Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

 

Title: The Woman in the Library

Author: Sulari Gentill

Published: 7th June 2022, Poisoned Pen Press

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Poisoned Pen Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

Metafiction is a rare narrative technique, and often difficult to execute successfully, but The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill does so with ease, offering a clever and compelling mystery novel.

In this story within a story (within a story), Australian author Hannah Tigone is writing a murder mystery, inspired in part by her correspondence with American aspiring author and fan, Leo Johnson. In Hannah’s developing manuscript, Australian author Winifred ‘Freddie’ Kincaid, is in Massachusetts on a writers’ scholarship, when she becomes embroiled in a murder mystery that takes place in the Boston Public Library. As Hannah completes each chapter, Leo provides feedback via emails, the tone of which grow more imperious, and disturbing, as the story develops in ways he doesn’t like.

As Freddie, along with psychology student Marigold, law student Whit, and published author Cain whom she meets when a scream disturbs the quiet of the Boston Public Library Reading Room, tries to solve the murder of a young journalist, it’s testament to Gentill’s skill that I was invested in the story, and often forgot it’s place in the novel’s structure, in fact I occasionally resented the reminder when disrupted by Leo’s missives. With its air of a ‘locked room’ mystery, I was deftly led astray by Gentill’s misdirects, and found myself eager to discover who, how, and why the murder was committed.

I feel I have to mention the adroit way in which Gentill navigated the world events of 2019/2020, the years in which this book was set, with the CoVid pandemic, the BLM protests in the US, and the fires that ravaged the Eastern coast of Australia, all acknowledged in interesting ways.

Ingenious and intriguing, The Woman in the Library is a terrific read.

++++++++

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Review: One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold

 

Title: One Foot in the Fade {Fetch Philips Archives #3}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: 26th April 2022, Orbit

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

“An Angel had fallen in Sunder City: bloody, broken, and the best thing to happen in seven long years.”

One Foot in the Fade, the third instalment of the Fetch Philips Archives fantasy series, from Luke Arnold, picks up about a year after Dead Man in a Ditch ended.

‘Man for Hire’ Fetch is as determined as ever to bring magic back to Sunder City, and rescue it from the grasp of industrialist, Niles. When an angel plummets to the ground at his feet, Fetch dares to hope that redemption may finally be within reach.

While mostly retaining the same noir tone of previous books, One Foot in the Fade leans more into adventure as Fetch, after catching a jewellery thief, sets out on a cross-country quest to claim a magical artifact, and save the world he broke. Accompanied by a librarian, a genie, a werewolf, and a young college student, Fetch encounters dragons, amalgams, crazed wizards, golems, and a Minotaur in pursuit of a crown hidden in a castle in Incava.

Convinced he has a real chance of rectifying his past mistake, Fetch seems to lose what little good sense he had. Already an anti-hero, Fetch steps closer to villainy, ignoring the means in favour of his ends. I was initially disappointed to see him lose ground made in previous novels, as Fetch, impulsive and abrasive at the best of times, becomes careless and sometimes cruel. Too caught up in his dream of magic returning, Fetch brushes over the harm he is doing until he’s forced to tally the cost of his actions.

This isn’t a series I’d recommend picking up midway as Arnold expands his world with each book, but more importantly, each story relies heavily on the character growth of Fetch.

With its entertaining mix of adventure, drama and dark humour, I enjoyed One Foot in the Fade. Though Arnold may have originally planned the Fetch Phillips Archives as a trilogy, I don’t think this is necessarily the last we will see of Fetch, a possibility hinted at in the last few pages.

++++++++

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Review: Wake by Shelley Burr

 

Title: Wake

Author: Shelley Burr

Published: 27th April 2022, Hachette Australia

Status: Read April 2022, Hachette Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Wake, which won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2019, is a gripping crime novel from first time author, Shelley Burr.

Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ McCreery was nine years old when her twin sister vanished from their family farm in remote NSW. Nearly two decades later, the odd circumstances of Evelyn’s disappearance continue to haunt Mina, and she lives and works at the family farm, a virtual recluse.

Lane Holland makes his living as a private investigator, and with a younger sister who has just started university to support, the two million dollar reward on offer to solve the mystery of Evelyn’s fate is a challenge he can’t ignore, especially when it may also provide information he needs.

