Stripped of his private detective licence and devastated by the murder of his partner Lily Truscott, Cliff Hardy travels to the US to help Lily's brother's tilt for a world boxing title. In San Diego he suffers a heart attack and undergoes a quadruple bypass. He meets nurse Margaret McKinley, an expatriate Australian who is concerned about the disappearance in Sydney of her father, renowned geologist Dr Henry McKinley.
Cliff's back - Lazarus with a quadruple bypass no less. He's resigned to never getting his licence back and his agency is now in the hands of his daughter Megan and her PI boyfriend. He still misses Lily, and he's still driving "a" trusty Falcon, and he's no longer so pressed for money.
More importantly, he's lucky to be alive.
Recovering from a quadruple bypass has it's own challenges - the exercise requirements, the pills that have to be taken for the rest of your life, the limitations that the awareness of mortality places on you, and there are glimpses, possibly for the first time ever, of Hardy's mortality in DEEP WATER. Mind you, the reader can't help but pause to consider the author's own brush with heart problems (Corris has also not so long ago undergone a quadruple bypass). In DEEP WATER Cliff returns as one of those perennial fictional heroes, sure if you paid close attention to his life's history, he's "in theory" well into his seventies by now, but if you don't look too closely then you're never going to know. There is more than just some signs of physical frailty about Cliff in this book, there's something obviously reflective about him as well - he isn't going to forget the death of Lily, he looks back at the death of his ex-wife Cynthia, and then there is his relationship building with Megan, the daughter who, for so many years, he didn't know existed. But this is Cliff we're talking about and there is only so much reflection and physical care that you can take, and he's not above a beeline for the closest cold beer, a seriously good meal and a fragile woman, destined to love and leave him, alone again.
Investigating the disappearance of Henry McKinley is the perfect vehicle for Cliff's return - whilst Megan and her boyfriend Hank are the official component, Cliff is able to dig around into the background of McKinley, whose better than good persona rapidly slips away. Working unofficially does have its downside, and there is a corrupt cop who has been waiting for a chance to have a go at Cliff for many years. As the investigation gets closer to the mark corruption, greed, money and sex all line up as possible motivations.
Then right at the end, despite all of Cliff's health problems, Corris cannot resist one more bit of personal jeopardy and one more personal disappointment just to give Cliff something to chew on for the future.
DEEP WATER is the 34th Cliff Hardy book, the last few really have dealt with a major transition in Cliff's life as he loses his lover, his licence and this time - very nearly his life. Mind you, Cliff dying of a heart attack on the pier in San Diego would have been profoundly distressing - if he has to go, he has to go in the back streets of Glebe, preferably with a beer in hand (not that there's any particular hint that he's on his way I might add). But there is definitely a feeling of further transition in DEEP WATER. Let's hope Cliff isn't going to slip quietly into the role of the voice of experience and wisdom. Here's hoping for a bit more kicking and screaming along the way.
THE IRON HEART - Marshall Browne
Franz Schmidt arrives in Berlin in January 1939 to take up the position of Chief Auditor at the Reichsbank, the financial heart of the Third Reich. He has been positioned there by the enigmatic von Streck, a high-ranking member of the Nazi party but one who has a different agenda to that of the Fuehrer. Schmidt realises he must tread very carefully to avoid the zealous and passionate Fraulein Brandt, who is determined to destroy anyone unfaithful to the Party.
Berlin in 1939 is not an easy place to be if you're not a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Being the Chief Auditor in the Reichsbank, right at the centre of the Party's finances would always be a tricky assignment, but if you're only there to try to stop the advance of the Third Reich it's an even more difficult place to be.
Franz Schmidt isn't a typical hero, he's quiet, a small self-contained man, who has drawn on incredible internal resolve in his opposition to the direction that Germany is being driven in. He has divorced his wife (a matter of self-preservation) and joined the party, and he is prepared to put himself at great personal peril in the service of the high-ranking and powerful von Streck - someone who is working from within against the Fuehrer.
In the bank there are many people who are passionate supporters of the Fuehrer and the Reich and Schmidt soon finds himself up against the formidable Fräulein Brandt, head of the Precious Metals Department, lover of a high-ranking Gestapo officer, a fanatical Nazi. He also meets and finds himself attracted to Fräulein Anna von Schnelling, a secretary within the bank who will ultimately put him at greater risk than his own mission.
