Review: CALL ME EVIE, J. P. Pomare

  • this large print edition published by Hachette Australia 2018
  • ISBN 9-781525-299040
  • 467 pages
  • source: my local library
  • WINNER OF THE NGAIO MARSH AWARD BEST FIRST NOVEL 2019
    SHORTLISTED FOR THE ABIA MATT RICHELL AWARD 2020
    SHORTLISTED FOR THE NGAIO MARSH AWARD BEST NOVEL 2019
    LONGLISTED FOR THE NED KELLY AWARD BEST FIRST FICTION 2019
    LONGLISTED FOR THE ABIA GENERAL FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD 2020

Synopsis (publisher)

DON’T TRUST HIM. IT WASN’T ME. IT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN ME.

Meet Evie, a young woman held captive by a man named Jim in the isolated New Zealand beach town of Maketu. Jim says he’s hiding Evie to protect her, that she did something terrible back home in Melbourne.

In a house that creaks against the wind, Evie begins to piece together her fractured memories of the events that led her here.

Jim says he’s keeping her safe. Evie’s not sure she can trust Jim, but can she trust her own memories?

My Take

This novel is written in two time frames, before and after. There are also two narrators. Which is the reliable one? We see things mainly from Evie’s eyes and tend to trust her, but is that right? Is Jim really the untrustworthy, unreliable one?

Evie is not her real name, Jim is her uncle. or is he?

Early on, we piece together that they have come from Melbourne as a result of a traumatic event, that they are “on the run”, that people are looking for them, that it is possibly her fault.

This was an incredible debut novel, one that will keep you trying to piece together what has really happened.

At the end of the novel interesting questions are provided for discussion in book groups.

My rating: 4.8

I’ve also read
4.6, IN THE CLEARING 

Review: YOU DON’T KNOW ME, Sara Foster

Synopsis (publisher)

Who killed Lizzie Burdett?

Lizzie Burdett was eighteen when she vanished, and Noah Carruso has never forgotten her. She was his first crush, his unrequited love. She was also his brother’s girlfriend.

Tom Carruso hasn’t been home in over a decade. He left soon after Lizzie disappeared under a darkening cloud of suspicion, and now he’s back for the inquest into Lizzie’s death – intent on telling his side of the story. As the inquest looms, Noah meets Alice Pryce on  holiday. They fall for each other fast and hard, but Noah can’t bear to tell Alice his deepest fears. And Alice is equally stricken – she carries a terrible secret of her own. Is the truth worth telling if it will destroy everything?

A stunning new thriller about the burden of shame from blockbuster author Sara Foster.

My Take

Alice Pryce reminds Noah Carruso of his brother’s girlfriend Lizzie Burdett who vanished one night twelve years before. Alice is in Thailand teaching English and Noah is having a holiday before attending an inquest back in Australia called to finally resolve what happened to Lizzie.
They fall in love as if their lives depend on it. Both have secrets about what has happened to them in Australia, and Alice is planning never to return.

Noah puts off his return to Australia as long as he can, but eventually he must return to Australia for the inquest and to face his brother Tom. After Noah has left for home Alice gets a visit from the Australian High Commission which means she has to return too.

I kept wondering if this is really crime fiction, but in reality at least one crime needs to be resolved. But on another level it is a romance, but also an attempt to by the main characters to come to terms with shame and guilt.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.3, ALL THAT IS LOST BETWEEN US

About the author
Sara Foster has written five critically acclaimed novels: Come Back to Me, Beneath the Shadows, Shallow Breath, All That is Lost Between Us and The Hidden Hours. She was born and raised in England, and moved to Australia in 2004. She lives in Perth with her husband and two children.

Find out more at:
www.sarafoster.com.au
www.facebook.com/sarafosterauthor
www.instagram.com/sarafosterauthor
www.twitter.com/sarajfoster

Review: UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SKY, Anna Romer

  • this large print edition published by Read How You Want
  • first published in Australia by Simon and Schuster 2019
  • 485 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-36932-454-2
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Chilling secrets buried deep in wild bushland drive this thrilling new novel from bestseller Anna Romer

When an injured teenager goes missing at a remote bushland campground, local journalist Abby Bardot is determined to expose the area’s dark history. The girl bears a striking resemblance to the victims of three brutal murders that occurred twenty years ago and Abby fears the killer is still on the loose.

