Self-made property mogul Tina Leonard has already lost her business, her home and custody of her children because South East Banking Corporation left her bankrupt. Now it appears she is being framed for the murder of her banker Oliver Randall, a senior executive of the corporation. Her motive? Revenge for ruining her life and her business.
Second book in the Peter Tanner series, THE BURDEN OF LIES follows on from CYANIDE GAMES, which it might be worth reading first. There's a lot of framework construction in the first book that will help with understanding Tanner, his family, his work life and some of the ways that all intersects - good and bad.
This second book revolves around a complicated story of corrupt bankers, drugs, shonky property deals and murder. Self-made property mogel Tina Leonard is on trial for ordering the murder of disgraced ex-banker Oliver Randall. Randall has only recently been released from jail following a major drugs conviction, and when he's found brutally murdered, the police are handed Leonard on a plate by the hired killer who did it. She lost her home, business and kids to the bank that Randall worked for, and his complicity in that, which amounted to fraud as far as Leonard is concerned, seems to be the perfect motive to the police, although Peter Tanner is less convinced.
Perfect timing really to bring out a book centred on nefarious goings on in the banking world. Add to that the possibility of blatant corruption and you've got a plot that is tailor-made for believability. Whilst there was a lot of heavy lifting to get Tanner into investigation mode in the initial book in the series, this one handles that phase with more aplomb. Tanner's role in the legal team being assembled to defend Leonard seems to work a little less clumsily, and his brief of disrupting the prosecution, finding some dirt on the investigation fits nicely. It allows him to segue nicely between digger around outside the court, and asker of tricky questions inside.
Once again the tactical thinking on display in the court room scenes was nicely done, and the connections that Tanner has throughout the legal and criminal world neatly established. It's this area that would make the first novel worth pursuing before commencing here, but if that's not practical, take some elements of Tanner's life, loves and methodologies as read, and press on. A really good choice for fans of legal thrillers in particular, and a good one for fans of general Australian thrillers as well.
Under the Cold Bright Lights, Garry Disher
The young detectives call Alan Auhl a retread, but that doesn’t faze him. He does things his own way—and gets results.
He still lives with his ex-wife, off and on, in a big house full of random boarders and hard-luck stories. And he’s still a cop, even though he retired from Homicide some years ago.
He works cold cases now. Like the death of John Elphick—his daughters still convinced he was murdered, the coroner not so sure. Or the skeleton that’s just been found under a concrete slab. Or the doctor who killed two wives and a girlfriend, and left no evidence at all.
Cold-case detectives are everywhere these days, but the latest creation from Garry Disher, Alan Auhl, is not as straightforward as some might expect. Full review at Newtown Review of Books
The Only Secret Left to Keep, Katherine Hayton
Detective Ngaire Blakes is back on the case when a skeletonized murder victim is discovered - a crime that took place during the Springbok Tours of 1981. A period that pitted father against son, town against city, and police against protestors.
The third book in the Ngaire Blakes series, THE ONLY SECRET LEFT TO KEEP finds Blakes back in the police force (see my review of the second book: THE SECOND STAGE OF GRIEF for more), confronted by a very unusual case. The skeleton of a murder victim, found on a fireground, is eventually identified as a young African American, Sam Andie, who went missing around the time of the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand.
In the first two novels in this series a fair amount of time has gone into setting up the character of Ngaire Blakes. A cop who suffers from PTSD she's been assaulted, left the force, solved a case that she was being framed in, and is now back on the force, with a baffling historical crime to solve. In this outing the concentration has moved away from the character back story and more towards the investigation - a promising sign that this series is going to continue to evolve and improve from the potential heralded in the first two novels.
The plot here is nicely complicated by a series of factors - the Springbok Tours in New Zealand (and Australia) were fraught times, accompanied by many protests, strong opinions for and against, and the potential for a protest to have been a catalyst for murder is highly feasible. As is the possibility that a young African American man, transplated from the States to New Zealand by his family, could have met with racial prejudice and violence. Further complicated by the double homicide conviction handed down to Sam's girlfriend in the same week that he disappeared.
Because there has been so much concentration of Ngaire Blakes in the earlier books there is always the possibility that this is a series that would work better if you started at the very beginning, although you can step into it at THE ONLY SECRET LEFT TO KEEP, accept that Blakes has some hefty baggage, and enjoy the novel as a police procedural / investigation in its own right. There's plenty to this plot, to Sam Andie himself, and to events around the time that he was murdered to keep a reader involved and occupied. Knowing a lot more about Blakes certainly means that you can see exactly how this series is progressing, and get a feeling for the way it keeps moving forward, adjusting the focus, and heading into very interesting territory indeed.
