Review: Sweet Jimmy by Bryan Brown

 

Title: Sweet Jimmy

Author: Bryan Brown

Published: 31st August 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

You’ve probably seen Australian actor Bryan Brown on the big screen, perhaps in Hollywood blockbusters like F/X, Cocktail, Gorillas in the Mist, Breaker Morant, or in any of the other dozen movies he has made an appearance in, particularly if you are of a certain age. Sweet Jimmy, an entertaining collection of crime fiction short stories, is his first foray into publishing.

Primarily set within the streets of suburban Sydney, Brown’s stories combine humour, violence, and pathos. There are seven in all, and include an angry father seeking the man responsible for his daughter’s death, a thief who steals more than he bargains for, a cop investigating a serial killer, and a man hunting for the woman that betrayed him. Vengeance, betrayal, redemption, and survival are common themes, exposing men pushed to their limits. There was actually not a single tale I didn’t find engaging.

I’m not sure Sweet Jimmy would translate well to an international audience, but for me there was a definite sense of cultural familiarity. I feel Brown captures an aspect of the elusive essence of the Australian character particularly well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn some of the characters and events are inspired by real people Brown has known.

The writing strongly reminds me of the late Robert G Barrett’s work, it’s spare but still expressive, and perhaps more importantly, honest. The audio version of of the book is narrated by Brown himself, which I think would be a real treat with his distinctive voice.

Sweet Jimmy is colourful, bold, and cheeky collection of suburban Aussie noir stories.

++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

 

Title: The Housemate

Author: Sarah Bailey

Published: 31st August 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Housemate is a standalone crime novel from Australian author Sarah Bailey, best known for her popular series featuring Detective Gemma Woodstock.

When the body of a woman is found on a property in rural Victoria, interest is revived in a decade old mystery. Olive Groves was a junior reporter when the ‘Housemate Homicide’ – where a dispute among three young housemates led to the murder of one and the disappearance of another – occurred, and now rumour suggests that the missing woman has resurfaced. Given her familiarity with the case, Oli is eager to investigate further, but annoyed when her editor insists she works with a young podcaster, Cooper Ng.

In what is a well-conceived and interesting plot, Oli, aided by Cooper, digs into what really happened between the housemates on the night of the murder, and slowly uncovers a cabal whose elite members are willing to kill to keep their secrets. While I found the complex mystery intriguing, I did feel the pace of the first two thirds or so of the novel was quite slow, with much of the tension and action being confined to near the end.

Oli is an intuitive, driven investigative journalist, her methods to unearth the story are sometimes uncomfortable, but I appreciated her determination to uncover the truth. I liked how Bailey explored the tension between old and new media through the relationship between Oli and Cooper.

Oli’s personal life is a bit of a mess though, and becomes more complicated when elements of the Housemate case forces her to face some difficult truths about her relationship, and herself. I wasn’t always sympathetic to her issues, but I thought she was a well-realised, complex character.

With its cleverly plotted, absorbing mystery, The Housemate is compelling crime fiction.

++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

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Review: Cutters End by Margaret Hickey

 

Title: Cutters End

Author: Margaret Hickey

Published: 17th August 2021, Bantam Australia 

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

When public pressure results in a thirty-two year old case being reopened, Acting Inspector Mark Ariti is recalled from long service leave and tasked with reinvestigating the death of Michael Denby on a lonely stretch of the Stuart Highway. Discovered by his fire damaged car with burns and a broken leg, the original finding was one of accidental death, and there is no real expectation Ariti will learn anything new after all this time. Re-interviewing witnesses certainly seems to be a dead end, but Ariti along with Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur, stationed at Cutters End, stumble upon some information that paints the dead man in a new light and changes the direction of the investigation.

Though touted as a thriller, I feel Cutters End is better described as a police procedural. The prologue introduces some suspense with a harrowing scene, but there’s no real sense of urgency related to what may have really happened to Denby during the novel given he has been dead for several decades. There is an intriguing mystery though that unravels at a measured pace as Ariti and Kaur piece together disparate pieces of information and the reopened investigation prompts questions about a range of other suspected historical crimes.

