Review: Taken by Dinuka McKenzie

 

Title: Taken {Detective Kate Miles #2}

Author: Dinuka McKenzie

Published: 1st February 2023, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read 2023 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Taken is the second thrilling book to feature Detective Sergeant Kathryn Miles who was introduced in Dinuka McKenzie’s bestselling debut, Torrent.

Picking up several months after the dramatic final scenes of the previous book, Kate has just returned to work following maternity leave and is eager to return to active duty. A domestic disturbance call gives Kate the opportunity she needs to prove herself ready, and results in her being assigned as co-lead detective in an infant abduction.

Four month old Sienna Ricci, her mother, Ellisa reports, was taken from her home while she showered. As the team investigates, Kate’s partner becomes convinced the baby’s father, Aaron Ricci, is responsible for the abduction and she is taken off the case, even though Kate believes she has a viable alternative suspect in Jason Veliu, a violent man Kate recently had cause to arrest.

With a child’s well-being at stake, the tension is high in Taken. The plot is well thought out with several red herrings, though I found it relatively easy to discern who was responsible early on. The story has good momentum and there is action too as Kate finds herself risking her life in two separate confrontations with desperate people. Sensitive readers should be aware that domestic violence, adultery and postnatal depression are among the issues that are raised in the crimes Kate is investigating.

Kate is under a lot of personal pressure in Taken. While struggling with the effects of PTSD, she is also trying to find a balance between the needs of her husband and children, and the demands of her career. On top of this, the media have picked up on a story involving her father’s late partner’s business activity which could implicate them both in a corruption scandal, amplifying her concerns about the family’s finances. Determined not to be seen as lacking, Kate doesn’t always make sensible decisions, but she acts for the right reason.

Suspenseful, fast paced and gripping, Taken is an excellent read, perfect for fans of Australian crime fiction from authors such as Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Emma Viskic.

++++++++

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Review: Headland by John Byrnes

 

Title: Headland

Author: John Byrnes

Published: 10th January 2023, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Is pulp rural noir fiction a thing? If not perhaps Headland by Australian author John Byrnes is the first of its kind. Dark, lurid, gritty and violent, this debut novel includes elements of both crime fiction subgenres, if you don’t know what to expect, Headland is likely to shock.

Detective Senior Constable Craig Watson is the novel’s compromised protagonist, a drug addict whose poor performance has seen him exiled to a small coastal town hours from Sydney, to relieve a colleague. He’s not a character that endears himself to anyone, seemingly corrupted by his habit, and the slow revelation of a twisted relationship that haunts him, even a shred of redemption seems impossible, at least at the outset.

It’s already been raining for days when Craig arrives in Gloster, but he isn’t given any time to settle in. The town is on flood watch, there’s a missing teenage girl who could be a runaway or the victim of a kidnapping, a recent fatal accident that’s declared not to be an accident, and an assault on a councillor. Even high, Craig quickly recognises that something is off in Gloster, including the behaviour of his station boss, Sergeant Thomas Philby, and begins to unravel a conspiracy of corruption, fraud, sexual exploitation and murder.

The action in the story really gets underway after the river breaks it banks, and Craig, along with his colleagues Constables Ellie Cameron and Larissa Brookes, find they have been left behind in the evacuation. They think they are alone until Ellie vanishes leaving behind a trail of blood, and it becomes clear they are trapped with a desperate killer. The momentum then rarely lets up with daring rescues, furious gun battles, and brutal confrontations fraught with tension. The driving rain creates a close atmosphere, the town Byrnes describes is laid out much like my own, and I almost expected to look up from the book’s pages to see the streets flooding (as they do once or twice a year).

Be aware however, there are several confronting, and even affronting, characters and scenes in Headland. Few in the cast come off well, particularly those who we are usually predisposed to trust, and there are quite graphic descriptions of misogyny, abuse, violence, sex, and sexual assault, all of which is expected from the pulp genre.

Headland may not appeal to everyone but I found it aggressive, fast paced and gripping, I couldn’t put it down.

