Synopsis (Text Publishing)

Victor Radcliffe, prominent Melbourne businessman, on the committee of the Carlton Football Club, lies murdered in a deserted warehouse—the bayonet wound suggests a trained killer, but Police
Inspector James Maclaine, and his smart-taking sidekick Harry Devlin, are having trouble tracking down the killer.

Why do the members of Radcliffe’s household seem strangely offhand about his murder? Was there a woman on the scene of the crime? As for the woman in Maclaine’s life, his marriage is on the skids and he can’t keep his nightmares away. The Praetorian Guard, a shadowy group of WW1 army veterans, keep
showing up, as does the charming step-daughter of the deceased.

Set in the summer of the Bodyline cricket series The Richmond Conspiracy is a crime mystery about men who have returned after war and are refugees in their own land—old certainties have vanished, betrayal is in the air, and Maclaine has to determine exactly where justice lies.

My Take

Andrew Grimes is one of a growing batch of Australian authors setting their crime fiction post World War One , particularly in the 1930s.  [Kerry Greenwood, Geoff McGeachin, and Sulari Gentill]. And here is another one where the setting and story are a good match.

Set in 1933 where things are not going so well in Melbourne or indeed anywhere in Australia. Some returned soldiers have been unable to find either work or the excitement they experienced in the war and Australia has slipped into the economic depression. Fascist groups like the Praetorian Guard look with envy on what appears to be stability of places in Europe like Italy. The murder of Victor Radcliffe looks like soldier’s work, even down to the Turkish bayonet still at the site. Victorian policeman James Maclaine soon discovers links to World War One legacies, hatreds and rivalries that still exist.

Although in essence this is a police procedural, in reality we see little of the workings of the Russell Street station where Maclaine and Devlin are located. But there is plenty of human interest and the tale moves at a good pace, the historical setting feels authentic, and the plot resolves nicely. A good start from a new author. A series is promised so here is a chance to get in at the beginning.

My rating: 4.4

About the author.


Review: CHASING THE SUN by Robin Baker

Chasing The Sun - Baker, Robin19900fWhen I first heard about the phenomenon of NA (New Adult) fiction I thought it was a joke…a satirical take on the whole YA explosion. But it’s a thing. Apparently. One I thought pretty bloody unnecessary until I read CHASING THE SUN. Now I suspect today’s twenty-somethings really do need their own special category of reading material because this tale written by someone in that age group about people who are, at least ostensibly, in that age group whose lives consist of clubbing, killing and surviving perpetual ennui is so entirely foreign to me that it may as well be in another language.

It is narrated, with stultifyingly dull and clichéd dialogue peppered with words like ‘dude’ and ‘cool’ and ‘baby’, by a chap known as Honda. Honda Civic. He provides Feng Shui consultations for the rich and gormless but deliberately tells them to do exactly the things that will ensure their household energies will never be harmonious. But Honda’s real focus is on finding people to kill. He goes clubbing with his friends Grace, Dante, Johnnie and the other one whose name I forget where they take drugs, pick up people and kill them.

The twist? They’re all vampires (though that actual word is not, I think, ever used).

Which, I assume, explains why the dead have no names or personalities. They are ‘the blonde’ and ‘the footballer’ or ‘the backpackers’ and their lives, and deaths, mean as much to Honda and his pals as the squashing of an ant does to normal humans. Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about. Johnnie (Walker…get it?) comes up to Honda in a club one night and as they high five each other says

“What’s black and blue and hates sex?…The Asian kid I’ve got tied up in the back of my car…”

Trust me, your reaction to that joke (?) is gonna be a pretty good indicator of your reaction to the whole book.

The other thing that will have an influence on your reaction to the book is the depth of your personal knowledge of vampire lore. Mine is very shallow and so quite a few things that happened here made no sense at all to me. I was not however interested enough to google their meaning. I don’t really mean to sound dismissive and I truly don’t believe that characters in fiction have to be likeable to be readable or interesting. But surely they have to show at least a flicker of engagement with their world if the reader is supposed to become ensnared by it for long enough to get to the end of the tale? The people populating this world were bored with it from page one and I just couldn’t see why I should be more interested in it than they were. Perhaps I was meant to find drama in the fact that the hunters became the hunted but I really couldn’t because…well…vampires aren’t real and I know that.

After what seemed like an extremely long time to me but was probably only 50 or so pages of the clubbing, killing and sitting around being bored shtick Honda is hired to undertake the Feng Shui of a new club called Immortality being built by someone with an even more mysterious air than the gang of five. Independently of that a vampire, not one of this particular gang but someone they know, is killed. All of this leads Honda to a change in his life, one that can basically be boiled down to him learning, after several hundred years or whatever, that time flies. Who knew?