THE IRON HEART is a slow burner story, the tension building as Schmidt gets himself deeper and deeper into his mission - to find the financial blueprints for the Reich. Alongside his attempts to find and photograph the plans, Berlin is in turmoil. The Gestapo are ruthless in their pursuit of Jewish citizens and anybody who is working against the Party and their methods are ruthless. People opposed to the party - trying to save individuals and get them out of the country - take extreme risks on a daily basis. A constant game of cat and mouse is played out, and Schmidt finds himself involved in events that could not only stop his mission, but result in his own arrest. Huge sacrifices are made to ensure he can remain safe.
Whilst there are a number of murders and deaths, THE IRON HEART isn't necessarily a mystery as the perpetrator of the killings is spelt out. The book is definitely more of a thriller in style, but at the same time Browne has created a very claustrophobic, dark, dangerous place in which events move swiftly, but the actions themselves are sometimes slow and very deliberate. It's a discomforting book to read, providing a very realistic feel of what it must be like to be under pressure, under threat, underwhelmed by your countries leaders, living a life that has been thrown into absolute turmoil by events outside your control, and being a reluctant, understated but very capable, non-typical hero.
CROOKED - Camilla Nelson
Set against the backdrop of the Askin government, with events revolving around notorious crime identities Dick Reilly, Lennie McPherson and Johnny Warren, Crooked reveals the dark underbelly of Sydney during the 1960s.
Gus Finlay is a young detective who is transferred to the Criminal Investigation Branch, which is run by Senior Sergeant Reginald Tanner, a charismatic cop with an unorthodox way of getting results. Gus realises fast that he has a lot to learn.
It's interesting that Camilla Nelson's first book (Perverse Acts) is a political satire, because CROOKED, her second book, is a crime novel with a distinctly political background. Set in 1960's Sydney, the book, whilst fictional, involves a number of well-known political identities by name, and one would assume less directly, a number of real-life criminal identities and events.
CROOKED is the story of a series of violent killings, in the underworld of Sydney, culminating in the execution style killing of one particular character, whose little black book listing the names of prominent politicians and members of the police force, blows everything wide open.
The links that are drawn between the underworld and organised crime, and the police and politicians is nothing new to Australian's - fans of true and fictional crime alike. A reader of CROOKED could be forgiven for expecting something particularly striking, even illuminating. The telling of the tale in CROOKED is done in a very different voice to that of recent stories of this style. It's told in rapidfire dialogue, peppered with a very stylised vocabulary and there are a lot of variances in the characterisation. There's a high propensity to use nicknames and that, along with the nature of the dialogue, definitely give the whole book a gangsterish feeling - reminiscent of earlier American gangster style films. It did give the book a slightly surreal feeling, the story set in Australia, yet it was hard to shake the feeling that any moment James Cagney was going to appear from behind a door.
Given the building blocks CROOKED didn't quite hit any particular mark - perhaps the story of a small time nightclub owner and protection racketeer (it seems a real person) Richard Reilly, trying to protect his own patch in the wake of the defeat of the State Labor Government didn't impose enough import or risk to carry the entire book. Perhaps the mixing of the real characters and the fictional would work better for a reader with a more detailed knowledge of the Sydney underworld in the 1960's. But mostly I think it was a combination of a cast largely made up of crooks, gangsters and self-serving individuals - it was hard for this reader to find anybody to line up on the same side as; and a somewhat understated telling of the murkier side of the story. The killing, the levels of corruption, the schemes, scams and illegalities seemed to disappear into the snappy dialogue and catchy nicknames.
BLOOD MOON - Garry Disher
When hordes of eighteen-year-olds descend on the Peninsula to celebrate the end of exams, the overstretched police of Waterloo know what to expect. Party drugs, public drunkeness; maybe even drink-spiking and sexual assault.
The Hal Challis series is really growing into something particularly interesting, as well as entertaining. There's a distinct edge to this story, there are obviously some issues which the author wants to talk about, and he's cleverly worked a number of elements of social observation and commentary into what is, overall, a good solid police procedural.
Hal and Ellen's romantic interest at the end of the last book has developed into a live-in relationship. Which has a number of complications - not just that they work together and that Hal is Ellen's boss. Ellen's divorce is only just completed, and as attracted as she is to Hal, living together is an unexpected experience that she's struggling with. And the rest of the team are well aware of what's going on, even if the whole thing is not spoken of. The brass is also less than impressed, but they have given Hal a way out of the situation which he needs to decide on whilst he's also juggling a number of simultaneous investigations.
