Hypnotic, laconic writing from Garry Disher. Another superb story featuring lone country Constable Paul Hirschhausen. In his 4WD police Toyota, Hirsch patrols hundreds of kilometres through a vast dusty landscape around the small town of Tiverton in South Australia.
The plot weaves in and out of his long days on duty encountering misdemeanours ranging from wayward teenagers to rural theft and murder where nothing is as it seems.
The first killings are shocking (not telling who or what but it’s emotional) and expertly told through the eyes of Hirsch and his inner monologue. I love this single POV approach. The next murders involve a family, and two young girls disappear. In steps sensible Sergeant Brandl of Redruth HQ as well as Sydney’s Organised Crime Squad senior sergeant Roesch and Homicide Squad senior constable Hansen, two insensitive characters, and things get very tricky indeed.
The hot dry rural atmosphere seeps into every chapter, and unforced dialogue runs throughout the story. The town’s characteristics and characters are spot-on, for example annoying citizen Martin Gwynne, and recluse Craig Washburn who lives in a caravan near a dried-up creek bed. And who is spray-painting graffiti on an historical woolshed?
There’s a bit of romance with girlfriend Wendy Street although I do find her background role passive and uncomfortably supportive of Hirsch without any commitment on his part. I would like to see her become more prominent in future books in the series.
On a positive note, ‘Peace’ does cover community matters and domestic welfare, all part of Hirsch’s extensive remit.
I enjoyed the touches of wry humour and Christmas festivities including Hirsch’s role as a horse-riding Santa. The book title comes from “In the end he found three generic snowscapes with the single word Peace inside. That’s all a cop wants at Christmas, he thought.” If only he could be warned of what’s to come…
Certain people seem to think Hirsch bungles everything he touches. Well, he does bungle a couple of things and gets hauled in to explain, but when it comes to detective work he has a keen eye. Hirsch knows that nothing is random, everything means something.
See if you can untangle the threads before he does, bearing in mind that you are reading in a nice comfortable chair.
So far, my favourite read for new year 2020!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Garry Disher was born in Burra, South Australia, in 1949 and he’s the author of over fifty books, from crime fiction and children’s literature to non-fiction text books and handbooks.
Disher graduated with a Masters degree in Australian History at Monash University and was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University in California. He later taught creative writing before becoming a full-time writer, winning numerous awards both in Australia and overseas.
From UK author Debbie Young’s original Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries comes ‘The Natter of Knitters’, the first book in a new spin-off series set in Wendlebury Barrow. And I’m keen to enter the draw to win a hand-knitted scarf associated with the launch of The Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series—read on for details.
Debbie Young says the title of each new tale will be a collective noun, whether a well-known phrase such as ‘The Pride of Peacocks’ (which I’ve read) or one she has invented to suit her own purposes like ‘The Natter of Knitters’ which I think is very appropriate.
Catalogued as quick reads (novelette or short novella) Debbie comments “The Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series contains intrigue, humour and romance but no murder—just gentle crime and misdemeanours.” I am very interested to see what a gentle crime is!
In ‘The Natter of Knitters’, Sophie Sayers is keen to take part in a secret yarn-bombing campaign. The definition of yarn-bombing is when a group of knitters surprises its local community by covering something in colourful knitted items, such as a statue. In this case, an historic tree.
In walks mysterious new arrival, Ariel Fey. ‘What is she up to?’ I ask myself.
Enter the Prize Draw associated with ‘The Natter of Knitters’ new release. The prize is the scarf Sophie knits in the book, created in four floral shades of blue (forget-me-not, hyacinth, bluebell, cornflower) using a soft warm mix of merino, cashmere and silk. See Debbie’s website for details.
Sign up for Debbie’s newsletter via her website to become a member of her Readers’ Club and you will automatically be entered in the Prize Draw to be held on Friday 14th February 2020.
As a welcome gift, Debbie will send the ebook ‘The Pride of Peacocks’, a short novella she’s written especially for new members of her mailing list.
Debbie has written several titles—and writing more
Quote “I’m putting the finishing touches to ‘Murder Your Darlings’, the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, and I’m writing the second Staffroom at St Bride’s novel ‘Stranger at St Bride’s’. The second tale from Wendlebury Barrow is also bubbling…”
Such a noteworthy crop of cosy crimes with comfortable characters and Cotswold village mysteries to solve. Don’t wait! ‘The Natter of Knitters’ is now available in ebook formats (Kindle, Kobo, Apple, GooglePlay, etc) and also in a cute compact paperback the size of a picture postcard.
Put the kettle on, or brew the beans, then settle back for an enjoyable read.
QUICK GLIMPSE FROM DEBBIE YOUNG:
“As a freelance, I’ve written for Cotswold Life and Country Garden & Smallholding (now Country Smallholding) on subjects such as organic box schemes, poultry keeping and country crafts, and I very much enjoy writing regular columns for the two magazines closest to my home. You can find these articles among my blog posts, tagged Hawkesbury Parish News and Tetbury Advertiser.
“In 2010, I started blogging, and book projects and ambitions started to materialise as if by magic. From 2013, I was commissioning editor of the Authors’ Advice Centre at the Alliance of Independent Authors, before giving it up to write full-time in 2019.”
The prologue is dramatic. A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash. Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.
Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives. Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer. The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder. The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense. Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.
The opening chapter has some seriously ethereal vibes. Matt tries to concentrate on the sunshine dappled leaves as he sits in the manicured gardens of old Langton House. It’s an Open Garden, visitors stroll around the lawns talking in hushed whispers, and Matt sees a boy magician and a tough-looking man which makes him feel uncomfortable. Chess turns up with a mug of coffee and when she explains why she brought them to this place, he snaps.
