30 January 2008

Lotsa Bones

Yesterday we had body parts. Today I've scoured my recent database entries for skeletons.
There are some treats among these books, and some of my favourite authors.

ENTOMBED by Linda Fairstein
Workers demolishing a nineteenth-century brownstone where Edgar Allan Poe once lived discover a human skeleton entombed -- standing -- behind a brick wall. When sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper hears about the case, it strikes her as a classic Poe scene...except that forensic evidence shows that this young woman died within the last twenty-five years. Meanwhile, Alex's old nemesis the Silk Stocking Rapist is once again terrorizing Manhattan's Upper East Side. The attacks soon escalate to murder, and the search leads Alex and detectives Mercer Wallace and Mike Chapman to the city's stunning Bronx Botanical Gardens. There, an enigmatic librarian presides over the Raven Society, a group devoted to the work of Poe.
This was an engrossing read. There's a lot of detail about Poe (and who knows if it is correct) but certainly we have all read some Poe at some time. I can believe too the claim made in the book that Poe was the originator of the detective novel. . There were parts of the novel which were very Poe-ish in their macabre-ness and suspense. At the same time it moves at a smart pace and there are lots of little weblike links binding it all together.
I didn't find this as dark as some of the earlier Fairstein's that I have read. There's some interesting comments too on how modern technology that can help track a culprit down - DNA of course, but Metro transport tickets??
My rating: 5.0

The Tradmouth area of Devonshire is the location this Kate Ellis’ police procedural in which Wesley Peterson, a young black detective plays a prominent role. Wesley and his superior, Inspector Gerry Heffernan, had both chosen a rural setting in which to pursue their law enforcement careers, thinking criminal activity would be considerably less than in London. However, of late, things are anything but peaceful on their turf. A rash of burglaries targeting isolated farms in the district, the disappearance of a young Danish tourist, and the discovery of a skeleton who had met his death apparently violently are keeping Heffernan and his staff busy round the clock.
My rating: 4.5

BREAK NO BONES by Kathy Reichs
Dr Temperance Brennan is filling a vacancy as a supervisor of an archaeology dig for students from the University of North Carolina. The dig site on Dewees Island on contains sixteen prehistoric graves, a pre-Colombian burial ground. Dewees Island is largely a conservation easement, but the rest is ripe for development. On the penultimate day of the dig, just when they are well on the way to wrapping everything up on schedule, Tempe has a couple of visitors: local freelance journalist Homer Winborne, and Dickie Dupree, land developer and entrepreneur. As if on cue, an intrusive articulated skeleton is discovered in one of the graves. Tempe quickly realises that this body is not prehistoric.
My rating: 4.3

SPIDER TRAP by Barry Maitland
Spider Roach, his very name a combination of the insect pests that we all hate, is the perfect illustration of the adage that evil breeds evil. Back in the 1980s he controlled the hotbed of gangster land around Cockpit Lane. Now an old man, 20 years on he still controls it - his 3 sons are evil and always have been, and they seem to have married and begotten evil too. Brock had dealings with Roach back in the 1980s and he emerges from retirement in SPIDER TRAP to warn Brock off from his current investigation into the spider's web of evil he has built up over the decades. Two young girls have been found shot dead in Cockpit Lane, a boy is electrocuted as he tries to cross the electrified rail line to get to the nearby waste land where "brown bread" is rumoured to be hidden, and then the police begin to dig up 20 year old skeletons buried in the waste ground. #10 in the Brock and Kolla series
My rating: 4.7

MURDER IN THE MUSEUM - A Fethering Mystery by Simon Brett
Bracketts, once the home of poet Esmund Chadleigh, is an Elizabethan house, now a museum devoted to the remembrance of Chadleigh. Carole Seddon, retired public servant, becomes a trustee on the board of Bracketts, but board meetings are complicated by the discovery of a skeleton in the kitchen garden. Carole and her neighbour Jude become involved when there is a shooting in the house car park. Obviously Bracketts has secrets some one is keen to keep hidden. I am an addict of Simon Brett's writing.
My rating: 4.5

SILENCE OF THE GRAVE by Arnaldur Indridason
Building work on the outskirts of Reykajavik (Iceland) uncovers a body possibly buried alive during World War Two. Erlendur and his team are called in to investigate and try to uncover the truth while a team of archaeologists slowly and painstaking exhume the skeleton. Those who still live in the area tell of a young pregnant woman who disappeared in the war, but is it her? An elderly dying man talks of the green woman who was crooked. At the same time Erlendur is re-living his past - his daughter Eva Lind lies in a coma in the local hospital after a miscarriage and an old woman asks him why he is carrying a young boy around with him. The construction of this novel is intricate and it is almost impossible to solve the mysteries until the very end. Indridason draws into it a fascinating local legend about an orgy at the local gasworks on the night Halley's comet nearly struck the earth in 1910. Translated into English from Icelandic in 2005.
My rating: 5

THE DRAINING LAKE by Arnaldur Indridason
After an earth tremor, the water level in an Icelandic lake begins to drop as water drains out through fissures in the lakes bed. Eventually it drops low enough to reveal the skeleton of a murder victim, probably there for a number of years and anchored to a piece of Russian radio equipment. The search for the identity of this person is a fairly lengthy and tedious process but murders and missing persons are pretty rare in Iceland where everybody knows everybody. Woven into the murder investigation is the story of idealistic young Icelandic socialists, party members chosen to be educated at university in Leipzig in East Germany, and then also more about Erlendur's own family and his children who flit in and out of his life. Originally published in Icelandic in 2004, the 4th of Indridason's books to be translated into English.
My rating: 4.7

THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerritsen
Maura Isles, Boston medical examiner, tells Julia Hamill that the skeleton she has dug up in her back garden is old, much older than the house that she has recently purchased. The skeleton is that of a female under 35 years, buried perhaps more than 150 ago, and murdered. Julia is recently divorced and had been labouring to convert the barren back yard into a garden when her shovel struck a skull. Now her backyard is an excavation site for the medical examiner’s office.
For most of the book, which jumps, sometimes a little jarringly, backwards and forwards between the 1830s and the present day, we are following an ancestor of the last owner of the house, the person's whose estate Julia bought the house from. We do this both through reading about events as they happen, and through papers and letters hoarded by the previous occupant Hilda Chamblet
My rating: 4.6

29 January 2008

Body parts strewn around

The finding of body parts, hand, arm, foot, leg would be a gruesome enough discovery. In crime fiction it is often the beginning of a murder mystery.

This was true with Giles Blunt's THE DELICATE STORM, where the finding of a disconnected arm in the forest begins a search for other parts of the body.

Then it occurred to me that recently I have read other books where there is a similar plot. Here are a couple:

NOT IN THE FLESH by Ruth Rendell
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.
My rating 4.8

BLIND SPOT by Terri Persons
FBI Agent Bernadette Saint Clare has many distinguishing features. At first sight she is a small person with a superficial resemblance to Mia Farrow. Then, if she discards her sunglasses, you notice she has devil’s eyes, each eye a different colour. Bernadette’s success as an FBI Agent however owes much to her “hidden” gift: an ability to see through the eyes of a criminal while holding an object the person has held.
A dog returning from an exploring trip to a nearby river brings his young master a rather gruesome trophy - a human hand. And so Bernadette Saint Clair begins her new posting with a new boss. Tony Garcia is a little different to her previous bosses – he wants to see where Bernadette’s “gift” will take them. When a male body is found in the locality without a hand, it is Bernadette who alerts them to the fact that the hand that the dog found is female.
My rating 4.1

THE TORSO by Helene Tursten
Translated from Swedish in 2006. The story begins with the gruesome discovery of part of a human torso in a black plastic bag on a shoreline near Goteborg. Detective Inspector Irene Huss, whose superintendent suspects is a magnet for killings, is one of the team called in to investigate. When they learn of a similar torso turning up 2 years earlier in Copenhagen, Irene is sent to liaise with the Copenhagen police. Her investigations reveal strong connections between communities in Sweden and Denmark. As people she visits seem to die shortly afterwards, it certainly appears her superintendent's joke has at least a grain of truth. Irene herself is targetted by someone who does not want the connections fully revealed. Some detailed descriptions will not suit the squeamish. Irene Huss is strong, level-headed, intuitive, highly principled, but sometimes fallible.
My rating 4.6

Skeletons tomorrow...

