Dr Daniel Gregory, a GP in the small picturesque market town of Eccleston, is becoming concerned by the frequency of visits by Vanda Struel and her two-year-old daughter Anna-Louise. At first he believed they were merely a symptom of a vulnerable young woman, over-protective of her child. But as the number of consultations escalates and the complaints become increasingly bizarre, Daniel worries that there could be something more sinister driving Vanda to the doctor's surgery day after day.
Billed as one of Priscilla Masters Medical Mysteries, this author has written around 15 books, some standalone, some with a central series character. THE WATCHFUL EYE is set, as the synopsis says, in a classic small English village where Daniel Gregory is the local GP. Recently divorced, with a young daughter of his own, he's essentially a lonely man, kept in the village by his house and his job alone. But he has a rather odd relationship with many of those patients. Whilst he is concerned by the plight of little Anna-Louise, he does seem a little ineffectual - more worrying than actual action. Plus he's also got other distractions. He's very attracted to the local policeman's wife - although the relationship is platonic. He's got complications with his practice nurse, his overbearing mother, he's increasingly drawn to internet dating and he has a rotten relationship with his ex-wife who keeps his time with his daughter to the bare minimum.
THE WATCHFUL EYE covers the plight of Anna-Louise, the stalking of the policeman's wife and the complications of her relationship with her increasingly distracted and violent husband, the suicide death of an elderly patient and the allegations of a young female patient.
The first part of THE WATCHFUL EYE carefully introduces the cast of characters, and it's not too hard to pick their various roles. The brazen teenage girl is obviously destined to complicate our doctor's life. The policeman's wife has a stalker who is obviously going to drive her husband to extreme measures, which is going to cause problems for our doctor. The elderly patient is obviously going to cause problems for our doctor. The overbearing mother who is only trying to help, but causes problems for our doctor. And the attraction to the policeman's wife - where the doctor causes problems for the doctor without even trying.
The synopsis of the book says it's a captivating and thrilling read, but I must confess it wasn't either for this reader. The layout of the characters and their roles was obvious from the start, and everybody stepped up to their expected role as required. The slightly ineffectual, "why does everything always happen to me" personality of the central character certainly didn't help engender any sympathy or even particular interest in our doctor. A surprisingly low-key, almost unemotional sort of a read - especially with a child in jeopardy, THE WATCHFUL EYE seemed to promise quite a bit, but ultimately didn't deliver for me.
GOSPEL - Sydney Bauer
Tom Bradshaw is the perfect Vice-Presidential candidate. He had a difficult time in college, but overcame drug addiction and now leads the fight against illegal drugs. The nation is stunned when he is found dead in a hotel room of an apparent self-administered drug overdose after being clean for over twenty years. Just as the public is coming to terms with the death of the much-respected politician, it is announced that it wasn’t an accidental death, but murder.
Sydney Bauer’s first book, UNDERTOW was a fast paced thriller and GOSPEL is promoted in the same way. It doesn’t seem to have quite the same pace and I think it suffers for that. The first couple of chapters introduce a so many characters that I found it confusing for quite a while. Bauer’s use of adjectives seemed at times a little unnecessary: ‘She took two of the upturned glasses standing on the crisp white towel on the black marble counter and poured them both a drink before gliding across the room, extending her long slender arm and handing him his water.’ It was a very minor detail. She gave him a glass of water would have sufficed. I found numerous examples of this. These unnecessary descriptions detracted from the pace of the book considerably. When a book is 487 pages long, details like this can become annoying.
Most of the plot was predictable. There were a few very clever little twists, but they didn’t arrive until after 400 pages and seemed to come too late. A large part of the ending involved a dramatic overblown court scene. “’Cavanaugh is a liar,’ he yelled, his voice rising over an astonished crowd. ‘A simple-minded show pony who, in his desperation to win exoneration for his murderous client, has rallied this group of geriatrics, has-beens, teenagers and drug addicts in a pathetic attempt to sully my good name,’”. Speeches like this abounded and I felt that any resemblance to a real courtroom situation was purely coincidental.
It’s a shame that GOSPEL was so overdone because there was a good idea in the basic plot premise.
THE DYING BREED - Declan Hughes
Find a missing man with a single name? It's not much to go on, even for the best private eye. One name is all Ed Loy is given by the family of a prominent racehorse trainer FX Tyrrell, and he has no choice but to take the case.
