Review: THE INSANITY OF MURDER by Felicity Young

TheInsanityOfMurderYoungIn Edwardian England the suffragettes are so frustrated at the lack of success they’ve attained via political means that they introduce a more militant form of campaigning. Unfortunately their decision to blow up a building – criminal enough in its own right – becomes disastrous when it claims human life. For Dr Dody McCleland, a female autopsy surgeon, the case proves problematic as her own sister was involved. Thinking he is doing the right thing Dody’s friend (and not-so-secret lover) Chief Inspector Matthew Pike arranges for Florence’s release from prison, though the ‘rest home’ to which she is sent in replacement is scarcely less harmful to its inmates and Dody and Matthew are soon uncovering truly appalling practices.

As with its three predecessors this book uses the solving of a crime by compassionate investigators as the means of highlighting a fascinating historical subject. In this instance it is the appalling way that many women – having few rights of their own – were subjected to enforced detention and various barbaric forms of ‘treatment’ for the mental ailments they were perceived to be full of (almost always by the men who believed the women to be their possessions). The view that some men have of some (all?) women is perhaps best demonstrated by this sentiment, espoused by the head of the home to which Florence and other ‘imbalanced’ women have been consigned

Doctor Fogarty says reading’s the very worst thing a woman of delicate inclinations should be doing – it’s one of the reasons so many women get themselves into trouble these days. So to answer your question, no miss, we have no library here.

While there’s always a gentle undercurrent of humour, here much of it provided by a delightfully larger-than-life character called Lady Mary who is the mother of a nobleman and regular escapee of the facility that Florence ultimately attends, serious issues are handled with deference and intelligence. While the treatment of women is, as always, the main topic being explored the broader social context of class and racial injustice is also much in evidence.

Equally as intriguing as the historical setting are the characters. In contrast to her younger sister – the impulsive, well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless Florence – Dody McCleland chooses to advance the cause of women by being the kind of woman she thinks everyone should have a right to be. She has fought to gain her qualifications and has taken on the only work available to her but always performs it to the best of her abilities. Her personal life is not straight forward either as she must keep her relationship with Matthew a secret (or try to) even from some of the people she loves. Matthew too has to balance his professional duties with the expectations others have of him and the social norms of the day. These, for example, prevent him openly promoting a person he thinks most qualified because Constable Singh is a foreigner and his very presence in the Force is cause for unrest. I really enjoy the way Young has developed these two central characters and kept them growing and responding to the world around them. I’m also pleased that this series hasn’t become one of those with an unresolved sexual tension at its core. Although their relationship is a difficult one Dody and Matthew’s is at least a realistic one.

It’s probably hard for me to judge as I’ve devoured this novel’s predecessors but I do think you would be able to read THE INSANITY OF MURDER independently as it’s a stonkingly good story in its own right. Its historical context is worryingly credible, its characters are charming and real and the suspense builds nicely towards a surprising ending. What are you waiting for?

THE INSANITY OF MURDER will be officially released on 1 August.

aww-badge-2015This is the 12th novel I’ve read and the 10th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I have reviewed all three of the preceding three novels in this series – A DISSECTION OF MURDER (aka THE ANATOMY OF DEATH), ANTIDOTE TO MURDER and THE SCENT OF MURDER

Publisher: Harper Collins [2015]
ISBN: 9781460704677
Length: 320 pages
Format: eBook
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This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Review: A TIME TO RUN by J.M. Peace

ATimeToRunPeaceFrontIt would be impossible for any Australian reader not to think of the backpacker murders when embarking on A TIME TO RUN. But if, like me, you think you are ‘over’ serial killer plots I would urge you to reconsider. It is a seriously good read.

The only thing I didn’t much like about my copy was the blurb but, as is my habit these days, I didn’t read that until I’d finished the book so my reading experience wasn’t spoiled as yours might be if you read it first. The only thing I think you need to know about the story itself is that it involves a young woman, Sammi, who is kidnapped at the end of a night out. We then follow what happens to Sammi in tandem with the unfolding police investigation into her disappearance.

