Review: RIVER OF SALT, Dave Warner

  • this book published by Fremantle Press 2019
  • ISBN 9-781925-591569
  • 246 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Publisher)

1961, Philadelphia. After having to give up his brother to save his own life, hitman Blake Saunders flees the Mob and seeks refuge on the other side of the world. Two years later he has been reborn in a tiny coastal Australian town. The ghosts of the past still haunt him, but otherwise Coral Shoals is paradise. Blake surfs, and plays guitar in his own bar, the Surf Shack.

But then the body of a young woman is found at a local motel, and evidence links her to the Surf Shack. When Blake’s friend is arrested, and the local sergeant doesn’t want to know, it becomes clear to Blake – who knows a thing or two about murder – that the only way to protect his paradise is to find the killer.

My Take

Blake Saunders fled to Australia, deserting his older brother Jimmy, a fact that is still raw in his mind.
He is forever alert to the fact that the Mob he escaped might still track him down and so he watches strangers with suspicion.

The novel is set in 1963, in coastal New South Wales where Blake has set up a bar which feeds off the surf culture of the remote town it is set in. He is on good terms with the local police sergeant, and they look after each other.

The quiet is disrupted when a murder takes place and city police move in to put everyone under a microscope. Blake is none too keen to have his own background investigated. At the same time two men appear, operating a “protection” racket, providing insurance against injury and arson attacks. Blake knows exactly what they are offering. The local police sergeant is not able to help much, but Blake knows he can handle this problem himself.

This was a good read, an engaging plot.

This is the first novel I have read by Dave Warner, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Dave Warner is an author, musician and screenwriter. His first novel City of Light won the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Fiction, and Before it Breaks (2015) the Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime fiction. His latest novel Clear to the Horizon features the lead characters from both these books. Dave Warner originally came to national prominence with his gold album Mug’s Game, and his band Dave Warner’s from the Suburbs. In 2017 he released his tenth album When. He has been named a Western Australian State Living Treasure and has been inducted into the WAMi Rock’n’Roll of Renown.
Awards
Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction (Longlisted 2018)
International DUBLIN Literary Award 2019 (Longlisted 2018)
Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction (Winner 2016)
Western Australian Premier’s Book Award (Co-winner 1996)

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Review: THE COTTAGE AT ROSELLA COVE, Sandie Docker

  • this edition published by Penguin Random House Australia 2019
  • ISBN 978-0-14-378921-5
  • 343 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)

Welcome to the place of new beginnings…
Why had the house stayed empty so long?  Why had it never been sold?

LOST

Nicole has left her city life for the sleepy town of Rosella Cove, renting the old cottage by the water. She plans to keep to herself – but when she uncovers a hidden box of wartime love letters, she realises she’s not the  first person living in this cottage to hide secrets and pain.

FOUND

Ivy’s quiet life in Rosella Cove is tainted by the events of World War II, with ramifications felt for many years to come. But one night a drifter appears and changes everything. Perhaps his is the soul she’s meant to save.

FORGOTTEN

Charlie is too afraid of his past to form any lasting ties in the cove.  He knows he must make amends for his tragic deeds long ago, but he  can’t do it alone. Maybe the new tenant in the cottage will help him  fulfil a promise and find the redemption he isn’t sure he deserves.

Welcome to the cottage at Rosella Cove, where three damaged souls meet and have the chance to rewrite their futures.

My Take

A mystery but not crime fiction.

After I had so enjoyed THE KOOKABURRA CREEK CAFE I determined to read Sandie Docker’s second book and it did not disappoint.

Three stories come together and the reader finds the connections between them and the events that have brought their lives together.

A very enjoyable read.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.4, THE KOOKABURRA CREEK CAFE

Review: ALL OUR SECRETS, Jennifer Lane

Synopsis (publisher)

A girl called Gracie.

A small town called Coongahoola with the dark Bagooli River running through it.

The Bleeders — hundreds of ‘Believers’ who set up on the banks of the river, who start to buy up the town and win souls.

The River Children
— born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They begin to go missing, one after another.

Gracie Barrett is the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.

Gracie is funny and kind, bullied and anguished, and her life spirals out of control when she discovers she knows what no one else does: who is responsible for the missing children.

Coongahoola is where hope and fear collide, where tender adolescence is confronted by death, where kindness is a glimmer of light in the dark.

My Take

Gracie Barrett, the central figure in this novel, reminded me a lot of Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact at one stage Gracie is reading the book. In some senses Gracie has a wisdom beyond her years, and in other ways she is naive in her acceptance of what is happening in the adult world. There is a deceptive complexity to this plot.

The first mystery to solve is what actually happened on the night of the River Picnic. And then, as the River Children born in its aftermath, begin to go missing and are then are discovered murdered, what is the thread that connects them? Why are these murders happening, what has triggered them after 8 years?

The town of Coongahoola is divided with the arrival of Saint Bede and his followers, and the followers become easy scapegoats to blame for the murders. Gracie is particularly affected when he mother and father breakup, her mother leaves home, and is then chosen by Saint Bede to be his 4th wife. Through all Grandma Bett provides much needed stability, but still the murders happen.

