Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

Title: The Mother Fault

Author: Kate Mildenhall

Published: 2nd September 2020, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall imagines a dystopian future for Australia. Parts of the country have been devastated by the effects of climate change, with coastal areas flooded by rising seas. Much of the land is barren, dry, and damaged from fracking. The populace is surveilled and controlled by The Department, who insist citizens be chipped from birth, ‘for their own protection and convenience’, and who relocate ‘citizens in need’ to gated communities known as ‘BestLife’.

So when Mim’s husband, Ben, who works for an mining conglomerate and regularly spends time in Indonesia, fails to return from his latest work trip, and no one can tell her where he is, Mim begins to panic. Then The Department shows up asking questions, intimating Mim and her children, 11 year-old Essie and 6 year-old Sam, should perhaps be transferred to BestLife until her husband is found. For Mim, whose eldest brother entered BestLife and died shortly after, the veiled threat prompts her to flee with her children with the idea of making their way to Indonesia, and to Ben.

The journey from suburban Victoria, through outback NSW, to the coast of Northern Territory, and then by sea to Indonesia, is fraught with risk. Mildenhall sets an urgent pace, maintaining tension and building further suspense as Mim attempts to evade The Department and cautiously reaches out for help.

Mim is a complex character, she’s not particularly confident in her decision to flee, nor really prepared to do so. She rarely thinks things through very well, and makes some reckless decisions, yet she doesn’t give up and her grit is admirable.

Like any mother in such a precarious position, Mim is particularly anxious about the safety of her children, heightened because of a history of postnatal depression which seems to have left her hypercritical of her own mothering skills. I thought Mildenhall’s portrayal of the family dynamic was relatable and interesting, and the children well drawn characters in their own right, particularly Essie.

Part dystopian, exploring a plausible future of environmental ruin and Owellian surveillance; part mystery thriller, with a dramatic and unexpected ending; all while exploring themes related to motherhood, marriage, and mental health, The Mother Fault is an intelligent and absorbing novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson


Title: Either Side of Midnight

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: 1st September 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2020, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“How can it be murder when the victim pulled the trigger?”

I somehow overlooked Benjamin Stevenson’s debut novel, Greenlight, shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction in 2018, which introduces true crime documentary producer, Jack Quick, but i was intrigued by the premise of Either Side of Midnight, and assured it could stand on its own.

It seems events in Greenlight didn’t go particularly well for Jack Quick. When he is introduced in Either Side of Midnight, Jack is in prison on multiple charges related to perverting the course of justice. Just before his release, he is visited by the identical twin brother of a TV presenter who had recently shot himself live on air. Despite the suicide being witnessed by millions of viewers, Harry Midford is convinced his brother was murdered, and offers Jack a substantial sum to prove it. Jack, who has his issues with his own brother, reluctantly agrees to investigate and begins by poking around the studio where ‘Mr Midnight’ was filmed and Sam killed himself. What he learns piques his interest, and as he digs deeper, Harry’s claim doesn’t seem so outlandish after all.

Inspired in part by a recent-ish landmark case in the US involving the use, or rather misuse, of technology, Stevenson presents a creative and intriguing plot, with an original twist on the ‘locked room’ mystery. I thought the storyline of Either Side of Midnight was very clever, I generally had no idea how the plot would unravel until the moment Stevenson intended it, with red herrings deftly distracting from the culprit and their motive. The action ramps up as Jack grows closer to understanding why Sam died, culminating in a exciting confrontation.

I do feel that in not having reading Greenlight, I may have missed some of the nuances of Jack’s character. He is certainly an interesting protagonist, with a unique vice. Traditionally male crime solvers tend to be alcoholics, or womanisers, or handy with their fists, or all three, Jack is bulimic. In Jack’s case the eating disorder was triggered in early adolescence by his brother’s accident, and I think the author’s representation of his illness, and his relationship with his brother, is portrayed sensitively.

Though Either Side of Midnight is set on Australia’s east coast, I didn’t think there was really a strong sense of place, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

An entertaining thriller with a complex lead and an original plot, I enjoyed Either Side of Midnight and I’ve added Greenlight to my WTR list.

+++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

Title: Gathering Dark

Author: Candice Fox

Published: 3rd August 2020, Arrow

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Random House UK/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I’ve been delighted by the international success of author, Candice Fox, whose novels I have generally found to be creative, compelling and uniquely Australian. Unfortunately I can’t say the same of Gathering Dark which reads like it was written for the lowest common denominator of the US crime/action market.

