Being a bit of a fan of short story collections, I've was really pleased that we* have published some of the Scarlet Stiletto winning stories from the...moreBeing a bit of a fan of short story collections, I've was really pleased that we* have published some of the Scarlet Stiletto winning stories from the past. In this collection, SCARLET STILETTO: SHORT STORIES 2013, the winners from the 20th Anniversary of the awards are released together.
The categories are pretty wide for these awards - The Scarlet Stiletto Award itself (and here we have the first, second and third prize winners), The Best New Talent Award, Great Film Idea, Best Investigative, Cross Genre, Funniest, Young Writers', Malice Domestic and The Body in the Library (Winner and Runner up), each of these short stories is written by a female writer.
Anybody following these awards over the past 20 years will notice some "names" that have gone onto publishing success, which goes to show the quality of the storytelling. There's also a lot of authors who have been entering good quality fiction for many years, winning, or receiving honourable mentions, and it's fabulous that via these ebooks readers have a chance to get familiar with their work.
Obviously, because this is a collection of award winners, every reader is going to be double guessing the judges. I must admit out of all the entries, my favourites were the third place entry in the Scarlet Stiletto - "A Lovely Face" by Kylie Fox and "The Case of the Missing Husband" by Aoife Clifford. Liked the twists, liked the lessons learned in both of them.
The best thing about these sorts of collections is that there will be entries that everybody can claim as their favourite. The work the Sisters in Crime Australia do in encouraging female writers is really very exciting.
* Disclaimer - one of my hats is that of Clan Destine Press Minion.
Up front, the only complaint I've got about THE BLASPHEMER is that the ending came way too quickly. From the opening scenes, when an armed fanatic bre...moreUp front, the only complaint I've got about THE BLASPHEMER is that the ending came way too quickly. From the opening scenes, when an armed fanatic breaks into the house of, we discover, Abraham Khan and his wife, things just keep moving fast. Much like the cavalcade required to move Khan from one safe location to another. Much like the speed at which security operator Maya Raines has to move to keep the principal (Khan) safe.
Set in New Zealand, there's never a moment when anything "really... in New Zealand..." enters your mind. The threat from extremists, the use of drugs - both as a controlling and financing device, the radicalisation of members of the Somali community, the whole lurking mysterious man in the background works.
The action scenes are really well written, realistic and tightly drawn. The characters are strong, particularly the female lead Maya Raines - she's capable, clever and real as well.
The scenario of Security Operatives, close protection experts is interesting, and works really well as a perspective to look at terrorism. The only problem with THE BLASPHEMER is that it feels very short, and ended quite abruptly. Which could mean there's another episode in the making. But it did have a slight feeling of an episode, rather than a fully explored book. Or I could just be being greedy.
No idea whatsoever how or why, but WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO by Anya Lipska wafted into my somewhat dodgy attention span recently, and I started readin...moreNo idea whatsoever how or why, but WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO by Anya Lipska wafted into my somewhat dodgy attention span recently, and I started reading it immediately. As in read the sample, bought the ebook and read it as soon as it downloaded.
Sometimes the universe is very kind and benevolent place, because this is an excellent debut book. Set within the Polish community in England, I think I've since heard somewhere that this is the first novel of this sort out of that environment.
The story is set deep within that Polish community, many of whom are in England for work, escaping economic deprivation and sometimes official persecution in their homeland. The timeline is before the London Olympics, with much of the community working on building the Olympic venues.
Janusz Kiska doesn't work as a builder, rather he's an unofficial "fixer" for the community, a solid, taciturn man with a past and strong connections back to his homeland. One of the very early Polish arrivals in England, he sees things as a migrant, and as a long-term resident. Believable, fascinating, approachable although slightly stand-offish and touchingly sentimental, Kiska is a strong man with a strong sense of right and wrong. Thoughtful, calculating, clever and not above rule bending if required, his connections extend from recent arrivals, through to the religious hierarchy of the community and many of the leaders and power-brokers in both Polish and English society.