And so we come to the point of this review which is that I have added another item to the list. The list of things my 13 year-old self promised she would never do. Work in an office. Get into the left lane 5 kilometres before needing to actually turn left and despite the presence of a convoy of slow-moving vehicles. Vote for a conservative candidate. And, now, complain about young people. I assume to them this book is funny. Or ironic. Or wish fulfilment. Or some combination thereof but to me (for the record I’m 45) it’s just…nothingness. Despite being sold as a comic thriller it read more like mild and rather dull horror. But if you’re twenty something and you’ve read it could you explain it to me?

Publisher Pantera Press [2012]
ISBN/ASIN 9781921997068
Length 252 pages
Format paperback

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Musings: GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS by Maggie Groff

Good News, Bad News - Groff, M19907fThe second novel to feature Byron Bay based investigative journalist Scout Davis sees the heroine on the trail of a man thought to have died 30 years previously. She is first contacted by Hermione Longfellow who claims that a man whose photograph appeared in that week’s newspaper was the same Mick O’Leary who had married her sister Nemony in 1983 and was thought to have drowned a few months later while sailing in Sydney Harbour during a freak storm. According to Hermione her sister has been in a deep depression since her husband’s death and she wants Scout to prove that far from being a grieving widow Nemony should be angry about O’Leary’s faked death and potential disappearance with the bulk of her inheritance.

The investigative thread of this book speeds along nicely and is full of suspense, especially the final quarter which sees Scout and her friend Daisy on the trail of their prey in Queensland’s gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. In what is something of a rarity for crime fiction without a murder in sight Groff doese a nice job of making the reader care about the Longfellow sisters and the impact of Mick O’Leary’s sudden appearance then disappearance in their lives and it’s not hard to share the characters’ desire to see the bad guy get his comeuppance. The fact that the entire book takes place against a backdrop of some fantastically depicted locations, especially Byron Bay is a bonus.

An equal amount of this novel’s space is taken up with Scout’s non-investigative activities which includes a secret life as a yarn bomber, a complicated love-life and a sister, four nephews and a brother-in-law who are in a bit of a pickle. Personally I found this all a bit too chick lit-y for my tastes, especially as every time she appeared we got a detailed description of Scout’s outfits (fashion and I are complete strangers), but I  am positive a lot of readers are looking for exactly this kind of combination. Scout’s well-rounded home life offers most of the book’s funnier moments and her family, including her faithful feline companion Chairman Meow, and friends are nicely drawn characters.

I do think the book is too long at 360+ pages for what is not a terribly complicated story but the publishing world seems to have universally agreed that bigger is better some time during the last decade and at some point I’m just going to have to accept that I’m the lone voice who still believes that less is more. Overall this is a very readable, very Australian, lighter style crime novel that I’m sure will have a broad appeal.

awwbadge_2013GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS is the 7th novel I’ve read for this year’s Australian Women Writers challenge

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia [2013]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781742611938
Length: 369 pages
Format: paperback
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Synopsis (Amazon)

When Martin Stream, successful Australian business icon is murdered one morning on a Manly ferry on his way to work, local detective inspectors
Georgia Show and Stephen French step in to solve the case. Martin,
married with three adult children has a business empire spanning the globe. The police think they are close to a solution and probably suspects – when there is a second murder at the ghostly Quarantine
Station in Manly. This time it’s a well dressed European woman – is there a connection?

A Mother Without A Child, the first in the Manly Murder series by Gunilla Haglundh has been compared to the English series Midsomer Murders. You will be taken on a wild ride from the Italian mafia to unsavoury business deals to the Manly Quarantine’s
history through to the final solutions for the murders. All is definitely not what it seems.

This novel set in Sydney’s northern beaches is guaranteed to keep you guessing, while at the same time revealing much of beachside Manly’s history.

My Take

This is an ambitious novel from an experienced Australian female writer, but her first fiction title. It is a police procedural with a penetrating sense of place, partly because of the author’s strategy of giving descriptive background whenever the main characters visit a new location. The setting is reinforced by an authenticity of language that particularly shows in the construction of dialogue. She also has a strong sense of just how tedious and meticulous detective work can be, but at the same time how the solution can be found quite accidentally.

Apart from the main plot of the two murders there are a couple of strong sub-plots centred around the detective inspectors investigating the murders. I liked the two main detectives, both of whom I found very plausible. Georgia Show in particular reminded me of Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Irene Huss. The author successfully brings all plots together by the end of the novel, but didn’t quite seem to know when to stop writing. The final chapter gives us an update on each of the main characters in the book which I didn’t really think we needed.

