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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Reading : The Beijing Conspiracy by Adrian d'Hage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

2007 Davitt Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reading : The Killing Hour by Paul Cleave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cliff Hardy series : The Dying Trade

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

Indroducing Cliff Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cast

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

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

Technical Notes

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

Next book : White Meat

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading : Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reading : Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

Meet Katherine Howell and Leah Giarratano in Sydney

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

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