Review: The Liars by Petronella McGovern

 

Title: The Liars

Author: Petronella Govern

Published: 30th August 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

“They never talked about the cave in Wreck Point National Park. No-one did.”

From Australian author Petronella McGovern comes her third gripping novel of psychological drama and suspense, The Liars.

On the outskirts of Kinton Bay, hidden in the dense bush of Wreck Point National Park, lies the Killing Cave. In recent decades it’s served as a haven for teenagers looking for somewhere to party but 15 year-old Siena Britton is determined that its history as a site of an unrecorded massacre of First Nations families by shipwrecked colonists who then went on to found the town, be acknowledged and reclaimed. When she and her boy friend Kyle, discover a skull near the cave’s entrance Siena is certain she’s found proof and uploads a video to ensure the tragedy can’t be swept under the carpet, sparking the concern of her parents and the wrath of the town.

Unfolding from the perspectives of Siena, her parents Meri and Rollo, local DCI Douglas Poole, and an anonymous killer, The Liars is a layered novel that explores family secrets and community tensions as a murderer stalks the town.

Siena’s mother, Meri, isn’t sure what upsets her more, the fact that Siena has been to the Killing Cove, the site of her own adolescent regrets, or that her daughter’s activism highlights the compromises she has made in her own journalistic career. Meri is a complex character with unresolved issues from her past that affects many aspects of her present.

Rollo understands when the local business owners complain that Siena’s crusade could affect the tourist trade they rely on, his own whale watching company is struggling to recover after the pandemic, but he is worried that the skull his daughter has found could be a threat to more than just his livelihood.

DCI Poole’s perspective centres the investigation to identify the skull, the subsequent questions it raises about the fate of four missing persons, and the concern that Kinton Bay is home to a serial killer.

I enjoyed the development of the mystery, or more properly mysteries, since there is more than one secret exposed, and more than one murder to be solved. McGovern’s plotting and pacing is well thought out, and distracted by several red herrings, I didn’t guess the identity of the anonymous character for some time.

Exploring themes of regret, resentment and revenge, McGovern raises a number of issues in The Liars including the whitewashing of Australian history, corruption, media bias, homophobia, and violence against women, which the author handles with realism and sensitivity. She also touches on themes of identity, family and friendship, which are also reflected in the information about whales that introduces the five sections of the novel.

With its intriguing mysteries, complex characters and thought provoking contemporary themes, The Liars is a compelling read.

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2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #9

 

Welcome to the Monthly Spotlight for the

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’m highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #ReadNonFicChal

—————

IN SEPTEMBER …

[CELEBRITY]

Stranger than Fiction reviews The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Sarah Baartman, by Rachel Holmes. She writes, “Holmes has done extensive research using a variety of records and secondary sources. She gives a lot of background information about the area and historical events during Baartman’s life in Africa that gives a greater understanding of the people and attitudes of that time.”

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[RELATED TO A PODCAST]

Sarah Steel, the creator and host of the popular ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’ podcast, examines the dynamics of cults and the people involved with them in Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion. I thought it was, “…an interesting, thought-provoking read that should suit a range of readers interested in the topic.” Read my review at Book’d Out.

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[PUBLISHED IN 2022]

Denise Newton Writes recommends True Friends by Patti Miller. “It is a book to savour, one that made me laugh and sigh in recognition, and that I continued to think about long after I’d closed the cover.”

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[MEDICAL MEMOIR]

The Button Pusher by Taylor Page is a graphic memoir about growing up with ADHD for a middle grade/teen audience. In her review at Book by Book Sue writes, “On its surface, this is a very enjoyable, beautifully-drawn graphic story of childhood and adolescence, told from a boy’s perspective. But there is also so much emotional depth to this memoir, plus fascinating information about ADHD.”

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[CELEBRITY]

Robert Jobson’s William at 40: The Making of a Modern Monarch was a bit of a disappointment for Laura at Reading Books Again. She writes, “If you have ever read any newspaper article about William, or a social media post, then you probably are familiar with the material in this biography.”

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What will you be reading in October?

 

Need some inspiration? Check out these posts

SOCIAL HISTORY and POPULAR SCIENCE

LANGUAGE and MEDICAL MEMOIR

CLIMATE/WEATHER and CELEBRITY

REFERENCE and GEOGRAPHY

LINKED TO A PODCAST and WILD ANIMALS

ECONOMICS and PUBLISHED IN 2022

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #5

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #6

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #7

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #8


2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #ReadNonFicChal Check out some of the latest #Nonfiction book reviews shared last month #readingchallenge at Book’d Out

Review: Conspiracy by Tom Phillips and Jonn Elledge

 

Title: Conspiracy: A History of Boll*cks Theories, and How Not to Fall for Them

Author: Tom Phillips and Jonn Elledge

Published: 12th July 2022, Wildfire

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Hachette Australia 

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My Thoughts:

 

“Conspiracy theories may be having A Moment right now, but that doesn’t mean they are new.”

