When Rodney Hill, wrongly arrested for a series of murders, hangs himself, Jill Kennedy the forensic psychologist whose profile led to Hill's arrest, gives up her work with the police and moves to the peaceful village of Kelton Bridge to write self-help books, enjoy a quiet life with her cats and perhaps an occasional flutter on the horses.
English village mysteries are one of the categories that remind me that even though I love the dark and noir side of crime fiction, a little lighter fare every now and again is good for the psyche. Or at least a welcome change in approach. I'm always on the lookout for a new "series" of these style of books to accumulate for when I'm looking for something lighter as I'm running a little short of favourites to turn to.
INTO THE SHADOWS is a more modern take on the traditional English village style of book, mostly I felt, because there's yet another serial killer involved. I have to say that the combination of a blurb talking about a retirement life with cats, romantic tension with an ex-lover trying to regain affection, and a stalking serial killer and I was feeling a little leery. Add to that some predictable plot points (every male in the village seemed to be a suspicious character), and some flat out unbelievable plot points (look behind you - well in this case above you for goodness sake!) and I wasn't exactly in my own particular reading comfort zone.
Surprisingly enough though, I found that I could still read this book. Perhaps it's because Jill and Max were an interesting pair, flawed, warm, funny, very realistic. Perhaps it's because it is an English village mystery and there are some aspects of those style of books that you can just let roll - after all they are the perfect antidote to a cold Sunday afternoon. And that's probably the main reason that I'm always on the lookout for a good English village series - I like reading these sorts of books, curled up in the rocking chair in front of the fire, large glass of something red and a small select box of good choccies. Whilst I can't say that INTO THE SHADOWS wasn't a flawed book, it certainly had enough going for it to put other entrants in the series on my potential new series to follow list.
HYPOTHERMIA - Arnauldur Indridason
One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage by Lake Thingvellir. At first sight, it appears to be a straightforward case of suicide; the woman, Maria, has never recovered from the loss of her mother two years earlier and had a history of depression. But when Karen, the friend who found her body, approaches Erlendur and gives him the tape of a séance that Maria had attended, his curiosity is aroused.
Less of a review - closer to a drool, HYPOTHERMIA is the latest in one of my all time favourite series of books from Icelandic author Arnauldur Indridason. If you've not read any of the earlier books, coming to HYPOTHERMIA from the start could still work, but part of what is really wonderful about this series is the slow unfolding of the backstory of the central detective Erlendur.
Erlendur is very much of the "rumpled / crumpled" detective genre - somebody who life has dealt some complicated hands to. Whilst he shuffles those cards, the reader is taken through his current life, his relationships with his estranged children, his childhood and his family tragedy. Still with that Nordic sense of constraint, thoughtfulness and introspection, there's also something lighter and hopeful in the sub-themes of HYPOTHERMIA, despite the puzzling suicide of a woman in a beautiful lakeside location. Her obsession with the loss of her mother, and the drowning of her father when she was a child takes Erlendur back to what happened to events from her childhood, somehow giving him permission (or the will) to explore his own history, and the death of his young brother in a blizzard many years before.
Within this series there has always been a strong sense of Icelandic culture and beliefs, from their particular personal name conventions in earlier books, to a real sense of the relationship between the present and the supernatural in this book in particular. And it's not just Erlendur's personal circumstances that leads to an exploration of the past and the present - there is often a theme within the books that pursues exactly the effect that past events (sometimes hidden, sometimes not) have on the current lives of many of the characters.
Along with the rumpled / crumpled detective styling, Erlendur has an admirable sense of justice and duty. He doesn't give up, he doesn't accept the obvious (in this case the rapid verdict of suicide) and he is prepared to stick to the task until the truth is revealed - no matter what the consequences. Having said that he, and this author, are not unaware of the effect of this sort of persistence. Grief, loss, guilt and confusion are beautifully illustrated, as is there often a cheeky sense of humour.
HYPOTHERMIA is an outstanding example of everything that is wonderful about crime. The book transports the reader to the place and the culture in which it is set, the landscape, the people, their particular way of looking at the world are woven into the threads of grief, loss, cause and effect seamlessly. There is pace to the story, alongside lyrical, beautiful storytelling and there are wonderful, believable, flawed characters to follow. Hopefully for lots of books to come.