Natalie Kershaw is a young detective trying to forge her way in the male dominated police force. Her struggles in the force make her another outsider, especially as she's not against breaking a few rules herself. Starting a relationship with a workmate is probably the biggest rule she could have broken. Despite her doubts, she is supported by her boss, and whilst her colleagues might be a bit tricky, a large percentage of the problems she experiences could be put down to her own attitude. She's touchy, prickly and as believable as Kiska.
These two characters form less alliance, more a ceasefire when their cases of missing or dead young women connect up. Kiska working within the community and Poland with knowledge of the people, their superstitions and the language on his side. Kershaw with scientific and, eventually, the support of police resources behind her.
There's a lot working in this book. The characters are strong, and whilst we have a pairing of male and female, the romantic complications are in other directions. The plot elements are cleverly unpredictable, relying on the evils of money, drugs and sex as well as politics, influence and corruption. The book also takes the reader into a community that's not as well known, at least in these parts. Along the way there's some light cast about a background and the consequences of migration and marginalisation which was elegantly done.
Like it when a debut book puts an author on my "to be bought immediately" list. WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO was finished in a couple of greedy reading sessions, DEATH CAN'T TAKE A JOKE pre-ordered immediately. It's going going straight to the top of the pile come March 2014.
Obviously when you're a young ex-con you would restart your life outside using the skills that you learnt in jail. It made enormous sense that young e...moreObviously when you're a young ex-con you would restart your life outside using the skills that you learnt in jail. It made enormous sense that young ex-con Brendan Lavin would start a bakery under those circumstances. It also made sense that because the bakery is struggling to survive he'd be convinced to get back into the old gang for just one big job. Which goes, of course, pear-shaped. So of course he'd flee New York City and head for Shanghai...
Okay so that last bit had me a little confused. It's not the immediate path you'd imagine. And it's a real testament to TOMORROW CITY that up until Lavin starts setting up another bakery in Shanghai, well into his life in the Chinese city that I suddenly thought.. what the. It was probably about the time that his ex-gang mates started showing up in Shanghai. Mind you, the thought was easy to bury. Too busy following things as they moved at a rapid pace into more pear-shaped carry-on only this time in China.
It helps that Lavin is a really great central character, flawed but well-meaning, hard-working and only dragged back to the dark side of life with regret. Of course it also helps that the gang mates aren't so well-meaning, their ruthlessness is as stark as Lavin's conflict.
It's a wild ride at points, with some in your face violence and, courtesy of the gang, some breathtaking lack of concern for others in the world. Not so Lavin who somehow remains very human, very believable and very vulnerable. Sure he escapes the mess he gets into in Shanghai but at what cost. Maybe he can start all over again. But at what cost. I hope we find out in a subsequent book.
Translated from the original German TRETJAK is the story of a fixer, hired by the rich, to sort out life's problems - big and small.
Gabriel Tretjak is...moreTranslated from the original German TRETJAK is the story of a fixer, hired by the rich, to sort out life's problems - big and small.
Gabriel Tretjak is an unusual central character. His back story is woven into the narrative, revealing the reasons why he's a tricky character to warm to. Not done as a bid for sympathy however, there's something very matter-of-fact about Tretjak, and his background, his dysfunctional family, and his ruthless single-mindedness. Which makes the idea that he could perhaps be guilty of the murder of a famous brain surgeon feasible. The idea that he could be the ultimate in unreliable narrator's - the self-serving type - perfectly acceptable.
A complex and frequently reflective plot, TRETJAK is slightly let down by a few problems. In particular the resolution which was flagged too early, ultimately sort of collapses into place in an odd, flat and anti-climatic manner. Which isn't helped by some starkly obvious threads left unresolved.
It's an overuse of the word, but the only way to describe TRETJAK is unusual. An unusual scenario, with an unusual central character, there's something rather dry, controlled, low key about the start of this book. It could make connecting with it a bit of a problem to start off with. Stick with it though. Even with the slightly off ending, once you get used to the subdued nature, and the fact that Tretjak isn't a criminal, or a cop, or even a completely unwilling participant, this is an unusual approach to crime fiction which is worth considering.
