This is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell.
The last thing THE TALL MAN needs is another review - the book is winning awards left right and centre at the moment. I must confess it wasn't a book I was particularly looking forward to reading, suspecting that the subject matter was going to be very very confronting. After it won the DAVITT AWARD from the Sisters in Crime, the judges comments on the night, were the little extra push required to make me stop dithering (well sooking really) and pick up the book.
Whilst I'm very very glad I finally did, reading THE TALL MAN was not a pleasant, easy or necessarily an ultimately satisfying task. Not, I hasten to add because of the standard of the writing, but because there's is no resolution to the mess that is Palm Island and the death of Cameron Doomadgee in particular, and white-Australia's relationship with the Indigenous People in general.
But then there are some very unpleasant, unbelievable and just flat out unsatisfactory and unacceptable aspects to the story of Palm Island and death of Doomadgee. (For some reason I still can't seem to get out of my head the fact that when Australia did the last census report - 2006 - Palm Island was "forgotten". How the hell do you "forget" an entire community? Just to add insult to injury it's a community that many many indigenous people were forcibly moved to.... it beggars belief).
There are aspects to the way that this community was setup, works and lives which are confrontational, and there are aspects to the death of Doomadgee and to the subsequent investigation, inquest and trials which just don't do a lot to give you much faith in justice, or even in the truth being paramount. THE TALL MAN delivers this story in a matter-of-fact, restrained, observant and respectful manner. There's no sensationalism of the events, it's up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.
It's a book that had to be written, and it really is a book that should be read.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 - Lindy Cameron (editor)
Good cops, bad cops, killer husbands, homicidal women, thieves, firebugs, art heists and jailbreaks.
In Outside the Law 3 some of our best crime writers take you on a walk down the darkest side of life.
You’ll meet crooks who just can’t help themselves; killers with twisted logic or hearts of darkness; and cops who daily walk the thinnest of lines to keep the evil at bay, and away from the rest of us.
Every year in Australia, there are a lot of true crime books released. The OUTSIDE THE LAW series from Five Mile Press is now up to number 3, edited by Lindy Cameron, released in August 2009. It includes an interesting forward from the editor where she says (amongst other things):
"What is it about ordinary law-abiding Australians and our bizarre fascination with robbers, murderers and low-life crooks? Why do those of us not personally affected by the violence or incomprehensible loss visited on too many in our society want to know the details of what happened - of exactly how it happened?"
There are then a series of possible explanations for our fascination, all of which I agree with 100% but there's one that was missed out, and an itch that is scratched admirably by OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 - and that's a look at our shared history. Undoubtedly a history through tragedy, but in the retelling of a variety of cautionary tales, there's also a chance to look back at what sort of a society we were, and how we reacted to what was happening at the time.
OUTSIDE THE LAW 3 addresses a number of different stories, and therefore topics. I've already reviewed SALVATION by Vikki Petraitis, which is the story of Rod Braybon and how he survived an horrific childhood in care. As desperately sad and distressing are the circumstances described, there's a sense of renewal at the end of that book that I hope is continuing, and an excerpt of that story is one of the early chapters in this book. Compare the circumstances of Rod's childhood at the hands of the authorities with that of "Tara", at the hands of her biological family - in a story by Robin Bowles of the horrendous child pornography case that ended well, due to the determination of police in Brisbane and in particular, Georgia, USA. Renee Otmar tells a much more personal story of the cold blooded and very chilling murder of a very young baby, whilst John Allin tells of his experiences with the family of a young girl kidnapped in Adelaide, at the time and again 30 years on. Liz Filleul looks at the inexplicable murder of a mother and daughter, whilst Peter Haddow considers the murder of a West Australian teenager by another girl, barely older than the victim.
From a procedural point of view Shelley Robertson, an expert witness in her own right, provides a wonderfully pointed outline of the strategies of both defence and prosecution teams in a courtroom (using some very illustrative quotes from Chicago - the musical), whilst Narelle M Harris looks at the impact of the interminable forensic investigation TV programs can have on the sense and sensibility of many jury members.
