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: 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: 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: THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN

  • this edition published by echo (Bonnier Publishing Australia) 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-76040-978-4
  • 273 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #1 in the Alex Clayton & John Porter series

Synopsis

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing.

Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean.

My Take

The author tells us in notes at the back of the book that “The events in this novel are based on the 1930 murder of Mary ‘Molly’ Winifred Dean… While Alex Clayton and her contemporaries were all entirely fictitious, most of Molly’s close associates were real people.”

So I guess you would label this as “faction” – a true crime, a real setting, but many fictitious characters, and action, and an imagined resolution.

I initially found the book slow reading – I attributed that to a style that made you want to ensure that you understood everything. We knew from the very beginning that Molly had been murdered.

The action comes in two time frames: 1999 when Alex Clayton buys a painting and decides to find out more about the subject Molly Dean; and 1930 before Molly died. The text switches back and forth as we weigh the evidence that Alex gives us.

Here is chance to get in on the ground floor of a new Australian series with an intriguing pair of investigators. Two more titles have been published to date, and I shall certainly be following them up.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Katherine Kovacic is a former veterinarian turned art historian who works with a wide variety of museums, galleries and historic houses. She lives in Melbourne with a Borzoi and a Scottish Deerhound. The Portrait of Molly Dean was her debut novel and the first Alex Clayton art mystery.

Review: THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW, Christian White

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1798 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250194377
  • Publisher: Affirm Press (September 24, 2019)
  • Publication Date: September 24, 2019
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07XZ1P2JR

Synopsis (Amazon)

Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and the Widow is a mystery/thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside down when she’s forced to confront the evidence that her husband is a murderer. But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives.

Brilliant and beguiling, The Wife and the Widow takes you to a cliff edge and asks the question: how well do we really know the people we love?

My Take

This novel is based on such a clever plot twist.

John Keddie has been away for two weeks supposedly at a palliative care conference in London. When he doesn’t arrive on a flight home to Melbourne, doesn’t answer his phone, his wife Kate reports him missing.

Then a security company reports an intruder at their holiday house on Belport Island in Bass Strait, and Kate and her father-in-law travel to the island to see whether John is there.

On the face of it this is a standard missing person/murder mystery but nothing prepares the reader for the huge plot twist that begins to puzzle about half way through the novel.

An excellent, recommended read.

My rating: 4.5

I had previously read THE NOWHERE CHILD

Review: THE ACCUSATION, Wendy James

  • this edition published by Read How You Want as a large print edition for Harper Collins 2019
  • ISBN 978-0-36930-380-6
  • 427 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

Somebody is lying.

A bizarre abduction. A body of damning evidence. A world of betrayal.

After eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, her bizarre story of kidnap and escape enthrals the nation. Who would do such a thing? And why?

Local drama teacher Suzannah Wells, once a minor celebrity, is new to town. Suddenly she’s in the spotlight again, accused of being the monster who drugged and bound a teenager in her basement. As stories about her past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt her innocence.

And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

My take

Middle aged Suzannah Wells, once the star of a soapie on Australian television, has come to a small country town in Victoria to teach drama at a local high school. She has bought an old house on the edge of town, bringing with her her elderly mother Mary who has dementia. She and her mother have few friends in the town, and her mother has a carer drop in three days a week while Suzannah is at work.

But their relatively comfortable life is shattered when Ellie Canning tells the police that she has been imprisoned for three weeks in the cellar of Suzannah’s house. Suzannah can’t work out why Ellie is telling such patent lies. What does she hope to gain by it?

The story results from a number of narrative sources: Suzannah herself, transcripts from interviews held with Ellie for a documentary series, and a friend of Suzannah’s called Honor who eventually takes Ellie under her wing. The story begins in August 2018 when a local farmer finds Ellie in a derelict hut on his property, and continues into 2019.

