birthdays kill

Happy birthday to Reading Kills!

Today Reading Kills turns one entire year old. It’s still in nappies, but it’s learned how to throw things and talk back.

Before it turns two, I hope to find more time to write reviews (and read things!), publish more guest posts (and that means you, if you ever want to write one!), and break some more laws, like reading without a permit and assaulting a cake with a spork.

Thank you, dear reader – here’s to another year of criminal behaviour. x

megan norris, love you to death

Today’s guest post is by stealer of hearts Liz Barr.

A wealthy housewife, engaged in a passionate affair with a no-hoper, pressures him to murder her husband. So intense and death-obsessed is their relationship, she buys them adjoining plots in a cemetery, kissing her lover passionately as the sale is finalised.

In 2010, Australia was riveted by the revelations about Vickie Soteriou’s attempted murder of her husband, Chris. During the lover’s trial, his defence tried to paint the scenario as something out of film noir: the average joe who is putty in the hands of a femme fatale. Justice Coghlan (by far my favourite judge in the criminal jurisdiction, shut up, it is totally normal to have favourite judges) remarked that Mills and Boon might be more likely.

The best true crime seeks to cast light into society’s dark corners. At the very least, it should tell a good story. Love You To Death: A Story of Sex, Betrayal and Murder Gone Wrong, with its suburban intrigue and glimpses into the contemporary Greek-Australian community, tells a good yarn, but we never get to see past the surface.

This is partially an issue of access — while Chris Soteriou and his family were extremely cooperative with the author, his former wife and in-laws have nothing to say at all. Indeed, the victim remains estranged from his teenage daughter. The Soteriou family are understandably bitter about Vickie’s betrayal, which has cast a sinister light over her entire marriage. But Norris seems to accept their accounts without question, reproducing uncritically the misogynistic slurs the family attached to Vickie. Norris claims to have a particular interest in writing about women and children affected by crime, but phrasing like “the evil housewife” owes more to Victorian (the era, not the state) fears about treacherous women and the breakdown of the traditional family.

The sad thing is, this isn’t even necessary. The facts alone demonstrate that Vickie Soteriou was a manipulative narcissist. That she wears knock-off designer products is less interesting than the fact that she threatened her supplier when her sister-in-law started buying from the same woman. Or so the sister-in-law says.

Love You To Death is, in the end, intriguing but shallow. Very late in the piece, Norris casually mentions that the Greek language press in Australia was comparing the business with the great tragedies of ancient Greece. It’s an interesting insight that goes unexplored, another missed opportunity in a book that could have been so much better.

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

justine larbalestier, razorhurst

Today’s guest post is by the illegally excellent Liz Barr.

 
Diverse as the young adult category is, it contains surprisingly little crime fiction. Maybe its tendency towards realism keeps authors and publishers away from anything that smacks of Enid Blyton. Five Investigate a Grisly Murder. The Secret Seven Solve A Scando-Drama. (Note: I would absolutely read these.)

Filling the gap is Justine Larbalestier’s Razorhurst. It’s dedicated to Ruth Park and Kylie Tennant, whose novels depicted a Surry Hills now lost to gentrification, but its streetsmart dames and ominously respectable crime lords owe something to Raymond Chandler and the American hardboiled detective genre. Not that Chandler would portray a young prostitute with as much sympathy and affection as Larbalestier gives Dymphna Campbell, but then, there weren’t many stoic, tough talking, hard drinking, cynical but honest detectives in 1930s Sydney, either.

Oh, and hardboiled American detective novels didn’t have ghosts.

I was hesitant about the ghosts at first: Sydney in the razor gang era is already so fascinating — why clutter it up with the supernatural? By the book’s end, I was dissatisfied because I wanted more ghosts. I wanted the characters to confront the swarms that haunt Central Station. I wanted more of the beautiful murder victim who haunts her killer’s car. And I wanted a bit less of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s recently deceased boyfriend. (Actually, like the two heroines, I frequently wished he’d vanish forever, or at least shut up for a while.)

The novel takes place over a 24-hour period as the fragile peace between two crime lords is threatened. Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s best girl, but the ominous Mr Davidson has taken an interest in her. And Dymphna has an agenda of her own — although once Jimmy is murdered, her ambitions simplify: she wants to survive.

Accompanying Dymphna is Kelpie, a streetkid who can see and communicate with Sydney’s ghosts. Kelpie knows a lot about death, but once she’s out of Surry Hills, the world is a strange and unfamiliar place. Along the way, Dymphna and Kelpie pick up an ally in the form of Neal Darcy, an honest working class would-be author who can handle a typewriter or a fist fight with equal skill. But not everyone is going to survive the coming day.

Larbalestier vividly sketches 1930s Sydney, but if you’re remotely familiar with the era — or at least watched Underbelly: Razor (which was totally great, by the way — the historical figures might have been slimmed down and glammed up, but that topless prostitute fight actually happened) — there’s a lot of joy to be had in spotting the historical figures. Most appear under different names — Gloriana Nelson is a combination of vice queens Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine — but they’re recognisable nonetheless.

I was particularly delighted with Snowy, based on a factual black man with dyed platinum hair, who’s known, then and now, only by a racial slur. Whatever his real name was, there’s no trace of it in any surviving documents. Larbalestier gives her character a history, a family, an inoffensive nickname, and ultimately something very close to a happy ending.

I’m not sure how well Razorhurst works as a YA novel — I don’t think I’d have understood or enjoyed it when I was a teen — but as crime fiction, it’s an absolute ripper that I wholeheartedly recommend.

