Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

 


Title: Trust

Author: Chris Hammer

Published October 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It’s the past, coming after her, propelled by karma.”

Trust is the third impressive crime fiction novel from Chris Hammer to feature Australian journalist Martin Scarsden, following on from Scrublands, and Silver.

It’s a period of Mandalay’s undisclosed past that catapults her and Martin into this clever and compelling thriller. With the action moving from Port Silver to Sydney, Hammer weaves together multiple threads in Trust that begins with a body found in the foundations of a Sydney apartment block, and leads to the unmasking of a stunning conspiracy among some of the city’s elite involving theft, corruption, blackmail and multiple murders. The plot is fast moving and suspenseful, the lives of both Mandy and Martin are repeatedly threatened as they unravel the complex mystery.

The narrative alternates between Mandy and Martin as Mandy tries to fix her past mistakes, and Martin investigates the murder of his mentor, retired Herald editor, Max. It’s no real surprise that their agenda’s eventually overlap, giving the couple the opportunity to work together, underscoring Hammer’s main theme – trust. There is growth for both of these characters in this novel which I appreciated, Mandy becomes more substantial, Martin less consumed by his journalistic ambition.

Familiar characters from Hammer’s previous novels make an appearance including Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, Detective Claus Vandenbruk, a couple of Martin’s newspaper colleagues, and Mandy’s lawyer, Winifred. I’m curious about Hammer’s penchant for using unusual names, in Trust he gives us characters called Tarquin, Zelda, Clarity, and Titus.

Trust unfolds over a period of a week, with subtle references to the NSW bushfires, the pandemic and the economic recession suggesting the events of the takes place in the winter of 2020. Hammer’s descriptions of Sydney are vivid and familiar, from the gritty inner city streets to the enclaves of the wealthy.

Gripping, dynamic and thrilling, Trust can be read as a stand-alone, but the experience is enhanced by familiarity with Scrublands and Silver, and I highly recommend all three.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

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Check out other participants in the Trust tour, and return to Book’d Out on October 29th for an exclusive chapter sample and your chance to win a copy!

Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey


Title: Honeybee

Author: Craig Silvey

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

‘Find out who you are, and live that life.’

Honeybee is a tender, poignant, and profound coming of age story from Craig Silvey, author of Jasper Jones.

Poised to jump from an overpass, fourteen year old Sam Watson locks eyes with an elderly man who appears to be contemplating the same fate. When Vic saves Sam’s life, Sam vows to save his in return and an unlikely bond forms between the two. Vic is the first person Sam has met who seems willing to accept him for he he is, even though Sam is not really sure who that is.

A character driven novel unfolding from the first person perspective, Honeybee explores the themes of family, friendship and self, as Sam struggles with his gender identity. Neglected by his mother, bullied by his peers, and beaten by his stepfather, Sam’s self-loathing is heart breaking as he he grapples with feelings of confusion, rejection, frustration, and isolation. Silvey’s portrayal of Sam is nuanced and compelling, thoughtfully expressing his complex thoughts and feelings.

Vic’s unexpected kindness becomes a lifeline for Sam, and introduces him to Aggie, and Peter, who in turn provide him with sorely needed support, even though he is often determined to refuse it. Self doubt leads to repeated self sabotage, and Sam makes a number of poor decisions, which puts both himself and Vic at risk.

Despite all the angst, and drama, there is also humour and joy to be found in the novel. Ultimately Honeybee is an extraordinary story of transcendence, of hope, of triumph, as Honeybee becomes she.

“And I’m not wrong, I’m me. And I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I want people to see who I am.”

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman


Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman (Translated by Neil Smith)

Published: 8th September 2020, Atria Books

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Atria Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I don’t know how it is that Fredrik Backman can write such wildly divergent stories with unique characters that nevertheless have all managed to make me both laugh and cry. Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove was a favourite book in 2014, and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry in 2015. Anxious People may well be a favourite of 2020.

“This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that.”

