23 October 2021

Review: THE NANCYS, R.W.R. McDonald

  • this edition published in 2019 by Allen & Unwin
  • ISBN 978-1-76052-733-4
  • 389 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

A schoolgirl and her uncle and his boyfriend have two weeks to solve a murder in a small town style forgot...
WINNER of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel

Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world - the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum's on a cruise.

Tippy is in love with her uncle's old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher's body is found beside Riverstone's only traffic light, Tippy's moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.

But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy's mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.

The Nancys is gripping and glorious, a heart-warming novel for anyone who's ever felt they were on the outside looking in. At its heart it is about the family we make and how we must summon the courage to face the truth, no matter what the cost may be

My Take

Tippy Chan is still trying to come to terms with the recent sudden death of her Chinese father whom she adored. Making things worse, it seems that her mother wants to erase all memory of him by removing his photos from their walls.

When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy's Uncle Pike volunteers to come to look after her. He brings with him his flamboyant boy friend. Pike and Devon decide to help their neighbor Melanie win the local Queen of the Show. 

In the meantime one of Tippy's friends has a fall from a bridge into the river and ends up in hospital in a coma. Photos arrive on Tippy's phone that seem to indicate that he has been a witness to something he shouldn't have seen.

I had a lot of trouble "getting into" this novel., and I am not totally sure why. There are really 3 or 4 plots progressing together and I had trouble in deciding who to trust. So separating out these plot strands was probably part of my problem. There is a large range of characters and their interaction with each other is at times a bit obscure.

My rating: 4.3 

About the author

R.W.R. McDonald (Rob) is an award-winning author, a Kiwi and Queer dad living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. His debut novel, The Nancys, won Best First Novel in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, as well as being a finalist in the Best Novel category. It was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, and Highly Commended for an Unpublished Manuscript in the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Nancy Business is his second novel, publishing in June 2021.

Shortlisted Best Debut Crime Fiction, Ned Kelly Awards 2020 AU; Winner Best First Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Designed Commercial Fiction Cover, Australian Book Design Awards 2020 AU; Highly Commended Unpublished Manuscript, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2017 AU

17 October 2021

Review: BENEVOLENCE, Julie Janson

  • this edition available as an e-book from my local library through Libby
  • Published: 1st May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781925936636
  • Number Of Pages: 356
  • Publisher: Magabala Books

Synopsis (publisher

LONGLISTED, 2020 MARK & EVETTE MORAN NIB LITERARY AWARD

For perhaps the first time in novel form, Benevolence presents an important era in Australia’s history from an Aboriginal perspective. Benevolence is told from the perspective of Darug woman, Muraging (Mary James), born around 1813. Mary’s was one of the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation. At an early age Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School by her Darug father. From here she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home.

The novel spans the years 1816-35 and is set around the Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people, Parramatta and Sydney. The author interweaves historical events and characters — she shatters stereotypes and puts a human face to this Aboriginal perspective.

My Take

The author tells us at the end of the book(in ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS) that this "is a work of fiction based on historical events of the early years of British invasion and settlement around the Hawkesbury River in Western Sydney, New South Wales.

... Muraging is based on my [the author's] great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, who was a servant on colonial estates in the Hawkesbury area. The other characters in the novel are inspired by historical figures and [my] imagination, except for the governors who are based on historical documents."

BENEVOLENCE relies heavily on research and the author's family history, and there is no denying the value of the perspective it gives us. The British invasion had a huge impact on the local Aboriginal tribes, not only with the declaration of the policy of "terra nullius" which gave white settlers the right to claim the land, but also with their so-called "benevolent' practices which put aboriginal babies into orphanages where they died, took children away from their families and put them into schools, brought with them diseases like measles, small pox, and the common cold which decimated the populations, and carried out war against those who resisted.

The novel is very graphic in the story that it tells, and will stay with readers well after reading it.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Julie Janson's career as a playwright began when she wrote and directed plays in remote Australian Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. She is now a novelist and award-winning poet. Julie is a Burruberongal woman of Darug Aboriginal Nation. She is co-recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize, 2016 and winner of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, 2019.

Her novels include, The Crocodile Hotel, Cyclops Press 2015 and The Light Horse Ghost, Nibago 2018. Julie has written and produced plays, including two at Belvoir St Theatre – Black Mary and Gunjies and Two Plays, published by Aboriginal Studies Press 1996.

