31 March 2008

Time for Another Favourite Author, PD Martin

I wrote about PD Martin's latest novel FAN MAIL back at the beginning of the month. FAN MAIL is the third in the series and I'm sure there will be more. My rating for FAN MAIL was 5.0

PD Martin lives in Melbourne, Australia and developed a passion for crime fiction and story telling at an early age. This interest was backed up with formal education through a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences (with majors in psychology and criminology) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Writing (creative writing).

BODY COUNT (2005) was the first in the series
Australia's loss is America's gain. The Victorian Police sent Sophie Anderson on the FBI's International Program, a six week course at Quantico to refine her profiling skills. When the FBI discovered she had dual citizenship she was offered a profiling job with the FBI unit at Quantico. Sophie Anderson brings to the job psychic skills that she barely understands but that she recognises she has had all her life. Sophie specialises in serial killer profiling and is already, after only six months, establishing a reputation for herself. Sophie is assisting her friend Sam Wright with one of her cases, a serial killer operating in Washington DC. At the same time she herself is having some disturbing dreams that prompt her to check the security of her own flat before going to bed every night. When the DC Slasher leaves a personal message for Sam at the site of his latest victim, she is taken off the case and it is handed to Sophie.
My rating 4.4

The second was THE MURDERERS' CLUB (2006)
Put this one on your lists. It is Martin's second novel and better than her first BODY COUNT. The plot is very inventive. A serial killer is on the loose and leaving strangled bodies on or near the campus of the University of Arizona. Central character FBI profiler Sophie Anderson is an Australian from Melbourne who is visiting her friend Darren Carter when he becomes involved in the investigation after the discovery of first two bodies. We have learnt about the Murderers' Club in the prologue, people who meet in a chat room, and who are apparently behind the murders. Who, What, How and Why are all intriguing questions. An excellent, engaging read.
My rating 4.9

You can read more on PD Martin's website

30 March 2008

Sunday Salon: getting up to date

This week I've been in Perth (Australia) for 3 days for work, and while the travelling gives me reading time, catching up when you get home again takes time.

I'm supposed to strictly be watching what I eat too, and going out to dinner 3 nights in a row makes me a bit scared of the scales.

Books I've finished this week: the links will take you to my reviews.
Daylight saving in Australia.
The changeover to winter time at 2am this morning in some Australian states has apparently played havoc with computer systems, including those controlling airlines. Even the email server at my ISP has sent every email today twice!
At 2am this morning Perth "went off" daylight saving so we got an extra hour to sleep in, which would have been really good if Qantas hadn't kept SMSing me with new flight departure times from about 5.30 am.
At this moment I think Perth and Brisbane may be the only capital cities not on daylight saving and so the time difference between Perth and Adelaide for this week is 2hrs 30 mins.

Currently reading: THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS by Donna Leon

HARUM SCARUM, Felicity Young

HARUM SCARUM, by Felicity Young, Fremantle Press, April 2008, 284 pp

The body of the floater in the Swan River doesn't have a lot to identify it- ­ the face is mutilated, the fingertips gone - ­ but Monty McGuire, head of Perth's Serious Crime Squad is pretty sure his team is well on the way to identifying it.

D.S. Stevie Hooper and lifelong friend Tash are now both members of the Cyber Predator Team, charged with tracking down paedophiles who stalk children in internet chat rooms. Part of their job also is to visit schools talking to children about cyber safety. Stevie heads the team but there are times when she finds Tash, an impulsive risk taker, hard to manage.

The disappearance of an 11 year old girl, and the eventual finding of her body in a dumpster, brings Monty and Stevie, already lovers and parents of six year old Izzy, together into a joint operation directed by Monty.

There's a lot to like about this book apart from the fact that it is well crafted and Felicity Young is a more than accomplished writer. It explores themes that are issues for many parents in the western world ­ the way children use internet chat rooms and cyber technology in general; the threat to children from paedophiles; and effects of a society in which most parents work, on the way their children are growing up and the risks they are exposed to.

HARUM SCARUM further develops the relationship between Monty and Stevie, following on from AN EASEFUL DEATH, the first in the Stevie Hooper series. As with both her earlier novels Young clearly locates her story within a West Australian landscape.

I found HARUM SCARUM an enjoyable read with considerable credibility. The glossary of internet slang provided at the beginning was useful in interpreting the chat room conversations. Perhaps some of the threads of the novel finally converged a little too coincidentally, some problems were resolved a little too easily, but this is fiction, and you can do things here that may not happen in real life. The book seems to close a chapter in Stevie's life and I'm ready for the next to open.

HARUM SCARUM is Felicity Young's third published novel in 4 years and the second Stevie Hooper novel. AN EASEFUL DEATH, the first Stevie Hooper novel, was published in 2007. Young’s website is at http://www.felicityyoung.com/.

HARUM SCARUM is available through Fremantle Press: http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/

My rating: 4.5


Here I am in Perth airport waiting for my flight back to Adelaide. At 2am this morning Perth "went off" daylight saving so we got an extra hour to sleep in, which would have been really good if Qantas hadn't kept SMSing me with new flight departure times from about 5.30 am.
At this moment I think Perth and Brisbane may be the only capital cities not on daylight saving and so the time difference between Perth and Adelaide for this week is 2hrs 30 mins. My plane leaves here at 9am and arrives in Adelaide at about 2pm. Feels like I am throwing the day away.

Last night I finished THE ARSENIC LABYRINTH, Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen Press, 2007, 291 pp.

Ten years have passed since Emma Bestwick disappeared in Coniston in the Lakes District, and also since Guy was last there. When a local journalist runs a story on Emma's disappearance, Guy can't resist telling someone what he knows. If anything Guy is a bit of a leech, a wastrel, a ladies' man, and he not only wants to salve his conscience, but also to capitalise on his secret knowledge.

DCI Hannah Scarlett, now head of Cumbria's Cold Case Review Team, remembers the Emma Bestwick case quite well, and is pressured not only by the press, but also by her opportunistic Assistant Chief Constable, to reinvestigate the case, or at least to take a look at the file.

Hannah is conscious too that after a recent failed investigation where she was left with egg on her face, and the press had a field day, success in re-opened investigation can only improve her public image. Just before Emma Bestwick disappeared totally without trace, she appeared to have come into some new wealth, but those she lived and worked with could not throw any light on where it came from, and it was assumed that she had left the district to start a new life, perhaps with a new man.

THE ARSENIC LABYRINTH is the third title in Martin Edwards' Lake District series featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett, and Daniel Kind, son of her old boss. I read the first book in the series, THE COFFIN TRAIL, and really enjoyed it, but haven't yet got to the second THE CIPHER GARDEN, and have decided I must track it down.

I like the way Edwards mixes knowledge about the history of the Lakes District (which I have visited 2 or 3 times), in this case the production of arsenic as a byproduct of copper mining, with the elements of whodunnit and whydunnit. The thread of the investigation is interwoven with human interest elements, the story of Daniel Kind and his partner Miranda seeking to live the quieter rural life in Tarnfold; Hannah Scarlett and Mark Amos struggling to maintain a satisfying relationship in the face of Hannah's work and his expanding bookshop business. There are many elements that the reader will recognise: the rise and fall of family fortunes over the generations, the struggle to make ends meet, gambling addiction, vulnerability, and greed.

THE ARSENIC LABYRINTH is on the face of it a variation of a cozy, a police procedural, but with some unexpected twists to the plot.

Read more about everything Martin is involved in at his site http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/index.htm Follow his blog at http://www.doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/

My rating: 4.5

28 March 2008

THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser

THUMBPRINT, Friedrich Glauser, ISBN 1-904738-00-1, 199pp

Originally published in 1936 (Swiss German??), translated in to German in 1995, first published in English in 2004 by Bitter Lemon Press.

