Atale of love, loss, grief and healing wrapped in magical realism and suitable for a wide range of readers. Families in this story have lost loved ones and are either handling their grief, not handling it, or ignoring it. They carry suppressed fears, squashed desires, and unfulfilled dreams but The Emporium of Imagination is here to help. And help it does, in the strangest of ways. I know the town of Boonah (and the camel farm) and felt an affinity as the story unfolded but apart from Story Tree café and Blumbergville Clock in High Street, similarities ended there.
A man, a cat and a key arrive with The Emporium and set up shop in the main street of Boonah, offering special ‘phones’, strange notes on scraps of paper and the ability to hear human grief in all its stages. Although this may sound gloomy, at worst depressing, the characters keep things moving, offering the reader many POVs and scenarios ranging from timidity to teen humour, guilt to anger, regret, and worse case scenarios like replaying the death of a loved one. The narrative often has dreamlike suspension of disbelief but the heartache is real.
The Emporium’s former custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, gives way to a new curator who decides not to answer the special ