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: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Title: Lessons in Chemistry

Author: Bonnie Garmus

Published: 5th April 2022, Doubleday

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy Doubleday/Netgalley UK



My Thoughts:


Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant scientist, but as a woman in the mid 20th century she struggles to be taken seriously. Denied the opportunity for a PhD after stabbing her professor with a pencil, she takes a job as a research assistant at the Hastings Research Institute. Refusing to fetch coffee for her colleagues, or flirt with her boss, Elizabeth finds her career stalled, until an unexpected meeting with the institute’s wonder boy, Calvin Evans.

“When it came to equality, 1952 was a real disappointment.”

Shifting between past and present, Lessons in Chemistry is a lively and thought-provoking story of ambition, love, motherhood, and science, featuring a heroine with an empowering message for women, still relevant today.

“Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanor of someone who was not average and never would be.”

It’s clear, though never confirmed, that Elizabeth is on the autism spectrum, candid and artless, she’s frustrated by the social conventions that attempt to constrain her both personally and professionally. I found it easy to empathise with her, given the struggle for equality in both spheres lingers, and cheered her refusal to capitulate to expectations.

“Cooking is chemistry….And chemistry is life. Your ability to change everything—including yourself—starts here.”

Though repeatedly thwarted in her career ambitions, largely by men determined to either subjugate or exploit her, Elizabeth will not be denied. Accepting the role as a hostess of an afternoon television cooking show is a rare compromise for the sake of practically, but Elizabeth doesn’t have it in her to adhere to convention, much to the dismay and ire of her immediate boss, and his boss. That her unusual approach strikes a chord with her audience of housewives surprises everyone, except Elizabeth.

“Imagine if all men took women seriously.”

Though Garmus explores a range of serious issues that disproportionately affect women such as workplace harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender discrimination, her wry humour offsets many of the story’s painful moments. It helps too, that few of the men who treat Elizabeth badly remain unpunished.

“Family is far more than biology.”

I loved the found family Elizabeth attracts. Her relationship with Calvin is a charming surprise, a true connection of soulmates. Elizabeth’s daughter, Madeline, is a delight, as is the equally precocious family dog, Six-Thirty. I quickly warmed to Elizabeth’s across-the-way neighbour, Harriet, her obstetrician and fellow rower, Dr Mason, her stressed out show boss, Walter Pine, and even the disillusioned Reverend Wakely.

“Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.”

Lessons in Chemistry is witty, provocative, poignant and uplifting story of a woman who refuses to be anything other than who she is.


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Review: Dinner with the Schnabels by Toni Jordan


Title: Dinner With the Schnabels

Author: Toni Jordan

Published: 30th March 2022, Hachette Australia

Status: Read April courtesy Hachette Australia



My Thoughts:


“Dinner with the Schnabels. It could be the title of a horror movie.”

A contemporary domestic drama, Dinner With the Schnabels is a novel about love, marriage and family from Australian author Toni Jordan.

Simon Larsen is an architect, or rather he was. Unemployed since the pandemic bankrupted his business, he’s now a reluctant house husband of sorts in the cramped 2 bedroom flat he and his family of four were forced to move into after also losing their home. With his beloved wife, Tansy (née Schnabel), working as a real estate agent to support their family, Simon feels useless and so when she asks that he landscapes a friends back yard in preparation for her estranged father’s memorial in a week, Simon is determined to prove himself capable.

What follows is a comedy of errors of a sort as Simon is repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to work on the project by a range of situations including an unexpected houseguest, a tardy tradie, an errant sock and an enterprising 8 year old. Yet at its heart this is a story about errant priorities and the quest for happiness.

Earnest and well-intentioned, if generally also a bit neurotic and hapless, Simon is a surprisingly endearing character. His perspective is both amusing, and thought-provoking, revealing a man bewildered by the unexpected route his life has taken, and floundering to find a new direction. As Simon attempts to navigate the gauntlet of everyday tribulations, his intimidating in-laws, particularly fractious matriarch Gloria, and his own emotional inertia, he’s challenged by some uncomfortable and surprising insights.

Witty, perceptive and moving, Dinner With the Schnabels is a well-written, entertaining read.


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Review: The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn


Title: The Diamond Eye

Author: Kate Quinn

Published: 29th March 2022, William Morrow

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy William Morrow /Edelweiss



My Thoughts:


Inspired by the remarkable story of World War II Russian sniper known as ‘Lady Death’, The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn is a fascinating novel of historical fiction.

