Review: All Her Fault by Andrea Mara

Title: All Her Fault

Author: Andrea Mara

Published: 22nd July 2021, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

In All Her Fault by Irish author Andrea Mara, Marissa Irvine arrives at 14 Tudor Grove to collect her four year old son, Milo, from a play date, only to discover the occupant is a stranger who knows nothing about her son.

It’s a scenario that becomes ever more nightmarish when it’s clear there has been no simple mistake. Jenny, with whom Marissa organised the playdate over text, claims to know nothing about the plan, and when no ransom demand is forthcoming, the police have few leads to follow.

The longer Milo remains missing, the higher the tension rises. Mara develops plenty of plausible red herrings as suspicion falls on strangers and those closest to the Irvine’s alike. Cleverly, though the identity of the abductor is eventually revealed, their motivation remains obscured, until a final shocking reveal that I really didn’t see coming. A couple of the twists are a bit of a stretch but in general I thought All Her Fault was well plotted, pacey and suspenseful.

Mara’s portrayal of Marissa’s journey from confusion through to panic and despair is well portrayed. I empathised with her devastation, and her determination to find her son. Gossip and speculation run rampant as the news of Milo’s kidnapping spreads, there are some particularly passive-aggressive characters – school gate mums (and a Dad)- who are eager to suggest Marissa is somehow to blame for the tragedy. Jenny is the only one who reaches out to Marissa and offers her genuine support, despite her unwitting role in the abduction.

With a compelling premise, well drawn characters and a rather spectacularly satisfying ending, I thought All Her Fault was a gripping read.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK


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Review: The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

 

Title: The Newcomer

Author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Published: 2nd July 2021, Scribe Publications

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Scribe Publications

 

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Loosely inspired by the 2002 murder of a woman on Norfolk Island, The Newcomer is a provocative literary crime novel by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.

Paulina Novak, even at 28, is a wild child. Reckless, self absorbed and brazen, with an eating disorder and a drinking problem, she ditched her life in Sydney for a fresh start on the tiny island of Fairfolk, off the eastern coast of Australia. Fairfolk doesn’t take kindly to ‘mainie’s’, especially to someone like Paulina who is wilfully disruptive and openly contemptuous of the insular community, so when two years later, on the day before Paulina’s thirtieth birthday, her body is found under a sheet of black plastic in a field, few are surprised.

Her mother, Judy, waiting in a hotel room to share lunch with her daughter, however is heartbroken, and determined that Paulina’s killer be bought to justice. Given the size of the island community, despite the plethora of possible suspects, Judy expects that the case will be solved quickly, but she it’s two long years before she gets answers.

Moving between Paulina’s past and Judy’s present, the narrative is as much a character study as it is a novel about a crime. Woollett explores interesting questions about mental health, trauma, misogyny, belonging, and victimhood.

Woollett doesn’t present a flattering portrayal of the victim. Paulina is a character that really doesn’t invite sympathy, and I found myself in the uncomfortable position of thinking to myself that her murder seemed almost inevitable given her behaviours. I think that in large part this is the point of The Newcomer, to have the reader confront their unconscious bias with regards to victimhood, because of course it’s not Paulina’s behaviour that is responsible for her death, it is the behaviour of her killer.

Judy too is a complex character, with her own history of trauma, though she is far more sympathetic. A caring mother who has done her best to support her mercurial adult daughter, she’s devastated by Paulina’s death. Woollett portrays her grief in what I felt was a realistic, if sometimes uncomfortable, manner.

Challenging, bold, and poignant, The Newcomer is not an easy read, but it is definitely thought-provoking.

+++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

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Review: When You Are Mine By Michael Robotham

 

Title: When You Are Mine

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: 1st July 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Michael Robotham draws from recent news headlines to create a timely, gripping crime fiction novel dealing with domestic violence, toxic relationships, obsession, and police corruption in When You Are Mine.

