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: 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: In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan

 

Title: In the Blink of an Eye

Author: Jo Callaghan

Published: 10th January 2023, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Crime fiction with a speculative twist, In the Blink of an Eye is an impressive debut from British author, Jo Callaghan.

DSC Kat Frank, newly returned from bereavement leave, is unhappy when her boss directs her to lead a pilot program to test the suitability of using an AIDE (Artificially Intelligent Detective Entity) in a police investigation. Professor Okonedo, determined to better the operation of the force, asserts that the AIDE is not only capable of collating and analysing vast amounts of data in a fraction of the time required by a human, but has been programmed to filter out the bias and prejudice that can taint investigations. Kat doesn’t believe algorithms can truly account for the vagaries of humankind, or replace the experience and instincts she, like most good police officers, often rely on.

With input from her small handpicked team, consisting of DI Ryan Hassan and DS Debbie Browne, along with AIDE Lock, who presents as a lifelike hologram with the default appearance is as a fairly nondescript 6ft tall white male, and Professor Okonedo as an observer, Kat selects two missing person cold cases for them to review. Unexpectedly the investigation’s into the current whereabouts of university student Tyrone Walters and wanna be actor Will Robinson converge when the team discovers a sinister link in their disappearances.

Essentially In the Blink of an Eye is a police procedural, Kat and her squad conduct interviews, investigate clues and gather evidence to explain the fate of the missing men. Callaghan develops a solid mystery and I thought it played out well. There’s plenty of tension, enhanced by the anonymous perspective of a young man suffering at the hands of shadowy figures, and effective twists in the plot.

The speculative elements of the novel are thought-provoking. The conflict inherent in Kat and Lock’s different approaches to investigation, and how each affects the case, is fascinating, with the strengths and weaknesses of both methods fairly illustrated. Lock’s superior ability to gather and analyse information is undeniable but Kat proves that empathy, discretion, and an understanding of nuance are also valuable investigative tools.

I really enjoyed the unique dynamics of Kat and Lock’s partnership. Kat is a likeable lead character. As a decorated police officer, with 25 years of experience in the force, Kat is a dedicated investigator who has confidence in her abilities, but she is a little emotionally fragile given the recent death of her husband, caused in part by of a misdiagnosis by an AI, which fuels her antagonistic attitude towards the AIDE. Kat is also a mother, with her teenage son on the cusp of relocating to begin university, and as such there are aspects of the cases that she strongly relates to. It’s surprisingly difficult to refrain from ascribing human motivations and emotions to AIDE Lock. Solely driven by statistics and logic, though capable of deep learning that gives it the ability to adjust its behaviours, it nevertheless has a distinct character which I really grew to like.

With its clever, provocative premise and appealing, complex characters, In the Blink of an Eye is a compelling novel, and I believe only the first of what promises to be a great series.

++++++++

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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: 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: Going Rogue by Janet Evanovich

Title: Going Rogue: Rise and Shine Twenty-nine (Stephanie Plum #29}

Author: Janet Evanovich

Published: 1st November 2022, Headline Review

Status: Read November 2022 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Going Rogue: Rise and Shine Twenty-nine is the 29th book in the long running yet still entertaining Stephanie Plum series.

When the office manager of Vinnie’s Bail Bonds, Connie Rosolli, fails to turn up for work, Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are first puzzled and then concerned. Well Stephanie is concerned, Lula is busy ordering a new office chair and couch. Then a call comes in demanding the return of a coin Vinnie accepted in lieu of bail in exchange for Connie’s release, and Stephanie, with her Grandma Mazur riding shotgun, has to use all her bounty hunting skills to rescue her friend.

There’s a definite formula to the Stephanie Plum series but Going Rogue also offers a more involved mystery than recent instalments. Tracking down the missing coin quickly becomes complicated and Stephanie becomes a target of the kidnappers herself, resulting in plenty of action including more than one explosion, and some real tension, especially in the final scenes.

Unexpectedly there is a touch of self awareness from Stephanie in Going Rogue. She thinks a little more seriously about her job, finally learns to use the gun she usually refuses to carry, and wonders about the direction her relationships with Ranger and Morelli are taking, though there’s still no decision between the two forthcoming. I appreciated that Evanovich has finally allowed Stephanie to think about the future, and I hope there is more of that going forward.

