25 November 2023

Review: TREASURE & DIRT, Chris Hammer

  • this edition read as an e-book on my Kindle (Amazon)
  • Imprint:Allen & UnwiN
  • Pub Date:30 Aug 2022
  • Page Extent:536

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. 

My Take

I have already reviewed this book, but have re-read it for a discussion with my U3A Crime Fiction readers group.

I must confess that I began reading it as a printed paperback but swapped over about halfway through to a copy that I already had on my Kindle.

Last time I wrote "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." and I was struck again by the fact that, while there is the central plot of the crucified opal miner, there are a large number of mini plots.  It is also a novel where the Australian outback setting plays a strong role.

If you are looking for something that has strong Australian flavour, then this is it.

My rating: 4.7

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19 November 2023

120 books today

 A milestone today. 

120 books read for my 2023 Good Reads Challenge.

Review: THE THERAPIST, B. A. Paris

  • this edition provided as an e-book on Libby by my local library
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HQ; International Edition (January 1, 2021
  • Length ‏ : ‎ 362 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon)

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…

As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating, grisly secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.

Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbours are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…

The million-copy Sunday Times bestselling author B A Paris returns to her heartland of gripping psychological suspense in this powerful tale of a house that holds a shocking secret.

My Take

Alice is sure that she has been totally honest with Leo, kept nothing back from him; after all, she is convinced she wants to spend the rest of her life with him. But then she finds that he hasn't been totally honest with her. He has tried to keep something back, hoping she won't find out, or at least, if she does find out, she will get over it quickly.

This novel turned out to be a real page turner. To me Alice seemed a bit neurotic, but then we find that although she has been honest with Leo, she has a big secret that the reader is not privy to. Also her need to know what happened two years before makes her suspect everyone, and blindsides her to the real truth.

A good read. I must read more by this author.

My rating: 4.5

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16 November 2023

Review: RETURN TO VALETTO, Dominic Smith

  •  this edition published in2923 by Allen and Unwin
  • ISBN 978-1-76106-727-3
  • 358  pages 

Synopsis (publisher)

A captivating and moving new novel from the international bestselling author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.
A nearly abandoned Italian village, the family that stayed, and long-buried secrets from World War II.

On a hilltop in Umbria sits Valetto. Once a thriving village-and a hub of resistance and refuge during World War II-centuries of earthquakes, landslides and the lure of a better life have left it neglected. Only ten residents remain, including the widows Serafino - three eccentric sisters and their steely centenarian mother - who live quietly in their medieval villa. Then their nephew and grandson, Hugh, a historian, returns.

But someone else has arrived before him, laying claim to the cottage where Hugh spent his childhood summers. The unwelcome guest is the captivating and no-nonsense Elisa Tomassi, who asserts that the family patriarch, Aldo Serafino, a resistance fighter whom her own family harboured, gave the cottage to them in gratitude. Like so many threads of history, this revelation unravels a secret - a betrayal, a disappearance and an unspeakable act of violence - that has impacted Valetto across generations. Who will answer for the crimes of the past?

Dominic Smith's Return to Valetto is a riveting journey into one family's long-buried story, a page-turning excavation of the ruins of history and our commitment to justice in a fragile world. For fans of Amor Towles, Anthony Doerr and Jess Walter, it is a deeply human and transporting testament to the possibility of love and understanding across gaps of all kinds - even time.

My Take

An unusual novel about justice and retribution. Two young girls abducted by a fascist in their town, disappeared for 3 days, interrogated by him for family secrets, and never recovered from their experience.

A 100 year birthday party becomes an opportunity for the Serafino family to seek an apology from the fascist.

One of those books that is only partly only crime fiction, but rich in cultural history for we outsiders who know so little about Italian history.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Dominic Smith is the author of six novels, including The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, which was a New York Times bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and a best book of the year at Amazon, Slate, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Texas Monthly, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and The Australian, among other publications. He grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Seattle, Washington. 

