When Harry Gartner's business falls into the fat receiver's hands confusion reigns in the family. Steven leaves Karen and the farm, and finds Jane, investigative journalist. Emily, for her children's sake, wishes she'd never signed that personal guarantee. Together, they need to thwart the machinations of the Pinton brothers - Alan, the duplicitous accountant and Michael, the lawyer, who is bad to the bones.
There has been a slowly bubbling sub-genre of crime fiction based in the financial world that seems to have been going on for ages in Australia, and every now and then you'll fall across one of those books - normally in a second hand shop now. I can't remember where I spied BANKRUPTS AND BANDITS or even when for that matter, but it was sitting on my pile of unread local authors when I grabbed it the other day.
I confess I'm not much interested in finance - high finance, bankruptcy, losing the business or anything else much to do with money (shocking isn't it) so I tend to struggle to maintain interest in the subject matter of these books. This is a quick little read about the bankruptcy of a family business, the poor health of the founding father and a son who gives up his own life to save his father and sister.
THE TROJAN DOG - Dorothy Johnston
The Sandra Mahoney series is computer crime fiction - with THE TROJAN DOG being the first in the series. EDEN is the latest - which I reviewed recently.
THE TROJAN DOG has Sandra - with a husband working overseas - single handedly raising her young son, and working on a short-term contract in a Government Department, finishing off a report on out-sourced / home based workers. The head of the Department is an old "friend" of her mother's - an unpopular woman, she is soon accused of fraud and facing criminal charges. Sandra isn't convinced that Rae is guilty and she digs around. With help from one of the resident IT staff in the department - Ivan, the Russian "eccentric" and later on a local policeman - Brook - she is more and more convinced that there's fraud going on - but not by Rae.
The early parts of this book are hard to follow and stay with. There's a lot of build up and a lot of wandering around in Sandra's personal life that just go on and on, without the story seeming to move forward with any speed. Once Brook joins the chase then things get a bit more focused and the story actually proceeds. Sandra's an odd sort of a character as well - she's very hard to get a handle on - in some ways quite standoffish and offputting for the reader, it's something that continues into the later books as well - she's just very hard to get onside with, which makes reading these books quite an interesting experience. A lot of the time is spent considering why it's so hard to be on Sandra's side as she fights on the side of the good.
Still, the idea of computer fraud as a crime (rather than the more standard fare of murder and mayhem) is interesting. Set in Canberra this is definitely a book that tells you something about the tensions in working in the public service - at a time of expected changeover of political masters.
EDEN - Dorothy Johnston
From the Book: Eden Carmichael died on a hot Tuesday afternoon in January. He was found lying across a double bed at one of Canberra's best-known brothels, dressed in a blue and white flowered silk dress and a blonde wig.
Sandra Mahoney and her partner Ivan are security consultants, so what she is doing poking around the death by natural causes of a well known politician seems to confuse Sandra as much as everybody else. In EDEN, the third Sandra Mahoney series book by Dorothy Johnston, Sandra is home alone - Ivan and their daughter Katya are in Russia visiting his relations and it's summer in Canberra. Sandra had originally planned to spend summer on the coast - with her son, but she's at a bit of a loose end when he heads off to Tasmania with his father, leaving her in hot, slightly dismal Canberra at a time when everybody else is normally somewhere else. The death of Carmichael originally just seems a bit bizarre sure - the wig and a dress for a start - and then in a brothel, but Carmichael had hit the headlines before when his last heart attack had him doing a spectacular swan dive off a staircase in full view of half of Canberra society. Nobody really thought he would survive that attack, and everyone knew he was retiring from parliament and slowing down. Sandra's interest is triggered when there seems to be some sort of connection between Carmichael and something Ivan's been working on. The Australian government has just passed Internet censorship legislation and the companies that make the filter software are juggling for position as preferred supplier.
