Review: THE NANCYS, R.W.R. McDonald

  • this edition published in 2019 by Allen & Unwin

  • ISBN 978-1-76052-733-4
  • 389 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A schoolgirl and her uncle and his boyfriend have two weeks to solve a murder in a small town style forgot…
WINNER of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel

Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world – the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum’s on a cruise.

Tippy is in love with her uncle’s old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher’s body is found beside Riverstone’s only traffic light, Tippy’s moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.

But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy’s mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.

The Nancys is gripping and glorious, a heart-warming novel for anyone who’s ever felt they were on the outside looking in. At its heart it is about the family we make and how we must summon the courage to face the truth, no matter what the cost may be

My Take

Tippy Chan is still trying to come to terms with the recent sudden death of her Chinese father whom she adored. Making things worse, it seems that her mother wants to erase all memory of him by removing his photos from their walls.

When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy’s Uncle Pike volunteers to come to look after her. He brings with him his flamboyant boy friend. Pike and Devon decide to help their neighbor Melanie win the local Queen of the Show. 

In the meantime one of Tippy’s friends has a fall from a bridge into the river and ends up in hospital in a coma. Photos arrive on Tippy’s phone that seem to indicate that he has been a witness to something he shouldn’t have seen.

I had a lot of trouble “getting into” this novel., and I am not totally sure why. There are really 3 or 4 plots progressing together and I had trouble in deciding who to trust. So separating out these plot strands was probably part of my problem. There is a large range of characters and their interaction with each other is at times a bit obscure.

My rating: 4.3 

About the author

R.W.R. McDonald (Rob) is an award-winning author, a Kiwi and Queer dad living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. His debut novel, The Nancys, won Best First Novel in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, as well as being a finalist in the Best Novel category. It was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, and Highly Commended for an Unpublished Manuscript in the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Nancy Business is his second novel, publishing in June 2021.

Shortlisted Best Debut Crime Fiction, Ned Kelly Awards 2020 AU; Winner Best First Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Designed Commercial Fiction Cover, Australian Book Design Awards 2020 AU; Highly Commended Unpublished Manuscript, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017 AU

Review: THE GOOD TEACHER, Petronella McGovern

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin 2020

  • ISBN 978-1-76087-529-9
  • 401 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

From the bestselling author of Six Minutes, comes a fast-paced, heart-stopping thriller full of gripping tension, twists and turns.
A good teacher can change lives…

Every evening, Allison watches her husband’s new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She’s a good teacher, everyone says so – this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.

A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie. Allison takes the sick girl under her wing, smothering Gracie with the love she can’t give her own son. When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison whips up the community into a frenzied fundraising drive.

But as others start to question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison wonders if she can trust herself. Has she crossed a line?

How far will the good teacher go to save a life? And whose life will that be?

An intriguing tale of our times about kindness and betrayal, and the danger of good deeds.

My take

Wirriga is a small town on Sydney’s northern beaches. It is the town that Allison herself grew up in, and the school she teaches in is the one she went to herself. Everyone knows everyone else and Allison has a secret she is trying to keep to herself.

Gracie and her father Luke arrive just at the time when Allison is experiencing a yawning void in her life, and she not only takes them into her home, but begins a fundraising campaign to raise money to send Gracie, who has a life threatening cancer, to America for treatment.

There are several interesting sub-plots to the story, and because they are not revealed in the publisher’s blurb, I am not going to reveal them to you either. Just let me say that you will be surprised by the twists and turns of this plot, and where it leads you.

In some ways it is about how gullible we can all be, how generosity can make you the prey for others.

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also read 4.3, SIX MINUTES

Review: THE ORCHARD MURDERS, Robert Gott

  • This edition made available as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • length: 304pp
  • ISBN (13):9781922310675
  • Pub date:3 Aug 2021, Scribe publications
  • #4 in the Holiday Murders series

Synopsis (Scribe publications)

A novel about revenge, obsession, and the dangerous gullibility of religious fanatics.

In 1944, in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Nunawading, a brutal triple murder heralds the return of a long-forgotten cult. A man named Anthony Prescott has declared himself the Messiah and has promised his followers immortality. There are those who believe him and who are ready to kill in his name. Inspector Titus Lambert of the Melbourne Homicide unit, whose detectives are over-stretched, requests the discreet assistance of Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once members of his unit, now private inquiry agents. The investigation is more perilous than any of them realise, and will have tragic consequences.

The Orchard Murders is the fourth novel in Robert Gott’s acclaimed series, set in Melbourne during the dark days of the Second World War.

My Take

At the beginning of this book a synopsis of each of the three preceding titles in the series appears. I hadn’t read them all, but it did serve me to bring me “up to speed”.