Fun and fast-paced I enjoyed Going Rogue, despite the awkward double barrel title, and I expect regular fans will too.

++++++++

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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: No Country for Girls by Emma Styles

 

Title: No Country for Girls

Author: Emma Styles

Published: 30th August 2022, Sphere

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++++

GOLD. THEFT. MURDER.

A ROAD TRIP TO DIE FOR.

‘It’s not exactly how I imagined the week starting. An accessory to murder. On the run in the victim’s vehicle . . .’

Charlie and Nao are strangers from different sides of the tracks. They should never have met, but one devastating incident binds them together forever.

A man is dead and now they are unwilling accomplices in his murder there’s only one thing to do: hit the road in the victim’s twin cab ute, with a bag of stolen gold stashed under the passenger seat.

Suddenly outlaws, Nao and Charlie must make their way across Australia’s remote outback using only their wits to survive. They’ll do whatever it takes to evade capture and escape with their lives . . .

Thelma & Louise for a new generation, No Country for Girls is a gritty, twisty road-trip thriller that follows two young women on the run across the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Australia.

My Thoughts:

Tense and exciting No Country For Girls is an excellent crime fiction debut from Emma Styles.

Told primarily from the alternating viewpoints of Nao and Charlie, I enjoyed the contrast of the unlikely pairing. The characters are distinctive but familiar, and read authentically.

There are plenty of twists in the fast-paced plot as their escape becomes a pursuit. Styles pushes the bounds of credibility a little but not so much that it becomes farcical. Though compared to the blockbuster movie Thelma and Louise, I think it has a fair bit in common with the Australian TV series, Wanted, (though I’ve only watched the first season).

Themes include friendship, addiction, police corruption, domestic violence, and also touch on Australian First Nations issues including the Stolen Generation and mining rights.

Vivid descriptions deftly evoke the varying Australian landscapes, particularly the outback areas of Western Australia. Styles use of Australian vernacular also firmly grounds the book in its setting.

No Country For Girls is a well-written, thrilling read I’m happy to recommend.

++++++++

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Review: The Ghost of Gracie Flynn by Joanna Morrison

 

Title: The Ghost of Gracie Flynn

Author: Joanna Morrison

Published: 5th October 2022, Fremantle Press

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy Fremantle Press

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“What do you care about these things, Isla? The light and the shadows of the human heart? Nothing yet, I know. But you will, one day. And that’s what this story is about—the light and the shadows”

After the shocking death of Gracie Flynn, her closest friends- Robyn, Sam, and boyfriend Cohen drifted apart. Eighteen years later they are reunited, and Gracie watches wistfully from the ether as they stumble around each other.

The narrative unfolds from the ghostly perspective of Gracie, who is speaking to the Sam’s infant daughter, Isla. Shifting between the past and present, Gracie reveals how the foursome was formed at university, and the dynamics of their relationships, as friends, lovers and something in between. Eighteen years later none of the three are where they once imagined they would be, and Gracie’s unsolved murder still haunts them all, though in different ways. Their reunion is uncomfortable, especially as each of them are at a crossroads in their own lives. And then Sam is killed and Robyn is determined that this time she’ll find answers.

The twin mysteries unravel slowly over the course of the novel. Morrison makes good use of red herrings and well timed revelations. My suspicions regarding Grace’s killer were confirmed, but the manner surprised me. Of the multiple suspects in Sam’s murder, I couldn’t decide who was more likely to be responsible.

Gracie’s omniscient viewpoint creates an intimacy that reveals the complexity of Morrison’s characters. All of them, major and minor, are portrayed with authenticity, as are the bonds between them.

There’s a dreamy, meditative quality to Morrison’s lyrical prose. The narrative tone is imbued with a mix of longing, sorrow, and inevitably. Though quite short at just over 200 pages, the novel is well paced and feels complete.

A poignant story about friendship, longing, love, loss, and betrayal, The Ghost of Gracie Flynn is an impressive debut from Joanna Morrison.

++++++++

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