BEYOND REACH - Graham Hurley
Crushed cranial vault. Visible extrusions of brain tissue through multiple scalp lacerations.
She tried to keep up, tried to focus on the fat grey threads of jelly that laced what remained of this man's head. Memories, she told herself. Intelligence.
The very stuff of what we are, of what we do. Billions of nerve cells that should have warned him to take care when crossing the road.
She closed her eyes and took a tiny step backwards, secretly glad that something like this could still shock her.
Some reviews are just flat out hard to write. Normally it's because the book is good, and I'm in real danger of gushing. Particularly in this case, where gushing got dangerously close to an understatement.
BEYOND REACH is the 10th Joe Faraday and Paul Winter book from British author Graham Hurley. The series started out as a police procedural, with a good strong "villain" character - a bit of a rough diamond in drug lord with a decent streak, Bazza Mackenzie. Joe is a long-term cop, once completely content in his role as a DI, single-parent to his profoundly deaf son. He is a widower with a passion for bird watching, poignantly tentative in his love life, not so content anymore. Paul was a young cop struggling within a system which he ultimately chucked for the dark side. At this point the series moved from a really good police procedural to something much more. The focus on Winter intensifies, although the police side remains involved. An edge comes in as the two main characters play off each other - sometimes directly, more often indirectly. Their strong-points and weaknesses are contrasted. Events are seen from the two viewpoints, the difference between "knowing" and "guessing" on both sides is explored, there's some murky lines between good and bad, black and white. All of this is just getting better and better with every book.
Winter, working as Bazza Mackenzie's right-hand man, has been involved in some stuff he wishes he hadn't seen. He's also involved in some positive changes in Bazza's life, as the Mackenzie family attempt a little genuine intervention work with the underprivileged youth of Portsmouth. Whilst Winter is uncomfortable in the position of working closely with those kids, he also finds he is being drawn closer and closer into the family. It's this closeness that helps take these books somewhere different. Winter has a view from within the camp, but not immersion in the life, he's an insider and an outsider all at the same time. Friend of Bazza's he's also still a friend of his old colleague Joe Faraday. He's involved with the day to day operations of Bazza's network and family, but he's also not necessarily a crook. He's taking an interesting path into the world of part-enforcer, part-right hand man, part conscience, part advisor, part observer, part player. Tricky to have so many parts!
Meanwhile Faraday's got things going on in his own life. The current case he's working on - the hit & run death of a local thug, seems like it's going to be a simple case of following the obvious. This victim is a man universally regarded as a bully and the murderer of a young boy, but that police investigation was never able to find witnesses or evidence. Faraday's biggest problems are in negotiating the politics within the force, and the complications of his home life when his beloved girlfriend packs up and heads overseas on a University secondment, seemingly with little regard to what it will do to their relationship. Faraday is lost at home, and dispirited at work - the pressures of the force's political and petty power struggles seem to be getting to him. Because of his general dissatisfaction there's always that elephant in the room - what next for Faraday?
One of the things that this author does incredibly well is provide multiple intersections for the lives of the cops and the villains. Winter's current project is to find out the facts about Bazza's daughter Esme's affair with a top ranking cop. A cop that has been involved in major investigations into Bazza's empire. A cop that Faraday knows. The kidnapping of Esme's son causes everything to go very pear-shaped, that investigation pulling the two sides uncomfortably close together. Faraday's hit & run case is close to Bazza's empire - the wild and dangerous world of the housing estates, the drugs, the under-privileged, right into the same environs as Bazza's illegal activities as well as his charity project.
Another thing done well is the way that Portsmouth (or Pompey as it's known affectionately) is portrayed. The urban decay, crime, desperation of some areas played off against the wealth and privilege of others. Bazza, as a character, striding through both environments - his wealth earning him a place in the privilege, his background making him more relaxed in the decay. And it's striking how apt this title is - there's so many things in this world that seem BEYOND REACH. Peace of mind, pride, escape, retribution, justice, survival. In different ways, for just about every character in this world, there's something somewhere that's just slightly beyond their reach.