On the same day that the Germans invade Russia, Mila Pavlichenko (Lyudmila Mikhailovna), a 24 year old PhD student working at the Odessa public library as a senior research assistant enlists in the army. Goaded into completing an Advanced Markmanship course several years earlier by her husband, from whom she’s been separated for several years, she feels compelled to contribute to the protection of her young son, Slavka, who remains in the care of his grandparents. Sent to the Russian front, Mila quickly proves skilled with a rifle, and over the course of the next year, earns the nickname ‘Lady Death’ as a sniper credited with 309 ‘official’ kills of Nazi soldiers.

Unfolding over two timelines, much of the story moves between Mila’s experiences on the frontline, and her time in Washington, 18 months later.

Though The Diamond Eye is a fictionalised account of Mila’s life, in her Author’s Note Quinn explains much of the detail is factual – from Mila’s ‘shotgun’ wedding at age fifteen after being seduced by a much older man, to the friendship she formed with (former) First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt during Mila’s tour of the United States. Drawing from Mila’s official memoir, and other records, Quinn has crafted a rich portrait of the woman that exists beyond the legend of ‘Lady Death’.

I think Quinn ably communicated the chaos and stress of the frontline from Mila’s unique perspective, both as a woman and a sniper. I was engrossed by Mila’s experiences, admiring of her bravery and her commitment to her role, one I could never imagine taking on. There is an extra layer of poignancy too that Quinn did not foresee, given the recent outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine.

I enjoyed the development of Mila’s relationship with her sniper partner, Kostia, and with the lieutenant, Lyonya, with whom she had an ill-fated romance on the frontlines.   Though Quinn has taken some liberties, both men are based on real people, as are most of the characters she encounters, their names taken from historical record, including her comrades in arms, and her fellow Soviet delegates.

It was after Mila’s fourth near-fatal injury, that she was sent to Washington DC, representing the Soviet Union at an international student conference hosted by (former) First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, tasked with convincing the President to provide assistance to Russia. Despite her reluctance to participate, Mila proved to be a capable, if somewhat controversial, advocate (footage of the real Mila speaking with the US press can be seen on YouTube). It’s in this timeline that Quinn strays most notably from history, concocting an assassin who stalks Mila, planning to frame her for the murder of FDR. To be honest I’m not sure it was necessary, though it does add another level of drama and tension, and speaks to the political landscape of the time.

The Diamond Eye is a compelling narrative, enriched by the blending of fact and fiction, and a reminder of the human face of war.


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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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Available in the US July 2022 from Pushkin Vertigo

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.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

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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: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Title: Legends and Lattes

Author: Travis Baldree

Published: 22nd February 2022, Cryptid Press

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy the author


My Thoughts:

Regular blog readers might think this is an odd title for me to be enthusiastic about, but I’m a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, currently working my way through Campaign 1 of Critical Role’s stream, while keeping up with Campaign 3 (and the animated series of Campaign 1 ‘Vox Machina’ on Amazon Prime). My son has been playing with a group fortnightly for five years and in the meantime we’ve accumulated a lot of D&D board games, books and resources.

So when I spied a post for the upcoming title Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree on my Twitter feed I immediately added it to my TBR, curious about how the combination of cosy mystery and D&D themed fantasy would work. Then the author announced he was looking for reviewers and I signed up with my fingers crossed.

In Legends and Lattes, Viv, an orc-barbarian, has had enough of murder and mayhem and after tearing a stone reputed to bring luck from the cleaved head of a Scalvert Queen, leaves her adventuring party and sets off to the town of Thune. Relying on the pull of a dowsing rod, Viv is led to a near derelict livery, and after haggling with its owner, finally has a place she can call her own. Viv plans to introduce coffee to Thune by establishing the city’s very first coffee shop and, hiring a  taciturn hob named Calamity as her carpenter, sets about transforming the property.

The business gets off to a slow start, but with the help of Tandri, a savvy succubus looking to be taken seriously, and a ratkin, Mr Thimble, who produces the most divine pastries, ‘Legends and Lattes’ soon attracts regular customers. As the menu grows, so does the cafe’s popularity, but Viv can’t quite let go of the worry that she’ll lose it all.

There’s not a lot of subtlety when it comes to the story’s themes, but I was charmed by the way in which this group of disparate but delightful characters come together, accepting one another for who they are, and encouraging each other to be who they want to be. There’s also a sweet romance that develops between Viv and her assistant Tandri, with just a little angst stemming from their own insecurities as an obstacle.