Chess has accepted an invitation from Jacob Langton, the son of the owners of Langton House, to investigate the murder of his magician friend Tim, and Matt’s not keen on the idea.
The story is a classic locked-room mystery. Tim was poisoned by his own stage prop and nobody can figure out how the poison got there when it was under lock and key. Our dynamic duo investigate inside the hall, talk with colourful locals and Tim’s bereft family, and receive massive interference from a thug who roughs up Chess to warn her off. The story twists and turns with red herrings galore until the final reveal.
This is where I start to get cagey because I don’t know how much to tell you without ruining the plot.
My new favourite is young magician Paz, quite a character, who speaks with a lisp and is seemingly more mature than he looks. The Elsinore Vanish is a card trick (think Hamlet and ghosts) and Paz says ‘Magic is about the impossible. That’s what makes it beautiful’. He definitely knows something but flutters between the book’s pages refusing to be drawn into their investigation.
There are adults around but they loiter just long enough not to be annoying.
Sometimes Matt and Chess are determined, other times they have self-doubt, ultimately they are teenagers mature enough to handle the ramifications of their actions. Almost. Matt is thoughtful and his emotions are strong but he can misread people. Chess is a socially awkward analyst, prone to unusual outbursts. She has a troubled family background (there is a revealing vignette with her father) and although Matt and Chess would deny it, they are good friends.
I enjoy a clever whodunit and was frequently stumped by author Joanna’s clues; mirror reflections anyone? At times I thought there were perhaps a tad too many suspicious individuals because I had to think ‘Who was she again?’ but on the whole they were interrelated.
‘The Elsinore Vanish’ is the second book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth trilogy set in the picturesque area of rural north-east Victoria. The settings are wonderful, like old Mayday Hills mental asylum, well, the atmosphere anyway, and they are written with such clarity that I typed Beechworth Victoria into my search engine and had a look around the historic town.
Not a crash ’em smash ’em YA story—put your thinking cap on.
Definitely a great book for those who like to think about what they read. There is one small point in the story where the ah-ha moment clicked for me and I enjoyed finding out if I was right. See if you can work it out before the dramatic reveal!
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Her novel Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.
Author Joanna Baker knows how to start her books with a gripping first chapter. Matt Tingle had fallen asleep in front of Mr Roland’s computer in the office of Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, where supposedly he was doing his history assignment, when a noise wakes him . . .
. . . things get very dangerous very quickly.
Next day, in the small rural gold-mining town of Yackandandah, our protagonist Matt is sitting in the Yackandandah Bakery trying to steady his jangling nerves. He has a headache from inhaling toxic fumes during his misadventures the night before. In walks his friend Chess who says ‘Golly Matty. You look awful’. Chess’ dialogue is not always contemporary and it’s tricky to pinpoint an exact decade but it gives the story an enduring feel.
Then to make matters worse for sickly Matt, pretty Tara Roland walks into the bakery, a vision of shiny-haired loveliness. Tara is accompanied by her cousin Wando who gets a bit twitchy with the bakery assistant Debbie Wilson over her necklace and the drama escalates from there.
Egyptology comes into play in the form of an amber necklace named The Eye of Ra
At this stage, Matt and Chess are two teenagers who are unknowingly about to become amateur detectives and embark on solving two local mysteries. One is a cold case, a baffling hit-and-run road accident which turns Chess into the queen of concentration and Matt the emperor of emotions; they bounce ideas off each other . . .
. . . and the second mystery?
This one is more personal. Going for a walk, Matt and Chess find the drowned body of someone they knew well. After the initial shock, they begin to investigate, slowly unravelling the mystery to discover a horrible crime.
In both cases, our intrepid pair find anomalies in the witness stories, items gone missing, half-remembered half-overheard conversations and scraps of notes. They talk to a grieving fiancé and parents, chat to the mechanic at Yackandandah Motor Garage, join an apprehensive gathering at the Yackandandah Christmas Picnic, and Matt witnesses a hair-raising moment with Wando at Burrie Falls, the local swimming hole.
Their trial and error investigations are beautifully woven through the story with real clues and false leads.
At one stage Matt gets badly pummelled by the deceased’s brother Craig for inferring. Matt is limping around putting on a brave face when Chess arrives. ‘You get too carried away by things…you’re too theatrical’ she says, before getting embroiled in her own thoughts and hazardous hypotheses. I had difficulty in picturing them at first; Matt seems solid enough but Chess has family problems, making her seem wise beyond her years.
The settings for this novel do exist, for example the Yackandandah motor garage, bakery, the creek and Falls. I think it’s clever how Devastation Road was named but I am not sure it exists with that name. Here’s the link if you are interested in reading more about north-east Victoria https://www.exploreyackandandah.com.au/
This is the first book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth Trilogy. I did a bit of swiping back-and-forth to see if I had missed anything vital. Concentration is needed! There is more to this story than meets the eye. The ending is a chilling and substantial psychological twist I bet you won’t see coming.
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.
The book title is a typical Darwin expression with good connotations, and Mocco says she is an optimist, she lives on hope and in hope. Originally from Germany, she worked hard with what she had, overcame obstacles and adapted to Australian life with her Aussie-born daughters Susan and Kim and beloved husband Niclas.
The other love in her life is Darwin, 1950s Darwin, at the Top End of Northern Territory. No supermarkets, no fancy restaurants, definitely no air-conditioning, miles and miles of dirt roads, and at that time populated by about 8,000 people. Tough, rough and ready people at that.
The strength of a woman when put to the test reverberates powerfully through Mocco Wollert’s narrative. From good, bad and ugly circumstances, Mocco’s words shine. She comes across as forthright in her opinions, honest, funny, emotional, grumpy yet ultimately loveable. She certainly faced challenging circumstances, some which made me wince and some which would have seen me walk away, but not Mocco!
