He was known as "Mr Sin", yet despite his involvement in illegal gambling, sly grog, prostitution and money laundering for nearly sixty years, Abe Saffron faught the nick name most of his adult life. He spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on defamation suits trying to disprove what everyone except himself accepted. He was a crook.
MR SIN: THE ABE SAFFRON DOSSIER chronicles Abe Saffron's life as a major underworld figure in Sydney.
The most fascinating part of MR SIN is not the corruption. It is the extent of it and how blatant it was. Many involved made little or no effort to cover up the fact they were taking payments from Saffron and his enterprise.
Saffron's strange obsession with defending his "good name" in the courts is also explored.
Reeves isn't afraid to name names either. Some of Australia's best known identities are named in the book; Sir Peter Abeles, Sir Frank Packer, former Attorney General, Lionel Murphy and of course former Premier of New South Wales Robert Askin.
I did find the quotes from various court cases to be extremely dry reading. The rest of the book is a fascinating expose of just how corrupt things were in New South Wales for several decades.
THE TATTOOED MAN - Alex Palmer
THE TATTOOED MAN is the second novel from Alex Palmer - Blood Redemption won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel in 2003.
This book certainly starts out with a bang - the grisly murder scene is bad enough with a man, a woman and a teenage boy - all shot once in the head. Brutal. The mummified body of the missing NSW policeman adds a more than surreal and grisly touch - it's totally inexplicable. He's been missing for quite some time, but what is his connection with these dinner guests?
What eventuates is a mysterious and very very complicated set of events around illicit biotechnology, corruption, big business, fraud and con schemes, politics and espionage. At the centre of this Harrigan, who is actually trying to take some time off, finds himself fighting internal police department politics and corruption at the same time as he tries to direct a team who are investigating the bizarre crime scene. He is also trying to build a relationship with Grace and hang onto his relationship with his severely disabled son Toby.
If all of that sounds complicated, then that is probably where the book fails to fully satisfy. After a good start, with the discovery of the scene, the initial parts of the investigation and the build up of Harrigan, Grace and Toby's life the investigation starts to take its course. Unfortunately it is pretty quickly overtaken by a very twisting and turning plot that rapidly becomes overly convoluted, with a cast of too many and too many threats on too many fronts to keep up the pace and intensity that is palpable in the early part of the book. The plot is certainly well constructed and maintained by the writer, but for this reader it all got a bit too much and attention started to wan dramatically. Finishing the whole book was made possible, however, by some accomplished pieces of writing and a genuine interest in where Harrigan's life would end up.
Worth a look, as this is only the second novel from this writer, THE TATTOOED MAN will possibly appeal to fans of the first book - BLOOD REDEMPTION.
FRANTIC - Katherine Howell
Sophie Phillips is a paramedic based in the central Sydney area. Her husband, Chris, is a police officer. Both are besotted with their ten month old son, Lachlan. Life is perfect for Sophie until Chris is seriously assaulted one night while on duty. He hasn’t been the same since. He’s become introspective and short-tempered and Sophie is beginning to worry about whether their marriage has a future.
Howell is a paramedic herself and writes with great credibility about Sophie’s working day. In fact, she writes so well about the working life of a paramedic that I found myself wishing that Howell had room in the plot for more of that aspect of Sophie’s life. I found it truly fascinating.
Howell also has a deft touch with describing Sydney. It helps that Sophie is stationed at The Rocks, right in the middle of the main tourist area of the city. Anyone who has visited Sydney will immediately recognise some of the locations.
FRANTIC is Katherine Howell’s first published novel and one that shows great promise. The action starts on page one and maintains its momentum until the very last paragraph. Sophie’s tactics aren’t always very well thought out, but that also reflects her state of mind. I did find some of her actions a bit over the top and there was no resolution in regard to consequences of some of her more outrageous behaviour. It is a minor quibble though and I look forward to Howell’s next book, in which I hope she will make more use of her insider knowledge of life as a paramedic.
THE LOW ROAD - Chris Womersley
THE LOW ROAD is an austere portrait of two of life’s losers. Lee has never really had a chance. He lost his parents suddenly at the age of ten. Wild, on the other hand, was successful and threw it all away. Lee is incapacitated through his gunshot wound. Wild is so hopelessly addicted that he is almost incapable of any decision making outside of getting his next fix.
Reading THE LOW ROAD isn’t easy. In fact, there were moments in the book when I nearly put it down completely. It offers the reader no comfort at all. Like the winter landscape Womersley describes, it is cold and bleak. However, there is something there that keeps you reading. Perhaps it is the vivid descriptions. Maybe it is the characters. Surely they can’t sink any lower? Can they? Whatever it is THE LOW ROAD will stay with you after you’ve finished reading the book that’s for sure.
MAELSTROM - Michael MacConnell
Sarah Reilly is a Special Agent with the FBI. She is following in the footsteps of her semi-retired father, who made his name tracking down a notorious serial killer.