++++++++

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Review: The Drift by C.J. Tudor

 

Title: The Drift

Author: C.J. Tudor

Published: 19th January 2023, Michael Joseph

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I read The Drift by C.J. Tudor on a 30 degree day – that’s 30° Celsius, so around 86F, but I was quickly chilled to the core.

“At the start, there is simply relief at being alive.”

Hannah slowly regains consciousness to discover the bus she was travelling in, carrying a dozen or so students from Invicta Academy heading to The Retreat, has careered off the road and rolled part way down a mountainside in the middle of a blizzard. Hannah is trapped in the mangled bus with a handful of survivors, the bus driver is missing, and one of the dead shows signs of a deadly infection.

“As ever in this life, if you wanted to be saved, you had to do it yourself.”

The last thing Meg, an ex police officer and recovering drug addict, remembers is having breakfast in her hotel room, so she’s disoriented when she wakes in a stalled cable car as a snow storm rages outside. She’s not alone, there are four others stirring, all volunteers headed for The Retreat, and the body of a man she once knew.

“You’re either a good guy or you’re a survivor, someone had once told him. The earth is full of dead good guys.”

It’s Carter’s turn to ski down the mountain to stock up on provisions for the residents of The Retreat, a chore he hates given the threat of what lurks in the woods outside of the electric wire fence. On his return he finds the chalet is dark, Julia is dead and Nate is badly injured, but worse, the basement locks have been released.

In a post apocalyptic setting amid falling snow, three storylines eventually converge in an unexpected way in The Drift, telling a story of loss and hope, betrayal and compassion, death and survival.

Suspense wars with horror as each claustrophobic situation poses obvious and hidden dangers to the characters. The dynamics of each group are tense, confused and fascinating. Everyone is suspect, and has an agenda of some kind, assumptions are a mistake. The body count is high.

The complexity of the overarching plot is impressive. Each story thread exposes a new piece of information that often answers the questions others raise, and adds to our understanding of their world, one ravaged by a deadly uncontrollable virus, killing millions. One mystery will appear to resolve, only for another to be triggered. There is a cascade of surprises and shocks with the pacing well balanced between all three storylines.

With a compelling blend of horror and mystery, The Drift is an atmospheric, frightening, and clever novel.

++++++++

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Review: Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic

 

Title: Just Murdered {Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries #1}

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 10th January, Poisoned Pen Press

Status: Read January courtesy Poisoned Pen Press/Netgalley

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A screen to book adaption by Katherine Kovacic of the first episode of the Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries television series (written by Deb Cox and created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger), which itself was inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the TV series, which is based on the Phryne Fisher mystery books by Kerry Greenwood, Just Murdered is a delightful murder mystery set during the 1960’s in Victoria Australia introducing Ms Peregrine Fisher, the niece of Miss Phryne Fisher.

“She had never been one to play by the rules—at least, not unless they suited her.”

When Peregrine Fisher discovers an oft forwarded letter addressed to her late mother that requests a meeting with regards to an inheritance, her first instinct is to dismiss it as a joke, but at a loose end, having been fired that same day from her position in a hairdressing salon, Peregrine decides to accept the invitation. Upon her rather dramatic arrival at The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes, Peregrine is informed that her mother’s estranged half sister, Phryne Fisher, is missing in Papua New Guinea, presumed dead, and Peregrine is her heir.

“I’ve tried hard all my life to be someone or belong somewhere…”

The murder of a young model at Blair’s Emporium, for which one of the Adventuresses is under suspicion, is just the opportunity Peregrine needs to prove herself to The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes. She has big shoes to fill but it’s soon evident that though Peregrine may lack the sophistication of her aunt, she is just as bold, clever and resourceful. A genuine delight, I love her sassy attitude. Much like her aunt Peregrine refuses to be told who she is and what she is capable of, especially by men.

“Now I just have to convince Birdie and the rest of the Adventuresses that I can do my aunt’s old job. I mean, it’s not really that hard, is it?”

I enjoyed the well plotted mystery for which there several suspects. Another murder increases the stakes, especially for Peregrine, who then goes undercover to expose to the truth, despite being forcefully warned off by Chief Inspector Sparrow and Detective James Steed of Central Police.

The writing is a great reflection of the television episode, and I thought Kovacic translated the characters and events well to the page. She captures the entertaining balance of humour and tension that is the appeal of this series. The settings are well rendered, and the sense of time and place are distinct.

I expect fans of the original Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries will enjoy this spin off as I have. You can stream Seasons 1 and 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV in several countries, but I would welcome continuing print instalments of this series.

++++++++

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Review: In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan

 

Title: In the Blink of an Eye

Author: Jo Callaghan

Published: 10th January 2023, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Crime fiction with a speculative twist, In the Blink of an Eye is an impressive debut from British author, Jo Callaghan.

DSC Kat Frank, newly returned from bereavement leave, is unhappy when her boss directs her to lead a pilot program to test the suitability of using an AIDE (Artificially Intelligent Detective Entity) in a police investigation. Professor Okonedo, determined to better the operation of the force, asserts that the AIDE is not only capable of collating and analysing vast amounts of data in a fraction of the time required by a human, but has been programmed to filter out the bias and prejudice that can taint investigations. Kat doesn’t believe algorithms can truly account for the vagaries of humankind, or replace the experience and instincts she, like most good police officers, often rely on.

With input from her small handpicked team, consisting of DI Ryan Hassan and DS Debbie Browne, along with AIDE Lock, who presents as a lifelike hologram with the default appearance is as a fairly nondescript 6ft tall white male, and Professor Okonedo as an observer, Kat selects two missing person cold cases for them to review. Unexpectedly the investigation’s into the current whereabouts of university student Tyrone Walters and wanna be actor Will Robinson converge when the team discovers a sinister link in their disappearances.

Essentially In the Blink of an Eye is a police procedural, Kat and her squad conduct interviews, investigate clues and gather evidence to explain the fate of the missing men. Callaghan develops a solid mystery and I thought it played out well. There’s plenty of tension, enhanced by the anonymous perspective of a young man suffering at the hands of shadowy figures, and effective twists in the plot.

The speculative elements of the novel are thought-provoking. The conflict inherent in Kat and Lock’s different approaches to investigation, and how each affects the case, is fascinating, with the strengths and weaknesses of both methods fairly illustrated. Lock’s superior ability to gather and analyse information is undeniable but Kat proves that empathy, discretion, and an understanding of nuance are also valuable investigative tools.

I really enjoyed the unique dynamics of Kat and Lock’s partnership. Kat is a likeable lead character. As a decorated police officer, with 25 years of experience in the force, Kat is a dedicated investigator who has confidence in her abilities, but she is a little emotionally fragile given the recent death of her husband, caused in part by of a misdiagnosis by an AI, which fuels her antagonistic attitude towards the AIDE. Kat is also a mother, with her teenage son on the cusp of relocating to begin university, and as such there are aspects of the cases that she strongly relates to. It’s surprisingly difficult to refrain from ascribing human motivations and emotions to AIDE Lock. Solely driven by statistics and logic, though capable of deep learning that gives it the ability to adjust its behaviours, it nevertheless has a distinct character which I really grew to like.

With its clever, provocative premise and appealing, complex characters, In the Blink of an Eye is a compelling novel, and I believe only the first of what promises to be a great series.

++++++++

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Review: Lockdown by Janna Thompson

 

Title: Lockdown

Author: Janna Thompson

Published: 1st October 2022, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Clan Destine Press

++++++++


My Thoughts:

 

“I imagined recruiting a gang of old women to be undercover agents.  What would they be called: the Grey Ghosts, the White Spectres, the Senior Sleuths or the Killer Crones? I decided that final name wouldn’t be right. My gang would not commit murder; the Grey Ghosts would be a force for good.”

