Review: WEB OF DECEIT, Katherine Howell

  • first published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2013
  • #6 in the Ella Marconi series
  • ISBN 978-1-7426-1030-6
  • source: my TBR

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a desperate cry for help. His frantic claim that
someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a
suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the raw terror in
his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded
when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to
commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to
interview her, and then to confuse matters further, a woman is beaten
unconscious in front of Jane’s house and Alex’s daughter goes missing.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up, and feels the
investigation is being held back by her budget-focused boss. Then, just
when she thinks she’s closing in on the right person, a shocking turn of
events puts more people in danger and might just see the killer slip
through her hands.

My Take

WEB OF DECEIT follows the same structure as Howell’s earlier novels in the series: police investigations running in parallel with paramedics whose callout allows the reader to see another side of a victim. The result is four strong characters who are dedicated to the work that they are doing. But they all have more personal relationships on their minds as well, and I think that is what makes them seem so real. None of us operates in a vacuum. Our personal lives impinge on our work and vice versa.

Here is a well plotted novel written by an accomplished and established Australian author, the first to win two Davitt awards.

I have two novels in this series to catch up on: DESERVING DEATH published in 2014, and TELL THE TRUTH due out Feb 2015. I am looking forward to reading both of them!

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also reviewed

5.0, FRANTIC – #1 (mini review) – 2007

4.6, THE DARKEST HOUR – #2 – 2008

4.8, COLD JUSTICE – #3 -2010

4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE -#4 – 2010

4.8, SILENT FEAR -#5 – 2012

Review: LIFE OR DEATH, Michael Robotham

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Why would a man escape from prison the day before he’s due to be released?Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is.

For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released.

Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

My Take

Australian author Michael Robotham, already acclaimed both in Australia and internationally, takes a different direction in this novel: not the next in his Ruiz and O’Loughlin series set in Britain, but a stand-alone set in Texas. For me it shows another step, a necessary one, for Robotham in his development as a novelist. And one that I think will be popular with American readers.

Audie Palmer is a survivor – first of all from a gunshot that shattered his cranium, and then a decade where every other inmate in the prison seemed to want to be the one who killed Audie Palmer. As the day for his release looms Audie knows he is not going to make it to freedom alive.

The story is told from Audie’s point of view, but in the third person, and we gradually piece together Audie’s life before the armed robbery, and then his part in the robbery. We understand what has kept him going for a decade and why he escapes the day before his release date. But will he survive on the run as he tries to put the record straight?

There is a cinematographic quality to this story and I would not be surprised to find it optioned for a film.

LIFE OR DEATH puts Robotham right up there with modern crime fiction writers. It is a tightly plotted thriller with a roller coaster of suspense. It has made it  into my top 5 reads for this year.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also reviewed
SHATTER (audio)

Currently Reading: A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

I stumbled across Sulari Gentill’s first historical crime fiction novel in a bookshop almost a year ago. I was in a bit of a reading slump having recently finished a great book and finding nothing else to my taste. Happily I really enjoyed that book and have been looking forward to its sequel, A Decline in Prophets, very much. I’ve had it on my shelves for a little while now (thanks kindly to Sulari for sending me a copy) but library books and awards shortlists have occupied my reading time of late. However, the book’s publication date is 1 July and I simply must read it before everyone else (or almost everyone else).

I’ve read the first 30 or so pages this afternoon (when I should have been doing some work) and it has started well, already grabbing my attention and drawing me back to the 1930’s. The book opens with our hero, Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, on board the luxury ocean liner RMS Aquitania recovering from the injury he received during the harrowing events of the first book. For seven months he and his bohemian friends have been travelling the world in style, thanks to the Sinclair family fortune. On board they have met an eclectic bunch of passengers including some real historical figures such as Annie Besant who was political activist for several causes and at one time was President of the Theosophical Society. Naturally, this being a crime novel after all, there has been a rather unpleasant death on board the boat and Rowly is implicated. What next I wonder?

It looks like I’m set for another adventure which will bring to life some more little-known events in Australian history and combine my interests in things artistic and political. How delicious.



Currently reading THE BLACK RUSSIAN

I’m not normally much of a follower of book-related awards because it’s quite rare that I see the same qualities in a book as the judges have seen (that’s the most polite way I can think of to say “they’re wrong and I’m right” though of course that’s what I believe).

However, being a blogger of things relating to Australian crime fiction I feel it’s my duty to at least keep an eye on local awards, one of which is the Ned Kelly Awards which have been ‘promoting and encouraging crime writing since 1995’ (though not I must say through their website which is woefully out of date and almost completely lacking in useful information).

