28 February 2018

Farewell to Bernadette in Oz

Rather than read my tribute to my friend and blog collaborator Bernadette here,
you might like to read it on Fair Dinkum Crime

27 February 2018

Review: THE MALICE OF THE WAVES, Mark Douglas-Home

  • source: my local library
  • #3 in the Sea Detective series
  • published by Penguin Books 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-718-18275-5
  • 290 pages
Synopsis (publisher)

Investigator Cal McGill uses his knowledge of tides, winds and currents to solve mysteries no-one else can.

Five years ago, fourteen-year-old Max Wheeler disappeared from a remote Scottish island. None of the six police and private investigations since have shed any light on what happened.

Unable to let go, Max's family call in Cal McGill - known as 'The Sea Detective' - hoping he'll force the sea to give up its secrets. Yet Cal finds he is an outsider to a broken family, and an unwelcome stranger in a village which has endured years of suspicion.

Cal knows that a violent storm is approaching. But what he doesn't know is that when it cuts off the island, a killer will see their chance...

My Take

In my opinion, parts of this story suffered a bit because there were threads, particularly in Cal's relationship to the police, that stemmed from earlier novels, and these were hard to piece together.

However the main story line held my interest. Max Wheeler's father is convinced that his 14 year old son who disappeared 5 years earlier was murdered by someone local in retribution for him reclaiming the lease of "The Black Island."  Every year he comes to the island to mourn his son's death and the locals display their remorse. Wheeler's elder daughter moves to live in the local community but there is a lot of hostility. The Wheeler family has become almost totally dysfunctional.

Meanwhile there is a second plot involving the illegal taking of rare sea bird eggs and the two plots converge on the island during a horrendous storm.

The idea of a "sea detective" is an interesting one, as is Cal McGill's methodology in tracking tides and currents.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Mark Douglas-Home is a journalist turned author. The Sea Detective, his first novel, was published in 2011 to critical praise. It introduced a new kind of investigator to crime fiction - an oceanographer called Cal McGill who tracks floating objects, including dead bodies, at sea. A sequel, The Woman Who Walked Into The Sea, was published in April 2013 ('a classic whodunit,' according to The Scotsman's respected reviewer Allan Massie). Before writing books, Mark was editor of Scotland's leading daily newspaper, The Herald, for five years and editor of The Sunday Times Scotland. He has also held senior roles with The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.
When he was Scottish correspondent of The Independent he reported on both the Lockerbie and Piper Alpha disasters. His career in journalism began as a student in South Africa where he edited the newspaper at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. After the apartheid government banned a number of editions, he was deported from the country. He is married with two children and lives in Edinburgh.

Review: DEATH OF A LAKE, Arthur Upfield - audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Features Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte(Bony), a detective of mixed European and Aboriginal heritage.
On a vast sheep station in the outback Raymond Gillen goes swimming in the lake one night and is never seen again. Bony arrives disguised as a horsebreaker and uncovers a story of sexual tension and murder. The lake is evaporating in the intense drought, only when it is drained will the mystery be solved.

My Take

The audio book begins with the usual warning that the publisher does not ascribe to Upfield's now politically incorrect views. However they do reflect popularly held opinions, particularly abour aborigines, in the 1950s.

The story moves a bit slowly in this tale because Lake Otway, a lake that had filled three years before because of flooding in the north, is in the process of evaporating and dying. There are wonderful descriptions of what happens as the lake gets shallower and shallower and smaller and smaller. At the same time the rabbit population blows out. The daily temperature is well over 110F and the outstation near the lake burns to the ground one night.

You can't help but be impressed by Upfield's detailed observations of life on Outback stations.

Bony turns up (undercover) to investigate the Ray Gillen's disappearance and discovers that all the hands living at the outstation have, unusually, stayed on since Gillen's disappearance, not taking holidays and so on. Something is keeping them all there.

The tension builds very well, and the narration by Peter Hosking is in a class of its own.