But the newspaper Abby works for wants to suppress the story for fear it will scare off tourists to the struggling township. Haunted by her own turbulent memories, Abby is desperate to learn the truth and enlists the help of Tom Gabriel, a reclusive crime writer. At first resentful of Abby’s intrusion, Tom’s reluctance vanishes when they discover a hidden attic room in his house that shows evidence of imprisonment from half a century before.

As Abby and Tom sift through the attic room and discover its tragic history, they become convinced it holds the key to solving the bushland murders and finding the missing girl alive.

But their quest has drawn out a killer, someone with a shocking secret who will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Take

There are many mysteries to be solved in this novel with several story lines and the stories coming from several time frames. There are secrets to be uncovered. Abby Bardot has a history that she doesn’t talk about, and there are several people who have hidden pasts. There is a man in jail for a murder he says he didn’t commit. It all makes for a great tangle.

Underneath it all Abby the journalist wants to write about the secrets of Deep Water, about the girls who’ve disappeared, those who’ve died, and those who survived.

This book makes the reader work hard as the author changes the voice of the narrator almost at whim. There is little warning that this is going to happen and the narration can swap from third person to first person between paragraphs. There are at least four main narrators and several minor ones. I guess the intent is to make the reader aware of what particular characters are thinking, but it is not a device that I particularly like. In the earlier parts of the book I found it confusing.

Despite all that, an intriguing story, and one that kept me guessing.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Anna Romer was born in Australia to a family of booklovers. She led a nomadic life for many years, travelling around Europe and Britain in an ancient Kombi van where she discovered a passion for history.

These days she lives in a little old cottage surrounded by bushland, writing stories about dark family secrets, rambling houses, characters haunted by the past, and settings that feature the uniquely beautiful Australian landscape. Anna’s debut bestselling novel was Thornwood House, followed by Lyrebird Hill and Beyond the Orchard. See AnnaRomer.com.au

Review: THE GREAT DIVIDE, L.J.M. Owen

  • this edition published by Echo Publishing 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-76068-582-9
  • 295 pages
  • source: review book from publisher

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

A city detective hunts a killer through a fog of lies in small town Tasmania.
Twisted Secrets. Hidden Victims. Monstrous Crimes.

In the rural Tasmanian town of Dunton, the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered, revealing a tortured life and death.

Detective Jake Hunter, newly arrived, searches for her killer among past residents of the home. He unearths pain, secrets and broken adults. Pushing aside memories of his own treacherous past, Jake focuses all his energy on the investigation. Why are some of the children untraceable? What caused such damage among the survivors?

The identity of her murderer seems hidden from Jake by Dunton’s fog of prejudice and lies, until he is forced to confront not only the town’s history but his own nature…

My Take

Detective Jake Hunter has the dual disadvantages of being a city boy, and of being from the mainland. He senses, as he begins the investigation into the murder of Ava O’Brien, that the local residents of Dunton have a lot they could tell him, but they are not going to.

The story begins with the disappearance of a 10 year old boy from a local camping ground. When he  is found he tells Jake Hunter that he saw a monster. This is Jake’s first case in Dunton and not at all what he was expecting. He is saddled with a local counsellor representing victims of crime, who just happens to be the daughter of his new station head, Aiden Kelly.

When he eventually comes across the body of Ava O’Brien in a derelict orchard, he finds that she has horrific injuries including genital mutilation. He learns that she was in charge of the local home for “bad girls” and that there are at least two girls who used to live there who have been adopted by locals.

Eventually Jake solves the crime, but the story is grisly, almost unbelievable, of corruption and exploitation all centred on the girls home that Ava O’Brien ran.

This novel represents a change of direction for Australian author L.J.M. Owen, and presumably the start of a new series. Jake Hunter has come to Tasmania to make a new start, to leave behind in Melbourne a life that just became too complicated. He was looking forward to a new, quiet, role as a country copper, but that isn’t what he got.