An informative and entertaining book, Tom Phillips and Jonn Elledge offer insight into  the history and evolution of conspiracy thinking and theories in Conspiracy: A History of Boll*cks Theories, and How Not to Fall for Them.

The authors begin by attempting to define what a conspiracy theory is, the forms conspiracy theories take, and the evolutionary and social reasons humans indulge them. It quickly becomes clear that few, if any of us, are exempt from conspiracy thinking but while some theories are reasonably benign and have no or few mild consequences, others can risk the mental and physical well-being of their adherents, and pose a danger to society at large. Unfortunately, evidence shows that often the further you go down the rabbit hole, the faster you fall, as to justify one belief, others are folded in to support it, creating a type of superconspiracy.

As Phillips and Elledge delve into the history of conspiracy theories it’s interesting to realise that the roots of some of today’s conspiracies stretch back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The authors explore how theories have began, gained traction and adapted to suit the desired narrative of their proponents with specific examples. It is both horrifying, and yet not at all surprising, to discover the motives for some of the most damaging theories stemmed from the selfish desires of a single person or small group of people, though others were borne simply of fear, ignorance, and even, occasionally, a desire to do some good.

In light of current events, the chapter titled Viral Misinformation is particularly fascinating. Many of the same conspiracy theories that have surrounded the CoVid pandemic arose during other pandemics centuries ago, for example the elite were accused of introducing cholera to cull the lower classes, foreigners were blamed for spreading the Black Death by poisoning wells, and some suggested the ‘Spanish flu’ was created by the Russians as a weapon transmitted through electric lights. Just as now, the media were lambasted for perpetuating ‘lies’, government bodies argued about the best way to handle the consequences, and there were those who declared the disease of the day was a scam, or at the very least a distraction from some nefarious purpose.

I think Conspiracy presents its information clearly, and is well structured. Thankfully the authors’ humour takes the edge of what could otherwise be a dry, and depressing read, it’s important to note however they don’t make fun of those caught it in the web of conspiracy thinking.

Conspiracy is an interesting read, though it’s not exactly comforting to realise that such theories are common throughout human history as it challenges notions of human enlightenment and progress. I feel like I gained a better understanding of what drives someone to embrace conspiracy theories, how easy it is to become enmeshed, and how difficult it can be to escape, its a shame that most in need of the books insights are unlikely to pick it up.

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Review: After the Flood by Dave Warner

 

Title: After the Flood {Dan Clement #4}

Author: Dave Warner

Published: 2nd August 2022, Fremantle Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Fremantle Press

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My Thoughts:

 

Set in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, After the Flood is the fourth book by Dave Warner to feature Detective Inspector Dan Clement, though it also works effectively as a stand alone.

As his team handles a spate of petty crimes including an unruly protest, the theft of explosive materials, and vandalism of a vaccination clinic, DI Dan Clement, lonely and missing his teenage daughter, is feeling restless and longing for a distraction. Fate obliges with the discovery of a body, naked with tire tread marks on his chest and railroad spikes driven through his palms in a remote area of a cattle station, and Clement finds himself in a race to prevent a deadly scheme.

In what is a tightly plotted, engaging police procedural, Clement and his squad’s challenge is to identify the dead man, and then methodically gather evidence that might explain the reason for his gruesome murder, and reveal his killer. Warner offers several red herrings leading to a succession of dead ends that frustrate the officers, but just as the case seems to stall, a surprising connection is made. The tension rises sharply as the pieces then rapidly fall into place, leading to an explosive finish.

Themes explored in After the Flood include family, trauma, grief, revenge and disenfranchisement. Warner also raises topical issues such as corporate greed, social justice, and eco-terrorism.

The setting of After the Flood is well realised. Clement’s Major Crime Squad are based in Broome but their territory is extensive, and both its geographical and social features can complicate their investigations.

Offering intrigue and excitement, After the Flood is a well written police procedural that I sincerely enjoyed.

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Review: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

 

Title: The Bullet That Missed {The Thursday Murder Club #3}

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 15th September 2022, Viking

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

I’m delighted by the return of the Thursday Murder Club in Richard Osman’s third book featuring four elderly residents of a luxury retirement village, The Bullet That Missed.

