Review: If I Tell You…I’ll Have to Kill You Edited by Michael Robotham

Title: If I Tell You…I’ll Have to Kill You: Australia’s Leading Crime Writers Reveal Their Secrets

Author: Edited by Michael Robotham

Published: Allen & Unwin July 2013

Status: Read from July 26 to 27, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and I am not too choosy about the type – police procedurals, cozies, detective fiction, psychological thrillers – as long as there is a crime involved, I am willing to pick it up. My bookshelves were once dominated by authors such as Ed McBain, Jonathon Kellerman, Patricia Cornwall, Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton but slowly they are being edged out by the homegrown talent it has taken me a shamefully long time to discover.

If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You is a fabulous collection of essays from some of Australia’s best crime writers. I was pleased discover I was unfamiliar with only one of the contributors and thrilled to learn more about some of my favourite authors like Malla Nunn, Adrian Hyland, Katherine Howell, Kerry Greenwood and of course, editor Michael Robotham.

If I Tell You… is undoubtedly a valuable resource for aspiring crime authors, offering a plethora of advice about plotting, character and more, followed by the author’s own list of self imposed ‘Rules’. Shane Maloney’s rules are pretty simple and includes ‘Read some f**ing books’, Lenny Bartulin recommends you ‘Do not drink more than one bottle of red wine per day – Unless you Can’, Angela Savage, more sensibly suggests, ‘Carry something to write on at all times…’ and Gabrielle Lord bluntly advises ‘Make writing your first priority. It comes before everything else.’

Even if you are simply a fan of crime fiction, like me, you will find these author’s stories fascinating. I was surprised to discover Peter Corris has never accepted an advance for any of his 30+ Hardy novels because he dislikes the pressure of deadlines, and I was also amused by Leigh Redhead’s account of her first foray into the seedy world of peepshows and strip clubs.

Each author has also been asked to nominate five Must-Reads which will grow your wishlist exponentially. The book mentioned most often is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, though surprisingly The Lord of the Rings is also listed more than once.

If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You is a great collection, both informative and entertaining and I think it is a must have for Australian crime fiction fans. In addition, the royalties from the sale of this book are going towards the Australian Crime Writers Association which runs the annual Ned Kelly Awards. Show your support for our talented Aussie crime writers and purchase a copy today.

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Review: Hunter by Chris Allen

HUNTER_mr

Title: Hunter: The Alex Morgan Interpol Spy Thriller Series (Intrepid 2)

Author: Chris Allen

Published: Momentum December 2012

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 15 to 16, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Hunter is the second book by Chris Allen to feature Interpol black ops agent, Alex Morgan. This fast paced, action packed thriller pits the INTREPID soldier against Serbian war criminals determined to evade justice.

Hunter opens with Morgan in the midst of a clandestine mission to take into custody known Serbian warlord, Serifovic, from his compound in Corfu, Greece. But the agent’s well planned, solo assault goes awry when he is surprised by one of guards and a vicious fight ensues. It’s not the last time Morgan is forced into hand to hand combat, but in the way of all hero’s, Morgan prevails and the villain is apprehended.

The arrest of Serifovic brings the INTREPID team one step closer to the capture of General Dragoslav Obrenovic, their ultimate target. The Slavic despot has declared war on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) resulting in its presiding judges being placed under protective custody. Yet despite the precautions, Judge Madeline Clancy is attacked in broad daylight in her Washington suburb of Sunset Hill and her daughter, Charly – a celebrity classical pianist, is abducted during a pleasure trip with a wealthy businessman. Cue Morgan, who is charged with rescuing Charly and ensuring her safe return home.

Roaming the globe, from Greece to America, London to Malta with a few more stops in between, there is plenty of action that leaves Morgan variously concussed, bruised and bleeding after taking on three enemies at a time or dangling from the floats of a seaplane.

Honestly, as a girl, I don’t need to know the caliber of every bullet fired, or the power ratio of every vehicle driven at speed, but it is a minor quibble and I am guessing for those readers who know what the numbers mean, these details add a layer of authenticity to the action.

In between the life or death crises, Allen reveals the operations of groups like INTREPID and introduces other team members who are doing their part to ensure their mission is achieved. Meanwhile, General ‘Drago’ and his enforcer ‘the Wolf’ are heading for a power struggle. Morgan even finds time to kindle a romance with the flame haired Charly.