I’d say a key theme examined by Hickey in Cutters End is the difference between the application of law and the administration of justice, particularly in regards to the poor response of police and courts to crimes against women, especially those involving sexual assault and domestic violence. This issue has relevance both in the present, as Ariti’s wife prosecutes an abusive husband, and the past, as Mark and Jagdeep learn about its secrets.

I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Ariti to be honest. Seemingly in the midst of a midlife crisis, with a failing marriage, an apathetic attitude towards his children, and shallow concerns about ageing, I felt he was quite a morose, self involved character. He is a dedicated investigator though, which I admired, and to be fair, he surprised me somewhat in the end.

Offering a well crafted mystery that takes place in an atmospheric rural Australian setting, Cutters End is a solid crime fiction debut from Margaret Hickey.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia

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Review: Trouble is My Business by Lisa Walker

 

Title: Trouble is My Business {An Olivia Grace Mystery #2}

Author: Lisa Walker

Published: 1st August 2021, Wakefield Press

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Wakefield Press

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Trouble is My Business is the second engaging mystery from Lisa Walker featuring Olivia Grace, a teen wannabe Private Investigator on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

(More to come…)

+++++++

Available from Wakefield Press

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Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

 

Title: Billy Summers

Author: Stephen King

Published: 3rd August 2021, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Hachette

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“He’s thinking of all the movies he’s seen about robbers who are planning one last job. If noir is a genre, then ‘one last job’ is a sub-genre. In those movies, the last job always goes bad.”

Billy Summers is a killer read from Stephen King, a crime thriller featuring a surprisingly likeable assassin.

 

(More to come…)

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Deep by Kyle Perry

 

Title: The Deep

Author: Kyle Perry

Published: 2nd July 2021, Penguin Books Australia

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“Black wind at morning, sailors take warning. Black wind at night, death is in sight.”

On the southern coast of Tasmania, the Dempsey family empire in Shacktown has been built not only on their monopoly of abalone fishing licenses but on their illicit drug importation business. Davy Dempsey has been the head of the family operations since his older brother, Jesse and his wife and son, vanished seven years ago, but when Jesse’s son, Forest, washes up on the beach, exhibiting signs of physical and emotional trauma, the Dempsey’s are thrown into crisis. Sensing vulnerability, a fearsome rival makes a move while family loyalties are tested and unraveling secrets threaten to swamp them all.

Kyle Perry’s second novel, The Deep, plunges readers into a turbulent, gritty, atmospheric story of betrayal, corruption, loyalty and redemption. It offers more than one mystery and several stunning twists as the members of the Dempsey family take sides in a battle for the business, and their lives. Issues such as morality, masculinity, family violence, the drug trade, and addiction are explored through a fairly large cast of characters.

The tale unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Mackerel (Mackenzie) Dempsey, the younger brother of Jesse and Davy, and the black sheep of the family; the Dempsey brothers uncle, Ahab Dempsey, who despises the drug business; and the now teenage Forest Dempsey. The Dempsey family speak of a curse that plagues their men – great success will be followed by a spectacular fall – but it’s hardly a surprise given the dangerous businesses the Dempsey’s are in, not to mention their disturbingly dysfunctional family dynamic. Perry’s characters are complex, and mostly deeply flawed, some irredeemably so, such as the Dempsey matriarch Ivy, and her two eldest sons.

I didn’t find The Deep to be as compelling as The Bluffs if I am honest, it was a little slow to start and I was probably close to halfway through the novel before I was fully invested, but from that point on, I was reluctant to put it down.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia 

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Review: The Long Game by Simon Rowell

 

Title: The Long Game

Author: Simon Rowell

Published: 3rd August 2021, Text Publishing

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Text Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts: 

 

After racing through The Long Game, I’m hoping it is the start of a new crime fiction series from South Australian author Simon Rowell.

