Talking to Aussie Crime Writers

As one does with the Internet I stumbled across the site of what I think is a local cable TV station (I don’t have cable TV so not 100% sure) that contained a number of short but interesting video interviews. Tara Moss, a crime writer herself, talks to a range of crime fiction authors, many of whom are Australian in the 15-minute interviews.

The most recent interview which I think only went live in the last couple of days is with Katherine Howell, author of four fast-paced crime novels featuring Sydney detective and a series of paramedics. The most recent of these is VIOLENT EXPOSURE which will be reviewed here at Fair Dinkum shortly.

Earlier interviews still available on the site (and appearing to have no geo-restrictions for viewing) are with

THE BLACK RUSSIAN by Lenny Bartulin

Although I have grumbled (often and loudly) about the poor organisation and publicity skills of the people behind the Ned Kelly Awards at least their nominations do provide me with the names of some new-to-me books to look out for. Among the haul in my Aussie crime fiction shopping spree earlier this year was Lenny Bartulin’s second Jack Susko book which, sadly, had not been on my radar before it was shortlisted for last year’s best fiction award.

Jack Susko is a second hand bookseller with major financial problems. When he is delivering an old art catalogue to a customer the gallery belonging to said customer is the subject of an armed robbery. In addition to stealing the contents of the safe the thieves take off with the contents of Jack’s bag which, of course, was one of the few valuable items he owned (a rare first edition of an Ian Fleming novel that he was on his way to a buyer with). This turns out to be only the beginning of Jack’s woes as he reluctantly finds himself the centre of attention for several competing groups of evil villains.

The book’s sub-genre is hard to pin-point but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of black comedy with hints of satire and old fashioned hard-boiled detective caper thrown in. I am loathe to make comparisons of the “if you liked ‘x’ then you’ll like this” variety but what it reminded me of most in tone, style and ‘enjoyability’ was a rather good film from several years ago called In Bruges.

I think one of the reasons I was so quickly and easily drawn into what might be seen as an implausible tale is that the character of Jack is entirely believable. Frankly I have never been able to imagine a second hand bookseller being able to make more than a pittance, and I’ve long assumed those shops which look successful at it are fronts for drug-money laundering or other nefarious activities. So a struggling second hand bookseller is not a stretch and the fact that he is funny and hiding a basically sweet nature makes him very likable indeed. Ultimately you want Jack to prevail even though you know it’s unlikely he’ll do so, or at least not with any extra cash in his pocket.

The rest of the characters are equally enjoyable. Even when they are stereotypes like the eponymous Victor Kablunak they are so cleverly drawn as to thoroughly engage the reader. Who wouldn’t like a villain who can create a life philosophy out of James Bond? A bevy of treacherous (but beautiful) women and a cadre of would-be actors moonlighting in the criminal underworld rounds out the cast nicely and the action plays out against a sweltering Sydney summer that I could almost smell and taste due to the skill of Bartulin’s writing.

I’ll admit I like dark comedy so was probably pre-disposed to enjoying this book but I can recommend it to anyone who wants a book that has a definite Australian feel to it: the setting, the people and the attitude are spot on. Of course if you just want smart wisecracks and a slightly absurd romp it’ll fit that bill nicely too.

The Black Russian has also been reviewed at Aust Crime Fiction

I see from Bartulin’s website that the third novel in this series, DE LUXE, is due for release in August and I will be awaiting it eagerly.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Author website:
Publisher: Scribe [2009]
ISBN: 9781921640261
Length: 261 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: I bought it

Currently reading THE BLACK RUSSIAN

I’m not normally much of a follower of book-related awards because it’s quite rare that I see the same qualities in a book as the judges have seen (that’s the most polite way I can think of to say “they’re wrong and I’m right” though of course that’s what I believe).

However, being a blogger of things relating to Australian crime fiction I feel it’s my duty to at least keep an eye on local awards, one of which is the Ned Kelly Awards which have been ‘promoting and encouraging crime writing since 1995’ (though not I must say through their website which is woefully out of date and almost completely lacking in useful information).

