A COMPULSION TO KILL is one of those true crime books that reads like a ripping great yarn. It's an engaging method of delivering history, telling theA COMPULSION TO KILL is one of those true crime books that reads like a ripping great yarn. It's an engaging method of delivering history, telling the stories of (in this instance) a range of Tasmania's earliest serial killers, setting them in a vivid example of the landscape in which their actions played out, creating a chillingly realistic version of early white Australia.
As outlined in the blurb it covers a series of cases beginning in 1806 with the first documented serial killers Brown and Lemon, finishing with the unresolved Parkmount case in 1862. The cruelty and ruthlessness of many of these cases defy belief, but in a strange way it's a relief that even then, even with large tracts of wilderness in which to disappear, many of these criminals were either arrogant or stupid. They were, in the main, identified, located, and punished, despite the chance to keep out of the hands of the law. It is striking how little regard was paid to the way the indigenous people had survived in the landscape.
It's difficult to call a book like this enjoyable, but you could easily use the words engaging page-turner. The style which is almost conversational and lively makes the awfulness of these killers even more apparent. The level of detail and therefore the amount of research that went into knowing these stories must be extensive, but that detail is sparingly employed providing something that is interesting, measured and informative without being overly detailed or complex to follow. Sources are provided to give the characters (witness and perpetrator) their own voices where possible, with this author pulling off the balance between knowing their subject matter extremely well, and not turning the book into a dry list of facts and figures.
An interesting example given recent debates about the teaching of history reverting to a significantly drier style, this is history that really worked for this reader. A COMPULSION TO KILL is engaging and interesting, shocking and sobering but never uninteresting.
NO TIME TO LOSE is Matt Baak's debut novel, set in the high-tech, high octane world of bank robberies in the current day. Which are considerably lessNO TIME TO LOSE is Matt Baak's debut novel, set in the high-tech, high octane world of bank robberies in the current day. Which are considerably less about fronting the bank waving a gun around, and more the very high-tech way in which time locks, centralised security, and automatic systems have to be circumvented.
The plot of NO TIME TO LOSE is an interesting one - it does seem that bank robberies are a lot less common in this day and age, as their security and loss prevention methodologies have tightened, and employees are so much more protected. The back ways in are getting more varied though - with threats to family, elaborate technical solutions or just plain old hard graft. They must be still an overwhelming temptation - particularly for a gang like the one in this book, lead by ruthless crook, precisely planned, cleverly executed and utterly ruthless. There was much to be engaged by in this element of the book. The way that everything seemed to be considered, total silence on the part of the robbers, the timing of the robbery, and hence the getaway, as well as the fallback options for getting into the actual vault, and circumventing that time lock, centralised system security.
On the side of the good is FBI consultant Kip Keplar, but his efforts are complicated by the contents of the vault. Military secrets, hidden assets, and a mysterious gem all have to be declared to start off with, let alone found. Which means he's hampered by secrets and reluctance. He's got to be ruthless and focused, although Keplar wasn't quite as effective a character as the villains for this reader alas. Perhaps it was the slightly coy way in which he's bought into the action in the first place, undoubtedly it is a personal preference for the unrepentantly flawed hero.
Needless to say it's a complicated but interesting plot device that kind of works in NO TIME TO LOSE. What doesn't work so well is the very detailed, heavily on the tell side, storytelling style. There are great screeds of information presented to the reader throughout the book - descriptions of places, feelings, character's motivations, technicalities, everything is intricately explained. Not a lot is left to the reader's imagination giving a very pointed sense of being told all the way, and frequently after the event. Rarely is the reader shown and left to interpret. It's obvious that a lot of thought, and research went into a lot of elements in this book, and whilst there's undoubtedly a very big temptation to use all of that, less is so much more when it comes to thrillers. More contributes to slowing down the plot, and creates a sense of information dump, as opposed to a tale being told.
It's a fault common in many debut novels though, and one that can be easily overcome once that all important first novel is out of the road, and the author can settle into the nature of good yarn telling (or alternatively a really good editor comes on board to help craft the story into something that's structured with the reader in mind). Huge points for the idea though, it's a great one.
