28 May 2023

Review: AN A-LIST FOR DEATH, Pamela Hart

  • this edition published 2022, made available by my local library
  • published by HQ Fiction
  • ISBN 978-1-8672-0189-2
  • 353 pages
  • Author website
  • #2 in the Poppy McGowan series

Synopsis (author website)

Shooting for fame could end your career … and your life. A sparkling mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, in a book that will delight fans of Richard Osman and Kerry Greenwood.

TV researcher Poppy McGowan has never sought the spotlight and is none too happy to be photographed with rock god Nathan Castle. When the photo pops up on celebrity gossip sites, it sparks a media feeding frenzy, forcing Poppy to go to ground, don a wig, and pull some nifty moves to escape a tailing car. And she cops abuse from Nathan’s outraged fans.

None of this would have happened if Poppy had not found Nathan’s mother Daisy, one-time glamour girl and elderly best friend of her Aunty Mary, bleeding and unconscious in her bathroom. The police dismiss the case as an accident, but Poppy is sure there are questions to be answered. Who attacked Daisy, and why? Will she come out of her coma? What secrets are her gathering family hiding? What happens to Daisy’s money if she dies?

When a murder occurs outside Daisy’s flat, the police step in at last. Unfortunately, they finger Poppy’s boyfriend, Tol, for the crime – after all, he had bad blood with the victim. As Daisy’s money-hungry family circle, amid hints of poisoning, bribery and blackmail, Poppy must find a way to clear Tol’s name and ensure Daisy’s safety.  

My Take

To me, this novel feels a cross between chick-lit, geezer-lit, and a cozy.

If none of those terms are familiar to you, then perhaps the closest is cozy, although there are a couple of nasty deaths and a couple of close calls.

The narrator is the heroine, Poppy McGowan herself, a youngish woman who works for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) on producing research material for children's programs. This role gets Poppy into Museums and other places which might be difficult to crack. So an Australian writer, using Australian settings.

The novel is tightly plotted although I found the main plot a little implausible. However the characters are strong and believable.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Pamela Hart is my married name and The Soldier’s Wife was my first book under that name, inspired by my grandfather’s service as an ANZAC at Gallipoli (see The Story behind The Soldier’s Wife). Since then, I’ve enjoyed working with other true stories set in and after WWI. Each book has given rise to the next, as I stumble over wonderful stories while doing the research for the current book. As Pamela Freeman, I’ve written children’s fiction, epic fantasy, crime fiction and children’s poetry. You can find out more about my other books here.

I became seriously interested in historical fiction when I wrote The Black Dress, a fictional account of the childhood of Mary MacKillop in the Australia of the 1840s-1860s.

I have a Doctor of Creative Arts in Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney, and I teach writing (face-to-face and online) at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

My writing started when I was a children’s scriptwriter for ABC Kids, which was where I began to write children’s stories. But then I found that I wanted to tell stories for adults, too, and particularly stories about women’s lives, loves, tears and joys.

I live in Sydney with my husband and son and many musical instruments. (I’m a drummer – or at least I’m learning to be one!)

I love to keep in touch with my readers, so follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!


    The Black Dress, NSW Premier’s History Prize, 2006
    Victor’s Challenge, Aurealis Award, 2009
    Ember and Ash, Aurealis Award, 2011
    Desert Lake, ASO Librarian’s Choice Award, 2017
    Shortlistings: NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Romantic Book of the Year Australia (the Ruby), Romantic Book of the Year UK (the Rona), Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, Koala Awards, Wilderness Society Environment Award, Speech Pathology Awards.

Review: MRS McGINTY'S DEAD, Agatha Christie

  • This edition available from Amazon on Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0046RE5EK
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins (October 14, 2010)
  •  Print length ‏ : ‎ 289 pages
  •  Originally published 1952,aka BLOOD WILL TELL
  • My previous review (2012)

Synopsis (Amazon)

An old widow is brutally killed in the parlour of her cottage…

Mrs McGinty died from a brutal blow to the back of her head. Suspicion fell immediately on her shifty lodger, James Bentley, whose clothes revealed traces of the victim’s blood and hair. Yet something was amiss: Bentley just didn’t look like a murderer.

Poirot believed he could save the man from the gallows – what he didn’t realise was that his own life was now in great danger…

My Take

First published in 1952, the novel was adapted by MGM in 1964, and released as 'Murder Most Foul'. The character of Hercule Poirot was replaced by Jane Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford. In 2008 David Suchet starred as Poirt and Zoƫ Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in the ITV production.

After our discussion we will watch the David Suchet ITV production.

I am re-reading this for my U3A Agatha Christie Group, so the main feature of this review are the discussion questions I have written.

  • Who is the narrator? 
  • The book opens with Poirot reflecting on his previous investigations and the role that his good friend Hastings played in them as "the  stooge". What do you understand that to mean?
  • Why does Superintendent Spence come to Poirot?
  • Even though James Bentley has been convicted of the murder by a jury why does he doubt that he is guilty?
  • There seem to be conflicting descriptions of Bentley. He is said to have the mind of a 12 year old, to be a bit screwy, to be shy and awkward, daft, lacking in confidence, although others said he was educated. Which do you think is correct? Could he plead insanity?
  • Poirot contrasts himself with Inspector Spence. "he is a good and painstaking police officer.... But it should be different for me" Why? What disappoints him?
  • What was the significance of Mrs McGinty buying a bottle of ink?
  • Why did Mrs McGinty cut the picture out of the Sunday Comet? 
  • An interesting phrase: from him she takes the Greenwich time - what does it mean? (Shelagh Rendell is looking at her husband)
  • Why does Christie bring Mrs Oliver into the story?
  • What did her employers have to say about Mrs McGinty? There were a number of reasons why people disliked her.
  • An interesting comment on the effects of World War II on English communities:
    the war has complicated things. Records destroyed—endless opportunities for people who
    want to cover their traces doing so by means of other people’s identity cards, etc., especially after “incidents” when nobody could know which corpse was which! If we could concentrate on just one lot, but you’ve got so many possibles, M. Poirot.
    This is a comment that Christie has made elsewhere. What does it mean? What effect does it have on an investigation?
  • Who attempted to push Poirot under the train?
  • What is the irony of Mrs Upward ringing 3 women to come to visit her? What did she think she knew? What did she intend to do with her knowledge?
  • In the last pages Poirot gets the remaining characters together and says he knows what the motive for the murders was - money. Was he right? Can you explain the plot?
  • Why did Maude Williams get involved?
  • How was the identity of the murderer finally discovered?  
 I think this is an easy novel to underestimate. In fact the plot is quite complex. And there are comments about the social and economic effects of World War II that are valuable.

23 May 2023

Review: BITTER POISON, Margaret Mayhew

  • This edition on Kindle (Amazon)
  • #5 in the Village Mysteries series
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08N6Z98LQ
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Joffe Books cozy mysteries and crime (10 November 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 156 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)


An absorbing Christmas mystery

The Colonel (few people call him Hugh) is busier than ever this Christmas. The Frog End Players have enlisted his woodwork skills to build a set for their annual Christmas pantomime.

This year, it's Hans Christian Andersen's dark fairytale The Snow Queen. Local busybody Marjorie Cuthbertson is on the hunt for her leading lady — and who better to play the icy queen than beautiful new resident, ex-model Joan Dryden. But as interested as they are in their new neighbours, the residents of Frog End remain wary of the Dryden family, considering them snooty Londoners.

But tragedy strikes at the village party . . .

One moment, one of the guests is enjoying a festive mince pie. The next, they are on the floor, clawing at their throat.

A tragic allergic reaction or did someone mean to kill?

The Colonel must find out if this was just a terrible accident . . . or bitter revenge.


My Take

I've now finished this series although I read the last 2 books out of order.

If you take them on, do read them in order to get the best out of them. They are quick cozies and seem to capture village life as I imagine it to be.

I have enjoyed meeting the people living in the village of Frog End, and reading through the various scenarios. I did get a little tired of the re-capping of the plots that occurred before books 5 and 6.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read

Review: ENTRY ISLAND, Peter May

  • this edition provided by my local library
  • Published by Quercus UK 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-78206-221-9
  • 534 pages

Synopsis (Publisher)

A detective is haunted by the feeling he knows his murder suspect – despite the fact they have never met.


When Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate a murder on the remote Entry Island, 850 miles from the Canadian mainland, he leaves behind him a life of sleeplessness and regret.


But what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim’s wife, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.

And when his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant Scottish past in another century, this murder in the Gulf of St. Lawrence leads him down a path he could never have foreseen, forcing him to face a conflict between his professional duty and his personal destiny. 

