Syd Fish is a failed journalist, sacked political minder and start up private investigator on the "mean" streets of Sydney.
Shaved Fish is a series of short stories which introduce the reader to the laconic, bumbling, accidental PI.
There's a good touch of humour in these stories, although many of the resolutions to the mysteries are of the "fall out of the sky into his lap" type.
Good, silly, filler in reading though.
BYE BYE BABY - Lauren Crow
Thirty years ago there was a victim. A victim of unbearably cruel actions who never saw justice. Now there's a serial killer on the loose.
DCI Jack Hawksworth doesn't know any of this when he is assigned the case. Jack is young for his rank and good-looking which makes him interesting to the media. He's also the subject of considerable interest and speculation amongst his female colleagues which doesn't help.
In separate parts of England two bodies have been found - both of them horribly mutilated, ritually humiliated... but strangely, it seems, most of the worst of the atrocities are committed after the men were heavily drugged. Aside from the method, which indicates a single killer, there's precious little obvious connection between these two victims, and Scotland Yard is called in to take over the investigation. DCI Jack Hawksworth is put in charge of the investigation, despite an horrendous outcome in his last case. He puts together a team of investigators - many of whom he has worked with before. DI Kate Carter is smart, ambitious, attractive and excited to be included in that team. Sure she has always found herself attracted to Hawk, but they have worked together before, and she's now engaged and planning her wedding. Surely they can work together. Meanwhile the killer they seek is after vengeance for crimes past and it is not until Hawk and his team can work that out, that they have a chance of stopping the deaths.
BYE BYE BABY is the first crime novel by well-known Australian Fantasy author Fiona McIntosh, which makes the reading of this supposedly debut novel make a lot more sense. There's an aplomb about the structure of the story and accomplishment to the writing that can sometimes be less obvious in a debut novel. There's also some elements in BYE BYE BABY that did stand out as the mark of a debut crime novelist. This dichotomy makes reviewing this book quite a challenge. There's a bit of tweaking of common crime fiction cliches in BYE BYE BABY. Jack Hawksworth is the gorgeous, much coveted DCI - haunted by romantic attachments in the past and the death of a policeman in his last case - these events still threaten his career. He is counseled by his senior officers to take care in his relationships with his new team - especially put together to track down this killer. Kate Carter is attractive in her own right, but she's finding herself questioning her own marriage plans and increasingly feeling attracted to Jack and cannot control jealous reactions when he is encouraging of the younger, female DS in their team. There's also the source of the original crime - the event that triggered this killer's reactions and the killer themselves. Suffice to say there's a twist in there that you can see coming pretty early in the book. There are quite a few elements to the plot that are revealed to the reader much earlier than the police come across the detail which sort of gives the reader a bit of a pantomime feeling - you sort of find yourself wanting to yell "he's behind you" - or the literary equivalent at points throughout the book. There is also some interesting characterisations going on - there are points in this book that I sincerely disliked every single person - police, victims, killer, families and all. There were other points when it was possible to empathise, to understand - but most of the time you weren't too sure whose side you were on.
What's really interesting was that you'd think that some the clunky plot elements, some of the romantic tension, the angst over personal lives, the almost voyeuristic feeling that the reader has in knowing what's going on a long time before the police work it out - would detract considerably from the book. But it doesn't totally turn you off. The aplomb of the writing, the tension of the story and the plot, the compassion you can feel for the killer keeps the reader occupied and engaged and just ever so slightly conflicted about what is really justice. The final twist ending was, to tell the truth, hard to decide on. Was it intriguing, and in a strange way, a form of ultimate justice, or was it a convenient cop-out - a desire by the author to throw that final massive twist the reader's way. It's one of those endings that some readers are going to hate, and others are going to like.