One of the three books on the shortlist for best fiction in last year’s award was Lenny Bartulin’s THE BLACK RUSSIAN which caught my eye because the author’s name was not familiar to me. OK I’ll be honest and say it might also have caught my eye because a Black Russian is my favourite cocktail, especially the way my brother makes them, eschewing the niceties of measuring and serving them in bucket-sized glasses. But I digress.

I picked up a copy of the novel in an ‘Aussie crime fiction shopping spree’ earlier this year and have plucked it from my shelves this long weekend, which due to its sunniness, length and chocolate-induced afternoon comas seemed to call for a lighter kind of reading.

So far (I’m about a hundred pages in) it’s a hoot. It tells the story of Jack Susko, a second hand bookseller in Sydney who is a long way short of making ends meet. Jack is a bystander in an armed robbery but things turn sour when one of the robbers involves him in a double cross. Here is the first paragraph of chapter 1…

Jack Susko was grateful., but it was not the kind of inheritance that changed your life. Twenty-year-old, functional Japanese family sedans in light metallic blue had never been high on the list of all-time top one hundred things in the world you could inherit. Even if it came with faux-sheepskin covers and an interior that smelt intensely of fruit of the forest, no matter how long you kept the windows open. If he was a little disappointed with Aunt Eva’s generosity at the end of her life, it was that the air-conditioning did not work. And right now the radio said it was thirty-eight degrees Celsius in the city. Jack was on Oxford Street, at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, with traffic tight and stalled behind a broken-down bus. And it had been a long day. And he was still hustling his weary trade in weary books. And he had not smoked a cigarette for almost seventeen-and-a-half hours.

This drew me in right away – telling me enough about Jack to get me interested and setting a scene I am all too familiar with. I love it when a book doesn’t leave me hanging around ’til page 30 or more to let me know it’s going to be my kind of thing.

I don’t think the book has anything to do with cocktails but there are another 150 pages to go before the end so you never know.

Recent Acquisitions #1

Since Kerrie and I decided to re-launch this blog as Fair Dinkum Crime with a focus only on Australian crime fiction I have been uncovering new books to read wherever I turn. So far this year I have acquired 12 new (to me) titles by a total of 8 different Australian writers and there’s a mixture of historical fiction, police procedurals, legal thrillers and a noir thrown in for good measure. Something for all my personalities 🙂

Andrew Croome’s DOCUMENT Z has already been reviewed here and is a combination historical fiction/political thriller based on the real defection of a Russian embassy worker/spy to Australia in 1954. I found it compelling.

Belinda D’Alessandro’s DISCOVERING WOUNDED JUSTICE: CRUEL MENACE was a book I discovered on the auction site of writers who were auctioning books to raise money for the Queensland flood appeal and I won the auction for this book. This is the publisher’s blurb for Queensland-born Belinda’s debut novel

Alyssa Giordano, a first generation American, never thought being a woman in this day and age would be a disadvantage… until she met her first boss. Her grandmothers, one Irish, the other Italian, fought so hard to be seen by other women as their husbands’ equals. But Alyssa’s grandfathers, and her father, knew who really ran things.

Barely a year into her career, the young lawyer couldn’t believe that Duncan Kennedy would accuse her of a double cross and sack her after she’d rebuffed his advances. Nor could she believe that his partner, Lydia Price, refused to support her. As she leaves behind her first job in the only career which she’d ever wanted, Alyssa, pride wounded, loses faith in the one thing she’d grown up believing in: justice.

After struggling to get her career (and her life) back in order, Giordano finally hits the big time and finds that roles are reversed. Kennedy is labeled a swindler and a leading journalist, a woman no less, holds his fate in her hands. But as he vanishes in a cloud of lies and creditors before he can be brought to justice, Giordano’s faith in it, justice, freefalls again.

David Whish-Wilson’s LINE OF SIGHT has been send to us for review and is based on a true story:

When a brothel madam is shot on a Perth golf course in 1975 it should be a routine murder enquiry. But it isn’t. In fact there’s barely an investigation at all, and Superintendent Swann thinks he knows why. Heroin is the new drug in town and the money is finding its way into some very respectable hands.