28 January 2008

THE REAPER, Peter Lovesey

If the title in the context of crime fiction makes you think "grim reaper" then you are on the right track.
This is a macabre cosy if there is such a thing. A rompingly entertaining read, but not one of Lovesey's best.

Otis Joy, the rector of St. Bartholomew's in the Wiltshire village of Foxford, a young man in his late 20s, is a dynamic relative newcomer to the village. He seems everything a vicar needs to be, even if he is unmarried. Underneath though he is a very nasty bit of work indeed. Nobody believes lugubrious old Owen Cumberbatch when he says that the Rev. Joy's last parish is without its Sexton/bellringer because he crossed Otis Joy. Snooping old Skidmore simply disappeared.

But we do know from almost the first page of the story that Otis Joy is responsible for the death of the bishop, Marcus Glastonbury, who had found out that he had been embezzling funds at his previous parish (where the Sexton disappeared).

We learn also that he has come to an "arrangement" with his current Parish treasurer, Stanley Burrows, ex-headmaster, to have a private contingency fund which appears nowhere in the church's accounts. And then Stanley says he would like to hand the job over to a younger person, that he is getting too old, and the responsibility of the parish books is too great...

I think Peter Lovesey, one of my favourite authors, had great fun in writing this book. It is almost as if he decided to write a spoof on the village cosy. There are some really sardonic descriptions, almost cruel, of village personalities. One that comes to mind readily is Cynthia Haydenhall, Chair of the Women's Institute - my mental vision of her is of a dark haired strident Penelope Keith - who sees herself as the social hub of the village. And there are others..

This isn't going to exercise your little grey cells too much. But if you enjoy the occasional cosy, then hunt it down. In style it reminds me a bit of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series.

My rating was 4.1

I've been a Peter Lovesey fan since he published his first novel WOBBLE TO DEATH. You may be familiar with his Peter Diamond series. Fantastic Fiction lists his novels.

27 January 2008

e-book readers - do you, would you, will you?

Over on Petrona, Maxine has raised a story she's heard about Amazon's Kindle self-combusting. Seems it might be a marketing ploy.

In case you haven't caught up with it, Kindle is a wireless reading device marketed through Amazon, which sold out prior to actually being release, and is not available outside the US anyway. In case you think you could get around that, the documentation on the Amazon site clearly states
"Kindles cannot currently be sold or shipped to customers living outside of the U.S."
If you go to the website there's a 6 minute video about Kindle so you can see what it does.

Now e-book readers are not new. When I was lucky enough to visit Microsoft in 2000, they had an e-book reader they were promoting. It was a bit clunkier and heavier than the Kindle appears to be. What seems to have happened is that the Microsoft e-book reader became a bit of software rather than a bit of hardware.
The library of the newly opened Steel Canyon High School that we visited was going to have minimal real books and students would be able to download text books to an e-book reader.

So presumably what has happened is that e-book readers have been loaded onto pocket PCs, tablets etc. rather than a dedicated e-book reader. But I could be wrong.

So do you read e-books? How? Where?
As I said over on Maxine's blog, there are things I find attractive about an e-book reader, but I'd like mine also to have the option of being a "voice-book" so if my eyes were tired I could listen rather than read. So why don't I just listen on a CD player or mp3 player?
A couple reasons
* believe it or not, when you listed you are listening to someone else's interpretation of text
* for me , listening is usually slower than reading the text for myself.

So do you, would you, or will you?
Tell me about e-books and e-book readers

26 January 2008


Unusually warm weather in northern Canada just after New Year brings with it a dense fog that shrouds Algonquin Bay. The discovery of a human arm out in the forest sparks a search for other body parts, and eventually bits that appear to have been mauled by bears are discovered. John Cardinal and Lise Delorme become involved in investigating this and another case where a local holds up a bank, threatening the teller with a gun. The identity of the hold up man is easily solved, but the identification of the body bits leads Cardinal and Delorme into learning about separationist activities from the early 1970s when a hostage was killed, two separationists confessed to his murder, and one of the hostage takers vanished. Another strand is introduced when a young female doctor disappears.

THE DELICATE STORM received the 2004 Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, as well as being nominated for a swag of others including the Dashiell Hammett, the Macavity, and the Anthony.

So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I expected to?

For one thing, I think it moved from being murder mystery to crime thriller. A very large number of characters crowded its pages. There was a lot of background information, heavy use of acronyms where the meaning didn't readily stay with me, and some slow passages. These were mainly caused by descriptive bits that became pages of detail that the reader needed for some later event or piece of information to be significant. It meant that the book really was rather long, and there was always a danger you might miss something important. Sometimes you had to wonder whether crowding the reader's head with the detail was worth it for the one significant item.

However there were a number of issues raised which would have appealed particularly to Canadian readers: Canadian politics, separationist movements, male and female detectives working together, Canadian severe weather and its effect on daily life (including police investigations), dishonesty in police officers, tension between intelligence and investigation agencies both in Canada, and between Canada and the USA. But for me, the ending was unsatisfactory, but I won't tell you about that, because you will want to read it for yourself.

THE DELICATE STORM (and what is the significance of that title?) is the second in Blunt's Cardinal series. The first was FORTY WORDS FOR SORROW, and after THE DELICATE STORM comes BLACK FLY SEASON and THE FIELDS OF GRIEF (aka BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS)

My rating 4.3

Will you recognise someone 30 to 40 years on?

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone you haven't seen for decades? Their first words "you haven't changed a bit". My mental reaction: "I hope I didn't look like this 30 years ago!"

So how does that work?
In Giles Blunt's THE DELICATE STORM, a forensic artist is a guru on "age progression". She says "the truth is, the proportions of your face don't change. That's why - say you haven't seen someone for say thirty, forty years - the moment you get up close and they begin to speak, you're looking in their eyes, you know it's them."

She went on to touch up an old photo and the result looked uncannily like someone Cardinal and Delorme had put on their suspects list.

What do you think of that?

Does nationality help?

What role is played by your "national interests" in reading/appreciating a book?
What role is played by your understanding of the country's history, knowledge of current affairs etc?
Does the book's setting make a difference?

These ideas occurred to me while I was trying to fathom why I didn't like THE DELICATE STORM as much as those who gave it the 2004 Arthur Ellis Award (from the Crime Writers of Canada) - but then is that award only for Canadian writers?
I've almost decided that the answer lies in the fact that the murder mystery was so deeply entangled with Canadian political history and other facts such as the relationship between law enforcement agencies in Canada itself, and between the USA and Canada.

You might think my questions have rather obvious answers, but I think they also have something to do with writing style, reading traditions and so on.
For example, my reading of choice is almost without doubt (how's that for hedging your bets?) British crime fiction. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I was brought up on British literature, and that the crime fiction most readily available in Australia was British. I remember very clearly when the paperback became readily available in Australia and I began devouring Agatha Christie in particular. Mind you I also devoured Simenon, so perhaps my argument doesn't hold much water.

24 January 2008

Celebrating Australia Day

For those of you who don't live downunder, you may not be aware that January 26 is Australia Day.
It commemorates the date in 1788 that the British flag was hoisted at Botany Bay, roughly where Sydney grew to be.

