1 January 2009

Carnival of Criminal Minds #29 - Murder in the Outback

The Winter Solstice edition of the Carnival camped at the Rap Sheet and is a very hard act to follow. My focus once again will be on Antipodean contributions to the genre.

There's a school of thought that says crime comes easily to those DownUnder because of our convict origins, exiled as we were to the ends of the earth, where the seasons are all wrong, there's not enough rain, and the land is unbelievably harsh. Be sure to watch the end of this video for impeccable and characteristic Aussie behaviour.

I hasten to point out however that this blog lives in that Australian state whose anthem proudly boasts "no shackled slave can breathe the air", in a city of churches, and pubs, in a state that has spawned its share of serial murders.

The land Downunder boasts amongst its icons a sheep stealer who commits suicide to avoid capture

and a bushranger

who has been immortalised in our most prestigious crime fiction awards, the Ned Kelly Awards.

Our fondness for crime fiction showed up early in our history, at a time when we were almost totally a frontier society.
As history has moved on, the outback has basically moved inland, and those of us who read crime fiction have almost become fringe dwellers.

In most crime fiction, there are close connections with real life events, and in the case of Australian crime fiction there are also the extra elements of a harsh climate and antipathy to the law.

Colonial Australian crime fiction
Crime fiction was popular in 19th century Australia and there was plenty of raw material to inspire writers - bushrangers, convicts, lawlessness on the goldfields, mysterious outback deaths.
Australian crime writing has had an international presence since its earliest days.

ROBBERY UNDER ARMS, 1888, Rolfe Boldrewood
At the beginning of this novel the narrator, Dick Marsden, is awaiting execution for crimes committed whilst a bushranger. He goes on to tell the story of his life and loves and his association with the notorious Captain Starlight.
Some of the exploits recounted are based on actual incidents carried out by Daniel Morgan, Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert all of whom are notorious historical figures.
This "ripping yarn" has, since its first publication in book form in 1888, remained popular and has been filmed three times and serialised on radio.

FOR THE TERM OF HIS NATURAL LIFE, 1870-1872, Marcus Clarke
"For the Term of his Natural Life" is a 'ripping yarn', which at times relies on unrealistic coincidences, the story follows the fortunes of Rufus Dawes, a young man transported for a murder which he did not commit. The harsh and inhumane treatment meted out to the convicts, some of whom were transported for relatively minor crimes, is clearly conveyed. The conditions experienced by the convicts are graphically described.
The novel was based on research by the author as well as a visit to the penal settlement of Port Arthur.
The racy style and constant development of events ensures that this novel will continue be of interest to modern readers.

Arthur Upfield
34 novels 1926-1966, with "Bony" making his first appearance in 1929, and then subsequently in 29 novels. Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte was the son of an unknown white man and an aboriginal mother, a gentleman and genius of criminal science, who has an M.A. degree from Brisbane University. In his work Bony frequently faces race prejudices but wins them with his wit and smile.

Adrian Hyland, DIAMOND DOVE
Emily Tempest returns to Moonlight Downs, a scatter of corrugated iron hovels nine hours from Alice Springs out in the spinifex desert, 14 years after leaving to go to secondary school in Adelaide. The daughter of a local miner, Motor Jack, she is welcomed home by Lincoln Flinders, the head of the community. The Moonlight mob have only recently returned to their land themselves. The Moonlight mob are Emily's community by adoption - her mother was a Wantiya woman from the Gulf Country. Unmistakably aboriginal in appearance, Emily has not yet decided which world she belongs to - aboriginal or white. She meets up with Lincoln's daughter Hazel, her best friend in the past. The morning after Emily arrives, Lincoln is found dead, unmistakably murdered, and Emily finds it impossible to rest until she knows who killed him. Adrian Hyland's debut novel. Very polished writing and a feel of authenticity about the setting and customs. I came away feeling I had learnt quite a lot.

Felicity Young, A CERTAIN MALICE
Felicity Young, new West Australian author, hits the spot with her debut book. Senior Sergeant Cam Fraser accepts an appointment to run the police station in a small country town in West Australia to get away from the trauma that he and his 15 year old daughter have experienced in the last 3 years. He was brought up in this town, but his expectations of a quiet life are shattered with the discovery of a charred body after a bushfire in the grounds of a local school. To complicate matters the police at the station are mainly young and inexperienced, apart from Vince against whom there have been many complaints by locals. And what are the school principal and her husband hiding? The story moves at a good pace and the plot is well woven. Young makes good use of the uniqueness of her Australian setting.