It’s the brave or the foolish who accuse their fellow cops of corruption, and sometimes not even Swann is sure which he is. Especially when those he’s pointing the finger at have mates in every stronghold of power in the state – big business, organised crime, the government. He might have won the first round by forcing a royal commission, but the judge is an ailing patsy and the outcome seems predetermined. If that’s not enough to contend with, Swann’s teenage daughter has disappeared, he doesn’t know whether she’s alive or not, and the word on the street is he’s a dead man walking.

Line of Sight is classic crime noir, a tale of dark corruption set in a city of sun and heat.

Gary Corby’s THE PERICLES COMMISSION has already been reviewed by Kerrie but I am looking forward to reading this historical fiction work myself. It’s awaiting me on my eReader. I had been hearing about the book for a while but though it was available elsewhere last year it only became available here in Australia this year (due to the annoying vagaries of territorial copyright restrictions).

Katherine Howell’s COLD JUSTICE is her third novel to feature Sydney Detective Ella Marconi and I only realised as I was buying her fourth one VIOLENT EXPOSURE, a couple of weeks ago that I had missed one in her series. We can’t have that can we? I finished reading COLD JUSTICE (about a cold case of a murdered boy) in the early hours of this morning so there will be a review within the next couple of days. VIOLENT EXPOSURE, which I’ve still to read will offer this

When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? Is trainee paramedic Aidan Simpson telling the truth about his involvement?And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?

As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords’ fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it’s too late.

Kerry Greenwood’s first three Phryne Fisher novels were on special at Borders’ eBook store (in a collection entitled INTRODUCING PHRYNE FISHER) so I couldn’t resist and now have COCAINE BLUES. FLYING TOO HIGH and MURDER ON A BALLARAT TRAIN also awaiting me on the eReader. The books are set in 1920’s Australia and I’ve only read one before so I shall look forward to these (I like Kerry’s modern-day series of amateur sleuth books very much).

Clan Destine Press provides this information about the book:

Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.

Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive?

The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan.

Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh’s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends.

For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land.

His horrified court soon realise that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.

Lenny Bartulin’s BLACK RUSSIAN is the second Jack Susko mystery and was shortlisted for best novel in 2010’s Ned Kelly awards (eventually won by Garry Disher’s WYATT). It was one of several books by Aussie authors I ordered at the Australia Day sale held by Boomerang Books (it would have been un-Australian not to right?). Here’s what I have to look forward to:

After yet another slow week at the cash register, that fine purveyor of second-hand literature, Susko Books, is facing financial ruin. Jack Susko sets off to a gallery in Woollahra to scrape up some coin with the sale of an old art catalogue. With his usual panache and exquisite timing, he arrives just as De Groot Galleries is being done over by masked thieves. Along with a mysterious object from the safe, the robbers seize a valuable first edition from Jack’s bag, too.

When the owner of the gallery doesn’t want to call the cops, Jack is offered a sizeable sum to keep silent: but when de Groot arrives at the bookshop with his heavy to renege on the deal, all bets are off. With an ease that almost constitutes a gift, Jack Susko finds himself at the centre of a world full of duplicity, lies and art theft.

Michael Duffy’s THE TOWER made its way to my bookshelves this week after I saw mention of its successor’s imminent publication. One must start with the first book in a series whenever one can so…

Young detective Nicholas Troy is basically a good man, for whom working in homicide is the highest form of police work. But when a woman falls from the construction site for the world’s tallest skyscraper, the tortured course of the murder investigation that follows threatens his vocation.

Hampered by politicised managers and incompetent colleagues, Troy fights his way through worlds of wealth and poverty, people-smuggling and prostitution. He has always seen Sydney as a city of sharks, a place where predators lurk beneath the glittering surface. Now he uncovers networks of crime and corruption that pollute the city, reaching into the police force itself.

Finally, the shadowy predator Troy has been chasing turns and comes for him, putting his family at risk. Forced to defend himself with actions he would never have considered before, Troy confronts a moral abyss. He realises it’s a long way down.

Not a bad haul for the first six weeks of the year if I do say so myself. It’s just a pity I didn’t buy extra hours in my day to read them all but I’ll find the time eventually.

Have you acquired any interesting Australian crime fiction this year? 
Or is there something you’re very keen to get your hands on? 
Is there something else new (or new-ish) out that I should be keeping an eye out for?