The novel is a reminder that strange and violent crimes continue even when a country is at war, and so there is need of a police force and even private investigators. Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once part of the Victoria Police’s Homicide squad, are now private investigators, but they keep in close touch with their former boss, Inspector Titus Lambert. The other main characters are Tom McKenzie, a former pilot, and Clara Dawson, a doctor at the Melbourne Hospital.

There are a number of linked plots in the book, which makes for interesting reading. For example Tom returns to work to undertake surveillance of a man married to woman in Japan, and therefore under suspicion of espionage. Clara’s boss is a doctor who despises female doctors, and she is befriended by his wife. The main plot is the murders that take place in Nunawading on a farm next to one run by a sect.

Between them the plots paint a strong picture of life in Melbourne towards the end of World War  II.

Highly recommended. Very readable.

My rating: 4.6

About the author:

Robert Gott was born in the Queensland town of Maryborough in 1957, and lives in Melbourne. He has published many books for children, and is also the creator of the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man. He is the author of the William Power series of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia, comprising Good Murder, A Thing of Blood, Amongst the Dead, and The Serpent’s Sting, and of the Murders series, comprising The Holiday Murders, The Port Fairy Murders, The Autumn Murders, and The Orchard Murders.

I’ve also read

4.4, THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS
4.5, THE AUTUMN MURDERS

Review: THE LONG GAME, Simon Rowell

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

A summer of relentless heat. A local surfer named Ray Carlson is found dead in a house not far from Portsea back beach. There’s a kitchen knife deep in his chest, and blood everywhere.

Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer is scarcely back from extended leave, and still wrestling with her demons, but she is assigned the case—alongside her new service dog, Harry, whose instincts help her in unexpected ways.

There’s an obvious suspect for the murder, and Zoe makes an arrest. But it’s all too neat, and none of Zoe’s colleagues believes her theory that the whole thing is a stitch-up.

Except now someone is trying to hunt Zoe down.

Superbly plotted, and vividly set in the beachside suburbs and hilly retreats around Melbourne, The Long Game is a mystery about a tough and clever investigator who won’t give up.

My take

An intriguing read from a new-to-me Australian author. 

We know that Zoe Mayer, Victoria Police, has come back from extended leave after being involved in a traumatic incident. Via flashbacks we eventually learn what happened then, something that put Zoe on the front page of every newspaper in Australia, if not the world.

Zoe is meant to be easing herself back into work, but when you investigate violent murders, that isn’t really possible. It is Zoe who sees the similarities between the Ray Carlson case and earlier cases, but her colleagues take a lot of persuading, even those who work closest to her.

But then the person whom she identifies as the link between the cases, turns, and Zoe herself is in danger.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Simon Rowell has worked on outback oil rigs, managed nightclubs, been a tour guide and run marketing campaigns. His first book, THE ECHO OF OTHERS, was longlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Crime in 2018. He lives with his wife, Karen, in rural Victoria on a farm full of rescued animals.

Review: THE THREE MISS ALLENS, Victoria Purman

  • this edition an e-book on Libby made available through my local library

  • ISBN: 9781489210746
  • ISBN 10: 1489210741
  • Imprint: Mira
  • Published 2016
  • Pages: 416
  • author website

Synopsis (publisher

From a bestselling Australian author comes a compelling narrative set in the 1930s and modern-day South Australia.

How much of who we are is destiny and how much chance?

In 1934, the three Miss Allens – Ruby, Adeline and Clara – arrive in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay for their annual summer holiday. It’s the last time they’ll spend summers as a family. Adeline is engaged, Ruby is weighing up an offer, and Clara is just eighteen and about to start her life. But by summer’s end, the lives they have known will change irrevocably and a mysterious secret will tear the family apart.

Eighty–two years later, Ruby’s great–granddaughter Roma Harris moves to the now sleepy Remarkable Bay, retreating from tragedy. Roma’s distant cousin Addy arrives too, fleeing a life with too much drama. It’s only when the women discover an old guest book that they start asking questions about the mysterious third Miss Allen. Who was she? Why has she disappeared from the family’s history?
If they solve this mystery from their past, could it change the women’s futures?

My Take

A gentler read than my usual fare, a mystery rather than crime fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this title not just because it was set in my home town (thinly disguised) but also because of how well the characters were drawn, and the social changes of the last 80 years were described. For location confirmation see this interview with the author.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.6

Review: INNOCENCE DIES, Colin Falconer

  • this edition large print, W F Howes Ltd, 2020

  • ISBN 978-1-00400-164-4
  • 386 pages
  • #2 in the Charlie George series

Synopsis (author website)

 
He loves surprises. But not this one.

A schoolgirl is found dead in a park in North London and DI Charlie George is not short of suspects – is it her stepfather? Is it a sex crime? Is it race-related?