Called to a complaint of domestic violence, London police constable Philomena (Phil) McCarthy is unimpressed when the abuser, who claims he is detective, threatens her career will be finished, and then takes a swing at her. Though his mistress, who Phil is surprised to recognise, refuses to press charges, she follows protocol and arrests him, only to be reprimanded by her superiors for her poor judgement in arresting a decorated officer, and then suspended. Phil is both disappointed and angered by the cover-up, and despite being ordered to leave it alone, she digs a little deeper into the Detective Goodall’s history, and learns that Tempe is not his only victim.

I’m always impressed that Robotham demonstrates such astute insight into his female characters. Determined and principled, with a touch of youthful righteous idealism and naivety, Phil sincerely wants to do good as a police officer, and has worked hard for the right to do so. Unfortunately her motives will always be considered suspect because her father, from whom she is estranged, is linked to organised crime. This means she is especially vulnerable when she refuses to accept the official line.

In refusing to back down, Phil risks not only her career, but her safety, especially when she offers support to both Tempe and Goodall’s family. As recently as last month, a Former Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner stated that domestic abuse perpetrated by police officers was at epidemic levels, and victims report a culture of minimisation and coverups. I thought Robotham very effectively showed how intensely vulnerable women, and children, in that position can be. Goodall is not about to simply let go, but then neither is Phil.

There’s a twist in the tale as Tempe, grateful to Phil for her help, tries to repay her. She offers to help with Phil’s impending wedding to her firefighter husband, Henry, then she begins to take care of the everyday tasks Phil, intent on helping Alison Goodall, doesn’t have time for. I really liked how Robotham subtly developed this thread which presents some of the biggest surprises.

Robotham is an accomplished author who knows how to hook his readers and keep them interested not only with a fast pace and the twists expected of the genre, but also characters that are dynamic and interesting. When You Are Mine is a exciting and satisfying read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Catch Us The Foxes by Nicola West

 

Title: Catch Us The Foxes

Author: Nicola West

Published: 7th July 2021, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Catch Us the Foxes is a dark, enthralling thriller from debut Australian novelist, Nicola West.

The novel opens with a prologue where Marlowe ‘Lo’ Robertson, is being introduced to an audience at the Sydney Opera House. She is to speak about her best selling true crime book, ‘The Showgirl’s Secret’, an account of the tragic death of a young woman, Lily Williams, seven years previously.

Marlowe was a 22 year old intern at the local paper when she found Lily’s body in the stables of the town showground. When her father, the town police chief, asked Lo to lie about some of the details of the crime, including the symbols carved into the young woman’s flesh, she reluctantly agreed, but then she is given Lily’s journals which suggest Lo’s father, and other prominent citizens, may have a reason to have wanted Lily dead.

West presents a compelling, intricate mystery where the truth is shockingly elusive to the very last page. Lily’s diaries suggest a frightening cult is operating in their small coastal town, and while the allegations seem absurd, Lo is prompted to dig further when a carnival worker is arrested for Lily’s murder on threadbare evidence. If what Lily has written is true, there are plenty of possible suspects among the townsfolk, and West cleverly portrays them with an interesting ambiguity. Suspense builds as trust is eroded, and Lo attempts to ascertain the truth.

Lo presents as smart, resourceful and ambitious but there is an edge to her character that is disquieting. Doubt is thrown on the validity of her investigation when other characters suggest Lo is suffering from PTSD, and the possibility is a nag as she continues to piece information together, so that her reliability as a narrator is in question. It’s a clever conceit that West manages well.

The plot makes good use of the setting, small towns seem capable of hiding secrets behind their bucolic facades. I’ve been to Kiama (on NSW’s south coast) where Catch Us the Foxes takes place, and it’s a pretty coastal town, not so different from the one I live in now, but West successfully paints it as a claustrophobic, corrupt community.

With its clever structure and twisting, gripping plot, Catch Us the Foxes is an impressive read. The stunning final reveal seems to divide readers, but I thought it was terrific.

+++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: The Husbands by Chandler Baker

 

Title: The Husbands

Author: Chandler Baker

Published: 30th June 2021, Hachette Australia 

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Husbands is a delightfully subversive domestic thriller from Chandler Baker.

