Review: THE EASY SIN, Jon Cleary

  • book published in 2002
  • 19/20 in the Scobie Malone series
  • this edition published by Audible in 2009
  • narrator: Christian Rodska
  • Length 8 hours 53 mins

Synopsis (publisher)

The time has come for Officer Scobie Malone to leave the Homicide and Serial Offenders Unit of the Sydney police. His last investigation could be the most bizarre case ever to land upon a policeman’s desk.

Fantastic Fiction

From Australia’s ‘national literary institution’ (Sydney Morning Herald), the latest mystery featuring homicide detective and family man Scobie Malone

The time has come for Scobie Malone to leave the Homicide and Serial Offenders Unit of the Sydney police, and his last investigation could be the most bizarre case ever to cross his desk.
Called in when a housemaid is found dead in a dotcom millionaire’s penthouse, Scobie suspects he’s dealing with a kidnap that’s gone wrong.
In fact, it couldn’t have gone more wrong. The kidnappers thought they had grabbed the millionaire’s girlfriend — how were they supposed to know he liked slipping into her designer dresses when she wasn’t around?

The plot thickens further when it is revealed that the dotcom bubble has burst, leaving the erstwhile millionaire in debt to the Yakuza and Scobie on the trail of some old adversaries. Throw in the ex-wife, a mistress or two, and the mother of all outlaws, and you have a case that would confound the greatest detective and entertain the most discerning
of readers.

My Take

Christian Rodka’s brilliant narration added great pleasure to listening to this novel. There is quite a cast of characters and his voice portrayal made picking one from the other relatively easy.

I’ve been on a bit of a Jon Cleary kick in the last few months and have listened to

4.6, WINTER CHILL– set some time before THE EASY SIN and

4.7, DEGREES OF CONNECTION which was Jon Cleary’s last Scobie Malone novel, following on from THE EASY SIN.

There are passages in this novel which crack a smile, despite the seriousness of the story line: an abduction and a couple of murders thrown in for good measure; a gang that by any standards is incompetent, but at the same time amoral.  I thought some of the characters were overblown and parts of the plot definitely unrealistic. On the other hand the collapse of the dotcom bubble pointed to how ordinary Australians lost money in a world financial phenomenon.

And then for Scobie Malone fans, historically this was his last case at the head of Homicide and at the time they must have wondered what Jon Cleary was up to. With hindsight we know he was preparing to bow out of crime fiction.

My rating:  4.2


Review: MIDNIGHT PROMISE, Zane Lovitt

  • first published by Text Publishing 2012
  • ISBN 9-781921-922930
  • 283 pages
  • subtitled: a detective’s story in ten cases
  • contains ‘Leaving the Fountainhead’, winner of the SD Harvey short story award at the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards.

Synopsis (Publisher)

John Dorn is a private investigator. Just like his father used to be. It says ‘private inquiry agent’ in John’s yellow pages ad because that’s what his old man called himself, back before his business folded, his
wife left him and he drank himself to death.

But John’s not going to end up like his father. He doesn’t have a wife, or much
business. He doesn’t really drink, either. Not yet.

In each of these ten delicious stories Zane Lovitt presents an intriguing investigation filled with humour and complex, beautifully observed characters. At their centre is John Dorn, solving not so much crimes as funny human puzzles; but the crimes, and the criminals, are forever lurking nearby, taunting him from the city’s cold underworld.

It’s his job to unravel the mystery, or right the wrong, or just do what the client has hired him to do. Somehow, though, there is a misstep at every turn, and John takes another small stumble towards his moment of personal truth. His midnight promise. Perhaps even his redemption.

My Take

Here are ten very unusual Australian short crime fiction cases with John Dorn, private investigator, at their centre. Set mainly in working class Melbourne, and in more or less chronological order, they tell John’s life story from his initial acquisition of his private investigator licence through to his loss of it, and show a downward spiral of his fortunes, even though he generally solves the mystery that the case hinges on.

John gets most of his work through high profile lawyer Demetri Sfakiakopoulos, champion of the lost cause. It ranges from investigating miscarriages of justice, false accusations, to protection of minors. The plots are generally very unusual, sometimes comedic, sometimes noir, and John Dorn always has sympathy for the underdog, even to the point of putting himself in some danger. However the outcome of John’s involvement in the case is not always as successful as it might be.

Take for example the first case Amnesty.  In this one Dorn needs Demetri’s help rather than the other way around. Gary Blanche is on remand and he has phoned John Dorn for help. He’s up on three counts of possession of a prohibited weapon. Police found guns in his house a week before after a tip-off. Gary is claiming that three guns have been left in his letter box by mistake. He is fearful of going to jail and pleads with John Dorn to help him beat the rap. Dorn realises there is not a lot he can do, but that Demetri has far more clout than he.

