied is a typically brisk detective novel that displays all of the ballsy determination, great planning and seat of the pants execution by its protagonist. There is a marked difference in that the story is tinged with far grater emotion than you usually see from a Cliff Hardy mystery.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Review : An Easeful Death by Felicity Young

Title : An Easeful Death

Author : Felicity Young
Publisher : Fremantle Arts Centre Press
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781920731137
Sub-Genre : Police Procedural
Setting : Perth, Australia
Protagonist : Detective Stevie Cooper

A brazen killer is on the loose in Australia's western-most capital and the Perth Police Force is under unprecedented pressure to catch him in Felicity Young's electric thriller An Easeful Death. Actually, I used the word thriller just then - and there are heart-stopping moments littered throughout the book - but an arguably more apt description of the book would be to call it a whodunit to pay tribute to the superb way that the list of plausible suspects is built and maintained.

A young woman is found dead outside a Perth bank. It's a bizarre crime scene, shocking for it's public display, but notable for the fact that the body has been spray painted bronze and posed sitting on a bench, chin in hand as if in deep contemplation. Written in black marker down one of her thighs are the words "An easeful death."

Detective Stevie Cooper, and the rest of the Perth Serious Crime Squad understand that they are dealing with a very organised killer who has meticulously planned and carried out a murder and then taken the time and the risk of disposing of the body in a public place. There is even evidence that the killer returned to the body to remove props that held the body in place while rigor was setting in.

Having been burnt on the handling of a recent string of prostitute murders Inspector Monty McGuire immediately calls in a criminal profiler from interstate. The profiler in question is James De Vakey, a quietly composed man who specialises in reading people, a trick he insinuates upon Stevie when she unwillingly gets the job of picking him up from the airport.

A second posed corpse, this time painted completely silver is discovered in the bedding department of a city store, sends the investigative team into uproar. The victim is someone particularly close to one of the detectives, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that they are looking for someone who has access to records that have come directly from the police themselves. Again the murder appears to have been carried out by a particularly organised person and the placement of the body also suggests a significant level of confidence.

A bronze body, a silver long before they find a gold body?

A grim air of expectancy settles heavily over the story thanks to the nature of the murders and there is a strong sense that there are more to come. But there is an immense measure of uncertainty surrounding the case because whoever the killer is had inside knowledge that is only available to the police. Everyone is a potential suspect and it's on this critical point that the success of the novel hangs.

It becomes apparent pretty quickly that the officers within the Serious Crime Squad share more than the normal working relationship. Inspector Monty McGuire and Stevie go back to their childhood days living in rural Western Australia when McGuire came to live with Stevie's family. They share a strong, sound relationship that proves to be particularly binding and so you find that they are able to provide a much closer dynamic as the case unfolds which proves to play an integral part to the story.

This dynamic is made even more obvious with the introduction of profiler James De Vakey who tends to insinuate himself into Stevie's presence at every opportunity. There is no doubting the experience he adds to the team but, as the case progresses and the suspect list continues to grow, there are some real questions as to what he is actually doing there.

Along that particular line, Young sets up a broad range of convincingly plausible suspects to choose from when trying to select the identity of the killer. Plausible, yet each and every one of them appears as unlikely a killer as the next with just enough mystery surrounding each of them so that they can not be discounted. This can't be underestimated for the power that it gives the story both in its believability and the effect it has in drawing the reader forward.

As you would hope and expect, there is a very dramatic conclusion to the investigation in which, lets just say, not everyone comes out smelling of roses. Felicity Young has produced what looks to be the makings of a strong police procedural series featuring a protagonist who still has a secret or two to reveal.

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Spotlight Australian Male Private Investigators

Continuing my spotlight series of some of the broader categories of Australian crime I have moved on to Australian Male Private Investigators. After the long list of female P.I.'s I was expecting a formidable list of male detectives to feature. But the list is surprisingly short which leads me to believe that I have a lot still to read or a lot that I have missed.

So if you notice any glaring omissions let me know and I'll add them (it would also be handy to pick up some recommendations myself).

And away we go...

