Review: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

 

Title: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer

Author: Ilsa Evans

Published: 1st September 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a heartfelt, thoughtful and witty novel from Ilsa Evans.

Shirley Conifer has given her youngest son Daniel the benefit of the doubt as he struggles with single parenthood, but on discovering deep bruises on her four year granddaughter’s body she makes the snap decision not to return Avery to her father until he commits to making some changes. Worried that she won’t have the fortitude to follow through, Shirley seeks the support of Beth Patterson, Avery’s maternal grandmother, knowing that even though they agree on little, Beth will be similarly motivated to protect Avery.

Beth thinks Shirley should call the police, but with Avery’s mother, Cleo, serving a three month sentence in prison as a result of the couple’s tumultuous marriage, neither want to run the risk of Avery being placed in foster care.  Shirley is confident Daniel will do the right thing but to prove they are serious, the women, with Avery, Shirley’s 89 year old mother, Winnie, and Beth’s beloved schnauzer, Harthacnut, in tow, decide to leave the city for the week.

Daniel is furious when he learns of his mother’s actions, and refusing to accept any blame for the situation, demands Avery be returned or he will report them for child abduction. Determined to protect Avery no matter the cost to themselves, Shirley and Beth reconsider their plan, and go on the run, intending to stay ahead of Daniel, and the police, until Cleo is released from jail.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer, is a complex family drama that primarily explores issues around parenting, mother guilt, domestic violence, relationships, family dynamics, and ageing. Evan’s writing is sensitive and thoughtful, but there is plenty of humour too.

Though the police are confident the women will be found quickly, Beth, Shirley and Winnie prove to be craftier than anyone expects. While Beth lays careful plans to keep them all off the grid, Winnie reveals a surprisingly useful grasp of tech and social media, and Shirley ensures Avery is entertained. I enjoyed the dynamics at play, it’s not easy for the three very different women to spend 24/7 confined in the same space however, and the mood is often tense between them given Beth’s judgemental attitude, Shirley’s love of wine, and Winnie’s bluntness, but they also have the opportunity to learn from each other as they progress from reluctant allies to friends.

While the Grandmothers keep a low profile, Shirley’s very pregnant daughter tries to manage the situation at home, and Cleo is forced to face her mistakes. We’re also given some insight into the lives of the two female police investigators on the case, and a behind scenes look at a tv panel show following the abduction story. While personally I didn’t think the latter two perspectives added much value to the story, they do work within the themes of the novel.

As a fan of Ilsa Evan’s Nell Forrest Mystery series, I was especially delighted that the women ultimately took refuge in Majic, and that a character I had the fortune to win naming rights to in Forbidden Fruit (Grace June Rae) made a cameo appearance!

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a thought-provoking, emotive and entertaining novel offering a wonderful mix of drama, adventure and comedy.

+++++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: The Chase by Candice Fox


Title: The Chase

Author: Candice Fox

Published: April 2021, Bantam Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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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: The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood

Title: The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions: The Ultimate Miss Phryne Fisher Collection

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

If you are not yet familiar with the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, then this collection of short stories is a wonderful introduction to the elegant, sensual, and sassy lady private detective, while established fans will enjoy the opportunity to again accompany the intrepid investigator on her adventures in 1920’s Melbourne, and occasionally further afield.

In her introduction to The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions, Kerry Greenwood shares a little about how she developed Phryne, and her writing process. Greenwood also reminds readers that there are several significant differences between the world of the book series and that of the television series – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. That said, anyone familiar with only the show will recognise Phryne’s companions, as well as several settings and scenes.

I was a little disappointed to find that of the seventeen short stories offered in The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions, there are only four new tales, set around the same time as the 21st book in the series, Death in Daylesford which was published earlier this year. The bulk have been published previously in a 2008 collection, A Question of Death, though Greenwood comments that some of these have since been edited to fit better with the chronology of the series.

Regardless, whether Phryne is searching for a missing husband, or a hat, outsmarting a blackmailer, or a cheat, or identifying a murderer, I found all of the story’s in The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions to be engaging. As always, I love Phryne’s dry observations and quick wit, her disinclination for suffering fools and her bent for natural justice.

Clever, entertaining, and charming, I found The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions to be a delight to read,.

+++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn

 


Title: The Last Reunion

Author: Kayte Nunn

Published: 30th March 2021, Hachette Australia 

Status: Read March 2021, courtesy Hachette

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My Thoughts:

The Last Reunion is a rich and absorbing story about art, war and friendship from internationally bestselling Australian author, Kayte Nunn.

Art dealer intern Olivia Goddard is excited when she’s given the opportunity to evaluate the authenticity of a unique collection of netsuke (small three dimensional carvings traditionally used by Japanese men to secure their kimono sash) including the elusive figure known as the ‘fox-girl’. Arriving at the Wiltshire estate of its owner, Beatrix Pelham, Olivia is focused on assessing the pieces and returning to London but illness and a snow storm results in an enforced stay. Keen to learn more about the netsuke, Olivia is intrigued as Beatrix reveals how the ‘ fox-girl’ first came into her possession as a gift from her first love when they were both serving in Burma during WWII.

Employing a dual timeline, Nunn seamlessly combines historical fact and fiction that centres on the unique role women played in the ‘forgotten war’, in The Last Reunion. Around two hundred and fifty Women’s Auxiliary Service members were posted to Burma during WWII where the ‘Wasbies’, as they were known, ran canteens that catered to the troops engaged in fighting the Japanese.

In 1944, Beatrix, Plum, Bubbles, Lucy and Joy are assigned to a mobile canteen unit where they find themselves working long days, and nights, to supply soldiers with food, drink, sundries and a dance partner. I enjoyed getting to know these authentically portrayed, interesting female characters, admiring the strength and courage they displayed in such physically, and emotionally, challenging circumstances. Nunn’s vivid descriptions of the environment and the ‘Wasbies’ role in Burma is fascinating, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this relatively obscure facet of wartime history.

Events related in the wartime timeline play into the later time period, as in 1999, to sell her precious collection of netsuke, Beatrix needs to prove provenance, and to do so must confront a shocking incident that occurred during her time in Burma. Fortuitously an invitation to a reunion of the women Bea once served with arrives while Olivia is at Bea’s house, and sets the scene for a long overdue reckoning.

Offering intrigue, action, and a touch of romance, the well paced plot of The Last Reunion is enough to hold any reader’s attention, though it’s the Wasbies and their role in WWII that I found most compelling. This is interesting, well crafted historical fiction that I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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