Review: GETTING WARMER, Alan Carter

My co-host Kerrie is currently sailing the oceans on long cruise from the US to Australia so I will post all her reviews of all the Aussie crime fiction she manages to consume while on her trip

  • GettingWarmerCarterkindle edition
  • published 2013, Fremantle Press
  • ISBN 9781922089205

Synopsis (Fremantle Press)

Cato Kwong is back. Back in Boom Town and back on a real case – the unsolved mystery of a missing fifteen-year-old girl.

But it’s midsummer in the city of millionaires and it’s not just the heat that stinks. A pig corpse, peppered with nails, is uncovered in a shallow grave and a body, with its throat cut, turns up in the local nightclub.

As a series of blunders by Cato’s colleague brings the squad under intense scrutiny, Cato’s own sympathy for a suspect threatens to derail his case and his career.

My Take

The “hook” in this novel is a Prologue describing a conversation between a serial killer and a female Psychology student who has a lot to learn about listening.

Cato Kwong has returned to Fremantle from the “stock squad”, but he knows it would be easy to put a foot wrong and be sent bush again. The novel opens with Cato accompanying a police squad and a murderer, presumably the one in the Prologue, to a desiccated lake, looking for a body. Gordon Francis Wellard is already serving a sentence for murder: they are looking for the body of a previous victim.

Corruption is rife in the police force particularly amongst detectives who are looking for the information that will give them the edge in a case. Deals done with criminals are often long lasting, and even the cleanest cops can find themselves doing something they know they shouldn’t.

This is #2 in Carter’s Cato Kwong series and he has fleshed out more background for Cato, and I think the novel is written in a grittier style. The new setting in Fremantle brings with it new characters, some of whom Cato has apparently worked with before, some he knows by reputation. Current social issues surface, such as territorial wars between bikie gangs, and Vietnamese protection gangs.

Cato’s family circumstances play a greater role too, and put the dangers of the sort of police work he does into greater perspective.

Carter’s first novel PRIME CUT won him a Ned Kelly Award for best first novel, and GETTING WARMER affirms that he is a writer to watch.

My Rating: 4.7

The most impressive Australian crime fiction in 2011

It’s list making time of year so here at Fair Dinkum HQ we’ve each made a list of the five Australian crime fiction titles that impressed us most this year. Not all are 2011 publications and some have yet to be released beyond our shores but this mixture of new titles by favourite authors and outstanding debuts is a cracker of a collection if I do say so myself.

Kerrie speaking here…

I’ve only read 16 Australian titles this year, and am already formulating New Years Eve resolutions that I will do better in 2012. Nevertheless the problem in picking my top reads is that so many of them were so good and it was difficult to draw a cut off line. Not all of the titles were 2011 publications either.

So here are my top 5.

My top pick was THE WRECKAGE by Michael
Robotham, published in 2011, in which our old friend Vincent Ruiz teams up with a new character, investigative journalist Luca Terracini. THE WRECKAGE is a contemporary thriller set against the background of both the world financial crisis and the attempts to build Iraq in the face of both greed and terrorism. It reflects both Robotham’s meticulous research, and his ability to create great fictional characters. He describes the main characters in a way that makes you really care about what happens to them.

I really can’t choose between the other four, so the order in which they appear is not preferential.

In Katherine Howell‘s COLD JUSTICE, published in 2010, paramedic Georgie Riley and Detective Ella Marconi are travelling similar paths, returning to work after traumatic incidents that resulted in hospitalisation and being off work for some months.  Katherine Howell has used a formula similar to the one she used successfully in both THE DARKEST HOUR, and her debut novel FRANTIC: parallel plots that advance in tandem, each generating their own sense of suspense. The link between the two plots is Detective Ella Marconi. Again the paramedic characters are new, while Marconi provides the common thread from one novel to the next.

