Review: THE LOST MAN, Jane Harper

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 574 KB
    Print Length: 352 pages
    Publisher: Macmillan Australia (October 23, 2018)
    Publication Date: October 23, 2018
    Sold by: Macmillan
    Language: English
    ASIN: B07CST7DYT
  • author website

Synopsis (Amazon)

The man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last chance for their middle brother, Cameron.

The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

For readers who loved The Dry and Force of Nature, Jane Harper has once again created a powerful story of suspense, set against a dazzling landscape.

My take

Here really is an Australian author to keep your eye on.

In this novel she has captured so well the harshness of the Australian outback. The challenges of life on an outback station. The way that in a small community where everyone knows everything, some small incident, that might get lost in the city, damages reputations and blights life for decades. The way that genetics and the harsh environment create character traits that are passed on from one generation to another.

It is a book with lots of little mysteries, because in this fractured family no-one really says what they think, because they are afraid. Why is Nathan Bright living in isolation on a small hopeless holding which is never going to amount to anything? Why hasn’t he spoken to his younger brothers for over six months? Did someone kill Cameron or did he die of natural causes? Why is his car 9 km away from his body?

This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It is a stand-alone so you don’t have to read her earlier books, but I guarantee you will look for them.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
4.7, THE DRY
5.0, FORCE OF NATURE

About the author (author website)

Jane Harper is the author of international bestsellers The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. Her books are published in more than 35 territories worldwide.

Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year, the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year and the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Year. Film rights for The Dry  have been acquired by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea.

Jane was born in Manchester in the UK, and moved to Australia with her family at age eight. She spent six years in Boronia, Victoria, and during that time gained Australian citizenship.

Returning to the UK with her family as a teenager, she lived in Hampshire before studying English and History at the University of Kent in Canterbury.On graduating, she completed a journalism entry qualification and got her first reporting job as a trainee on the Darlington & Stockton Times in County Durham.Jane worked for several years as a senior news journalist for the Hull Daily Mail, before moving back to Australia in 2008.

She worked first on the Geelong Advertiser, and in 2011 took up a role with the Herald Sun in Melbourne.

In 2014, Jane submitted a short story which was one of 12 chosen for the Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition.That inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously, breaking through with The Dry at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2015.

Jane lives in St Kilda with her husband and daughter.

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Review: REDEMPTION POINT, Candice Fox

  • this edition published in Bantam 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-14378-188-2
  • 410 pages
  • Author website

Synopsis (Author website)

When former police detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting 13-year-old Claire Bingley, he hoped the Queensland rainforest town of Crimson Lake would be a good place to disappear. But nowhere is safe from Claire’s devastated father.

Dale Bingley has a brutal revenge plan all worked out – and if Ted doesn’t help find the real abductor, he’ll be its first casualty.

Meanwhile, in a dark roadside hovel called the Barking Frog Inn, the bodies of two young bartenders lie on the beer-sodden floor. It’s Detective Inspector Pip Sweeney’s first homicide investigation – complicated by the arrival of private detective Amanda Pharrell to
‘assist’ on the case. Amanda’s conviction for murder a decade ago has left her with some odd behavioural traits, top-to-toe tatts – and a keen eye for killers . . .

For Ted and Amanda, the hunt for the truth will draw them into a violent dance with evil. Redemption is certainly on the cards – but it may well cost them their lives . . .

My take

This is a sequel to the earlier book CRIMSON LAKE when Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell first joined in partnership, so I would really recommend reading the two books in order.

Ted is still determined to track down the man who abducted Claire Bingley and so caused Ted’s dismissal from the police force, his marriage break up, and his estrangement from his small daughter.  But media interest in Ted’s story is still high and he is approached to appear on an Australia -wide television show, ostensibly to give his side of the story. A podcast is keeping Justice for Ted alive as its central theme.

Ted and Amanda are asked to work with local police and the inexperienced DI Sweeney to work out who murdered the bartenders at the Barking Frog Inn.

There are several “voices” telling the story in this novel – Ted’s, Amanda’s, Pip Sweeney’s, and a diary which has been begun as a therapy journal. The identity of the writer does not become obvious until the novel is well underway.

