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, September 19, 2008

Reading Notes : A Beautiful Place To Die by Malla Nunn

There have been a number of high quality debut Australian book releases in the last couple of months that have come my way. I’m gradually getting to each one and have been impressed by all of them.

A particularly strong novel is A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Pan Macmillan Australia), a murder mystery set in South Africa in the 1950s. The time and setting are significant because of the Racial Segregation laws that were in place at the time. The story explores these laws throughout the book and the attitudes of characters play a major role in the tone of the book and in the story’s outcome.

A Beautiful Place To Die introduces police detective Emmanuel Cooper who is called to a small town to investigate the murder of the town’s police captain. What he has walked into, though is a dangerously poised tinderbox of emotions as the sons of the dead man deal with their rage and grief by looking for someone to blame. Their attention sits squarely on the black community and Cooper is forced to act as the voice of reason, unsure of the authority he might be able to exert in such a remote town.

Moving in to take over are the police Security Branch, the feared enforcers of the racial laws that rule the land. Their intention is to find the kind of suspect that suits their needs, which leaves it up to Cooper to work surreptitiously to find the true murderer, regardless of the colour of his skin.

The story builds quickly in intensity as pressure is placed on Emmanuel - and not from the direction you would expect it to come. This is obviously a heartfelt subject for the author and it is told with great style.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reading Notes : As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry

Another new voice in Australian literature has just been heard with the release of As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry. The book is published by Hachette Australia. This novel combines the pulse-racing thriller story with a country Australia setting that is rarely experienced by city-dwellers.

It is the kind of story that allows you to comfortably fall into, losing yourself in the smooth, flowing story told by a gifted storyteller.

As Darkness Falls is a romantic suspense novel set in the north-west corner of New South Wales in the tiny town of Dungirri. The setup is that Isabelle O'Connell is asked to return to her home town a year after she is nearly killed by an angry mob while trying to protect a suspected murderer. The man she was trying to protect was implicated in a child abduction and murder case.

Now, a year later, Isabelle is living alone on a remote property on extended leave from the police force and only a week out from retirement. The call to duty comes from DCI Alex Goddard who has come to tell her that another child has gone missing in Dungirri. She instinctively agrees to help.

There is no let up from the emotional turmoil that surround everyone the moment our attention turns to the small town. Pressure comes from the urgency that is put into finding the small girl. Added pressure comes from attacks on Isabelle herself. And finally, caught up in the midst of all this is the desperate romance hopelessly complicating it all.

This is a fine debut novel from go to whoa, a desperate thriller that also works as a moving love story.

Bronwyn Parry was awarded the 2007 Golden Heart Award by the Romance Writers of America for As Darkness Falls.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

September '08 - New Releases

So far, I have had word of 4 new crime novels that I would class as Australian crime fiction, even though 2 of the authors are now based overseas. They are a diverse bunch of books with a small town thriller, a Scottish noir, Russian noir and Sydney-based corruption novel providing a little bit of something from everywhere. Definitely some fascinating reading for the month of September.

As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry (pub. Hachette Australia) The manuscript titled “Falling Into Darkness” was awarded the 2007 Golden Heart Award by the Romance Writers of America as well as the Romance Writers of Australia Single and Loving It! (STALI) Contest in 2005. This is a romance / thriller of undoubted quality set in outback New South Wales.

You can find out more about her by visiting the official website of Bronwyn Parry.

Paying For It by Tony Black (pub. Preface Publishing) This is a Scottish Noir thriller set in Edinburgh featuring Gus Dury, an alcoholic former journalist who is cajoled into investigating the death of his boss’ son. This is tough, dingy, well-written and admirably paced novel that skates the edges of despair as Gus goes head to head with one of the city’s most formidable mobsters. Tony Black has already made his presence felt with a short story that has been published here at The Outpost titled Crate-Load of Grief.

Crooked by Camilla Nelson (pub. Random House) This book looks as though it’s a real hell-raiser with the publisher blurb promising corruption, crooked politicians and honest crims. It also mentions that some of Sydney’s most notorious gangland identities have been used as the backdrop to the story. It looks tough and it looks mean and this has got me intrigued.

Stray Dog Winter by David Francis (pub. Allen & Unwin) Speaking of intrigued, Stray Dog Winter came with a media release that bills it as a Soviet noir “sexpionage” novel set in 1980s Moscow reveals dangerous secrets between siblings. I have this one sitting waiting to be read and if the praise of Debra Adelaide is to be heeded we can expect the story to be: “Permeated with a brooding unease, powerfully matched by the palpable cold of winter in Moscow…sinister, suspenseful and beautifully written.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Reading Notes : Ghostlines by Nick Gadd

The 2007 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript was won by Nick Gadd for a novel about a washed up award-winning investigative journalist who now works for a suburban newspaper. That book has now been published as Ghostlines by Scribe Publications and it is an emotionally-charged debut occasionally marked with despair and guilt but presented with admirable style.

A tragic accident at a local railway crossing sees him simply going through the motions, more intent on getting home and drinking himself to sleep to the strains of Coltrane’s saxophone. Somewhere between asking people how they felt about the accident and filing the story his usual numbness to the people affected begins to wear off and he finds that there may be more to the story than a simple level-crossing accident.

A Melbourne art group from the 1950s, the work of a noted local artist and the haunting image of a woman captured in a portrait found in the house of a lonely old man are the catalysts to a most intriguing mystery. Phillip Trudeau is the troubled protagonist in the story, a man who has had his share of hardships, paying for crossing the wrong powerful people in the past. He’s the down but not out type of underdog whom you hope will succeed, but it could go either way.

Ghostlines is a worthy winner of the 2007 VPLA, it’s a powerful novel that is not without its surprises. Definitely one to look out for and a strong contender for future awards down the track. Put Nick Gadd down as an author to follow for the future.

I have written a full review for Ghostlines by Nick Gadd and it can be found by clicking on the link.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

2008 Ned Kelly Award - Winners

The CWAA 2008 Ned Kelly Awards were announced last night at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Best Crime Fiction

Shatter by Michael Robotham

Best First Crime Novel

The Low Road by Chris Womersley

Best Non-Fiction

Red Centre, Dead Heart by Evan McHugh

Lifetime Achievement Award

Marele Day

This is Michael Robotham's second Ned Kelly Award after taking out the 2005 Ned with his second novel LOST and a very deserved winner.

I'm also very pleased to see that Chris Womersley picked up the Ned - lovely to see such a noir work get recognised. It's a win that I picked up while reading the book, the proof is in my review of The Low Road..."If ever there were a book that screams Ned Kelly Award contender then this is it" - a pat on the back for Damien.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reading : The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne

I have just finished one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne is set in Darwin, Australia and features homicide detective Frances "Dusty" Buchanon, a female cop in a male-dominated part of the world.

Hidden amid the easy, knockabout tone of the book lies a nicely crafted murder mystery. The story is based around the discovery of a body...which then goes missing, closely followed by Dusty's position as a homicide detective. Somehow, Dusty has to convince her colleagues that there was a body in the first place, but there's a reason it has disappeared.

The strength of The Build Up lies in the colourful characters dotted throughout, from Dusty herself to Senior Sergeant Dave Kirk who still prefers to call Dusty a frontbum and on to former Australian Rules football star Rob 'Trigger' Tregenza (and his use of a certain Hawthorn footy jumper). Each and every Northern Territorian is given an easy, relaxed attitude that seems to epitomise the land itself.

Gwynne's Darwin is an isolated city that is stolidly casual in attitude with a laid back style that is underlined by every broken rule and politically incorrect comment that is embraced with glee throughout the book. Brothels, Long Grassers, an oppressive heat, an ocean you can't swim in because of the box jellyfish and an endless forbidding landscape in every direction. It's a setting that is different from just about every murder mystery I have ever read and I loved every page of it.

This is a story that works on many levels. From the first page to the last it is engaging with injections of humour softening you up for the serious business of solving a murder and dealing with some shady, extremely dangerous characters.

From what I've heard there is another Dusty Buchanon novel in the works which is great news because one book is simply not enough.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Reading Notes : Splinter by Michael MacConnell

Splinter by Michael MacConnell is the sequel to his outstanding debut thriller, Maelstrom and continues on with the same intensity from where that book left off. FBI agent Sarah Reilly, the protagonist in the first book, is back as unpredictable as ever. She is an intriguing character who plays the emotionally challenged loose cannon to perfection.

The book is set in LA, dealing with the kidnapping and murder of the son of a Hollywood couple. It’s about as high profile a case as it’s possible to get and Sarah attacks it with complete dedication.

The killer proves to be a master manipulator, however, and the murder of the little boy is by no means the last murder in the book. As Sarah progresses through her investigation, key witnesses and people crucial to her case are taken out leading her to believe that the person she’s after is actually working from the inside. Or at least, they have access to information only those close to the case should have.

Splinter is a thriller that is constantly redefining itself as the investigation raises more questions than were originally considered. It’s this complexity, along with a slew of plot twists and direction changes that makes Michael MacConnell’s second novel a memorable book to read.

I'm actually writing a full review of the book at the moment and it will appear on the Australian Crime Fiction Database very shortly. Suffice to say that it is a very satisfying thriller that manages to draw you in and get you involved with apparent ease.

Monday, August 04, 2008

August '08 - New Releases

What a month August promises to be with a couple of first crime novels published this month as well as a second action thriller by one of the short-list nominees for this year's Ned Kelly Awards. Australian books that crime readers should be looking forward to getting their hands on all three of these books.

The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne - (Pan Macmillan Australia) - I am reading this book at the moment and am enjoying it immensely, both for the setting and the engaging style in which it is written. Set in Darwin with occasional trips into the desert The Build Up is as much a biting commentary on the cultural viewpoint of a Northern Territorian as it is a murder mystery. A prostitute is murdered in a camp of disaffected Vietnam Veterans but her body does a disappearing act causing Detective Dusty Buchanon no end of problems. Most people already know that Territorians live by different rules to the rest of the country and Phillip Gwynne drives this point home in emphatic fashion in this classy mystery.

Second Strike by Mark Abernethy - (Allen & Unwin) - This is the second Alan McQueen thriller with the first, Golden Serpent recently short-listed for a Ned Kelly Award. This book fits directly into the post-911 terrorist fiction sub-genre with this threat coming out of Indonesia. Alan McQueen is an Australian spy, an ASIS agent with all the toughness and resourcefulness that makes these kinds of action/thrillers a wild ride from start to finish.

Ghostlines by Nick Gadd - (Scribe Publications) - For the third book to be published in August you're going to have to wait until the end of the month, August 30 in fact. Ghostlines won the 2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. According to the media release the story is about a washed up former investigative journalist who stumbles onto a story that grows from tragic accident into a major political intrigue and murder. They don't give literary awards to just anyone so you can be sure that this debut novel will be special.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds #19

Here we are at the 19th stop of the Carnival of Criminal Minds taking over from the fine job done by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

With 18 previous Carnival stops one would think we may have just about seen and hear from every crime site worth checking out – God knows, Bill Crider tried to single-handedly mention ‘em all - but one would be wrong.

As honorary host of this chapter of the Carnival I think it only fitting that I showcase the work and websites of some of the Australian authors who have long kept me entertained. The whole reason I set up the Australian Crime Fiction Database and later the Crime Down Under blog was because when I attempted to track down a list of Australian crime and mystery books online there was simply nothing available. This was before the days of the excellent work put in at Australasian Crime, by the way. So I compiled my own list of authors and their books and then decided others might find it useful. Armed with very little idea about how to go about making a website I took the plunge, bought a domain and started listing authors.

Now, when you get a whiff of all of the mouth-watering reading sitting in front of you there grows a burning desire to track down those books and read them all. And then, when you’ve read those books and you know that those authors are largely unknown, there’s another urge to let everyone in on the rewarding reading they may be missing out on.

So here’s my opportunity to again sing it to the world about Australia’s fine collection of authors, largely unheralded and probably unknown outside our shores.

To a person, the following Australian authors have written crime and thriller novels that have delighted me. Visit their websites, get excited about their work.

David Rollins - David's latest book is Hard Rain and is the 3rd in his Vin Cooper series a very enjoyable blend of military and detective series with one heck of an irreverent main character.
Mark Abernethy - Mark's first book, Golden Serpent has just been shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award while book no. 2, titled Second Strike has just been released.
Tony Park - apart from writing excellent thrillers set in Africa, Tony writes a very entertaining blog where he relates his journeys through the dark continent in fine style and humour. Tony has recently published Silent Predator, his 5th book. I've also just realised that Tony recently visited my local library...and I missed it - bugger!

Angela Savage - another blogging author with an intimate connection with Thailand. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar is a wonderful crime novel that brings Chiang Mai to vivid life.
Katherine Howell - a former paramedic with lots of paramedic excitement injected into her books. So far Katherine has written 2 books, Frantic and The Darkest Hour, set in Sydney and filled with pacy action.
Jarad Henry - kicked things off with a superbly crafted dark thriller titled Head Shot, set in the seamier streets of Melbourne. He then followed it up this year with another outstanding book, Blood Sunset, that hardboiled fans would love.

Sydney Bauer - legal thrillers set in Boston written with more than just a little flair and plenty of twists and turns.

P.D. Martin - the Sophie Anderson series is set in the US and combines FBI profiling with psychic awareness in a series that carries smoothly from one book to the next. There is an ongoing mystery that moves through the series that is nothing short of intriguing.
Felicity Young - has now written 3 books, the last 2 are police procedurals set in Perth, a location you don't read about all very often. I've only read 2 of the books, An Easeful Death and Harum Scarum but can recommend them both heartily.

So there you go, a couple of blogs to visit as well as some fine Aussie reading to try out.

Finally before I finish up here, I should also make mention of the fine work being done by Daniel Hatadi and the flourishing Crimespace that is one of the greatest places for fans of crime fiction to visit - bar none.

We'll be leaving Australia for Crime Dog One with the next Carnival, Carnival #20 in fact, to be hosted by Anthony Neil Smith.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2008 Ned Kelly Awards Short List

Scribe Publications has reported that the short list for the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards has been released and quite a select list of books it is too. The Ned Kelly Awards will be presented at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 29th August at Federation Square starting at 7.30pm. The night promises to be an interesting one with a debate planned addressing the topic “That crime in Australia skirts the big issues, its concern is entertainment.”

Best Crime Fiction

Among the Dead by Robert Gott (Scribe)
Sucked In by Shane Maloney (Text)
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter (Pan Macmillan)
Shatter by Michael Robotham (Hachette Livre)

Best First Crime Novel

The Low Road by Chris Womersley (Scribe)
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Penguin)
Golden Serpent by Mark Abernethy (Allen & Unwin)

Best Non Fiction

Underbelly: The Gangland War by John Silvester and Andrew Rule (Sly Ink)
Killing Jodie by Janet Fife-Yeomans (Penguin)
Red Centre, Dark Heart by Evan McHugh (Penguin)

As they should be, Scribe is very proud of the fact that two of their publications have been included in the short list - a triumph indeed for the small publisher (is it any wonder they were awarded Small Publisher of the Year).

There are a couple of Australian books in the list that I earmarked as potential NKA winners as I read them this year, and the timing couldn't be better for Mark Abernethy with his latest, the sequel to Golden Serpent, title Second Strike to be published in a matter of days.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Review of Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano

I have recently finished reading Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano. This is the second novel to feature Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson, picking up where Vodka Doesn't Freeze leaves off. It's a psychological thriller of the highest order starting with a violent home invasion before exploring the dark mind of a killer who is dangerously out of control.

Leah Giarratano has done an outstanding job of taking us inside the minds of her characters, into a nightmare world of destruction and despair. With so many of the minds damaged or healing it is ensured that the unexpected is to be expected.

Voodoo Doll is one of the 50 books that has been chosen for the 2008 Books Alive initiative.