Janson blends reality with fiction in a number of ways. She credits her own history as inspiration for the story, citing her great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Thomas, as the basis for Muraging. She has said that Benevolence was written as an Aboriginal response to Kate Grenville's The Secret River.

14 October 2021

Review: 1979, Val McDermid

  • this edition published by Little, Brown 2021
  • ISBN 9-780751-583083
  • length: 418 pages
  • Allie Burns, book 1

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The shadows hide a deadly story . . .

1979. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys' club to take her seriously.

Soon Allie and fellow journalist Danny Sullivan are exposing the criminal underbelly of respectable Scotland. They risk making powerful enemies - and Allie won't stop there.

When she discovers a home-grown terrorist threat, Allie comes up with a plan to infiltrate the group and make her name. But she's a woman in a man's world . . . and putting a foot wrong could be fatal.

My Take

Allie Burns and Daniel Sullivan are colleagues at the Clarion, in Glasgow. Their first collaborative effort comes as the result of Danny delivering a baby on the Glasgow train. Allie writes the story up.

Their next story results from Danny realising that his own brother is working as a courier for a company which has put some tax evasion schemes in place. Joseph is obviously getting a kickback from the scheme. Eventually Danny and Allie investigate the scheme and their exposure results in a much higher profile for both of them at the Clarion.

But their next investigation is much more dangerous.

A very good read, as one would expect from a writer of McDermid's standing.

My rating: 4.7 

I've also read

BENEATH THE BLEEDING
4.8, THE SKELETON ROAD
4.8, OUT OF BOUNDS

10 October 2021

Review: THE GOOD TEACHER, Petronella McGovern

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-76087-529-9
  • 401 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

From the bestselling author of Six Minutes, comes a fast-paced, heart-stopping thriller full of gripping tension, twists and turns.
A good teacher can change lives…

Every evening, Allison watches her husband's new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She's a good teacher, everyone says so - this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.

A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie. Allison takes the sick girl under her wing, smothering Gracie with the love she can't give her own son. When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison whips up the community into a frenzied fundraising drive.

But as others start to question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison wonders if she can trust herself. Has she crossed a line?

How far will the good teacher go to save a life? And whose life will that be?

An intriguing tale of our times about kindness and betrayal, and the danger of good deeds. 

My take

Wirriga is small town on Sydney's northern beaches. It is the town that Allison herself grew up in, and the school she teaches in is the one she went to herself. Everyone knows everyone else and Allison has a secret she is trying to keep to herself.

Gracie and her father Luke arrive just at the time when Allison is experiencing a yawning void in her life, and she not only takes them into her home, but begins a fundraising campaign to raise money to send Gracie, who has a life threatening cancer, to America for treatment.

There are several interesting sub-plots to the story, and because they are not revealed in the publisher's blurb, I am not going to reveal them to you either. Just let me say that you will be surprised by the twists and turns of this plot, and where it leads you.

In some ways it is about how gullible we can all be, how generosity can make you the prey for others.

My rating: 4.7 

I've also read 4.3, SIX MINUTES

7 October 2021

Review: THE ORCHARD MURDERS, Robert Gott

  • This edition made available as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • length: 304pp
  • ISBN (13):9781922310675
  • Pub date:3 Aug 2021, Scribe publications
  • #4 in the Holiday Murders series

Synopsis (Scribe publications)

A novel about revenge, obsession, and the dangerous gullibility of religious fanatics.

In 1944, in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Nunawading, a brutal triple murder heralds the return of a long-forgotten cult. A man named Anthony Prescott has declared himself the Messiah and has promised his followers immortality. There are those who believe him and who are ready to kill in his name. Inspector Titus Lambert of the Melbourne Homicide unit, whose detectives are over-stretched, requests the discreet assistance of Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once members of his unit, now private inquiry agents. The investigation is more perilous than any of them realise, and will have tragic consequences.

The Orchard Murders is the fourth novel in Robert Gott’s acclaimed series, set in Melbourne during the dark days of the Second World War.

My Take

At the beginning of this book a synopsis of each of the three preceding titles in the series appears. I hadn't read them all, but it did serve me to bring me "up to speed". 

The novel is a reminder that strange and violent crimes continue even when a country is at war, and so there is need of a police force and even private investigators. Helen Lord and Joe Sable, once part of the Victoria Police's Homicide squad, are now private investigators, but they keep in close touch with their former boss, Inspector Titus Lambert. The other main characters are Tom McKenzie, a former pilot, and Clara Dawson, a doctor at the Melbourne Hospital.

