Review: The Attack by Catherine Jinks

 

Title: The Attack

Author: Catherine Jinks

Published: 31st August 2021, Text Publishing

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Text Publishing

 

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“I took one look at him and it all came flooding back. Otford. Joyce. The lies. The police. I’d fled to a deserted island, but I couldn’t seem to escape Aaron Rooney.”


Robyn Ayres is the caretaker of Finch Island /Buangan Pa, a former leper lazaret, repurposed for the use of campers and organised groups. The basic facilities and lack of phone/wifi service dull the island’s appeal to holidaymakers, but Vetnet, a boot camp for troubled teen boys run by ex military officers, are one of the island’s few regular bookings. When Shaun and his staff arrive with the latest group of delinquent recruits, Robyn is shocked to realise she recognises one of the boys. He is ten years older than the last time she saw him, and using a different name, but she is sure it is Aaron Rooney, who indirectly led to her self-imposed exile on the island. The knowledge leaves Robyn on edge and her anxiety worsens as she is targeted by a series of malicious pranks.

The story of The Attack unfolds over over two timelines, Robyn’s past as a kindergarten teacher in a small town caught between two warring families locked in a custody battle, shows why the sudden appearance of a now sixteen year old Aaron is so destabilising.

There is tension as Robyn wonders if Darren/Aaron remembers her, which builds with a series of worrying incidents, among them rubbish dumped on her bed, deliberately broken plumbing, and a kitchen fire. Robyn considers Aaron the most likely suspect, but there are fourteen other troubled teens on the island who might think that harassing Robyn would force the VetNet operators to send them home.

Though the pace for much of the book is quite restrained, there is a definite sense of anticipation that develops in both timelines. Everything comes to a head in the last quarter of the novel where Jinks provides a thrilling, action-packed climax as Robyn is forced to confront the past.

I really enjoyed The Attack for its original premise, interesting setting (inspired by Queensland’s Peel Island) and characterisation. This is a well written, absorbing and satisfying thriller.

++++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

 

Title: Once There Were Wolves

Author: Charlotte McConaghy

Published: 3rd August 2021, Hamish Hamilton

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“Not long ago, not in the grand scheme of things, this forest was not small and sparse but strong and bursting with life. Lush with rowan trees, aspen, birch, juniper and oak, it stretched itself across a vast swathe of land, coloring Scotland’s now-bare hills, providing food and shelter to all manner of untamed thing.

And within these roots and trunks and canopies, there ran wolves.”

In Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy, biologist Inti Flynn is leading a controversial rewilding project to reintroduce wolves to the Scottish Highlands. The scheme has proved to be of great environmental benefit in other countries but Inti and her team are struggling to overcome the local farmers fears of decimated livestock. As the wolves begin to make themselves at home in the forest, Inti surprises herself by becoming involved with the local police chief, but when a man goes missing in the woods, she finds everything is at risk.

There are many themes at play in Once There Were Wolves, while it has a strong environmental focus, examining rewilding and the conflicts between ecological and agricultural concerns, it also explores issues including domestic violence, trauma, trust and empathy with a raw honesty. There is also mystery that surrounds not just the fate of the missing man, but also Inti’s sister, Aggie.

The timeline shifts between the past and present, giving the reader glimpses of Inti and Aggie’s life before their arrival in Scotland, including a childhood shared between their Australian mother, a homicide detective, and their American father, a logger turned reclusive environmentalist. The sisters close relationship (it’s never exactly clear if they are twins but I suspect so) continues into adulthood. In the present, Aggie has accompanied Inti to Scotland, but it’s clear Aggie, whom remains hidden in their rented home, is experiencing the effects of severe trauma.

“I had always known there was something different about me, but that was the day I first recognized it to be dangerous. It was also the day, as I stumbled out of the shed into a long violet dusk, that I looked to the trees’ edge and saw my first wolf, and it saw me.”

Inti is a complex character with a rare condition known as ‘mirror touch synesthesia’, this means that she ‘feels’ any touch that she observes, whether that be a gentle stroke of an arm, or the pain of a brutal blow. This trait could have come off as a contrivance but McConaghy uses it judiciously and the effect is haunting. Though Inti is often abrasive and a poor decision maker, I found her passion, anger and hope to be compelling.