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also read
5.0, HADES 
4.3, EDEN
4.6, CRIMSON LAKE

Review: THE BONE IS POINTED, Arthur Upfield – audio book

Synopsis:  (Audible)

Arthur Upfield’s The Bone is Pointed follows Inspector Bonaparte who solves mysteries in the Australian outback. Published in the 1940’s, this story not only offers up a good  mystery but also a portrait of the aborigines and Australia in the early 20th century. Peter Hosking tackles this story with verve. He speaks with a clear Australian accent while developing the characters believably, giving each his own attributes. Meanwhile, his varied pacing makes the story easy to follow. Mystery lovers and history buffs alike will have fun with the Inspector Bonaparte Mysteries.

Jack Anderson was a big man with a foul temper, a sadist and a drunk. Five months after his horse appeared riderless, no trace of the man has surfaced and no one seems to care. But Bony is determined to follow the cold trail and smoke out some answers. 

My Take

In this tale Bony appears as a Queensland C.I.B. detective on leave, turning up at an outback station where a rouseabout has gone missing during a storm. His horse turns up at the station the morning after the storm riderless and there is no trace of Jack Anderson. No black trackers are available because the whole local tribe has gone to visit a female elder thought to be dying. By the time a tracker can be found heavy rains have obliterated Anderson’s tracks.

During the story Bony becomes ill with the “Barcoo sickness” but station owner is convinced that the bones has been pointed at him. At first Bony is determined that he will not succumb but he becomes weaker and weaker despite the attempts of the local policeman to help him.

Bony is also proud of his reputation that no case that he has tackled has ever gone unsolved, but that is because he stays on the case until the very end, despite telegrams from his superiors that he must return to the city immediately.

What impressed me was the detailed observations of Aboriginal culture and customs that the author must have recorded. He also presents both sides of the argument with regard to preserving aboriginal heritage. One station family in particular recognise the damage that contact with white people has done to the aborigines, but at the same time are a bit patronising in the way they deal with the aborigines on their station. The character who has disappeared has mistreated aboriginal stockmen, whipping one almost to death, and so is very unpopular. No-one can work out why “Old Lacey” the station owner has kept him on.

There is more than one mystery in this book, and it is good reading, despite the warning from the publisher that Arthur Upfield reflects attitudes of his time, not necessarily views we would share today.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
DEATH OF A SWAGMAN
4.4, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY
4.0, A MAN OF TWO TRIBES
4.4, THE BATTLING PROPHET
4.3, MR JELLY’S BUSINESS 
4.5, DEATH OF A LAKE 

Review: CRIMSON LAKE, Candice Fox

  • this edition published by Penguin Random House Australia 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-14-378190-5
  • 389 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)

12.46: Thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12.47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12.52: The girl is missing . . .

Six minutes – that’s all it took to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.

Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy number one.
Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted.

But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move.
And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide . . .

My Take

Amanda Pharrell and Ten Conkaffey must surely rate among the oddest detective duo ever created. Amanda is a convicted killer while Ted is an ex-detective, accused of  child abduction, but not convicted. Importantly, not acquitted either. He has spent 8 months on remand, then released without conviction, leaving a broken marriage, trying to find anonymity in far North Queensland.

Amanda is running a detective agency and both she and Ted have been pointed towards each other. Her current case is that of a missing, almost certainly dead, writer. Amanda is being employed by Stella, Jake Scully’s wife. She primarily wants evidence that Jake is dead so that she can claim his life insurance and get on with her life.

Once Ted teams up with Amanda he becomes an object of interest for the locals and in particular two local policemen who try to make things as unpleasant as possible for him. Journalists and local media make plenty of the new detective partnership and local hoons visit Ted’s house regularly.

A very gritty book, full of North Queensland steaminess and danger.  Several mysteries to be solved. Good reading.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also read
5.0, HADES 
4.3, EDEN

About the author

Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from
Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings.
The daughter of a prison parole officer and an enthusiastic
foster-carer, Candice spent many of her early Christmases travelling to a
Sydney correctional facility in the family minibus to knock on prison
cell windows, run around the razor-wired yard and eat fruitcake prepared
by inmates. While her mother and stepfather developed an ever-growing
mob of Sydney’s most disadvantaged children throughout her later youth,
entertainment had to be cheap. She spent her school holidays exploring
free, open spaces – farms, bushland and cemeteries.

As a cynical and trouble-making teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the calamity of her home life.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a
brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen.
At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school
through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. In 2015, she
began collaborating with best selling author James Patterson on a series
of books featuring Detective Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue.
Candice’s books Hades, Eden and Fall are published with Random House Australia and are in multiple translations. Hades and Eden both won Ned Kelly Awards presented by the Australian Crime Writers Association.