Author : Peter Corris P.I. : Cliff Hardy

Recognised as the godfather of Australian crime Peter Corris epitomises the essence of Australian crime writing. With 31 books in the Cliff Hardy series he has cemented himself at the forefront of hardboiled fiction in Australia. Cliff Hardy has seen it all. He's been knocked out at least once per book, suffered through a succession of failed relationships, been shot at, blown up and generally abused in more ways than one can imagine. If it's tough, lean crime writing you're after then you should start with The Dying Trade and work your way through to the just released Appeal Denied.

Visit the official Peter Corris website for more on Cliff Hardy.

Author : Kel Richards P.I. : Benjamin Bartholomew

Here is a most innovative idea for a detective series. Set in Jerusalem at around 33A.D. but with all the mod-cons of the 20th century, Bartholomew investigates some of the most important mysteries mentioned in the bible. And the first is the disappearance of the body of Jesus Davidson, a man who was executed but whose body mysteriously disappeared 3 days later. These books are very clever filled with irony and a just a hint of theological philosophy.

Titles : The Case of the Vanishing Corpse, The Case of the Secret Assassin, The Second Death, The Case of the Damascus Dagger

Author : Susan Geason P.I. : Syd Fish

Fish is a Sydney-based private detective who features in 3 books - the first, Shaved Fish a book of short stories. His realm is in and around the inner-Sydney hotspot of Kings Cross. He has a dry wit that is in abundant display while he calls in favours from near and far. a big drawing factor of the series is the vivid descriptions of the local Sydney scenes.

Titles : Shaved Fish, Dogfish, Shark Bait

Author : Steve Wright P.I. : Barry Donovan

Another series of only 3 books written in the early 1990s, they introduce Barry Donovan who was doing it particularly tough in London before relocating to Sydney. Donovan has the daunting task of adjusting to life in Australia while trying to fit in as a private detective. In evidence is a superb wit (something that most of these series share), but also many of the traditional features of hardboiled PI's - the drinking, the introspection, the loneliness, the tendancy to get beaten around the head.

Titles : Love Avalon, A Drop In the Ocean, A Break In the Traffic

Author : Scott Bywater P.I. : Sam Chauvel

Although Bywater and Chauvel have already been covered in my Comic Novels post, I'll quickly mention the series again. Sam Chauvel is a wannabe private investigator just starting out on the job with a lot to learn. More blundering than effective, there are 2 books to enjoy filled with good-natured crime fighting fun.

Titles : Captain Zooba To the Rescue, Love Is In the Air-Conditioning

We can also move back to the pulp era and include the vast Larry Kent series, and Carter Brown's Rick Holman books, Robert Dudgeon wrote Max Strong books. There are surely many others from this era who also may or may not have been Australian authors.

As I said earlier there must be heaps of P.I. series I've missed so I'll be more than happy to be reminded of them.

Around the Traps #3

The Adelaide Advertiser's Patrick Allington caught up with Matt Rubinstein to discuss his newly released A Little Rain on Thursday.

Sarah Weinman she of the Confessions of an Indosyncratic Mind blog is the latest to have read and reviewed The Broken Shore by Peter Temple in the Baltimore Sun and has found that it "takes his work to a richer, darker place". Meanwhile, kimbofo has been swept into a time vortex when she made the fortunate mistake of opening The Broken Shore and losing the morning.

Another of Peter Temple's early novels - in fact his earliest, An Iron Rose has been reviewed in the Sunday Business Post and posted for our perusal on the Alex Meehan's Echos From A Distant Mountain blog. Alex rates it a stylish thriller and sums up by saying that the book features well drawn characters in atypical settings that challenge the genre well.

Across the Atlantic to The Times we go and John Dugdale compares the beginning of The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan very favourably with John Le Carre before expressing disappointment with the second half of the book.

But that hasn't deterred Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio from buying the film rights to The Unknown Terrorist. According to Susan Wyndham at the SMH blog - Entertainment, everyone from George Clooney to Angelina Jolie is reading it.

But quite frankly, it's a Flanagan-a-thon as the book is being covered across the US with David Masiel of the Washington Post casting his eye over the book concluding with the glowing summation that it provides "stark realism revealing underlying sickness."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Review a True Crime Book For Me

Last week I tacked the germ of an idea for a little “competition” to offer a free book to the first person to send me a review of either of the 2 Australian true crime books that were released this month. The books in question are The Devil’s Garden by Debi Marshall and Killing Jodie by Janet Fife-Yeomans. The offer still stands but I thought it would be a good idea to give it a bit more prominence. So if you’ve read either of these books and would like to contribute a review I’d be happy to accept it – or even if you’re planning to read one, let me know.