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.4, OLMEC OBITUARY

About the author
Dr L.J.M. Owen has degrees in archaeology, forensic science and librarianship. She speaks five languages and has travelled extensively through Europe and Asia. L.J. was inspired to write the Dr Pimms series by the neglected women’s stories she discovered between the cracks of popular archaeology. Three books in this series have been published by Echo Publishing. L.J.’s new novel, The Great Divide, introduces a new story world and characters. L.J. is also the Festival Director of the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, a celebration of literature and literacy in southern Tasmania, and divides her time between Canberra and southern Tasmania.

Review: PAINTING IN THE SHADOWS, Katherine Kovacic

  • this edition published by Echo publishing 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-76068-577-5
  • 278 pages
  • #2 in the Alex Clayton series

Synopsis (publisher)

Art dealer Alex Clayton and conservator John Porter are thrilled to be previewing the Melbourne International Museum of Art’s (MIMA) newest exhibition, until they witness a museum worker collapse and badly damage a reportedly cursed painting.

Belief in the curse is strengthened when MIMA’s senior conservator Meredith Buchanan dies less than twenty-four hours later while repairing the work. But Alex and John are convinced there is a decidedly human element at work in the museum.

The evidence sets them on the trail of a mysterious painting that could hold a key to Meredith’s death, and the stakes are raised higher when Alex is offered her dream job at MIMA. Damaging the museum’s reputation will jeopardise her professional future. The friends soon realise they are facing an adversary far more ruthless than they had anticipated, and there is much more at risk than Alex’s career.

My Take

This is the third novel by the author that I have read in recent weeks, and I’m hooked.

Once again we have a mixture of fact and fiction: the MIMA is a fictional setting, but the paintings that are part of the exhibition are not.

The author has hit on a winning combination in the form of the sleuthing pair art dealer Alex Clayton and conservator John Porter. They are onsite when a museum worker collapses onto one of the paintings to be featured in the coming exhibition. The painting is damaged and John is asked to be a consultant in its repair. However by next morning the MIMA conservator who is undertaking the repair is dead, supposedly a suicide. Alex picks up clue from the floor, one which the police have discounted, and she and John track down the killer from that point.

A well written and engaging story, with just enough detail about Alex and John and their relationship.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also read
4.5, THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN – #1
4.5, THE SHIFTING LANDSCAPE – #3

Review: TRUE WEST, David Whish-Wilson

  • format: e-book source through my local library (Libby)
  • ISBN     9781925815702 (Paperback)
  • Publisher     Fremantle Press
  • Publication Year     2019
  • Pages     264

Synopsis (publisher)

Western Australia, 1988. After betraying the Knights bikie gang, 17-year-old Lee Southern flees to the city with nothing left to lose.

Working as a rogue tow truck driver in Perth, he is captured by right-wing extremists whose combination of seduction and blackmail keeps him on the wrong side of the law and under their control.

As the true nature of what drives his captors unfolds, Lee becomes an unwilling participant in a breathtakingly ambitious plot – and a cold-blooded crime that will show just how much he, and everyone else, still has to lose.

My Take

Lee Southern has fled north west Western Australia after the disappearance of his father, the first president of the Knights bikie gang. Lee believes that the new Knights president has killed his father Jack Southern, and as a parting gesture Lee has burnt their latest plantation. So he is fully expecting the Knights to come after him.

The reader is introduced to a tough world that he/she is probably not familiar with: violent, racist, drug-taking, extremist. Lee imagines he will be able to earn money as a tow truck driver and does not realise the monopoly that a local group has on the trade. His involvement eventually leads to him being used in various “jobs” which give the gang a further hold over him. In addition Lee has contacted Emma, his girlfriend from Geraldton and this eventually puts her in jeopardy.

After the gang helps Lee locate his father the action ramps up even further.

