Review: INTO THE NIGHT, Sarah Bailey

Synopsis (publisher)

Sarah Bailey’s acclaimed debut novel The Dark Lake was a bestseller around the world and Bailey’s taut and suspenseful storytelling earned her fitting comparisons with Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.

Into the Night is her stunning new crime novel featuring the troubled and brilliant Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock. This time Gemma finds herself lost and alone in the city, broken-hearted by the decisions she’s had to make. Her new workplace is a minefield and the partner she has been assigned is uncommunicative and often hostile. When a homeless man is murdered and Gemma is put on the case, she can’t help feeling a connection with the victim and the lonely and isolated life he led despite being in the middle of a bustling city.

Then a movie star is killed in bizarre circumstances on the set of a major film shoot, and Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet have to put aside their differences to unravel the mysteries surrounding the actor’s life and death. Who could commit such a brazen crime and who stands to profit from it? Far too many people, she soon discovers – and none of them can be trusted. But it’s when Gemma realises that she also can’t trust the people closest to her that her world starts closing in…

My Take

DS Gemma Woodstock has decided in a sense to put her career before her family. Leaving her young  son with his father, Gemma has moved to Melbourne to straighten her life out and to put her career back on track.

This is a far from standard Australian police procedural becoming extremely complex when a popular young tv star is murdered during the shoot for a zombie movie filmed in Spring St. Melbourne. There is literally a cast of thousands, and although they have the film footage it is very difficult to see exactly when Sterling Wade was stabbed and exactly who stabbed him.

This is Gemma’s second case in her new posting. The first was the murder of a homeless man, also stabbed, in a laneway.The pathologist’s report suggests that the two murders are surprisingly similar but the investigating team can’t connect the two victims.

The action moves at a good pace, and the stresses in Gemma’s new life are well described.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.7, THE DARK LAKE

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Review: MURDER IN MURLOO, Brigid George

  • format: kindle (Amazon)
  • Series: Dusty Kent Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (March 25, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781508739258
  • ISBN-13: 978-1508739258
  • ASIN: 1508739250

Synopsis (Amazon)

When a popular young woman is strangled in her home in the seaside village of Murloo, the residents are sure an itinerant surfer who disappeared after the murder is the killer. However, one year later the surfer is still missing and the killer’s identity remains a mystery.

The victim’s family call in investigative journalist Dusty Kent who has an impeccable record in solving the cold cases she writes about. Dusty’s determination to investigate unresolved crime is fuelled by a personal connection through her own family tragedy.

However, this case tests Dusty to the limit and she despairs of ever catching the callous killer who seems to be lurking nearby and yet…A gripping mystery imbued with the ambience of Australia—from the mysterious wood carving found with the body, the captivating characters of a small town, to the coastal splendour of the Southern Ocean.

Murder in Murloo is a classic who-dun-it introducing Dusty Kent written by JB Rowley and published under the pseudonym Brigid George.

My Take

Journalist Dusty Kent is investigating the unsolved murder of Gabby Peters one year after the event, telling everyone she is writing a book. Together with recent arrival from Ireland Sean O’Kelly who is a super “online” hacker and sleuth, she interviews the entire town, trying to find out where everybody was when Gabby was killed.  The method produces an overwhelming amount of information including some which the residents did not reveal to the police at the time when they were first interviewed.
The local police warn Dusty off, telling her she is stirring up trouble, muddying their own investigation. But Dusty has a contact in the police force who she talks to from time to time.

Dusty’s methodology also has the effect of giving the reader a bewildering amount of data to sift through.
The setting is close to a surfing beach on the southern coast of Victoria.
In classic Poirot style Dusty holds a gathering where she reveals the murderer, and other surprising facts come to light too.

An interesting start to what is now a series of 4 novels, in which O’Kelly appears to act as Dusty’s Watson, recording the cases in his diary.

I read this book on my Kindle but now can’t find the Kindle version on Amazon.com.

My rating: 4.0

About the author

Brigid George is the pseudonym of JB Rowley; author of Amazon #1 Bestsellers ‘Whisper My Secret’ and ‘Mother of Ten’. JB also writes children’s stories such as ‘Wilhelmina Woylie’ and writes the Dusty Kent Murder Mystery series (starting with ‘Murder in Murloo’) under the pen name Brigid George.

