Review: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

 

Title: Under the Cold Bright Lights

Author: Garry Disher

Published: July 2nd 2019, Soho Crime

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Soho Crime/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

Under the Bright Cold Lights is a stand-alone novel from Australian author Garry Disher, who is best known for his three crime fiction series’, Inspector Challis; Wyatt; and Paul Hirschhausen.

Five years after retirement, Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl has returned to the Victorian police force to work in the Cold Case and Missing Person Unit, where his experience, which includes a decade in homicide, fails to impress his younger colleagues who refer to him as ‘Retread’.

The latest case to cross Aulh’s desk concerns the discovery of a skeleton underneath a concrete pad on a rural property. The bones are that of a young man, who was shot in the chest, and buried under the concrete around five years previously. As Aulh, teamed with Detective Constable Claire Pascal, works to identify the ‘The Slab Man’ and whomever is responsible for his murder, he continues to reinvestigate the death of John Elphick at the behest of his daughters who believe he was murdered, is drawn into developments regarding a case he handled during his time in homicide, all while supporting a tenant/friend who is engaged in a contentious custody battle with her abusive husband.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is largely a police procedural, providing some insight into the way in which the police investigate cold cases. Auhl and his colleagues follow the slimmest of leads- a numberplate scrawled in a notebook, old rental agreements, and hotline tips, among others. There isn’t a lot of action in the novel, but the investigations are interesting, and cover a fair bit of ground.

I liked Auhl, who is an old-school type of cop, willing to put in the work to solve his cases. He isn’t bothered by the ribbing he receives from his younger colleagues, and he isn’t interested in office politics. It’s clear Alan has a big heart, evidenced by the ‘waif and strays’ he takes in at ‘Chateau Auhl’. It’s also evident early on that he is somewhat disillusioned with the justice system, and is prepared to exact his own when the system fails.

The writing is understated yet engaging, and I enjoyed Disher’s dry wit. I thought the story was well paced, and found it to be an easy read. The settings are evocative of the city, suburbs, and regional areas of Victoria, as are the minor characters.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is a well-crafted, absorbing mystery with strong characterisation, and a distinct Australian setting.

++++++

Available from Soho Press

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

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Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

 

Title: Boxed

Author: Robert Anderson

Published: May 7th 2019, Scribe Publications

Status: Read June 2019

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My Thoughts:

“I check the name and address: Dave Martin, Five Trees. It is mine. It has been sent to me. This makes no sense.”

Dave Martin is baffled when he finds a box, addressed to him, stuffed with hundred dollar bills by his farm’s mailbox. Even more so when first, nearby property owners Elaine Slade, an attractive widow, and then “self-serving, hard as nails” Ben Ruder drop by, looking for a misdelivered parcel they claim is theirs. Turning the box over would be the right thing to do, but In the wake of a soul crushing tragedy, and a lot of booze, Dave isn’t thinking clearly. The mystery deepens as more boxes with odd contents arrive, yet even as Elaine is assaulted, his own home is ransacked by thugs, and the police start asking questions, and Dave finds himself well out of his depth, he is determined to find answers.

“All my life I have been anchored here. I have known where I fitted. Wherever I went, people who didn’t know me could always place me: because of where I lived, because I was someone’s son, grandson, friend, then husband, and then father. Now it is all gone, and I am untethered, unplaceable. If I met myself in the supermarket, I wouldn’t know who I was. I never imagined I could be so totally isolated. The farm is the only thing that defines me.”

In Dave, Anderson has skilfully crafted an unlikely hero. A farmer in rural Australia, who is weighed down by grief after experiencing a series of personal losses, Dave feels hopeless, seeking nightly oblivion in a bottle, neglecting the farm, and rebuffing the efforts of friends who reach out with offers of support. The mystery of the box full of cash pierces his shroud of self-pity, and, with nothing much to lose, Dave welcomes the subsequent drama, despite the dangers.

“I had been lying to myself about taking the box back to the mailbox. I want to see this to the end. I want to solve the mystery. I want the money — all of it.”