12 November 2023


  • This edition on Kindle from Amazon
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B088WS4B88
  • first published 2016 as FIFTH COLUMN
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allison & Busby; Reprint edition (July 23, 2020)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 464 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0369358198
  • #2 in THE BLITZ DETECTIVE series

Synopsis (Amazon

First Published as Fifth Column.
September, 1940. As the Blitz takes its nightly toll on London and Hitler prepares his invasion fleet just across the Channel in occupied France, Britain is full of talk about enemy agents. Suspicion is at an all time high and no one is sure who can be trusted.
In Canning Town, rescue workers are unsettled when they return to a damaged street and discover a body that shouldn't be there. When closer examination of the corpse reveals death by strangling, Detective Inspector John Jago is called upon to investigate. But few seem to really care about the woman's death - not even her family. As Jago digs deeper he starts to uncover a trail of deception, betrayal, and romantic entanglements.

My Take

Well, this series has me hooked and I'll be reading more. The setting is well researched and authentic, and the characters are likeable.

In this case a female body is found on top of the ruins of a bomb site but it hadn't been there two hours earlier. The woman is identified as working in local premises that deal with the some sensitive projects. The pathologist confirms that she has been murdered.

Inspector Jago finds other things are going on  and he is not sure that everyone is acting honestly, nor that everyone is just who they say they are.

Interesting plot.

My rating: 4.6

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6 November 2023

Review: HOME BEFORE NIGHT, J. P. Pomare

Synopsis (publisher)

Mother's intuition or a deadly guilty conscience? A woman races against time to find her son in this tense and twisty thriller by the Top Ten bestselling author of THE WRONG WOMAN.

As the third wave of the virus hits, all inhabitants of Melbourne are given until 8 pm to get to their homes. Wherever they are when the curfew begins, they must live for four weeks and stay within five kilometres of. When Lou's son, Samuel, doesn't arrive home by nightfall, she begins to panic.

He doesn't answer his phone. He doesn't message. His social media channels are inactive. Lou is out of her mind with worry, but she can't go to the police, because she has secrets of her own. Secrets that Samuel just can't find out about. Lou must find her son herself and bring him home.

Includes an exclusive extract of the next J. P. Pomare thriller, Seventeen Years Later, publishing in 2024.

My Take

This is the second novel that I've read set in Covid-19 in Australia (TRACED, Catherine Jinks). Few overseas readers will realise how Draconian the measures were that were taken here in the name of "keeping us safe."

When Samuel doesn't get home by the time lockdown hits, his mother worries about where he is. Citizens can't just come and go as they like. The police are keeping a look out for law breakers, and there are heavy financial penalties.

When Samuel finally gets in touch to say he is staying at his girlfriend's his mother thinks that there are things that just don't add up. Thinking back over his recent behaviour she worries that he has found out something she has kept from him all of his life. The reader already knows what that secret is, but there is something that is far worse.

But the way this comes to light makes you wonder if Lou really thought she could get away with it.

My rating: 4.7

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5 November 2023

Review: THE BLITZ DETECTIVE, Mike Hollow

  •  this edition published for Kindle on Amazon
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B088WPQYLS
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allison & Busby; Reissue edition (July 23, 2020)
  • first published 201
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 448 pages 
  • #1 of 8
  • first published as DIRECT HIT

Synopsis (Amazon)

First published as Direct Hit.

Saturday 7th September, 1940. The sun is shining, and in the midst of the good weather Londoners could be mistaken for forgetting their country was at war - until the familiar wail of the air-raid sirens heralds an enemy attack. The Blitz has started, and normal life has abruptly ended - but crime has not.
That night a man's body is discovered in an unmarked van in the back streets of West Ham. When Detective Inspector John Jago is called to the scene, he recognises the victim: local Justice of the Peace, Charles Villiers. The death looks suspicious, but then a German bomb obliterates all evidence. War or no war, murder is still murder, and it's Jago's job to find the truth.

(Please note Direct Hit, Fifth Column, Enemy Action and Firing Line were republished in 2020 as The Blitz Detective, The Canning Town Murder, The Custom House Murder and The Stratford Murder respectively. See www.blitzdetective.com)

My Take

This is the first in an interesting looking crime fiction series set in London at the beginning of the Blitz, the bombing raids by the Luftwaffe in September 1940.

Like every other service, the police detectives in London have been severely depleted by the demands of the army, navy and airforce. Detective Inspector John Jago is a survivor of World War One and should be looking at retirement rather than leading an active unit. His sergeant has been promoted from the uniforms probably well ahead of his time and is not yet familiar with procedures.

This story raises a number of questions of morality and the role of policing when the country is under attack from the enemy. What is the value of tracking down a murderer locally, or corruption, when so much chaos reigns?