Definitely not ‘only that’. Backman later adds this is also a story about bridges, rabbits, and love, about all of us doing the best we can, but really, truly, Anxious People is a story about humanity.

Life is messy, sometimes we make mistakes. In Anxious People, the bank robber’s first mistake is trying to rob a bank, and the second is (unintentionally) taking a bunch of people in an apartment hostage, though perhaps, as things go, that was not a mistake as such.

“The bank robber looked at each of them in turn for a long time. Then… whispered gratefully: “Worst hostages ever.”

The hostages are a motley, quirky collection of characters that initially perhaps present as irritating idiots but whom, by the time they are released, are endearing idiots, much as our first impression of the bank robber is of a dangerous idiot, but in the end is simply an overwhelmed idiot.

“They may not have had much in common, but they all knew what it was like to make a mistake.”

Anxious People is both wise and insightful, absurd and poignant. It explores a variety of themes including desperation, grief, compassion, relationships, capitalism, regret, connection and hope. It raises issues like divorce, parenting, religion, and suicide.

“We do our best. We save those we can.”

Anxious People is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery and a wonderfully told story.

“The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things…”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster US

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Also by Fredrik Backman reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Title: The Thursday Murder Club

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 3rd September 2020, Viking UK

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley}

++++++

My Thoughts:

“A few glasses of wine and a mystery. Very social, but also gory. It is good fun.”

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a delightful mystery debut from UK TV host, Richard Osman.

Set in a luxury retirement village in the south-east region of England, new resident Joyce is quietly thrilled when Elizabeth asks for her professional opinion about a knife wound, and then extends an invitation to join The Thursday Murder Club. The club, so named because it meets on Thursday’s, studies cold cases from the files of a retired Detective Inspector (who is now too ill to participate), and includes Elizabeth, a former intelligence operative; Ibrahim, a mostly retired psychiatrist; and Ron, once a union boss, who enjoys playing devil’s advocate. The group enjoy the intellectual challenge of their investigations, but when the part owner/builder of The Coopers Chase Retirement Village, is found bludgeoned to death, the foursome are determined to have a hand in solving the case.

The Thursday Murder Club is a cosy mystery, rather than a thriller, but if one death isn’t enough to satisfy your lust for murder, you are in luck, because Curran is only the first to die. The builder is barely in his grave, when his pompous partner, Ian, keels over dead, and then the bones of another murder victim are found in a graveyard. Osman offers an engaging plot that provides plenty of red herrings as the Club members, and police, try to determine what, if any, connection exists between the three deaths, searching for motive, piecing together clues and chasing leads, even all the way to Greece. I thought the story was well paced, and just unpredictable enough to keep me guessing.

Honestly though it’s the quirky, shrewd and lively protagonists of this novel, who despite their advanced age, or perhaps because of it, aren’t shy about insinuating themselves into the case, much to the exasperation and eventual grudging respect of local police officers, PC Donna de Freitas, and DCI Chris Hudson, that are the winning ingredient. I was absolutely charmed by the personalities of the foursome as they inveigled, manipulated, coerced, and traded favours in their race to solve the murders. Joyce, Elizabeth and Donna in particular are spirited characters who tend to steal the limelight.

Though there is plenty of humour to be found in The Thursday Murder Club, much of it dry in the way that only British humour can be, there are some poignant moments too, which gives the story some depth. Osman touches on some of the disadvantages of ageing, such as failing physical and cognitive abilities, the illness and loss of a spouse, and loneliness, but also reminds us that old age doesn’t have to mean giving up on passion or excitement.

Charming, witty and entertaining, I sincerely hope that we’ll be enjoying the antics of the The Thursday Murder Club again soon.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

 


Title: Ink & Sigil {Ink & Sigil #1}

Author: Kevin Hearne

Published: 25th August 2020, Orbit

Status: Read August 2929, courtesy Hachette Australia

 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I owe Hachette Australia a huge thanks for sending me Ink & Sigil. I very rarely make a direct request of publishers but upon learning that Kevin Hearne was authoring a spin-off of one of my favourite urban fantasy series – The Iron Druid Chronicles, I asked on the off chance, and Hachette generously responded with a finished copy.

