5 February 2023

Review: HEADLAND, John Byrnes

  • This edition published in 2023 by Allen & Unwin
  • ISBN 978-1-76106-761-7
  • 289 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A coastal town is evacuated after record floods. Three young police officers are left behind. With a killer.
'Following in the footsteps of Jane Harper and Chris Hammer . . . Byrnes does a fantastic job of turning the relentless downpour into a constant threat. This thriller is a pacy and compelling debut.' - Books+Publishing

The small beachside town of Gloster is on the edge of disaster. After constant rain, floodwaters are rising fast.

Detective Constable Craig Watson, exiled to Gloster from Sydney, is a young man with a damaged past and an uncertain future.

Constables Ellie Cameron and Larissa Brookes are young women struggling to show their worth as police officers under a misogynistic sergeant.

The drowning town holds a secret that someone is prepared to murder for, and as the floodwaters cut Gloster off from the world the three young police officers begin to understand that it's not just them left stranded. Somewhere out there in the floodwaters is a killer. And he needs them dead.

Taut, compelling and visceral, John Byrnes' Headland announces a major new voice in Australian crime fiction.

My Take

My turn to choose 2 books for our "friends" book group which meets monthly and reads crime fiction. On the surface, HEADLAND fits the bill: recently published, Australian noir crime fiction, and  an author we haven't read before. In addition Target has low cost copies, and the local library system has a couple.

With many Australian states impacted by flooding, the setting feels very topical: a small New South Wales coastal village about to be evacuated because of rising floods. In addition, flood mitigation works supposedly spent over the previous five years have not solved the town's problems, money appearing to have been siphoned off into private building projects and expensive cars.

Craig Watson's posting to the town is a last-ditch effort to keep him in the police force. He is addicted to prescription drugs, and really not an impressive character. He is the replacement for a cop who was even less desirable, and the station boss works only a fraction of each day, spending most of his time in the pub.

So, the book has the making of an interesting story, but I'm not sure how far the rest of my group will get. The blurb says it is "visceral" - there are short sections of explicit sexual description - important for understanding how far Craig Watson has fallen and why - kindly published in italics so you can leap over them if you really want to. We are given Watson's back story episodically, but I really didn't develop any empathy for him. 

So I've come away from this book in two minds, but it may well work as a thriller for male readers.

My rating: 3.5

About the author
Born in Sydney, John moved to Mid North Coast of New South Wales with his wife and three children in 2012. He has a broad range of life experience having spent time in the Australian Army, worked fishing trawlers out of Darwin, worked bars and doors in pubs and clubs all over Australia, and somehow ended up with an Economics Degree. He started writing in 2015 and has a fascination with the darker aspects of the human condition; the addicted, the malevolent, the scarred. He cheers for the outsider, the slacker, the contrarian, the non-conformist.

When he is not writing or pondering the darkness within men's souls he works part-time in financial services.

Review: THE COUPLE AT NO. 9, Claire Douglas

  • This book available from Amazon on Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09KRXJZQ1
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harper Paperbacks (August 2, 2022)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 398 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0063246325

Synopsis (Amazon

The internationally bestselling author of Do Not Disturb and Just Like the Other Girls delivers a heart-pounding psychological thriller about a couple who inherit what seems to be their dream home, until they make a horrifying discovery—and the danger begins.

The Victims . . .

When pregnant Saffron Cutler moves into 9 Skelton Place with boyfriend Tom and sets about renovations, the last thing she expects is builders uncovering human remains. The remains of two bodies, in fact.

The Investigation . . .

Forensics indicate the bodies have been buried at least thirty years. Saffy has nothing to worry about—until the police launch a murder inquiry and ask to speak to the cottage’s former owner. Her grandmother, Rose.

The Witness . . .

Rose is in a nursing home and Alzheimer’s means her memory is increasingly confused. She can’t help the police, but its’ clear she remembers something.

The Killer . . .

As Rose’s fragmented memories resurface, and the police dig ever deeper, Saffy fears she and the cottage are being watched.