If you need some Australian history, you can probably find what you want at http://www.australia.gov.au/Australian_History

For Australian "stories" try http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/stories/category.htm

If you want to see what your knowledge of Australia is like, try the self marking quizzes at one of my other places. There's an easy and a harder version with questions developed by a good friend.
Start at http://www.teachers.ash.org.au/kasmith/easy_oz_quiz.htm

But then if you want Book reviews etc. try http://www.austcrimefiction.org/node/31

Some blogs to follow:
Crime Down Under
Matilda There's a good list of other sites to visit in the right hand margin
Sally"s Musing DownUnder
Reading Adventures

And of course if you want to read and discuss Australian crime fiction there's oz_mystery_readers
While we discuss a range of books the members are mainly Australian, but don't let that put you off.

Do you need help with strine? See http://www.austcrimefiction.org/node/2603
Hear it spoken at http://www.convictcreations.com/culture/strine.htm
And even more words you can use: http://ozbird.com/oz/OzCulture/yarns/strine/default.htm

And what can you eat?
How about lamb chops or prawns on the barbie, vegemite, and pavlova?
Whatever you do, enjoy it!

23 January 2008

Set in Thailand

It occurred to me, when I was reading Timothy Hallinan's A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, that I have read other books which relate to Thailand and even to similar themes.

So here they are. The third is an Australian author. You might like to suggest others

BLINDFOLD GAME by Dana Stabenow
Quite an exciting read. Two men involved in setting up a terrorist bomb in a tourist area in Thailand in late 2004 decide to explode a dirty bomb over Anchorage, Alaska. The US Coast Guard cutter Sojourner Truth protects the US waters in the Bering Strait and seems to be busier than usual. Sarah Lange, estranged wife of CIA Agent Hugh Rincon, is the Executive Officer of the the cutter. When Hugh hears rumours of the dirty bomb, he realises that Sara's boat is in the area which the bombers are targeting.
My rating 4.5

University lecturer Paola, Commissario Brunetti's wife, is a person of strong convictions. When she throws a rock through the front window of a Venetian travel agency in the middle of the night, not once but twice, because it arranges sex tours to Thailand, she gets not only herself into trouble but Brunetti as well. The owner of the travel agency's premises, who is also the owner of a pharmaceutical company, seems inordinately interested in having the matter hushed up, at the same time as making Paola pay damages. Brunetti's boss Vice-Questore Patta sends Brunetti home on "administrative leave" until the matters are resolved. And then the owner, Mitri, is discovered murdered, garrotted, and Brunetti is summoned back to work. Once again Leon has chosen, in this #8 in her 17 Brunetti titles, to not only provide the reader with a series of puzzles, but to highlight an issue of international concern, placing Venice on an international stage. Brunetti and Paola are wonderful characters as is Signora Elettra, Patta's secretary and computer sleuth.
My rating 4.6

Jayne Keeney, fluent in Thai language, is an Australian private investigator living in Bangkok. Her last investigation into a marital infidelity resulted in her being severely wounded and two weeks later, stitches out, she has arranged to visit her friend Didier de Montpasse living in Chiang Mai. Didier is gay and works on an HIV/AIDS awareness program. He and Jayne get on very well, drawn together by a love of crime fiction. Jayne and Didier go to meet someone in a gay bar behind the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. There Didier has an argument with his Thai lover who has a gambling problem. Later that night Nou, Didier’s lover, is discovered dead, in the bar, butchered and mutilated. Soon Didier is also dead, shot at home by the police who say he was attempting to escape arrest. Jayne is determined to prove Didier’s innocence and to find out who really killed Nou. The content of story seems to stem from Savage’s own experience in South East Asia when she worked for the Australian Red Cross in setting up an HIV/AIDS program in Bangkok. In some senses it presents a stereo-typed view of Thailand, particularly of Bangkok and Chang Mai, where the under-age sex industry seems to flourish, with Australians amongst those who feed it. On the other hand, there is an unmistakeable tone of authenticity, raising issues that we need to think about.
A Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Winner in 2004, shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Crime Fiction in 2007
My rating 4.5

22 January 2008


Poke Rafferty, an American, a farang, is the author of a number of very popular travel books in a series called "Looking for Trouble". Poke lives in Bangkok with Rose, a Thai woman, an ex-prostitute, whom he wants to marry, and a little girl called Miaow, rescued from the streets, whom he wants to adopt. Miaow has herself selected a street boy nicknamed Superman to rescue, but he appears to be a killer.

Able to speak Thai fluently, Poke is accepted in the local community where he lives. Poke's friend Arthit is a rare example of an honest Thai policeman. From time to time he and Poke do each other favours. Arthit tells Poke of an Australian woman who is trying to find her missing uncle Claus Ulrich, and Rafferty agrees to meet with Clarissa. The novel is set just after the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. Many Bangkok people are in mourning, many have lost immediate family. Down on the coast in Phuket bodies are constantly turning up, but Poke doubts that elderly and overweight Claus would have been there.

There are some things that Poke hates: the exploitation of Thai women in brothels and bars, and the child sex industry from which he believes he has rescued Miaow. Following a lead which he hopes will locate the missing man's housemaid, Poke is offered a huge amount of money to track down a stolen item. Something is not quite right and suddenly he finds himself in more trouble than he had ever envisaged.

This was a book that grew on me. I like the way it is structured, the way the section headings relate to the title, its division into short chapters, and the careful choice of provocative chapter titles. I like Poke - there is something of the larrikin about him, from a quirky sense of humour, his willingness to take on the role of knight errant, to his tenderness for both Rose and Miaow, and his empathy for the suffering of the victims of sexual abuse. Hallinan's depiction of Bangkok rings true: where the new and old, wealthy and poor, live right next to each other, where farangs like Poke struggle to understand Thai culture but at the same time try to improve the lives of the homeless and vulnerable.

Not only does Poke Rafferty come alive, but so do other characters such as Rose and the ex-prostitutes she is trying to get employed as domestics, the children Miaow and Superman, Hank Morrison who works hard to get adoption approval for homeless Thai children, and even the reprehensible Madam Wing, the old woman offering a fortune for the retrieval of her stolen property.

A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART raises real questions of morality. Hallinan forces the reader to take these questions on board because not everything that Poke does is right. This is not a book every reader will enjoy. It describes a world in which most of us do not move, one in which sadists and the sexually depraved profit at the expense of women and children, where children are sold in a widespread South East Asian sex industry.

Some people will know Tim Hallinan as the author of the Simon Grist series including EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL (1990), INCINERATOR (1992), THE MAN WITH NO TIME (1993), and THE BONE POLISHER (1995). But as his web site tells, Hallinan had to start again.

A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART is the first in a new series, centering on Poke Rafferty. The second novel in the Bangkok series, THE FOURTH WATCHER, will be released in June 2008, and Hallinan has been contracted for a third. For more details see http://www.timothyhallinan.com/

The website, by the way, contains Hallinan's advice to writers on how to get their book finished, things he's learnt in the process of writing his own.

My rating 4.7

Tim Hallinan

I'm reading Tim Hallinan's first Poke Rafferty novel A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, so I thought I'd do some research about the author. He has such a quirky sense of humour, which just comes through in the phrases he uses and the way the central character Poke Rafferty talks about himself, that he almost comes across as an Australian writer. His style certainly reminds me a lot of Kel Robertson. But Tim was born in California.

Some people will know of Tim as the author of Simon Grist series

So I'm not going to tell you much aboutA NAIL THROUGH THE HEART here, except to say it is set in Bangkok where Poke appears to have been living for some time, and there is an Australian connection in the book.

In his writer's section Tim has this to say

A long time ago, something funny happened to me.

I thought I was a writer. I thought I was a writer because I had begun three novels over the course of a few years, noodling on each of them every time inspiration struck, which wasn’t often. (More about inspiration later.) But still, I thought of myself as a writer – all I had to do was finish one of those books.

And then my house burned down. Naturally, I had backups of all my unfinished novels, and naturally, they were all in the house. I had a life-changing revelation: If I had finished those books, they'd probably exist somewhere – in print, or at a publisher, or in a box in the garage. And then I had a second revelation: whatever I was, I wasn't a novelist, because I hadn't finished a novel.

