Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

 

Title: A Murder on Malabar Hill {Perveen Mistry #1}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

A Murder on Malabar Hill is an engaging historical mystery novel, the first in a new series from Sujata Massey, which has won several awards, most notably the Mary Higgins Clarke Award (2019), and the Agatha Award for the Best Historical Novel (2018) (under the title of The Widows of Malabar Hill).

The series features Perveen Massey, a young woman in her mid twenties who is India’s first female solicitor, working alongside her father, a respected lawyer. Massey draws inspiration for her lead character from two ‘real life’ women, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona who was the first woman to read law at Oxford and sit the British law exam in 1892, and Mithan Tata Lam of Bombay, who was the first woman admitted to the Bombay Bar in 1923.

The story shifts between two timelines, one of which fleshes out Perveen’s personal history, from her family background, to her experiences at Oxford University, to her short-lived marriage.

The second timeline focuses on the murder at Malabar Hill, an upscale neighbourhood in Bombay, in the household of three Purdahnashin widows. When their wealthy husband, Omar Farid, dies, his wives, Razia, Sakina, and Mumtaz, and their children who choose to live a secluded life (known as Purdah), are at the mercy of their household agent, Mr. Mukri. While finalising Farid’s estate Perveen notices some discrepancies and as a female solicitor she is uniquely placed to speak to the widows directly to discover what they understand of their rights. Immediately following her first visit, which infuriates Mukri, the agent is murdered, and Perveen fears the women could be next. I enjoyed the mystery, which has a cozy feel and a ‘locked room’ aspect, though it wasn’t terribly difficult to solve.

The physical setting of A Murder in Malabar Hill – primarily the wealthy neighbourhoods of Bombay in the 1920’s – is interesting, but it was what I learned about the city’s social, political and cultural milieu I found fascinating. Massey touches on a number of issues such as the varied religious beliefs within Indian society, including Parsi (Zoroastrianism), Muslim, and Hindi; the rights, or lack thereof, of women; and the conflict surrounding English rule, as well as specific cultural practices such as arranged marriages, dowry contracts, and Purdah. The details seem authentic and are woven neatly into the plot.

Well crafted and appealing, highlighting an interesting historical period and an exotic (to me) culture, A Murder at Malabar Hill is an enjoyable mystery novel, and I look forward to reading the next.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 

US Cover

Review: Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby

 

Title: Cedar Valley

Author: Holly Throsby

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

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Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Cedar Valley, Holly Throsby’s second novel, is a contemporary mystery firmly rooted in a small town Australian setting.

On the first day of December 1993, a man in a brown suit seats himself on the pavement in front of Cedar Valley Curios & Old Wares. When store owner Cora Franks eventually finds time to confront him, she is shocked to discover he has died. Amongst the crowd that gathers to witness the spectacle of a dead man, stands Benny Miller. Having only arrived in Cedar Valley that morning, Benny is both fascinated and disturbed by the incident, but she is too distracted by her need to learn more about her recently deceased mother, Vivian Moon, to give the dead stranger much more than a passing thought.

While Benny is settling in to the town, developing a relationship with Odette, her mother’s one time best friend, in the hopes of understanding why Vivian abandoned her as an infant, the police begin to investigate how a dead man came to be sitting on a footpath in Cedar Valley. Wearing a vintage brown suit, and shiny black shoes, the man has no identification and the coroner can’t determine a cause of death.

Some readers will recognise the parallels between the enigma of the dead man in Cedar Valley, and that of ‘The Somerton Man’, the subject of one of Australia’s most enduring mystery’s. The local police are baffled by the strange similarities between the two cases and struggle to make sense of it.

Various residents of Cedar Valley play a role in the story, from the local chemist, to the towns ‘womaniser’, and Detective Sergeant Simmons ailing mother, Elsie, who many not remember what she was told yesterday, but can recall events from decades before. I enjoyed the setting, the people, the town and its environs are easy to visualise.

Though the pace is a little slow and meandering for my taste, Throsby moves the story forward and eventually reveals a surprising connection between Benny, the mystery man, and the town of Cedar Valley. The conclusion is a little vague, but fits the theme of unanswerable questions that runs through the novel.

A warm, engaging read, I liked Cedar Valley, it’s the sort of novel to fill a lazy afternoon picnicking in the country.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: AUD $19.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Peace by Garry Disher

Title: Peace (Paul Hirschhausen #2}
Author: Garry Disher
Published: November 5th 2019, Text Publishing
Status: Read December 2019

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My Thoughts:

I deliberately chose to read Peace as my last book of 2019 for a few reasons but notably because it’s set over the Christmas/New Year period in Australia, and because I thought the title was a positive message of sorts to end the year on.