The unit is busy. It is Schoolies Week and Waterloo has become one of the destinations for groups of celebrating teenagers in recent years, and the workload for the police increases as a result. Whilst most of the lower ranks are fully occupied with Schoolie liaison and investigating minor crimes, there are occasional bigger problems like assault and in particular sexual assault. Nobody necessarily thinks that the vicious bashing of a local private school chaplain is connected to the Schoolies, although it could be possible. What is definitely known is that the victim's brother works for the local Member of Parliament, and he's a Pollie not adverse to a spot of police bashing and throwing his weight around. Things get even more complicated in that case when a racial motive is unearthed.
Meanwhile a local planning officer is having family problems of her own. Her husband is obsessed and a bully - following her constantly, criticising her constantly, carping and harping at her all the time. She's also got a job that sometimes makes her unpopular, either enforcing breaches of planning law, or in one case, failing to stop the demolishing of a much loved old landmark.
The storylines provide a real possibility for some particularly pithy - and frequently funny - digs at things that can go very wrong when places of natural beauty start to attract a lot of people. In particular, people who seem hell-bent on destroying the things that attracted them in the first place. There is also some very elegant commentary about corruption, privilege, and overt and tacky displays of wealth, dotted throughout. By no means overpowering or distracting from the investigation, this social observation adds a layer of understanding about the area, and the people on all sides of the investigations.
It is a complicated series of threads - the bashing assault of the chaplain; a bludgeoned body; sexual assault within the Schoolies; a young man who picked on the wrong girl last year; and an unsavoury event within the investigation team. All of these threads make the story busy, but not messy; the team feels stretched but not unexpectedly or unreasonably so; and the resolutions aren't impossible (or too easy) to deduce as you go along.
The fifth book in the Hal Challis and Ellen Destry series, BLOOD MOON is another of those great, solid, entertaining, engaging chore-stopper books. Whilst it could stand on its own, if you haven't read any of the earlier books, then track them down at the same time. Reading the entire series does give you a feeling for how it's growing into its early promise.
The Dragon Man
Chain of Evidence
THE KILLING HANDS - P.D. Martin
THE KILLING HANDS doesn’t quite have the pace and suspense of P.D. Martin’s previous books. Because Sophie is working with a gang task-force, it is necessary for the author to give the reader an overview of the structure and remit of the various agencies that investigate gang-related crime in L.A. This does slow down the plot a little. However, Martin’s usual thorough research and attention to detail do make for informative reading.
In THE KILLING HANDS we meet Sophie’s parents who visit her and there is an interesting development in her private life as well. But we will have to wait for the next book to discover where that will take her. By doing this Martin has deftly avoided one of the biggest pitfalls of a series; a character who never moves on from where they started in book one.
P.D. Martin has become one of my favourite Australian crime fiction writers and THE KILLING HANDS has done nothing to change my opinion.
THE INTERROGATOR - J J Cooper
According to Greek Mythology, Aphrodite had a wayward eye and a loyal son. When Eros gave Harpocrates a rose to keep quiet about his mother’s little indiscretions, the rose became a symbol for secrecy. This is a story Jay Ryan has never heard — until his hand is nailed to a table and a red rose tattooed onto his wrist.
If you're reading THE INTERROGATOR and you happen to have noticed that the author, JJ Cooper, has a bio that mentions he spent 17 years in the Australian Army, specialising in Human Intelligence including interrogation (as a practitioner and an instructor), you really cannot help but consider the possibilities of truth in fiction. Clinging to the belief that the truth was used when describing the techniques and technicalities, and it didn't quite leak into the actual activities described in the book, kept me sleeping at night.
THE INTERROGATOR builds a frightening reality - one which frequently seems all too plausible, at other times displaying all the elements of the classic military thriller - a lot of blood, gore, mysterious and nefarious goings on, action aplenty, a bit of romance and intrigue, some family background and ultimately - a battle royal between the good guys and the bad.
Jay is an interesting sort of a central character for a thriller. He has a high reputation in his field, he's taught a lot of other people about the techniques and tricks used in interrogation, and whilst he's fully aware of what his tormentors are doing to him when he's placed in the position of victim, he can control some of the outcomes but not all of them. A threat to his own father is nearly enough to make him give up the fight, but then his father's no slouch in the intelligence and covert game and between them, they make a formidable team.
