Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan


Title: The Murder Rule

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: 4th May 2022, WilliamMorrow

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss



My Thoughts:


Offering some startling twists and turns, The Murder Rule is a compelling stand alone legal thriller from best selling author, Dervla McTiernan.

When law student Hannah Rokeby learns that the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia is making progress overturning the sentence of convicted rapist and murderer, Michael Dandridge, she leaves her sick mother, Laura, in the care of a neighbour, and relocates to Charlottesville where she convinces Professor Robert Parekh she’d be an asset to the program. But Hannah doesn’t want to save Michael, she wants to ensure the man is never released.

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of The Murder Rule, and why, and how, a young woman might go about undermining a prisoner’s release. With the preliminary hearing for dismissal imminent, the Innocence team, and Hannah, are under pressure to complete their respective objectives, and that tension translates well to the story’s pacing.

Hannah certainly seems convinced that her mission is righteous, and though her ruthless moves to gain a place on the project are not flattering, once her motive is disclosed in the alternating chapters that provide entries from her mother’s diary written 24 years earlier, Hannah’s behaviour seems if not reasonable, then at least justifiable. I liked the ambiguity of Hannah’s character, I was never entirely sure what she’d do, particularly when faced with information that challenged her beliefs.

There are some quite spectacular surprises in the novel, one twist in particular made me gasp out loud as it was so unexpected. There are also a number of tense, and even violent, moments as Hannah, and her colleagues, step on toes during their investigation. As much as I enjoyed the story, I have to admit there are some distracting flaws related to the legal elements of the story, and these particularly detracted from the intensity of the climatic courtroom scene, even though the outcome was satisfying.

Though not as sophisticated as McTiernan’s award winning Cormac Reilly, I still found The Murder Rule to be a page-turning, entertaining thriller with a compelling concept.


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Review: Til Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette


Title: Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part

Author: Kathy Lette

Published: 29th March 2022, Vintage

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:


The reported death of Jason Riley triggers a madcap revenge caper in Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette.

As sixty year old schoolteacher Gwen Brookes stares grief-stricken at all that remains of her handsome, loving husband of two years, Jason Riley, – a swimming cap and a piece of torn, blood-stained wetsuit – after he was reportedly taken by a shark while training for an Ironman competition, a woman in a bejewelled bustier and leather jacket barrels through the crowd calling her husband’s name. To Gwen’s horror, jazz singer Tish also claims to be Jason’s wife, and though she is loathe to believe it, Tish has their wedding certificate issued a year earlier, as proof. More shocks are to come when the women sit across from Jason’s lawyer and learn that his entire estate, and much of theirs, had been transferred to a female business partner in Egypt just days before his death.

Despite the antipathy between the two Mrs Riley’s, and Gwen’s fear of flying, the women fly to Cairo in the hope of recovering their money only to discover Jason, alive and well, in the arms of a younger woman. As Jason flees through the streets of the city, Gwen learns that Skye, a geologist, is not just Jason’s business partner but also his wife of less than a year, and though Skye is sceptical of the women’s claims, when she logs on to her banking account she finds both their business, and her personal account have been emptied.

Now three very hurt, angry and near broke Mrs Riley’s are on the trail of the conman they had the misfortune to marry, and Jason may well wish he was dead if they manage to catch him.

Sure the plot is absurd, but it’s also fun as the reader is led all over the globe while the women give chase, from Cairo to the Maldives, from Tanzania and through Europe, with Jason just barely eluding their grasp several times. Though it’s a whirlwind world tour, geography teacher Gwen insists on visiting at least some cultural sites as the women pursue their quarry by plane, train, ship and even bicycle, uncovering more victims of Jason’s as they go.

Tish’s bold personality and raunchy sense of humour contrasts sharply with Gwen’s sensible, timid manner, and Skye’s crystal loving spirituality. A descending decade or so apart in age (Gwen is the oldest) the women have almost nothing in common so there is plenty of conflict between them, but the bond that slowly develops between Gwen and Tish in particular is warming.

The dialogue consists mostly of wisecracks, innuendo and quips. Though Lette made me laugh more than once, the humour tends to be obvious and get a little one-note after a while.

For all its inanity however, the story does address issues such as the vulnerability of women of all ages and social groups to so called ‘love rats’, and explores the idea that women can choose to embrace the post menopausal period as an opportunity to redefine their lives.

Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part is a funny, raunchy, fast-paced adventure that you’ll likely either love or hate.