Nora Spangler is exhausted by the effort of juggling her career as a personal injury lawyer with her domestic responsibilities as a wife to Hayden, and mother of a four year old. Pregnant with the couple’s second child, she is increasingly frustrated with the expectation that to have it all (or anything really), she must do it all. Introduced to the residents of the exclusive suburban enclave of Dynasty Ranch during a search for a new home, Nora glimpses an utopian alternative, where the husbands, despite having careers of their own, are eager to ensure their wives are not overburdened by domestic tasks. Intrigued by the neighbourhood and all it appears to offer, Nora is flattered when she is asked her for help with one of their own who has recently lost her husband in a house fire.

The Husbands is clearly satire, but it often cuts very close to the bone. Baker speaks for many wives and mothers who find they carry the physical and emotional load of daily life in a way that husbands often don’t. Hayden is typical of many modern men who are not unhelpful at home, but remain benignly oblivious to the minutiae that their partners routinely manage. There would be few of us that don’t empathise with Nora’s experiences, both at home and in the workplace, as she struggles to meet the needs and expectations of her multiple roles, and carries the guilt of any failures. While Nora is not completely blameless, she’s fallen into the common trap of martyring herself by expecting perfection, there is a truth that resonates in every partnership I am familiar with.

That we immediately find the behaviour of the Dynasty Ranch husbands to be implausible is a commentary in itself, clearly there is something unusual going on at Dynasty Ranch. The plot draws inspiration from The Stepford Wives and Get Out, so if you are familiar with either, or both, it’s not difficult to predict the direction the story will take. The only real surprise for me was the cheeky final scene which made me snicker out loud, but I still found it tense as Nora was confronted by the truth about the fire, and the secret to the community’s model marriages.

The Husbands is a provocative, timely and entertaining novel I enjoyed reading.

+++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Review: The Heights by Louise Candlish

 

Title: The Heights

Author: Louise Candlish

Published: 2nd June 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia 

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Heights is a slow-burn psychological thriller exploring obsession, vengeance and justice from Louise Candlish.

Ellen Saint is stunned when, from a clients window, she sees a familiar figure on the roof terrace of a neighbouring building. It should be impossible, the man who broke her heart is dead. She knows this, because she is the one who killed him.

Presented in four parts, parts one and three are a first person account from Ellen Saint, taken from her to-be-published manuscript. Ellen paints herself as a happy wife to Justin, and adoring mother of 12 year-old daughter Freya, and her 17 year-old son from her previous relationship, Lucas. Lucas, a bright, responsible student, is in his final year at his private school when he is asked to mentor a new disadvantaged enrollee, Kieran Watts. Ellen’s introduction to Kieran leaves her feeling vaguely uncomfortable but that feeling soon turns to loathing as Lucas transforms into a rebellious, sullen teen more interested in partying than studying. It’s clear that this situation is not going to end well and Candlish skilfully builds and maintains the tension as the inevitable tragedy draws near.

Ellen may be a little high strung, but Candlish’s portrayal of her spiralling anxiety felt authentic to me. As a parent I could empathise with Ellen’s concern for her son, and her dislike of what she perceives to be the negative influence of Kieran. To be honest I once found myself in a similar circumstance, and I was at a loss as how to deal with it appropriately. I didn’t begrudge Ellen her fear, frustration or anger, especially given how the situation unfolded, even if I can’t condone her actions.

Parts two and four are presented from the third person viewpoint of Ellen’s ex partner, and Lucas’s father, Vic. Despite their separation, he and Ellen have remained close, and it’s Vic that Ellen turns to most often as Lucas’s behaviour worsens. Vic’s perspective of the situation is somewhat different to Ellen’s though, throwing some doubt on the veracity of her account. It’s a clever way to counter the established narrative, and surprise the reader with a few twists.

Carefully plotted, and with provocative characters, I found The Heights to be a gripping read, blurring the line between justice and vengeance.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

 

Title: The Bombay Prince {Perveen Mistry #3}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: 1st June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Bombay Prince is the third book by Sujata Massey to feature Perveen Massey, India’s first female solicitor, working alongside her father, a respected lawyer. It’s not strictly necessary to have read the previous novels, A Murder on Malabar Hill and The Satapur Moonstone, to enjoy this though I believe the experience is better for it.

Taking place in November of 1921, Massey sets the story of The Bombay Prince against the unrest in India between British loyalists and those agitating for India’s independence as Edward VIII, Prince of Wales arrives to tour the sub-continent.

Perveen meets with a young university student worried that if she refuses the school principal’s directive to attend the parade welcoming Prince Edward that she could be expelled. Freny Cuttingmaster is anxious that she not disappoint her parents by jeopardising her education but staunchly opposes British Rule and wants Perveen’s assurance that her future will not be compromised by taking a stand. Perveen isn’t able to provide Freny with a definitive answer, suggesting she return with her college handbook, but she doesn’t see the young woman again until, on the day of the parade, Freny’s body is found in the courtyard of the school.

The Bombay Prince offers a well crafted mystery that plays out against the backdrop of protests which divides the city of Bombay along political and religious lines. Perveen is deeply distressed by the young woman’s death, especially when it becomes clear that Freny didn’t simply fall from the gallery as the scene was staged to suggest. Not able to trust that the death will be properly investigated for a number of reasons, including the college’s wish to avoid scandal, general dismissive attitudes towards women, and the escalating violence related to Prince Edward’s visit, Purveen insinuates herself into the case to ensure the killer is brought to justice. The challenge Purveen faces in navigating these issues is fascinating, probably more so than the mystery itself at times, especially when she is noticed by the men looking for collaborators in a plot to assassinate Prince Edward.

Purveen is a complex character, presenting an uneasy mix of progressive and conservative traits. Though she has defied societal expectations by becoming a solicitor, and in separating from her abusive husband, she is very conscious of the need to behave in ways that protect both her and her family’s reputation, and tends to be braver when acting on behalf of her clients than she is in than her defence of herself. This is particularly evident in her interactions with men, which makes her continued connection with Colin Sandringham, who was her government liaison in The Satapur Moonstone, an intriguing element of the story.

Rich in historical detail and cultural interest, offering a discerning mystery and a hint of romance, The Bombay Prince is an engaging novel, and I hope the series will continue.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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

Review: Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart


Title: Digging Up Dirt {Poppy McGowan Mysteries #1}

Author: Pamela Hart

Published: 2nd June 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

There’s a real dearth of Australian cosy mysteries so I’m delighted by the publication of Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart, introducing television researcher, and amateur sleuth, Poppy McGowan.

Poppy McGowan is nearing the end of renovations of her terrace house in inner Sydney when her builder discovers bones buried in the dirt under her living room floor. To determine if the are animal or human, the Museum of NSW sends Dr. Julieanne Weaver, with whom Poppy has an antagonistic relationship, who arrives with her boyfriend- the handsome visiting archaeologist Bartholomew ‘Tol’ Lang. Weaver quickly agrees the bones aren’t human, but she won’t release the site, declaring the bones may belong to a rare breed of sheep that arrived with the First Fleet. Poppy is frustrated but decides to make the best of the situation, as a researcher for an educational television show on the ABC, at least footage of the dig can be used for a upcoming program. Two days later, Poppy finds herself in front of the camera after the body of Julieanne is discovered in the hole in her house. The police consider Poppy to be a prime suspect so using her research skills and media contacts, Poppy sets out to prove her innocence.

Poppy digs up no shortage of suspects, Julieanne wasn’t well liked among her colleagues at the Museum, and then there is her surprising involvement with the right-wing Australian Family Party and the Pentecostal Radiant Joy Church. Hart provides plenty of red herrings for Poppy to be sidetracked by, creating an interesting ‘whodunnit’ plot.

I wasn’t keen on the involvement of religion and politics in the story, simply because both subjects tend to distress me. That said, it allows Hart to raise some topical issues including feminism, domestic violence, the status of LBTQIA+, Aboriginal heritage, and obliquely comments on Australia’s current political climate. Poppy uses the media credentials bestowed upon her by the ABC news desk desperate for an exclusive, to involve herself in the two conservative groups, suspecting one of their leaders may be responsible for her death.

