semi-international review: adam sarafis, something is rotten

Something-is-Rotten-263x400Semi-international, huh? Well, the book is set, for the most part, in New Zealand, which, no, is not a part of Australia. But this is the first crime fiction release by local publisher Echo Publishing, so I can’t help but want to drag the review back to our shores. It’s what Australians do.

I was pumped to receive Echo’s book and my expectations were met and exceeded: this is great. It’s complex, intriguing, and political, but not in the way that makes people like me develop a vacant, confused and slightly embarrassed stare whenever international politics comes up excessively in books. I was even pleased by the cover, which, while hewing close to traditional crime covers, has a dramatic thrusting spire in it which completely distracts you from the fact that there’s a shadowy figure which, instead of being poorly photoshopped into an alleyway/forest as per every other damn book out there, is actually mostly hidden within the book’s shadows. This says to me, who is apparently over-analysing things tonight: we are publishing crime, and you better be paying attention.

Sam Hallberg is a mechanic with a juicy dramatic past; he lives alone, plagued by memories of the family he lost. His wife was murdered, possibly because of Sam’s anti-terrorism career, and now his son lives with his in-laws, out of danger, safe, but distant. Sam’s a habitual helper, and when Jade Amaro comes to visit with a request to look into the death of her friend Brent, Sam agrees, because he’s that kind of guy, and he needs the distraction. Along with figuring out if Brent’s death was a suicide or something more sinister (it’s the latter), Sam lends a hand to his journalist pal Lynette, who is researching one of New Zealand’s most prominent businessmen, someone with power and capital and apparently no personal history to speak of. Is he just publicity shy, or is he hiding something? (It’s the latter. Hooray!)

There is a climactic moment I would have liked more of, and the ending is very neatly tied up with a bit too much prettiness in the bow, but this was a powerfully solid read with more than enough of the requisite excitement and intrigue. The characters were vastly appealing, flawed but endearing: Sam brave, focussed, loyal, and scarred; Lynette fun, relatable, relentless but bitterly realistic in her pursuit of truth. I appreciated how the author (authors, if you look them up) discussed Jade’s job with no value judgements or patronising pity, even though it’s not where she wants to be.

I’m looking forward to seeing more books in the Matakana series on the shelves to see where everyone is heading. Though of course, when you’re invested in characters, you kind of feel bad for hoping it’s back into danger, because even though it’s very nice, no one wants to read about a mechanic who spends his days happily at work and his evenings kicking back with Netflix and pizza.

tv review: brooklyn nine-nine

All right, yes, fine, this is not a book, nor Australian, but this comedy cop show is one of my favourite things at the moment. It’s so good that we downloaded four episodes on iTunes before just buying a physical DVD copy (still cheaper at that point, sadly) only to discover once our internet blessed us with its arrival that it’s on freaking Netflix anyway. So now we have it in one physical and two different digital versions, and I’m not even mad. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

Jake Peralta is a detective and an idiot, and his partner is Amy Santiago, a detective and smart, but far too over-eager. A new captain arrives in their precinct, a dude who is more keen on Jake wearing a tie and following rules than the last captain, who would stumble out of his office, see them setting things on fire, then shrug and leave. Anyway, new boss, new rules, hijinks ensue. There are mountains of episodes, and they are all glorious. This slipped under my radar until a friend alerted me to them; don’t let the same fate befall you.

sandi wallace, tell me why

I love it when books take me to new places – it’s the point of them, after all – but man, do they sometimes bring out my jealous side. Why aren’t I in Sweden crunching around in snow while all my colleagues are murdered? Why isn’t it me who gets to gallivant around London detecting things and going to extravagant dinner parties with thieves? My biggest general mystery in Melbourne’s east is Where Did I Put My Phone, I Swear It Was Just Here.

Anyway, the one advantage of taking a recent slice of time to read almost solely Australian crime books means that this is not quite so unrealistic. Scam artists along the Yarra? That could have been me getting ripped off! Much better. Two books I’ve read recently are set in Daylesford – Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why and Robin Bowles’ true crime Smoke and Mirrors, and despite 50% of the previous being actual real crimes, the characters all seem so damn charming that I just want to go and be surrounded by some picturesque landscape and have a cup of tea while trying to avoid being shot at. Tell Me Why surprised me with its charm; lead character Georgie is one tough cookie, slams about the place scolding people and smoking too much, and makes bad decisions – but usually attempts to remedy things before I get frustrated about her. As a writer, Georgie is used to investigation, but nothing like what happens when her older neighbour Ruby asks her to chase up a missing friend who’s missed her weekly phone call. Georgie thinks that Ruby is being overly dramatic, but, desperate to avoid having any kind of serious relationship conversation with her boyfriend, she hoofs it up to Daylesford to see if she can help out. What she discovers there is a town more than willing to ignore a missing woman; a place full of secrets and the frustratingly dashing police officer John Franklin. Franklin has his own problems – a crappy co-worker, a teenage daughter being all teenagerish, and a case where someone is penning vicious notes to local new mothers. It all adds up to quite the rollicking tale, adventurous, dangerous, and with a lot of speeding around in fast cars. Some loose threads aren’t quite tied up and sometimes I wanted to whap Georgie on the nose with the book, but I never really minded because I was having such a grand old time.