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

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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

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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

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