In general I think Hunter is well written though it could be a little more polished in places, occasionally an adjective didn’t quite fit. I certainly can’t complain about the pace which is cracking even with the short chapters and frequent shift of setting.

If you are a fan of cinematic action thrillers then this high octane action adventure novel is sure to have you turning the pages at breakneck speed. Hunter is an entertaining escape into the world of the anonymous groups that ensure justice is done.

Click HERE to learn more about Chris Allen, his passion for music and get exclusive access to the Spotify soundtrack of Hunter (and Defender).

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Review: March by Sunni Overend

Title: March

Author: Sunni Overend

Published: June 2013

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Status: Read from July 14 to 15, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

This funny, smart and sassy chick lit novel, March, is Sunni Overend’s impressive self published debut. The owner of her own designer boutique, Sunni writes what she knows, setting March in Melbourne against the backdrop of the fashion industry.

Once, Apple March was the star pupil at the famed Emmaline Gray Academy but scandal ruined her promising fashion design career before it had already begun, and now the twenty nine year old Melbourne hipster is stuck in a dead end fashion retail job, trading quips with the elegant Jackson about their conspicuously wealthy clientele and their insufferable boss, Veronica. It isn’t until her sister announces her engagement and begs Apple to make her wedding dress that her dreams are reawakened and Apple begins to stitch together a new future.

I have to be honest, fashion does not interest me in least (nor shoes) but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this entertaining, light-hearted novel. The third person narrative is enlivened with witty dialogue and good description. I loved the humour and the distinct ‘Aussie’ flavour of the story.

In terms of plot, Apple is hiding a secret from family and friends and Overend takes her time in revealing it. Romance is a fairly strong element of the story with Apple and Charlie’s undefined relationship simmering away, despite the presence of Charlie’s (horrible) fiance, Heidi and Apple’s casual liaisons with Henri and Noah. Plus Mena is getting married and Apple’s flatmate, Chloe, is contemplating the same. Perhaps the only flaw for me in the story stemmed from the subplot involving Apple and Mena’s father. I think it should have been developed more, or perhaps left out all together, as I didn’t find it particularly relevant in terms of story or character development.

The characters are wonderful. I really liked Apple, who is lovely and down to earth. Jackson made me laugh, and so did Veronica (well I mostly laughed at her). I found I could easily envision all three of these women, though I thought Mena and Chloe were fairly interchangeable. Charlie, the croquet playing heir apparent is just gorgeous and his younger sister, Jill, a delight.

I am impressed with this appealing debut novel. March is an enjoyable, funny and stylish read which I would happily recommend, particularly to fans of the chick lit genre.

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Review: Heist by Robert Schofield

Title: Heist

Author: Robert Schofield

Published: Allen and Unwin June 2013

Status: Read from June 28 to 30, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Heist is Robert Schofield’s entertaining and action packed debut crime novel set in Western Australia’s goldfields. Gareth Ford is an engineering manager at an outback gold mine a few clicks north of Kalgoorlie. Divorced, with a weakness for gambling and grog, he is the perfect patsy for a group of mercenaries who raid the isolated mine’s vault and steal over eight million dollars worth of gold bars. After being taken hostage and then left for dead in a burning armoured van, Ford’s only concern is to ensure the thieves haven’t followed through on their threats to hurt his young daughter but instead he finds himself running from his enraged captors, the corrupt Gold Squad, and a vicious local Bikie gang.

I really enjoyed this exciting crime thriller that includes an audacious theft, deadly gun battles and car (well motorcycle) chases in the Australian outback all leading to a conspiracy of greed and profit. The plot is well thought out, the action convincing and tension runs high and fast as it moves between the remote desert scrub and isolated towns of the state.

Ford is a great protagonist, obviously flawed yet redeemed by his devotion to his daughter and his determination to ensure her safety despite burns, bullet wounds and death threats. Ford also has a great sense of humor (read: he is a smarta##) which, along with the Aussie sensibilities of his character (non withstanding his Scot origins), lightens the tone of the story considerably.
Teaming Ford with the ‘good cop’ Detective Rosie Kavanagh, poetry spouting snake charmer ‘Banjo’ and hard as nails Viper’s president, Doc in their quest to unmask the mastermind behind the gold heist is a stroke of genius. With limited reasons to trust one another, the uneasy dynamic works fabulously as they struggle to work both together while pursuing their own agendas.