The book is also nicely sprinkled with the sorts of tales that many fans of True Crime expect from this sort of book - the bad, the mad, the dangerous and the daring. John Kerr looks at the rise and fall of Kiwi Terry Clark (recently made somewhat more famous than he was by Underbelly 2), as well as the Donald Mackay case out of Griffith, the Mafia and the involvement of flamboyant Labor Minister Al Grassby. Leslie Falkiner-Rose looks at the 1976 Great Bookie Robbery, including talking to a bookie who was there on the day, and she also takes the reader back into the hard-drinking, hard-working, slightly insane world of the police rounds reporters on newspapers. Jacqui Horwood looks into Task Force Zebra, an investigation into SP Bookmakers and alleged corruption in the Licensing, Gaming and Vice Squads of Victoria Police, whilst Rochelle Jackson spends some surreal time as a prison visitor to talk to Freddy Cako about his life in jail.
The good thing about this collection is the balance of stories, from the desperately sad and distressing, to the infuriating and the brazen, along with some very funny moments. None of the funny moments are overdone, belittling or cruel - but, in particular, the story of the newspaper roundsman has some laugh out loud moments as the antics are revealed. There are some touching moments as well - the story of journalist John Allin and the family of Kirste, kidnapped all those years ago in Adelaide as an example.
But does this collection answer the question of why we are so fascinated? I doubt anybody can come up with a single explanation as everybody will come to a True Crime book for a variety of different reasons. Did this one meet my particular desire for an historical perspective? Absolutely. The stories that are covered in this book - some vaguely familiar / some new to me, all go to remind us yet again of the best and the worst of humanity.
THE TOWER - Michael Duffy
Young detective Nicholas Troy is basically a good man, for whom homicide investigations are the highest form of police work. But when a woman falls from the construction site for the world's tallest skyscraper, the tortured course of the murder investigation that follows threatens to destroy his vocation.
In an interesting twist THE TOWER is the first crime novel from former publisher, journalist turned author Michael Duffy. Set in Sydney, the book will introduce readers to two Sydney police characters, the young Detective Senior Constable Nicholas Troy and the older Detective Sergeant Jon McIver.
Falling from high up on the construction site for the world's tallest skyscraper in Sydney isn't going to end well, landing on the roof of a police car just makes it seem all that more cruel. It takes quite a while for the police to identify the woman who died on that dark Sydney night, although thinking it is unlikely to be a suicide is made easier by events high up in the tower as the investigation commences.
Young Nicholas Troy is one of the earliest detectives on the scene, and it's very easy to imagine that without him this tale of greed, money, power, corruption and influence would never be fully uncovered. Life for Nicholas isn't particularly straight-forward though. At home, he and his wife Anna have a young son, but the pleasure in becoming parents has been shattered by Anna's ongoing battle with debilitating post-natal depression. At work he's closely connected with Jon McIver who has a bit of a reputation. As the investigation into who this woman is and why she fell from this particular building rolls on, the truth of this massive building project is slowly revealed, despite the best efforts of some really incompetent policemen and some blatant police politics.
THE TOWER is an interesting book for a number of reasons. Firstly there is this spectre of this massive Tower Building being constructed in the city of Sydney, imposing itself in such a grand manner over the city and its inhabitants. As the story unfolds the tower is hiding secrets within the construction, in its background and how it came to be, and in the history of its builders and their own motivations. The tower and it's original builder and their connection with the victim are revealed in the midst of a mix of corruption, money and screwed up family relationships. Along the way there are a range of characters deeply involved in the mystery - the engineer come security chief for the tower, his Chinese master, the victim's own family and, of course, Troy's family and friends.
