Having never heard of the Wiki Coffin series before, THE BECKONING ICE was an opportunity to read some historical crime fiction from New Zealand that...moreHaving never heard of the Wiki Coffin series before, THE BECKONING ICE was an opportunity to read some historical crime fiction from New Zealand that doesn't come along all that often. Part Maori, part American, Wiki is on board the United States Exploring Expedition when a very odd murder is reported.
Reading this book it becomes very obvious that this is an area of history and naval events that the author knows a lot about. The book starts out in a very strong way with the sighting of a possible murder victim, and events that transpire once it is reported to the Expeditionary fleet. After such a strong commencement, the story does get a little less focused, with Wiki transferred between ships in the Fleet, and eventually, another suspect death and that investigation.
Along the way there is much racism encountered, an arrangement undertaken with another Maori crew member, and encounters with a group of sealers bent on discovery of a secret they believe Wiki's investigation has unearthed.
Reader's of historical crime fiction will be used to being launched into times or places that are nothing like our present. THE BECKONING ICE, and the whole of this series it seems, takes that even further in employing such an unusual setting, time, point in history and central character. It is a lot to take in first time out, and as a result you might find yourself involved in some fairly heavy lifting getting everything lined up and understood. There are also some points where, it seems by design, plot and advancement are subsumed by character and sense of place / time. Which will make this a perfect read for some, and not for others.
Having come to the series fresh at book 5, the detail did slightly overwhelm and the various character back-stories, and interplay and politics get very complicated. It seemed to be suggesting that it could be a series that's better to start at the beginning.
Having said that, it's certainly a most unusual scenario, and definitely should be on the radar of fans of historical crime fiction.
The preoccupation for Scandinavian crime fiction of many readers is sometimes questioned. One response is to get people to read Karin Fossum's Inspect...moreThe preoccupation for Scandinavian crime fiction of many readers is sometimes questioned. One response is to get people to read Karin Fossum's Inspector Konrad Sejer series. Within the one series, Fossum is able to shift the perspective, analyse the reasons why, explore the outcomes and long-term effects of crime, and play with accepted perceptions of clear cut resolutions. In THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN, whilst still part of the Sejer series, she's tipped the perspective completely - this is not a whodunnit, or even necessarily a whydunnit, but a how do you live with what you've just done.
There's absolutely no doubt from the opening set up of this book who Charlo Torp is, what a self-inflicted mess he's made of his life, and what his solution to the problem is. It's quite a chilling portrayal. The matter-of-fact way in which Torp sets out to murder Harriet Krohn and his initial reactions post the crime.
It would be an easy thing to have him remain ambivalent, self-justifying. Comfortable that his decision is what was required to sort out his own life and his relationship with his daughter. Certainly post his crime, and as a result of the money and possessions he steals, his life takes a turn for the better. He's able to reconnect with his daughter, he can provide her with the one thing she longs for more than anything else. But somewhere in the middle of all that happy ever after there's something more than just the pressure he's feeling from Inspector Sejer's investigation.
The investigation does take a back seat in this book, but fans of crime fiction that's all about the "chase" would be doing themselves a disservice by missing THE MURDER HARRIET KROHN. This is a carefully laid out, conservatively presented, seeringly understated, big dose of what goes around, comes around. The frightening thing is how blithely ignorant Torp is of what's happening, how his choices impact other people, and what he could have done differently. Until it's way too late.
ST KILDA BLUES is the third Charlie Berlin novel from dual Ned Kelly Award winning author Geoffrey McGeachin. Starting out just after WWII, this serie...moreST KILDA BLUES is the third Charlie Berlin novel from dual Ned Kelly Award winning author Geoffrey McGeachin. Starting out just after WWII, this series is as much a character study of Charlie Berlin and the after affects of war, as it is a police procedural. It's the great strength of these 3 books, and why they are increasingly earning the attention and commendation that they deserve.