Sarah and her partner and former boyfriend, Drew, are assigned a case out of town. It bears all the hallmarks of a serial killer who murders couples in a specific locale near a lake. For Sarah, a profiler, there is something not quite right about these killings. She can’t put her finger on it, but she feels this is the work of a copycat.
MAELSTROM is a no-apologies thriller. I have to be honest and say thrillers aren’t usually my choice of reading. They work better for me on the big screen than between the pages of a book, but I found myself enjoying MAELSTROM much more than I expected. The there is plenty of action without it being dragged out too much and there’s enough plot to keep non-action people like me reading.
Dedicated thriller-readers will enjoy every action-packed page of MAELSTROM. It is a promising debut novel from Michael MacConnell.
MAELSTROM is a 2008 Ned Kelly nominee for Best First Novel.
Michael MacConnell is Australian and lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales. He has a degree in International Relations, History and Ancient History and currently works in New South Wales law enforcement. His official website is http://www.michaelmacconnell.com/
VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE - Leah Giarratano
When a middle-aged man is brutally murdered in the dunes overlooking a children's pool, it's immediately clear to Sergeant Jill Jackson that this was no ordinary victim: someone has stopped a dangerous paeodophile in his tracks. Knowing first-hand the impact of such men on their prey, Jill is ambivalent about pursing the killer, but when more men die - all known to the police as child sex offenders - she is forced to face the fact that a serial killer is on the loose.
Leah Giarratano is a trauma psychologist based in Sydney. Among her clients have been victims of sexual abuse and men serving sentences for child abuse. VODKA DOESN’T FREEZE is her first novel. I had the good fortune to hear Giarratano speak last year. She talked about the book being cathartic for her. She regarded it as an exercise to purge herself of bottled up emotions. She never expected a publisher to accept it.
VODKA DOESN’T FREEZE isn’t an easy book. It is a very dark subject Giarratano writes about. A subject that is difficult to explore. However, the reader who can make it through is rewarded. It offers some insights in ways perhaps not expected by the author or the reader. Yes, it does demonstrate how different people deal with being sexually abused, but what I found was that perhaps inadvertently the author has shown something of the emotional toll taken on professionals who deal with sex offenders in their working life.
VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is a nomination for the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Fiction and a well deserved one.
A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES - Reginald Hill
To begin with, I have one confession and one warning. Reginald Hill is my absolute favourite author. I could read his shopping list and rave about it, so I have no pretence here of objectivity.
Now the warning. If you have yet to read Reginald Hill’s DEATH OF DALZIEL (published in the U.S.A. under the title Death Comes for the Fat Man) then stop right now. Don’t read any further, because it is impossible to write a review of A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES without creating a spoiler for Hill’s previous Dalziel and Pascoe novel.
In the dedication of the book Reginald Hill wrote in part: To Janeites everywhere. If you’ve read Jane Austen you’ll quickly discover why. If you haven’t (like me) then it will sail over your head and it doesn’t really matter anyway. I won’t give away the reason for the dedication. It will be an extra layer for Austen fans.
The story is told from the point of view of a number of characters. First and foremost is Dalziel’s conversations with “Mildred”. Charlotte’s perspective is told in the form of long, chatty (and poorly spelled) emails to her sister in Africa. Various members of the investigation team; Pascoe, Wield, Novello and Bowler also get a look-in from their perspectives.
A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES also sees a shift in the dynamics of the relationship between Dalziel and Pascoe. Pascoe feels he is ready to spread his wings without Dalziel looking over his shoulder. With Pascoe in charge, Sergeant Wield is seeing a change in him. He thinks Pascoe is starting to exhibit traits that are decidedly Dalzielesque!
There are some who found the emails a distraction with the poor spelling and grammar. I didn’t. I enjoyed the quirkiness of them. A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES is Reginald Hill’s twenty-third Dalziel and Pascoe novel and it is a testimony to his skill as a writer that number twenty-three is as fresh and compelling as all his others.
STILL WATERS - Camilla Noli
In the suburbs, a young mother is looking after her two children. She has been a successful career woman in control of her life, sexually aware and used to attracting any man's undivided attention ... if she wanted to.
But now her control is slipping away. Motherhood is devouring her identity. Her two children depend on her and her husband adores her new role in the home. He is no longer focused on her. Her children are stealing his affection. Her own desires are secondary to everyone else's.
A stay-at-home mother of two small children is feeling trapped in her life. As a successful career woman she was used to being in control, but now she feels that control slipping away. The demands of caring for her children leave her constantly exhausted. She resents the attention her husband gives to the children, particularly the eldest, Cassie, with whom he is especially close. She is determined to get her life - and her husband - back, to make things the way they used to be. And she is willing to sacrifice anyone in the pursuit of her aims.
The main character, who is never named, is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever read. She is cold, distant, self-centred and manipulative. In fact I really didn’t like any of the characters, including her husband. This may in part be due to the fact that we only see them through the eyes of the narrator, who seems to be scornful of almost everyone else. Even her intimate relationship with her husband is based on power and control.