The Truth . . .

What happened thirty years ago? Why did no one miss the victims? What part did her grandmother play? And is Saffy now in danger? 

My Take

When builders excavating for an addition to the cottage at Number 9 Skelton Place discover two bodies buried at least 30 years earlier Saffy is convinced that her grandmother, the previous owner of the house will know nothing about them. But it becomes obvious that Rose, now in a nursing home, and suffering from Alzheimer's, does know something.

The narrative is told by several voices, among them Rose herself. 

The reader is told at the beginning of each chapter who the narrator is, but their voices are also strong and clear. The reader is invited to piece together what happened a little over 30 years earlier when Rose first came to the village with her daughter Lolly and took a lodger.

Saffy, the current owner of the cottage, is Lolly's daughter and has inherited the cottage from her grandmother Rose. She is determined to prove that Rose has nothing to do with the bodies.

An excellent read.

My rating: 4.6

About the author
Claire Douglas is the award winning author of seven stand alone thrillers, THE SISTERS, LOCAL GIRL MISSING, LAST SEEN ALIVE, DO NOT DISTURB, THEN SHE VANISHES, JUST LIKE THE OTHER GIRLS and her most recent, THE COUPLE AT NO. 9, which is a number one Amazon bestseller and reached number three on the Sunday Times bestsellers list. Her books have sold over 500,000 copies in the UK and have been translated into twenty languages.

You can find Claire on Twitter at @DougieClaire, Instagram as clairedouglasauthor, or visit her Facebook page clairedouglasauthor

30 January 2023

Review: DAUGHTERS OF EVE, Nina. D. Campbell

  • This edition made available as an e-book by my local library through Libby
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allen & Unwin; 1st edition (29 March 2022)
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1761065386
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1761065385 

Synopsis (Amazon)

When a high-profile murder lands literally at her feet, Detective Emilia Hart sees a chance to expand her caseload beyond the endless succession of domestic violence matters she is forced to investigate. But this is no simple investigation.

Another body turns up, then another. Then more - a lot more. All men, all shot, with a similar MO. It's not until a manifesto taking credit for the crimes is published by a group calling themselves Daughters of Eve that Hart confirms a link between the victims: all of them had been perpetrators themselves. All had offended against women or children. Few had been charged with those crimes - and none convicted.

As panic sets in and chaos rules the streets, the police draw ever closer to the Daughters of Eve, but the serial killer continues to elude them. Again, Hart sees something that everyone else has missed. And what that is, she cannot believe.

A stunning debut that will take you to the edge and dare you to look down. 

My Take

Detective Emilia Hart is leaving court after a stressful day when the barrister crossing the road alongside her drops dead, shot by a sniper. As the bodies pile up in the next few days, Hart discovers common threads, bringing to a male dominated police investigation a female intuition that makes connections that the men just don't see. 

The case begins in Sydney but similar cases begin to turn up, first in Melbourne, then in other capital cities, and even in regional ones. As the body count mounts, a national task force is created, men take to the streets, and the government puts soldiers on the streets.

At first I enjoyed this novel, but then new layers were added to the plot, and there were just too many eggs in the basket, too many balls in the air, and there was only one way this tale could end, and even that had a twist in the tail.

Underneath the crime fiction, this story has a socio-political agenda. It points out to the reader the level of domestic violence in our communities, and the need for the sort of government action that would happen if it was actually the case of a single serial killer in action. 

I'm sure this will be a popular novel, certainly a memorable one, raising issues that are already recognised by quite a number of community programmes, but ones that do not appear to be having as much effect as they should at the local, largely hidden, level, despite the lip service and financial backing that they seem to get.

My rating: 4.3

About the Author
Nina D. Campbell studied theatre and literature at university before stumbling into the world of work in the midst of the recession that we had to have. She cobbled together a respectable career as a professional writer, working across the community and public sectors, before a midlife health challenge changed her priorities. Nina now writes fiction full-time, with a focus on stories about strong women. Together with her partner and their spirited Jack Russell Terrier, she lives in South Australia, close to world class wine regions, sparkling beaches and other tempting delights.