It was only when I was talking to a friend about the plot of this book, that she told me that it was very similar to that of a book that she had recently read. I researched the name of the author that she gave me, and I found there was indeed a connection. And then confirmation came at the beginning of Part Three. And then in an Author Note at the end came indeed the final confirmation of what my Google research had implied. I realised too that there had been a quite major hint in the body of the novel, but until my friend told me of the similarity, I hadn’t realised the significance.

But I’m not going to spoil the “story” for you – rather leaving it for you to discover for yourself.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.8, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
4.8, THE MISTAKE
4.7, THE LOST GIRLS

Review: THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE, Felicity McLean

Synopsis (publisher)

Part mystery, part coming of age story, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is set in a distant suburb on the encroaching bushland, over the long hot summer of 1992. It’s the summer of the school’s Showstopper concert. The summer Tikka never forgot. The summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing.

‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.

Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing, this is Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation, a haunting coming-of-age story with a shimmering, unexplained mystery at its heart.

My Take

Twenty years on, Tikka Molloy has always been haunted by the disappearance of the Van Apfel sisters. Were there things that she and her older sister should have told the investigating police at the time?

There is a strong Australian setting to this novel – not just the commentary in the background
of the Lindy Chamberlain case, but the heat, the bushland, and the flavour of the description. I thought there was also a touch of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), of things observed but not necessarily understood. And the story leaves us with more questions, the opportunity to write our own ending, to come to our own conclusions.

An excellent read.

My rating: 4.8

About the author
Felicity McLean is a writer and a journalist.  Her writing has appeared in The Good Weekend, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, the Big Issue and more. She has written fiction and non-fiction books and has been published by HarperCollins Publishers, Allen & Unwin and Black Inc. Her latest book, Body Lengths, was co-written with Olympian Leisel Jones. It won the 2016 Australian Book Industry Awards ‘Reader’s Choice’ for Small Publisher Adult Book of the Year, and it was Apple iBook’s ‘Best Biography of 2015′. As a ghostwriter she has collaborated with celebrities, sports stars, business leaders and others.This is her first novel.

Felicity will be sharing the stage with Michael Robotham at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2020.

Review: LAPSE, Sarah Thornton

  • This edition published by Text Publishing 2019
  • ISBN 9-781925-773941
  • 293 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

All it took was a lapse…a momentary lapse…to bring Clementine Jones’ world crashing down. Now she’s living like a hermit in small-town Katinga, coaching the local footy club. She’s supposed to be lying low, but here she is, with her team on the cusp of their first premiership in fifty years—and the whole bloody town counting on her, cheering her on.

So why the hell would her star player quit on the eve of the finals?

It’s a question she wishes she’d left alone. Others are starting to ask questions too—questions about her. Clem’s not the only one with a secret, and as tension builds, the dark violence just below the town’s surface threatens to erupt. Pretty soon there’ll be nowhere left for Clem to hide.

My take

This is a rare novel in Australian crime fiction: set in the Australian footy world (rural AFL) and resonating with elements footy followers are familiar with: among them an Aboriginal player who quits mid season.

Clem Jones lives on the outskirts of a small Victorian town and she has brought the local footy team from bottom last year to the brink of a premiership. Last year the team members were no-hopers and some of them still are, but she has raised their level of fitness and they walk tall in their town. Clem is very secretive about her background but the reader is given clues about where she has been.

Clancy is a vital part of her team and then he tells her he has to quit but he won’t say why. At the same time he loses his job, and Clem takes it upon herself to find out why.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to the next in the series.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Sarah cast off the lines to her law career not long after being awarded Australian Corporate Lawyer of the Year in 2016. She now lives with her husband aboard a 43-foot sailing catamaran, exploring this most magnificent blue planet and chasing an endless summer. She took up writing novels as a way to liberate her imagination after twenty years in the structured confines of legal and corporate life. Her debut novel, Lapse, is the first of a series featuring former corporate lawyer Clementine Jones.

