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

Review: THE NIGHT WHISTLER, Greg Woodland

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN : B088VKG7Q4

  • Publisher : Text Publishing (4 August 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 4287 KB
  • Print length : 300 pages
  • source: NetGalley

Synopsis (Amazon)

The summer of 1966–7. Hal and his little brother have just come to live in Moorabool. They’re exploring the creek near their new home when they find the body of a dog.

Not just dead, but killed.

Not just killed, but horribly maimed.

Constable Mick Goodenough, recently demoted from his big-city job as a detective, is also new in town—and one of his dogs has gone missing. Like other pets around the town.

He knows what it means when someone tortures animals to death. They’re practising. So when Hal’s mother starts getting late-night phone calls — a man whistling, then hanging up — Goodenough, alone among the Moorabool cops, takes her seriously. But will that be enough to keep her and her young sons safe?

Nostalgic yet clear-eyed, simmering with small-town menace, Greg Woodland’s wildly impressive debut populates the rural Australia of the 1960s with memorable characters and almost unbearable tension.

My Take

There’s something rather Disher-like with this novel, and the underlying theme is not a new one: a demoted city cop sent to the sticks, to rural NSW, to teach him a lesson. The boss at the Moorabool police station doesn’t appreciate this new burden but Goodenough’s is a pair of new eyes, and he realises there are things Bradley, the station boss, has been letting things slide.

Hal’s father hasn’t been telling the truth about his new job either, that he will be on the road a fair bit, leaving his wife and sons to fend for themselves. And then come the phone calls and the messages, and the prowler in the back yard. The police would rather not know – it’s “normal” – but Probationary Constable Goodenough recognises the signs.

A good read.

My rating: 4.6

About the author:
Greg Woodland is an author, screenwriter and director. Since 2000 he’s worked as a freelance script editor and consultant for film funding bodies and the Australian Writers’ Guild. The Night Whistler is his first novel.

Review: THE BURNING ISLAND, Jock Serong

Synopsis (publisher)

A father’s obsession. A daughter’s quest.

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard.

Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

Irresistible prose, unforgettable characters and magnificent, epic storytelling: The Burning Island delivers everything readers have come to expect from Jock Serong. It may be his most moving, compelling novel yet.

My Take

In a sense this is a sequel to an earlier novel PRESERVATION in which Joshua Grayling was a key character. It involves the same geographic and historical setting – the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, the wreck of a ship and the disappearance of its passengers and cargo, but it is 30 years on, and Joshua Grayling, once assistant to Governor Hunter in the Sydney colony, is no longer the man he was. Now old, blind, and an alcoholic, he has been haunted for over 30 years by the thought of catching up with Master Figge, one of the survivors of the earlier wreck and the author of so much death.

Grayling is asked to undertake a private expedition to Bass Strait to discover what has happened to the Howrah, its passengers and its cargo. Some debris has been found that indicates that it has been wrecked. It is unthinkable that he take this voyage on his own, and so his daughter accompanies him. They arrive at the boat the Moonbird to discover that there is a paying passenger, doctor/scientist who will be studying birds and fish.

The Furneaux group in Bass Strait is largely populated by sealers who have taken Aboriginal wives, sometimes originally against their wills, and there are half-caste children. And the mad governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Governor Arthur, is attempting to purge the main island and the Furneaux group of their Aboriginal population.

The story line didn’t hold my interest as much as I would have liked, but that was certainly overlaid with a heap of interesting historical detail and and a wealth of very interesting characters, not the least the master of the Moonbird.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read

5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET
5.0, ON THE JAVA RIDGE

4.8, PRESERVATION
4.6, QUOTA 

Review: MY BEST FRIEND’S MURDER, Polly Phillips

  • This edition published by Simon & Schuster 2021
  • ISBN 9-781398-501300
  • 355 pages
  • source: publisher

Synopsis (publisher)

You’re lying, sprawled at the bottom of the stairs, legs bent, arms wide.
And while this could be a tragic accident, if anyone’s got a motive to hurt you, it’s me.

Bec and Izzy have been best friends their whole lives. They have been through a lot together – from the death of Bec’s mother to the birth of Izzy’s daughter. But there’s a darker side to their friendship, and once it has been exposed, there is no turning back.