Wake offers a taut, well-crafted mystery that centres on the cold case involving Evelyn McCreery disappearance, but also explores the themes of family, trauma, grief, guilt, and the legacy of violence.

Mina is a sympathetic character, the trauma of her sisters disappearance, her mother’s subsequent neglect and notoriety, and the judgement of community and strangers alike, has led her to become an introvert. It’s not surprising that Mina reflexively dismisses Lane initially, and remains guarded even as she begins to hope he may find the answers that have eluded her.

Lane is determined to solve the mystery of Evelyn’s disappearance, and while he’s content for others to believe the reward is his only incentive, he a connection to the case and a hidden motive, adding an effective twist to the story. Lane works hard to earn Mina’s trust, accepting an unexpected challenge she throws at him involving another missing child, but as the pair begin to work together, he starts to feel guilty about the secret he is keeping.

I quickly became absorbed in this story, invested in the characters, and the growing tension as secrets were revealed. Clever plotting kept me guessing as to the resolution of the mystery, and Wake concludes with an extraordinary confrontation that is both harrowing and satisfying.

Atmospheric, with complex characters, and an intriguing, layered plot Wake is a compelling novel, and a fine addition to the rapidly growing genre of Australian rural noir.

++++++++

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Review: Remember Me by Charity Norman

 

Title: Remember Me

Author: Charity Norman

Published: 3rd March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Charity Norman blends family drama with mystery in her compelling novel, Remember Me.

When a phone call from a neighbour informs Emily Kirkland that her ageing father is in need of help, she reluctantly leaves her life in London and returns to her hometown, Tawanui on New Zealand’s North Island. Diagnosed with Alzheimers more than year earlier, Dr Felix Kirkland is no longer able to hide his deteriorating condition and Emily plans to stay just a few weeks to arrange for his ongoing care.

Emily’s return coincides with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the disappearance of her neighbour and friend, Dr. Leah Parata. Leah, an environmental scientist, headed into the Ruahine ranges on the edge of town for a two night hike when she was 26 years old and vanished, with no trace of her ever been found.

A committed physician and reserved man, too busy with his patients to have ever paid much attention to his children, Emily and Felix have never been close. She expects to swiftly move Felix into a local nursing home, as her elder twin siblings suggest, and begins the job of sorting out the house. The task, and Felix’s increasing candour as a result of his dementia, promotes a new intimacy between father and daughter, but when Emily finds a beanie in the bottom of a cupboard, which looks just like the one Leah was wearing when Emily last saw her on the day she disappeared, she’s suddenly afraid of what Felix may reveal.

I really liked the plot of Remember Me, and the way in which Norman skilfully weaved her two story threads together.

Norman thoughtfully explores the dynamic between father and daughter, and the changes wrought by Felix’s illness. His dementia-induced disinhibition reveals vulnerabilities that tempers some of Emily’s childhood resentments about their relationship, and there is a real sense of poignancy as Emily simultaneously finds, and loses, their connection as he declines.

When public interest in the mystery of Leah’s disappearance is renewed, Emily is at first puzzled and then anxious about her father’s reaction. I was caught up in the suspense as Emily, discovering evidence that suggests her dad could have been involved, is torn between her loyalty to her father, and to Leah’s family, who are still hoping for answers. I thought the bittersweet resolution worked well, and found it quite moving.

Norman’s writing is engaging and thoughtful, and though the pace of the novel is measured, Remember Me is an absorbing read.

++++++++

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Review: A Stone’s Throw Away by Karly Lane

 

Title: A Stone’s Throw Away

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 1st May 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A Stone’s Throw Away is the latest engaging novel from Australian bestseller Karly Lane.

Still reeling from a vicious assault after breaking the story of a corrupt politician, investigative journalist Phillipa ‘Pip’ Davenport, has retreated to her uncle’s property, Rosehaven, in rural Victoria to write a book about the high profile case. Despite her best intentions, Pip finds it difficult to settle to the task, and in the spirit of procrastination, decides to hire someone to remove the detritus at the bottom of her uncle’s dam, exposed by the ongoing drought. To her shock, and that of the small community of Midgiburra, the skeleton of a young woman is discovered in the rusted remains of an old car, and Pip finds herself caught up in the decades old mystery, even as her own past threatens to catch up with her.