So I made some notes on the book I remembered best, flew to Thailand, and wrote the whole thing in seven weeks. And it got me an agent, and then a three-book contract, which led to another three-book contract, etc. In other words, finishing the book turned me into a writer.

The end result of that journey was A NAIL IN THE HEART and now the second book in the series THE FOURTH WATCHER is about to be published. More later when hopefully I've finished ANTTH.

See for yourself: http://www.timothyhallinan.com/

20 January 2008

DIRTY WEEKEND, Gabrielle Lord

Jack McCain is the acting chief scientist in the Criminalistics section of the Australian Federal Police. As a supervisor, he is supposed to be delegating more, and certainly not answering calls to crime scenes. And yet here he is, in the carpark of Canberra’s Blackspot Nightclub, where the body of a former colleague has been found. So begins the first case in Gabrielle Lord’s DIRTY WEEKEND.

Jack McCain, former alcoholic, is now a workaholic who has trouble building relationships with people because he lets his work rule his life. He runs from intimacy, from revealing his hopes and fears. His relationship with Iona, who has moved from Sydney to live with him, is in danger of collapse because he constantly puts work first. His first marriage collapsed for the same reason, and his children have become used to his absence from their lives. But Jack strongly believes in what he is doing and that makes it nigh impossible for him to work 9 to 5.

Just as Jack is preparing to go home at the end of a long day, the second case emerges. The head of Canberra’s Agricultural Research Station contacts Jack with a delicate situation involving two of his research scientists. Their work is straightforward agricultural research on rabbit control, involving highly infectious materials, supposedly only dangerous if you are a rabbit. Claire Dimitriou is not to be found although her car is in the car park, and the door to the secure area appears to be open. Jack discovers Dimitriou’s body on the floor of a lab that has been meticulously steam-cleaned. That and the fact that her research partner Peter Yu has gone missing, their research log has gone, and that the lab no longer houses any of the research rabbits, rings alarm bells. At least a couple of people witnessed Peter and Claire in the lab arguing vehemently, she in tears, and he very angry.

DIRTY WEEKEND presents one puzzle after another. Two strands of investigation become many, including a twenty-year old cold case. The reader is right with Jack McCain, reading crime scenes, evaluating evidence, drawing conclusions. Gabrielle Lord’s detailed research is evident both in the development of the novel’s main themes, and the technologies used in the forensic investigations. Jack solves cases with a mixture of careful forensic investigation, memories of earlier cases, and intuition.

DIRTY WEEKEND is in many ways a brave novel. Gabrielle Lord determinedly uses Australian colloquialisms, carefully describes Australian settings, and places Australian events, and Australian scientific research, in a world setting. Watch out also for Lord’s quirky sense of humour seen in Faithful Bunnies, Terminator Rabbit, a thief called the “giant chicken”, and even in the book’s title.

13 novels in 10 years is no mean feat, and in that time Gabrielle 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. DIRTY WEEKEND is the third in Jack McCain series: look for DEATH DELIGHTS and LETHAL FACTOR. If you'd like to find out more about Gabrielle Lord, check her website out at http://www.gabriellelord.com. Currently she is writing CONSPIRACY 365 - a 12 volume YA crime/thriller/mystery/series for Scholastic Publishing.

My rating 5.0
Join the discussion with Gabrielle Lord on oz_mystery_readers from February 17

19 January 2008

Sue Grafton- 2008 Cartier Diamond Dagger

Once again how many of the authors listed among the Cartier Dagger winners have you read?
Many of my favourite authors are listed there.
Have you read all/most of Sue Grafton's alphabet series?
I think I may have missed one or two on the way, but next in line for me is S for SILENCE, already on my shelves.
There's a full list at http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/g/sue-grafton/
Her own pretty impressive site is at http://www.suegrafton.com/

Sue Grafton wins Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2008 (Crime Writers Association)
The twenty-third Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in the genre of crime writing, has been awarded to the best-selling American novelist, Sue Grafton. Her Kinsey Millhone alphabet series of PI mystery novels have won numerous awards in her native America. The latest number one best-seller, T is for Trespass, was published in the US in December 2007 and will be out in Macmillan hardback in the UK in April 2008.

The CWA committee selects writers nominated by the membership. Nominees have to meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence, and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language, whether originally or in translation. The award is made purely on merit without reference to age, gender or nationality.

The first winner, in 1986, was Eric Ambler. Subsequent recipients have been P.D. James, John le Carré, Dick Francis, Julian Symons, Ruth Rendell, Leslie Charteris, Ellis Peters, Michael Gilbert, Reginald Hill, H.R.F. Keating, Colin Dexter, Ed McBain, Margaret Yorke, Peter Lovesey, Lionel Davidson, Sara Paretsky, Robert Barnard, Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin and Elmore Leonard.

Last year's winner was John Harvey.

Thanks to Petrona for the heads up on the award.

Edgar Nominees

I'm indebted to Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays for this nicely formatted short list.
The Edgars are awarded by the Mystery Writers of America and are actually the Edgar Poe Awards. This year celebrates the 199th anniversary of Poe's birth. Over on the Edgars site you get the full list with a lot of lovely cover pics as well. We have to wait until May 1 to find out the winners.

Who says that awards don't matter? I bet you look through this list to see what you've read! I know I did. The only one I've read is Tana French's IN THE WOODS - apparently in that category because she was born in Vermont, although she is always touted as an Irish writer. So more books to look out for.


Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt and Company)
Priest by Ken Bruen (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)
Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House Books)
Down River by John Hart (St. Martin’s Minotaur)

Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell (HarperCollins - William Morrow)
In the Woods by Tana French (Penguin Group - Viking)
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard (The Rookery Press)
Head Games by Craig McDonald (Bleak House Books)
Pyres by Derek Nikitas (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Queenpin by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)
Blood of Paradise by David Corbett (Random House - Mortalis)
Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks (Serpent’s Tail)
Robbie’s Wife by Russell Hill (Hard Case Crime)
Who is Conrad Hirst? by Kevin Wignall (Simon & Schuster)

18 January 2008

Challenges are all the rage!

Reading challenges seem to be what people are doing in 2008. I'm not really tempted myself, feels a bit too much like a reading curriculum, but I admire the organisational skills of those who do.

  • Kari over at Another Book on the Stack is undertaking no less than 8 challenges and has so far identified 48 books and is even organised enough to cross one off so far.
  • I know Marg at Reading Adventures is into Challenges too. The ones that Marg is doing so far include the Chunkster Challenge, the Romance Reading, the PulitzerProject, the ManBooker, Pub08, and Sci- Fi experience, and I get the feeling she is still looking. Perhaps she'll tell me how many books that is.
  • Friend Sally has listed the challenges she is undertaking at her Reading Challenges blog. Looks like she is doing 15 or so challenges. Her list of the challenges she completed in 2007 is impressive
Here are some others you might think about - until I began searching I didn't expect to find so many!
So, are you into Challenges?Tell us about the ones doing this year.
If you are, why do you do it?
Are there any specifically for crime/mystery fiction readers or do you just make up your own list?
Or perhaps you can try to convince me that I should join one or two!

17 January 2008

Appealing to an audience

I'm wondering- do authors write with a specific audience in mind? If they do, does that cut other audiences out?

The reason I'm asking is that I am still reading DIRTY WEEKEND by Gabrielle Lord (how having to work cuts your reading time down!)
Lord is writing in a male persona, using Australian colloquialisms quite liberally. (Where else would you find up at sparrow fart but in an Australian novel?) I'm trying to decide whether she tries really hard to bring out the Australianness of language and setting, or does it just happen?