Nominated as a young adult novel, COOPER BARTHOLOMEW IS DEAD is one that's readable for that age group and those of us for whom "young" is but a vagueNominated as a young adult novel, COOPER BARTHOLOMEW IS DEAD is one that's readable for that age group and those of us for whom "young" is but a vague memory.
Whilst there is a death at the centre of this book, in many ways it is less of a crime mystery than one about the mysterious, and quite scary things that confront many of us when we are young. To be fair though, the reasons for Cooper Bartholomew's death aren't glaringly obvious from the start, although some informed speculation is available to the reader at various points throughout the narrative.
Where this book really excels, however, is in the way it portrays young adult lives. The complications of love, friendships, loyalty, competition and peer pressure are eternal themes but here they are given a strong sense of currency. As the old problems of human nature and behaviour are combined with the current day realities of drugs, haves and have nots, and a sense of lost and confused young people, this story treads ground that is both realistic, and more importantly, possibly helpful. Not just for younger readers but maybe for we older types, struggling to understand (remember) what it is like at that time of our lives.
By not dodging the worst possible outcome, the death of a kind, loved, decent young man, whilst other less likeable characters survive, COOPER BARTHOLOMEW isn't playing safe and happy. It's supposed to be uncomfortable reading at times - drugs, alcohol and misbehaving young people is a reality these days, and not everything pans out as happy ever after. To balance that out there are redemptions. The lost and confused get their acts together. Young love shattered by death, does eventually find an alternative reality, and the future looks a little less bleak. Except of course for Cooper Bartholomew, who most definitely didn't deserve to die. But then a lot of young people who are innocent victims, or those that have made some mistakes can end up paying a very high price.
Nobody could be more startled than me when declaring that A TIME OF SECRETS was a most enjoyable book to read. Startled because ostensibly it looks, fNobody could be more startled than me when declaring that A TIME OF SECRETS was a most enjoyable book to read. Startled because ostensibly it looks, feels, smells like a romance. With an historical bent, and some mystery within.
Certainly in reading this book the romance is foremost in the narrative, equalled by the difficulties of living within war-footing Melbourne, followed eventually by the mystery of the traitor within the ranks of the Australian Intelligence Bureau. What makes that balance work is probably the historical background though. Romance in that day makes sense. With the world being turned on its head, and the possibility that anyone could be lost, dead or captured overseas at any point, the idea that people want a personal connection is understandable. This author covers these aspects with restraint, making her characters stumble often enough to make them realistic and certainly not soppy or idealistic. The central character of Stella Aldridge is part of the strength. A woman widowed during the war, she's not exactly grieving a violent and nasty husband, but sad about the manner of his death, and the failure of her marriage. Her wariness with that background is understandable, as is her very human desire to get it right a second time around. Stella's no victim despite what has happened to her in the past. She's also no fool and (eventually) is able to pick the wolves from the hounds. The potential of a love triangle here is intriguing as well.
It's not a one hander story though and there are a number Aldridge's colleagues at the AIB who get a good airing. There's plenty of professional, as well as romantic tension in the AIB amongst many men and women vying for each other's attention. Aldridge's flatmate adds a level of mania with her ongoing relationship with her American beau constantly threatened by her dalliances with other men, although the standout character at home is the downstairs neighbour, Mrs Campbell who is fun, wise, cheeky and a great, if not slightly vague observer.
Within the mystery elements, there's a traitor being sought, and much of that quest is being done in secret. Specialist overseas missions - particularly into Papua New Guinea and nearby are going pear-shaped with the Japanese Army having specific and dangerous knowledge about what the Allies are up to. It could be that this traitor is very high up in AIB management, but there are clues in radio transcripts and the processing of information that eventually point Aldridge and her boss Nick Ross in the right direction. There's an interesting pointer in the back of the book that explains the real life situation that much of that mystery is based on. Obviously for this reader, once we got to this part of the plot things improved greatly and the way that the traitor was identified - and many of the little clues that indicated something was indeed badly wrong in the communications transmissions - were fascinating.
Throughout the book there are lots of other connections, a shared love of architecture and the descriptions of war-footing Melbourne, from the camps in parks in South Yarra, and the Toorak mansions seconded to house military groups, through to the brownout and the nightlife that people were determined to pursue in the face of rationing and shortages.