The blurb on the novel calls it Australia’s answer to Midsomer Murders, but I don’t think it is quite that yet. Certainly Gunilla Haglundh has a fertile imagination, has created some strong investigative characters who presumably we will see in future novels, and so with her help there is every possibility Manly will become Australia’s Midsomer. Definitely an author to follow, although the book could do with judicious editing.

The second book in the series, A LIFE SAVER’S SECRET, will be launched in May 2013.

Review: THE AFFAIR, Bunty Avieson

  • published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2002
  • ISBN 0-7329-1142-7
  • 272 pages
  • source: Salvation Army Op Shop

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In the opulent rooms of a Sydney specialist, Nina and James Wilde are waiting to learn whether the hereditary condition that killed James’ father will threaten not only James, but also their much-loved son, Luke.

This is just the beginning of Nina’s torment.

She has a secret.
Memories of another time and a passionate love that should never have
happened but is still just as capable of destroying everything that is
most important to her. It had started so innocently. But doesn’t
everyone say that?

My Take

First of all, let me point out that I don’t think that THE AFFAIR is really crime fiction, although Avieson’s first novel APARTMENT 255, joint winner of the Ned Kelly Award for first fiction in 2002, was. And that is basically why I picked THE AFFAIR up from the Salvo’s shelves earlier this week.

However there are mystery elements that are sustained well throughout the novel and quite a twist (actually a double twist) at the end that makes it a satisfying read.

One of the main threads of the novel is based on the call that Lloyds of London made on its Australian “names” in 1991 when it declared major losses in the years after 1988. You might like to do a little research reading here. Lloyds made a call for funds on its Australian “names” which threatened to bankrupt a number of family firms, including, in the novel, Wilde wines.

But the primary threads of the novel relate to Nina Wilde’s affair, and that is why I say it isn’t really crime fiction.

However I note the following

  • 2003 – shortlisted for Ned Kelly Crime Writing Awards – Best Novel for The Affair
  • 2004 – shortlisted for Ned Kelly Crime Writing Awards – Best Novel for The Wrong Door

My rating: 4.2

Read another review @ The Blurb

About the author

Carolyn “Bunty” Avieson (born 1962) is an Australian journalist, feature writer, novelist and academic. She was editor of the mass-circulation magazines Woman’s Day and New Idea; has published three novels, a novella and travel memoir; and been translated into Japanese, German and Thai. more.

Review: MURDER WITH THE LOT, Sue Williams

  • Published by Text Publishing Melbourne 2013
  • ISBN 9-781922-07987
  • 294 pages
  • source: review copy

Synopsis (Publisher)

A smart, sassy self-appointed private investigator, Cass Tuplin is unforgettable and the town of Rusty Bore will never be the same…

Cass Tuplin’s takeaway isn’t the last shop left in
Rusty Bore. There’s also Vern’s General Store. But it’s true the town’s not exactly overflowing with residents, and a stranger in Cass’s shop is quite an event. Especially one like Clarence: suspicious, bleeding, looking for a burger with the lot and somewhere quiet to stay. Cass knows just the place. Then she finds out more about Clarence and wants him out of town, but it turns out that’s not as easy as it sounds.

And then she finds the body.

It sounds like a job for the local police. Except that the local police is
Cass’s son Dean, who has his doubts about Cass. And there’s no way he’s
expending police resources on his mother’s fantasy crimes, not
anymore.So it looks like Cass is going to have to find the killer on her

My Take

Vern’s general store and my place constitute the CBD of Rusty Bore, along with a row of three galvanised-steel silos. It’s a town endowed with a royal flush of used-to-haves since the school, the pub and even the op shop closed down.

Sue Williams’ writing displays a quirky sardonic tone that she manages to sustain throughout the novel. It shows in the town names – Rusty Bore, Hustle, and Muddy Soak – and in the characters who populate her novel, particularly in her central character Cass Tuplin.

Leading Senior Constable Dean Tuplin is the sole policeman of Hustle and he is convinced that his mother is on the verge of dementia. She has a history of reporting deaths, well she’s raised a false alarm once before, and so when she reports a body that then disappears he is not particularly surprised. He blames his brother Brad who lives with his mother for not keeping her under better control. After that Dean doesn’t take anything that Cass says seriously, even when her car is stolen, and her takeaway fish and chippery is burnt down. But something very serious is happening in the background and Cass can see that no-one is going to help her get to the bottom of it.