Review: THE TWISTED KNOT by J.M. Peace

Having been very impressed with J.M. Peace’s debut novel A TIME TO RUN, I approached THE TWISTED KNOT with that mixture of anticipation and worry that always surrounds second books. Happily, the worry was misplaced.

Somewhat paradoxically one of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is that it is not all that similar to its predecessor. The author’s talent is still on show and the central character from the first, police constable Sammi Willis, is also at the heart of this one but there is never any signs of this becoming the first in a line of clones that can often, understandably but annoyingly, follow a successful debut. This is different in pacing, the kind of story it tells and in its overall sensibility. It’s still very, very good though; no worrying necessary.

Here Sammi is still recovering from the events depicted in the first novel. Physically she’s OK but not quite mentally ready to return to full duties yet so she’s working on the front counter of the police station in the rural Queensland town of Angel’s Crossing. Which is where she first learns that townspeople are angry. A man accused of being a pedophile in the town some years ago is apparently ‘at it’ again. He was not convicted last time and locals are determined that this time there will be justice, even if they have to deliver it themselves. All Sammi and her colleagues have to go on is unsubstantiated rumours, no victim has come forward. And Sammi’s superior officers make themselves scarce rather than face the angry mob that confronts Sammi. What are they hiding?

It’s difficult to talk about the many fine attributes of this book without spoiling its plot but I will say the story is a ripper. It’s not the same kind of intense, frightening story the first book told but it’s equally compelling and suspenseful. Here there are layers of secrets being kept by many locals and the way these are revealed keeps readers guessing right to the end. There’s more complexity here too because it’s not quite so clear in depicting who is and who isn’t doing the right thing. Because there’s what’s legal and then there’s what’s right and they’re not always the same thing. At least not for some of the residents of Angel’s Crossing. It’s quite thought-provoking at times in the way it makes the reader contemplate what they might do when faced with some of the scenarios depicted in the book.

Peace is a serving police officer (using a pseudonym) so it’s not surprising that the way the various aspects of police work and ‘the life’ are shown have a real ring of authenticity to them. The different types of personality attracted to the work are on show as are the variety of elements of the job. Although they do exist it’s not all car chases and shoot outs and Peace does well in showing the whole job without slowing the book down or making it dull. She also does well at showing the limitations of the legal system and the frustrations that result for both officers and the public.

The character development is well done too. Sammi’s struggles to overcome the mental issues which arose after she was chased by a serial killer are problematic but no so debilitating they threaten to destroy her. It must be a difficult balance to achieve in trying to depict such a thing sensitively and realistically. There are a few hurdles in her personal life too but these are also shown in a believable, balanced way. The townspeople who are impacted by the possible resurgence of the pedophile activity are also well drawn. Their anger and desire to take matters into their own hands are entirely credible.

All in all then another terrific read from J.M. Peace. I am especially pleased when authors try new things and take some risks with their storytelling. Even if it doesn’t always work I’d rather this than a clone any day. But, in this instance at least, Peace’s change of pace and tone work very well, leaving me keen to see what she does next.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 5th book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Pan Macmillian, 2016
ISBN: 9781743538678
Length: 303 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: CRIMSON LAKE by Candice Fox

I’m not sure if it’s a standalone novel or the start of a new series but either way Candice Fox’s CRIMSON LAKE is determined to be memorable. Every one of its 389 pages is packed with people committing crimes, investigating crimes or trying to prove their own innocence of crimes they’ve been accused of.

Most of the story is told from Ted Conkaffey’s point of view. When we meet him Ted is living a kind of half-life after having spent 8 months on remand for the rape and attempted murder of a young girl. His case was dropped for lack of evidence not because there is any other viable suspect and the charges can be reactivated at any time. Just about everyone – including Ted’s former colleagues in the police force, his ex wife and the general public – believe him guilty despite his consistent claims of innocence. So Ted has made his way to far north Queensland and gone to ground. Crimson Lake is the sort of place where people can and do hide from their pasts. But even this place may not be up to the task of hiding from determined vigilantes (some of whom wear a uniform) a man the whole world thinks of as a guilty-but-not-convicted paedophile.