THE INTERROGATOR is a thriller - there are elements in this book that just go with that territory. The ability of the central character to absorb limitless physical pummelling and just get up and get on with it is a given. A big conspiracy - a huge conspiracy is required to make the stakes high - proving that the biggest enemy is often a lot closer than you realise. A touch of romantic and sexual tension. The one man against the entire conspiracy concept gives you your lone wolf, the one man to save the world scenario that you need to keep the action moving and the tension ramped up nice and high. Nothing at all wrong with all of those elements, provided they are executed with some aplomb, which is achieved in THE INTERROGATOR. This book does twist the circumstances a lot more though, and perhaps that's the only minor quibble - there's a lot of twists and turns and the reader will have to be on their game to keep up with what's going on.
I do like a good military thriller. I like a big conspiracy and the one man (or woman) who will save us all from a fate worse than death. I like a bit of super-human action and I like a bit of derring doing and impossible feating. I can even like the touches of sentimentality that arise as the action calms and everyone involved dusts themselves off and gets ready for the next encounter! I sometimes just like a good old fashioned entertaining rush around in an over the top, world's in peril scenario. THE INTERROGATOR filled these elements for me nicely, it kept me wondering until the end, it certainly made me want to cling to my theory of fictional activities way after I'd finished reading the book.
WITCH DOCTOR'S VENGEANCE - Andy L Semple
The night before a crucial Senate vote, one of Canberra's most powerful politicians is executed with surgical precision. The assassins deliver a shocking ultimatum to the Federal and State Governments - "Stop your partisan politics and restore power to the Australian people or more of you will die!"
This will be a lukewarm review, although I can't entirely put my finger on why. It wasn't a bad book but I think it has some genre identity issues. It is touted as an action thriller, but there's too much of the "thriller" getting in the way of the action, and there's too much explained or telegraphed too early to build the suspense of a really good thriller.
Premature exposition aside, the characters are mostly one dimensional, bordering on caricature. I'll admit the number of Australian authors I read is small, but sometimes I find the dialogue seems over-laden with profanity and okkerisms which stand out like dogs' balls (irony intended). Very little of it felt real.
And the last few chapters were a pretty blatant setting of the ground work for a sequel rather than a good stopping point in the story.
I guess I put my finger on "why" after all.
I wouldn't call it an especially good book - the best rating I can give it is a very Australian, "Not bad."
THE BAD POLICEMAN - Helen Hodgman
'I love the poet in you', she said. But the poet was very small and the policeman was, and still is, getting bigger and one day soon the policeman will plant his big fat bum in the poet's face and it will be Game Over.
Constable Marcus Blainey has done bad things. The Bad Policeman is his effort to set the record straight. Inside his head is not always a comfortable place to be, particularly now his wife has left him and isn't coming back. It also seems his son doesn't plan to forgive him either.
I confess to not putting a category or genre on this book because I'm not really sure what it fits into (other than fiction of course).
This is a fabulous little book - the story of Marcus Blainey, a poet who works as a cop. The cop persona is taking over rapidly and he's not coping well.
Marcus tells his own story - and he's very very hard on himself. It might be that he's got a point in some places, but really he's not quite as bad as he seems to think he is. But he doesn't cope well with anything much in his life. When his wife left him I don't think he saw it coming, when his son stepped away from him, I doubt he'll ever work out why. His police partner is a bit of an overachiever, but I don't think Marcus can quite figure out why and I know his partner doesn't get Marcus. But he's not completely disconnected from everything - he has joined a men's support group (which is probably part of the problem from the sounds of it), he finds himself attracted to women - but there's something offputting about being attracted to the widow of a man whose death he had to report to her on duty.
Perhaps not unexpectedly events conspire to change things for Marcus - as far as everyone else is concerned. Despite his panic when he finds himself completely unable to react or cope when a child he knows appears to be in danger, somehow he becomes the hero. But in typical Marcus fashion - he doesn't think so.
Fast-paced and refreshingly tightly written, THE BAD POLICEMAN is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic. Always claustrophobic most of the book happens in his own mind - and that's not a comfortable place to be.
THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD - Adrian McKinty
Michael Forsythe might be, as one of his assailants puts it, 'un-fucking-killable', but that doesn't seem to deter those who want him dead. He's ensconced in Lima, reasonably well hidden by the FBI's Witness Protection Programme, but Bridget Callaghan, whose fiancee he murdered twelve years ago, has an enduring wish to see him dead.
THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is the third book in the Michael Forsythe "Dead" Trilogy - DEAD I WELL MAY BE and THE DEAD YARD are the earlier books. There's an awful lot to really like in THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD.