A TIME TO RUN is the most perfectly paced novel I have read in a very long time. Seriously, it’s perfect. There’s not a wasted word, it never drags, action unfolds quickly enough to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down at any point (I gobbled it up in a single sitting) but not so fast that you feel like the author is trying to distract you from some failing of the book. I think I had forgotten the delight of reading a truly well-paced story because it’s a pretty rare thing in these days of endless exposition and unnecessary filler content. The book has half the pages of many modern thrillers but packs twice the dramatic punch.

For those still wary of reading another book about a serial killer perhaps I can put your mind at rest by telling you that this is not one of those books that borders on celebrating the psychopath or turning him into a star. There are, thankfully, no italicised passages of his inner thoughts. Nor is he a genius of such superior intelligence to the plodding coppers that there is doubt he can ever be captured. He is just a man. A rotten-to-the-core man. We see enough of him and his actions to understand this but the book doesn’t wallow in his degrading behaviour and violence. He is not the centre of attention. The real stars of this book are the victim and the policewoman who becomes determined to find her. I particularly liked the fact that Sammi is depicted as being a random victim through no fault of her own – there is no victim blaming here. She’s also pretty darned feisty. Despite her circumstances she finds some inner strength (and a little help from another realm) with which to attempt to outwit her captor but all her actions – her successes, her mistakes and the times when she is sure she will die – are within the bounds of credibility. Janine Postlewaite is the Detective who is alerted early to Sammi’s possible disappearance. She takes speedy action to treat the case seriously – based in part on a previous experience where a delay in starting the process led to a bad outcome for another missing person – and she is persistent and thorough and smart and dedicated. If anyone you loved went missing Janine is the kind of cop you’d pray was assigned to the case.

J.M. Peace has been a police officer in Queensland for 15 years and is still serving. This experience shows, but lightly. By that I mean she hasn’t drowned the story with fascinating but ultimately pointless insider knowledge of ‘the business’ but she has given the story an underlying authenticity. The way that evidence is identified, linkages between disparate pieces of information are made, cooperation between different branches of the police service happens all pass the truthiness test and help the reader become gripped by Sammi’s plight.

So even if the phrase Wolf Creek-style killer turns you off (as it did me when I spied it on the publicity material) I’d recommend setting aside your prejudices and give this book a go. It’s got a great Australian feel to it (so many of the so-called Australian thrillers that pass my eyes make it seem like we are the fifty-somethingth state of America), rips along at just the right pace and if it doesn’t have you sitting on the edge of your seat then there’s something wrong with you, not the book. I notice that in her acknowledgements J.M. Peace thanks her editor and I’ll second that thought. While it’s clear that Peace herself is very talented (this is a debut novel!) it’s also evident that the final product has been carefully crafted from its manuscript stage and when that process is done well it can never be the work of one person. My congratulations and gratitude to everyone involved.

aww-badge-2015This is the ninth novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2015]
ISBN: 9781743537862
Length: 229 pages
Format: paperback
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This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: A TRIFLE DEAD, Livia Day

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • File Size: 602 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Deadlines (November 22, 2013)
  • Publication Date: November 22, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

Synopsis (Amazon)

Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban cafe, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.

When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?

But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.

And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…

A TRIFLE DEAD is a culinary crime novel – delicious food, good coffee, cute frocks and okay, the occasional gruesome murder.

My Take

For me, one of the attractions of this novel was a new-to-me female Aussie author, followed closely by the setting in Hobart, Tasmania.

The overall feeling with this novel is chicklit/mystery which is probably not totally my cup of tea. However there is a murder to be solved, and some interesting characters to get to know. There are plenty of Amazon reviewers, mostly younger than me I suspect, who have loved it. There is a strong sense of setting and the portrayal of Hobart as a place for the young.

There are recipes at the end of the book for those who would like to try some of Tabitha Darling’s food for themselves.

Well done.