Speaking of true crime, J. Kingston Pierce over at
The Rap Sheet has brought to our attention a brand new blog cleverly named In Cold Blog devoted to true crime cases. The contributors to the blog are true crime authors and reviewers (around 30, apparently), mainly from the US. Having a quick look myself I can safely say that the blog’s content is simply outstanding, certainly required reading for anyone who enjoys true crime books.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In the words of Cliff Hardy - Appeal Denied

Cliff Hardy is back at it again in the 31st book of the series, Appeal Denied (pub. Allen & Unwin), although this time his livelihood is on the morphine drip (as Vince Van Patten likes to say during WPT tournaments).

He doesn't mince any words right from the get go with the first paragraph summing up his predicament:

Following my last major case, I was given a suspended sentence for various offences. This, together with an earlier serious infringement and a brief prison spell, caused the enquiry agents to scrub me for life.

In describing the Glebe police station, the description is so vivid it gets your nostrils twitching:

I've been in the Glebe police station quite a few times but never for drinks and nibbles. it's been tarted up more than once over the years, but something of its essence always comes back - a look, smel and feel that speak of long hours, tiredness, loss, anger, frustration and take away food.

Then we get a rare glimpse into Cliff Hardy's childhood:

The emptiness was making me think back further than I cared to go. Filling in the spaces. It'd been a strange household to grow up in, requiring deception and negotiation between the parents every step of the way. Perhaps it had stood me in good stead for my profession.

Almost without fail Cliff Hardy loses consciousness at least once per book, so I thought I would capture the crucial moment for you in Cliff's words:

A strong arm wrapped around my neck and expert fingers felt for the carotid artery. I blacked out, floated, and didn't feel anything when I hit the ground.

Here's a bit of insight into the way Cliff likes to operate - how he perceives a P.I. should go about things:

Talking to key-tappers and tapping keys is all very well, but it doesn't feel like real work. I didn't want to just sit around waiting for people to get back to me with information that might or might not be useful. I felt I (had to) do something.

And that, right there, is one of the main reasons that so many crime fiction fans love reading Peter Corris' Cliff Hardy books. Cliff does stuff!

I can assure you that even though Cliff has lost his licence, it doesn't stop him from doing what he does best. He's a stirrer, a smart-arse and a highly effective private enquiry agent.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I'm Cool! Cliff Hardy says so.

Well, it's official...I ain't no nerd. Sure I work in IT read lots of books and write a blog but I have learned from a reliable source that I'm no nerd.

And who is this relaible source, you may ask. Why none other than hardboiled private detective Cliff Hardy who puts it this way in the newly released Appeal Denied:

A long way from being a nerd, he works out at Redgum gym, runs half-marathons and the City to Surf.
Now, sure, I realise Cliff Hardy's a fictional character but his opinion carries a lot of weight in the most respected of circles, so I'm going with it. As a runner who has completed around 15 half-marathons and around 17 City to Surfs that's got to make me far from a nerd too, doesn't it? Yes! Validation. Because I'm prepared to risk the onset of arthritis in my knees and ankles as I get older I have earned the respect and admiration of a fictional character.

Read it and weep, suckers.

More about Appeal Denied by Peter Corris later in the week.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spotlight Australian Female Private Investigators

Last week I discussed humorous Australian crime authors (or was that Australian crime authors who write humorous books - yeah, that probably sounds better).

This week I want to run my eye over female private, that's not meant to be as creepy as it sounds. The list is not exhaustive and I haven't read all books by all authors listed below, but I reckon this will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from each series.

Author : Marele Day P.I. : Claudia Valentine

I'll start with the Claudia Valentine series by Marele Day becaue this is the series I read first, so it seems only fitting.

The series begins with The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender which was published in 1988 and immediately asserts itself as a hardboiled detective novel. Claudia wakes with a killer hangover, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels and a full ashtray lying beside her bed and a sleeping blonde lying in it. The series lasts for 4 books and puts Claudia into all manner of dangerously tight spots requiring measured ingenuity over brawn. A messy marriage break-up involving two children gives her a complicated past and a reason to lapse into self-examination. This is a strong, complex series set in Sydney.

