Review: The Searcher by Tana French

Title: The Searcher

Author: Tana French

Published: 5th November 2020, Viking UK

Read: November 2020 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Searcher is a compelling stand alone mystery from Irish author Tana French, best known for her Dublin Murder Squad series.

Upon the end of his marriage and his retirement from a twenty-five career in the Chicago P.D., Cal Hooper decides to move to a rural village in the west of Ireland where he intends to do little else than to renovate his dilapidated farmhouse, fish from the stream, and walk the mountains. He finds the relaxed pace of his new life, enhanced by a regular craic with his neighbour, Mart, and the occasional drink in the local pub, suits him, though he misses his adult daughter. But Cal can’t quite shake the habits of a lifetime and when thirteen-year-old Trey Reddy begs for his help, he reluctantly agrees to look into the disappearance of the desperate kid’s older brother.

While it’s true that this is not a fast paced thriller, I was nevertheless drawn in, and held captive by the compelling characterisation, atmosphere and plot of The Searcher.

The first half of the book focuses largely on establishing and developing the characters that play an important role in the story. I liked Cal, a burnt-out ex-cop who doesn’t want, or need, much. He’s fine being on his own but not defensive about it, as shown by his willingness to indulge his garrulous neighbour, Mart. His patience with Trey, who is a smart, fierce kid from a poor family with a bad reputation, is admirable, and the relationship French develops between Cal and Trey is a true strength of the novel.

The community of Ardnakelty is a character in itself. I was impressed with French’s ability to effortlessly evoke the settings within her novel, from Noreen’s general store and Sean Og’s pub, to Cal’s isolated, ramshackle farmhouse surrounded by fields, and woods, and peat-bog mountains. There is a great deal lurking below the surface of this rural idyll, and its seemingly straightforward farming folk, with surprises that break through when least expected.

Trey’s brother, Brendan, has been missing for several months by the time Trey asks Cal for his help. No one else seems concerned by the absence of the nineteen-year-old, the assumption being he left voluntarily, either because he’d had enough of life at home, or perhaps to avoid some sort of trouble. Cal is instinctively wary of pushing too hard for information as his investigation begins, but in such an insular community his interest is immediately noted, and as Cal tugs at the threads that will unravel the mystery of Brendan’s fate, he draws trouble to his doorstep.

With its escalating tension, unexpected twists, and flashes of violence, I found the plot to be wholly satisfying, but it’s less the action, and more the complex and nuanced behaviours of the characters that are truly captivating. Unfolding in evocative prose with an Irish lilt, at a deliberate, absorbing pace The Searcher is a compulsive read.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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

Review: Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood


Title: Death in Daylesford {Phryne Fisher #21}

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Published: 3rd November 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

I have a confession to make. Despite adoring Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series, I have tried, more than once, to read the Phryne Fisher series but never gotten past Cocaine Blues. To be fair, that was some time ago and at least a decade or two before Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries made its debut on TV, a show I’ve now binge-watched in it’s entirety on at least three (or five) occasions. So when I learnt that a new Phryne Fisher mystery was being published, I absolutely had to to get my hands on it. I was a teeny bit apprehensive, but thankfully I loved it.

In Death in Daylesford, Miss Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, travels to country Victoria at the invitation of a war veteran who hopes to win her patronage for the spa retreat he runs for shell-shocked returned soldiers. Accommodated near Daylesford, Phryne is looking forward to a week of leisure, but almost immediately finds herself hunting a brazen murderer, three missing women, and a kidnapper, despite the objections of the oafish local officer.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson on special assignment, Detective Sargent Hugh Collins’ lazy temporary supervisor is choosing the path of least resistance to solve a murder. Taking matters into his own hands, Hugh drafts Miss Fisher’s wards, Jane, Ruth, and Tinker, who are in the care of Mr and Mrs B, to help him, when it is revealed the victim is a school friend of the girls.

That makes four mysteries which Greenwood deftly develops in Death In Daylesford, skilfully laying red herrings and clues. Each of them are interesting in their own right, though the most intriguing relates to the very public murders of three young men. Deducing the perpetrator and their motive is a rare challenge for Phryne, even though the deaths occur right in front of her. My early theory was proved right, but there was a twist that took me by surprise.

I couldn’t help but visualise the actors from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as the story unfolded, but even if you are entirely unfamiliar with the series in any form, the characters have a strong presence. Phryne is her usual unconventional, stylish and seductive self, and Dot, her stalwart, beige-clad companion. Much is made of a barmaids beauty, her suitor’s brawn, the haggard appearance of a battered wife, and a Captain eager to please.