I’ve never given much thought to wolves to be honest, and I was surprised to find myself invested in the fates of the fourteen relocated animals. McConaghy’s descriptions of the wolves, their behaviours and their contribution to environmental health are affecting and fascinating. Though no such project exists in Scotland, McConaghy makes an eloquent case for it.

Lyrical, moving and profound, Once There Were Wolves is a stunning novel.

+++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia 

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Review: The Long Game by Simon Rowell

 

Title: The Long Game

Author: Simon Rowell

Published: 3rd August 2021, Text Publishing

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Text Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts: 

 

After racing through The Long Game, I’m hoping it is the start of a new crime fiction series from South Australian author Simon Rowell.

The first homicide Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer is assigned on her return to work seems to be open and shut with the evidence clearly pointing towards Dwayne Harley stabbing his best friend, Ray Carlson, after discovering he was sleeping with his wife. Zoe’s partner, Charlie, is happy with the easy solve but something doesn’t sit right with Zoe. With her colleagues wary of her instincts given her recent extended absence, she has no choice but to investigate with only her service dog, Harry as back up.

I found myself totally invested in the fast paced, suspenseful plot of The Long Game. The motivation for the crimes are believable, and their execution is clever and original. I could easily believe that the murderer could have got away with it if Zoe hadn’t been so observant, and determined. I appreciated the procedural details that leant the police investigation authenticity, and enjoyed the action of confrontations and near misses.

The mystery behind Zoe’s extended leave adds further interest to the story. It’s obvious that she experienced something traumatic, and she’s still vulnerable to particular triggers, which is where Harry, a golden retriever, comes in. As a service dog, Harry provides support when Zoe experiences vivid flashbacks that cause her to lose awareness, but his emotional intuition also proves to be a useful investigative tool.

Zoe seems to be a determined investigator, with great instincts. I like that she is willing to back herself, though I’m not overly fond of protagonists that go it alone, I understood her need to prove herself. I thought Zoe’s partner, Charlie, was a little bland, but I liked the analyst, Anjali. Zoe has a romantic relationship with a lawyer, which seems to be fairly stable but there a sense of underlying tension which may be explored if there is a sequel.

The Long Game played just right for me with its smart plot, appealing characters and compelling pace.

++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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Review: The Last Guests by J.P. Pomare

 

Title: The Last Guests

Author: J.P. Pomare

Published: 30th July 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette

++++++

My Thoughts:

Hugely impressed by In The Clearing, I’ve been looking forward to reading J.P. Pomare’s newest release, The Last Guests.

Set in New Zealand, The Last Guests is told primarily from the perspective of Lina, a paramedic married to Cain, an ex-SAS soldier turned personal trainer. Though their five year marriage has had its up and downs, stressed by PTSD, a gambling addiction, infertility and the resulting debt, the couple remain committed to each other, and their plan for a family. When friends of the pair, who aware of their financial struggle, suggest Lina rent out the home she inherited from her grandparents at Lake Tarawera through the short-stay accomodation site WeStay, Cain is enthusiastic about the idea. Lina is less so, the house is to eventually be their family home and she’s uncomfortable with the risks of opening it up to strangers, but let’s herself be persuaded. She relaxes when the first few guests come and go without incident, but Lina is about to discover the real threat to their future comes from closer to home.

The Last Guests is probably one of the more unpredictable thrillers I’ve read in a while. Though not quite flawless, convincingly led in one direction, I almost developed whiplash as the plot twisted and turned offering more than one surprise as Pomare unraveled the secrets held by his characters.

Lina is particularly vulnerable as her secret threatens to surface, and her anxiety is palpable as she attempts to stop it from happening. I liked the complexity of her character, Lina may initially be judged harshly and she doesn’t make the wisest of choices, but there isn’t any malice in her, so I was invested in her fate.

One of the elements I think Pomare excels at is creating an atmosphere of anticipation that ebbs and flows from uncertainty and unease to dread and shock. In part this stems from the way he turns the intimate and ordinary into provocation and a threat.

This novel is certainly guaranteed to make you think twice about booking a short-stay rental in a private home. There are known risks in using services like AirBNB, Stayz and FlipKey, most often they are fairly benign -the accommodation may not live up to its description, or the host may try to extort extra charges, but there have been incidences where guests have learned of hidden cameras, not just in spaces like the living room and kitchen, but also in private areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. In The Last Guests Lina discovers not only have such camera’s been secreted into her lake house without her knowledge, which is creepy enough, but the feed is one of thousands being live streamed to a site that offers paying subscribers a voyeuristic window into the lives of unsuspecting people.