Review: THE AUTUMN MURDERS, Robert Gott

  • this edition published by Scribe Publications 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-925713-46-6
  • 263 pages
  • source: review copy from publisher

Synopsis (Scribe Publications)

The series that began with The Holiday Murders and The Port Fairy Murders now continues with The Autumn Murders …

In the autumn of 1944, George Starling prepares to exact revenge on the person he hates most in the world (and Starling has a long list of people he hates), Detective Joe Sable of the Melbourne Homicide division. Driven by his dark passion for Nazism, Starling is going to make sure that nothing and no one will stand in his way and survive.

Homicide is in turmoil. Riven by internal divisions and disrupted by the war, it has become a dangerous place for Joe to work. Constable Helen Lord, suspended from her position in Homicide, and battling grief, is also in Starling’s sights. Knowing that Inspector Titus Lambert can’t protect them from Starling’s ruthless aim, Helen and Joe decide to set their own trap. But when the trap is sprung, who will be caught in it?

The Autumn Murders is a stylish, historical whodunit, written with wit and insight into the dark corners where the worst of us hides.

My take

This is the third book in a series, and I had read only the second.

The setting is Melbourne 1944. Detective Joe Sable of the Melbourne Homicide division is a Jew and has already paid a penalty for that status in a severe beating at the hands of George Starling and an arson attack on his flat. News of how Hitler is treating Jews in Europe is filtering into Australia but the average citizen finds it very hard to believe.

Although there is a shortage of good detectives there is little belief that women can make good police officers or detectives and already Constable Helen Lord has been suspended from Homicide. Most of the men staffing Homicide are hardly the cream of the crop although Inspector Titus Lambert is a good policeman and a good administrator.

Recognising talent in Joe Sable, Lambert has promoted him to Sergeant causing resentment among other detectives.

And now a prominent Melbourne business man, Peter Lillee is dead, apparently murdered.

For those who haven’t read the earlier two books in the series, the author has provided helpful plot summaries to bring you up to scratch. Be sure to read them.

I thought this book took a little while to get going but then I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought home to me many effects of the war on Australian society.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.4, THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS

Review: THE MARRIAGE CLUB, Kate Legge

  • this edition published in 2009 by Penguin Australia
  • ISBN 978-0-670-07298-9
  • 292 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)

On Monday, Leith Kremmer’s book-club friends meet in her lounge room, catch up on each other’s lives, and indulge in her elegant champagne supper. Upstairs, Leith’s husband George practises his golf swing. The next morning Leith is dead, under suspicious circumstances.

One week later, George, a family-court judge, has delved into his marriage – including Leith’s long-held secrets, and his own – in a desperate attempt to comprehend her death. And Leith’s friends, in examining their own marriages, have emerged far from unscathed. Was Leith the charming ally they thought they knew? And do they really know their own partners?

The Marriage Club takes place over the course of one tumultuous week. As everyone begins to tease out the truth, they are finally able to let down their guards and be their real selves. If only they could have done so earlier . . .
‘A novel of secrets and lies, [where] illusions are shattered in the most fascinating way.’

My Take

We are not at all sure that a crime has been committed. Certainly a death has occurred.

Leith Kremmer’s friends meeting at their monthly book club think she is very chipper. She even has champagne for them, but none suspect the secrets she has kept. In a way they have all kept secrets and Leith’s death has a domino effect. The police begin an investigation, interviewing both the members of the book club and their husbands. Leith’s mobile phone hints at the tip of an iceberg.

Marriages aren’t always what they seem, and sometimes it doesn’t take much for them shred.

An excellent read, with the answer to that final question held to the very end.

My rating: 4.8

About the author
Kate Legge writes for The Weekend Australian Magazine. She has covered politics and social affairs in Australia and America. She has published two novels: The Unexpected Elements of Love (long listed for the Miles Franklin Award) and The Marriage Club.