Ted is put in contact with Amanda Pharrell, the region’s lone private investigator. Amanda is afraid of cars, loves to speak in rhymes and spent 10 years in prison for the murder of a fellow teenager. She is investigating the disappearance of celebrated local author Jack Scully who, it seems, may have been taken by a crocodile. His wife wants proof that he’s really dead and that he didn’t commit suicide.

The pair form a friendship of sorts as they look into the author’s deranged fans and secret life for clues to his disappearance. The two outsiders develop a genuine, if prickly, care for each other but their interactions are charged with too much dark humour to stray into mushy territory. Which is all for the best in my opinion and this relationship is one of the book’s strengths. Other characters – good guys and bad ones – are also well drawn.

Although very complicated (seriously I’ve only skimmed a portion of the book’s happenings here) the disparate strands of storyline are not difficult to follow and for those who like their crime fiction packed with action and surprising twists look no further. The book stretched the bounds of credibility at times for me as so many elements of what happened to Ted, Amanda and Jack were the result of the kinds of extremes of human behaviour that I struggled to believe would all coalesce around such a small group of people in such a small place. But the book is an old-fashioned romp of a tale about people I had grown to care about and I will freely admit to staying up way past my bedtime to find out how CRIMSON LAKE was all going to end. Next-day drowsiness is the sign of a superior reading experience.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 3rd book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Penguin [2017]
ISBN: 9780143781905
Length: 389 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from the library

Review: VANISHING POINT by Pat Flower

For this month’s Crimes of the Century read I dived into little-known Australian author Pat Flower’s 1975 novel VANISHING POINT which means the book also counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge obligations.

vanishingpointflowerThe edition of VANISHING POINT I read was published in the 1990’s as the first of a local publisher’s series of publications aiming to breathe new life into forgotten Australian crime stories. A noble aim indeed (and many of the later instalments are wonderful reads) but I’m finding it hard to believe it set the series off with a bang. If I had to describe the book in a single word it would be languid, which doesn’t sit well with the blurb’s claims of it being a ‘claustrophobic thriller’. Claustrophobic yes; thrilling not so much.

The book’s structure appears to take shape from its author’s other life as a stage and screen writer, having three distinct acts. In the first act Sydney couple Geraldine and Noel take a driving and camping holiday to Far North Queensland with some acquaintances. The trip is not a success. In the second act the pair are back in Sydney and attempting to get life back to normal. The final act returns us all to the monotony of driving and camping in the humid north. There are less than a handful of dramatic incidents in all three acts combined. This doesn’t make the book terrible – as a portrait of one human’s madness it’s quite exquisite – but it is a bit slow and I can’t imagine it would attract a wide audience.

VANISHING POINT is less a story and more a study of Geraldine’s seriously skewed inner life. Geraldine doesn’t really do anything. She doesn’t work, she has no kids, she doesn’t belong to groups or do charity work or have any friends. At home she lies by the pool all day – not even a book in her hand – and on the camping trips she sits and stares and thinks and keeps herself as distant as possible from her travelling companions. The only thing she actively does is obsess, mostly about her husband. She wants always to be near him, if not touching him then with him. She has a jealous hatred of anyone else who spends time with him – business partner, friend, possible lover – and she smothers him. Of course she doesn’t see it as smothering but even through the lens of Geraldine’s view of the world – hardly an unbiased one – we can see that Noel is suffering. Geraldine is disdainful of almost everyone else she comes across. She can barely remember people’s names they are so insignificant. Even the numerous men she assumes to be in love with her have a sort of shimmering, semi-transparent quality to them.

In an Afterword this edition’s editors quote the author as having said

…Why murder? I’m absorbed in character, not in murder. In ordinary people a bit round the bend. I like to follow the effects on my characters of heredity, environment and circumstance, and reveal in action, reaction and interaction the instability which might in real life go unnoticed but in my books is fatal. For my crackpots murder is the only way out.

And in VANISHING POINT she does exactly this. Well almost. I’d have liked to know a little more about Geraldine’s past…to glean some more about why her psyche was so damaged. There is a hint of it (don’t blink, you’ll miss it) but it doesn’t explain everything. Although perhaps that’s the point? Sometimes people are just ‘crackpots’ and there really isn’t a rational explanation for their behaviour? However true that may be it’s not a notion that I’m comfortable with which perhaps explains why I struggled with the book in parts. My fault not the author’s then.

