31 December 2021

Happy New Year 2022

 May 2022 be a lot better for all of us.

Happy Reading too.

Review: THE CURLEW'S EYE, Karen Manton

Synopsis (publisher)

A richly atmospheric Gothic mystery set around a ruined homestead in the NT's Top End.

'It struck her that in all these years, every highway and meandering track they'd taken together had been heading towards this destination. A shack perched halfway up a hill in an other-world of bizarre shadow plants and dark sentinel trees . . . Every road had been leading here, to this place.'

Greta's partner Joel grew up with five brothers and a sister in a feisty household on an isolated NT property. But he doesn't talk about those days - not the deaths of his sister and mother, nor the origin of the scars that snake around his body.

Now, many years later, he returns with Greta and their three young boys to prepare the place for sale. The boys are quick to settle in, and Joel seems preoccupied with work, but Greta has a growing sense of unease, struggling in the build-up's oppressive heat and living in the shadow of the old, burned-out family home. She knows she's a stranger in this uncanny place, with its eerie and alluring landscape, hostile neighbour, and a toxic dam whose clear waters belie its poison. And then there's the mysterious girl living rough whom Greta tries to befriend.

Determined to make sense of it all, Greta is drawn into Joel's unspoken past and confronted by her own. Before long the curlew's haunting cry will call her to face the secrets she and Joel can no longer outrun.

My Take

The Northern Territory, the tough lifestyle, and the isolation are elements that Greta has never known. Like her husband Joel, Greta is an orphan, although she still has family down South. But there is so much about his past that Joel has never told her. She knows that Joel's parents came from Europe at the end of the Second World War, that they were determined to start a new life. She knows that he is from a large family of five sons and one daughter, and that they grew up on this homestead; that his sister died young in a car accident, but there is so much Joel will not talk about.

Setting up home for her 3 boys, herself and Joel at the ruined homestead is tough, as is the time when Joel goes away to work to bring in some extra money.

Greta is lucky that she makes friends with a couple of local women, mainly through her children, and they help her hold things together. She finds remnants of the past, photos and other things in the burnt out homestead which give her puzzles to solve, and gradually she is able to piece together what happened to Joel's parents and his sister.

Apart from the main narrative, the author has used to ploys to add to the story: the Gothic element of the past intruding into the present, and between chapters, small snippets of narrative in different voices which supply more clues for the reader.

An interesting read, and certainly an accomplishment for a debut novel 

My rating: 4.4

Author bio:

Karen Manton lives in Darwin and Batchelor in the Northern Territory. Her short stories have won five NT Literary Awards and are published in various anthologies, including Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, Review Australian Fiction and Landmarks. She has been awarded the Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship Varuna Writers' House, the NT Writers Centre Hachette Mentorship and the Arts NT Varuna Residential Fellowship. The Curlew's Eye is her first novel.

30 December 2021

Review: THE WAY IT IS NOW, Garry Disher

  • This edition made available as an e-book on Libby through my local library
  • Published: 2nd November 2021
  • ISBN: 9781922458162
  • Number Of Pages: 416

Synopsis (Publisher)

A stunning new standalone crime novel from one of Australia's most revered writers.

Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin.

Charlie is living in his family's holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work. Things have never been easy for Charlie.

Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found. Until now- the foundations are being dug for a new house on a vacant block. The skeletal remains of a child and an adult are found-and Charlie's past comes crashing in on him.

My Take

Things became a bit of a mess for Charlie when his mother disappeared twenty years earlier. His mother and father had already separated then, and his father, a senior policeman at the time, was investigated, but his mother was never found. His brother has always believed his father was responsible for their mother's disappearance, and hasn't spoken to his father since. His father has re-married since then, and Charlie has also married, but his marriage has broken up. 

Most recently Charlie struck a senior officer and is currently suspended on pay. There are those who'd like to see Charlie given his marching orders. Charlie's father has retired and his second marriage appears to have been a success. 

And now the past rears it's ugly head again with the discovery of skeletal remains which may be his mother. There are some ex-policemen in the area who seem to be keeping an eye on Charlie too,

This is a typical Disher stand-alone with sub-plots to keep the mind alert, and a range of interesting characters, including Charlie Deravin himself. The setting of a coastal surfing town is strong and gives the novel a substantial Australian flavour.

A welcome read.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read

4.7, WYATT
4.7, HER
5.0, BITTER WASH ROAD - Hirsch #1 - aka HELL TO PAY
5.0, PEACE- Hirsch #2
5.0, CONSOLATION - Hirsch #3

29 December 2021

Review: MR BOWLING BUYS A NEWSPAPER, Donald Henderson

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0797X4GSB
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Black Heath Editions (January 22, 2018)
  • Originally published 1943
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 161 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

Mr. Bowling never used to read the newspaper. But since his second murder, he has found it convenient to discover whether the law has finally cottoned on to his activities. Because Mr. Bowling is an unusual kind of murderer - the kind that desperately wants to be found out. As the list of victims slowly grows, however, Bowling starts to wonder whether you really can get away with murder after all...