I have written a full review of the book over on the Australian Crime Fiction Database so to avoid duplicating it I will instead invite you to pop over and read my review of Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bright Air by Barry Maitland - The Follow Up

A few days ago I mentioned that I was halfway through Barry Maitland's new novel Bright Air with a suggestion that I had an inkling about where he was heading in the second half.

I've long since finished the book and found it a very enjoyable read indeed. I thought, though, that it would be prudent of me to follow up the first post to admit that just about all of the preconceptions I'd made were wrong. Barry Maitland did an outsanding job in developing the story and in the direction he eventually took it.

You can read my full review of Bright Air by Barry Maitland at the Crime Down Under website.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Three Authors You Couldn't Live Without

Karen at Aust Crime Fiction has listed the Three Authors She Couldn’t Live Without, an idea she pinched from David J Montgomery at Crime Fiction Blog who borrowed it from elsewhere. At the end Karen asked others to pick up the challenge so what the hell.

Now this is going to seem to be flying in the face of the subject of my own blog, but my number 1 and 2 favourite authors are not Australian.

Dennis Lehane. I’m still mourning the end of the Kenzie and Gennaro series and occasionally go back to re-read the books. Mystic River made up for the loss somewhat, though.

George Pelecanos. Gritty, tough and nothing at all held back, Pelecanos gets down into the sleaziest, drug riddled parts of Washington DC hitting the mark time and again with scene depiction and use of language. I’ve enjoyed the work these two have done on The Wire, too, by the way.

Chris Womersley. I’m a big fan of noir fiction and Chris’ debut novel, The Low Road is exactly the kind of desolate story that my warp mind really appreciates. I’m waiting with the hope that he will see his way clear to write another similarly dark and moody tale.

So there you go folks, challenge acknowledged and met. Anyone else out there with authors they'd like to bestow their praise upon?

July '08 - New Releases

July heralds the release of 4 much anticipated Australian books. When I say “much anticipated” I am naturally referring to my own eagerness to read these new books. The 4 books I have details of are by authors who have already established themselves as fine storytellers (my opinion). To categorise the books I would put them down as 1 action thriller, 1 mystery and 2 psychological thrillers.

Hard Rain by David Rollins (pub. Pan Macmillan) This is the 3rd book in the Vin Cooper series and is set in Istanbul, Turkey. Cooper is a US Air Force OSI Special Agent and he and his partner Anna Masters have been called in to investigate the murder of the Air Force Attache in Turkey. This story fires straight out of the blocks, features all of Vin Cooper’s acerbic wit and is blessed with a consistently high action level. Find out more at David's website.

Bright Air by Barry Maitland (pub. Allen & Unwin) Maitland is most well known as the author of the superb Brock and Kolla police procedural series. Bright Air is a departure from the series, his first stand-alone mystery set in Australia – Sydney and Lord Howe Island. The death of Lucy Corcoran, at first thought to be a tragic rock-climbing accident could be something more sinister. Friends of Lucy, Josh and Anna are compelled by their personal feelings of guilt to seek out the truth. Excellent character-based mystery. Find out more at Barry's website.

Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano (pub. Random House) Sydney police detective Jill Jackson is back after the harrowing events of Vodka Doesn’t Freeze. She has been promoted and moved to Liverpool in Sydney’s south-west to be part of a taskforce charged with tracking down a gang of violent home invaders. Jill Jackson would have to be one of the most complex, troubled protagonists I have come across and her personality gives this book even greater interest.

Splinter by Michael MacConnell (pub. Hachette Australia) FBI agent Sarah Reilly is working on a child homicide case. It’s high profile and harrowing but it’s also a case that turns nasty. As with Michael MacConnell’s first thriller, Maelstrom, Sarah is facing a case that is far bigger than it first appears. She also has to face memories of events from her own past which are brought back in the course of the investigation.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Currently Reading Bright Air by Barry Maitland

Barry Maitland’s new novel, Bright Air (pub. Allen & Unwin) has been released today, an event certainly worth noting. It’s even more noteworthy when you learn that this is a stand-alone novel, not part of the immensely popular Brock and Kolla series. On top of that, the story is set in Sydney as opposed to the series books which are set in England.

I am almost exactly halfway through reading Bright Air at the moment and would classify it as one of those mystery novels that is very careful in the build up. Maitland has put a lot of effort into setting the scene for us. It feels as though the reader is being prepared for a shocking revelation – just my own impression, mind you.

Here’s a brief overview to give you an idea of what the plot’s about. The opening finds us at the home of Josh Ambler. Josh has recently returned from London where he worked for a few years as a merchant banker. He is visited by a friend from his past. Anna was one of a group of friends he knew from his university days, all with a passion for rock-climbing. Josh took up the sport as a way of meeting Anna’s friend, Lucy or Luce as she was known to all. They wound up dating and became very close until Josh broke it off and moved to London.

While Josh was in London Luce died in a climbing accident on Lord Howe Island while doing a field study for her university degree. With her at the time were some of the members of their circle of friends: Owen, Curtis, Damien and Marcus. The coroner’s report found that her death was an accident but her body was never recovered.

The reason that Anna has come to see Josh is because two more members of the party, Owen and Curtis, have also died, also in a climbing accident. Before he died Owen revealed to Anna that there was more to Luce’s death than what the coroner concluded. What he actually said to Anna was, “We killed her.”

Now Anna has come to enlist Josh in finding out what really happened on Lord Howe Island.

The story switches from the present day and Josh and Anna’s progress to the early days of their relationship and their rock-climbing experiences together. The personalities of all of the members of the group are gradually revealed, as are the details of what happened between Josh and Luce.

Barry Maitland writes with a strong, fulfilling style that commands your attention. The rock-climbing sequences provide an added interest but it’s the depth of the character portraits where the real strength to the story lies. There are also some moving instances of self-awareness that creeps into Josh’s narrative as he looks back on his time with Luce.

When I thought about it, I was amazed to realise how totally insulated my life had been from this world until I’d started climbing with Luce. Nature to me had been no more than a marginal risk of hurricanes or floods that could be managed with a range of financial instruments. I had only ever seen true wilderness through the filter of a TV screen or an aeroplane window. And now I was about as fully exposed to it as one could be, suspended in a gossamer net high up a mountain face in bright air.
Half the book to go and I am fully engaged, as I find I often am while reading a Barry Maitland novel. Sure, I’ve made some guesses about which way I think the story’s going to go – good stories compel you to do just that, I reckon. But I’ll keep those guesses to myself.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Genre Flash 2

The start of the year introduced Australia to Genre Flash, a publication showcasing some of the latest hot new release crime novels and true crime books. It's six months down the track and the second Genre Flash has just been released.

This issue is 14 pages strong and highlights books such as Fan Mail by P.D. Martin, The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece by Robin Bowles, Alibi by Sydney Bauer, Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry and Harum Scarum by Felicity Young to name just a few.

Genre Flash is filled to the brim with quality Australian books to track down and come complete with story overviews, added author information, details on where to find the books and a list of upcoming novels from the featured authors.

Take a look at Genre Flash 2 to help satisfy the longing to read an Austalian book today.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

David Rollins - The Vin Cooper Series

With the impending release of Hard Rain by David Rollins I thought I might quickly backtrack and remember 2 of his earlier books.

Hard Rain (published by Macmillan Australia) is the third book in the Vin Cooper series, the other 2 books being The Death Trust and A Knife Edge. Vin is a major in the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or as he puts it an internal affairs cop. Vin Cooper has the very entertaining habit of turning on the wisecracks whenever he feels as though he is on the back foot. He wisecracks a lot.

Special Agent Vin Cooper was introduced in The Death Trust. In that book he investigated the death of General Abraham Scott in a glider accident in Germany. Two things were made quickly apparent, Cooper is a damn fine investigator and a major pain in the ass for just about every person he comes in contact with.

It's on this first investigation that he meets Special Agent Anna Masters and they form a stormy partnership that would carry over into A Knife Edge.

A Knife Edge takes place largely on US soil with a series of shocking deaths of military personnel. A shark attack, a terrorist attack in San Francisco and a parachuting accident are linked together to set up a wild foray into the unfriendly highlands of Pakistan.

