review: garry disher, bitter wash road

I’m always a little hesitant to read rural Australian crime. Many good authors work within that specific genre, and I’ve mostly enjoyed those other books, but I won’t snap up a title on the subject like I would one set in a city. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a country person—mostly because I am a bug magnet who prefers the bustle of a city, the calming feel of the ocean or even, sadly for me, the cafe comfort of the suburbs, leaving the poor country to last. But I’d be remiss to not point out that rural fiction tends towards a small town full of suspicious folk who don’t like that there newcomer in their town, and also everyone has a gun, and it just tends to be a whole lot more downbeat than most crime, and that’s even with the awareness that crime is generally a downbeat type of topic. So with all that cynicism rattling in my brain, I picked up Bitter Wash Road anyway, because I hadn’t read anything else by Garry Disher and decided it was about time. And, well, good work past self, because it’s a great book.

Constable Paul Hirschhausen has been booted to the wheatbelt South Australian town of Tiverton after aiding in a corruption inquiry back in Adelaide. He works in a one-officer station that he lives unenthusiastically behind, and his work colleagues in the nearby town of Redruth, led by Sergeant Kropp, have given him the welcome he expected: a bad attitude, a barrage of insults, and some sneaky tricks of their own. Hirsch, a character as put-upon as they come but not one to let his instinct for justice or general good humour be quashed, takes it all in his stride and gives as good as he gets. He is the character that elevates this book: someone who sees the dust and misery a country in drought can bring, but who sees the sun and hope as well without being anywhere near as twee as that sentence was.

He is first called to the unpaved Bitter Wash Road when he gets a report of shots fired; this initial visit brings him into the sphere of a group of people who will affect his life and career, and who reveal much more to Tiverton than he expected. This is a landscape as untrustworthy as the people within it, but Disher has made this not the heavy and grim read I was dreading, but something that entertained and gripped me in turn. I still probably won’t be doing any drives out to the country in person any time soon, because did I mention about the bugs, but after this, I’ll be much more likely to pick up a book about it.

interview: luke preston

This month, I had the totally rad opportunity to throw a few questions at Luke Preston (author of Out of Exile; read my overexcited review that spawns gleeful compliments like ‘rad’ here).

1. While you’ve gained success in the thrills and blood-spills of crime, you’re also a screenwriter—do you have devious plans in other genres, or are you intending to translate Tom Bishop to the big screen? (Incidentally I would enjoy the hell out of a Bishop movie.)

The beauty of screenwriting is that it takes a fraction of the time to write a script than it does to write a novel. On the flip side to that, a screenplay takes a hell of a lot longer to find a home, be financed, produced and distributed (and that’s if it does at all). I have a couple of action/crime movies in the works, which are both almost ready to go to market and hopefully one of which will be in the can by the end of next year.

There is screenplay of Bishop’s first rampage, Dark City Blue and every month or so a producer will get in touch regarding the film rights but it is yet to find a home. It’s a dangerous screenplay that takes a few chances so I can understand the trepidation of some of the more conservative filmmakers.

As for Out of Exile as a feature film? I dare somebody to try and adapt that. The novel is huge in scope and leaves a massive trail of debris in its wake. I’m not even convinced it can be adapted but I would like to see somebody with some guts try.

2. Is the process of writing as exciting for you as the finished book is for the reader? What do you do to wind down?

Writing Out of Exile was a hell of a lot of fun to write. The words came very easy and when it was all over I was a little sad to reach the end. When you finish a long form story such as a novel or a script, there is a short period of mourning afterwards. So usually after I finish I’m at a loss and find it very difficult to wind down. I do play rock ‘n roll on an old Gretsch hollow body with dirty strings. If my neighbours complain, it doesn’t matter I can’t hear them. I spend a fair bit of time watching old movies at the Astor Theatre in Melbourne and I try to get out of the house as often as possible.

3. What Australian authors, musicians or foods inspire you?

Paul Kelly is my favourite Australian storyteller. Every one of his songs is a small insight into the culture of Australia, its values beliefs and humour.

4. Do you have any crystal ball predictions for the future of Australian and international crime writing?

The world has changed significantly the past ten years so much so that many novels that were written pre 9/11 are so irrelevant that they are almost quaint. Crime fiction is always the first to reflect the times in which we live. It dramatises the hopes and fears of the everyman and if executed effectively, can carry extremely strong messages.

Fuck literary fiction. It’s safe, conservative and does very little to help the world understand itself. Those books are written by academics for academics so they can all give themselves awards and gentle pats on their overeducated backs. The rest of the world doesn’t give a shit. And it’s not some cosmic accident that Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series sells extremely well. Reacher speaks to the public’s growing concern that their corporations and governments are not going to look after them, but that there will always be somebody out there like Jack Reacher fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. Books such as that reflect the needs and desires of the public.