So when Izzy’s body is found, Bec knows that if the police decide to look for a killer, she will be the prime suspect. Because those closest to you are the ones who can hurt you the most . . .

Best described as The Rumour meets The Holiday, MY BEST FRIEND’S MURDER is a compulsive thriller with a toxic but layered friendship at its heart that keeps you in the dark until the final few breathless pages.

My Take

Bec and Izzy have always been close, too close. It seems to Bec that she has always come off second-best, and now that she is becoming engaged she finds Izzy’s interference and “help” almost too much.

For example, Izzy took Bec’s boy friend Rich from her and married him. And whenever Bec tells Izzy something in confidence, it somehow leaks out, and there is a back lash. Izzy always wants to know everything. Izzy’s house is perfection, and Bec always feels under criticism. But Izzy doesn’t always tell Bec everything and sometimes she feels left out. And then there is the fact that Izzy is returning to work, and she will be working with Bec’s fiance. And so tensions ramp up to the point where Bec would like to kill Izzy.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Polly Phillips currently lives in Australia, although she is originally from the UK. My Best Friend’s Murder won the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Literature Festival
in 2019. Polly has worked as a journalist in Australia, Dubai, Denmark
and the UK. This is her debut novel.

Review: WHITE THROAT, Sarah Thornton

  • format: e-book Kindle (Amazon)

  • ASIN : B084RSGCG1
  • Publisher : Text Publishing (1 December 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 3336 KB
  • #2 in the Clementine Jones series 

Synopsis  (Amazon)

Looking out over an ebb tide from the back verandah was like watching God paint stripes…

Disgraced former lawyer Clementine Jones is on the shores of paradise—Queensland’s Great Sandy Straits—trying to outrun her past.

Bored with her house-sitting gig, she becomes a reluctant recruit to the local environmental group, campaigning to save an endangered turtle as developers close in. Then a body is found at the base of a quarry, and Clem’s world is turned upside down.

The police say suicide. Clem’s convinced it was murder. She also knows she’s the only one interested in tracking down the killer.

Well, the only one apart from her friend Torrens, ex-con and reformed standover man. And he’s got his own fight on his hands.

My take

Clem has fled north after the people of the Victorian town of Katinga have become aware of her past, after she brought its footy team to a premiership. She has ended up house/dog sitting in the coastal Queensland village of Piama.

There she meets up with a close family friend Helen who is working to save the white-throated turtle from extinction and its habitat from being destroyed by a mining company. Helen asks Clem to give legal advice to the conservation society and would like her to be more active and front-line.

Then Helen’s body is found at the base of a fifteen-metre cliff in the local quarry; the police rule suicide, but Clem is certain that Helen has been murdered and tries to work out who has been interested in getting rid of Helen. There are several candidates including some people who have been contributing financially to the cause.

Clem is also under pressure to say she will return to Katinga for the footy season, but she has other irons in the fire.

I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the first in the series, but Clem Jones is certainly a strong and interesting character.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.7, LAPSE

Review: SHELTER, Catherine Jinks

  • format: e-book for Kindle (Amazon)

  • ASIN : B08KTP6721
  • Publisher : Text Publishing (5 January 2021)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 2006 KB
  • Print length : 327 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 1922330469

Synopsis (Amazon)

Meg lives alone: a little place in the bush outside town. A perfect place to hide. That’s one of the reasons she offers to shelter Nerine, who’s escaping a violent ex. The other is that Meg knows what it’s like to live with an abusive partner.

Nerine is jumpy and her two little girls are frightened. It tells Meg all she needs to know where they’ve come from, and she’s not all that surprised when Nerine asks her to get hold of a gun. But she knows it’s unnecessary. They’re safe now.

Then she starts to wonder about some little things. A disturbed flyscreen. A tune playing on her windchimes. Has Nerine’s ex tracked them down? Has Meg’s husband turned up to torment her some more?

By the time she finds out, it’ll be too late to do anything but run for her life.

My take

At first Meg focusses on keeping Nerine’s presence in her house a secret from her neighbours and friends. The scenario is complicated by the impact of everything on Nerene’s young daughters.