THE DYING BREED is the third book in the Irish PI Ed Loy series from Declan Hughes, Ed being an Irishman who went home after living in the US for many years. A broken marriage and the tragic death of his young daughter are events that shaped him there, but his childhood in Ireland shaped him even more firmly, and a large number of the characters that he works with on a daily basis are connections from the past. But he's a PI (in a place where that's still a bit of a novelty) and he's ready for his next case (and pay cheque), so he takes on a very odd investigation in THE DYING BREED. Father Vincent Tyrrell wants him to find a missing man, although there's not a lot for Ed to go on. It takes him into the world of horse racing, and a rapid build up of dead bodies and family skeletons.
Ed Loy is the very epitome of the classic Private Investigator. A loner, a tough man, a man who always manages to pick the wrong woman, Ed's very reminiscent of so many of the well-known PI's of the genre, although with a very Irish twist. There's a constant tension between Ed and the Catholic Church - very much a love / hate relationship, complicated in earlier books by his difficult relationship with his very devout mother - and her confessor priest.
There's something not quite right about the early stages of THE DYING BREED, which made the first half of the book a struggle. It was hard to get involved, hard to be engaged; the story just seemed to float along with no connection to the society in which it was happening. The long-term characters held up their parts fairly well, but there were too many new entrants - part of the horse world - who were underdone. The action does ramp up later in the book, and things do get more interesting, but the resolution lands on the reader, told as opposed to revealed or shown, leaving the reader feeling rather short-changed.
If you haven't read any of the Ed Loy series, you'd be well served starting out with the first two books - they give you a lot of background to why Ed is where he is (which is just nice to know, not necessary). For this avowed fan of the first two books, THE DYING BREED simply wasn't as good as them.
FLAWED - Jo Bannister
Brodie Farrell is used to making surprising discoveries in her role as a modern-day treasure hunter, but none of them turned her life upside down the way finding she's unexpectedly pregnant will. Especially since her ex-partner, the prickly and professional Detective Superintendent Jack Deacon, is currently preoccupied with another woman: Detective Inspector Alix Hyde of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. She's on the trail of Dimmock's most elusive criminal, Terry Walsh, who has a habit of springing surprises of his own ...
FLAWED is the seventh in the Brodie Farrell, Daniel Hood and Jack Deacon books, although the blurb doesn't mention Daniel. As I've never read any of this series before, I was a little confused at the start as Daniel (who at that stage was a total unknown as far as I was concerned) takes centre stage in FLAWED, Jack Deacon is bit of a background character, and Brodie Farrell doesn't really get much focus until way later in the book. To add to the slight feeling of discombobulation, there was then a pretty steep learning curve to get to know who these three are and how they all fit together.
Alongside the getting to know the main characters there's a multi-threaded story. Daniel is a teacher, to whom something dreadful has happened in the past - not sure what. Despite starting out attempting to return to teaching, he ends up working at Brodie's "treasure hunting" or private enquiry agency when she discovers she's pregnant to her now ex-partner Jack. Jack is preoccupied with DI Alix Hyde - but not in any romantic way. She's in town investigating a local elusive crim (and childhood friend of Jack's), who Jack has also tried to catch in the past. His preoccupation seems mostly to involve keeping information back from Alix's investigation and then justifying that by claiming he was never asked.
There's a lot of concentration on some minor points, there's an investigation to a major local criminal that seems to blunder along with very little insider information from the man in the know; there's a child abuse concern that Daniel is following up - that has a misdirection element that was so transparent it wasn't funny - and there's a very very very loose connection between the two investigations.
I kind of liked Jack - despite the fact that he's so purposely obtuse and borderline obnoxious. Daniel seems like an amiable sort of a character - maybe knowing his full back story would help. Brodie had some good points, but unfortunately she started out pretty annoying, and whilst she did get a bit involved in Daniel's investigation later in the book - by that time the personal life and a slight feeling of whinging martyr had got to me and I was struggling to care about her much at all.
FLAWED was a very odd reading experience for me. I think I can see how the trio of characters is supposed to work off each other, and I'll definitely give another book in the series a go, but it might have been better to start earlier on, to know what the various back stories are.
INSIDE THEIR MINDS - Rochelle Jackson
On the couch with some of Australia's most notorious criminals, this book explores the secrets, motivations and inner workings of the criminal mind.
One of the strongest messages you get from a true crime book like INSIDE THEIR MINDS is that no matter how hard we try, no matter how much analysis goes on, there is something about so many of the more notorious criminals in our world that the rest of us will simply never fathom.