The chapters of Mocco’s book are grouped under headings, for example ‘Beginning the Adventure’, ‘Career Change’ (actually a couple of career changes) ‘Health Matters’ and ‘Decision Time’ all of which prepared me for her decade of thought-provoking reading.
Understandably there are heart-rending moments like depression in ‘A Night of Gin’ and the 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastation.
I remember sitting under our ceiling fan watching the ABCTV news on Boxing Day, 26th December, as black and white film footage showed our nation the flattened landscape which was once Darwin. On a lighter note, it was rebuilt and continues to thrive, as did Mocco. Small moments often stick and I enjoyed Mocco’s recollection of wigs and frizz hair-related matters in ‘Hairdressers’ where men were taboo.
Under the subheading ‘Sport’ on page 211, I think this paragraph typifies the tenacity of Darwinites and perhaps a large area of northern Australia. “In spite of the heat and humidity, people played sport. Golf was Niclas’ passion and he became quite a good golfer with a handicap of 16. Watching today’s golf tournaments on television, I marvel at the green fairways and manicured greens. There was none of this in Darwin. The fairways were rough and, in the dry season, as dusty as a (cattle) station in drought. The ‘greens’ were sandy plains without a blade of grass.”
There are 47 photographs throughout the book, vivid examples of the era, and a pictorial of Darwin homelife which includes Mocco in weather so scorching she wore a bikini to hang washing on the Hills Hoist. And there is a great little story behind the snapshot of her small daughter meeting Queen Elizabeth II. Not telling, you’ll have to read the book!
‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ is Mocco Wollert’s tribute to Darwin, an intimate recollection of a more rugged time in 20th century Australia, told openly and honestly, and ultimately life-affirming.
Born in Germany but a true-blue Darwinite by 1960, Mocco Wollert is now a recognised poet and author who lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Mocco has nine poetry books published as well as winning prizes for poems published in newspapers and anthologies.
When I first picked up Indrani Ganguly’s memoir-style book, I dipped into a couple of stories. It soon became apparent the pages contained a thoughtful mixture of poetry, artwork, travellers’ tales, photographs and fiction stories in a layout designed to gently lead the reader though Indrani’s world.
Chapters are grouped under different headings, the kind of book which anyone can read and everyone will find something that touches them.
The content captivated me with a mix of fact, fantasy and deep emotions initially triggered by Indrani’s return visit to her father’s house and her old room which had been left untouched since she moved out. This is where her thoughts begin to unfold, first with artwork and poems then a retrospective short story about her family titled ‘Menagerie Manor’.
As luck would have it, being a fan of crime novels, the first short story I read was ‘A Candle for Bob Carter’ in which plain-clothed Chief Inspector Bob Carter is on jewel-guarding duty at a swanky fancy dress Christmas party during a hot Australian summer. ‘We’ll turn the air-conditioning up dear,” says Leila as the sound system booms the obligatory yet incongruous ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Such a fun twist at the end.
Under the tribute heading Women Worldwide, I read in awe as determined elderly ladies went ‘Walking in the Land of the Gods’. Later I laughed out loud after reading ‘Durga Down Under’ a rather irreverent look at Durga, the Supreme Hindu Mother Goddess. The accompanying poems resonated with me, particularly ‘A Woman’s Solitude’ a brief respite before a hectic day. Under the title Travel Tales, Indrani writes with clarity and insight, transporting me to spectacular locations around the world. My favourite is Shimla in the Himalayas which also has a lovely photo of Indrani and her daughter Gitanjali on rugged little ponies.
In this deceptively compact hardback volume there is a lot to read and think about. ‘In My Father’s House’ is more than a treasury of family memories, Indrani’s words entertained and enlightened me. She is in tune with diverse levels of society and human nature as well as comfortable within herself and her writing.
In her foreword, Indrani says ‘I continue to look both backwards and forwards for ideas and inspiration’. I have already read and blogged her historical novel ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ and look forward to more literary adventures.
Indrani Ganguly was born into a Bengali family in Lucknow and now lives in Brisbane with her husband, son and daughter. She travels extensively around Australia, India and other countries.
She studied English Honours in Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, has a masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in Burdwan, now in West Bengal.
From the beautifully tactile bookcover and the glorious old photographs, to the spectacular amount of research and Greek family interviews, Toni Risson has written and created a book which is reader-friendly and as energetic as the boundless service in a 20th century Greek café.
Like a Greek café menu, there’s never a dull moment. Toni has amassed images of people, posters, menus, waitress fashion, the furniture, big mirrors, the soda fountain, cigarette counter—the mid-century nostalgia is strong for me just looking at the old buildings. And let’s not forget the food, ah, so much delicious food! Everything was freshly prepared, and ice-cream, chocolates and chilled fruit drinks were made on the premises in a time before the invention of air-conditioning.
Open from 8am to 7pm seven days a week, back when few other proprietors could match it, Greek cafés became meeting places and stopping points for a variety of daily events; late breakfast; ladies morning tea; midday meal; shopping break; date before the cinema; cool drink at the end of the day; weekend family gatherings.
Remember this was in the days before coffee chains and fast food outlets.
Visiting as a child, I recall strawberry ice-cream and also eating a banana split with “the lot” including a cherry on top. I think I got into trouble because I refused to eat my (healthy) banana. The malted milkshakes were huge to my young eyes, and I can still remember the aroma of warm chocolate emanating from the display cabinet.
I could rattle off the chapter titles and you’d see the important position Greek family cafés held in pre-television society in Brisbane. But I won’t because there are 35 chapters—some bearing names I know today, Andronicos, Samios, Freeleagus and more. Every page has a delightful story, a witty quote or snippet of memorabilia.
