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, February 29, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot : Introduction

Back in April 2005 Ben Peek, on his weblog The Urban Sprawl Project, undertook to interview as many Australian speculative fiction writers as he could and to publish those interviews over the course of a week. Each interview was only short, some five questions in all, and was aimed primarily at getting a brief look at the author's latest work, what they were currently working on, and what they thought of the then current state of the speculative fiction field in Australia. He called it the "2005 Snapshot".

In August 2007, the ASif! (Australian SpecFic in focus) crew, along with a guest or two, decided to follow Peek's lead and came up with their own 2007 Snapshot. They finished up interviewing 83 authors, up from the 43 in Peek's original.

At the end of 2007, Karen Chisholm (of the Aust Crime Fiction weblog), Damien Gay (of Crime DownUnder) and Perry Middlemiss (of Matilda) decided a similar snapshot of Australian crime fiction was required.

Over the past couple of months these three have conducted a number of small, five-question interviews with a wide variety of Australian crime fiction writers and will begin publishing them across the three weblogs, starting Monday March 3, 2008.

If you are at all interested in the current state of Australian crime fiction, you'll find this series very entertaining and, hopefully, illuminating.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Mutterings - 22-28 February 2008

Michael Robotham

The first few trickles of feedback about Michael Robotham's new novel, Shatter, featuring psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin from The Suspect are beginning to trickle in...and the book won't even be released for another couple of months. Peter Millar of the UK TimesOnline has called Shatter "a gripping journey into the weaknesses and strengths of the human psyche, a story of humanity and inhumanity".

Adrian Hyland

Diamond Dove (aka Moonlight Downs) by Adrian Hyland is still proving to be a hit in the States where bloggers are reading it, enjoying it and telling us all about it. The Literary Feline has read it and said that "Moonlight Downs is a captivating crime novel that brings to life its characters and the land it is set in."

Another blog, this one Mystery Books cautions: "To be sure, this isn't the easiest book to read. The dialog and even much of the narrative (written in first person) are replete with Australian and Aboriginal words and slang." but adds that the book is intricately plotted and at times mesmerizing.

Meanwhile the Boston Globe's Haille Ephron has also read and reviewed Moonlight Downs and begins with glowing praise: "Many crime novels are best consumed at breakneck speed. Australian Adrian Hyland's debut novel, "Moonlight Downs," with its startling turns of phrase, vivid Outback setting, and rich rendering of cultural differences, is best savored slowly."

So is it any wonder that Reviewing the Evidence has devoted one of their "Sixty Seconds with..." interviews with Adrian Hyland.

Peter Temple

While visiting with Reviewing the Evidence they have also doled out a passing mention to Dead Point by Peter Temple which has recently been re-released calling it "an excellent addition to his PI Jack Irish series".

Saturday, February 16, 2008

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Mutterings - 8-14 February 2008

The Moonlight Downs train continues to roll through the US with a review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review the latest stop. Adrian Hyland's Ned Kelly Award winning book is reviewed by Marilyn Stasio who leads off with "In the Australian outback, where Adrian Hyland has set his beguiling first mystery, MOONLIGHT DOWNS (Soho, $24), all the big mineral mines are on Aboriginal lands."

David at Teleport City has reviewed Peepshow by Leigh Redhead. This is the first of the Simone Kirsch series, the stripper turned private detective working in the sleazy Melbourne inner-city. he enjoyed the book but that was due in large part to his knowledge of the local scene and has warned that other readers are unlikely to appreciate thses aspects.