Rochelle Jackson looks at some of the most notorious, mass murderer Martin Bryant, sex offender Karen Ellis, serial killer Ivan Milat, serial arsonist Peter Burgess, armed robber and serial escapee Brenden Abbott, child killer Kathleen Folbigg, murdered Matthew Wales and gangland killer Carl Williams. Each of these cases, in their own time, created a wave of reaction within Australia - and probably, in the case of Martin Bryant and Carl Williams in particular, outside Australia as well.
Where possible Jackson has sat down and talked to the offender in their own right. Where that wasn't an option she has spoken, in particular, to a leading Australian forensic psychologist who has worked with all of them. This gives many of the sections of the book a real sense of immediacy and intimacy which is disquieting.
The chilling factor in all these cases is how frequently the perpetrator's absolutely and utterly refusal to acknowledge what they have done - either because they maintain that they are innocent, or because they simply don't seem to "get" the enormity of what they did. There's certainly nothing in Jackson's revelations that make you question the decisions drawn by the courts - but then this is not a book that seeks to prove or disprove innocence. It's about what goes on in the mind of those tried and found guilty of their crimes - what made them do it. The truly chilling part is in cases like that of Martin Bryant - 35 people dead, and the motivation - or what can be extrapolated as possible motivation as Bryant isn't talking - isn't really all that obvious. The book is worth reading for the Bryant chapter alone. That's not to say that other chapters are not equally as enlightening. After years of living in a highly flammable, bushfire prone area, the chapter one on one with serial arsonist Peter Burgess was very illuminating.
INSIDE THEIR MINDS is a fascinating book for those of us who read crime in fictional form, if for no other reason than to remind you that real life is often not all neatly resolved.
PITCAIRN PARADISE LOST - Kathy Marks
Pitcairn Island, remote and wild, home to descendants of the Bounty, a South Pacific Shangri-la, shrouded in myth...
But also, as the world would discover, a place of sinister secrets.
In 2000, police descended on the British colony to investigate disturbing reports of rape. What they discovered was a shocking trail of child abuse dating back generations. Scarcely a man was untainted by the allegations, and barely a girl had escaped, yet most residents feigned ignorance or claimed it was their ′way of life′.
I confess that my knowledge of the history of Pitcairn was sketchy to say the least. I hope I knew slightly more of the history of the place than would have been gleaned from movies about the Bounty, but certainly I knew close enough to nothing about how the community was faring in the current day world, how it functioned for all those years, the nature of the life on Pitcairn, the difficulties in getting onto and off the island and so on. I remember reports of the child rape trials that were conducted at the time, but again, my knowledge was minimal, so this book came as an absolute revelation.
PITCAIRN was written by one of the few journalists allowed to live on the island during the conduct of the trials, with a number of defendants still residing on the island at the time they were charged with multiple child rape / sexual abuse offences. The book covers the trials themselves as well as life on Pitcairn during that time in a lot of detail. It also discusses many of the events that led to the placing of charges, as well as, much later in the book, providing some attempt at analysis of how on earth a community in a "tropical paradise" ended up with such a skewed moral compass.
PITCAIRN gives you an astounding picture of a small, enclosed world that has developed on a small island, borderline inaccessible to the outside world. The nature of the society on the island is a very strange combination of a feudal hierarchy, based on the family that you belong to, complicated by an interdependence on each other that obviously causes considerable tensions in a place where the outside world has had very little effect or more than a passing interest for many many years. A colony of Britain, Pitcairn was in some ways completely neglected, and in others an absolute paradise for its residents - particularly if you "belonged" to the controlling groups. They led a semi-self sufficient lifestyle, bolstered by government money and tourism dollars. Getting on and off the island was only possible via the longboats - run by the men of the island. The same men who had been accused of systematic and brutal child abuse. Whilst initial protestations of a Polynesian lifestyle were used to attempt to explain away the abuse that had occurred, this also created tensions within and without the community. And away from the island itself, within the ex-pat community and in amongst a large community of supporters of the island and the people - the existence of the abuse was explained, denied, decried.
PITCAIRN is an absorbing book - it covers all of the events that are reported in a relatively clinical manner, although the author obviously found the treatment that she and other reporters were subjected to disappointing and even distressing. Ultimately what the book is going to give you is a real feeling of what it is like to live in a completely enclosed community, and the impact that has on human relationships. What the book doesn't - and probably can't do - is explain how on earth this situation was ever allowed to continue for as long as it did.