Sergeant Studer has been asked to arrest Erwin Schlumpf on suspicion of having murdered his fiance’s father. The body of Wendelin Witschi, merchant and travelling salesman from Gerzenstein, has been found in the forest, shot in the head behind the ear. For reasons really unknown to himself, having delivered the prisoner to Thun Castle only an hour so previously, Studer returns to find the young man hanging by the neck from a leather belt tied around the window bars. He is in time to save Schlumpf’s life. The case of murder appears to be an open and shut one, but to Studer, an aging sergeant and unlikely detective, things don’t seem right, and of course they are not. Studer gets himself assigned to the case by almost blackmailing the magistrate who originally thought the facts clearly showed Schlumpf’s guilt. This is a very satisfying whodunit, with lots of the elements of the more modern whydunnits.

Bitter Lemon Press tells us that Glauser is often referred to as the Swiss Simenon. What strikes you as you read it is how well it has stood the test of time. It is set in the early 1930s but none of those “older novel” characteristics that you find in many Golden age English crime novels are there. That of course may be because it has been translated into English only recently, and so it is closer to modern idioms.

From Bitter Lemon Press: http://www.bitterlemonpress.com/authors/friedrich-glauser.asp
Friedrich Glauser was born in Vienna in 1896. Often referred to as the Swiss Simenon, he died aged forty-two a few days before he was due to be married. Diagnosed a schizophrenic, addicted to morphine and opium, he spent much of his life in psychiatric wards, insane asylums and, when he was arrested for forging prescriptions in prison. He also spent two years with the Foreign Legion in North Africa, after which he worked as a coal-miner and a hospital orderly. In 1939, a year after Glauser’s death, the film of 'Thumbprint', the first Sergeant Studer mystery, was greeted with critical acclaim and commercial success. Studer became more famous than his creator, the mark of true success for a fictional detective.

My rating: 4.6

26 March 2008

On my travels again

One of the things I do every year is travel to most of the capital cities for work to conduct workshops. Tomorrow morning I'm off to Perth bright and early and will be away for 3 nights.

It is always a good chance to get some reading done on the plane, and also at night, because being away from home you have so much less to do.

So first of all I'll finish my current read:
HARUM SCARUM by Felicity Young.

Then I'm taking a choice with me:

I might even get to read them all :-)
I hate being without a good book, but I don't think that will happen this time.

24 March 2008


I picked up a copy of A MAN'S GOT TO HAVE A HOBBY, after hearing William McInnes speak at Adelaide Writers' Week earlier this month. An accomplished actor, McInnes comes over as a laconic, laid-back larrikin, and those qualities emerge from his book too. He read a number of excerpts from this book in particular at the AWW sessions I attended and I was hooked. That's why I have read a book which is an exception to my genre of choice.

It has taken me a while to finish, simply because I put it down to get on with some "genre" reading, and I'm not good at reading two books at once.

William McInnes says A MAN'S GOT TO HAVE A HOBBY is a tribute to his father, but it is really a tribute to a life style that we've almost lost. McInnes is a decade or so younger than me, and despite the fact that it is written from a masculine point of view, we have shared so many growing-up-in-the-country experiences. The Queensland of his childhood is a long way from the South Australia of mine, but the book is all about values, what is important in life. It is a memoir filled with larger than life characters and a kaleidoscope of humour.

The first hundred pages focusses on the house McInnes grew up in - the fine vessel - the big house on the battleaxe block that was always full of laughter and music. In the second hundred pages McInnes is attending a benefit dinner to raise money for the new local museum for the town where he was born. He is an invited guest, and waiting for his turn to speak, his mind free ranges over the past: from the time the footy coach tried to inspire the team with sound track he'd recorded from the Guns of Navarone, to going to the drive in theatre in the truck in his pajamas. The final fifty or so pages is titled Saying Goodbye - "a part of me is moving further away from where I grew up".

McInnes is part of a fine Australian tradition, of Australians who have a keen eye for character and incident. He doesn't have the literary flair of the classic writers such as Joseph Furphy, Banjo Paterson, and Henry Lawson. But he does have a turn of phrase and a sense of the ridiculous. I am the first to admit I'm not at all well read in this genre but A MAN'S GOT TO HAVE A HOBBY reminds me a lot of Nino Culotta's THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB.

The blurb on the back says "This is a book about people who aren't famous ... but should be. It is about love and hope and fear, laughter, death and life." That just about says it all.

My rating: 4.4

23 March 2008

Sunday Salon: a run of good ones

One of the really good things about belonging to discussion groups and reading the blogs of others, is that you collect lists and lists of recommendations, and you are never at a loss for what to read. It is more the selection of the next book that is the problem. I have enough unread books lying around to last me well over a year, in the unlikely scenario that I never bought or acquired any more.

When you look at my ratings of the books I've read this year, you would be forgiven for thinking that I'm easy to please. I don't see it that way at all. All the books I have lying around are likely to be "good reads" because the hard work of choosing has already been done, by the lists and lists that come my way.

So in the last week I have read

I read almost exclusively crime fiction, and I rate all I read between 0 and 5 with 5 as the best.

This year I've awarded 5.0 twice
One of the things I blogged about earlier this week was How much to reveal in a review
I am interested in collecting people's thoughts about how a good review is structured.


A young woman, a black boy-child, and an old man travelling through the southern French Alps in pursuit of a lycanthrope, a werewolf - almost the makings of a medieval tale, if it were not set so firmly in modern times by technology like the mobile phone. As just as they are about to give up, the puzzle solver, in the person of Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, comes to their rescue.

The annual migration of wolves from the Italian into the French Alpine wildlife reserve is on, but something is amiss. Pockets of sheep outside the reserve are being killed, seemingly by a rogue wolf, but then the rumour starts that the culprit is not a wolf at all, but a man called Massart. Massart, a butcher by trade, has gone missing, and the locals who have always mistrusted him, are more than willing to believe a suggestion that he has become a werewolf. It is Suzanne Rosselin who comes up with this theory, because Massart is smooth skinned, but then she too is found dead, killed in the same way as the sheep. And that's how the pursuit starts.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg in Paris, himself the object of pursuit by a crazed young woman whose lover he shot, makes only cameo appearances in the first half of this novel. But he is aware of the wolf problem, and he recognises a face from his past in some of the television news footage.

In an earlier post I pointed out the wonderful descriptions of Adamsberg's method of thinking, and indeed the book itself uses a similar methodology. The reader is presented with an array of material from which to select bits to remember, that may or may not be relevant.

The translation of SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR appears to be beautifully done. The main characters are fascinating: apart from Adamsberg himself there is the old shepherd Watchee who rings a friend everyday so that he can talk to the lead ewe in his flock, George Gershwin; there's Soliman constantly spouting word definitions, and telling African folk tales that he is making up as he goes; and Camille, the truck-driver, carrying around with her an A-Z catalogue of tools to dip into for comfort reading.

SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR is the second in Fred Vargas' Chief Inspector Adamsberg series. It was originally published in French in 1999, translated into English in 2004. The book was a finalist for a Dagger Award in 2005. Vargas went on to win the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger twice with THE THREE EVANGELISTS (2006) and WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND (2007).

Make time to find this book. You won't regret it.
My rating: 4.9

22 March 2008

How Adamsberg thinks

I am in the process of reading SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR by Fred Vargas.

I'm fascinated by the descriptions of the thought processes of Vargas' protagonist Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg.