Originally published in 1943, this classic thriller, laced with jet black humour, was one of Raymond Chandler's favourite books. 

My Take

As Mr Bowling's murders escape police detection, he begins to wonder why God seems to be rejecting his advances. As he commits more murders he buys swathes of daily newspapers to see if anybody has picked up on his activities. The problem is that his murders seem to be covered over by "natural" events, like the Blitz of London, a heart attack, a fall down the stairs, and a catastrophic fire. Nobody asks the questions that Mr Bowling thinks should be asked. He is sure he has left evidence that a discerning detective should "see", or even be alerted by the fact that his name keeps turning up in connection with dead people.

Mr Bowling has no real motives for most of his murders apart from the fact that his victims are essentially boring people, or that they don't particularly like him. Originally Mr Bowling was working for an insurance company and he benefited from a policy that he had taken out on his wife. He had thought about making himself the beneficiary of policies taken out by some of his clients but then that seemed a little greedy.

It is unusual to read a murder mystery from the point of view of the murderer, and I thought at times they pontificated a little too much. In the end Mr Bowling seems to have found the woman of his dreams, but has he? For he has told her everything about his murderous activities. Does she believe him, or is she blinded with love? 

My rating: 3.9

About the author

Donald Landels Henderson was born in 1905; he later said, `I cannot pretend to have enjoyed anything very much about my childhood or adolescence.' Henderson was an actor and combined writing with his acting career. He died at only 42, in 1947, just three years after the publication of Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper

26 December 2021

Review: THE UNHEARD, Nicci French

Synopsis (publisher)

He did kill. Kill and kill and kill.’
Tess’s number one priority has always been her three-year-old daughter Poppy. But splitting up with Poppy’s father Jason means that she cannot always be there to keep her daughter safe.
When she finds a disturbing drawing, dark and menacing, among her daughter’s brightly coloured paintings, Tess is convinced that Poppy has witnessed something terrible. Something that her young mind is struggling to put into words.
But no one will listen. It’s only a child’s drawing, isn’t it?
Tess will protect Poppy, whatever the price. But when she doesn’t know what, or who, she is protecting her from, how can she possibly know who to trust . . . ? 

My Take

Three year old Poppy can't always tell her mother what she means. But Tess becomes alarmed when she finds a disturbing drawing which Poppy tells her is a woman being killed. Poppy increases her sense of anxiety by asking her mother if she is dead. Tess at first thinks Poppy is telling her about something her father Jason, whom Poppy stays with a couple of times a week, has done. Until now both she and Jason think they have been handling their separation, and his new marriage, pretty well. Now Tess is anxious about who Poppy has been having contact with when she is not with Tess.

Poppy is showing clear signs of anxiety: wetting the bed, biting other children and so on. Now Tess does not know who she can trust, and she doesn't know who she should tell. She stalks Poppy's father and his new wife, and does not like what she finds out, things that were happening when they were together. 

She tries to report things to the police, but, as they point out, there is no body, no evidence of a crime. By her 11th report they are threatening to take action, against her.

Nicci French has come up with a very believable scenario.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read



24 December 2021

Review: MURDER AT ST ANNE'S, J. R. Ellis

  • this edition a Kindle e-book (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0953L1WP9
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thomas & Mercer (December 7, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 283 pages 
  • Yorkshire Murder Mystery #7

Synopsis (Amazon)

Winter, snow, murder—and a centuries-dead suspect.

In the chilly depths of a Yorkshire winter, a well-liked rector is found bludgeoned to death in her own church. With no sign of a murder weapon, local superstition quickly pins the blame on the ghost of a medieval monk believed to haunt the building…

Well accustomed to unusual murder investigations, DCI Jim Oldroyd takes on the case, along with his assistant, Sergeant Andy Carter, but they are hampered at every turn by the deepening snow and the threat of the supernatural. Even as possible motives and opportunities begin to reveal themselves, Oldroyd struggles to find a better suspect than the hooded phantom.

Has Oldroyd really found himself in the midst of a Gothic ghost story or is there a very real killer at large? Spectre or otherwise, it soon becomes apparent that the murderer is not yet finished. And, for Oldroyd, it’s about to become personal…

My take

Another reader wrote "Murder at St Anne’s is the seventh book in the Yorkshire Murder Mysteries series featuring DCI Jim Oldroyd and his loyal DS Andy Carter. These are gentle old-fashioned detective stories, usually with some form of locked-room puzzle, set in and around the small towns of Yorkshire."