Ink and Sigil is set in the same universe as The Iron Druid Chronicles, though some time after the events of the final series book, Scourged. Here Hearne introduces us to Aloysius “Al” MacBharrais (pronounced Mac-Vare-Ish), who appeared in a short story in Besieged. A Sigil Agent based in Glasgow, Scotland, he is one of just five worldwide helping to manage and enforce the conduct of all manner of otherworldly creatures, spirits and deities who want to visit Earth, with the creation of magical binding contracts. In his early sixties, Al, who is human, maintains a print shop as cover, employing Nadia, a goth battle seer as his manager/accountant/bodyguard/muscle, and a receptionist known to all, except his customers, as Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite. Al’s a fabulous character with a Scottish brogue, a love of fine whiskey, and not one but two curses on his head, one of which requires him to use a text to speech app to communicate, as extended conversation with anyone causes them to form an irrational hatred of him.

The mystery begins when Al’s apprentice, is found dead, having choked on a raisin scone (which Al later finds is not because raisins don’t belong in scones, but because of his second curse). Inside Gordie’s flat, Al discovers a caged hobgoblin and learns that his apprentice has been trafficking fae, a serious breach of the treaty between fae and humans, and making use of Sigils and inks he should not yet know. Determined to put a stop to the trafficking and learn who had been sharing secrets with Gordie, Al takes custody of the hobgoblin, who introduces himself at Buck Foi, and begins an investigation that leads to an ugly conspiracy. I liked the premise of the mystery, but unfortunately I did feel the execution was a bit weak, with not a lot of suspense or intrigue.

Nevertheless, I delighted in almost every other aspect of the novel. Hearne merges the mundane with the magical well so that the story feels grounded in the here and now, helped by a few pop culture references, yet the magic system overlays convincingly. The humour, though occasionally puerile, regularly made me snicker, and the insults are creative. I enjoyed the sprinkling of Scottish brogue and appreciated Hearne’s guide to pronunciation.

Without a doubt I’m looking forward to further adventures with Al, Buck, and Nadia, and answers to the few threads left unfinished in this novel. Funny, fabulous and fantastical, Ink & Sigil is the start of something promising.

 

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Also by Kevin Hearne reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Hermit by S.R. White

 

Title: Hermit

Author: S.R. White

Published: 25th August 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Hermit is a gripping crime fiction debut from ex UK police officer, now Queensland resident, S.R. White.

In the early hours of the morning, Detective Dana Russo is called to the scene of a murder. A suspect is already in custody, having been found standing over the body, but other than offering his name and declining the services of a lawyer, the man, Nathan Whittler, is reluctant to talk. While her team does their due diligence investigating alternate possibilities, Dana has twelve hours to get a statement from Nathan that she hopes will close the case.

Set in rural Australia, most of the action in Hermit takes place within a police interrogation room as Dana carefully coaxes information from a reticent Nathan. It results in a series of tense and unusual exchanges between the two as a tentative rapport develops, despite their nominally adversarial relationship.

Nathan is nothing like Dana expects as he confesses he has not spoken to another person in fifteen years. He has, the police learn, lived alone and off the grid in the surrounding bushland since walking away from his family and job in 1994. Sensitive to the possibility of past trauma, and Nathan’s obvious emotional fragility, Dana must tread lightly as she probes for information that will explain his disappearance, and what role he may have in the murder.

The give and take of the interview is finely crafted by White, and we learn as much about Dana as we do Nathan. When the novel opens, Dana is contemplating suicide, privately reminiscing on the anniversary of a past trauma, and as the interrogation progresses some of the details of that experience are revealed. At times Dana struggles to maintain professional distance, grappling with the reminders of her own tragic childhood, torn between her empathy for Nathan, and her role as his interrogator.