Both The Death Trust and A Knife Edge are high quality, fast-paced action thrillers that feature one of the more easy-to-identify-with characters that I have come across. Speaking personally, both of these books left me looking forward to another episode.

Vin Cooper and Anna Masters are back in Hard Rain, this time they're in Istanbul, Turkey for a hellish investigation into the death of the US Air Attache to Turkey, Colonel Emmet Portman. Making the job an even more uncomfortable one is that Anna has recently become engaged and Vin is far from happy. And he's the kind of guy who expresses his displeasure in a very distinctive way.

By the way, a discussion about the Vin Cooper series would not be complete without a mention of Nelson Demille's series featuring John Corey (I've made this comparison before). There are a number of Vin Cooper's characteristics that certainly reminds me of John Corey and this alone should send you sprinting to the bookstore to get your copies of all of the Vin Cooper books.

Look forward to getting your hands on Hard Rain which will be released early in July.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

CWA Dagger Nominations 2008

The CWA Dagger Award shortlists have been announced. Once again Michael Robotham has managed to get himself nominated, or at least, his book SHATTER was nominated on his behalf.

The full list is as follows:


Andrea Camilleri, THE PATIENCE OF THE SPIDER (Picador)
Dominique Manotti, LORAINE CONNECTION (Arcadia)
Martin Suter, A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL (Arcadia)
Fred Vargas, THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK (Harvill Secker)


Mo Hayder, RITUAL (Transworld)
Gregg Hurwitz, I SEE YOU (Little, Brown)
Michael Robotham, SHATTER (Little, Brown)
Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44 (Simon & Schuster)
David Stone, THE ECHELON VENDETTA (Penguin)


Zoe Ferraris, THE NIGHT OF THE MI'RAJ (Little, Brown)
Elena Forbes, DIE WITH ME (Quercus)
Caro Ramsay, ABSOLUTION (Penguin)
Matt Rees, THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS (Atlantic Books)
Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44 (Simon & Schuster)


Elizabeth Corley
Andrew Martin
Denise Mina
Craig Russell
CJ Sansom
Chris Simms


Amer Anwar (UK) - Western Fringes
Belinda Bauer (UK) - Blacklands
Russell Colman (Canada) - Desert Storm
Peter Dewar (UK) - The Eclipse of Lilith
Bill Harrison (Canada) - Nite Lite
Alison Marlow (UK) - The Stench of Lilies
James Oswald (UK) - The Book of Souls
Susan Schaab (USA) - Wearing the Spider
Ian Simpson (UK) - Devils and Disciples
PJ Watson (USA) - All the Wrong People


Kester Apsden, NATIONALITY: WOG (Jonathan Cape)
Francisco Goldman, THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER (Atlantic Books)
David Rose, VIOLATION (HarperPress)
Duncan Staff, THE LOST BOY (Bantam Press)
Kate Summerscale, THE SUSPICIONS OF DR WHICHER (Bloomsbury)
Peter Zimonjic, INTO THE DARKNESS (Vintage Books)


Robert Barnard, "Provenance" (from THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES)
Michael Connelly, "One Dollar Jackpot" (from DEAD MAN'S HAND)
Martin Edwards, "The Bookbinder's Apprentice (from THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES)
Laura Lippman, "One True Love" (from BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2007)
Danuta Reah, "Glazed" (from GETTING EVEN: REVENGE STORIES)

Well done to all the nominees but, of course, here's to Michael picking up the Steel Dagger.

The awards will be announced on July 10.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 Ned Kelly Awards Long List

Australia's Crime Fiction award season is coming around again with the announcement of the long list of the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards. At this stage the long list is...well, long. As we draw closer to the Melbourne Writers Festival when the winners are announced, this list will be pared down to a short list.


Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood
Cherry Pie by Leigh Redhead
Endangered List by Brian Westlake
Harum Scarum by Felicity Young
Sensitive New Age Spy by Geoffrey McGeachin
Sucked In by Shane Maloney
Night Has A Thousand Eyes by Mandy Sayer
Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital
Amongst The Dead by Robert Gott
Appeal Denied by Peter Corris
Open File by Peter Corris
Gospel by Sydney Bauer
Broken by Ilsa Evans
Skin And Bone by Kathryn Fox
Fan Mail by P.D. Martin
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter
Shattered by Gabrielle Lord
The Calling by Jane Goodall
Shatter by Michael Robotham
Game As Ned by Tim Peglar
The Tattooed Man by Alex Palmer
Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry
Redback by Lindy Cameron


Golden Serpent by Mark Abernethy
Shadow Maker by Robert Sims
A Fraction Of The Whole by Steve Toltz
The Low Road by Chris Womersley
The Butcherbird by Geoffrey Cousins
Bye Bye Baby by Lauren Crow
Broken Swallow by JJ Burn
Green Velvet Shoes by Christina Ann Alexander
Frantic by Katherine Howell
Vodka Doesn't Freeze by Leah Giarratano
Iraqi Icicle by Bernie Dowling
Maelstrom by Michael MacConnell


Bondi Badlands by Greg Callaghan
Underbelly The Gangland War by John Silvester and Andrew Rule
Killing Jodie by Janet Fife-Yeomans
Red Centre by Dark Heart, Evan McHugh
Big Shots by Adam Shand
Lives of Crime by Tippet & Munro
Fatal Flaw by Roger Maynard
Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter by Carole Wilkinson
Wild Colonial Boys by Paula Hunt

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Review: Fan Mail by P.D. Martin

Title: Fan Mail
Author : P.D. Martin
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 9781405038263
No Pages: 400
Published Date: February 2008
Sub-genre: Thriller

Your words could make someone act.
You must stop writing this filth. It can only bring you pain, believe you me.
Yours Sincerely,
A fan

Sophie Anderson is a profiler with the FBI. She has been working with the behavioural Analysis Unit at Quantico but recently decided that she can be of greater benefit to crime victims if she worked in the field and has applied to be transferred to LA.

Sophie is more than just a highly accomplished profiler, she has an added talent that she prefers to keep hidden from her superiors within the Bureau. She has visions of the crimes she is working on. These visions sometimes put her in the role of the killer, other times as the victim or as an observer. Initially they were a deeply disturbing intrusion into her life, but as they continued, it was apparent that they had a habit of being unerringly accurate. She can’t control them but is beginning to accept them as a part of her and as a potentially vital tool to help her as she works a case.

Before Sophie even has a chance to walk into her office to take up duties in LA she finds herself thrown into a murder case. A crime novelist, one who had visited the FBI at Quantico, has been murdered and the novelists assistant called Sophie. The murder imitates almost precisely the way one of the victims was murdered in the author’s latest novel. Although the murder falls to the Beverly Hills PD to investigate, Sophie is drawn in thanks to having previously met the author before she moved. It’s a delicate position she finds herself in, having to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the toes of the officers involved, who wouldn’t appreciate the FBI muscling in.

As it turns out, the man heading the investigation is Detective Dave Sorrell, a homicide detective who has worked successfully with the FBI in the past and understands the value of using their resources. He’s a man with an abrupt manner which Sophie initially finds a little off-putting but they soon develop an efficient working relationship that gradually becomes quite complementary.

However their excellent teamwork isn’t enough, initially, to draw any great breakthrough in the investigation. And when a second crime author is murdered, also in the same manner as laid out in their novel, the stakes are raised enormously. Frustratingly for Sophie, the visions she hopes for to help in the investigation are either not forthcoming or apparently irrelevant to the case. It feels as though things are spiralling dangerously out of control when the third author is reported missing.

Fan Mail is more than the murder mystery it first looks as though it’s going to be. The solid forensic evidence gathering and criminal profiling put in by Sophie and Sorrell throws up some related cases and it looks as though it’s going to become a serial killer case, but their investigation always seems drawn back to the original murder.

Integral to the appeal of the story is the development of the working relationship between Sophie and Sorrell. It looks as though it has the potential to be the kind of friendship that will become a defining feature of the series.

Equally, the paranormal abilities of Sophie are beginning to take on more importance in the story. It’s a feature of the Sophie Anderson books that author P.D. Martin has nurtured carefully, refusing to rush the advancement of her abilities. It’s with a significant sense of careful development that we are experiencing her growth as she does.