One of the three books on the shortlist for best fiction in last year’s award was Lenny Bartulin’s THE BLACK RUSSIAN which caught my eye because the author’s name was not familiar to me. OK I’ll be honest and say it might also have caught my eye because a Black Russian is my favourite cocktail, especially the way my brother makes them, eschewing the niceties of measuring and serving them in bucket-sized glasses. But I digress.

I picked up a copy of the novel in an ‘Aussie crime fiction shopping spree’ earlier this year and have plucked it from my shelves this long weekend, which due to its sunniness, length and chocolate-induced afternoon comas seemed to call for a lighter kind of reading.

So far (I’m about a hundred pages in) it’s a hoot. It tells the story of Jack Susko, a second hand bookseller in Sydney who is a long way short of making ends meet. Jack is a bystander in an armed robbery but things turn sour when one of the robbers involves him in a double cross. Here is the first paragraph of chapter 1…

Jack Susko was grateful., but it was not the kind of inheritance that changed your life. Twenty-year-old, functional Japanese family sedans in light metallic blue had never been high on the list of all-time top one hundred things in the world you could inherit. Even if it came with faux-sheepskin covers and an interior that smelt intensely of fruit of the forest, no matter how long you kept the windows open. If he was a little disappointed with Aunt Eva’s generosity at the end of her life, it was that the air-conditioning did not work. And right now the radio said it was thirty-eight degrees Celsius in the city. Jack was on Oxford Street, at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, with traffic tight and stalled behind a broken-down bus. And it had been a long day. And he was still hustling his weary trade in weary books. And he had not smoked a cigarette for almost seventeen-and-a-half hours.

This drew me in right away – telling me enough about Jack to get me interested and setting a scene I am all too familiar with. I love it when a book doesn’t leave me hanging around ’til page 30 or more to let me know it’s going to be my kind of thing.

I don’t think the book has anything to do with cocktails but there are another 150 pages to go before the end so you never know.

Currently reading THE MAYA CODEX

I first came across Adrian d’Hage’s name more than a year ago when he appeared on a national public radio show that discusses religion, politics and hoochies. The show is hosted by a septuagenarian Catholic priest and a 30-something TV documentary maker and to say it has an eclectic mix of guests is something of an understatement. d’Hage was talking about his newest book, a conspiracy thriller involving an ancient religion, Nazis and the possible end of the world. It sounded like my cup of tea but when I learned it is written by someone who went almost as high as you can get in the Australian military (as a Brigadier he headed the counter-terrorism planning for the Sydney Olympics in 2000) and is also a qualified wine chemist and ski instructor I figured it for a must read. It’s taken me 7 months to move the book from my wishlist to currently reading but such are the vagaries of a large TBR pile.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb

Deep in the Guatemalan jungle lies the Maya Codex, an ancient document containing a terrible warning for civilisation. Archaeologist Dr Aleta Weizman and CIA agent Curtis O’Connor are desperately searching for the codex, but powerful forces in Washington and Rome will do anything to stop them.

Both Weizman and O’Connor know that the earth will align with a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy on the winter solstice, December 2012 – just as the Mayans predicted. Might a catastrophic pole shift be on the way?

From the corridors of power in Nazi Germany to modern-day Washington, from the secret archives of the Vatican to the Temple of the Lost World pyramid in the jungles of Central America, The Maya Codex takes us on a heart-stopping journey to find the codex before it’s too late.

Having been very disappointed by the last thriller I read (John le Carre’s OUR KIND OF TRAITOR) I was a bit skeptical about starting another one (am I over them?) but so far this one has hooked me in. At least it’s got a ripping start (including Nazis vs the Vatican) and seems to be an intelligent bit of escapism.

For the pedants (like me) I know Adrian’s surname should have an accent over its ‘e’ but I can’t for the life of me work out how to do that using Blogger.

Currently reading LINE OF SIGHT

The Whitlam Dismissal

I’ve been transported back to the middle of the 1970’s with David Whish-Wilson’s LINE OF SIGHT. The Prime Minister of the country has just been dismissed in controversial circumstances (this is still discussed regularly today), muscle cars rule the roads, Elton John was still a party boy and, apparently, the state of Western Australia was as corrupt as it gets.

Although fictional, the book about the murder of a Perth brothel madam and the police corruption and organised crime links which surrounded that murder is based on the true story of the murder of Shirley Finn in 1975. I always find these kinds of fictionalised true stories the most difficult to read, especially when they depict a world as harsh as this one. My inner Pollyanna likes to believe in a clear line between crime fiction and crime fact because books which blur that line make me look askance at everyone I meet for a while afterwards.

A Dodge Phoenix (I think)

However, LINE OF SIGHT has well and truly got me hooked. There’s an honest cop named Frank Swann whose just gotten himself beaten up rather badly because he’s telling anyone who will listen about the corruption in the Force and I’m not entirely sure he’ll make it through to the end of the book. Off to find out…