Actually that sounds a lot harsher than I intend it, in and of itself Gathering Dark offers a fast paced, action packed, entertaining story, but it was so far from what I expecting, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed

Set in L.A., newly paroled felon, Blair Harbour, is doing her best to live quietly in the hope of increasing access to her young son, when ex-cellmate ‘Sneak’ begs her to help find her missing daughter, Dayly. Despite the risk to her liberty, and life, Blair soon finds herself, with a gopher in a shoebox, careening around town in dubious company, and turning to the very detective who put her away for help when she realises she is in over her head.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of Blair, and Detective Jessica Sanchez, which run parallel until about halfway through the book. As Blair is riffling through Dayly’s few belongings, bribing a probation officer who threatens to violate her on a petty charge, and foolishly extracting a favour owed from gangster Ada Maverick; Jessica, a dedicated investigator, is dealing with jealous, venal colleagues after inheriting a multi-million dollar house from the father of a murder victim. Jessica really isn’t interested in having anything to do with Blair at all, except Blair’s son is her new neighbour, which prompts her to take a second look at Blair’s murder conviction, and what she learns, with the assistance of eccentric pathologist Diggy, suggests Jessica has a debt to repay. The situation soon goes from bad to worse in the search for Dayly, and Fox leads us on a madcap and dangerous adventure that pits the group against a mass murderer, corrupt cops, would be thieves, and each other.

Variously tense, funny, violent, poignant and outrageous, Gathering Dark is obviously best approached without preconceptions. If you can manage that then you’ll find this to be an enjoyable crime thriller.

++++++

Available from Random House UK

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

Also by Candice Fox reviewed at Book’d Out

 

  

Review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Title: The Night Swim

Author: Megan Goldin

Published: 4th August 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2029 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

“The trial starts next week. We’re in this together. Let’s see where the evidence takes us. I’m Rachel Krall and this is Guilty or Not Guilty, the podcast that puts you in the jury box.”

To ensure the continued success of her popular true crime podcast, journalist Rachel Krall decides to broadcast a trial from small town Neapolis in North Carolina, where the town’s ‘golden boy’, the college-aged, only son of wealthy parents, destined for Olympic swimming success, stands accused of the assault and rape of a sixteen year old girl. Rachel is on her way into town in advance of the trial when she discovers an envelope under her windshield wiper. The letter within begs Rachel to help her deliver justice for another sixteen year old girl, Jenny, who was murdered in Neapolis twenty-five years earlier.

“…I don’t get how we can almost unanimously agree that murder is wrong, but when it comes to rape some people still see shades of gray”.

Unfolding from the perspectives of Rachel, and the letter writer, Hannah, The Night Swim by Megan Goldin is a harrowing read that explores issues related to sexual assault, and its impact on individuals and within communities. Goldin’s approach is compassionate and thoughtful, but pulls few punches, so readers sensitive to the topic should be wary, though this story is certain to stir a range of emotions in anyone.

“That’s how the criminal justice system works. Guilty or not guilty. His word, against her word.”

Goldin has us join Rachel in the courtroom as she hears the specifics of the case from the prosecution and defence, listening to the testimony of the alleged crime from evidentiary and expert witnesses, the day’s discoveries then related in her recordings for her podcast. I thought the procedural details of the trial seemed authentic, as did the observations about the difficulties faced by prosecutors in such cases, and the ways in which the victim’s trauma is compounded by the process. Rachel tries to remain objective but it’s clear her sympathies lie with ‘K’, particularly as her own investigative digging uncovers more information.

“This year we mark a milestone. Twenty-five years since Jenny died. A quarter of a century and nothing has changed. Her death is as raw as it was the day we buried her. The only difference is that I won’t be silent anymore.”

From Hannah, we slowly learn the circumstances of her sister’s life, and how she eventually met her tragic death. My jaw grew sore from clenching my teeth in fury, frustration and disgust as Hannah describes how Jenny was victimised not only by her rapists, but also the townspeople. Only a young girl at the time who hadn’t understood what was happening to her sister, Hannah’s guilt is palpable, and despite her desire to focus on the trial, Rachel can’t help but respond to her desperate plea for help.

“Similar descriptions. Two rapes. Twenty-five years apart. In the same town.”