Tense, thrilling and compelling, The Last Guests is another stunning novel from Pomare.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Gun To The Head by Keith Banks

 

Title: Gun To The Head: My life as a tactical cop. The impact. The aftermath.

Author: Keith Banks

Published: 20th July 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Gun To The Head follows on from Drugs, Guns and Lies by former Queensland police officer, Keith Banks, detailing his years of service in the Queensland Police Force during the 1980’s.

Banks offers readers personal insight into policing during a period that can probably be best described as transitional. In the 1980’s the Queensland police force was exposed as a hotbed of corruption, which had little tolerance for officers who played it straight. After several years serving as an undercover operative in the Drug Squad, Banks was forced out when he declined an invitation to participate in a corrupt enterprise.

Transferring to the Criminal Investigation Branch as a Detective Senior Constable, Banks enjoyed the work but found himself missing the adrenaline rush of his former position and leapt at the chance to become a member of the part-time  Emergency Squad, which eventually morphed into the full-time Tactical Response Group.

Keith Banks (left) and Steve Grant at Cunungra Training Camp 1986 (courtesy Allen & Unwin)

 

Banks played a role in some of Queensland’s most high-profile operations, including the hunt for notorious bank robber, Russell ‘Maddog’ Cox, and the MLC Siege, where Banks personally convinced the would-be bomber to surrender, but everyday he and his team put their lives on the line to apprehend violent criminals. Banks insights into the groups daily operations are fascinating, it’s often intense, thankless work that requires a huge commitment and courage. The public generally only hear of such incidents when something goes wrong, as it did when Senior Constable Peter Kidd was shot to death by an armed robber who had escaped from prison, during a raid to recapture him. I knew vaguely of the case but it was very impactful to hear it from Banks first hand viewpoint and I was horrified to learn of the role bureaucratic interference had in the tragedy.

Emergency Squad training exercise at Cunungra 1986 (Keith Banks is on the left). Courtesy Allen & Unwin


Banks, who was a team leader in the raid, was dogged by undiagnosed PTSD after the death of Kidd. Banks is honest about his increasing struggles with alcohol, anxiety, guilt and anger in its wake. I really felt for him, and was appalled by the lack of support available from the force not just after a tragic incident like this, but also in other instances, such as re-entry from undercover work. I certainly hope the situation is much improved now. Sadly it cost Banks his first marriage, his police career, and very nearly his life.

Raw, thrilling and often dark but not humourless, Banks presents as personable and truthful. Gun to the Head is a compelling memoir exposing life behind the blue line.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Others by Mark Brandi

 

Title: The Others

Author: Mark Brandi

Published: 30th June 2021, Hachette

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Hachette

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Others is a haunting coming-of-age novel from award-winning Australian author Mark Brandi.

On his eleventh birthday Jacob’s father gifts him a diary, encouraging his son to write about their life on an isolated farm in rural Tasmania. The boy writes of the sheep they tend, the goats they hunt and eat, the drought that destroys their crops, the foxes that lurk in the hills. Of his dead mother, whom he misses but can’t remember, of the whites of his father’s eyes, of the questions he has about ‘the town’, the plague, and the Others.

Jacob’s voice is captivating, Brandi pitches it perfectly to project the curiosity and innocence of a young boy whose understanding and experience of the world is limited to what his father tells him, supplemented by a dictionary, an incomplete encyclopaedia, and a faded Women’s Weekly magazine.

Jacob is reluctant to ask his father too many questions, wary of his father’s temper or alternatively afraid that the ‘soft eyes’ will return, which means his dad may not talk or move for days. There are subtle clues for the reader that what Jacob’s father tells him about life outside the farm may not be true, small details that the boy doesn’t recognise as incongruous. Tension builds as Jacob’s curiosity grows, and he secretively begins defying his father’s edict to remain within the confines of the farm. Brandi conjures dread and anxiety as a confrontation, either between Jacob and his father or Jacob and the ‘others’, seems inevitable.

The writing is spare, yet evocative, I was clearly able to visualise the farm and it’s immediate surrounds. Some of the graphic scenes in the novel have more impact because the description is so stark. Unexpectedly, the story is also enhanced by small sketches, drawn by Jacob in his diary.

