Review: ILLUSION OF DEATH, Brian Kavanagh

Synopsis (publisher)

Power. Envy. Greed. Lies. All surround amateur sleuths Belinda Lawrence and Hazel Whitby in this maze of personalities.

An invitation to a private screening at a film group involves them in more than the cinematic arts.

Murder and the search for a long-lost film, involve them in more hair-raising adventures as they begin to investigate each member of the group, all of whom could be potential murderers.

Belinda’s skills are tested as she faces the greatest danger in her sleuthing life.

My Take

In the previous 5 novels of the series Australian Belinda Lawrence has been overseas, mainly in England. In title #6 author Brian Kavanagh has brought Belinda and her friend Hazel Whitby home to Melbourne.

Belinda visits the ACMI ( Australian Centre for the Moving Image) at Federation Square in Melbourne. She is standing in a display area waiting for Hazel who is out shopping when she is recognised by a former school friend. Bridie invites Belinda and Hazel to join her at a private screening of a pre-digital film being held by a small film society at the suburban home of a retired projectionist. Bridie is teaching film studies at the school that she and Belinda attended, and the film screenings are held weekly. Against Hazel’s better judgement Belinda accepts the invitation.
Just as the screening of the film gets underway the group is interrupted by a member who bursts in to announce that the host, “Old Max” has been murdered.

Together with all the others present that night Belinda and Hazel become murder suspects, and they decide to conduct their own investigation of each of the members of the society, to find out why “old Max” was murdered, rather appropriately with a film splicing tool, and who the murderer is.

There is an almost cinematographic quality to the structure of this novel – each of the characters is introduced at the beginning with a sort of spotlight approach, almost as if they are on stage, and the spotlight moves from one to the other, capturing them in a moment of time.

Underlying the plot is a pioneering film/multimedia work produced by the Australian Salvation Army Soldiers of the Cross, and first screened in Melbourne in 1900. The National Film and Sound Archive has elements of the work in their archives but no full film is known to exist.

Very readable.

My rating: 4.2

I’ve also read


About the author
Brian Kavanagh lives in Melbourne, the capital of the State of Victoria, in Australia. Brian is an an accredited life member of the Australian Film Editors Guild & a member of the Australian Society of Authors. He has many years experience in the Australian Film Industry in areas of production, direction, editing and writing.


He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Screen Editors Guild and is an accredited member. An Australian Film Institute award for Best Editing for FROG DREAMING (USA title THE QUEST).

His first feature film which he produced and directed, A CITY’S CHILD, won an AFI award for actress Monica Maughan and was screened at the London Film Festival as well as Edinburgh, Montreal, Chicago and Adelaide, where it won the Gold Southern Cross Advertiser Award for Best Australian Film.

Review: MURDER ON THE ISLAND, Brian Kavanagh

  • Format Kindle: (Amazon)
  • File Size: 899 KB
  • Print Length: 125 pages
  • Publisher: Fontaine Publishing Group (December 9, 2015)
  • Publication Date: December 9, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0195U68LU
  • source: review copy provided by the author
  • #6 in the Belinda Lawrence series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Belinda and Hazel find themselves on the island of Guernsey where they are invited by Sir Mark’s mother, Melba, Lady Sallinger. Other house
guests include her parents, a handsome interior designer, a slovenly bookseller, a Jesuit priest, and Catherine, a mysterious woman writer.
Soon after, the residents of the old Tudor mansion are thrown into confusion with the discovery of human remains buried in the garden.

The priest tells of the Guernsey Martyrs, burned alive in 1556 for theft, and he believes a silver cup from that theft, is hidden in the house.
One murder and a second mysterious death lead to revelations of past crimes that resonate to the present day and result in an exciting resolution tinged by the island’s history of Nazi occupation.

My Take

Belinda Lawrence travels to Guernsey to meet up with her fiance Mark Sallinger at his mother’s house to make arrangements for her wedding. Her parents are already there. She soon finds that her future mother-in-law is planning a society wedding, and then, to cap it all, Mark is called away suddenly on business. This leaves Belinda in an impossible situation.

There are several other house guests including Belinda’s parents, a housekeeper with a dark past, a woman researching the German occupation, an architect who specialises in house renovations, and a Jesuit priest. Belinda and her friend Hazel suspect not all are as they seem. An overnight storm cuts the power and with it their communication with the outside world. Wild winds lash the house, trees come down, and a murder occurs.

