Review: The Liars by Petronella McGovern

 

Title: The Liars

Author: Petronella Govern

Published: 30th August 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++++

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Review: After the Flood by Dave Warner

 

Title: After the Flood {Dan Clement #4}

Author: Dave Warner

Published: 2nd August 2022, Fremantle Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Fremantle Press

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++++

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Review: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

 

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

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 15th September 2022, Viking

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++++

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Review: Dark Deeds Down Under Edited by Craig Sisterson

 

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

Author: Craig Sisterson (Editor)

Published: 26th June 2022, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Clan Destine Press

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++++

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Review: Criminals by James O’Loghlin

 

Title: Criminals

Author: James O’Loghlin

Published: 5th July 2022, Bonnier Echo

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++++

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Review: Counterfeit by Kirsten Chen

Title: Counterfeit

Author: Kirsten Chen

Published: 7th June 2022, William Morrow

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++++

My Thoughts:

A novel with a clever twist, Counterfeit by Kirsten Chen is an entertaining read.

“Now, looking back, I see all the things I got wrong, all my preconceived notions and mistaken assumptions…. But I’ve gotten carried away. Enough about me. We’re here to talk about Winnie.”

Written in an almost, but not quite, stream-of-consciousness style, Part I unfolds from the perspective of Ava Wong. In her version of events, related anxiously to a police detective, Ava claims to be a victim of her former college roommate Winnie Fang. While Ava, with her Ivy League education, a handsome successful husband and a young son, may seem to have had it all, she confesses, her life was a bit of a mess. She was therefore vulnerable when Winnie, once a ‘fobby’ (denouncing her as fresh off the boat) now beautiful, confident and wealthy, blackmailed Ava into becoming involved in the business of importing and selling counterfeit luxury goods.

It is a convincing tale of woe that provokes some sympathy for Ava, especially as it seems Winnie has disappeared and left her holding the bag, so to speak, and is the perfect set up from Chen for the revelations in Part II.

“I guess what I’m saying, Detective, is that Winnie convinced me that ours was a benign and victimless crime.”

I quite enjoyed learning about the counterfeit trade, though it only reinforces my opinion that the value assigned to designer gear is a spectacular rort. I agree in part that counterfeiting is a victimless crime, at least where it concerns the buyers, whose only injury is to their ego, not so much for the sweatshop workers though. The scheme the women run seems surprisingly simple if you are bold enough, and though not without its risks, it seems the financial rewards are high.

“Everyone has a price. The trick is figuring out what it is without overpaying.”

I thought the way the story turned on itself, more than once, was really quite clever. Chen occasionally leans into the western stereotypes surrounding Asians, but deliberately so I think, making a point about expectations and how Ava and Winnie used them to their advantage.

Though its subject is con artists and crime, Counterfeit is an easy, fun, stylish read.

++++++++

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Review: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivener

 

Title: Dirt Town

Author: Hayley Scrivenor

Published: 31st May 2022, Pan Macmillan Australia 

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Dirt Town (published in the US as Dirt Creek) is an impressive crime fiction debut from Hayley Scrivenor.

When twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi fails to return home from school one afternoon, the small country town of Durton is horrified. The reader knows from the outset that Esther is dead, though it’s five long days before the town learns her tragic fate.

Dirt Town unfolds from multiple perspectives, most notably the poignant voices of Esther’s best friends, Ronnie and Lewis; the missing girl’s devastated mother, Constance; investigative officer Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels; and a dramatic ‘Greek chorus’ that represents the children of the community.

This is an absorbing, tense mystery where Esther’s disappearance prompts the revelation of several secrets. It’s not just the girl’s killer who is desperate to hide wrong-doing from Michael’s investigation, and untangling the mistakes, deceits, scandals, and crimes that cloud the case is a challenge for an outsider. With so many viable suspects, I did not guess the answer as to who, or why, until it was revealed.

Sensitive readers may find particular scenes disturbing, but I did not feel they were gratuitous, and spoke to character.

The insular nature of the community, it’s remote location and hot, energy-sapping weather create an atmospheric read. The characters anxiety supports the momentum of the narrative, which is measured, but not slow.

Skilfully crafted, Dirt Town is a gritty, intense, and moving novel that exposes a tragedy and its aftermath.

++++++++

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Review: The Fallback by D.L. Hicks

Title: The Fallback

Author: D.L. Hicks

Published: 31st May 2022, Pantera Press

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

The Fallback is the second crime novel from Australian police officer and author, DL Hicks, and while there are loose links with his debut, The Devil Inside, it reads well as a stand alone.