Robert Gott, GOOD MURDER
Set in Maryborough in Queensland in 1942 and war is raging in Europe and the Pacific. Will Power is doing his bit for the war effort with a troupe of incompetent actors, the Power Players, who are bringing culture to rural Australia. The Power Players propose to perform Titus Andronicus in a local hall, but before they set foot on the stage, a young woman goes missing and is found dead in the town's water supply. Will seems to have been one of the last to see her alive and becomes the prime suspect. There is delightful humour in this story as well as a series of horrifying crime. Will Power is not only an inept actor but an inept investigator.

Janet Turner Hospital, OYSTER
Stories do insist on being told. Even the stories of hidden lives and towns and opal reefs.
By cunning intention, and sometimes by discreet bribery (or other dispatch) of government surveyors, the opal-mining town Outer Maroo has kept itself off maps. And yet people do stumble into town, because the seduction of nowhere is hard to resist. Two strangers reach Outer Maroo, population 87, searching for a stepdaughter and son who have mysteriously disappeared. There is a heavy, guilty feeling to the hot, parched-dry town.
Mercy Given and Old Jess (everyone calls her Old Silence) watch from Ma and Bill Beresford's store. On the verandah of Bernie's Last Chance, the drinkers wait to take stock of the foreigners, before they return to their cattle properties or their sheep stations or to their stake-outs in the opal fields. Dukke Prophet crosses the street from The Living Word Gospel Hall. Young Alice Godwin whimpers.

This novel was shortlisted for the 1972 Booker Prize.
Jimmie Blacksmith is the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. A missionary shows him what it means to be white - already he is only too aware of what it means to be black. Exploited by his white employers and betrayed by his white wife Jimmie cannot take any more. He must find a way to express his rage.

Reviewed by Sally Murphy
Murder on the Ghan express.
SuccesSful romance novelist K. C. Gordon is looking forward to her trip on the Ghan from Sydney to Alice Springs. Part research opportunity, part relaxation, she has no desire to be caught up in a murder investigation.
Unfortunately for K.C., it seems she might have little choice. Among her fellow travellers is a group of eight of Sydney's elite, all of them with dramas, pasts and secrets they don't want to see exposed. They are dogged by another passenger, the infamous gossip columnist, Bianca Bernini, who has joined the trip purely to dig dirt and expose the secrets of her eight adversaries. She does not forsee that the trouble she is about to cause will result in her murder.
K.C. finds herself drawn into this group and into trying to figure out who the murderer is.

Book Review by Sally Murphy
A unique literary piece which is part murder mystery and part social exploration.
When a young woman and her baby go missing, gossip abounds in the small mining town where she lives. Twenty years later, the local lake yields human bones. The woman’s daughter, Ruth, returns to the town of her birth, ostensibly to see her dying Uncle Frank. He has carried secrets through those two decades which have rendered him a shadow of the man he once was.
The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons, is a superb piece of literature. Its style, coupled with its water and journeying motifs, lend it satisfactory tones of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. The gripping mystery of the disappearance and the family’s history is seen through the eyes of three women of different generations who, while not close, share the common bond of their love for Frank, the man at the head of the family.
The Water Underneath, Lyon’s first novel, was a deserving runner-up in the 1999 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award. It paints a vivid picture of the town and countryside in which it is set – both the physical surrounds and the social backdrop to the tale – at the same time exploring some of the issues which have divided Australian society.

Robert Gott, GOOD MURDER
Set in Maryborough in Queensland in 1942 and war is raging in Europe and the Pacific. Will Power is doing his bit for the war effort with a troupe of incompetent actors, the Power Players, who are bringing culture to rural Australia. The Power Players propose to perform Titus Andronicus in a local hall, but before they set foot on the stage, a young woman goes missing and is found dead in the town's water supply. Will seems to have been one of the last to see her alive and becomes the prime suspect. There is delightful humour in this story as well as a series of horrifying crime. Will Power is not only an inept actor but an inept investigator.

Tony Grant, part-Aboriginal Lawyer, is murdered on an outback station and his body moved to a meat locker beside the main station house. Where and why he was murdered seems to be something that the local police just can't work out. Ex-policeman and adoptive brother of Tony, Rod comesback to Alice Springs when their father asks for his help.

Darren Williams, ANGEL ROCK

After a week lost in the Australian outback, thirteen-year-old Tom Ferry makes his way back to Angel Rock. To the horror of everyone in the small town, he is alone. Exhausted and traumatized, he can't remember what happened to Flynn, his little brother. Shortly thereafter, another child of Angel Rock is found dead in Sydney, the apparent victim of suicide. But it is only with the arrival of Gibson, the investigating detective from Sydney, that the intertwining questions surrounding the fate of the two children, the silence of the townsfolk, and the mysteries of the land itself begin to unravel.