GHOSTLINES - Nick Gadd
Philip Trudeau, a once-respected investigative journalist, has stepped on the wrong toes. With his personal life and health deteriorating around him, he is consigned to a suburban newspaper where he writes 'filler' local news articles to be slotted in among the real-estate and restaurant advertisements. Sent to cover what appears to be a tragic-yet-routine death at a level crossing, Philip is drawn into a multilayered mystery that involves art theft, political intrigue and business corruption not to mention murder.
GHOSTLINES won the 2007 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, before being published by Scribe in 2008. It's the author's first novel, the tale of a profoundly flawed hero - journalist Philip Trudeau, a very driven man. Unfortunately a lot of that drive is self-destructive, but in Gadd's hands, Trudeau is a character who can engender sympathy and maintain the reader's interest and concern - despite those myriad and very obvious faults.
When a young boy is killed at a level crossing, Trudeau reports it initially as a tragic accident. He finds, when forced to dig a little further, that there is a lot more to why a young boy was mown down by a train, late at night, on his own, riding his pushbike as if he was very very scared. There are ghosts of other presences that night - and it's those ghostlines referenced in the name of the book that describes the investigation that Trudeau embarks on. There is just the hint of something more at the train line, and it often seems that Trudeau is the only person that is seeing the hints. That is, until he finds himself in peril, and he knows for sure that there was a lot more going on that night.
GHOSTLINES is a fascinating book. The use of a flawed hero is a well known device nowadays but it's not necessarily easy to pull off - an author can run the risk of turning off the reader, making his hero annoying or pathetic. Trudeau dances a line between truly annoying and frustrating and somebody who can engender, if not sympathy, than at least understanding. He's also a most unapologetic flawed hero - which helped for this reader at least. There is a little bit of the supernatural going on in the book, and that may be slightly offputting for the more traditional crime fan. The fact that GHOSTLINES is not about the gore or the traditional procedural in solving a mystery, and more about the psychology of our central character, makes the supernatural work as it becomes part of the thought process of Trudeau as he drags himself through his self-made mire. But that's also not completely fair - GHOSTLINES is dark and dire and sad and flat out miserable in some places, but it's not without hope. Personally I hope that Trudeau returns - I want to know what's happening to him.
AS DARKNESS FALLS - Bronwyn Parry
Haunted by her failures, Detective Isabelle O’Connell is recalled to duty by DCI Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her home town. They have only days to find the girl alive, with few clues, a town full of suspects, and a vast wilderness to search. It soon becomes a game of cat and mouse, with Bella firmly in the killer’s sights.
For Bella, this case is already personal; for Alec, his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve, and his anguish over Bella’s safety moves beyond the concern for a colleague.
A difficult setting, and a difficult task for the debut novelist. Bronwyn Parry does a fine job with bringing a small Australian bush town to life and this is the great strength of the read. You can taste the dust in the air and truly really picture everyone talking out the sides of their mouths (so thus to avoid the blowflies). Where it would be a stretch is in calling this a a crime novel, or even one of romantic suspense as there is no real mystery to solve or any pretense in constructing one. As a developing relationship drama it serves very well, and will draw the reader in with their concerns for the couple of the hour and allows time to mourn the passing of small town trust.
The unsettling and claustrophobic feeling of isolation and fear carries the reader from chapter to chapter, giving the reader a taste of the "closed room" or "apartment building" drama as the characters are all introduced relatively early in the piece and there is no chance any unseen characters will come into play due to the geographic restrictions of the setting. It also makes it slightly ridiculous that for example someone could fire off a shot in a main street unseen, or that a police investigation could be conducted at such a lackadaisical pace. If we don't concern ourselves with such things, the read is more than able to be enjoyed being that a novel set in the Australian outback is a rare find, and Parry makes excellent use of both landscape and cast in her economically styled narrative.
There are small cultural anomalies here and there, probably for the American market ie truck rather that ute or utility etc but they are not a huge detraction.
AS DARKNESS FALLS is the first in a series of loosely-linked novels. The manuscript of this novel was awarded the 2007 Golden Heart Award by the Romance Writer's of America. The author's background includes a Honours Degree in History and English and she is undertaking a part-time PhD in online communities of romance readers and writers. Brownwyn Parry lives in country New South Wales.
