Review: Taken by Dinuka McKenzie

 

Title: Taken {Detective Kate Miles #2}

Author: Dinuka McKenzie

Published: 1st February 2023, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read 2023 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Taken is the second thrilling book to feature Detective Sergeant Kathryn Miles who was introduced in Dinuka McKenzie’s bestselling debut, Torrent.

Picking up several months after the dramatic final scenes of the previous book, Kate has just returned to work following maternity leave and is eager to return to active duty. A domestic disturbance call gives Kate the opportunity she needs to prove herself ready, and results in her being assigned as co-lead detective in an infant abduction.

Four month old Sienna Ricci, her mother, Ellisa reports, was taken from her home while she showered. As the team investigates, Kate’s partner becomes convinced the baby’s father, Aaron Ricci, is responsible for the abduction and she is taken off the case, even though Kate believes she has a viable alternative suspect in Jason Veliu, a violent man Kate recently had cause to arrest.

With a child’s well-being at stake, the tension is high in Taken. The plot is well thought out with several red herrings, though I found it relatively easy to discern who was responsible early on. The story has good momentum and there is action too as Kate finds herself risking her life in two separate confrontations with desperate people. Sensitive readers should be aware that domestic violence, adultery and postnatal depression are among the issues that are raised in the crimes Kate is investigating.

Kate is under a lot of personal pressure in Taken. While struggling with the effects of PTSD, she is also trying to find a balance between the needs of her husband and children, and the demands of her career. On top of this, the media have picked up on a story involving her father’s late partner’s business activity which could implicate them both in a corruption scandal, amplifying her concerns about the family’s finances. Determined not to be seen as lacking, Kate doesn’t always make sensible decisions, but she acts for the right reason.

Suspenseful, fast paced and gripping, Taken is an excellent read, perfect for fans of Australian crime fiction from authors such as Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Emma Viskic.

++++++++

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Review: Headland by John Byrnes

 

Title: Headland

Author: John Byrnes

Published: 10th January 2023, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Is pulp rural noir fiction a thing? If not perhaps Headland by Australian author John Byrnes is the first of its kind. Dark, lurid, gritty and violent, this debut novel includes elements of both crime fiction subgenres, if you don’t know what to expect, Headland is likely to shock.

Detective Senior Constable Craig Watson is the novel’s compromised protagonist, a drug addict whose poor performance has seen him exiled to a small coastal town hours from Sydney, to relieve a colleague. He’s not a character that endears himself to anyone, seemingly corrupted by his habit, and the slow revelation of a twisted relationship that haunts him, even a shred of redemption seems impossible, at least at the outset.

It’s already been raining for days when Craig arrives in Gloster, but he isn’t given any time to settle in. The town is on flood watch, there’s a missing teenage girl who could be a runaway or the victim of a kidnapping, a recent fatal accident that’s declared not to be an accident, and an assault on a councillor. Even high, Craig quickly recognises that something is off in Gloster, including the behaviour of his station boss, Sergeant Thomas Philby, and begins to unravel a conspiracy of corruption, fraud, sexual exploitation and murder.

The action in the story really gets underway after the river breaks it banks, and Craig, along with his colleagues Constables Ellie Cameron and Larissa Brookes, find they have been left behind in the evacuation. They think they are alone until Ellie vanishes leaving behind a trail of blood, and it becomes clear they are trapped with a desperate killer. The momentum then rarely lets up with daring rescues, furious gun battles, and brutal confrontations fraught with tension. The driving rain creates a close atmosphere, the town Byrnes describes is laid out much like my own, and I almost expected to look up from the book’s pages to see the streets flooding (as they do once or twice a year).

Be aware however, there are several confronting, and even affronting, characters and scenes in Headland. Few in the cast come off well, particularly those who we are usually predisposed to trust, and there are quite graphic descriptions of misogyny, abuse, violence, sex, and sexual assault, all of which is expected from the pulp genre.

Headland may not appeal to everyone but I found it aggressive, fast paced and gripping, I couldn’t put it down.

