LONG WAY HOME was released in 2014 and quickly garnered a lot of very positive comments. At which point it was placed on my reading list and then neveLONG WAY HOME was released in 2014 and quickly garnered a lot of very positive comments. At which point it was placed on my reading list and then never quite nudged it's way to the top. Nothing to do with it at all, rather a propensity to be useless at prioritising books and the sudden explosion in splendid reading opportunities.
But the second book in the series, TELL NO TALES was provided as a review opportunity and it seemed a pity not to sneak in the first as a lead in. Oh what a good decision that turned out to be. Aside from the pressure to read the second one getting so extreme I might have to pull a hamstring or invent something that makes me take to the couch to read non-stop for a week.
If we take it as a given that crime fiction, at its best, looks at the society in which it is written and plucks out things that need looking at, then LONG WAY HOME is a stellar example of that. The question of immigration and integration is one that is taxing a number of communities these days (here no less than others), and the idea of the requirement for a Hate Crimes Unit makes sense, as does the wide-ranging remit they are presented with. Members of that unit being multi-racial and multi-lingual as well also makes sense, as does the odd feeling that investigating acts against members of your own community, or people with a similar background that must ensue.
All of this messaging though is built into a solid plot within a believable and very strong police procedural. The main characters are stand-out, even the victim is given life and vitality as his background is combed over. The writing is crisp, clear, deft and beautifully executed. The dialogue is spot on, the descriptions of place, people, feelings and circumstances assured and very readable. To the point where this reader should be excused for a bit of late night googling as flagging this as a debut novel felt like a typo.
Leaning towards hard-boiled in stylings and subject matter, Dolan has created a team of investigator's and a scenario for them to work in that really feels like it's got legs. Certainly hope so. Now can well understand the very positive comments about this book. The second book in this series is now calling very loudly.
Based on the true story of the trial of two men in 1871, THE PETTICOAT MEN places real-life characters into a fictional scenario to create an extremelBased on the true story of the trial of two men in 1871, THE PETTICOAT MEN places real-life characters into a fictional scenario to create an extremely entertaining, and very readable story.
It is true that the young Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park were put on trial for "conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence", they were both well-known cross-dressers and suspected homosexuals, although acquitted due to the prosecutions failure to prove either the sexual activity or that wearing women's clothing was actually a crime. The trial was a sensation due to the nature of the allegations, but also because of their connections to members of the aristocracy.
In THE PETTICOAT MAN there are more characters from society and establishment drawn into the story, which based on the circles they mixed in, comes across as reasonable conclusions to draw. This is probably helped by the feel of the entire book, which has a truthfulness to it that's incredibly compelling.
The central, and most vocal narrator, is Mattie Stacey. Daughter of the owner of the boarding house in which Freddie and Ernest rent a room to store their women's clothing, and to dress, Mattie is absolutely outraged when her family's good name and address are dragged into the gossip and innuendo surrounding the trial. She's not outraged at either of the men, one of whom she is particularly attached to after he had been particularly kind to her, but because she, her mother, and her brother are decent people, who run a clean house and are loyal to their friends, and they most definitely do not run a questionable establishment. Mattie's the star of this book, her voice is so beautifully crafted she's real, and she's fabulous. Brave and true, she might not have had a lot of formal education but she, and her brother, are self-educated, self-motivated and good people. As is her mother, and had been her father - both theatre people themselves which probably means that the men's antics came as less of a matter of comment than it might.
The situation that Mattie and her family are dragged into because of the cruel and mindless gossip is difficult, but it seems there is nothing like a difficulty to straighten Mattie's back, to firm her mother's resolve, and to ensure her brother makes the best. He's particularly exercised by the situation as he loses his much loved job as a clerk in Parliament, and in Mr Gladstone's office, and must make do with lesser employment, despite the unfairness. Mattie herself, has had her own trials, widowed at a very young age, betrayed by a lover, her malformed foot is a disability that means that she stands out when she least wants to, and seems to imply that life as a childless widowed hat maker might be her lot. Mind you, there's nothing maudlin about Mattie, nor any of them for that matter.