Has the makings of a good series.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Mike Hollow was born in West Ham and grew up in Romford, Essex. He studied Russian and French at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and then worked for the BBC and later Tearfund. In 2002 he went freelance as a copywriter, journalist, editor and translator, but now gives all his time to writing the Blitz Detective books.

(Please note Direct Hit, Fifth Column, Enemy Action and Firing Line were republished in 2020 as The Blitz Detective, The Canning Town Murder, The Custom House Murder and The Stratford Murder respectively. See www.blitzdetective.com)

3 November 2023

Review: THE SEVEN, Chris Hammer

  •  this edition made available to me as an e-book on Libby through my local library
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allen & Unwin (3 October 2023)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 512 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1761067427
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1761067426
  • Detective Nell Buchanan #3

Synopsis (distributor)

Fantastic Fiction

A body has washed up in an irrigation canal, the artery running through Yuwonderie, a man-made paradise on the border of the Outback. Stabbed through the heart, electrocuted and dumped under cover of night, there is no doubt that detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan are dealing with a vicious homicide.

The victim is Athol Hasluck, member of one of the seven dynasties who have controlled every slice of bountiful land in this modern-day Eden for generations.

But this is not an isolated incident. Someone is targeting the landed aristocracy of this quiet paradise in the desert. Secrets stretching back decades are rising to the surface at last - but the question remains, who stands to gain most from their demise?

Can Ivan and Nell track down a killer before the guilt at the heart of these seven families takes the entire town down with it?

The latest stunning thriller from the bestselling author of Scrublands and The Tilt.

Yuwonderie's seven founding families have lorded it over their district for a century, growing ever more rich and powerful.

But now—in startling circumstances—one of their own is found dead in a ditch and homicide detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan are sent to investigate.

Could the murder be connected to the execution of the victim's friend thirty years ago—another member of The Seven—or even to the long-forgotten story of a servant girl on the brink of the Great War?

What are the secrets The Seven are so desperate to keep hidden?

With the killer still on the loose and events spiralling out of control, the closer Ivan and Nell get to discovering the truth, the more dangerous their investigation becomes. Can they crack the case before more people die?

The Seven is a compelling thriller filled with intrigue, emotional depth and an evocative sense of place—where nothing is ever quite what it seems. Chris Hammer, the acclaimed and bestselling author of the international bestsellers Scrublands, Treasure & Dirt and The Tilt, can take his place among the world's finest crime writers. 

My Take

Three main time frames, 1913 just before the outbreak of World War One, 1934, and December 2022?

In the first Bessie Walker, part aboriginal girl, newly arrived to work at Three Wells Station begins the first of many letters to her mother. In the most recent time frame, Sergeant Ivan Lucic and Detective Constable Nell Buchanan have arrived at Yuwonderie to investigate the murder of local accountant Athol Hasluck, a lowly member of one of the founding families, The Seven. The district is the local fiefdom of MP Otto Titchfield, Federal member for Family First. Otto is also a member of The Seven.

In 1994 one of the heirs to The Seven and his girlfriend disappeared.

Underlying everything in this story is the importance of water and water rights, and everything the seven families (originally more) have done to control the rights to the water. For over 100 years, since the setting up of the local irrigation scheme, the heads of the seven families have done what has been needed to maintain their positions of privelege. And in the 21st century nothing has changed.

This is a demanding read, the reader having to keep their wits abut them and to remember details, names of characters, and connections. It is also the story of corruption, scams, the vulnerability of those who think they are invulnerable, and the burdens of living with "the dry".

For those who wondered what happened to him, Harley Snouch makes a reappearance. 

for those who make it through to the end, a twist you won't see coming.

My rating: 4.8

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1 November 2023

Review: TRACED, Catherine Jinks

Synopsis (publisher)

Jane is a contact tracer. She has to call a lot of people and some of them don’t want to talk. Various reasons – tax or immigration issues, infidelity. Domestic abuse.

Jane knows all about that. She and her daughter Tara have spent years in hiding from Tara’s manipulative and terrifying ex. Now, as Jane talks to a close contact, she realises the woman on the phone is scared of the same man – and he’s close. Too close.

Suddenly the past comes slamming back into the present as Jane realises she and Tara can’t keep running forever.