Boxed unfolds at a measured pace, driven by Dave’s artless, if well-intentioned, efforts. Elaine is evasive, Ben is vaguely menacing, stalking the mailman proves unhelpful, and the thug’s taking regular potshots at him aren’t interested in talking. As Dave tries to determine who is the rightful owner of the boxes he has hidden in his laundry, the situations in which he finds himself escalate into an almost farcical escapade. The plot is well constructed with red herrings, surprise twists and a dramatic climax.

“If I knew then … maybe none of this would have happened. When those boxes… arrived, I would have taken them straight to the police. There’d be no story to tell. No one would have been shot at, threatened, bashed, knocked out, or hurt…”

An engaging character driven mystery, with a sardonic wit that enlivens the plot, and a compelling sense of place, and community, I really enjoyed Boxed. I hope to read more by Robert Anderson soon.

++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

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Review: The One by Kaneana May

 

Title: The One

Author: Kaneana May

Published: June 17th 2019, Mira AU

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I’ve met Kaneana May a few times at local library events, and I was excited to learn she had realised her dream to publish. Her debut, The One, is an engaging and emotional contemporary novel.

Using her experience in the television industry, May connects her characters by their participation in ‘The One’, a (fictional) reality television show in the style of the worldwide phenomenon, The Bachelor. To be honest, I abhor reality shows like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, Married at First Sight, Love Island etc, so this aspect of the novel wasn’t particularly a draw for me, however I imagine fans of those shows will enjoy the idea of peeking behind the scenes of The One.

The One unfolds from multiple perspectives. Darcy is the ambitious producer who works long hours to ensure the success of the show, to the detriment of her decade long relationship with her high school sweetheart. Bonnie is a reluctant contestant, trying to put distance between herself and the man she believes to her ‘one’, who is about to marry someone else. Penelope is dealing with an unspecified heartbreak, of which ‘The One’ seems to be a painful reminder. And then there is Ty, the ‘bachelor’, a last minute replacement on the show, whose heart is not really in it.

Through her characters, May explores the the complexities of relationships. There is passion, anxiety, romance, regret, desire and heartbreak, as they all grapple with their questions about love. I had some empathy for Darcy and her situation, though honestly I would have preferred a different ‘ending’ for her. I was less sympathetic with regards to Bonnie and her relationship with Ollie.

Well written, combining drama, humour, pathos and romance, I really enjoyed The One, congratulations on a great debut Kaneana.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5} by Kate Atkinson

 

Title: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5}

Author: Kate Atkinson

Published: June 18th 2019, Doubleday

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s fifth book featuring ex soldier, ex policeman, turned private investigator, Jackson Brodie, and though it follows Case Studies, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog, Big Sky can be read as a stand-alone.

Having temporarily relocated to a seaside village in Yorkshire to spend time with his teenage son, Brodie’s current investigations, involving background checks, employment theft, cheating spouses and missing pets, don’t pose much of a challenge. When he is hired by a trophy wife who believes she is being followed, he expects the answer will be simple, but instead Brodie stumbles into a tangled web of exploitation, greed, and death.

Big Sky unfolds through multiple perspectives. The cast is large, though I wouldn’t say unwieldy, but it does take a surprising amount of time before the connections between the characters become apparent. Persevere, it’s well worth the reward.

Brodie’s role through most of the actual mystery is surprisingly low key, though he inadvertently becomes enmeshed on several fronts – through a missing teenager, his client – Crystal Holroyd, a suicidal Vincent Ives, an occasional employer, Stephen Mellors, and an old friend, DC Reggie Chase.

“Finding Jackson Brodie at the heart of this melee seemed par for the course somehow. He was a friend to anarchy.”

The ‘melee’, which takes time to coalesce, refers to a human trafficking and sex slavery ring that has been operating with impunity for decades and such a ‘business’ necessarily involves other crimes, notably money laundering, drugs, and violence. Atkinson skilfully weaves the threads together that unravel not only the cabal, but also a historic case involving a pedophile ring.

