21 November 2014

Review: MOTHERS WHO MURDER, Xanthe Mallett

  • source: Net Galley review copy
  • File Size: 3100 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (July 30, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00IY5QK8O
Synopsis (Net Galley)

Child murder: A social taboo and one of the most abhorrent acts most of us can imagine. Meet the women found guilty of murdering their own children. They represent some of the most hated women in Australia. The infamous list includes psychologically damaged, sometimes deranged, women on the edge.

But, as we will see, accused doesn't always mean guilty. Among the cases covered is that of Kathleen Folbigg, accused and found guilty of killing four of her children, even with a lack of any forensic evidence proving her guilt; Rachel Pfitzner, who strangled her 2-year-old son and dumped his body in a duck pond; as well as Keli Lane, found guilty of child murder though no body has ever been found.

Dr Mallett goes back to the beginning of each case; death's ground zero. That might be the accused's childhood, were they abused? Or was their motivation greed, or fear of losing a partner? Were they just simply evil? Or did the media paint them as such, against the evidence and leading to a travesty of justice. Each case will be re-opened, the alternative suspects assessed, the possible motives reviewed.

Informed by her background as a forensic scientist, Xanthe will offer insight into aspects of the cases that may not have been explored previously. Taking you on her journey through the facts, and reaching her own conclusion as to whether she believes the evidence points to the women's guilt.

Hear their stories.

My Take

Those who follow my blog will know that true crime is not really my cup of tea, but each year I set myself a target to read a little outside the genre of crime fiction.

MOTHERS WHO MURDER looks at a number of Australian cases where the author feels there has been the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. She begins with the case of Lindy Chamberlain, where Lindy claimed a dingo had taken her baby when the family were camping at Uluru. The Northern Territory police decided that Lindy's story could not possibly be true and she was eventually convicted of the murder and disposal of baby Azaria although no body has ever been found. Then the conviction was quashed and an apology issued. But nothing can compensate for the thirty years of anguish suffered by Lindy and her family. For me this chapter acted as a sort of benchmark as I was familiar with the trial.

Seven individual cases are given individual chapters: mainly of mothers who appear to have been responsible for the deaths of multiple children over a number of years. In most cases there were two or even three children who were thought originally to have died of SIDS. The death of the fourth child raised a flag and sparked an investigation because authorities felt that the fourth death raised questions about the earlier three.

While the author began with these multiple death cases she also investigated the deaths of individual children, mainly interested in why they happened. These cases are dealt with in less detail, and include cases where a father has taken the life of his children, and sometimes his spouse.

The chapter on Lindy Chamberlain sets the pattern for those to follow: the background to the case, a description of the main events, why an investigation was conducted and how it panned out, the alternative who (who else might have committed the crime), the how (how the prosecutors behaved and why- their agenda), the role and influence of the expert witnesses, the inquests, the media influence, comparative cases, and the closure of the case. Each time the author identifies how expert witnesses had an influence outside their own area of expertise, often in response to the agenda of the prosecutors who were trying to make the facts fit the case they wanted to prove.

The author tried hard to be objective and detached in her descriptions and conclusions but she says she recognizes that she became emotionally involved, so horrified was she by what she saw that some children had suffered. She says too that "beyond the children who have been killed, there are many more victims": the police who have to investigate the cases, the social workers, neighbours and community. She does point out times where the responsible authorities, whether because of work overload, inexperience, or lack of follow up, did not take action that might have prevented the death of a child. 
She also considers the role of the media in raising community awareness, helping to identify perpetrators, or searching for missing children. She believes that in most cases, while some of the media has been sensational and wrong in their opinions, the media has acted responsibly.

The author sees herself as a "seasoned forensic scientist", with experience first of all in the UK and then in Australia, and draws on cases from both countries, believing there is much to be learnt by comparisons. She points out how some cases and their outcomes in the UK have actually led to precedents being set in legal procedures.

I found this book well presented, engrossing reading, guaranteed to make the reader think.

My rating: 4.5

900 Reviews on this blog

When I began this blog in January 2008, I did so thinking it would be primarily a place to post reviews of the books I have read. I also thought it would help me remember plots and titles.

Now after 2915 posts, I have reached the 900th review. This year I have published fewer non-review posts but even so about 30 % of my posts have been reviews.

I am still maintaining an "All Reviews" page, sorted by author, and in addition I post my reviews on Library Thing (where I have 1068 books listed) and on NetGalley.
Reviews of Australian authors also appear on Fair Dinkum Crime.