The first homicide Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer is assigned on her return to work seems to be open and shut with the evidence clearly pointing towards Dwayne Harley stabbing his best friend, Ray Carlson, after discovering he was sleeping with his wife. Zoe’s partner, Charlie, is happy with the easy solve but something doesn’t sit right with Zoe. With her colleagues wary of her instincts given her recent extended absence, she has no choice but to investigate with only her service dog, Harry as back up.

I found myself totally invested in the fast paced, suspenseful plot of The Long Game. The motivation for the crimes are believable, and their execution is clever and original. I could easily believe that the murderer could have got away with it if Zoe hadn’t been so observant, and determined. I appreciated the procedural details that leant the police investigation authenticity, and enjoyed the action of confrontations and near misses.

The mystery behind Zoe’s extended leave adds further interest to the story. It’s obvious that she experienced something traumatic, and she’s still vulnerable to particular triggers, which is where Harry, a golden retriever, comes in. As a service dog, Harry provides support when Zoe experiences vivid flashbacks that cause her to lose awareness, but his emotional intuition also proves to be a useful investigative tool.

Zoe seems to be a determined investigator, with great instincts. I like that she is willing to back herself, though I’m not overly fond of protagonists that go it alone, I understood her need to prove herself. I thought Zoe’s partner, Charlie, was a little bland, but I liked the analyst, Anjali. Zoe has a romantic relationship with a lawyer, which seems to be fairly stable but there a sense of underlying tension which may be explored if there is a sequel.

The Long Game played just right for me with its smart plot, appealing characters and compelling pace.

++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

 

Title: Triflers Need Not Apply

Author: Camilla Bruce

Published: 5th August 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Penguin UK/NetgalleyUK

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Blending fact with fiction, author Camilla Bruce has been inspired by the life of Belle Gunness, born Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, who was a Norwegian-American serial killer active in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908, in Triflers Need Not Apply (released in the US with the title ‘In the Garden of Spite’).

Bruce, who herself was born in Norway near the small town that was home to Brynhild, gives voice to a woman who stands accused of killing as many as 40 people, including two husbands, children in her care, and men she lured to her farm with a promise of marriage before killing them for their money.

Much of the narrative is presented from the first person perspective of Belle, it reveals a childhood and adolescence marred by grinding poverty, abuse, and a horrendous event. Desperate to escape, Brynhild reinvents herself as Bella when she joins her older sister, Nellie, who has settled in America, and sets out to find a respectable, monied husband. Though marriage to a churchgoing hotel clerk with a comfortable living pacifies Belle for a short while, her avarice cannot be sated, and he eventually becomes her first American victim.

In a testament to Bruce’s skilled writing, it’s uncomfortable to be in the mind of Belle, who is petulant, manipulative, cold and often cruel, harbouring a seething rage beneath her public veneer. Fury and spite was the driving force behind her several of the earlier murders, but those committed later in La Porte, were calculated, motivated by an insatiable greed. Many of the details Bruce fictionalises tries to provide context for Belle’s motives and behaviour. The narrative suggests she is a sociopath, but questions if she was born or made that way, and there is the implication of mental illness, as Belle imagines dirt and rot clinging to walls and objects in homes where her mood has soured.

The intermittent perspective of Bella’s sister, Nellie, provides additional insight to her character, though I thought her contribution to the narrative was often repetitive and hindered the pace of the story. Nellie, a quiet, pious, hard working woman whose wants are modest, loves her sister and feels guilty when she suspects Belle of various misdeeds, but it’s many years before she is able to face the truth of what her sister is capable of.

I felt the settings in the novel, from a Norwegian hovel, to a Chicago tenement, and a farm in Idaho, were well rendered, and the historical period represented accurately. It’s clear, and confirmed by the Author’s Notes, that Bruce undertook a great deal of  research and while there is plenty of invention in this novel, it feels grounded in truth and plausibility. There are some pacing issues, but the writing is of a high standard.