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Review: Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

Title: Those Who Perish {Caleb Zelic #4}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: 1st March 2022, Echo Publishing

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

“He’d done the worst he could, the best he could, just had to find a way of living with it.”

Those Who Perish is the final Instalment in the outstanding crime series by Emma Viskic featuring deaf security consultant Caleb Zelic.

Following the tumultuous events of Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, and Darkness for Light, Caleb seems to be in a better place. Business is steady, he’s reconciled with his wife, Kat, and with the birth of their first child imminent he is making plans for the future, but it all begins to come undone when Caleb receives a text warning him that his estranged brother, Anton, is in trouble. After rescuing an ungrateful Anton from the attentions of a sniper, Caleb vows to untangle his brother from whatever he’s gotten himself into, and is drawn into the strange goings on in the insular community of Muttonbird Island, a short ferry ride across Resurrection Bay.

Viskic develops a complex plot that has Caleb struggling to make sense of the links between a new rehabilitation facility on the island, a sniper with a growing body count, shipping invoices, blackmail, Neo-Nazi’s, and a cheese maker. Even with Anton’s grudging cooperation, Caleb doesn’t feel as if he is making much progress, but he must be stepping on someone’s toes because his family’s house is blown up, and very nearly Caleb too, more than once. There are plenty of red herrings, and personally I was as stumped as Caleb, not sure what was really going on or who was involved, until almost the same moment it all came together for him.

While there has been plenty of action over the course of the series, Viskic has never neglected Caleb’s character development, and I was cheered by his emotional growth in Darkness for Light, so it’s almost painful to witness Caleb backsliding in Those Who Perish. His concerns about impending fatherhood, Anton’s presence, and being back in Resurrection Bay reopens old wounds and insecurities, and overwhelmed, Caleb shuts down. By the time he is able to acknowledge that mistake his relationship with his brother, and Kat, may be past saving.

I’ve always appreciated the sharpness of Viskic’s succinct prose, reflecting in part, I think, Caleb’s own experience of understanding speech, and suited to the fast pace of the plot. Though descriptions are brief, they are enough to conjure images of the characters and landscape. Those Who Perish could be read as a stand alone but I recommend investing in the prior books for an enhanced experience.

I’m grateful for the epilogue that provides a semblance of closure, yet that still leaves the possibility of revival open. Those Who Perish is an exciting, tense and compelling finale to a stellar series.


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Review: When We Fall by Aoife Clifford


Title: When We Fall

Author: Aoife Clifford

Published: 2nd March 2022, Ultimo Press

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Ultimo Press



My Thoughts:


When We Fall is an atmospheric suspense novel from Australian author Aoife Clifford.

When Alex Tillerson discovers the lower leg of a young women washed up on a beach in the small community of Merritt on Australia’s southern coast, she is both repulsed and intrigued. Identified as belonging to Maxine McFarlane, a local teacher and artist, the police chief seems too eager to declare her death a tragic accident, and Alex is perturbed by the irregularities in his investigation.

A barrister, who is visiting Merritt to convince her mother to move into an assisted living facility due to the onset of dementia, Alex feels compelled to do some investigating of her own, and learns of a connection between the dead woman and the unsolved murder of a teenage girl, Bella, a year earlier. The suggestion that a missing painting holds the answers seems credible when the woman organising a memorial art exhibition is beaten to death, but Alex refuses to be intimidated, determined to unmask a killer. Red herrings abound as Alex examines the actions of the Senior Sergeant ‘King’ Kelly, a handsome local doctor, Bella’s aggressive step-father, and the incongruous presence of a tech mogul. I was proved wrong in my early guess at the motivation and perpetrator, and clever plotting ensured I was surprised by some of the twists.

There are links to issues such as climate change, environmental activism, unemployment, addiction, forced adoption, and prejudice in When We Fell. The title of the novel relates to the story in several ways including a local museum exhibition, the experiences of Alex’s mother as a ‘fallen woman’, and Bella’s wings, a homemade affectation the girl wore everywhere which went missing on her death.

Clifford’s writing is articulate and expressive, with vivid description. The pace is taut, and the suspense is enhanced by the towns claustrophobic environs. A disused lighthouse undergoing rehabilitation looms ominously over the town symbolising the fallacy of safe harbour, and the secrets shrouded in darkness ashore.

Immersive with an intriguing, well-crafted mystery, I found When We Fall to be an engrossing read.