If you're new to the Faraday and Winter series, then dive in somewhere. It would be better if you could start a little earlier in the series to get you up to speed with the history of these characters and their earlier encounters. But if you're having trouble getting hold of any of the earlier books - then start with BEYOND REACH. But if you're a fan of really good English crime fiction - then make sure this series is on your reading lists.
Faraday / Winter Books:
Cut to Black
Blood and Honey
The Price of Darkness
No Lovelier Death
Rules of Engagement
The Devil's Breath
Thunder in the Blood
The Perfect Soldier
FEVER OF THE BONE - Val McDermid
When teenager Jennifer Maidment's murdered and mutilated body is discovered, it's clear that there is a dangerous psychopath on the loose. But it's not long before Tony and DCI Carol Jordan realise it's the start of a brutal campaign targeting an apparently unconnected group of young people. Their chameleon-like killer is chatting with them online, pretending to share their interests and beliefs - and then luring them to their deaths.
Relationships (personal, business, familial, friendship) are complicated things, as the 6th Tony Hill and Carol Jordan book FEVER IN THE BONE explores.
The central investigation centres around the brutal deaths of a number of apparently unconnected teenage victims. Starting out with a look at the victims themselves, and therefore into their family relationships, McDermid simultaneously weaves in a closer look at the families of her main characters. Tony's hitherto unknown father, and his non-relationship with his mother; the strange little "family" that is Hill and Carol Jordan's friendship; even the family that is the Carol's specialist investigation squad. Tellingly, McDermid also explores the relationships that people form in the world of social networking (going so far, it seems, as to create the social networking environment referred to in the book - which has now closed down I believe).
One of the most important things I noticed in reading FEVER OF THE BONE is that even though I'm all over the place with this series, there was no point when I felt I was missing out on something from an earlier book. I think a reader could jump into the series just about anywhere and find themselves engaged from the start. Sure there's some relationship development - particularly between Tony and Carol - that's going on, but it's carefully paced and it's not hard to work out what the backstory is. Mind you, it probably does help to realise that part of McDermid's great skill as a writer is evident in Tony. He's undoubtedly one of the most engaging annoying characters you're ever going to encounter in crime fiction. Possibly not surprising when you consider that his profiling style is to somehow or other think himself into the head of a killer, but it's definitely not a recipe for being an all sunshine and happy smiling times sort of a bloke.
There is some backstory to Tony, from his childhood through to the recent discovery of the identity of the father that he never knew. There are a lot of reasons for Tony to be complicated and they are explored in FEVER OF THE BONE. There are undoubtedly reasons for Carol to be complicated also. And that's another relationship that gets an airing in FEVER OF THE BONE - Carol has a new boss - James Blake. She has gone from having the support of her superiors, including their understanding that Tony's consultancy role on major investigations is a given, to a new boss who isn't supportive, is borderline dismissive and extremely suspicious of the combination of personal and professional between Tony and Carol. When he stops Carol from using Tony as a consultant to this investigation, he cuts off a lifeline that she's relied upon. Not just because of his skill as a profiler, but because Carol feels safe when Tony is around. Eventually Tony is able to hand Carol a way of ensuring his involvement, but with that comes an offer of major change in both their lives. As the investigation is resolved, the future becomes the next mystery - for them and for the reader.
With every book I read in this series, I find something new to admire. The way that McDermid works with her characters, exposing flaws, highlighting strengths, making them human whilst not overtly looking for sympathy. Obviously this is strongest in the main characters, but there is also evolution in the supporting character set. The way she humanises the victims - again flaws, strengths and all. There's good, solid, old-fashioned police investigating going on, supported admirably by clever technology, but the emphasis is the right way around - the hi-tech supports the slog, enhances the hunches, and tightens up the timeframes within the investigation. And finally, there's a clever, tight and quite chilling plot, with some unexpected but perfectly believable twists and turns that lead to a final resolution that will make the reader think long and hard about assumptions and prejudices.
BLIND FURY - Lynda La Plante
A motorway service station on the M1: dimly lit, run down, poorly supervised, flickering lights, dark corners; a favourite stopover for long-distance lorry drivers on their way up north from London. Behind it, a body is found in a ditch, that of a girl barely out of her teens. She appears to have no family, no friends, no connections anywhere. Other girls have gone missing in the vicinity and no one has stepped forward to claim them.