The construction  of the book is unusual in that it includes ‘Leaving the Fountainhead’, winner of the SD Harvey short story award at the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards, and two other previously published short stories. This will appeal to those of you who really like noir stories.

My rating: 4.5

See the following video comment from Sydney bookseller Jon Page

Review: CYANIDE AND POPPIES by Carolyn Morwood

CyanideAndPoppiesMorwoodTaking place about four years after the action depicted in DEATH AND THE SPANISH LADY, Carolyn Morwood’s second Eleanor Jones novel is set in Melbourne during the rather intense late spring of 1923. The police have gone on strike over their poor pay and conditions and while authorities struggle to co-opt enough ‘special constables’ from the ranks of returned soldiers there is an unusual amount of violence in the city’s streets. Against this backdrop Edward Bain, reporter for The Argus newspaper, is found dead in his office. Eleanor Jones has returned to her pre-war job and also works at the paper now but retains enough knowledge from her time as a nurse during and immediately after the war to know that Edward’s death is unnatural; she suspects cyanide poisoning.

At first Eleanor is more mildly curious than intensely interested in the investigation into Bain’s death. She is more troubled by personal matters, particularly the state of her brother Andrew’s health. They are both living in their parent’s Melbourne house while their parents are travelling abroad and Andrew is still suffering the effects of the shell shock he returned from the battlefield with. However when the police start to suspect a woman Andrew has become friendly with Eleanor is prompted to become more closely involved with the investigation. She’s not sure her brother can cope with another tragedy in his life.

The characters here are all well drawn; they’ve some foibles and some secrets they want to keep and there’s silly behaviour they continue to engage in even when it doesn’t really make sense. Just like real people right? Eleanor is happy enough with her work as a film reviewer for the paper but her personal life remains problematic: the man she is interested in (despite her best efforts to ignore the attraction) is married to someone else. However she doesn’t mope or dwell on this unfortunate circumstance, and is far more worried for her surviving brother (the other died during the war). The depiction of her not knowing how to help him is very realistic, as is his portrayal as a man struggling to deal with all he saw and experienced during the war.

The story is a  first-rate, traditional whodunnit. There are plenty of plausible suspects whose elimination follows a suitably twisted path, with the involvement of Eleanor (and friends) feeling as credible as it’s possible for amateur sleuths to do. And there are some really interesting background elements here including a glimpse into the running of a newspaper and the inclusion of a psychic character with a difference. This is all topped off with an excellent sense of time and place: even though it’s 90 years ago the depiction of a city which wouldn’t dream of letting a little thing like mass rioting get in the way of running the Melbourne Cup is spot-on.

I’m really glad I was able to get my hands on a copy of CYANIDE AND POPPIES (which was no mean feat) and can recommend it to fans of historical crime fiction. It really does have everything you could look for from this genre.

I don’t normally add ‘buy here’ links but as I found it nearly impossible to find a copy of this book only a couple of months after its publication late last year (the library and two local bookstores all told me it was out of print and unavailable) I figure it’s worth letting you know you can buy it in physical format from Booktopia and it’s now available from you-know-where in eBook format

awwbadge_2013This is the 11th book I’ve read for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge

Publisher: Pulp Fiction Press [2012]
ISBN: 9780987155139
Length: 305 pages
Format: paperback

Review: ROTTEN GODS, Greg Barron

Synopsis (Publisher)

A new wave of terror threatens a world torn by inequality, conflict, economic disaster and environmental chaos.

Heads of state gather in Dubai in an attempt to bring society back from the brink of global catastrophe. But  when extremists hijack the conference centre, the clock starts ticking: seven days until certain death for presidents and prime ministers alike, unless the terrorists′ radical demands are met.

A treasonous British diplomat, an Australian intelligence officer, an airline pilot searching for his missing daughters, a mysterious Somali agent, and a disillusioned UN official are all forced to examine their motives, faith and beliefs as they attempt to stave off disaster,
hurtling towards the deadline and a shattering climax.

Rotten Gods is both an imaginative tour de force and a dire warning, holding the reader spellbound until the last breathtaking page.

Blurb from Amazon Kindle

It took seven days to create the world … now they have seven days to save it.

Extremists hijack the conference centre where heads of state have gathered in an attempt to bring society back from the brink of global environmental catastrophe, and the clock starts ticking: seven days until certain death for presidents and prime ministers alike, unless the terrorists′ radical demands are met.

Marika, an Australian intelligence officer, Isabella, a treasonous British diplomat, Simon, an
airline pilot searching for his missing daughters, and Madoowbe, a mysterious Somali agent, are all forced to examine their motives, faith and beliefs as they attempt to stave off disaster, hurtling towards the deadline and a shattering climax.