The Thursday Murder Club -Elizabeth, a former MI5 intelligence operative; Ibrahim, a mostly retired psychiatrist; Ron, once a union boss who enjoys playing devil’s advocate; and Joyce, a former nurse; are drawn into a cold case involving the disappearance of an investigative reporter a decade earlier, primarily because Joyce has a small crush on the victims former South East Tonight colleague, Mike Waghorn. Bethany Waites was working on uncovering the mastermind of a mobile phone scam, and the whereabouts of the scheme’s billion dollar profits, when her car went over a cliff. Though Bethany’s body was never found, it was assumed she got too close, and was murdered.

As the Thursday Murder Club try to unravel Bethany’s fate, Elizabeth is receiving anonymous vaguely threatening text messages which she declines to share with the others, until Elizabeth and her husband Stephen, are kidnapped by a mystery man they call ‘The Viking’ who then demands Elizabeth kill an old frenemy, a ex-KGB spy turned money launderer, or forfeit Joyce’s life.

The stakes seem a little higher in this story than the last, given the plethora of seriously bad dudes, and the direct threats to Joyce’s life, but The Thursday Murder Club bluff, charm, and outwit their enemies with ease. Sure events stretch the limits of credibility somewhat, but Osman’s plotting really is on point as the two mysteries unfold, and eventually intersect in an unexpected way. There’s a good mix of action and tension which helps to sustain the pace, though at 400+ pages it probably could have been a little shorter.

There are plenty of laughs in The Bullet That Missed, I really enjoy the author’s sense of humour, but Osman also touches on some poignant issues such as the accelerating cognitive decline of Elizabeth’s husband, loneliness, and past regrets.

My affection for the Thursday Murder Club members hasn’t waned at all, they are such an endearing group. Series regulars DCI Chris and PC Donna are back to lend a hand on occasion, though Donna is distracted by her new romantic relationship with the enigmatic Bogdon. The Club also barter for some assistance from Claudia Johnson, the imprisoned crime gang boss whom the group caught out in The Man Who Died Twice, and expands to include television makeup artist Pauline, who seduces a willing Ron, among others.

Charming, funny, and smart, The Bullet That Missed is another addition to a thoroughly entertaining cosy mystery series which I look forward to continuing.

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Review: The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul

 

Title: The Manhattan Girls: A Novel of Dorothy Parker and her Friends

Author: Gill Paul

Published: 16th August 2022, William Morrow Books

Status: Read August 2022 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

“Four things I am wiser to know: idleness, sorrow, a friend and a foe.” -Dorothy Parker

The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul is based on four well known women of 1920’s New York City; Dorothy Parker, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a poet and writer known for her sharp wit; Jane Grant, reporter and cofounder of the The New Yorker magazine; broadway actress Winifred Lenihan; and novelist Peggy Leech; and tells the story of the friendship that sustained them during a particular period of their lives.

When the men of the Algonquin Round Table decide to form a Saturday night poker club, Jane Grant suggests some of the women instead meet for Bridge, inviting Dottie, Peggy and Winnie to join her. The game, hosted round robin style, quickly becomes a lifeline for the four women as they exchange confidences, hopes, failures and hardships, and provide each other with encouragement and support when it’s needed.

From what I’m able to tell, Paul draws heavily on public records and other factual sources that inform the characters personality’s and events in the novel. While the line between fact and fiction is blurred, Gill’s portrayal of these women, and their relationships, feels genuine.

Though this is very much a character driven novel as the friends face challenges in their personal and professional lives, Gill touches on several serious issues that affect the women, including sexism, self-harm, domestic violence, sexual assault, abortion, gambling, and alcoholism.

Gill ably conveys the spirit of the Roaring Twenties in New York City, capturing the hedonism among the ‘arts’ crowd, epitomised by the notorious members of the Algonquin Round Table, and the changes in society brought about by the end of WWI, the introduction of Prohibition, and the increasing opportunities for women.

Well-written, I enjoyed The Manhattan Girls as a story that explores friendship, loyalty and ambition, and as a glimpse into the private lives of four women whose influence on the arts lingers a century later.

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Review: Confidence by Denise Mina

 

Title: Confidence {Anna & Fin #2}

Author: Denise Mina

Published: 5th July 2022, Mulholland Books

Status: Read August 2022 courtesy Mulholland/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

I loved Conviction, Denise Mina’s first book to feature Anna McDonald and Fin Cohen so I was excited for the release of Confidence, set around a year after Anna and Fin raced around Europe while podcasting their journey to expose the murderer of an old friend and his children.