I've been happily reading the Anna Travis series by Lynda La Plante since the first book and enjoying them. Despite a few odds and ends that can be mildly annoying. Ongoing romantic angst, a tricky senior officer (in this case the early on love interest as well), and some seriously big books without always having quite enough story to fill out all of the pages.
BLIND FURY, unfortunately, nearly defeated me before the end. Which is a pity. Because the investigative elements of this book are actually not too bad. It does take a while for things to get moving mind you - but it's an interesting sort of a case, with the bodies of two young unidentified girls and an identified older prostitute seemingly having little in common. Aside from the circumstances of the dumping of their corpses, and the way in which they were raped and killed. Identifying the victims requires a lot of good old fashioned police investigative work - a lot of which is done by the team that Anna is working with - with flashes of insight from Anna herself. At the same time, for reasons best known to DCS Langton, Anna and a colleague also find themselves visiting a maximum security jail to discuss the case with a previously convicted multiple murderer who claims he has a unique insight into the mindset of this new killer.
Langton and Anna have a romantic history (they lived together at one point) and both have moved on. A while ago. It is mentioned, not quite as frequently as in earlier books, and it's sort of spiced up a little with some vaguely longing behaviour from Langton which seems to cause Anna to realise, frequently, that she's moved on. Moved on to the point where she forms a relationship with one of the guards on the unit where killer Cameron Welsh is held. And at this point the personal elements of the story start declaring themselves in bold face letters, with a little neon decoration for good measure.
BLIND FURY heads off into unbelievable territory fairly quickly - with the unfathomable concentration on an unconnected, unqualified, convicted killer as some sort of "expert" witness in the case. Which didn't stack up well on it's own, let alone when you also have to accept some of the leaps of brilliance or "intuition" elements of the normal Anna investigation style. Normally this sort of thing is a little easier to swallow as previous books have belted along at a good pace, but this one dragged. As the focus is increasingly on Anna and her personal life, the concentration on the actual investigation wanes - and that got really annoying, as the process of identifying the two unknown girls, connecting them to the dead prostitute and then the painstaking work required to try to identify suspects was reasonably compelling. Or at least it felt so stacked up beside the inevitability of the trainwreck that is Anna's personal life.
Overall there just wasn't enough of the good elements to hide or compensate for the increasingly sinking feeling of inevitability that hit as soon as a new man walked into Anna's life and the book dragged on to its foreseeable and really disappointing conclusion.
THE OLD SCHOOL - P.M. Newton
Sydney, 1992. Nhu 'Ned' Kelly is a young detective making her way in what was, until recently, the best police force money could buy. Now ICAC has the infamous Roger Rogerson in the spotlight, and the old ways are out. Ned's sex and background still make her an outsider in the force, but Sydney is changing, expanding, modernising, and so is the Job.
As I was reading this book I couldn't help but create a checklist of the things that make up seriously good crime fiction for me, and apply it as I went.
A sense of place that puts you right on the spot, without turning into a travelogue. Something that gives you a sense of the smell, the look, the way that people move around and interact with their location. THE OLD SCHOOL is set in Bankstown, a suburb of Sydney almost tailor-made for the action that is taking place - multitudes of cultures living up close and personal, dodgy dealings in all walks of life, overcrowded streets, haves and have nots, development and profound poverty, traffic and dust. Aboriginal activists are still fighting for land rights and against deaths in custody. The Prime Minister's famous Redfern Speech gets a mention. There is such a strong sense of the place, and the timeframe in this book, that I'd swear you can smell the kebabs she describes.
A solid plot, a believable set of circumstances in which people find themselves pushed to the limit, achieving great things, dealing with other people, solving problems. The events of the book - the discovery of two skeletons in the concrete foundations of a building being demolished and the death of an old homeless Aboriginal man are interwoven with the professional and personal life of Nhu 'Ned" Kelly. Ned is a young, mixed race woman, working her way towards promotion / change within the NSW police, at a time that ICAC (the Independent Commission Against Corruption) investigations are carefully dismantling the careers of many around her. It's a nice touch to weave the reality of the ICAC investigations, and mentions of some of its more notorious participants into the daily working life of Ned - adding not just a sense of realism, but giving readers a timeframe without having to stress dates. Perhaps there are a few elements in the plot that rely a little too much on co-incidence but frankly the way that THE OLD SCHOOL lays that out - well coincidences do happen.