The type of book which I keep referring to, always finding something extra to read aloud to anyone in the room.
You don’t have to be Greek, or local, to read about the Greek café phenomenon which spread throughout Queensland. Several towns are mentioned including Bundaberg, Charleville, Dalby, Inglewood, Stanthorpe.You’ve heard the song “Video Killed The Radio Star”, well, television killed Greek cafés. In this book, you can find out what happened.
I was fortunate enough to attend the official launch of “Meet Me at the Paragon” the State Library of Queensland’s retrospective display of all things relating to Greek café culture.
From neon signs to monogrammed crockery, this six-month SLQ exhibition runs until mid-March 2020 and ties in with Toni Risson’s book.
This book is a great gift for a foodie friend or entrepreneur.
Suitable for readers interested in nostalgia or café trends. And family histories, particularly those of inventive and industrious Greek families.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Toni Rissonis a storyteller, food writer and cultural historian. She writes short stories and children’s novels, and her doctorate mapped Australian childhood through the magic of lollies.
In a more ‘grown-up’ vein, Toni curated the State Library of Queensland’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” which displays the meteoric rise of Greek cafés across Queensland. She has also written “Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill” 200 pages jam-packed with photographs and stories about iconic Greek cafés in Ipswich, Queensland.
In the tried and true method of storing items of a precious nature, I have used a shoebox to delineate my important Christmas reading. Methinks this bundle of books will take me into the New Year!
IN ORDER OF SHOEBOX CONTENT
I just love the front cover of Mocco’s book. That yellow dress pops! Back cover reads: “Adventurous, lovable and laughable, Mocco captures the heat and vibrancy of Darwin, in the 1950s rugged unruly Northern Territory of Australia.” And “I am on my way to Darwin to find a job. I have no money…”
Another front cover I love! You just know this will be quirky and Elliot’s Stephen Maserov has problems. A onetime teacher, married to fellow teacher Eleanor, he is a second-year lawyer working in imminent danger of being downsized. The back cover reads “I am absolutely terrified of losing a job I absolutely hate.”
Such a tranquil front cover. It reminds me of my own father reading the newspaper every morning. Many will remember my review of Indrani Ganguly’s “The Rose and The Thorn”, well, this is the book which precedes it. Indrani has included her poetry, art work, short stories, photographs of her travels and more.
Another beautiful front cover. Must be viewed in person to appreciate the qualities! You may recall my post about the opening of Queensland State Library’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” a Greek Cafés retrospective. Toni’s companion book bulges with photos and historic information.
The front cover certainly sets the tone. The back cover reads “A city girl stranded in the middle of the desert. A circus performer with haunted wings. A rebellious fighter with a kangaroo heart. A boy who dreams of holding his home in his heart. A house made of flesh and bone.” Maree writes unexpected stories!
Almost last but never least, “Dewey” with photos inside, and “Miss Read”.My own photograph of these two front covers is larger than the others because—
(A) I worked, lived and breathed libraries for years but never read Vicki Myron’s series about “The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World” and
(B)Miss Read, aka school teacher Dora Jessie Saint, had a particular cosy-village style and a huge following in the UK in 1960s when I wasn’t interested in that sort of stuff. A slim little volume chosen because of the title “Village Christmas” far removed from my dry hot Aussie festive season.
The final two books are on my iPad. Written by Joanna Baker they are set in country-town Victoria, Australia. I can whisper that I have already dipped into “Devastation Road” and it’s gripping.
There you have it! Separate reviews will follow—eventually—on my blog as well as Goodreads. Joy to the world!
Who read The Casual Vacancy by famed British author J K Rowling? I certainly did! It was her first post-Harry Potter novel and caused quite a stir. I worked in library services at the time so I helped shelve this hardback hundreds of times. Fortunately the cover was so bright (and the original publication rather big) it was always easy to locate for prospective readers. Actually the book did not stay shelved for long, there were so many on the waiting list clambering to read it.
The Casual Vacancy was written under Rowling’s real name prior to publication of her Cormoran Strike detective series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Don’t ask me why, it didn’t fool anyone. I do remember penning a scathing review of Lethal White the fourth book in that series.
In 2015, The Casual Vacancy was made into a British TV three-part miniseries. Directed by Jonny Campbell, scripted by Sarah Phelps, and starred Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Emelia Fox, and others I recognised from sit-coms, but unfortunately never got to see. Actually this production may not have reached Australian television screens. By all accounts, viewers were outraged by the changed ending, giving rise to the old saying ‘the book is always better’.
Now, without further ado, I present—
my original book review (previously published on a now-defunct book readers website) hopefully without spoilers—
The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012 Reviewed by Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2013
Quote “It was a brilliant piece of marketing strategy to publish this J K Rowling book prior to her (subsequently more popular) detective novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. What better way to heighten interest and arouse social consciousness than her very first post-Potter novel. A long-awaited book, The Casual Vacancy is liked and loathed in equal measure but disliked more for the content than the writing – even though we’ve probably read similar books and met people similar to those in Pagford. I think the pace is well-crafted, the voice and sense-of-place are beautifully brought to life, tinged with the graveness of a modern-day Dickens.
“The characters are an inglorious burst of humanity, almost, but not quite, edging towards insanity. Indeed, most of the characters appear average but through various twists and turns the families in Pagford and the Fields are slowly stripped of their protective veneers and laid bare, exposing their ugliness beneath. Nothing is sacred and all manner of collective disorders appear from young and old alike as their every move is documented, every word faithfully recorded. We see the truths and witness the unveiling of secrets, motivated by revenge via website hacking.
