Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Reads Recommendation: Australian Crime

My newest obsession (well, one of my new obsessions, I'll talk about the other in a later blog post) is returning to reading Australian crime fiction and non-fiction. There is something that pulls me towards that harsh and desolate outback landscape where the land is as much a serial killer as those antagonists in the pages of crime fiction. The serenity and seclusion is a perfect backdrop for crime. 

Australians will be well familiar with the backpacker murders of the 90's and the convicted killer Ivan Milat responsible for so many unfortunate deaths which makes reading any outback crime fiction all the more grisly by virtue of the true life counterpart. I recently listed to the audible audio version of this book and enjoyed it for the most part, however the clinical nature of the book could lead readers to distraction, that said, I do recommend it if you've not checked it out. 

Aussie crime accounted for over 50% (8 books in total) of my January reading, this is above and beyond the highest ratio of Aussie-centric crime reads I can recall and I loved (for the most part) every aspect of it.  

Below are the picks of the bunch, including my current #1 read of 2017, Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher (published 2013):







   

Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM by Greg Pyers

Publisher Scribe
Length 394 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series Otto Berliner #1
My Copy Review copy provided by publisher

My Review 
The Unfortunate Victim is a historical crime fiction novel set in Daylesford, outside of Melbourne in 1864. With the gold mining town akin to Deadwood, this outlaw-like frontier on the surface seems lawless, or at least law-ignorant such is the ineptitude of the police force, a unit that had failed to land a conviction for the previous 5 murders prior to the killing of 17yr old Maggie Stuart in a manner reminiscent of Jack the Ripper.

The opening stanza brings the reader up to speed with Maggie; providing a glimpse at marital life during the 1860’s, the simple things that kept her days full and the sheer newness of life in Victoria; nothing short of atmospheric, the town, people, their predicaments and place of residents be it tent or more structurally sound dwelling were clearly articulated, the mud paved streets and tobacco-infused air instantly transporting the reader to a simpler and dangerous time in Australia. The characters introduced at a steady stream at once coming under suspicion for the crime to come; David Rose – a drifter with an imposing and off-putting demeanor, Joe Latham – Maggie’s step father and violent drunkard, George Stuart – Maggie’s much older husband, and John Pitman – co owner of the local brothel with a keen eye on Daylesford’s more attractive members of the finer sex.

Interestingly, Otto Berliner, the protagonist and expert private investigator appears well after the crime had been committed with a suspect in custody; the author having chosen a different take on the structure and flow of the crime novel – providing something different to great advantage. Berliner’s impact is sudden and sharp as a knife, cutting through the inadequacies of the investigation and reading as a likable intellectual bound for series stardom. Along with a dutiful assistant, the future of his Private Inquiry Office surely has more entertaining stories to come.

Readers will note The Unfortunate Victim is a play on words with the meaning fully realized as the novel progresses and draws to a close – I thought this was a clever touch concluding a very good story – one based on a true crime.

4/5 stars – would have been 5 had the court room proceedings not taken up so much space in the middle portion of the story - whilst important, I felt they could have been condensed a little, that said I really enjoyed The Unfortunate Victim and highly recommend it. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott (audio edition)

You Will Know Me is adolescent girl noir at the top flight of competitive gymnastics. A boiling pot of mystery that takes a step back from the crime itself to emphasize the human element; a moments decision in the beat of a heart, a choice made on a whim and whisper, a promise broken for the promise of another kind. Like Dare Me and The Fever before, You Will Know Me flips the script on conventional crime fiction.

Devon Knox is a child prodigy in the world of gymnastics. From the age of three she’s known everything she wants. The path to elite, Olympics, glory paved by her parents, Eric and Katie at first, and later, Coach T, the Boosters and, everyone it seems. Devon is ok with this, her drive, determination and single minded fully committed on her goals. Megan Abbott articulates this in a way that makes you feel like you’re part of Devon’s life, there with her through every practice, triumph, trial and tribulation.  

When Devon’s life is turned upside with the death of a major character – an accident on the surface, a murder beneath, Devon struggles – to cope with the day-to-day growing into her body, training to the best she can, and also just coming to grips with being a teenager, the death thrust her into a world of uncertainty and the reader along with it.

I couldn’t imagine a better narrator than Lauren Fortgang. Megan Abbott’s characters really pop and take on a life of their own. Her performance somehow makes You Will Know Me even better, if possible.


5/5 stars. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: THE KNIFE SLIPPED by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Written in 1939 and published for the first time by the purveyors of pulp fiction, Hard Case Crime, in 2016, The Knife Slipped is the second book (in the Cool and Lam chronology) to feature Bertha Cool and Donald Lamb, two vastly different private detectives, both colorful and entertaining in their own way.

Earlier this year I read Try Anything Once, a book set much later in the series and commented that it didn’t stand the test of time well with the dialogue, plotting and overall feel of the book coming across dated. Same goes for The Knife Slipped, if not more-so.