And then Gracie unwittingly identifies the murderer.

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Boo Radley had been bad?

My rating: 4.5

In 1995, doubled over under the enormous weight of her backpack (lugging a 10kg laptop among other things), Jennifer Lane left Australia to satisfy her curiosity about the rest of the world – and to fulfil her dream of writing a novel. Twenty-two years, one husband and two daughters later, her mum has finally given up asking when she’s coming home.

For two decades now, Jennifer has lived in Wellington, New Zealand with the aforementioned family. She was a winner of New Zealand Book Month’s Six Pack 2 writing competition in 2007 and her short stories have appeared in publications on both sides of the Tasman, including Southerly and Island.

It took a little longer than she planned, but ALL OUR SECRETS is her first novel.

Her website and blog are at: jenniferlane.co.nz

Review: KILL SHOT, Garry Disher

Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.

No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.

Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him.  Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job.  Lucrative yes, easy no.

After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich.  Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot.  Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.

gun 02The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it.  And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.

Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize.  And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.

There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge.  Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable.  Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail.  A knowing man but usually one step behind.

merewether beach newcastle nswThe drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond.  Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target.  No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.

Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series.  The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.

♥ This review reproduced from Thoughts Become Words with kind permission from Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Review: KILL SHOT, Garry Disher

  • this edition published by Text Publishing 2018
  • ISBN 9-781925-773224
  • 242 pages
  • Wyatt #9
  • source: my local library
  • for US readers: available on Kindle

Synopsis (Good Reads)

The latest gripping story in the popular Wyatt thriller series kicks off in Sydney and then unfolds on the beaches of Newcastle.

Some people just work better alone. Wyatt’s one of them. He’s been getting by on nice quiet little burglaries—one-man jobs—when he gets wind of something bigger.

A corporate crook, notorious Ponzi schemer, set to face court and certain jail time. He’s about to skip bail the old-fashioned way: on a luxury yacht with a million dollars in cash.

Wyatt thinks it sounds like something he should get into.

He’s not alone.

My Take

Most of Wyatt’s recent jobs have been brokered by a day-release prisoner named Sam Kramer. Through his daughter Kramer passes on information he has gleaned from other prison inmates.  As a result Wyatt relieves people of their valuables, mainly through burglary, passes them on to a fence, and puts a commission into an safety deposit box for Kramer, keeping the remainder for himself. Periodically Kramer’s daughter contacts him to let him know the family needs some money. It works well.

Wyatt is a cautious, yet confident man, careful to remain anonymous, leaving nothing his victims can identify him by, and watchful for signs that he has been noticed. He thinks back over what he’s done, looking for errors.

The weak link in the scheme is Kramer’s son who passes Wyatt’s name on to someone else who like to cash in on the jobs that Wyatt is doing.

There are a couple of linked stories in this novel: a Ponzi scheme operator planning to skip the country with about a million dollars, and a couple from South Australia who’ve stolen a luxury boat.
Wyatt gets information about the first from Kramer. Looks like it might be easy pickings if he can work out where the Ponzi scheme money is.

There definitely an Australian flavour to this novel. And some how you forget that Wyatt is on the wrong side of the law.

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also read (not all are Wyatt series novels)
4.7, WYATT
4.8, WHISPERING DEATH
4.7, BLOOD MOON
4.2, THE HEAT
4.5, SIGNAL LOSS
4.7, HER
4.9, UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS

Review: THE EMPTY BEACH, Peter Corris

‘The Empty Beach’ by Peter Corris

Peter Corris Cliff Hardy Banner 01

“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning.  Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.

The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney.  Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud.  Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.

Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values.  And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time.  Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight.  But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival.  He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating.  This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.

Crime Scene Tape 08

My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 40+ series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story.  Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.

While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”.  They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author.  For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy.  The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life.  However, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.

Fast forward to future ‘Spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century.  To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate.  The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion.  Although he still holds a torch for his ex-wife Cyn.  And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.

Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage.  When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward – copied from Gretchen’s blog Thoughts Become Words with her kind permission

Empty Beach
Beachside

review: THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER, Kayte Nunn

Synopsis (publisher)

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

My Take

The novel is a romantic mystery, not my usual fare of crime fiction: written with a dual time frame, with over a century between them.

Anna is renovating a house in Paddington in Sydney, left to her by her grandmother when the builders find some intriguing objects sealed up in the wall. Anna has a gardening business, and has a “botanical” background. Intrigued by what she has found she tries to find out something about their provenance. As she reaches back in history, so the other narrative in the story reaches forward.

The second chapter takes us to Cornwall in 1886, where, at Trebithick Hall, Elizabeth’s dying father requests that she goes to Chile, to carry out a task that he had intended to do himself.

The two narratives are interlaced throughout and gradually Anna pieces together a family history that she had no idea about.

A good read.

My rating: 4.5

About the author (website)

Kayte Nunn is a former book and magazine editor, and the author of two contemporary novels, ROSE’S VINTAGE and ANGEL’S SHARE. THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER was Kayte’s first novel of transporting historical fiction, followed by THE FORGOTTEN LETTERS OF ESTHER DURRANT, set largely in the atmospheric Isles of Scilly.