One day, they’re going to be found.

My Take

Jane is a Covid-19 contact tracer, one of those trying to prevent the virus becoming endemic in Australia. So far her work has preserved her anonymity, but then she comes across a victim of domestic violence who gives Jane enough clues as to the identity of her perpetrator, and to her horror, Jane knows him!

A very engrossing read.

My rating: 4.5

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Review: THE CORTADO CLUB, G. R. Jordan

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09NL676CT
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (February 20, 2022)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ February 20, 2022
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • #17 in the Highlands and Islands Detective Thrillers

Synopsis (Publisher)

An established coffee house with a reputation for excellence. A rapid surge in customers dying with froth on their lips. Can Macleod and McGrath discover the link between the clientele before the last cup is drunk?

When Macleod is called back to his Isle of Lewis roots, he finds the most sedate murders he has ever known. But for all the quietness and beauty in the method of dispatch, an evil seeks to destroy the community. With a subtlety Macleod finds hard to expose, the killer follows their path of perfect destruction. Can the Inspector thwart his most taxing nemesis yet?

Why take two shots when one will do? 

My Take

Set on MacLeod's home island of Lewis. Who is being targetted with these strange coffee cup poisonings?

Another in this series with an interesting plot and some interesting things to say about human relationships. Rewarding reads especially if you read them in order.

My rating: 4.5 

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Carpetless Publishing (31 October 2021)- Amazon
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 244 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1914073606
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1914073601
  • #16 in the Highlands and Islands Detective Thrillers

Synopsis (publisher)

A disturbed grave and a switched corpse. A new TV show and a quest for the truth. Can Macleod and McGrath bring an increasingly popular vigilante to justice before mob rule takes over?

When the first episodes of a new programme coincide with the discovery of corpse switching, Macleod believes the gaudy production is merely fuelling high jinks from a disaffected community. But when the presenter becomes a spokesperson for the lack of justice, the Inspector finds his casebook increases with previously thought innocent suspects. Can the team discover the connection between the weekly show and the spate of new killings before a growing clamour for justice becomes the prelude to kangaroo courts?

Make way for the public's arbiter of justice!

My Take

This story is set in Inverness. MacLeod's partner Jane is watching a new TV reality show - titled Where Justice Fails. The general idea is that there are crimes where the wrong person has been blamed, and a murderer is still at large. The television producers really want to prove that the police are incompetent.

The series begins with a disturbed grave, the former occupant disinterred and taken away, and a new body sitting on top of the grave. A sticker has been left on the side of the coffin, showing Lady Justice within a red circle with a bar across it.

I love the way this series comes up with interesting cases, at the same time as exploring the relationships between team members and incorporating new people in the team.

My rating: 4.6

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  • this edition supplied by my local library
  • published by Hachette Australia 2023
  • ISBN 978-0-7336-4942-4
  • 426 pages

Synopsis (Publisher)

A warm, uplifting story of female friendship, community and new beginnings from the beloved Sophie Green, the Top Ten bestselling author of The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle and The Bellbird River Country Choir.

Noosa Heads, 1987: Newly divorced Cynthia has returned to her home town from Los Angeles to reconnect with her 19-year-old daughter, who is pregnant and determined not to listen to her mother's advice. Cynthia's former best friend, Lorraine, has been stuck mowing lawns as part of a business she shares with her husband - his dream, not hers. When Cynthia convinces Lorraine to join the local Sunshine Gardening Society, they meet young widow Elizabeth, and rootless, heartbroken Kathy.

The four women soon discover the society is much more than an opportunity to chat about flowers. Rather, it offers them the chance to lend a helping hand to people whose lives need a bit of care and attention right along with their gardens.

Between pulling up weeds and planting natives, the women learn from each other that some roots go deep, and others shallow; that seeds can lie dormant for a long time before they spring to life, and that careful tending is the key to lives and friendships that reach their full potential. 

My Take

Let me point out first of all that this is not my usual fare of crime fiction.

I find that I can almost categorise Sophie Green's books as "comfort reads", realistic plots, focussed on life in Australian suburbs, women helping women cope with living quite ordinary lives, facing quite ordinary problems.

Mostly the characters in these books are verging on elderly and leading the sort of lives I see around me. The author seems to be able to focus on the nub of problems and suggest feel-good solutions.

My Rating: 4.5

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