My rating: 4.0

About the author:

Day fell in love with crime fiction at an early age. Her first heroes were Miss Jane Marple and Mrs Emma Peel, and not a lot has changed since then!

She has lived in Hobart, Tasmania for most of her life, and now spends far too much time planning which picturesque tourist spot will get the next fictional corpse. You can find her online at

– See more here, and read the first chapter online.

Review: DRAGONS AT THE PARTY by Jon Cleary

DragonsAtThePartyJonCle24005_fI don’t know if was via an early reading that jarred with my younger self’s sensibilities or due to some misunderstanding on my part of information gleaned from unknown sources but I somehow had developed the impression that Jon Cleary’s Scobie Malone novels were not for me. The character, I thought, was some kind of laddish yob and the books of a type that would make me cringe. Only this month’s reading challenge from Past Offences to review a book written in 1987 could prompt me, reluctantly, to track down a copy of the fourth novel in the series. I was truly astonished then to find myself utterly engaged by a protagonist of depth and character in a novel of intelligence and humour that observes its chosen slice of Australian society and culture with a keen eye and sharp wit. Who knew?

Although published in 1987 DRAGONS AT THE PARTY is set in Sydney in late January of the following year during the series of ceremonies and events which would kick off the country’s bicentennial celebrations. Rather awkwardly Australia has been coerced into taking in some high profile refugees in the form of President Abdul Timori of the (fictitious) Pacific island of Palucca and his entourage. His Generals having staged a successful coup, Timori is now a President in exile and due to some questionable behaviour in his home country has only managed to secure a temporary home in Australia due to his wife’s connections to the country’s Prime Minister. When one of his aides is killed by a sniper’s bullet it is assumed the President was the real target so Harry ‘Scobie’ Malone, an Inspector with the NSW Police, is assigned to investigate the attack while the Federal Police take on the role of protecting the former President from further assassination attempts. The thing that struck me first about the book, bearing in mind I was reading it begrudgingly, was how quickly it won me over. I was only a few pages in when I started chuckling at its sharp dialogue and witty observations about people and politics. On page 8 for example our leading man is introduced in a paragraph that describes him physically in some detail and ends with

He suffered fools, because there were so many of them, but not gladly.

That was my first chuckle. It was quickly followed by another when Timori’s background was provided

His election as President for life was no more than a formality, like high tea, monogamy and other European importations, and was looked upon as just as much a giggle.

I could go on at some length quoting the many lines carefully and successfully crafted to delight, but either you get the point now or you don’t share the love of language and sense of humour and no amount of repetition will make you do so. I also, and again surprisingly, enjoyed meeting Scobie Malone (I didn’t learn the nature of his nickname but only one person ever calls him by his real name). He is a happily married sober chap who loves his kids, works well with his colleagues and even gets along with his boss. Despite having so little in common with most of his fictional counterparts he is still engaging and able to retain the reader’s interest and attention (lest it not be glaringly obvious my subtext here is an increasingly desperate personal plea that not every detective in crime fiction has to be a permanently morose alcoholic who has to work alone because being around him would induce suicidal thoughts in even the cheeriest of souls). He is a hard worker and scrupulously honest, something of a rarity in both fictional crime stories and the comparable real world police force he was ostensibly part of, but he doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude that would make him unlikable. I particularly liked the way Clary depicts Malone and his fellow officers struggling to deal with the more emotional parts of their work because blokes, especially Aussie blokes, aren’t known for their overt displays of sensitivity. When dealing with a young Aboriginal activist who becomes embroiled in the investigation we see an insight into Malone’s character

…His stubbornness, his total distrust of the police jacketed him in an attitude that would eventually bring him to disaster. For a moment Malone felt sorry for him, but it lasted only a moment: pity, they had told him years ago, should never be part of a policeman’s equipment. They had been wrong, of course, but he had learned to use it sparingly.