It appears that P.D. Martin has developed a series within a series with an ongoing subplot that runs beneath the main story that is carried over from The Murderer’s Club and promises more to come in future books. It’s like you’re getting a 2 for 1 deal with two solid stories providing a memorable, multi-faceted thriller.

A word of warning on that last point though for anyone who hasn’t yet read The Murderer’s Club. Vital information about that book is revealed in the course of Fan Mail and it would be recommended that you go back and read the earlier book, if only to gain a clear understanding about what takes place here.

Fan Mail continues a strong series that has seamlessly blended the science of criminal profiling with Sophie’s paranormal abilities in a thriller that offers a great deal to the reader.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reading Notes : A Deadly Business by Lenny Bartulin

I’m drawing to the end of Lenny Bartulin’s debut novel, A Deadly Business (pub. Scribe Publications). The book introduces Jack Susko, a Sydney second-hand bookstore owner, a character who is obviously going to be the main character in future books.

Jack Susko is an interesting character, quick of wit, long on endurance and just naive enough to get himself into a lot of trouble. The bookstore is very reminiscent of a number of the second-hand stores dotted around the city (sadly, most of them have closed down now).

“No, Jack Susko would not be retiring at the age of thirty-four. His view would remain the dusty shelves and battered paperbacks of the last year or so. Instead of up, he would climb down the steps into his basement shop in York Street in the city, where he spent the day making sure delinquent kids did not lift the stock.”

Jack gets the opportunity to make some easy money when Hammond Kasprowicz wants to buy every copy of poetry books by Edward Kass, an obscure Australian poet. Kasprowicz is prepared to pay $50 per copy for anything he had. The lure of easy money is enough to draw Jack out of his shop and, with a bundle of books under his arm he makes his way to Bellevue Hill and into the middle of an extremely confusing family battle.

Jack finds that there’s some competition out there in the search for Edward Kass books. Then he begins to have a few doubts about the motives of his client. Before he can act on those doubts, though, events swirl way out of control and the quiet bookseller finds himself busy dodging bullets.

I’m enjoying A Deadly Business. Bartulin has captured Sydney, both the landscape and the attitude of its inhabitants, with great accuracy. The book would have to be classed as a mystery novel as opposed to a crime novel and Jack Susko isn’t an investigator – not even amateur investigator. Instead he is a victim of circumstance who has been drawn into a conflict as an unwilling participant.

I’m looking forward to the next Jack Susko book to find out where Bartulin will take him.

Monday, May 05, 2008

May '08 New Releases

Crime fiction in Australia has been given another healthy injection in May with 4 new book releases and each of them looks to be well worth tracking down. This month I've been able to get a bit of a head start on the books, having read 2 of them and currently partway through reading a 3rd, so I can safely attest to the quality of crime fiction produced. The 4th book looks as though it could be a very interesting serial killer suitable for readers who don't mind the brutal fast-paced action thriller.

The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell (pub. Macmillan Australia) - this is the second thriller by Katherine Howell and is the much anticipated follow up to Frantic. (Some places on the 'net still refer to this book as Panic which was the title that was originally proposed). The book features homicide detective Ella Marconi and follows a murder investigation dripping with complications. Some of those complications stem from the second strong female lead in the book, paramedic Lauren Yates who becomes crucial to the investigation. Howell works plenty of paramedic procedure into the book giving it a more interesting and unique aspect compared with other crime thrillers.

Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry (pub. Allen & Unwin) - another "2nd in a series" book. This is Jarad Henry's follow up to Head Shot which introduced Melbourne police detective Rubens McCauley. Blood Sunset takes us into the seamy St Kilda backstreets where we rub shoulders with the drug addicts, dealers and prostitutes who call the place home. Rubens is back at work after recovering from a gunshot wound but a mistake he makes when investigating a drug overdose death turns his life upside down. This is a strong hardboiled crime novel set in a searing summer heat in Melbourne. Bushfires surround the city which helps to add a menacing tone to the story.

A Deadly Business by Lenny Bartulin (pub. Scribe Publications) - this debut crime novel introduces Sydney second-hand bookseller Jack Susko in what looks to be the first book of a new series. I am reading this book at the moment and have been immediately drawn into Jack’s world thanks to Bartulin’s rich descriptive flair. Jack Susko is hired to find every copy of a certain obscure poet’s published books. It’s an unusual request that immediately flags all sorts of questions. The client is rich, the family has issues of some sort and Jack is going to get himself into bog trouble. This is shaping up as a very interesting debut crime novel.

The Silver Dagger by Jame McLean (pub. Longueville Books) - this is a serial killer novel that is set on Queensland’s Gold Coast, so immediately you know that all manner of lowlife criminals are going to be involved. Joseph Crowley is a detective whose job it is to track down a ruthless killer who appears to have only just begun. Reports are that the book is fast-paced and confronting and everything I’ve heard about it is positive. I’ll be reading The Silver Dagger soon and am looking forward to a brutal thriller. I’ll be posting my reading notes here when I’ve read it.

All up, not a bad month for reading Australian crime fiction books with the array centring largely on the police procedural sub-genre. There's a good mix of Australian locations involved here with a couple set in Sydney, one in Melbourne and one in Queensland.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Reading Notes : Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry

A couple of years ago I read Head Shot by Jarad Henry, his debut novel and was very excited to have discovered a crime novel that was both set in Australia and characteristic of the hardboiled crime novels I consider to be my favourite. After reading Head Shot I was eager to read more like it – as we spoilt, demanding crime readers are prone to do I was impatiently waiting for Jarad to write another. Apparently, writing another wasn’t a problem so much as finding a publisher.

A Welcome Hardboiled Novel

Then came the welcome news that Allen & Unwin picked up Blood Sunset and we find ourselves in business again. Blood Sunset is a follow up to Head Shot, featuring detective Rubens McCauley. McCauley is a no-nonsense, play outside the rules type of detective who works in the hectic inner Melbourne suburb of St Kilda.

To get what you want, you’ve got to know what you want. My mother first told me this when I was a young boy. Think hard about what you want, she said, for knowing what you want is more difficult than actually getting it.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before my fortieth birthday that I fully understood what she’d meant. I was sitting in an unmarked squad car, tired and hungry and thinking about bed, when a call came over the dispatch that would change the direction of my life forever.
(pg 1)

Rubens has just returned to work after recovering from a gunshot wound to the shoulder, the after effects of Head Shot. The opening paragraphs quoted above warn us that what is about to come is more than just your standard case.

Brief Synopsis of the Book

When he reaches the scene he finds what looks to be a routine drug overdose in one of St Kilda’s many back alleys. His first mistake is to hastily declare the death accidental. The second was the way he went around making up for the first mistake. Naturally, the first impressions were misleading and the truth, as it slowly unravels, reveals something far more shocking and dangerous.

Brief Impressions About the Book

Okay, that’s the shorthand synopsis of the book that gives you a feel for the plot. Now a few of my own impressions…

Jarad Henry has worked some powerful social commentary about life in Australia into the storyline through McCauley’s character. Issues such as the worrying growth of drug use by youths and the losing battle fought by police, the fear and neglect felt by members of the aging population and the sleazy side of inner city living.

The story is set in heatwave conditions with bushfires surrounding Melbourne and encasing the city in a choking smoke haze giving everything an otherworldly, energy sapping presence.

Rubens McCauley reinforces the impression that he is the typical hardboiled detective with many of the usual character traits. Even when he’s being circumspect he steps on toes. His methods get results and break rules. He owns a cat and is involved in a marriage that is in trouble. He has let down relatives and friends many times, feels guilty about it but ultimately his job takes precedence.

St Kilda is the sad, dirty backdrop to the story and is summed up by this Rubens McCauley observation:

A used condom, a dirty needle and a crime scene cop crawling around a palm tree. Very St Kilda. Maybe they could make a postcard out of it and sell it to the tourists. (pg 254)

Blood Sunset is a solid crime thriller that speaks loudly and, rather than merely touching on delicate issues, it charges boldly through them and tears them apart. It’s hardboiled, typically tough and definitely engaging. Rubens McCauley is by no means a saint but his is a character for whom you can’t help but feel empathy.