An impressive debut, Heist is an exciting, fast paced and fun novel. I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of Aussie crime fiction who enjoy thrills, spills and a laugh.

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Review: Blood Witness by Alex Hammond

Title: Blood Witness

Author: Alex Hammond

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Au June 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 25 to 27, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I am impressed with this well crafted crime/legal thriller, a debut fiction novel for South African born Australian, Alex Hammond.

Set in Melbourne, Blood Witness introduces Will Harris, a defence lawyer for a large legal firm. Tasked to instruct barrister Chris Miller in a high profile murder trial, Harris has to think outside the box to prevent their client from being branded a killer. The case demands all of Will’s attention but when Mischa, the younger sister of his fiance he lost in a tragic accident two years before, is charged with serious drug related offences, his attempts to secure her release threatens to compromise the trial and derail his career.

Hammond deals with the novel’s two major story lines and additional subplots with unexpected skill for a debut novelist. The author is a lawyer so his knowledge of legal process lends authenticity to the detail but he avoids intruding on to the flow of the novel. The story is well paced, the tension well maintained and the dialogue genuine.

The first major plot of Blood Witness involves Will’s defense of Martin Keir. Wealthy and arrogant, the accused likes young girls and though he admits to sleeping with the fifteen year old victim, he denies being involved in her brutal murder. Despite the damning evidence, Harris is tasked with developing a case to establish reasonable doubt, something that seems unlikely until Harris interviews Peter Kovacs who is convinced he witnessed the crime in a dream. At first Harris dismisses the statement as unusable, simply the hallucination of a dying man, but as their defence begins to crumble an almost forgotten precedent may give Kovacs his day in court but at the risk of ruining Will’s career.

The second major plot thread sees Will struggling personally as he tries to help his fiance’s younger sister. Harbouring guilt over his fiance’s accidental death, he is determined to do all that he can to help Mischa but his impulsive handling of her case makes him a target of a nosy journalist and places him at odds with a dangerous criminal organisation.

I particularly liked the way in which Hammond balanced the professional with the personal aspects of his protagonist. I felt I got to know Will Harris on both levels, learning what sort of man, and what sort of lawyer, he is. I found Will to be an appealing character, supported by a solid, complementary cast.

I think Blood Witness is an entertaining and interesting thriller and a great start to a new Australian crime series with lots of potential. If you enjoy crime fiction I’m happy to recommend you give this debut author and Blood Witness a try.

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Review: Allegiance Sworn {and the Light Blade Series} by Kylie Griffin

Title: Allegiance Sworn {Light Blade #3}

Author: Kylie Griffin

Published: Berkley April 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 20 to 21, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the Penguin Australia}

My Thoughts:

I was delighted when I discovered Kylie Griffin to be an Australian author writing in the paranormal fantasy genre. Published by Berkley in the US (and distributed by Penguin in Australia), Allegiance Sworn is the third book in Griffin’s Light Blade series featuring the conflict between a brutal demonkind called the Na’Reish and the Light Blade warriors who protect the human race.

In Vengeance Born we were introduced to Annika, the half-blood daughter of the Na’Reish king desperate to escape her father’s cruel regime. When a Light Blade warrior, Kalan, is captured during a demon ambush, Annika offers to free him in exchange for sanctuary in the human territory. To escape the Na’Reish and overcome the Council objections, the pair must learn to trust each other with their lives, and their hearts.

In Alliance Forged Kalan and Annika are stunned when a party of Na’Chi, half-bloods just like Annika, appear at Sacred Lake seeking refuge, and offering an alliance in the coming war against the Na’Reish. While the Lady, the human’s deity, has told temple priestess Kymora that the coalition is vital in order to defeat the Na’Reish, not everyone is willing to put their prejudice aside. Hoping to promote acceptance of the Na’Chi, Kymora offers to work closely with them and their fierce leader, Varian but when rebel Light Blades attack the camp the fragile treaty is in danger of collapsing. In order to ensure it survives, Kymora must convince Varian to trust her, and himself.