Evil Under the Stars, C.A. Larmer
It was supposed to a frivolous night out. The champagne was flowing, the rugs were arranged, and the Agatha Christie Book Club had settled in to watch their favourite mystery Evil Under the Sun on the moonlit screen above.
Yet it all comes to a crashing halt when a woman’s lifeless body is discovered lying between the jumble of picnic baskets and blankets. She has been strangled and discarded like an empty champagne bottle.
How did no one see the killer lurking?
How did no one hear the victim’s cries?
On the lighter than air side of the cozy spectrum this is a series that will appeal to readers who like a bit of self-aware silly in their crime fiction.
Third book in the Agatha Christie Book Club series, EVIL UNDER THE STARS, continues the adventures of a group of friends, linked by their shared love of the novels of Agatha Christie. When I reviewed the first novel it was littered with references and clues to Agatha Christie plots that were surprisingly missed by many of the club members, which at the time seemed a bit odd, but that's definitely been tightened up a lot here. It will help if you read the series in order though, as this is really more about the characters in some way - and there's a lot of them - and the connections are a bit complicated, so it would be better if you know them, and their backgrounds as you go through.
With servings of humour, love and longing, and a plot that's more than a bit of a hat-tip to the structures that Christie herself was fond of, EVIL UNDER THE STARS is told in a slightly arch manner which fits with the style of the series, the characters and the intent. Cute series, designed for and meeting the requirements of fans who like their crime on the very cozy side.
Colombiano, Rusty Young
In Colombia you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you . . .
All Pedro Gutiérrez cares about is fishing, playing pool and his girlfriend Camila’s promise to sleep with him on his sixteenth birthday. But his life is ripped apart when Guerrilla soldiers callously execute his father in front of him, and he and his mother are banished from their farm.
Swearing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro, with his best friend Palillo, joins an illegal Paramilitary group, where he is trained to fight, kill and crush any sign of weakness.
COLOMBIANO is one of those huge (689 pages huge) sweeping saga styled novels that has enough story to fill those pages, although this is raw, gut-wrenching, frequently shocking stuff. Especially if you know there are aspects of somebody's true story built into a fictional telling.
Not for the light-hearted, or weak of arm if you're going to be reading a paperback / hardback copy COLOMBIANO starts out with an author prologue which is well worth reading as it tells the background to the story, then moves into Part One - Little Pedro commencing with the line:
They came on a Wednesday to execute my father.
They did indeed execute Pedro's father, after a few chapters that describe the lead up to the execution, the reasons, and then into the aftermath. Switching rapidly backwards and forwards between events and timelines, Pedro's father's death is sadly just another pointless execution in a long line of guerrilla warfare - rebels versus government / right versus wrong (hard to decide which is which) and violence. Loss, violence, deprivation, cruelty, sadness, inter-generational hatred, revenge, bitterness, dark humour... it's all here in spades.
Whilst the book itself is a thumping big undertaking COLOMBIANO is told in a series of short, sharp chapters, switching the focus and timelines around all the time, keeping the reader from having to concentrate too hard on just the worst aspects, sprinkling in a little bit of coming-of-age story, trying to balance the descent into madness with love as an uplifting counter-point.
Hard going, with an authentic voice that makes it emotionally challenging and confronting, COLOMBIANO is well worth pursuing - even if the size is off-putting. This reads, feels and is telegraphed in the prologue as something this author was passionately driven to produce.
The Way Back, Kylie Ladd
All she wanted was to escape. But why does she still feel trapped. A gripping psychological drama by the author of Mothers and Daughters and Into My Arms.
Charlie Johnson is 13 and in her first year of high school. She loves her family, netball and Liam, the cute guy who sits next to her in Science - but most of all she loves horses and horse-riding. Charlie's parents have leased her a horse, Tic Tac, from the local pony club, but one day they go out for a ride in the national park and only Tic Tac returns...
In the author notes to THE WAY BACK, Kylie Ladd says she became interested in the idea behind the novel when US teenager Elizabeth Smart was reunited with her family months after she was abducted. Whilst the media focused on the story of her captivity and release, what intrigued Ladd was how Elizabeth could/would recover. As more long-lost girls, kidnapped and treated brutally started to be found, Ladd's interest peaked.