Titles : The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender, The Case of the Chinese Boxes, The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado and The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi.

Author : Gabrielle Lord P.I. : Gemma Lincoln

The Gemma Lincoln series is now 4 books strong with Shattered having been released earlier in the year. All of these books are complex thrillers that contain multiple threads running at once. She runs a detective agency employing a string of agents who report to her. Much more business-like than your average P.I., as well as maintaining a fast pace throughout the series, we also find that the personality of Gemma Lincoln plays a major role, growing as the series progresses. Whereas most other P.I. novels focus mainly on the crime that is being investigated, Lord gives us a lot more development of the Gemma Lincoln character.

Titles : Feeding the Demons, Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing, Spiking the Girl, Shattered.

Author : Cathy Cole P.I. : Nicola Sharpe

Nicola Sharpe features in 2 detective novels, Dry Dock and Skin Deep. She lives and works in Sydney's inner west suburb of Balmain dealing with dodgy property developers, hardened dock workers and slimy union officials all of whom operate on the shady side of the game and are less than impressed to have a woman butting in on their deals. Out of necessity she's got to be tough and capable and this ensures that the books are strong and interesting.

Titles : Dry Dock, Skin Deep

Author : Leigh Redhead P.I. : Simone Kirsch

Simone Kirsch is a P.I. with a real difference, coming from a background where she worked as a stripper. As a matter of fact, over the course of the 3 books so far in the series, she still hasn't completely given up the stripping. The big advantage with this kind of a background is that it gives Simone great contacts in the nightclubs and brothels around Melbourne. She is also willing to take whatever chances necessary to make her investigation work.

Titles : Peepshow, Rubdown, Cherry Pie.

Author : Angela Savage P.I. : Jayne Keeney

So far, Angela Savage is the author of one book, Behind the Night Bazaar, which features Australian private detective Jayne Keeney who has relocated to Bangkok. Filled with all of the dangers and customs of Thailand, Savage's prose is filled with authenticity and realism and Keeney battles through the unfamiliar territory with unparalleled tenacity. This is a top quality debut thriller which earned Savage the 2004 Victoria Premiers Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript.

Author : Tara Moss P.I. : Makedde Vanderwall

I have only read 1 of the 4 Mak Vanderwall books and I found that the character appears to be closely based on the author herself. Canadian ex-pat, former model now living in Australia. I've got to say, I was far from impressed with Hit finding the story was continually bogged down my Mak moping over her personal life while the investigation dragged to the point that it was unfinished by the time the book ended (obviously you're to read the next one). I'd recommend this one last on my list if I were to rank them.

Titles : Fetish, Covet, Split, Hit

Author : Lindy Cameron P.I. : Kit O'Malley

Kit O'Malley is an ex-police officer turned P.I. working the seedy side of Melbourne's streets. She's tough, likable and a lesbian and features in 3 books. I've read Blood Guilt and found it a fast-moving crime novel that shows off Kit's detective skills to good effect. It also establishes her as a hopeless romantic who eats herself up with unfulfilled sexual frustration.

Titles : Blood Guilt, Bleeding Hearts, Thicker Than Water

Author : Kirsty Brooks P.I. : Cassidy Blair

I haven't read any of Kirsty Brooks' books but having read some of the reviews for her Cassidy Blair books, perhaps I should have included her in the humorous post. Cassidy Blair is a P.I. (at least, I think she is) and while she works cases, it seems that the results are more in the realm of the hilarious rather than the hardboiled. Plenty of talk about bad fashion and dangerous guys, these books sound like great fun.

Titles : The Vodka Dialogue, The Happiness Punch, The Millionaire Float, The Lady Splash.

Author : Claire McNab P.I. : Kylie Kendall

Again, I haven't read any of Claire McNab's books. She is now based in the USA and is the author of 3 long-running series, the 3rd of which features P.I. Kylie Kendall. Because I know little about the series, I will simply quote the introduction on Claire's website: "Think Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum blended with Crocodile Dundee. That's brash, enthusiastic Kylie Kendall, raised in the remote Outback of Australia. She's familiar with perilous situations and dangerous animals. Even so, nothing has prepared her for the challenges Los Angeles provides when Kylie inherits a private eye business and decides to lob in and run it herself."

