Review: Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke


Title: Girl, 11

Author: Amy Suiter Clarke

Published: 20th April 2021, HMH Books

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HMH/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“The cases have gone cold. The perpetrators think they’re safe. But with your help, I’ll make sure that even though justice has been delayed, it will no longer be denied. I’m Elle Castillo, and this is Justice Delayed.”

A former children’s social worker, Elle Castillo now hosts a popular podcast focusing on cold cases involving missing or murdered children. After four successful seasons where Elle proved instrumental in solving several crimes, she has opted to take on her most challenging case – identifying the elusive ‘Countdown Killer’, responsible for the ritualistic abduction and deaths of at least nine women and girls, each a year younger than the other, before disappearing when his 11 year old quarry escaped.

Girl, 11 unfolds through transcripts of Elle’s podcast, and a third person narrative. It’s an effective presentation, because it allows Clarke to share details from multiple perspectives, and both the past and present, in an organic way. It also supports an immediacy that contributes to the momentum of the narrative and the build up of suspense.

Elle is a few episodes into her examination of TCK when she is contacted by a man claiming to have information and evidence that will expose the serial killer, but before they can meet, he is shot dead in his apartment. Shortly after an eleven year old girl is brazenly abducted, and as details emerge and suspects are discounted, Elle begins to suspect that the Countdown Killer has returned.

Clarke’s portrayal of Elle, as her crusade tips into obsession, is done well. While her drive to close the case is admirable, Elle can be quite alienating at times, especially as her decisions grow more reckless and it’s not clear if she’s motivated by altruistic or selfish reasons. It’s hinted at early on that Elle has a personal connection to the case, but when her secret is revealed, it invites both sympathy and pity, simultaneously weakening, and strengthening her credibility.

There’s also some interesting commentary on society’s obsession with serial killers and they way in which their victims are overshadowed, as well as how that interest may play into the behaviour of a budding, or active murderer, who craves similar notoriety.

The Countdown Killer is a chilling adversary, and I think Clarke crafts a clever game of cat and mouse. I had some inkling of what to expect as the story unfolded, and correctly guessed the two big reveals, but I was surprised by other twists. And as the stakes rose personally for Elle, the tension had me in its thrall.

An impressive debut novel, Girl, 11 is a gripping psychological thriller with a premise that I think will particularly appeal to the many fans of true crime podcasts.

++++++

Available from HMH Books

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

Review: The Chase by Candice Fox


Title: The Chase

Author: Candice Fox

Published: April 2021, Bantam Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

It’s clear from its opening pages that The Chase by Candice Fox, is going to be a tense, fast paced, exciting thriller as a sniper threatens the lives of a bus load of innocent civilians unless the warden of the Pronghorn Correctional Facility releases not just one inmate, but all 653.

Captain Celine Osbourne is horrified as her colleagues, some of whom have family on the bus, open the cells and prisoners stream from the facility into the Nevada desert, including the men under her supervision on Death Row -every one a monster. Celine is more than willing to help track them down, but her focus is on recapturing John Kradle, a man whose crime haunts her.

In the five years since his incarceration, John Kradle has made preparations just in case a chance at escape presented itself. He doesn’t plan to live it up in Vegas nor flee to Mexico though, John just wants to stay ahead of law enforcement long enough to be able to prove himself innocent of the murders of his wife, son and sister-in-law.

As Kradle makes his way to his hometown of Mesquite, trailed by a terrifying psychopath, Celine teams up with an ex-inmate in her desperation to find him. Both of the main characters grew on me as the story unfolded. Fox uses flashbacks to provide information about them, and illustrate their shocking connection. Celine is a sympathetic character despite her flaws, and some foolish decisions. Kradle too earns sympathy as he endeavours to find whomever is really culpable for the deaths of his family, while trying to avoid capture by the law, a serial killer, a reward hunter, and Celine.

While many of the escapees are quickly recaptured, Fox highlights the adventures of a handful of prisoners on the loose,  including Kradles’s unwanted shadow, Homer, a serial killer known as The North Nevada Strangler; the elderly Raymond ‘The Axe’ Ackerman; and white supremacist Burke David Schmitz, as they make their bids for freedom. The actions of each men contribute to the tensions in the novel, though in very different, and disturbing, ways.