Powerful and unsettling, The Others is a gripping novel with an ending that left my heart pounding.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Blog Tour Review: Someone I Used To Know by Paige Toon

 

Title: Someone I Used To Know

Author: Paige Toon

Published: 16th June 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

I had tears in my eyes when I turned the last pages of Someone I Used To Know, the fifteenth contemporary romance novel from bestselling author, Paige Toon.

Shifting between the past and the present, this is a heart wrenching tale of first love and second chances.

Then, Leah was fifteen when George and Theo came into her life. George the latest to be added to her parents brood of fostered teens, Theo expelled from his third exclusive boarding college and doing penance by attending the local secondary school. Unexpectedly the three form a close bond, one Leah is wary of jeopardising by revealing her deeper feelings for George.

In the now, Leah returns home to the farm with her young daughter, but without her husband, Theo. She is stunned when George reappears after an absence of nearly fifteen years to repay the kindness his foster parents showed him, and wary of renewing their friendship, especially when old feelings begin to resurface.

I found myself utterly captivated by Someone I Used To Know, charmed by Leah’s busy household and generous hearted parents who offer sanctuary to children in need, warmed by the intense bond that develops between Leah, George and Theo, and heartbroken when the trio are separated. I delighted in alpaca’s with personality, giant fluffy bunny’s, and a wood planted with love and hope for the future.

I was shocked by the tragedy that called Leah home, devastated when I finally learnt the truth behind Theo’s absence from Leah and her daughter’s life, hopeful when she was reunited with George, and teary-eyed as I read the epilogue.

Someone I Used To Know offers #allthefeels. I loved it.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia

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Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

 

Title: Falling

Author: T.J. Newman

Published: 4th June 2021, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated, fasten your seatbelt and take a deep breath, we are about to take off and there aren’t any exits from T.J. Newman’s debut novel, Falling.

Barely a half hour into his flight from Los Angeles to News York commercial pilot Bill Hoffman receives an email from his wife, there is no subject or text just an attachment showing Bill’s wife and young children, bound and hooded. The hostage taker’s demand is simple, Bill is to crash the plane he is flying with one hundred and forty eight souls on board or his family will die.

The premise isn’t sophisticated but it is utterly compelling as Bill declares he has no intention of crashing the plane or losing his family. The hostage-taker warns Bill he is to tell no one but Bill nevertheless confides in the lead flight attendant, Jo, who contacts her nephew Theo, an agent with the FBI. As the captain and crew of Flight 416 attempt to devise a way to survive the terrorists threats, the FBI begin hunting for Bill’s family.

The pace is breathtaking as the crisis unfolds over a five hour timeline. While shock and fear eventually take a backseat to determination and courage amongst those trying to prevent a tragedy, the tension is unrelenting as the terrorists manage to stay one step ahead of Bill and Theo. Caught up in the intense emotion and action I couldn’t put it down. In all I felt there was only one awkward note, a mawkish quintessentially ‘American’ scene that happens on the ground near the end of the novel.

The heroes of Falling are, as one would expect, determined no-one will die. They use creative means to circumvent the terrorists, ignoring their own fears, and physical discomfort to protect others. The terrorists are not wholly typical, Newman makes an attempt to humanise by revealing their tragic pasts, and makes some valid points in terms of their cause, but their intentions really have no justification.

Almost everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the interior of a plane which makes scenes set in the AirBus easy to visualise. Newman draws on her experience as a former flight attendant so that the details in regards to the plane’s operation and the crew’s actions seem authentic, even if they are not accurate.

Falling is a well executed, exhilarating thriller, with appeal to a wide audience. Unsurprisingly it’s already been optioned for film and I imagine it will be a summer blockbuster.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Blog Tour Review: Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald

 

Title: Nancy Business {The Nancy’s #2}

Author: R.W.R. McDonald

Published: 3rd June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Nancy’s are back in R.W.R. McDonald’s fabulous sequel to his fabulous 2019 debut, Nancy Business.