I don't want to start any arguments here, but my mind-reading chook is an Australorp, currently known as "Underfoot", although a renaming ceremony is...moreI don't want to start any arguments here, but my mind-reading chook is an Australorp, currently known as "Underfoot", although a renaming ceremony is now on the cards. I've always been convinced she was a mind reader, although I'm pretty sure there's been no laboratory accidents in her vicinity. But she's the one, out of the very big flock of chooks in these parts, that always seems to be where I'm heading before I've even decided to go there. Of course it might be that she's such a guts that she secretly tracks movements in the hope of treats to get out from "Underfoot", but I much prefer the idea that she's able to read minds, solve problems, leap not very tall buildings, and generally be a multi-skilled chook! Just like Sleuth Astrid.
Needless to say the idea of SLEUTH ASTRID appealed from the first mention. And both of these books "THE MIND READING CHOOK" and "LOST VOICE OF THE GRAND FINAL" are really quite clever. Part of the Easy to Read Mysteries category on Hazel's website, they are designed to allow younger readers to simply enjoy the stories, whilst the more adventurous or older would find the puzzles along the way engaging as well. The language is direct and very readable, the story's clever, quirky and particularly Australian. The connection with the Grand Final is a lovely touch that might also help with getting young, sports-mad kids to engage with reading.
Previously available in print format, these ebooks are now available directly from Hazel's site (http://www.hazeledwards.com/shop/cate...). Plus there's classroom performance scripts, a Design Your Own Sleuth section and other bits and pieces. It's great to see kids reading like this popping up in electronic format. Even for kids of "slightly" more advanced years.
WRONGFUL DEATH is the ninth book in the Anna Travis series from Lynda La Plante. Which therefore requires a confession. I started to struggle with thi...moreWRONGFUL DEATH is the ninth book in the Anna Travis series from Lynda La Plante. Which therefore requires a confession. I started to struggle with this series around book 4 (DEADLY INTENT), and never managed to finish book 5 (SILENT SCREAM) or book 6 (BLIND FURY). So on the upside, I did manage to finish WRONGFUL DEATH. On the downside it was a disappointment.
Whilst the central premise, the re-investigation of the death of Josh Reynolds was an interesting idea, the cast of characters flat out didn't work for me. Can't remember the last time I've encountered so many characters that it was almost impossible to understand or connect with. In the earlier books I did finish, Anna Travis was a complicated and prickly character, but a dedicated investigator. In WRONGFUL DEATH she's still prickly and complicated, but considerably less convincing about it. A caricature.
Having said that, for the life of me I could not work out why Senior FBI Agent Jessie Dewar. What on earth she was doing there, why she had to be so universally unpleasant, difficult, opinionated, escaped me completely. Unless she was there to be the token out of step foreigner? Still can't get it straight in my own mind.
Then there's the rest of the office staff with the token over-worked, put upon one; the lazy, flittery one who never does anything but makes a lot of noise anyway, and the steady bloke in the background. Just a few too many caricatures.
Not helped by the presence somewhere in the upper echelons of DCS James Langton which also seemed odd. He seemed to bounce in, all in charge, and then bounce out all flustered by the higher up-upper echelons having it in for him. And then there was something about his marriage, and his past relationship with Travis, and then... to be honest I lost interest. Not quite before Travis heads off to the US, gets into another relationship, solves the local problems and steams back to the UK all ready to pick up the Reynolds case and solve it in one big bound....
And therein lies the biggest problem with this book, it starts out as slow as treacle, with only the characters to engage interest. And they don't. The plot then heads off into somewhere-else land and when everything's righted there, our hero returns to the UK to save that day as well. Which left me wondering even more what on earth Senior FBI Agent Jessie Dewar was there for.
Reading, as I do, rather a lot of crime fiction in a year, it's normally possible to find something positive. In the earlier books, even in the last one I finished, Travis was a good character who could lift a book's ranking, even one that has a flawed plot, or a lot of filler, or some daft red herrings. In WRONGFUL DEATH, however, she's not strong enough for that much heavy lifting.