The book does have a few minor problems - there's a little too much repetition, particularly of some of the circumstances surrounding Troy's personal life which tends to drag out the length of the book without necessarily adding much new to the overall story. The tensions between the upper-echelons of the police force and McIver and Troy are a little predictable and Troy commits one of the basic no-nos in a police investigation by getting too close to a possible suspect. But there are some very interesting characters here. Everybody is human - not perfect - not completely bad. As the story of Troy, McIver and the death of this woman begins to unfold, there's something refreshing about the matter of fact way in which the characters are presented. The supposed good guys - the upholders of the law, skate across a minefield of temptation, expediency and convenience. They are capable of losing control and objectivity, of making bad decisions. The bad aren't all bad, but certainly aren't particularly good either and their decisions are as compromised by the circumstances of their own lives. There's no glossing over the victim herself, she's a spoilt little rich girl with very limited street-smarts. Yet in a strange way there's a glimmer of possible sympathy sometimes just as there is a desire to line them all up for a serious dressing down.
Supporting those characters is a very complicated plot that doesn't suffer from being overly busy. There are elements that really ring true, there are others that take their lead more from the traditional thriller than perhaps a police procedural, but they work together very well. There's also an interesting interweaving of the very domestic and the very international.
It looks like THE TOWER is the start of a new series - police procedural, character based, set in Sydney. Where Duffy takes Troy and Anna, McIver and the rest of the investigation team is something to look forward to.
Melbourne, 1929. The year starts off for glamorous private investigator Phryne Fisher with a rather trying heat wave and more mysteries than you could prod a parasol at. Simultaneously investigating the apparent suicide death of a man on St Kilda beach and trying to find a lost, illegimate child who could be heir to a wealthy old woman's fortune, Phryne needs all her wits about her, particularly when she has to tangle with a group of thoroughly unpleasant Bright Young Things.
It's been a long time since I caught up with Phryne and her household of adopted daughters, faithful retainer, dedicated companion, cook and exotic lover. Part of the reason for that was the feeling that it was all a little same old same old. What I did find with MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT is that sometimes a short visit with old friends is just plain good fun.
If you're going to live in the 1920's in Melbourne, in the middle of a heatwave you'd be quite comfortable if you had Phryne's life. You'd be less happy if you were an aspiring antique dealer and purveyor of high class junk whose body was found in the water at St Kilda beach. His mother simply does not accept suicide and Phryne, and her entire crime-busting household must prove that his death was anything but. Meanwhile Phyrne is also called upon to resolve an old mystery for the family of a recently deceased mother - is there an illegitimate child from before her marriage?
The mysteries that occupy Phryne's time in this book are interesting, and there are little snippets of investigative technique that sit well within the period of the book (such as working out the contents of the lungs of a drowning victim). Luckily that timeframe makes any odd procedural elements just not an issue. Of course, most of the investigating seems to be done by Phryne swanning around parties and such-like, getting people to talk to her, although Dot - her faithful companion is not above donning her good hat and heading out for some fact checking and tree shaking. Perhaps that's one of the strengths of these books now - there's more of an ensemble cast, all of whom have their roles and the story seems more multi-layered because of it. There's also those lovely little reminders of time gone by. Alas the idea of a block of ice and a fan somehow being old fashioned just made this reader feel desperately old as that was a well known trick when we were children (albeit we needed to be ill for it to be called into play). Now if there's 1 or 2 people left out there who haven't read these books, Phryne's sex life is a tiny bit risqué - not so that you'd notice these days - but it's still a little titbit that gives the books that little extra.
The Phryne Fisher books are undoubtedly highly entertaining, lovely little pieces of fun wrapped up in a mystery and an idyllic lifestyle. This isn't a series that I work at keeping up with - and I have missed a lot of books in the middle which one day I will try and catch up with, but it is nice to know they are out there waiting. For readers who are looking for something fun, light and just a little bit saucy, MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT would be a wonderful way to spend some time.
INFILTRATION - Colin McLaren
For two years police detective Colin McLaren disappears off the face of the earth, surfacing in Griffith as a dodgy art dealer with a pretty girlfriend and talks his way into the Mafia. For days, weeks, then months and years, Colin eats with them, sits in their homes and cuddles their kids, all the while climbing the N'Drangheta, finally befriending the Griffith Godfather, Antonio Romeo.