It’s been four months since The Nancy’s solved the case of the slain schoolteacher and Tippy Chan’s Uncle Pike and his boyfriend Devon have returned to the small New Zealand town of Riverstone for the first anniversary of Tippy’s father death. Tippy, now twelve, is delighted they have returned though disappointed she is yet to find a new mystery for them to solve. That’s soon remedied however when a car bomb explodes outside Riverstone’s town hall in the early hours of the morning, killing three people, including the alleged bomber, and wounding two. Tippy is at a loss to understand the horror and wants to know who would do such a thing, and why? Though the police seem to have all the answers, when Tippy learns of a letter threatening to blow up the town bridge in five days she convinces Uncle Pike and Devon that the Nancy’s need to investigate.

Whereas I wasn’t quite sold on the mystery in The Nancy’s, I don’t have the same issue here. Though still a rather spectacular crime to occur in a small country town, this time the entire thing feels less Scooby-Doo-like and more grounded in possibility. Establishing The Nancy’s HQ at the ‘murder’ house Pike and Devon have bought on the outskirts of Riverstone, the threesome attempt to figure out if the threat of a second bombing is real, after all, the police have been wrong before. Their usual sources are a little less cooperative this time but that doesn’t stop The Nancy’s nosing around, leading to a jealous husband, a bitey dog, bad smells, and a car chase down Main Street. Solving this case also leads to an unexpected twist with surprising implications for Tippy and her family (and the joy of a third book to look forward to).

McDonald conjures the same magic he created in The Nancy’s with Tippy’s charming narrative, and the witty, often outrageous, dialogue from Pike and Devon, though it has a sharper edge in Nancy Business. The pair don’t seem to be getting along very well, making Tippy anxious about the possibility of further loss. There’s more pathos on show all round in this novel as McDonald continues to explore the theme of grief. Naturally the anniversary of Joe Chan’s death evokes sadness and regret in those who loved him, emotions which are amplified when Tippy learns the truth about her father’s accident. McDonald’s portrayal of Tippy’s devastation in the wake of that revelation is heartrendingly authentic.

Though it’s not strictly necessary to have read The Nancy’s to enjoy this, I would strongly recommend you do. Brilliantly balancing poignancy with hilarity, family drama with mystery, Nancy Business is a wonderfully engaging and entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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++++++

 


Review: Written in Bone by Sue Black

 

Title: Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind

Author: Sue Black

Published: 1st June 2021, Arcade

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Arcade/Edelweiss

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Internationally renowned forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black offers a rather poetic definition of her profession in the introduction to Written in Bone.

 

“The forensic anthropologist’s job is to try to read the bones of our skeleton as if they were a record, moving a professional stylus across them in search of the short, recognizable segments of body-based memory that form part of the song of a life, coaxing out fragments of the tune laid down there long ago.”

 

Less fancifully, a forensic anthropologist’s job is the examination of human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to help with the recovery of human remains, determine the identity of unidentified human remains, interpret trauma, and estimate time since death. It’s a professional discipline that requires scientific rigour and the ability to interpret the science for others.

Black proves she has mastered the skills of her trade in Written in Bone, sharing her detailed knowledge and understanding of her field, and presenting the science in a clear and accessible manner for someone with a basic understanding of anatomy. Crucially though, Black never lets us forget that the bones were once the essential framework of a human being.

Written in Bone is organised in sections that move down the skeleton from the head through to the foot. In each chapter Black explains the development and function of specific bones, how those bones may, or may not, be affected by natural or unnatural means, the process a forensic anthropologist uses to examine and then provide a scientific assessment of the bones, and case examples that demonstrate the role of forensic anthropology in the investigation of legal and criminal cases.

It is astonishing how much information even a fragment of bone may be capable of providing in the hands of a skilled forensic anthropologist. Not only sex, age, ethnicity and height, but also diet, history of disease, cause of death, and even a history of emotional trauma. Black describes the need, “…to squeeze every single piece of information out of whatever parts we do have in our pursuit of the answers to questions about identity, life and death.” and the fascinating, sometimes disturbing, case examples that show just how important those details can be in an investigation.

I felt like I learnt quite a bit from Black. I hadn’t known that the bones in the hand can be a reliable indicator of age in living people, or that disease and emotional trauma can leave a mark called a Harris line on long bones while they are growing. I’m left curious as to what my bones may tell a forensic anthropologist, and if they hold enough of a record to help identify me if they are all that remains.

Written in Bone will interest a range of curious readers from students of related fields to true crime buffs and fans of TV’s ‘Bones’. Educational, intriguing, and surprising, I found this to be an absorbing read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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