Review: SCRUBLANDS, Chris Hammer

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2387 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (July 25, 2018)
  • Publication Date: July 25, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B079Z1VHZL

Synopsis (Amazon)

In an isolated (Australian) country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and  dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

My Take:

This novel surprised me with the complexity of the plot.  It weaves a number of contemporary threads into the narrative. Some of these are revealed only as Martin Scarsend begins to investigate the ongoing impact of the tragic events that took place in Riversend nearly a year earlier.

Scarsend himself is “damaged goods” but his boss has sent him to write a human interest story which will perhaps help him get over the trauma he has suffered. Nothing prepares him for the heat of the drought stricken town and for the fact that no-one can tell him why the priest shot five locals.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Christopher Hammer lives in Australia and has been a journalist for over twenty-five years. He has been an international correspondent, the chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, and a senior political journalist for The Age.

Review: BALLAD FOR A MAD GIRL, Vikki Wakefield

  • this edition published by Text Publishing 2017
  • 309 pages
  • ISBN 9781925355291
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Everyone knows seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk-taker, and she’s not afraid of anything—except losing. As part of the long-running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe. That night she experiences something she can’t explain.

The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted by voices and visions—but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.

As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty-year-old mystery surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can no longer tell what’s real or imagined—all she knows is the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.

Everything about her is changing—her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?

My Take

Grace Foley believes that a girl, Hannah Holt, who disappeared 23 years ago has contacted her and wants her to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Grace’s own mother, killed as she was crossing a road two years ago, was in Hannah’s class at school so Grace feels a connection.

Grace has never fully got over her mother’s death. Other teenagers suggest that Grace’s mother committed suicide by deliberately walking into the path of the truck. Grace’s father then gave up their farm and they moved into town. Things have never seemed right for Grace ever since.

This is a challenging YA crime fiction novel as Grace kicks against her life. Set in a fictional Australian rural town (Victoria I think). Compelling reading.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Vikki Wakefield’s first YA novel, All I Ever Wanted, won the 2012 Adelaide Festival Literary Award for YA Fiction, as did her second novel, Friday Brown, in 2014. Friday Brown
was also an Honour Book at the Children’s Book Council of Australia, in
2013, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Awards.
Vikki’s third novel, Inbetween Days, was Highly Commended in the
2016 Barbara Jefferis Award, was a 2016 CBCA Honour Book and was
shortlisted for the 2016 Prime Minister’s Awards. Vikki lives in the
Adelaide foothills with her family.

Review: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS by Garry Disher

Garry Disher’s latest novel is a standalone story (at least for now) set against the backdrop of greater Melbourne, occasionally stretching as far as Geelong. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS opens in a small town on the urban fringe. A dangerous snake has hidden itself under an old, unused concrete slab in the backyard of a young family’s home. When the slab is dug up as part of snake catching efforts a skeleton is found. We meet the book’s central character, Alan Auhl, when the cold case squad he works with is called in. At first they must identify the person, not easy due to the house’s history as a rental home, before moving on to discovering what led to their death and burial. The process the team has to go through is well depicted, giving a good sense of how painstaking it must be to investigate cases from even the relatively recent past.

Several other strands play out alongside the story’s main plotline. Auhl is contacted for news each year by the daughters of a man killed some years ago whose murderer has never been caught. Then there’s the tangled case of the doctor who alerts the police that his wife might be a murderer. Auhl is skeptical because he believes the doctor has killed two of his previous wives but was clever enough to get away with it. And we haven’t even gotten to Auhl’s personal life yet. He lives in the big old house he inherited from his parents and rents rooms out to a mismatched collection of waifs and strays. These include Neve Fanning and her daughter Pia who are trying to escape the clutches of Neve’s abusive ex husband who has the money and connections to use the legal system to his advantage.