I'm inclined to agree with the "gentle, old-fashioned" descriptor, but that doesn't mean that I enjoyed it any less.  There are really a number of modern aspects to the plots too - pressures from administrators to work more efficiently, to solve crimes faster, but at the same time Oldroyd and Carter try to present the face of personalised policing.

The plot is full of red herrings, a number of locals come under the spotlight and their alibis and possible motives are tested. Back at headquarters members of the investigative team search newspapers and websites for background to the list of suspects, and eventually this strategy is what makes the break through.

I've found that I have actually skipped 3 books in the series, and I am re-assured by readers commenting that it is possible to read these as stand-alones, although obviously there must be character development from one book to the next.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read


About the Author

John R. Ellis has lived in Yorkshire for most of his life and has spent many years exploring Yorkshire’s diverse landscapes, history, language and communities. He recently retired after a career in teaching, mostly in further education in the Leeds area. In addition to the Yorkshire Murder Mystery series, he writes poetry, ghost stories and biography. He has completed a screenplay about the last years of the poet Edward Thomas and a work of faction about the extraordinary life of his Irish mother-in-law. He is currently working on his memoirs of growing up in a working-class area of Huddersfield in the 1950s and 1960s.

22 December 2021

Review: THE BLOOD DOCTOR, Barbara Vine

  • this large print edition published by Chivers Press 2002
  • ISBN 0-7540-1786-9
  • 507 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

Barbara Vine's new novel is about blood - blood in its metaphysical sense as the conductor of an inherited title and blood in its physical sense as the transmitter of disease.

The current Lord Nanther, experiencing the reform of the House of Lords, embarks on a biography of his great-grandfather, the first Lord Nanther, favoured physician to Queen Victoria, expert on blood diseases and particularly the royal disease of haemophilia. What he uncovers begins to horrify him as he realizes that Nanther died a guilty man - carrying a horrific secret to the grave.

The Blood Doctor weaves effortlessly between past and present, public life and private life. The result is a superbly satisfying novel about ambition, obsession and bad blood.

My Take

As she often did, Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) took circumstances that were prompted by her position and work in the House of Lords as a springboard for this stand-lone novel. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1996 Birthday Honours and a life peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk, on 24 October 1997. She sat in the House of Lords for the Labour Party. In 1998 Rendell was named in a list of the party's biggest private financial donors. 

The reform of the House of Lords took place in 1998 just after she had been made a life peer so what is happening to Martin Nanther is essentially what was happening there, although of course she was a life peer, not an hereditary one like Nanther.

By the time of the reform, the House of Lords was being overwhelmed by an excess of hereditary peers and had become unsustainable and unwieldy in its present form. The idea that the blood of the hereditary peers was somehow "special" had lost favour. They wouldn't lose their titles or their estates, simply their right to sit in the House of Lords.

Martin Nanther has begun amassing memorabilia about his great grandfather Henry Nanther, given a hereditary peerage at the end of the nineteenth century by Queen Victoria for his work on diseases of the blood, particularly of haemophilia of which she was a carrier (which she refused to recognise), and which her own sons and grandsons were afflicted by.

Martin is transfixed by a letter written by one of his great-aunts in which she says Henry Nanther had done terrible things. Martin aims to eventually write a biography of his great-grandfather, and his research takes him to meet cousins and distant relatives whom he has never met, and to become aware of the presence of "tainted" blood in his own family.

Running alongside the main plot is the sub-plot of Martin and his second wife Jude attempting to have a baby, and the revelation that it is a genetic problem that is causing her frequent miscarriages.

This wasn't a book I could read quickly. There was quite a lot of history to absorb, and though I read it in large print, or perhaps because I did, it was also quite weighty.

However, a fascinating read.

My rating:  4.7

I've also read 

Vine, Barbara:

Rendell, Ruth:
4.5, A NEW LEASE OF DEATH- Wexford #2
4.6, THE BEST MAN TO DIE - Wexford #4
4.3, A SLEEPING LIFE, Ruth Rendell  - Wexford #10 
4.7, PUT ON BY CUNNING - Wexford #11
4.6, THE VAULT- Wexford #23
4.5, NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE- Wexford #24

18 December 2021


  • Bloomsbury Publishing 2021
  • ISBN 978-1-63557-762-4
  • 179 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)
The uncannily relevant, deliciously clear-eyed collected stories of a critically acclaimed, award-winning “American literary treasure” (Boston Globe), ripe for rediscovery―with a foreword by Elizabeth Strout.

From her many well-loved novels, Hilma Wolitzer―now ninety-one years old and at the top of her game―has gained a reputation as one of our best fiction writers, who “raises ordinary people and everyday occurrences to a new height.” (Washington Post) These collected short stories―most of them originally published in magazines including Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post, in the 1960s and 1970s, along with a new story that brings her early characters into the present―are evocative of an era that still resonates deeply today.