“As we know from the blurb, the book kicks in with the death of Barry Fairbrother who arrives at the golf club for dinner with his wife on their wedding anniversary and keels over in the carpark. By all accounts, he’s a nice man and liked by many people considering he was a local Councillor on Pagford’s wheeling-dealing Parish Council. His demise leaves a casual vacancy on the Council board and the fight over his seat begins. The reader learns there’s a war going on between the communities of Pagford and Yarvil over maintenance of the Fields, a decrepit housing estate, and the closure of a methadone clinic. Not much political correctness goes on in council chambers.
“There you have it, henceforth The Casual Vacancy seethes with social snobbery, underage excess, racism, drug addiction and the ever-present spectres of greed, selfishness, ignorance and cruelty. But, hey, don’t let that put you off. This story hooked me like a continually unfolding TV saga or radio play. I’d put it down and then have to pick it up just to see what happens to Krystal Weedon and her dissipated mother Terri, or Howard Mollison and his new café, or the ill-fated relationship of Gavin Hughes and Kay Bawden.
“Social worker Kay is new to Pagford and not a big player but she’s hardworking, misguided and gullible and the one I wanted to shout at, tell her to grab her daughter and get out of town fast. The others, like Simon Price, are set up to be despised with appalling behaviour behind closed doors. Occasionally I grew tired of the angry men and the gossiping wives and found that the sabotaging teenagers had more diverse demeanours, although young Sukhvinder Jawanda is heart-rending. Was the ending so predictable? As this inharmonious story draws to a close, I know it’s all still happening in real life.
“What more can I say? The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel and anyone who’s been around the block a few times will related to its adult themes. Whether or not the right people read it and change their social attitudes is another thing. Sure it’s a tad depressing but I’ll give J K Rowling full marks for moving on from Hogwarts and writing something completely different.” Unquote.
David Burton has written an outstanding story about a tenacious young man determined to solve a mystery. In a tightly woven and highly readable plot he keeps the pressure up, and keeps it real. Shaun sees a man’s body floating in the local lake and when he returns with Constable Charlie Thompson the body has gone. The story kicks off from there and Shaun begins to investigate the mysterious death. He uncovers far more than he ever imagined. And he has a good imagination!
Set in a gritty, rundown Queensland coal mining town, the atmosphere is hot, dry and pulsating with undercurrents from personal relationships through to shonky mining regulations. My assumptions were overturned, clues were flipped and hopes were dashed. From angry picket lines headed by volatile Peter Grant, head of the mine workers union, to various forms of small town mindset, Shaun’s investigations pull him deeper and deeper into a world of unanswered questions.
The subtext throughout the story is “Who believes Shaun actually saw the man in the water?”. Not many people, it seems. Even his mother Linda struggles to accept the situation, although a family death may be clouding her reasoning. Shaun does appear to have a kind of obsessional limerence.
Fortunately Shaun has a keen ally in his long-time friend Will, a larrikin with a charming manner. They both believe the drowned man was murdered and someone has masterminded a cover-up. They negotiate their way through a minefield of possibilities, taking risks, and discovering the mental and physical challenges faced by coal workers and their families. Only once did I suspend disbelief when Shaun infiltrates a building. I imagine the place would have been riddled with CCTV cameras but it’s a pivotal moment.
In between covert operations, annoying teachers and school classes, Shaun and Will are on the school debating team with Megan Grant. Shaun adores Megan from afar and he imagines a future of “happy ever afters” together. Investigations continue in Brisbane with their debating team when a challenge is held in a Harry Potteresque private school perched on a hillside (I recognised it) and they stay overnight in enemy territory. A gripping spy-like chapter for you to discover.
I loved the personalities David Burton has created, the characters often did the opposite to what I expected, making them fallible yet understandable. In certain cases, there’s a fine line between liking and loathing. There is power in subtlety, and from the frustration of workers about to lose their jobs, to the death of a loved one, nothing is overstated.
David Burton has given Shaun a proactive role with plenty of intrigue. I have no hesitation in saying “The Man in the Water” is an excellent mystery for young adults and older readers. I became fully absorbed in the story and was right beside young Shaun trying to unravel the riddle. The end result is definitely worth it!
Quote from Chapter 32 “From the sky, Shaun’s home town looked like it was surrounded by yawning black holes. It was epic. The mines were colossal dark wounds in the earth, the town a sort of defiance among the rubble. It was a god’s sandpit. He pressed his face against the window and watched as the earth turned with the plane. They were coming in to land.”
David Burton is an award-winning director, playwright and author. By the age of 30, he’d written over two dozen professionally produced plays, published a book, and been a core part of some of the most innovative theatrical projects in Australia.
He’s now 32, a Dad, and has written a new YA fiction book “The Man in the Water” which I reviewed.
My recent reading had been on the gloomy side so I was looking forward to a rollicking read—the first thing I noticed in ‘Dead Man Switch’ was the initial lack of thrills and spills although they do make an appearance in the final chapters.
Tara Moss hints that protagonist Billie Walker, private inquiry agent, has a wild past but she seems a bit too reined-in for someone with such a pedigree, her father was a former policeman turned PI and she inherited his business. Even the business relationship between Billie and her ex-soldier assistant Samuel Baker seems flat, more diligence than derring-do, and similarly from starchy DI Hank Cooper from Central Police.
Regardless, I launched into ‘Dead Man Switch’ with high hopes and discovered Tara Moss has written a great book for the novice crime reader. Loaded with adjectives and story recapping, this mystery novel is a nice entry point for those graduating from cosy crime into something slightly more improper.
