Holly Love's in big trouble - she's got to find the cheating swine who ripped her life apart, which turns out to be a huge mystery involving a gloomy old house, a hearse-driving Elvis impersonator and a gang of vengeful thugs - not to mention a possessed parrot and a very cute guy who might just take her mind off all her woes! A funny and hugely entertaining mystery from a brilliant storyteller.
I do like a bit of a romp novel, and LOVE HONOUR AND O'BRIEN is nothing if not a bit of a romp. Which surprised me a bit - because the blurb sounded just a little dauntingly like it might be too chick-lit for me. But Jennifer Rowe's return to mystery writing has hugely exciting, so exciting I picked up this book as soon as it arrived.
Set in the Blue Mountains (Rowe's home territory it seems), LOVE HONOUR AND O'BRIEN is, you'd have to hope, the first outing of accidental Private Detective Holly Love. I say accidental as she starts out as an office worker who chucked her long-term (boring, cardigan wearing, pea squashing) boyfriend and almost instantly agrees to marry Financial Advisor and stunner Andrew McNish. Which plan went rapidly to pieces on the night that she gave up everything in Sydney, and drove to the Mountains to prepare for the wedding. Only to find Andrew, and all her money gone.
Not a terribly surprising story up until here I hear you mutter... we've been here before. What's really good about LOVE HONOUR etc is that it does cover some well worn territory - but it does it with it's own sense of style and humour. Holly is a great character - her man disappearing (along with everything in his house being repossessed around her) does not mean she packs up and runs home to mother - she hires a Private Detective. The Private Detective dropping dead does slow her down a bit - but moving into his flat, taking up his mobile phone and getting on with his job and looking after his parrot - actually works. Even the idea of a lunatic household / heirs of an undertaking millionaire - weirdly kind of work.
Okay so there's not a lot that's new here - and Holly's one of those accidental Private Detectives that is more catalyst than resolver, but the sense of humour is wonderful, the pace is tremendous, the cast of supporting characters really vivid and the whole thing just well ... works. Definitely a book more for fans of the lighter side of mystery fiction, and one in which readers will have to accept that there are things in Holly's life that may just need a future instalment. Rowe has once again proven herself to be a particularly dab hand at developing strong female characters, and building a plot and story around them that's engaging, hugely entertaining and quite clever.
AN OBJECT IN MOTION, Ronald S Barrios
Ruth Addems is a soap opera star on the rise, but when her house in the affluent neighborhood of Black Hawk is broken into it looks as if she has a stalker and she is reffered to Rey. But Rey quickly finds out that things aren't always as they appear. In the world of Hollywood everyone has secrets and most stories are the stuff that nightmares are made of. Rey learns that once an object is in motion, it remains in motion...
Novellas must present an author with a series of quite specific challenges - developing a plot, circumstances and resolution with enough development of enough character's to give the story some depth and engagement for a reader. Given that I've recently been reading quite a bit of Pulp Fiction I was really interested to see how Barrios would do this in a current day story.
And it has to be said, in an AN OBJECT IN MOTION, Barrios has pulled off all of the major requirements - with a nice touch of cynical humour that worked really well. Not that this novella reads as a direct rip off of the old Pulp format, and thankfully, there's a good female character who's not just the "blond and beautiful - dangerous and/or as thick as mud" stereotype. Most of the characters in this story have a questionable background, which means that the possible list of suspects builds and moves around as more and more is uncovered.
All in all, AN OBJECT IN MOTION is a good plot that rolls along at a good pace, with the reader given a real sense of solving the puzzle along with our central detective. Well that is until a very interesting twist at the end - that I certainly didn't see coming - but which just made a lot of sense. A definite "of course" sort of moment at the end of a very entertaining story.
FOLLOW THE MONEY - Peter Corris
Cliff Hardy may still have the moves but he's in trouble. The economy's tanking and he's been conned by an unscrupulous financial advisor and lost everything he's got. Cliff only knows one way, and that's forward, so he's following the money trail. It's a twisted road that leads him down deep into Sydney's underbelly, into the territory of big money, bent deals, big yachts and bad people. Cliff's in greater danger than ever before, but he's as tenacious as a dog with a bone.
You really have to worry about Cliff Hardy. Every year he seems to dig himself a bigger, deeper more dramatic hole and he's not as young as he thinks he is.