As a reader and reviewer, the thing that stays always in the back of my mind is how incredibly hard it must be to write a book. To get from the openin...moreAs a reader and reviewer, the thing that stays always in the back of my mind is how incredibly hard it must be to write a book. To get from the opening line to "the end" resolving all of the threads, keeping track of all of the characters, getting everybody to where they have to be to resolve the story.
This review for SEVERED PAST has been a long-time in the making because it sometimes takes a lot of careful thought and some re-reading to finally straighten out my observations and thoughts. It's particularly difficult to be coherent when you've had some issues with a book that you're reading.
We all know how much "Show Don't Tell" annoys writers. What's often harder is to explain how, as a reader, you get that impression. To my mind, showing always seems to make a scene more vivid, more observational, making me, as the reader feel like I'm part of the action, able to interpret, "trusted" to understand if you like. Whilst there's nothing wrong with a spot of telling to move from scene to scene, in the main heaps and heaps of descriptive "telling" just does my poor little reading head in and personally, I struggle to maintain concentration. Frankly, a lot of telling always leaves me feeling exhausted.
Combine that problem with odd "habits" like constant use of a single character's name over and over again, when it's obvious who's the centre of attention and I will confess to feeling very much like an "untrusted" reader.
Of course SEVERED PAST is a debut book so slack should be automatically cut, and the central theme being explored of the search for a past, and the idea that your entire background might be a lie was fascinating.
Ultimately, what I have ended up with is admiration for the role of strong, competent and forensic editors and just how much goes into the process of writing a book. How or why an author does it, and then releases their Darling to reviewers like me baffles.
Christopher Brookmyre is appointment purchasing in these parts, but even allowing for that obsession, I do really like the way this Jasmine Sharp seri...moreChristopher Brookmyre is appointment purchasing in these parts, but even allowing for that obsession, I do really like the way this Jasmine Sharp series is shaping up. WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES is the second book now, and whilst it would be better to read them both in sequence, you could get away with just picking up this one, especially if you're aware there's a story behind Jasmine becoming a Private Investigator.
There is a cast of central characters, built around Sharp, featuring hardman Fallan and DS MacLeod. Since Sharp took over running her Uncle Jim's detective agency, it's become increasingly apparent (to her) that she's not completely useless at this PI game. She's particularly good at finding long lost relatives, so when a woman walks through the door looking for her long-lost sister, it's a bit business as usual for Sharp.
For MacLeod, business as usual is the shooting of a well known patron of the arts and man about town, although the location, in the Highlands, and the manner, long-range sharp-shooting are less run of the mill.
More straight-laced than Brookmyre's satirical novels, that doesn't mean that WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES is without humour, or absurdity or a bit of in your face goings on. But it all fits well into the scenario of PI's, cops and crims. Nicely plotted with intersecting lines that come together in a believable fashion. Combined with a nice line in lurking protection from Fallan again, I do really like this series. It's not dark and noir, it's not light and fluffy. It's not cuttingly satirical. It is, however, very engaging, and enjoyable and I'm really looking forward to following where it goes in the future.
The Rowland Sinclair series is up to book number five with the release of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED, yet somehow it feels like there should be more o...moreThe Rowland Sinclair series is up to book number five with the release of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED, yet somehow it feels like there should be more of them. That could simply be wishful thinking.
There is much to be admired about these books. The plots are clever and believable. Whilst the subject matter can be sobering, it's delivered with a light touch, drawing out the amusing where appropriate. There is a very strong sense of place, and the time period in which the action occurs. In the case of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED and the previous book PAVING THE NEW ROAD that is Europe in the Great Depression, with the rise of the Nazi's in Germany as the backdrop. In PAVING THE NEW ROAD, Rowly and his group had a frighteningly close encounter with the extremes of Fascism in Germany, the aftermath of which now plays itself out in England in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. As a side note, picking up the earlier books in any order would work just fine, but these two they really should be read in sequence.