The interesting thing about EDEN is that Carmichael's death isn't suspicious in itself, other than it being slightly odd, and there are some interesting connections between him and the Internet censorship legislation but there's nothing much else to go on. Except maybe a sneaking suspicion that people, who shouldn't be quite this interested in the events surrounding his death and the legislation, seem to be interested and the investigation that Ivan had already done into the background of one of the leading contender companies has turned up some rather odd coincidences.
There are a lot of things that appeal about EDEN. The central character is female, slightly flawed - but not annoyingly so, persistent, capable and conflicted. Her family life is so consistent with that hybrid type of family that's common these days, she's happy with Ivan and annoyed by Ivan and ever so slightly attracted to a local cop. The sub-cast of characters - the brothel owner Margot, the prostitute Denise who was with him when he died play a major part in building up the story of the book, as do some of the lesser profiled characters - such as Carmichael's political rival but close friend Ken Dollimore. The plot's nicely complicated, providing a real balance for the idea that there is no suspicious death at the beginning of this story.
There is crime being committed here, and people who have questions to answer for their actions. At the end of the book you just can't help but feel that Eden Carmichael deserved better.
DEATH IN DREAM TIME - S H Courtier
Death in Dreamtime was published by Wakefield Crime Classics in 1993. Originally published in 1959, S H Courtier is one of the classic crime fiction authors in Australia who is little known / commented on. Which is a pity.
In Death in Dreamtime Jock Corless ends up at Ungimillia, home of The Alchera or Dream Time Land - a sort of "theme park" of Aboriginal mythology. He's travelled through to New South Wales in response to a very cryptic letter from his cousin who, as Jock arrives, is found dead on the road.
Death in Dreamtime certainly reads like a novel from 1959 with a turn of phrase that comes directly from that era. Some of the characterisations are to be expected, Inspector 'Digger' Haig reminds you a bit of your returned soldier grandfather in his mannerisms and his language. There are two main female characters who are not as cliched as is often the case from books of this era, and best of all, there is a stagey but relatively sympathetic discussion of Aboriginal mythology and history which actually doesn't make you squirm from embarrassment.
Interestingly enough for me, living in the Dandenong Ranges, there is a central character in the park who seemed to me to remind me very strongly of William Ricketts and the famous William Ricketts sanctuary - not so far from where I live. The editors who bought these writers to Wakefield made the same observation in a short essay at the back of the book describing the circumstances around the book.
All in all I enjoyed this a whole lot more than I thought I would.
MURDER AT THE FORTNIGHT - Steve J Spears
Murder at The Fortnight is a darkly hilarious tale of murder, greed, fame and lust set squarely under the bright lights of the world of showbusiness. When celebs start dropping like flies at The Playwright's Fortnight, Stella and Ng must battle media hysteria and political backstabbing in their desperate search for a killer who keeps on killing. Who will be next?
MURDER AT THE FORTNIGHT is set in the testing arena of the "theatre" and the arts. Showbiz commentator, Stella Pentangelli is returning from a bit of a "rest" as it's known in the trade, after a stella career as a showbusiness commentator and heavyweight. Inspector Ng is an investigator in the police, renowned for his different methods and for not paying the slightest bit of attention to all the whispering about his slightly bizarre methods.
Steve J Spears is a renowned Australian playright, and in MURDER AT THE FORTNIGHT he's created a wonderfully eccentric, slightly stagey set of characters resolving the murder of a major TV executive and then an internationally renowned and universally loved, indigenous actor at "The Fortnight". The Fortnight is a yearly "event" for the theatre community, reading and workshopping plays, in a university theatre town, a long way from civilisation.
There's nothing even slightly realistic in the police system described in MURDER AT THE FORTNIGHT, even allowing for Ng's slightly eccentric methodology and this lack of accuracy creates a very stagey, very elaborately set murder mystery in which the lives of the investigator's are as much part of the story as the investigation itself.
Lovely, unusual and enjoyable as long as you're not looking for gritty reality.