Review: A Fatal Tide by Steve Sailah


Title: A Fatal Tide

Author: Steve Sailah

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status:  Read from July 22 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An intriguing mystery set amongst the trenches of Gallipoli, A Fatal Tide is an impressive novel from debut author, Steve Sailah.

Thomas Clare is just sixteen when he discovers his father’s decapitated body under a tree in the paddock behind their home. The investigating Sergeant insists Constable First Class Jack Clare, a Boer war veteran, committed suicide, miscalculating the length of rope needed to hang himself, but it is obvious to Tubbie Terrier, an aboriginal tracker and family friend, that Jack was not alone when he died. A soldier’s boot print on his father’s face, and a hidden wartime document with a handwritten notation, are the only clues Thomas has to identify his father’s killer and so with the idealism and optimism of youth, Thomas and his best friend Snow, enlist in the raging first World War to find Jack’s murderer.

” Oh, what an adventure it would be.”

A Fatal Tide tales place in perhaps one of the most unusual settings I have encountered in a mystery novel. Though it begins in the Queensland bush, the majority of the story is set in the trenches of Gallipoli barely a month after the historic ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Corps) landing in 1915.

Sailah vividly illustrates what Thomas experiences after his arrival in Gallipoli. Like many of the men, and boys, who enlisted, Thomas and Snow had no real understanding of the horror of war, expecting adventure and easy victories, only to find themselves ankle deep in mud, corpses and gore, eating flyblown food, battling dysentery and under near constant enemy fire.

It is only then that Thomas appreciates his naivete in going to war to search for the men who murdered his father, not that he is deterred, especially when it becomes obvious that the enemy lies not only across the wasteland of ‘no man’s land’ but also somewhere amongst the trenches forged to protect him. Someone is desperate to recover the document in Thomas’s possession which reveals the shocking truth about the events that led to the execution of ‘Breaker’ Morant thirteen years earlier in Africa.

Despite the grim realities of circumstance, Sailah lightens the tone of the novel with a focus on the bonds formed between the men who fight side by side with Thomas and Snow, and the eccentricities of their characters – Teach, who spouts philosophy, and quick witted and loud mouth, Kingy. Humour also comes from Thomas and Snow’s adulation of Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom Sailah references often during the novel.

Exploring the themes of duty, honour, mateship and humanity, Sailah weaves together a compelling story of war, friendship and murder in A Fatal Tide. It offers both an interesting mystery, and fascinating insight into the experiences of our Australian diggers in Gallipoli’s trenches.

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Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey


Title: Elizabeth is Missing

Author: Emma Healey

Published: Viking: Penguin Australia July 2014

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Status: Read on July 22, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth is Missing by debut author Emma Healey is a poignant and gripping mystery about loss, memory and murder.

The narrative unfolds from the unique perspective of Maud Horsham, an eighty two year old mother and grandmother, suffering from progressive dementia. Maud relies on carefully written notes, and daily visits from a carer and her daughter Helen, to remember the things she forgets, but increasingly Maud’s concerns have narrowed to the lack of contact from her closest friend, Elizabeth. While Helen, and others, dismiss her fears as a senile obsession, Maud is convinced something awful has happened and embarks on an investigation to find her missing friend.

Told with extraordinary insight into the complexities of a failing mind I was effortlessly drawn into Maud’s muddled world. It is not an easy space to inhabit, especially if you have witnessed a similar decline in a loved one as I have, or fear a similar fate, as I do. Fleeting instances of lucidity add to the poignancy of the narrative as Maud slips between the past and the present, between remembering and forgetting.

Entwined with Maud’s search for Elizabeth, and her everyday struggle with her failing memory, is a second narrative that reveals in 1946 Maud’s married older sister, Sukey, vanished without a trace. It soon becomes clear that Maud’s fears for her missing friend, Elizabeth, are tangled with the memories of Maud’s sister’s disappearance, and to solve one mystery, will be to solve the other.