Charlie finally thinks he has it sorted, with his killer bang to rights. But then his lawyer gets him free on a technicality.

And that’s just the start of his troubles.

He’s been a cop all his life, he thought he’d seen everything . . . But Charlie soon realises, he hasn’t seen anything yet. 

My take
This is a year or so on from #1 in the series, LUCIFER FALLS. Charlie has been on leave recuperating from an injury received at the end of that story. He has “lost” his mistress from that book and has taken up with Pippa, a school teacher in London.
A phone call in the early hours calls Charlie to a suspected homicide on a disused railway line in Finsbury Park. It is an 11 year old girl who has only been missing for a few hours. Her body was found by her father. The body has been found near the ventilation shaft for the underground, and that’s where the brick that killed her is also found.
 
The family is an immigrant one from Sierra Leone. They have already had a hard life,
 
CCTV footage shows the girl being followed by a known paedophile, and Charlie is convinced he is the murderer. Charlie teams up with a DC Lovejoy whom we have already met in the first novel in the series.
In Chapter 4 we “meet” the murderer, who  tells us what he likes doing, where he likes hanging out, and that he has only murdered one person… so far. There will be more of this dialogue later in the book, but we are no wiser about the identity of the narrator.
 
So, on the surface, this is a police procedural, but it also about child abuse, community tensions and expectations,  and the nature of evil.
 
A very good read!
My rating: 4.5
I’ve also read

Review: LUCIFER FALLS, Colin Falconer

  • This edition large print from W F Howes LTD 2019

  • first published UK 2018 by Constable
  • ISBN 978-1-52886-149-6
  • 422 pages
  • #1 in the Charlie George series 
  • author website 

Synopsis (author website)

So many ways you could die. He knows every one of them.

A priest is found crucified in a derelict North London chapel.

“This is one for the ages,” DI Charlie George tells his squad next morning as they gather in the Incident Room at the Essex Road nick.

Their usual round is sorting cases of domestic violence, or a couple of stabbings on the estates.

When the case doesn’t get sorted, everyone gets nervous. And with good reason: it’s about to get a lot worse.

On Christmas night, a cop is found buried up to his neck on Hampstead Heath. He’s been stoned to death. Are the two murders related? None of his bosses wants to think so.

Charlie journeys into the city’s cold underbelly to try and find an answer to the madness before anyone else dies a martyr’s death…

Lucifer Falls is the first in Colin Falconer’s contemporary crime series, set in North London, featuring DI Charlie George.

My Take

This title got me in right from the beginning. At first Charlie George seems to be your run-of-the-mill flawed DI, and this seems to be yet another police procedural. But there is a lot more. Charlie seems to have had his fair share of failures, and a boss who wants to blame him for a few more. His original offsider goes out on stress leave when a kid he is chasing is run over by a bus, and Charlie is left to work with a woman newly posted to the Murder Squad. Charlie is married to the Murder Squad (although he has his “bit on the side”), and his background, experience and education keep him working at problems.

The plot got me in. The two initial murders, nicknamed Operation Galilee because the first is crucified, got me looking for connections, just as Charlie was doing. And I got there – at least I found the first connection – although it was Charlie’s mother who gave us the second bit. Interestingly the author introduced readers to the murderer early on, and Charlie had seen him in passing, but the motives behind why he was doing what he was doing were well hidden until towards the end.

Here is a writer whose experience shines through (he is a prolific writer see Fantastic Fiction). The characters are well developed and the scenarios very believable. I’m sure I’ll be reading the next.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Colin Falconer writes crime fiction and historical fiction. He has written twenty-six novels which have been translated into 23 languages.

In between leaving school and securing his latest publishing deal, he found time to
chase black witches across Mexico, travel the silk road, and occasionally play the
guitar in pubs. His only claim to fame from those days is completing all the verses of
‘All You Need is Love’ during a bar fight in the Stella Maris Sailors Club.

After a short stint in advertising he became a freelance journalist. He also worked in
radio and television before writing novels.

Colin Falconer (born 1953) is a pen name of Colin Bowles, who also uses the pen name Mark D’Abranville,[1] an English-born Australian writer. Works published under the pen name include contemporary and historical thrillers, and children’s books. Under his original name he has also published books of satirical fiction; non-fiction books about language; television and radio scripts; and many magazine articles and columns.