20 November 2014

Review: THE SOUL OF DISCRETION, Susan Hill

  • source: review copy, e-book format from Randhom House UK (Vintage Publishing) via NetGalley
  • #8 in in the Simon Serrailler series
  • published 2014
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

The cathedral town of Lafferton seems idyllic, but in many ways it is just like any other place. As part of the same rapidly changing world, it shares the same hopes and fears, and the same kinds of crime, as any number of towns up and down the land.

When one day DC Simon Serrailler is called in by Lafferton's new Chief Constable, Kieron Bright, he is met by four plainclothes officers. He is asked to take the lead role in a complex, potentially dangerous undercover operation and must leave town immediately, without telling anyone - not even his girlfriend Rachel, who has only just moved in with him.

Meanwhile, Simon's sister Cat is facing difficult choices at work that will test her dedication to the NHS. But an urgent call about her and Simon's father, Richard, soon presents her with a far greater challenge much closer to home.

To complete his special op, Simon must inhabit the mind of the worst kind of criminal. As the op unfolds, Lafferton is dragged into the sort of case every town dreads. And Simon faces the fight of his life.

My Take

I was once an assiduous follower of this series, but as you can see from my list below, it is about six years since I've read one. A few things have obviously happened in Simon Serrailler's life since then.

There are really four major scenarios explored in the novel: Simon Serrailler's undercover mission to identify men both detestable and dangerous;  dying with dignity as it applies to terminally patients; Rachel's search for work to give meaning to her life; and how women fare when they cry "rape". As in the earlier novels that I've read the human interest aspects are cleverly interwoven with the criminal investigation. And the ending really leaves no doubt that there will be another in the series.

There were times when I felt as though the author was using the novel to promote her own strong viewpoints, but I guess that happens in most novels, if a little less blatantly.

The plot did leave me wondering whether police authorities would ever mount an undercover operation like the one that Serrailler becomes involved in, but the narration carries with it a great feeling of authenticity.

My rating: 4.6

I've also reviewed
VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN
THE PURE IN HEART
THE RISK OF DARKNESS
THE VOWS OF SILENCE

Simon Serrailler series
1. The Various Haunts of Men (2004)
2. The Pure in Heart (2005)
3. The Risk of Darkness (2006)
4. The Vows of Silence (2008)
5. The Shadows in the Street (2010)
6. The Betrayal of Trust (2011)
7. A Question of Identity (2012)
8. The Soul of Discretion (2014)

16 November 2014

Review: COUNSEL OF CHOICE, Stuart Littlemore

  • source: my local library
  • #1 title in Omnibus titled THE HARRY CURRY COLLECTION
  • first published by Harper Collins in 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9786-2
  • 296 pages
Synopsis (publisher)

UGLY. IRASCIBLE. CLEVER. INTOLERANT.
From one of our sharpest legal minds comes a brilliant new character, Harry Curry - scion of the establishment and criminal defender extraordinaire. A class traitor, some say.

When Harry's robust advocacy leads to his suspension for professional misconduct, he teams up reluctantly with Arabella Engineer, an English barrister of Indian descent, struggling for a foothold at the Sydney bar. Together, they wreak havoc in criminal trials involving drug-dealing, terrorism, murder and more. But can their professional relationship survive when personal matters intervene? Is Harry truly fated to live and work alone?

Harry Curry: Counsel of Choice is an insightful - and always engaging- romp through a fascinating segment of society, and an exciting debut by a talented insider. 

My Take

I have known of Stuart Littlemore for many years because of his media and journalistic work, but did not really know that he is QC, nor that he is a crime fiction author.

Harry Curry reminds me a little of Horace Rumpole, and I suppose comparisons like that are inevitable.

COUNSEL OF CHOICE begins when Harry manages to get himself disbarred for appearing to refer to a judge with an obscenity. Although the case against him is eventually dismissed, Harry has to re-apply to be admitted back to the bar and he is not sure he wants to do that. In the meantime he is approached by a female barrister who has admired him from afar and who believes they would make a good team. Harry is well known as a strategist, so he develops court defence strategies for Arabella to follow, and they are generally a successful team.

The five chapters of COUNSEL OF CHOICE seem to me to be fictionalisations of mainly rural cases Littlemore has come across in his working life. This tends to make the book a collection of long short stories rather than a novel, although, as the reader progresses from one story to the next, Harry's past is fleshed out and his relationship with Arabella Engineer, an English barrister of Indian descent, develops.