My Take

ROTTEN GODS is not a quick read, but don’t let that put you off – it is well worth your attention and signals the arrival another Australian author to put on your “look for” list. There is nothing about this book to indicate it is a debut title. The plotting is well executed and the writing is tight, with plenty of detail and plenty of depth.

The fact that the action is on a 7 day deadline heightens the tension. There are four main plot arenas and the story moves easily from one to the other. What doesn’t sit so easily for the Western reader is the account of the damage their lifestyle has done, and continues to do, to the global environment. So this becomes a book with a message as well. It also highlights the attractiveness of extremist action for those who feel that the world, or at least those responsible for environmental policy, is not listening.

My rating: 4.8

I was reminded of the plot of THE LORDS’ DAY by Michael Dobbs in which the Queen is taken hostage by terrorists at the opening of Parliament in the House of Lords. ROTTEN GODS however is far more global in its theme.

Other reviews to consider

About the author

Greg Barron has lived in both North America and Australia, and studied
International Terrorism at Scotland’s prestigious St Andrew’s
University. He has visited five of the world’s seven continents, once
canoed down a flooded tropical river, and crossed Arnhem Land on foot.
Greg’s writing reflects his interests in political, social and
environmental change. He lives on a small farm in Eastern Australia’s
coastal hinterland with his wife and two sons.

His website.

A second title, SAVAGE TIDE, is already available.

Review: PROMISE, Tony Cavanaugh

  • Published by Hachette Australia 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-7336-2847-4
  • 327 pages
  • debut title

Synopsis (Publisher)

Top Homicide cop Darian Richards has been
seeking out monsters for too long. He has promised one too many victim’s families he will find the answers they need and it’s taken its toll.
Now retired, a series of disappearances see him return to the gun. On his terms. But he knows, every promise has a price to pay.If you love Harry Bosch and Dave Robicheaux you’ll love Darian Richards.

Top Homicide cop Darian Richards has been seeking out monsters for too long. He has promised one too many victim’s families he will find the answers they need and it’s taken its toll. After surviving a gunshot wound to the head he calls it quits and retires to the Sunshine Coast in an attempt to leave the demons behind. But he should have realised,
there are demons everywhere and no place is safe. A serial killer is prowling the Sunshine Coast area and Darian tries to ignore the fact his experience could make a difference hunting him down.

All he wants is to sit at the end of his jetty on the Noosa River and ignore the fact that girls from the area have vanished over the past fourteen months. All blonde and pretty. Youngest: 13. Oldest: 16. He knows they are all dead but the cops were saying ‘missing’ or ‘vanished . That’s what you have to say if you don t have a body.

Jenny Brown was the first. She vanished sometime after 4 in the afternoon, Saturday 15 October the previous year. Except for her parents and her friends and everybody who knew her, it was thought she was just a runaway. Especially by the cops who allowed a good two or three minutes before arriving at that conclusion. By the time they’d reached
the gate to the front yard of her house, before they’d even walked across the road and climbed into their cruiser, they would’ve forgotten Jenny Brown even existed.

But then others disappeared and they couldn’t call them all runaways.
Darian can’t sit idly by and he decides he is going to find the killer and deal with him … his way.

My Take

At thirty years old Darian Richards became Officer in Charge of Victoria Police’s Homicide Squad, having earned the reputation of Australia’s top homicide investigator. But failure doesn’t sit well with him and sixteen years later, when he fails to find a serial killer taking girls riding trains, he resigns and heads north to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

It seems there are serial killers everywhere, many murders going undetected. A year after Darian has fled from the south, a serial killer taking young girls in Queensland strikes on the Sunshine Coast. Darian Richards can’t stand by and do nothing. He becomes a free lance investigator.

He draws into his net Marie, the wife of a local friend. She is a constable in the Queensland Police and through her he learns what the police know. They form a maverick team, together with Isosceles, an international investigator who provides online services.

By this time we have also learnt that if the courts don’t convict and dispense justice then Darian will dispense his own. Over the years he has done this several times, removing perps who have beaten the courts. Darian Richards is a dangerous man, and a rather unlikeable character. You find yourself asking how different he is to the people he pursues.

What didn’t work all that well for me in this novel were chapters written from the point of view of the killer whose public count is eight abductions. The author tries to get into his sick mind and the result is horrifying, making for a very noir novel.

My rating: 4.3

Tony Cavanaugh has already published a second novel featuring Darian Richards, DEAD GIRL SING.

Other reviews to check

About the author

Tony Cavanaugh is an Australian writer and producer of film and television, writing numerous dramas since the 1980s. He has over thirty years experience in the industry, in all fields, from the genesis of an idea to production. He has lectured at several prestigious universities and institutions including RMIT, Melbourne University, and the Australian Writer s Guild, and has been a regular guest on radio commenting on the film and television industry. Tony was also invited to judge the Logie Awards, Australian Film Institute Awards, and the International Emmy Awards, held in New York.