AS DARKNESS FALLS is set in the isolation of a small town on the edge of the New South Wales *outback*. Haunted by her failures, country police officer Detective Isabella O'Connell is recalled to duty by Detective Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her home town. With the killer playing a game of cat and mouse and targeting Bella, they have only days in which to find the girl alive, but theyhave very few clues, a whole town of suspects, and a vast wilderness inwhich to search. For Bella, this case is already personal; for Alec with his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve. He starts off thinking of the missing child as if she were his own, and his anguish over Bella's safety moves beyond than just concern for a colleague. Their mutual attraction leaves them both vulnerable to theirprivate nightmares - nightmares that the killer ruthlessly exploits.

The time is the mid 1890s. The setting, a small outback town. Harry Ford, the postmaster, is opening other people's mail. They say nothing happens in small towns, but there's plenty to set tongues wagging in this neighbourhood of sinners; adultery, blackmail, disappearances, poisonings. And then the Great Boldini comes to town.

When a brutal murder threatens national security, Intelligence Agent Denise Cleever must follow the bloody trail deep into the Australian outback.

The scene of this novel is the remote interior desert of Australia; the characters' assorted anthropologists, interested dilettantes and hangers-on, and local denizens of both sexes. The problem isn't how, when the scientific expedition was supposed to uncover aboriginal remains, did a twenty-five-year-old skeleton of a modern white man turn up?

Sweet Water Stolen Land is intriguing. Completely fictional with elements of true history interwoven, the book delves immediately into the issues of black resettlement and the church's involvement in removing Indigenous people from their traditional lands for the purposes of rural development.

Patricia Carlon, PRICE OF AN ORPHAN
Johnnie is a nine-year old city orphan (his mother is dead, his father in prison). He has recently been placed with Stuart and Kay Heath, a childless couple who live in the Australian outback on a cattle station which Stuart manages for its wealthy owner. Hoping for a "real" boy, they are bitterly disappointed. Johnnie is not quite the foster child they had in mind: he is "cheeky and lazy, cowardly and stubborn." So when he claims to have witnessed a murder they remind him of the boy who cried wolf.
But then Johnnie and Kay are invited on a camping trip. A special treat to give Johnnie another chance to adjust to life in the outback? Or a cunning trap by a ruthless killer?

Robert Barnard, DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT
The very elderly Professor Belville-Smith from Oxford is contributing to the education of antipodean students of English with a lecture tour to Australia. Basically he is delivering the same lectures for which he gained a reputation 50 years ago. However someone at Drummondale, an outback New South Wales university town obviously doesn't like him and he ends up dead in his motel room with his throat cut from ear to ear. Local police inspector Royle has to interrupt his weekly schedule of local cuckolding to investigate the death. This was Barnard's first novel and apparently based on a sojourn he had in Australia. It is semi-satirical and contains some very unkind observations about Australian life in general.

Phillip Gwynne, THE BUILD-UP
For Detective Dusty Buchanon, a female cop in the very male world of the Northern Territory Police Force, it always pays to expect the unexpected.When the body of a young Thai prostitute is found in a billabong near a camp of disaffected Vietnam Veterans, Dusty knows this is what she’s been looking for — a spectacular case to get her back on top after the debacle of an infamous British backpacker murder trial that almost destroyed her career.But when the body disappears and her colleagues turn against her, Dusty gets help from an unlikely source: a handsome German bird-watcher holidaying in the Northern Territory, who just happens to be a cop.And soon, the case becomes much more than just another step on her career ladder…

I am indebted to members of oz_mystery_readers for their help in compiling this posting and I have incorporated a large number of their crime fiction suggestions, leaving the true crime titles for another day.

If you want more then you need look no further than the wonderful Australian Crime Fiction - just search there and ye shall finde. Here is quick search link: Outback Australia

The Carnival of Criminal Minds is the creation of Barbara Fister. Links to all the posts can be found here. In about a fortnight's time the Carnival will be travelling to Illinois to Julia Buckley's Mysterious Musings for a repeat visit.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Kerrie and a few more books to add to my various wishlists. Makes me proud to be an Aussie to see all those great titles listed.

Happy New Year

Kerrie said...

Thanks Bernadette. It was great fun putting it together, but I also had help with suggestions from you and others. Happy New Year!

Marg said...

Great list, and lots of books that I haven't read on there!

Thanks so much!

Barbara said...

Wonderful! And I love the fact that the group pooled their knowledge to create such a great list. Bravo to all.

Sunnie Gill said...

Just what I need. More books for the TBR List.


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