My Take

Sime  Mackenzie probably should have been given leave rather than assigned to this case. Insomnia combined with his marriage breakdown and then the fact that his wife is the CSI for the case should have been enough to excuse him. But he is chosen because he speaks English as do the inhabitants of Entry Island.

When he meets the wife of the dead man he is convinced he has met her before. He also wears a signet ring that she recognises. It turns out that there is a perfectly rational explanation, but I get ahead of myself. When the rest of the team become convinced of Kirsty's guilt, because all the evidence Sime accumulates points to her, Sime feels they are wrong.

Meanwhile the author takes the opportunity to go back to the Highland Clearances to prove to us that history can repeat itself.

My rating: 4.6

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18 May 2023

Review: MURDER IN TUSCANY, T.A. Williams

  • This edition published in 2022 published by Boldwood Books
  • ISBN 978-1-80483-218-9
  • 410 PAGES (large print)
  • made available by my local library

Synopsis (publisher

A brand new cozy crime series set in gorgeous Tuscany…It’s murder in paradise!

A remote retreat…

Nestled high in the Tuscan hills lies Villa Volpone, home to renowned crime writer Jonah Moore and his creative writing course. It’s also the last place retired DCI Dan Armstrong expected to spend his retirement! Dan’s no writer, but maybe this break will help him to think about the next chapter in his own life story?

A gruesome murder…

But only days into the course, Jonah Moore is found stabbed to death with his award-winning silver dagger! And Dan finds himself pulled out of retirement with a killer to catch.

Eleven possible suspects.

The other guests all seem shocked by Jonah’s death, but Dan knows that one of them must be lying. And as he and Italian Commissario Virgilio Pisano begin to investigate it quickly becomes clear that everyone at Villa Volpone has secrets to hide…

But can Dan discover who the murderer is before they strike again?

A gripping new murder mystery series by bestselling author T.A. Williams, perfect for fans of Lee Strauss and Beth Byers.

My Take

Recently retired London DCI Dan Armstrong was given a two week creative writing course as a retirement present by his former colleagues. The focus of the course is a surprise to him, and several times he has thought of not attending. But the location in Tuscany is a drawcard.

The fact that the writer who has initiated the course is found dead after a couple days, stabbed to the heart in his dining room while Dan is visiting the police in Florence becomes an added bonus.

The case ends up changing the direction of Dan's life.

An enjoyable cozy read.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
T A Williams is the author of over twenty bestselling romances for HQ and Canelo and is now turning his hand to cosy crime, set in his beloved Italy, for Boldwood. The series will introduce us to retired DCI Armstrong and his labrador Oscar and the first book, entitled Murder in Tuscany, will be published in October 2022. Trevor lives in Devon with his Italian wife.

17 May 2023

Review: SCRUBLANDS, Chris Hammer

  • This novel read as an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B079Z1VHZL
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allen & Unwin (1 April 2019)
  • 384 pages
  • #1 in Martin Scarsden series

Synopsis (Amazon)

Winner of the 2019 CWA Dagger New Blood Award for Best First Crime Novel

In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don't fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can't ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest's deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town's secrets stay buried. 

Hammer published his debut novel Scrublands in August 2018. It shot straight to number one for four weeks and stayed on the bestseller lists for months. It has sold in excess of 80,000 copies.

Earning outstanding reviews in Australia and overseas, Scrublands—set in a dry, dusty outback town—has established Hammer’s place among an elite handful of Australian thriller writers, who have made ‘Aussie noir’ a publishing success here and internationally.

My Take

My earlier review: 4.7, SCRUBLANDS

I am re-reading this novel over 4 years after I originally read it in order to lead a discussion in my monthly U3A Crime Fiction group.

So what I have done is compose a list of discussion points based around the complex and interlaced plot lines we see in the novel.