There are a lot of people draping themselves around the 1940s Sydney scene. There’s a knack to letting characters unfold, and piling them all in the front of the book slowed the action for me. First up we meet stoic lift operator John Wilson and then Mrs Lettie Brown of Brown & Co Fine Furs visiting Billie’s agency asking for help to find her missing son Adin. Business is slow, money is tight, Billie takes the case.
Somebody is spying on Billie from afar, while chunks of author research are on show; the stolen generations via quiet Shyla; WWII atrocities; the fur trade; Sydney nightclubs; Billie’s mother Baroness Ella von Hooft and her lady’s maid Alma representing a dying aristocracy—all jostling in a narrative where deployment of the five senses wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would more showing less telling.
Is Billie glamorous? I did not conjure her, as did a Greek café owner, looking like US film star Ava Gardner (above).
Billie is indirectly responsible for four deaths, although she herself does hang by a thread in one dire situation. She breaks the law, a rather humorous chapter involving her zany mother, and she bribes men with an Australian shilling. It’s hard to believe that when they were phased out in 1966 a shilling was worth 10 cents. But in 1940s, one shilling could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk so that’s breakfast sorted.
The Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains makes an appearance (below) with a corny filmscript car chase. Was this due to the writing, editing or my longing for a more unpredictable encounter? Billie is allowed to make mistakes to further the plot but one of them was transparent and I was disappointed in her naivety. Oh well, it is crime fiction after all.
With a view to a series, this first book is a light read with tasty clothes and much eyebrow-raising and head tilting. I sincerely hope Book 2 ups-the-ante. In the meantime, you will learn what to do with Fighting Red, the meaning of ‘dead man switch’ and discover what happens to young Adin Brown.
NOTE This debut Billie Walker Mystery may also be titled ‘The War Widow’ due to Billie’s photojournalist husband missing, presumed dead.
The pretty embossed bookcover hides a dark and disturbing story and I would not recommend it to immature readers, or people I know with sleep disorders.
I think the apocalyptic nature of the book could have a tendency to induce fear and possibly depression in anyone sensitive to a crisis situation with unstoppable consequences.
If I was watching this as a disaster movie about a virus starting in a school dormitory, causing people to fall asleep and may never wake up, I bet most of the theatre-goers around me would be shallow breathing, wondering if it were true.
Lesser books have been known to cause restless sleep, or bad dreams.
Of course, the virulent virus comes from the fertile imagination of Karen Thompson Walker who said in a BWF 2019 panel discussion “Why we dream is unknown” although she puts forward some interesting theories in this story.
‘The Dreamers’ could just as easily die from any airborne disease and here lies the crux of the matter.
The author does an excellent job in researching and creating botched medical care, civil unrest, mass panic, and then bringing it right back down to the most helpless, two young girls and their kittens, alone in an old house.
In a clipped journalistic writing style, there are heroes, references to new life, new love and parental devotion striving against all odds yet feeling strangely hollow and disjointed. For me, the ending is unresolved.
This type of plotting is not my preferred reading, however, I respect the level of apprehension Karen Thompson Walker has created even while I think ‘The Dreamers’ could unsettle vulnerable readers.
AUTHOR PROFILE—Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where her first book ‘The Age of Miracles’ is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. An assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon, she lives in Portland with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters. http://karenthompsonwalker.com/
Fantastic win! Congratulations to Michael Gerard Bauer on winning the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2019 Young Adult Literature for “The Things That Will Not Stand”. Read his blog and check out the medals! ♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward.
My YA novel The Things That Will Not Stand had its genesis in two thoughts that came to me one day when I was taking one of my regular walks around the neighbourhood.
One was a memory from my Uni of Queensland days of being in the foyer of the Schonell Picture Theatre and hoping that a particular person I knew might come through a set of doors and join me.
The second thought was about writing a story which took place over just one day.
That was an idea that immediately appealed to me. I knew it would be a challenge but it would also be a gift because it would free me to focus just on the characters and their immediate interactions without having all the rest of their lives to worry too much about.
This slow burning story crept up on me. I guess you know by now that I don’t write conventional book reviews. For starters I’m not going to give you a synopsis. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Jenolan Caves are caves in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia; 175 kilometers west of Sydney. They are the most celebrated of several similar groups in the limestone of the country being the oldest discovered open caves in the world. They include numerous Silurian marine fossils of great interest and the calcite formations, sometimes pure white, are of extraordinary beauty.
The sadness and bewilderment Jessica suffers when her partner Matthew goes missing in the wilds of Tasmania gradually expands until she snaps. The atmosphere changes into an eerie, gothic-like tale of deception and fear. There are disturbing bits, there are gruesome bits and there are strong sex scenes, Krissy Kneen’s trademark.
Jessica lives in a flimsy wooden cottage at the edge of a seawall not far from the township of Southport. As I read on, I was unsure of William, the man who offers to help her, and doubly unsure of the coven of local women who offer strange advice and an even stranger solution. In the end I wanted Jessica to fight back and she did, the result is worth more than the price of admission to the spooky glow-worm caves.
At the time Matthew goes missing, Jessica, a scientist, is just finishing her PhD on glow-worms and works as a tour guide at the local cave complex, helping the tiny creatures to prosper. Winter Cave is her favourite and Winter Cave coldness, the surrounding dense forest, and feral smells pervade this book. Disturbingly, she is a good shot and needs to carry a gun to feel safe.
The character portrayals are well suited to their remote Tasmanian coastal surroundings, in particular old Marijam of Cockle Creek and her outlook on what appears to be a strange isolated life. She goes fishing for her seafood and compares commercial fishermen to the demise of small traders “Pick on a little bookstore, put a big mega-store across the road. Discounts on all the prices till the little fella dies, then corner the market” which she read about on the internet.