INFILTRATION doesn't seem to be served particularly well by the blurb on the book. It's considerably more than just the story of an undercover sting against the Mafia, in fact it's part personal memoir, part story of the Mafia operation, but sprinkled throughout with snippets of other parts of Colin McLaren's astounding police career.
Many of us lead lives pretty sheltered from the advent or consequences of violent crime in particular. "Big" criminal events are still pretty few and far between in Victoria Australia, so it's particularly sobering to realise that those big events can be attended by such a small core of police. The Queen Street shootings, the Walsh Street shootings, the NCA bombings, Mr Cruel, the Griffith Mafia are all connected in a chilling way by Colin McLaren's life story. Along the way you get glimpses of a man who is also a son to a mother he loves very much, a dedicated single father to a daughter of whom he is immensely proud and a boyfriend, lover, husband (and ex a few times over it has to be said). Alongside the lifelong relationships with his mother and daughter, you're reminded again and again of how hard it must be for policemen and women to maintain personal relationships - of how odd the life of an undercover or task force cop must be.
INFILTRATION does definitely outline much of Colin's involvement in the breaking of the Mafia in and around Griffith in NSW, and it touches on a range of earlier cases and experience - including his time in Richmond at the time of the notorious Pettingell/Allen family heights (or lows if you prefer that analogy). Whilst that's definitely interesting, what was more rewarding, touching in some places, highly illuminating in others was the story of Colin's life, and the way that the demands of the job dictate how the rest of your life is going to be lived. If you're not much of a fan of true crime, then INFILTRATION is worth reading - particularly for that personal viewpoint. This is a book which is less about the crimes, certainly less about the criminals. It's a very personal story from a policeman who has seen and done a lot of things that the rest of us wouldn't even contemplate.
DEEP NIGHT - Caroline Petit
Leah Kolbe's father, a dealer in antiquities, left the business to her when he died. Now the Japanese have occupied most of mainland China and threaten the British colony of Hong Kong where Leah lives. When they unexpectedly invade, her fiance becomes a prisoner of war, interned under the harshest conditions with the rest of the colonialists. She escapes to Macau, arriving there penniless after everything - including her shoes - has been stolen.
DEEP NIGHT is the second Leah Kolbe book from USA-born, Australian resident author Caroline Petit. Set in 1940's Hong Kong, Leah finally agrees to marry her lover English ex-pat Jonathon. Unfortunately the date of their wedding - Christmas 1941 - finds her exiled to Macau and Jonathon in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The Japanese push from occupied China into Hong Kong is rapid and brutal. Those that can escape to Macau live a hand to mouth existence as refugees. The rest of the story you can get from the synopsis of the book really.
DEEP NIGHT was just one of those highly entertaining books that turned out to be perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Leah's a great character (I was reminded somewhat of Phyrne Fisher, but there's more of a serious side to Leah as well). She's quite the survivor and she's very much the pragmatist and in war - needs must, regardless of how unpleasant the circumstances. Leah isn't a prude though, and her sexual exploits are frequently enjoyable no matter the circumstances. One of the great strengths of DEEP NIGHT is that although there's a bit of a fun side to Leah, you never lose the sense of the war and the danger around her. Whilst there's definitely spy thriller brave doings and a bit of dashing around, under it all there's the ever present threat of the Japanese, as well as the distress of not knowing the fate of friends and her loved ones in Hong Kong. The personal aspects of war are wonderfully portrayed simply by placing the British and Japanese consulates side by side in Macau and then drawing on the difficulties between two friends (the respective consuls) now on different sides of a conflict.
Seemingly fitting perfectly within the timeframe that it's written in, DEEP NIGHT was really a very enjoyable spy type book, albeit with a hefty dose of sex, romance, intrigue and love's lost. This is definitely a book that would appeal to somebody looking for a good historical spy thriller with that feminine touch. It was so enjoyable I've now ordered a copy of Petit's first Leah Kolbe book THE FAT MAN'S DAUGHTER as I'm kicking myself I missed it when it was originally released.