Eventually Rachel realises that there is some overlap between aspects of the current trial, and what happened to Jenny, and uncovering the truth behind one event, unravels the secrets of the other. I liked the way in which Goldin drew the separate threads of the story together and weaved them into a whole in a manner that didn’t feel forced, or expedient. I do consider the book to have more in common with the suspense genre, rather than a mystery or thriller, which matters little in the scheme of things though.

The Night Swim is a thought-provoking, poignant and gripping read, and there is a hint that we will meet Rachel again. I’ll be looking forward to it.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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

Review: The Less Dead by Denise Mina

Title: The Less Dead

Author: Denise Mina

Published: August 18th 2020, Mulholland Books

Status: Read August 2020, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I loved Conviction so I was eager for the opportunity to read Denise Mina’s newest release, The Less Dead.

In the wake of her adoptive mother’s death, newly separated and pregnant. Glasgow GP Margo Dunlop, decides she wants to meet her biological family. She learns that her biological mother is long dead, but her Aunt Nikki, her mother’s older sister, is eager to connect with her. Their first meeting, in a small room at the reconciliation center, leaves Margo reeling when she is told that her mother, Susan, was a drug addicted prostitute who was brutally stabbed to death just months after Margo’s birth, and Nikki wants Margo’s help to solve her murder.

“It’s a cruel story to tell a stranger. Asking for things. Demanding things. It’s not her problem, all these long-ago things. She’s got enough going on.”

A compelling novel with a noir sensibility, The Less Dead sees Margo reluctantly drawn into her Aunt’s quest to hold someone responsible for Susan’s murder. Uncomfortable with Nikki’s intensity and her biological family’s unsavoury past, Margo’s commitment is half-hearted until she too becomes a target of vile, anonymous letters that appear to be from the killer.

“’When we get killed they call us the ‘less dead’, like we were never really alive to begin with.”

‘We’ refers to sex workers, drug addicts, migrants and the poor, women like Susan and Nikki, and ‘they’ the Glasgow police who routinely turned a blind eye when it came to crimes against women on the street. Susan was one of nine sex workers from the same small area murdered in the eighties. The women themselves feared a serial killer, the police were uninterested, Nikki later became convinced the murderer was a cop. Whomever it is, he has continued to taunt Nikki over the last thirty plus years, and now Margo has his attention and the tension rises as the killer grows increasingly obsessed.

“It doesn’t feel as if she’s looking at someone else at all but a younger self, a splinter Margo.”

Honestly I found Margo to be a frustrating character who, even with the recognition she was under an enormous amount of stress, often made inexplicable decisions. However, I was impressed with the way the author explored the contrast between Margo’s adopted middle class life, and that of her struggling biological family through her. Margo may look almost exactly like her late mother but she had no understanding of life she lead, or the environment she grew up in, and the way in which she is forced to confront her own prejudice, assumptions and authority is intelligent and thought-provoking.

“… we made being outsiders the thing we were. They couldn’t break us or make us lie. We knew who we were.”

It was Nikki who I found the most interesting and authentically portrayed, along with Lizzy and Susan (even though she is not actually present). I felt sorry about the hardships the women experienced, but never found them pitiable, in fact I admired them.

Though not a fast-paced book, The Less Dead is thrilling, with a pervasive sense of unease and a steady increase in tension. Gritty, insightful and absorbing, it’s only the character of Margo that unfortunately let it down for me.

++++++

Available from Hachette: Mulholland Books

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

Also by Denise Mina reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

 

Title: When She Was Good {Cyrus Haven #2}

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: July 28th 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

When She Was Good is the second intriguing thriller to feature forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven by bestselling author Michael Robotham.

When Cyrus consults on a retired detective’s suspicious death and learns of a possible connection between the murdered man’s activities and the mysterious past of a girl once known as ‘Angel Face’ and now called Evie, he ignores her plea to leave it alone, and begins an investigation of his own. Evie knows if Cyrus learns the truth of what she endured before she was found hiding in a cardboard box within the walls of a house as a half-starved twelve-year-old, neither he, nor she, will be safe from the men determined to ensure her secrets remain buried.

While Evie Cormac is introduced in Good Girl, Bad Girl, it is in When She was Good that we learn her real identity, and the horrifying secrets of her tragic past. Robotham leads us into a disturbing conspiracy among a vile subsection of society’s elite that exploits young children, one Evie was only able to escape when a driver took pity on her. His brutal murder led to Evie being found by a young special Constable, Sacha Hopewell, and eventually remanded to a secure children’s facility. Now seventeen, Evie has never trusted anyone with the truth of her experience but when Cyrus begins to investigate, he unwittingly exposes Evie to the man who held her captive and is willing to kill anyone to protect himself.

