Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

 

Title: Sheerwater

Author: Leah Swann

Published: March 20th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a light plane crashes by the side of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Ava, a former emergency rescue worker, feels compelled to stop and render assistance. Leaving her two young sons, Max and Teddy, safely locked in the car with strict instructions to remain, she and and another passerby bravely pull the pilot and two frightened children from the wreckage moments before it explodes. When emergency services arrives Ava makes her way back to the car only to find it empty.

Alternating primarily between the perspectives of Ava, her estranged husband Laurence, and their oldest son, 9 year old Max, Sheerwater is a harrowing tale, skillfully executed by Leah Swann.

Ava’s fear for her missing sons is visceral, her confusion and anxiety building as the police question her every word. Laurence’s attempts to reframe the narrative are infuriating, and an all too familiar reflection of recent current events. Max’s courage is heartbreaking as he tries to care for and protect his four year old brother, Teddy.

The prose is lyrical and evocative, portraying nuanced character and emotion. Vivid imagery conjures a sense of place, no matter the setting.

Though there are a few elements I felt were perhaps out of place, they didn’t detract from my interest. Unfolding over a period of three days, the pace is intense, and the increasing tension utterly gripping. I was left shattered by the ending.

Both beautiful and brutal, Sheerwater is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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

Review: Keeper by Jessica Moor

Title: Keeper

Author: Jessica Moor

Published: March 19th 2020, Viking

Status: March 2020 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a young woman’s drowned body is discovered, a lack of markings leads the police to believe their investigation will show she died by suicide. However Detective Whitworth’s curiosity is piqued when he first learns Katie Straw worked at a women’s refuge, and then that her name is an alias.

Keeper unfolds over two timelines, ‘Now’ – which follows the police investigation and in doing so explores the lives of the women in the refuge, and ‘Then’ – which reveals Katie’s history. The latter is an emotionally harrowing tale of a young woman drawn into a relationship with a frighteningly manipulative man.

Keeper centers around a very important topic – that of domestic/intimate partner violence in its many forms. I thought Moor’s portrayal of the issue’s complexity was nuanced and thought-provoking, and her diverse characters, including the detective, represent a spectrum of related perspectives and experiences.

Unfortunately though I didn’t find the execution compelling. The pace is slow, the tension is slight, and I really wasn’t surprised by the final twist designed to shock (though I think it’s likely I’ll be in the minority there). It’s also bleak, which is probably how it earned the literary tag.

In the end I’m a little torn, while I think Keeper is a socially valuable, and even interesting read, I just didn’t find entertaining.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books UK

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

Review: The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

 

Title: The Secrets of Strangers

Author: Charity Norman

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

On an ordinary weekday morning, an irate young man storms into a London cafe, raises a shotgun and fires twice at the proprietor. Staff and patrons scatter in fear, but an unlucky few find themselves trapped with the gunman.

In the hours that follow, as the police negotiator attempts to broker an end to the standoff, the remaining hostages – a nurse, a barrister, and a homeless man – form an extraordinary bond as they try to make sense of the situation they are in, and prevent an escalation of the violence.

Tense, provocative, and emotionally charged, this well-written character driven novel unfolds from multiple perspectives as the author slowly reveals the circumstances that has led to this shocking crisis. I’m loathe to reveal any details of The Secrets of Strangers that make this such an engrossing read as Norman takes an unexpected path to shed light on the motivation of the hostage-taker, and the lives of those caught up in his crazed action.

As with Charity Norman’s previous novels that I’ve read – Second Chances, The Son In Law, and The Secret Life of Luke Livingston – The Secrets of Strangers explores humanity’s weaknesses and strengths in the face of tragedy.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Charity Norman reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

Title: The Lucky One

Author: Lori Radar-Day

Published: February 18th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day is a twisty thriller of betrayal, murder, and dark family secrets.

Alice Fine has only vague memories of being kidnapped from her front yard as a toddler. Rescued within hours by her father, then a police officer, she has always considered herself one of the lucky ones to be reunited with her family, no harm done. Conscious of her good fortune, Alice uses her spare time to participate in the online Doe Network -a website which aims to identify missing persons- where one evening she unexpectedly comes across the face of her abductor. Wanting answers Alice, with the help of two other amateur websleuths, decides to learn more about him. When her search leads her to cross paths with Merrily Cruz, who is worried about her missing former stepfather, the pair realise they are both looking for the same man and the shocking truth about who he is will unravel their past, and their future.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Alice and Merrily, who seem to have almost nothing in common except for a tenuous connection to the missing man. Neither of them have any idea of the danger that will place them in as they begin to dig into his past in order to understand their own. To be honest I thought the characterisation overall was a little weak and sometimes inconsistent, particularly in relation to Alice, however I was interested in how Alice and Merrily would be affected as the truth was revealed.

The mystery is well plotted offering a few intriguing twists. I thought the pace was a little slow until the lives of Alice and Merrily intersected, but Rader-Day does effectively build tension, and I was engrossed in the unraveling lies, secrets, and betrayals. I thought the major twist was unique and unpredictable, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

With its original premise, I thought The Lucky One was a decent thriller.