The suspense of both mysteries are well maintained through out the novel and the past and present narratives flow seamlessly into each other. Despite the distressing nature of Maud’s illness there are also moments of humour which helps to temper the bleak realities.

A clever and compelling novel, I thought Elizabeth is Missing was an engrossing read with an unforgettable protagonist. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

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Review: Chasing the Ace by Nicholas J. Johnson

Title: Chasing the Ace

Author: Nicholas J. Johnson

Published: Simon and Schuster Au

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Status: Read from July 16 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Nicholas J. Johnson, who works as a performer, writer and consultant, exposing the world of con artists to the public to better protect themselves, has drawn on his knowledge and experience to author Chasing the Ace, his entertaining debut novel.

Told from dual first person narratives, Chasing The Ace introduces Richard, an ageing, world-weary con ‘artiste’ and Joel, a young, wannabe grifter who meet on the streets of Melbourne. Richard, contemplating retirement, decides to take Joel under his wing and the pair form a profitable alliance. Joel is eager to learn all he can, and is thrilled when the money starts rolling in, but when they accidentally scam an off duty cop, neither man is sure if they will be able to con their way out of trouble.

The novel is fast paced, with enough excitement and a few surprising turns to maintain suspense. I have to admit I didn’t predict the final twist, but found it a satisfying ending to the story, which also provides potential for a sequel.

I thought the main protagonists were well developed, with interesting backgrounds and distinct voices. Richard is jaded and cynical, Joel is initially enthusiastic and idealistic though slowly becomes increasingly disillusioned by the realities of the lifestyle, having fed his expectations with a diet of classic con movies like ‘The Sting’ and ‘Rounders’.

I might have been more impressed overall had I not just finished binge watching the entire series of Leverage, an American TV program about a crew who pull off sophisticated and complex cons in each episode. By contrast, the cons run in Chasing the Ace seem inelegant and somewhat distasteful, even if far more realistic.

A quick and entertaining read, I enjoyed Chasing the Ace…honestly.

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Review: Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe


Title: Letters to My Daughter’s Killer

Author: Cath Staincliffe

Published: C&R Crime: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“I hate you. My first letter, and that is all I want to say. I hate you. But those three words can barely convey the depth, the breadth, the soaring height of this hatred.”

Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe is a story of grief, anger and heartbreak, beginning with the brutal murder of a young wife and mother and exploring the consequences for those that loved her.

It unfolds in a series of letters written by Ruth Sutton to the man who bludgeoned her precious daughter, Lizzie, to death, four years earlier. In a desperate bid to recover some equilibrium, Ruth hopes that by writing to the killer, and asking him for answers to the questions that haunt her, she can purge herself of the fury that threatens to destroy her soul.

As Ruth relives the horror that began with a phone call, Staincliffe portrays the raw reactions of a grieving mother to her daughter’s violent murder with skill and compassion, exposing the shock and bewilderment which slowly gives way to anger and heartache as Ruth is forced to deal with the strain of the aftermath, including caring for her young grand daughter, and the police investigation, the killer’s capture, and the trial that follows.

Intense, shocking and poignant, Letters to My Daughter’s Killer is an emotionally taxing read.


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Weekend Cooking: Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry


I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.


Title: Chinese Cooking For Diamond Thieves

Author: Dave Lowry

Published:  Mariner Books: Haughton Mifflin Harcourt July 2014

Status: Read from July 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I’m not sure exactly why I decided to take a chance on this novel but I am so glad I did. Funny, clever and fresh, Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry is a fabulously entertaining blend of mystery, action, a touch of awkward romance, and Chinese cooking.