These days picking up a new police procedurals is a bit risky as the trend for damaged central characters can make for repetitive reading. But Disher is a true master of his craft so manages to make Auhl stand out from the pack without using tired tropes such as the almost ubiquitous addiction. That doesn’t mean he’s all sweetness and light though. His nickname in the office is Retread because he’s returned from retirement and is the oldest person in the team by quite some years. I can attest personally to the authenticity with which the complexities of being an ‘older worker’ in a workforce entranced by youth is depicted. His marriage is…awkward to say the least and at one point he crosses a behavioural line that will surely haunt him but all this just makes for an interesting character that doesn’t feel like a rehashing of all those who have come before him.

And the story itself is a ripper. Disher juggles all the threads expertly and maintains just the right levels of suspense and heart. Readers aren’t led to believe that strange cold cases can be solved in a moment but nor are we bored to tears by too much detail. There is a good mix of the personal and professional too with Auhl’s home life offering lots of interest.

It doesn’t really come as a surprise that Garry Disher has produced another fantastic book but when someone is as consistently good as Disher it can be easy to take them for granted. UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS could easily be the start of a new series but stands equally well as a single novel, and is highly recommended for fans of top notch procedurals. It’s fast paced, sparsely written and genuinely surprising.


Publisher: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925498882
Length: 285 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: Borrowed from a friend

Review: TOO EASY by J.M. Green

TOO EASY is the second novel to feature sometimes self-deprecating, always amusing social worker Stella Hardy and proved the perfect start to my reading year. The combination of a plot depicting organised chaos, insightful social commentary, genuine humour and engaging characters was exactly right.

Though it’s easy enough to follow, the plot is complex and has many elements that I don’t want to give away but it starts with Stella receiving a call from her best friend. Phuong is a police detective whose boyfriend, also a policeman, is under a corruption cloud. He wants to find a particular drug dealer to corroborate his version of a questionable incident and Phuong thinks that Stella, who has a different sort of connection to Melbourne’s dodgy underbelly than the police, might be able to help with the hunt. Stella and Phuong almost come to blows over the request and what Stella thinks of as Phoung’s lousy taste in men but their friendship is a strong one. The search though puts Stella in the path of a murderous bikie gang, other corrupt police and teenagers whose lives are being threatened in a truly grim way. At the same time her own love life undergoes a test as her artist boyfriend finds a new muse.

Whether they be total geniuses or alcoholic loners I can struggle to believe in many crime fiction protagonists. But Stella Hardy seems like a real person I might actually know. Heck at times she seems like one of the voices inside my own head. The depiction of her as being good at her job (at the wonderfully named WORMS) but struggling with the inane bureaucracy rings absolutely true. As does her knack of setting somewhat unrealistic personal goals – such as becoming a gourmet cook – and spectacularly failing to meet them. That she faces everything in her life with a combination of wry humour and stubbornness help make her into an authentically Aussie woman.

The story that unwinds in TOO EASY is at times madcap but somehow even the most outlandish elements of it have the same aura of truthiness as Green’s characters. It is full of people doing stupid things for entirely believable reasons – either good or bad – and events build up at just the right pace.

There was a time not so long ago when the general consensus seemed to be that the only truly Australian stories could take place in ‘the Outback’. J.M. Green is one of a new breed of artists proving that urban locations and city dwellers can offer equally compelling depictions of what it is to be Australian. She has captured the essence of Melbourne living, provided a thoroughly modern heroine and a supporting cast that oozes familiarity in a story that is an absolute hoot, where even the scary bits are tinged with comedy.


Publisher: Scribe, 2017
ISBN: 9781925322025
Length: 292 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: WIMMERA by Mark Brandi

Told in three parts WIMMERA focuses on two people. In the first part we meet Ben and Fab; best friends in their final year of primary school. In their small rural town they are left to their own devices for great swathes of time. Not due to bad parenting but because that’s the way the world was then. The boys watch TV, play backyard cricket, go yabbying and camping. They can talk endlessly of mindless things such as the intricate rules for their favourite activities but they actively avoid discussing the big, scary stuff. Like why Ben’s 14-year old neighbour hung herself on the family clothesline or the fact that Fab’s father beats him regularly. No one, not even the adults, talks about those things. Towards the end of this part of the book readers know that something has gone awry for one of the boys but we have to speculate about the details. In the book’s second and third acts we find out a little more as the boys’ history is investigated, but even by the end of the novel there’s still a lot we don’t know.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say I loved WIMMERA given it is so sad and full of melancholy. But what other word is there?

