Review: Confidence by Denise Mina

 

Title: Confidence {Anna & Fin #2}

Author: Denise Mina

Published: 5th July 2022, Mulholland Books

Status: Read August 2022 courtesy Mulholland/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

I loved Conviction, Denise Mina’s first book to feature Anna McDonald and Fin Cohen so I was excited for the release of Confidence, set around a year after Anna and Fin raced around Europe while podcasting their journey to expose the murderer of an old friend and his children.

When the story opens, Anna, Fin, their respective ex-partners, Hamish and Estelle, Fin’s new girlfriend, Sofia, plus Anna and Hamish’s daughters, and Hamish and Estelle’s new baby, are holidaying together in a Scottish lighthouse. Anna, desperately trying to distract herself from the tense atmosphere, mostly caused by Sofia, is scrolling through messages from listeners to their now successful podcast when a cryptic tweet from a user called WBGrates catches her eye.

Lisa Lee didn’t take it. Please tell them.

Attached to the message are two links, one to a YouTube film of a young woman, Lisa Lee, exploring an abandoned French chateau in an undisclosed location, the other to a page in an auction catalogue displaying a small antique silver casket that is visible in Lee’s footage. Not understanding the connection, Anna searches online and learns the Voyniche Casket is expected to be the subject of a frenzied bidding war among groups that believe it contains proof of Christ’s resurrection, and that Lisa Lee has been reported missing.

Seizing the excuse to abandon the holiday Anna and Fin follow up, and are quickly drawn into the hunt for the missing girl, and the truth about the casket. The pair don’t seem to have a lot of agency in the plot though, their movements are mainly dictated by Bram Van Wyk, a wealthy former smuggler/con man, and his desperate bid to recover the casket. It sort of feels like Mina had an idea for a thriller about smuggling and fanaticism, but didn’t know what to do with it, so she wrote Anna and Fin into it. Unfortunately I think it was a poor fit, and everything suffered as a result. While I easily dismissed plot inconsistencies and absurdities in Conviction, here they were jarring, and the twists had little impact.

The story primarily unfolds from Anna’s first person perspective, alternating with short transcripts from their podcast that serve to fill in some information gaps. While Anna won me over in Conviction, I didn’t find her nearly as compelling or witty here, and Finn may as well have been totally absent.

The pace also suffered with the plot issues and a fair amount of superfluous description. The travel helped somewhat as Anna and Finn fly around Europe courtesy of private jets and helicopters.

I think it’s clear I am disappointed by Confidence, I was feeling a little more generous immediately after finishing it but in retrospect it’s flawed enough that I feel it’s just barely okay, and wouldn’t recommend it.

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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

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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: Someone Else’s Child by Kylie Orr

 

Title: Someone Else’s Child

Author: Kylie Orr

Published: 1st June 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Debut author Kylie Orr explores friendship, betrayal, and trauma in Someone Else’s Child.

With traditional approaches failing to treat eight-year-old Charlotte’s brain tumour, everyone agrees that securing her a place in an overseas clinical trial that offers help is essential, despite the exorbitant costs involved. While Lottie’s heartbroken father Jeremy continues to work to support the family, and her devoted mother Anna, takes sole responsibility for her care, Ren, Lottie’s loving godmother, does what she can to help them all cope with the strain, and is an eager supporter of the fundraising efforts.

As the story unfolds from Ren’s perspective, it’s clear she admires Anna, though they are quite different from one another. Orr’s skilful portrayal of their dynamic, which is integral to the plot, is very believable. In their nine years of friendship, Ren has never had reason to suspect Anna capable of deceit or cruelty. If Anna is lately occasionally sharp and demanding, Ren readily accepts the stress and exhaustion of the circumstances as an excuse. While she may not always agree with her friend’s decisions, Ren tells herself she is not a mother, and she trusts that Anna knows what is best for her daughter.

Orr stirs a range of strong emotions as the story progresses, from sadness and compassion, to dread and anger, but there is nuance to be found too. Though there is no surprise in regards to the direction the main plot takes, there is growing tension as Ren begins to suspect something is wrong which eventually builds to a dramatic confrontation. I like that Orr also briefly explored the aftermath of events, with an epilogue set three years later.

Subplots also add texture to the characters and enhance the story, in particular Ren’s struggle, as a Respite Coordinator for the town council, to find help for a young single mother of disabled son at the end of her rope.

Well-written, with complex characterisation, and an emotive plot,  Someone Else’s Child is a strong debut. I couldn’t help but consider how I, compared to Ren, would reaction at various points, suggesting this would be a great choice for a book club.

++++++++

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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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Review: One of Us by Kylie Kaden

 

Title: One of Us

Author: Kylie Kaden

Published: 3rd May 2022, Pantera Press

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

One of Us is a contemporary novel of domestic suspense from Australian author Kylie Kaden.

Within one of the architecturally designed homes behind the gates of the exclusive Apple Tree Creek Estate lies the body of a man, blood pooling on the living room floor from a deep stab wound. As a detective studies the scene, and the reactions of the man’s wife, Kaden shifts to the recent past, and focuses on two women, near neighbours Gert Rainworth and Rachel York, who meet and become friends just as their respective marriages are falling apart.

At a fairly measured pace, Kaden exposes the secrets, betrayals, and stresses that culminate in the introductory scene. Gertie is reeling from her husband’s acceptance of a year long transfer to his company’s Singapore office, and his decision to go alone, leaving her with their three children. Rachel, heavily pregnant with her third child, is increasingly exhausted by her husband’s serial philandering, and escalating control issues.