THE UNDERTOW - Peter Corris
There's absolutely nothing better in Australian Crime fiction than a short, sharp burst of Cliff Hardy in his prime. And THE UNDERTOW has all those elements that fans of the hard-boiled, down-trodden; put upon; unlucky in love; hard man; unflinching good guy - only slightly dodgy around the edges; Australian style Private Enquiry Agent, are going to love. Somehow or other, after all these books featuring Cliff Hardy, where Cliff undergoes little in the way of major personality changes, where he's still struggling to understand the girl (any girl) and his friends keep digging holes for him to fill in, there's still something wonderfully fresh and entertaining about THE UNDERTOW.
There's also just a little bit more in THE UNDERTOW, in the finale to the book that seems to indicate that Cliff might have some serious life changing experiences to deal with, that he just might not be able to talk his way out of... or maybe he will? Who knows. Frankly who cares. You're not going to be reading a Cliff Hardy book for a thoughtful consideration of the human condition, you're not going to get a different perspective on the mind of the human animal. You're going to read it for the escapist, entertaining view of a Sam Slade style hero, with just enough of the Aussie larrikin to make him 100% our own.
COLLINS STREET WHORES - Peter Ralph
Collins Street Whores starts off very evocatively (for me at least) with a powerful motorbike being ridden along the Dandenong Tourist Road - a hop skip and a jump from our front door. Unfortunately for me, the interest in the story waned pretty soon after that. Overall the plot is fairly good, but there were too many elements in COLLINS STREET WHORES that just didn't work for me. Granted this could be because anything "financial" has a tendency to bring me out in hives, but more so because there were too many characters to just not care about that much. Possibly the idea that the central woman had to be beautiful and strong and competent and rich and driving the big flash car to make her a central character, possibly the relationship between her and the "boy from the rougher side of life" sort of just clanged a bit. Possibly it was because a lot of the plot elements weren't that hard to see coming, but that they took a long time to come could have been the problem.
Collins Street Whores is not a badly written book or anything, I guess, ultimately the problem for me was that it didn't have that something different, that element that grabbed me and held my attention and I just struggled to stay focused on the story.
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.
Sophie Phillips is a paramedic and her husband Chris is a cop. When Sophie and her paramedic partner are called to a premature labour case, the results of the early labour are tragic, and despite Sophie and Mick being very sure they have done the right thing, the baby's father - Boyd Sawyer is grief stricken and irrational - and he goes out of his way to threaten Sophie and Mick. Meanwhile Sophie and Chris's previously happy marriage has been fading recently. Chris was badly assaulted during a recent arrest and ever since then he's been increasingly moody and distant. Whilst all of this is going on, there is a band of armed robbers raiding banks throughout Sydney and they are becoming increasingly violent, with the latest raid a bank guard is shot dead.
How would you cope if you're doing your job, and things go desperately wrong. If you're suddenly threatened, how would you react when your own ten-month-old son Lachlan is kidnapped from your house and your husband is shot in the head - lucky to be still alive. Would you blame yourself and wonder if those threats are behind your son's disappearance? Would you blame your husband who has been acting oddly, and with the stench of police corruption all around you? Worse still, would both of you be able to sort out your own fears and guilt and work together to find your son?
FRANTIC takes the reader down some unexpected pathways. For a start there's a police procedural element with Detective Ella Marconi working on trying to find baby Lachlan with the police team assigned to the case. But equally in the readers focus is the experience of the paramedic within the confines of a crime, accident or simply human misadventure or misery. Sophie's own reactions to the kidnapping of her son, her own pursuit, her frantic (hence the name of the novel) attempts to find her boy, to deal with the shooting of her husband, to cope with her guilt are stark and well drawn. She thinks the most likely kidnapper for her son is the father from the earlier, disastrous ambulance call-out. She's also feeling very guilty about a one night stand with the man that she's turned to for help in finding Lachlan - her husband Chris's police partner Angus. Chris is dealing with his own feelings of guilt - he wakes up in hospital after surgery to remove a bullet from his head, and he is worried, very very worried, that the reason for Lachlan's kidnapping is connected to something corrupt in the police force that he knows a lot more about than he's let on.