As both a psychologist and a writer, what fascinated me wasn't so much how these girls endured what they did, but how (and if) they were able to pick up the pieces of their old lives and start again. The lost child is a popular trope in Australian arts and literature, but I was interested in exploring this from a slightly different angle: not focusing on the loss per se, but what happens next, when what is lost is found.
After reading THE WAY BACK, I read this note and it set me to thinking hard about the novel that had preceded. The obvious question is does it explore this question adequately - "what happens next"? Can't help but think it nailed much of that aspect. Even being unaware of the premise whilst starting THE WAY BACK, there's something confronting, emotional and involving about this novel. It is a different focus. The reader will react with it in a very different way. The pain and after-effects of what Charlie Johnson experienced in four months of captivity complicate everything, and you can clearly see the life-long affect that something like this must have on a young girl. You see it from her point of view, from her families and from her friends and community.
Charlie's voice is well presented, she's a believable, horse obsessed 13 year old girl, damaged by the ordeal she experiences. As a counter point her abductor is portrayed as a damaged individual as well, presenting the reader with the possibility of nuance on the face of evil. The downside in this context is that it splits the focus, calls for overwhelming compassion and understanding on the part of the reader, and it's a lot to comprehend. Somehow the idea that the abductor is equally damaged and vulnerable seems to unfortunately downplay the ordeal that Charlie experienced. It may be a perfectly valid viewpoint but it weakened the message here, along with the use of overtly convenient "close calls" and coincidences that again muddied the central message too much.
When Ladd is exploring that central idea - "what happens when what is lost is found" - THE WAY BACK is indeed powerful. Moving, confronting, and very powerful.
Get Poor Slow, David Free
By forty you're meant to have the face you deserve. I got the face early. It took me a while to earn it. I believe I am finally there.
There were so many reasons I wanted to love GET POOR SLOW. The concept of the most hated book reviewer in Australia being the only suspect in a murder, right down to the belly full of bourbon and the curdled dreams of literary greatness sounds like great fun. And I did so like the opening lines:
I'm starting to doubt this thing will end soon. Last night one of them came up to the house. I was inside, doing what I do these days when it gets dark. No lights on, no book, no TV, no sounds, just a glass in my fist with not much left in it.
There is so much portent in the opening chapters of this novel, it drips with potential, until it doesn't. Which comes surprisingly quickly given the excellent commencement.
The writing is wonderful, it's slightly ironic, tongue in cheek with the story told from Ray's own point of view, almost a riff on the private investigator's of old. Ray's asides are as eloquent and nasty as his reviews, he's sarcastic and unflinching, and yet, not too far in, I was bored witless. Perhaps it's the coyness of the plot, which doesn't really have a lot to be coy about. Perhaps it was the general thinning of the whole reason for the tale - it's hard to spin bittered and twisted done wrong bloke for too long before it all gets a bit ho hum. Perhaps it was the sneaking suspicion that Ray Saint ain't no Rake no matter how hard he tried to be. There just wasn't quite enough bite to the humour, quite enough rakishness overall, certainly never quite the twinkle in the eye that you suspect a Rake like character needs to be forgiven over and over again. Maybe it was because at one point Saint started to feel like his favourite thing was him - it all got very self-indulgent and at that point the thinness of the overall plot really struggled for relevance in the light of the somewhat lukewarm personal character assassination.
Whatever the reasons, about half the way into GET POOR SLOW, I suddenly found myself easily distracted by the dishes, or the dusting, or anything really. Which is never a good sign.
The Unmourned, Meg and Tom Keneally
Not all murder victims are mourned, but the perpetrator must always be punished ...
For Robert Church, superintendent of the Parramatta Female Factory, the most enjoyable part of his job is access to young convict women.Inmate Grace O'Leary has made it her mission to protect the women from his nocturnal visits and when Church is murdered with an awl thrust through his right eye, she becomes the chief suspect.
The second novel in the Monsarrat series, THE UNMOURNED is set in Sydney, based around the Parramatta Female Factory - the epitome of appalling institutions in a line up that you'd think would be hard to lead.