Having been kicked out of college just before graduation, Tucker is heading home to Missouri in his aging Toyota when he crosses paths with the attractive and enigmatic Corrine Chang, making her way from Canada to Buffalo, NY, at a deserted rest stop. In the absence of any real goal, Tucker offers Corrine a ride, surprising her with his ability to speak Mandarin, and being surprised in turn when he intercepts a threatening phone call. Corrine, it seems, is on the run from a Chinese gang convinced she has $15 million dollars worth of diamonds missing from her employer’s store. Despite her protestations of innocence, the gang follows them all the way to St Louis, as intent on capturing Corinne, as Tucker, with a little help from the FBI, is at stopping them.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is fast paced with plenty of action and intrigue, and just enough exaggeration to entertain. Snappy dialogue, liberally laced with sarcasm, is delivered with expert timing.

Lowry’s protagonist is an unusual guy. The son of white upper middle class parents (his father a retired agent of some description), Tucker practices xing-i, speaks Mandarin (and a little Cantonese) and cooks Chinese food, real Chinese food, with the skill of a native. He is simultaneously a tough guy capable of crippling an enemy with an economy of movement, and achingly vulnerable and self deprecating. The contradiction works perfectly to create a charming, quirky hero, who is supported by an equally appealing cast.

For foodies, there are plenty of tips for cooking authentic Chinese food, and a glimpse into the inner workings of a Chinese restaurant kitchen.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is probably best described as a crime caper given the elements of humour, adventure and the offbeat characters. I thought it was witty, clever and interesting and recommend it without hesitation.

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The few Chinese dishes I cook are unapologetically westernised versions and fairly simple ones at that. Today I thought I’d share one of my favourites, with apologies to Tucker, and Dave Lowry.

Oven Baked Chicken Spring Rolls



1 kg barbecued or roast chicken, finely shredded
1 large can of corn kernels
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp finely grated ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
5 tbs soy sauce
1 pkt frozen spring roll wrappers
1/4 cup (60ml) peanut oil


Preheat oven to 200°C.

In a bowl combine shredded chicken, corn kernels, onions, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce

Lay out a spring roll wrapper with a point facing towards you. Place 2 tablespoonfuls of chicken mixture on pastry then fold pastry over filling once. Fold in side corners. Brush far corner with water then roll up tightly. Repeat with remaining filling and pastry.

Place spring rolls on an oven tray. Brush with peanut oil then bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Serve with fried rice and/or a dipping sauce of your choice

spring rolls

Review & Giveaway: Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie


Title: Colours of Gold

Author: Kaye Dobbie

Published: Harlequin MIRA April 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 06 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie, also known as Sara Bennett and Lilly Sommers, is a captivating tale combining mystery, romance, history and a touch of ‘other’.

With the narrative alternating between the past and the present, Colours of Gold tells the story of a small girl found near death in a sealed barrel in the Murray River in 1867 and her connection to a present day art restorer’s discovery of a Trompe L’oeil in an old Melbourne hotel scheduled for demolition.

From the opening chapters of the historical timeline I was intrigued by the mysteries introduced by the author, namely the identity of the young girl rescued from the river, her extraordinary ability to see colours (aura) that warn her of a persons mood, misfortune or illness, and her fear of a tall man in a long dark coat that haunts her, day and night. Moving from the banks of the Murray, through the dusty streets of gold rush towns and finally to Melbourne, Dobbie deftly evokes the character and landscape of the historical period as Alice, and friend Rosey, struggle to escape their dark pasts, in hopes of creating a brighter future.

In the contemporary timeline, Annie Reuben is excited by the challenge presented by the conservation of the Trompe L’oeil found in the basement of the old Goldminer Hotel and intrigued by the people and the scenes it depicts, especially the figures of two young girls in the foreground. Despite the threat of interference by History Victoria, and a looming financial crisis, Annie is determined to solve the mystery of the painting, and find out what the sudden appearance of a man in a long dark coat means for her, and her daughter.

Well written, I thought the alternating chapters were particularly well structured, each advancing the story and merging neatly at the conclusion. Suspense is built carefully during the course of the novel, with the pace quickening as Alice and Annie get closer to solving the mysteries that concern them.