MURDER WITH THE LOT is a farcical romp around the edges of living in Australia’s Mallee country, with a murder or two thrown in, and a hefty dose of corruption among those who should know better.

In style the book reminds me of Lisa Lutz and Kathy Lette, so if they are on the list of authors you like you might like to give this Aussie author a try.

My rating: 4.0

See Bernadette’s review

Review: ANTIDOTE TO MURDER by Felicity Young

Antidote To Murder - Felicity,19918fANTIDOTE TO MURDER takes readers on a second visit to Edwardian England to catch up with Dorothy ‘Dody’ McCleland, the female autopsy surgeon we first met in A DISSECTION OF MURDER. Dody is once again working part time as an assistant to the Home Office’s famous pathologist Bernard Spilsbury but it is her other work, at women’s clinic, that is the source of her difficulties in this novel. A young maid who seeks Dody’s help with her unwanted pregnancy dies some days later and Dody is accused of performing an illegal abortion. With her career, her freedom and possibly her very life are at risk Dody must discover what did happen to the unfortunate young woman so she can clear her name and prevent further deaths.

As with the first novel in this series the sense of time and place is beautifully conveyed. Readers are soon enveloped in the stifling, uncomfortable London of 1911 where the summer sees a long heat wave and various worker’s strikes (trains, rubbish collection and so on). In Dody’s well-off layer of society women fight for the right to vote and be treated equally in the workplace while poorer, working-class women struggle to be allowed to treat their bodies as their own as they carry the lion’s share of the fallout from pregnancies that society or finances deem unmanageable. Meanwhile, at a political level, there is great concern over the possible infiltration of England by German spies and swift action is demanded.

When Dody is accused she discovers who her friends are, and aren’t. Her family, including her young and impetuous sister Florence, stand by her as does the policeman she met in the first novel, Matthew Pike. All three of these characters are nicely rounded and offer different insights on events as allowed by their ages, personal histories and genders. The potential romantic relationship between Dody and Matthew appears doomed at the start of the novel, when he disappears from the hospital before the knee operation that Dody has organised to repair his war wound can be carried out, but when events force the pair together again there seems to be hope they’ll work through the obstacles to their being together.

I’m not sure how Young manages to find the time, or the pages, to offer these insights into place and people because there is a lot going on in the story and the suspense never stops building. Dody is more worried by what she learns about the dangerous ‘treatments’ being offered to poor women than she is about saving her own career as she seeks to uncover who is selling lead tablets (!) which could kill the young women who are simply desperate for a way out of their predicaments. At the same time she battles against a plagiarising colleague and tries to help a working class family who have more children than they can cope with, to the point there are accusations of infanticide. And I haven’t even mentioned Matthew’s undercover operation to draw out a possible spy working in a controversial musical theatre production.

If you have even a vague interest in historical crime fiction I heartily recommend ANTIDOTE TO MURDER. It’s jam-packed with fascinating period details, well-drawn and memorable characters and is a ripper of a yarn to boot. You don’t have to have read the first in the series to make sense of this one but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t to read them both. Immediately.

awwbadge_2013I’m counting this towards my tally for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Publisher: Harper Collins [2013]
ISBN: 9780732293697
Length: 329 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: MURDER WITH THE LOT by Sue Williams

MurderWithTheLotWilliamsIn the fictional town of Rusty Bore, Victoria, (population 147) Cass Tuplin runs one of two remaining retail outlets, namely the fish and chip shop. When a dodgy looking young man comes looking for a place to stay, where he can write his book, Cass somewhat reluctantly hands over the keys to her friend Ernie’s shack (Ernie having been placed in a nursing home just recently). But, based on a mixture of her own wild imaginings and the town rumour mill, Cass soon has second thoughts about having possibly let the shack to the wrong sort of person. But before she can evict the new tenant she discovers the body of a woman which goes missing before her policeman son has a chance to see it. With her nearest and dearest thinking she’s losing her marbles and Cass being the ultimate in interfering busy bodies mayhem quickly ensues.

With tongue firmly planted in-cheek Sue Williams has delivered a very Australian novel with loads of chuckles amidst the aforementioned mayhem. Although Cass’ home town and its nearest neighbours are fictional they’re recognisable as not too far from the truth, even to someone who only visits such places occasionally (though all my childhood summer holidays were spent in a town with eery similarities). Cass’ first-person narration with its spot-on observations about the area and its locals and some first-rate dialogue provide an authentically Australian sensibility and are the highlight of the book.