Greenwood’s writing is wonderfully descriptive, with the era coming across in all the details of the setting and styling, she excels at showing, not telling. I’m a fan of the Phryne’s quick wit, and dry observations, the author has a great sense of timing, and and an ear for natural dialogue.

Fans of the Phryne Fisher book series are sure to delight in this newest mystery, published seven years after the last, as should those viewers mourning the possible demise of the TV series. Entertaining and clever, Death in Daylesford is a charming, and satisfying read.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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

Review: Truths from an Unreliable Witness by Fiona O’Loughlin

Title: Truths From an Unreliable Witness: Finding laughter in the darkest places

Author: Fiona O’Loughlin

Published: 27th October 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

When I read Fiona O’Loughlin’s first book, Me of the Never Never in 2012, it was as a fan of her comedy routines. I knew very little about her life other than what I’d gleaned from her stand-up, I just knew she made me laugh. I enjoyed the memoir which largely focused on her childhood, and her life as a young wife and mother of five in Australia’s outback. I remember her having recently admitted to her alcoholism, and writing about staying sober, I remember being glad for her, but now I know it was all a lie.

I didn’t really notice that over the next few years Fiona slowly seemed to disappear from the Australian comedy scene. Had I given it a passing thought I likely just assumed that she was busy doing stuff that didn’t make it on to my radar. I wouldn’t have guessed at the hell she was slipping into.

Truths From an Unreliable Witness is a raw, candid account of Fiona’s battle with alcoholism, her repeated failures to curb her addiction over the last decade or so which lead to the end of her marriage, and very nearly her career, multiple stints in rehab facilities, penury, a flirtation with meth, pills, a suicide attempt, and a coma. Fiona makes it clear that her perspective of these events is skewed by her addiction, that her memory is not always reliable, that some details are lost forever to black-outs, but this is the truth she has, and is willing to share.

I missed whatever reporting there may have been on her spectacular fall from grace so all of this came as a surprise to me. I don’t watch “I’m A Celebrity…” on which Fiona appeared in 2018 in the hopes of reviving her career, and won, despite a relapse which led her to drink hand sanitiser stolen from the production crew. It wasn’t her last relapse either, she has experienced several more since, though she now claims she has been sober for almost a year. Alcoholism is a battle never really won. Fiona it seems has come to terms with this, promising not that she is cured, but that she does her best every day not to give in to her addiction.

Fiona hopes that Truths From an Unreliable Witness will be a light in the dark, for others, and herself. Moving, confronting, and powerful I hope it will too.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

 


Title: Trust

Author: Chris Hammer

Published October 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It’s the past, coming after her, propelled by karma.”

Trust is the third impressive crime fiction novel from Chris Hammer to feature Australian journalist Martin Scarsden, following on from Scrublands, and Silver.

It’s a period of Mandalay’s undisclosed past that catapults her and Martin into this clever and compelling thriller. With the action moving from Port Silver to Sydney, Hammer weaves together multiple threads in Trust that begins with a body found in the foundations of a Sydney apartment block, and leads to the unmasking of a stunning conspiracy among some of the city’s elite involving theft, corruption, blackmail and multiple murders. The plot is fast moving and suspenseful, the lives of both Mandy and Martin are repeatedly threatened as they unravel the complex mystery.

The narrative alternates between Mandy and Martin as Mandy tries to fix her past mistakes, and Martin investigates the murder of his mentor, retired Herald editor, Max. It’s no real surprise that their agenda’s eventually overlap, giving the couple the opportunity to work together, underscoring Hammer’s main theme – trust. There is growth for both of these characters in this novel which I appreciated, Mandy becomes more substantial, Martin less consumed by his journalistic ambition.

Familiar characters from Hammer’s previous novels make an appearance including Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, Detective Claus Vandenbruk, a couple of Martin’s newspaper colleagues, and Mandy’s lawyer, Winifred. I’m curious about Hammer’s penchant for using unusual names, in Trust he gives us characters called Tarquin, Zelda, Clarity, and Titus.

Trust unfolds over a period of a week, with subtle references to the NSW bushfires, the pandemic and the economic recession suggesting the events of the takes place in the winter of 2020. Hammer’s descriptions of Sydney are vivid and familiar, from the gritty inner city streets to the enclaves of the wealthy.