In the last few years there has been a shift in crime fiction, both here in Australia and internationally toward stories that carry a bigger message rather than solving the most recent murder which is something I am looking forward to seeing more of.

5. As a fellow Melburnian, I got a kick out of the wanton destruction of my beloved city. Was it important to you that Bishop and co. trashed places you know intimately? Did you have to keep international readers in mind?

Both Dark City Blue and Out of Exile are very specific in regard to scenes being set in real places but the story is universal so it can travel across borders with ease. Occasionally there is an issue with language such as the word ‘boot’ may be confusing to readers who are used to the word ‘trunk’. Apart from that, there’s little that doesn’t translate in terms of story and character.

6. Do you have any astounding pieces of advice for aspiring crime writers?

The first book you write is bad. Burn it and go and write another. I guarantee the next one will be significantly better.

7. Did your research take you to any unexpected places, like prison cells or car boots?

Through research I’ve seen the inside of police stations, the back rooms of MC clubs and yes… the inside of a car boot. *If you are going to climb into the boot of a car, make sure the person who closes it doesn’t leave the keys in there with you.

8. Ex-cop current-fugitive Tom Bishop isn’t known for his outpourings of emotion, but do you find yourself feeling affectionately towards him? Do you miss him once you’ve finished a book?

I wouldn’t want to have a beer with Tom Bishop and I certainly wouldn’t let him borrow my car because he’ll return in it pieces. But I have a hell of a lot of fun following him on his adventures and when I’m finished, I do miss him a little bit.

9. Christie, Child or Chandler?

All three as well as Hammett, Ellory and Stark.

10. If your computer were to be impounded by the police, what would the most incriminating thing in your search history be?


Luke spent most of his twenties as a freelance writer, a private investigator and listening to rock ‘n roll. He drinks heavily on occasion, is a half decent musician and his idea of a good time involves a jukebox designed to bleed ears.Luke’s work has been recognised by The Inside Film Awards, MTV and The ATOM Awards. He writes in cafes, bars and in parking lots on the back of old fuel receipts and cigarette packets. He doesn’t believe in writers block or in the magic bullet theory and his favourite album is Exile on Main Street.Luke’s writing is as much influenced by AC/DC and Johnny Cash as it is by Richard Stark and Raymond Chandler. He has a Master’s of Screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts and has absolutely no intention of moving to a shack in the middle of nowhere. He likes bad traffic, noisy neighbours, cheap beer, loud bars and has been occasionally known to howl at the moon.

tram stop international review: marc-antoine mathieu, 3″

This wordless graphic novel is really something: a crime from the point of view of a light particle that spends three seconds (and 900,000 kilometres) bouncing from one place to the next (over shoulders into an eye into a phone camera into a mirror into the reflective surface of a trophy into you get my point), zooming in with painstaking and incredible detail to create a series of scenes and then revisit them from another angle milliseconds later. It’s an inventive idea and one that will slow you right down as you study each panel, ridiculously impressed that someone actually achieved this visually, and managed to create a pretty interesting three-second-long mystery to boot. Lend it to a friend so you can chat about it afterwards – like me and my partner, you’re bound to miss something, and that discovery will bring out your gruff chain-smoking inner detective, poring over the pictures again and again.

opinion: from eighteen to thirty with nothing in between.

Recently I put word out in the Twitterverse for any ideas about crime fiction starring protagonists under the age of thirty. The only two I could think of off the top of my head were Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the excellent PM Newton’s Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly from The Old School, both ladies, and both around twenty-four. The other suggestions I received were all YA books: Harry Potter & co, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Pigboy by JC Burke, Darkwater by Georgia Blain, the Henderson’s Boys series by Robert Muchamore. Which leaves a great wasteland from the end of teendom to thirty or so—when I thought about it, I’ve rarely shared an age bracket with a crime hero since I (sadly) got older than Nancy Drew. It’s only now that I have hit the other side of thirty that I share an age-bracket ticky-box with heroes whose experience and education make them a good enough detective to solve a crime and star in a book. This is probably true in reality—but where does that leave fiction?

I doubt there is anyone who only reads books about people their own age—that would be narrow-minded and boring and I would almost entirely be reading about the pursuit of love in all the wrong places (did you consider your attractive best friend? Because that would probably save a lot of pages)—but as soon as I began my dreaded last lap towards the end of high school I realised that there weren’t any books I could find that were about young, post-high-school-drama adults. What happens in those mysterious years after you graduate high school but before you become a professional with a new car and a table instead of a 1987 Mitsubishi Colt and a tea towel thrown over unpacked boxes of Babysitter Club books? How did you learn? How did all those detectives, able to solve a crime with just an experienced sigh in the direction of a crime scene, get so damn good? Are those stories—ones of seeing your first dead body, of going through police academy with those guys from Police Academy, of having your superiors teach you what to look out for—not worth telling? As I said in my last opinion post on the need to assault women in books: anything can be made into a good story with the right author.