As with Try Anything Once, the women in this book (excluding Bertha’s assistant and Bertha herself) throw themselves at the skinny and new-to-detective biz Lam, wooing over him and willing to put their life on hold to take orders, be treated like garbage and still go gaga. This is a dime store novel, the Cool and Lam books are not crime fiction in the modern day sense so some of this is to be expected, part and parcel of the genre but still, the dialogue was cringe worthy and the scenes where Lam is asserting his authority over the finer sex were not enjoyable. Cool referring to herself in the third person was a cause for distraction too – it just didn’t read well and I found myself eye-rolling more often than not when reading her passages of dialogue.

As I read more of these books a theme is emerging; each case starts of straight forward  be it to get the low down on a cheating husband or provide cover for a cheating husband, or something else along those lines only to turn into a large scale conspiracy involving the shady government, crooked cops and ultimately murder. Personally, I think the strength lies with keeping it simple, the added layers of complexity only serve to confuse the reader as A. A. Fair has a tendency to put one too many puzzle pieces in play – as was the case here.  


I’d rate The Knife Slipped 2.5/5. Worth getting if you’re a collector of the Hard Case Crime books. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Milat: Inside Australia's Biggest Manhunt - A Detective's Story

Milat is the confronting story of the serial killer who preyed upon young women backpacking through Australia, raping and murdering without remorse. Author Clive Small, a senior detective on the case is methodical and clinical in his recollection of the case itself, procedures, process and investigative methods used to put Ivan Milat behind bars. Whilst interesting in a morbid way, this approach did result in a monotonous dour tone which at times led to distraction.

True crime readers wanting to know more about the backpacker murders will get what they are after in full gore through the harsh reality of, well, reality. Ivan is a brutal murderer with no redeeming qualities as is evident by Small’s writing of the book. Whilst the detail is hard to swallow at times, the devil needs to be brought to light to fully paint the picture that is Milat and the heinous crimes he committed.  

Towards the later stages of the book, the author sidesteps Milat to detail other crimes he’s either been part of from a policing point of view or those which are likened to the backpacker murders. These vinaigrette's are insightful but all too brief. The case of a Milat family member (not Ivan) brutally murdering his mate whilst another filmed it is downright scary and warrants more page time. Returning to Milat towards the end provides a glimpse at the murderer maintaining his innocence though contradicting himself on occasion. His prison health and mental stability are also well documented.

Narrated by Peter Hosking, Milat felt at times like a lengthy nightly news bulletin. I did have to concentrate heavily through the more dour passages than I would’ve liked as the monotone was near sleep inducing, particularly late at night.  (Tip - listen during the day). That said, Hosking’s Australian accent works perfect for this book and the narration itself was good enough to keep me listening.


I’d give Milat a 3 / 5.    

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: CRIMSON LAKE by Candice Fox

Crimson Lake, set in and around the tropical north Queensland city of Cairns is centered around three distinct crimes linked by circumstance after the fact. Candice Fox weaves both Amanda's and Ted's history into the present day setting; that, along with the coupling of the damaged protagonists gives the book added depth, making Crimson Lake a meaty read but still an easy page turner. 

Crime one is the abduction and rape of a 13yr old girl, last seen at a Sydney bus stop talking to then Detective Ted Conkaffey, the man who is accused of the terrible crime. The charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Ted's move to the tropical north was meant to distant himself from this failure of justice and that of his broken down marriage. 

Crime two is the brutal murder of a young and popular teen some 10+ years ago by the current local PI Amanda. A crime she doesn't dispute yet doesn't provide a motive. Something isn't adding up - the book explores this event in Amanda's past and unveils some very interesting revelations. 

Crime three is a mystery where the culprit isn't easily identifiable, nor for that matter are the suspects as the sleuthing unveils leads on the path to crazy - a clever use of misdirection. The local literary star has gone missing, presumed dead by his all too blase' wife, with police seeming to be dragging their feet, Cairns PI Amanda gets involved. 

Crimson Lake is a fast moving book with well developed and likable characters but its strength lies in the detail; the meretricious weaving of plot threads to form a single coherent narrative results in a truly enveloping tale that races towards an edge-of-your-seat finale. 

I easily give this 5/5 stars. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Review: BITTER WASH ROAD by Garry Disher

The initial attraction for me to Bitter Wash Road was the fact that it is set near my hometown of Adelaide. I love reading books where the setting is familiar (which doesn't happen all that often unfortunately).

The small country town feel is omnipresent, personified by the one man police station, working and dilapidated farmsteads, and the 'everyone knows everyone' characteristics of rural life. This gives Bitter Wash Road a distinct and unique feel to the common lone-wolf police procedurals 

On the surface, outcast cop Hirsch, a former metro police officer displaced after turning informant on the crooked cops at Paradise Gardens, seems to have been relegated to a sleepy country town where nothing much happens; working a one man station far removed from the cops he helped bring down. What lies beneath is a different story.

Author Garry Disher has written a well crafted and perfectly executed country cop tale with an endearing protagonist who has the odds stacked against him in everything he does. Forget about investigating serious crimes, the locals and near town cop station where Hirsch reports to, hinder everyday policing. Word of the 'dog' spreads fast and Hirsch feels every inch of his honesty obstructing him from doing his job. 

Bitter Wash Road is excellent and a must read for any fan of crime fiction. 5 / 5 stars.