Smart, resourceful and quick-witted Poppy is a likeable, well rounded character. As she is living with her staunchly Catholic parents while her home is being renovated we are briefly introduced to her family giving us a sense of her background. I found her work as a researcher to be interesting and think it lends itself well to the practicality of amateur sleuthing.

There’s a touch of romance in the novel, though Poppy is involved with an accountant named Stuart, and Tol is dating Julieanne, the attraction between the pair is obvious from their first meeting. As it turns out Stuart is a prat, and well Julieanne dies, so the situation is not quite as awkward as it could be. I liked the will they/won’t they nature of the relationship, however given that Tol is expected to leave for a long term position in Jordan in a few weeks, there is no guarantee he will become a series regular.

Offering well crafted intrigue, appealing characters and a uniquely Australian setting, I found Digging Up Dirt to be entertaining and engaging cosy mystery. I hope there will be more.

+++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Mirror Man by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: Mirror Man {DCI Jack Hawkesworth #3}

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: 1st June 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

It’s been more than a decade since I read the first two books to feature DCI Jack Hawkesworth, Bye Bye Baby and Beautiful Death, so I picked up Mirror Man with only a vague memory of the storyline, however it’s not necessary to have read either to enjoy this third instalment of the series.

Mirror Man begins when DCI Jack Hawkesworth is reassigned from his role as a Counter Terrorism International Liaison by Martin Sharpe, the Acting Chief Superintendent of the Homicide and Serious Crime Branch at Scotland Yard, to investigate a possible link between three bizarre murders. Given a promotion to Detective Superintendent and a small team to command which allows him to reunite with DI Kate Carter, DI Malek Khan and analyst DS Sara Jones, Jack is tasked to figure out if there is a serial killer loose in London targeting recently paroled criminals.

The reader knows who is responsible for the deadly string of crimes from the outset of the novel but Jack and his team have to find evidence to first prove they are linked before they even begin to search for a suspect. As a police procedural, Mirror Man works well. The murders offer little in the way of forensic evidence, the killer has been careful to leave no trace of themselves behind, so the taskforce must painstakingly investigate every possible piece of information. The killer’s goal is more obvious, a vigilante seeking his own form of justice, though his exact motivation is not known to the team.

It’s rare to be ambivalent about the capture of a serial killer, but when his victims include an unrepentant, violent rapist; an abuser who beat his wife to death; and the drunk driver who annihilated the man’s wife, daughter and granddaughters you can’t help but feel a little conflicted. I liked that McIntosh explores this morally grey area, as well as issues surrounding sentencing, rehabilitation, early parole and how they impact on the victims of crime.

Once again Jack finds himself blurting the line between his professional and personal life when journalist Lauren Starling gets wind of Operation: Mirror Man. Much is made in this series of Jack’s good looks which leaves women swooning in his wake, including Kate whose crush on her boss is still as florid as ever.  At Kate’s suggestion, Jack also seeks advice from Anne McEvoy, his former lover, and serial killer, who is serving several life sentences after Jack exposed her in Bye Bye Baby. A psychologist and criminologist, she provides a profile that offers some insight into the case.

Though the reader is led to believe they have all the answers the police are searching for, there are several well placed surprises in Mirror Man. The pace and tension accelerates as Jack grows closer to identifying his quarry, and the lives of several characters are at risk.

With its provocative theme and well crafted plot, Mirror Man is a gripping police procedural, sure to entertain crime fiction readers.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Giveaway: Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald


Read my review of Nancy Business HERE

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy Allen & Unwin

I have 2 print editions of

Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald

to giveaway to

two lucky Australian residents.

Please leave a comment on this post and then

Closed

Congrats to Georgie S and Janet R

*PLEASE NOTE: Only Australian residents are eligible to enter*

Entries close 25th June 2021

The giveaway will be random drawing on 26th June and the winner will be notified by email within 48 hours

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