All of the main characters are here - Edna Higgins, sculptress, love interest, deflector of royal attentions. 'Milton' Elias Isaacs, would be poet, reader and oft quoter of others, is fierce when fierce is required, and somewhat befuddled when confronted with a community of English eccentrics with more elaborate tastes in clothing than he. Clyde Watson Jones, fellow painter, the most down to earth member of Rowly's associates, willing to put his body on the line when the Blackshirts weigh in. Rowly's brother Wilfred, wife and boys are also in town, Wilfred ostensibly to attend the London Economic Conference. Providing a perfect way of introducing some well-known figures from history, and a starring role for the wife of an Australian ex-Prime Minister.
Some elements remain consistent throughout all of these books, Wilfred's swings between feeling protective towards his younger brother, and clearly fighting back a desire to strangle him. Rowly's love for Edna, kept in reserve by his concern at losing her friendship instead. Milton's quoting of other's poetic snippets. All of which adds up not to a sense of been there / done that, but a real connection with this group. Like time spent with good friends.
Gentill's storytelling ability is, as always, on display in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. Deftly combining the extremes of Fascism, and the cloud of the Great Depression with disquiet at the ease in which a couple of Communist Australian's can accept the services of a butler is not, one would assume, a skill that comes easily to many. It does to Gentill, as does her observational humour. The complications of tie's being knotted, the comedy inherent in a wax head in a hatbox, the rabbit in headlights effect of a full set of cutlery at a formal dinner. All the while building a clever murder plot, with Rowly and his team determined to right wrongs for the dis-empowered in a world where money and titles can influence outcomes.
Even if you think you're not a fan of historical crime, this is a series so well done it could change your mind. Even if you're not a fan of crime, then this is a series that is so elegantly done it could change your mind. This is a series that I've used to convince non-readers to change their minds.
Bitter Wash Road is the latest police procedural from Garry Disher. Introducing a new protagonist, and set in the isolated South Australian wheatbelt,...moreBitter Wash Road is the latest police procedural from Garry Disher. Introducing a new protagonist, and set in the isolated South Australian wheatbelt, this is a book that delves deep into corruption, influence and power. Review at http://newtownreviewofbooks.com/2013/... (less)
A debut police procedural from Melbourne based, ex-Ballarat dweller, JM Simpson, A BODY OF WORK makes good use of both of those locations. Brendan O'L...moreA debut police procedural from Melbourne based, ex-Ballarat dweller, JM Simpson, A BODY OF WORK makes good use of both of those locations. Brendan O'Leary is now a Melbourne based detective, with family contacts still in Ballarat. His DC Ange Micelli has a very Melbourne background, descended from Italian migrants, an inner city dweller who is very focused on career, feeling a bit of pressure over family versus career. When they are called upon to investigate the murder of socialite, author, and very well connected local girl Deborah Dangerfield, they are dragged into a minefield. There are connections between the victim and O'Leary that go back to their Ballarat childhoods. There are implications at the highest level of politics and influence in Victoria. There's a lot more connections to be revealed as the story progresses.
A BODY OF WORK is a police procedural at its heart with the death and investigation remaining the central focus. Along the way the personal connections between O'Leary, the victim and their respective contacts and families are revealed, without losing the essential style. There is a hefty dose of the personal along the way, but it doesn't distract unnecessarily.
It's a complicated and quite complex plot, and as you can probably tell from the number of times it's been mentioned - the resolution relies on a lot of connections between the victim, her family, society and political heavyweights, and O'Leary himself. This aspect is well told, but there is a large amount of it and that might make some readers wonder just how small a world we're talking about here.
There's a great sense of place about the whole thing though, and the setting of a literary festival in Melbourne (down to the Malthouse Green Room :) ) through to contemplation on the side of Lake Wendouree and a family farm outside Ballarat all worked and felt very real and authentic. The Australian tone of the language worked and the interactions between all the characters were strong.
I suppose the only quibble I'd have is that there is a lot to this plot and some of those connections felt a little overdone. Plus there seemed to be the odd continuity problem which had me a bit confused at points. Minor problems though in a debut novel that definitely shows promise.