Or so it seems from these books, but realistically Cliff is timeless. He has to be - don't try to do the maths of how old he must be - your brain will hurt or you could suddenly wonder why you're not quite such an action hero when you're nowhere near Cliff's age! Cliff's timelessness is part of his attraction, as is his blatant disregard for the rules, personal safety, and doctors advice. In recent years he has moved on a tiny bit though - he's had a heart attack and bypass surgery; finally got love; lost that love through tragedy; got rich; and in FOLLOW THE MONEY, lost the money again. At the hands of an unscrupulous financial advisor who, just to rub salt in the wounds, is renowned as somebody who ripped off clients too lazy to keep an eye on their own financial affairs. Cliff's not lazy, he's just easily distracted!
For Cliff though, it seems that the only thing worse than being ripped off could be being hired to find out if the aforementioned unscrupulous advisor isn't as dead as initial reports indicated. But forethought and consideration aren't items big on Cliff's checklist and off he goes. Enduring beatings and attacks, stays in hospital, chases, liars, cheats and threats and generally doing a fair bit of rushing around, Cliff does what Cliff does and gets to the bottom of the story.
One of the most important things in a series of this longevity, which concentrates solely on a single central character, has to be keeping the stories interesting and fresh. Sure there are elements that you expect - like the beatings, and ignoring the rules and the hospital visits etc etc etc, but luckily Corris seems to have found the happy knack of keeping things entertaining in the last half dozen or so of the Cliff Hardy books. This means that readers can quite conceivably look on the standard elements as time spent with an old friend. Albeit an old friend that you'd be barking to stand next to at the bar for fear of finding yourself in a fight that had absolutely nothing to do with you - but a little distance, and maybe a well defined exit strategy and why not shout a round. Okay, so you're not going to learn a lot about the psyche of the Australian male of a certain age. Okay so you know that Cliff's going to come out on top, well as close to the top as Cliff's ever going to get, and you know that being the love interest in Cliff's life's going to be a tricky prospect. But on the other hand, you also know that the bad guys will get found out, that wrongs will be righted and the Medicare system works like a dream. And it's nice to know that in each book there's always a bit of a plus for Cliff. Somewhere.
THE LONG GLASGOW KISS - Craig Russell
'There are some concepts that are alien to the Glaswegian mind. Salad. Dentistry. Forgiveness.'
Glasgow in the 1950's - not somewhere you'd choose to be unless you were born to it. Yet Lennox, a private investigator of Canadian descent, finds it oddly congenial. Lennox is a man balanced between the law and those who break it - a dangerous place where only the toughest and most ruthless survive.
THE LONG GLASGOW KISS is the second book from Craig Russell featuring Lennox, Canadian raised, returned soldier, Private Investigator who dances a fine line between the law and the gangsters. Glasgow in the 1950's is controlled by the Three Kings, dangerous men who have divided up the spoils of organised crime and negotiated a sort of working relationship. It goes without saying that they don't trust each other, and Lennox often finds himself caught up in the middle. But Lennox is one of those lone-wolf; act first, think later; never take a step backwards sort of characters - somehow perfect for post-war, gloomy and complicated Glasgow.
Of course there's lots of lone wolf style characters in crime fiction and it's hard to avoid stereotypes, although Lennox does add his own particular flavour to things. A little unlucky in love, it's more that he doesn't really try that hard - rather than constantly being used and abused. Okay, so when he's deep in act first, think later mode he's very inclined to get beaten up - and to hand out a few thumpings of his own. Often he's dancing that fine line between the law enforcers and the law forcers, but with Lennox is less Quick Step and more The Stomp. And he does have a tendency to bite off a bit more than he can chew - in this case too many simultaneous investigations. He's been hired to look for a missing brother, heavied into working out what's going on with a prominent boxer and sort of "johnny on the spotted" into searching for the killer of Jimmy MacFarlane - father of his current, well girlfriend's probably too strong a word for the sort of relationship they have.
In order to pull off this workload Lennox uses an interesting combination of help on the side from all sides, a bit of adroit juggling of time and focus, a bit of luck, and a lot of his favourite method of investigation - the "poke something with a very big stick" and see what bites back method. And that's part of the reason why I really like these Lennox books. There's an absolute honesty to the way that Lennox works - part who you know / part what you know / part knowing who knows what you don't know / part who you can annoy until they spit the dummy and reveal more than they intended. He works the streets, the people, his friends and his foes with adroitness, but at the same time there's a basic decency and loyalty about the man that really fits not just his persona but the time and place. A fundamental loyalty that sits well on the shoulders of a man with a past, who is struggling a lot with what his future will be.