I queried some of the ‘things’ in the story and I was dissatisfied, or perhaps had my credulity stretched, with what transpires at the end. Like most animal-lovers, I sincerely hope the thylacine Tasmanian Tiger still exists. I also wondered if Jessica knew those caves as well as she thought.
My pet peeves are:
(1) More showing, less telling.
(2) Proof-reading misses, e.g. license interchanged with licence, rear-view mirror becomes rear-vision mirror. I’d go for Aussie spelling every time.
(3) Parts of the story felt like a filmscript not a literary description. There is a difference.
Krissy Kneen’s story reflects the time and effort she put into it, the sense of place is strong and at times overpowering. As a child, my parents and I visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, and I have been claustrophobic ever since.
The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most. I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content. Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them. It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.
Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day. I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.
Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.
Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack. She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch. Fair move, but repercussions come later. Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.
Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites. At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke. But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.
The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign. Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley. Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.
You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.
Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person. Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante. Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull. Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor. Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.
If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.
Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people. As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.
It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.
Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*
AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage. Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.
It was the sixties. I thought I was very grown up reading ‘From Russia With Love’. By today’s standards, the erotic scenes between James Bond and Tatiana Romanova may seem tame but the spine-tingling glamour of Bond’s world has endured for decades.
‘From Russia With Love’. This is the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming. It was my first 007 book and remains my favourite although it now seems top-heavy with scene-setting. Also, my advice is to temporarily disregard the 1950s patriarchal society.
I read my father’s old hardback edition. I still own it. The dustcover has an illustration showing a gun and a rose, and an author’s note from Ian Fleming dated March 1956. Published by Jonathan Cape, 13s.6d. net, a Book Club issue with no printed date. It is certainly elderly but not a first edition.
Espionage. Between British and Russian intelligence agencies spying was at its peak when this novel was written. According to Ian Fleming, locations and Intelligence chiefs are based on real people. SMERSH (a great name which spawned similar fictitious spy names) is a Soviet assassination organisation which has declared James Bond an enemy of the Soviet State and issued a ‘death warrant’ for his immediate execution.
To trap Bond. The plan was to infiltrate British MI6 by using young Russian spy Tatiana Romanova who pretends to defect from her position, saying she has fallen in love with Bond from a photograph. As an added bonus, if he delivers her safely to the West, Tatiana will give him a Spektor decoder (another great name) much prized by the fellows at MI6. Of course, things don’t go that smoothly and if you are a follower of suave secret agent James Bond you will know what action is in store, and what happens to the beautiful girl.
Detailed plots and counterplots. The central theme is the Cold War, a real situation between East and West and one which readers would have been well aware of at the time. Also, there is sexism, racism and a whole lot of things which are not socially acceptable today but, hey, that was the era.
A train trip on the Orient Express. The journey from Istanbul to Paris is high drama and copied many times by other writers and movie producers. Also, I think it was the first story to have a Q gadget.
Character development. James Bond is developed more in this book, yet Fleming was undecided about continuing the series and left the ending wide open. Will Bond survive? And as cliff-hangers go, it is a beauty. The impact may be slightly dulled as we view it from the all-knowing twenty-first century, however, the lure of a good spy novel never dies.
I haven’t written a negative book review for a while but I need to express my rebellious thoughts on “Good Girl Bad Girl” by Michael Robotham. I would have liked to give this seasoned author a pat on the back, but it won’t happen. He (and dare I say his publisher) goofed up, disappointing me with this latest offering. As a supporter of the Australian writers scene, it pains me to say I have even compiled a list of unwanted gaffes. And I’m disillusioned by such a rudimentary storyline, further dragged down by Robotham putting believability ahead of plausibility.
First, I’m not keen on psychologist Cyrus Haven, with his generic nightmares and ridiculous spontaneity when it comes to young Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face. Plots, eh, you need to drive them forward. Evie lived a feral existence in a secret room with a dead body outside the door and after rescue she was incarcerated in Langford Hall, Nottingham, a secure children’s home. Being of indeterminate age, she appears mature yet lapses into teenage obviousness as inexperienced Cyrus soon finds out. Her dubious, er, gift, is an attempt at originality until Robotham trots out tropes and formulaic predictability.
Maybe hackneyed phrases could be revised in another edition, do a bit of showing instead of continual telling, and jumping in and out of a character’s head doesn’t necessarily strengthen the story or boost the tension. In “Good Girl Bad Girl” the title hints at naughtiness and a girl dies yet the suspects aren’t new, just the usual line-up. When it comes to fiction, I don’t think crime scene minutia or yet another clichéd pathologist/priest/politician enhances a plot.
“Good Girl Bad Girl” is a ropey book launched into the world too soon.
I noticed these gaffes—
(1) Cyrus Haven does not own a mobile phone. He only has a pager and uses a telephone at the local shop, even DCI Lenny Parvel has to track him down while jogging. How come when he’s at home looking at DVDs of suspect Craig Farley, he has a bright idea and “I punch out her number. She doesn’t answer. It goes to her messages. Beep!” (2) When Cyrus goes to an old church to talk to the murdered girl’s mother, he can’t get in the front doors because they are locked but when the priest asks him to leave he exits via the front doors. (3) Poor proof-reading, fluctuating spelling like practice/practise, repeat words not edited out. (4) Flight risk Evie’s electronic tracker on her ankle must vaporise. (5) Evie’s POV couldn’t hear both sides of that phone conversation. (6) I guess that Uber driver drove away fast. (7) DCI Lenny Parvel is a woman yet “Lenny is signalling me from the road. Aiden is with him.” (8) Cyrus has his hands taped to a vertical wooden stair spindle so how could “Cyrus grabs my arm” when later Evie frees him? (9) Reader thinks “Am I missing some kind of joke?” (10) Reader thinks “Is this an uncorrected proof?”
