Review: Learning To Talk To Plants by Marta Orriols


Title: Learning to Talk to Plants

Author: Marta Orriols Translator: Mara Fay Letham

Published: 3rd September 2020, Pushkin Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Pushkin Press/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

“You said that talking to plants was a private, transformative act, an act of faith for those who don’t believe in miracles. I get up, take a breath, and add to my list: Learn to talk to plants.”

In need of a book for the Books In Translation Reading Challenge, Learning to Talk to Plants caught my attention in the Edelweiss catalogue. This debut won Spanish author Marta Orriols the Omnium Cultural Prize for the best Catalan novel in 2018, and has been skilfully translated into English by Mara Fay Letham.

Learning to Talk To Plants is a raw and moving story of love, loss and grief. Just hours after her partner of more than a decade informs Paula he is leaving her for another woman, Mauro is killed in an accident. Paula is devastated by his death but her mourning is complicated by her feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal.

“Everyone assumed, during those weeks following the accident, that my stunned gaze, neglected appearance and lowered blinds were due to my sadness over losing the person who’d been my partner for so many years; no one realized that, clinging to the pain of his death, there was another grief, slippery but slow, like a slug able to cover everything— including the other pain—with its viscous trail that gradually saturated everything, ugly, so ugly that all I knew how to do was hide it, I was dying too with the shock of this new shame, even more shocking than the death itself.”

Orriols’ eloquent prose immerses the reader in her character’s intimate thoughts, moving between her struggle in the present and memories of her past. As a neonatologist who lost her mother at a young age, Paula is familiar with the fragility of life, but this loss is more complicated. Though grief unfolds in a predictable manner, from denial through to acceptance, Paula’s experience of it is so intensely personal. I found her situation intriguing, and had great empathy for her. I was particularly impressed by Orriols’ authentic and nuanced portrayal of Paula’s volatile emotions.

“My pain is mine and the only possible unit for measuring or calibrating it is the intimacy of everything that comprised the how. How I loved him, how he loved me. How we were, uniquely, no longer us and, therefore, how I could uniquely grieve him.”

The writing is eloquent, I highlighted at least a dozen sentences or paragraphs that struck me as particularly meaningful or profound. The momentum is steady, but not slow, moving the story forward over the course of about six months.

I may have selected Learning To Talk to Plants to ‘tick a box’, but I was rewarded with a tender, evocative and insightful novel that I would recommend.

++++++

Available from Pushkin Press

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

Review: The Chase by Candice Fox


Title: The Chase

Author: Candice Fox

Published: April 2021, Bantam Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

It’s clear from its opening pages that The Chase by Candice Fox, is going to be a tense, fast paced, exciting thriller as a sniper threatens the lives of a bus load of innocent civilians unless the warden of the Pronghorn Correctional Facility releases not just one inmate, but all 653.

Captain Celine Osbourne is horrified as her colleagues, some of whom have family on the bus, open the cells and prisoners stream from the facility into the Nevada desert, including the men under her supervision on Death Row -every one a monster. Celine is more than willing to help track them down, but her focus is on recapturing John Kradle, a man whose crime haunts her.

In the five years since his incarceration, John Kradle has made preparations just in case a chance at escape presented itself. He doesn’t plan to live it up in Vegas nor flee to Mexico though, John just wants to stay ahead of law enforcement long enough to be able to prove himself innocent of the murders of his wife, son and sister-in-law.

As Kradle makes his way to his hometown of Mesquite, trailed by a terrifying psychopath, Celine teams up with an ex-inmate in her desperation to find him. Both of the main characters grew on me as the story unfolded. Fox uses flashbacks to provide information about them, and illustrate their shocking connection. Celine is a sympathetic character despite her flaws, and some foolish decisions. Kradle too earns sympathy as he endeavours to find whomever is really culpable for the deaths of his family, while trying to avoid capture by the law, a serial killer, a reward hunter, and Celine.

While many of the escapees are quickly recaptured, Fox highlights the adventures of a handful of prisoners on the loose,  including Kradles’s unwanted shadow, Homer, a serial killer known as The North Nevada Strangler; the elderly Raymond ‘The Axe’ Ackerman; and white supremacist Burke David Schmitz, as they make their bids for freedom. The actions of each men contribute to the tensions in the novel, though in very different, and disturbing, ways.