Because of the timeframe of the books you can forget computers and mobile phones. We're talking shoe leather and phone boxes. Because of the location we're talking dark, and gloomy. Glasgow is still very much in the thrall of the Second World War, partially because so many of its denizens are also still struggling with the reality of war, and the deprivations afterwards. We are also given a glimpse into a future of drugs and international influences which don't bode well for anyone. Now I'm waiting patiently for the next book because you just can't help wondering what's going to happen to the kingdom of the Three Kings, and where Lennox goes from here.
THE HALF-CHILD - Angela Savage
Jayne has been hired to investigate the alleged suicide of a young Australian woman in a seedy Thai coastal town. But Maryanne Delbeck's death is not the only mystery awaiting Jayne among Pattaya's neon signs and go-go bars. While working undercover at the orphanage where Maryanne volunteered, Jayne discovers something far more sinister.
Now her life is in danger, her case is still unsolved and she barely has time for dinner with her handsome new love interest, Rajiv. With love and death both circling, Jayne now has two cases to crack - and very little time to do it.
Good crime fiction, for me anyway, frequently goes hand in hand with a spotlight on social issues. If it incorporates a good, strong sense of place and great characters that you can really feel something about, then even better.
THE HALF-CHILD is Melbourne author Angela Savage's second Jayne Keeney book. This book is set in Thailand, but the focus this time is on the beachside resort of Pattaya, a strange combination of tourist resort, family friendly locations, sleazy bars and strip-joints. Jayne finds herself in Pattaya as she is hired to investigate the case of a young Australian woman who died there, falling from the roof of one of the tourist hotels. Jayne's investigation involves undercover work, hiding the fact that she can speak fluent Thai, working at the most menial of volunteering tasks in an orphanage, coming to grips in a hurry with the way that this orphanage balances the care of local children, often with their single mothers working nearby in the tourist bars and strip-joints, with the requirements of abandoned or orphaned children intended for overseas adoption.
The impetus behind this story is overseas adoptions when unscrupulous people get involved, people who effectively are trafficking babies to unsuspecting foreign couples, desperate to adopt. Savage has not given herself a particularly easy subject to tackle. The book has to negotiate a minefield, illustrating the experience for everyone involved, careful to show the impact on all sides, whilst still maintaining an investigative imperative. This is not a book that lectures about the pitfalls, and there's a part of the resolution of this complex emotional situation that's possibly going to startle some readers, sadden and confront.
The other thing about these books is that Jayne, herself, isn't a straight-forward character. She's a little bit out there, unpredictable, upfront and frequently prickly, she's no fool, even though she can get a little, let's call it "over enthusiastic". And perhaps that's the only thing that might annoy some readers - what I'm calling "over enthusiastic" some may want to say teeters on the edge of crazy - but then I can see Jayne's very much a "poke the bear / none of this let sleeping bears lie nonsense" sort of a girl. There are therefore times when you admire her, and times you want to slap her. Times you think she's a raging idiot, and then she'll be quite cunning. There's even a little romantic tension - although Jayne seems to be alternatively intrigued, sometimes underwhelmed or just flat out indifferent.
It's always interesting, with the second book in a series, to see what changes the author has undertaken in their writing, to look at the quality of the plot, and how the central character is progressing. THE HALF-CHILD is more assured than the first book, and as strange as it seems given the subject matter, a little more relaxed. There's great humour, particularly in the personality of Jayne herself, who doesn't take herself too seriously, and in that of her potential new partner, Rajiv, who provides some much needed patience and sanity in the face of Jayne's more exuberant behaviour.
The great thing about THE HALF-CHILD is that reading this book, you can see there's a lot more to be done with Jane.
THRILL CITY - Leigh Redhead
Simone Kirsch, ex-stripper, sleuth and bad girl, is back in business - and before she has time to crack open a bottle of cheap champagne to celebrate the launch of her very own detective agency, she's up to her neck in lethal fun and games.
It all starts off quite innocently, when bestselling crime novelist Nick Austin wants to follow her around for a few days as background research for his next novel.
THRILL CITY has arrived. The fourth Simone Kirsch book from Australian writer Leigh Redhead has been much anticipated by fans of this fantastic, Melbourne-based, stripper turned Private Investigator series.
Mind you, it's not just Simone that I was pleased to see back, but Chloe, Sean, Alex, Curtis, all the other strippers, the bars and the way that the streetscape comes alive. When bestselling crime author Nick Austin pays Simone to let him follow her on a few jobs - to get the feel of how a female PI works - that leads to a writers festival, a crime panel, a couple of well known "names" as no-shows and a confrontation between Nick, his ex-wife Isabella and the man she left Nick for - thriller writer and all-round action man type Rod Thurlow. Later, when Simone stumbles over Isabella's body, murdered in Nick's house where he is passed out upstairs, drunk, things become very very personal.