Last year oz_mystery_readers discussed DEAD SET by Kel Robertson, coincidentally also set in Canberra.
Here is what I recorded:
The Hon. Tracey Dale, Australia's Minister for Immigration (ALP) has been murdered in her Canberra apartment. She was the author of Australia's current immigration policy: the Compassionate Australia Program, which has recently resulted in significant increase in Australia's refugee intake. Some believe her death is the work of terrorists, or at the very least racists. Federal Australian Police Detective Inspector Brad Chen is returning from sick leave of 3 months, and this is his first case back. Some would see him as a man with many handicaps: still on crutches after being knocked down by a car, an Australian-Chinese with Chinese appearance but unmistakeable Australian accent, addicted to pain killers of the worst sort, and named after a cricketer. DEAD SET is almost a political thriller as much as a murder mystery. Set in Canberra and Melbourne. As Chen's investigation proceeds, the list of suspects grows, and others die. Tracey Dale ignored a time bomb, something that spelled political ruin for her. A debut novel for Kel Robertson.
I ended up wondering what non-Australian readers would make of the language and the local political references. My rating was 4.0

Some non-Australian readers tell us they need a glossary of terms to help them read an Australian novel. And yet I don't think that happens when they read Adrian Hyland's DIAMON DOVE.

So what do you think? Does writing for a specific audience mean the novel will have limited appeal to readers who don't identify with that audience?

15 January 2008

SHATTERED, Gabrielle Lord

Released last year, SHATTERED is #4 in the Gemma Lincoln series.
Superintendent of Police at Manly, Bryson Finn and his sister-in-law Bettina are killed by an unknown gunman when she opens the front door of her house. His 9 year old son Donny, also shot, saw the killer and may die. Gemma Lincoln, private investigator, becomes involved when she helps her friend DS Angie McDonald.
The investigation affects a third friend Senior Constable Jaki Hunter, a ballistics expert, in a number of ways. Work has been a bit slow for Gemma in recent months but now three cases arrive at once together with complications in the Finn investigation. And Gemma has personal problems - she is pregnant but the baby's father has left her; her sister whom she has recently located has fallen under the influence of a religious group; and Hugo the Ratbag seems to have moved in with her.
I found this a bit difficult to settle into at first but then decided to try to read it a bit more slowly, letting things jell a bit between reads, and it was worth it. In the end the threads are resolved nicely. My rating was 4.6


This book is the first Gabrielle Lord that I read, although it is her 9th book.
Published in 2003, it was #2 in the Gemma Lincoln series.
With it she won the Davitt Award in 2003 for the best Australian crime novel by an Australian woman in the previous year.

Gemma Lincoln, is trying to discover who has been raping and murdering street girls from Kings Cross. Parallel cases follow the suspicious death of a high profile Sydney businessman and philanthropist, and an utterly ruthless drug dealer whose hobby is maintaining a small zoo of poisonous snakes. In addition to these enquiries, Gemma has to contend with sabotage from within her own small organisation and pangs of jealousy over boyfriend Steve, whose own undercover work involves getting up close and personal with an extremely beautiful society woman. How much is Steve acting a role and how much is he really involved with the woman? Always haunted by the insecurities of her past, Gemma struggles to pull her life together in increasingly sinister circumstances.

My rating 4.0

Gabrielle Lord

In mid February, oz_mystery_readers is having a quarterly activity called Quiz an Author. Our guest next month will be Australian author Gabrielle Lord. I am to be the host of that event, and we spend the week with the author replying to a bunch of pre-prepared questions, and spontaneous questions from members. So far in this activity we've quizzed Brian Kavanagh, P.D. Martin, and Adrian Hyland. Quiz and Author begins on 17 February.

By early next month I hope to have read 3 of her novels, DEATH DELIGHTS (2002), DIRTY WEEKEND (2005), and SHATTERED (2007) and sent off some qeneral questions to Gabrielle. I've made a head start because I actually read SHATTERED last year, but I'll have to do a light skim-read to get the grey cells working again on it. I began DIRTY WEEKEND yesterday, and am enjoying it. DEATH DELIGHTS awaits on my bookshelf.

Gabrielle Lord's first novel WHIPPING BOY was published in 1998, which really isn't so long ago when you think about. There is a complete list of her books in date order at Australasian Crime Fiction.

13 titles in 10 years is no mean feat, and in that time 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. Another interesting thing about Gabrielle is that she has written not only stand-alones, but also with a male protagonist, Jack McCain, and a female one, Gemma Lincoln. Another Australian author who has done something similar is Michael Robotham, but more of that another time.

If you'd like to find out more about Gabrielle Lord, check her website out at http://www.gabriellelord.com
Currently she is writing CONSPIRACY 365 - a 12 volume YA crime/thriller/mystery/series for Scholastic Publishing.

Gabrielle Lord will also be coming to Adelaide Writer's Week and I'm looking forward to hearing her speak there.

14 January 2008

DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott

The King family, Lora the schoolteacher and her brother Bill a policeman had always lived together, a peaceful co-existence, and together they were a team. That is, until Alice Steele almost crashed her car into his. And from that point on Bill was a goner: he and Alice decide to marry just 5 months later. Right from the start, Lora feels that Alice is not to be trusted, that there is something rotten underneath the bright and breezy, glamorous façade. Alice has been a Hollywood wardrobe assistant, but Lora gets her a job as a home economics teacher at the school she herself teaches at. This should give them a chance to get to know each other better, but Lora becomes increasingly suspicious of what Alice does, especially after she disappears during the school day. Finally Alice's true colours emerge, and now it is not a question of Bill looking out for Lora as he's done all of his life, but of her saving him.

This book has been classified by some as modern noir. Set in 1950s Hollywood, its setting and style both evoke a period that we rarely encounter in a modern novel. And yet this is Megan Abbott's debut. There is some clever writing.

To tell the truth, I struggled with this book, and began to wonder why I was reading it. Over on 4 Mystery Addicts, we have been categorising what sort of reader we are, what sort of books we prefer, ranging from cozy on one end of the spectrum to noir on the other. Now I read the occasional cozy, love my police procedurals, but if this is noir, then it is not a category that I enjoy.

Does book format influence your choice?

When a copy of Giles Blunt's THE DELICATE STORM arrived, and I found it was in the smaller format (I think it is called a mass paperback), it occurred to me that I almost never read a book in this size. Most of the books I read are either hardcover (especially if I borrow it from the library), or in the trade paperback format.

I often listen to books on CD but find that they take me longer than if I was reading a printed version, and I have only read one "e-book" which somebody sent to me as a pdf. I found I had to print that out, I couldn't read it on my computer screen.

Every now and again I borrow a book that is in large print. I do such a lot of reading, online and in printed books, that large print feels like a luxury even though it makes the book actually a lot heavier.

I hate books that have wall-to-wall printing, where it is really difficult to read the text close to the central margin. I also hate books where the text is far too small. One author who did himself a real disservice was Jeffrey Deaver when he went with Coronet Paperbacks who printed with the main text at about size 8 font. I look at the font size and then weigh up how much I really want to read it. A MAIDEN'S GRAVE has been sitting on my shelf for nearly 2 years now. I'm waiting until I have to get new glasses, and then maybe I will cope with it.

Picador's announcement last year that most of their new publications would not go through the hardcover stage caused quite a bit of discussion. The argument is an economic one - hardcovers cost more to produce etc., profit margins are less. Libraries on the other hand often buy hardcovers because they last longer. Paperbacks of any size get tattier quicker. Although nothing saves the book from the careless reader who generously donates his coffee to its pages - don't you hate that?

This has been a rather disjointed posting, so let me throw just one more random thought in. When I bought my copy of IN THE WOODS by Tana French, in trade paperback, the edges of the pages were dyed black. The book shop people commented that books with coloured page edges are rare these days, especially in paperback. So does anybody have an explanation for why her publishers bothered to do it? I don't think it made the book more expensive, although my recollection of how much I paid is rather hazy.

And lastly - here is roughly what we pay for a book here in Oz
hardcover - $45 AUD
trade paperback - $32.95
mass paperback - $19.95

So feel free to comment on any part of my ramblings.