My rating: 4.5

I've also read

Review: THE WRITING BOOK, Kate Grenville

I have two editions of this book on hand.

The book was first published in 1990 and the 3rd impression, 1991, is subtitled: A Workbook for Fiction Writers. ISBN 0-04-442124-9, 192 pages

The other edition I have from the library is published in 2010, subtitled A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers. ISBN 978-1-74237-388-1, 220 pages.

Both are published by Allen & Unwin Australia.
They are essentially the same book.

Synopsis (Amazon)

The Writing Book doesn't just talk about how to write fiction; it takes you, step-by-step, through the process of doing it.

Each chapter concentrates on one aspect of writing: getting started, bringing characters to life, writing convincing dialogue, revising and writer's block, etc.

Exercises in each chapter are carefully structured so that each one builds on the one before. Examples from contemporary Australian writing demonstrate how different writers tackle the technical aspects of their art.

By working your way through this book, you'll gradually craft a piece of fiction, and develop confidence in your own fictional voice.

If you'd like to write, but you're not sure how to start, The Writing Book will show you how. If you're already writing, The Writing Book will give you practical ideas for new energy and direction.

My take

I heard this book referred to by a couple of people at a recent writing workshop that I attended. One said that he was working his way through the exercises.

The author writes "this is a practical workbook, a resource for a writer to work through, with an emphasis on exercises and examples."

Grenville encourages the budding writer to begin with what they already have and build from there.

If you are looking for a DIY at home course on writing, a challenge in concentration on honing your skills, then this may well be it. It is interestingly constructed, full of things to try, and may even result in a finished piece: a short story, a novella, or a novel.

For me it just clarified that I am a reader, not a writer.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
Kate Grenville (kategrenville.com) was born in Sydney, Australia. She's published eight books of fiction, including the multiple prize-winners 'The Secret River', 'The Lieutenant', 'The Idea of Perfection', and 'Lilian's Story'. She's also published three books about the writing process that are classic texts for Creative Writing classes, and a memoir about the research and writing of 'The Secret River'.

Grenville writes about Australia, but her themes are universal: love, violence, and survival. Her characters are often inspired by real historical characters: her own nineteenth century convict ancestor, an early Australian settler; a bag-lady on the streets of 1950s Sydney who quotes Shakespeare for a living; a soldier in the Sydney of 1788 who shares an extraordinary friendship of tenderness and respect with a young Aboriginal girl.

Grenville's international prizes include the Orange Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and a shortlisting for the Man Booker Prize. Her books have been published all over the world and translated into many languages, and two have been made into feature films. . 

I have also read 4.8, THE SECRET RIVER

23 February 2018

Review: TALKING TO THE DEAD, Harry Bingham

  • this edition published by Orion Books 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-4091-4086-3
  • 376 pages
Synopsis (publisher)

The first novel in the powerful Fiona Griffiths mystery series - a detective who will break every rule in the book to crack her case..
A young girl is found dead. A prostitute is murdered. And the strangest, youngest detective in the South Wales Major Crimes Unit is about to face the fiercest test of her short career.

A woman and her six-year-old daughter are killed with chilling brutality in a dingy flat. The only clue: the platinum bank card of a long-dead tycoon, found amid the squalor.

DC Griffiths has already proved herself dedicated to the job, but there's another side to her she is less keen to reveal. Something to do with a mysterious two-year gap in her CV, her strange inability to cry - and a disconcerting familiarity with corpses.

Fiona is desperate to put the past behind her but as more gruesome killings follow, the case leads her inexorably back into those dark places in her own mind where another dead girl is waiting to be found . . .

My Take

I was a little disconcerted to find, after I had finished reading this book, and thinking that parts of it were  a bit familiar, that I actually read this book just over three years ago. I don't seem to have enjoyed it any more this time than I did last.

Fiona Griffiths has in the past suffered from Cotard's Syndrome, and still does. She doesn't relate to other people particularly well, and is a bit of a loose cannon in any police investigation. Her boss tries to get her to see the difference between doing things the right way, and doing them the wrong way. Inevitably Fi chooses to do things on her own, not to call for backup, and not to involve her boss in her decision making.