THE MURDER FARM - Andrea Maria Schenkel
In a German village in the aftermath of the Second World War, Old Man Danner, his wife, their daughter, her two children and their new maid all lie dead. They have been brutally murdered with a pickaxe at their remote home, now known as 'The Murder Farm'.
THE MURDER FARM was one of the books that I purposely read as I was seeing the author at a Melbourne Writers Festival session. I actually picked it up to take on the train in with me - a journey of just on an hour in total. I can't remember the last time I was tempted to stay on the train and keep reading because a book was so good, but this book definitely tempted me to do so.
Based on true events, but with a different timeframe and a resolution (the true crime remains unsolved), THE MURDER FARM covers the brutal killing of an entire family. The family live on a small farm, on the outskirts of a small farming community, the place is quiet and enclosed and vaguely claustrophobic. The family themselves are also quiet, enclosed and vaguely claustrophobic - they are outsiders from the rest of the community. The father - Old Danner is a nasty piece of work, his wife devoutly religious and very standoffish, his daughter has a bit of a reputation. There are lots of rumours about the parentage of her son - as her husband ran off years ago.
The style of the book is unusual and it works unbelievably well. The story of the killings is slowly intertwined with "witness statements" - testimony of neighbours, workers and people in and around the area in the time leading up to the discovery of the bodies. The killer's own story is told - partly as his own testimony, partly in prayer. Time and time again, the style of the book has the author taking the reader almost to the edge - almost to the point where you can see who the killer is, and time and time again you're whipped back. Time and time again I thought I knew, but I wasn't quite sure. Ultimately, it is one of those books that has such a fabulously creepy, scarey, sobering, disquieting affect on the reader. It's voyeuristic. It's distressing that you're so close to these people. It's odd that you know that the killer must be from that quiet, claustrophobic little community - is probably one of the witnesses whose words you are reading.
When Andrea signed my copy of the book, she asked me where I was up to - I wasn't quite at the point where I knew for sure who the killer was. Her inscription was "I hope you like the killer, too." I did. I liked how the killer was revealed, and, for some strange reason in a book that absolutely enthralled, that was potentially disturbing and actually quite brutal, I liked the person as well.
ORPHEUS RISING, Colin Bateman
The first time Michael ever laid eyes on Claire she was pulling porn shop owner, Paul de Luca, out of the sea after a shark attack - Paul lost his feet and Michael his heart.
The last time he saw her she was laid out in the morgue, shot dead in a bank raid.
ORPHEUS RISING is a standalone from Colin Bateman, perhaps best known for his dark, comic previous offerings set mostly in Northern Island. Which this one isn't - it's set in the US, albeit with an Irish central character - Michael Ryan. Although you'd be hard pressed to remember he's supposed to be Irish, as the setting is 100% mid-Atlantic sort of nowhere particularly special. But then I'd imagine setting wasn't the whole point of ORPHEUS RISING, although I confess I'm not 100% sure what the point of the book was at all.
Basically Michael is smitten when he meets and eventually marries Claire. He's been on a sort of a road trip around America, lobbing into the small town where she lives with her father - the local newspaper owner - at the time that's she's pulling the porn shop owner out of the ocean after a shark attack. Michael stays - works for the newspaper for a while - writes his great American novel. Claire's got a bit of a past with a weird ex-boyfriend who she says isn't. Long story short - she's shot dead in a bank robbery. Michael goes completely off the rails, but returns, years later, the writer of the "great novel" who is haunted by visions of his wife, who he claims has returned from the dead. Along with a whole heap of other people.
Now I confess I'm a huge fan of Colin Bateman's books - and ORPHEUS RISING wasn't really what I was expecting from this author - but the book just gets, well flat out weird very very quickly. And it stays weird for most of the narrative. And not good weird - just weird weird for a fair part of it. This probably isn't helped by Michael Ryan starting off just a bit annoying and ending up very very annoying. Maybe it's because some of the supporting characters are too over the top as well - Ambrose, who he is travelling with in the later part of the book, is just gross and mostly not very funny and Michael is flat out just unlikeable. Not that being unlikeable is a bad thing for a central character - it's just that there's got to be something that keeps you interested in him - and I struggled to find a single thing that involved me.
The structure of the book was interesting - maybe that was the only weird bit that was good weird. But, despite a willingness to store my disbelief out the back, and expect the totally unexpected, ORPHEUS RISING ended up a bit too much like hard work.