However, I finished it a little later than I had hoped to get a review posted in a timely manner, so for the moment these comments are a placeholder of sorts.

In summary this is an excellent book, certainly on par with Chris Hammer’s Scrubland and Jane Harper’s The Dry. I think it is a little darker and grittier than both, as is the first book featuring police officer Paul Hirschhausen, Bitter Wash Road. The mystery’s are interesting and paced well. The descriptions evoke the isolated, hot, economically depressed South Australian regional town in which it’s set, and the characterisation is well done.

Compelling reading, definitely recommended…more later.

Read a Sample Chapter

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Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic

 

Title: Darkness for Light {Caleb Zelic #3}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: December 3rd 2019 Echo Publishing

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Echo Publishing

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My Thoughts:

Darkness for Light is the third book in Emma Viskic’s outstanding crime fiction series featuring Caleb Zelic.

Following the tumultuous events of Resurrection Bay,Resurrection Bay, and And Fire Came Down, security consultancy Caleb Zelic is attempting to make better decisions. With the help of a therapist he has begun reconnecting with the Deaf community, reconciling with his pregnant wife, and rebuilding his company after his partner’s betrayal.

Meeting a new client at an urban children’s farm might be unusual, but in need of the business Caleb isn’t suspicious of the arrangement until the moment he stumbles upon the man’s body. Caleb is prepared to make the right decision and walk away from the mess, but the dead man’s colleague, an AFP officer, refuses to let him. She needs to find Caleb’s ex-partner, Frankie, and she isn’t above using blackmail to ensure his cooperation. Caleb has no qualms about turning Frankie over to the agent, until her nine year old niece, Tilda, is violently abducted, and the only decision he can make is the one which will save the child’s life, for better or worse.

From the opening chapters, Darkness for Light sets a breathtaking pace of twists and turns. It’s not only the escalating violence that keeps you on the edge of your seat as the body count rises, but the complexity of the situation that Caleb finds himself struggling to unravel. Skilfully crafted, the main plot revolves around a hidden ledger that could expose the illegal financial machinations of Melbourne’s elite. There are several parties who will do anything to get their hands on it, and Caleb is caught in the middle with no one to trust. Viskic definitely kept me guessing.

Caleb is not just under pressure from the rogue AFP agent, Frankie’s reappearance, and Tilda’s kidnapping, Kat is nearing a critical point in her pregnancy, and Alberto Conti, a deaf restaurant owner who has become a friend, has asked for his help. All of this threatens to undo the progress Caleb has made in therapy to deal with his demons. Viskic’s character development with Caleb has been uniformly excellent in previous instalments, but I particularly admired how she handled his emotional conflict in Darkness for Light.

Darkness for Light is an exhilarating crime fiction novel, personally I’d recommend reading at least books one or two (though preferably both) before reading it, you’ll find the investment is worth it.

++++++

Available from Echo Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound 

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Emma Viskic

Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

 

 

Title: A Madness of Sunshine

Author: Nalini Singh

Published: December 3rd 2019, Hachette Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Hachette Au

Read an Excerpt

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My Thoughts:

Best known for her popular paranormal romance series, Guild Hunters (of which I’ve read a few), A Madness of Sunshine is Nalini Singh’s first published foray into the genre of contemporary thriller/suspense.

In need of familiarity after heartbreaking loss, Anahera Rawiri returns from London to Golden Cove, the close-knit community on New Zealand’s West coast where she grew up. It seems to have changed little during her near decade long absence, but the town’s equilibrium is shattered when a beloved young local woman disappears while out jogging.

Will Gallagher, the sole police officer stationed in Golden Cove, is quick to launch a search for the missing teen, and when it proves fruitless, must consider that a local is responsible for Miriama’s disappearance. As an outsider, Will finds himself relying on Anahera to help unearth the secrets that may reveal a killer hiding in their midst.

A Madness of Sunshine offers more than one intriguing mystery, Miriama is not the first young woman to vanish in Golden Cove, around fifteen years previously three female hikers also disappeared, their bodies never found. Will is compelled to explore the possibility of a link, though Singh provides several red herrings to distract the reader as Will investigates, shedding light on the darkness of the past, and the present.

Anahera and Will are both complex, well developed characters, with interesting backgrounds. They share scars from life changing trauma, and have an attraction that is almost instinctual. I liked the relationship that developed between them, though it has only a minor role in the story.

The residents of Golden Cove are representative of a small town, with long-standing, often complicated, relationships. The author deftly includes elements of Maori culture within the story, communicating a sense of place without any awkwardness. Singh’s description of the isolated town and its wild environs are also wonderfully evocative, underscoring the vaguely disquieting atmosphere that intensifies as the plot unfolds.