In the title story, a bystander tries to soothe a woman who seems to have cracked under the pressures of her life. And in several linked stories throughout, the relationship between the narrator and her husband unfolds in telling and often hilarious vignettes. Of their time and yet timeless, Wolitzer’s stories zero in on the domestic sphere with wit, candor, grace, and an acutely observant eye. Brilliantly capturing the tensions and contradictions of daily life, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket is full of heart and insight, providing a lens into a world that was often unseen at the time, and often overlooked now―reintroducing a beloved writer to be embraced by a whole new generation of readers. 

My Take

The majority, but not all, of these collected short stories are related to a "loosely autobiographical couple", Paulie and Howard. I began reading them, expecting, for some reason, them to be humerous, but in reality they are not. For readers of this blog, I should point out, nor are they crime fiction. They spring rather from the ordinary events of life, of things that have happened, or nearly happened to us.

Events capture the characters, entrap them, and then sometimes there is humour and quirkiness, as they struggle to release themselves.

These stories were written and published over a period of five decades, and in themselves reflect what was important in American society in that time.

For me the most memorable is the last, the author writing in and about the year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The stories:
Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket,1966
Waiting for Daddy,1971
Mrs X,1969
The Sex Maniac,1970
The Great Escape, 2020

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Hilma Wolitzer is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award. She has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, New York University, Columbia University, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Her first published story appeared when she was thirty-six, and her first novel eight years later. Her many stories and novels have drawn critical praise for illuminating the dark interiors of the American home. She lives in New York City.

16 December 2021

Review: BELLS ON HER TOES, Diana Febry

  • #2 in the Peter Hatherall series
  • this edition from Amazon for Kindle 
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B07D5F91TF
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ May 17, 2018
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 366 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon)

A mystery featuring DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams.The police are baffled by the discovery of a stranger shot in the forehead in a disused barn. When people connected to Elmsgrove Racing Stables start turning up dead the race is on to uncover how the stranger is connected to the area and who is behind the murders.The racing community is about to learn their deadliest enemy may be someone close. The quiet drinker in the corner of the pub may be a serial killer. And the crazy drunk may be the key to unlocking the mystery.A classic murder mystery. 

My Take

I kept thinking throughout this novel what a strange pair these detectives are. Fiona Williams is given to flights of imagination and Peter Hatherall is at times  an unmitigated disaster, and an extreme liability to his partner. They are constantly coming up with unlikely scenarios particularly related to the motives for the murders they are investigating. Both have domestic problems and in Hatherall's case these frequently impact on his ability to work. Hatherall appears to be often on the brink of dismissal.

In the working out of the plot there are some extremely interesting characters, including Bunny, the ex-actress married to the Earl, Gladys who also sees herself as an ex-actress, a friend of Bunny's, and is married to one of the murder victims. (For me she came across as a bit over-drawn and much younger than she in fact is.) In an effort to provide a series of red herrings, the author comes up with a considerable range of sub-plots.

By the end there are three bodies resulting from linked elements in the plots.

A good read.

My rating: 4.4

I've also read


13 December 2021

Review: A SLOW FIRE BURNING, Paula Hawkins

  • format (Kindle): an e-book from Amazon
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08PC3SZHX
  • Publisher: ‎ Riverhead Books (August 31, 2021)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ August 31, 2021
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 316 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, it triggers questions about three women who knew him. 

Laura is the troubled one-night-stand last seen in the victim’s home. 

Carla is his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the recent death of yet another family member. 

And Miriam is the nosy neighbor clearly keeping secrets from the police. 

Three women with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are – for different reasons – simmering with resentment. Who are, whether they know it or not, burning to right the wrongs done to them. When it comes to revenge, even good people might be capable of terrible deeds. How far might any one of them go to find peace? How long can secrets smolder before they explode into flame?

My Take

Three women looking for revenge for personal tragedies; and in the end, who killed who? One of those books where you are not sure whether you've actually got it right. Eventually two gruesome murders that look similar, but couldn't possibly be committed by the same person.

The author sets the reader a considerable challenge by introducing numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. What has happened to each of them is fleshed out in a series of flashbacks.

An excellent read.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read


10 December 2021

Review: THE HOUSEMATE, Sara Bailey

  • This edition made available by my local library as an e-book on Libby
  • ISBN: 9781760529338
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin, Australia August 2021
  • 464 pages 

Synopsis (publisher)

Three housemates. One dead, one missing and one accused of murder.

Dubbed the Housemate Homicide, it's a mystery that has baffled Australians for almost a decade.

Melbourne-based journalist Olive Groves worked on the story as a junior reporter and became obsessed by the case. Now, nine years later, the missing housemate turns up dead on a remote property. Olive is once again assigned to the story, this time reluctantly paired with precocious millennial podcaster Cooper Ng.

As Oli and Cooper unearth new facts about the three housemates, a dark web of secrets is uncovered. The revelations catapult Oli back to the death of the first housemate, forcing her to confront past traumas and insecurities that have risen to the surface again.