This also seems to invalidate younger adults as engaging people. Of course they are: just because they haven’t had an extra few years, which they are hardly personally to blame for (even those annoying successful ones that I hate), doesn’t mean they don’t have interesting experiences. Hell, many people younger than me are much wiser on basically every level. I’m a different person now than I was when I was twenty—I think I was probably more of a jerk back then, but I led a much more thrilling lifestyle than my current one (wake, pull stupid faces at baby for twelve hours, put baby to bed, go on internet)—but I was filled with enthusiasm for just about everything and scooped up knowledge like future Fiona scoops up sultanas (seriously baby why must you always fling them to the ground? They are for MOUTHS.) I work with a pile of people in this very age bracket and they are some of the funniest, smartest, kindest, most politically astute people I know, and I would love to read about them. Incidentally, none of them read crime fiction.

Books are read for many reasons: identification is one of them. When you leave blank a decade of life in a genre you face the danger of alienating that readership. I can’t realistically see a scenario in which a reader will refuse a book on the basis of the characters’ ages, but where do younger readers find their introduction into crime fiction when the more popular titles start with characters twice their age, with family and addiction problems already comfortably intact?

I’m not sure this is a problem that the world should stop and immediately fix; twentysomethings are hardly a marginalised part of society. When you next look at the great wash of books on the crime fiction section, all murky covers, snow, trees and shadowy figures and VERY BIG BUT VAGUE TITLES, consider that today’s internet-powered target-market yoof are turning around and looking elsewhere. (Probably at their e-readers, little paper-saving ruffians.)

tram stop international review: simone van der vlugt, safe as houses

An escaped prisoner invades the isolated home of a young mother, taking her and her five-year-old daughter hostage.  And the only witness has suffered a head injury in a car accident sustained fleeing the scene.

In the mood to spend a few hours gripped by unspeakable narrative tension, but you’re almost out of Breaking Bad?  Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt has the novel for you!  This is short — 262 pages of very large text — but compelling, using the present tense to draw the reader in and distract them from the clunkier dialogue.  The intimacy of the writing makes the tediously inevitable rape scene all too vivid, but the real strength of the story is in the careful, unreliable bond created between hostages and captor.

Another quality guest post by Liz Barr

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.

review: luke preston, out of exile

One minute, ex-cop Tom Bishop is spending another sleepless night in his gaol cell; the next, a surprise prison transfer turns into an unwilling escape into a hot and bloody summer evening. From there, things for Bishop get worse: break and enter, murder, kidnapping—and that’s just the start of a brutal, tense and terrifyingly local (if you’re me—the author unexpectedly namedropped both my train line and workplace) thriller that is flat-out fast-paced feverishly-excited enjoyment throughout.

From the moment the book opens Bishop gets no respite, thrown from one situation into another, doing his best to help those in need while not exactly being a kind and gentle cuddly-bear-type protagonist. After all, he’s suffered badly in the past, and those who crossed him still need to pay. While Preston busts out a few corkers, like: “Despite the advertisements, there wasn’t much room in the boot of a Ford, and Bishop’s legs were starting to cramp”, Bishop just isn’t the kind of guy who has time for wisecracks; he’s far too busy trying to get shit done in an environment full of file-pushers. And all respect to him for it; he’s got a lot to deal with, what with all the jumping out of windows, dodging gunfire and running hell-bent around Melbourne’s streets. (If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for New Yorkers to constantly see their city destroyed in movies, you’ll love this.) Dealing with Melbourne’s CBD being in gridlock at the same time as criminals are seemingly using the streets as a playground ain’t easy; no one can get anywhere, and the good guys they don’t know where to go. It takes Bishop and those who he can trust—or trust enough, anyway—to find out what the kidnappers want, and who it is that’s pulling all the strings.

This is genuine, nail-shredding excitement. I had to take a couple of breaks just to get a glass of water and calm down so I didn’t internally gasp out all of my oxygen. With all of Bishop’s talents and physicality, it can get faintly ridiculous at times, but make no mistake—like the best kind of action movie, you don’t care in the least. You just want him to get the bad guys, and if a few things need to blow up then all the better. Let’s put it this way: at chapter eighty I went off and made myself a bowl of popcorn to take me through to the end with the proper gravitas. Get that butter melting, people, and strap yourself to your e-reader. It’s gonna be a blast.

*throws keyboard out of window, walks off into the distance to badass soundtrack*


This is one of them newfangled ebook-whatsits. You can get it here!