The investigator in this series is ticket-of-leave recipient, gentleman convict, Hugh Monsarrat who has come from Port Macquarie to Parramatta in Sydney with his every-loyal housekeeper Mrs Mulrooney. Having, as yet, not had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series THE SOLDIER'S CURSE or now the third, THE POWER GAME, this is something that I really need to rectify (I realise that's starting to become my never-ending mantra), but this combination of history with a touch of mystery, great characters, good settings, and interesting storylines is worth pursuing.
On the slightly mannered side of historical tellings, this second novel plays very fair with new readers, giving you more than enough background on Monsarrat and Mulrooney to be able to sort out the relationship, and a fair bit of their pasts without having to work too hard, whilst keeping the focus on the current storyline. The Parramatta Female Factory is one of those areas of Australian history that this reader knew a bit about, but obviously nowhere near enough, and the historical details behind the factory, it's purpose, and the way it was used and abused were informative. It's told in great style with verve and a real sense of being able to be part of it - instead of reading a somewhat dull, accurate and passionless historical account.
The murder of the superintendent Robert Church, is intriguing, but in many ways it's the history in this novel that matters a tad more than the mystery. When delivered as well as THE UNMOURNED does it, it's of no matter that the mystery is somewhat easy to resolve pretty early on. There's still plenty of intrigue in the lives of Monsarrat, Mulrooney and everybody associated with the Parramatta Female Factory to keep the interest of readers, to say nothing of how excellent it is to have novels that finally cast some light into one of the very dark corners of early white society institutions.
See You in September, Charity Norman
Cassy blew a collective kiss at them. 'See you in September,' she said. A throwaway line. Just words, uttered casually by a young woman in a hurry. And then she'd gone.
It was supposed to be a short trip - a break in New Zealand before her best friend's wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they'd see her again.
It's a scenario that plenty of families deal with every day. Teenager's off to spend their gap year travelling in far flung locations - in this case British backpacker Cassy heading to New Zealand with her boyfriend for a short break before returning to her best friend's wedding, study and a normal life. When Cassy gets to New Zealand, however, normality becomes a split with her boyfriend, a chance encounter with some very welcoming people in a van, and years away from home, a life in the midst of a cult in the beautiful, and isolated wilds, of New Zealand.
Research about the ways in which people are beguiled into cult life must have been done for SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER, as the slip into the life is seamless and cleverly done. There are points where the reader is almost as bewitched as Cassy - the lifestyle is gentle, friendly and stress-less. The people are inviting, non-judgemental and seemingly blissfully happy with their living arrangements. It doesn't, initially, even feel like a cult - this is a community that's welcoming, enveloping and then it's controlling and threatening and very discomforting. But by that stage Cassy is embedded and her parents impotent from such a distance, desperate.
Vulnerable and controllable, Cassy's exactly the sort of young woman that you'd expect to be pulled into this scenario which makes this slightly less punchy than it should be - that and a tension arc that gets a bit bogged down at points with a tendency to belabour points that are pretty self-evident. Whilst this detracts a little from the pace and ultimate tension of SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER, overall the novel makes up for that with a fascinating depiction of a young, vulnerable woman all too suspectible to an ideology of acceptance, the promise of a perfect life, happy to give no thought to the ease with which she might have found it.
Murder on Broadway, John Rosanowski
It's Broadway in Reefton, the new, booming 1870s gold town.
Suspiciously, Gordon Trembath, a naive young police constable has been left in charge over Christmas and New Year. He is immediately faced with investigating a murder carried out by sly-groggers in the valley.
In the meantime, the town has been invaded by "a collection of scamps, card sharps, liars and chats who have come to town for the pickings available in the holiday season."
Quirkly written tale of 1870's gold rush New Zealand, with more than enough parallels with local history to make this believable and entertaining reading. Central character Gordon Trembath, is a young, inexperienced police constable, stuck with being the only one on duty over the Christmas / New Year summer break. Whilst he's dealing with a murder executed by sly-groggers in the nearby valley, the town has been overrun with holiday petty crooks - card sharps, liars, cheats and scammers come to fleece the incoming holiday makers of anything they can get their hands on.
A crowded time in a young policeman's life, made even more complicated as the murder rate rises and the frontier side of the gold rush town becomes more and more apparent. A good little tale, told in a light-hearted manner with styling quirks that will work for some readers, and instantly annoy others, MURDER ON BROADWAY has a great sense of the timeframe, and setting, and provides a glimpse into some shared history between New Zealand and, in particular, this reader's part of Australia. If you're in the market for something a little bit different with that historical perspective, then it's worth having a look at.