KICKBACK - Garry Disher
Wyatt robs banks, and lifts payrolls. Most men like him are dead or in gaol. But Wyatt stamps a cold, pitiless style on his heists - and makes sure that he never gets caught.
Now his funds are low and his luck is running out - until the day Anna Reid explains about the kickback in her partners's safe. Other players are involved: Bauer - who learnt his trade shooting blacks in Southern Africa; Ivan Younger - small-time boss; Sugarfoot Younger - sullen urban cowboy.
There's a new Wyatt on the way, and that means it's as good a time as any to do a little tidying up of the back catalogue.
Wyatt is a very careful man, because he has to be. Wyatt robs banks, lifts payrolls, gets girls, leaves girls, lives the life of a loner, trusts few, works out the details and thinks a job through. He regards his criminal activities as his job, he's very professional. He doesn't like surprises, he doesn't like hot heads and half wits, mind you, he can handle them when he needs to.
Kickback is the first Wyatt novel from renowned Australian writer Garry Disher. Unusual in Australian crime fiction, these books are about the crimes and the criminals. In KICKBACK in particular, even the victim's aren't squeaky clean. Anna Reid is a solicitor who is happy to see the robbery of her work partner's safe - she wants the money to get herself out of a financial hole. But she gets more than she bargained for when Wyatt agrees to do the job, and brings a little extra baggage along with him. Sugarfoot Younger is a young man, a bit of a cowboy in look, inclination and attitude, and he is just stupid enough to think he can play Wyatt at his own game.
Tough, violent, precise and absolutely authentic, Disher write a fantastic professional criminal in Wyatt. An old-fashioned sort of a crim, Wyatt isn't interested in collateral damage - to himself or his victim's, but don't for a moment think that he's beyond ruthlessness if he needs to protect his own skin.
The current Wyatt novels are:
* Kickback (1991)
* Paydirt (1992)
* Deathdeal (1993)
* Crosskill (1994)
* Port Vila Blues (1996)
* The Fallout (1997)
THREE MURDER MYSTERIES - Mary Fortune
Three 'Murder Mysteries' are examples of Mary Fortune's great skill in writing 'detective fiction' at this early period when the genre was in the beginning stages of a now popular form of fiction. The three stories are introduced by Lucy Sussex.
THREE MURDER MYSTERIES by Mary Fortune is an absolute little treasure of a book and I feel so grateful to Lucy Sussex for her pursuit of Mary's story and her writing, and for getting this wonderful little book published.
Mary Fortune had over five hundred crime stories published, all set in Australia. In 1871 a collection of these were published under the title The Detective's Album - a book which is now very very rare and very very expensive.
The three stories that Lucy has chosen to be incorporated in this little book are wonderful examples of not only Mary Fortune's skill as a writer, but how good crime fiction doesn't age. The themes of these stories are as valid now as they were in the late 1800's when they were written.
IN THE CELLAR is set in the goldfields in and around Maryborough in Victoria, THE HART MURDER in the fledgling farming world of early Victoria whilst THE PHANTOM HEARSE takes the reader into the city (and raises the tantalising prospects of ghosts on the streets of Melbourne!).
Not only are these short stories which are clever in their execution, they are extremely entertaining. Touches of a puzzle for the reader to solve, they explore the same sorts of social issues that we are still dealing with today. There is also a light touch of humour in some.
Leaving aside the tale of Mary Fortune herself, THREE MURDER MYSTERIES is made up of three wonderful short stories from the beginnings of the genre in Australia.
THE LABYRINTH OF DROWNING - Alex Palmer
Two years have passed since top cop Paul Harrigan walked away from the New South Wales Police Force to be his own man. Since then his life has been a gift, and his home with his partner Agent Grace Riordan and their daughter a sanctuary.
When a trafficked sex worker is found brutally murdered in Sydney bushland, it should be just work for Grace. But the murder is too savage. And someone is watching them - perhaps Harrigan's old enemies, who want their pound of flesh.
THE LABYRINTH OF DROWNING is Canberra based author Alex Palmer's third book featuring (now) ex-cop Paul Harrigan and his agent partner Grace Riordan.