In Allegiance Sworn, war is imminent and during a Na’Reish attack in human territory, Light Blade warrior, Arek is captured. Sold on as a blood slave, Arek would rather die than serve a Na’Reish but Clan-leader Imhara Kaal surprises him. She is an advocate for the Old Ways and wants to put an end to the Na’Reish King’s plans for war. Arek isn’t sure he can trust the she-demon but unless he learns to, he risks losing everything.

Set in an imaginative world where humans and demons are on the brink of war, Griffin combines romance, action, intrigue and magic in each book of her Light Blade series. I eagerly read one after another, enjoying an escape into the fantasy of warriors and heroines falling in love and fighting for peace.

The Na’Reish are a demon race with characteristics not unlike vampires in that they feed from from humans. They treat humans much like cattle and despise the Na’Chi, mixed bloods, who are usually killed at birth. They live in clans and fight amongst themselves for power and status but are led by a King, Savyn.
The humans live in a feudal type society, led by the Council of Light Blades who respects the teachings of the Lady, their deity. Some humans are blessed with abilities that vary including the power to heal, and in the case of some Light Blade warriors, the power to kill with a touch.
Griffin has done a wonderful job of developing the political and social structure of both societies over the three books and teasing out the intriguing connection between them. The world is detailed, vivid and interesting, with elements that are both familiar and unique.

I love that we don’t lose touch with characters even as the books moves on. In Allegiance Sworn, Annika, Kalan, Kymora and Varian all have roles to play though Arek and Imhara are the featured couple.

Trust is always a major obstacle to love between Griffin’s pairings, and in Allegiance Sworn, Arek, a Light Blade warrior whose mother was killed by the Na’Reish, struggles with believing Imhara is not the blood thirsty, violent creature he is familiar with. To survive, Imhara must make an ally of Arek but earning his trust is a difficult task, complicated by the attraction that grows between them.

While the books in the Light Blade series feature romance there is plenty of action, adventure and intrigue to entertain the reader. Corruption in the Council, secret enclaves of Na’Chi, skirmishes between enemies and the impending war creates scenes of tension and excitement.

This is a fantasy series that offers more than romance and I have really enjoyed the first three books of the Light Blade. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Kylie Griffin and she told me she has around four more books planned to finish out the series. I hope that we see them on the shelves soon.

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Review: Ghost Money by Andrew Nette

Title: Ghost Money

Author: Andrew Nette

Published: Snubnose Press August 2012

Status: Read from April 19 to 20, 2013 — I own a copy{Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Early last year I read and very much enjoyed Hard Labour, an anthology of crime writing by Australian authors. After that review, the editor, Andrew Nette, asked if I would be willing to read Ghost Money, which I believe is his first full length published novel.

Introducing ex-cop turned private investigator Max Quinlan on the trail of missing Australian businessman, Charles Avery, Ghost Money is a gritty detective novel set in the late ’90’s. Quinlan, employed by the missing man’s wealthy sister, begins his search in Thailand, the scene of his past professional disgrace, but soon discovers Avery has fled to Cambodia. Following the man’s trail, Quinlan enlists the assistance of an ambitious Australian journalist and his interpreter, Sarin, only to find himself the target of ruthless killers and treasure hunters.

Quinlan, born of a wartime liaison between his Vietnamese mother and soldier father, was raised in Australia after his mother’s death. Orphaned after his father’s suicide, Quinlan eventually joined the police force where his Eurasian appearance was both a help and a hindrance to his job. It was his role in a failed joint operation in Thailand that essentially put an end to his career and after Quinlan resigned from the force, he began to take on missing persons cases.
There is a nice depth to Quinlan, though at times his motivations are questionable. I don’t quite understand why Quinlan doesn’t simply walk away when his search for Avery puts his own life at risk nor why he insists on walking blindly into a number of easily discernible traps. That being said, I like that Quinlan is a man with limits, he makes mistakes but keeps moving forward, doing his best for his client.

Of the supporting cast it is Sarin I found most interesting, the Khmer translator chooses to become embroiled in Quinlan’s mission and proves to be a helpful guide. The romantic element involving Sarin’s sister and an American archivist wasn’t particularly strong and largely irrelevant to the story.