WHISPERING DEATH, published in 2011, affirms that Garry Disher is a master storyteller, a tight and consummate plotter, a writer who could sit on any international podium along with richer and more famous crime fiction writers. This is #6 in Disher’s Hal Challis series, firmly bedded in the 21st century, and reflecting on the problems of maintaining a strong police force, chasing rapists, armed robbers, and home invaders, in the face of diminishing funding and stretched resources.

Set in post-war Australia, this time post World War Two, with a policeman returning to work in a world that will never be the same, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL by Geoffrey McGeachin, published in 2011, reminded me a lot of the Charles Todd series. Like Ian Rutledge in that series Charlie Berlin was in the police force before the war. Although the police force was an exempt trade he volunteered for service and was posted to the RAF in Britain. He took off on 30 missions over Germany, but, in his words, landed only 29 of them and ended up in a P.O.W. camp. For me, Geoff McGeachin has hit on a winner with this new series and I hope we see more of Charlie Berlin. It appealed to me on several fronts – historical, crime fiction, Australia.

My final choice is FINAL CUT by debut West Australian author Alan Carter, also published in 2011.  What makes this novel remarkable is the way the author ambitiously forwards two plot strands in tandem. It took a bit of getting used to at first. There is little to tell the reader that you’ve changed from one plot to another, just a change of characters. Often, but not always, the plots are basically at the same point, like the interviewing of a suspect.

But there’s much more than that to keep the reader involved. There are prior links between some of the characters which are gradually teased out for us. There are genuine murder mysteries with lots of attendant red herrings. There’s a good feel for the climate in Western Australia, both physical and economic. And there is some excellent characterisation.

And now it’s Bernadette’s turn

So far I’ve managed to read 35 books by Australian crime writers this year. I’m about half way through another one which is enjoyable but I already know it’s not quite good enough to nudge any of these off the list so I don’t feel too concerned about finalising the list a few days before the end of the year.

Y.A. Erskine’s debut novel THE BROTHERHOOD absolutely blew me away. Partly this is because I had no expectations when I opened the front cover (I knew nothing about the book other than it was written by an Aussie woman) but mostly it’s because it’s bloody brilliant. A Tasmanian policeman is shot while on duty and the events of the day are recounted from different points of view – his rookie partner, the Police Commissioner, his estranged wife, the culprit etc – who each get a single chapter from which a whole picture of the leadup to and ramifications of the shooting emerges. I loved everything about this book – the structure, the flawed but believable people, the way the story kept surprising me, the themes that Erskine explored. This book is vying with one other title for the very top spot on my favourite books of the year (Aussie or otherwise) and my only complaint is that is hasn’t gotten the wide attention it so richly deserves.

Like Kerrie I’m not going to list the rest in order of preference, they’re all worth your attention.

Kathryn Fox‘s DEATH MASK was one of the first books I read this year and it ended up being the book I voted for in the reader’s choice category of this year’s Davitt Awards. It starts out simply enough with a young woman testing positive for a sexually transmitted disease that she cannot understand how she contracted given her sexual history and so she assumes there has been some mistake at the clinic. The story’s dark turn reveals the betrayal that led to her contracting the disease which in turn prompts the protagonist of the series, Dr Anya Crichton, to study the psychology of male sporting teams. It’s a topical storyline but tackled intelligently and without the moralising, quick-fix answers that mainstream media devotes to the subject and it reminded me that the best crime fiction always examines some aspect of our society or collective behaviour in addition to telling a jolly good yarn.

Australian-born, Scotland-living Helen Fitzgerald‘s THE DONOR tackles the simple but hideous premise of what a single father is to do when his twin daughters both develop a genetically inherited kidney disease. Perhaps a life of crime wouldn’t be everyone’s choice but hapless Will Marion seems somewhat short of options to save the daughters he loves. The book is both darkly funny and almost unbearably sad but not remotely maudlin which is, I think, a remarkable achievement. The father in this story is a wonderful creation: the type of person you want to slap for being so inept one minute but the next moment you want to wrap him in a giant bear hug for trying so hard.