Cass is very funny at times. She is also very annoying at times. Alongside the nicely dry humour and gung-ho attitude she is over-involved in the lives of her two adult sons to a point that would have had me contemplating murder if she were my mother.but I know this doesn’t make her unrealistic. It did make my teeth grate on occasion though which is probably a reflection of my own fierce independence and an entirely different kind of relationship with my own mother. That aspect of her personality aside I did like Cass with her laconic, self deprecating voice and the ensemble cast of characters who surround her are, collectively, a treat (with my personal favourite being her youngest son’s on/off girlfriend Miranda who has a penchant for ferrets and blunt relationship advice).

MURDER WITH THE LOT is the kind of light, fun crime fiction that we don’t seem to produce a lot of in Australia and it’s a fine example of the sub-genre. Of course it veers into far-fetched territory a time or three but that’s part of the fun with this kind of book, and there are some nicely poignant moments which ground the book a little and provide a nice contrast. It’s a nicely paced, gently humoured romp of a tale. Most enjoyable.

Sue Williams is a science and travel writer and a chartered accountant who also holds a PhD in marine biology. She has had many articles published but MURDER WITH THE LOT his her first novel.

awwbadge_2013This is the fifth novel I’ve read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Publisher: Tex [2013]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781922079787
Length: 294 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE TRUSTED by John M Green

TheTrustedTHE TRUSTED is an environmental thriller with an audacious premise that does require an almost total suspension of disbelief. But if you are able to lose yourself in the version of the near future that Green depicts you’re in for a terrific ride.

An Australian academic’s plans to save the world involve destroying a lot of it first and he settles in for the long game. He selects a group of highly intelligent and ambitious young people who share his worries about the rapid depletion of the world’s resources and grooms them to become quasi sleeper agents working towards global economic and political collapse. Each of them is to work their way up in their chosen field – medicine, banking, technology and so on – so that on a predetermined date they can unleash whatever catastrophe they have been able to orchestrate. After their initial meetings the group’s members never contact each other or their mentor again so there is little hope of anyone in authority being able to identify the group’s existence or interrupt its plans until it’s too late. The first inkling most people have of something being horribly wrong is when the operating model being used by many of the world’s nuclear power plants is found to have a dangerous glitch in its code. A glitch seemingly put in place by Dr Tori Swyft, former junior world surfing champion and disgraced CIA agent who must now use her considerable skills to prove her innocence and help prevent the global collapse planned a decade ago.

It probably says more about me than it does about the book that I found the plot easier to swallow than the characters but overall I enjoyed both. While the story’s vast scope might (hopefully does) border on laughable its individual elements are all credible enough, especially aided by the right amount of detail to make them seem eerily, worryingly possible (seriously it’s going to keep me awake tonight). And once you accept the novel’s operating premise there is an internal logic to everything that follows which is, for me, the most important thing in this kind of thriller. The plausibility of each person’s plan for catastrophe, the way that the plans are uncovered and the reactions to these discoveries by individuals and authorities are all well within the bounds of believable. The sheer number of events taking place and the speed at which things unfold make the whole novel exciting and the final fifty or so pages is pure white-knuckle reading.

The one thing that annoyed me a little about the characters is that they are all superhuman in one or more ways. Tori Swyft, for example, is drop-dead gorgeous, a genius and physically gifted to boot. Which is all very well except that as a reader I find this kind of ‘überhuman’ a bit dull as they’re rarely in any real danger of not being able to pull off whatever unlikely miracle they need to. I guess in real life the beautiful people only surround themselves with other beautiful people which explains why all the players here are of above average intelligence, looks, sexual prowess and wealth but I’d have preferred to meet one or two ordinary folk to make things a little more recognisable. However, even though I was well prepared to dislike Tori (jealousy’s a curse) I did warm to her affable character and was definitely cheering her and her fellow good guys on.

Although it can be read entirely independently, THE TRUSTED has a few links to Green’s earlier thriller, BORN TO RUN, which I also enjoyed. They were kind of like the Easter eggs that devoted players will uncover in computer games and seemed like a nice little reward for reader loyalty without punishing those who had not read the earlier novel.

As someone who has spent more than her fair share of time in meetings of environmental groups at which more time is spent wordsmithing the mission statement than planning anything that will constructively change the world I must admit to being strangely lured by the premise of this novel (I’m not young, intelligent or sexy enough to pull something like it off so you needn’t worry). But even without that personal hook I think THE TRUSTED has all the qualities needed to appeal to fans of a well-plotted ‘what if…’ thriller. And the last line is a doozy.

Publisher: Pantera Press [2013]
ISBN 9781921997105
Length: 390 pages
Format: paperback
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