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.

Review: THE GIRL IN KELLERS WAY

  • format: e -book available through Libby

  • ISBN-10 : 0143785443
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143785446 
  • Published 2017, Penguin e-books
  • 274 pages 

Synopsis (Sisters in Crime)

When Laura West was murdered, Julie gained everything – her husband, her child, her house. Now, Julie West lives the good life. She is mother to 3yr old Alice and married to Matt, a charismatic professor of psychology. Yet Julie is stifled, by the memory of Laura, by the demands of being a trophy wife, and by constantly trying to wrest her husband’s attention from the young women who flock to his lectures. Julie’s escape is in running, and one morning in the forest on Kellers Way, she is forced to dive out of the way of a crashing vehicle. Then the dying driver gives her a chilling warning…

Things get busy for Detective Mel Carter when her partner goes on holidays. Just two weeks apart there’s a fatal road crash and then the discovery of human remains, both on Kellers Way. Mel discovers that the murder of Laura West is not a closed case and that the trail of clues is not as clear as she had thought. Is the obvious suspect really the murderer? Or has an innocent person been condemned?

My Take

Although Megan Goldin lives in Melbourne this psychological thriller is set in small-town North (?) Carolina.  The basic theme is how much our memories can be manipulated either by drugs or verbal means. That is what Julie’s husband Professor Matt West does his research in and what he lectures in. In Julie’s world whole days pass when she is “not well” and she remembers almost nothing. There are times when she hardly remembers Matt’s first wife Laura, and other times when she wonders if she had a hand in her death.

The reader sees the world mainly from Julie’s point of view but there are many inconsistencies and glimmers of something else. Matt is insistent she takes her medication to keep on an even keel, but when she doesn’t Julie feels that she wakes up clear-headed and in control.

This is a book that will get your book group talking – particularly about the ending. The author has provided questions and an “interview” to help you along.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Megan Goldin is the author of THE ESCAPE ROOM, a 2019 thriller that Lee Child called “one of my favorite books of the year” and Harlan Coben called “thrilling and unforgettable”. Megan’s latest novel THE NIGHT SWIM was released in August 2020. Before becoming a novelist, Megan worked as a reporter covering the Middle East and Asia for the Reuters news agency, the Associate Press and the ABC as well as other news outlets. 

Review: THE ESCAPE ROOM, Megan Goldin

  • e-book via my local library through Libby

  • Publisher : Michael Joseph; 1st edition (28 May 2018)
  • Paperback : 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0143785478
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143785477

Synopsis

Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.’

In the lucrative world of Wall Street finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie and Sam are the ultimate high-flyers. Ruthlessly ambitious, they make billion-dollar deals and live lives of outrageous luxury. Getting rich is all that matters, and they’ll do anything to get ahead.

When the four of them become trapped in an elevator escape room, things start to go horribly wrong. They have to put aside their fierce office rivalries and work together to solve the clues that will release them. But in the confines of the elevator the dark secrets of their team are laid bare. They are made to answer for profiting from a workplace where deception, intimidation and sexual harassment thrive.

Tempers fray and the escape room’s clues turn more and more ominous, leaving the four of them dangling on the precipice of disaster. If they want to survive, they’ll have to solve one final puzzle- which one of them is a killer?

My take

These high flyers are used to the company making unreasonable demands on them, imposing impossible deadlines, requiring them to sacrifice personal and family interests in the name of billion dollar contracts. They are used too to riding rough shod over anybody they need to, taking risks, cutting others off. But they’ve left behind them an incredible path of destruction, two deaths, and they share dark secrets. 

They enter the elevator thinking this is yet another one of those team building exercises that usually take an hour. But conditions in the elevator become intolerable, the clues seem incomprehensible, and when the doors don’t open after an hour, or even after the last puzzle appears to be solved, it becomes obvious that this is no bonding exercise.

Meanwhile the reader is seeing the other side of the scenario, through the eyes of a previous employee, and becomes aware that over the course of the years some very nasty stuff has indeed happened.

I’m not sure that I swallowed the entire plot but certainly it made compulsive reading.

This was Megan Goldin’s second thriller, and I’m looking forward to her third: THE NIGHT SWIM

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also read

4.6, THE GIRL IN KELLERS WAY

Review: CONSOLATION, Garry Disher

  • Format: e-book Libby – available through my local library

  • Length: 400pp
  • Text Publishing: 3 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781922330260
  • #3 Paul Hirschhausen series 

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

In Consolation, Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul Hirschhausen is dealing with a snowdropper. Someone is stealing women’s underwear, and Hirsch knows how that kind of crime can escalate. Then two calls come in: a teacher who thinks a child may be in danger at home. A father on the rampage over at the primary school.