The only downside to THE PETTICOAT MEN is that much of the circumstances leading up to the trial are sketchy, and the fate of Freddie and Ernest a little brush-stroked towards the end. Whilst it's perfectly understandable that the focus would remain with the Stacey family, as this was presented to this reader as a "crime" novel, the balance was a little off. Call it a ripper of a yarn though, and there'd be no quibble at all.
The first book, THE HOLIDAY MURDERS marked a change in series, but not style, for author Robert Gott. Much of this author's crime fiction writing has
The first book, THE HOLIDAY MURDERS marked a change in series, but not style, for author Robert Gott. Much of this author's crime fiction writing has concentrated on historical time periods, in particular around the second world war.
This reader was very impressed with the first book. It introduced a range of new characters in the newly formed Homicide department of Victoria Police, from Inspector Titus Lambert (and his wife), Detective Joe Sable and Constable Helen Lord. Events from that book physically and mentally scar Joe Sable, scars that he carries forward, along with a serious threat, into THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS.
Linking the small seaside town of Port Fairy on Victoria's Coastline with the team back in Melbourne are elements of the very real threat that the villain George Starling poses, as he hides away there, plotting and planning finishing the job he started in the first book.
"George Starling hated jews, women, queers, coppers, rich people, and his father. He loved Adolf Hitler and Ptolemy Jones. Hitler was in Berlin, a long way from Victoria, and Jones was dead. He knew Jones was dead because he stood in the shadows and watched the coppers bring his body out of a house in Belgrave. One of those coppers had been a Jew named Joe Sable and that meant one thing, and one thing only - Joe Sable's days were numbered."
Which he nearly manages to achieve late one night in Melbourne. The second connection emerges when a brutal double murder happens in Port Fairy, which allows Lambert to put Sable and Lord into that town, the investigation and inadvertently the firing line yet again.
There are many strong elements from the earlier book that carry forward to this one. Gott draws a very detailed and yet entertaining portrait of war-time Country Victoria and Melbourne. The example of Lord's difficulties as a woman in the police force nicely illustrates the attitude of workforce participation prevalent at the time. The behaviour of the branches of an established family in Port Fairy a particularly telling demonstration of the outcomes of snobbery and favouritism.
"She didn't have a much higher opinion of her niece. She was pretty, but insufficiently interested in her appearance to do herself justice. Her voice was irremediably awful, beyond surgical help because it wasn't just a question of adenoids. Timbre, tone and pitch were all off."
"Her feelings about her nephew, Matthew, were, if not extreme, at least extravagant. She adored him. He was beautiful - others less smitten admitted to his being good-looking, nothing more - and his decision to live within minutes of her had raised her flagging spirits."
Even the way that the main suspect in the double murder in Port Fairy is an intellectually handicapped man, gives the author the opportunity of drawing out the way that some society and families reacted to people with disabilities at the time.
The action, however, does move backwards and forwards between the investigation in Port Fairy and the threat to Joe Sable posed by George Starling. Unfortunately this leads to one of the major downfalls of THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS in that the two elements never seem to quite jell, spending instead a lot of time competing for attention. Whilst there's something inevitable about the double murder investigation (and not just because the reader knows the truth right from the outset), the potential for Starling to succeed also seems quite high. That threat is constantly being shifted around in focus to allow for much rushing backwards and forwards between Melbourne and Port Fairy, and a series of rather odd coincidences that are a tad heavy handed in execution.
Frankly the Port Fairy component didn't seem to contribute an awful lot to the overall story. The threat of Starling, the investigation of his activities, the further exploration of Sable's Jewish background and the affect that will have on him as well as the expansion of the bone-headed behaviour of so many towards women in the workplace were really involving. The complications of Lord's personal life and how her work impacts on her home life, particularly when Sable needs somewhere to live were particularly engaging. That background, and the search for Starling had some sense of genuine threat and menace to them, and it felt like they could have supported a larger concentration. At the very least, there was something more to say there than some daft old lady with a fetish for a loser nephew to the exclusion of her obviously well-meaning niece, all of which came with a sense of overwhelming inevitability. By the end of this book it was hard to ignore the big question, which was why somebody hadn't done away with many of that family a lot earlier.
Having said all of that, there's enough here to make you wonder if THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS is "the difficult second book" that's got some positioning of characters sorted out, kept a major element of threat in play, set up some ongoing relationships and provided a path into "the series moves forward third book".