Brief Urge to Read the Book

This has just been released (May '08) and if you're serious about reading good, thought-provoking Australian crime fiction, then get yourself out and find a copy.

2008 Edgar Awards

The Mystery Writers of America have announced the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur)

In the Woods by Tana French (Penguin Group - Viking)

Queenpin by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (W.W. Norton and Company)

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley (The PenguinPress)

"The Golden Gopher" - Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (AkashicBooks)

The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh (Hyperion Books for Young Readers)

Rat Life by Tedd Arnold (Penguin - Dial Books for Young Readers)

Panic by Joseph Goodrich (International Mystery Writers' Festival)

"Pilot" - Burn Notice, Teleplay by Matt Nix (USA Network/Fox TelevisionStudios)

Michael Clayton, Screenplay by Tony Gilroy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

"The Catch" - Still Waters by Mark Ammons (Level Best Books)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reading Notes : The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell

The Darkest Hour (pub. Macmillan Australia) is the follow up to Katherine Howell’s superb debut thriller Frantic (if you haven’t read Frantic yet then…well…you should).

Returning is homicide detective Ella Marconi but she is one half of this dual protagonist story.

Like Frantic, The Darkest Hour also features a paramedic and focuses a large portion of the story on the desperate emergencies handled by ambulance crew. Again, the ambulance station at the centre of the story is located at The Rocks in Sydney. Howell’s expertise as a former paramedic is used to great advantage with the procedure and dialogue firing off with crisp rapidity.

Lauren Yates is a paramedic who is used to dealing with emergencies and stressful situations on a daily basis. But she is faced with a sickening dilemma that could end with her losing her job...or far worse.

Ella Marconi has recently been appointed to Homicide and is desperate to prove that she is a solid detective, capable in her new role.

The stabbing of a man in broad daylight at Edgecliff (near Sydney's inner city) is going to bring both women together. The victim knew his assailant and gives Lauren the man's name in the ambulance as they are rushing to the hospital. Lauren's dilemma begins because she recognises the name of a man she knows to be a vicious killer and, even worse, he knows her. Telling Ella the name of the man could ensure his capture - but it could also put her and her family in grave danger.

This is novel that exudes strength as a quality crime thriller. It blends hectic emergency action with some turbulent emotional and personal issues. The tough veneers of both lead women will look a little vulnerable at different parts of the book.

It's an involving story set in and around the centre of Sydney and is a strong follow up to Frantic.
The release date of The Darkest Hour is 1 May, 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The 123 Meme

I've been tagged to take part in the latest meme that's doing the rounds at the moment. The tagger is none other than Katherine Howell, author of 2 fantastic thrillers - Frantic and the about to be released The Darkest Hour.

Here are the meme rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Okey-doke, as it turns out I finished reading The Darkest Hour not half an hour before turning on the computer and have moved on to another book that's abou to be released. So the book that qualifies as "the nearest book" is...

A Deadly Business by Lenny Bartulin

Page 123, sentences 6, 7 & 8 read thusly:

Jack almost went over and laid one on her. But as her face darkened, he realised now was probably not a good time.

'I've got to send some faxes,' she said.

Like Duane Swierczinski, I'm breaking rule 5 of the meme and will only be tagging 4 people, seeing as the meme has been doing the rounds for a while now. So it's time for me to spread the love, so I tag Angela Savage, Daniel Hatadi, Tony Park, Lee Bemrose at TwoBlueFish

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Review : Shatter by Michael Robotham

Title : Shatter
Author : Michael Robotham
Publisher : Sphere
ISBN : 9781847441782
No Pages : 466
Published Date : April 2008
Sub-Genre : Psychological Thriller

In just three books Michael Robotham has established himself as a master storyteller whose new releases are much anticipated both home and abroad. He consistently crafts impressive thrillers around intriguing scenarios. Shatter continues the trend and brings back the protagonist from The Suspect, Joseph O'Loughlin. O'Loughlin, a psychology professor suffering the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, is a fascinating character both for his ability to understand the minds of others and for the insight he gives into the disease he is battling. But that's nothing compared to the ordeal he's about to undertake.

Everyone saw the naked woman jump from the bridge, so how could it be anything other than suicide? Joseph O'Loughlin isn't so sure the woman wanted to do it. He was closest to her when she stepped into thin air and, just before she took that step she was talking on a mobile phone before looking at Joe and saying "you don't understand". It's not until the woman's 16 year old daughter, Darcy, shows up unannounced on Joe's doorstep that he begins to believe that his misgivings are justified.

Darcy tells Joe that her mother was scared of heights, so why would she choose that way to killer herself? Still haunted by his failure to talk her safely off the bridge he takes Darcy to the police in the hope that they might be able to investigate the case as a murder rather than a suicide.
DI Veronica Cray is a tough, abrasive woman yet she's not unreasonable when it comes to listening to solid argument. However as far as she and the rest of the police are concerned, the death is a suicide and the case has been solved.

All of that changes when a second woman's body is found. Again the woman is naked, again she has died outdoors and this time, there is a mobile phone lying next to her. Joseph O'Loughlin, much to his wife's displeasure, is drawn deeply into the murder investigation.

Yet again I found myself sucked along by Robotham's smooth writing style. It flows effortlessly. Right from the very start there is an immediate mystery surrounding the story. There are too many anomalies surrounding the apparent suicide that opens the book to ignore, but the alternative generates all sorts of questions. Robotham cleverly nurtures these questions and, by gradually allowing us to become aware of the killer and what horrors he is capable of, maximises the feeling of tension and expectation.

The insecurities and psychological weaknesses of the victims play an important role in the drama that unfolds throughout the book. The killer is a craftsman of the most terrifying kind and, as such, appears to have all the answers. This is the type of story that plays on the fact that everyone has weaknesses - everyone - and Robotham manipulates the story with complete dexterity so that, as the reader, you find it all too simple a task to imagine yourself in the place of the victim.

The tone of the story is affected enormously by the fact that it is told from Joe O'Loughlin's first person perspective. Here is a professor of the mind who is fighting the inexorable progression of Parkinson's Disease. He also has to cope with the burden of the knowledge that he failed to stop a young woman from jumping off a bridge. He is a mixture of stoic determination and endearing naievete. He's a guy who believes he hasn't let his disease affect his personality, but there is an underlying tinge of sadness that is unmistakable.

As you may be aware, Michael Robotham has a history of taking minor characters from one book and using them as the protagonist in the next. In Shatter he has introduced another character who would make a perfect lead character. DI Veronica Cray, who is in charge of the police investigation. She's a quirky, exuberant in your face character with a past that begs to be explored. She is summarised on page 60:
Veronica Cray can render someone speechless. She's unavoidable. Immovable. Like a rocky outcrop in a force ten gale.

Every scene in which she appears throughout the book confirms this description.

In The Suspect, Joseph O'Loughlin was a deep-thinking character with a complex edge and a grave health battle ahead of him. Shatter takes that raw outline and fills in the man, his fears, emotions and responsibilities to an even greater extent. The psychological battle waged between O'Loughlin and the killer reaches epic proportions with the stakes promising to be far reaching.
Combine the hard work gone into character development with Robotham's free-flowing writing style, evidence of a natural storyteller at work, and readers will have no trouble becoming fully involved in Shatter. It's a story that plays hard on a wide range of emotions.

Find out more details about Shatter by Michael Robotham.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Canberra Marathon Report 2008

Just a little time out from the usual posts about Australian crime fiction. As most of you would know I’m a voracious reader of crime novels – both from Australia and abroad – however I’m also a pretty dedicated runner too. This post is a bit of a self-indulgent, bask in the glory, soak up the endorphins look at last weekend’s Canberra Marathon.

For the second time in three tries I made it to the starting line of the Canberra Marathon. The first time I competed in the event was in 2003 when I finished in 3:25:45. I’ve also had an aborted attempt to get to the starting line (2005) when I tore a calf muscle a mere couple of weeks before the race.