What really happened between the three housemates that night? Will Oli's relentless search for the murderer put her new family in danger? And could her suspicion that the truth lies closer to home threaten her happiness and even her sanity?

My Take

The "Housemate Homicide" dominated the news nearly a decade ago in Victoria, when one girl was killed, one disappeared and one was convicted of murder. Now the convicted killer has served her sentence, and the missing housemate has turned up dead.

Oli Groves was a young journalist who worked on the original case and she remembers it well. She never understood then what had prompted the murder. Now she has been assigned to the case again, but the newspaper wants a more modern approach: a podcast as well as print articles.

The double time frame is challenging from the beginning as Oli and the photographer she is working with try to track down as many of the people involved in the original case as they can. Oli is still trying to work out the motive behind the original killing. She is convinced there is much more to the story than was originally uncovered.

The plot becomes increasingly more complex as the book develops and raises issues that are very contemporary in their overtones.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Sarah Bailey is a Melbourne-based writer with a background in advertising and communications. She has two young children and is currently the Managing Partner of advertising agency VMLY&R in Melbourne. Her internationally award-winning Gemma Woodstock trilogy includes The Dark Lake, published in 2017 and winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction and the Davitt Award for Best Debut, followed by Into the Night in 2018, and Where the Dead Go in 2019.

I've also read


4 December 2021

Review: APPLES NEVER FALL, Liane Moriarty

Synopsis (publisher)

From the outside, the Delaneys appear to be an enviably contented family. Even after all these years, former tennis coaches Joy and Stan are still winning tournaments, and now that they've sold the family business they have all the time in the world to learn how to 'relax'. Their four adult children are busy living their own lives, and while it could be argued they never quite achieved their destinies, no-one ever says that out loud.

But now Joy Delaney has disappeared and her children are re-examining their parents' marriage and their family history with fresh, frightened eyes. Is her disappearance related to their mysterious house guest from last year? Or were things never as rosy as they seemed in the Delaney household?

My take

I never cease to be amazed with what Liane Moriarty pulls into one of her novels. This one is set in Sydney in 2020, with a background of bushfires and the beginning of the global pandemic. Neither of those are really important to the plot of the book, they just give it a time frame.

If you are reading this blog, you probably want to know if this novel is crime fiction. Well, it isn't really, until right at the end, although there is plenty of mystery: the major one is what has happened to Joy? But so much of the rest of the novel, the background of what has happened to this family, and in this family, over the last 40 years, is important for us to understand what has happened to Joy.  

Liane Moriarty has chosen to tell this story in the third person through the eyes of all the major characters in turn, while switching between the events of September/October 2019 and ‘now’, which is approximately February and March 2020.

There is such a lot to discuss after reading this novel. The publisher's site provides a Readers Guide of 50 questions which will be useful if you are having a group discussion - see the Book Club Notes link on the publisher's page at https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781760785024/ 

The novel took me quite a long time to read, but it was certainly worth it.

I'm still puzzled by the title - like me you can probably call to mind an old adage but the title of the book doesn't give the full adage. If you can work it out - leave a comment.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read


28 November 2021

Review: HOME STRETCH, Graham Norton

  • this edition published by Coronet 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-473-66517-0
  • 362 pages

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Shame and longing can flow through generations, but the secrets of the heart will not be buried for ever.

It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony a group of young friends, including bride and groom, drive out to the beach. There is an accident. Three survive, but three are killed.

The lives of the families are shattered and the rifts between them are felt throughout the small town. Connor is one of the survivors. But staying among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as living with the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him. Travelling first to Liverpool, then London, he makes a home - of sorts - for himself in New York. The city provides shelter and possibility for the displaced, somewhere Connor can forget his past and forge a new life.

But the secrets, the unspoken longings and regrets that have come to haunt those left behind will not be silenced. And before long, Connor will have to confront his past.

Graham Norton's powerful and timely novel of emigration and return demonstrates his keen understanding of the power of stigma and secrecy - with devastating results. 

My Take

Connor knew there was no place for him in the town after the accident, especially now everyone knew he had been the driver of the car. Three of the passengers were killed, including a young couple who were to have been married the next day. A girl was left in a wheel chair. Just Connor and the car's owner, the son of the local doctor were virtually unscathed. Connor finds it impossible both for himself.and his parents and decides to leave. 

Over twenty five years later his nephew, the son of his sister and the doctor's son, accidentally finds him in New York, and Connor realises that he owes it to his parents to go home, and to reveal the truth of the accident. He has carried the burden for too long.

This novel is about far more than the accident and it's legacy. It is about a young man who needs to come to terms with his own sexuality, and the needs of the community to accept it too.