26 January 2023

Review: THE GILDED CAGE, Camilla Lackberg

  • this title made available as an e-book by my local library on Libby
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins GB (23 March 2020)
  • AKA THE GOLDEN CAGE
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0008283729
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0008283728
  • Translated by Neil Smith
  • #1 in the Faye Adelheim series
  • Sequel title: SILVER TEARS 

Synopsis (publisher)

A sexy, sensational novel with intoxicating vengeance and an unexpected tenderness’ ...

A woman who has everything…

People would kill to have Faye Adelheim’s life. She lives in a beautiful apartment, she has a gorgeous husband who gives her everything she’s ever wanted, and she has an adorable daughter who lights up her world.

Or does she?

So how is it, then, that Faye now finds herself in a police station?

The truth is about to come out…

The truth is that Faye’s life is far from what it seems. And now she’s been caught out. There’s no way she’s going down without a fight. The only question is – who will escape with their life?

My Take

Like many married women Faye Adelheim's purpose in life appears to be to make her husband's life easier. Few of those who know her know that she was originally the brains behind her husband's very successful business. But even her husband doesn't really know who Faye really is. But by the end of the book we, the readers, do.

This translated-from-Swedish crime thriller, by Sweden's "Queen of Crime" begins with much more erotic scenarios and action than we British/Australian readers are generally used to.  But keep going... all will become clear and I promise you an enjoyable and thought provoking read, even a bit of escapism.

A cleverly constructed novel chosen for our book group related to the theme of gaslighting.

    Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the bully or abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality.1 Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to feel unsure about their perceptions of the world and even wonder if they are losing their sanity. 
There is a sequel to the novel, SILVER TEARS, which I have already put my name now for. The copy that I read of THE GILDED CAGE had a promo for the sequel, which follows on from the twist at the end of THE GILDED CAGE.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read

4.5, THE STONECUTTER 

with Henrik Fexeus: 4.8, TRAPPED 

24 January 2023

Review: LORD EDGWARE DIES, Agatha Christie

  • This edition available from Amazon as an e-book on Kindle 
  • Originally published 1933
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0BN5NJZJK
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ November 22, 2022
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 259 pages
  • My earlier review

Synopsis (Amazon)

When Lord Edgware is found murdered the police are baffled. His estranged actress wife was seen visiting him just before his death and Hercule Poirot himself heard her brag of her plan to “get rid” of him.

But how could she have stabbed Lord Edgware in his library at exactly the same time she was seen dining with friends? It’s a case that almost proves to be too much for the great Poirot.

Lord Edgware Dies was among the first of Christie's works to be adapted for film. In 1934 Austin Trevor took on the role of Poirot for the third time, directed by Henry Edwards. Peter Ustinov also starred in this story in 1985, under the original US title Thirteen at Dinner.

My Take 

I am planning to read another 10 Agatha Christie novels this year with my U3A Agatha Christie Reading Group. Of course I have read them all before, but that doesn't seem to prevent me from getting something out of the re-reading and discussion. My earlier review from 14 years ago.

I'm sure my reading group will enjoy this one. It is well-plotted with considerable misdirection and a number of red herrings.

I made considerable use this time of a note making facility in the Kindle which allows me to keep records of passages and my reactions to them. It helps me pay greater attention to the plot lines.

The story, Christie's 13th novel, and the 7th with Poirot in it, is narrated by Captain Hastings who makes sure he gets our attention by saying
"...from Poirot’s own peculiar private point of view, the case was one of his failures. He always swears that it was the chance remark of a stranger in the street that put him on the right track. However that may be, it was his genius that discovered the truth of the affair. But for Hercule Poirot I doubt if the crime would have been brought home to its perpetrator."

In the end Poirot blames himself for at least one of the deaths. It is actually Hastings who makes the blunder but Poirot excuses Hastings by saying he cannot be expected to recognise danger, because he is so accepting of people at face value. Whereas he Poirot has been used as a "cats-paw" by the murderer at least once.