++++++

Available from William Morrow

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

Review: Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

Title: Mr Nobody

Author: Catherine Steadman

Published: February 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It’s her. She’s come. For him. He doesn’t know who she is but he knows she is the one he’s been waiting for.”

When neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess a man found injured and mute on a deserted beach in Norfolk with no memory of who he is or how he got there, she sets aside her reluctance to return to the area in which she grew up for the opportunity to advance her research into fugue states.

Emma’s first meeting with the man the media has dubbed Mr. Nobody, and whom the hospital staff have named Matthew, is a shock to them both. The man seems to recognise her in the moment before he is overwhelmed by a panic attack, mumbling not the name she uses now, but the name she was once known by.

Emma is both panicked, and intrigued, how can this stranger remember nothing of himself, but know who she really is? And what other secrets does Mr. Nobody know?

The narrative alternates between Emma’s first person perspective as she attempts to determine if Matthew is telling the truth about his amnesia, and if so whether the condition is the temporary or permanent result of physical or psychological trauma; and a third person perspective, providing some insight into the thoughts and behaviour of Matthew and a couple of other characters. I think I would have preferred a single or dual perspective though, as I did feel the pace occasionally suffered.

Emma’s an interesting character, Steadman makes it clear early that she has a tragic past, and is skittish about returning to Norfolk. As it happens, I found her secret to be rather anticlimactic, however it does contribute to her vulnerability in the not strictly professional relationship she develops with Matthew.

Matthew’s secrets are quite stunning however, and the latter half of the novel is tense and thrilling as the truth about Mr. Nobody unravels.

Ultimately I’m left with mixed feelings though, while I think Mr Nobody has all the elements of an exciting psychological thriller, I’m afraid it didn’t quite come together for me.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: Losing You by Nicci French

Title: Losing You

Author: Nicci French

Published: January 28th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

On the morning of Nina Landry’s fortieth birthday, just hours before she and her children are due to fly out to Florida for a vacation, fifteen year old Charlie disappears. At first Nina is simply irritated that her daughter is nowhere to be found on the tiny island off the coast of England on which they live, but as time runs on she becomes increasingly convinced that something has happened to Charlie …something terrible.

While the story takes place over less than a day, I devoured Losing You by Nicci French in about two hours, breathlessly accompanying Nina in her search for her missing teenage daughter. What begins as an ordinary, if chaotic, day as Nina’s car plays up, as she’s trying to finish packing for their trip, as her depressed cousin/dog sitter arrives, as she unexpectedly hosts a few dozen people for a surprise party organised by her daughter, as she fields calls from her belligerent ex-husband, turns surreal when Nina realises Charlie is not simply late, but missing.

One of the most difficult things I have found about being a mother to teens is that they have areas of their lives that no longer include me, and even those that they deliberately exclude me from. I’m not always confident that I have taught them enough to independently make good choices and to protect themselves from situations, or people, that could threaten their well-being. Charlie, who Nina describes as ‘recalcitrant, volatile, emotional, romantic and intense’, seems more likely than most teenagers to keep secrets, especially when you factor in the issues with her father, who has recently abandoned the family, and her mother’s new relationship. As it happens, none of what Charlie has kept hidden is particularly earth shattering, but her secrets, and the secrets of others, do play a part in unraveling the mystery.

I empathised with Nina’s frustration with the police who are initially content to dismiss Charlie as a runaway, and are incredibly patronising as they do so. Objectively I understand the need of the police to gather the facts and plan the investigation, but in Nina’s shoes I think I too would disregard their orders and do what I could to unearth anything that could provide answers.

Losing You is not perfect, there was for example, the odd character I thought was superfluous, but Nina is relatable and convincing as a panicked mother, and the pacing is superb. A quick thrilling, read.

++++++

Available from William Morrow

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

Also by Nicci French at Book’d Out

 

Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Title: Long Bright River

Author: Liz Moore

Published: January 9th 2020, Hutchinson

Read an Extract

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Books Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Long Bright River is a compelling literary novel of family drama and suspense from Liz Moore.

“There’s a body on the Gurney Street tracks. Female, age unclear, probable overdose, says the dispatcher. Kacey, I think. This is a twitch, a reflex, something sharp and subconscious that lives inside me and sends the same message racing to the same base part of my brain every time a female is reported.”

Set in a depressed neighbourhood of Philadelphia where the opioid crisis is taking an increasing toll on its residents, police officer Mickey (Michaela) Fitzgerald patrols the decaying streets of Kensington, always keeping a look out, among the prostitutes on the sidewalks and the drug addicts slumped in doorways, for her younger sister, Kacey. When it becomes clear that a serial killer targeting sex workers is stalking the ‘Ave’, Mickey begins a frantic search for both her missing sister, and the perpetrator, risking the job she loves, and even her own life.