I now live in the Northern Rivers of NSW and am also a mother to two girls. When not writing, reading or ferrying them around I can be found in the kitchen, procrasti-baking.

I love nothing more than a generous slice of warm cake, a cup of tea, a comfortable place to sit and a good book to read!

Review: PRESERVATION, Jock Serong

Synopsis (publisher)

Preservation, based on the true story of the wreck of the Sydney Cove, sees master storyteller Jock Serong turn his talents to historical narrative.

On a beach not far from the isolated settlement of Sydney in 1797, a fishing boat picks up three shipwreck survivors, distressed and terribly injured. They have walked hundreds of miles across a landscape whose features—and inhabitants—they have no way of comprehending. They have lost fourteen companions along the way. Their accounts of the ordeal are evasive.

It is Lieutenant Joshua Grayling’s task to investigate the story. He comes to realise that those fourteen deaths were contrived by one calculating mind and, as the full horror of the men’s journey emerges, he begins to wonder whether the ruthless killer poses a danger to his own family.

My take

Told by 5 main narrators, with the reader often having to determine the identity of the narrator through the content, and written as part of a PhD in Creative Writing, Jock Serong brings to life a little known episode in the early history of the colony of New South Wales.

The Sydney Cove has come from India via a route that takes her around the western most tip of the continent, down the western side of Van Diemen’s Land, and then up the eastern coast of the island, only to be wrecked in what would become known as Bass Strait. The boat has a valuable cargo of rum and tea which are stored on Preservation Island when the crew takes to the long boat only to be wrecked again on the southern coast of New South Wales.  (A lovely set of maps has been provided to orientate the reader)

Those from the wrecked long boat, 17 of them, begin the walk to Sydney Harbour, over 500 miles to the north, but only 3 arrive. One of the Europeans keeps a journal but it is obvious from the re-telling of the tale once they reach Sydney Harbour that each of the survivors has seen the events very differently.

An interesting story, graphically told.

My rating: 4.8

I’ve also read
5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET
5.0, ON THE JAVA RIDGE

Review: THE ONES YOU TRUST, Caroline Overington

Synopsis (publisher)

Emma Cardwell, celebrity mum and host of top-rating morning TV show Cuppa, seems to have it all: fame, money and a gorgeous family. But when her little girl disappears from day-care – captured on CCTV footage at a nearby shopping centre leaving with someone Emma has never seen before – her world is turned upside down.

As the minutes tick by, and pressure mounts, every part of Emma’s life comes under examination. Is this a kidnapping, the work of a crazed stalker, or an obsessed fan? Is
somebody out for revenge or is this something closer to home?

And there is the aching question: how much do we really know about those who
care for our children . . . and about the people we love?

My Take

When Emma arrives home after a long day she finds that her husband has forgotten to collect their young daughter from child care. But it is now 8 pm so where is Fox? Why hasn’t anybody from the child care centre contacted her?

The police are called in and despite their best efforts to keep the news low key the television station that Emma works for takes over the management of the publicity. Fox’s disappearance turns out to be a publicity bonanza as PJ, Emma’s colleague on the morning show, head up a live presentation that focusses on Fox’s recovery.

The book has the reader guessing who has been responsible for the kidnapping, perhaps even Emma herself, and the story twists and turns almost unpredictably. I certainly didn’t forsee the final explanation.

The story takes an almost cynical look at what goes on in the television industry to keep programmes alive, presenters attractive and popular, and fresh stories coming.

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also read
4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY
4.5, NO PLACE LIKE HOME
4.7, I CAME TO SAY GOODBYE
4.5, CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?
4.5, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Review: DEAD HEAT, Peter Cotton

  • this edition published by Scribe Publications 2018
  • #2 in the Darren Glass series
  • source: review copy from publisher
  • ISBN 978-1-923713-42-8
  • 299 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

Detective Darren Glass is back, and the stakes are higher than ever.

When the battered body of a young Aboriginal woman washes up onto a beach at Jervis Bay, Australian Federal Police Detective Darren Glass is brought in from Canberra to investigate. Glass quickly ties the murder to the disappearance of a sailor from the nearby naval base, and is forced to partner up with a senior intelligence officer from the Royal Australian Navy.

Together they follow the trail of evidence to the red heart of Australia, where a confrontation with outlaw bikies and Aboriginal activists proves deadly. As the body count mounts and foreign links emerge, the conspiracy at the heart of the case becomes a threat to Australia’s national security, as well as regional peace.

My take

This thriller can hold its head up on the international stage. Cotton spins a plausible tale, with Australia the object of fine balance in international politics and under threat from its neighbours.

A dead body on territory theoretically under the jurisdiction of the Australian Federal Police sparks an investigation. The AFP detective Darren Glass finds that he is not actually in control, and will be shadowed by someone appointed by the Navy. In the background is the story of his girlfriend Jean a journalist who has disappeared in upheavals in Indonesia.

A second theme is the underlying resentment that Aboriginal activists are harbouring against the white domination.

This novel brings together current themes in the Australian psyche.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also reviewed 4.8, DEAD CAT BOUNCE

About the author