So here is a quick read, a satisfying cozy, that pulls in some Guernsey history, stories coming from the time of Bloody Mary, and then a little bit of recent history.

My Rating: 4.3

I’ve also read

Review: A WICKED DESIGN, Brian Kavanagh

  • Published by Vivid Publishing 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-925086-06-5
  • #5 in the Belinda Lawrence series
  • 190 pages
  • source: complementary copy from the author

Synopsis (Vivid Publishing)

Belinda Lawrence returns to her home town of Melbourne, to discover a murder that’s close to her heart.

A murder which leads to the seat of political power, Parliament House.

The various threads of deceit and intrigue are gradually
unravelled and, with Hazel Whitby at her side, Belinda is confronted by
warring political factions.

The mystery deepens with the discovery of a priceless
historical item, of value to both political powers, and which places
Belinda’s life in jeopardy.

The gregarious Major;
An enigmatic university Professor;
Two colourful antique sellers;
Eccentric retired music-hall entertainers;
And Belinda’s partner, Mark Sallinger…

…all immersed in the scheming and covert encounters besieging Belinda as she solves her most challenging mystery.

Book Five in the Belinda Lawrence mystery series.

My Take

I think the author’s decision to base this novel in his, and Belinda Lawrence’s, home town of Melbourne is a very successful one, as is his basing one of the plot lines on a piece of Melbourne’s colourful history. It also considers the ever present Republican debate, a very real Australian political divide.

A WICKED DESIGN is a well constructed cozy with a heroine who has grown in stature with every outing in this series. Belinda Lawrence and her antique dealer friend Hazel Whitby are very realistically drawn, as is Belinda’s fiance Mark Sallinger.

I have also reviewed


I think each one has seen Brian’s writing become more assured.

All the books are available in print and as e-books.

My rating: 4.3

About the author

Brian Kavanagh (b. 1935) is an accredited life member of the Australian Film Editors
Guild & a member of the Australian Society of Authors. He has many
years experience in the Australian Film Industry in areas of production,
direction, editing and writing.

His editing credits include THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH,
FOUR-LETTER WORD and the recent comedy, DAGS.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian
Screen Editors Guild and is an accredited member. An Australian Film
Institute award for Best Editing for FROG DREAMING (USA title THE

His website 

Fair Dinkum Baker’s Dozen #5: Brian Kavanagh

This is #5 in our new feature here at Fair Dinkum Crime. Victorian writer Brian Kavanagh has agreed to respond to our version of an author interview. We’ve approached the author interview a little differently, trying to offer the authors (who we thought must get asked a few standard questions fairly frequently) the opportunity to share some of their lesser known secrets. Or not, it’s entirely up to them. We provide the authors with 13 beginnings and, like the creative geniuses they are, they turn them into sentences (or paragraphs, or full blown essays should the urge arise).

I often wonder…about the transition we make from childhood to old age. If, as it seems, our body cells are replacing every minute or day, then are we really the same person all our lives? I think not. Looking back I hardly recognise the person who purported to be me aged 19 doing National Service and throwing hand-grenades. Or in Swinging’ London aged 27, swingin’ like a pendulum do. Or swanning around the Cannes Film Festival in the 1980’s. These people weren’t me. Someone else it seems. Strangers now. Maybe it’s the wisdom of age that everyone goes on about, but I suspect we actually live many lives in the span we are given.

Friends would describe me as…quite possibly as a pain in the arse. Vain. Opinionated. Selfish. Generous. Tiresome. Witty. Independent. You name it. That’s me.

I will never…make another film again.

My greatest fear is…making another film. If only because I don’t want to work with the bean counters that plague the industry or deal with the Deep and Meaningful mafia, fringe dwellers who decide who gets assistance in funding a film.

My worst job was…I have to confess that at a low point in my life when I was between film production work, I foolishly took a job in an Advertising Agency, (I still feel queasy) a job that only lasted a few weeks. But in those few weeks I felt unclean and almost leprous. But my Guardian Angel arranged that I would see my folly and so I quit and the very next week secured a film job that changed my life and led on to a career.

I’m in dire need of…very little actually. Except for someone to pay my credit card bills.