Good characters, including some growth, a bit of backstory, a realistic feeling of people who aren't perfect, who make mistakes, who do good, and bad things. What glues the elements of this book together are the characters that Newton has built. Ned, her mentor and boss TC, her sister Linh and aunt MM, along with various other police and members of the Aboriginal community. Whilst it's undoubtedly Ned's story, all the other players get their moments, and provide a great supporting role. Newton also draws a very sensitive portrayal of being the child of a Vietnam vet in Australia, whilst slowly revealing the truth behind the death of Ned's parents, many years ago.
Social observation - exploring real things from real life that aren't right. THE OLD SCHOOL does touch on a lot of issues - police and official corruption, organised crime, Aboriginal activism and land rights, fallout from the Vietnam war. It uses all of these elements as aspects of the plot - there's never any sense of lecturing or pushing a barrow. Rather each element is revealed as part of the ongoing investigation, the lives of the characters, as aspects of the revelations leading to a solution.
Finally realism. Not to the point of user manual accurate - but a real feeling that there are elements of the story, the setting, the events that are being presented that have a believability about them (not that I actually care if they are or aren't 100% realistic or accurate - I just want to feel like the author knows what they are talking about). THE OLD SCHOOL does this in spades.
According to the blurb on THE OLD SCHOOL, Newton worked in the NSW police force for thirteen years, and this is her first novel. If this is a debut - bring on a whole lot more of the series please.
BAD INTENTIONS - Karin Fossum
Early one September three friends spend the weekend at a remote cabin by Dead Water Lake. With only a pale moon to light their way, they row across the water in the middle of the night. But only two of them return, and they make a pact not to call for help until the following morning.
Karin Fossum is an author who uses observation acutely, whilst being more than willing to play with both expectations and the outer reaches of readers' comfort zones. Each of her books uses a different type of scenario to explore human behaviour and quirks. In BAD INTENTIONS she is looking at the nature of manipulation, conscience, and absolute and total egocentricity. She's also very very good at creepy - be it the characters or the setting, and in BAD INTENTIONS there's some of each.
BAD INTENTIONS is the ninth novel overall, seventh available in English, from Norwegian writer Fossum's series based around Inspector Konrad Sejer. These books are all psychological thrillers, within a police procedural setting. But really, the point of all of all of them is to look into a variety of different mindsets - that of the person committing the crime, and often also those observing or affected.
BAD INTENTIONS is about three men - Alex, Reilly and Jon. Friends from childhood, Jon suffers from anxiety attacks and has such severe psychological problems that he's been hospitalised. Alex and Reilly have taken him to their favourite place, a remote cabin in the forest beside a lake, as a treat - to try to cheer him up. Restless the 3 friends row out onto Dead Water Lake, where Jon panics and jumps into the water. One friend wants to save him, the other stops him. A shared story is concocted, suicide is blamed, and they wait until the following morning before calling the police. Konrad Sejer is assigned the case and he and his team quickly start to see inconsistencies, not only in the stories that the boys are telling, but also in Jon himself. Suicide seems so unlikely for someone improving, developing relationships, sorting his life out.
This is a very clever plot that effortlessly demonstrates the snowballing affect of attempted cover ups. In this case, the cover-up of Jon's death is just yet another link in a chain of lies and bad choices (intentions if you like) that goes way back. But as with any of Fossum's books - it's not just about the cover-up, BAD INTENTIONS is also about friendship, damaged people and breathtaking ruthlessness.
Best of all, BAD INTENTIONS is extremely believable. Okay so that's probably not a "best" thing, but this book describes events that are totally feasible - there isn't a single moment's reading where you are left thinking "no, surely not". Cleverly written, insightful and informative, this is a book that is suspenseful and entertaining whilst also being extremely thought-provoking. Exactly what you'd expect from this fantastic series.
BENEATH THE BLEEDING - Val McDermid
When Robbie Bishop, star midfielder for the Bradfield Vics, is poisoned by a rare and deadly toxin, profiler Dr Tony Hill and trusted colleague DCI Carol Jordan have their work cut out for them. Robbie was adored, so the public wants answers - but the answers aren't coming, and trails are running cold.