By the time Meg realises that Nerine is not only unhinged but dangerous, it is almost too late. And nothing prepared me for the impact of what has happened on Meg’s own life.  

It is enough to persuade you to never help anyone ever again.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Catherine Jinks’ books for adults, young adults and children have been published in a dozen countries and have won numerous awards, including a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and the CBCA Book of the Year Award (four times). She lives in the Blue Mountains.

Review: THE NIGHT SWIM, Megan Goldin

  • this edition available from my local library as an e-book through Libby

  • Published: 4 August 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760897208
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Pages: 352

Synopsis (Publisher)

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name – and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognised for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial.
A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation – but the mysterious letters keep coming.

Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered. When Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases, past and present collide. What she finds will change not just the course of the trial, but the lives of everyone involved. 

My take

As the blurb says, past and present collide in this story, and the two cases 25 years apart are strikingly similar except that the death of Jenny Stills was never investigated and never came to trial. Once again Megan Goldin has set her story in a small town in North Carolina. but you can imagine that it could be set anywhere. 

Rachel Krall’s podcast takes her readers to the Scott Blair’s trial and tries to put them in the role of the jury. She tries to get them to see that it really isn’t Scott that is being tried, that the real substance of the trial is what is happening to K. the alleged rape victim. She has already been victimised by a large section of the town’s population for her allegations, but as Rachel says, who would allege rape if it hadn’t happened?

Simultaneously we are investigating the much older case of Hannah’s sister Jenny who drowned twenty five years earlier. The case got very little footage in the local paper because of a car crash at about the same time in which two teenage boys were killed. Jenny’s mother died of cancer a few weeks later and there was no-one to push for an investigation.

An interestingly constructed book with three main narrative voices.

One thing that has struck about the 3 books that I’ve read so far by Megan Goldin is that they are all very different, but all very believable.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read

Review: THE SAFE PLACE, Anna Downes

  • This edition published by Affirm Press Melbourne 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-925972-65-8
  • 371 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website

Synopsis (author website)

Emily Proudman is a struggling actor in London, whose life is falling apart. When she is offered a job as live-in assistant for a family on a remote French estate, she jumps at the chance to start over. But her charismatic new employers are hiding dangerous secrets, and what at first appears to be a dream come true turns out to a be a prison from which none of them will ever escape – unless Emily can find a way to set them all free.

Superbly tense and mesmerising, The Safe Place is a deft examination of the lengths we’ll go to project and protect the façade of a perfect life and was largely written when author Anna Downes was in the grips of post-natal depression following the birth of her second child. With all her existential fears bubbling to the surface, Anna began writing as a way to have some semblance of control. She wrote and wrote and, reliving her previous career as an actor, began playing all the parts of the characters she had created. The result is one of the most tense and compelling debut novels ever, and The Safe Place was subject to a frenetic auction between Australian and international publishers in 2019.

My Take

Emily Proudman isn’t a very good receptionist. She is often late because she is juggling auditions and bit-piece work. So in a sense she is not surprised when she is sacked. What she doesn’t know is that she has been noticed by the boss who has decided that she is just perfect for another job. He “accidentally” bumps into her after she has been sacked and offers her a job as general factotum on his estate in France assisting his wife and helping look after his young daughter.

He flies Emily to France in his private jet, she is collected from the airport by a chauffeur, who then rather unceremoniously dumps her at the estate which is well hidden away in the countryside. By that night Emily is ready to leave but decides to give the wife Nina another chance. Over the weeks Emily and Nina get on fairly well and then her boss visits for the weekend. After that Emily begins to realise that there are things that are seriously wrong.

What is actually behind all the seclusion and isolation was not what I expected, and so I was once again hooked into reading until the very end so that I could see how it all panned out.

The structure of the novel is interesting. Emily is the main narrator and we generally see things through her eyes. There is a second narrator whose chapters are in italics, and the tragic story, and the identity of the narrator are there for us deduce.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Anna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career. Her acting credits include EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End.