For the agent in charge of the extraordinary fugitive hunt, the largely unlikeable, bad-ass Marshall Trinity Parker, the priority is finding the man for whom the breakout was orchestrated, before he enacts whatever deadly event she is sure he has planned. She makes no apologies for her agenda, ruthlessly leveraging the inside man, Celine, and whomever else she deems necessary to identify her quarry, and track him down.

There are obviously a lot of moving parts to The Chase given the multiple characters and story threads, but Fox deftly integrates them into a compelling whole. The story unfurls at a fast pace, offering plenty of action, suspense and drama. The author’s quirky sense of humour is evident throughout, helping to balance the the impact of the violence.

Gripping, exciting and entertaining, I recommend you pursue a copy of The Chase at your earliest convenience.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: You Need To Know by Nicola Moriarty

 


Title: You Need To Know

Author: Nicola Moriarty

Published: 7th April 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Nicola Moriarty’s newest title, You Need To Know, is a gripping domestic drama centred around the members of a single family, Jill, her three sons – Pete, Tony and Darren; her two daughter in-laws – Mimi and Andrea; and her grandchildren – Callie, Tara, and infant twins, Elliot and James.

There’s more than one smashing twist in this dramatic story of a family on a collision course with secrets that threaten to shatter their bonds forever. The main action takes place over a period of about a month in the lead up to Christmas, interspersed with flashes which hint at the tragedy to come. Moriarty builds the tension slowly, with various dramatic plot elements that are both self contained, and play into the larger crisis, several of which unfold in unexpected ways.

Told from the perspectives of Jill, Mimi, Andrea, and Darren, Moriarty slowly reveals the varied stressors the family are experiencing, and secrets they are keeping, some of which are fairly mundane, others more explosive. I thought the author captured the dynamics of both the individual family groupings, and between the extended family very well. Despite the large cast, each character is distinctive, and there is no confusion as the narrative moves between them. I quickly became invested in the family members, eager to learn their fate.

You Need to Know offers a tense, well-crafted storyline, interesting, multifaceted characters, and a sensational climax. I think Nicola Moriarty has found her niche in the Aussie domestic thriller genre.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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

Review: Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Something to Hide {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Something to Hide is the fourth engrossing rural suspense novel to feature Detective Dave Burrows, though the seventh in which he appears, by bestselling Australian writer Fleur McDonald.

Something to Hide brings closure to the undercover assignment investigating a stock theft ring that resulted in Dave being shot and the escape of the ringleaders,  brothers Bulldust and Scotty, in Without A Doubt. Set a few months after the events of Red Dirt Country, Dave’s relationship with his wife, Melinda, is just getting back on track when, while grocery shopping, she’s confronted by a stranger with a message for her husband.

Dave’s been expecting the ruthless brothers to seek their revenge ever since the judge carelessly revealed his identity during his testimony in the case, and now that they’ve finally made their first move, Dave is keen to end the threat. McDonald develops a tense, fast-paced plot as the inevitable confrontation between Dave and Bulldust edges ever closer. Not knowing when, or where it will take place, but assuming it will be deadly, ensures suspense remains high throughout the story, particularly as both men grow more reckless in their pursuit of each other.

Stonewalled by the Major Crimes squad tracking Bulldust and his brother, Dave’s partner, Bob, tries to distract him with another case involving stock theft, moving the action from Perth back to Barrabine, adding a further layer of interest to the novel. It also reunites Dave with his mentor and handler on the undercover case, Spencer, who, in a shocking twist, gets caught up in Bulldust’s vendetta.

The entire situation is the last straw for Mel who issues Dave an ultimatum, insisting he choose between her and the job. McDonald explores Dave’s struggle to make such a choice, and the fears that drive the spouse of a police officer to demand one. Though I do not find Mel to be a likeable character, McDonald’s skill with creating authentic characters ensures I do sympathise with her concerns. Unsurprisingly, Dave remains hopeful that he can still have it all, until tragedy ensures the decision is made for him.