McGeachin doesn't make things easy for his central character though. Berlin is still suffering the after affects of the war, even though it's 1967, the summer of love, and Melbourne is changing rapidly. His family is also changing, with his daughter travelling overseas, his son in the Army and his wife increasingly working on her own career. Berlin's happy for his wife, worried about his daughter, and troubled by his son. The background to all of these changes in the family are elegantly dotted throughout the story, although, as with any series with such a strong focus on character, it's best if you can read them all in order. The other factor that's not changed much is the perilous nature of his policing career. ST KILDA BLUES starts out with Berlin sidelined in the fraud squad, pulled back into the disappearance of a young girl because of the pressure from above to solve the case quickly.
Alongside the brilliant character portrayal there's also a really strong sense of place and time. Melbourne in the late 1960's comes alive through McGeachin's obviously, photographer's eye. The place, people, culture and fashions are all vividly described, as are the little touches of change - the increasing availability of food from other cultures, the changes in social structures, even the driving routes through the city. For somebody who knows the place it's pitch perfect, if you've never been there, and certainly not in that era, then you've got a time and place to explore, and picture clearly.
Both of these aspects pull no focus away from plot however, and despite this being "yet another serial killer" novel, that aspect is handled as you'd expect from an author like this. It's horrendous what is happening to these young girls, but it's handled respectfully. The killer might be an awful human being, but there is some explanation as to why, and absolutely no excusing. There's small insights into his mind, into events in his early life that are chilling, but not gratuitous. What's particularly sobering is the affect that the extent of the crimes have on a straight down the line, upright, and loving, decent bloke like Berlin.
But those affects are nothing compared to the finale of this book. After the case is solved, after the victim's are acknowledged and the families given an answer to their disappearances, life goes on. Even allowing for the cards that Berlin's been played in his life, what comes next is devastating. An unusual conclusion to a police procedural, the ending of ST KILDA BLUES will be hard for fans of Charlie Berlin. But life's not easy, and police, as with the rest of us, have lives to lead, families to raise, people to love. And to lose.
Are you allowed to write reviews that just say "WOW"? No, well okay - an explanation of why "wow".
From the opening lines of WHAT CAME BEFORE it's har...moreAre you allowed to write reviews that just say "WOW"? No, well okay - an explanation of why "wow".
From the opening lines of WHAT CAME BEFORE it's hard not to be hooked. The man talking directly to the reader has just killed his wife. He's a lawyer, so his immediate reaction is to record his statement of events - into a dictaphone, sitting in his car. In the background there's the quiet, subdued voice of his wife. Hovering there in the laundry, also talking directly to the reader. Not as often, and not in a strong voice. Well you wouldn't if you were staring at your own lifeless form would you?
Sceptical readers, such as this one, might take one look at this aspect and roll eyes. Woo Woo is something that can be very hard to swallow, particularly in a storyline as confrontational as this. Ignore it. For reasons that are almost as hard again to describe, Elle's voice works. It's low key and somehow it provides a counterpoint to the panicked and fearful reactions of David.
WHAT CAME BEFORE takes a couple of brave directions. For a start there's the close up voice of David, confessing to the murder, explaining how he and Elle came to be. Drawing the reader right in close to the car crash that his life seems to be. Along the way the backstory of the couple is revealed. In the second direction, both Elle and David are, in their own ways, unpleasant. Okay, David wins in that he's the one who strangled his wife, but neither of these people are exactly warm, comforting, kind and gentle people. Their relationship is fraught and dramatic and on again off again, which makes their ultimate marriage even more difficult to understand. In fact, all the way through this plot there's no point at which you can ever figure out why. Why they paired up, why they stayed together, what on earth they were both thinking. Obviously neither of these characters quite see it like that and that's part of the poignancy.
Which brings us to the unexpected elements. WHAT CAME BEFORE is surprisingly poignant. It's hard to watch a car crash in the making for miles and miles. It's hard to watch two people that might be a bit unpleasant but surely don't deserve to do this to themselves or each other. It's hard to watch David's panic, and Elle's amazement at their fate. It's hard to like David, it's hard to like Elle, but it gets easier to understand them.
Which brings me back to the summary line. WHAT CAME BEFORE was simply, flat out a WOW read - couldn't believe it, couldn't put it down, can't forget it.