Offering intrigue and romance, this contemporary set novel also touches on Australian history.

There are two elements of suspense in A Stone’s Throw Away, one of which centres around Pip and her safety. Though her assault was likely at the behest of the politician Pip exposed who is now jailed, her attacker was never identified, and concern remains that she is still a target. Pip simply wants to put the incident behind her but, struggling with PTSD, she can’t always suppress episodes of anxiety.

Pip’s wariness also affects her interactions with the two romantic possibilities introduced, local police officer, Erik, and city detective Chris. Though she chooses to drop her guard with one of the men, she soon finds herself wondering if she’s made a deadly mistake.

The other thread of mystery involves the former owner of Rosehaven, 98-year-old Bert Bigsby, a WWII veteran incapacitated and confined to a nursing home after a major stroke, and the fate of his wife, Molly, who disappeared seventy years ago. Despite her reluctance to get involved in the cold case, Pip uncovers the heartbreaking story of deception and betrayal that has haunted Bert, and exposes the truth behind the accusations levied against him by the town.

It’s through Bert’s character that Lane highlights a facet of Australia’s involvement in WWII, adding another layer of interest to the novel. Bert, like many young men, volunteered to serve in the Australian Armed Forces, though he and Molly were essentially newlyweds. Letters from Bert to Molly provide some insight into the experiences of those soldiers who served in Papua New Guinea, particularly those who were captured in the Australian Territory peacetime capital, Rabaul, when it fell to the Japanese.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, though I did feel the touch of supernatural that linked Pip and Molly was an unnecessary addition. With its appealing characters, well crafted setting, and layered storyline, A Stone’s Throw Away is an entertaining read.

++++++++

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Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

 

Title: The Murder Rule

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: 4th May 2022, WilliamMorrow

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Offering some startling twists and turns, The Murder Rule is a compelling stand alone legal thriller from best selling author, Dervla McTiernan.

When law student Hannah Rokeby learns that the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia is making progress overturning the sentence of convicted rapist and murderer, Michael Dandridge, she leaves her sick mother, Laura, in the care of a neighbour, and relocates to Charlottesville where she convinces Professor Robert Parekh she’d be an asset to the program. But Hannah doesn’t want to save Michael, she wants to ensure the man is never released.

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of The Murder Rule, and why, and how, a young woman might go about undermining a prisoner’s release. With the preliminary hearing for dismissal imminent, the Innocence team, and Hannah, are under pressure to complete their respective objectives, and that tension translates well to the story’s pacing.

Hannah certainly seems convinced that her mission is righteous, and though her ruthless moves to gain a place on the project are not flattering, once her motive is disclosed in the alternating chapters that provide entries from her mother’s diary written 24 years earlier, Hannah’s behaviour seems if not reasonable, then at least justifiable. I liked the ambiguity of Hannah’s character, I was never entirely sure what she’d do, particularly when faced with information that challenged her beliefs.

There are some quite spectacular surprises in the novel, one twist in particular made me gasp out loud as it was so unexpected. There are also a number of tense, and even violent, moments as Hannah, and her colleagues, step on toes during their investigation. As much as I enjoyed the story, I have to admit there are some distracting flaws related to the legal elements of the story, and these particularly detracted from the intensity of the climatic courtroom scene, even though the outcome was satisfying.

Though not as sophisticated as McTiernan’s award winning Cormac Reilly, I still found The Murder Rule to be a page-turning, entertaining thriller with a compelling concept.

++++++++

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Review: Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

 

Title: Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: March 2002, Michael Joseph

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

You cannot possibly read the brief prologue to Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson and not be immediately intrigued by the promise of this quirky murder mystery that breaks all the rules.

“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.”

Though Ernest Cunningham self publishes ‘how-to’ books for crime fiction writers, he can offer no special insight when a stranger is found murdered during a high country snowstorm in the midst of the Cunningham family reunion. However when the sole police officer who responds to the report arrests Ernie’s brother, Michael, whose release from prison for killing a man is the celebratory reason for the gathering, his mother insists he clears Michael’s name. After all, Ernie is the reason Michael went to jail in the first place.

“Call me a reliable narrator. Everything I tell you will be the truth, or, at least, the truth as I knew it to be at the time that I thought I knew it. Hold me to that.”

