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

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.