review: ellie marney, every breath

Rachel Watts is a new city transplant: ex-country, now-sad, missing the wide open fields and cosy memories of her old life. In this new one, she’s made friends with her neighbour, the lanky, forensically-inclined James Mycroft: smart and just the right amount of rebellious, but with a past that has left him scarred and a home life with much to be desired. Together they go out on platonic late-night low-grade shenanigans, but one night’s escapade to visit a friend sees them stumble onto his dead body instead. When it seems the police are on a single track to find the killer, they decide to look into the death themselves.

It is a touch hard to buy that teenagers can outwit police and other such professionals regarding the crime scene itself, even if those police are long-suffering single-minded ones, but once you get past that—and I did, because I was having fun—the rest of their investigation is more detective work from conversations they had, or places where they, as the dead man’s friends, are trusted more than authority figures. Their determination to fight for their friend, and the undercurrents of why they are doing so, make Every Breath is a thriller that I loved now and would have flipped for if I’d read this as a seventeen-year-old. It hits all the right notes on family angst as Rachel fights helplessly against the life change she didn’t want; it is pitched super-cool, with Rachel’s friend Mai supplying excellent t-shirts and snark; and, as a potential love-interest but definite friend, Mycroft seems real, instead of some floppy-haired puddle of sulk. He drinks too much, is insensitive and can be a total smartass, but nevertheless you are always on his side.

With one of the best finales I’ve read—literally nail-biting, let me just say—this is not for the faint-hearted, with blood and grit aplenty (I’d probably not give it to anyone younger than fifteen, but now that I’m a mother I have lost all realistic perspective so don’t take my word for it), but it’s enthusiastic and exhilarating and the characters and places feel really genuine. Melbourne really shines in this book, even if it does happen to be a blood-red reflection.

tram stop international review: elisabeth egholm, three dog night

Guest post by Liz Barr! Also, allow for two stops.

I love a bit of Scando-noir. If crime fiction reflects the fears and concerns of a society, then the Scandinavian offerings raise an interesting paradox: these countries with international reputations for being egalitarian, democratic and transparent tend to produce fiction that confronts the failures of these ideals.

Danish novel Three Dog Night attempts to continue this trend, with a protagonist who grew up in state institutions and spent time in prison for manslaughter committed under complex circumstances. But the social concerns it reflects are straight out of a news.com.au comments page — what the average Dane fears, the author seems to suggest, are criminal motorcycle gangs, Muslims and women. The central plot, dealing with the murder of an ex-convict and the disappearance of a local teenager, is gripping, if driven by a series of unlikely coincidences, but the subtext is altogether unpleasant.

Egholm is a seasoned crime writer, but her narrative is let down by a stilted translation that keeps the reader at arm’s length. The female body count climbs higher and higher, and the climax depicts graphic animal cruelty and sexual violence against women. There’s a last-minute attempt to frame the whole affair as a fight against misogyny, but that’s a bit hard to take seriously when there are nipples flying about.

 

Arrested and charged with the trafficking of books. Charges dismissed after bribing the judge with some new releases. Small. Ginger. Enjoys history, cephalopods and tween media. lizbarr.wordpress.com

a few upcoming events

I’m planning on putting in a much more sexy and streamlined calendar when I have more time to remember how computers work (something about mice and terror bites?) but for now, here’s a quick roundup of a few upcoming crime fiction shenanigans from a few different places.

 

Victoria

September 30, Readings Carlton

John Safran in conversation with Tony Wilson about Murder in Mississippi

October 3, Readings Hawthorn

Adrian Deans book launch with Tony Wilson

October 12, Sun Theatre Foyer

Book launch of Kerry Greenwood’s Murder and Mendelssohn

 

Queensland

October 1, Avid Reader

John Safran in conversation with Paul Barclay

October 5, Avid Reader

Crime Bookclub: The Dying Beach by Angela Savage (which is great!)

 

Western Australia

October 25, Dymocks Beechboro

John Connolly Meet and Greet for The Whisperers

October 31, Clarkson Library

David Whish-Wilson on Zero at the Bone

 

New South Wales

October 5, Gleebooks

Peter Corris, Michael Wilding & James Murray Triple Launch

October 29, Gleebooks

Mark Tedeschi & Peter Cotton in conversation

 

There are probably many more around I’ve missed—I’ll keep my eye out, friends, don’t worry! ALSO: check out some great upcoming festivals at the Australian Crime Writers Association site here. They have an actual online calendar, whereas I just glue post-its to my screen and assume you guys can read them too.

tram stop international review: val mcdermid, cross and burn

A review just long enough to get you to the next stop. Just don’t forget to get off.