++++++++

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Review: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland

Title: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson

Author: Lisa Ireland

Published: 10th January 2023, Michael Joseph

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Penguin Books Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a charming and uplifting novel from Australian author Lisa Ireland.

Once a sought after Broadway/West End performer and television star, seventy-eight year old Dolly Jamieson spends her days in a London library, and her nights in a stranger’s rarely used shed. There’s little danger of her being recognised as no one wishes to look too closely at the homeless, in fact most people choose to ignore her. Dolly tries not to take offence, she knows she doesn’t look, or smell, her best but she misses being seen.

When Jane Leveson stumbles into the library, looking lost and on the verge of tears, Dolly feels compelled to reach out and offer the woman comfort. Jane sees past Dolly’s worn coat and unkempt hair and their conversation sparks a connection that grows as Jane offers to help Dolly turn her scribbled notes into a memoir.

With a dual timeline that shifts smoothly between the past and present, we learn how Dolly, born Margie Ferguson in Geelong, Victoria, overcame hardship and tragedy in her determination to become a star, and the subsequent trajectory of her life. Despite the ills that have befallen her, and the mistakes she has made, Dolly is a delightful character, and admire her optimism.

As she and Jane work together to tell Dolly’s story Ireland reveals more about what is troubling Jane. Dolly’s gentle sympathy and nonjudgmental attitude is a balm to Jane who is struggling under the weight of her own regrets. Ireland stunned me with the reveal of Jane’s whole story, it a was very unexpected and hit hard.

Ireland addresses a number of sensitive issues in the novel including adoption and suicide, but particularly highlights the shocking increase in homelessness amongst women aged 65 and over, and includes a note that outlines the extent of the problem.

Written with warmth, tenderness and humour, The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a really lovely read.

++++++++

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Review: Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic

 

Title: Just Murdered {Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries #1}

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 10th January, Poisoned Pen Press

Status: Read January courtesy Poisoned Pen Press/Netgalley

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A screen to book adaption by Katherine Kovacic of the first episode of the Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries television series (written by Deb Cox and created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger), which itself was inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the TV series, which is based on the Phryne Fisher mystery books by Kerry Greenwood, Just Murdered is a delightful murder mystery set during the 1960’s in Victoria Australia introducing Ms Peregrine Fisher, the niece of Miss Phryne Fisher.

“She had never been one to play by the rules—at least, not unless they suited her.”

When Peregrine Fisher discovers an oft forwarded letter addressed to her late mother that requests a meeting with regards to an inheritance, her first instinct is to dismiss it as a joke, but at a loose end, having been fired that same day from her position in a hairdressing salon, Peregrine decides to accept the invitation. Upon her rather dramatic arrival at The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes, Peregrine is informed that her mother’s estranged half sister, Phryne Fisher, is missing in Papua New Guinea, presumed dead, and Peregrine is her heir.

“I’ve tried hard all my life to be someone or belong somewhere…”

The murder of a young model at Blair’s Emporium, for which one of the Adventuresses is under suspicion, is just the opportunity Peregrine needs to prove herself to The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes. She has big shoes to fill but it’s soon evident that though Peregrine may lack the sophistication of her aunt, she is just as bold, clever and resourceful. A genuine delight, I love her sassy attitude. Much like her aunt Peregrine refuses to be told who she is and what she is capable of, especially by men.

“Now I just have to convince Birdie and the rest of the Adventuresses that I can do my aunt’s old job. I mean, it’s not really that hard, is it?”

I enjoyed the well plotted mystery for which there several suspects. Another murder increases the stakes, especially for Peregrine, who then goes undercover to expose to the truth, despite being forcefully warned off by Chief Inspector Sparrow and Detective James Steed of Central Police.

The writing is a great reflection of the television episode, and I thought Kovacic translated the characters and events well to the page. She captures the entertaining balance of humour and tension that is the appeal of this series. The settings are well rendered, and the sense of time and place are distinct.

I expect fans of the original Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries will enjoy this spin off as I have. You can stream Seasons 1 and 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV in several countries, but I would welcome continuing print instalments of this series.