For the agent in charge of the extraordinary fugitive hunt, the largely unlikeable, bad-ass Marshall Trinity Parker, the priority is finding the man for whom the breakout was orchestrated, before he enacts whatever deadly event she is sure he has planned. She makes no apologies for her agenda, ruthlessly leveraging the inside man, Celine, and whomever else she deems necessary to identify her quarry, and track him down.

There are obviously a lot of moving parts to The Chase given the multiple characters and story threads, but Fox deftly integrates them into a compelling whole. The story unfurls at a fast pace, offering plenty of action, suspense and drama. The author’s quirky sense of humour is evident throughout, helping to balance the the impact of the violence.

Gripping, exciting and entertaining, I recommend you pursue a copy of The Chase at your earliest convenience.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Something to Hide {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Something to Hide is the fourth engrossing rural suspense novel to feature Detective Dave Burrows, though the seventh in which he appears, by bestselling Australian writer Fleur McDonald.

Something to Hide brings closure to the undercover assignment investigating a stock theft ring that resulted in Dave being shot and the escape of the ringleaders,  brothers Bulldust and Scotty, in Without A Doubt. Set a few months after the events of Red Dirt Country, Dave’s relationship with his wife, Melinda, is just getting back on track when, while grocery shopping, she’s confronted by a stranger with a message for her husband.

Dave’s been expecting the ruthless brothers to seek their revenge ever since the judge carelessly revealed his identity during his testimony in the case, and now that they’ve finally made their first move, Dave is keen to end the threat. McDonald develops a tense, fast-paced plot as the inevitable confrontation between Dave and Bulldust edges ever closer. Not knowing when, or where it will take place, but assuming it will be deadly, ensures suspense remains high throughout the story, particularly as both men grow more reckless in their pursuit of each other.

Stonewalled by the Major Crimes squad tracking Bulldust and his brother, Dave’s partner, Bob, tries to distract him with another case involving stock theft, moving the action from Perth back to Barrabine, adding a further layer of interest to the novel. It also reunites Dave with his mentor and handler on the undercover case, Spencer, who, in a shocking twist, gets caught up in Bulldust’s vendetta.

The entire situation is the last straw for Mel who issues Dave an ultimatum, insisting he choose between her and the job. McDonald explores Dave’s struggle to make such a choice, and the fears that drive the spouse of a police officer to demand one. Though I do not find Mel to be a likeable character, McDonald’s skill with creating authentic characters ensures I do sympathise with her concerns. Unsurprisingly, Dave remains hopeful that he can still have it all, until tragedy ensures the decision is made for him.

Though Something to Hide could be read as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend it given it provides closure to two major threads developed in the previous books, plus you’d be missing out on what is an excellent series. Well crafted, with exciting action, Something to Hide is a stellar instalment, and I can’t wait to discover how Dave moves forward from here.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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

******

If you’ve enjoyed this review, (and even if you haven’t) please consider donating to the charity Fleur McDonald founded, DV assist, which offers information, resources and practical support for those experiencing or concerned about others who may be experiencing domestic and family violence in regional, rural or remote Western Australia experiencing family and domestic violence.

Click here to learn more about DVAssist.org.au

Review: Welcome to Nowhere River by Meg Bignell


Title: Welcome To Nowhere River

Author: Meg Bignell

Published: 2nd March 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Centred on the small (fictional) town of Nowhere River in the Tasmanian Highlands, Welcome to Nowhere River is a charming novel from Meg Bignell about family, friendship and community.

In a bid to revive the standards of the Nowhere River township, affected by drought and a dwindling population, the imperious president of the St Margery’s Ladies’ Club announces a contest. The member who conceives of, and develops the most effective idea to revitalise the riverside village (while upholding a standard of decorum) will be crowned Miss Fresh & Lovely, and win $100,000. With such high stakes, the competition has no shortage of entrants and soon the community is a hive of activity as plans are put into action.

“Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone at all.”