Sulari Gentill‘s A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is the second novel set in 1930’s Australia to feature world-wandering dilettante Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair and I adored it. Rowly and his friends start the book on board a cruise liner where a grim murder occurs and by the time all the players are in Australia things look very rocky for poor Rowly who unwilling caught up in an odd spiritual movement and may end up being considered an unsuitable role model for the young members of his conservative family. Whenever I talk about this book or its predecessor (something I do as often as I can) I break out in a wide grin as there is something quite joyous about the amusing, life-embracing characters that inhabit Gentill’s world, which is full of sumptuous details of the period. But there is sadness in Rowly’s life too and it’s this juxtaposition with his fun-loving ways that provides the spark of something special to the book. I am lucky enough to have an advanced copy of the third book in the series awaiting my perusal in early January and I am already grinning at the prospect. This book also wins my award for best cover of the year.

LINE OF SIGHT by David Whish-Wilson is another superb debut, this time set in Perth in Western Australia. It is a fictionalised account of the real life murder of a local brothel owner in the 1970’s and focuses on the struggle by one good cop to uncover the truth about the crime which appears to have been perpetrated by his fellow officers. What impressed me most about this book was its perfect capturing of the time and place (it really does feel like another country which is not surprising as the state has flirted with secession more than once). The characters stand out too, especially the man who was charged with heading up a Royal Commission into the case and who slowly came to realise that he’d been set up to find nothing at all. It was a somewhat brutal but entirely credible characterisation and I have thought about Justice Partridge many times since finishing the book.

Did you read any Aussie crime fiction that impressed you in 2011? Do share.

Ned Kelly Awards 2011: The Winners Are…

As is the way of things in 2011 Fair Dinkum got its up-to-the-minute news on this subject from twitter, thanks mostly to the excellent tweeting of Angela Savage (@angsavage) and a few random Melbourne Writer’s Festival attendees that I stumbled across in my hashtag searches.

But enough of that, on to the news you want to hear. Shortlisted novels in all categories are all listed below with the winners in bold and marked by an asterisk (‘cos some of you can’t see the bold). The links will take you to the relevant Fair Dinkum catch-all page for the authors we’ve talked about and reviewed here on the blog. There’s at least one review of each book in the first fiction and best fiction categories to be found here, and two of most of ’em.

Best First Fiction

*Alan Carter Prime Cut Fremantle Press

David Whish-Wilson Line of Sight Penguin Books

P.M. Newton The Old School Penguin Books

S.D. Harvey Short Story Award

Robert Goodman Southern Hemisphere Blues

* A.S. Patric Hemisphere Travel Guides: Las Vegas For Vegans

True Crime

* Geesche Jacobson Abandoned- The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble Allen & Unwin

Ross Honeywill Wasted Penguin

Lindsay Simpson & Jennifer Cooke Honeymoon Dive Macmillan

Best Fiction

Angela Savage The Half-Child Text

* Geoffrey McGeachin The Diggers Rest Hotel Penguin

Chris Womersley Bereft Scribe Publishing

Fair Dinkum Crime congratulates all the writers and gives an extra round of applause for the winners. Thanks to all of you for providing us with some great Australian reading this year.

Ned Kelly Awards – short list announced

Announced 8 pm Tuesday 2 August

Best First Fiction

Alan Carter Prime Cut Fremantle Press

David Whish-Wilson Line of Sight Penguin Books

P.M. Newton The Old School Penguin Books

Best Fiction

Angela Savage The Half-Child Text

Geoffrey McGeachin The Diggers Rest Hotel Penguin

Chris Womersley Bereft Scribe Publishing

True Crime

Geesche Jacobson Abandoned- The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble Allen & Unwin

Ross Honeywill Wasted Penguin

Lindsay Simpson & Jennifer Cooke Honeymoon Dive Macmillan

 S.D. Harvey Short Story Award

Robert Goodman Southern Hemisphere Blues

A.S. Patric Hemisphere Travel Guides: Las Vegas For Vegans

Details of this year’s Ned Kelly Awards ceremony to be held as part of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.