Related by Ernest in the first person while writing a book in the aftermath of events, the storyline is roughly chronological, though with necessary digressions to explain the family dynamic, and with unnecessary, but often amusing appeals, directed towards the reader, and his editor. Ernie’s conversational tone is delightfully at odds with the escalating drama as death follows death, presumably at the hands of a serial killer with a distinct and unpleasant MO.

“Look, we’re not a family of psychopaths. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some are just unfortunate.”

Family reunions are rarely free of conflict but the Cunningham’s are besieged by it. Ernie is currently person non grata, having testified against his brother in the trial that jailed Michael for three years to the great disappointment of his mother. Ernie’s wife is attending the gathering as his brother’s girlfriend, while Michael’s wife is in attendance hoping to win her husband back. Ernie’s stepsister seems particularly annoyed with everyone, while his Aunt Katherine is demanding everyone sticks to her carefully planned colour coded schedule. And of course, people are dying.

“Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’, 1929”

More akin to the classics, Stevenson cleverly subverts many of the expected conventions of mystery fiction, for example, though there is a locked room element to one of the deaths, the door is not actually locked, and he even foretells each murder, including page references in the prologue. Yet there are plenty of surprises, and importantly the pace never drags.

“Family is not whose blood runs in your veins, it’s who you’d spill it for.”

A creative and compelling whodunnit perfect for today’s jaded mystery readers, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is witty, entertaining and ingenious.

++++++++

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Review: The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

 

Title: The Recovery Agent {Gabriela Rose #1}

Author: Janet Evanovich

Published: 22nd March 2022, Atria Books

Status: Read March 2022, Atria/Edelweiss

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

As a long time fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to read The Recovery Agent, the first book in a new series featuring Insurance Fraud Investigator Gabriela Rose.

Gabriela Rose, who made her debut in Fortune and Glory (book #27 of the Stephanie Plum series) makes a living by recovering assets and items for individuals or companies, but her latest case is personal. With her hometown of Scoon on the verge of collapse after damage wreaked by Category 4 storm, Gabriela’s grandmother Fanny believes that all their problems can be solved if Gabriela finds the lost Treasure of Lima, or more specifically The Seal of Solomon.

I wanted to love The Recovery Agent, but unfortunately I didn’t. I’m not exactly sure where the failure lies though.

There is plenty of entertaining adventure and action as Gabriela follows a trail into the South American jungle to the territory of the God of Death, guided by a drug dealer, and in the company of her ex-husband. Her search pits her against El Dragon,  a drug dealer and a fanatical disciple of Supay, the God of Death, who also wants the Seal of Solomon, which is purported to allow the bearer to raise and enslave the dead. There are stand-offs and gun battles, explosions and collisions. Gabriela is variously nearly drowned, tasered, shot and drugged but refuses to give up.

I’d describe Gabriela as a less sophisticated version of Lara Croft. She’s definitely tough, smart and resourceful, an expert in martial arts and weapons, I just can’t quite imagine how a girl from a fishing village who married her childhood sweetheart became such a bad-ass though. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the chemistry between Gabriela and her ex-husband, Rafer either. Lust, sure, there are regular references to how ‘hot’ Rafer is, and the pair have a long history, but i didn’t really feel the tension between them.

There is plenty of humour in The Recovery Agent. Gabriela and Rafer banter their entire way through the book, and Evanovich, as always, has a great sense of comic timing.

While all the elements of a story I enjoy seem to be there, I still feel there is something lacking overall, it’s like an itch I can’t quite reach. I’d be willing to give the sequel a shot though, in the hopes of recovery.

++++++++

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Review: Daughters of Eve by Nina D Campbell

 

Title: Daughters of Eve

Author: Nina D. Campbell

Published: 1st March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Daughters of Eve is a spectacularly provocative thriller from debut author Nina D. Campbell.

When a high profile defence barrister is shot dead by a sniper on the courthouse steps in front of her, Detective Sergeant Emilia Hart is eager to take the lead on the investigation, but instead finds herself sidelined, and assigned a ‘floater’ discovered in the Sydney Harbour. It surprises everyone when an autopsy reveals the man in the water was shot by the same weapon that killed the barrister. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between the two, but as a third, and then a fourth man are killed, each from a sniper shot with the same grouping, Emilia sees a pattern her colleagues prefer to ignore, until the Daughters of Eve, and their manifesto, makes it impossible.