Robotham develops the tension well as Cyrus grows closer to discovering the truth. It quickly becomes clear that the ruthless leader of the paedophile ring has developed an extensive network he can manipulate to insulate himself, which even includes members of the police force. There are several action packed, heart stopping scenes as Cyrus and Evie are targeted by a contract killer.

The complex relationship dynamic, which blurs the line between the professional and personal, between Evie and Cyrus is unusual, but works well. I liked Cyrus, though given both his past and his profession, I thought him somewhat naive about the realities of facing off against a rich and powerful adversary. Evie may have limited experience with the world, but even she knows that men like her torturer are rarely held to account. Evie is cynical, brash and defensive, and I both pitied and admired her. I’d have liked to learn more about her gift for identifying lies, and think Robotham missed an opportunity there. I’ll be interested to see what role Evie plays in this series going forward, especially as there are elements of her life still unexplained.

Fast paced and absorbing, with a satisfying conclusion, When She Was Good is an entertaining thriller sure to appeal to crime fiction readers.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Also by Michael Robotham reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

Title: The Erasure Initiative

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Published: August 1st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Erasure Initiative is an absorbing and entertaining YA psychological thriller from Lili Wilkinson

“I wake up, and for a few precious seconds I don’t realise there’s anything wrong.”

Roused by the jolting movements of the self driving bus she is riding in, Cecily, who only learns her name from the sticker on her t-shirt (HELLO! MY NAME IS CECILY), realises she has no memory of herself. Neither does she remember where she is coming from, or where she is going, and recognises none of six strangers, of varying ages and ethnicities, accompanying her. As the group speculate about their predicament, the other passengers having admitted they are similarly affected, a message appears on the screens in front of them…

“You are in a moving vehicle. Before you the road forks. Ahead, there are five pedestrians. On the side road there is one pedestrian. You can press a button and the bus will turn off onto the side road. The bus will not stop. Do you press the button? YES/NO”

This is only the first of several tests that force the passengers to choose between life and death.

In this well-paced novel, fraught with escalating tension, Wilkinson offers an intriguing premise that explores issues surrounding identity, personality, and morality in The Erasure Initiative. With no past with which to define yourself, what sort of person would you choose to be? Are we shaped by nature or nurture? Can someone ever be anything other than who they are? How do you determine the value of a life?

Cecily may not remember anything about who she is, but she is certain she does not want to be on this bus which seems to be circling a deserted island, and is determined to do all she can to escape it. Though wary of placing her trust in her fellow passengers she is especially drawn to Nia, a dark-skinned, shaved-head girl with an anti authoritarian attitude, a high tech prosthetic leg and computer hacking skills, and Paxton, whose confidence, warm smile, and good looks help dampen her anxiety.

“What do you do when you learn that you’re the villain of your own story?”

I enjoyed the varied characters in The Erasure Initiative, though some have a larger role to play than others in the story, they each have a purpose. As the passengers struggle to piece together their identities, based on the few clues they are able to glean, their assessments of each other, and themselves, waver and shift. Cecily in particular is blind-sided by information that contradicts her perception of herself and who she wants to be.

Clever, compelling and challenging, The Erasure Initiative is a great read, sure to impress.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$19.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Playing Nice by J.P. Delaney

Title: Playing Nice

Author: J.P. Delaney

Published: July 28th 2020, Quercus

Status: Read July 2020, courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Playing Nice is a taut and thrilling tale of domestic suspense by J.P. Delaney, a pseudonym of Ugandan born British author, Tony Strong who has also written popular novels under the name Anthony Capella.

“It was just an ordinary day.”

When Pete Riley answers a knock at his door one ordinary day, the last thing he expects to be told is that his two year old son, Theo, is in fact, not his. Brandishing a DNA test, Miles Lambert announces that biologically, Theo is his son, and presumably the boy in his care, David, is therefore Pete’s, a result of a hospital mix-up.

Miles is quick to assure Pete, and his partner Maddie, that he and his wife, Lucy, want only what is best for the boys, and agree that each child should remain with their presumed parents, but for the families to spend time together. Pete and Maddie are relieved that the Lambert’s seem to be an amicable and generous couple, and then the veneer of civility begins to slip…

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Pete and Maddie, Playing Nice explores a rare and complicated situation, with the addition of a devious twist. To discover the child you have loved and cared for since birth is not your own, and then to be faced with losing not only him, but also any connection with your biological child, is a parent’s worst nightmare.