I loved that it depicts an Australia I instantly recognised. Although it is set in rural Victoria I think WIMMERA owes more to its core events taking place in the late 1980’s than to its geography. Things – often awful or frightening things – that are known but not spoken of are at the heart of this story and that kind of secret keeping is – or was – not reserved for country towns. The inner-city street I grew up on was equally good at hiding things. That said, the book’s physical setting is utterly authentic too.

I loved that the book’s central characters are neither heroic nor extremely flawed. They’re ‘normal’, for want of a better word. They do good things and not-so-good things and fumble their way through life, like most of us. Maybe other readers look for inspiration from fictional characters but I like it best when people in fiction are as clueless and awkward as I usually am.

I loved that the book left so much unsaid. At 262 pages WIMMERA is one of the shortest modern novels I’ve read. And though it clearly annoys some readers I found the lack of detail very fitting. This is, after all, big scary stuff. Not the kind of thing people talk about. It feels very realistic to me that people like Ben and Fab – growing up when and where they did – would never tell all. Probably couldn’t tell all even if they had the desire to.

Like its geographic namesake WIMMERA is quite beautifully sparse and reveals its secrets unwillingly. Surely only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by Ben and Fab’s story even though they struggle so hard to share it. Or perhaps because they struggle so hard to share it. Highly recommended.


Publisher: Hachette, 2017
ISBN: 9780733638459
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE LIGHT ON THE WATER, Olga Lorenzo

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin Australia 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-92526-654-2
  • 350 pages
  • Longlisted Best Adult Novel – Davitt Awards 2017

Synopsis (publisher)

A little girl disappears in the wilderness. Two years later her mother is arrested for her murder. A provocative and unflinching literary novel of love, guilt and grief set against the wilderness of the Australian coast.
Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne’s story.Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to
her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.

A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement.
This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.

My Take
Aida, 6 years old and autistic, runs ahead of her mother on an overnight camping trip and bushwalk to Wilsons Promontory and disappears. Anne has already questioned her own wisdom in taking Aida for this walk, and when Aida cannot be found, others question it too. Hours turn into days, weeks, and months and there is no news about what has happened to Aida. Media attention ensures that Anne is unable to appear in public without people recognising her face and often saying dreadful things. A FaceBook page she sets up turns nasty. Friends turn away when they see her.
Eventually it becomes obvious that the police are considering charging Anne with negligence or worse.
A very thought provoking read, probably on the outer rim of crime fiction.
My rating: 4.4
About the author

Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother’s House,
which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards.
She has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest
at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from
Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. Olga
has taught writing at RMIT University and in a variety of other
Melbourne tertiary institutions for nineteen years, and has a Masters
and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She
previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.

Review: AND FIRE CAME DOWN, Emma Viskic

  • first published August 2017 by Echo Publishing
  • source: an ARC from the publisher
  • ISBN: 9781760402945
    Format: Trade paperback
  • 326 pages

 Synopsis (Echo Publishing)

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic used to meet life head-on.
Now he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed after pleading for his help in sign
language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. And the trail
leads straight to his hometown, Resurrection Bay.  The town is on
bushfire alert and simmering with racial tensions. As he delves deeper,
Caleb uncovers secrets that could threaten his life and any chance of
reuniting with Kat. Driven by his demons, he pushes on. But who is he
willing to sacrifice along the way?

My Take

Returning to Resurrection Bay means dealing with events he’d rather forget but the death of the girl who comes to him for help in Melbourne means that Caleb Zelic has no choice. He has been working in Melbourne as an independent investigator but he really has few clients.

The contact details for him that the girl had were written on a receipt that came from Resurrection Bay and the first person he asks about her is able to identify her. Immediately after he visits her father Caleb is attacked and warned off.