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Review: The Mother by Jane Caro


Title: The Mother

Author: Jane Caro

Published: 1st March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


The Mother is the first novel for adults from Jane Caro, a Walkley Award winning columnist, writer, broadcaster, documentary maker, feminist, activist, advocate and 2022 Australian Senate candidate.

Miriam Duffy has always regretted the emotional distance between herself and her sensitive youngest daughter, Ally, and worries that after the sudden death of her husband, Ally’s father, their relationship will deteriorate further without Pete as a buffer. With Ally having recently wed after a whirlwind courtship, and moved some hours away with her handsome husband, veterinarian Nick, Miriam hopes to forge a better relationship with her daughter, so Miriam is hurt when Ally discourages her from visiting them, especially after the couple announce an unplanned pregnancy.  Barely three months after Teddy’s birth Ally announces she is pregnant again, and Miriam is concerned when her son in law calls to tell her he’s worried about Ally’s state of mind. Miriam drops everything to rush to Ally’s aid and is surprised to find that her daughter is fine, just unsurprisingly tired and nauseous. The house is clean, Teddy is thriving, Nick seems solicitous, and the local mental health nurse seems satisfied Ally is well. So it comes as a shock when, three months after Isla is born, Miriam receives a call to alert her that Ally has left Nick, and she and the children are on their way to seek refuge with Miriam.

Though she wonders if Ally is perhaps overreacting to the normal stresses of marriage and parenting, Miriam listens in growing horror as it’s revealed that Ally has been subjected to an escalating campaign of manipulation, criticism, intimidation and control since the early days of their marriage, culminating in a terrifying assault. What the social worker describes is a pattern of behaviour labeled coercive control, a method of domestic violence, which is the core theme of The Mother. Caro exposes the insidious nature of the abuse that is wielded in relationships by an abuser to control their partner, slowly stripping them of their agency, without leaving the obvious marks of physical violence that might alert others. Ally’s experience is harrowing, and demonstrates how easily an abuser is able to exploit every vulnerability in their victim.

Almost worse perhaps is Ally’s journey to extricate herself from her relationship with him. Nick is furious she has left and immediately begins a campaign of harassment, supported by his parents. In NSW, where The Mother is set, coercive control as a method of domestic violence is yet to be recognised by the courts (though the government has committed to doing so), and Miriam is astonished by how little protection is available for Ally, with existing laws, including AVO’s, proving woefully inadequate.

While the divorce eventually goes through, four years later Nick still continues to intimidate Ally in ways that the law seems helpless to stop. When his threats escalate, and the law still refuses to intervene, Miriam makes a momentous choice. It took me a fair while to warm to Miriam, she’s pretty self involved, even with the excuse of grief. As to the decision she makes, I don’t see it as an admirable act, but in theory, I do see it as courageous, and regrettably necessary.

I admit to having to put the book down at certain points, upset and infuriated, particularly by the inaction of the law, because Ally’s experience all too accurately reflects real life. The author boldly points out the flaws in the justice system and in particular its repeated failures to protect women and children from violent men, with references to recent appalling crimes in Australia.

While I thought the story was well written, at times I thought a fraction more subtlety could have been effective. I did think the pacing was a little off too, the first half weighed down with detail that wasn’t really necessary to the story.

Nevertheless, The Mother is a powerful and thought-provoking read, providing insight into the issue of coercive control, and shining a light on the inadequacy of our current protections for the victims.


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Review: Nine Lives by Peter Swanson


Title: Nine Lives

Author: Peter Swanson

Published: 3rd March 2022, Faber UK

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Faber & Faber/NetgalleyUK



My Thoughts:


“Inside was a single piece of paper, computer printed, the font Courier, like the mailing label.

Matthew Beaumont

Jay Coates

Ethan Dart

Caroline Geddes

Frank Hopkins

Alison Horne

Arthur Kruse

Jack Radebaugh

Jessica Winslow”

Drawing inspiration from the Agatha Christie classic, ‘And Then There Were None’ aka ‘The ABC Murders, in Nine Lives, Peter Swanson’s eighth novel, nine individuals each receive a list of nine names that includes their own.

Most dismiss the odd letter, but FBI agent Jessica Winslow submits the list she received for analysis. She’s surprised when the next day she’s alerted to the murder of a Frank Hopkins. Discovered on a Maine beach below his resort hotel, clutching a torn envelope containing the same list of names, seventy two year old Frank had been forcibly drowned in a tidal pool. Reaching out to the other names listed, spread across the United States, with seemingly nothing in common and no obvious connections, Jessica wonders if Frank’s murder is simply a coincidence, until Matthew Beaumont is shot dead while jogging.