I admire Atkinson’s style of writing which is so well grounded and flows with such ease. I enjoyed the dry, sardonic humour (particularly those witty inner thoughts shared in parentheses) which contributes to the humanity that Atkinson infuses in her characters thoughts and behaviour.

A smart, entertaining, and absorbing novel, Big Sky is a terrific read, sure to satisfy fans who have been waiting eight years for this latest instalment, and hook new readers.

++++++

Available from Penguin AU

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository 

Also by Kate Atkinson reviewed on Book’d Out

Review: The Ex by Nicola Moriarty

 

Title: The Ex

Author: Nicola Moriarty

Published: June 17th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I have to be honest, I’ve been agonising over this review for days, worried that no matter how carefully I word it, that I’d inadvertently reveal something that could spoil The Ex for the reader. Something I definitely don’t want to do. I’ve drafted paragraph after paragraph, and deleted them all, so I’m going to make this short and sweet.

Having finally found her feet after a difficult few years, Georgia Fitzpatrick thinks she now may have also met ‘the One’. Luke is handsome, charming, and most importantly, makes her feel safe.

Georgia can understand then why Luke’s ex-girlfriend is reluctant to let go, but as Cadence’s behaviour escalates from nuisance texts to increasingly threatening notes, Georgia is worried about just how far she will go. Despite Luke’s assurances that he will take care of it, when Cadence’s latest stunt affects the job she loves, Georgia is determined to confront the ex, and put an end to the harassment, once and for all.

A compelling story of love, betrayal, and revenge, The Ex, offers enthralling twists and turns, even though I found, in part, I was able to predict the path the story would take. The pace was just about perfect, and I finished it very quickly, even for me. The characters are intriguing, and Moriarty deals sensitively with issues raised concerning Georgia’s mental health. That I’m familiar with the setting (Castle Hill, NSW) was a bonus for me.

The Ex, Nicola Moriarty’s fifth novel, is a gripping domestic thriller I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Nicola Moriarty reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9} by Patricia Briggs

 

Title: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9}

Author: Patricia Briggs

Published: March 8th 2016, Ace Books

Status: Read February 2016 courtesy Berkley/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Fire Touched, the ninth instalment of Patricia Briggs urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, begins with a naked troll released by the Fae Gray Lords, creating havoc on a Tri-Cities bridge. Leaping to the defence of the city, Mercy, Adam and the pack engage in a fierce battle to end the rampage, and wind up indebted to a boy seeking refuge from the fae.

Providing sanctuary to Aiden, a once human boy who is now something Other after having spent years in Underhill, puts the pack in direct conflict with not only the Gray Lords who want him back, but also the humans who fear a supernatural war, and the most powerful werewolf pack in the country.

In addition Adam and Mercy must finally take a stand against the members of the pack who have been unhappy about the influence Mercy wields as Adam’s mate. It’s imperative the pack is united if they are going to survive.

Action packed and fast paced, Fire Touched is another entertaining and creative story. Though some fans have expressed discontent with the focus on the fae of late, It seems as if the author is bringing this thread to a close. As always, I’m already impatient for the next adventure for Mercy, and her friends.

++++++

 

Available to purchase via PenguinRandomHouse or your preferred retailer via Indiebound

Available to purchase from Hachette AU or your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Click the image to view the Mercy Thompson series on Goodreads

Review: The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: The Passengers

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: March 1st 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

In Eleanor Limprecht’s captivating novel, The Passengers, a young woman is accompanying her grandmother from America to Australia after an absence of 68 years.

The narrative shifts smoothly between the present day, as the women journey on the cruise ship, and the past, as Sarah reminisces about her life.

“But Sydney isn’t home, love. Never was. Home is the farm we lost when I was sixteen.”

Hannah is fascinated by Sarah’s candid stories of her childhood on a dairy farm, her move to Sydney, her whirlwind romance with an American soldier during World War II, her journey in 1945 as a nineteen year old war bride on the USS Mariposa, and then her life in the US. Sarah shares her experiences both good and bad, of love and loss, and long held secrets. I was very invested in Sarah’s story which is beautifully told by Limprecht, and I was particularly interested in her experiences as a war bride, which I haven’t read a lot about.