I moved To Sydney to take up my first full time job after graduating University almost exactly at the time this book was set (to be specific, about ten days before the weekend during which events unfold) so that period is etched more strongly into my memory than many other periods of my life and Cleary seems to me to have done a superb job of depicting both the small details and bigger picture. The carnival atmosphere of the city as people jumbled together to celebrate the bicentennial is well drawn and although it is a relatively minor component of the story the inclusion of disenfranchised Aboriginal people is unerringly accurate as evidenced when the assassin observes about a young activist

…It was difficult to be militant in a country that ignored you.

Equally believable are the high level political shenanigans that form the backdrop to Malone’s investigation. The state’s first independent body examining public sector corruption would be established one year later and a Royal Commission into entrenched police corruption would follow a a couple of years after that so it doesn’t take a genius to realise that Cleary’s depictions of back room deals and other grubby behaviour were at the very least plausible if not based on things he knew to be true. Finally I suppose I should make mention of the story which, although thoroughly enjoyable in its own right, has taken a back seat to other elements of the novel for me. We learn early on that an international assassin is responsible for the attempt on Timori’s life but the investigating team must still catch the man and attempt to find out who is financing his work so there is much suspense to be had even without the more dramatic chase passages which really ratchet up the tension. I’m generally happy enough to read a book about which I have no expectations but these days rarely bother to even start a book I don’t think I will like. Life is too short after all. But reading DRAGONS AT THE PARTY has reminded me that I should not base my expectations on misguided notions picked up from…heaven only knows where. My only criticism of the book is some clunky exposition that can only have been added for the benefit of international readers (no adult Australian needs to be told that Perth is the capital of Western Australia or what the ABC is for example) but that I suspect that is more due to publisher pressures than the author’s own wishes. I’ll be making up for my personal neglect of this author in the not too distant future.

Review: THE INSANITY OF MURDER, Felicity Young

Synopsis (author website)

To Doctor Dody McCleland, the gruesome job of
dealing with the results of an explosion at the Necropolis Railway Station is testing enough.
But when her suffragette sister Florence is implicated  in the crime, matters worsen and Dody finds her loyalty cruelly divided.
Can she choose between love for her sister and her secret love for Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, the investigating officer on the case?

Dody and Pike’s investigations lead them to a women’s rest home where patients are not encouraged to read or think and where clandestine treatments and operations are conducted in an unethical and inhumane manner.
Together Dody and Pike must uncover such foul play before their secret liaisons become public knowledge – and before Florence becomes the rest home’s next victim.

My Take

Australian writer Felicity Young has certainly grown as a crime fiction author and this latest offering in the Dody McCleland series brims with confidence and authenticity. I have somehow missed reading #3 and feel that is an omission I must rectify.

Dody McCleland works as an assistant to Dr Bernard Spilsbury and is right at the centre of the suffragist world. If she is not present, then her lover Inspector Pike is, and between them they are a formidable pair. Besides being a murder mystery, the novel does a good job of presenting the injustices of a world where women lack equality and where males can deal with unwanted females in the most radical manner. 

If you like authentic history in your crime fiction then give this series a go.

My rating: 4.6 

I’ve also read


About the author

Felicity Young was born in Germany, educated in the UK and settled in
WA. She lives on a small farm with her family, has trained as a nurse,
studied music, reared orphan kangaroos and is a volunteer firefighter.
The world of the Dr Dody McCleland mysteries is based on her
grandmother’s old memoirs. 

Her books

Stevie Hooper

1. An Easeful Death (2007)
2. Harum Scarum (2008)
3. Take Out (2010)

Also stand-alone title: A Certain Malice (2005) being reprinted as FLASHPOINT later in 2015 with a sequel promised in 2016.

Doctor Dody McCleland

1. The Anatomy of Death (2012)
aka A Dissection of Murder
2. Antidote to Murder (2013)
3. The Scent of Murder (2014)
4. The Insanity of Murder (2015)
The next Dody McCleland book, A Donation of Murder, is set for release on May 1st 2016.