The author of FRANTIC is a paramedic herself, and that perspective of a crime scene, an accident scene, an investigation is very unique - and it's written in a very accessible manner. It brings a refreshing perspective from the participants, at the same time that FRANTIC covers the reaction of a family or victim to the events that surround that crime. And there's definitely a distinct feeling of frenzy about FRANTIC. The pace of the book starts from page one and it doesn't let up until the end - mirroring the life of a paramedic firstly where they move case by case at breakneck speed, then the reaction of a frantic mother, desperate to find her son, unable to sit and wait.
Combine the unusual and well handled perspective of the paramedic, with a fast paced, tightly told thriller, and a brave and well executed finale to the story and FRANTIC was a great book - you know you're onto something good when you start a book on Saturday afternoon, finish it on Sunday night and feel somewhat disappointed that the next book - PANIC - won't be available until 2008.
CONNECTIONS - Bob Bottom
Race fixing, illegal gambling, wildlife smuggling, drugs, shoplifting, phone taps, money laundering, murder and corruption. Our convict past is not far away!
CONNECTIONS as a copyright notice in it of 1985 so that makes it over 20 years old, so what made reading this particularly startling is the way that whilst some things have changed, many many others haven't. This book takes you back through some of the standard methods of operation of Organised Crime figures in Australia, along with an outline of the big "crime" families that were around in those days.
Sure sending drugs into invalid addresses via Australia Post, so that your accomplice on the inside can grab the envelopes might not be so easy these days, as is wholesale smuggling out of wild birds, many many of the standard activities of the crims are still around, slightly modified for today's climate but the routs, crimes and killings go on.
Interesting read from an historical perspective if nothing else.
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.
Nobody could possibly call reading VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE a pleasure - it's an absolutely heartbreaking and very discomforting book. The author is a trauma psychologist who works with victims, and victims are very much the focus of VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE.
A young girl, victim of sexual abuse kills herself. Her psychologist Mercy treats patients who have suffered trauma, but Mercy seems to be very close to breaking in her own right. A middle-aged man is beaten to death in his hiding spot in the scrub, overlooking a children's pool. This is not a victim for whom anybody feels much compassion - a paedophile who, it turns out, has connections to a major paedophile ring. The main investigator on the case, Sargeant Jill Jackson daily fights her own demons, the legacy of being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by paeodophiles as a young girl, she manages her ongoing trauma via a series of her own obsessions - exercise, control of her environment, 100% concentration. Soon Jill, and her partner Scotty, have more murders to solve - but the victims are all paeodophiles and really - does anybody care? As the investigation continues, a ring of paedophiles, many of them successful businessmen, leaders and the privileged in society, is revealed and Jill's own past is brought more and more into the present.
There is absolutely no doubt that the central theme of this book is the damage that is done by sexual abuse. The author has provided a dense, complex concentration on human damage and the ways that various victims try to cope with their own lives - VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is a harrowing book because of it. All of the central characters of this book have been damaged, hurt, are struggling to cope with their pasts, the methods that they choose to cope starkly drawn and discomfortingly believable. There are some parts of this book that many readers will find distressing, the grooming of young children, the kidnap of a young boy....
This harrowing and detailed concentration on the victim is what could make VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE potentially difficult for the average reader. The damage and suffering of the victims is undoubted, the experience of the psychologist and other support personnel who work to help these people must be appalling, but the concentration on the abuse itself made the plot of the murder disappear and VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE became less of a crime fiction book and more an analysis of the affects of crime on a victim. Sometimes the shape shifting of expectation in a category - such as crime fiction - is a good thing, it can refresh, provide the reader with a different viewpoint, a different consideration, challenge the readers expectations and drag you out of your comfort zone to consider the unconsidered. VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE is perhaps too heavy handed, too harrowing, too hard, too peopled with damage and suffering, too distressing for many readers, which would be a pity as the message is obviously important. There is a second book in the works, and I'll be reading that one as well when it comes out, as there is something being said by this author.