“I wanted you close. I guess I hoped you’d want to talk about it, one day. I suppose it’s why I wanted to tell you about Roy. About the secrets I kept.”

While Hannah is ostensibly accompanying her 87 year old grandmother as a helpmate, Sarah hopes that by revealing her secrets on the journey that Hannah might do the same. I thought some of Hannah’s issues contrasted well with Sarah’s experiences, though her primary affliction was not one I found particularly effective in the context of this story.

Though it has its flaws, I thought The Passengers was a moving tale of joy, heartbreak, loss and adventure. I read it without pausing, and I will be looking for more by Eleanor Limprecht.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin

or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Also by Eleanor Limprecht reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: The Land Girls by Victoria Purman

Title: The Land Girls

Author Victoria Purman

Published: April 23rd 2019, HQ Fiction Au

Status: Read May 2019

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My Thoughts:

In Victoria Purman’s historical fiction novel, The Land Girls, It’s 1942 and World War II has spread from Europe across the Pacific. As fathers, brothers, husbands and sons fight on the frontlines against the Germans, Italians and Japanese, the women left behind are asked to do more than just tend their victory gardens, knit socks, and roll bandages. While some women heed the call and join auxiliary services like the WRANS or the WAAF, or take up positions in factories and shipyards, workers are also desperately needed to ensure Australia’s agricultural industry doesn’t collapse and thus, The Australian Women’s Land Army was founded.

Flora, a 30 year old under-appreciated secretary, volunteers because while one of her brothers is serving overseas, the other cannot, and she is determined that no one will be able to accuse their family of not doing enough.

Betty, not quite 18, leaves her job as a Woolworth’s counter girl when her best friend, Michael, enlists, wanting to prove that she too can make a difference beyond selling cosmetics.

Lily chooses to join the Land Girls when her new husband must report for duty to the Airforce the day after their wedding, despite the displeasure of her ‘society’ parents who would prefer their daughter assist the war effort in a more seemly manner.

With warmth, humour and honesty, The Land Girls follows the journey of these three women from when, for meals, board, a brand new uniform, and thirty shillings a week, they are given their first assignments. It explores not only the challenges the women are faced with as they work long hours, largely unaccustomed to such intense physical labour, in unfamiliar surroundings with strangers, but also the emotional challenges of being separated from family, and their fears for their loved ones serving overseas. There are gains and losses, joy and heartbreak. All three of these women will be changed by their experiences as Land Girls, and the vagaries of war.

Well researched, The Land Girls is a wonderful tribute to the 6000 women who participated in the war effort as a member of The Australian Women’s Land Army between 1942 and 1945. It shamefully took more than fifty years for the Australian government to recognise the value of their contribution. I’m thankful Victoria Purman has shone a light on this admirable facet of history.

The Land Girls is a charming, edifying and poignant novel of Australian women in wartime and the important role they played on the home front, a story of resilience, tragedy and hope.

Read an Excerpt

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Available to Purchase from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Review: The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

 

Title: The Summer Before the War

Author: Helen Simonson

Published: March 24th 2016, Bloomsbury UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Bloomsbury/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Summer Before the War is a winsome and poignant historical novel by Helen Simonson.

After the death of her beloved father, aspiring spinster Beatrice Nash is grateful to find a position as the Latin instructor in the village of Rye, East Sussex. It is the summer of 1914 and not everyone believes a young single woman is capable of teaching Latin, but with the support of society matron Agatha Kent, and her visiting nephews, surgeon-in-training Hugh and carefree poet Daniel, and Beatrice hopes to make Rye her home.

A quintessential turn-of-the-century village, Rye is a tight knit community, home to a cross section of English society, where everyone knows their place. Simonson wonderfully depicts the petty feuds, scandals and luncheon parties that occupy the town’s aristocracy, the traveling gypsies that camp on the outskirts of the village each summer, the largely uninterested, and unwashed, boys of Beatrice’s class, and the townsfolk and servants going about their everyday business.