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

international review: nadia dalbuono, the few

I fished through a pile of books on my side table, trying to figure out which one to read. I like to stay savvy with what’s new, but I don’t have the time, in those precious few hours when the Rocket is asleep, to read all the books I want. I picked up James Ellroy’s Perfidia; it would be my first Ellroy, and I found myself slowly falling into it, until it fell on me. Like a temperamental eight-year-old, it takes a lot to convince me to read books that are too thick, at at some seven hundred pages, I couldn’t bring myself to get past thirty pages that day, but I hope to come back to it. I started Lee Child’s Personal (on the back cover: “And this time…it’s PERSONAL”), again, my first Lee Child; I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought though his completely inability to put a comma in everywhere (and as you know, I love me twenty commas per sentence) was a touch distracting. Everything was brief. I guess it works. I mean. Jack Reacher is quite the speedy hero. Still, I put it down and drifted around the house a little before returning to my pile and picking up Nadia Dalbuono’s The Few.

I’m not an enormous fan of Italian fiction; I’m not besotted with the idea of traveling to Italy and crime authors who write about it tend to make it seem even more grim than Sweden. Mafia-type fiction, also, is not really one of the niches of the crime genre that I find myself drawn to. But the first few pages drew me in enough to curl up on the couch properly, and I had it finished by the next day.Detective Leone Scamarcio is a police officer avoiding his own personal history as much as he can. His father was in the mob, and despite being straight, he thinks (probably correctly) that everyone thinks he’s corrupt. Apparently not his chief though, who calls him to a clandestine meeting where some incriminating photos of a foreign minister and some naked young men have come to light. One of those men has been found gruesomely stabbed in his Trastevere apartment, and this whole thing needs to be solved silently and swiftly before the chief has to answer to a friend in the very highest of places. One of the few clues left in the dead man’s apartment points the trail (unpleasantly) towards the abuse of children, and so Scarmarcio heads down it to a town full of secrets, corruption, and the worst kind of people in the most untouchable of places. As the summer heat gets his colleagues sweating and the minutiae of police politics seems unbearable, Scamarcio can’t help but wonder if there was more good to be done by way of the family industry than in a police force trying to do its best amongst Italy’s crooked dealings.
There are a few too many loose ends in this, and while it’s part of a two-book series, these seem so tied to the specific crime of this book that I’m not sure Dalbuono will tie them up later. There was something about the crime, despite being the hideousness of a child abduction (one thing almost guaranteed to make me feel sick about reading), that felt a little…unenthusiastic? For such a heinous crime I wasn’t as invested as I expected to be. The tale told throughout of a childhood friendship turned criminal and sour has a smaller payoff than I was anticipating. Leone was reputed to have sudden outbursts of violence but nothing much came of it beyond one scene. Nevertheless, it had great pacing, a lot of tension, interesting locales (the cliffside prison was a new one), and kept me happily captivated. Nothing outrageously new to see here, but a hearty crime book on a winter night is worth more than an electric blanket.

2014 ned kelly awards shortlist

Last Friday night, the Bendigo Writers Festival started with a flurry of events; the next morning, I set off on the Vline train, waving goodbye to Melbourne’s tall towers and crowded streets for the torn-cotton clouds and mid-city fountains of Bendigo. Rachael, my Kangaroo Flat-residing friend of some twenty-seven years—we’d met in our first year of primary school, bonding over being the two shortest kids in the class—met me at the station with a giant warm hug and a bagful of groceries for lunch. Afterwards, she took me into town to scope out the festival: the gorgeous Capital Theatre, the friendly volunteers, and a sneaky coffee in a warm cafe tucked right under the theatre’s wing with tiny little nooks to cradle your toasty drink in.

I was there for the announcement of the 2014 Ned Kelly Awards shortlist; as a committee member of the Australian Crime Writers Association (austcrimewriters.com—and, as I’ve said before, you don’t have to be a writer to join!) As the Association’s secretary, I helped the category judges get through the (fairly enviable) task of reading large piles of books and the (fairly unenviable) task of making a shortlist from said strong selection. After months of work, it had all come together as a free event in The Hub, accompanied by a sturdy bar tab, plates of snacks, celebrated authors, supercool bloggers, along with voracious and enthusiastic readers. Multi-squillion-copy bestselling author Michael Robotham introduced the event, while savvy noir enthusiast Andrew Nette read out the list, and I sat nearby beaming with pride next to Karen, tech-person extraordinaire, hilarious new friend, and the person who received the most emails from me over the past few months as I flapped about in a perpetual state of panic. And so, with explosions of pride on my behalf, onto the shortlists!

 

Michael at left and Andrew at the podium. Drum roll…

 

Best Crime

Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD
Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT
Adrian McKinty, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE
PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING
Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING
Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH

Best First Crime

Peter Cotton, DEAD CAT BOUNCE
Candice Fox, HADES
Alex Hammond, BLOOD WITNESS
Ellie Marney, EVERY BREATH

Best True Crime

Paul Dale, DISGRACED?
John Kidman & Denise Hofman, FOREVER NINE
Eleanor Learmonth & Jenny Tabakoff, NO MERCY
Colin McLaren, JFK: THE SMOKING GUN
Duncan McNab, OUTLAW BIKERS IN AUSTRALIA
John Safran, MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI

Sandra Harvey Short Story Award

Louise Bassett, HOUSEWARMING
Darcy-Lee Tindale, THE SCARS OF NOIR
Roger Vickery, VOICES OF SOI 22
Emma Viskic, SPLINTER
Emma Viskic, WEB DESIGN

Now onto the announcement of the winners (along with a riotous crime debate) at the Brisbane Writers Festival on Saturday, September 6, and trying to decide if I have enough pocket money saved up to go to the Sunshine State at the start of spring—which sounds just awful, of course.