++++++++

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Review: The Knighton Women’s Compendium by Denise Picton

 

Title: The Knighton Women’s Compendium

Author: Denise Picton

Published: 4th January 2023, Ultimo Press

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Ultimo Press

++++++++

My Thoughts:

“Every generation of women has to work out how to think and act in the world.”

The Knighton Women’s Compendium is a heartwarming novel about family, feminism and personal fulfilment from Australian author Denise Picton.

Told largely from the perspective of twelve year old Holly, The Knighton Women’s Compendium is set in Clare Valley, South Australia in 1982. Here, Holly lives in Wakefield Hall, a large, somewhat dilapidated country house with her ‘Greaty’ (Dorothy), her Gran (Flora), and her mother, Lucy. The arrangement generally suits the older three generations of widowed women, Flora earns just enough to allow them to keep body and soul together, and as Lucy is often ill with a condition that has yet to be diagnosed, Greaty and Gran help to take care of Holly. Holly dreams of becoming a famous dancer and befriending her idol, Olivia Newton John, so when she learns of a dance marathon to be held in Adelaide she persuades her family to let her enter. If Holly wins, the money will pay for the braces she needs, but her goal is to be noticed and become a star.

Rather unexpectedly, Holly’s entry into the marathon triggers change amongst her family which threatens to divide them. I really enjoyed the dynamics between the women, their love for one another is evident but they don’t always see eye to eye, leading to plenty of tension. As Holly focuses on winning the competition, Lucy, a romantic, is torn between two very different suitors; Flora, who loves a cause, begins organising a social justice campaign that could derail the marathon much to Holly’s horror; and Dorothy, the keeper of the The (Knighton) Women’s Annual, is worried she hasn’t done enough to ensure her kin’s happiness.

Several quirky supporting characters add charm to the narrative, including Holly’s best friend Barry, who has a unique way with words, and a postman who randomly gets attached to pieces of mail he is supposed to deliver. The Knighton women have their enemies too, namely a selfish, spurned suitor and a judgemental bigot, both of whom attempt to sabotage the marathon, as well as a cheeky ostentation of peacocks.

The Knighton Women’s Compendium is quite a busy story, not only is there quite a large cast, Picton touches on a number of social issues. I like the generational angle messages the author about being true to yourself and taking each day as it comes. I do think extracts of Greaty’s entries to the Annual may have enhanced the narrative.

With its warmth, wit and wisdom, The Knighton Women’s Compendium is an engaging read, with generational appeal.

++++++++

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Review: Lockdown by Janna Thompson

 

Title: Lockdown

Author: Janna Thompson

Published: 1st October 2022, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Clan Destine Press

++++++++


My Thoughts:

 

“I imagined recruiting a gang of old women to be undercover agents.  What would they be called: the Grey Ghosts, the White Spectres, the Senior Sleuths or the Killer Crones? I decided that final name wouldn’t be right. My gang would not commit murder; the Grey Ghosts would be a force for good.”

Professor Janna Thompson, one of Australia’s most eminent philosophers with expertise in environmental ethics, feminism and global justice, who published many scholarly articles and books during her career, was also a life long crime fiction fan. Lockdown has been published posthumously after her untimely death in mid 2022.

Set in Melbourne in early 2020, Lockdown is an entertaining mystery told from the alternating perspectives of unassuming retired philosophy lecturer Meg Thorne, and Jenny Mueller, a woman confined to a bed in a nursing home.

Meg is the founding member of the Grey Ghosts, a group of three women who have created their own detective agency. As women of a certain age, Meg, Lila Gatti and Dorothy Arden have learnt they are often overlooked or ignored in most situations and as such are excellent at subterfuge. Having already successfully assisted in exposing a fraudster, the women are confident they can help when they are asked to investigate Sunnyvale Residential and Care Home, which houses a mix of permanent and temporary residents, by a son worried about his mother, Sara Brighouse.

As the eldest and frailest of the group, Meg is the obvious choice to enter the nursing home, though she’s reluctant. She has traumatic memories of her own mother’s time in such an institution but with reassurance from her friends, she allows herself to be convinced. Feigning a recent fall and the need for a recovery period, Meg moves in with high hopes she can resolve the case quickly but Sara, who appears frightened, refuses to talk.