All the elements that fans of this series have come to expect are here. Chloe's pregnant, fabulous, and happily running her business providing strippers. Sean's back from Vietnam, gorgeous and very supportive. Alex is newly married, lurking on the edge of Simone's tempted eyeline, creating even more tension in her life. And if there's one thing that Simone doesn't need it's more tension in her life. Still vaguely chaotic, hanging onto her PI licence by the very tip of her fingernails, things are getting increasingly complicated. As if finding a dead body; losing a suspect; dealing with personal death threats and investigating where she is most definitely not welcome isn't enough, she's also trying to decide if she wants to move to Vietnam with Sean; decide if she's even got a long-term future with Sean at all and then there's Chloe's impending motherhood. Simone's extremely stressed out.
Added to the expected elements, however, there's also a sense that Redhead is really starting to hit her mark in this storytelling game. There is a sense of fun, a slightly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, as well as the titillation and sheer entertainment from all the other books in THRILL CITY. What's particularly pleasing though is a more fully rounded, dare I say, confident and complicated (without being complex) plot in the mix as well. There is still a bit of rushing around, and don't be put off by the occasional feeling of impending fem-jep. Simone is never really in jeopardy, just temporarily short of a solution.
If you're not already aware of the Simone Kirsch series, then you could pick it up from THRILL CITY. There is the occasional back reference to events in CHERRY PIE, but not enough to throw a new reader to the series. And the best part of that is if you love THRILL CITY as much as I did, then you're very very lucky. There are 3 earlier books for you to track down. The rest of us are now patiently waiting for the next instalment. We fans don't really want much do we!
ALL THE DEAD VOICES - Declan Hughes
Ed Loy has made some changes. He has moved into a flat in Dublin's city centre, leaving the family home behind. Maybe now he can break free from the ghosts of his past.
But when a fifteen-year-old murder case is re-opened, Loy is hired by the victim's daughter to investigate the suspects ignored by the first investigation: a rich property developer, an ex-IRA man and Loy's least favourite sociopath, George Halligan.
Grant me a moment here, but Ed Loy is well and truly back and I'm more than a little bit happy about that! ALL THE DEAD VOICES is a really tense, investigative novel with a just a touch of the thriller about it. The action is swift, the tension carefully ramped up and the plot nicely complicated. The details are carefully laid out, allowing the reader to keep up, sort it out, decide for themselves, pick up the clues along the way. Provided you're concentrating.
In 1980 two IRA men are hiding beside a roadway, ready to detonate the bomb destined to kill a hated judge. Just as well this is a carefully planned operation, as the two killers do not get on - much to the amusement of their colleagues.
Current day and Ed is moving on, by moving house, clearing his head, getting his edge back. He's doing a little low key watching of an up and coming footballer - Paul Delany. His half-brother Dessie's a bit suspicious that Paul might be dealing heroin on the side, and living in Greece there's not much he can do about it himself. A threatening moment at a football match and Paul's reaction reassures Loy something's going on; the couple of young hoods that have a go at him in an alley late at night reinforce that. But Loy had just left them a bit bruised and battered - their turning up dead is definitely not down to him, even if the police aren't so convinced.
Meanwhile, Loy is approached by Anne Fogarty, who thinks that the police have got the wrong man for the killing of her father, fifteen years ago. Anne's father had been a revenue inspector, involved in the investigation of some very dodgy people: Jack Cullen, ex-IRA now gang leader; Bobby Doyle, ex-IRA now property developer, and George Halligan - Loy's least favourite sociopath. Oh, and because it never rains but it pours, something is brewing in the Cullen camp and Comerford is convinced that somebody is leaking information about drug smuggling to the police, and he wants Ed to find out who.
One of the things that I really like about the Ed Loy books is that the plots are crowded, complicated and not always made up of obviously intersecting threads. ALL THE DEAD VOICES has that lightening pace, as well as the swirling list of links, possible links, gangs, impending violence, past violence and secrets. It's that wheedling out of secrets that Ed Loy does best of all, well that along with juggling all the goings on, surviving the occasional beating up and reluctant, but efficient, dishing out of the occasional thumping. Ed's style of investigating is very much the "prod something a bit and wait for the ripples to spread" methodology, but it's effective, partly because he's not too afraid to prod where others may not dare, and he's well aware of the circles in which he is moving.
After being slightly less enthusiastic about the last Ed Loy outing, ALL THE DEAD VOICES is not only a return to the standard of the first books in the series, it has a touch of the moving on about it. Loy's not standing still, and neither should readers - regardless of whether you're already a fan, or this will be a new encounter for you.