An entertaining and interesting novel, with appealing characters, I was surprised at how quickly I became invested in the story of Colours of Gold and how reluctant I was to put it down. This was a great read for me.

For your chance to WIN one of two copies of Colours of Gold CLICK HERE {open worldwide}


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Review: Marble Bar by Robert Schofield



Title: Marble Bar

Author: Robert Schofield

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2014

Status: Read from June 17 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy (courtesy the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Marble Bar is the sequel to Robert Schofield’s debut novel, Heist, featuring mining engineer, Gareth Ford.

It has been a year since Ford was framed for the multi million dollar robbery of the Gwardar Gold Mine and narrowly escaped the murderous attentions of the real thieves, corrupt Gold Squad officers, vicious bikies and his ex-wife, Dianne. Now working at an iron ore mine in Newman while caring for his six year old daughter, Ford assumes the worst is behind them until he realises he is being tailed by two dangerous looking men, his lodger is murdered and he receives a desperate call from his ex-wife begging him to meet her. Gareth needs to get out of town, his daughter wants to see her mum and Kavanaugh wants to find the gold so they head to Marble Bar …… and straight into trouble.

There are glimpses of the sharp humour, and exaggerated action I enjoyed in Heist, but Marble Bar has a more serious tone and less energy than its predecessor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not quite what I was expecting. Marble Bar is closer to a traditional crime/action novel with a more realistic storyline and less flamboyant characterisation.

Ford seems subdued during much of this instalment. I think that this is mainly attributable to his emotional turmoil with regard to his ex wife, and while I did admire Ford’s determination to preserve the relationship between Dianne and their daughter, I thought his angst got in the way of the story somewhat.

With Ford unsure of his feelings, and worried about Dianne’s safety, Kavanaugh is forced to take the lead in most situations the pair face in Marble Bar. Kavanaugh is willing to humour Dianne for the chance to recover the gold, but she is utterly unimpressed with Ford’s angst regarding his wife’s behaviour, and convinced Dianne’s plea for help is just another con. This causes considerable tension between Ford and Kavanaugh, complicated by their mutual attraction and the twists of the plot.

I especially liked setting of this story. Marble Bar is a tiny West Australian Pilbara town with a population of about 200 people which regularly experiences some of the highest temperatures in the country. It seems an unlikely setting for a crime novel, but Schofield makes it work.

Marble Bar is well paced with a solidly developed storyline and I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar characters. I enjoyed Marble Bar, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected based on reading Heist, and I am looking forward to the third title to tie up some of the remaining loose ends.

 Learn more about Marble Bar and Robert Schofield in the Q&A posted earlier here at Book’d Out.


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Feature Q&A with Robert Schofield, author of Heist and Marble Bar

Schofield, Robert - credit Ross Swanborough


I’m excited to introduce you to author Robert Schofield today.

After graduating with a degree in engineering from Cambridge University, Robert worked as a structural engineering consultant, designing signature architecture including East Croydon Station, The Eden Project, Madrid Airport, Lichfield Theatre, and the London Imax Theatre. He then travelled to Australia, and finding no call for creative architectural engineering in Perth, adapted his skills to the mining and offshore industries. For the last twelve years Robert has been working in the gold industry. using whatever time he has left after working, writing, and wrangling three young children,  reading, cycling, kayaking on the Blackwood River, or maintaining his scooter: a beautiful 1972 Vespa Rally.

This month Robert is celebrating the release of his second novel, Marble Bar, a sequel to  Heist {Allen & Unwin 2013), an entertaining and action packed debut crime novel featuring Gareth Ford set in the Western Australia’s goldfields.