My childhood was…idyllic. Well, looking back on it, it appears that way. I was blessed with good parents (long gone) who I suspect intuitively knew I was going to be a pain in the arse etc., (see all of above) and ensured that from an early age I knew how to fend for myself. I loved them dearly and still do, as I do my older brother whom I admire and am close to. That’s not always the case with siblings it seems, but I know nothing of it. We didn’t have books in the house, but from the age of about six, I know we went to the penny library at the end of the street and I would take out a book each week. I also discovered the ‘cinema’ about that time and I was hooked.

I wish I hadn’t…left it so late to start writing. Of course I have always been writing film scripts, visual storytelling and I suppose, or at least hope, that has prepared me for writing books.

The thing I hate most about being a writer is…the time in-between finishing a book and the publication date. No so much that I am eager to have a copy of the published book in my hands, as getting it out there and moving on to the next project. Nothing deader that a story told.

The last book I read was… The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The next book I’ll write is…the fifth book in my Belinda Lawrence mystery series, following on from Capable of Murder, The Embroidered Corpse, Bloody Ham, A Canterbury Crime.

Being an Australian author means…hard work, but fun with it.

Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to respond to our probing with such thoughtful responses. I can certainly relate to not recognising your younger self, though I have never done National Service (for which I am grateful) nor been in Cannes at film festival time (which I would love to have done). I bet Brian’s not the only author who hates that in-between time either.

Here are links to our reviews of Brian’s books (links are either here at Fair Dinkum or to Kerrie and Bernadette’s individual blogs (I think we both must have read the first book, Capable of Murder, in our pre-blogging days):

Book 2 – The Embroidered Corpse (Bernadette)
Book 3 – Bloody Ham (Bernadette)
Book 3 – Bloody Ham (Kerrie)
Book 4 – A Canterbury Crime (Bernadette)
Book 4 – A Canterbury Crime (Kerrie)

You’ll find Brian online at his website

The Fair Dinkum Baker’s Dozen has been launched especially to celebrate Australian Authors Month which is a cross-genre celebration of Australian writing. In addition to sharing reviews, author interviews, competitions and anything else relating to the writing and reading of works by Aussie authors the month is focused on raising awareness of the Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP). The ILP is a charity with the aim of raising literacy levels among Indigenous Australians in rural and remote communities and it works in partnership with the Australian Book Industry and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

BLOODY HAM, Brian Kavanagh

published by Bewrite Books 2007
paperback ISBN: 978-1-905202-53-9
ebook ISBN: 978-1-905202-54-6
Details here
I  read this on my Kindle courtesy of a digital copy kindly given to me by the author.

Lights! Camera! Action! . Murder! A rollicking puzzle and a turmoil of personal relationships, some happy, some doomed, some downright evil. The third adventure for Belinda and Hazel continuing the pace and humour that readers have come to acknowledge and appreciate. Excitement and tension begin on the first day of filming a Restoration drama on location at the historic Jacobean mansion, Ham House in Surrey when one of the leading players collapses and dies. With the death ruled non-accidental the director, producer and members of the cast are all suspects. An award winning Hollywood star is brought in to replace the dead actor and Belinda is employed as her stand-in. When another member of the crew is found stabbed to death, Belinda is forced to prove her innocence. In all this tumult, Belinda finds herself torn between her long-time English lover, Mark and the energetic and exuberant Australian, Brad she met again on a trip to Australia.

This novel gives Australian author Brian Kavanagh an opportunity to parade both his knowledge of and extensive experience in the film industry and his delight in English history.

His central characters Australian Belinda Lawrence and local woman Hazel Whitby are well created and very believable. Belinda and Hazel are working in partnership: Hazel runs an antique shop in Bath, and provides Belinda with furniture in her heritage listed house and garden. Their business is commissioned to provide authentic cutlery for the feature film being made at Ham House. Hazel’s latest “young man” is a film editor about to begin work on the Ham House film. He’s an Australian who has not visited the West country before and Hazel has been showing him the sights. Belinda, on the other hand, has recently been home to Australia and has just returned, and is feeling a bit ambivalent about her lover Mark. Belinda bears a passing resemblance to one of the stars of the film and is invited to be a stand-in.

The plot of BLOODY HAM is well developed: there are a number of connected deaths before it comes to its conclusion, and a cast of interesting characters. Like earlier novels in the series this novel is really a “cosy”.