In the long run it is quite a tangled plot and Poirot finds it hard to resolve the questions he has set himself.

At the end Hastings publishes a letter from the murderer which I felt it would have been out of character for Poirot to publish. However there was something similar in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD.

I am looking forward to our group discussion in a few weeks time. We will follow the discussion with a viewing of the David Suchet version, which I see has Miss Lemon in it.

I am also going to raise the question of the significance of the US Title THIRTEEN AT DINNER,

My rating: 4.7

My list of Agatha Christie novels

21 January 2023

Review: THE DESCENT, Matt Brolly

  •  This edition an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0838ZYNWB
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thomas & Mercer (July 23, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 364 pages
  • #2 in the Detective Louise Blackwell series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Were they pushed to the edge—or over it?

In the quiet coastal town of Weston-super-Mare, a body is discovered at the foot of a cliff just months after a near-identical tragedy—and Detective Inspector Louise Blackwell can’t believe it could be a coincidence.

Next to the body, she discovers a note that echoes one found beside the first: Death is not the end. Louise is certain that behind these desperate acts someone is pulling the strings, but how many more will plunge to their demise before she can find out who—and why?

Struggling to stay focused under the strain of her troubled brother’s disappearance with his young daughter, Louise hits a much-needed breakthrough when a third tragedy points to the involvement of a charismatic cult leader. The suspect is within her sights, but he knows she’s on to him…

Short on proof and with the body count rising, can Louise intercept his deadly mission—or has she taken on an unbeatable foe? 

My Take

The characters and scenarios in this series are building nicely. DI Louise Blackwell is a believable character, surrounded by characters who were established in the first in this police procedural series, THE CROSSING 

Blackwell has to fight hard as her boss puts pressure on her to solve a difficult case in the shortest possible time. 

Meanwhile she is distracted as her brother goes missing with his young daughter, and then it is revealed that he has severe gambling debts as well as a drinking problem. Louise is torn between giving her all to her job, and the thought that her young niece is in danger.

This looks a good series to follow.

My Rating: 4.5

I've also read

4.5, THE CROSSING - #1

17 January 2023

Review: AFTER YOU WERE GONE, Vikki Wakefield

  • This edition made available as an e-book by my local library on Libby
  • Extent: 368pp
  • Text Publishing Australia:5 October 2022
  • ISBN: 9781922458001
  • Read an extract

Synopsis (publisher)

What happens to a family when a child goes missing?

In a busy street market, Abbie lets go of six-year-old Sarah’s hand. She isn’t a bad mother, just exhausted. When she turns around, her daughter isn’t there.

Six years later, Abbie is in love and getting married. But her fragile peace is constantly threatened: not knowing what happened to Sarah is like living with a curse.

Then she receives a phone call from an unknown number.

A man claims to know what happened to Sarah, but if Abbie tells anyone or fails to follow his instructions, she’ll never find out. How far will Abbie go to know the truth?

Prize-winning and hugely popular author Vikki Wakefield turns her hand to the psychological thriller in this unputdownable novel that will disturb your dreams!

My Take

Abbie has always blamed herself for losing Sarah, but she has never stopped looking for her.

This novel has a very adventurous time structure, with frequent use of chapter headings BEFORE, NOW, and, sometimes AFTER. The story line jumps between time frames, allowing to the reader to put together a picture of the life Abbie led, and eventually, who took Sarah. 

If you were Abbie, what would you do if someone offered you the unthinkable, to reunite you with the child you lost six years ago. What would you sacrifice?

A very jarring novel.

My rating: 4.6

About the Author
Vikki Wakefield writes fiction for adults and young adults. Her novels All I Ever Wanted, Friday Brown, Inbetween Days and Ballad for a Mad Girl have been shortlisted for numerous awards. This Is How We Change the Ending was a Book of the Year in the 2020 CBCA Awards. After You Were Gone, a psychological thriller, is her first novel for adults....

 

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