Meanwhile Jenny, who is kept heavily sedated and confined to a bed in the medical ward, desperately wants to talk with her best friend, Sara. As she slips in and out of awareness she recalls disturbing memories from her childhood as well as happier times shared with Sara.

As Meg tries to find the source of Sara’s distress, several possible causes come to light, some of these prove to be red herrings, while others overlap with Meg’s main objective. Thompson’s plotting is thoughtful and I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery. The tension in the novel heightens considerably as Meg, on the cusp of solving the mystery, is trapped in the Home when the Coronavirus pandemic begins, and someone is determined she won’t leave alive.

Thompson touches on a number of serious themes in Lockdown including ageism, cancer, sexual assault, elder abuse, addiction, and of course the threat posed by the pandemic. Still the tone is reasonably light and there are flashes of humour, even a spark of romance (though Meg denies it).

An engaging mystery, Lockdown is another fine legacy Janna Thompson has gifted the world.

++++++++

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Review: Seven Sisters by Katherine Kovacic

 

Title: Seven Sisters

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 4th January 2023, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++++


My Thoughts:

 

Australian author Katherine Kovacic delivers on a powerful and provocative premise that explores grief, guilt, justice and vengeance in Seven Sisters.

“Each one met her eye, and in each face there was grief and understanding and something else – a reflection of the bleakness she saw whenever she dared to look in a mirror.”

Struggling to cope with her feelings of rage and frustration in the aftermath of her sister’s murder at the hands of her abusive partner, for which he received only a suspended sentence, Naomi doesn’t expect group therapy will be much help. She is stunned when Mia, her psychologist, introduces her to the five other members and learns that not only do they sympathise with her loss, but understand it. Like her, Gabrielle, Brooke, Katy, Olivia and Amy have each lost a beloved sister as a result of domestic violence, and similarly, the perpetrator faced few consequences.

Drawing inspiration from the classic film ‘Strangers on a Train’, the women all agree these men must be stopped, and carefully devise ways to exact justice in a manner that will seem accidental. No plan is perfect however and there are several very tense moments as each woman attempts to fulfil their task by creative, but plausible, methods. I enjoyed the suspense generated by each situation, especially when things threaten to go awry, and then a lone detective begins to grow suspicious about the string of deaths.

I sympathised with each woman, easily imagining the depth of their loss, and the anguish of knowing that the person’s responsible escaped serious repercussions. I can’t really fault them for their desire for revenge especially when the law has failed so badly at meting out justice. Kovacic addresses the moral issues thoughtfully, but honestly it’s hard to muster up any outrage for their actions. Though this is fiction, and I don’t condone murder, I indulge in a little revenge fantasy myself whenever I read in the news of yet another man who receives a ludicrously light sentence or none at all for an assault on a woman.

Compelling, bold and fast paced, Seven Sisters is a well written and exciting revenge thriller.

++++++++

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Review: Retribution by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Retribution {Lexi Winter #2}

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: 30th November 2022 courtesy HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Retribution is the thrilling sequel to Unforgiven, in which Sarah Barrie introduced Lexi Winter.

Once a lone vigilante, after the events of Unforgiven, Lexi, the survivor of pedophile network that included her parents, has joined the police force and now is a probationary Constable. Working within the rules is not easy for her, but she’s doing her best to honour the commitment she made, at least during work hours. Lexi is still hunting for Damon Vaughn, the sociopath who delivered Lexi to the orchestrator of her childhood abuse, and is secretly playing a dangerous game designed to find him.

Lexi’s two worlds collide after she and her training officer chase a pair of teenage drug dealers. Tightly plotted with plenty of action that includes plenty of tense situations, violence, and several murders, Retribution is fast-paced and exciting. Set between the central coast area of NSW and Sydney, three seperate investigations, plus Lexi’s personal project, eventually intertwine, reuniting Lexi with Detective Inspector Rachael Langley and her Homicide squad, which includes Detective Sergeant Finn Carson.