Commissaire Adamsberg liked solitude, he liked to let his mind wander far out to sea, but he also liked people and the movement of people, and he fed on their presence around him like a flea... Adamsberg spent many an hour dreaming away, peacefully waiting for ideas to rise to the surface of his mind.
For that is how Adamsberg found his ideas - simply by waiting for them to turn up. When one rose before his eyes like a dead fish on the crest of a wave, he picked it up, turned it over, asked himself whether he needed this item at the moment, whether it was of any interest. Adamsberg never thought actively, he found it quite sufficient to day-dream and then to sort his catch, like a fisherman scrabbling about clumsily in the bottom of the net and finally picking the prawn out of the mess of sand, seaweed, pebbles and shells. Adamsberg's thoughts contained plenty of seaweed and sand, and he didn't always know how to avoid getting caught in the mess. He needed to jettison a lot of it, evacuate great heaps. He was aware that his own mind produced a mixed bag of mental items of uneven size and value, and that things did not necessarily happen the same way for other people. He had noticed the difference between his thinking and the mental products of Danglard, his number two, was identical to the difference between a netful from the river-bed and a fishmonger's neatly laid-out slab. He couldn't help it. Anyway, he always ended up fishing something useful out of his glory-hole, as long as people gave him enough time. That's how Adamsberg used his brain, like an ocean that you could trust entirely to feed you well, but which you've long ago given up trying to tame.

And then ten or so pages further on, we see it from Danglard's point of view:
Danglard had never grasped the peculiar logic that lay behind Adamsberg's decisions. In his view, of course, it was no logic at all, just an unending kaleidoscope of hunches and surmises which inexplicably gave rise to undeniably first-rate results. That said, Danglard's nerves could not stand the strain of keeping in step with Adamsberg's thought processes. For not only were the commissaire's thoughts of indeterminate substance, hovering between the solid, liquid and gaseous states, but they were forever aggluntinating with other thoughts without the slightest rational link. So while Danglard with his well-honed mind sorted the sheep from the goats, put things in little boxes, found the missing links, and thereby solved problems with method, Adamsberg put one thing with another, or turned them upside down, or scattered what had been brought together and threw it up in the air to see where it would fall. And despite his amazingly slow pace, he would, in the end, extract truth from that chaos. ... he remained torn between finding Adamsberg's mind admirable, and finding it exasperating.

This is just wonderful writing and I look forward to learning more about Adamsberg's methods.
This is the first Fred Vargas novel I have tackled, and I can see already that I have a great treat in store.

21 March 2008


Socialite Katie Bishop drives a BMW and lives in a mansion of a house on Dyke Road Avenue, Brighton, guarded by big wrought iron gates. But wealth, social status and privacy don't protect her when she becomes the target of a murderer while her husband is out playing golf. More than that Katie seems to have been participating in some rather kinky sex before she died.
Brian Bishop is playing a blinder when he is interrupted on the ninth hole by Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson of Sussex CID with the news that at 8.30 that morning his cleaning lady discovered the body of his wife Katie. Back at chez Bishop, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is supervising the scene of the crime.

On the face of it, Brian Bishop was well away from Brighton, in fact in London, at the time his wife was murdered. He had been to dinner in Piccadilly with his financial adviser, and then gone back to his London flat to sleep. Why then doesn't he want to admit that he spent most of the night with Sophie Harrington? Why is Sophie under surveillance? To Roy Grace's team there are things about Brian Bishop that are worth watching.

This is a long novel, but it takes Peter James quite a while to set up all the threads of the main plot. For me the novel moved quite slowly for about the first half, but then it fairly rocketed along, tension building, so you really want to know happens next. And don't worry if you think you have it all sussed out 100 pages from the end - you haven't. For me there were a couple of threads that James didn't quite tie up properly, and a bit of paranormal that I found it hard to swallow, but that didn't reduce my ultimate feeling of satisfaction as most things came together.

There's a lot built into this novel apart from the serial murders being investigated. His wife Sandy disappeared from their house just over nine years ago, on the evening of his 30th birthday. Despite the fact that he is very friendly with the Chief Mortician, Grace is constantly wondering what became of Sandy. These thoughts intrude at moments when he should be focussing on a post mortem or the particulars of a case. He has even consulted psychics in the hope of learning something. Roy Grace comes over as very human, likeable, and just a little bit flawed. And his team think that way too. In the opening pages his Sergeant Glenn Branson turns up on his doorstep when his wife Ari throws him out. His young DC Nick Nicholl is a new parent who is finding the reality of having a baby at home doesn't do much for his sleep. Other members of his team are given chances to show their true worth, even when Grace recognises their short comings. The thing that comes across about Roy Grace above all is that he is prepared to go to bat for what he believes in, and is above all fair to the members of his team. He cares deeply about their welfare.

Two things that I want to remember for a while: Roy Grace's firm belief in a suspect's eye movements revealing their guilt. This is something he is converting his team to believe in. Grace has a love/hate relationship with his ACC Alison Vosper. When there is a stumbling block in the evidence she says "that's the elephant in the room" - wonderful mental picture!

The characters in LOOKING GOOD DEAD are comprehensively drawn, pulling the reader into a fiction that feels a lot like real life. I am looking forward to the 4th title in the series, DEAD MAN's FOOTSTEPS, due out in June 2008.

The Roy Grace series began when Peter James consulted publishers at Pan MacMillan who suggested that he branch out into a detective series. To that point he had been writing thrillers which didn't seem to have much of a market. He decided to set the series in Brighton where he lives, with a central character who is "a bit of an oddball": a missing wife and a belief in the supernatural. I believe he was originally contracted to write a series of 3 novels. The first in the series DEAD SIMPLE (published 2005) has been translated into 28 languages. The second was LOOKING GOOD DEAD (2006).

Peter James' own website is at http://www.peterjames.com/ and contains many of the interviews he has given, articles he has written, his blog, a newsletters, blurbs about all of his books, and extracts from Roy Grace novels.

Check my other posting which was a progress report.

My rating: 4.8

How much to reveal in a review

The reviewing rules that I use are, in general
  • Outline of story opening - no more than first 50 pages -where the book is set, background etc, this bit no more than 2 parags
  • type of book
  • book characteristics - how the author tells the story
  • about the author, other books, website
  • How I felt about the book
I've been finding, particularly with longer books recently, that many books don't really get started in the first 50 pages. So should the rule be - don't reveal anything beyond the first 20% of the book?
e.g. in a 250 page book 50 pages, in a 450 page book 90 pages

In WICKER that I reviewed recently for example, there were quite significant aspects of the book (that would appeal to particular readers) that didn't even come up until the second half.

When in doubt I often read the blurb on the book, to see what the publishers are prepared to reveal. That's when you find out that the person who wrote the blurb either didn't read the book properly, or the blurb was written before the final version of the book. [That's a different story - in the blurb on PD Martin's FAN MAIL for example there is a significant divergence from what happens in the book]
If I find the blurb has gone further into the book, I do feel as if I have permission to do so too, but I don't always take it. I am always mindful that I shouldn't spoil the book for a reader, but then I too read blurbs and reviews, but I really only remember the bits that spark my interest.

I think there is a problem too when you didn't really like a book. Occasionally I review true crime, but it is not a genre that I look for, and I rarely enjoy. Sometimes I read a crime fiction that I really can't wait to finish because I hate it so much, and that I wouldn't recommend to anyone. But then I am aware that it takes all kinds to make a world, and what I hate another may enjoy. How do you handle those, particularly if you have been given a free review copy?

I'd be interested in knowing what basic rules others try to follow, or what authors think is "fair game".

19 March 2008

NOT DEAD ENOUGH, Peter James, progress report

I've read 2 books in this series (see my mini-reviews below) and enjoyed them greatly, so was looking forward to this one. It is quite a long one (486pp in the edition I have), much longer than I remember the others being. So I'm not getting through it very quickly.