Though Something to Hide could be read as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend it given it provides closure to two major threads developed in the previous books, plus you’d be missing out on what is an excellent series. Well crafted, with exciting action, Something to Hide is a stellar instalment, and I can’t wait to discover how Dave moves forward from here.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

******

If you’ve enjoyed this review, (and even if you haven’t) please consider donating to the charity Fleur McDonald founded, DV assist, which offers information, resources and practical support for those experiencing or concerned about others who may be experiencing domestic and family violence in regional, rural or remote Western Australia experiencing family and domestic violence.

Click here to learn more about DVAssist.org.au

Review: The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale

Title: The Paris Affair

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: 3rd February 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Well, it began like any anti-love story. With Chapitre Un.”

Having landed a dream job as an arts and culture journalist for The Paris Observer, Harper Brown is enjoying her new life in the City of Love, though love is last thing she’s interested in. Still nursing a broken heart after the demise of an eight year relationship, Harper doesn’t want normal – she just wants to impress her new boss, work her way onto the features desk, and has just one rule- do no harm.

It’s rare that I’m surprised by the direction a story takes, but Drysdale managed to do so in The Paris Affair. The first quarter or so of the novel reads more like a romcom, so I wasn’t really expecting the twists in this tale that sees Harper caught up in an art world scandal, and become the target of a serial killer. While not a strong thriller, there are certainly moments of tension, and the pace is persuasive.

Harper Brown is a very appealing protagonist. Though not without her flaws, with her generally pragmatic and confident attitude, she stands out from the more typical insecure, capricious, aged 20-something protagonist in contemporary fiction. Though her cynicism about love is a little intense, it’s also understandable, and her obsession with true crime podcasts is a fun trait.

The Parisian setting will likely charm readers (personally I don’t care much for the place), as will the chapters headed in French, though Drysdale does provide a glimpse of the city’s shadows. The story is firmly grounded in the here and now as Harper scrolls through Instagram, browses though Tinder, texts with friends, and makes her way around the city via Uber.

I found The Paris Affair to be a quick, entertaining and satisfying read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart

 


Title: The Silent Listener

Author: Lyn Yeowart

Published: February 2021, Viking

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Silent Listener is a disquieting tale of a dysfunctional family, draped in tension and dread, from debut novelist, Lyn Yeowart.

Unfolding primarily from three perspectives over three time periods, The Silent Listener tells the story of the Henderson family. In 1943, Gwen is swept of her feet by George Henderson, who courts her with a singleminded determination. In 1960, their eleven-year-old daughter, Joy, is terrified of her father’s rages that regularly culminate in brutal beatings. In 1983, George is dying and Joy has returned to the family farm in rural Victoria with the goal of unmasking her father’s secrets.

Themes such as domestic violence, trauma, religious hypocrisy, mental illness, and poverty, makes for heartbreaking reading as George terrorises his family. Gwen’s dreams of a happy new life are quashed within days of her wedding. Her new husband’s charm is reserved for the townspeople who consider him an upright pillar of the community, ignoring the thick foundation Gwen applies to her face, arms and legs. Their children cower under their father’s control, their innocence slowly stripped with every brutal strike of the belt that leaves their bodies, and minds, bleeding and scarred.

Yeowart’s characters, both major and minor, are carefully crafted, though it is Joy who is the most compelling. Joy is a sensitive child, who seeks solace in God as she is instructed to, in her sister, Ruth, and words. A synesthete, words conjure vivid images for Joy, offering her an escape of sorts from the reality of her daily drudgery. It’s the disappearance of a young neighbour, nine-year-old Wendy Bascombe, and her older brother, Mark, that finally strips Joy completely of her innocence, and she finds secret ways to rebel.

With Joy’s return to Blackhunt, and George’s passing soon after, Yeowart creates another mystery that gives rise to some surprising twists and a shocking, pitiless conclusion. I’m not sure how I feel about the ending still, while it absolutely fits with the story, it’s sad and dispiriting.

Skilfully plotted, with vivid characters, and evocative writing, The Silent Listener is poignant, confronting, and gripping.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Sargasso by Kathy George

Title: Sargasso

Author: Kathy George

Published: 3rd February 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“The last thing I remember is the screaming. I remember that because I wasn’t the one doing it…. It was the house. Sargasso. The house was screaming,….”

Inspired by her love of classic gothic fiction, Sargasso is an entrancing, eerie tale of mystery and passion from debut Australian novelist, Kathy George.