Dana’s colleagues provide some relief from the intensity of the scenes between her and Nathan. I enjoyed the banter with her unit, particularly Administration assistant Lucy and fellow detective Mike, who both obviously like and respect Dana, as does her boss, Bill. As Dana moves in and out of the interview room, they are kept busy investigating both Nathan’s past, as well as the life of the dead man – running down the possibility of his wife’s involvement in the murder, and a suspected connection to organised crime.

With its riveting narrative, and intriguing characters, I found Hermit to be an engrossing read. There are a few minor threads of the story that White leaves unresolved, which is mildly irritating, though I assume, and hope, the author has plans for a sequel.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing by Leonie Kelsall

Title: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing

Author: Leonie Kelsall

Published: July 2nd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Told with heart, humour and candour, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is Leonie Kelsall’s first contemporary rural romance novel.

When Veronica is told she is to inherit an 800-acre farm in South Australia she is at first convinced it is a scam, and then certain it’s a mistake. Growing up within the foster care system she learnt the hard way to trust no one, and believing in the generosity of an aunt she never knew is difficult, so Roni is not surprised when she learns there is a catch. In a series of letters, her late aunt explains that to freely inherit the Peppertree Crossing Roni must complete a number of tasks. Single, pregnant and with few other options, Roni, with her beloved cat Scritches in tow, decides to accept the challenge, and perhaps find the home she’s always yearned for.

Kelsall explores familiar themes such as family, friendship, and love in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing. The themes of forgiveness and redemption are also strongly represented in a way I particularly appreciated. Several sensitive issues are also raised in the novel, among them sexual assault, addiction, suicide, and pregnancy loss, in a manner that feels genuine rather than contrived. These subjects add depth to the story, pushing it a little beyond the borders of the genre.

Romance is still a key element in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing though, with a twist on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope between Roni and share-farmer, Matt. Roni’s first instinct, particularly around men, is to be wary and defensive and she misconstrues Matt’s genuine offer of advice, help and friendship as manipulative and devious. I appreciated that Matt is not cast as her saviour, Roni must reach the conclusion that she is worthy of love on her own before their relationship can progress.

Roni is a prickly character to begin with, nursing a deep hurt she is closed off, mistrustful, and stubborn. I really liked Kelsall’s development of her character, which is somewhat slow, but authentic. She’s destined to learn lessons the hard way it seems, but she does learn and grow. Her journey is supported by several charming characters, most notably her late aunt’s dearest friend/partner, Tracey, and Matt, but also of the four-legged variety which includes her cat, a sheep named Goat, and a calf named Baby.

Well written, thoughtful and engaging with an ideal balance of romance and drama, I am impressed by The Farm at Peppertree Crossing and look forward to more from the author.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Love & Other Crimes by Sara Paretsky

 

Title: Love & Other Crimes

Author: Sara Paretsky

Published: June 30th 2020, HarperLuxe

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

Paretsky is credited with transforming the role and image of women in the crime novel with her female private investigator, V.I. Warshawski. I ‘discovered’ the series in the early nineties and instantly became a fan. The first book, Indemnity Only, was published in 1982, the latest instalment, titled Dead Land (book #20) was released earlier this year.

Love & Other Crimes is a collection of fourteen short stories, eight of which feature Warshawski, including one original story. Written over a period of about twenty years, the common thread is love.

“….we kill out of love—love of money, but also love of family, a desire to protect those for whom we feel responsible.”

If you aren’t familiar with Warshawski, this short story collection is a good introduction to her character. Vic was raised, lives and works in Chicago. Specialising in investigating white-collar crimes, she is often drawn into cases involving her friends, family or vulnerable persons who are victimised by corrupt politicians or greedy businessmen. She is smart, capable and dogged with a strong belief in justice and all these traits are on display in the stories in this collection.

Most of the other six short stories have appeared elsewhere, often in themed anthology’s or magazines, though I was familiar with none. Two of the stories pay homage to Paretsky’s own literary hero’s – Race Williams, who was the first of the hardboiled detectives, created by Carroll John Daly in 1923, Amelia Butterworth, an amateur detective created by American crime novelist Anna Katharine Green. I like that Paretsky includes a note for each story in the collection that reveals the purpose of, or motivation, for the title, it’s a welcome glimpse into her authorial process.