Pete and Maddie are quite naive to begin with, trusting that Miles and Lucy are who they seem to be, yet there are hints that Miles in particular is telling them only what they want to hear. This becomes blatantly obvious when the Riley’s are abruptly served with papers demanding full custody of both boys. I was literally gritting my teeth with the tension, my level of frustration with everyone, including the Riley’s, growing exponentially as Miles effortlessly manipulated every situation to his advantage, leaving Pete and Maddie in danger of losing everything, including their lives.

Within the story Delaney explores the question of nature vs nurture, Theo, for example, has behavioural issues which could stem from a hereditary trait. The author also challenges parenting stereotypes with Pete as the stay at home dad and the more nurturing partner of the relationship. While typically men are considered to prize the biological link to their offspring, it’s Maddie who feels the instinctive connection to David. It’s also Maddie, who exhibits behaviours more commonly ascribed to male partners.

The characters in Playing Nice are well realised, flawed to a lesser and greater extent though all essentially familiar, except for Miles. Manipulative, vindictive, and merciless, Miles is a psychopath, who is incapable of ‘playing nice’.

Gripping, fascinating and disturbing, I found Playing Nice to be a well-paced and cleverly crafted novel.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

 

Title: In the Clearing

Author: J.P Pomare

Published: July 23rd 2020, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hodder & Staughton/NetgalleyUK

++++++

My Thoughts:

In the Clearing is an intense and unnerving read from J.P. Pomare, whose debut novel, Call Me Evie, won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel.

Divided into six parts and unfolding from two shifting perspectives we are introduced to Amy, a young teenage girl who knows only life in The Clearing, a tiny isolated community led by the charismatic ‘Queen’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Deity’ Adrienne; and single mother Freya, who is determined to provide love and security for her young son, Billy, in their riverside home on the outskirts of Melbourne, but is haunted by her past mistakes.

Examining the role of nature vs nurture in a manner that suggests we may never truly escape our past, Pomare draws inspiration from the doomsday cult known as ‘The Family’, active in Australia for roughly twenty years in the 70’s and 80’s. In the Clearing he presents a complex and unpredictable plot that is skillfully crafted and insidiously compulsive. From the novel’s first pages the author grows a sense of unease which intensifies as the story progresses. Though the pace is measured, Pomare builds to shocking twists, and yet never quite allays our anxiety.

I’m loathe to spoil the experience for readers, but it seems responsible to warn that In the Clearing has its dark moments, alluding to the abhorrent abuse of children, and the occasional explicit, but not gratuitous, description of violence.

Provocative, clever, and powerful, In the Clearing is a stunning and devastating novel which will be difficult to forget.

++++++

Available from Hodder & Staughton UK

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

Review: Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

Title: Deadman’s Track

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: July 8th 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Evoking both the beauty and danger of Tasmania’s mountains and rugged coastline, with the capricious winter weather often mirroring the tension of the storyline, Deadman’s Track is a riveting romantic thriller from Sarah Barrie.

The story opens with a breathtaking scene as wilderness guide Tess Atherton clings to the side of Tasmania’s Federation Peak attempting to save the life of a careless client, and it’s not the last time in Deadman’s Track that she will find herself trapped in a precarious position. The nail biting plot offers plenty of fast paced, tense action that sees Tess caught in the middle of a violent robbery, stalked by an ex-boyfriend, and targeted by a psychotic killer as she leads five teenagers through the Tasmanian bush.

The youngest of the Atherton siblings who own and run Calico Lodge, (with her brothers, Logan and Connor, featured in Bloodtree River and Devil’s Lair respectively), I thought Tess was an appealing character, who In the face of both physical and emotional challenges, proved to be courageous and resilient. She is confronted with two notable antagonists in Deadman’s Track, Aaron, who doesn’t it take it well when Tess tries to end their relationship, and ex-con Paxton. The behaviour of both men serves to push her closer to Jared, a local police detective with whom Tess has some history. A likeable character, thoughtful and straightforward both personally and professionally, Jared is a good match for Tess, and I enjoyed the development of their relationship, despite the somewhat awkward timing.

It may be considered ambitious of Barrie to include intrigue, action, romance and some thoughtful social commentary in Deadman’s Track, but she does so effortlessly, creating a credible and compelling story. Exciting, atmospheric and gripping, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sarah Barrie reviewed at Book’d Out

 

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