Death In the Ladies' Goddess Club, Julian Leatherdale

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

DEATH IN THE LADIES' GODDESS CLUB is set in post World War I Sydney, in the 1930's at a time of great social and political upheaval in Australia's past. Women are just starting to fight back against the constraints society has placed on their lives and behaviour, and the bohemian lifestyle is growing in popularity. Of course it's also the time of the notorious Razor Gangs, and the extreme violence that plagued the Kings Cross Area and inner Sydney in general. Taking full advantage of unrest and upheaval, this is a novel about shaken expectations, family secrets and society in flux.

By day Joan Linderman is a subeditor for a women's magazine, whilst she spends her nights working on a crime novel she desperately hopes will be published one day. Living in a run down boarding house in inner Sydney, Joan shares her living space with Bernice Becker, a free thinking, emboldened woman who it turns out has more odd connections than Joan originally realised. When a woman is murdered in rooms in the same building there are two surprises in store for Joan - firstly there's a suggestion of a connection between the victim and Joan's rich and influential Aunt and Uncle, as well as something closer to Bernice than just a shared address.

Leaning more heavily towards historical observations than your traditional amateur sleuth styled novel, DEATH IN THE LADIES' GODDESS CLUB is obviously well-researched and packed to the gunnels with portrayals of the time, place and sensibility of 1930's Sydney. From the suburban, restrained, doing good lifestyle of Joan's parents; to the crazy bohemian parties full of dress ups, booze, drugs, and the ever present current of political revolt in the inner suburbs, there is much here for the reader to work through. Somewhere in the middle of the novel drawing distinct lines of difference between two generations, and their place of residence, I was reminded that this sort of stark comparison has shown up a few times in my own lifetime, although I do wonder if it's disappeared in this current timeline, or I'm just too remote to witness it.

Nicely balanced between the crime fictional aspects, and a lesson in the history of societal evolution and change, there are some elegant little digs at irony bypass with one set of behaviours, committed by bohemians being depraved, whilst the elitist version is regarded as risque, even amusing. It was these little insights that I particularly enjoyed in this novel.

DEATH IN THE LADIES' GODDESS CLUB is one for fans of historical fiction, where the crime elements are part of the story, but not the entirety. Sadly, since the publication of this novel, the author, Julian Leatherdale has died. Condolences to his family, friends and associates, his loss will also be felt acutely by fans of his historical fiction work.


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'Crime's not a woman's business, Joanie. It's not some bloody game.'

In the murky world of Kings Cross in 1932, aspiring crime writer Joan Linderman and her friend and flatmate Bernice Becker live the wild bohemian life, a carnival of parties and fancy-dress artists' balls.

One Saturday night, Joan is thrown headfirst into a real crime when she finds Ellie, her neighbour, murdered. To prove her worth as a crime writer and bring Ellie's killer to justice, Joan secretly investigates the case in the footsteps of Sergeant Lillian Armfield.

But as Joan digs deeper, her list of suspects grows from the luxury apartment blocks of Sydney's rich to the brothels and nightclubs of the Cross's underclass.

Death in the Ladies' Goddess Club is a riveting noir crime thriller with more surprises than even novelist Joan bargained for: blackmail, kidnapping, drug-peddling, a pagan sex cult, undercover cops, and a shocking confession. 

Review Death In the Ladies' Goddess Club, Julian Leatherdale
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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