The body of a sex-worker in Sydney bushland quickly becomes not just another case for Grace, as the violent injuries trigger flashbacks to her own sex attack many years before. Her investigation is further complicated as tensions with her boss simmer. Paul Harrigan, on the other hand, is working as a security consultant these days, happy to spend time with their very young daughter, he eventually is pulled into the periphery of Grace's investigation as a threat to their own home and family becomes apparent.
LABYRINTH OF DROWNING is definitely a book that will benefit from having read the two earlier ones. The investigation is balanced against considerable time spent in Grace and Paul's personal and professional lives, with the consequences (and perpetrator) of her own brutal sex attack appearing in the middle of the chase for the vicious murderer of the Thai sex worker. Not knowing who all these people are, and what has happened to them in the past would undoubtedly make the story here a little confusing. Particularly as Grace isn't a police member, but in this book, in particular, she's deeply involved in an active investigation into a murder.
LABYRINTH is another book from Alex Palmer that seems to start out with considerable impact, slows a lot in the middle, and works itself up into quite a head of steam towards the end. There's a hefty amount of self-imposed personal jeopardy sprinkled in that ending, however, that might put some readers off slightly. There is also a lot of the personal lives of the two main characters built into the narrative, particularly in this book as the threat intrudes on their home life literally and physically.
Not strictly a police procedural, THE LABYRINTH OF DROWNING would be an interesting book for anybody who liked the earlier 2, or anyone who is looking for something less structured than a procedural but not quite as free-form as a private investigator style book.
DEAD I WELL MAY BE - Adrian McKinty
'I didn't want to go to America. I didn't want to work for Darkey White. I had my reasons. But I went'.
So admits Michael Forsythe, an illegal immigrant escaping the Troubles in Belfast. But young Michael is strong and fearless and clever - just the fellow to be trapped by Darkey, a crime boss, to join a gang of Irish thugs going head to head against the rising Dominican powers in Harlem and the Bronx.
Dark and funny, tough and confrontational, lyrical and even poetic in places, quintessentially Irish, DEAD I WELL MAY BE is the first in a series of books featuring Michael Forsythe, a young Irish man with a flair for danger, drinking, and fighting his way out of impossible situations.
McKinty writes in a style that's easy to associate with noir Irish writing, a sort of a stream of consciousness thing, that alternates between incredibly compelling and making the reader want to hide under the bed blankets. Michael is a young Irish man, older and wiser than his age would make you expect, at the same time incredibly naive and almost unbelievable at points, DEAD I WELL MAY BE is the story of how he get's himself into a no-win position. Young, fearless, clever, stupid and naive, and despite not really wanting to go, Michael heads to America to work for crime boss Darkey White. Well he professes he doesn't want to go, but the reader can easily suspect that the adventure is a great lure for a young man like Michael. In the same way that an affair with Darkey's girlfriend Bridget has that frisson of danger. Darkey, on the other hand, is more ruthless about these things, and his discovery of the affair leads to a life and death struggle in the Mexican prison system.
This is the first book in the series, and I have read a later one already, so that probably helped a little in knowing where this story is heading and finding out a lot more about how the characters tick. Michael is a tricky character to get a handle on in this book - wise and knowledgeable seemingly beyond his years and life experience, there's an awful lot of bravado about Michael which might catch some readers - as it does seem to bamboozle some of the other characters in the book. Darkey's more of a bit part in this book, working often through intermediaries, it does create a level of menace about the man that's quite disturbing. Bridget almost seems like the female version of Michael, she's as addicted to risk as Michael seems to be.
All in all, DEAD I WELL MAY BE is the start of a series of books, and you have to read it making a little allowance for ongoing character development in the following books. You may also find that the style of the prose, the internal monologues and rants of Michael, in particular, seem a little self-indulgent at points. You may even find the total lack of a supposed moral compass somewhat offputting, but then this is Irish noir at it's brutal best.
To be perfectly honest, there were points in the book where I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Didn't worry me - loved the ride.