This reader certainly hopes so. For the elements of THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS that did disappoint, these are still such an interesting group of characters, and the historical background is so informative, you'd hope there's a further outing in the works.
It's a such a simple idea when you think of it, take a standard noir setting, with added muscle cars, old cars, fast cars and gorgeous cars, and repla
It's a such a simple idea when you think of it, take a standard noir setting, with added muscle cars, old cars, fast cars and gorgeous cars, and replace the male characters with female ones. It makes enormous sense to me, especially as I grew up in a country town where girls driving hotted up cars, and hanging around hotted up cars was pretty common. Granted there was a bit of dating of boys driving hotted up cars as well - but really we could have just had all those cars to ourselves.
Evangeline Jennings does a good job of building up her dark and dangerous settings and scenarios. In a series of unconnected (apart from the girls and the cars thing) short stories, a series of plot's are played out that come straight from the noir theme park. The dialogue is crisp and clever, the settings are frequently dry and dusty or mean and nasty, although there's some in the story 911 that could have come straight from the Scandi-tourism bods.
The twisting of expectation is done so elegantly and seamlessly that there's nothing here at all that screams "setup". That idea of women on the edge is so convincingly delivered, so believable that there's not a speed bump in sight when it comes to accepting either plot or motivation. Everything in these short stories is as it should be when it comes to dark, twisted and desperate. The sex is explicitly love, lust and control; the drinking is hard; the language is profane and profound; and the cars, of course, are fast and dangerous. Anybody who has read the other short story collection, CARS & GIRLS will recognise the last story - CROWN VICTORIA from that so there's a good opportunity for a re-read right there.
Fans of noir stylings, of pointed, sharp and unexpected storytelling that pulls no punches, holds no bars and gets right up in your face really should be doing themselves a favour and reading both of these collections.
Combining history with mystery and a hefty dose of romance, A HISTORY OF CRIME was both a fascinating and slightly frustrating read.
The background toCombining history with mystery and a hefty dose of romance, A HISTORY OF CRIME was both a fascinating and slightly frustrating read.
The background to Frédérique Bonnell and her connections to France and New Zealand were unknown territory for this reader - as was the idea that in 1887 New Zealand had financial problems. Needless to say the corrupt land grab and the political and influence corruption behind it was fascinating subject matter for a mystery / crime novel to explore as was the seamy side of Victorian society (as it says in the blurb).
Bringing Bonnell, a known soprano back to the country that is a big part of her family origins, is an interesting idea, although events that lead to her being thrown from the ship off the coast, rescuing / being rescued by a Maori man, and ultimately "infiltrating the rich and powerful" alongside the Italian tenor she's teamed to sing with did seem to require some heavy lifting to contrive. Whilst the idea that Bonnell and Bartellin would be mixing in those circles worked, the inclusion of the Maori Kaituhi in the plot served, mainly it seemed, as a conduit for voicing the wrongs. Perhaps that might have worked if it hadn't been for the rather heavy coincidence of just the right Maori man being thrown off the same ship as Bonnell, their survival not discovered, her return to the ship undetected, and then the joint spying and informing activities of all and sundry staying under the radar in a very small place.
All of that might have been forgiven but, of course, the two single singers had to fall for each other didn't they. From very early on, their eye-fluttering romance threatened to obscure any of the mystery aspects. Which was muddled even further by much of the history recounting veering into Tell not Show territory a little too often for this reader's personal taste.
Of course, readers for whom one or more of these aspects are neither here nor there - if you're a fan of romance for example, or for fiction that occasionally veers into lesson, may find that these minor niggles never appear. The high point of A HISTORY OF CRIME is undoubtedly the sense of place and time that's generated, and whilst the method of historical telling might have been a little heavy-handed, much of it being news to this reader made for very interesting reading.
The second book in the DS Allie Shenton series, FOLLOW THE LEADER is not impeded in any way by not having read the earlier novel.
Whilst many fans of cThe second book in the DS Allie Shenton series, FOLLOW THE LEADER is not impeded in any way by not having read the earlier novel.
Whilst many fans of crime fiction will take one look at the blurb and groan "not another serial killer", this one deserves a second look. This serial killer kind of makes sense - in a decidedly uncomfortable manner.