So far: (no spoilers I promise)
Katie Bishop drives a BMW and lives in a mansion of a house on Dyke Road Avenue, Brighton, guarded by big wrought iron gates. But wealth, social status and privacy don't protect her when she becomes the target of a murderer while her husband is out playing golf. More than that Katie seems to have been participating in some rather kinky sex before she died.
Brian Bishop is playing a blinder when he is interrupted on the ninth hole by Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson of Sussex CID with the news that at 8.30 that morning his cleaning lady discovered the body of his wife Katie. Back at chez Bishop, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is supervising the scene of the crime.

On the face of it, Brian Bishop was well away from Brighton, in fact in London, at the time his wife was murdered. He had been to dinner in Picadilly with his financial adviser, and then gone back to his London flat to sleep. Why then doesn't he want to admit that he spent most of the night with Sophie Harrington? Why is Sophie under surveillance? To Roy Grace's team there are things about Brian Bishop that are worth watching.

Roy Grace is an interesting character. His wife Sandy disappeared from their house just over nine years ago, on the evening of his 30th birthday. Despite the fact that he is very friendly with the Chief Mortician, Grace is constantly wondering what became of Sandy. These thoughts intrude at moments when he should be focussing on a post mortem or the particulars of a case. He has even consulted psychics in the hope of learning something. He comes over as very human, likeable, and just a little bit flawed.

Four bodies, one suspect, no trace. The first case for detective superintendent Roy Grace. It was meant to be a harmless stag night prank. A few hours later four of his best friends are dead and Michael Harrison has disappeared. With only three days to the wedding, Detective Superintendent Grace - a man haunted by the shadow of his own missing wife - is contacted by Michael's beautiful, distraught fiancée, Ashley Harper. Grace discovers that the one man who ought to know Michael Harrison's whereabouts is saying nothing. But then he has a lot to gain - more than anyone realizes. For one man's disaster is another man's fortune...Dead simple...

My rating: 4.8

The second in the D.S. Roy Grace series (first was DEAD SIMPLE). Tom Bryce picks up a CD left behind on the train by a fellow passenger. Later at home he investigates the CD on his laptop and finds himself on the internet viewing a snuff murder. Meanwhile Roy Grace is called to the discovery of a decapitated female corpse near the seaside resort of Brighton which he lives near. In viewing the snuff movie Tom Bryce has put himself and his family in danger. And Roy Grace is in hot water too - already in trouble for taking a piece of evidence to a medium, he needs "a result" quickly. There are plenty of threads that connect LOOKING GOOD DEAD to the earlier book in the series, but readers should not find it difficult to start with this novel if they haven't read the earlier one. Excellently crafted.

My rating: 4.8

Check Fantastic Fiction for other books by Peter James, especially those written prior to this series. I see a 4th title in the Roy Grace series, titled DEAD MAN'S FOOTSTEPS, is due out in June this year. Peter James own website is at http://www.peterjames.com/

16 March 2008

HEARTSICK, Chelsea Cain

Detective Archie Sheridan is famous in Portland as the man who headed the so-called Beauty Killer Task Force, and solved the case two years before, the one where beautiful psychopath Gretchen Lowell was responsible for the deaths over 200 beautiful girls. Because of what Gretchen did to him, physically and mentally, in the ten days she had him, Archie hasn't worked for the last two years. Although Archie is thought to be responsible for Gretchen's eventual capture, he knows that the truth is very different.

Two years on, Archie still thinks about Gretchen every day, and visits her in prison every weekend. His marriage has collapsed although he still loves Debbie, and she him, although she can't share him with Gretchen. Now the city needs him to work again, to head the squad looking for Portland's latest serial killer, the Afterschool Strangler. This time the case will have maximum publicity with a newspaper reporter writing a series of articles about Archie and the case, and accompanying him to crime scenes. Susan Ward, the reporter, has problems of her own, but she is desperately aware of the opportunities this assignment offers.

I feel compelled to warn readers that this novel is very noir - some reviewers have described Gretchen Lowell as the "creepiest serial killer ever".

In HEARTSICK Chelsea Cain has explored not only the make-up of a psychopath, but also the relationship between the serial killer and his/her victim. Archie Sheridan is far from well. Physically he requires extraordinary amounts of pain killers and other drugs to get him through everyday. As the novel develops we are part of not only the investigation into the current disappearances, but also we learn what Gretchen did to Archie in captivity. Not a novel for the squeamish. I'm not squeamish but there was a point when I was wondering if perhaps I'd skip "the next few pages".

This is not Chelsea Cain's first published book, but as far as I can see she's written nothing like this before. On her website at http://www.chelseacain.com/ you can see a short video promo of the book and read an extract. Chelsea Cain says HEARTSICK was inspired by the case of Portland's Green River Killer.

My rating: 4.5

15 March 2008


At 386 pages this is quite a long read, and I don't remember how it got onto my lists. Someone recommended it somewhere and obviously I thought it sounded interesting. But by page 250 I was beginning to wonder whether I was really all that interested in continuing.

Let me tell you about it without giving too much away.

The year his life as an American college professor fell apart, Harry Ricks fled to Paris with all his worldly wealth. Arriving in mid-winter he checks into a hotel where he is laid low by some sort of flu and is befriended by the hotel's night porter who helps him find cheap accommodation. He finds a job as a night watchman just watching TV monitors, letting people in and out of the building by pressing a button, and alerting those within to strangers in the alleyway next door. He has no idea what actually happens in the building, is told he doesn't need to know, and is paid on a daily basis, which suits him fine. When he is befriended by Margit, a Hungarian emigre, we learn more about why he left America, as he tells her his story. The man who lives in the room next door to Harry is viciously killed in the toilet they share and Harry becomes an object of police interest.

At this point I thought, here we are! Crime fiction at last. What happened next caught me truly unawares and stretched the bounds of credibility. Someone who looks for more woo-woo and para-normal in their reading might be very happy with it, just wasn't really my cup of tea, and no, it's not really crime fiction although at a stretch you could call it a mystery.

It's not that its badly written, perhaps it could have done with a bit of pruning, and the story threads themselves were interesting, just that I was expecting something else perhaps.

My rating: 3.9

14 March 2008

Favourite Authors - #7 Reginald Hill

As I wrote in an earlier posting, I'm listing authors that I would always buy if I came across something by them that I had not yet read.

So far I've listed
I've been watching the latest Reginald Hill offering A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES "perform" on the UK Amazon best sellers list, although this week it seems to have slipped a bit. However when a work friend told me her husband had bought her a copy, I positively salivated with envy. So yes, I do count Reginald Hill amongst my favourite authors, but because I have read them in all sorts of order, I am not at all sure that I have read them all, so maybe there are some pleasures still to come.

However from my database, some mini reviews to titivate your tasetebuds and send you scurrying off to the library or bookshop. These ones I have read and recorded since the end of 2004.