13 January 2008


At last my third novel for the year completed.

DCI Simon Serrailler is in Venice on a sketching holiday when a phone call comes from his father to say that if he wants to see his handicapped sister alive he needs to come home straightaway. Shortly after he arrives home the case that dominates this book begins. Eight year old David Angus is abducted as he waits on the footpath in front of his house for his ride to school. As the investigation drags on, there are no clues to the whys and wherefores of the abduction, and the bereft Angus family disintegrates.

I've tried to work out what it is that I so much like in these books. This is #2 in Susan Hill's Serrailler series, and the reader would be well advised to read #1, THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN, first. It is almost as if Hill has created a laboratory in which she can play with a couple of themes: the case of the missing boy, the ex-con trying to go straight, Serrailler's ex-lover who begins to stalk him, overworked general practictioners, against a rich tapestry of characters, particularly those connected with the Serrailler family, in the small cathedral town of Lafferton. I think of what I also like is the "completeness" of the picture, although great patches of time are just skated over.

I didn't find it a particularly quick read, and I found there was a lot to think about. In my mind's eye I can see these books becoming the basis of an episodic television series. Hill has me looking for #3 (THE RISK OF DARKNESS)

My rating: 4.7

12 January 2008

Schützenfest in Adelaide - German crime fiction

We are off to the Schützenfest today. Lovely weather- mid 20s - and my family plays in the Klemzig Oompah band. See more at Schützenfest website.

It occurred to me though how little German crime fiction I have read - almost none really - so perhaps people can suggest some I can look out for.

I know there are writers of German crime and mystery fiction because when I was last in Germany I visited a number of bookshops looking for books in English, of which there were very few. But the crime sections were always very large, some translated from English, but obviously lots of German writers too. Perhaps they just don't get translated into English.

So what have I read?
Last year oz_mystery_readers discussed THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD by John Le Carre. Not German I know, but about the cold war days, before the wall came down. I have been to Germany both before and after the Berlin Wall came down. Two years ago prosperity and commercialism were beginning to seep into the east.
Regarded as a classic in spy thrillers. Alec Leamas, for 4 years head of British espionage in Berlin, loses yet another double agent, when a spy crossing from East Berlin is shot by the border guards. He returns to London a broken man and Control offers him a final chance, one last task, to get back at Mundt, the head of East German espionage whom he holds responsible for the lost agents. Leamus has to appear to be discarded in order to become attractive to East German intelligence and open to defection. The story in this relatively short novel has so many twists and turns that you don’t really see what will happen at the end until it actually happens, and then you understand that this is where everything was leading all the time.

A couple of years ago we discussed STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS by Faye Kellerman. Again not a German writer I know.
Axel Berg is an Inspektor in Munich's newly formed Mordkommission. The year is 1929 and the Austrian Adolf Hitler is on the rise. He leads those who want to rid Germany of degenerates, Jews, Communists. The police force that Berg belongs to is underpaid and corrupt and ill equipped to deal with the growing Brown Shirt menace, young drunken hooligans who are manipulated by Hitler and muder and attack 'degenerates'. Lustmord — the joy of murder. The terrifying concept seems apt for the brutal slaying of a beautiful young society wife dumped in the vast English Garden. Homicide inspector Axel Berg is horrified by the crime...and disturbed by the artful arrangement of the victim's clothes and hair — a madman's portrait of death. Berg's superiors demand quick answers and a quick arrest: a vagrant, the woman's husband, anyone who can be demonized will do. When a second body is discovered, the city erupts into panic, the unrest fomented by the wild-eyed, hate-mongering Austrian Adolf Hitler and his Brownshirt party of young thugs. Berg can trust no one as he relentlessly hunts a ruthless killer, dodging faceless enemies and back-alley intrigue, struggling to bring a fiend to justice before the country — and his life — veer straight into darkness.

A couple of years ago I reviewed BROTHER GRIMM by Craig Russell, interesting because it was published simultaneously in English and German, as, I think, at least one later book was.
A girl's body has turned up on a Hamburg beach with a note concealed in her hand. The note gives her name, that of a 13 year old who went missing on her way home from school 3 years earlier. But it is not the same girl. Fabel has worked this out even before her parents come to identify the body and confirm his suspicions. Then two more bodies turn up, posed at a picnic table in the woods, also with notes concealed in their hands. The notes say Hansel and Gretel, in the same tiny, obsessively neat writing.
For English-language readers BROTHER GRIMM is basically a police procedural in a different setting. There are a few differences in the police hierarchy and methods but basically I think this is a book that could be set anywhere. Having said that, great pains have been taken to relate to the German audience. The book was released simultaneously in English and as a German translation. The setting of BROTHER GRIMM is very Germanic. I don't think I will ever look at Grimm's fairy tales in quite the same way again. It helps if the reader has a passing knowledge of the best-known of them.

And I have to mention.. one of the first books I ever wrote a 'proper' review for
There are really two beginning points for this thriller/mystery. In the dying days of World War Two, a German tank convoy escorting a truck is intercepted by an American platoon. In the skirmish that follows most of the Germans are killed and the rest flee leaving the truck behind. Inside the truck is a single crate stencilled with the German eagle and swastika. The contents of this crate are pivotal to the rest of the story. The story then leaps to the present day. At 3 am Deborah Miller, curator of a small private museum in Atlanta, Georgia, is awoken by her third strange phone call for the night. This one sends her hurrying back to the museum which she had left only just after midnight after a successful promotional evening. At the museum, in a room she did not even know existed, she finds the body of Richard Dixon, her mentor and the museum's founder and director. On the shelves around the room is a treasure trove of what seem to be genuine Mycenaean antiquities. The reader unravels the mystery, essentially the story of why Richard was killed, in THE MASK OF ATREUS through Deborah's eyes, travelling to Greece and Russia, patching together an incredible story.

So what can you add to my TBF (to be found) list? Not that I need more to read, you understand.

11 January 2008

Missing Children

I am currently reading THE PURE IN HEART by Susan Hill. #2 in the Simon Serrailler series. The first real case in the book is the apparent kidnapping of a 9 year old boy as he stands on the footpath outside his home waiting for his ride to school.
And as Serrailler's assistant Detective Sergeant Nathan Coates thinks..
What can it be like to go out one morning and everything's hunky-dory, and at the end of the day, wham, your kid's gone, just... gone? Jesus.

Lying in bed last night, I started thinking about books that I've read that tackled this theme. A mental trawl of my database brought up these..

INVOLUNTARY WITNESS by Gianrico Carofiglio
Not an optimistic one because the boy is found dead and so the book is about the attempt to lay the blame.
A Senegalese peddlar working on the beaches of Bari in southern Italy has been accused of the murder of a young boy, whose body was found down a well 12 kilometers away. Guido Guerrieri, Counsel for the Defence, originally advises the accused to opt for a "short trial", a method in which the accused basically pleads guilty and gets a reduced sentence because of that. But the accused says he is not guilty and although he thinks the case is hopeless Guido also believes him. This novel is an Italian prize winner, translated into English. It is Carofiglio's debut novel, won a number of literary awards, and also already become the basis for an Italian TV series. Very different view of Italian justice system to Donna Leon. But then Bari is not Venice.