Unusually there is no real central character in Nine Lives, the story unfolds from multiple perspectives, some of whom only have a brief role. I thought this narrative frame worked well, and Swanson ably established distinct characters within these limitations. Those named on the list react with varying levels of concern to the assumed threat on their lives, but whether they underestimate the threat or not, it seems the killer is not to be dissuaded from his mission. The suspense builds as each body drops and I found the loss of some characters more affecting than others.

I deduced some elements of the mystery fairly early on, but overall I thought the plot was well crafted, with the requisite scattered clues and misdirects. There’s some information given near the end of the story that seems to have been overlooked by some readers, but which I think helps what appears to be a somewhat weak motive make more sense.

I enjoyed Nine Lives, finding it to be a clever and tense tale of revenge.


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Review: The Trivia Night by Ali Lowe


Title: The Trivia Night

Author: Ali Lowe

Published: 22nd February 2022, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy Hachette Australia



My Thoughts:


The Trivia Night is an entertaining new addition to the Australian domestic noir genre from debut author Ali Lowe.

The first big fundraising event of the year for Darley Heights Public, a primary school in a wealthy beachside suburb of Sydney, is an adults-only fancy dress trivia night. Four couples take their place at table number six- Alice, the event organiser, and her husband Pete, Zoe and Miles, and newcomers Amanda and Ted, and Lara and Luke. As the drinks flow, conversation wanders from the benign to the risqué, and as inhibitions loosen, so too does the group’s behaviour. The morning after, a hangover is not the only consequence of the night, and the couples are left with more questions than answers.

Unfolding mainly from the alternating perspectives of Amanda in the present tense, Alice, as she speaks to her therapist, and Zoe through emails to her sister, the scandalous actions events that took place during the trivia night, and the aftermath are revealed. While each swore to never speak of the night again, when Amanda receives photographic evidence of their transgressions and a threat to release them, the women from table 6 are desperate to prevent their secrets being exposed.

Lowe explores a myriad of issues such as marital discord, alcoholism, domestic violence, infertility, sexual identity, grief, jealousy and schoolyard politics in The Trivia Night, affecting the characters and their relationships. The main characters are complex and largely credible, though Amanda’s nemesis is a bit of a stereotype.

There is plenty of addictive drama with partner swapping shenanigans, confessions, bitter betrayals and a shocking death. There’s well timed humour too amongst the tension and emotion, and I thought the writing and dialogue was strong and sharp. I found the plot to be fairly predictable though, expecting slightly higher stakes I think, though I enjoyed the final twist.

I think The Trivia Night will particularly appeal to those with children still in school, if only because at the next interminable fundraiser event it will be kind of fun to identify which couples resemble the characters. This is a strong debut, and I look forward to reading more from Lowe.


Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Wild Dogs by Michael Trant


Title: Wild Dogs

Author: Michael Trant

Published: 1st February 2022, Bantam Australia 

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia



My Thoughts:


Wild Dogs is an exciting and gripping crime thriller from author Michael Trant.

Dingo trapper Gabe Ahearn is somewhere he shouldn’t be in the Western Australian outback when he stumbles across a pair of thugs looming over two Afghan men pleading for their lives at gunpoint. Gabe is the first to declare he is not a good man, but he can’t simply stand by and watch a cold blooded execution and intervenes, saving one man’s life. Amin is grateful but frantic, the victim of a human trafficking ring, his wife and son are still in danger and he needs to rescue them before his captors figure out he is still alive.

I enjoyed the fast pace and thrilling action of this story that sees Gabe and Amin pitted against a violent group involved in people smuggling and drug running. With Amin insisting police have been paid off to look the other way, the pair have no real choice but to take matters into their own hands, picking up two unexpected allies in the form of a young nurse, and a First Nations teen along the way. There are lots of tense moments as the the group are attacked and hunted by a ruthless hired killer, and quite the body count by the breathtaking, dramatic conclusion.

Gabe is a great character, as a ‘dogger’ he generally leads a solitary life, travelling throughout the WA outback in pursuit of dingos threatening station livestock. He is a man who has certainly made some mistakes in his life, and his reasons for helping Amin aren’t exactly altruistic, but has a core of decency, and I thought Trant portrayed this dichotomy well. Resourceful and canny, he proves to be a very useful ally, and I really liked the bond that developed between Gabe and Amin, despite their differences.