Upon her grandmother’s death, Hannah Prendergast inherits Sargasso, the impressive house of glass and stone designed by her late father, built on a headland just outside Shepherd Cove, a holiday town two hours’ drive down the west coast of Melbourne. It’s been twenty years since Helen last crossed the threshold of her childhood home, the family having abandoned it when she was twelve after her father’s body washed up on the beach below.

The narrative shifts smoothly between the past and the present. ‘Then’ Hannah is a bright and imaginative child who delights in the eccentric aspects of Sargasso, one of which is the inscrutable boy who becomes her best and only friend, Flint. ‘Now’, Hannah plans to rejuvenate the house while she decides what to do with it, and is stunned when Flint reappears, a grown man, as enigmatic as ever.

It is the relationship between Hannah and Flint that is at the heart of this story, an obsessive, possessive, all consuming love forged in childhood and reignited with their reunion as adults. Hannah barely hesitates before ending her three year relationship when Flint demands it, and grows ever more reluctant to even leave his side, as Flint has a habit of disappearing for hours, days, even weeks, particularly when she displeases him. The sense of uncertainty and dread steadily escalates as the secrets of Sargasso, both past and present, begins to unravel.

George develops an extraordinary atmosphere that blurs the line between what may be real and what may be imagined. The initial impression of Sargasso is one of light and strength, but slowly, particularly in the present timeline, the atmosphere of the house becomes oppressive and sinister. Rather than protect Hannah, it seems to trap her in a space between waking and sleeping.

The influence of novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca are obvious in terms of both plot and character but I think George provides her own modern Australian twist. Sargasso is an enthralling, haunting, gothic tale.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Crackenback by Lee Christine

Title: Crackenback

Author: Lee Christine

Published: 1st February 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Crakenback follows Lee Christine’s bestselling debut, Charlotte’s Pass, featuring NSW Homicide Squad Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder. It’s not necessary to have read the former however, as I found this story works very well as a stand-alone.

With the start of the ski season still a few weeks away, Golden Wattle Lodge proprietor Eva Bell is alone with her three year old, Poppy, when Jack Walker, bruised and bleeding, bursts through the door. Eva is terrified as he strips her of her phone and keys, irrationally convinced he has come for his daughter. Learning that Jack has instead come to protect them from a killer bent on revenge gives her only the smallest sense of relief.

Meanwhile DS Ryder and his small task force are searching for a new lead in the hunt for Gavin Hutton who is suspected of beating two men to death. Joined by Detective ‘Daisy’ Flowers, and new team member, Nerida Sterling, the investigation takes them from Sydney, south to Jervis Bay, north to the Central Coast and west to the Snowy Mountains, where their quarry is finally in sight.

Christine immediately captures the reader’s attention in Crackenback with a dramatic prologue, the relevance of which is revealed later in the story, but there’s plenty of action and tension to follow in this tightly plotted, exciting story.

I was as interested in the progress Ryder and his team were making in the search for their fugitive, as I was in Jack and Eva’s nervous wait for their attacker, though it quickly becomes clear they are one and the same. Both perspectives advance the plot and are neatly complimentary while building suspense. I thought the pacing of the story was very good, and I read it easily in one sitting.

Both Eva and Jack were appealing characters. I admired Eva’s determination to protect her daughter and her practical, sensible way of coping with the frightening situation she was thrust into. Jack has an interesting background, and he is obviously capable and resourceful. Though their relationship, which resulted in Poppy, was not much more than a one night stand, it’s obvious the pair are still attracted to each other, though Christine plays down the romance angle in favour of the action.

Unfortunately I hadn’t the opportunity to read Charlotte’s Pass so I’m not terribly familiar with Ryder, but I liked what I saw of him. It was his girlfriend Vanessa, who is also Eva’s sister, who had a larger role in that story. It seems likely to me that the third book will feature one of Ryder’s team.

While the main action takes place at the Lodge in Thredbo, and the deepening snow plays beautifully into the action, one of things I liked was the way in which Christine’s characters moved within the state of NSW. I was particularly delighted that my town of Taree even got a mention (though it wasn’t very flattering and, as far as I know, not true, given the Officer in Charge of our station is a woman).