A well crafted novel offering a compelling mystery and engaging characters, I really enjoyed A Madness of Sunshine.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

 

 

Title: The Strangers We Know

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: December 1sr 2019, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“Nothing is ever as it seems, is it?”

When Charlie Carter catches a glimpse of a man who looks like her husband on a dating app, she desperately wants to believe she is mistaken. Since their marriage eighteen months previously, Oliver has been the perfect husband…hardworking, attentive and loving, and she wants his unequivocal denial to be enough.

“You see, that’s the problem with trust issues: eventually you find you can’t trust yourself either.”

But it isn’t. To allay her lingering suspicions, Charlie sets a trap and is devastated when her worst fear is realised. Her marriage is over.

“And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.”

Fast-paced with some surprising twists, The Strangers We Know is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Pip Drysdale.

I really enjoyed the plot, and I’m loathe to spoil the surprises it offers. There is an unpredictability that is compelling, if not entirely credible, and I easily read it straight through.

Unfolding from Charlie’s first person perspective, Drysdale exploits the character’s profession as an actress in the structure of the novel, it’s easy to imagine this novel being adapted for the screen. It has a modern sensibility which will appeal to a younger audience, and a classic whodunnit twist to satisfy mystery fans.

Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, and unsure who to trust, Charlie doesn’t always make smart decisions, which can be frustrating, but her naivety is also relatable, which makes her an appealing character. She is indubitably the star of this novel.

“But here’s the thing with life: You have to get through it. There’s no choice. Eventually, even in real life, the heroine has to win out in the end.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: Now You See Them {Magic Men #5}

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: December 3rd 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Netgalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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My Thoughts:

I was delighted for the opportunity to continue with Elly Griffiths’s mystery series featuring police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto In Now You See Them, the fifth book of the Magic Men (or Stephens & Mephisto) series.

Unexpectedly, eleven years have passed since the events of The Vanishing Box. In the interim, Edgar Stephens has been promoted to Superintendent, and is happily married to (former Sergeant) Emma, with three young children, while Max Mephisto has become an American movie star and married a Hollywood starlet, with whom he has two young children. The pair are reunited in Brighton at the funeral of Stan Parks, aka The Great Diablo, but the separation has put some strain on their friendship, and both are too busy with their own interests to properly reconnect. Max is negotiating a role in a movie to be filmed in England with the country’s hottest teen idol, Bobby Hambro, while attempting to spend time with his grown daughter, Ruby, who is now the star of a popular television series, and Edgar is overseeing a search for the runaway teenage daughter of a local MP, and preparing for the May Bank Holiday, during which large groups of warring Mods and Rockers are expected to clash on the Brighton foreshore.

Suspecting that the missing teen is simply skiving to stalk Bobby Hambro at his London hotel with all the other young ‘Bobby Soxers’, DI Bob Willis, and WPC Meg Connolly are tasked with making inquiries, but Samantha Collins, a reporter at the local paper, thinks otherwise. She believes that Rhonda Miles is the third of three teenage girls who may have been abducted, and approaches Emma with her suspicions.

Emma, who has become increasingly restless in her role as only a housewife and mother, sees merit in the theory, and eagerly presents it to her husband, hoping she can perhaps be of help in the investigation. She’s hurt when Edgar barely acknowledges it, and so with the support of Sam, somewhat naively does some investigating of her own, children in tow.

The questions surrounding the fate of the missing girls is the core mystery in Now You See Them. The police have few leads and no real evidence of the connection, and Griffiths makes the most of the uncertainty, but it’s not until Ruby goes missing that any real urgency is introduced into the plot.

Now You See Them is far more about the characters than the plot though, Max and Emma in particular are at a crossroads of a type. I felt that Edgar was sidelined somewhat, but as a Superintendent he is no longer a hands on detective, so that makes sense. I enjoyed the time leap in character growth much more than I expected, and I also liked the introduction of the new WPC.

One of the strengths of this series remains its sense of time and place, the jump from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s is deftly accomplished with Griffiths illustrating the cultural shifts in various ways.

Now You See Them can probably be read as a stand-alone but the experience will be much richer if the reader is familiar with the series. I enjoyed both the story, and reconnecting with the characters. Interestingly Griffiths seems to have ended with a hint of a new direction for this series that may see Emma and Sam in the forefront.

++++++

Available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I via Indiebound I Book Depository

Also by Elly Griffiths reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

 

Title: Resurrection Bay {Caleb Zelic #1}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: September 1st 2015, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

Resurrection Bay is the first book in a thrilling Australian crime fiction series by Emma Viskic featuring Caleb Zelic.