Lecturers having it away with students, midnight romps among the sand dunes, these fit in pretty well with Superintendent Andy Dalziel's views of the benefits of Higher Education. But the discovery of a body buried beneath a statue in the grounds of Holm Coultram College surprises even his cynical mind.
Fortunately he has an expert to hand, that prize product of Higher Education., Peter Pascoe. Together they settle in on campus and the learning process begins. The only trouble is that just as they think they have solved one problem, a second body turns up to set them another.… and another ....
Pascoe is both helped and hindered by finding an old flame on the staff, while the students class Dalziel as a fascist pig and thick with it, which is a very serious mistake....
My rating: 4.5

Police Inspector Peter Pascoe has stumbled upon the remains of an ancestor unjustly executed in wartime. As he delves into the mystery of his disgraced great-grandfather's death, his partner, Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel, is preoccupied with a shapely animal rights activist. Eight female protesters have discovered human bones on the grounds of a drug company's research headquarters, and the investigation has a shocking connection to Pascoe's own family case.
My rating: 5.0

Andy Dalziel's worst case was when 3 little girls went missing at Dendale, a small community where a dam was being built. They were never found and Benny Lightfoot, the man suspected of their disappearance, disappeared without trace too. The valley was flooded and the crime was never solved. Most of the families moved into a neighbouring valley, and now, 15 years on, another little girl has gone missing. But little Betsy Lightfoot had survived 15 years ago, and now she has come back to the area. She was 7 years old when Dendale was drowned. And it seems too that Benny is back.
My rating: 4.7

Things move slowly in the tiny village of Illthwaite, but that's about to change with the arrival of two strangers. Sam Flood is a young Australian post-grad en route to Cambridge. Miguel Madero is a Spanish historian in flight from a priests' seminary. They have nothing in common and no connection, except that they both want to dig up bits of the past that some people would rather keep buried. Very different book by Reginald Hill.
A bit Gothic/mystery/romance, and rather in the style of books I used to read back in the 1970s, but I enjoyed it. I can see though, why readers who wanted more Dalziel and Pascoe were a bit upset when this came out. I'm even wondering now whether Hill has had parts of this in cold storage for years and just fleshed out the Australian character (who can be a bit annoying) after his Australian tour of 2004
My rating: 4.6

When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel sticks his nose in where it is not wanted yet again, and is consequently blown up by a Semtex bomb exploding in a video store, the unthinkable is on the cards: the death of fat Andy. Then it seems there is little justice in the world. Sheltered by Dalziel's bulk, and only slightly injured in the bomb blast, Peter Pascoe is fairly quickly seconded to CAT, the anti-terrorist unit. As fat Andy fights against the odds and remains in a coma, blame falls on the Knights Templar, a right wing group pledged to dealing with Moslem sympathisers through summary execution and even suicide bombing. Pascoe suspects there may be a mole in CAT who is leaking information to the Knights Templar, and that his secondment is in fact busy work to keep an eye on him. There are some beautiful cameo performances in this book: Cap Marvell, Dalziel's partner; Hector, the policeman who originally noticed something odd in the video store; Rosie, Pater Pascoe's daughter who has absolute faith that Uncle Andy will wake up when he is good and ready; Ellie Pascoe, so supportive of Peter; and finally Wieldy, ever faithful, always coming up with the goods. This is one book that you don't want to finish..
My rating: 5.0

12 March 2008

Favourite Authors - #6 Michael Robotham

As well as being a really nice person, Michael Robotham is a great writer, and he's Australian!

4 novels to his credit:
  • THE NIGHT FERRY - 2007
  • and recently SHATTER - already out in the UK
I've only got two mini-reviews in my current database but I hope they encourage you to look for all the titles.
Do yourself a favour and read them in order. There are connections between them :-)

Michael has two nearly identical websites
His Australian one: http://www.michaelrobotham.com/aus/index.htm
His British one: http://www.michaelrobotham.com/uk/index.htm

Lots to read on them, a mailing list to join, newsletter to read, and some FAQs to read.

DI Vincent Ruiz is near retirement age and is known in the force as a bit of a loose cannon. He is head of London's Serious Crimes Group. He has a fixation on a missing child case theoretically solved three years earlier. Although a body was never found, someone has been convicted of Mickey's murder. Ruiz is convinced they got it wrong, that the child is still alive. Ruiz is fished out of the Thames, more dead than alive, a dreadful bullet wound in his leg, the top joint of one of his fingers missing, and amnesia. He has no idea what happened. In a sense this is a sequel to Robotham's first novel SUSPECT, with the same two main characters, Ruiz and psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. Whereas SUSPECT focussed on O'Loughlin's predicament, LOST focusses on Ruiz. LOST won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award for best mystery by an Australian author.

My rating: 4.8

This is a fascinating book even if you only look at it from the point of view of how it fits in with Robotham's other 2 books. His first was THE SUSPECT where the central character was psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin. In a sense the second book, LOST (also published as THE DROWNING MAN) was a sequel to SUSPECT, with the same two main characters, Vincent Ruiz and psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. Whereas SUSPECT focussed on O'Loughlin's predicament, LOST focusses on Ruiz. Now in THE NIGHT FERRY DC Ali Barba, a minor character in LOST emerges in her own right, with assistance and mentoring from the now retired DI Vincent Ruiz. Detective Constable Alisha Barba is still on medical leave, nearly completely recovered after a murder suspect broke her back across a brick wall a year earlier (in LOST). There is is to be a re-union of classmates at Ali's old school and she receives a note from former classmate and best friend Cate from whom she has been estranged for 8 years. Cate says she is in trouble and asks Ali to come to the reunion. When they meet briefly Alisha sees immediately that Cate is pregnant and Cate talks of people who are trying to take her baby. After the reunion Cate and her husband are knocked down by a taxi. The husband Felix is killed and Cate is critically injured. Subsequent medical examination reveals that Cate was never pregnant. From this tantalising beginning, Robotham builds a cleverly crafted story, and the character of Ali Barba grows and grows. We explore the consequences of a police force that moves too slowly, a justice system that refuses to charge criminals because it is not 'in the public interest', and the greed of those who see children as a saleable commodity. And has Robotham left the door open for another? The last line holds hope. 'The end of one story is merely the beginning of the next'.

My rating: 5.0

11 March 2008

CONNED, Matthew Klein

Kip Largo has been a con man all his working life, probably longer than that because he learnt at his father's knee. He knows all about the Pot game, the Pigeon Drop, the Roper, the Mark, and the Button. The fact that he's just spent 5 years in jail for fraud has not reduced the lure of the con.

Currently he has two legitimate jobs but neither makes nearly enough money, and so the prospect of taking down a Las Vegas magnate worth billions is irresistible. The approach from the magnate's wife seems fortuitous.

His son Toby has a problem too - gambling debts have left him owing big money to the Californian Russian Mafia. If Kip can't stump up the money then Toby is dead meat, truly. The Russians show they are serious by breaking Toby's leg and hospitalising him. So Kip does a deal with the Russians and the plot to con money out of the magnate is launched.

There are so many twists in the con, it is rather like being in a deep water tank, with little idea which way is up. This thriller moves at a fast pace and Kip Largo the hustler is a master at his trade. This isn't my usual style of book, but I really did want to see how it finished, and I learnt a lot about the tricks of the con.

My rating: 4.4

LADIES OF CLASS, Marjorie Owen

LADIES OF CLASS is being released this week- March 15. It is available through Amazon.

First of all some information about how I came to review this book.
When Marjorie Owen died over 3 years ago, at the grand old age of 93, she left 4 handwritten books and over 50 short stories, all unpublished. For the past three years her daughter-in-law Dee has been transcribing all her works and attempting to get them published. I was drawn into the project in October last year when Dee contacted Reviewer's Choice where I publish some of my reviews, seeking someone to review Marjorie's book.

It gives me great pleasure to publish my review here.
You might like to browse Dee's blogs at http://pangirl.tripod.com/ and http://marjo-mumswritings.blogspot.com There is a blog tour being organised to celebrate the launch of LADIES OF CLASS.

Author: Marjorie Owen
Publisher: Vintage Romance
This Edition first published: March 2008
ISBN: 0-9793327-539
Classification: mystery
231 pages

The fact that Laura Clayton is about to die comes as no surprise – in fact we are told that it will happen right from the beginning of LADIES OF CLASS. The reason for her death however is not clear. Laura has lived in the English village of Burshill for thirty years. Widowed for five years, she is a pillar of the community, highly regarded by the vicar and his wife, and an old friend of the Chief Constable. She shouldn’t have had an enemy in the world, but her death proves that she did. When two more women die, both of whom knew Laura, then the police need to look for more links.