The settings of the stories give the writing an Australian background and flavour, and also a chance for Littlemore to demonstrate a rather quirky style of humour, imparting some light-heartedness to the narration. The stories indicate clearly the variety of cases an Australian barrister may be required to handle. I found them enjoyable reading.

My rating: 4.4

About the author - see Wikipedia

Stuart Littlemore QC is an Australian barrister and former journalist and television presenter.

He is best known for his time as writer and host of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Media Watch program, which he conceived and presented from its inception in 1989 to 1997. His broadcasting experience began in the late 1960s when he worked as a television current affairs journalist for the BBC in London, and then the ABC, firstly on This Day Tonight and then on Four Corners.
 In the 1970s and 1980s, he played a television reporter in the film "The Money Movers" and the TV series "The Dismissal"' and made guest appearances in the 1990s on the comedy series, Frontline, playing himself as the host of Media Watch. Following Media Watch, he had a short-running discussion program, Littlemore (2001).
 He published a book about his media experiences entitled The Media and Me in 1996. In 2011 he published his first novel, Harry Curry: Counsel of Choice and in 2012 the second book in the trilogy, "Harry Curry: the Murder Book" appeared

13 November 2014

Review: STAR FALL, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

  • source: review copy e-book provided by publisher Severn House on NetGalley
  • US publication date March 2015
  • ISBN 9780727884602
  • #17 in the Bill Slider series
Synopsis (NetGalley)

‘It’s quiet out there,’ says DS Atherton, at Bill Slider’s office window. ‘Too quiet.’

Right on cue, the phone rings. ‘Now look what you’ve done,’ says Slider. It’s a homicide. The post-Christmas lull is officially over.

The deceased is antiques expert Rowland Egerton, the darling of daytime TV, stabbed to death in his luxurious West London home. The press are going to be all over this one like a nasty rash: the pressure’s on Slider for a result, and soon. Egerton’s partner, the bulky, granite-faced John Lavender, found the body; did he also do the deed? Or was it a burglary gone wrong? A missing FabergĂ© box and Impressionist painting point that way.

But as Slider and his team investigate, none of the facts seem to fit. And it soon becomes clear that the much-loved, charming Mr Egerton wasn’t as universally loved, or perhaps as charming, as Slider was first led to believe . .

My Take

I have been intending to read a title by this author for some time, even years. The Bill Slider series began with ORCHESTRATED DEATH published in 1991, and STAR FALL is #17 so I have plenty to catch up on.

The style of this police procedural set in London is very similar to Ruth Rendell's Wexford series. From what I can see in STAR FALL Bill Slider is the central sleuth but he begins the series as a Detective Inspector and hasn't really progressed much up the ladder in nearly 25 years. The blurb for the first in the series describes him as "middle-aged and menopausal", so I am not sure that he has actually aged 25 years in that time.

There is plenty of "human background" on both Slider and the rest of his team in STAR FALL and the main plot of this cozy is carefully planned out. I found the plot of interest because I enjoy the various television shows that deal with antiques and the story seemed very plausible.

Certainly if you like cozies you might consider giving this series, or just this title, a try.

My rating: 4.4

7 November 2014

Review: THE SON, Jo Nesbo

Synopsis (NetGalley)

SONNY’S ON THE RUN Sonny is a model prisoner. He listens to the confessions of other inmates, and absolves them of their sins.

HE’S BEEN LIED TO HIS WHOLE LIFE

But then one prisoner’s confession changes everything. He knows something about Sonny’s disgraced father.

SONNY WANTS REVENGE

He needs to break out of prison and make those responsible pay for their crimes.

WHATEVER THE COST


My Take

Jo Nesbo really proves in this book that he is the master storyteller.

A prison inmate, a heroin addict, serving time for two murders, has so far been in prison for twelve years. Another brutal murder occurs while he is on day release supervised by a prison officer.  When he is questioned by the police Sonny immediately confesses to the murder and they decide they have to look no further.

But then Sonny learns something from a fellow prisoner that leads to him retracting his confession and then escaping from a prison that is thought to be impossible to break out of.

To be honest the story that Nesbo develops strains the bounds of credibility but that doesn't seem to matter as he reels you in page after page. You can't help wanting to know how it all turns out. And all the way through there are little mysteries that keep you guessing. 

It is a fairly black book, with widespread corruption, a number of gruesome murders, and shattered dreams.

One of the best books I've read this year.

My Rating: 5.0

I've also reviewed
NEMESIS
THE REDEEMER
5.0, THE SNOWMAN
4.8, THE LEOPARD
4.7, HEADHUNTERS
4.7, PHANTOM
4.7, THE BAT
4.7, POLICE

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