Hirsch knows how things like that can escalate, too. Families under pressure. Financial problems. But it’s always a surprise when the killing starts.

My Take

Constable Paul Hirschhausen of South Australia Police patrols his base town of  Tiverton on foot every morning just after sunrise, making sure that all is well. Every Tuesday and Thursday he visits people in local towns, checking on the elderly, the vulnerable and those living alone. He makes it his business to know how everybody is and what the locals are up to.

But life is never boring. There is always something that needs to be done, and he is not on his own. His supervising sergeant lives in the neighbouring town of Redruth. When she is hurt early in this novel Hirsch has to take charge. He doesn’t usually have the luxury of being able to focus on a single case; he often has many strings to his bow, many little mysteries to solve. When something major happens – perhaps a shooting or a disappearance – then the investigation is often taken out of local hands by senior officers from Port Pirie or even Adelaide. Often these teams will treat Hirsch or even his sergeant as if they have no local knowledge.

The structure of these novels reminds me of those I used to read years ago before I became a crime fiction addict – novels like Dr. Findlay’s Casebook by A.J. Cronin, or The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith. In the case of the Hirsch novels, (of which there are now 3) many balls are being juggled at once, and there is a strong flavour of what it would be like to live in a remote mid-North town, and a sense of the community repercussions of a single crime.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
5.0, BITTER WASH ROAD
– Hirsch #1 – aka HELL TO PAY
5.0, PEACE– Hirsch #2

Review: THE BRISBANE LINE, J. P. Powell

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • Print Length : 242 pages
  • Language: : English
  • ASIN : B086HL63Y8
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Publisher : Xoum (27 March 2020)
  • File Size : 1358 KB

Synopsis  (Amazon)

As WWII ravages the world and the Japanese Empire has set its sights on Australia, the Americans have come to save us. But not all soldiers are heroes and not all heroes are soldiers.

Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police, loves music and photography but spends his days delving into the sordid and petty crimes committed by the thousands of American troops passing through town.

While trying to find stolen gasoline stores, he is sent to investigate the body of an American soldier found dumped in a cemetery. Suddenly Joe is up against notorious detective Frank Bischof.

Although ordered to leave the investigation alone, Joe fears that Bischof is protecting the most likely suspect while trying to pin the crime on an innocent – and intriguing – young woman, Rose. A woman who seems to walk between the parallel worlds of black market deals and Brisbane’s high society.

My Take

This novel gives readers a snapshot of life in Brisbane in a period of approximately 10 days (Friday 8 October 1943 – Sunday 17 October 1943.) Brisbane is home to thousands of American soldiers, committing the usual range of crimes found in Western society, complicated by crimes, corruption,  and conventions typical of Brisbane itself. The book is populated with real life characters as well as fictional one.

While there are a range of crimes committed, I felt that the novel is historical “faction” rather than crime fiction. Two murders have been committed, the investigation shared uncomfortably by an American MP and a detective from the Brisbane police force.

My rating: 4.4

About the Author
JP Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life. She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia. Her previous writing includes school textbooks, academic publications, government reports and a biography of the first person to teach archaeology in Australia (Love’s Obsession. The lives and archaeology of Jim and Eve Stewart. Wakefield Press. 2013). In 2017 she was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II. She lives outside Brisbane

Review: THIRST, L. A. Larkin

  • this edition published by Pier9 2012
  • 336 pages
  • ISBN 978-1741967890
  • source: my local library
  • author website: read an extract, see some discussion questions

Synopsis (author website)

Antarctica is the coldest, most isolated place on earth. Luke Searle, maverick glaciologist, has made it his home. But soon his survival skills will be tested to the limit by a ruthless mercenary who must win at any cost.

The white continent is under attack. The Australian team is being hunted down. Can Luke stay alive long enough to raise the alarm?

The countdown has begun. T minus 5 days, 2 hours and 53 minutes …

My take

THIRST is about climate change catastrophe. We all know about the effects of global warming and the impact on the polar caps and the glaciers in them. But what if someone decided to harvest the resources in Antarctica, like the rare minerals, and even the water?

This is a fast paced thriller, firmly based on solid research, presenting a scenario that strains the bounds of credibility at first.

Recommended.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
L.A. Larkin divides her time between writing topical thrillers and her work for one of Australia’s leading climate change consultancies.

Review: GATHERING DARK, Candice Fox

  • this edition published by Bantam 2020
  • ISBN 978-0-14-378917-8
  • 408 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

From Australia’s most exciting and original crime writer comes another electrifying thriller, set in Los Angeles, introducing a new – and decidedly unconventional – team of ‘detectives’.