The publisher’s page contains a pdf for book clubs.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
David Whish-Wilson was born in Newcastle, NSW, but grew up in Singapore, Victoria and WA. He left Australia aged eighteen to live for a decade in Europe, Africa and Asia. He is the author of The Summons, The Coves and three crime novels in the Frank Swann series: Line of Sight, Zero at the Bone and Old Scores. His non-fiction book, Perth, part of the NewSouth Books city series, was shortlisted for a WA Premier’s Book Award. David lives in Fremantle and coordinates the creative writing program at Curtin University.

Review: THE SHIFTING LANDSCAPE, Katherine Kovacic

  • this edition published by echo publishing 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-76069-644-4
  • 276 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #3 in the Alex Clayton series

Synopsis (publisher)

Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria’s Western District to value the McMillan family’s collection. At their historic sheep station, she finds an important and previously unknown colonial painting – and a family fraught with tension. There are arguments about the future of the property and its place in an ancient and highly significant indigenous landscape.

When the family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances and the painting is stolen, Alex decides to leave; then a toddler disappears and Alex’s faithful dog Hogarth goes missing. With fears rising for the safety of both child and hound, Alex and her best friend John, who has been drawn into the mystery, join searchers scouring the countryside. But her attempts to unravel the McMillan family secrets have put Alex in danger, and she’s not the only one.

Will the killer claim another victim? Or will the landscape reveal its mysteries to Alex in time?

My take

Alex Clayton is contacted by Alasdair McMillan and asked to come to stay at the family property Kinloch in Victoria’s Western District to value paintings that the family has accumulated over the years. In storage, among paintings damaged by a fire decades earlier, she finds one which will need restoration. She invites her friend conservator John Porter to join her at Kinloch the next day.

Dinner that night is a very tense affair as the family try to work out why Alex has been called in to asses the paintings. When Mac storms out at the end of the meal, it is the last time Alex will see him alive.

Events move quickly. Before John arrives next day Alasdair McMillan is dead, and the family is beginning to bicker over who will inherit what, in particular the very valuable painting that hangs in the sitting room. The police are called in, and the contents of Mac’s will are revealed, triggering a rapid series of events.

An assured piece of writing which I thoroughly enjoyed. Circumstances have led to me reading #3 in the series before getting my hands on #2, which I’m sure I’ll regret.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.5, THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN

Review: RETRIBUTION, Richard Anderson

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 428 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribe (July 2, 2018)
  • Publication Date: July 2, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07CMDDKZ3

Synopsis  (Amazon)

A rural-crime novel about finding out how to survive and surviving what you find.

In a small country town, an act of revenge causes five lives to collide. Early one Christmas morning, Graeme Sweetapple, a man down on his luck, is heading home with a truck full of stolen steers when he comes across an upended ute that has hit a tree. He is about to get involved with Luke, an environmental protestor who isn’t what he seems; a washed-up local politician, Caroline Statham, who is searching for a sense of purpose, but whose businessman husband seems to be sliding into corruption; and Carson, who is wild, bound to no one, and determined to escape her circumstances.

Into their midst comes Retribution, a legendary horse worth a fortune. Her disappearance triggers a cycle of violence and retaliation that threatens the whole community. As tensions build, they must answer one question: is true retribution ever possible — or even desirable?

My Take

“.. it was midnight on Christmas Eve, the best night of the year for stealing...

Graeme Sweetapple is driving some stolen steers back to his property late on Christmas Eve when he comes across an accident. The young people have been participating in a protest at a local picketed coal mine belonging to millionaire Bob Statham. He organises an ambulance for them, but as he leaves he is given some explosives that the young people have with them.

We also meet Luke who has been participating in the protest, but is actually working undercover for the mine’s management.
The third main character is Carson who has been working at the local supermarket, and has actually met the mine owner, whose wife is an ex-politician.
These five characters are central to the main action of the story and provide the links between the plot lines.

The author successfully brings these characters together in a couple of unlikely themes: the theft of a thoroughbred horse, and the disruption of activities at the coal mine.

This was the debut title by this author and well worth the read.

My rating: 4.3

I’ve also read BOXED

Review: IN THE CLEARING, J. P. Pomare

Synopsis (publisher)

HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY?