No such problem this year with a carefully planned training regime which included what felt like an almost exclusive banana diet - well, with some huge helpings of pasta thrown in - getting me to my 7th marathon (plus 2 Six Foot Track Marathons) feeling fit and ready to go. You’re supposed to get older and wiser but my repeated returns to marathon start lines proves that that’s a fallacy.

Anyway, this year I managed to talk my family into coming to support me in my folly – not to mention keep me awake on the drive home – and 2 out the 3 kids even came. Apparently standing around for more than 3 hours waiting for her father to finish running didn’t compete with the prospect of a birthday party at Jamberoo followed by a sleep-over at a friend’s house. Hmmph! But I was able to bribe the 2 boys into coming to watch with a promise of a visit to Questacon.

We arrived in Canberra on Saturday arvo, checked into the hotel, picked up the race pack at the marathon expo and then hit Questacon for a whirlwind visit. We got there at 3:30 and it closes at 5:00…1 and a half hours is nowhere near enough to experience everything that Questacon has to offer. But the boys had a wonderful time and are already planning their next visit.

Then it was time for a quick shower before meeting a few fellow runners at an Italian restaurant for a pre-race pasta meal. Much joking, water drinking and pasta was had by all, but I was more than a little shocked when one of the next day’s runners stepped outside to smoke a cigarette!!! He was obviously following a different training regime than me.

Early to bed, early to rise and by 5:15 the next morning I was up breakfasted and dressed waking the family so that everyone was breakfasted and ready to go by 6:15. A couple of nervous toilet pit-stops later and I was ready to head to the starting line.

Now, at this point, I should let you know that one of the locals told us that Canberra has experienced a rather dry time of it of late. You could almost describe it as a drought. So the conditions you can expect when you step outside on the morning of the Canberra Marathon? You got it – rain and plenty of it. The black clouds were rolling in across the hills. Telstra Tower wasn’t visible on top of Black Mountain and neither was a lot of Canberra. Great conditions for marathon runners, not so great for marathon spectators.

After huddling under umbrellas, trees and tents for half an hour the call for competitors to get to the start line came. It’s amazing how many hiding places there are around the Telopea Park school, 1,100 runners emerged from nowhere and jammed themselves in to face the starting gun.

Right on time, we were away.

My goal time was 3:30. A pretty reasonable time for someone who hasn’t run a marathon in 5 years and I was lucky to find myself in the pack with the pacesetter for 3:15. This was good news for me, I thought, if I could hang onto the 3:15 group for as long as possible I might be able to get myself close enough to home so that I could limp the last few kilometres if I had to.

As it turned out, the pace was very comfortable. We headed down to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin past the National Gallery and the High Courts before turning back up towards Parliament House. Up and around Capitol Hill - one of the few significant hills on the course - we went and then back towards the start - 10km over and done with, a quick wave to the family who were cheering like mad oblivious to the cold and rain (or maybe that was me).

Now for the long slog on the first of the out and back loops, the rain still coming down we climbed up onto the Kings Avenue Bridge and over the lake we went. The course took us past the Australian War Memorial for the first time but, 13km mark and I'm feeling some decided discomfort in the nipple region. It felt as though my nipples were having sandpaper applied to them every step I took. Fortunately, every drinks station also had a nipple-saving jar of Vaseline available, so a quick stop and a liberal application of the jelly and I was off again.

By the 18km mark, the rain had stopped, the sky was brightening and the road was beginning to dry. By the 21km we were headed back towards the Commonwealth Ave Bridge which would take us back across Lake Burley Griffin and towards Telopea Park where we turn around and do the out and back part all over again. It was around the Commonwealth Ave Bridge that my running partner - a friend from work - suddenly dropped off the pace. I would be running the last 20km on my own.

After the turn around, which is about the 26km mark, my friendly (and very chatty) 3:15 pace-setter was still in the vicinity and I was still travelling pretty well. So we headed up to the Kings Ave Bridge and around again. The kilometres passed slowly, a nagging pain on the end of my second toe began to develop and was beginning to resolve itself into one of the biggest, juiciest blisters I’ve ever encountered. But at the time I just adjusted my stride so it was barely noticeable.

I my past marathons, The Wall has fallen on me at around the 34 -35km mark, so as it approached my apprehension was beginning to grow. Was this where it was all going to fall apart. The weather, my pace and the fact that I had drunk half of Lake Burley Griffin to this point had me fairly confident that I was going to make it without revisiting the agonies of marathon’s past.

Coming back over the Commonwealth Ave Bridge with 4km to go, the 3:15 pace-setter gave us all one last round of encouraging advice before he gradually began to put some space between himself and me. I was tiring fast and when I tried to increase pace, I had my first twinge of a cramp in the toes of my left foot. A sure sign that it was time to back off, relax the muscles and hope the cramps don’t hit for real.

The longest 3 kilometres of the race crept by interminably. It’s amazing how far 100m is when you just want it over with. In what can only be described as a really bad practical joke, the last kilometre lies dead uphill, but by that stage there was no stopping me. The pace-setter had disappeared into the distance, but I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t cramped and The Wall didn’t visit.

I crossed the line in 3:15:43, 15 minutes faster than I was expecting to run and I was completely jubilant…in an exhausted, can barely move kind of way. Checking the Canberra Marathon website I can see that I placed 170th (interestingly, in 2003 when I ran over 3:25 I placed 172nd).

I'm still basking in the glow of complete satisfaction and pride - and it's that feeling that answers the question I'm asked so often - "Why do you run?"

Bleeding nipples, aching legs and an all-over weariness notwithstanding, I'm already planning the training schedule for next month's Sydney Morning Herald Half's an illness.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading my self-absorbed reliving of Sunday morning. I'll be talking about Australian crime fiction again soon, just as soon as the endorphin rush has completely left my body.

One of the keys to putting in a good performance was the awareness of a healthy diet to get the body into the best shape possible. Naturally, long runs every weekend helped a lot too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Outpost - Issue 7 Released

Australian crime short stories in abundance again this month with the new issue of The Outpost once again throwing up a diverse selection of stories for your enjoyment. Returning with another story each are Pat Johnson and Kate Smith. They've been joined by John Millett, Tony Black, Peter Lingard, Caroline Slade, Margaret Dakin and Jeff Lancaster.

You'll notice one or two stories among this lot with a very distinctive Australian ring to them but the dilemmas, twists and dirty dealings are universal.

Hold onto your hats, too, with some borderline mystical dealings, a psychosis that is almost a little too disturbing and a smooth recollection into an almost forgotten crime.

There's murder for love, murder for hate, murder by accident, and just plain murder.

The stories for Issue 7 are:

Miss Andrews by Pat Johnson
Zap by Kate Smith
On Hallucinations by John Millett
Crate-Load of Grief by Tony Black
Cooked Under Pressure by Peter Lingard
Say Cheese! by Caroline Slade
Terminus For A Life by Margaret Dakin
Keeping Your House In Order by Jeff Lancaster

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reading Notes : Shatter by Michael Robotham

I had the pleasure last week of reading Michael Robotham’s new thriller, Shatter (published by Sphere) and have made my usual notes while reading the book. The following are just a few of the thoughts and observations that will hopefully give you a bit of a taste for what the book is like.

Shatter is the 4th thriller by Michael Robotham, following on from The Suspect, Lost (aka The Drowning Man) and The Night Ferry.

It’s the 2nd book to feature Professor Joseph O’Loughlin, a psychologist who is suffering the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Also making a return as a minor character is retired police detective Vincent Ruiz (Lost) who is as abrasive as ever.

The story is set in Bath, England.

There is a definite contender for a future Robotham protagonist in DI Veronica Cray who is in charge of the police investigation. She’s a quirky, exuberant in your face character with a past that begs to be explored. She is summarised on page 60:

Veronica Cray can render someone speechless. She’s unavoidable. Immovable. Like a rocky outcrop in a force ten gale.

Every scene in which she appears throughout the book confirms this description.