“Gareth Ford, with a cloud still hanging over him because of his involvement in the Gwardar Gold Heist, has decided to make a new beginning in the iron mines of Newman. But when he returns home from the night shift and finds his flatmate has been murdered, suspicion quickly falls upon him. He, however, fears he himself was the real target and soon discovers he is being tailed. He summons his old ally from the Gold Squad, DC Rose Kavanagh, and soon they find themselves in Marble Bar, searching for the Gwardar Gold and being pursued by a variety of desperadoes, each with their own agendas.”

I was given the opportunity to ask Robert a few questions, and I am happy to share his answers with you today. Read on to learn more about Robert Schofield and Marble Bar…

Q:What five words do you think best describe Marble Bar?
RS: A hot, sweaty, rollicking crime thriller.

Q: What inspired the plot of Marble Bar?
RS: This book is the sequel to my first novel: Heist. It follows my characters north into the Pilbara. A few years back, I went to Marble Bar for the first time; I’d been visiting a mine site up there and spent an afternoon drinking at the Ironclad Hotel.
Marble Bar’s claim to fame is that it is the hottest town in Australia. They have a sign there that tells you this, with a digital read-out that displays the current temperature. It takes a special kind of person to live there. You need to be mad as a cut snake.
As I started to read more about Marble Bar, I found there was a wealth of stories from the distant and recent past, any one of which could have been the spark for a book. I made another trip up there, and as I stood in the Ironclad the locals told me their own stories about things that never made the history books.
I wrote a little piece for a newspaper last month about writing. I said that you have to write about something that you care about; an idea that’s burning fiercely inside your head; because you’re going to be shut in a room on your own with that idea for a year or more, and it has to stay alight for all that time.
Marble Bar was founded during the gold rush at the end of the nineteenth century, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century it finds itself surrounded by the iron ore boom; but it has barely touched the town. It made me think about who should benefit from the mineral wealth lying under Australia: should it be the multinational mining companies, the Chinese steel mills, the super-rich entrepreneurs, the men and women sweating in the mines, the taxpayer, the general public, or the traditional owners? The book was an attempt to explore that question.

Q: What traits do you wish you shared with your protagonist, Gareth Ford?
RS: Unfortunately there is rather too much of me in Gareth Ford as it is. I’d rather I shared a bit less with him. Thankfully I don’t drink as much as he does, and I don’t have nearly as much bad luck.

Q: Why choose the mining towns of WA as the setting for your stories?
RS: I first went to Kalgoorlie in 1990. I’d met a girl in London who told me she came from this wild gold-mining town stranded out in the Western Australian desert, and I followed her there. I am from a cold and wet town in the north of England and the promise of unblemished blue skies was too strong to resist. So there I was, this pale Pom, standing in the front bar of the York Hotel during Race Round, the sun blaring down on the wide street outside, watching the barmaid knock the head off my beer with her bare breast. I thought I’d stepped into the Wild West. It was the exact opposite of everything I had experienced before: the sun was hotter, the beer was colder, and the people were warm. It was three parts heaven and two parts hell.
Two years later I met a different girl, and this time I fell in love. When she told me she came from Kalgoorlie as well I started to think the town had got some sort of a hold on me. A few years after we were married , I switched career into the mining industry, and found myself in the Goldfields again, working as a consulting engineer on the mines. Kalgoorlie had got me. I have been going back regularly ever since, sometimes for work, and sometimes for pleasure. I feel I have a connection to the place.

Q: Has your approach to writing changed between the publication of your debut, Heist and Marble Bar?
RS: Marble Bar was the Difficult Second Novel. I had to prove that the first novel was not a fluke, and I had to do it to a deadline. If you’ve poured everything into your first novel, what can be left for the second? It’s only natural that on the second visit to the well, you might find that it’s gone dry. This of course is why publishers offer two-book deals. They understand that it is the second book that separates the professional from the dilettante.
I wrote my first book in complete freedom, with no expectation of publication. It was just something to keep a restless mind occupied. This second one had a whole lot more riding on it, and I had to learn a different approach. It taught me discipline.

