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: SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, Craig Sisterson

aka The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film and TV of Australia and New Zealand Kindle Edition

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • paperback available for pre-order but publication delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic
  • File Size: 2334 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oldcastle Books (23 April 2020)
  • Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B08166XDLZ

Synopsis (Amazon)

Australian and New Zealand crime and thriller writing – collectively referred to as Southern Cross Crime – is booming globally, with antipodean authors regularly featuring on awards and bestseller lists, such as Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize winning The Luminaries and Jane Harper’s big commercial hit, The Dry, winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award.

Hailing from two sparsely populated nations on the far edge of the former Empire – neighbours that are siblings in spirit, vastly different in landscape – Australian and New Zealand crime writers offer readers a blend of exotic and familiar, seasoned by distinctive senses of place, outlook, and humour, and roots that trace to the earliest days of our genre.

Southern Cross Crime is the first comprehensive guide to modern crime writing from “Down Under”. From coastal cities to the outback, leading critic Craig Sisterson showcases key titles from over 250 storytellers, plus screen dramas ranging from Mystery Road to Top of the Lake. Fascinating insights are added through in-depth interviews with some of the prime suspects who paved the way or instigated the global boom, including Michael Robotham, Paul Cleave, Emma Viskic, Paul Thomas, Candice Fox, and Garry Disher.

My Take

This is an essential purchase for crime fiction readers especially in Australia and New Zealand, but also those world-wide who enjoy “antipodean noir”.
It is an authoritative guide to what to read. Craig has focused on the ‘modern era’ choosing the establishment of the Australian Crime Writers Association and the inaugural Ned Kelly awards in 1996 as the starting point. He has attempted to survey “more than 300 Australian and New Zealand crime writers…. and endeavoured to be as inclusive and wide ranging as possible. You will find bestsellers, award winners, hidden gems, lesser known authors, and fresh voices.

My own reading of New Zealand crime fiction has slackened in recent years, so I began with paper and pen, making note of titles to hunt down. I found that I have more or less kept up with Australian crime fiction, but also that I have missed on quite a few gems, and there was confirmation that my reading of New Zealand crime fiction hasn’t even been the tip of the iceberg. I now have a list that will keep me busy for many years.

This book is a wonderful achievement, not only giving readers tips on a wide variety of titles to look for, interviews with prominent achievers, but also, in the Appendix, arranged from most recent to first years, the Ned Kelly Award winners, the Ngaio Marsh Award winners,and the Davitt Award Winners.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
Craig Sisterson is a features writer and crime fiction expert from New Zealand who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. He’s been a judge of the McIlvanney Prize and Ned Kelly Awards, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir.

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: BLOOD RIVER, Tony Cavanaugh

  • Format: Kindle Edition (Amazon)
  • File Size: 951 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Australia; Digital original edition (23 April 2019)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group (AU)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07KPKB63Q

Synopsis  (Amazon)

Brisbane 1999. It’s hot. Stormy. Dangerous. The waters of the Brisbane River are rising.
The rains won’t stop. People’s nerves are on edge. And then…
A body is found.
And then another.
And another.
A string of seemingly ritualized but gruesome murders. All the victims are men. Affluent. Guys with nice houses, wives and kids at private schools. All have had their throats cut.
Tabloid headlines shout, THE VAMPIRE KILLER STRIKES AGAIN!

Detective Sergeant Lara Ocean knows the look. The ‘my-life-will-never-be-the-same-again look’. She’s seen it too many times on too many faces. Telling a wife her husband won’t be coming home. Ever again. Telling her the brutal way he was murdered. That’s a look you never get used to.

Telling a mother you need her daughter to come to the station for questioning. That’s another look she doesn’t want to see again.

And looking into the eyes of a killer, yet doubting you’ve got it right. That’s the worst look of all – the one you see in the mirror. Get it right, you’re a hero and the city is a safer place. Get it wrong and you destroy a life. And a killer remains free. Twenty years down the track, Lara Ocean will know the truth.

My take

I thought this was such a cleverly constructed novel with themes that resonated in the Australian setting: Queensland weather, rise of the Brisbane river and flooding of the city, corruption in the Queensland police force, corruption in government, the glass ceiling both for women and for women of mixed race.

A culture of corruption leads to the decision to look for a quick resolution and conviction in the Vampire Slayer case. The story begins on the eve of 2YK, with 3 seemingly ritualised killings of middle-aged men, and the tracking down of the killer on the basis of what other teenagers and her teacher said about her. The culprit is quickly brought to trial, and sentenced to life amid public jubilation.