Short plot teaser. Although everyone else is convinced the naked woman who jumped off the bridge committed suicide, Joe O’Loughlin believes it may have been a murder. It was Joe’s job to try to talk her down, so he was closest when she stepped off. She was talking to someone on a mobile phone right before she jumped. Joe has to ask himself two important questions if what he suspects is the truth: Why would someone talk a person into killing themselves and what could they possibly say to make them do it?

Yet again I found myself sucked along by Robotham’s smooth writing style. It flows effortlessly.

The psychological dilemma posed in this story is truly intriguing. You can’t help but place yourself in the same situation and wonder how you would deal with it.

Joe’s Parkinson’s plays a more significant role than it did in The Suspect.

While closing the book on this, I wonder if we’re going to see Joe again? I also get the feeling that Ruiz is being primed for another role in a future book. (There you go Michael, I’ve just set up three more possible books for you to write – get busy!)

I find Joseph O'Loughlin is a very sympathetic character who turns out to blessed with an interesting blend of professional confidence and naive ignorance.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

April '08 New Releases

April is another quiet month as far as new Australian crime fiction is concerned. But where the quantity is low, the quality is sky high. Two books make their way into bookstores across the country this month, one a legal thriller, the other is a police procedural / psychological thriller and both are the latest books in ongoing series.

Alibi by Sydney Bauer (pub. Pan Macmillan) – This is the 3rd book in the David Cavanaugh series. It’s a legal thriller set in Boston and starts off with the murder of Deane University student Jessica Nagoshi. Charged with her murder is her secret boyfriend and fellow student James Matheson. David Cavanaugh provides the defense in a case that is complicated by both the number of possible suspects and the great wealth of those involved.

Harum Scarum by Felicity Young (pub. Fremantle Arts Press) – This is the sequel to An Easeful Death and features Perth police Detective Sergeant Stevie Hooper. This is a novel that takes us into the grim realms of the cyber-predator and paedophile. A young girl is murdered after she is lured to a face to face meeting with someone she thought was a boy her own age. The investigation is thrown into chaos when their suspect also turns up murdered. The police have to work out how many murderers they’re actually chasing. There’s a question of how many victims are really involved too. This is a disturbing and complex thriller with an ending that was as concerning as it was brilliantly conceived.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Alibi by Sydney Bauer - The Reading Note Follow-Up

In my previous post about Alibi by Sydney Bauer I was halfway through the book with hopes that it would deliver on the early promises, well...

I have now finished Alibi by Sydney Bauer and thought it would be best to follow up my initial reading notes post. I’m pleased to report that the second half of the book was everything I hoped it would be and more. The anticipated courtroom drama takes place as expected and unfolds as only a battle between lawyers who genuinely don’t like each other can.

There are all sorts of tension-filled dramas going on at the same time, all of which are held together under a tight rein...

And what an ending. You don’t want me to even hint about it so there’s little else to say except…what an ending!

Now that I’ve finished the book I can safely say that Alibi is now my favourite of the 3 Sydney Bauer legal thrillers I’ve read so far.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reading Notes : Alibi by Sydney Bauer

I’m just over midway through the new legal thriller by Sydney Bauer titled Alibi (published by Pan Macmillan Australia), which is due to be released April, 2008, so I’ll give you a few of my thoughts and reactions to whet your appetites.

Bear in mind, I have reached a stage in the book where there are numerous possible suspects to choose from, a trial is about to begin that promises to be extremely fiery and an overseas human rights issue is building, so I’m pretty “into it” at the moment.

Firstly, Alibi is Sydney Bauer’s 3rd novel following Undertow and Gospel. All three books are legal thrillers featuring Boston attorney David Cavanaugh. Undertow recently took out the Davitt Award for Best Crime Novel by an Australian Woman in 2006.

Within the first couple of paragraphs of Alibi both Undertow and Gospel are summarised briefly to give those who have read the earlier books a brief refresher and those who haven’t, a short rundown of David Cavanaugh’s credentials.

All of the principal characters have returned in Alibi: Cavanaugh, of course; Sara Davis, his colleague and girlfriend; Lieutenant Joe Mannix; Detective Frank McKay. Also returning is Cavanaugh’s antagonist, the arrogant, smug, over-ambitious, easy-to-hate ADA Roger Katz. (Just finished a particularly enjoyable little confrontation between the two combatants, as a matter of fact).

Setting the Scene

Nineteen year old Deane University student Jessica Nagoshi has been strangled to death and left in the garden of her family home. She is the daughter of a billionaire Japanese businessman so the murder is very high profile and the despised Roger Katz is anxious to have someone arrested and convicted as quickly as possible – next year is an election year, after all.

The arrest is made and David Cavanaugh is on hand to represent a man he is sure is innocent.

As for possible guilty parties at least 3 are tossed into the mix, each of them are credible and each of them have jumped to the top of my suspect least at one stage or another.

My Own Impressions

Alibi has succeeded in hooking me, well and truly, with the prospect of an emotion-charged courtroom stoush if the offing. The lead up has been engrossing thanks to the vast array of scenarios that have been set up.

The first 150 pages had me in mind of the television show Law And Order with the police doing their bit tracking down suspects, interviewing witnesses and friends and putting together some sort of case to make an arrest. The only difference here is that even the police, who are supposed to be on the District Attorney’s side, hate Roger Katz. So you’ve got a situation in which antagonism and resentment pretty much rules the day.

As I said earlier, I haven’t finished the book, so I can’t exactly proclaim it the best that Sydney Bauer has written just yet, but it’s definitely heading that way. It moves as smoothly as anything John Grisham writes and is full of the kinds of hidden complexities that marks Scott Turow’s legal thrillers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Broken Shore is still Winning People Over

It's a rare book that can take someone from the impression that "this is not for me" right through to "Temple has gone onto my must read list", but that's exactly the impact that Peter Temple's The Broken Shore has had at Table Talk as part of the blog's Awards Project.

In one of the more articulate reviews of the book I have read the reviewer gets straight to the crux of what makes Peter Temple's books so darn readable, his social commentary and insight and his compelling use of language.

Peter Temple has that ability to take you from indifference to devotion in the space of around 350 pages.

By the way, it's worth visiting the Table Talk blog just to enjoy the serene uncluttered orderliness of a very nicely designed and presented blog. I really enjoyed my visit there.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Reading Notes : Harum Scarum by Felicity Young

Harum Scarum is the third crime novel by Felicity Young. The first two are titled A Certain Malice (pub. Creme de la Crime) & An Easeful Death (pub. Fremantle Press).

This is the second Detective Stevie Hooper book and is the sequel to An Easeful Death.

Set in Perth, Australia.

Protagonist is Detective Sergeant Stevie Hooper who worked in the Serious Crimes Squad in the first book but now has moved across to the Sex Crimes, Cyber Predator Team.

One of the reasons she has moved out of Serious Crimes is that her old squad is headed by Inspector Monty Maguire with whom Stevie is in a relationship. The back story to Stevie and Monty's relationship is a little convoluted and was played out in An Easeful Death (so get it and read it) but in a nutshell, Monty grew up with Stevie’s family on a property in WA. They were close friends growing up but only recently accepted that their mutual attraction was more than just friendship. Not surprisingly they have issues.

Notable Plot Points From the Book

  • Stevie arrests a cyber predator who has set up a face to face meeting with the young girl he thought he had been chatting with.

  • Bianca Webster runs to the park hoping to meet Daniel, a boy she has been chatting to on-line. She meets a man instead.

  • Detective Inspector Monty Maguire is called to a crime scene. A young girl’s body has been found thrown in a dumpster. She has been raped and then asphixiated.

  • A suspect in the murdered girl case is found shot to death in his car.

  • There’s an important link connecting the shooting death and an earlier murder.

  • Child abuse and paedophilia runs through the story, grimly joining all the threads together.

There's a lot going on here with an on-line paedophile ring in operation around the Perth area, preying on young girls through a type of fan site. The murders that take place look completely unrelated on the surface but the mere fact they are mentioned in the book tell us there's more to them than is first represented. The question is: how are they related?

Complementing the well-crafted plot, which has been constructed with noticeable attention to detail, Felicity Young also makes sure the relationship between Stevie and Monty progresses satisfactorily. There is a definite hint that there will be another book to come involving these characters.