Newly promoted Detective Chief Inspector Richard Hayward broke his leg, not in the course of his duties, but by slipping on a patch of ice. So his mother Ella is helping him move into his new house at Burshill. The Chief Constable requests that Richard make an early return to work to take on the Laura Clayton case. Richard’s New Zealand born wife Kate has gone home to visit her sick father and Ella becomes his sounding board in an increasingly complex and tricky case.

LADIES OF CLASS is written very much in the style of the village cosy, with many of the hallmarks of Golden Age writing. Despite the fact that three deaths occur in quick succession, they are presented in that peculiarly flat, almost bloodless, style characteristic of the period. Dialogue dominates the structure of the novel, and the author tends to underline the importance of certain events and statements, presumably to ensure that we don’t miss their significance.

For me there were things that didn’t quite work given the period of the setting, which I thought was the late 1960s. Long distance telephone calls have to be booked, in keeping with the times, while long distance aeroplane journeys seem to be accomplished in very short time. The author’s attempt to render cockney speech verbatim was just a little irritating too, but she attempted it, thankfully, with just one character.

Despite these minor annoyances, the plot is well woven, the characters carefully drawn, and there was just enough to trouble "the little grey cells." There are plenty of readers who will find this a satisfying read. The first chapter of LADIES OF CLASS can be read online at http://startatbeginning.blogspot.com/2007/10/ladies-of-class.html

My rating: 4.1

10 March 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshots - # 6

The 6th batch of these interviews, the result of a collaboration between Karen Chisholm (of the Aust Crime Fiction weblog), Damien Gay (of Crime DownUnder) and Perry Middlemiss (of Matilda).

Check out the previous 31 Australian crime fiction authors listed last week in this amazing project.
Aust Crime Fiction took it all one step further and asked its band of reviewers (including me) with the same questions:

9 March 2008

THE SIMIAN CURVE, Mark Lalbeharry

THE SIMIAN CURVE begins with two un-related incidents. First of all when young Hattie Locke becomes stuck in a narrow walkway between two lockup garages in London, a headless corpse is discovered.

Hundreds of kilometres away in a Frankfurt court, the charges against small time villain Gregor Aleti are withdrawn and he is allowed to go free.

DCI Diane Cresson and her small homicide unit, known as Homicide East, are assigned the London case. Cresson has an enviable clear-up rate of 98%. And the commissioner recognises her as a high flyer, even if her immediate superior doesn't. Cresson and her team identify the garage as belonging to a scientist who used to work for the Ministry of Defence. He seems to have been missing for about 6 months, and his house, now stripped bare, seems to have very unusual security measures.

In 2002 THE SIMIAN CURVE won the Harry Bowling Prize, given for the first chapter and synopsis of a novel set in London, written by anyone who has not previously published an adult novel.

So far this is Mark Lalbeharry's only novel. I thought the author struggled to bring all the threads of this novel together and some connections were very under-stated. I did like the major characters such as Cresson, and her main assistant Mike Arnett, and the action moved well.

My rating: 4.1

WATER LIKE A STONE, Deborah Crombie

The first Christmas with your partner's parents is never an easy one, and Gemma James is not sure she is looking forward to the one that she and Duncan Kincaid and their two boys will be spending with his parents in Cheshire.

However on the eve of their arrival, Duncan's sister Juliet finds the mummified body of a baby concealed in the wall of a barn she is renovating, and everything takes on a different twist. Duncan finds the investigating officer called to the scene is someone he was at school with.

Despite the setting in the small Shropshire town where Duncan Kincaid grew up, WATER LIKE A STONE has a big canvas feel to it. There are a number of threads, at least one murder, a couple of mini-mysteries to be solved, and plenty of action, all taking place in the holiday season of Christmas to New Year.

Most enjoyable read. #11 in the James/Kincaid series
My rating: 4.8

8 March 2008

Follow Up - Books to Talk About - Final votes

A month ago I drew your attention to this UK/Irish World Book Day happening on March 6.

Spread the Word: Books to Talk About is a British/Irish campaign to help people discover books they might not otherwise have considered reading. There were100 books in the original list. 90 of the titles have now been discarded and 10 remain as a shortlist. Anyway, now the short list of 10 has been announced and here are the titles.
I have ** those I would expect to find on crime shelves in a bookshop, although none of them are categorised as crime fiction.

The final voting has been completed and here are the results (not that the results look at all conclusive to me):

21% - ** Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
14% - Ishq and Mushq by Priya Basil
12% - Salt & Honey by Candi Miller
10% - Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
9% - Speaking of Love by Angela Young
8% - ** Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson
8% - ** In Cold Daylight by Pauline Rowson
7% - ** Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham
6% - Lint by Steve Aylett
5% - Before I Die by Jenny Downham


This is an Agatha Raisin Cotswold murder mystery.
I should probably trust my gut feelings - I have "read" another 2 titles in this series in the last 3 years and resolved after the last never to touch them again. But people on book lists keep telling me they like them! and so I thought I'd try the latest. I have included my earlier mini-reviews at the bottom of the page so you can see for yourself how I felt.

Phyllis Tamworthy, about to celebrate her 80th birthday, contacts Agatha Raisin because she thinks someone from her family will try to murder her at her birthday celebrations. And they do - Mrs Tamworthy dies of hemlock poisoning despite the fact that Agatha is on the case, and actually staying in the manor house! That's enough to raise any female PI's dander. Phyllis Tamworthy was universally hated by her family and all the villagers, so the list of suspects reads like the local telephone directory.

The author just managed to retain my interest in the whodunnit side of this story, but I came close to not finishing the book when it side-tracked to Agatha Raisin's plans for the best Christmas celebrations ever. I can't get away from the feeling that these books are meant to be a spoof on the village cozy, but there is so little in them that I find amusing. The author does far too much "telling". The reader is never in a position to solve the mystery because not all the salient facts are at their disposal. There are occasional glimpses of good characterisation - perhaps the fact that I find Agatha Raisin so detestable is evidence of that - but there are others who are mere caricatures. The fact that KISSING CHRISTMAS GOODBYE is the 18th in the series is probably indicative that someone out there likes them, buys them, reads them, but this little duck won't be looking for the 19th.
My rating: 3.0

Audio CD from BBC Audiobooks. Read by Penelope Keith. #3 in the Agatha Raisin series. Agatha returns from London to the village of Carsley to find a new woman has taken up residence in the village, and seemingly supplanted herself in the affections of her bachelor neighbour James Lacey. The village is preparing for a garden festival, and the newcomer, Mary Fortune, appears to be an expert gardener. The gardens of rivals begin to suffer little accidents like uprooted flowers and murdered goldfish. This cosy village series is not my favourite read but Penelope Keith's excellent reading kept me listening. Why don't I like the series? The plots are a bit too trivial for me - village politics - and I don't particularly like the character of Agatha Raisin. However the series is obviously popular and there are now 18 in the series written over a period of 15 years..
My rating: 3.9

Agatha appears to have lost most of her staff at the end of her last case, and in this book is putting new team together. Local business man Robert Smedley hires Raisin Investigations to check up on his wife and ends up dead poisoned by weed killer. There is really nothing wrong with the basic elements of the plot of this book, but it feels "dumbed-down", like a Famous Five book with adult scenarios. Perhaps they are just too cozy for me.
My rating: 3.4

7 March 2008

Adelaide Writers' Week, Final Day, Day #4 for me

Other things have intervened in the last 2 days, so there are things I've missed. People tell me there was a stunning session with Germain Greer yesterday, and then on Wednesday I missed sessions with Ian McEwan and Geraldine Brooks.