The plot directions often took me by surprise. I certainly hadn’t expected the plot to cover 20 years, nor had I expected Billy Waterson to become essentially a “reformed” character. I thought it got under the skin of the main characters, and it kept my interest throughout.

My rating: 4.8

I have previously read
4.3, PROMISE, Tony Cavanaugh

Review: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW, Sally Hepworth

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan)

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana was exquisitely polite, but Lucy knew, even after marrying Oliver, that they’d never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships.

My take

Police don’t arrive on your doorstep at dinnertime unless something is wrong.

Diana’s death was not unexpected – she had after all told her family that she had breast cancer but she hadn’t seemed seriously ill, unless you counted the depression that she had suffered from after her husband Tom had died from MND two years earlier. So it is hard to understand why the police want to question her family so often.

Lucy’s relationship with her mother-in-law has not been a comfortable one. Diana believed that her family needed to work hard for what they wanted and she was likely to refuse to give them help unless it suited her. Wealthy at the end of her life, she has worked hard herself and lived through difficult times.

The novel covers the period of about 10 years leading up to her death with glimpses into the past. There are little mysteries cleverly woven into the fabric of the story and it is really not until the end that we have the full story.

This novel is certainly enough to send me looking for another by this author. This one was on the very edge of crime fiction. The crime that has been committed takes a back seat to the issues of the relationships between Diana and her friends and family members. It seems that her other books are mainly about family issues and family ties.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Sally Hepworth has lived around the world, spending extended periods
in Singapore, the UK and Canada, where she worked in event management
and human resources. She is the author of The Secrets of Midwives, The Things We Keep, The Mother’s Promise and The Family Next Door.
Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and children.

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: SILVER, Chris Hammer

  • format: kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1958 KB
  • Print Length: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (October 1, 2019)
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07TNHDYBG

Synopsis (Amazon)

For half a lifetime, journalist Martin Scarsden has run from his past. But now there is no escaping.

He’d vowed never to return to his hometown, Port Silver, and its traumatic memories. But now his new partner, Mandy Blonde, has inherited an old house in the seaside town and Martin knows their chance of a new life together won’t come again.

Martin arrives to find his best friend from school days has been brutally murdered, and Mandy is the chief suspect. With the police curiously reluctant to pursue other suspects, Martin goes searching for the killer. And finds the past waiting for him.

He’s making little progress when a terrible new crime starts to reveal the truth. The media descend on Port Silver, attracted by a story that has it all: sex, drugs, celebrity and religion. Once again, Martin finds himself in the front line of reporting.

Yet the demands of deadlines and his desire to clear Mandy are not enough: the past is ever present.

My Take

Set in a fictional seaside town on the New South Wales northern coast, this novel seems to have a bit of everything. An undeveloped coastal retreat with a number of people with big ideas on how to make money, a swami taking advantage of the secludedness, others who enjoy the backwater nature of their home town. It starts with a murder and then follows with something even worse.

The plot has a number of complex threads and the book is definitely a sequel to the first Martin Scarsden novel, SCRUBLANDS for which the author recently won a CWA Dagger. However I felt my reading of SILVER was hampered by the fact that I seem to have forgotten some of the lesser threads of SCRUBLANDS. So, if you are wondering if you can read SILVER as a stand-alone, then the answer is probably no.

But Chris Hammer is obviously a writer to follow. The setting has a strong Australian flavour, and the main character Martin Scarsden is nicely flawed.

And will there be a sequel to SILVER? I’m not sure, unless Martin Scarsden becomes involved in an entirely new case. In this novel we learnt a lot about his past, his relationship with Mandy Blonde definitely went through some rocky times, so where now?

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.7, SCRUBLANDS

Review: 55, James Delargy

  • this edition published by Simon and Schuster UK 2019
  • ISBN: 978-14-7118-463-5
  • 423 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

There were 54 victims before this. Who is number 55? A thriller with a killer hook, and an ending that will make you gasp!

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers.
He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim.

Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.

Gabriel is the serial killer.

Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

James Delargy has written one of the most exciting debuts of 2019. He masterfully paints the picture of a remote Western Australian town and its people, swallowed whole by the hunt for a serial killer.

My Take

Two stories are told in tandem. One from the present and one from ten years ago.

In the story from ten years ago a young man is missing in the bush and two very new policemen are heading the search party in the rough country near Wilbrook.

Now, ten years on, one of the policemen is the Sergeant at the Wilbrook station when a an injured man arrives, claiming to have been captured and imprisoned by a serial killer. Two days later another man turns up with the same story.