Review: Prime Cut by Alan Carter

Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong was once, literally, the poster boy for Western Australia’s police force. Of Chinese descent he represented a new kind of recruit and, for a while, he could do no wrong. But as this book opens he is disgraced, having been involved in a frame-up that was discovered. He has been assigned to one of the worst jobs in the force in hopes he will resign. But when a body, or part of one, washes up on shore in a small mining town six hundred kilometres south east of Perth, Cato has a second chance to prove that he is, or can be, a good cop after all. At the same a cold case that had its origins in northern England more than 30 years ago rears its very ugly head.

I’m normally a little kinder to debut novels than I am to the output of more seasoned writers but Alan Carter really doesn’t need my gentle handling: this is an exceptionally good novel. One of the many things about the book which have lingered in my mind since I finished it is its very strong sense of place. This comes across in a physical sense with the depiction of the geographic isolation of the area and the elements you might expect of a small, relatively isolated town even if you don’t specifically know Hopetoun. In addition to this though is a marvellously current sense of the social and economic impact of Australia’s mining boom. Because Cato’s investigation ultimately leads him to the new mines near Hopetoun we see the way that the new money both helps and hinders the town depending on your point of view (and your entrepreneurial abilities). While some people are making their fortunes others, often migrant workers brought in using special classes of visa, are exploited sometimes without even knowing it.

Another standout feature of the novel are the characters who are not always, or often even, likeable but they are believable and intriguing. Cato is a strong protagonist being far from perfect but not completely dysfunctional. At times I found his lack of willingness to take responsibility for his involvement with the frame-up that derailed his career annoying (I’m not alone, one of his colleagues did too) but it was a very realistic depiction. And because he didn’t wallow in self-pity most of the time I did enjoy getting to know him and was genuinely gripped by wanting to know if he would persevere or not. There’s a really strong ‘cast’ of supporting characters too including Stuart Miller, an ageing ex-cop from England whose inability to find the man who brutally murdered his wife and son as Sunderland beat Leeds in the FA Cup final in 1973 changed the course of his life. He gave up policing and migrated to Australia but never forgot this particular case and when he learns South Australian police are re-opening a case that involved an eerily similar murders a few years later he once again gives in to his obsession with the original murders. This strand of the novel unfolds parallel to the other thread though, as is the way of things in fiction, they meet up eventually.

Prime Cut does not wear its political heart on its sleeve but nevertheless deals with a range of ‘hot-button’ issues such as racism and police corruption in an intelligent, thoughtful way. I hate being preached at or told how to think by the fiction I read but I do enjoy seeing hard subjects depicted in a way that makes me pause and consider my own thoughts on the topic. Here for example I really did stop and think about the difficulties police must face every day when the ‘know’ a person is guilty but they don’t have the evidence that would ensure their conviction. What might make me cross the line from honest to…not? Is there room for grey? Other issues were tackled equally deftly, including the realistic depiction of the way indigenous communities interact with their physical environment. Carter has a light but direct touch which I really enjoyed.

The book is brim full of compelling characters, minor threads and major events that I haven’t had a chance to mention here but you can discover them all for yourselves if you track the book down as I strongly recommend you do.

Kerrie has already reviewed Prime Cut here at Fair Dinkum.