When the story opens, Anna, Fin, their respective ex-partners, Hamish and Estelle, Fin’s new girlfriend, Sofia, plus Anna and Hamish’s daughters, and Hamish and Estelle’s new baby, are holidaying together in a Scottish lighthouse. Anna, desperately trying to distract herself from the tense atmosphere, mostly caused by Sofia, is scrolling through messages from listeners to their now successful podcast when a cryptic tweet from a user called WBGrates catches her eye.

Lisa Lee didn’t take it. Please tell them.

Attached to the message are two links, one to a YouTube film of a young woman, Lisa Lee, exploring an abandoned French chateau in an undisclosed location, the other to a page in an auction catalogue displaying a small antique silver casket that is visible in Lee’s footage. Not understanding the connection, Anna searches online and learns the Voyniche Casket is expected to be the subject of a frenzied bidding war among groups that believe it contains proof of Christ’s resurrection, and that Lisa Lee has been reported missing.

Seizing the excuse to abandon the holiday Anna and Fin follow up, and are quickly drawn into the hunt for the missing girl, and the truth about the casket. The pair don’t seem to have a lot of agency in the plot though, their movements are mainly dictated by Bram Van Wyk, a wealthy former smuggler/con man, and his desperate bid to recover the casket. It sort of feels like Mina had an idea for a thriller about smuggling and fanaticism, but didn’t know what to do with it, so she wrote Anna and Fin into it. Unfortunately I think it was a poor fit, and everything suffered as a result. While I easily dismissed plot inconsistencies and absurdities in Conviction, here they were jarring, and the twists had little impact.

The story primarily unfolds from Anna’s first person perspective, alternating with short transcripts from their podcast that serve to fill in some information gaps. While Anna won me over in Conviction, I didn’t find her nearly as compelling or witty here, and Finn may as well have been totally absent.

The pace also suffered with the plot issues and a fair amount of superfluous description. The travel helped somewhat as Anna and Finn fly around Europe courtesy of private jets and helicopters.

I think it’s clear I am disappointed by Confidence, I was feeling a little more generous immediately after finishing it but in retrospect it’s flawed enough that I feel it’s just barely okay, and wouldn’t recommend it.

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Review: Dark Deeds Down Under Edited by Craig Sisterson

 

Title: Dark Deeds Down Under: A Crime and Thriller Anthology

Author: Craig Sisterson (Editor)

Published: 26th June 2022, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Clan Destine Press

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My Thoughts:

 

Showcasing some of the best crime fiction writers in Australia & New Zealand, Dark Deeds Down Under, edited by Craig Sisterson and Lindy Cameron, is an excellent anthology of nineteen original short stories.

Offering a wonderful variety in style and setting, I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar characters, such as the delightful Nancy’s created by RWR McDonald’s, and the introduction to ones I’m yet to meet, like Dinuka McKenzie’s Detective Sergeant Kate Miles.

‘Sinner Man’ reminded me how much I love Garry Disher’s character of rural Victorian cop Constable Paul Hirschhausen. I really hope there will be another Hirsch novel released this Christmas.

New Zealander Helen Vivienne Fletcher grabbed my attention with her surprising opening paragraph to ‘He Who Laughs Last’, a stand alone short story with a murderer who utilises an unlikely murder method.

There’s a hint of supernatural horror in ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray, which includes a gruesome murder, a kidnapped infant and a thrilling chase across Auckland.

I giggled at Kerry Greenwood’s jar at the former federal Australian LNP government in her short story featuring Earthly Delight’s baker Corinna Chapman and her feckless ex-husband, ‘The Rooming House’.

A haunting tale set in the heat of rural Queensland, ‘The Falls’,  by award-winning writer and Wuilli Wuilli woman Lisa Fuller, gave me the chills.

Joined by authors Alan Carter, Nikki Crutchley, Aoife Clifford, Sulari Gentil, Narrelle M Harris, Katherine Kovacic, Shane Maloney, Renee, Stephen Ross, Fiona Sussman, Vanda Symon, and David Whish-Wilson, there’s honestly not a single disappointing tale among this collection of mysteries and thrillers.

A must have anthology for antipodean crime readers, Dark Deeds Down Under is also the perfect introduction to the breadth of Australian and New Zealand talent for international readers. I highly recommend this outstanding collection.

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Review: Criminals by James O’Loghlin

 

Title: Criminals

Author: James O’Loghlin

Published: 5th July 2022, Bonnier Echo

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

““We answered the call, identified the perpetrator….Job done. Crime solved. Except it wasn’t. We’d only solved half of it. We’d only figured out the ‘who”….We’re all icebergs, showing the world our shiny tip, smiling as we say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Fine thanks’, while beneath we hide the messy, complicated truth. To really solve a crime you also need to work out the ‘why’.”