Adelaide is in the grip of what looks set to be one of our longest hot spells ever. Even the white plastic chairs feel warm to the seat, and there were many less people in attendance today. Hand fans were briskly being waved and even water spray bottles were in use.

So much going on in Adelaide just now: the Festival of Arts (of which AWW is a part), the Fringe Festival, and tonight WOMAdelaide kicks off. Tomorrow night the Crows host a home final in the AFL pre-season cup. To cap it all, a state public holiday on Monday for Adelaide Cup ( a horse race).

My purchase today: RENDEZVOUS AT KAMAKURA INN by Marshall Browne.

A real treat for crime fiction addicts this afternoon. Elsewhere I have grumbled about programming Gabrille Lord and Garry Disher in rival Meet the Author sessions.
Here are some snippets from the sessions I attended.

Session 1: Meet the author: Marshall Browne

In 2000 he won Best First Crime Novel in the Ned Kelly Awards for THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS.

Browne began writing in the 1970s as a "Sunday morning" writer, when living in Hong Kong. Marshall Browne seems an unlikely author, coming over more like the banker that he's been most of his life.

He was very candid about how his novels develop, how his ideas often begin as images, seen early in the morning, sometimes when he is half asleep. Incidents and details often emerge from his own life. The book gradually emerges from his sub-conscious, which he is in thrall to. He doesn't plot the book prior to writing and researches as he needs to. He often mixes real characters with fictional.

He is really one of Australia's lesser known crime writers, but there is plenty in the 12 already published novels, some out of print. Indeed at AWW he warranted a larger audience.
He is currently working on 3 books: the sequel to EYE OF THE ABYSS will be published later this year, the 4th Inspector Anders is in draft, and next year will work on his 4th book in the "Melbourne" series. His bio says he works 40 hour week.

Session 2: Meet the Author: Gabrielle Lord

Gabrielle Lord appears a number of times elsewhere in my blog, and her latest book SHATTERED shares top spot in my best reads for 2008.

She has collected 2 awards: The Ned Kelly Award for best novel in 2002 for DEATH DELIGHTS, and a Davitt Award in 2003 for the best Australian crime novel by an Australian woman in the previous year for BABY DID A BAD, BAD THING.

Gabrielle began by describing what led to the writing of her first published novel FORTRESS in 3 weeks. She says that for any book, writing is only 5% of it. getting to the writing stage, for her is the hard part and accounts for 95% of the effort. She plans and researches all her books meticulously. The depth of research is what results in the meticulous details. She interviews experts and finds that most enjoy talking about what they do, especially if they recognise that you have made some effort to get your head around the topic,a nd can ask focussed questions. Gabrielle has done work experience in surveillance, attended victims of homicide meetings, done courses in anatomy, stood on the streets with prostitutes, toured morgues.

She believes most central characters will be flawed - that is what makes them so interesting. "Angels" are generally not very interesting, and she constantly looks for very human stories. She is always looking for stories to engage the reader.

Gabrielle says writing a book is a lot like knitting. Complexity emerges to keep the author intrigued. She sets herself problems and challenges. At the same time her setting is Australia because she tries to focus on what she knows.

She talked briefly about her 12 part thriller for YA, designed to be a continuous story, in 12 parts. Each will be self contained but all 12 will add up to a whole. They will come out on a monthly basis and be named January, February, etc.

Gabrielle feels very strongly about issues such as women's rights, e.g. in Islamic communities both here and abroad.

Session 3: Friday Crime
A panel with Marshall Browne, Garry Disher, Gabrielle Lord, Denise Mina.
Garry Disher won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2007 for CHAIN OF EVIDENCE. In April, oz_mystery_readers are discussing this book.

The panel at first individually attempted to explain why crime fiction is becoming so popular.

Garry Disher:
  • it has always been popular, the real question is why it has become so acceptable
  • enormous diversity in the genre
  • some approaches "literature"
  • fed by the popularity of true crime books, and TV shows
  • strongly narrative, lots of acvtion
  • social barometer, tells us about the "real" world
  • gives us vicarious pleasure, often darkly humorous
  • at one level can be very re-assuring as justice is often restored
  • main characters are often just like us
  • "who dunnits" have been replaced by "what makes people tick"
  • the reader is the investigator
  • an exploration of our darker side
Gabrielle Lord
  • dramatic shift from cozies - those days have gone
  • sees herself as a relationship writer rather than a crime writer. Crime is the vehicle to draw the story along - the hook
  • how do people connect?
  • how do people tell the truth in fiction?
  • creation of tension
Marshall Browne
  • basically only 2 genres: books you like & those you don't
  • novels are places where you can explore the exotic and bizarre
  • the main thrust is the developing story
  • character driven fiction
  • determined to conquer the writing of shorter novels
Denise Mina
  • thought about writing under an alias - how about MissDMina?
  • fan of literary fiction
  • crime fiction often seen as trash
  • literary fiction should aspire to having the readership of crime fiction
  • move for crime fiction to be taken seriously
  • crime writers are expected to write about 1 book a year, and they often make a pretty good living (if they are successful)
  • crime writing lays the author's politics bare
  • social & political issues become part of the novel's underlying fabric.
So that is Adelaide Writers' Week for another 2 years.
Today's events ended at about 5 with drinks and nibbles - very civilised.

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshots - # 5

The 5th batch of these interviews, the result of a collaboration between Karen Chisholm (of the Aust Crime Fiction weblog), Damien Gay (of Crime DownUnder) and Perry Middlemiss (of Matilda).

I need to compliment these bloggers on the fantastic concept and the work they've done.
They are certainly making me aware of authors I never even heard of, and it is refreshing to read interviews with those who are already favourites.

The 24 previously listed (now alphabetised by Surname)


Author: PD Martin
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
This Edition first published: February 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4050-3826-3
Classification: crime fiction/thriller
Price: $32.95 (Aust. Dollars)
389 pages
Author website: http://www.pdmartin.com.au

Sophie Anderson is a Melbourne profiler who featured in two earlier titles BODY COUNT and THE MURDERER'S CLUB. What makes Sophie stand out from the rest is her sixth sense which gives her visions, particularly images, related to the cases she is working on. Sometimes she sees events from the point of view of the perpetrator, sometimes from that of the victim. The visions are usually accompanied by dizziness, and can sometimes be triggered intentionally, but more often than not occur without warning. Sophie has been working for the FBI at Quantico and is now moving to the American West Coast so that she can get more "in the field" work. Only one person that Sophie has worked with knows of her visions. It is not something she generally wants her colleagues to be aware of.

She thinks her "visions" may come more reliably, or that she will be able to channel her abilities, if she can visit the scene of the crime. Her current role in the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico is very desk bound, hence the transfer to the FBI agency in Los Angeles.

On her last day at Quantico Sophie is asked to conduct a tour for a novelist who writes rather gruesome crime novels with detailed crime scenes, but now the novelist has been found murdered - by someone who has copied the method from her latest novel. So begins Sophie’s first case with Los Angeles FBI Agency. She quickly finds out that there has been an earlier case – someone is killing crime fiction writers and using their own scenarios as a blueprint.

FAN MAIL takes up where THE MURDERERS' CLUB, the previous title in this series, left off. There is no doubt in my mind that, despite back-fill given by the author, the reader is in a better position to appreciate the continuity by having read the earlier title. Make no mistake though, the reader can treat FAN MAIL as a stand-alone, but I think Martin is on dangerous ground here if she stretches the threads in the series too far. She will need to decide whether, in future books, she expects readers to have read previous titles in the series, or just how important the back-fill is to the understanding of the current action.