DCI Carol Jordan’s last case damaged her team and her self-worth irreparably. While she hides in her brother’s house, former colleague DS Paula McIntyre is on the hunt for a serial killer, and not happy with the route her new boss is taking. Can she solve the case with the people at her disposal or are her old team—from profiler Tony to computer whiz Stacey—the only solution? This is a great but standard English crime read with a psychotic bad guy with no redeeming humanity and women being tortured in boxes, but is elevated by its neat sidestep around the straight white drunk male protagonist and the comforting, Agatha-Christie type way that one person’s little grey cells can help solve a mystery.

review: michael robotham (ed.), if i tell you…i’ll have to kill you

Once, a few birthdays ago, my partner bought me a whole stack of books about writing. It was the perfect present for an aspiring novelist, but to this day, I haven’t read them all through—I’m just too threatened. What if I get intimidated by the book’s own amazing word flow? What if their Writing Don’ts crush my already low novelist self-esteem by sneering at all my favourite things (i.e. terrible couch posture while writing, frequent internet procrastination, tell don’t show)? Despite this fear, I still picked up If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You, subtitled Australia’s leading crime writers reveal their secrets, and by about page one, all of my fears were allayed and all of my ears were pricked. YES ALL OF THEM.

After Michael Robotham’s heartening intro, it’s straight into Shane Maloney, whose body count confession and stumble into crime writing made me feel a little comforted, along with his sage advice: “There are no fucking rules.” From there, the differing styles of successful authors made me realise one very obvious thing, which is that there is no one steadfast rule, apart from that yes perhaps I should stop procrastinating. As a habitual dog-earer, this book has so many folded corners that the top right-hand corner has almost doubled in thickness. Sometimes I even had to do that awkward double-fold where I like something on both sides of a page. (Note to self: buy post-its.) Every essay has something that was inspiring, or interesting, or helpful, or funny, or all of the above and then more. Liz Porter shares advice she cherishes: “Try to do something a bit different from what everybody else is doing.” Garry Disher’s spot-on rule #7 is “Become part of the community of writers in some way”. Malla Nunn punches anxiety about other authors in the face with “What the publishers and readers don’t have, yet, is a book by you.” Katherine Howell taught me something I won’t forget1. Leigh Redhead makes a great point about how boring motivation-less serial killers are: “I became more interested in reading stories about ordinary people who resorted to crime.” Tara Moss disclosed just how far she’ll go for research and I was impressed and will now be thoroughly terrified should I ever meet her. Leah Giarratano shares a psychology strategy and a staggering amount of research. Michael Robotham’s touching connection to Ray Bradbury almost made me have a little bit of a cry.

If you are a crime writer, this is a ridiculously helpful kick in the butt. In fact, the only reason it took so long for me to read it was that I became so deliriously inspired by the end of each essay that I had to keep putting it down to go work on my own crime novel (blog post about publisher six-figure bidding war for said novel presumably coming your way very soon.) If you’re a reader, think of it like a collection of personal short stories by Australia’s premier crime writers. I’ve read a lot of these authors before, and these stories makes me a) want to read books by the authors I haven’t and b) read more by the authors I have. You get a feel for their styles, from hardboiled Lenny Bartulin to comedic Geoffrey McGeachin (I’ve only read his more straight Ned Kelly winner Blackwattle Creek but am now desperate to go back to his spy capers); or maybe you’ll want to read their books because they sound like people you’d get along with.

Crime has never seemed so cheerful.

1A really clear explanation of suspense, but she did it with useful words and not cheap tricks a.k.a. what I just did then. Sorry.

review: geoffrey mcgeachin, blackwattle creek

As winner of the 2013 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction, Blackwattle Creek is completely deserving. This is a book I finished and immediately shipped off to my father, who would have been around for the events; he then passed it onto my sister, a lover of Australian history. At our next meeting (aka family picnic) we all concurred that it was an excellent read, and now when we next get together we can all feel smug about picking a winner.

Melbourne in 1957 is a place still ravaged by memories of WWII, and police officer Charlie Berlin is a man who is having trouble letting go of his time in Europe as a pilot and as a prisoner of war. Given an unexpected holiday just before the footy grand final, he plans to build a darkroom for his wife Rebecca and relax as best he can. However, a request by Rebecca to chat to her recently bereaved friend turns his time off the clock into one of the most serious, grotesque and far-reaching crimes he has ever encountered.

Berlin is damaged but healing, supported by his family and friends who may all shortly regret being of his acquaintance while Charlie is on this particular quest. The Cold War is the new terror on everyone’s mind, and what one accidental sighting by a widow at a funeral home reveals is a horrifying notion that the government keeps secrets even more horrible than budget costings or who pashed who at the ALP Christmas party.

McGeachin has created the kind of pitch-perfect sense of place that makes you disoriented when you put down your book and find yourself in a world of flatscreen televisions and petrol the price of a block of land. Everything from Charlie’s meals to the idea you could get a parking space anywhere near the State Library of Victoria creates a vivid Melbourne with an undercurrent of mid-century fear and grime. Rebecca is the kind of switched-on partner you appreciate in a crime read like this, and altogether Blackwattle Creek is a ripper of a dangerous read.

 

A version of this review was originally published in Readings Monthly.