Then of course IN THE WOODS by Tana French
Three 12 years olds are playing in the woods at Knocknaree and then there is one. The other two vanish and the remaining child Adam Ryan is in a catatonic state and remembers nothing. Life goes on but the two children are never found and Adam Ryan becomes detective Rob Ryan. Twenty years on the woods are to be demolished to make way for a motorway. When protesters assert that the woods are of archaelogical significance they are given time to excavate and to retrieve anything of value. Then the body of a young girl is found near the excavation site, and Rob Ryan is part of the team assigned the case. He knows he should declare his conflict of interest but he doesn't. Gradually as the investigation develops the layers of his memory onion peel back and he gets closer to the truth. A strong debut novel that tackles an idea others have tackled before

BLACK SECONDS by Karin Fossum
Helga Joner has often thought that her nine year old daughter Ida is too good to be true, too good to last. The disappearance of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. When Ida fails to arrive home from the shop, Helga feels she had been rehearsing the moment for years. First Helga and her sister Ruth scour the streets where they might find Ida, without success, and then they ring the police. Helga feels that somehow she has tempted fate, setting off an inevitable chain of events.
When Inspector Konrad Sejer arrives at her house, Helga feels instinctively that he will find Ida. As time passes Sejer becomes concerned that no trace has been found of Ida or the bright yellow bicycle she rode to the shop. One hundred and fifty volunteers search for Ida without success. Eight days later there are still no clues, the search is to be scaled down, and a chance comment by Helga to Sejer gives them something new to work on.

from a couple of years back in my reading
NO TRACE by Barry Maitland
In this work Maitland turns his focus on an artistic community where one of the leading artists, Gabriel Rudd, has won England’s most controversial art awards, the Turner Prize, with a painting he completed after the death of his wife. Now his daughter has disappeared, and two other young girls have also gone missing at the same time. Rudd begins to work on an art installation based on the grief he is experiencing for his lost daughter Tracey.

and ON BEULAH HEIGHT by Reginald Hill
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.

10 January 2008

Writers Week - Adelaide

Adelaide Writers week occurs biennally as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. It basically an outside event held in city, in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Gardens, in 2 large outside tents and a book tent.

It is a wonderful event, mainly free. The only things that you need to pay for are 2 evenings, this year held in Adelaide Town Hall, usually with a panel of writers.

It is a wonderful week, and this year I am having the whole week off, 2-7 March, so will have plenty of chance to wallow in the discussions, readings and panels.

Among other writers there will be
Peter Carey/Aust
Thomas H Cook/USA
Ian McEwan/UK
Denise Mina/Scotland
Kirsty Gunn/Scotland
Gabrielle Lord
Geraldine Brooks
Marshall Browne
Peter Corris
Garry Disher
Dorothy Porter

See all the details at here

Adrian Hyland

Debut author Adrian Hyland topped the oz_mystery_readers 2007 best reads list with DIAMOND DOVE with 5 people recommending it. The group discussed it in September when Adrian was the group's guest on Quiz an Author, an event when an author is invited to be an online guest for a week, and questions and answers fly thick and fast. Fresh from being named the Ned Kelly best first fiction novel of the year winner at Melbourne Writers Festival, Adrian was frank and eloquent in his replies and has remained an active member of the list.
DIAMOND DOVE was given a rating of 5 by the members, a rare achievement in itself. The only other book to be given a rating of 5 was RAVEN BLACK by Ann Cleeves.

DIAMOND DOVE has been published in the US as MOONLIGHT DOWNS and will be discussed on another list I belong to, 4_Mystery_Addicts, at the beginning of March.

My review of DIAMOND DOVE:
Emily Tempest returns to Moonlight Downs, a scatter of corrugated iron hovels nine hours from Alice Springs out in the spinifex desert, 14 years after leaving to go to secondary school in Adelaide. The daughter of a local miner, Motor Jack, she is welcomed home by Lincoln Flinders, the head of the community. The Moonlight mob have only recently returned to their land themselves. The Moonlight mob are Emily's community by adoption - her mother was a Wantiya woman from the Gulf Country. Unmistakably aboriginal in appearance, Emily has not yet decided which world she belongs to - aboriginal or white. She meets up with Lincoln's daughter Hazel, her best friend in the past. The morning after Emily arrives, Lincoln is found dead, unmistakably murdered, and Emily finds it impossible to rest until she knows who killed him. Adrian Hyland's debut novel. Very polished writing and a feel of authenticity about the setting and customs. I came away feeling I had learnt quite a lot.

9 January 2008

Peter Temple comes out tops

If you add the oz_mystery readers best reads for 2006 and 2007 together an interesting picture emerges
The top 5 are
BROKEN SHORE (THE), Peter Temple, 4+6
DIAMOND DOVE, Adrian Hyland, 5
DEVIL'S STAR (THE), Jo Nesbo, 3+2
RAVEN BLACK, Ann Cleeves, 1+3
ABOVE SUSPICION, Lynda La Plante, 4

Top by a long way is THE BROKEN SHORE with which Peter Temple has won the Ned Kelly award for Best Novel in 2006, and then the 2007 CWA Duncan Lawrie Award

oz_mystery_readers best for 2007

oz_mystery_readers follow the same practice as many online groups of asking members to submit their 10 or so best reads for the year. The results are than collated to give members books to look out for.

Here is the short list for 2007 of those that were mentioned more than once.
In all 112 titles were submitted by a dozen or so list members
The numbers after the authors names indicate the number of times the title occurred
*** indicate Australian authors
*** DIAMOND DOVE, Adrian Hyland, 5
ABOVE SUSPICION, Lynda La Plante, 4
*** BROKEN SHORE (THE), Peter Temple, 4
*** CROOK AS ROOKWOOD, Chris Nyst, 3
DEATH OF DALZIEL (THE), Reginald Hill, 3
DEVIL'S STAR (THE), Jo Nesbo, 3
*** BODY COUNT, P. D. Martin, 2
EXIT MUSIC, Ian Rankin, 2
HOUSE SITTER (THE), Peter Lovesey, 2
*** NIGHT FERRY (THE), Michael Robotham, 2
PRIEST, Ken Bruen, 2
REDBREAST (THE), Jo Nesbo, 2
SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, Arnaldur Indridason, 2
TIN ROOF BLOW DOWN (THE), James Lee Burke, 2
VOICES, Arnaldur Indridason, 2
WOODS (THE), Harlan Coben, 2

Some authors were mentioned more than once too
- more than one title that is
Alexander McCall Smith
Arnaldur Indridason
*** Brian Kavanagh
Colin Watson
Giles Blunt
Hakan Nesser
Harlan Coben
Karin Fossum
Ken Bruen
Louise Penny
Lynda La Plante
Peter Lovesey
*** Shane Maloney
Tess Gerritsen
Thomas H. Cook

8 January 2008

John Connor

My second book for 2008. This time I listened rather than read.
I enjoy well read unabridged mysteries and thrillers on CDs. They usually take me some time to get through because I only listen as I am driving to and from work, about 20 minutes each way. But I decided this 10 CD set, 12 hours of it, was taking too long. I began it before Christmas. So tonight I listened to the final 2 hours through my computer's CD player.

This one was PHOENIX by John Connor, the first in Karen Sharpe series.

When her boss and a female informant are found murdered on the moors in the Pennines, Detective Constable Karen Sharpe realises she should be dead too. But for an anniversary she was observing at home alone, she would have been with them. The deaths have all the hallmarks of a drugs killing but Karen is pretty sure that there is more to it than that. What were they doing out on the moors? Last time she had seen them they were drinking in a hotel.
Detective Chief Superintendent Munro realises he needs Karen on his investigation team despite her close connections to the case. But he doesn't know what to make of her and she is difficult to control, not a team member at all.
And in her past Karen has a dark secret, something that surfaces annually, for Karen Sharpe is not who she seems. Half way through this story, just when you think all the riddles have been solved, you realise that you are only half way there. Murder investigation becomes strong, rapidly moving thriller. What Karen Sharpe did eight years before comes as a series of staggering surprises. Strongly read by Maggie Mash.

I was surprised to find out that this is the beginning of a series. I didn't expect to meet Karen Sharpe again. So I'll read another and Maggie Mash's voice will stay with me for a while yet.
1. PHOENIX (2003)
2. PLAYROOM (2004)
3. A CHILD'S GAME (2006)
4. FALLING (2007)

Once again, this won't survive to be on my best reads for 2008 but it will stay in my top 10 for a couple of months. The rate I am going, I'll be lucky to read 10 books in 2 months. :-)

Susan Hill

Finally I've managed to get around to finishing reading the first book for 2008. I'd heard a lot of good things about this book, and while it won't be my best read for 2008, it will be in my top 10 for a while.

Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham has arrived in the small cathedral town of Lafferton to join DCI Simon Serrailler's team. She makes new friends in the town rather more easily than she expected, especially through Serrailler's mother who is a local social identity, and his sister, one of the town's doctors.
Angela Randall, a woman in her fifties has disappeared without trace while out walking on the Hill in the fog. Halfway up the Hill loom the Wern Stones, ancient standing stones, that loom "like three witches squatting around a cauldron". There is nothing to link this disappearance with any other case it seems, but there is also a young man who disappeared on the Hill while out jogging, and then there is Jim William's vanished dog Skippy. Simon Serailler's sister, Dr. Cat Deerborn has concerns of her own: a friend who has what seems to be terminal cancer, and then some alternative medicine practitioners whose practices can be downright dangerous.
I loved the way this book is structured: several voices clamouring for the reader's attention; new characters to be explored; and strands that don't quite come together until towards the end. #1 in the Simon Serrailler series.

I do like to start a series at the beginning and read them in order.
I feel excited at prospect of reading the next two:
I have both lurking among the 20+ library books waiting on my shelves.
And then apparently there are two more to be published this year

7 January 2008

The world grows smaller

Yesterday I was struck by how much smaller the world has become. My daughter and son-in-law have recently moved to Abu Dhabi, yet there she was to chat with through Live Messenger. In the morning I had already had a chat session with members of another online reading group and there were people from US, Canada, Germany and Australia. Over 30 years has passed since I trekked from Kathmandhu to London on an overland bus, making many good friends. Recently one of them and I have re-discovered each other through FaceBook.

But nowhere is the shrinking of the world so clearly illustrated as in the choice of international authors, particularly in the crime and mystery fiction genre, now available to us in translated paperbacks.
Apart from a constant diet of Australian, British, Canadian and American authors, last year I read books by
Guillermo Martinez
Henning Mankell
Natsuo Kirino
Arnaldur Indridason
Helene Tursten
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Karin Fossum
Gianrico Carofiglio
and the list of new books by non-English authors grows annually as publishers discover best-sellers and prize winners in other languages.

6 January 2008

Detective teams and Romantic involvement

This post is inspired by my current read, THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN by Susan Hill.
It is labelled as a Simon Serrailler crime novel - in fact it is the first in the series.
Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham has recently joined D. I. Simon Serrailler's team in the cathedral town of Lafferton and has realised that she has (almost at first sight) fallen in love with him. She has found out through a mutual friend that he has this effect on all women, and despite apparently extending friendship, never commits himself to romantic involvement. I still have about 200 pages to go, so am now wondering how Freya is going to resolve this. It is the last thing she needs at the start of her career.

The second novel that springs to mind is PHOENIX by John Connor. I am actually listening to it on CD and am about half way through. D.C. Karen Sharpe has newly come to the Pennines from London and joined a team being headed by D.C.S John Munro. Munro has taken up waiting outside Karen's house for her to come home late at night. He is obviously very attracted to her and she to him. They are sharing confidences but any relationship is in early days. Romantic involvement with him seems to be about the last thing she needs. She seems to have some deep dark secret in her past which is likely to affect any relationship she has.

Now the other example I have in my recent reading is CLEAN CUT by Lynda la Plante. This is the third in the Anna Travis series. Anna's romantic involvement with D.C.I James Langton began early on in ABOVE SUSPICION, the first in the series, continued in the second THE RED DAHLIA, and by CLEAN CUT they are living together, although they have not been working on the same cases for about 12 months.
When Langton is horrifically injured in a murder arrest that goes wrong, Anna becomes vital to his recovery. While Langton is still in hospital, Anna is assigned to a new case where a librarian is found dead by her twelve year old daughter returning from school. The suspect in this case is yet another violent rapist released from prison far too early. And then, perhaps a little predictably, the case Anna is working on and the one Langton was working on when he was attacked become linked. This a long and complex novel, with an ending that ensures there will be yet another sequel.

What other examples can you think of?
What is leading modern writers to include this sort of element in their plots?
Is it to make the point that romantic/sexual involvement between members of a team can impair sound decision-making? Surely we already knew that.
Or, and this may just be the cynic in me speaking, is it to make the crime fiction genre more palatable/attractive to those who like some romance/spice in their reading?
My other question relates to whether the author is assuming that readers will consume these books in order. Perhaps they are aiming at capturing an audience and then working within the framework that that audience enjoys.

5 January 2008

Oz_Mystery History

oz_mystery_readers, an Australian group on Yahoo, turns 5 in about a month's time.
I created it in Feb 9, 2003
We have gained and lost members over that time, but the head count is now 114

We first began discussing books in December 2004
The first book we discussed was Ian Rankin's FLESHMARKET CLOSE.
7 people participated in the discussion, and we gave it a ranking of 4.7

At first we discussed books only every 2 months, but from June 2005 we began a monthly schedule

In the last 4 years we have discussed 44 books, with an average of 6.6 people joining in each discussion.
Once we got up to 13
15 of the books have been by Australian authors, and 9 of those have been in the last year.
The average rating is 4.25

We have given 2 ratings of 5
RAVEN BLACK by Ann Cleeves
DIAMOND DOVE by Adrian Hyland

Here are our top 10, with Australian authors marked ***
RAVEN BLACK, Ann Cleeves
***DIAMOND DOVE, Adrian Hyland
SLEEPYHEAD, Mark Billingham
***THE BROKEN SHORE, Peter Temple
RED LEAVES, Thomas H Harris
***NO TRACE, Barry Maitland

4 January 2008

Writers Festivals - Perth

Perth Writers Festival will be held 22-24 Feb

Seems a little light on crime/mystery writers but I found these in the "reading List":
  • Douglas Kennedy, WOMAN IN THE FIFTH
  • Shane Maloney, SUCKED IN
  • Victoria Hammond, THE DEVIL AND MARIA D'AVALOS
  • Christopher Koch, THE MEMORY ROOM
22 February, 2-3 pm, Shane Maloney and Marion Halligan discuss The Scene of the Crime
unfortunately set against a panel with Christopher Koch and others on Secrets and Lies

23 February, 12.30-1.30, Christopher Koch and others give readings from their latest novels.
2-3 pm, Douglas Kennedy is on a panel called Suspenseful Tales

24th February, 12.30-1.30, Victoria Hammond on a panel called Blurring the Lines

Now I haven't read any of those and I'm pleased to report that my local library network has them all in their catalogue (not that I need any more books to read)

3 January 2008

New Year's Reflections

Many of the lists that I belong to are analysing the year that was. Some are collecting people's Tops and Bottoms and eventually will generate a collective "recommended reading" list. On others people are contemplating their achievements for the past year and making resolutions for the next.

My stats
I read 124 books last year - nearly all of them mystery
I have read 2649 books (that I've recorded titles for) in the past 33 years.
In 2007 I wrote 15 formal reviews and stored them at Reviewers Choice
In April 2007 I created my page at Library Thing and have added 165 records

I am currently reading THE HAUNTS OF VARIOUS MEN by Susan Hill.
Over on oz_mystery_readers we have begun discussing FRANTIC by Katherine Howell.

2 January 2008

Best reads for 2007

The order is the order in which I read them
** Australian authors

** THE NIGHT FERRY, Michael Robotham
VOICES, Arnaldur Indridason
** FRANTIC, Katherine Howell
THE WOODS, Harlan Coben
DEAD COLD, Louise Penny
SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, Arnaldur Indridason
EXIT MUSIC, Ian Rankin
SCARED TO LIVE, Stephen Booth
** THE BROKEN SHORE, Peter Temple


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