A convicted killer. A gifted thief. A vicious crime boss. A disillusioned cop. Together they’re a missing girl’s only hope.

Blair Harbour, once a wealthy, respected surgeon in Los Angeles, is now an ex-con down on her luck. She’s determined to keep her nose clean to win back custody of her son.

But when her former cellmate, Sneak Lawlor, begs for help to find her missing daughter, Blair is compelled to put her new-found freedom on the line. Joined by LA’s most feared underworld figure, Ada Maverick, the crew of criminals bring outlaw tactics to the search for Dayly.

Detective Jessica Sanchez has always had a difficult relationship with the LAPD. And her inheritance of a $7 million mansion as a reward for catching a killer has just made her police enemy number one.

It’s been ten years since Jessica arrested Blair for the cold-blooded murder of her neighbour. So when Jessica opens the door to the disgraced doctor and her friends early one morning she expects abuse, maybe even violence.

What comes instead is a plea for help.

My Take

A cleverly constructed story but not really my cup of tea. Candice Fox has certainly written a novel whose very grittiness will appeal to an American audience. It brings a number of very quirky, in some cases alarmingly evil, characters together.

Blair Harbour, once a popular paediatrician, has certainly paid an unjust penalty for her unthinking act of attempting to rescue a neighbour from domestic violence. For detective Jessica Sanchez it had been an open and shut case: Harbour was obviously unhinged and lying, but now Sanchez has to face the fact that she didn’t work hard enough to get the story right.

And now Sanchez herself is the victim of an innocent act: a grateful father leaves her his million-dollar mansion, driving a wedge between herself and other cops in the LAPD.

Blair’s former cellmate comes to her for help in locating her missing daughter. Blair and Sneak need help, and Blair decides to call a favour in. But Ada Maverick does nothing for free.

My rating: 4.3

I’ve also read
5.0, HADES 
4.3, EDEN
4.6, CRIMSON LAKE  (#1)
4.7 REDEMPTION POINT (#2) 
4.5, GONE BY MIDNIGHT (#3) 

Review: WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, Michael Robotham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 651 KB
  • Print Length: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (July 28, 2020)
  • Publication Date: July 28, 2020
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07ZLTMRC6
  • Read an excerpt
  • #2 in the Cyrus Haven series
  • Interview with the author

Synopsis (Amazon)

She has secrets.

Six years ago, Evie Cormac was found hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a brutal murder. But nobody has ever discovered her real name or where she came from, because everybody who tries ends up dead.

He needs answers.

Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven believes the truth will set Evie free. Ignoring her warnings, he begins to dig into her past, only to disturb a hornet’s nest of corrupt and powerful people, who have been waiting to find Evie – the final witness to their crimes. Unbeknownst to him, Cyrus is leading them straight to Evie. The truth will not set her free. It will get them killed.

From internationally bestselling, award-winning author Michael Robotham, this is the second explosive novel featuring the gifted criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven, introduced in GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL.

My Take

You really need to read the first in this series (GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL) before reading this one.
Cyrus Haven is convinced that if he can work out who Evie Cormac really is, then they can work out who it was that treated her so badly. He teams with Sacha Hopewell, the ex-police woman who discovered where Evie was hiding 6 years before.

The novel is set in 2020, in a world where Covid-19 does not exist, mainly because it was written and dispatched to the printers before the virus hit us. (Chapter 1 where Cyrus tracks Sacha down is set in May 2020). Cyrus believes there were things not put in the police reports 6 years before that will help him give Evie her real name, although it is obvious that Evie knows who she is. He thinks these are details Sacha can help him with. Initially Sacha is reluctant to get involved, but inevitably she does.

Robotham uses mainly the two voices: Cyrus and Evie to progress the novel and the search for the truth. Evie has turned into a feisty character and is living in a correctional centre, ostensibly to protect her, but outside there are people who are trying to work out where she is, and eventually one of them does.

A good read.

My rating: 4.8

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  

Awards
The Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger (won) LIFE OR DEATH 2015 (shortlisted) SAY YOU’RE SORRY 2013.
The Australian Book Industry Association ABIA General Fiction Award 2018 for THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS
The Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel (won 2005 and 2008) LOST and SHATTER.
The Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel (shortlisted) 2016 LIFE OR DEATH (shortlisted) 2019 GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL)
The Crime Writer’s Association Steel Dagger (shortlisted) THE NIGHT FERRY and SHATTER. 

GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL has been shortlisted for the UK Gold Dagger.
The winners of the 2020 Daggers will be announced at an awards ceremony, due to take place on 22 October.