As he investigates further Caleb realises that there is a trade in ice happening in Resurrection  Bay and trying to work out who is behind it gets more and more dangerous. A young aboriginal man is murdered and at his funeral Caleb meets up with his wife Kat and her family.

There are a number of very complex relationships in this novel, and the picture painted of the small coastal community of Resurrection Bay is very grim.  I had trouble remembering what happened in the original title in this series, and my advice to the reader would be to read them in order.

My Rating: 4.3

I’ve also read
4.3, RESURRECTION BAY

About the author
Emma Viskic is an award-winning Australian crime writer. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Resurrection Bay, won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, as well as
an unprecedented three Davitt Awards: Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers’ Choice. Resurrection Bay was iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of 2015. She has also won the Ned Kelly and Thunderbolt Awards for her short form fiction.

A classically trained clarinettist, Emma’s musical career has ranged from performing with José  Carreras and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, to busking in the London Underground. Emma studied Australian sign language (Auslan) in order to write Resurrection Bay.

Review: FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

I’m sure all authors wish for the kind of success Jane Harper had (indeed is still having) with her debut novel THE DRY but I imagine most would, at least fleetingly, think twice about wishes coming true when presented with the need to produce the next novel. Happily for Harper, and her readers, she has soldiered through that intense pressure and delivered another cracking read. Among the many things I admire about FORCE OF NATURE is that it isn’t the same novel wrapped in a different skin and some risks have been taken with the narrative choices.

One of the things that does carry across though is Harper’s skill at creating a setting with an almost physical presence for the reader. Here we are in a fictional but recognisable bushland area called the Giralang Ranges east of Melbourne. It is isolated, cold and claustrophobic due to the dense foliage. Easy to become lost in. As if that isn’t troublesome enough it is the scene of an infamous series of killings two decades earlier. The perpetrator of those crimes was found but, local legend has it, the killer’s son still roams the area. Into this suitably nightmare inducing setting Harper drops a group of employees from a Melbourne company embarking on one of those corporate retreats designed solely to be such a horrendous experience that staff never complain about their normal office environment ever again. They are separated into two groups – men and women – who must trek through the Ranges for several days on separate, but close, tracks. In the women’s group things go awry and one of them – Alice Russell – goes missing.

Being lost in the bush is a well-mined plot line for Australian artists of all kinds but Harper easily holds her own in the space. The storyline is genuinely original, no mean feat in itself, and the way it unfolds adds a lot of tension. There are two strands: one moving forward from when retreat begins and one beginning when the search for Alice gets underway. This dual thread works really well. Adding to the suspense is that we are almost spoiled for choice as to what might have happened to Alice. Has she wandered off? Is she the victim of the serial killer’s son? Did one of the women do her in because she’s not very nice?

Or has she been killed because of what she knows? Aaron Falk, an Agent with the financial crimes unit of the Australian Federal Police and protagonist from THE DRY, has been working with Alice as a whistleblower at her company. Her involvement was meant to be a secret but Aaron and his partner, Carmen, worry that her actions may have resulted in Alice being placed in danger. Their superiors are worried that she hasn’t handed over all the documents she promised which endangers their case. So the pair become involved in the search and in trying to piece together what led up to her disappearance. I liked reading about Aaron again and seeing him in a work setting rather than dealing with something personal. Though one of the risks Harper has taken with this book is to make his role somewhat smaller than the traditional procedural might do with its hero. For me this worked well as it allowed us to really get to see the victim’s world and did not bog us down in procedural elements. If the series is to be a long one this is a sound strategy as it means we won’t become bored with the main character.

Jane Harper is proving to have a real skill at taking quintessentially Australian settings and making them truly frightening. Not through an overt violence or gruesomeness but by teasing out just enough information to make the reader’s imagination take flight. And telling a ripper yarn. FORCE OF NATURE is good from beginning right through to the end which is, these days, a rarity. If you are an audiobook fan I highly recommend Steve Shanahan’s narration which is outstanding and adds another layer to the storytelling here.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 14th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 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: Wavesound Audio, 2017
Narrator: Steve Shanahan
ASIN: B075QM2Q8N
Length: 8 hours, 56 minutes
Format: Audio book
Source of review copy: I bought it