An intriguing book, which raises many issues in an empathetic fashion. Well worth the read.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read


20 November 2021

Review: THE DROVER'S WIFE, Leah Purcell

  • This edition made available by my local library as an e-book through Libby
  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9780143791478
  • Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288

Synopsis (publisher)

The Drover's Wife is utterly authentic, brilliantly plotted, thoroughly harrowing and entirely of our times exploring race, gender, violence and inheritance.

Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.

At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.

One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.

Full of fury and power, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a brave reimagining of the Henry Lawson short story that has become an Australian classic. Brilliantly plotted, it is a compelling thriller of our pioneering past that confronts head-on issues of today: race, gender, violence and inheritance. 

My Take

This novel began life as a play, and has apparently been made into a film.

The publisher's blurb does not mention that as well as being the story of Molly Johnson, the drover's wife, it is also the story of Nate and Louisa Clintoff, recently arrived, with their baby son, from London, in the colony of New South Wales, where Nate is to be the policeman in the new town of Everton in the Snowy Mountains.

After a glimpse in to the future, just before World War One, the story proper begins in 1893. Molly Johnson, the drover's wife, heavily pregnant, already has 4 children. Danny is her eldest at 12 years, already taking on the role of the man of the house; his father Joe is away droving, but is expected home soon.

It's a hard life, but Molly prefers it when Joe is away, which he is for nine months of the year.

Nate Clintoff has experienced life in the colonies, having fought in the British Army in the Transvaal in South Africa. He has an idea of what life in the Snowy Mountains will be like for him and his family, but only just a bit more realistic than his wife Louisa is expecting.

Leah Purcell has taken the bones of the Henry Lawson short story The Drover's Wife and given it flesh and background. We eventually learn where Molly came from, and how she came to marry Joe Johnson who is 20 years her senior.

Very good reading.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Leah Purcell is a multi-award-winning and self-made author, playwright, actor, director, filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and showrunner. At the heart of her work are female and First Nation themes, characters and issues. The Drover’s Wife was first a play written by and starring Purcell, which premiered at Belvoir St Theatre in late 2016 and swept the board during the 2017 awards season, winning the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Playwriting and Book of the Year; the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Drama and the Victorian Prize for Literature; the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Stage Work, Major Work and the David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Writing for Australian Theatre; the Helpmann Award for Best Play and Best New Australian Work; and the Sydney–UNESCO City of Film Award. The feature film adaptation of The Drover’s Wife, written, directed and starring Leah Purcell, is slated for a 2020 release. Leah Purcell is a proud Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman from Queensland.

14 November 2021

Review: THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS, Agatha Christie

  • This edition from Amazon - read on Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0046RE5H2
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Originally published in 1952
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 1232 KB
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 227 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon)

A man is shot at in a juvenile reform home – but someone else dies…

Miss Marple senses danger when she visits a friend living in a Victorian mansion which doubles as a rehabilitiation centre for delinquents. Her fears are confirmed when a youth fires a revolver at the administrator, Lewis Serrocold. Neither is injured. But a mysterious visitor, Mr Gilbrandsen, is less fortunate – shot dead simultaneously in another part of the building.

Pure coincidence? Miss Marple thinks not, and vows to discover the real reason for Mr Gilbrandsen’s visit.

My Take

I am re-reading this for a book discussion group that I have been leading all this year. We have now read the first 5 Poirot novels and the first 5 Marple novels. We have been looking for the development of both sleuths and watching Agatha Christie as she experiments with various plot structures.

Miss Marple is in this novel from the very beginning. It is the first time this has happened. In the earlier novels she appeared after the action was well underway.

While visiting her American school friend Ruth Van Rydock in London, Miss Marple learns that Ruth is seriously concerned for her sister Carrie Louise. She asks Miss Marple to visit Carrie Louise at Stonygates, her home in England. Miss Marple agrees to the visit. She is impressed by the size of the Victorian mansion, which now has a separate building for delinquent boys, the cause which engages Carrie Louise and her third husband, Lewis Serrocold. Carrie Louise has her family living with her, as her granddaughter Gina has brought her American husband Walter to England to meet her family. Daughter Mildred Strete moved back home after she was widowed. Stepsons Stephen and Alexis Restarick, now grown, are frequent visitors and are present during Miss Marple's visit. One of the first people Miss Marple encounters is Edgar Lawson, a young man acting as a secretary to Serrocold; Lawson shows clear signs of paranoid schizophrenia, but these are largely ignored.

Miss Marple learns that Carrie Louise has experienced health problems incidental to old age. Nevertheless, Miss Marple is pleased to see that Carrie Louise is still the sweet, idealistic, and loving person she has known.

One of the puzzles for the reader to solve is the meaning of the title. For a while, you read on, looking for mirrors, or at the very least, duplicates, but that is really a red herring.