With an intriguing storyline, fast paced action, and strong characterisation, I thought Crackenback was a great book, and I’ll definitely be reading Christine Lee’s next.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

 



Title: The Shape of Darkness

Author: Laura Purcell

Published: February 2nd 2021, Raven Books

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Bloomsbury/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Set in Bath in 1854, The Shape of Darkness is a atmospheric historical novel from Laura Purcell.

Agnes Darken supports her ailing mother and orphaned nephew with her work as a silhouette artist, but with the growing popularity of the daguerreotypes, she’s finding it harder to attract clients. She is shocked when the local Sergeant calls on her to ask questions about a recent sitter who was brutally murdered shortly after their appointment, and worried that notoriety might attach to her business. Her physician and brother in law, Simon, is quick to assure her that all is fine, but when a second and then third client dies, Agnes fears she may somehow be connected to their deaths. Desperate for answers to both the current circumstances and a past tragedy, Agnes reaches out to a mesmerist Myrtle West and her young half sister, Pearl, known as ‘The White Sylph’ who is said to communicate with the dead.

The Shape of Darkness embraces all the elements of a Victorian gothic tale – a physically and emotionally frail heroine, high emotion, a bleak, wintry setting, murder, and the supernatural. Purcell deftly builds suspense and dread as she develops the plot, revealing dark secrets and making good use of misdirect to ensure the final twist is a surprise.

Fragile and high strung, Agnes has an nervous energy that plays into the narrative. Her suspicions about the connection between the dead and her silhouettes seems fanciful, but her panic is almost contagious as she becomes more certain she, and her family are in danger from an unknown foe. With hints of a tragic background, involving a doomed romance, and a grievous accident, she is exactly what you’d expect as a gothic heroine, except for perhaps her age.

Pearl is a desperately sympathetic character, used terribly by her her half sister, Myrtle. Blamed for her mother’s death during her birth, her father now lays dying gruesomely, a victim of phosphorus poisoning. An albino, eleven year old Pearl is easily envisioned as a medium, but there is an ambiguity to her ability that Purcell exploits, so that you’re never quite sure where the line between this world and the next lies.

Though overall I found it a touch melodramatic for my taste, The Shape of Darkness is evocative, haunting and enthralling.

+++++++

Available from Bloomsbury

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

Review: The Push by Ashley Audrain

 


Title: The Push

Author: Ashley Audrain

Published: 7th January 2021, Michael Joseph

Status, Read January 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

“I would be different. I would be like other women for whom it all came so easily. I would be everything my own mother was not.”

Blythe is anxious about impending motherhood but determined to break the cycle of indifference and neglect that characterised her own relationship with her mother, and her mother’s before that. Violet’s arrival leaves Blythe awestruck, but within a week of the birth of her daughter, in pain and exhausted from lack of sleep, she is convinced she is doing everything wrong, that she cannot be a good mother, and that Violet knows it.

Exploring the question of nature vs nurture, the experience of motherhood, inter-generational trauma and mental health, The Push is a compulsive, chilling debut from Ashley Audrain.

“This is my side of the story.”

Unfolding from Blythe’s first person perspective, I think parents in particular will find something to relate to in Blythe’s early experiences of motherhood, whether it be a fleeting thought, or something more profound. For me those early weeks and months with a newborn are now mostly a blur, but I do remember the concern (that never really leaves you) about my ability to be good mother. Blythe’s initial anxiety therefore seems reasonable, especially as information about her own tragic background is revealed, but as Blythe begins to view Violet, barely a toddler, as an active agent of her angst, empathy slowly begins to drain away.

“I couldn’t tell you the truth: that I believed there was something wrong with our daughter. You thought the problem was me.”

Blythe’s husband, Fox, is at first largely supportive of his wife’s anxiety but he is certainly not willing to entertain Blythe’s idea that Violet is anything but a sweet, blameless child. Audrain capitalises on the ambiguity and as Blythe’s credibility wavers, the tension thickens. The uncertainty is a feature of the plot, it’s unsettling to not know if Blythe can be trusted, and the alternative, to believe her, is just as, if not more disquieting.

The Push has quite an impact, this is a disturbing, poignant, and gripping novel.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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