At Matilda, Bernadette Gooden has read and reviewed Skin and Bone, the latest novel by Kathryn Fox and has come away lukewarm, to say the least. She begins her review with an unencouraging "The lacklustre plot was predictable as soon as all the players were introduced" and leaves it with the proclamation that "Kathryn Fox has a lot of potential but is not ready to take her place amongst the Queens of Crime just yet".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mystery Book Review : Eden by Dorothy Johnston

Title : Eden

Author : Dorothy Johnston
Publisher : Wakefield Press
ISBN : 9781862547605
No Pages : 217
Published Date : 2007
Sub-Genre : Mystery

Sandra Mahoney is a computer security consultant who, along with her partner Ivan, lives and works in Canberra, a city big on gas-bagging politicians and the occasional scandal. It's a little bit of both that sets alight Eden the 3rd mystery by Dorothy Johnston to feature Mahoney. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Eden Carmichael was a politician with clout and standing. But his heart attack in a Canberra brothel while wearing a blue dress and blonde wig was hardly the most dignified way to bow out. Before he died Eden had been about to back CleanNet, a company that produced filter software and would have stood to make a lot of money with government support in light of censorship laws.

Sandra is hired by an anti-censorship group that calls itself Electronic Freedom and they stand against censorship of any kind and believe some digging into CleanNet is warranted.
Her investigation begins on track as she does some standard background checks into the company. But the connection with the dead Eden Carmichael is irresistible and cannot be ignored, particularly given the legislation that was on the table.

At some point her investigation transforms from a company background check to an unofficial possible murder investigation. The turning point appears to centre around the brothel in which Eden suffered his fatal heart attack and the owner Margot Lancaster. There's nothing really specific apart from a vague feeling of unease and a clue about the make of the wig he was wearing when he died. The fact that her home is broken into and ransacked also changed her feelings towards her investigation.

The trail she follows takes her to Sydney where she meets with the head of CleanNet before spearing off into the past of brothel owner Margot Lancaster and the Sydney brothel in which she used to work. It's the beginning of a series of flimsy threads that Sandra starts pulling to begin to uncover a murky history and surprising links that compel her to dig further.

All the while she is given the uncomfortable endorsement that she must be making progress, first by evidence that she is being followed and then by the car that nearly forces her off the road.

This is an unusual amateur investigation in that we have a computer security agent investigating what could possibly be a murder investigation, yet not really having any evidence that a murder has actually been committed. To top it off her investigation relies heavily on Sandra's ability to continually pester people with a stack of questions, many of which aren't answered. This is not particularly surprising seeing as she has absolutely no authority to back her up at all. I suppose the real surprise is that anybody answers them at all.

Told in the first person by Sandra, the story unfolds as a series of, not so much interviews as confrontations. Sandra has her suspicions and a thin scrap of something resembling evidence and, armed with these, she confronts people, boldly demanding that they confirm her suspicions. Most times the technique fails but with enough front she manages to pick up enough information to keep her moving forward.

It is best to approach Eden with patience because it is the kind of story that comes together slowly. But the prose is strong and the plot is tightly held together through Sandra's determination and belief that she is following a trail that will lead her somewhere worthwhile.
Eden probably sits somewhere in between Dorothy Johnston's first two books (The Trojan Dog and The White Tower) of the series in terms of finding a compelling reason to keep reading. With no real crime to speak of, I often found myself wracking my brain trying to work out what it was that Sandra was trying to achieve.

Fortunately the pieces begin to click smoothly into place towards the end of the story and a satisfactory resolution ensures that the earlier reservations are somewhat assuaged.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Australian Crime Releases February 08

I've only found details of two new crime releases for February so far but both of them are very high quality and I reckon mystery / thriller readers should be looking forward to getting their hands on both of them.

The Tattooed Man by Alex Palmer (pub. Harper Collins Australia) : The sequel to Blood Redemption, the winner of the 2003 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel, has finally made it's way to publication. Det. Commander Paul Harrigan and Grace Riordan have returned in another extremely compelling novel that is as rich in character development as it the plot is complex. A crooked cop from Harrigan's past has just shown up dead in a high-profile multiple murder case. There's a problem for Harrigan though, the cop was hiding evidence that could incriminate him in a long covered-up murder. This is a murder mystery that takes on huge proportions and gets very ugly.