Gripping, dynamic and thrilling, Trust can be read as a stand-alone, but the experience is enhanced by familiarity with Scrublands and Silver, and I highly recommend all three.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

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

Check out other participants in the Trust tour, and return to Book’d Out on October 29th for an exclusive chapter sample and your chance to win a copy!

Review: Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman


Title: Magic Lessons

Author: Alice Hoffman

Published: 7th October 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status Read October 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned to you threefold. Fall in love whenever you can.”

Magic Lessons is the enchanting origin story for the curse that plagues the Owens sisters in Practical Magic from Alice Hoffman.

It begins in 1664 when Hannah Owens, a practitioner of the Nameless Arts, finds an infant wrapped in a blue blanket with her name, Maria, carefully stitched along the border with silk thread abandoned in the snow. Recognising that the child is gifted with bloodline magic, Hannah teaches Maria how to help and heal as women from the surrounding villages find their way to the Owens home deep in the forest. When Maria is ten a finely dressed, red haired witch arrives asking that Hannah break a powerful love spell she had foolishly cast upon herself. The woman is Maria’s mother, Rebecca, who stays barely a night, but invites tragedy in her wake, and alters Maria’s fate.

“Love could ruin your life or set you free; it could happen by chance or be a well-planned decision.”

From England, to Curaçao, to Massachusetts and New York, Maria’s fate twists and turns driven by love, betrayal, fear and vengeance. An unwise romance blesses her with a daughter, Faith, but also places her on the gallows in Salem, and a curse spoken in anger becomes a legacy that will affect the Owens women for generations.

The characters are well-drawn, and believable, marked by joy and tragedy. Maria and her daughter are complex and appealing – bright, headstrong, and courageous, but they each make mistakes.

Hoffman weaves interesting historical detail into her story, including connecting her characters with the Salem witch trials, and one of its most prominent actors. She explores the lack of agency women had over their lives in the period, and the way women like Hannah, Maria and Faith were equally revered, and feared.

The writing is lyrical yet not pretentious, with a mesmerising cadence. Descriptions of people and places are evocative, with spell recipes a charming addition.

It’s not necessary to be familiar with Practical Magic, or The Rules of Magic to enjoy this novel, a spellbinding story, Magic Lessons is a captivating read in its own right.

“These are the lessons to be learned. Drink chamomile tea to calm the spirit. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Read as many books as you can. Always choose courage. Never watch another woman burn. Know that love is the only answer.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Also by Alice Hoffman reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Night Letters by Denise Leith


Title: The Night Letters

Author: Denise Leith

Published: 7th October 2020, Ventura Press

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Ventura Press

++++++

My Thoughts:

A captivating novel, Denise Leith draws on her professional and personal experience in The Night Letters, which she dedicates to the women of the the Afghan Women Writing Project.

In need of a challenge, Australian doctor Sofia Rasa accepts a position in the practice of Dr. Jabril Aziz to treat the women of Kabul. She is accommodated in Shaahir Square, where her presence is first met with suspicion, but slowly earns the respect of both her neighbours and her patients, in part by by keeping a low profile, and staying out of local affairs.

Five years after the original expiry of her year long contract, Sofia considers Shaahir Square home, but with the recent disappearances of young boys from the nearby slums of Jamal Mina, she’s increasingly uncomfortable with staying silent. Her interest in the plight of the bachi bazi unintentionally upsets the peace of the Square when some of the residents discover cryptic letters of warning pinned to their door.

The Night Letters is set primarily in Kabul, a city still bearing the scars of the Afghanistan war and the harsh occupation of the Taliban. It’s a very different place from the Australian suburbs, but one Sofia has always felt drawn to. Leith’s descriptions of Shaahir Square are vivid, the space hosts a mix of stores and residences, and its insular construction provides those within it the illusion of safety amid the regular dangers of Kabul.

The people who populate the Square are an interesting group, a microcosm of sorts that in some aspects represents wider Afghan society. The main personalities are Sofia, Jabril and Behnaz, Sofia’s landlady and the wife of the Chief of Police, but the daily activities of other residents and storekeepers, and the relationships between them, are an important element of the story.

Though an obvious outsider with her red hair, Sofia earns the respect of the Square. Jabril and his wife treat her like a daughter, and despite Behnaz’s prickly attitude she too cares for Sofia. As a doctor, Sofia’s patients trust her with both their health and their personal problems, and she also travels outside the Square, assisting at clinics in the slums of Jamal Mina and running a midwife training program in Kandahar. It’s during one of these trips during her first year in Afghanistan that Sofia meets Daniel, an American aide worker.