Because the book is so much about Geraldine’s inner life there really isn’t much to set it in 1975 versus any other time in history. There’s no hint of the tumultuous 70’s taking place outside Geraldine’s head (one character wearing a kaftan is the only concrete reference to the decade I noticed). The only thought that struck me was that, being a book about an obsessive, controlling woman who poses a danger to her domestic partner, the book might struggle to get published today? I don’t know this to be true of course, it’s just a thought, but it seems to me that these days stories about obsession and control have to put the male in the dangerous role. Has that particular pendulum swung irreversibly?

VANISHING POINT is well written and does exactly what the author set out to do. I found it a bit slow going but admit that’s likely down to my liking for more of a balance between action and introspection. And my discomfort over the novel’s premise – that sometimes irrational, horrendous behaviour might have no explanation – can’t really be considered a criticism of the book.


AWW2016This is book 17.5 that I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge (one book was written by a father daughter team so I’m only counting it as a half). For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: This edition Wakefield Press 1993, original edition 1975
ISBN: 1862542929
Length: 200 pages
Format: Paperback

Review: DEADLY DIPLOMACY by Jean Harrod

DeadlyDiplomacyHarrodWhere she has followed the dictum to ‘write what you know’ Harrod’s efforts in DEADLY DIPLOMACY are successful. Her many years in the diplomatic service lends authenticity to the book’s depiction of British diplomat Jessica Turner’s efforts to support the sister of a British women who is murdered in Queensland. The victim was involved with a Very Important international trade deal so as well as trying to alleviate the fears of the victim’s paranoid sister Turner must liaise with harried local police and juggle strained high level relationships between private and public organisations. When allegations of corruption and the death of a Federal politician form part of this narrative’s mix, things really do get interesting for Turner and, by extension, the reader.

Other elements of the novel were, for me, less successful. The most significant of these was the high body count and violence which turned what could have been a thoughtful story into a bloodbath of the type that doesn’t interest me terribly much. I was surprised to see the Sydney Morning Herald describe the book as a ‘light mystery’ given the number of brutal killings, including a completely pointless (story wise) graphic murder of a teenage girl. The fact that these crimes are being committed by one of the ‘crazed chap who loves killing‘ type of characters makes it worse for me. I accept that nature (or nurture?) throws up one of these nutters every now and then in the real world but not nearly as often as this kind of thriller would have me believe. And regardless of their epidemiological likelihood they are boring. A person who kills because he (or she) likes to kill offers little of interest to a reader looking for character development and motivation.

The writing itself is also awkward at times. This is a plot driven book with lots of dialogue to move things along and quite a bit of that dialogue doesn’t ring true. It’s fair enough that Jessica Tuner and the victim’s sister – both English women who have only been in Australia a short time – are not attuned to local speech patterns and terminology but the rest of the characters are meant to be locals. I can’t imagine too many Australians wouldn’t twig early on that this is a book written by an outsider (and one with a different take on social class than most Aussies) but I suppose no one else will know or care. I see that the author’s second book takes Jessica Turner to a different setting and I imagine I won’t know enough about that place to be able to tell if the dialogue is equally out of place so perhaps this really doesn’t matter much in the big scheme of things.

The story itself rips along and engages the reader in wanting to learn the reasons for its events and whether or not the victim’s diary will reveal enough secrets to warrant the killing spree its existence has caused. With the violence level dialed down a couple of notches I could easily be persuaded to check back with Jessica Turner and the world of international diplomacy which does seem like fertile ground for great yarns.


Publisher: York Authors Coffee Shop [2015]
ISBN: 9780992997137
Length: 329 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

Review: TIME TO RUN, J.M. Peace

  • review copy supplied to me by publisher, Pan Macmillan Australia
  • ISBN 978-1-74353-786-2
  • published July 2015
  • 228 pages
  • Kindle version available from Amazon

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The hunt is on

A GRUESOME GAME

A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.

A FRANTIC SEARCH

Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the
disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent
die on her watch.

A SHOCKING TWIST
The killer’s newest prey isn’t like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.

A RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

A stunning, tautly written thriller from police officer turned writer, J.M. Peace.

My Take:

My feeling is the plot of this novel relies heavily on stories from true crime such as the Ivan Milat murders. Certainly that reinforces in my mind that events such as those described in this piece of fiction can actually happen.
I don’t mean to detract from the good job the author has done with plot and with character development. I was struck also by the way the tension ratchets up in the second half of the novel. We know that Sammi is racing against time for her life.