There are a number of interesting themes. One is the economic and social features  of England post World War 2. The old customs and social barriers have been largely discarded. Old estates like Stonygates have largely been repurposed. Another is the attitude of Americans to what they see as the state of England.

In this novel Miss Marple is included in his investigation by the police Inspector Curry, who is impressed by her powers of observation.

We get a little more background to Miss Marple too. She and Ruth Van Rydock were friends nearly 50 years before, and had travelled to Italy.

A number of the characters are not actually what they seemed to be originally.

My rating: 4.4

My original review,  from 2012

The list of Agatha Christie novels I have read. 

6 November 2021

Review: THE KILLING KIND, Jane Casey

  • This edition published by Harper Collins Publisher 2021
  • ISBN 978-0-00-84093-2
  • 474 pages 

Synopsis (publisher)

He tells you you’re special…
As a barrister, Ingrid Lewis is used to dealing with tricky clients, but no one has ever come close to John Webster. After Ingrid defended Webster against a stalking charge, he then turned on her – following her, ruining her relationship, even destroying her home.
He tells you he wants to protect you…
Now, Ingrid believes she has finally escaped his clutches. But when one of her colleagues is run down on a busy London road, Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim. And then Webster shows up at her door…
But can you believe him?
Webster claims Ingrid is in danger – and that only he can protect her. Stalker or saviour? Murderer or protector? The clock is ticking for Ingrid to decide. Because the killer is ready to strike again.

My Take

Barrister Ingrid Lewis persuades the Crown prosecutor to drop the charge of stalking against John Webster by destroying his victim Emma Seaton as a trustworthy witness. They had been in a relationship for a number of years and Emma clearly could not get away from him. He took her savings; he beckoned, she came running. Ingrid's treatment of Emma in court is cruel, and eventually Emma tries to take some revenge.

Little does Ingrid realise that she too will become one of John Webster's victims. Things begin to happen shortly after the stalking trial - strange phone calls, her fiance's parked car is damaged, Ingrid's details appear on a call girl website, and more. Ingrid is convinced the source of the problems is John Webster, but he convinces investigating police that he is blameless.

As the story ramps up, the author uses some interesting devices to add to the plot and to provide more mystery: email conversations between three people, court reports and so on.

A well constructed novel that has the reader wondering about everyone in Ingrid's life, and just how good a judge of character she is. And she is obviously dangerous to know....

My rating: 4.8

I've also read

3 November 2021

Review: TREASURE & DIRT, Chris Hammer

  • This edition made available as an e-book by my local library through Libby
  • published by Allen & Unwin Australia, September 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760877606
  • 512 pages

Synopsis (Publisher)

An unputdownable standalone thriller from the bestselling author of Scrublands.
In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable young people and billionaires do as they please.

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner's death is straightforward, not even who found the body. Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up and, if so, by whom?

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more secrets they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, as events from years ago take on a startling new significance.

For in Finnigans Gap, opals, bodies and secrets don't stay buried forever.

A superb standalone thriller from the acclaimed and award-winning author of the international bestsellers Scrublands, Silver and Trust. 

My take

Nell Buchanan is excited to be working with Ivan Lucic. He has just been part of a winning team uncovering corruption at the highest level in New South Wales. However shortly after his arrival he discovers his former investigative partner is being hounded by the police Professional Standards and it is very likely he himself will be next. Ivan needs to play it carefully. Nell herself played the role of whistle blower when she was last posted to Finnigans Gap and has enemies among the police too. 

Finnigans Gap is a harsh environment and the miner who has been crucified had a history that goes back decades. There are limited resources available to the small homicide squad.

And who are dark suited men in the black limousine who appear to be visiting a neighbouring rare earths mine? And what about the two billionaires who seem to be intent on bankrupting each other?

A book with many themes, a very harsh environment, where the miners themselves struggle to make a living, and a virtual pageant of quirky characters.

My rating: 4.6

I've also read


28 October 2021

Review: AN ELDERLY LADY IS UP TO NO GOOD, Helene Tursten

  • This edition made available by my local library as an e-book through Libby
  • Originally collated in Swedish in 2017
  • English translation published by Soho Press in 2018
  • Translator Marlaine Delargy
  • ISBN 978-1-64129-011-1

Synopsis (publisher)

Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and... no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father's untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family's spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father's ancient armchair. It's a solitary existence, and she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures--or misadventures--this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud's apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a dead body found in Maud's apartment, will Maud finally become a suspect?

My Take

A very quick read.

A Collection of 5 short stories

  • An Elderly Lady has Accommodation Problems 2012
    When one of her neighbours has designs on her apartment Maud takes swift action.
  • An Elderly Lady on Her Travels 2012
    Maud sees a social notice that her ex-fiance, at 90, is marrying again, to someone she taught decades before.
  • An Elderly Lady seeks Peace at Christmas time 2007
    Since her upstairs neighbours moved in a year before, Maud has had to put up with The Problem.
  • The Antique Dealer's Death 2016
    Maud wants to sell some her father's gold and silver antiques, but a rapacious young antique dealer aims to cheat her out of her property
  • An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma 2018
    This story gives you the background to the Antique Dealer's Death. 