Q: Which writers do you most admire?
RS: When I started my first book I was influenced by American writers: Elmore Leonard, James Crumley, George V. Higgins, Donald Westlake., and by British writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Ted Lewis. I’m now slowly working my way through the Australian crime canon, and enjoying Kenneth Cook and Gary Disher.
I still have a love of the American Beat Writers and Charles Bukowski, and will re-read them every few years. My guilty pleasure is the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Peter O’Brian.

Q: What are you currently reading?
RS: I usually have three books on the go at any one time.
I will have a non-fiction book, usually connected to my research, and I read this at my desk. Currently this is ‘Beautiful Shadow’, a biography of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson.
I’ll also be reading a crime thriller, and this book sits at my bedside. I consider it to be research too, trying to keep up with what’s happening. I’m currently reading ‘Sweet One’ by Peter Docker, a cracker of a crime story set in the WA Goldfields.
And finally I’ll read something else, just for me. I usually have this on my Kindle in my pocket, for those joyous bits of stolen reading time. I’ve just started ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’, the autobiography of punk guitarist Viv Albertine.

Q: What are you working on now, or what can we expect next?
RS: I’m currently working on a sequel, the final part of the Gareth Ford trilogy, which I am doing as part of a Doctorate in Creative Writing at Curtin University. As if I hadn’t got enough on my plate working full time and wrangling three kids, I thought I’d set myself another challenge.

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Also available

Review: Currawong Manor by Josephine Pennicott


Title: Currawong Manor

Author: Josephine Pennicott

Read an exclusive excerpt posted earlier at Book’d Out

Published: Pan Macmillan June 2014

Status: Read from June 09 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An atmospheric novel of mystery, drama and tragedy, Currawong Manor has a similar tone and premise to author Josephine Pennicott’s previous novel, Poet’s Cottage.

Photographer Elizabeth Thorrington has always been eager to learn more about her grandfather, Rupert Partridge, a well known, controversial artist who mysteriously vanished in 1945 on the same day his beloved daughter, Shalimar, and wife Doris, met their tragic deaths. Invited by the current owners of Currawong Manor, the Partridge’s former estate, to collaborate on a book about her grandfather’s life and art, Elizabeth is excited by the opportunity to meet with one of Rupert’s notorious muses, Ginger Flower, and Dolly Shaw, the daughter of the Partridge’s housekeeper, once Shalimar’s playmate. Elizabeth is convinced these women know what happened on that fateful day and hopes they will share the secrets they have kept for more than half a century… but perhaps some mysteries are best left unsolved.

The narrative moves between the past and the present as Elizabeth, along with true crime writer, and former muso, Nick Cash begin to piece together the history of the manor and its former residents, aided by Ginger’s recall of her time at Currawong Manor as one of Rupert’s three life models, known as the ‘Flowers’. Slowly Pennicott unravels an intriguing story of love, art, scandal and betrayal that reveals the truth of the tragedy that befell the Partridge family.

The writing is evocative, with lyrical phrasing creating a haunting, oppressive atmosphere. Set in Mt Bellbird, a small village in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, there are definite gothic overtones to this novel. The grand, partially restored Currawong Manor looms from the bush, surrounded by barely tamed gardens and bordered by the forbidding Owlbone Woods, in which something unseen lurks.

An impressively crafted literary story, Currawong Manor is an absorbing and dramatic tale.

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AWW Feature: Exclusive Excerpt from Currawong Manor by Josephine Pennicott


Josephine Pennicott is a multi award-winning writer in the crime genre. Her story Birthing The Demons won the 2001 Scarlet Stiletto, and in 2012 she became one of only five writers to win a second Scarlet Stiletto with the story Shadows. Josephine has also won the Kerry Greenwood Domestic Malice Prize twice, with Hail Mary (2003) and Tadpole (2004). Josephine’s previous novels were in the dark fantasy genre:  Circle Of Nine (2001), Bride Of The Stone (2003) and A Fire In The Shell (2004). Circle Of Nine was named as one of 2001′s best debut novels in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (Terri Windling & Ellen Datlow, editors). A Fire In The Shell was shortlisted for Best Horror Novel in the 2005 Aurealis Awards. Poet’s Cottage, a haunting mystery of families, bohemia, fairy-tales, truth, creativity, lies, murder and memory, set in 1930s Australia and the present day, was published in 2012 by Pan Macmillan.