I liked the way Kavanagh added a few Australian characters to this novel, and the way he played with their language and characteristics.

My rating: 4.2

Other reviews to enjoy:
Reactions to Reading: Bloody Ham offers an entertaining combination of an old-fashioned whodunit with characters who are fun to meet.

BeWrite Books will be publishing A CANTERBURY CRIME, the exciting fourth book in the popular Belinda Lawrence mystery series. Following on from CAPABLE OF MURDER, THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE, BLOODY HAM, Belinda & Hazel travel to Canterbury in Kent and investigate the death of a Professor who was about to publish a book concerning the murder of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Paperback & eBook versions. Publication date to be announced soon.

Video teaser:
Author’s site:

My mini reviews of the two earlier titles in the series:
CAPABLE OF MURDER (2005), my rating 3.9
Young Australian living in London, Belinda Lawrence, is contacted by her great aunt who lives near Bath. The old lady has something important that she wants to tell her. Belinda finds her aunt’s decaying body at the foot of the stairs in her cottage but appearances seem to indicate that she has had an accidental fall.  Various events and coincidences convince Belinda that her aunt was in fact murdered. Belinda decides to live in the cottage she has inherited from her aunt, more people die, and she is not sure who to trust. The book takes a lot from the tradition of English village “cosies”  and reminded me a little of books I used to read decades ago – Victoria Holt, Susan Howatch and similar “gothic” style novelists. For me it was just a little old-fashioned, but it was a quick read, and plot content was interesting enough.

THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE (2006), my rating 4.1
#2 in the Belinda Lawrence series. Set about 2 years after the first (CAPABLE OF MURDER), Belinda now has her inherited cottage set up with its re-constructed Capability Brown garden. Antique collector Hazel Whitby has furnished it with appropriate furniture and it is now on the tourist bus routes, bringing in a small income. Real estate agent Mark Sallinger completes the investigative trio as wll as providing the romance interest. On their way back from an antiques fair at Castle Howard, Belinda and Hazel call in at Kidbrooke House and are shown a framed piece of tapestry by its elderly owner. It reminds Belinda of the Bayeux tapestry and she decides she wants to see the Bayeux replica at Reading. Just after their visit to Kidbrooke House its elderly owner is murdered. Hazel buys some furniture from his deceased estate and accidentally becomes the owner of the tapestry which she gives to Belinda. This book is a delightful romp somewhat in the vein of Margaret Rutherford’s interpretation of Miss Marple. I suspect Brian Kavanagh is rather enjoying writing these stories with their mixture of murder, mayhem and romance.
THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE  has indications that he is constantly honing his craft, and I think they would be popular with YA female readers. Try to read them in order (CAPABLE OF MURDER, then THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE)


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 386 KB
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: BeWrite Books (October 19, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00480ODQU
  • Published by BeWrite Books 2010 ISBN 978-1-906609-42-9
  • source: I bought it.

This novel begins with a brief background to the history of Canterbury and in particular to the murder of its Archbishop in the Cathedral just after Christmas in 1170.

Antiques dealer Hazel Whitby and her Australian companion Belinda Lawrence have been asked to catalogue and value the contents of a deceased estate, the Manor House. It is just a few days to Christmas and Hazel and Belinda will be spending Christmas in Canterbury.

Professor de Gray died nearly six months earlier, supposedly from a heart attack. But Hazel and Belinda hear stories of there having been “blood on his head” and the Professor’s body was cremated with almost indecent haste, the day after his death.

They have been commissioned by Miss Mowbray (who reminds Belinda of a modern Mrs Danvers) to evaluate the contents of the Manor House, which turns out to be a virtual Aladdin’s Cave. Shortly after they begin work, Miss Mowbray goes up to London, and there meets with an accident.

As with the other 3 titles in this series, I enjoyed the historical background that Kavanagh uses to give depth to the story. Belinda’s romance with the handsome Mark (who appeared in #2) and her partnership with Hazel provide continuity from one novel to the next. (If oyu are new to the series, I strongly suggest you read them in order). Like its predecessors A CANTERBURY CRIME is a pleasant whodunnit in the true cozy tradition.

A CANTERBURY CRIME is a light enjoyable read, with a murder investigation by a couple of likeable amateur sleuths.

My rating 4.3

My reviews of earlier titles.