Goes to show that when the story's really well researched and told with great passion and authority, even something that has such a hefty dose of romance can work for a reader whose preference is normally to walk somewhere much darker than Melbourne in a 1943 brownout.
A bit of a surprise package, IN THE DYING DAYS is an engaging tale of an ex-cop, private investigator plying his trade on the means streets of ... CanA bit of a surprise package, IN THE DYING DAYS is an engaging tale of an ex-cop, private investigator plying his trade on the means streets of ... Canberra.
Starting off with a bit of business about a son looking for his father's story, the action quickly shifts to Canberra in 1975. Barry Flynn is a rather down-market PI, who, courtesy of a solicitor connection, finds himself following a very wealthy, well-connected philandering husband. Weirdly though, this wife isn't looking for evidence of unfaithfulness, rather she just seems to want to know what he's up to - kept an eye on if you like.
Flynn, as just about everybody else in town, is closely following the political events of the time even as his investigation takes up a lot of time, requiring him to get some assistance from his nephew Billy. It's while watching Daniel Harrington on the campus of ANU that something is seen, the significance of which takes a while to dawn. Initially all Flynn knows is that as the Constitutional Crisis ramps up, so does his investigation. Too late for Billy though, who is killed whilst on surveillance duties. When it turns out that Flynn is being closely watched as well, things become very personal and threatening.
Obviously the stories of the Harringtons, Billy's death, Flynn's poking his nose in and the political situation all start to converge although it's done in a realistic and quite engaging manner with quite a few surprises built in along the way.
Even with a slightly flamboyant ending, there's something about Flynn's story that really works. Sadly there's also something about the idea that there's more to Whitlam's downfall that also works equally well (probably says more about our general attitude to politics these days then we should be happy about). Certainly the whole idea of a PI working in Canberra at that particular time managing to uncover something dodgy going on definitely worked.
The author of IN THE DYING DAYS has written a number of other novels, and directed a number of very well known Australian Television programs. Whilst there's something visual about this novel, it's not a screenplay lurking in the covers of a novel. There's a fully fleshed out story to be followed, and a most engaging character to get to know. Sure there's nothing new about the idea of the slightly rumpled PI in crime fiction, but Flynn's a pretty good, all-Australian, version thereof.
When they say "write what you know" Anne Buist seems to have taken that advice very much to heart, especially when it comes to the clinical and workinWhen they say "write what you know" Anne Buist seems to have taken that advice very much to heart, especially when it comes to the clinical and working experience of her central character - Dr Natalie King. Hard to say about the Ducati, history of mental health problems and clothes sense.
MEDEA'S CURSE starts out in extreme acceleration mode with the back story of a contretemps on the steps of the Court, followed by an encounter with Crown Prosecutor (and later sex interest) Liam O'Shea, and the disappearance of a child. The father of the missing child was also the father of a dead baby, one that her mother had pleaded guilty to killing. That mother, Amber Hardy, is in prison, and both O'Shea and King aren't convinced she should be there. Hardy's story, her partner (and the father of both children) Travis, and his new daughter and partner are quickly expanded, along with that of another patient of King's, and from there the cast gets more complicated with work colleagues, fellow band members of King's, O'Shea as a love interest, the drummer of the band as a love interest, a mad cockatoo, the bike and Hardy's own therapist.
Needless to say, in the first half of this book readers will need to be paying attention. There's a lot of characters, a lot of back stories, a lot of interactions and a lot of health and welfare information imparted. King is a complicated person in her own right, what with her own mental health problems; a "friends with benefits" relationship; problems with work colleagues and patients; a strong sexual attraction to O'Shea (despite his being married); her relationship with (and tendency to try to snow) her own therapist; and a reckless disregard for her own safety - not just because she rides the Ducati.
To be fair though, paying really close attention might mean that some flaws become slightly over-obvious. Such as why she's somewhat blasé about her personal safety despite the increasingly threatening behaviour of a stalker. It's doubtful that I was the only reader screaming "security camera's..." for a big part of this book. Whilst it may be that much of the personal jeopardy elements of King's behaviour were not completely unbelievable, they did became increasingly frustrating. And then there was all that pet bird disregard. Okay if you want to put on your security system version of a nightie and high-heels and trip around with a candle fine, but somebody needs to think of the bird!