Then a bomb explodes in the football stadium, causing massive casualties - and another man dies from poisoning. Is there a link between the cases? And what are the motives for these crimes?
BENEATH THE BLEEDING is the fifth book in the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan series from Scottish writer Val McDermid. Which fans of this writer will already know. Fans will also know that anybody as daft as me, who would leave this book on the review pile for as long as I have, is really missing out on a very good thing.
Now there are plenty of serial or multiple killer books floating around out there, and many readers are well over the whole idea, but you do have to give a moment's thought to revising that attitude when the writer is as talented and assured as McDermid. BENEATH THE BLEEDING grabs the reader from the opening scenes - when a star footballer is admitted to hospital, dying slowly with nobody able to identify the cause. And therein lies the whole pattern of this book - nothing is obvious, nothing is initially as it seems, nobody is quite what they are stacked up to be. Nothing makes sense. Not the series of poisonings, using very obscure toxins. Not the bomb exploding in a football stadium being obviously a terrorist attack. Not the friendship / ongoing dance between Tony and Carol. Not the relationship between Tony and his mother.
There are some serious complications in Carol's investigation of these poisonings. Firstly Tony's laid up in hospital - his leg badly broken by a psychiatric patient off his medication and out of control. Tony's insight in investigations has progressed to the point where you might call it "profiling" but it's much more than that. It's all about thinking his way into the killer's head - giving Carol and her team insights into why / how or what the killer might be doing / feeling / seeing / trying to achieve. It's harder to do that when you're laid up in a leg brace in a hospital bed, and you cannot see the reactions of people, can't direct the questioning. Add to that Tony's frustrated by his infirmity and confused by his mother's presence at his bedside. The terrorist bombing adds its own complications bringing the specialist squad to town - not only do they take over the bombing investigation, they do their darned best to bully boy, huff, puff and generally stuff it up into the bargain. And they don't accept input from Carol's team - who are a crack squad in their own right, and they know their own patch very very well.
I hadn't read a Tony Hill / Carol Jordan book for a while - I think what little of the TV series I watched put me off a little. The Tony Hill of the books is a complicated, tricky individual - very much a "physician heal thyself" sort of a character. Jordan's equally complicated, prickly, determined. It's very easy to see how a friendship has developed between these two characters, and how the ever-present potential romance is almost threatening - rather than something comforting that they should be working towards. Ultimately, what comes out of BENEATH THE BLEEDING is a good, nicely twisty plot, a lot of tension and some seriously paced action. There's a good ensemble cast, although the concentration on the two main characters does mean that they disappear a little into the background. There's a good balancing of the personal and the professional, as well as the frustration and elation of difficult investigations and the pressures that Tony and Carol both feel - from others and from themselves.
WATCH THE WORLD BURN - Leah Giarratano
Miriam Caine is dining with her son in an up-market restaurant when she bursts into flames.
The restaurant's manager, ex-cop Troy Berrigan, is first to Miriam's aid, but she later dies of her injuries. When police find accelerants on the victim, attention is turned to their whistleblowing former colleague, the only person close enough to have set her on fire.
Clinical psychologist and best-selling author Leah Giarratano is known for exploring various criminal and/or psychological behaviours in all of her books, and in WATCH THE WORLD BURN, the fourth in the Sergeant Jill Jackson series, she's exploring family, along with extreme psychopathic behaviour. Whilst earlier books clearly demonstrate Giarratano's own background in her deft handling of the extremes of human behaviour, somehow, WATCH THE WORLD BURN is more assured, more informative, more affecting and profoundly unsettling.
Readers of the earlier books will know that Jill Jackson had an horrendous experience as a young girl - kidnapped, raped and tortured. Her ongoing battle to cope and move on is an underlying thread in all the books in this series, but in WATCH THE WORLD burn we see Jill put under the most extreme personal pressure and we watch as she completely falls apart, and starts to put herself back together again.