In 2009 she left to go travelling with her Australian partner, a trip that included a stint working as a live-in housekeeper on a remote French estate, where the seeds for The Safe Place were sown. Anna now lives on the Central Coast with her husband and two children. The Safe Place is being published simultaneously in the US and the UK, with several other countries to follow.

Review: STICKS AND STONES, Katherine Firkin

  • This edition published by Bantam 2020

  • ISBN 978-1-76089-302-6
  • 392 pages
  • source: my local library
  • author website

Synopsis (author website)

It’s winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.

So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.

But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets – none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.

Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.

What had seemed like a standard missing person’s case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.

But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body . . .

My Take

We meet the murderer, who turns out to be a serial killer, right at the start, in the Prologue, but we don’t know who he is. 

Two cases present themselves for the attention of the MPU almost simultaneously. Rosemary Norton is reported missing by her brother because she fails to turn up for her disabled brother’s birthday party. The second case, that of Natale Gibson, mother of two, who fails to collect her two young children from day care, looks more serious.

The MPU is under pressure to perform. It seems likely that the future state budget will bring with it a cut to their funding, and the absorption of the MPU into other police departments.

In the background Emmett Corban’s wife Cindy is excited to be taking up a new job, but, while Emmett is glad for her, he realises it will bring changes to the dynamics of their home life.

The plot is many stranded, with a load of red herrings to distract the reader. The way the strands are connected up is very clever. There are a range of well-developed characters too. Good reading.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Katherine Firkin is a Melbourne journalist, currently with CBS New York.
She has over a decade of experience and has worked across every medium – print, online, television and radio.
Katherine has been writing fiction from a young age, and she studied literature and journalism at university. Her debut novel is inspired by the many criminal trials she has covered.

 

Review: THE BLUFFS, Kyle Perry

  • Published : 2 July 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760895679
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

At the bottom of the world, there is an island. It is a land of rugged wilderness, of ice and snow and blistering heat, of the oldest trees on earth . . . They say tigers still roam there. They say other things roam, too.

When a school group of teenage girls goes missing in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers, the people of Limestone Creek are immediately on alert. Three decades ago, five young girls disappeared in the area of those dangerous bluffs, and the legend of ‘the Hungry Man’ still haunts locals to this day.

Now, authorities can determine that the teacher, Eliza Ellis, was knocked unconscious, so someone on the mountain was up to foul play. Jordan Murphy, the local dealer and father of missing student Jasmine, instantly becomes the prime suspect. But Detective Con Badenhorst knows that in a town this size – with corrupt cops, small-town politics, and a teenage YouTube sensation – everyone is hiding something, and bluffing is second nature.

When a body is found, mauled, at the bottom of a cliff, suspicion turns to a wild animal – but that can’t explain why she was discovered barefoot, her shoes at the top of the cliff, laces neatly tied.

My Take
Limestone Creek, a small town, exists on the very edge of the Tasmanian wilderness, so close that it is a short walk from the local high school to the mountains, rumoured to be inhabited by The Hungry Man. If you see him or hear him, you die. Is that what happened to 5 school girls 3 decades ago? And now, 4 girls go missing.
And Limestone Creek is put on the map by social media. People flood into the town from other places in Tasmania, a police investigator with a history sweeps in from Hobart, and a local teenager floods YouTube with pre-prepared videos. And then a body is found.
The author uses several voices to explore relationships at the school, between adults and the teenagers, and among the teenagers themselves. The father of one of the girls is the local drug grower and dealer. Some of the adults prey on the school girls, betraying their duty of care.
This is a novel that crosses boundaries. I’m not sure that the final resolution is particularly credible, but the author certainly achieved his aim of keeping me reading.
My rating: 4.4
About the author
Kyle Perry is a counsellor who has worked extensively in high schools, youth shelters and drug rehabs. In his work he encounters stories and journeys that would fill a hundred books. Kyle’s mother grew up in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers, in Tasmania’s heartland, where his grandfather was called on for search and rescues in the mountains. Kyle himself has been lost in Tasmanian mountains twice, and once used ripped pages of a journal stuck on branches to find his way back out. He has also seen strange things in the bush that defy explanation and are best not spoken about. Kyle divides his time between his small country hometown in Tasmania’s North West and Hobart. The Bluffs is his debut novel.