Triflers Need Not Apply has the potential to appeal to a wide audience, including those who enjoy crime and historical fiction, and the true crime genre. A disturbing, and darkly enthralling read.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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Review: The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh

 

Title: The Devil’s Advocate {Eddie Flynn #6}

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Published: 27th July 2021, Orion

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++


My Thoughts:

 

Conman turned lawyer Eddie Flynn and his team find themselves in Alabama fighting for the life of a young man facing the death penalty in The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh.

When the body of college student/bar waitress Skylar Edwards is found partially buried in a lot behind a truck stop, the corrupt local sheriff is quick to arrest her young colleague, Andy Dubois, and the sadistic county District Attorney to guarantee the death penalty. Despite damning evidence to the contrary, it’s clear to Eddie that Andy has been framed, and he has no chance of a fair trial in Buckstown.

Always one to side with the underdog, Eddie is really up against it the small minded town harbouring corrupt officials, racists, extremists, and more than one killer. No one is interested in justice, just vengeance and power. The conspiracy, and it’s extent, is terrifying, with a vein of plausibility I found very disturbing. Cavanagh seems to draw some inspiration from the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as current events. The plot is layered, offering some plenty of tense moments and surprises, and unfolds at a good pace.

Eddie’s nemesis in the case is Randal Korn, who presents as a diligent, successful  District Attorney, but is a sadist who revels in having the power over life and death and will do anything to keep it. A great legal defence isn’t going to be enough to ensure justice for Andy against such a man, and Eddie and his team, which includes fellow lawyer Kate, investigator Bloch, and mentor Harry, have to play smart and dirty if they are going to save their clients life. Eddie doesn’t mind taking risks when he needs to, but is reluctant for his colleagues to do so. I really enjoyed the team dynamic in this instalment, and that they each have a crucial role to play in the story.

Despite this being the sixth instalment of the Eddie Flynn series, I think it can work as a stand alone. A great read, The Devil’s Advocate is a gripping, dramatic and disturbing legal thriller.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

 

Title: The Newcomer

Author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Published: 2nd July 2021, Scribe Publications

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Scribe Publications

 

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Loosely inspired by the 2002 murder of a woman on Norfolk Island, The Newcomer is a provocative literary crime novel by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.

Paulina Novak, even at 28, is a wild child. Reckless, self absorbed and brazen, with an eating disorder and a drinking problem, she ditched her life in Sydney for a fresh start on the tiny island of Fairfolk, off the eastern coast of Australia. Fairfolk doesn’t take kindly to ‘mainie’s’, especially to someone like Paulina who is wilfully disruptive and openly contemptuous of the insular community, so when two years later, on the day before Paulina’s thirtieth birthday, her body is found under a sheet of black plastic in a field, few are surprised.

Her mother, Judy, waiting in a hotel room to share lunch with her daughter, however is heartbroken, and determined that Paulina’s killer be bought to justice. Given the size of the island community, despite the plethora of possible suspects, Judy expects that the case will be solved quickly, but she it’s two long years before she gets answers.

Moving between Paulina’s past and Judy’s present, the narrative is as much a character study as it is a novel about a crime. Woollett explores interesting questions about mental health, trauma, misogyny, belonging, and victimhood.

Woollett doesn’t present a flattering portrayal of the victim. Paulina is a character that really doesn’t invite sympathy, and I found myself in the uncomfortable position of thinking to myself that her murder seemed almost inevitable given her behaviours. I think that in large part this is the point of The Newcomer, to have the reader confront their unconscious bias with regards to victimhood, because of course it’s not Paulina’s behaviour that is responsible for her death, it is the behaviour of her killer.

Judy too is a complex character, with her own history of trauma, though she is far more sympathetic. A caring mother who has done her best to support her mercurial adult daughter, she’s devastated by Paulina’s death. Woollett portrays her grief in what I felt was a realistic, if sometimes uncomfortable, manner.

Challenging, bold, and poignant, The Newcomer is not an easy read, but it is definitely thought-provoking.

+++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

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