DI Charlie George
   1. Lucifer Falls (2018)
   2. Innocence Dies (2019)
   3. Angels Weep (2020)
   4. Cry Justice (2021)

Review: WHEN YOU ARE MINE, Michael Robotham

  • This edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08BWVTNCQ
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Sphere (24 June 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 1021 KB
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 375 pages
  • Best Sellers Rank: 4 in Kindle Store

Synopsis (Amazon)

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author behind THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, a major BBC series, comes a gripping new standalone thriller

Philomena McCarthy has defied the odds and become a promising young officer with the Metropolitan Police despite being the daughter of a notorious London gangster. Called to the scene of a domestic assault, she rescues a young woman, Tempe Brown, the girlfriend of a decorated detective. The incident is hushed up, but Phil has unwittingly made a dangerous enemy with powerful friends.

Determined to protect each other, the two women strike up a tentative friendship. Tempe is thoughtful and sweet and makes herself indispensable to Phil, but sinister things keep happening and something isn’t quite right about the stories Tempe tells. When a journalist with links to Phil’s father and to the detective is found floating in the Thames, Phil doesn’t know where to turn, who to blame or who she can trust.

My take

In the Acknowledgements at the end of this novel, Robotham, after reminding us he has been publishing crime fiction for twenty years, talks about what keeps him writing. 

With each subsequent novel, I have always strived to push myself as a writer, using different tenses, new voices, and dual narratives. This is also one of the reasons that I write occasional standalone novels like WHEN YOU ARE MINE because it challenges me to come up with new characters and to explore new lives.

This is a novel about domestic abuse, toxic friendships and the baggage that all families carry with them.

 And those words so perfectly sum up what keeps me reading his novels too. I know he will always come up with something fresh, even when other writers are touching on the same topics. (I seem recently to have been read a number of novels about toxic friendships for example: GREENWICH PARK by Katherine Faulkner, THE OTHER PASSENGER by Louise Candlish) But there is much more to this novel.

A great read! Well done Michael.

After winning the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel in 2015 for LIFE OR DEATH and then in 2020 for GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL, Michael Robotham has this year (2021) won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller for WHEN SHE WAS GOOD.

If you haven’t yet begun reading him, now is the time to start!

My Rating: 5.0

I’ve also read

BOMBPROOF
SHATTER #3
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME #4
5.0, THE WRECKAGE #5
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY #6
5.0, WATCHING YOU #7
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)
5.0, LIFE OR DEATH Shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Gold Dagger
4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES
5.0, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS
5.0, THE SUSPECT #1 (audio)
4.8, LOST #2 (audio)
5.0, THE OTHER WIFE

4.8, GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL -#1
4.8, WHEN SHE WAS GOOD -#2  

 

Review: TELL ME LIES, J. P. Pomare

  • this edition published by Hachette in 2020

  • ISBN 9-781869-718619
  • 230 pages

Synopsis (Publisher)

Psychologist Margot Scott has a picture-perfect life: a nice house in the suburbs, a husband, two children and a successful career.

On a warm spring morning Margot approaches one of her clients on a busy train platform. He is looking down at his phone, with his duffel bag in hand as the train approaches. That’s when she slams into his back and he falls in front of the train.

Margot’s clients all lie to her, but one lie cost her family and freedom.

A fast-paced psychological thriller for fans of The Silent Patient.

My Take

It is not just Margot’s clients who lie to her, the success of her entire career has been based on lies, narrowly avoided conflict of interest and compromise.

Margot knows that she is a successful psychologist. She spends much of her time in pigeon-holing her clients, confident that she can help solve their problems. But she doesn’t seem to see behind the facade they present, and she doesn’t realise that at least one of them is stalking her, and just biding his time.

Her own problems seem to begin when her family house is fire-bombed. She thinks that the culprit is one of her clients, but she picks the wrong one. And then her consulting rooms are fire-bombed as well, but her office has been ransacked too, and she realises that the fire-bomber was looking for something.

An interestingly constructed plot, with little problems for the reader to solve along the way. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.8 

I’ve also read

4.6, IN THE CLEARING
4.8, CALL ME EVIE 

Review: DOOM CREEK, Alan Carter

  • Publisher : Fremantle Press (March 1, 2021)

  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1925816818
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1925816815
  • #2 in the Nick Chester series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Sergeant Nick Chester has dodged the Geordie gangsters he once feared and is out of hiding and looking forward to the quiet life. But gold fever is creating ill feeling between prospectors, and a new threat lurks in the form of trigger-happy Americans preparing for doomsday by building a bolthole in the valley. As tensions simmer, Nick finds himself up against an evil that knows no borders and no depths.

Sequel to MARLBOROUGH MAN

My take

Set in New Zealand, in what should be an idyllic back water, the plot proves that not even New Zealand is safe from the underworld and those who use money to get what they want. Several plot strands intertwine to prevent Nick Chester from focussing just on local issues and local policing. 

I think it helps to have read the first in this series, which I had.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read 4.6, MARLBOROUGH MAN