I feel that PD Martin has come a long way in a short time in her skill as a writer. She is obviously increasing her understanding of the field with considerable research, and at the same time her control of the threads of the stories is very masterful. I thoroughly enjoyed FAN MAIL and look forward to the next in the series.

PD Martin lives in Melbourne, Australia and developed a passion for crime fiction and story telling at an early age. This interest was backed up with formal education through a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences (with majors in psychology and criminology) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Writing (creative writing).


My rating: 5.0

6 March 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshots - # 4

The 4th batch of these interviews, the result of a collaboration between Karen Chisholm (of the Aust Crime Fiction weblog), Damien Gay (of Crime DownUnder) and Perry Middlemiss (of Matilda).

Previously listed

Over on oz_mystery_readers

oz_mystery_readers is a smallish online discussion group that's now been around for 5 years.

We share opinions and information about crime/mystery fiction available in Australia.
However we welcome members from all over the globe.
We hold at least one book discussion each month, so add the book to your reading schedule and join in!

Our current choices:

EXIT MUSIC by Ian Rankin (QM: Helen)

April: Awards Month
1-10, 2007 Ned Kelly Award Winner: Best Novel

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE by Garry Disher (QM: Lynne)

21-30, 2007 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Award

Chat to Felicity Young, author of A CERTAIN MALICE, AN EASEFUL DEATH, and HARUM SCARUM, published April 2008. (QL: Kerrie)

12-21, THE CORONER'S LUNCH by Colin Cotterill (QM: tba)

Chat to Michael Robotham, author of THE SUSPECT, LOST (THE DROWNING MAN), THE NIGHT FERRY and SHATTER, published April 2008. (QL: Andrea)

Our discussion books are suggested and selected by our members.

Books here to stay

Lists (of popular books) always fascinate me. As I told you a couple of weeks ago I have been monitoring the Amazon UK RSS feed of their top 25 Bestsellers in Crime, Thrillers & Mystery.
Makes fascinating daily reading as you watch new books emerge and others slowly subside.
What is really interesting about the comparison below is that A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS has stayed at the top all the time, although others have jockeyed their way up. I thought THE GOOD HUSBAND was going to get there when it was no.2 for a few days, but now it seems to be on the way down.
The persistent titles are the interesting ones.

March 6

Feb 24





CENTURION, Simon Scarrow

THE APPEAL, John Grisham






THE WOODS, Harlan Coben


THE APPEAL, John Grisham

7th HEAVEN, James Patterson


THE WOODS, Harlan Coben













COLD IN HAND, John Harvey

5 March 2008

Favourite Authors - #5 Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine

The idea of this mini-project is to list crime fiction authors that I look forward to reading. These are authors that I will buy without question if I see a title I haven't yet read. So in a sense to give them a number is deceptive. I would imagine that there are at least 20 authors in my database who come into this category. It also gives me a chance to print some of my mini-reviews that haven't been published before. This is a project that I will continue randomly throughout 2008.

Previously listed
One of the advantages with Ruth Rendell is that she writes under 2 names, and writes the Wexford series, and stand-alones.
Every respectable library will have lots of titles.
I've listed the records in my database in publication order.
If you want a full list of her remarkable output see Fantastic Fiction:
Ruth Rendell
Barbara Vine
Output has slowed down in recent years, but there are omnibus re-printings to look for.
Ruth Rendell is 78 this year (2008)
My enjoyment is indicated by my ratings, a value with a maximum of 5.0

Ruth Rendell titles

Contains 11 stories: The Fever Tree, The Dreadful Day Of Judgement, A Glowing Future, An Outside Interest, A Case Of Coincidence, Thornapple' (novella), May And June, A Needle For The Devil, Front Seat, Paintbox Place and The Wrong Category.

END IN TEARS (2005), 4.8
In the early hours of the morning George Marshalson is waiting anxiously for his young daughter to come home. His discovery of her body at dawn not far from the house is the beginning of a new case for Reg Wexford and the Kingsmarkham CID team. Neither Reg nor his assistant Mike Burden are getting any younger and both are a bit old-fashioned in their attitudes and their policing methods. In this, the 20th book in the Wexford series that began in 1964, award winning author Ruth Rendell introduces the new face of policing in Britain in the persons of the latest additions to the team, Bal and Hannah. And again Rendell gives this book a contemporary setting by weaving into it a theme that has been of world-wide community concern. The Wexford family interest continues too when daughter Sylvia becomes pregnant by her ex-husband.

THE WATER'S LOVELY (2006), 4.7
Ruth Rendell never disappoints me. Sisters Ismay and Heather Sealand live in the bottom half of a house in suburban London and their mother and aunt live in the upper floor. Nine years before their stepfather Guy was drowned in the bath upstairs and Ismay and her mother have always thought Heather was responsible, although they hid their suspicions from the police, and gave Heather, 11 at the time, an alibi. After the verdict of accidental drowning, the matter was never discussed again but Ismay has always thought of Heather as a murderer. She thinks Heather drowned Guy in order to protect her. Ismay wonders whether she should warn Heather's new friend Edmund about Heather's possessiveness.

NOT IN THE FLESH (2007), 4.8
Honey the dog is a wonderful hunter for truffles. But this time she unearths something even less savoury - a human hand. Another case for the inveterate duo Reg Wexford and Mike Burden. The body is male, and has been there for over 10 years, wrapped in a purple bed sheet. In this story Reg Wexford seems to be a little less clearly drawn and we learn more about the dynamics of the team he works with. The plot is a spider web of threads. It is all about degrees of separation, those threads that draw us together. And running through all the murder mysteries, missing persons and threads of deception, something else Rendell has on her mind - female circumcision, ritual genital mutilation of young immigrant children, providing a rich undercurrent, showing Rendell as aware of the issues of her times as ever.

Ruth Rendell's COLLECTED STORIES is an omnibus of three previously published collections: The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories (1976), Means of Evil and Other Stories (1979), and The Fever Tree and Other Stories (1982). Some of the stories have appeared individually and in other collections, all over twenty-five years ago. Many of them were first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Few authors specialise in the short story today, and each of these twenty-seven stories convinces the reader what a consummate writer of this genre Rendell is. She explores a range of topics: the boy abducted by a Man, the false evidence that convicts a man of murder, a boy's distillation of a vegetable poison, death by knitting needle, the serial killer charged with a murder he didn't commit, the killer-for-hire foiled by his love of dogs, the woman who tried suicide once too often, and more. Most of the stories stand alone, but the five in Means of Evil and Other Stories all feature Reg Wexford and Mike Burden, Rendell's central characters from the much loved Wexford series.

Writing as Barbara Vine

NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG (1994), 4.0
Tim Cornish thought he'd gotten away with murder. For months after he'd killed his lover off the Alaskan coast, there hadn't been a word about the murder. But then the letters started to arrive, giving intimate details of the murder. It seems that someone knows what Tim has done.

THE MINOTAUR (2005), 5.0
An excellent read. Always has you on the edge of your seat with hints about what is to come. It is the 1960s, but the “swinging sixties” revolution hasn't quite reached rural England. In an attempt to be closer to her English boyfriend, Kerstin Kvist accepts a job with the Cosway matriarch; her three unmarried daughters; and her son, John, a sad, self-absorbed figure in his thirties who haunts the grand house of Lydstep Old Hall, deep in the Essex countryside. There is a fourth daughter, too—a widow herself and apparently quite rich—who comes and goes infrequently, with ill-disguised contempt for the others. Then, just as Kerstin is beginning to figure out the odd family, a stranger moves into the village, his very presence setting the Cosways on a path to self-destruction.


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