In another possibly groan inducing moment, readers will also find themselves spending time in the head of this killer. A viewpoint that's used here to illuminate the killings, their circumstances, and more importantly, the motivation. Even the hardest heart is going to find it hard not to feel a modicum of compassion for this killer - even if his actions are utterly without justification.
Whilst you're squirming a little feeling that sense of compassion, you're presented with a number of other well drawn characters that might be more comfortable for you - sympathetic or not. DS Shenton and her colleagues, many of whom have some school connections with these victims, through to the self-obsessed, pain in the neck live in girlfriend of another school friend, these people feel real. They are flawed, they have personal and professional lives, and they have problems and highlights that they have to balance with the day to day.
Whilst the plot and the killings progress rapidly, obviously heading on a timeline firmly in the killer's mind, there is some backwards timeline shifting going on - especially in the killer's viewpoint - all of which is handled well. There's also school-yard nicknames, married names, changed names to keep track of and the connections from the past and present, which sounds like a lot. Fortunately any chance of confusion is minimised as some of the characters reiterate the confusing aspects, sort it through in their minds, helping the reader to do the same. And the idea of all those connections coming into life in a place as small as Stoke on Trent (in comparison to a major city small) made perfect sense.
Having a strong, central female cop protagonist with a happy, but not nauseatingly perfect home life is a particularly nice change, although there's obviously something from the earlier book that's leaked forward into this one. Shenton's sister is the victim of a vicious rape and assault which has left her in a nursing home, and desperately unwell. That idea that Shenton's life isn't picture postcard perfect or an absolute train wreck is both well done and refreshing, as are the honest occasional flashes of annoyance or difficulty in dealing with her sister's health situation. There's something more to be done in this thread as a very personal threat to Shenton appears in the middle of the current investigation (possibly the only clanger in the whole book as the obvious intent of that rape and attack seemed to muddle the current investigation waters for no good reason).
It looks very much like FOLLOW THE LEADER is heading off into series territory and it shows considerable promise in that. Certainly enough to put the first book firmly on my reading list. Nothing like being prepared when book 3 surfaces.
KING OF THE ROAD is Sydney based author Nigel Bartlett's debut novel. Gritty, complicated and fast-paced it takes the reader into the uncomfortable woKING OF THE ROAD is Sydney based author Nigel Bartlett's debut novel. Gritty, complicated and fast-paced it takes the reader into the uncomfortable world of abduction of young boys and paedophile rings. From the moment that young Andrew disappears from David Kingsgrove's home there's a sinking sense of despair. Firstly because of the police's obsession with Kingsgrove as the only suspect, and secondly because a young boy going missing like that instantly makes you think the absolute worse.
With only one friend prepared to believe in him, Kingsgrove is in a no win position, especially when his own family seem to suspect the worse. Going on the run could possibly telegraph guilt to others, but it seems to be the only way to find Andrew most importantly, and clear his name in the process.
Needless to say, the subject matter in this novel is going to worry some readers, and whilst there's nothing explicit or overt, it's impossible not to know what it is that cohorts of men like this do. Not helped by the sorts of character's that Kingsgrove eventually uncovers. It's sobering to think that people like this could really exist. It's even more sobering to think that the systems that they use to organise and communicate are so cleverly done.
The action centres around David Kingsgrove, and because his search for Andrew is a combination of Facebook investigation, and following every lead no matter how minor, he has to be a believable character. Not just believable, it's possible to have enormous sympathy for this man. A loving uncle, who incidental to his care and concern for his nephew is a gay man, he's resourceful, fit, brave and very determined. It's testament to his believability that at no stage is the reader left wondering how he could possibly be discovering things the police don't seem to be able to see. He also provides a very good lesson on how to hide in full view for quite a while which was most illuminating. But the best part about Kingsgrove is that determination. In the face of personal danger, confronted by some awful human beings, he stays true to the task of finding Andrew.
There are twists and turns in the search for Andrew that are going to surprise, there are some really awful people to be uncovered and some surprises in store, even when you think there can't possibly be any more. Whilst there's much about KING OF THE ROAD that's flat out a wild, tense, fast paced ride, there's also plenty of touching moments, and some glimpses of good, and some strong characters. An unusual book in many ways, KING OF THE ROAD is well worth reading, even if the subject matter is a no go zone for you.