Listening to the radio recently I heard Jane Clifton talking about the thought process behind FLUSH. The end of a long term drought in Melbourne, watc...moreListening to the radio recently I heard Jane Clifton talking about the thought process behind FLUSH. The end of a long term drought in Melbourne, watching a river running fast, and thinking "What If...". What if a body flushed into the river? What if the cover up of a murder can be derailed by an extreme weather event? What if that body, and that weather event, could provide a pointer to a location, and from there a killer?
The exploration of "What If" can be as interesting for the reader as the why and who. In real life as in fiction, it seems a lot of the undoing of the best laid plans can be luck. It's very bad luck that the disposal of the body of Oleg Kransky's wife was undone by something as simple as a massive rain storm. From there, however, there's a lot more to the story than luck for any of the participants.
Clifton deftly unfurls a complicated and uncomfortable background for Kransky and his now deceased wife as part of the investigation. Whilst the death initially seems to investigators to be a simple domestic dispute, as more unexpected details about the pair are revealed, it's clear that nothing is simple at all. Along the way, Decca Brand finds herself pulled into the investigation. Firstly as a witness testifying to Kransky's mindset, then as a more active participant.
As in the previous book, Brand is a central character who holds up to that focus, although there is some spreading of the load in FLUSH with a new policeman working on the murder case, and providing, not surprisingly a bit of romantic tension for Brand. Given the twist to Kransky's life, everything else being sunshine and roses wouldn't have felt right however, and Clifton keeps everything up in the air and not quite as some might hope.
Clifton does an excellent job in creating a readable, entertaining and engaging story in FLUSH, with just an edge of the darker. Whilst this is a book about the who, the why is important. Complicated on the one hand, not on the other. The clever touch here is that there are all sorts of possible reasons why. There's the impact of past actions in war, the difficulties for people moving on, the sadness of the lives that so many people struggle to stitch back together. There's big consequences. It's delivered with a deft and lighter touch so it's not immediately obvious, but there's a lot more to the why here than the immediate resolution.
And then there's the way this series seems to be heading. It's happened in some other favourites. Starting out as entertaining and extremely readable books, they've morphed into something extra. Something that looks more extensively at the why, going a little deeper and a little darker. Clifton is apparently working on the next book in the series and it will be fascinating to see where it heads.
(Standard Disclaimer: I wrangle the bits and bytes for Clan Destine Press and had no input on the editorial or selection aspects of these books).
A HAND IN THE BUSH is the second of Jane Clifton's books that we (Clan Destine Press) have re-released as ebooks. Cleverly, albeit loosely connected t...moreA HAND IN THE BUSH is the second of Jane Clifton's books that we (Clan Destine Press) have re-released as ebooks. Cleverly, albeit loosely connected to HALF PAST DEAD by one of the supporting characters, the focus of this book is Decca Brand, psychologist, divorcee and woman with attitude.
Whilst all of Clifton's books rely heavily on realistic female characters, and could possibly be classified as on the lighter side of crime fiction, they aren't fluffy or overtly cosy. In the second book from this author, there's a real sense of somebody who is hitting their writing straps. The central character here, Brand, is somebody with a past that's knocked some edges off her, and left her with some emotional baggage, but that aspect is nicely balanced against a woman who is also moving forward. Getting on with life. And dating.
Alongside that there is a mystery that has echoes back to Decca's own past, in the seventies, in Sydney in the main, now insinuating itself into the current, in Melbourne.
As with HALF PAST DEAD, this is a reread for me, and again I was struck by the feeling of a series in the making. Decca Brand is a good character, and she comes to mystery and mayhem with an interesting perspective. Not just that of the older, wiser woman, but also from the point of view of a psychologist, and a woman whose romantic ambitions aren't dead yet! Plus she rides a motorbike and takes the occasional risk.
Part of the reason that the first two of Clifton's books have been re-released is that the third FLUSH is now also available (in paperback and as an ebook). I hope the third follows on with Decca's story and we've finally got the ongoing series that I'd hoped was coming all those years ago.
(Standard Disclaimer: I wrangle the bits and bytes for Clan Destine Press and had no input on the editorial or selection aspects of these books).