Review: THE BANK INSPECTOR, Roger Monk

  • Publisher: The Horizon Publishing Group
  • ISBN: 9781922238375
  • ISBN-10: 1922238376
  • Format: Paperback
  • Language: English
  • Number Of Pages: 422
  • Published: 1st September 2014
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Booktopia)

The perfect crime! One Monday morning, a bank branch is robbed.
No one hurt or threatened.

Not a hold-up. Not a tunnel into the vault. A three minutes robbery and the robber drives away. Not followed. Not caught. A perfect, flawless crime.

Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw hardly knows where to start, especially as
he is distracted by an attempted murder in a nearby street.

A story of greed, treachery and a heart-breaking family feud.

My Take

Thank you to blogging friend Bernadette for the recommendation to read this book. Her review at Fair Dinkum Crime is here.

This novel has so far not received the publicity it deserves. The plot is remarkably simple but at the same time intricately woven with a delicate twist. The setting is local – South Australia, Adelaide, Grote Street, Norwood, the Barossa Valley – some recognisable local scenery, set in 1950, some strongly drawn characters, and some intriguing mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. For overseas readers I wish I could recommend an e-book but there doesn’t appear to be one yet. I live in hope. I also have hopes thta it will make the Ned Kelly shortlist.

My rating: 4.8

Review: THE UNBROKEN LINE by Alex Hammond

TheUnbrokenLineAlexHammo23923_fTHE UNBROKEN LINE opens with its protagonist – Melbourne defence lawyer Will Harris – celebrating a partial recovery from injuries he received in events depicted in a previous novel (he is still taking strong painkillers but he’s out of a wheelchair). On their way home from the celebratory meal he and his girlfriend Eva are deliberately sideswiped then physically attacked. Will is told to back off but he doesn’t seem to know what the brutal messengers are referring to.

I have to admit this book and I didn’t start off well together because I felt myself at a distinct disadvantage for not having read the novel’s predecessor, BLOOD WITNESS. I realise it’s a tough balancing act for authors of series books (just one of the reasons I wish more people would write standalone novels) but for me this one made too many oblique references to past events that left me scratching my head.

Putting that aside though there is much to recommend THE UNBROKEN LINE, not least of which is its worryingly dark theme. For although it is at least technically a legal thriller we don’t spend a single moment in a courtroom and the underlying issue being explored here is whether or not the justice system is as balanced as iconic images would have has believe. When Will is targeted for a professional misconduct investigation early in the novel the Legal Commissioner says to him

When I accepted this role, I did so because I was aware of the grey trade in information that goes on within the justice system. Who knows how deep the roots of this go – police corruption is all too familiar to us, so why should lawyers be immune. I’m not just here to prosecute dodgy suburban lawyers who fudge their trust accounting to rip of their clients. I’m here to shut down this pervasive culture of exploited privilege and any criminal activity it supports. The legal system should benefit all its citizens equally, not just those with access to money and connections.

In a well-constructed story involving a complicated series of interconnected events we learn that, perhaps not surprisingly, the reverse of this noble sentiment is often true.

Having a character like Will at the centre of the action is a good choice for a novel tackling this kind of theme. Because Will does not always do the ‘right’ thing when it comes to seeing justice served. Whether he is forced or chooses to make the morally dubious decisions he makes is ultimately something the reader will decide but his struggles are realistic within the context of the events unfolding around him. I can’t say I liked Will all that much but I found him compelling and his turmoils thought-provoking.

I know that in real life there are many more than fifty shades of grey but I like to use my crime fiction reading to help me pretend that in some parallel dimension you can always tell the good guys from the bad ones and justice ultimately prevails. Books like THE UNBROKEN LINE don’t really offer me that foray into fantasy land which is why they’ll never be among my absolute personal favourites. But you’d have to go a long way to find a more intelligent novel in which the realities of the legal system are laid bare enough to make readers hope they’ll never have to tangle with the system themselves.

Publisher: Michael Joseph [2015]
ISBN: 9781921901508
Length: 365 pages
Format: paperback
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