Firstly, it is the third book in a trilogy but I've been very remiss and haven't yet read the first two (which failing I vow to rectify). Didn't matter. You can follow the story, you can glean the back story of Michael and how he got himself into the mess that he's trying to resolve in THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD. And it is a big mess. Michael Forsythe has been in a Witness Protection Program - hidden in Lima, Peru trying to stay off arch-enemy Bridget Callaghan's radar. He had killed her fiancée Darkey years before, and after taking over Darkey's criminal empire, Bridget vowed revenge. She'd had quite a few attempts, but as one assassin puts it - Michael's 'un-fucking-killable'. But hostilities are temporarily shelved when two assassins in Michael's bedroom "suggest" a chat on the phone with Bridget is in order. Michael's somewhat confused to find she's not wanting to gloat over his final hour - instead she's asking for his help. Bridget's daughter has been kidnapped - and Michael has a deal on his hands. Get back to Belfast and find Siobhan in 24 hours - much will be forgiven.
Secondly, it is written in a wonderful voice. Whilst the book is dark and the violence is overt and extreme, it's balanced with a lovely touch of gallows humour. Not put on, the tone of the book fits with the world that the story inhabits. There are little observations of how much Ireland has changed since Michael had to run - small glimpses into Michael's mind and out through Michael's eye. The style of writing is compelling - lyrical - quintessentially Irish, at least to this reader. The story rips along at a rapid pace, but all the time you're allowed to feel you know Michael, you can understand him. He's a blunt, brutal man on one level - prepared, willing and able to do whatever it takes to stay alive, but on another level, he's a bit of softie. He's got a history with Bridget and for what it's worth - that means a lot to him.
Finally, it's just a darn good story. Perhaps this is where reading the first two books might, just might, give the reader the edge. There's obviously some threads being tied off in THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD. Knowing the full extent of the back story may just heighten the sense of finality - it certainly didn't make this book any less enjoyable. Really the only thing that wasn't enjoyable about THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is that it looks like this is meant to be a trilogy and it's now over. And that's just flat out disappointing.
MOVE TO STRIKE - Sydney Bauer
Doctor Jeffrey Logan, daytime TV's most loved psychologist, has a top-rating talk show seen around the world - his picture perfect life completed by his talented lawyer wife, Stephanie Tyler, their 16-year-old daughter, Chelsea, and 13-year-old son, J.T.
But this image of domestic bliss is shattered when Stephanie is killed instantly by a bullet from a big game rifle in the family's pristine Beacon Hill kitchen. The consequences of her death are catastrophic as Doctor Jeff confesses, despite all the evidence pointing directly towards his blood spattered son.
It is probably no coincidence that this book is likely to appeal to fans of TV shows like CSI and Law and Order as the author says she is very fond of those shows and the book has a structure, subject matter and delivery which seems somewhat reminiscent of that style of show (or at least what I glean from others about them) - I don't watch them, probably for the same reasons that MOVE TO STRIKE isn't really my sort of book.
Perfect Home. Perfect Family. Perfect Murder. That's what is printed at the top of the cover of the book and there is a lot of the "perfect" about the setting. A perfect family picture to the outside world, an idyllic lifestyle that is (unsurprisingly) covering up something more sinister. Perfect Murder is an interesting choice however and it was that line that intrigued this reader the most.
Cavanaugh is invited to an horrific crime scene - where an old friend has been the victim of a shooting. Her husband, a daytime TV psychologist, is the person who has confessed, but his story is inconsistent with the evidence and it's too fantastic to possibly be true. Besides that, it doesn't explain why so much evidence points at his own son. Cavanaugh knew the victim a long time before she married her husband and he had seen a marked change in her personality. But whilst her husband tries hard to project her as the problem in the marriage, it doesn't take too long for the truth to be revealed.
There is undoubtedly a skill in the prose and the story-telling in MOVE TO STRIKE. The action moves apace with only the very occasional bogging down in way too detailed descriptions of characters clothes and other irrelevancies. There are some dramatic plot twists and a number of viewpoints are covered within the investigation.
Undoubtedly a book for fans of the author's earlier books, or for readers who like those sort of big blockbuster legal / forensic stylings of books, MOVE TO STRIKE didn't appeal to me at all. Perhaps it was that feeling of one step from a TV script, perhaps it was that blockbuster feel, maybe it was the incidentals of Cavanaugh's life which, as I've never read any of the earlier books, passed me by or were neither interesting or particularly engaging. In fact, the whole story was surprisingly uninteresting. Partially it was because I struggled to engage with any of the characters and I found the twists and turns too "convenient" to hold my attention. Partially it's because I'm still not sure what "Perfect Home / Perfect Family / Perfect Murder" is supposed to mean.