  • this book at Boomerang Books (Australian online store, does ship overseas)
  • this book at (in a range of formats)
  • this book on Kindle (I can’t tell if this is available to all geographical regions or not, sorry
Alan Carter was born and grew up in England and migrated to Australia in 1991, thereby continuing the fine tradition of people coming to live in Australia from far off places and writing brilliantly Australian crime stories (including Arthur Upfield, Peter Temple, David Owen and Sulari Gentill).
Alan is appearing at a local indie bookstore in a couple of weeks and your Fair Dinkum correspondents will both be attending. I wonder if authors get sick of being asked “when can I have the next book please?”
Alan will be touring four states starting 12 July as part of the Get Reading! programme.

my rating 4.5/5
Publisher Fremantle Press [2011]
ISBN 9781921696503
Length 316 pages
Format paperback
Source borrowed from a book club friend

Author Interview – Alan Carter

Debut Crime novelist Alan Carter, whose book Prime Cut was reviewed by Kerrie here at Fair Dinkum Crime last month, will officially launch the novel on Sunday 13 February. The launch will take place at the Toun Beach Cafe which is the real-life Hopetoun icon featured in his novel. He’ll also be in other parts of WA including Albany and Esperance as part of his promotional activities.

There’s a an interview with Carter at his publisher’s website which discusses his crime fiction inspiration as well as the process of writing Prime Cut, which was shortlisted for last year’s UK Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger award.

Source: Fremantle Press website

PRIME CUT – Alan Carter

Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2011
Awards:  Shortlisted, Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, 2010 (as Chinese Whispers)
ISBN13: 9781921696503
HB/PB: Paperback
Pages: 320
Source: e-copy of the (Proof Read version) on my Kindle, supplied by the publisher for review purposes.
Sample Chapter: PRIME CUT extract.pdf
Book Club Notes:  View Book Club Notes
Publication date: February 2011

Publisher’s blurb

Meet Cato Kwong — disgraced cop and ex-poster boy for the police force. Banished to the stock squad after the fallout from a police frame-up, Cato is brought in from the cold to solve the case of a torso washed up on the wild shores of the Great Southern Ocean. But Cato faces powerful opposition when his investigation lifts the lid on the exploitation of migrant workers and disturbs an even darker criminal mind.

My take:

This really is a remarkable novel. Two main stories are told in tandem. The first begins in the Prologue with the murder of a woman and her son in Sunderland, England in 1973, the day of the FA Cup. What Detective Sergeant Stuart Miller sees at the scene of the crime will stay with him for the rest of his working life and in fact contributes to him emigrating to Busselton in Western Australia. 35 years later he still has nightmares.

The second story begins in Western Australia in October 2008. Detective Senior Constable Cato Kwong and Detective Sergeant Jim Buckley are part of Western Australia’s Stock Squad and are also at a crime scene. In Cato’s view they are “washed-up has-beens recycled as detectives…. The Laughing Stock Squad.” And then they are called to a murder scene, at HopeToun: a headless torso in the shallows on the beach. The local policewoman is Senior Sergeant Tess Maguire, recovering from sick leave after being beaten up. HopeToun is a laid-back holiday or retirement spot for wheatbelt farmers, not a place where you expect murders to happen. In recent times though HopeToun has become a mining town.

What makes this novel remarkable is the way the author forwards these plot strands in tandem. It took a bit of getting used to at first. There is little to tell the reader that you’ve changed from one plot to another, just a change of characters. Often, but not always, the plots are basically at the same point, like the interviewing of a suspect.

But there’s much more than that to keep the reader involved. There are prior links between some of the characters which are gradually teased out for us. There are genuine murder mysteries with lots of attendant red herrings. There’s a good feel for the climate in Western Australia, both physical and economic. And there is some excellent characterisation.

My rating: 4.7

I’m already looking forward to Alan Carter’s second novel – I hope there is one!

PRIME CUT will be available from Fremantle Press

About the author:
Alan Carter was born in Sunderland, UK, in 1959. He holds a degree in Communications Studies from Sunderland Polytechnic and immigrated to Australia in 1991. Alan lives in Fremantle with his wife Kath and son Liam. He works as a television documentary director. In his spare time he follows a black line up and down the Fremantle pool. Prime Cut is Alan Carter’s first novel. He wrote it while he was living in Hopetoun as a kept man.