Among the residents vying for the crown are three women who are central to the novel – Carra, her mother-in-law Lucie, and local farmer, Josie. Each have their own reasons for entering the competition, but all are distracted by personal issues. Carra, married to Nowhere River’s local golden boy, Duncan, and the mother of infant twins, is overwhelmed and unhappy. Lucie’s grief for her young daughter who went missing in Nowhere River decades before, resurfaces; and the viability of Josie’s family farm, already struggling due to drought, is further threatened. I enjoyed getting to know these well crafted characters, I empathised with their challenges, and wished the best for them all.

Welcome To Nowhere River also has a lively raft of supporting characters, including eccentrics like the elderly Cliffity, who collects gnomes and ferrets, and the grumpy grocery store owners, the Pfaff’s. I delighted in getting to know the members of this community, aided by snippets from Lucie’s Miss Fresh & Lovely project interviews with a dozen or so residents. Fair warning, there a few with a mouth on them, but mostly they should make you laugh with their very Australian turn of phrases. Living in a country town myself (beside a river no less) I found the dynamics of the community familiar, especially in regards to the importance of the Show to the town, and in what is a rather extraordinary coincidence, (MINOR SPOILER) this week (March 2021) my town was ravaged by flood, just as Nowhere River is.

“It always amazes me…how there are no secrets in this town, but so many mysteries.”

While Welcome To Nowhere River is largely a character-driven story, there is a thread of poignant mystery in relation to the fate of Lucie’s missing daughter. There are also some twists as the story unfolds, and some surprises in the epilogue.

Written with warmth and humour, celebrating character and community spirit, I found Welcome to Nowhere River to be a delightful read, much as I did Meg Bignell’s debut novel, The Sparkle Pages. I’m already looking forward to her next.

+++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

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

Review: A Home Like Ours by Fiona Lowe

Title: A Home Like Ours

Author: Fiona Lowe

Published: 3rd March 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read March 2021, courtesy Harlequin Australia /Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Life was an unpredictable lottery. But surrounded by a community and a garden, the future was easier to face.”

An insightful, warm and engaging story, A Home Like Ours is another fabulous novel from award winning Australian author Fiona Lowe.

When Helen arrived in the small town of Boolanga in rural Victoria three years ago, she had been living in her car, searching for work, and a place to call home. Now, having secured a position as a caretaker of the town’s community garden which provides her with a small cottage, her new found stability is threatened when she insists a local group of refugee women be provided with plots.

Jade is a young mother with no family to speak of and a deadbeat, often absent, partner. To supplement her meagre pension, and provide her baby son with organic produce, she reluctantly agrees to assist Helen in the community garden. Though initially distrustful of everyone, especially the refugees, Jade slowly discovers a place she could belong.

Tara doesn’t understand why her husband, hardware store owner, Jon, seems to have lost interest in her. Wrapped up in her own self-pity, she is stunned when he is diagnosed with a debilitating condition, and is forced to consider what community really means.

The central theme of A Home Like Ours focuses on the effects of displacement. Like the protagonists of Lowe’s story, almost all of us are vulnerable to events such as illness, injury, relationship breakdown, unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, as well as extreme situations like war, which could result in a complete change of circumstance.

To face these sorts of unexpected challenges requires the support of a community – of family, of friends, and often even strangers. Lowe’s decision to centre the story on the town’s community garden is a clever one. Not only is it a site that allows her to reflect the population of the town at large, but it’s also a setting in which her very different characters can plausibly meet.

Portrayed with a realistic complexity, I really liked Lowe’s characters and found their stories to be engaging. It’s impressive that she is able to credibly depict women who are of widely disparate ages and backgrounds, and have diverse concerns. I would have liked for Fiza, a Sudanese refugee, to have had a larger role in the story, though I can understand why Lowe likely shied away from doing so.

Lowe also explores a range of specific issues relevant in Australia at the moment including racist attitudes towards refugees from African countries, the rise of homelessness experienced by women over 55, the inadequacy of current social support payments, the lack of support programs in rural areas, and government corruption. It seems like a lot, but these issues overlap and intertwine, enriching the story, and informing the reader.

I barely noticed that A Home Like Ours was almost 600 pages long, engrossed in the well-paced story I finished it in a day. This is an wonderful read that encourages empathy, compassion and community.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates

 


Title: Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All

Author: Laura Bates

Published: 2nd March 2021, Sourcebooks

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

#NotAllMen they yell whenever a woman shares an encounter with an aggressive admirer, a handsy boss, a leering stranger, a violent rapist, a condescending colleague, an abusive partner. They are right, but there are definitely too many men, and their numbers don’t seem to be decreasing.

In Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All, journalist Laura Bates investigates the online communities whose ideology centers around having power and control over women, how these affect society, and what can be done to change it moving forward.

Whilst incels (Involuntary celibates) beg for sex on demand, pickup artists (PUA) deploy predatory “gaming” tactics, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) choose to eschew relationships with women altogether, and Men’s Rights Activists (MRA/MRM) insist women return their stolen power, there remains a wide range of common ideas and tactics underpinning what Bates terms ‘manosphere’ communities.

As ‘Alex’, a lonely young man, she allowed herself to be recruited into an online world in which nothing was his fault, in which he was an aggrieved martyr, not the privileged loser he felt society painted him as. And the cause of all his woes? Women. ‘Foids’ that won’t sleep with him, ‘sluts’ who say no when they really mean yes, ‘nags’ who sap their energy, ‘feminazi’s’ who want to rule the world.

While such groups are often dismissed as ‘fringe’ online activities, Bates shows how savvy members of these groups have actively spearheaded campaigns that downplay, distort and discredit women’s issues, amplified by trolls who enjoy the controversy, the irresponsible practices of clickbait mainstream media, and social media algorithms. Bates also explores how the manosphere rhetoric spills into the real world, inspiring everything from wordless intimidation to mass murders, and even influencing politics.

If terrorism is a means of attempting to exert control and wield power by creating fear, then at an individual level, it also describes men who intimidate, harass, coerce and abuse women. Bates is aware that the publication of this book will again make her a target of derision, vile abuse, rape, and death threats, and that her physical safety could be at risk. No one will be surprised to hear it, few will believe that there is anything that can be done about it. As a society, we seem to assume violence against women is inevitable.

#NotAllMen hate women, but some do. Some men blame women for every frustration, every grievance, every loss. Some men see women as objects, undeserving of respect or autonomy. And they are emboldened when these views remain unchallenged. These men are an obvious danger, not only to women, but also to society at large. A significant percentage of those who commit acts of terrorism and mass murderer have a history of violence against women.

I agree with Bates that intervention is needed well before some boys/men wander down this path. We, both women and men, need to be informed, to admit there is a problem, and work together to change it. We need to challenge instances of sexism, and fake ‘news’, to encourage boys and young men to define masculinity in a manner that doesn’t put them in opposition to women. “Ultimately, there are major changes that need to happen across a wide range of sectors, from government to tech companies, from media to education…”

I am the wife of a man who loves me, and whom I love. I am a mother of two daughters, and two sons whom I adore. So I know it’s #NotAllMen, but it is #SomeMen, many of whom I have had the misfortune to encounter in my lifetime. Men Who Hate Women is a book that will disturb, infuriate, challenge, and perhaps change you, for the better.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

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

Review: Everything Is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray

Title: Everything is Beautiful

Author: Eleanor Ray

Published: 9th February 2021, Piatkus

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Eleven years after Amy Ashton was encouraged to gather a selection of precious memories in a shoebox, her home is filled to the brim with keepsakes. Bundles of newspapers tower in the hallways, boxes block the stairs, wine bottles cover the floor, coffee mugs and cookbooks clutter the kitchen, ceramic birds perch on every flat surface, vases hold dead bouquets of honeysuckle, and lighters and ashtrays (even though Amy doesn’t smoke) are stacked in teetering piles.

Told in alternating chapters between present day and the past, why Amy came to stuff her home with ‘treasures’ is gradually revealed in this heartrending and beautiful tale by author Eleanor Ray. A capable and valued administrator at a financial advice firm, Amy is unassuming, her wardrobe is dull, she never wears makeup and avoids social events. Few would imagine what the intensely private woman returns home to each night, and Amy prefers that no one cares, she is content with just the company of her ‘beautiful things’ that remind of happier times.

Amy’s neighbour, Rachel, cares though, and blames her for an ongoing problem with mice. When a new family moves in next door, Rachel thinks she has found an ally in forcing Amy to change, but with a well paced and thoughtful plot, it doesn’t happen in the way that you may expect. I loved the unexpected way in which some of the elements of the story developed, and though I had an inkling of what the main twist would be, I wasn’t disappointed to be proved right.