Fan Mail by P.D. Martin (pub. Macmillan Australia) : The 3rd book in the series featuring FBI profiler Sophie Anderson finds her moving out of Quantico and into the field where she thinks her talents will do the most good. Sophie is not your normal profiler, she experiences visions while working the murder and missing person cases. It's a "talent" that is beginning to be fleshed out in much greater details in Fan Mail and is starting to play a much more important, and accepted, part in her investigations. It adds a fascinating aspect to the books - think Patricia Arquette's character Alison in the television series Medium and you'll get an idea of Sophie Anderson's capabilities. In Fan Mail, someone is killing crime authors, using the details of the murders in their books as a blueprint for their own deaths. There's a pattern but Sophie has to figure out what it is. There's also a continuation of the ongoing story from the previous novel, The Murderer's Club, to add to Sophie's troubles.

Book Mutterings - 1-7 February 2008

The Seattle Mystery Bookshop publishes its Bestsellers (Hardcovers & Paperback) for each month and we can see that Moonlight Downs (Diamond Dove) by Adrian Hyland has come in tied at 9th place for January.

Michael Robotham has recorded a brief video message in which he offers advice to aspiring writers. The video can be viewed at

With the inaugural upcoming Writers at the Convent festival about to be held in Melbourne from 15-17 February, there's been a little bit of press to cover it. The Age has featured Kathryn Fox, author of Malicious Intent, Without Consent and the recently published Skin and Bone as one of the festival's attendees. Among the many revelations given by Fox, when she's asked how she has managed to build two successful careers (first as a GP, then as a novelist) she simply admits "No, I'm an idiot". Plenty more where that came from.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Noir Book Review : Dark Heart : Images Of A City by Travis Berketa

Title : Dark Heart : Images Of A City

Author : Travis Berketa
Publisher : Brolga Publishing
ISBN : 978192122113
Date Published : 2007
No of Pages : 111
Sub-Genre : Noir

"Please excuse the fact that I have not introduced myself. I cannot, because of the work I will be undertaking now that I have completed my study. I do not want to put you or your family in danger."

A nameless figure in the modern city has decided that he can no longer sit idly by while crime is allowed to go unpunished. The bashings, rapes, road rage, theft, drug dealing and organized crime has been allowed to flourish while people hide in their homes and refuse to do anything about it.

This is the view of Travis Berketa's central character in Dark Heart: Images of a City. It's the dark tale of a man who has been pushed too far by fate and the rage inside him has been stoked to the point where it is about to come spewing out. He has transformed himself from your average citizen into a predator, a vigilante who has decided that he is going to fight back against the images that appear in the newspapers every day.

The book reads as a kind of diary kept by the vigilante who claims that he wants to keep a record so that people may understand why he has taken the action that he has chosen. He emphasises that he is not crazy, although it is pretty clear that he is psychologically traumatised.

The man turns into a one-man crime wave as he sets about "making the city safe for us". His victims are molesters, drug dealers, crime king-pins and hitmen...and he doesn't go easy on them. His expectations are that he will be hailed a hero for his brave efforts against low-life scum, but his expectations are unrealistic - after all, as far as the police are concerned he's just another violent offender.

I can't believe the police would do something like this; they're probably upset because I'm getting things done, while they're sitting in their offices eating their jam-filled doughnuts. They would rather take in an innocent person who is trying to make their job easier than go after the real criminals. That's their mistake!

This rant comes after he bashes a drug dealer into unconsciousness and has been caught by the police at the scene. It's a refrain that he will repeat often as he piously continues to preach to us that what he is doing is for our own good. As the images of more and more crime in the newspapers are relayed to us the vigilante becomes increasingly agitated and, as he gradually becomes one of those very images that set him off, his agitation grows into something much more.

You can feel his control slipping away and understand that things are not going to end well.
The reader has a choice while reading Dark Heart. You can side with the vigilante and applaud the action he takes in fighting back against the criminals loose on our streets. For some, I'm sure, have had similar brief fantasies of getting their own taste of revenge. Or you can condemn him for taking matters into his own hands, adding to the growing crime wave running across the city.
This review and many others can be read at the Australian Crime Fiction Database.