Given James O’Loghlin’s pedigree as an ABC presenter, comedian and former lawyer, I was expecting something caper-ish (crime mixed with screwball comedy) from his debut adult fiction, Criminals, but this is primarily a character driven story, a little quirky but also deliberate and thoughtful.

After absconding while being driven to court mandated rehab, drug addict and petty thief Dean Acton figures a big score from the Blacktown Leagues Club will solve his most immediate needs and let him lay low for a while. Sarah Hamilton, working as a barmaid while on indefinite leave from the police force, remains calm when she’s confronted by two armed masked men, which is why she notices that the thin one seems to recognise her. Sipping a gin, patron Mary Wallace smiles as the shorter of the two robbers turns his gun on her, getting shot now, she thinks, would be convenient.

In the aftermath, as the narrative alternates between each we’ll realised character, O’Loghlin explores the question of criminality through themes of guilt and innocence, opportunity and responsibility, second chances and redemption, and the choices we make that define us.

“I never thought about the consequences of getting a decision wrong, until it happened.”

Sarah puts her investigative skills to work, identifying one of the thieves as her high school’s former football hero, but having once before made a judgement with terrible consequences, she needs to be certain she isn’t making a mistake. Raised on the maxim of ‘right’s right, and wrong’s wrong’ the line is less clear to her now, and she struggles with the decisions she’s faced with.

“‘You committed a crime, but are you a criminal?’
‘Yes, because I committed a crime.
‘Then everyone’s a criminal.”

Mary, a middle-aged, depressed alcoholic contemplating suicide, is inspired to recreate the excitement of the hold up by embarking on her own petty crime spree, while assuring her absent daughter via email that everything is fine. But as the thrill of lawbreaking wears off, Mary has to choose what to let go of.

“I know I’m right down the bottom, nearly as low as you can get. But in a weird way that’s almost a relief, cos it means you can’t fall any further.”

Dean meanwhile, barely has time to celebrate his ‘perfect’ crime before he’s arrested. Faced with a lengthy prison sentence what he decides to do next will not only define his future, but could change someone else’s.

Written with insight, wit and compassion, Criminals is a thought-provoking and engaging novel

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Review: Do As I Say by Sarah Steel

 

Title: Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion

Author: Sarah Steel

Published: 28th June 2022, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy PanMacmillan

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My Thoughts:

Sarah Steel, the creator and host of the popular ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’ podcast, examines the dynamics of cults and the people involved with them in Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion.

The definition of a cult is not always clear, but most of us are certain we would recognise one, so I found it interesting that many of the former members (who weren’t born into one) interviewed by Steel claim they didn’t join a cult, they joined ‘a group’ or ‘a movement’ or’ a community’, and it was only much later, some not until after they’d left, that they recognised they had been recruited into a cult. They’d often been vulnerable at the time, not because they were naive or unintelligent as people are wont to think, but because they were at a turning point in their lives and searching for purpose or a sense belonging.

Toxic cults, Steel demonstrates, are incredibly adept at promising to have the answers for those seeking them, and irrespective of country, culture or belief system, share similar unhealthy traits designed to impose control on their followers. Steel explores the tactics they exploit to recruit and keep members, and why people, especially women, find it so difficult to leave once they become enmeshed. It’s far more complicated than you might think and Steel, sharing fascinating firsthand accounts and meticulous research, provides thoughtful insight into the issues.

Steel also addresses the elements of cultic behaviour that can be found in a range of societal organisations including mainstream religion, MLM companies, political groups, fandoms, and street gangs. There is some discussion about conspiracy theories including those that have arisen due to the pandemic. I appreciated the focus on cults operating in Australia, somewhat surprised to how many have a foothold here, though often these are an offshoot of North American or British groups imported via the global reach of the internet, and disappointed to learn that Australia’s weak whistle-blower laws offer them so much protection.

Written in an almost conversational tone, Do As I Say reads well. I particularly like that Steel allows for individuals to share their personal stories. I do think the book could benefit from some boxouts to highlight or summarise points made in the narrative though.

Do As I Say is an interesting, thought-provoking read that should suit a range of readers interested in the topic. In her conclusion, Steel suggests transparency, empathy, bridging and education, especially in regards to understanding coercive control, is a way to not only combat unhealthy cults, but will also help those caught in abusive intimate relationships. Certainly something needs to change as society increasingly veers towards absolutism.

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