Professor Janna Thompson, one of Australia’s most eminent philosophers with expertise in environmental ethics, feminism and global justice, who published many scholarly articles and books during her career, was also a life long crime fiction fan. Lockdown has been published posthumously after her untimely death in mid 2022.

Set in Melbourne in early 2020, Lockdown is an entertaining mystery told from the alternating perspectives of unassuming retired philosophy lecturer Meg Thorne, and Jenny Mueller, a woman confined to a bed in a nursing home.

Meg is the founding member of the Grey Ghosts, a group of three women who have created their own detective agency. As women of a certain age, Meg, Lila Gatti and Dorothy Arden have learnt they are often overlooked or ignored in most situations and as such are excellent at subterfuge. Having already successfully assisted in exposing a fraudster, the women are confident they can help when they are asked to investigate Sunnyvale Residential and Care Home, which houses a mix of permanent and temporary residents, by a son worried about his mother, Sara Brighouse.

As the eldest and frailest of the group, Meg is the obvious choice to enter the nursing home, though she’s reluctant. She has traumatic memories of her own mother’s time in such an institution but with reassurance from her friends, she allows herself to be convinced. Feigning a recent fall and the need for a recovery period, Meg moves in with high hopes she can resolve the case quickly but Sara, who appears frightened, refuses to talk.

Meanwhile Jenny, who is kept heavily sedated and confined to a bed in the medical ward, desperately wants to talk with her best friend, Sara. As she slips in and out of awareness she recalls disturbing memories from her childhood as well as happier times shared with Sara.

As Meg tries to find the source of Sara’s distress, several possible causes come to light, some of these prove to be red herrings, while others overlap with Meg’s main objective. Thompson’s plotting is thoughtful and I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery. The tension in the novel heightens considerably as Meg, on the cusp of solving the mystery, is trapped in the Home when the Coronavirus pandemic begins, and someone is determined she won’t leave alive.

Thompson touches on a number of serious themes in Lockdown including ageism, cancer, sexual assault, elder abuse, addiction, and of course the threat posed by the pandemic. Still the tone is reasonably light and there are flashes of humour, even a spark of romance (though Meg denies it).

An engaging mystery, Lockdown is another fine legacy Janna Thompson has gifted the world.

++++++++

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Review: Seven Sisters by Katherine Kovacic

 

Title: Seven Sisters

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 4th January 2023, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++++


My Thoughts:

 

Australian author Katherine Kovacic delivers on a powerful and provocative premise that explores grief, guilt, justice and vengeance in Seven Sisters.

“Each one met her eye, and in each face there was grief and understanding and something else – a reflection of the bleakness she saw whenever she dared to look in a mirror.”

Struggling to cope with her feelings of rage and frustration in the aftermath of her sister’s murder at the hands of her abusive partner, for which he received only a suspended sentence, Naomi doesn’t expect group therapy will be much help. She is stunned when Mia, her psychologist, introduces her to the five other members and learns that not only do they sympathise with her loss, but understand it. Like her, Gabrielle, Brooke, Katy, Olivia and Amy have each lost a beloved sister as a result of domestic violence, and similarly, the perpetrator faced few consequences.

Drawing inspiration from the classic film ‘Strangers on a Train’, the women all agree these men must be stopped, and carefully devise ways to exact justice in a manner that will seem accidental. No plan is perfect however and there are several very tense moments as each woman attempts to fulfil their task by creative, but plausible, methods. I enjoyed the suspense generated by each situation, especially when things threaten to go awry, and then a lone detective begins to grow suspicious about the string of deaths.

I sympathised with each woman, easily imagining the depth of their loss, and the anguish of knowing that the person’s responsible escaped serious repercussions. I can’t really fault them for their desire for revenge especially when the law has failed so badly at meting out justice. Kovacic addresses the moral issues thoughtfully, but honestly it’s hard to muster up any outrage for their actions. Though this is fiction, and I don’t condone murder, I indulge in a little revenge fantasy myself whenever I read in the news of yet another man who receives a ludicrously light sentence or none at all for an assault on a woman.