There were parts of the novel that really did make me feel uncomfortable.

My rating: 4.3

18 February 2018

Review: BOOKSTORE CATS, Brandon Schultz

  • this edition published by Gliteratzi New York 2017
  • ISBN 9-781943-876525
  • 159 pages
Synopsis (Amazon)

Reading an article about cats who live in bookstores inspired author Brandon Schultz to further investigate the lives of bookstore cats. Cats have strong personalities that enchant and engage, and it turns out there are many of them living in every reader's favorite environment: the bookstore. With personalities and histories as varied as the books they tend, each cat has a story worth telling. Collected here are their tales, along with enchanting photos of the feline employees in their shops.

Most bookstore cats are famous in their local communities, many have been featured and profiled in entertainment outlets, and some even have their own books and social media accounts. Now, for the first time, some of the world's most beloved bookstore cats are collected together in one adorable directory, making the perfect gift for cat lovers, book lovers, shoppers, and the generally curious worldwide. Aside from keeping a bookseller free of mice, these noble creatures become part of the fabric of their environment and, while they chase away the mice, they lure in the world's cat-loving readers. 
My Take
My guess is that you probably have to be a cat lover to really enjoy this book, but there are obviously enough of us around.
Interspersed with photos of cats who "work" in US bookstores and their stories, are fact pages such as lists of cats who are - Owned by British Authors; In Poetry; Owned by Poets; in Comic Books; and so on. 
A delightful book to dabble in, and perhaps a good present for a cat lover.
My Rating: 4.0


  • this edition published by Sphere 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-7515-6738-0
  • 310 pages

The suspense thriller of the year - The Marsh King's Daughter will captivate you from the start and chill you to the bone.
'I was born two years into my mother's captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn't have adored my father.'

When notorious child abductor - known as The Marsh King - escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena's past: they don't know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve - or that her father raised her to be a killer.

And they don't know that The Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone... except, perhaps his own daughter.

My Take

Extracts from the Marsh King's Daughter, a fable by Hans Christian Anderson, appear at the beginning of some sections of the story. They appear to be directing the reader to the conclusion that girl in the fable had dual personality, or perhaps that every one of us is capable of ambivalence.

I kept thinking of how things have changed culturally throughout history, that if Helena's father had committed this abduction, the choosing and taking of a wife, two hundred years earlier, in Indian culture this would have been an acceptable way of doing things.

Helena grows up unaware that her father has done anything wrong although she recognises that he has an angry side to his personality, that he is capable of meting out swift and cruel punishments to her and her mother.

Although Helena adores her father, and despises her mother, she eventually escapes and is responsible for his captures and imprisonment. Her narration in the book swaps between her experiences as child and the life she has built for herself since her escape. Now her father has escaped after 15 years of imprisonment and she knows he is looking for her.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
Karen Dionne drew heavily on her experiences during the 1970s in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to write The Marsh King's Daughter, when she and her husband lived in a tent with their six-week-old daughter while they built a tiny cabin. Karen carried water from a stream, made wild apple jelly over a campfire (and defended it against marauding raccoons), sampled wild foods such as cattail heads and milkweed pods, and washed nappies in a bucket (which Karen says is every bit as nasty as it sounds). She enjoys nature photography and lives with her husband in Detroit's northern suburbs.

15 February 2018

Review: THE WORD IS MURDER, Anthony Horowitz

Synopsis (author website)

It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split.

The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot?

Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?

A classic crime for the modern reader, The Word is Murder is a whodunnit to end all whodunnits.

My Take

Somehow I just wasn't prepared for the author himself to be acting as the narrator.  And I never could decide how much was fiction. My best guess is that the author is trying to show how differently he works as an author, when compared to a top-notch detective. The author sets up a murder in a plot, describes the scene for us, and then lays clues about the murderer whose identity he already knows. The detective observes the scene after the fact and then interprets what he sees, and follows the clues. In THE WORD IS MURDER both detective and author are central characters and interact with each other. So even the dialogue between author and detective becomes interesting. Hawthorne, the detective, tries to put the author in his place, demanding that he be see but not heard. The author, Horowitz, refuses to be kept in his box, and often demands to ask his own questions.