Amy has only ever known life in the Clearing. She knows what’s expected of her. She knows what to do to please her elders, and how to make sure the community remains happy and calm. That is, until a new young girl joins the group. She isn’t fitting in; she doesn’t want to stay. What happens next will turn life as Amy knows it on its head.

Freya has gone to great lengths to feel like a ‘normal person’. In fact, if you saw her go about her day with her young son, you’d think she was an everyday mum. That is, until a young girl goes missing and someone from her past, someone she hasn’t seen for a very long time, arrives in town.

As secrets of the past bubble up to the surface, this small town’s dark underbelly will be exposed and lives will be destroyed.

My Take

The story opens with an extract from Amy’s journal which ends with an intriguing phrase PROTECT THE QUEEN. (My brain immediately prompted the idea of a queen bee.)

Part One (GOOD GIRL, KEEP GOING!) opens with Freya and another intriguing phrase: Four days to go. Freya learns from the news that a child has been abducted. We learn that Freya learnt to behave by watching others. That she has a guard dog and that her suspicions are aroused by some young people camping on her land.

The story continues to evolve with Freya and Amy alternating as the narrators. We learn that Amy lives in a community called The Clearing. That Freya is a yoga teacher with a young son called Billy and that they live in rural Victoria.

This is a novel where clues are being dropped all the time. On the surface Freya is “normal” with an elderly mother in an aged care complex, and a brother travelling in Bali. Freya had some sort of trauma in the past when she “lost” another child.

So, have I told you enough to whet your appetite? There are some very clever constructs in this novel and a rather surprising twist in the plot towards the end. But I am not going to reveal them to you here.
If you must, read on – there is a clue about one of them below the next paragraph.

My rating: 4.6

About the author
J. P. Pomare was raised on a horse farm in rural New Zealand where he lived until he was eighteen before deciding to travel. After years abroad, including a twelve months living in North America, he settled in Melbourne, Australia and has lived there since.

His debut novel CALL ME EVIE was released to critical acclaim and won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel. IN THE CLEARING is his second novel.

Link: The Family
Quotation at the front of the book
I love children. Anne Hamilton-Byrne

review: BOXED, Richard Anderson

  • this edition published by Scribe 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-935713-65-7
  • 275 pages
  • source: review book from publisher

Synopsis (publisher)

‘I jump back, curse in rapid fire, and then lean forward and shove the box hard, off the bench, and away from me. It thuds on the floor. Is this a nasty trick?’

Dave Martin is down on his luck: his wife has left him; his farm is a failure; his house is a mess; he has withdrawn from his community and friends; and tragedy has stolen his capacity to care. He passes the time drinking too much and buying cheap tools online, treating the delivered parcels as gifts from people who care about him.

And then boxes begin to arrive in the mail: boxes that he didn’t order, but ones that everyone around him seems to want desperately. As he tries to find out the secret of the boxes, Dave is drawn into a crazy world of red herrings and wrong turns, good guys and bad, false friends and true, violence, lust, fear, revenge, and a lot, lot more. It’s not a world he understands, but is it the only one Dave can live in?

My take

Dave Martin’s friends and neighbours all worry about him – he has had more than his fair share of knocks, lives on his own on a remote farm, and feels a bit sorry for himself. He orders machinery to be delivered through the post, generally small cheap machines, but then some boxes arrive that he hasn’t ordered. Then two of his neighbours ask him if boxes they were expecting have accidentally been delivered to him. Soon after that a neighbour is attacked.

Woven through the other sometimes quirky threads is the story of what has happened to his son James.

Richard Anderson is an astute observer of Australian rural life. His accounts of the hardships of living on the land have a ring of truth.

One of the threads of this story (No! I’m not going to tell you which
one it is, just that it is a bit macabre ) – will probably send readers
scuttling to Google to see if it is possible.

This is the second of Anderson’s crime novels, and I will certainly be reading the first.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Richard Anderson is a second-generation farmer from northern New South Wales. He has been running a beef-cattle farm for twenty-five years, but has also worked as a miner and had a stint on the local council. Richard is the author of two rural-crime novels, Retribution and Boxed, both published by Scribe. He lives with his wife, four dogs, and a cat.