The themes of this book are meant to be controversial, to challenge our beliefs of what mothers and motherhood should be like. But this woman is more than an exhausted new mother at the end of her tether, she is a seriously disturbed psychopath. Anyone who stands in the way of her regaining the life she wants, is dealt with one way or the other.
Noli writes well and kept me turning the pages, almost against my will, but I was very uncomfortable spending so much time inside the head of this cold-blooded woman. This was a deeply disturbing book, and not a pleasant read.
Camilla Noli lives on the Central Coast of NSW with her husband and children. This is her first novel.
SHATTER - Michael Robotham
A naked woman in red high-heeled shoes is poised on the edge of Clifton Suspension Bridge with her back pressed to the safety fence, weeping into a mobile phone. Clinical psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin is only feet away, desperately trying to talk her down. She whispers, 'You don't understand' - and jumps.
Psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin is called to the Clifton Suspension Bridge where a woman, naked except for her red high heels, is poised to jump. As she weeps into a mobile phone, he tries to talk her down. She turns to him, whispers ‘you don’t understand’ and jumps.
A few days later, the woman’s teenage daughter, Darcy, turns up on Joe’s doorstep. She refuses to believe her mother could have committed suicide, and certainly not by jumping off a bridge. Joe starts to believe that the woman was coerced into jumping by the person on the other end of the mobile phone. The police don’t want to treat it as anything other than suicide until another woman dies in similar circumstances.
Joe and his family have moved from London to Bristol, in the hope that a less hectic lifestyle will be better for his Parkinson’s, which is now having a significant impact on his life, and he has taken a part-time teaching job at the University. When Joe’s guilt at being unable to save the woman leads him to become more involved in the case, it begins to affect his family, particularly his wife with whom his relationship becomes increasingly strained.
As the true nature of the crimes is revealed, Joe realises that they are dealing with a different kind of psychopath. This murderer doesn’t just want to kill, he wants to humiliate his victim, to completely destroy her mind first. At one point he tells Joe of the “moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectations, all faith, all desire: I own that moment. It’s mine. And that’s when I hear the sound. … The sound of a mind breaking.”
There’s a terrific cast of supporting characters, including Joe’s friend, retired DI Vincent Ruiz, and straight-talking DI Veronica Cray, a woman who definitely deserves a bigger role in a future book.
The crimes are chilling, but Robotham’s storytelling is compelling. As psychological thrillers go this is one of the very best. Make sure you have plenty of time when you start to read this book because you won’t be able to put it down.
Michael Robotham, previously a journalist and ghost writer of numerous autobiographies of the rich and famous, lives in Sydney. Shatter is the fourth in this loose series, in which each book takes a minor character from the previous book as the main character. The previous titles are The Suspect, Lost (aka The Drowning Man) and The Night Ferry.
DONE DEAL - Tony Berry
Disgraced former British secret service agent Bromo Perkins has high hopes of settling into a quiet and anonymous life in Australia. His plans are brutally shattered when the seductive minder of a local standover man coerces him into settling a dispute between her boss and a rival property developer.
As he unravels the dark underside of city hall, Bromo becomes deeper and deeper embroiled in local politics, bribery and ethnic rivalries.
I wanted to read this book for a few reasons - for a start it's set in my home town, in and around the suburb of Richmond. Okay I have a passing knowledge only of Richmond having spent an inglorious 6 months or so around that area many many many many years ago and nothing much since then - should go back / there's some good Vietnamese restaurants in that area. But I digress. The other reason I wanted to read this book is that it's obtained online via Lulu - and I've been quite a fan and follower of the Lulu business model for years - they provide an outlet for so many open source projects to publish material about their projects.
The story of DONE DEAL is really that Bromo Perkins gets himself blackmailed into the middle of a dispute between rival property developers, and shady characters - mostly because he's having a thing on the side with the wife of one of the developers. He's way too far into the mess when he finds out that his love life is really of very little interest to the developer in question, so the only way out of everyone's bad books is to sort out the dispute. And find out why the minder in question ended up naked in the window of the art gallery owned by the aforementioned wife. And sort out who the Goth council worker is.
Bromo is a typical hard man, coffee drinking, fond of a good meal bloke, who just can't help the women throwing themselves at him (he's not adverse to catching a few either). His method of solving problems is just to keep poking sticks into situations until something bites back - and in this instance a few people get roughed up (Bromo included) and it all gets sorted out in the end.
There's a bit to like about Brom - his hard man persona is not so overdone that he's cartoonish, he's got some nice personal touches about him - but I confess I missed the bit about how he became a disgraced British Secret service agent and ended up as a Richmond travel agent. The book also provides some interesting travelogues of Melbourne as Bromo walks out his thinking process. And that's probably the minor quibble I've got - Bromo's a sparse, lone wolf type of bloke - his dialogue is pretty snappy and he's a man of action. So when the book launches into the descriptive it's a bit like hitting a brick wall whilst gazing at the sights - that's not to say that the descriptive bits aren't good - it's just that they don't seem to match the style of the central character and it slows down the story telling a bit.
But for a first book - this was fun and I'm glad I dropped by Lulu to order a copy.