Amy is slightly awkward and intensely vulnerable, but despite her extreme behaviour, there would be few who would not find her sympathetic. I found myself feeling strangely protective of her, perhaps in part because I’m a bit of a hoarder myself. There are also several delightful supporting characters in the book, including the two charming young sons of Amy’s new neighbour, and an elderly retired shopkeeper. It has its villains too, who are satisfyingly dealt with.

Everything is Beautiful may begin as a story of tragedy and grief, but ultimately it is one of healing and hope, which I found moving and am delighted to recommend.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

*Published in the US as The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton

Review: Sargasso by Kathy George

Title: Sargasso

Author: Kathy George

Published: 3rd February 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“The last thing I remember is the screaming. I remember that because I wasn’t the one doing it…. It was the house. Sargasso. The house was screaming,….”

Inspired by her love of classic gothic fiction, Sargasso is an entrancing, eerie tale of mystery and passion from debut Australian novelist, Kathy George.

Upon her grandmother’s death, Hannah Prendergast inherits Sargasso, the impressive house of glass and stone designed by her late father, built on a headland just outside Shepherd Cove, a holiday town two hours’ drive down the west coast of Melbourne. It’s been twenty years since Helen last crossed the threshold of her childhood home, the family having abandoned it when she was twelve after her father’s body washed up on the beach below.

The narrative shifts smoothly between the past and the present. ‘Then’ Hannah is a bright and imaginative child who delights in the eccentric aspects of Sargasso, one of which is the inscrutable boy who becomes her best and only friend, Flint. ‘Now’, Hannah plans to rejuvenate the house while she decides what to do with it, and is stunned when Flint reappears, a grown man, as enigmatic as ever.

It is the relationship between Hannah and Flint that is at the heart of this story, an obsessive, possessive, all consuming love forged in childhood and reignited with their reunion as adults. Hannah barely hesitates before ending her three year relationship when Flint demands it, and grows ever more reluctant to even leave his side, as Flint has a habit of disappearing for hours, days, even weeks, particularly when she displeases him. The sense of uncertainty and dread steadily escalates as the secrets of Sargasso, both past and present, begins to unravel.

George develops an extraordinary atmosphere that blurs the line between what may be real and what may be imagined. The initial impression of Sargasso is one of light and strength, but slowly, particularly in the present timeline, the atmosphere of the house becomes oppressive and sinister. Rather than protect Hannah, it seems to trap her in a space between waking and sleeping.

The influence of novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca are obvious in terms of both plot and character but I think George provides her own modern Australian twist. Sargasso is an enthralling, haunting, gothic tale.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: The Second Son by Loraine Peck

Title: The Second Son

Author: Loraine Peck

Published: 4th January 2021, Text Publishing

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Text/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The Second Son is Loraine Peck’s impressive, thrilling crime fiction debut.

‘One. No friends. Two. No feelings. Three. No conscience. Only family. Everyone else is enemy.’

When Ivan Novak is shot dead in his driveway, his father, Milan is certain the leader of a rival Serbian gang is responsible and insists his younger son, Johnny exacts retribution. Johnny isn’t a killer and, not convinced the Serbs are responsible, is reluctant to perpetuate the war that began in Croatia on the streets of Sydney. Looking to deescalate the situation, Johnny develops a brilliant plan that he hopes will satisfy his father’s lust for revenge, and allow he, his wife, Amy, and son, Sasha, to finally escape his family’s stranglehold and start a new, legitimate life. But if the plan fails, Johnny risks losing everything.

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Johnny and Amy, The Second Son is an action-packed, (mostly) fast paced crime thriller that explores the themes of family, heritage, loyalty, revenge, and trauma.

Set in the western suburbs of Sydney, where the criminal underworld, often divided by ethnicity, competes for territory and illegal trade, Peck focuses on the animosity between the Serbs and Croats, their conflict imported from the Balkans civil war in the 1990’s. Milan Novak heads a gang of around 25, mostly family members, whose business involves drug trafficking, protection rackets, grand theft, armed robbery and money laundering, their territory abutting the Serbs, Italian, Asian and Bikie syndicates.