After Caleb Zelic receives a panicked text from his best mate, Senior Constable Gary Marsden, he is horrified to discover his friend has been savagely murdered. The police first seem eager to place the blame at Caleb’s feet, suggesting that the side work Gary has been doing for the security and investigation company Caleb operates with his partner, ex-cop Frankie Reynolds, is dodgy, and when that fails to pan out, instead insinuate that Gary was a bent cop who got in over his head. Caleb is determined to prove the police wrong and find whomever is responsible for the brutal crime, but in the attempt he, and the woman he loves, becomes the target of a dangerous criminal conspiracy.

Moving between urban and regional Victoria, Resurrection Bay is fast paced with plenty of action. Caleb suspects a link between Gary’s death and a recent warehouse theft, but before he can make much headway in his investigation his business partner goes missing, and Caleb is attacked, barely escaping with his life. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with the mysterious cabal seemingly always one step ahead, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Caleb doesn’t uncover their secrets. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story, which is tightly plotted, and includes a touch of dry humour, and even subtle romance.

Caleb Zelic is a compelling protagonist, in large part because he is deaf, having lost his hearing after a bout of meningitis as a young child. While Caleb is fiercely independent, skilled at lip-reading, interpreting body language, and seems to have an impressive memory, his impairment has both its benefits and challenges which I think Viskic portrays sensitively and realistically. Like any well developed character though, Caleb is a mass of contradictions, with strengths and flaws that makes him believable and relatable.

The book has quite a diverse cast of characters who vary in age, social status and race. Unsure who he can trust as he pursues the truth about his friend’s death, Caleb relies on his business partner, Frankie, and his ex-wife Kat. Though he trusts Frankie, a recovering alcoholic in her fifties, to have his back, it’s clear he harbours some concerns about her continued sobriety from the outset. Caleb is still in love with Kat, a Koori artist, and their marriage breakdown seems fairly recent, he is devastated when Kat is targeted to get to him.

Gritty, edgy and original, Resurrection Bay is an exciting read and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, And Fire Came Down and Darkness for Light

++++++

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Available from Echo Publishing

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Review: The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen

 

Title: The Great Divide

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Published: November 4th 2019, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Echo Publishing

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My Thoughts:

The Great Divide is a gritty Australian crime novel from L.J.M. Owen introducing Detective Jake Hunter.

Set in Tasmania, this is an atmospheric story portraying a small insular community, blanketed in the fog of winter, and shrouded in lies. It begins when the body of an old woman is found dumped in the overgrown grounds of a vineyard. While investigating her murder, Jake, a recent transfer to Dunton, learns some odd facts, and as the case progresses he begins to uncover links between both the current and historical crimes. While I did find it fairly easy to determine who was culpable early on, I thought the case was complex and interesting, though the details are quite grim and disturbing,

Finding The Great Divide well paced and compelling, I read it in a single sitting. I look forward to a sequel, and in the meantime plan to look up her previous works.

Read an Extract

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Available from Echo Publishing

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Review: Dead Man Switch by Tara Moss

 

Title: Dead Man Switch {A Billie Walker Mystery #1}

Author: Tara Moss

Published: October 21st 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Dead Man Switch by Tara Moss introduces Billie Walker, an ex war correspondent now working as a private investigator in post-war Sydney, Australia.

Still grieving the absence of her photojournalist husband who is missing Europe, Billie Walker has reopened her late father’s private detective agency to support herself and her mother. As a woman in what is considered a man’s world, work has been slow, but a missing persons case is about to change all that.

With her ‘Fighting Red’ lipstick, elegant attire, and a pearl handled Colt strapped to her thigh, Billie is an appealing lead character. Feisty, clever and resourceful, she is a dogged investigator who doesn’t shy away from the more unseemly aspects of the job, and proves she can hold her own when threatened. Billie is ably assisted by Sam, a returned serviceman who acts as her secretary, among other things. Young and handsome, he sports some scars from his time at war, and admires his employer.

Though I felt Dead Man Switch got off to somewhat of a slow start, I soon found myself caught up in the intrigue. The mystery of the missing teenager is well plotted,

taking unexpected turns, colliding with murder, theft, war crimes, and a personal vendetta. There are scenes of exciting action, including a street brawl, a gun fight, and a car chase, along with tense moments of confrontation.

Moss deftly evokes post war NSW, moving between the inner city and the Blue Mountains. Set in 1946, the author incorporates the social issues of the day including rationing, sexism, and racism.

I am really looking forward to reading more mysteries featuring Billie Walker, Dead Man Switch is an entertaining and thrilling read.

Read a Sample

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Available from HarperCollins Au

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