THE DEVIL'S JUMP - Peter Doyle
An Australian crime writer with spunk, Peter Doyle takes us to Billy Glasheen's early days in post war Sydney. An apprentice luck merchant, Billy's boss disappears leaving him holding the bag ... and leading him into the seedier, dirtier side of Sydney life. Peter Doyle is the author of the Ned Kelly Award-winning novels Get Rich Quick and Amaze Your Friends and this is another smart, bold and sassy crime thriller.
Another book from the local books pile that I've been catching up on lately - The Devil's Jump is from the same author that wrote GET RICH QUICK (which won the Ned Kelly for Best First Crime Novel in 1997) and AMAZE YOUR FRIENDS (which won the Ned Kelly for Best Crime Novel in 1999).
THE DEVIL'S JUMP is set in Sydney at the end of the Second World War - in fact the blurb on the book says "The war in the Pacific is over... The war on the streets has just begun". It's the story of Billy Glasheen - local lad and (in the author's words) apprentice lurk merchant. Billy's not exactly a bad lad, but he is inclined to find the easiest path. Never part of the Armed Forces (bit of a medical problem) Billy's been mixed up with a local hood for a while now. Returning Servicemen, including his brother, looking to settle down into civilian life, get a job and get on with life the right way, doesn't really appeal to him - if there's a bit of a scheme going on and some easy money to be had, Billy just can't help himself. When his boss, Toohey goes missing it seems that a list of members of a slightly questionable Political group is being offered around for sale, and Toohey is the last person known to have the register. Given that Billy has sort of stepped into a lot of Toohey's activities since his disappearance a lot of people decide that it's only logical that Billy has the register. Only he doesn't.
THE DEVIL'S JUMP has a really realistic post Second World War feel to it - from the characterisations (Robert Menzies even makes a cameo appearance), the terminology, the lurks that Billy gets up to (in this case lurk is a slang term for pursuit / goings on / avocation legal or illegal, such as in the phrase 'that's a good lurk' ;) ) Of course, for some, the terminology could create a slight air of confusion but if anybody's watched Dad's Army it should be a doddle :)
SUCKED IN - Shane Maloney
Now pushing fifty, Murray Whelan is spinning his wheels in parliament - a toothless cog in Labor's stalled political machine.
I happily went out earlier this week and bought a copy of Sucked In and it took me roughly one day to finish it - and that was an unfair delay - I could have sat down and read it in one sitting. Needless to say the 6th book in the Murray Whelan series (for which we've all been waiting an absolute age), lives up to the expectations of the long wait!
Murray is older, slightly wiser and just that little bit more cunning. A member of the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament, he and a number of other "pollies" are "doing the rounds" in Country Victoria, when Murray's long time mentor and friend, Charlie Talbot, dies from a heart attack in the middle of the dining room of the Grand Hotel in Mildura.
It's an interesting coincidence that the day before Charlie's untimely demise, the remains of (allegedly) a long-lost union official are discovered in the mud of drought stressed Lake Nillahcootie. Merv Cutlett had gone overboard from a fishing boat during a trip to the Union "Shack" on the banks of the Lake many years before with Charlie and other union luminaries including (now) Senator Barry Quinlan.
All of this is of slight interest to Murray, up to his elbows in Labor Party machinations over pre-selection for Charlie's very safe seat in Federal Parliament. When a well-known local journalist starts to hear rumours about Merv's cause of death, and these rumours trickle through to the power brokers in the Labor Party, pre-selection battles now have to fight for attention with a bit of very overdue Union "housekeeping". All of this whilst Murray tries to teach Red how to drive, resurrect his slumbering love life, extract himself from a risky sex life, learn Greek and finagle himself into something resembling re-charged enthusiasm for the "Cause".