Claire McNab's 2 other series feature Detective Inspector Carol Ashton (18 books) and Denise Cleever, an Australian Intelligence Organisation agent.

Titles : The Wombat Strategy, The Kookaburra Gambit, The Quokka Question, The Dingo Dilemma.

There should be something amongst these 8 authors for everyone to enjoy, whether it's hardboiled, humour, thriller or a bit of each.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Review : A Little Rain On Thursday by Matt Rubinstein

Title : A Little Rain On Thursday
Author : Matt Rubinstein
Publisher : Text Publishing
Date Published : June 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781921145728
Sub-Genre : Mystery
Setting : Sydney, Australia

Obsession takes many forms and will invariably cause wanton destruction to the lives it touches. Matt Rubinstein's mystery thriller A Little Rain On Thursday embodies that obsession in the form of an unavoiddable desire to unlock the secrets from an ancient manuscript.

Jack and Beth are a young couple who have inherited an old deconsecrated church in Sydney after Beth's father died. They have not long moved in when a massive hailstorm destroys the roof which caves in and the ensuing carnage in turn destroys the church floor. Underneath they find a trapdoor to an underground crypt and inside the crypt is an ancient manuscript. Jack happens to work as a translator and is fascinated by the manuscript which is written in an unfamiliar arcane-looking language.

He caught an edge with his fingernail and worked the leaves apart. The parchment complained as he turned it, brittle beneath his fingers. The next pages shimmered like light in the water.

The manuscript and the secret the mysterious text might contain gradually takes over Jack's life although it is imperceptible to begin with.

Meanwhile, while unpacking various belongings within the church Beth finds a forgotten stack of old photographs that her father had kept. Pictures of her as a young girl take her back to her early youth and one day in particular in which she nearly drowned. It's an event she has largely blotted out, but the photos prompt the beginnings of the return of other memories. She also becomes aware of a shadowy figure in some of the photos. The figure could be the same man, a man she doesn't know but whom she senses was important in her life. She's not sure if this shadowy figure represents a good part of her life or an evil part.

The threat from the manuscript lies in the complete domination of Jack's attention towards solving the secrets written inside so much so that everyone and everything around him is ignored. That Beth is going through a personal crisis, a self-awakening, and is crying out for Jack's support has great significance, particularly given the complete absence of acknowledgement on Jacks' part.

Instead he sinks more deeply into a state verging on madness fuelled by paranoia over enemies he thinks are trying to get their hands on his manuscript. The extent of Jack's obsession, I think, is perfectly summed up by the following little extract:

He realized he was speeding, hurrying back to the church. To spend time with the manuscript, to search it for more secrets. He felt abstractly guilty, as if he had been unfaithful. He drove faster.

Somewhere along the way Jack and Beth begin to lose touch with each other. Time becomes confused and so does Jack. The question is, just how strong is Jack's mind and can he overcome the lure of the manuscript.

The story begins strongly but becomes increasingly vague and confused, perhaps mirroring Jack's state of mind and the effect of deep paranoia that was clouding his judgement. The line between fact and fantasy begins to blur as Jack loses himself within the pages of the manuscript as does the certainty over exactly how much progress he really makes on its translation. Momentum slows and paranoia grows and the gulf between Jack and Beth builds to monumental proportions, a fact that Jack barely notices.

Although I can appreciate the powerful imagery evoked by Rubinstein's exceptional turn of phrase, I was neither captured by the plot nor the pace at which the story moved. Through it all, the progress on the document becomes increasingly tiresome rather than more interesting.

A Little Rain on Thursday was the runner-up for the 2001 Australian / Vogel Award, an award for unpublished manuscripts by writers under 35 years of age, entered under the title Vellum. It is full of symbolic beauty, an insidious darkness and dangerous paranoia, but it is also slow to develop and difficult to fathom the ultimate destination.

Be warned, though, just as Jack falls under the spell looking for the hidden meaning behind the arcane script, so too will you be searching for the story's true meaning.

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

Friday, June 08, 2007

Around the Traps #2

Another Nutter attended the Sydney Writers Festival last weekend and gives her report remarking on what a great couple of days she had.

Also last weekend, Sue Turnbull reviewed The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham in the Sydney Morning Herald describing it as a big and complex crime novel.