There are two mystery elements in the novel, both well-plotted. The first involves the anonymous typewritten notes found pinned to the doors of the Dr Jabril and the home of the Chief of Police, where Sofia also resides, in Shaahir Square. When a note is discovered by one of the Square’s residents, warning the reader ‘to tell their friend to stop’, and shares it with some of the others, the vague message worries everyone. Somewhat similar to the ‘night letters’ the Taliban used, there are concerns they are under surveillance by an extremist, and several modify their behaviour in case they are ‘the friend’.

The second mystery involves the whereabouts of the missing boys, not only who may be responsible for their disappearance, but also who is actively derailing any investigation. It becomes clear that the boys are being taken to serve as bachi bazi – which translates as ‘boy play’ and refers to young boys abducted and sold to powerful and wealthy men and used for entertainment and sex. When Sofia becomes involved in the issue she crosses a corrupt politician who has the power to force her from Afghanistan.

With its lovely prose, rich storyline, and interesting characters, The Night Letters Is a wonderful novel, and one I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Available from Ventura Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

 

Title: Song of the Crocodile

Author: Nardi Simpson

Published: 29th September 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Song of the Crocodile is a vibrant, and poignant story of three generations of the Billymil family who live on the fringes of a tiny outback town, Darnmoor, ‘The Gateway to Happiness’.

For Margaret, her daughter Celie, and Celie’s daughter, Mili, the Campgrounds along the banks of the Mangamanga River amongst their people, the Yuwaalaraay, is home, separated from the town proper by a rubbish tip, and the untenable contempt and suspicion of the white townspeople who have laid claim to their land.

Watched over by their ancestors, who are waiting and preparing for the time they will be needed to sing the ‘Song of the Crocodile’, life unfolds for the three women, the ordinary business of living touched by joy, tragedy, desire, pain, success and violence. Their stories are profound, their experiences both commonplace and, to me, unfamiliar. I felt for each of them, admiring their strengths, commiserating with their losses, appalled by their mistreatment.

Progress is a double-edged sword, wearing on the connections to family and land. Tension builds slowly, rifts widen, a reckoning approaches with a storm.

Rich, lyrical, and affecting, Song of the Crocodile is an accomplished debut from Nardi Simpson that tells a story of a people, their culture and country.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Her Last Words by Kim Kelly

Title: Her Last Words

Author: Kim Kelly

Published: 7th July 2020, JazzMonkey Publications

Read: September 2020 courtesy the author

++++++

My Thoughts:

Her Last Words is a stunning contemporary novel from Australian author Kim Kelly, best known for her works of historical fiction.

Seven years after young aspiring writer Thisbe Chisholm stormed out of her boyfriend’s Bondi flat after a petty argument in the early hours of the morning, the coroner’s inquest into her murder decisively exonerates John, but does little else. Stuck firmly in the grip of guilt and depression, John’s bright future as an actor has long since dimmed, and even Penny, Thisbe’s best friend and his stalwart supporter, seems to have reached her limit. Perhaps it’s time to let go…

Kelly was inspired by personal events to create this literary gem. Her Last Words is a heartfelt, poignant story, which explores the themes of love, grief, release and redemption.

While unfolding from multiple perspectives, John and Penny are the central protagonists of the story. Since Thisbe’s tragic death the two have never quite been able to let go, of her, or each other. The coronial inquest serves as a catalyst as John contemplates ending everything, and Penny considers finally moving on.

Fate gives Penny, a book editor, a push when a local bookstore owner discovers Thisbe’s long missing bag and manuscript, prompting the unraveling of not one, but two crimes, and placing Penny on a deserved new path.

John comes very close to getting his wish, just as he realises it’s not really what he wants. Kelly’s insight into John’s depression is thoughtful and empathetic as he struggles both mentally and physically, haunted by his last moments with Thisbe.

With exceptional characterisation, eloquent prose, and raw emotion, Her Last Words is a compelling read this review can’t begin to do justice.

++++++

Available from all major online retailers worldwide, in print, ebook and audio.

 

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Kim Kelly

 

Blog Tour Review: The Bush Telegraph by Fiona McArthur

Title: The Bush Telegraph

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: 1st September 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2920, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Reader’s familiar with The Baby Doctor, will be delighted to discover Fiona McArthur’s The Bush Telegraph features Maddy Locke, the young woman who gave birth in an abandoned storefront while hiding from her abusive boyfriend, in this lively, heartwarming and absorbing rural romance novel.