With his brother dead, Johnny is expected to step up and take his place as the second-in-command. Peck has given us a complex character, while his devotion to his wife and son are admirable, he is not exactly a good guy. He may not have a taste for killing, but he is not adverse to intimidation, or administering a beating, and his income is largely derived from illegal means. His relationship with his brutal father is complicated, and defying his orders seems impossible unless he can find an alternative. Peck cleverly plots a solution for Johnny, which I won’t share because it would spoil the surprise, but there is still great risk involved, especially in regards to keeping his marriage.

Johnny’s wife, Amy, has always turned a blind eye to the unsavoury elements of the family business, but when her safety and that of their son are threatened, she gives Johnny an ultimatum, demanding they move up north, far from the influence of her in-laws. Amy’s behaviour shows some naivety with regards to understanding the Novak family dynamic (though just enough nous to keep a dark secret), and she underestimates the danger her husband’s rivals presents. I liked her much more in the second half of the story, than the first.

In fact Amy was the cause of my only real issue with the novel as I found her perspective to be repetitive during the first half, which was a detriment to the pacing for me. The sag around the middle was soon forgotten though as Peck ups the stakes for both of her main protagonists, and the suspense drew me eagerly towards the conclusion.

There is quite a lot of violence in The Second Son but there are also flashes of humour. Peck’s writing is confident and engaging and I thought she showed a good understanding of both people, creating interesting, well-rounded characters, and setting, capturing a different aspect of Australian urban life.

The Second Son is an entertaining, tense and gritty crime novel, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Crackenback by Lee Christine

Title: Crackenback

Author: Lee Christine

Published: 1st February 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Crakenback follows Lee Christine’s bestselling debut, Charlotte’s Pass, featuring NSW Homicide Squad Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder. It’s not necessary to have read the former however, as I found this story works very well as a stand-alone.

With the start of the ski season still a few weeks away, Golden Wattle Lodge proprietor Eva Bell is alone with her three year old, Poppy, when Jack Walker, bruised and bleeding, bursts through the door. Eva is terrified as he strips her of her phone and keys, irrationally convinced he has come for his daughter. Learning that Jack has instead come to protect them from a killer bent on revenge gives her only the smallest sense of relief.

Meanwhile DS Ryder and his small task force are searching for a new lead in the hunt for Gavin Hutton who is suspected of beating two men to death. Joined by Detective ‘Daisy’ Flowers, and new team member, Nerida Sterling, the investigation takes them from Sydney, south to Jervis Bay, north to the Central Coast and west to the Snowy Mountains, where their quarry is finally in sight.

Christine immediately captures the reader’s attention in Crackenback with a dramatic prologue, the relevance of which is revealed later in the story, but there’s plenty of action and tension to follow in this tightly plotted, exciting story.

I was as interested in the progress Ryder and his team were making in the search for their fugitive, as I was in Jack and Eva’s nervous wait for their attacker, though it quickly becomes clear they are one and the same. Both perspectives advance the plot and are neatly complimentary while building suspense. I thought the pacing of the story was very good, and I read it easily in one sitting.

Both Eva and Jack were appealing characters. I admired Eva’s determination to protect her daughter and her practical, sensible way of coping with the frightening situation she was thrust into. Jack has an interesting background, and he is obviously capable and resourceful. Though their relationship, which resulted in Poppy, was not much more than a one night stand, it’s obvious the pair are still attracted to each other, though Christine plays down the romance angle in favour of the action.

Unfortunately I hadn’t the opportunity to read Charlotte’s Pass so I’m not terribly familiar with Ryder, but I liked what I saw of him. It was his girlfriend Vanessa, who is also Eva’s sister, who had a larger role in that story. It seems likely to me that the third book will feature one of Ryder’s team.

While the main action takes place at the Lodge in Thredbo, and the deepening snow plays beautifully into the action, one of things I liked was the way in which Christine’s characters moved within the state of NSW. I was particularly delighted that my town of Taree even got a mention (though it wasn’t very flattering and, as far as I know, not true, given the Officer in Charge of our station is a woman).

With an intriguing storyline, fast paced action, and strong characterisation, I thought Crackenback was a great book, and I’ll definitely be reading Christine Lee’s next.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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

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