Today celebrates the release of Josephine’s latest novel, Currawong Manor, described as,  an evocative tale set in the spectacular Blue Mountains, Currawong Manor is a mystery of art, truth and the ripple effects of death and deception, and I have an exclusive excerpt to share in advance of the review I plan to post later today. Enjoy!

Currawong Manor

The Currawong Manor estate included Owlbone Woods, three hundred acres of bushland with a beautifully forested glen and a waterfall on a fork of Baxter’s river in Megalong Valley. Of particular interest to Elizabeth, the Mermaid Glen waterfall at Weeping Rocks featured several of Rupert’s statues. Always privately owned, the property had never been a tourist attraction, although Holly was now hoping to open it up to the public. Scraps of information Elizabeth had gathered from her mother over the years suggested the locals of Mount Bellwood avoided Owlbone Woods as an unlucky place. Not only had Shalimar Partridge drowned at the glen, but Rupert had also gone missing somewhere there after her death. ‘It’s only fifteen minutes’ drive from Mount Bellwood,’ said Elizabeth, checking her watch, ‘but it feels as if we’re in the middle of nowhere. Can you imagine how much more isolated it must have felt in Rupert’s time? The constant worry of bushfires in summer must have worn them down.’
‘I still find it odd that Lois won’t come near the place,’ Fleur said.
‘There’s no way Mum would return,’ Elizabeth said. ‘She gets angry every time I mention it. I’ve given up trying to convince her. But I always found the woods in Rupert’s work magical. And years ago I came up here to visit Mermaid Glen and found it haunting but really beautiful. I’m hoping to photograph it now and try to capture its menacing quality.’ It had been years, too, since Elizabeth had seen inside the manor itself. Just before Lois sold it she had reluctantly agreed to bring Elizabeth along when she came up here to collect a few things. The day had ended badly with Lois becoming morose and bitter about her childhood, but Elizabeth always remembered how wonderfully whimsical the house was, and she was both excited and anxious about seeing it again.
The two women shared a strange reverie as the bumpy unsealed road gave way to Woodswallow Lane. A few minutes later, they came to a long driveway flanked by bloodwood and tea trees. A worn white signpost read Currawong Manor. Beneath it in red paint was the freshly painted graffiti: The Ruins.
‘I even found it referred to as the Ruins in the Mountains Tourist guide,’ Fleur commented as she paused the car and gazed at the picturesque entrance.
‘The locals have always called it the Ruins, apparently,’ Elizabeth replied. ‘Not just because it’s fallen into ruins, but because it ruins lives. You already know about the tragedy around Shalimar’s death – my grandmother hit by the train the night her daughter died, my grandfather disappearing. But there’s more to it. After Rupert’s parents – my great-grandparents – lost their favourite son to the war, Rupert’s father, Reg, either killed himself or disappeared, and his mother, Ivy, shut herself away in one of the rooms and barely ventured out.’
As Fleur turned the car into the driveway, Elizabeth fell silent, reflecting that Kitty’s death could perhaps also be attributed to the Ruins’ curse. And it had left its indelible mark on Lois, too; after the tragic happenings to her family in the 1940s, Elizabeth’s mother, barely a month old, had been taken into foster care, enduring a series of different homes until she’d been old enough to make her own way in the world. Little wonder she seemed incapable of compassion or tenderness.
Shaking off the familiar bitterness, Elizabeth continued, ‘It’s all so penny-dreadful. The manor was originally the home of an eccentric Englishman, Reverend Greenman. It’s all going to be in the book. The Shaws are determined to include as much Gothic drama as they can.’ In preparation for the book, Holly had been flat out interviewing locals, trying to unearth scandal, ghosts and mayhem – not only related to the Ruins but also Mount Bellwood in general.