  1.  Martin Scarsden's career - what has happened to him in the past? (in the trunk of a car for 3 days). As a result he thinks his career as a journalist may be at an end.
    He recognises that instead of reporting events without involvement, he has become part of them. In what ways is this true?
  2. Martin is sent to Riversend by his editor at Fairfax Press to write a piece about how the town has recovered from what happened there nearly a year ago. How/why does he get side-tracked?
  3. The unsolved mystery - why did Byron Swift shoot 5 people outside the church, and then force the constable Robbie Haus-Jones into shooting him?
    - Byron Swift's background
    - the involvement of ASIO - money being sent out of the country to Dubai attracts attention (they don't realise where it is going, think maybe it is going to Jehadists) What is the thread here?
  4. Harley Snouch - Mandy Blonde's story - did the rape happen?
  5. Why did Mandy's mother tell her to put her affairs in order by the time she was 30?
  6. The disappearance of the two female German backpackers a year before.
    The story took a backseat when the church massacre happened.
  7. Codger Harris, ex bank manager. Why he has become a recluse.
  8. Where is Harley Snouch getting the money to renovate Springfields?
  9. The wealth coming into the town. Accepted by people as money that the priest is contributing. They don't want to know how it is being generated.
  10. The bikies riding through the town. Who are they?
  11. What happens at Scrublands? Shooting. Drug factory.
  12. The role of fire - what is burnt?
  13. Martin's relationship with Mandy.
  14. Did you take any notice of the chapter titles? Are they significant?
  15. The role of the drought - the heat - what is the significance of coming of the rain?
  16.  The profile of the town. How would you sum it up?
  17. The suicide of Herb Walker, the sergeant at Bellington.
  18. The cutthroat nature of the media. The media feeding frenzy. Why is Martin dismissed by Fairfax?
  19. The car crash of the two boys. The death of Allen Newkirk. Why is he a significant character?
  20. How satisfied were you with the final explanation? Did everything come together for you? Why did Byron Swift crack? Whose fault was it?
  21. Where there any factors/events in the novel that struck you that have not been covered in the pointers above? e.g. the connections between Byron Swift and Avery Foster (ex SAS) and the veteran living in Scrublands.
  22. Riversend was once more prosperous than it is now. What signs are there of this prosperity? What blows has it been dealt? (effects of location, drought, changes in technology)
  23. What does Chris Hammer do particularly well?

From Ten Questions to Chris Hammer

There was a lot going on in Scrublands, with several crimes and interwoven plot-lines.

The drought-ravaged setting played a large part in Scrublands. 

Reading Group Questions

From Together We Read discussion group

  • Despite being set in a fictional town, Scrublands has a strong sense of place. What elements does Chris Hammer include to achieve this?
  • What assumptions at the beginning of the novel did you think could not be true? Did any of the twists and turns surprise you?
  • What did you think of the ending of the book? Were all your questions answered? 

My rating: 4.8

I've also read

12 May 2023

Review: THE YOUNGER WIFE, Sally Hepworth

  • This edition made available by my local library as an e-book on Libby
  • Published: 26th October 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760784980
  • Length: 336 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

The moment she laid eyes on Heather Wisher, Tully knew this woman was going to destroy their lives.

Tully and Rachel are murderous when they discover their father has a new girlfriend. The fact that Heather is half his age isn't even the most shocking part. Stephen is still married to their mother, who is in a care facility with end-stage Alzheimer's disease.

Heather knows she has an uphill battle to win Tully and Rachel over, while carrying the burden of the secrets of her past. But, as it turns out, they are all hiding something.

The announcement of Stephen and Heather's engagement threatens to set off a family implosion, with old wounds and dark secrets finally being forced to the surface.

A garage full of stolen goods. An old hot-water bottle, stuffed with cash. A blood-soaked wedding. And that's only the beginning . . . 

My Take

Every one in this family has secrets: in the case of the younger women, even the new fiance, burdens they have carried for years. And why does the wife with dementia, Pam, keep saying her husband is a terrible person?

This is a book that just gets you in. You want to know more. Everything surfaces under the stress of the impending divorce, engagement and marriage. 

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read


11 May 2023

Review: THE LIFELINE, Margaret Mayhew

  • This edition supplied as an e-book on Kindle (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08NWBZ7XY
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Joffe Books crime fiction and cozy mysteries (November 18, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 185 pages
  • #6 in the Village Mystery series 

Synopsis (Amazon)


When a chilling discovery is made in one of the manor’s greenhouses, the Frog End villagers rely on the Colonel to reluctantly solve another baffling mystery.
Major Cuthbertson stumbles across a body among the fragrant tomato plants. A bloody spade lies next to the face-down victim.