Over to the US and The Unknown Terrorist is still garnering the reviews, this time Richard Flanagan's latest has been held up for close examination in The Philadelphia Inquirer for its borrowing plot elements from The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll. has included Ned Kelly Award winning and now, CWA Dagger nominated The Broken Shore by Peter Temple as one of their Summer Reads recommendations. Although it's recommeded, for every glowing tribute given there is a caveat to consider e.g. (Temple) writes so beautifully that even the most ludicrous scenes can win you over

There's all sorts of a hoo-haa, fuss, whatever you want to call it about Debi Marshall's new True Crime book titled The Devil's Garden: The Claremont Serial Killings with Gary Hughes posing the question: Has a serial killer blogged here? on The Australian blog. It's certainly got everyone commenting and maybe one or two of those are a sandwich short of a picnic.

And sometimes, crime doesn't pay while other times crime really doesn't pay.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

2007 CWA Dagger Awards Short Lists

The short lists for the 2007 CWA Dagger Awards have been announced and amongst the nominees are a couple of Australian authors.

Vying for the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (formerly the CWA Gold Dagger for Fiction) is Ned Kelly winning The Broken Shore by Peter Temple while Michael Robotham - The Night Ferry has been nominated for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger which is awarded to the best adventure / thriller novel in the vein of James Bond. Congratulations and good luck to both of them.

The CWA Dagger Awards will be presented on Thursday, 5th July at the Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane (which is right next to Mayfair, I believe).

For a full rundown of this year's nominees you can check out Shotsmag Confidential.

June True Crime Releases

Having a bit of a scout around I have managed to find 2 Australian true crime new releases this month. I'll be happy to hear of any other newies to add to the list if you want to let me know about them.

The Devil's Garden: The Claremont Serial Killings by Debi Marshall (pub. Random House)

Claremont is a suburb of Perth, a decent, fairly quiet part of the world where you can rightfully expect to safely walk the streets alone at night. But in the mid-1990s 3 women went missing in close succession after walking out of nightclubs in the area. The police investigation has been ongoing ever since.

Debi Marshall takes us into all aspects of the investigation raising questions about the police investigation (to which the WA police responds forcefully here). The bodies of two of the women were discovered but the 3rd has never been found. She also poses the question of how many other missing women can be attributed to the Claremont killer.

Debi Marshall has twice been nominated for Ned Kelly Awards for her true crime books with Killing For Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders and Justice in Jeopardy.

Killing Jodie: How Australias Most Elusive Murderer was Brought to Justice by Janet Fife-Yeomans (pub. Viking)

Jodie Larcombe was murdered in the late 1980s and her murderer managed to escape conviction for the crime on a number of occasions. But Sydney police refused to give up on the case, despite all the obstacles put in their way and eventual begin to home in on their man.

Janet Fife-Yeomans' previous true crime books include The Coroner: Investigating Sudden Death, which she wrote with NSW State Coroner Derrick Hand.

What about a competition?

Okey-doke, I haven't read either of these books and I already have a big backlog of books waiting to be read. However, I would like to post a review of both of them here at some stage, so here's the deal. Let's make a little competition out of this. The first person who sends me a review (of at least 200 words) of one or the other of these books will receive a recently released novel (your choice I'll send you a list). My bookshelves are full to overflowing with novels from Australia and overseas. So come on, if you've already read the book and would like to tell the world about it, send it in and I'll put it up (fully attributed to you, of course).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Crater by Phoenix Connor

I am just in the dying stages of Crater by Phoenix Connor and a full review will be coming out soon, but in the meantime I thought I would give you a bit of a preview of the book, just to whet your appetite.

Crater is an action / adventure thriller on a grand scale that uses a familiar formula but gives it an almighty twist adding the unpredictability of forces of nature and a futuristic (or is it?) genetic experiment gone wrong.

The formula I’m talking about goes like this: an intrepid hero, accompanied by an unusual but extremely likable group of friends who have been unwillingly thrown together, face a formidable opponent. Although facing seemingly insurmountable odds, being hopelessly outnumbered and shockingly ill-equipped, it is up to them – and them alone - to stave off their adversaries. The fate of the human race is in their hands with failure unthinkable.