Compelling, bold and fast paced, Seven Sisters is a well written and exciting revenge thriller.

++++++++

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Review: Retribution by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Retribution {Lexi Winter #2}

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: 30th November 2022 courtesy HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Retribution is the thrilling sequel to Unforgiven, in which Sarah Barrie introduced Lexi Winter.

Once a lone vigilante, after the events of Unforgiven, Lexi, the survivor of pedophile network that included her parents, has joined the police force and now is a probationary Constable. Working within the rules is not easy for her, but she’s doing her best to honour the commitment she made, at least during work hours. Lexi is still hunting for Damon Vaughn, the sociopath who delivered Lexi to the orchestrator of her childhood abuse, and is secretly playing a dangerous game designed to find him.

Lexi’s two worlds collide after she and her training officer chase a pair of teenage drug dealers. Tightly plotted with plenty of action that includes plenty of tense situations, violence, and several murders, Retribution is fast-paced and exciting. Set between the central coast area of NSW and Sydney, three seperate investigations, plus Lexi’s personal project, eventually intertwine, reuniting Lexi with Detective Inspector Rachael Langley and her Homicide squad, which includes Detective Sergeant Finn Carson.

Working with the team in an official capacity is a challenge for Lexi. Given her extraordinary talents, Lexi’s struggle humanises her, and I liked the role it plays in her personal growth. Barrie also provides more insight into the lives of Rachael and Finn, and I’m liking the hint of a possible relationship developing between Finn and Lexi.

Retribution is a gripping page turner and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

++++++++

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Challenging Myself in 2023

 

These are the challenges I’m participating in during 2023. Each image links to where each challenge has its own page (under the Challenges menu at top) where I’ll track my progress. I’ve also linked to the host of each challenge so you can learn more if you are interested.

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Goodreads Challenge

GOAL: 200 books

Hosted at Goodreads

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2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge 

GOAL: 12 books

Hosted at Book’d Out

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2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

GOAL: Ancient History – Read 25 books

Hosted at The Intrepid Reader

 

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2023 Cloak and Dagger Challenge

GOAL: 36 – 55 – Special agent

Hosted at Carol’s Notebook

 

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2023 Books in Translation Reading Challenge

GOAL: Conversationalist: 4-6 books

Hosted at Introverted Reader

 

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2023 Monthly Motif Challenge

Hosted at GirlXOXO

 

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Looking for a reading challenge?

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Review: Going Rogue by Janet Evanovich

Title: Going Rogue: Rise and Shine Twenty-nine (Stephanie Plum #29}

Author: Janet Evanovich

Published: 1st November 2022, Headline Review

Status: Read November 2022 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Going Rogue: Rise and Shine Twenty-nine is the 29th book in the long running yet still entertaining Stephanie Plum series.

When the office manager of Vinnie’s Bail Bonds, Connie Rosolli, fails to turn up for work, Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are first puzzled and then concerned. Well Stephanie is concerned, Lula is busy ordering a new office chair and couch. Then a call comes in demanding the return of a coin Vinnie accepted in lieu of bail in exchange for Connie’s release, and Stephanie, with her Grandma Mazur riding shotgun, has to use all her bounty hunting skills to rescue her friend.

There’s a definite formula to the Stephanie Plum series but Going Rogue also offers a more involved mystery than recent instalments. Tracking down the missing coin quickly becomes complicated and Stephanie becomes a target of the kidnappers herself, resulting in plenty of action including more than one explosion, and some real tension, especially in the final scenes.

Unexpectedly there is a touch of self awareness from Stephanie in Going Rogue. She thinks a little more seriously about her job, finally learns to use the gun she usually refuses to carry, and wonders about the direction her relationships with Ranger and Morelli are taking, though there’s still no decision between the two forthcoming. I appreciated that Evanovich has finally allowed Stephanie to think about the future, and I hope there is more of that going forward.

Fun and fast-paced I enjoyed Going Rogue, despite the awkward double barrel title, and I expect regular fans will too.

++++++++

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