Trant also ably represents Amin and his plight. Seeking refuge from a tyrannical regime who would kill them, Amin and his family are exploited by the men whom they paid to get them to safety. Though he takes no pleasure in the violence, Amin is willing to do what ever it takes to rescue his wife and son. I found him to be a sympathetic character, portrayed with sensitivity and realism.

Along with the issues of human trafficking and the status of refugees, Wild Dogs also explores dingo culling practices, prejudices, outback policing, dry community policies, and the challenges of traversing, and living in, such a remote environment. Vivid description evokes the dry vast landscape, and its outposts of humanity with an authenticity borne of the author’s familiarity.

A gritty, hectic, thrill ride through the Australian desert, Wild Dogs is a wildly entertaining read.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Review: The Cane by Maryrose Cuskelly


Title: The Cane

Author: Maryrose Cuskelly

Published: 1st February 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:


The Cane is atmospheric, slow burning rural noir from Australian author Maryrose Cuskelly.

When sixteen-year-old Janet McClymont vanishes while walking to a neighbour’s house, the North Queensland sugarcane town of Quala closes ranks, children who were previously allowed to roam the streets til dark are kept close to home, while outsiders are viewed with suspicion. As the weeks drag on and the police fail to turn up any leads, the flickers of fear ignite, threatening to leave the town in ashes.

The Cane is told through multiple characters, most notably that of an unnamed long time resident, a city detective, and Essie, a twelve year old girl, each of whom provide a unique perspective of the community, and its residents. Each voice is distinctive and I liked how this approach by Cuskelly exposes a range of reactions to, and effects of, Janet’s disappearance. I thought Essie was portrayed particularly well, a mix of naivety and knowing, that reflects the town’s loss of innocence.

The mystery of Janet’s fate forms the main thread of The Cane, but Cuskelly introduces a few of other interesting subplots including one that involves the actions of a disaffected teacher, and another around the behaviour of precocious young newcomer. Set in the 1970’s, Cuskelly accurately exposes the conservative culture of rural Australia through casual, and blatant, racist remarks, the dismissive and domineering attitudes towards women, and the disdain of anything that hints at counterculture.

The suspense in the novel builds slowly as, without answers, anxiety among the community of Quala increases, and the features of the town, particularly the towering, or alternatively scorched, cane fields, develop a sense of menace. Much of the action is delayed until the last few pages, when several threads collide, culminating in a fiery finish that delivers retribution, redemption, and justice.

While The Cane requires a little patience, it’s a tense, evocative and articulate novel.


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Review & Giveaway: Exit .45 by Ben Sanders


Title: Exit .45 {Marshall Grade #3}

Author: Ben Sanders

Published: 5th January 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


Exit .45 by Ben Sanders is a gritty crime procedural featuring former undercover police officer turned private investigator, Marshall Grade. Though it’s the third instalment in a series, following American Blood and Marshall’s Law, it reads well as a stand alone.

Marshall is sitting with a former NYPD colleague, Ray Vialoux, in a restaurant when a masked man fires a shotgun through the window, and Ray, who’d arranged the meeting to ask Marshall for help with mob gambling debts, is killed. There’s no doubt it’s a hit, but debts rarely result in murder, after all, a dead man can’t pay. Needing to understand why, Marshall ignores the warnings of the official investigating officer, Nevins, to back off, and decides to track the shooter down.

Sanders leads his protagonist into New York City’s underworld amongst mafia thugs, drug traffickers and hired killers. Marshall knows he can force answers that the police can’t and he’s not afraid of insisting, even though that means he becomes a target himself. I thought the main plot worked well as Marshall tries to figure out what Roy did to end up a target, and here’s plenty of tense action as Marshall is beaten, abducted and shot at, and gives as good as he gets.

Marshall is mostly what you expect, tough and resourceful, but he experiences PTSD from his two years undercover that manifests as compulsive behaviours. He left the NYPD under a cloud, accused of stealing a quarter of a million dollars after the shooting that ended the operation, though he denies it to anyone that asks. There’s a touch of romance for Marshall in Exit .45 with an ex-colleague of Roy’s, who joins him on his quest, and a small complication with Roy’s widow.

A well crafted crime novel that unfolds at a good pace, Exit .45 is an entertaining and absorbing read.


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Exit .45 by Ben Sanders

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