The protagonist (intrepid hero) is animal-loving expeditionary biologist Matt Hayden who, along with the quintessential sidekick Clancy Ryan rush to the Californian town of Crater in a bid to rescue Matt’s cousin. Crater is nestled in the foothills of Crater Mountain on the banks of Crater River which feeds into a lake called, you guessed it, Crater Lake. Apparently the people who named the region’s landmarks were short on imagination.

When they enter the crater to attempt to find and rescue Matt’s cousin they come up against a breed of hybrid apes who appear highly intelligent and are extremely territorial. The rescue party barely escapes with their lives.

But this is merely the opening gambit as the apes have found their way out of the crater that held them captive for so many years. Their infiltration into the town of Crater coincides with a series of seismic tremors which has a devastating effect on the reptile show that is being held in the town – crocodiles and snakes that were once captive are suddenly released to general pandemonium and death.

Crater works up into an incredible confluence of events as hybrid apes face off against Matt, Clancy and a few remaining townsfolk. The pace is red hot the action is relentless and the characters are developed sufficiently to build a rapport without diverting too much attention from the story. All this and with a sobering message at the end that is particularly relevant to all of us.

Thumbs up from me as a pulse-quickening adventure thriller and there’s more to look forward to with work already begun on a second book.

(Bugger me, this was going to be a quick overview and it’s turned into a ramble-fest that's bordering on the full review - but no...that will come later in the week)

Until then, for a lot more information you can visit Phoenix Connor's website.

Monday, June 04, 2007

2007 SMH Best Young Australian Novelists

The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists for 2007 have been announced with 3 authors spotlighted from 18 entries. The award is to recognise the work of writers aged 35 years or younger.

The authors are Danielle Wood (Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls), Will Elliott (The Pilo Family Circus) and Tara Jane Winch (Swallow the Air) who represent a significantly deverse cross section in our literary field and are names well worth remembering (or at least jotting down somewhere).

An in-depth rundown of each author's credentials can be found on the SMH Entertainment blog which also includes an Honour Roll of past winners.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Review : Sucked In by Shane Maloney

Title : Sucked In

Author : Shane Maloney
Publisher : Text Publishing
Date Published : May 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781921145445
Sub-Genre : Mystery / Political Satire
Principal Protagonist : Murray Whelan
Setting : Melbourne, Australia
6th book in series.

I think it's safe to say that political satire has been the overwhelming driving force behind the success of Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan series. The irreverent humour used to subtly point out the likely shonky goings-on within the hallowed walls of our nation's government offices makes for very entertaining reading. Sucked In is the 6th book in the series, the year is 1997 and Murray is a state MP in the Labor Party and sits as a member of a vastly outnumbered opposition.

Sucked In begins with mention of two dead bodies. The first is discovered in the dried up bed of Lake Nillahcootie where it had laid for around 20 years. The second is that of Charlie Talbot, the Labor Party MP and federal member for Coolaroo, who suffered a coronary occlusion while breakfasting with Murray at Mildura's Grand Hotel.

The - until recently - underwater stiff is very likely a former union heavy who drowned in unusual circumstances while out fishing. Coincidentally, also present on that fishing trip was the now-deceased Charlie Talbot. Now that he's not around to defend any possible accusations of involvement in the death and as a good mate, Murray feels that it's his responsibility to protect Charlie's name.

But Murray has a political interest to go with his personal one because his own seat in the state electorate of Melbourne Upper overlaps that of Coolaroo. Like it or not, Murray's going to hold some sway in the fight over the vacant seat and, sure enough, his bum has barely hit his office chair after attending Charlie's funeral when the first hopeful candidate sidles through his door. That's when the fun begins.

He unofficially does the rounds of the men involved in the fishing trip in question hoping he might get some sort of assurance that the death was in fact an accident and not something more sinister. Never really expecting to come up with anything approaching concrete evidence, it's amazing what one little politician, who may or may not hold some influence over a now vacant federal electorate can find out.

So starts the mad scramble within the Labor Party, accompanied by assurances of support (better known as bald-faced lies) becomes highly amusing reading, not to mention vaguely disturbing because you know how closely it resembles real life party factioning. Through all of the party politicking Murray maintains a pragmatic, if not completely resigned facade cracking a steady stream of biting barbs at the state of the ALP and the underhanded deals that are so common they're expected, nay, demanded of pollies hoping to advance to a portfolio position.