But it’s 1914 and impending war heralds change for Rye and it’s inhabitants. Simonson skilfully contrasts the innocence of that summer with the changes to come. War is an abstract concept for most of the villagers, and almost all are convinced that it will be over in weeks, if not days. Even the arrival of refugees from Belgium, billeted amongst the eager wealthy families who want to be seen to be doing their duty, fails to communicate the gravity of the situation, as the mayor’s wife’s ill judged parade stunt proves. It’s only as rationing begins, as the men of the village leave and fail to return, or return broken, that reality begins to puncture the seaside idyll.

The themes of The Summer Before the War focus on the the Edwardian structure of gender and class, exploring Beatrice’s desire for independence, and a bright young gypsy boy’s wish for further education, amongst other circumstances, both directly and obliquely. Simonson also explores notions of duty, to oneself, to family, to others, and to the country in a time of war. And there is love, a slow-burning romance that takes two characters by surprise.

The pace is languid, reflecting the long days of summer, quickening as Simonson takes us to war. At over 500 pages some seem to find the story drags, but I was invested in the characters, and enjoying the subtle wit and rhythm of the language, so I didn’t really notice.

Engaging and endearing The Summer Before the War is a novel to enjoy at a leisurely pace on a warm spring afternoon.

++++++

Available to purchase from Bloomsbury UK

Or your preferred retailer via Booko or  Indiebound

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Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

 

Title: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

Author: Felicity McLean

Published: April 1st 2019, 4th Estate

Status: Read May 2019 – courtesy HarperCollins/ Netgalley

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My Status:

‘Don’t you know? The Van Apfel girls are gone.’

In the summer of 1992, sisters Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth Van Apfel vanished from an outdoor school concert. Twenty years later, Tikka Molloy still imagines she might see the Van Apfel girls again, and when she returns to her family home to support her ill sister, she cannot help but reexamine the events of that fateful summer.

“We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song,…”

Perhaps best described as suburban gothic, part enigmatic mystery, part haunting coming of age tale, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is told largely from the perspective of Tikka at age 11.

Tik is a charming narrator, and McLean has struck just the right balance between precociousness and naivety. With both the wisdom and innocence of childhood, she relates her experiences of the summer, from scorching days poolside, to news reports of Lindy Chamberlain’s vindication, to the secrets she and her sister, Laura, kept for their friends, Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth Van Apfel.

“For so long we’d been haunted by those girls. Since the moment they first disappeared. We were the ones left behind, Laura and I. Defined by what was long gone. And if not that, then what? Who should we be?”

With adult hindsight, Tikka has some regrets about that summer. It’s a large part of the reason she can’t let go, and McLean thoughtfully explores the way in which Tikka was, and continues to be, affected by the missing Van Apfel girls.

It’s Cordelia, the beautiful, enigmatic middle sister that looms largest in Tikka’s mind, the target of her father’s zealotry, the subject of childish innuendo, admired and envied in almost equal measure, despite being just thirteen the year she vanished. McLean’s portrayal of the Van Apfel girls is limited, largely filtered through Tik’s unsophisticated viewpoint, but is still compelling.

“We ran elaborate underwater handstand competitions In the Van Apfel pool that day. First round, second round, best of the best. Our skinny legs stabbing at the sky like the bows of some demented orchestra.”

I have to admit a part of the appeal of this story is the nostalgia it evokes for me. Tik’s experience of childhood is not that much different than my own- handstand competitions in the pool, thongs sticking to melting bitumen roads, Sunnyboy’s dug out of the freezer, scaring ourselves half to death with seances during sleepovers. I even had pet mice, and a river ran through the bush at the bottom of my street.

“There was before and there was ever after.”

It’s only fair that prospective readers know that the fate of the Van Apfel girls remains largely unresolved, for me, it wasn’t really an issue. An atmospheric and poignant novel, I thought The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone was an engaging and mesmeric debut from Felicity McLean.

Read an Excerpt

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Available to purchase via

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