A thrilling tale of revenge, I raced through Daughters of Eve. The mystery is intriguing as Emilia tries to piece together the motive and the identity of the vigilante sniper, chasing leads that seem to go nowhere. It’s Emilia who identifies the link between the victims, all too familiar with the violence men wreak on women and children, like that she, the two girls she claims as daughters, and the names listed on her refrigerator, have endured. Emilia is painfully aware as to how rarely these men are held accountable for their behaviour, but as a police officer she can’t condone vigilantism and commits herself to solving the case, no matter where it leads.

I can’t deny that it was somewhat satisfying to imagine the tables turned, for abusive men to be afraid as the Daughters of Eve reveal themselves, launching an app that invites women to name their unpunished tormentors, sparking a wave of copycat murders across the nation. Campbell imagines a response that seems infuriatingly plausible-of a government mobilising every resource available to put an end to the killings, despite its failures to provide even the bare minimum to ensure the protection women and children victimised by domestic abusers and rapists. Exploring themes such as justice vs vengeance, prevention vs protection, the plot is as thought-provoking as it is sensational.

I thought the author deftly balanced the professional and personal aspects of Emilia’s life, ensuring a well rounded character who engenders both affection and respect.  As rabidly anti-male as the story may seem to be, Campbell acknowledges good men too. Emilia’s investigative partner, Robbo, is, by and large, a decent guy. So too is Melbourne detective Matt Hayes with whom Emilia becomes involved despite her wariness.

Gripping, bold and sharp, I’ve rarely been so impressed by a debut novel, and recommend Daughters of Eve without hesitation.

++++++++

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Review: Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

Title: Those Who Perish {Caleb Zelic #4}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: 1st March 2022, Echo Publishing

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:


“He’d done the worst he could, the best he could, just had to find a way of living with it.”

Those Who Perish is the final Instalment in the outstanding crime series by Emma Viskic featuring deaf security consultant Caleb Zelic.

Following the tumultuous events of Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, and Darkness for Light, Caleb seems to be in a better place. Business is steady, he’s reconciled with his wife, Kat, and with the birth of their first child imminent he is making plans for the future, but it all begins to come undone when Caleb receives a text warning him that his estranged brother, Anton, is in trouble. After rescuing an ungrateful Anton from the attentions of a sniper, Caleb vows to untangle his brother from whatever he’s gotten himself into, and is drawn into the strange goings on in the insular community of Muttonbird Island, a short ferry ride across Resurrection Bay.

Viskic develops a complex plot that has Caleb struggling to make sense of the links between a new rehabilitation facility on the island, a sniper with a growing body count, shipping invoices, blackmail, Neo-Nazi’s, and a cheese maker. Even with Anton’s grudging cooperation, Caleb doesn’t feel as if he is making much progress, but he must be stepping on someone’s toes because his family’s house is blown up, and very nearly Caleb too, more than once. There are plenty of red herrings, and personally I was as stumped as Caleb, not sure what was really going on or who was involved, until almost the same moment it all came together for him.

While there has been plenty of action over the course of the series, Viskic has never neglected Caleb’s character development, and I was cheered by his emotional growth in Darkness for Light, so it’s almost painful to witness Caleb backsliding in Those Who Perish. His concerns about impending fatherhood, Anton’s presence, and being back in Resurrection Bay reopens old wounds and insecurities, and overwhelmed, Caleb shuts down. By the time he is able to acknowledge that mistake his relationship with his brother, and Kat, may be past saving.

I’ve always appreciated the sharpness of Viskic’s succinct prose, reflecting in part, I think, Caleb’s own experience of understanding speech, and suited to the fast pace of the plot. Though descriptions are brief, they are enough to conjure images of the characters and landscape. Those Who Perish could be read as a stand alone but I recommend investing in the prior books for an enhanced experience.

I’m grateful for the epilogue that provides a semblance of closure, yet that still leaves the possibility of revival open. Those Who Perish is an exciting, tense and compelling finale to a stellar series.

++++++++

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Available in the US July 2022 from Pushkin Vertigo

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