It is probably a novel that would benefit from more study and from robust discussion in a book group.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read

12 February 2018

Review: THE STRANGER, Melanie Raabe

  • This edition published by Text Publishing Australia 2016
  • translated from German by Imogen Taylor
  • ISBN 9-781925-498042
  • 346 pages
Synopsis (back cover)

Philip Petersen, a wealthy businessman, disappears without trace on a trip to South America. His wife, Sarah, is left to bring up their son on her own.

Seven years later, out of the blue, Sarah receives news that Philip is still alive. But the man who greets her before a crowd of journalists at the airport is a stranger- and he threatens Sarah. If she exposes him, she will lose everything- her house, her job, her son ... her whole beautiful life.

My Take

Sarah Petersen is convinced that her husband Philip is dead. It is seven years since he disappeared in Colombia and she has been thinking of having him declared dead. When the Foreign Affairs Department tells her he has been found and will be home tomorrow, she really thought she would have more time.

Everybody gets off the plane and she is still waiting for Philip to emerge, and then she realises he must be one of the men already on the tarmac. He is a stranger - she thinks - an imposter. Her son Leo was a baby when his father left and he takes an instant aversion to the stranger. The authorities deliver the stranger to her house despite Sarah's attempts to tell them she does not know him. She takes her son to stay with friends.

An intriguing story as Sarah tries to discover who the cold stranger is and what he wants from her. There are things that only Sarah knows but the stranger seems to know them too. Lots to think about when you have finished reading the book.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read

8 February 2018

Review: SLEEP NO MORE, P.D. James

  • this edition published by Faber & Faber 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-571-33087-7
  • 172 pages
  • short stories
Synopsis (publisher)

The acknowledged 'Queen of Crime', P. D. James, was a past master of the short story, weaving together motifs of the Golden Age of crime-writing with deep psychological insight to create gripping, suspenseful tales. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories contained four of these perfectly formed stories, and this companion volume contains a further six, published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

My Take

Here is a handful of very clever short stories, each with a good twist in the tail, which often took me by surprise, revealing a culprit that I hadn't suspected, even though, on looking back all the clues were there.

Mostly the stories were 20-30 pages long, easily conquered in a sitting, and very well crafted. Make no mistake - I think the short story is incredibly difficult to pull off, because everything has to tie in, there must be no loose threads. The ending must be believable and complete.

Highly recommended.
My rating: 4.5

I've also read


 Synopsis (Text Publishing 2017)

The young detectives call Alan Auhl a retread, but that doesn’t faze him. He does things his own way—and gets results.

He still lives with his ex-wife, off and on, in a big house full of random boarders and hard-luck stories. And he’s still a cop, even though he retired from Homicide some years ago.

He works cold cases now. Like the death of John Elphick—his daughters still convinced he was murdered, the coroner not so sure. Or the skeleton that’s just been found under a concrete slab. Or the doctor who killed two wives and a girlfriend, and left no evidence at all.

My Take

A very welcome stand-alone from an Australian much-loved crime fiction writer - or is it the beginning of a new series?

Alan Auhl, once a worn-out detective, has been re-employed by the Victoria Police to go through cold case files. This seems to be a world-wide phenomenon- the new tools such as DNA testing of old evidence, computerised case comparisons etc, now make it possible to solve some cases where physical evidence was collected and stored. Each police force has a hideous back log of unsolved cold cases, and presumably all have a small team of detectives working through them to see if modern techniques can be used.

Alan Auhl brings years of experience to the job. Every now and then some of his old interview techniques, not really acceptable by modern standards, surface, and occasionally it seems that suspects are just busting to get a confession off their chest.