We also watch as a series of different sorts of families cope. Jill's family continue the struggle to support both of their daughters - both victims of Jill's childhood experience in their own ways. We also watch as a young Aboriginal ex-cop struggles to rebuild his life after he was shot, wounded, pushed from the force after he became a whistleblower. As the sole carer for his much younger brother and sister, Troy Berrigan has a family that was torn apart by so many of the problems in Aboriginal society, being put back together by their individual and collective strength. Then there is the family of Miriam Caine. Her son and granddaughter are pulled into Troy and Jill's circle after Miriam bursts into flames one night the very up-market restaurant that Troy manages, dying a painful and seemingly inexplicable death. Followed by a spate of seemingly unconnected acid and arson attacks around Sydney, the police investigation slowly weaves the stories of Jill, Troy and Miriam's families together.
Balanced well between the police investigation and the various personal stories, WATCH THE WORLD BURN quickly becomes an emotional rollercoaster, although don't for a moment think that means that the reader is left feeling manipulated or over-wrought. It's searing in its portrayal of desperation, pain, suffering, madness and hope. There's humour and great humanity here as well, there are strong and safe characters balancing out the damaged. And in creating a bad guy who is somewhat elusive Giarratano has created what seems to be a pitch perfect portrayal of a psychopath - distant, illogical, slightly out of focus even, but ultimately inexplicable.
Readers of Giarratano books need to be aware that they aren't going to be in for an easy read, but they are absolutely guaranteed to feel something. You may also learn something about the slender threads that some people balance on every day. But you cannot come away from WATCH THE WORLD BURN unaffected by the characters created, the pain that they feel, and the nature of nurture.
GUNSHOT ROAD - Adrian Hyland
Emily Tempest is small, black, as snaky as a taipan's tooth and is the woman least likely ever to embark on a career in policing. But her old mate Superintendent Tom MacGillivray has persuaded her to sign on as the Aboriginal Community Police Officer for the outback (not to mention throwback) township of Bluebush.
GUNSHOT ROAD is the second Emily Tempest novel from Australian author Adrian Hyland. Set in the outback of Australia, GUNSHOT ROAD has one of those magnificently authentic Australian voices that you just know comes from an author who knows his place, and his characters very very well.
Emily Tempest is a tricky woman. She's one of those mouthy, stubborn, opinionated women who will do what she believes is right, no matter who or what says no. She's going to stick to her case, she's going to support her people, she's going to follow her instinct - and everybody else, well they can like it or lump it. Either way - their choice. Emily's her own woman. Joining the police seems like an inexplicable decision for a woman like Emily. And then again, it doesn't - nothing like fighting the system from within after all. Besides, none of her colleagues have the slightest idea what or who she is or what she'll do next. Least of all somebody "Acting" as the boss. Poor Cockburn - he's new in town and he doesn't quite get the idea that you never, ever ever poke a snake with a stick.
When Doc is found dead in his shack, a hammer in his throat and his latest combatant drunk and snoring away in the bunk beside him, Cockburn and just about everybody else is happy to accept the bleeding obvious. Emily knows something's not right and she knows these people - Doc, the accused Wireless, the community, and she comes to know the artist sitting on the rockface above Doc's who can also see the strange patterns in the landscape.
DIAMOND DOVE, the first Emily Tempest novel was a really really good book, but GUNSHOT ROAD is more. Much much more. Hyland's taken this book further into country, aboriginal lore and lifestyle. Whilst weaving a tale of death, deception and much nefarious goings on, which is a reasonable puzzle, carefully laid out, and ultimately plausible. Perhaps a little too plausible. But more than that, into this western "plausibility" Hyland has seamlessly woven Aboriginal lore and dreaming. He's also not shied away from the less savoury aspects of these outback communities and the ravages of the difficult balancing act between traditional and western life for so many people. But he does that with a wonderful touch, with an inspirational feeling of true admiration and affection for these people.
I read GUNSHOT ROAD on a cold Central-Western Victorian day, sat in front of an open fire. Yet I could see the heat haze. Taste the bulldust as it swirled around my feet. Hear the beautiful, haunting, glorious sound of singing to country. I could see Emily, I could sense her exasperation, feel her frustration, hear the determination. GUNSHOT ROAD made me yearn to be out there, perhaps to come across Emily and maybe cheer a bit from a safe distance. To be privileged enough to really hear language, that singing to country and to witness the intrinsic, heartfelt, deep connection to place and a way of life. GUNSHOT ROAD has left me so very very pleased that Hyland wrote a second book, hoping there is a third, and filled with the need to pack the car and head off into the place that Hyland writes so well.