Set eleven years later, Maddy and her daughter, Bridget, have returned to the small outback town of Spinifex where Maddy, who has since earned a host of nursing qualifications, is to manage the local medical centre. Hoping to banish the ghosts of her past, and make a life for herself and Bridget among the wide open spaces, Maddy is determined to rise to the challenge of providing quality health care to the region and support the revitalisation of the struggling remote community in the memory of her late adopted mother, and former town publican, Alma.

Romance is the last thing on Maddy’s mind, her trust in men having been eroded by her disastrous relationship with Bridget’s father, but meeting attractive station owner Connor Fairhall challenges that. Though wary of the single father who seems to be the subject of disturbing rumours, and whose son, Jayden, appears set on causing trouble, Connor proves to be an unexpected temptation for Maddy. I really liked the way in which McArthur developed the relationship between the two protagonists, particularly with respect to their backgrounds, and I thought their friendship blossomed into romance, with convincing chemistry, nicely.

While the romance is integral to the plot of The Bush Telegraph, McArthur explores several important themes and issues within the story. There are characters facing various problems including alcohol addiction, financial pressures, abandonment, domestic abuse, betrayal and grief. The community itself is showing signs of neglect, with struggling businesses, vacant storefronts, and a dwindling population.

The challenges of providing medical care in a remote location like Spinifex are made clear by McArthur as she details Maddy’s varied nursing tasks in the clinic, which include providing emergency treatment to a walk-in heart attack patient and a child in diabetic crisis, setting broken bones and stitching cuts, and caring for a woman in pre-term labour. Drawing on her own experience working in remote regions as a midwife, McArthur highlights the need for remote health workers to be well resourced and capable of handling a range of situations, the importance of back-up being available in an emergency, and most dramatically, what it means when the life in your hands is your own child’s. I was so affected by one incident involving Maddy providing life-saving treatment, I found myself wiping away a tear or two.

With its engaging characters, captivating drama, and heartfelt emotion, The Bush Telegraph is a wonderful read, sure to appeal to fans of the contemporary rural genre. I think it’s her best yet.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Fiona McArthur reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Title: The Thursday Murder Club

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 3rd September 2020, Viking UK

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley}

++++++

My Thoughts:

“A few glasses of wine and a mystery. Very social, but also gory. It is good fun.”

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a delightful mystery debut from UK TV host, Richard Osman.

Set in a luxury retirement village in the south-east region of England, new resident Joyce is quietly thrilled when Elizabeth asks for her professional opinion about a knife wound, and then extends an invitation to join The Thursday Murder Club. The club, so named because it meets on Thursday’s, studies cold cases from the files of a retired Detective Inspector (who is now too ill to participate), and includes Elizabeth, a former intelligence operative; Ibrahim, a mostly retired psychiatrist; and Ron, once a union boss, who enjoys playing devil’s advocate. The group enjoy the intellectual challenge of their investigations, but when the part owner/builder of The Coopers Chase Retirement Village, is found bludgeoned to death, the foursome are determined to have a hand in solving the case.

The Thursday Murder Club is a cosy mystery, rather than a thriller, but if one death isn’t enough to satisfy your lust for murder, you are in luck, because Curran is only the first to die. The builder is barely in his grave, when his pompous partner, Ian, keels over dead, and then the bones of another murder victim are found in a graveyard. Osman offers an engaging plot that provides plenty of red herrings as the Club members, and police, try to determine what, if any, connection exists between the three deaths, searching for motive, piecing together clues and chasing leads, even all the way to Greece. I thought the story was well paced, and just unpredictable enough to keep me guessing.

Honestly though it’s the quirky, shrewd and lively protagonists of this novel, who despite their advanced age, or perhaps because of it, aren’t shy about insinuating themselves into the case, much to the exasperation and eventual grudging respect of local police officers, PC Donna de Freitas, and DCI Chris Hudson, that are the winning ingredient. I was absolutely charmed by the personalities of the foursome as they inveigled, manipulated, coerced, and traded favours in their race to solve the murders. Joyce, Elizabeth and Donna in particular are spirited characters who tend to steal the limelight.

Though there is plenty of humour to be found in The Thursday Murder Club, much of it dry in the way that only British humour can be, there are some poignant moments too, which gives the story some depth. Osman touches on some of the disadvantages of ageing, such as failing physical and cognitive abilities, the illness and loss of a spouse, and loneliness, but also reminds us that old age doesn’t have to mean giving up on passion or excitement.

Charming, witty and entertaining, I sincerely hope that we’ll be enjoying the antics of the The Thursday Murder Club again soon.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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

Previous Older Entries