‘Holly must have some money to have taken on Currawong Manor,’ Fleur said. ‘But people love creepy old homes with secrets festering within them. I don’t think she’s a fool, Elizabeth. Just be careful she doesn’t use your family history to make her own fortune!’
‘I wish we’d been able to keep the manor in the family, but Mum wasn’t interested and it needs too much renovation,’ Elizabeth said ruefully. ‘Holly and Bob must have more money than sense, but Holly seems determined to turn both the Ruins and Mount Bellwood into a thriving artistic community. At least she does care about the art side of things. The previous owners couldn’t have given a rat’s about Rupert and his work. Holly sold her gallery in London as well as their flat to buy the manor. That’s how obsessed she became with Rupert.’
After proceeding slowly along the driveway, shadowed by the overhanging trees, they now reached a crumbling drystone wall and rusted iron-lace gates guarded by two large, chipped, moss-covered stone lions. One had lost its head.
‘Well, there it is,’ Elizabeth said, her voice quivering. ‘Currawong Manor.’
At the end of the carriage drive was a large two-storey bluestone home, flanked by wattles and gum trees. The house resembled an English vicarage, the afternoon sun highlighting the romantic splendour of the stones. Dark-green ivy smothered most of the facade, though it had been carefully clipped away from a vivid blue front door. Up the left side of the house ran an old rusted iron staircase, which Elizabeth knew didn’t go anywhere. A verandah with iron railings ran around the manor’s entire circumference, its deep shade dotted at intervals by chairs and wooden barrel tubs of wildflowers. The roof was red slate with parapet lines, and on one side only, a couple of odd-looking turrets. Several saffron-yellow brick chimneys and large Gothic-style windows added to the otherworldliness of the place, while wooden tubs of lavender and cascading trellis roses mingling with the dark ivy lent a more traditional charm.
‘It’s beautiful!’ Fleur exclaimed. ‘It’d make a perfect location for weddings or a film. I can see why Holly loves it so much. It’s like something from a fairytale. Shame Lois didn’t want to hang on to it – though I suppose you can’t blame her.’
They parked behind Bob’s red Commodore and a Landrover and climbed out of the car. ‘It’s magical, isn’t it?’ Elizabeth said. ‘Even the air smells enchanted!’ She inhaled deeply, looking at the house with a yearning expression. ‘Everything is so much what it shouldn’t be, but it all works together in a strange, mysterious way. Mum hated it, said it gave her nightmares.’ She glanced up to examine the towers.
‘What are you looking at?’ Fleur opened the boot to remove Elizabeth’s bags.
‘The currawongs,’ Elizabeth said. ‘Be careful with that red bag,’ she warned, taking the bag from Fleur. ‘It’s got my lenses in it. You know the old story about when the currawongs gather in numbers on the towers of the Ruins? It’s meant to indicate a death or birth of one of the manor’s inhabitants. That’s another reason Mum avoids the place. She believes all the old superstitions about it.’
‘And you don’t?’ Fleur asked.
Elizabeth screwed up her face as she continued to examine the towers. ‘When I did my Northern Territory book, The Magic Dirt, I spoke with Aboriginal people who claimed there are places we shouldn’t enter as they can lead you into other worlds – or just really bad things happened there because of old curses or the soil being tainted by bad magic. Hanging Rock in Victoria is meant to be one such spot. But currawongs foretelling death? I’d have to see it to believe it.’
She was interrupted by Holly opening the front door. ‘I knew I heard your car! I just told Bob to pop the kettle on. Come in. Welcome to Currawong Manor!’

© Copyright PanMacmillan Australia, 2014. Published with permission.

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