Gertie and Rachel, despite having little in common, form a supportive rapport that feels authentic, as they both struggle with their respective situations. Kaden has a real talent for portraying the familiar minutiae of domestic life, and explores the challenges of marriage and motherhood with empathy.

Stripping back the facade of privilege, wealth and security the community and its residents project, Kaden reveals a host of hidden dysfunctions, from the awful truths about Rachel’s husband, to a neighbours secret shame, and even the way in which the measures used by the gated estate to keep residents safe, can be perverted.

By the time the identity of the stabbed man is revealed, several characters prove to have reasonable motives for the attack. I enjoyed the puzzle of determining which was most likely, and was satisfied by the denouement.

One of Us is an suspenseful and entertaining suburban thriller, sure to appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty, Sally Hepworth and Lisa Jewell.

++++++++

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Review: Wake by Shelley Burr

 

Title: Wake

Author: Shelley Burr

Published: 27th April 2022, Hachette Australia

Status: Read April 2022, Hachette Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Wake, which won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2019, is a gripping crime novel from first time author, Shelley Burr.

Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ McCreery was nine years old when her twin sister vanished from their family farm in remote NSW. Nearly two decades later, the odd circumstances of Evelyn’s disappearance continue to haunt Mina, and she lives and works at the family farm, a virtual recluse.

Lane Holland makes his living as a private investigator, and with a younger sister who has just started university to support, the two million dollar reward on offer to solve the mystery of Evelyn’s fate is a challenge he can’t ignore, especially when it may also provide information he needs.

Wake offers a taut, well-crafted mystery that centres on the cold case involving Evelyn McCreery disappearance, but also explores the themes of family, trauma, grief, guilt, and the legacy of violence.

Mina is a sympathetic character, the trauma of her sisters disappearance, her mother’s subsequent neglect and notoriety, and the judgement of community and strangers alike, has led her to become an introvert. It’s not surprising that Mina reflexively dismisses Lane initially, and remains guarded even as she begins to hope he may find the answers that have eluded her.

Lane is determined to solve the mystery of Evelyn’s disappearance, and while he’s content for others to believe the reward is his only incentive, he a connection to the case and a hidden motive, adding an effective twist to the story. Lane works hard to earn Mina’s trust, accepting an unexpected challenge she throws at him involving another missing child, but as the pair begin to work together, he starts to feel guilty about the secret he is keeping.

I quickly became absorbed in this story, invested in the characters, and the growing tension as secrets were revealed. Clever plotting kept me guessing as to the resolution of the mystery, and Wake concludes with an extraordinary confrontation that is both harrowing and satisfying.

Atmospheric, with complex characters, and an intriguing, layered plot Wake is a compelling novel, and a fine addition to the rapidly growing genre of Australian rural noir.

++++++++

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Review: A Stone’s Throw Away by Karly Lane

 

Title: A Stone’s Throw Away

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 1st May 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A Stone’s Throw Away is the latest engaging novel from Australian bestseller Karly Lane.

Still reeling from a vicious assault after breaking the story of a corrupt politician, investigative journalist Phillipa ‘Pip’ Davenport, has retreated to her uncle’s property, Rosehaven, in rural Victoria to write a book about the high profile case. Despite her best intentions, Pip finds it difficult to settle to the task, and in the spirit of procrastination, decides to hire someone to remove the detritus at the bottom of her uncle’s dam, exposed by the ongoing drought. To her shock, and that of the small community of Midgiburra, the skeleton of a young woman is discovered in the rusted remains of an old car, and Pip finds herself caught up in the decades old mystery, even as her own past threatens to catch up with her.

Offering intrigue and romance, this contemporary set novel also touches on Australian history.

There are two elements of suspense in A Stone’s Throw Away, one of which centres around Pip and her safety. Though her assault was likely at the behest of the politician Pip exposed who is now jailed, her attacker was never identified, and concern remains that she is still a target. Pip simply wants to put the incident behind her but, struggling with PTSD, she can’t always suppress episodes of anxiety.

Pip’s wariness also affects her interactions with the two romantic possibilities introduced, local police officer, Erik, and city detective Chris. Though she chooses to drop her guard with one of the men, she soon finds herself wondering if she’s made a deadly mistake.

The other thread of mystery involves the former owner of Rosehaven, 98-year-old Bert Bigsby, a WWII veteran incapacitated and confined to a nursing home after a major stroke, and the fate of his wife, Molly, who disappeared seventy years ago. Despite her reluctance to get involved in the cold case, Pip uncovers the heartbreaking story of deception and betrayal that has haunted Bert, and exposes the truth behind the accusations levied against him by the town.

It’s through Bert’s character that Lane highlights a facet of Australia’s involvement in WWII, adding another layer of interest to the novel. Bert, like many young men, volunteered to serve in the Australian Armed Forces, though he and Molly were essentially newlyweds. Letters from Bert to Molly provide some insight into the experiences of those soldiers who served in Papua New Guinea, particularly those who were captured in the Australian Territory peacetime capital, Rabaul, when it fell to the Japanese.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, though I did feel the touch of supernatural that linked Pip and Molly was an unnecessary addition. With its appealing characters, well crafted setting, and layered storyline, A Stone’s Throw Away is an entertaining read.

++++++++

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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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