I’m not always keen on a first person narrative but I found Mickey’s voice to be compelling as the novel moves between the story of the sisters’ difficult childhood (Then), and their present circumstances (Now). Moore’s characterisation of the sisters, and their complex dynamic, is nuanced and gripping. Raised by their resentful grandmother after the overdose death of their mother, the sisters were once close, but no longer speak. Nevertheless, Mickey tries to keep tabs on Kasey, who is lost in her addiction, driven by a potent mix of guilt, regret, and love, while barely holding together her own life.

Though the plot with regards to the serial murders is a little vague at times, it serves more as a backdrop to the multi-layered narrative that explores the devastating impact of opioid addiction on individuals, families, and communities, the dehumanisation of vulnerable persons, childhood neglect, sexual abuse, police corruption, and a myriad of other issues that define life’s struggles.

A thought-provoking, poignant story of loss, addiction, forgiveness, and healing, told with compassion and authenticity, Long Bright River is a powerful and absorbing novel.

“All of them children, all of them gone. People with promise, people dependent and depended upon, people loving and beloved, one after another, in a line, in a river, no fount and no outlet, a long bright river of departed souls.”

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

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

 

Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

 

 

Title: A Madness of Sunshine

Author: Nalini Singh

Published: December 3rd 2019, Hachette Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Hachette Au

Read an Excerpt

++++++

My Thoughts:

Best known for her popular paranormal romance series, Guild Hunters (of which I’ve read a few), A Madness of Sunshine is Nalini Singh’s first published foray into the genre of contemporary thriller/suspense.

In need of familiarity after heartbreaking loss, Anahera Rawiri returns from London to Golden Cove, the close-knit community on New Zealand’s West coast where she grew up. It seems to have changed little during her near decade long absence, but the town’s equilibrium is shattered when a beloved young local woman disappears while out jogging.

Will Gallagher, the sole police officer stationed in Golden Cove, is quick to launch a search for the missing teen, and when it proves fruitless, must consider that a local is responsible for Miriama’s disappearance. As an outsider, Will finds himself relying on Anahera to help unearth the secrets that may reveal a killer hiding in their midst.

A Madness of Sunshine offers more than one intriguing mystery, Miriama is not the first young woman to vanish in Golden Cove, around fifteen years previously three female hikers also disappeared, their bodies never found. Will is compelled to explore the possibility of a link, though Singh provides several red herrings to distract the reader as Will investigates, shedding light on the darkness of the past, and the present.

Anahera and Will are both complex, well developed characters, with interesting backgrounds. They share scars from life changing trauma, and have an attraction that is almost instinctual. I liked the relationship that developed between them, though it has only a minor role in the story.

The residents of Golden Cove are representative of a small town, with long-standing, often complicated, relationships. The author deftly includes elements of Maori culture within the story, communicating a sense of place without any awkwardness. Singh’s description of the isolated town and its wild environs are also wonderfully evocative, underscoring the vaguely disquieting atmosphere that intensifies as the plot unfolds.

A well crafted novel offering a compelling mystery and engaging characters, I really enjoyed A Madness of Sunshine.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Review: Cry of the Firebird by T.M. Clark

 

Title: Cry of the Firebird

Author: T.M. Clark

Published: November 18th 2019, Harlequin MIRA

Status: Read November 2019

+++++++

My Thoughts:

When World Health Organisation consultant Dr Lily Winters is asked to evaluate a murdered colleague’s unfinished project in South Africa, she jumps at the chance to return to the country of her birth. Supported by her husband Quintin, a world renowned violinist, Lily is eager to investigate the inexplicable clusters of illnesses and deaths recorded by her colleague, but as she grows closer to the source, she finds herself caught up web of corruption, greed, and revenge, and the unwitting target of a ruthless cabal who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Offering a multilayered plot that includes more than one thread of intrigue, Cry of the Firebird, is a fast paced and exciting thriller in which Clark explores several issues, among them drug tampering, profiteering, police corruption, AIDS, early onset Alzheimer’s, wildlife conservation (particularly with regards to flamingos), and displacement.

If I’m honest, the central intrigue of the book bothered me a little because it feeds the narrative of ‘big pharma’ conspiracists, and by extension anti-vaxxer’s. However after I finished the book I did a little research and I was horrified to discover that WHO estimates 1 in 10 medical products in developing countries are substandard or falsified.

I found the main characters of Lily, her husband Quintin, and San police officer Piet Kleinman, to be appealing and well developed. Lily is smart, dedicated and thoughtful, with a stubborn streak that ensures she won’t give up easily, even when threatened. I adored the relationship between Lily and Quintin, there is such a strong, supportive bond between them that I really delighted in. Piet is an interesting character, as a displaced Kalahari bushman (San) he has a fascinating background and unique skills that he uses as both a police officer and as a medicine man to help others, especially in the San settlement of Platfontein.

Somewhat curiously for a fiction novel, along with a glossary, Clark includes some notes she titles Fact vs Fiction in the books last pages. Here she comments on where her novel is based in fact, and where she has used creative licence for the purposes of her story.

A compelling story which offers adventure, suspense, and heart, Cry of the Firebird is a terrific read I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Read an Extract

Available from HarperCollins Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Previous Older Entries