There has always been a strong instructive element in the Emmanuel Cooper series. Apartheid South Africa is a world that we know existed, even know so...moreThere has always been a strong instructive element in the Emmanuel Cooper series. Apartheid South Africa is a world that we know existed, even know some details about, but what it was like actually living in that regime, particularly when you're not definitely part of the elite? Well that's where this series comes in.
One of the great strengths of the books is the way that the world that Cooper and his compatriots occupy has been expanding. This is a series that could be read out of sequence but will work much better if you can follow them in order. The progression steers the reader through the stark and quite mind-boggling viciousness of the apartheid regime. The way that the colour of your skin affects absolutely every aspect of your life. Including, most poignantly in PRESENT DARKNESS, who you love, and the children that you cherish.
The central device of the plot - the assault of a respectable, white couple, laid squarely on the shoulders of black youth, with very little in the way of investigation, and some decidedly dodgy behaviour from local police - works well, and sadly feels all too real. That tension between the races, the difference in living standards - the white neighbourhood of the assault, versus the township of Cooper's youth are described wonderfully - not in too many words, but in the reactions of the characters, the complications of adjustment. The corruption of the authorities, and the powerlessness imposed by Apartheid are laid out elegantly, spread through the story with a deft touch, making the whole situation more profoundly moving than a lecture ever could.
Nunn has a visual way of writing that doesn't come across as a screenplay in the making, rather it pulls the reader into the townships, and the dust, and the tension and fear that sits at the back of every non-authority figure throughout the entire story. You can feel and see Cooper's worry about his little family's fate and his guilt at his complicity in getting them into this situation. You can see and feel Shabalala's quiet pain and dignity in the face of his son's fate. You can see the bush and the flight and plight of women taken or put in such difficult places.
We're fortunate indeed that writers like Malla Nunn are here, working on books like PRESENT DARKNESS. This is crime fiction that goes into an area of human behaviour and a history that needs to be held up to the light, remembered, examined and understood.
When Lindy Cameron said we'd be doing ebook Erotica short stories, it was a bit of a relief. There's no way, I thought, I'll be wanting to read any of...moreWhen Lindy Cameron said we'd be doing ebook Erotica short stories, it was a bit of a relief. There's no way, I thought, I'll be wanting to read any of them. It should be a nice, quick, straightforward job. And so it was until HOMECOMING by NM Harris came along and well, I'm sorry Lindy, it took a while longer because I just could not help but read it.
The great thing about HOMECOMING is that it is a good short story form mystery in which the erotic, gay, romantic elements are interwoven. That story is also touching, romantic, sweet and sexy. Of course it doesn't hurt that it's written with style, with humour, and with great humanity. Sure it's erotica, but this is a longing love story, and the two men at the centre of it are beautifully drawn.
It might be best if we build a little extra time into the publication schedule for any future stories in the Talbott & Burns series. I suspect the temptation to read along the way will be a little too strong.
Something about STRAIGHT JACKET could make some readers a little uncomfortable. Not the serial killing aspect in this case - although the idea that th...moreSomething about STRAIGHT JACKET could make some readers a little uncomfortable. Not the serial killing aspect in this case - although the idea that there is a killer lurking in the bush that inserts itself into the Sydney suburbs isn't a welcome one. Certainly not a killer that sends victims fingers in the mail. It's more disconcerting that Morgen Tanjenz's idea of 'life sculpture' makes sense, dare we suggest, appeals. The idea that you could, with enough money and resources, dispense your concept of justice for wrongs. Although you have to wonder if you'd draw the line at ruining someone's life on behalf of the cicadas of the world...
The story runs two concurrent character lines cleverly. Morgen Tanjenz's life is gloriously over-the-top. Professionally successful, wealthy, attractive, he's got a moral compass that's more than a bit north-west of nowhere. On the other hand Detective Sergeant Fowler (Blacksnake to his friends) means well. Tries hard. Slogs it out. Wondering why the woman he loves is okay with an extra-marital affair, just not with him. With a boss that hates him, and colleagues trying to shaft him, life for Blacksnake is all lows and not a lot of highs. The contrast between these two men is obviously on purpose and it works. You can barrack for Blacksnake without feeling guilty, but we all know we're going to be barracking for the bad guy as well.