Nette spent several years in Cambodia and his knowledge of the country’s politics informs his character’s experiences. Though I did think Nette was in danger of overwhelming the narrative with facts at times, his insights into the Cambodian conflict are fascinating, particularly regarding the legacy the Khmer Rouge. A particular strength of the novel is the author’s portrayal of the landscape of South East Asia, from it’s seedy urban centers, to the areas of grinding rural poverty.

Ghost Money takes the reader into a world of violence, betrayal and corruption with twists and turns leading through the gritty underworld of south east Asia. If you enjoy noir detective novels and are interested in something different, then you should take a chance on this interesting thriller.

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Bush Nurses by Annabelle Brayley

Title: Bush Nurses: Inspiring true stories of nursing bravery and ingenuity in rural and remote Australia

Author: Annabelle Brayley

Published: Penguin Au March 2013

Status: Read from March 21 to 23, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the Publisher}

My Thoughts:

In Bush Nurses, Annabelle Brayley has collected stories that span a century of nursing in inland Australia, to share the extraordinary challenges that the women (and a few men) upon whom thousands of people rely for everyday and emergency medical care, face in providing health care to the rural and remote areas of Australia.

In 1912, the Australian Inland Mission (renamed Frontier Services in 1977) was established by Rev John Flynn to bring medical and spiritual services to the outback. With few doctors interested in traveling in remote areas, it was nursing sisters who carried the scheme into the community, travelling by camel, horse, rail and even motor tricycle, providing care for the indigenous and white communities.

In the bush, nursing staff were usually the only source of medical care for hundreds of kilometers or more, and even today that holds true. Nurses tend wounds, birth babies, give inoculations, respond to emergencies, even operate when there is no other choice. They teach classes in preventative health, fundraise for community resources, offer counsel and comfort and more. And it’s not just people they treat, animals often become patients as well in areas where vet care is impossible to access.

Their stories are heartbreaking, amusing, inspiring and incredible. Isolated, with few resources and in tough conditions they are on call 24/7. These first person vignettes provide a glimpse into the life of a bush nurse, and the invaluable contribution they make every day.

Providing health care to the rural and remote areas of Australia poses unique challenges and it takes resourceful, determined, brave and committed people to do so. People like these.

Note: Penguin is donating the royalties from Bush Nurses to Frontier Services.

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Review: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee

Title: The Midnight Dress

Author: Karen Foxlee

Published UQP February 2013

Status: Read from March 14 to 15, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending?

The Midnight Dress begins with a girl waiting anxiously in the darkness, the sounds of the town celebrating echoing in the distance, wondering what she will say when he comes for her. This is the girl that will disappear, the girl wearing the midnight dress.

The narrative shifts between the present, as a Detective searches for the missing girl, and the past as present as the midnight dress comes to be. Rose arrives in the small northern Queensland town of Paradise with her alcoholic father, is befriended by Pearl despite her reluctance and with the Harvest Parade celebration imminent agrees to work with the eccentric Edie Baker to create a dress for the occasion. A midnight dress of deep navy blue, mourning lace and glass beads, hand sewn by Rose while she listens to the stories Edie has to share.

I saw The Midnight Dress labeled as ‘rural Australian gothic’ (I am not really sure where – sorry about that) and thought it the perfect description. It has many of the elements associated with the genre – a wild, isolated landscape, a crumbling house, an illicit love affair, a lurking sense of something ‘other’.

The suspense is finely crafted, despite the intertwining narrative that foreshadows the grief and loss. There is a haunted quality that reminds me of The Picnic at Hanging Rock, it has that sense of an inexorable slide towards tragedy, of menace waiting to take advantage of innocence.

The Midnight Dress is beautifully written with a lyrical rhythm and evocative language. I felt as though I could step inside Edie Baker’s house, crowded with decaying junk, mildewed fabric and lost dreams. Gaze upon the looming mountain covered with dense forest, a waterfall burbling in the distance as the sweat of tropical humidity trickles uncomfortably down my spine. Spy on Pearl’s flirtation with Paul amongst the tiny, musty rooms of the book exchange.

Despite the teenage protagonist I would say this novel exceeds the boundaries of young adult fiction, it is more than a coming of age tale even as it delves into the angst of adolescence. The Midnight Dress is compelling, a story of loss, of yearning and dark enchantment and leaves me eager to read more from Karen Foxlee.

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