There’s not a mystery per se in Legends & Lattes, but there is a little well paced, light suspense and drama when the neighbourhood gang insist Viv pay them for the privilege of operating in their territory, and a former party member decides he wants Viv’s reward from their last bounty. Though tempted, Viv is determined to not revert to her old ways of dealing with problems, even when it threatens to cost her everything.

As promised on the cover, Legends & Lattes is a novel of ‘high fantasy and low stakes’, a winsome, heart warming, feel good read to enjoy with your favourite brew and pastry.


Available on Amazon, Audible/iTunes, and in paperback

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Review: Dead Horse Gap by Lee Christine


Title: Dead Horse Gap

Author: Lee Christine

Published: 1st February 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


Following the success of Lee Christine’s Charlotte’s Pass, and Crackenback, Dead Horse Gap is the third engaging crime novel set in the NSW southern highlands.

In this instalment, while Homicide Squad Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder and his colleague, Detective Constable Mitchell Flowers, are drawn back to the Snowy Mountains into the midst of a family feud when a light plane collides with a deliberately placed tractor, killing the pilot, Detective Constable Nerida Sterling is working her first undercover assignment as a waitress at a ski field bar, tasked with getting a lead on the violent drug ring operating in the mountains.

Though one investigation seems to have nothing to do with the other, it’s not long before the officers suspect there may be some overlap. I thought the cases balanced out well, Ryder and Flowers are kept busy chasing rumours and paperwork, and while the team remain in touch with one another, Nerida has to rely on herself in an increasingly tense situation after she takes a chance on creating a lead.

While Dead Horse Gap can be read as a standalone, there are character issues in this story that play though from the early books, including Ryder’s imminent move with his girlfriend, Vanessa, and the romantic tension between Mitchell and Nerida. These suggest that this will be the last book to feature this particular team, though there is scope for Christine to recenter one member.

No matter the direction she takes, I hope that Christine keeps to the alpine setting though as it’s often overlooked in Australian fiction. I enjoyed the little piece of Snowy River history Christine shared related to the stockmans huts dotted around the Kosciuszko National Park here, adding interest to the story.

Well paced with a satisfying blend of suspense, action and romance, Dead Horse Gap is an entertaining read.


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Review: The Gosling Girl by Jacqueline Roy

Title: The Gosling Girl

Author: Jacqueline Roy

Published: 2nd February 2022, Simon & Schuster 

Status: Read February 2022, Simon & Schuster Australia 


My Thoughts:

Challenging binary rhetoric and institutional bias, The Gosling Girl is a thought-provoking novel from Jacqueline Roy.

Michelle Cameron was just 10 years old when she was found guilty of murdering her four year old neighbour, Kerry Gosling, and incarcerated in a young offender’s institution. Now twenty four, she’s been freed on licence, given a new identity and housed in a tiny London flat. Naive, vulnerable and lonely, the adjustment is a struggle, nevertheless, ‘Samantha’ finds a job she’s good at, adopts a stray dog, and begins to imagine future possibilities, until her DNA is found at the scene of a murder, and her new life is upended.

“What does it mean, this word that describes her constantly? Someone who doesn’t tell the truth? Someone who does bad things? Someone who doesn’t care? Is she evil?”

Michelle Cameron is a killer, but Roy asks if that is all, and will ever, define her in The Gosling Girl. For her part, Michelle finds it impossible to reconcile her past and peoples opinions of her, with her present, and hope for the future. It’s easy to pass judgement on Michelle with the barest of facts, but much more difficult as further details about her life are revealed.

“So my whole life is going to be about what happened when I was ten no matter what I do. It will go round and round, no way out of it, not ever. Consequences: actions and consequences.”

The righteous anger of Kerry’s family at Michelle is immediately relatable so it was uncomfortable for me to acknowledge my growing sympathy for the girl. The author raises questions about the nature of justice, and of punishment, as well as the inequalities inherent in the system.

“Devil-child, a paper called her once. She stares at her face and wonders if evil is etched in the light brown layers of her skin.”

Roy also addresses the role of racial prejudice, particularly in relation to the specifics of Michelle’s crime, and the subsequent treatment of her by the media. This theme is also highlighted by Natalie Tyler’s struggle to reconcile her identity as a black (and queer) woman with being a police officer when neither culture wholly accepts the other.

The Gosling Girl is a confronting, nuanced and poignant read.


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