The second policeman is now the Inspector at the Port Headland station and he and his officers turn up to take on the investigation at Wilbrook. There is a lot of animosity between the two, largely stemming from their experiences ten years before.

This novel reads as if the author is Australian and I was surprised to realise that he is not.

I have included the review here because of the setting.
A good read.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
James Delargy was born and raised in Ireland and lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland, before ending up in semi-rural England where he now lives. He incorporates this diverse knowledge of towns, cities, landscape and culture picked up on his travels into his writing. 55 is his first novel.

Review: THE DAY THE LIES BEGAN, Kylie Kaden

  • NB Book not released until August 19, 2019 – available for pre-order
  • source: Netgalley
  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2208 KB
  • Print Length: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Pantera Press (August 19, 2019)
  • Publication Date: August 19, 2019
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07SMBVNDB

Synopsis  (Amazon)

‘It seemed simple at first – folding one lie over the next. She had become expert at feathering over the cracks to ensure her life appeared the same. But inside, it didn’t feel fixed.’

It happened the day of the Moon Festival. It could have been left behind, they all could have moved on with their lives. But secrets have a habit of rising to the surface, especially in small towns.

Two couples, four ironclad friendships, the perfect coastal holiday town. With salt-stung houses perched like lifeguards overlooking the shore, Lago Point is the scene of postcards, not crime scenes. Wife and mother Abbi, town cop Blake, schoolteacher Hannah and local doctor Will are caught in their own tangled webs of deceit.

When the truth washes in to their beachside community, so do the judgements: victim, or vigilante, who will forgive, who will betray? Not all relationships survive. Nor do all residents.

My take

Abbi and foster brother Blake have a secret that dominates the first half of this book. We are not sure what it is – several alternatives are on offer – but it is something they shouldn’t have done, something that will devastate those close to them, and something that will destroy them both if it becomes known. But they both doubt their ability to keep it hidden.

It turns out that even though they didn’t know it these families have lived with lies and secrets all their lives. Once Abbi and Blake’s big secret is “out” nothing is the same.

The structure of the novel is quite confusing at the beginning and then intriguing as the setting swaps between the present and the day and night of the Moon Festival.

My rating: 4.4

About the author:
Since being plucked from the Random House slushpile, Brisbane writer Kylie Kaden is now an internationally published author of women’s fiction (when she’s not wrangling her sticky brood of boys). Kylie followed her breakthrough debut Losing Kate, with another critically acclaimed suspenseful read, Missing You, in 2015.

Review: THE PROMISED LAND, Barry Maitland

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-76063-267-0
  • 308 pages
  • a Brock & Kolla novel

Synopsis (Amazon)

Newly promoted Detective Chief Inspector Kathy Kolla investigates a series of brutal murders on Hampstead Heath. Under intense pressure to find answers, she arrests the unlikely figure of John Pettigrew, a failing London publisher who lives alone on the edge of the Heath.

Pettigrew’s lawyer calls on recently retired David Brock for advice, and soon, unable to resist the pull of investigation, the old colleagues, Brock and Kolla, are at loggerheads.

At the heart of the gripping mystery of the Hampstead murders lies a manuscript of an unknown novel by one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century. Brock believes that its story will unlock the puzzle, but how?

My take

David Brock has retired and his protege Kathy Kolla has replaced him as DCI. so here is her first case as DCI without her mentor.

In four days, two women have been found murdered on Hampstead Heath, bashed with a hammer. The second is the wife of a judge.  The judge is convinced that he is somehow the target of the murder but there is no evidence of that.

Kathy Kolla believes the two murders are linked somehow. And then a third body is found in the second bedroom of a London publisher but he has no memory of how she got there. Evidence is then found that seems to link him to the two earlier murders.

Meanwhile ex-Inspector Brock is at a loose end, when John Pettigrew’s lawyer asks if he will talk with her client. Although Brock is aware that Kathy Kolla is leading the investigation of the Hampstead Heath murders, he doesn’t believe she ever need know about this consultancy. And of course he is wrong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Over the years crime fiction authors have dealt with the problem of ageing detectives, partnerships that must eventually come to an end, and what to do as popular protagonists have to retire.

This novel raises one possible solution.

An excellent read. My best so far this year.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
4.7, ALL MY ENEMIES  -#3 Brock & Kolla
5.0, NO TRACE – #8
4.7, SPIDER TRAP  – #9
`4.7, DARK MIRROR – #10
4.8, CHELSEA MANSIONS – #11
4.7, THE RAVEN’S EYE –  #12
4.7, CRUCIFIXION CREEK