Ruth Harvey has taken over the manor in Frog End, where she runs a successful plant-selling business and provides gardening therapy for some of her husband Dr Tom

Harvey's troubled patients. They include embittered Lawrence Deacon, lonely Joyce Reed, widowed Tanya Carberry and wheelchair-bound Johnny Turner, the young victim of a horrific motorbike crash.

Gardening at the manor quickly becomes a much-needed lifeline for the group, and all seems to be going well – until the major stumbles across a body among the tomato plants in one of the greenhouses. Once again, the manor is the scene of a brutal murder – and, once again, the Colonel reluctantly finds himself drawn into solving the mystery.


Perfect for fans of Faith Martin, Agatha Christie and Stella Cameron.

My Take:

I have inadvertently read #6 in this series instead of #5 which I will get to later.

The main characters of the series have been well established in earlier books, but, unfortunately, instead of assuming we've all read the earlier titles, the author has resorted to the "potted plots" technique and given readers a short summary of what has gone before. The result is, to be quite honest, a bit tedious. I estimate that as much as 40% of this book is taken up with re-telling what we already knew. Disappointing, although there are a couple of issues for discussion that come out of the main plot.

This is the last book in the series, in fact, the last book the author has written, and I have enjoyed the series. The Colonel (we never do find out his surname, do we?) is a well drawn character, who inadvertently becomes involved in the solving of local murders. His relationships with other members of the village of Frog End provide interest and depth to the book without becoming too personal.

In the main the books are each a quick and satisfying read.

My rating: 4.3 

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7 May 2023

Review: THE ONLY SUSPECT, Louise Candlish

  • This book made available as an e-book by my local library on Libby
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (March 8, 2023)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9781398509801

Synopsis (publisher

Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong man.

Alex lives a comfortable life with his wife Beth in the leafy suburb of Silver Vale. Fine, so he’s not the most sociable guy on the street, he prefers to keep himself to himself, but he’s a good husband and an easy-going neighbour.

That’s until Beth announces the creation of a nature trail on a local site that’s been disused for decades and suddenly Alex is a changed man. Now he’s always watching. Questioning. Struggling to hide his dread . . .

As the landscapers get to work, a secret threatens to surface from years ago, back in Alex’s twenties when he got entangled with a seductive young woman called Marina, who threw both their lives into turmoil.

And who sparked a police hunt for a murder suspect that was never quite what it seemed. It still isn’t.

No one else could have done it. Could they?

My take

Not even Alex's wife Beth knows who Alex really is, and what he has done. In fact, as a reader, you will make assumptions about who Alex is, and you won't always be right. For this plot has many twists and many red herrings.

Things get worse when Beth invites a pregnant friend to live with them. This arrangement turns out to be far more permanent than temporary and Zara has her suspicions about Alex. 

And then, for a surprise birthday present, Beth sends Alex's DNA off for testing, ostensibly to give him details about his origins, but actually prompting a nasty surprise.

This is one of those books where you won't see the eventual results coming.

My rating: 4.8

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4 May 2023

Review: JUDGEMENT DAY, Mali Waugh

  • This edition available as an e-book from Amazon on Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0BN9TW1SY
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Macmillan Australia (February 28, 2023)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 312 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon

Family law judge Kaye Bailey is found murdered in her chambers. Is this the work of a disgruntled complainant? Or an inside job by a jealous colleague? Or is there something even more insidious at the heart of this brutal act?

Detective Jillian Basset is just back from maternity leave, struggling with new motherhood as she tackles the biggest case of her career. As her work and home lives get messier and messier, though, something's going to give.

Exploring the murky underworld of the justice system and setting a cracking pace, Judgement Day is a gripping thriller from a fresh and compelling new Australian voice.

My Take

Here is a new Australian author to watch.

An Australian family law judge is murdered just hours after her colleagues are told that she will be the next Chief Justice of the Family Law Court. There is no lack of suspects, because Kaye Bailey was extremely outspoken.

It becomes her first case after maternity leave for Detective Jill Bassett. Jill thinks she will be happier returning to work, as she is certainly deeply uncomfortable with motherhood. She buries herself in the case, troubled by her relationship with the Acting Detective who has filled her shoes for the last six months. She would prefer to be working on her own, but things improve on the working front, at the same time as things at home go into a downward spiral.

This novel had me totally hooked.

My rating: 4.7

Author Information
Mali Waugh has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Monash University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked in a library and a chocolate shop, and now works as a lawyer. This is her first novel.


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