In the last two stories Detective Inspector Irene Huss is the investigating officer. Huss of course makes her appearance in a number of Tursten's full length novels.

While Maud has good health she gives the impression at times that she is "not quite with it". But nothing could be further from the truth. Most of those who cross Maud don't live to tell the tale. 

A lovely collection of quirky tales.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read


Review: THE ATTACK, Catherine Jinks

Synopsis (publisher)

Robyn Ayres works as the camp caretaker on Finch Island, a former leper colony off the coast of Queensland. Her current clients are a group of ex-military men who run a tough-love program for troubled teens.

The latest crop looks like the usual mix of bad boys and sad boys. Then Robyn takes a second look at a kid called Darren. Last time she saw him his name was Aaron, and Robyn was his primary school teacher. And she was somehow at the centre of a vicious small-town custody battle involving his terrifying grandmother.

Bruising classroom dynamics, manipulative parents and carers and horrendous small-town politics form the backdrop to a nail-biting thriller in which the tensions of ten years ago start to play themselves out, building to a violent climax in the present day.

Robyn escaped the past once. Now it’s back—and this time there’s no way out.

My Take 

Quite a suspenseful read with a bit of unravelling to do. We flit between two main time frames: the present, and what happened ten years before, as well as Robyn's immediate past which led her to taking the job on Finch Island, literally getting away from everything.

It is hard to imagine Shaun's program on Finch Island for troublesome and troubled boys in their teens ever being particularly pleasant, but this particular group bring together a heap of real problems. Even putting potato peelers in their hands is fraught with danger. But many of the boys have their own vindictive agenda, not necessarily against Robyn, but she is a relatively vulnerable target.

There are a number of dramatic points, but the day of their graduation ceremony brings it all together,

My rating: 4.4

I've also read


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


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


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


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


2 October 2021

Review: HOLDING, Graham Norton

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


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.

28 September 2021


  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B07CYQDHHJ
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ May 8, 2018 -originally published in 2015
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 277 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 198104986X 
  • #1 Peter Hatherall series

Synopsis (Amazon)

One buried body.
Many hidden secrets.
When the body of a teenage girl is discovered, the villagers of Birkbury close ranks to protect their secrets.
Gossip turns to fear and suspicion as they realise the killer is one of them and is prepared to kill again.
Beneath the good manners and polite smiles, DCI Hatherall discovers deep-seated resentments and family feuds going back decades. The stakes are raised when another girl goes missing.
Will the police uncover the killer before it is too late?

My Take

A debut title and the first in a series. The author has gone on to write more than a dozen titles, including five more in this series. 

During a big storm, a large tree falls over and reveals a skeleton. There is no problem in identifying the body as there is a bracelet that identifies her as a girl who had gone missing twenty years before. It seems most likely that she had been working at one of the local riding stables but nobody is able to remember her.

After her body is identified her twin brother and a cousin both turn up in the village. DCI Peter Hatherall and his offsider DC Fiona Wilson try to track down all who might have some knowledge of what was happening twenty years before. A mixture of local gossip and a set of old photos point the way for them.

While the story is very readable, and most of the i's get dotted and the t's crossed by the end, there are signs that this is a debut novel - for example there are a number of characters who come to nothing, and side-plots that have little significance. Peter Hatherall predictably has a curmudgeonly boss who threatens to take the case away from him if he doesn't get results "soon", and one of the suspects plays golf with someone higher up the chain than Peter Hatherall. Peter has domestic issues, a problem daughter, and a tragedy in the past, that all add dimensions to his character.

I'm looking forward to reading the second in the series.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
I was born and brought up in South west England where I still live with husband,two teenage children and aged dog. I studied law at Brookes University, Oxford but after a few years of feeling suffocated left to drift through a series of casual jobs. Mostly they have been connected with horses in some way but all gave me the freedom to dream and feed my imagination. 


27 September 2021


  •  this edition in large print published in 2019 by Doubleday
  • ISBN 978-1-64358-109-5
  • 430 pages

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award
Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again. 

My Take

Briseis knows what will happen to her if she is still alive when Achilles and the Greek army reach her palace. She can hear him coming. Her husband, father and her brothers are already dead, and she has the option to throw herself from the ramparts, but she chooses to wait and become a captive. She is assigned to Achilles as part of his prize for what he has achieved in battle.

Her life radically changes as she becomes concubine and house servant.

The story explores what happens to women as they become trophies of war, at the same as combining Briseis' story with the legends of Achilles as we know them from Homer's Iliad.

My rating: 4.4

I have previously read



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