The earlier books in the series are:
The Wrong Kind of Blood
The Colour of Blood
The Dying Breed
TORN APART - Peter Corris
Semi-retired. De-licensed. But Cliff Hardy is once again fighting for justice and tracking down evil when his cousin is brutally murdered - did the shotgun blast find its target, or was it meant for Hardy?
It couldn't ever be said that the loss of his Private Investigator's licence has slowed Cliff Hardy down. In TORN APART, the death of his look-alike cousin in Cliff's house, an arrest for importing illegal drugs, a trip to Ireland, a gathering of Irish Traveller descendants, a brush with the spooks and a new woman don't even slow him down. But they do coincide to give him a moment or two's thought.
Meeting Patrick - a second cousin he never knew about, a second cousin who is the absolute spitting image of him certainly does give Cliff something to think about. Not the least because the contact comes out of the blue and impetuously leads to a trip to Ireland to track down their joint ancestors. Having had a tremendous trip overseas, the cousins return to Sydney and Cliff's house, only to have Patrick shot to death in Cliff's back bathroom. For a while it's not particularly clear who was the intended target - Cliff or Patrick, the physical similarity being as startling as it is. Pretty soon Patrick's ex-wife enters the fray (and Cliff's bed), the spooks appear, and Patrick is obviously not exactly what he seemed to be. Cliff starts out investigating - to avenge his cousin, protect his own skin, clear his own name, keep in sweet with the girl, and because he just can't help himself.
There have been some terrific books in the Cliff Hardy series recently, in the lead up to, and the ultimate loss of his PI Licence. A heart attack, a near fatal bullet wound, getting older, a lot of things have contributed in recent books to Cliff becoming a slightly (very slightly) different person to who he used to be. Perhaps that's why TORN APART isn't my absolute favourite of the recent books - mostly because this outing felt more like a return to the expected pattern. Events happen; Cliff gets the girl; he's threatened and backed into a corner; solves the case; starts to lose the girl. Not that the pattern isn't well executed, enjoyable, and just a darn good entertaining read, but perhaps it's that slight feeling of returning to the same old same old, the lack of Cliff continuing to move on, changing, aging, adapting. There's none of that feeling in TORN APART, and because of that, it's not going to make my one of my favourite Cliff Hardy books. Mind you, it's still a good, entertaining, perfect summer quick read, in the full-on style of Cliff Hardy. There's not a lot wrong with that.
LENNOX - Craig Russell
Private investigator Lennox stands somewhere between legal and illegal, honour and greed, crims and cops. The one clear thing about Lennox is his certainty that only the toughest and most ruthless survive in his home town of Glasgow.
Craig Russell is best known for his series of novels featuring Hamburg based detective Jan Fabel, but LENNOX is (it is reported) the first in a series of neo-noir styled novels, this one set in Glasgow, post World War II. Lennox is a Canadian ex-soldier who bears the psychological and physical scars of a brutal war, left with a skill set that makes him an ideal player in post-war, corrupt, grimy, dirty, mucky, violent Glasgow. Organised crime is establishing itself and at the centre of machinations are identical twins, Tam and Frankie McGahern. When Tam is murdered Lennox is "hired" by Frankie to find his killer. Now Tam, it seems, was the brains of the twins operation, and Frankie mostly muscle, as Lennox finds when he tries to sidestep Frankie's request. But when Frankie quickly turns up dead himself, and Lennox finds himself in the frame for his murder, he doesn't have much choice but to solve the mystery of both murders himself.
Lennox is one of those lone-wolf, fixer, cynical, wisecracking, dark and troubled traditional noir characters. Not a cliché however, he sits within the timeframe of 1950's Glasgow and the place and circumstances. Damaged by a brutal war, Lennox, and Glasgow, the crime figures, the cops, everyone fits within the expectations of time and place. Interestingly enough I was a little into the novel before I sorted out the timeframe, the era and the resulting factors that were driving the characters - which was actually a good thing. There is a real feeling of reality and actuality about the book, that make the wise-cracks, the dangerous (but a little thick) men, the dangerous (not necessarily thick) women, all delivered with a Glasgow-Scottish tweak just fit together very seamlessly.
The best part of LENNOX is undoubtedly the great story-telling, the tale is told in the first person - Lennox is hard-bitten, driven, yet funny and honourable. The sense of place, the gloom and the ever-present outfall from a brutal war is palpable. The only downside of the book that remained is that I didn't find anything in it particularly memorable - it hasn't really stayed with me since completing reading it. But I did enjoy the actual reading of it immensely.
MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT - Kerry Greenwood
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.