This is an impressive debut title.

My rating:  4.5

About the author
J.M. Peace is a serving police officer who would rather be writing about
policing. Over the past 15 years, she has served throughout south-east
Queensland in a variety of different capacities. Her voice of authority
shines through in her debut crime thriller, A Time To Run.
J.M. Peace she has also written various short stories, blogs regularly
about policing and writing and is currently working on her second novel.
JM lives on the Sunshine Coast, juggling writing and police work with
raising two kids along with her partner. She blogs at http://www.jmpeace.com.

Review: DOUBLE MADNESS by Caroline De Costa

DoubleMadnessDeCostaIn the aftermath of 2011’s Cyclone Yasi a woman’s body is found in Far North Queensland’s remote wilderness. She has been tied in position with silk scarves and the expensive high heels she is wearing indicate she was unlikely to have made her own way to the location. But there is no obvious cause of death and with no missing persons reports matching the woman’s description it takes Cairns police detective Cass Diamond and her colleagues some time to first identify the woman and then piece together the circumstances that led to her death.

There is a lot to like about this debut novel. The standout element is probably the setting – both in terms of geography and social context. The success of this aspect of the novel no doubt draws on De Costa’s own experiences as a professor at the School of Medicine at James Cook University which allow her to depict Cairns and its surrounds very realistically. Opening the novel with events taking place amid a real recent cyclone quickly allows the reader to imagine themselves in the setting, and De Costa follows up with rich detail of how the lives of the relatively closed medical profession all interact to provide both an interesting community and a suspect pool.

Often when characters of minority backgrounds are depicted in popular culture the entire focus is on the element that marks them out as ‘different’. It is as if every thought or line of dialogue the person has is invisibly prefaced by the sentiment “As a disabled/Aboriginal/gay person I feel/think…”  I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not but I loved the fact that Cass Diamond, who is Aboriginal, is not depicted in this way. When it is natural as part of the story reference is made to Cass’ cultural background but there are plenty of times when she is simply a mum, a cop or a friend experiencing things in the same way as any other mum, cop or friend might do. Early on I found myself thinking ‘Hallelujah this is not going to be one of those books in which everything that happens has some kind of special meaning because Cass is Aboriginal‘. Cass is a terrifically engaging character displaying a great mix of humour, determination and intelligence and I would be happy to see more of her in the future.

The novel takes its name from the psychosis which two of its characters display. We learn something about this via the police investigation as the life of the victim is slowly fleshed out, but there’s also a secondary narrative that provides glimpses of the lives of the various people who have interacted with the central couple. This is a complex structure but De Costa pulls it off, although there are one or two superfluous interludes that indicate the novel was trying a bit too hard to provide a large pool of potential culprits.  Or perhaps I am being unfairly harsh because my aging brain found it a tad difficult to keep track of the large cast, almost all of whom were doctors.

The novel explores several themes with a light but deft touch, the most interesting of these to me being the natural human reaction to certain kinds of crime. Without giving too much away much of the core case is revealed to revolve around numerous people being blackmailed, essentially for having sex with someone they ought not to have been having sex with. The novel poses the notion that the average person is likely to feel sympathy for the blackmail victim, even when the behaviour for which that person was being blackmailed might normally be considered immoral. I found this an interesting concept to ponder and wondered if it is true whether it is a relatively recent phenomenon and whether it is the same across different cultures. I suppose these thoughts were prompted by the juxtaposition of me reading this novel  in the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hacking incident. At least some of the social media commentary arising from this sordid tale lead me to believe that not everyone’s sympathies might lie with the blackmail victims as proposed in DOUBLE MADNESS but I enjoyed the topical nature of the theme and the fact it gave me issues to think about at my leisure.

I was a little wary at the outset of this novel given ‘woman tied up and left for dead’ is a somewhat tired trope in the crime genre but De Costa takes the story somewhere very different from the run-of-the-mill slasher nonsense. It’s a fabulously Australian story with an engaging protagonist and remained completely compelling even when I realised I didn’t much care for the murder victim (yes I know that reveals rather a lot about my own personality but it can’t be helped, I struggle to care about the deaths of some fictional people). Top stuff.


aww-badge-2015This is the 11th book I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge (though I’ve 14 books). Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Margaret River Press [2015]
ISBN: 9780987561564
Length: 357 pages
Format: paperback
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