….. there are more blemishes, I got tired of it but you can easily find them.
A crime reader’s curse but I can also see the mechanics at work, the primary sentences, the leading questions, the verbal punches ready to be pulled, the transparent taunts and retorts used many times before, and I don’t mean just by Robotham. I include contemporary middle-of-the-road crime writers and television scriptwriters all using the same imagery. They must yearn for a movie deal. Unfortunately not even banter escapes the mundane repetition seen in current crime stories.
The arthritic white rabbit is still being pulled out of the narrative hat. Give it a rest!
I have not read any related book reviews so this is my unbiased honest opinion. With more polish “Good Girl Bad Girl” could have risen above the ranks of ordinary. New readers will be supportive, Australian fans will be supportive, but I think it’s a monotonous book and I say that with genuine regret.
Every reader has book backlog. If we didn’t, there would be no such thing as the TBR, or stacks of unread ARCs, neither shelves groaning with books nor e-readers crammed with downloads. My bedside table is piled high with enticing yet unread novels and, well, you get the idea. You have book backlog, too.
There areso many excellent books in the world that I know I will never catch up—so I’m being choosy and will read what I want, when I want. And taking the sinful route of skipping pages if it’s not up to scratch.
My readingmaterial may not be literary, it may not be controversial, it may not be popular, it may not be the latest or greatest, however, it will be a book I’m interested in from cover-to-cover. An occasional blog post is sure to come out of it, no matter how fluffy or deep the content.
‘Okay, okay, enough!’ I hear you cry. ‘When does time travel come into this?’
“A ripping English boarding-school story with a perceptive heroine and time-travel twist guaranteed to appeal to modern schoolgirls.”—Kirkus Reviews
BESWITCHED BY KATE SAUNDERS is the kind of story which I would have loved when I was a girl. Well paced and absorbing, it is eerily accurate of all those Famous Five and Girls Own Annual stories I read yonks ago. Saunders tight writing style easily pulled me into the dilemma which rather spoilt young schoolgirl Flora Fox finds herself, viz, she gets fobbed off to boarding school and never arrives.
Actually she does arrive, but she’s zapped back in time. Instead of luxurious Penrice Hall, she arrives at St Winifred’s in pre-war 1935 where all the ‘gels’ are ever-so-British-upper-class, the underwear is scratchy and the food is awful.
As you can imagine this is a personal growth tale, cut through with humorous chronological comparisons, nightmare teachers, ripping seaside hols, scary bonding adventures and a neat twist to the enlightening finale. Jolly. Good. Fun.
I won’t go into the logistics of time travel but suffice to say the elements meld together well. Recommended for 8 to 12 year olds, although anybody can read it for a look at life when steely friendships were forged by facing boarding school adversity together.
Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born. In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.
Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction. Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story. Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories. She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.
Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society. During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.
There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”. The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila. Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas. It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.
Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport). Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression. One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.
Around this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.
The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.
As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles. They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing. From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.
The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up! His mother Ruksana is also a driving force. Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated. Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’ If women had the vote things may have been different.
I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born. As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India? I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles. To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.
On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife. And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:
There was a rose and a thorn in my life One was my lover and one was my wife. Which was which I could not tell It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .
. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.
Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge. The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax. She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.
The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations. I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.
My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story. I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”
Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching. “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.
The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them. While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.
The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.” I look forward to reading it!
Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India. Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of diversity in all its forms. Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University. In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland. They have a son, daughter and grandson.
Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI
Quote “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he was psychopathically charismatic or anything like that. He didn’t set out to use his powers for evil. More likely his powers were no match for the evil he chanced upon.” Chapter 34, Fi’s Story >1:59:07
That quotation from Bram Lawson’s wife Fiona appears to be a fair assessment of her husband’s character but is it accurate? Bram made one faulty decision which started the ball rolling over and over until it rolled into a brick wall, and the wall started to topple.
The unforced yet headlong pace of this novel has to be read to be understood. It is full-on right from the opening line: “London, 12.30 p.m. She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.”
Author Louise Candlish has the knack of subverting expectations, making her characters do things I hadn’t anticipated, and making them believable. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in a progression of events at 91 Trinity Avenue in the London suburb of Alder Rise where property values are in the millions.
In this transfixing drama of house fraud and so much more, the main players are Bram and Fiona; their two young sons; would-be homeowners David and Lucy Vaughan; neighbour Merle; Mike and Wendy; the website of crime podcast The Victim.
Told by Fiona (Fi) and Bram, their retrospective sides of the story nearly overlap yet never quite converge, building a strong sense of unease. With foreboding I followed their newly separated, and prickly, domestic rituals with bird’s nest custody arrangements. I almost shouted at the book a couple of times—I can’t reveal why—as deception and indiscretion insinuated themselves into the story.
Woven through the redolent London background are family moments, some more heart-wrenching than others, before a nasty turn of events and the final dénouement. While the catastrophic narrative honour goes to Bram, the overarching theme is home ownership and who legally owns the house. Apparently it is, or was, a possibility that this kind of deed transfer could happen.
“Our House” is the best crime book I’ve read this year, well crafted and written with an ending which sends out shock waves. If you like incomparable award-winning psychological thrillers, I urge you to read this one.
Five Star Rating
About the Author:
Louise Candlish is the author of eleven previous novels, including “The Sudden Departure of the Frasers”, “The Swimming Pool” and the international bestseller “Since I Don’t Have You”. Louise studied English at University College London and worked as an advertising copywriter and art book editor before writing fiction. She lives in South London with her husband and teenage daughter. “Those People” is her next book. Author websitehttp://www.louisecandlish.com/