There's a strong sense of humour, and distinct feeling of taking the wee wee in STRAIGHT JACKET which soothes the angst ridden soul. Just as the heat of a Sydney summer lulls the senses, the way this story evolves lulls the reader into accepting the seemingly unacceptable. Whilst there "should" be nothing whatsoever good or positive to be found in Tanjenz's behaviour and attitude, somehow it's not too much of an effort to "forgive" him, or understand him.
Of course STRAIGHT JACKET is ironic and trying to distort acceptable reality. And it does that with an enormous sense of fun, with a tongue firmly rammed in the cheek. Sure you might question your own sanity - but don't we run the risk of taking ourselves way too seriously too often?
The third in the Winemaker Detective series, NIGHTMARE IN BURGUNDY takes our hero Benjamin Cooker away from his native Bordeaux to Burgundy, where he...moreThe third in the Winemaker Detective series, NIGHTMARE IN BURGUNDY takes our hero Benjamin Cooker away from his native Bordeaux to Burgundy, where he is being named Chevalier du Tastevin by the Knights of the order that are proud of their slogan 'Never whine, always wine!'.
Which will probably give you a little bit of an indication of the tone of this charming series, set deep in the world of French wine, and the intrigues that seem to pile up alongside it. In NIGHTMARE IN BURGUNDY this intrigue revolves mostly around a series of extremely erudite graffiti attacks which start to show up around the small town that Cooker is visiting. In Latin, ultimately identified as quotations from one of the more sobering Psalms, our graffiti writer doesn't seem to be any ordinary teenager, despite the locals taking matters somewhat precipitously into their own hands.
This series is one of those perfect little morsels for fans of all sorts of crime fiction. For the cosy fans this is a perfect way to immerse yourself in a beautiful place and a very different background industry. There are deaths, but they are almost off-screen, the puzzle of the Psalm and what the graffiti is trying to tell its readers is the point of the story. For fans of the darker side, there's enough plot here to keep the reader occupied, and whilst the style is a little on the arch, vaguely amused with itself side, it's not going to result in an overdose of the cutes.
It also doesn't hurt that the books come with a wonderful sense of place. Some of the descriptive elements are positively glorious. Then there's a sprinkling of wine education, a bit of local history, and even a brush up of your Latin.
As is this reader's usual wont, I've gotten out of sequence, and have now read the first and the third books, although I'm definitely going to catch up with the second at some point. NIGHTMARE IN BURGUNDY is an unusual setting for crime and an unusual plot into the bargain, but it is done well, with a central character who is definitely on the eccentric side. Which suits him very well.
Sometimes you have to wonder who on earth comes up with the claims on blurbs - but this one "HADES is the debut of a stunning new talent in crime fict...moreSometimes you have to wonder who on earth comes up with the claims on blurbs - but this one "HADES is the debut of a stunning new talent in crime fiction" is so apt the temptation is to call it quits here for this review.
Hades Archer run a junkyard, and desposes of more than just the standard form of rubbish you'd expect. Although one night, he's confronted by an unusual situation - when the "refuse" he's called on to dispose of turns into two living children that he saves and takes into his life.
The storyline sets up the lives of these three and then moves into the present and the police who are on the trail of a serial killer. In the process detective Frank Bennett is partnered with Eden Archer. Both of them have recently lost their working partners in confrontational circumstances, but developing a working relationship between them proves more fraught than Frank could possibly imagine. Made even more difficult when their first case together turns into one of the more bizarre serial killer scenarios presented - a killer who seems to be harvesting of organs. A lot of organs.
Given the scenario, HADES is obviously going to be a dark and confrontational read. A combination of police procedural and psychological thriller, the current serial killer storyline, combined with the past of Eden and Eric, mesh to produce something that's an exploration of justice and revenge. To say nothing of the fraught right and wrongs of ... let's call it "private organ transplantation".