There are a number of linked plots in the book, which makes for interesting reading. For example Tom returns to work to undertake surveillance of a man married to woman in Japan, and therefore under suspicion of espionage. Clara's boss is a doctor who despises female doctors, and she is befriended by his wife. The main plot is the murders that take place in Nunawading on a farm next to one run by a sect. 

Between them the plots paint a strong picture of life in Melbourne towards the end of World War  II.

Highly recommended. Very readable.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Robert Gott was born in the Queensland town of Maryborough in 1957, and lives in Melbourne. He has published many books for children, and is also the creator of the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man. He is the author of the William Power series of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia, comprising Good Murder, A Thing of Blood, Amongst the Dead, and The Serpent’s Sting, and of the Murders series, comprising The Holiday Murders, The Port Fairy Murders, The Autumn Murders, and The Orchard Murders. 

I've also read

4.4, THE PORT FAIRY MURDERS
4.5, THE AUTUMN MURDERS

3 October 2021

Review: NEVER FORGET, Michel Bussi

  • this edition an e-book made available on Libby by my local library
  • first published in French 2014
  • translated into English from French by Shaun Whiteside 2020
  • ISBN 9781474601856

Synopsis (Amazon)

Jamal loves to run. But one morning - as he is training on a path winding up a steep cliff - he stumbles across a woman in distress. It's a matter of seconds: suddenly she is falling through the air, crashing on the beach below.

Jamal is only an unlucky bystander - or is he?

His version of events doesn't seem to fit with what other eyewitnesses claim to have seen. And how to explain the red scarf carefully arranged around the dead woman's neck? Perhaps this was no accident after all.

Or perhaps there is something more sinister afoot - a devilish plan decades in the making, masterminded by someone hell-bent on revenge.

My Take

You always know with a Michel Bussi novel, that nothing is going to be simple. 

From the beginning there are apparently two separate stories: on July 12th 2014 a section of cliff near Yport collapsed, and scattered over 40 metres of the beach among the debris are three human skeletons. Five months earlier a macabre event occurred with no apparent connection to the three skeletons. Out for his morning jog, Jamal witnesses a girl leap off the cliff to the beach below. By the time he gets down to the beach, she is dead, and there are two people standing there looking st the corpse.

There are inconsistencies that Jamal does not understand, and as days progress, he feels uncomfortably that the police are trying to imply that he has had something to do with the death.

Jamal discovers that the event is horribly similar to one that took place almost exactly 10 years earlier on a nearby coastline. The police thought that one was a rape/murder, and it was followed quickly by another. The murderer was never identified.

The thing I find about Michel Bussi plots is that they play with your mind.You begin to wonder whether the narrator is reliable, or whether the whole thing is just a nightmare that you somehow slipped into.  But good things come to those who persist.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

4.8, BLACK WATER LILIES
4.5, AFTER THE CRASH
4.5, DON'T LET GO
4.7, TIME IS A KILLER

2 October 2021

Review: HOLDING, Graham Norton

  • this edition published in Great Britain, 2016, Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN 978-1-444-79203-4
  • 312 pages

Synopsis

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste. So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel.

As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of lovable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

My Take

When PJ Collins had joined the police he had hoped to become a detective.  Instead, for his whole life he has been stuck in the village of Duneen, handling nothing more than the pettiness of everyday life., looked after by his housekeeper Mrs Meany, who feeds him well three times a day.

The discovery of human remains on a building site is certainly something out of the ordinary, and means that "the suits from Cork" will come to have a look, and inevitably take over. Twenty years earlier, a young man, Tommy Burke, had vanished, thought to have left the town on a bus, and never heard of again. 

Rumours start up that the pile of bones could be a mass grave, but eventually it is settled that it is just one person. The Superintendent arrived from Cork to supervise the investigation and PJ's local knowledge comes in useful.

Eventually, months later, a second bundle of bones is found, and then the truth comes out.

A deceptively gentle read, but eventually the secrets that the village has been hiding are revealed. People's lives are changed forever. The characters are beautifully and empathetically drawn.

My rating: 4.5 

About the author
Graham William Walker is an Irish actor, comedian, television presenter and columnist, known by his stage name Graham Norton. He is the host of the comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show and the BBC commentator of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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