Somewhat surprisingly I enjoyed every story in this collection, though I remain partial to those which involved V.I. Warshawski, reminded of how what a great series it is, and to move Dead Land up my TBR list.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins

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Review: I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

Title: I Was Told It Would Get Easier

Author: Abbi Waxman

Published: June 16th 2020, Berkley Books

Status: Read June 2020 courtesy Penguin/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

In just a few months my daughter will graduate high school and we are in the process of choosing which university she will attend, so the premise of I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman appealed to me immediately.

Busy corporate lawyer Jessica Bernstein is hoping a week long college tour with her daughter will be a way for them to reconnect before Emily leaves the nest. Emily isn’t sure she even wants to go to college, but the timing is perfect given the situation at school.

The story unfolds from the first person viewpoints of Jessica and Emily, and I loved the way Waxman exploited the technique to provide a dual perspective of the same events, especially when it involved interactions between mother and daughter. The dynamic between Jessica and Emily felt very familiar to me as both the mother of teenage daughters, and as a former teenager daughter who was convinced her mother understood nothing.

The group college tour is a great vehicle for the story. Jessica and Emily have no choice but to spend time together, trapped on the bus and sharing a motel room. It gives them the opportunity to reconnect and consider their expectations of and for themselves, and each other.

The tour also traps them with a collection of characters that include a perky guide, a handful of earnest parents and their offspring, potential romantic interests, and a pair of frenemies. While Jessica is eager for Emily to attend a good college, she is taken aback by the intensity of some of the parents on the tour who seem to have been planning their child’s path to college since birth. One parent in particular makes it clear that she will do anything to ensure her daughter has the future she envisions. Emily envies the certainty of her tour companions when she isn’t even sure if she wants to go to college at all.

The humour in the novel particularly appealed to me, both Jessica and Emily have a dry, snarky wit. Waxman’s observations across the generational divide are relatable, and some cut deep, like this one from Emily…

“And why do they all have phone cases that open like little books and make it difficult to take photos in the first place? They created the monster and don’t even know how to use it properly.”

An entertaining, astute and easy read, I really enjoyed I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Review: Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

Title: Please See Us

Author: Caitlin Mullen

Published: April 1st 2020, Gallery

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen is a haunting, heartbreaking psychological thriller.

“There is something bad in the air and in the water now, something rotten and wrong. A moral disease.”

Set in Atlantic City, once a popular tourist destination, crowded with vacationers, the famous boardwalk is now lined with boarded up store fronts, half empty casino’s, and strolling prostitutes. Mullen effortlessly evokes a once thriving town gone to seed, broiling in the July sun, edged by the boggy marshes where the bodies of a serial killer’s victims lie.

“There is a sisterhood among them, these women in the marsh. Each time he brings another one, they understand what she has seen.”

And though the unidentified victims, referred to as ‘Janes’ have a voice, Please See Us primarily unfolds from the perspectives of Ava aka Clara Voyant, a sixteen year old thief, grifter and boardwalk psychic experiencing fragmented visions she doesn’t understand, Lily Louten, who has reluctantly returned to Atlantic City to live with her mother after a devastating betrayal by her partner that also decimated her career, and Luis, a friendless deaf and mute janitor who sees, but cannot speak of the horrors he sees.

“He doesn’t know what it is about this city, the way it swallows up anything kind and good.”

The story is slow-burning but suspense laden with a layered plot as Clara and Lily are drawn into the orbit of a serial killer. The writing is evocative, even lyrical, though what it describes are bleak scenes of desperation, poverty, addiction, and violence. Please See Us focuses on the vulnerability of women, particularly to men who seek to exploit and control them.

“We talked about what it meant to be a woman, to be looked at all the time, judged and measured and punished in a thousand different ways every day…”

Gritty, dark and compelling Please See Us is an assured debut novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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