A slightly older Murray Whelan is something that causes pause for consideration - how long can he keep up these gymnastics - both mental and physical! But aside from that sneaking concern, SUCKED IN really delivers on a number of fronts. The "investigation" of the death weaves it's way in and out of the ongoing business of being a Politician in pre-Millennium Victoria, in a Labor Party struggling to hold a caucus meeting that would stretch the accommodations of a telephone booth. There's something really realistic about the way that things just roll along, balanced delicately on the edge of the precipice - with a lot of day to day darting around just trying to keep ahead. The political swipes are, as always, hilarious. That slightly jaundiced, True Believer view of the political system that Maloney specialises in has a particularly accuracy in SUCKED IN that you just can't help but roll around in laughter with. There are also more than just a few characters in SUCKED IN that you can pick out of the local crowd. But again, regardless of the "spot who that is" games that we locals can play, SUCKED IN is going to appeal to lots of readers, regardless of where they come from. A touch of humour, a touch of poignancy, a bloke who eventually sort of gets his man, and looks like he might just have a vague chance of getting the girl, and overall you've got one entertaining reading ride.
AMONGST THE DEAD - Robert Gott
Failed Shakesperean actor and would-be private investigator Will Power's unique detective skills are, once again, in demand. The Japanese army is rampaging through the islands of the South Pacific and Australia's front line of defence is a top-secret, crack division of men embedded deep in the tropical wilderness of northern Australia. But something is threatening their vital, covert mission: one of this elite corps is a murderer, preying on his comrades, one by one.
AMONGST THE DEAD is the third novel in Robert Gott's William Power series. William is an "aspirational" but failed Shakespearean actor, turned Private Investigator who finds himself in very unusual circumstances in the Top End of Australia during World War II in AMONGST THE DEAD.
William and his brother Brian are called upon by Australian Military Intelligence to find out the truth behind the suspicious deaths in a crack, very secret squad. William, of course, thinks, that they need him for his superior powers of detection, and because they are to be infiltrated into the squad as part of an entertainment troupe. The North Australia Observer Unit (or Nackaroo's) are a small group of soldiers and their Aboriginal assistants who patrol the Top End of the country, watching for any sign of the Japanese invasion from the Islands of the South Pacific into the Australian Mainland. Intelligence believes that the deaths of three Nackaroo's were highly suspicious, but the level of secrecy of the NAOU means that they cannot trust the investigation to just anybody, and when it comes to somebody stroking his ego, William will volunteer for just about anything.
William is not sure if it helps or complicates the investigation when they discover their third brother - Fulton - is a member of the suspect squad. The inclusion of the entertainment troupe is further complicated by the fact that William's Shakespearean recitation is not exactly the entertainment most appreciated by the troops and that doesn't help William's overall mood, somewhat strained already by the persistent rain, mould, heat, mud, long days walking through the Top End bush, encounters with Crocodiles, Dengue Fever, and murder.
AMONGST THE DEAD has a lovely comic twist with William Power undoubtedly being one of the most over-developed "theatrical" egos doing the rounds. He is, unfortunately, also a bit of a twit, which means that his concept of solving the deaths of the soldiers and two more deaths in the squad after he and Brian arrive, seems to involve a lot of blundering around, an awful lot of shooting his mouth off at the most inappropriate times and an enormous chunk of the investigation feeling well sorry for himself. He also, alas, can't see the woods for the trees, and when he is ultimately accused of killing the two men who died after he arrived, rather than see the wood for what it is, he's too busy feeling righteously indignant followed by madly accusing everyone else around him, to really see what's going on.
Of course, the point of AMONGST THE DEAD is that William doesn't really solve anything - he's the method by which other people sort out a mess that has to be sorted out. But the book doesn't suffer at all from this variance from the norm in crime fiction - if anything it adds a different dimension. In William you have a "hero" that you can truly laugh at - that you just want to sidle up to and whisper "dear me, old chap, put down the Shakespeare script, have a peek over the chip on your shoulder and I suspect you'll see something to your advantage". Having said that - he's marvelously awful - you just can't disagree with Shane Maloney's quotation on the press release. "Literature has had its share of heroes, heroes of many kinds: classic heroes, super heroes, accidental heroes, flawed heroes, anti-heroes. And now, at last, it has a dickhead hero".