How bad is the predicament that Murray and his party colleagues find themselves in? Murray Whelan sums it up for us in short order:

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.

There is an engaging quality to the story generated from the tone which ranges from the dryly acerbic to the laugh-out-loud funny with the voice of Murray Whelan asserting itself with a resigned tolerance over every dirty deal and potential scandal that falls across his bow. The easy banter with which Murray enjoys with his son Red demonstrates the settled home-life of a dependable easy-going man, yet he's still a bit of a devil, evidenced by the lusty interludes with journo Kelly Cusack.

Sucked-In is typical Shane Maloney which is to say, endlessly entertaining, wryly amusing and totally original. Murray Whelan remains one of the good guys, untainted by corruption, unscarred by cabinet brawls and ready to fight the good fight for mates and constituents alike.

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

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Radio Interview with Michael Robotham

The ABC's Richard Fidler has really been working overtime talking to Australia's crime novellists as part of his Conversation Hour program. This time he has caught up with Michael Robotham to discuss Robotham's early career as a journalist before moving into the sphere of ghostwriting 'autobiographies' for some of the biggest names in showbiz and how he moved on to write bestselling thrillers. He goes on to talk about his latest novel The Night Ferry.

The interview can be heard on the ABC Brisbane website.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Around the Traps

Elisabeth Vincentelli at The Determined Dilettante talks about her recent chat with Peter Temple commending him on his ability to write good dialogue, also mentioning that he has managed to give police procedurals a fresh feel with The Broken Shore. You can burrow even further to the Time Out New York site to read her interview with Temple.

Meanwhile Sally at Books and Musings From Down Under has reviewed Cherry Pie by Leigh Redhead rating it as enjoyable and summing it up with "PEEPSHOW is a good read, full of black humour, hot sex and violence. None of it gratuitous; and all of it appropriate for the setting."

And finally, if you're missing your plug and you need to take a bath, don't use a sink plunger.

A Little Rain on Thursday Matt Rubinstein

I've just closed the book on the last page of A Little Rain on Thursday by Matt Rubenstein and am torn. Although I can appreciate the powerful imagery evoked by Rubinstein’s exceptional turn of phrase, I was neither captured by the plot nor the pace at which the story moved.

In a nutshell, Jack and Beth have inherited an old deconsecrated church after her father died and have just moved in when a massive hailstorm destroys the roof which caves in and, in turn, destroys the church floor. Underneath they find a trapdoor to an underground crypt and inside the crypt is an ancient manuscript. Jack happens to work as a translator and is fascinated by the manuscript which is written in an unfamiliar arcane-looking language. The manuscript and the secret the mysterious text might contain gradually takes over his life to the exclusion of everyone and everything around him, not to mention the development of an insidious paranoia.

The story begins strongly but becomes increasingly vague and confused, perhaps mirroring Jack's state of mind but I found there were times where I was seriously having trouble working out what was going on. The result is a loss of momentum midway through the book and it never really recovers as far as I was concerned.

During Jack’s hunt, though, he suffers a concussion which Rubinstein handles using a uniquely effective, yet very simple technique:

He tried to open his eyes, but everything was red and black and seemed to be meltign as he wachted adn hx --
And he tried again, he struggled with the drak and tried his best to saty where he wqs but great fogners wr pull he into the eartk soft xentel stoft --
Af gim zhe mendi takh gim ozh shesti ukhotal as ezim --
He raised his head to see a plume of black smoke pouring from the forensics centre, its broken windows...Time seemed to be running strangely.

I thought this was so much more effective than the usual "Jack felt consciousness slowly returning..." way that waking from a concussive force is usually handled.

Geoff McGeachin and Matt Rubinstein Have Book Launches Coming Up

There are a couple of book launches about to take place in the Sydney area if people are around.

The first is the launch of Sensitive New Age Spy by Geoff McGeachin which will be held on Monday June 4th at the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington from 6.30-9.00pm. Finally, I've managed to secure a leave pass and will be gracing the place with my presence and, who knows, I may even be able to report all the fun at the fair, so to speak.

Then on Tuesday, June 5th at Gleebooks (49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe) Delia Falconer will be hosting the launch of Matt Rubinstein's A Little Rain on Thursday. This too is a 6:30 start and you can get all the details to book at the Gleebooks website.