Working with the team in an official capacity is a challenge for Lexi. Given her extraordinary talents, Lexi’s struggle humanises her, and I liked the role it plays in her personal growth. Barrie also provides more insight into the lives of Rachael and Finn, and I’m liking the hint of a possible relationship developing between Finn and Lexi.

Retribution is a gripping page turner and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

++++++++

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Review: Murder in Williamstown by Kerry Greenwood

 

Title: Murder in Williamstown {Phryne Fisher #22}

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Published: 1st November 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read December 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

Accustomed to both murder and dalliance, Australia’s favourite detective, the inimitable Miss Fisher, returns in a case that will test her tact and judgement to the full.

When the redoubtable Miss Phryne Fisher receives threatening letters at her home, she enlists the unflappable apprentice Tinker to investigate. But as the harassment of Phryne threatens to spin out of control, her lover, Lin Chung is also targeted.

Meanwhile, Dot begins to fear that her fiance, newly promoted Sergeant Hugh Collins, has gone cold on setting a date for their wedding.

Phryne’s clever daughters, Ruth and Jane, begin their own investigation into suspiciously dwindling funds when they are sent to help at the Blind Institute.

None of this is quite enough to prevent Phryne from accepting an invitation to a magnificent party at the house of the mysterious Hong. When the party is interrupted by shocking tragedy, Phryne gathers all of her unerring brilliance to track down the miscreants. With some unlikely assistance, Phryne is in a race against time to save a pair of young lovers from disgrace and death.

 

My Thoughts:

Murder in Williamstown is the 22nd entertaining instalment featuring Victoria’s lady private detective Miss Phryne Fisher from Kerry Greenwood.

Much of Phryne’s unconventional household has a mystery of their own to solve in this book. I enjoyed the three puzzles, though unusually there was no common thread between them, and as such the novel felt a little disjointed.

Witty, astute, stylish and provocative, as always, Phryne remains a delight, and her adventures engaging.

++++++++

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Review: Great Australian Rascals, Rogues and Ratbags by Jim Haynes

 

Title: Great Australian Rascals, Rogues and Ratbags

Author: Jim Haynes

Published: 1st November 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

An incredible collection of true crime characters from Australia’s master storyteller.

The bold, the bad, and the slightly mad…

Criminality, some say, is part of Australia’s national identity, and in Great Australian Rascals, Rogues and Ratbags Jim Haynes profiles fifteen larger-than-life Aussie rogues – some of our greatest ne’er-do-wells from colonial times to the modern era. These stories uncover the truth and expose the myths about characters ranging from the most despicable examples of humanity, to those whose courage has to be admired and whose so-called ‘crimes’ were unjustly punished.

This fascinating collection features felons who have sprung from Australia’s underbelly since 1788, such as the infamous Kate Leigh of the razor gangs; the convict Mary Bryant, who in 1791 escaped from the Sydney penal settlement and somehow made it back to England; James Hardy Vaux, who was sent to Australia no less than three times; Henry James O’Farrell, the madman who attempted to murder Prince Alfred in Sydney in 1868; and John Leak, who was repeatedly charged with insolence, disobedience and being absent without leave in World War I – and awarded the Victoria Cross.

Told with Jim’s inimitable combination of history and humour, Great Australian Rascals, Rogues and Ratbags is packed with murders, mystery and miscreants: true stories of true criminals from Australia’s past.

 

My Thoughts:

In Great Australian Rascals, Rogues and Ratbags author Jim Haynes counters the romanticised vision of some of our nation’s historical criminal figures.

Drawing on trusted sources including contemporaneous newspaper articles and court transcripts Haynes relates the crimes of fifteen real life people of the 19th and early 20th century. Divided into three parts, broadly by the severity of their misdeeds, Haynes includes convict escapee Mary Bryant, cattle rustler Harry Readford, swindler James Hardy Vaux, gangster Kate Leigh, and killer Eugenie Fallini. Haynes attempts to seperate the legend from truth, provides some social and cultural context and compelling detail.

There are a few illustrations, mainly portraits, and reprints of notices etc. that enhance the text.

A fascinating read, especially for those interested in Australian history and true crime.

++++++++

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