What is most compelling about HADES, however, is the exploration of damage. As the past of Eden and Eric is revealed, and how they came to be possible problems for Hades to dispose of, questions of right and wrong become increasingly grey, and the reader is confronted with a series of situations more likely to be found in a psychological thriller than a police procedural. Despite that there's no inconsistency, somehow all these elements are woven together as tight as a drum.
The balance between the current investigation and the past is also pitch perfect, and the pace of HADES utterly enthralling. The characters are clear, precise and nuanced elegantly between understandable, sympathetic and frustrating. These people read like they are real, and imperfect.
It's very rare that you come across a debut novel that's just about perfect. Sure it's violent and confrontational and uncomfortable. But it is utterly memorable and an absolute standout.
The thing with really enjoyable review books that are part of a series is that there's no option but to go back and get the earlier books. Regardless...moreThe thing with really enjoyable review books that are part of a series is that there's no option but to go back and get the earlier books. Regardless of how teetering the current reading pile might be. Which is what happened here after finishing STALIN'S GOLD.
Interesting enough this is now the second series built around the Polish in England that's appealed - albeit this isn't set in current day. Despite it also being the second book in the series, it's very easy to get into sync with Frank Merlin. A cop kept behind in England whilst the war rages, because of the importance of the job, he's not completely comfortable with this imposition. The job is also made considerably more difficult because there is such a lack of police resources with so many people fighting the war. On the home front the police are dealing with the aftermath of the London bombings, with looters causing concern in very high places, enough to make his immediate superiors question the need for much time to be spent searching for a missing Polish RAF pilot.
But search and find that missing pilot Merlin does, and not just because of a personal request from the brother of his Polish lover. But the finding of the dead pilot leads to an even bigger mystery which eventually winds itself around more than just his death.
The atmosphere and sense of place that builds in STALIN'S GOLD is palpable. The ever present threat of the bombings, combined with the feel of darkened streets and people living in straightened circumstances, is nicely described, and that, combined with the character of Merlin - restrained, very British, and yet a loving and concerned man gives what's ultimately a thriller, a strong base in place and character. It's also not all dire - in amongst the bombed out centres there's orchestra performances, moments in parks, and quiet and relatively peaceful streets with people getting on with life.
The pacing of the thriller aspects is well done, and whilst the plot is complicated and quite far ranging, it weaves together deftly, with the characters remaining a strong focus. In a nice touch there's a real sense of grey about many of those characters. The circumstances of the lives that wartime people live sometimes leading them to do great things, or bad things. Not excusing any of the worst of the goings on.
The other nice touch is the inclusion of the Polish government in exile and the Polish community - an aspect of wartime London here, at least, that was quite illuminating.
Definitely a series for fans of historical crime fiction. Particularly those who like a touch of thriller pace in what is ultimately a good police procedural, with a strong central protagonist.
A novella in length, RONNIE AND RITA punches far above it's weight. A poignant and clever combination of sadness and tension, manipulation and desire,...moreA novella in length, RONNIE AND RITA punches far above it's weight. A poignant and clever combination of sadness and tension, manipulation and desire, right from the beginning there's no way of avoiding the sense of impending disaster.
Perhaps it is because Ronnie is such a vulnerable, sad character. Alone in the world since his mother died, he is living the life handed to him. Still in his dead parent's house, surrounded by their possessions, he seems lost, on hold if you like, waiting for somebody or something. Rita, on the other hand, although also alone and living in a bedsit, is more driven. Desperate, edgy, there's something much more alive about her, albeit dangerous. Ronnie's attraction is easy to understand, and somehow even more poignant as you wonder where this relationship is heading.
In such a short form, there's a lot that happens in RONNIE AND RITA. Good character development and connection go hand in hand with a clever plot arc and an atmosphere of foreboding. There's plenty of pace and tension, with enough twists and turns to balance out that nagging sense of inevitability.
Very cleverly done, RONNIE AND RITA is one of the best local noir-styled stories this reviewer has been fortunate enough to encounter in a long time.