Of course it is possible that many of the worst of the unbelievable elements were designed specifically to show King's tendency for erratic behaviour. Just as her increasing concern, and involvement in the lives of her patients is designed to show the caring, considerate part, but it did prove a major distraction at points.
On the upside there's certainly nothing wrong with the pace of this plot, as for all it's complications and interwoven elements, it rips along at great speed, and King is an interesting new character on the Australian Crime Fiction scene. Edgy and difficult, complicated and unusual, she's got a lot of potential to be a very welcome addition. Perhaps now that her foibles and strengths have been established, and the pattern of behaviour and craziness established, future books will have a little less of the kitchen sink feel about them. Especially as it's hard to imagine that King's going to be spending any time near anything as mundane as a sink.
From the first book featuring Cato Kwong this has been a series to follow closely. A police procedural that's moved him from Coventry (aka the Stock S
From the first book featuring Cato Kwong this has been a series to follow closely. A police procedural that's moved him from Coventry (aka the Stock Squad in remote WA) back to Perth and right into the middle of a shocking murder scene. Made worse by his old friendship with the dead family.
Not that it was a current friendship. Kwong and the Tan family had drifted apart many years ago, but the reason for that separation is part of the problem for this investigation:
"Another strong gust shook the walls. Cato couldn't disagree. He knew the boy, and if anybody was capable of this, he was."
The best thing about this series is the balance between strong, believable and really companionable characters, and the little details of police and forensic procedure that are dotted throughout (as well as the dry and gallows humour):
"Cato left Duncan Goldflam and his mob to continue shifting through the forensic broth in the Tan home and headed back to the office. A team of detectives and uniforms was doorknocking the area. That was expected to take most of the day. The boffins had taken away the array of family PCs, Macs, iPads, smartphones and such, and were picking the bones out of them. The telcos were also doing their bit: logging calls received and made, durations and locations in the preceding week, timeline to be expanded as required. DC Thornton hovered by Cato's desk."
Needless to say the state of the investigation is summed up in a succinct paragraph and we're away. There is much to be said for this clear, to the point style. The reader knows where we are, the procedural aspects aren't brushed under the carpet, and they don't bog the action down into the bargain. Which leaves Carter free to play with his characters, their attitudes and interactions.
"He flicked a finger at the newspaper. 'This race to the bottom. Competing to see how badly we can treat asylum seekers. Tents on Castaway Island for fuck's sake. They'll be promising to spit in their food next. Pathetic.' A Perth gangster with more humanity and political insight than a Federal political leader; it gave you pause for thought."
Yes indeed it does. As does much of this investigation as it digs into the Tan family themselves, their boyfriends and girlfriends, and Francis Tan's business associates. It's a good balance of plot, action and characters, with some standouts in all categories.
"There was a certain inevitability about what happened next. The Red Mist had descended on Deb Hassan but she was horribly calm as she unclipped her taser, marched up and stuck it into Mrs Harvey's shoulder. 'Mind your manners, bitch.'"
Not politically correct, flamboyant and definitely a tad on the grumpy side, Deb Hassan works really well with the calmer, more prosaic Kwong even though there are times when you can visualise them with hands around each others throats.
Kwong doesn't play a lone hand though, there are other things happening in his world. His boss in trouble with a judicial inquiry, and a bad dose of angina, as well as characters from the earlier books with happy events and woes of their own. Carter does not shy away from some dramatic outcomes in the case of his characters. All isn't automatically happy and right in this world. This aspect alone means that the chance to read the books in order is going to make everything work much better for you, but it's not necessary. These are such good books there's enough context here to keep you from being confused, without bogging you down.
It's hard to explain sometimes why cracking, tight, and realistic dialogue is so necessary for this genre. People that work together daily, under pressure and in the most confrontational of circumstances talk in jargon, in short-hand, in pointed and often poignant style. Instead of explaining why it's so important from here on, I'm seriously considering referring questioners to books like BAD SEED.
Combine all of these excellent elements with a great sense of place, time and social context and BAD SEED clearly indicates that this is a series that just keeps getting better.