So Auhl is busy on a number of cases simultaneously, In addition the author builds up an interesting picture of his personal life.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read
4.7, WYATT
4.7, HER 

4 February 2018

Review: 10 SHORT STORIES YOU MUST READ THIS YEAR, Sandra Yates (edit)

  • first published in 2009 by the Australia Council
  • ISBN 9780731814329
  • 262 pages
  • book was  provided free as part of the 2009 Books Alive Campaign (Australia)
Synopsis (back cover)

Kylie has a close encounter with a self-help guru in a stadium full of people.... Austin North is strangely smitten by a new student from Sudan ... Elizabeth's Christmas letters take on a life of their own ... Tom is on the bus with Tara Finke - Parramatta Road never looked so good.

There is something for everyone in this collection. Funny, poignant, perceptive, these vivid tales by some of our best-known writers capture contemporary Australia in all its variety.

My Take

Another book that has been in my TBR for a long long time.

Each of the short stories is 20-30 pages long and so easily read at a sitting.
Although some of the writers specialise in crime fiction, only a couple of the stories could be labelled crime fiction. Most of the stories challenge the reader to build the background scenario from the clues given.

1. A View of Mount Warning, Robert Drew
2. Hate at First Sight, Kathy Lette
3. Life in a Hotel Room, William McInnes
4. Elizabeth's News. Monica McInerney
5. Ithaca in Mind, Peter Temple
6. Blackberries, Tom Keneally
7. Twelve Minutes, Melina Marchetta
8. Manhattan Dreaming, Anita Heiss
9. You Can Change Your Life, Toni Jordan
10. Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife, Jack Marx.

I loved the irony of  A View of Mount Warning, the comedy of Elizabeth's News and the sadness of
Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife.
My rating: 4.4

What I read in January 2018

Pick of the month January 2018
  1. 5.0, FORCE OF NATURE, Jane Harper
  3. 4.6, IN THE DARK, Chris Patchell 
  4. 4.0, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, David Lagercrantz 
  5. 4.5, ACT ONE, SCENE ONE ...MURDER, A.H. Richardson
  6. 4.4, THE MURDER AT SISSINGHAM HALL, Clara Benson 
  8. 4.5, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS, Donna Leon
  9. 4.3, BORROWED TIME, Robert Goddard 
  10. 4.3, DADDY'S GIRL, Lisa Scottoline
I enjoyed most of what I read, but I do suspect my ratings are creeping a bit high.

My pick of the month is  FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

See what others have chosen for their pick of the month

Review: MATILDA, Roald Dahl - audio book

 Synopsis (audible.com)

Penguin presents Roald Dahl's Matilda, read by multi-award-winning actress Kate Winslet.
Matilda Wormwood is an extraordinary genius with really stupid parents.

Miss Trunchbull is her terrifying headmistress who thinks all her pupils are rotten little stinkers. But Matilda will show these horrible grown-ups that even though she's only small, she's got some very powerful tricks up her sleeve.... 

My Take

Well, this was intended to entertain the grandkids in the back seat but they haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. The adults in the car found it most entertaining. Kate Winslet is really a fabulous narrator with the ability to change her voice to suit the character she is playing.

It isn't a story that either of us have read, so we had no idea of where the plot was heading.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.7

Review: THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, Roald Dahl - audio book

Synopsis (audible.com)

Stephen Fry reads this enhanced audiobook edition of Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile. The audiobook features original music and 3D sound design by Pinewood film studios.
The Enormous Crocodile is a greedy grumptious brute who loves to guzzle up little girls and boys. But the other animals have a scheme to get the better of this foul fiend, once and for all!

My take

If you are looking for something to entertain the small ones in the car then this is it.
They are guaranteed to demand it be played again and again, journey after journey, until adults, at least, are sick of it.
We follow the enormous crocodile from the river to the jungle in his search for tasty morsels, small children, for lunch.

Stephen Fry's reading is superb.

My rating: 5.0

1 February 2018

Pick of the Month - January 2018

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2018
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for January 2018, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.


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