When Detective Senior Constable John Darken learns that the body of Eric Johnstone, a former CI placed in the witness protection program, has been found tied to the oyster beds in the small town community of Point Imlay, he volunteers to help the locals investigate. Teamed with city homicide detective Emma Capsteen, early evidence suggests that Eric (aka Rufus O’Keefe) may have blown his second chance and gotten on the wrong side of a local bikie gang, but then a second body is discovered with similar injuries and the police struggle to see a connection.

This is a well paced police procedural, as Darken, Capsteen and their local colleagues try to discover why Eric was killed and who is responsible. The drug dealing members of the Sixers and Niners are an obvious suspect, given Eric is a junkie, but Hicks presents several plausible red herrings that muddy the officers investigation. There are some tense moments for the main characters and some interesting surprises as the story unfolds, but it’s just as it all seems resolved, that Hicks makes a stunning reveal I didn’t see coming.

Darken is a likeable lead character. He is a little fragile, dealing with the recent death of his partner in the line of duty and in the midst of a divorce, but a good investigator, and a good man. I liked Emma too, she’s smart and no nonsense, and I enjoyed the hint of romance that developed between them.

I thought Eric’s perspective was an interesting facet of the novel that provided insights the police investigation couldn’t. He is a surprisingly sympathetic character, more self destructive, than villainous.

Well crafted with a gripping mystery and interesting characters, The Fallback is a great read, and I hope to read more from Hicks.

++++++++

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Title: Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

 

Title: Wrong Place Wrong Time

Author: Gillian McAllister

Published: 12th May 2022, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Jen’s relief at her teenage son’s return home late one October Friday night, turns to horror as she witnesses him stab a man just meters from their front door. Todd is promptly arrested, and Jen, along with her husband, Kelly, are left stunned, unable to speak with him until the next morning when they can return with a solicitor. The last thing Jen remembers of that night is dozing on the sofa, but when she wakes she is in bed, Todd is in his bedroom, Kelly is at work, and it’s Friday morning …again.

Jen is confused, her son and husband are bemused by her story, and Jen allows herself to be convinced she dreamed the whole thing, but nevertheless insists Todd stays home, and as she’s falling asleep she is confident she’s avoided a nightmare scenario. So why, when she next wakes, is it the day before the day before?

Every time Jen wakes, she finds herself further back in the past, sometimes days, weeks and even years, eventually realising that to change the future, and save her son, she has to determine where everything went wrong. I felt sympathy for Jen as her whole life slowly began to unravel, her past revealing crushing secrets, and admired her determination to find the answers.

The plot is intricate, though not unfathomably so, once you become comfortable with the time slips. While I’m not a fan of time travel generally, I found I was quickly absorbed in this high concept story. The novel unfolds at a compelling pace, despite moving backwards from the crime to its cause, and offers plenty of surprising twists. The epilogue too is quite the stunner.

Intriguing and clever, Gillian McAllister presents an original premise executed with impressive skill in Wrong Place Wrong Time.

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Review: The Change by Kirsten Miller

 

Title: The Change

Author: Kirsten Miller

Published: 3rd May 2022, William Morrow

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“Why do you think women are designed to outlive men? Why do we keep going for thirty years after our bodies can no longer reproduce? Do you think nature meant for those years to be useless? No, of course not. Our lives our designed to have three parts. The first is education. The second, creation. And in part three, we put our experience to use to protect those who are weaker. This third stage, which you have entered, can be one of incredible power.”

The Change is a wildly entertaining modern feminist revenge thriller with a supernatural edge from Kirsten Miller.

In the Long Island oceanfront community of Mattauk, three women embrace their destiny to avenge a murdered teenage girl discarded in a garbage bag amongst the dunes. It’s the recently widowed nurse Nessa who hears her ghostly cries, a talent inherited from her grandmother; gym owner Jo, who identifies the targets for their rage, while Harriet, whose stunning transformation from successful advertising executive to ‘wild’ woman, leads and inspires them.

As a woman very close to turning 50, suffering from the chaotic symptoms of peri menopause, uncomfortably close to becoming an empty nester, and angered by renewed attempts to subjugate women, I found something to relate to in all three of these characters. I enjoyed the fantasy of gaining power that defies western society’s general expectations for ageing women, particularly admiring Harriet’s metamorphosis and her new affinity for nature.

I was engaged by the mystery and its twists. With the Mattauk law enforcement seemingly dismissive of the victim found near the beach, the three women unite to determine the identity of her killer, eventually learning of more victims, and a shocking conspiracy perpetrated by the towns’ richest residents. I was fairly cheering as Nessa, Jo and Harriet wreaked their vengeance on the guilty.

With plenty of action and suspense, I thought the pacing was very good, and despite its length (480 pages) read the book almost in one sitting. I enjoyed the writer’s use of dark humour, and insightful, often blunt, commentary.

Compelling, witty and provocative, I found The Change to be a captivating, and even cathartic read, and recommend it without reservation.

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