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



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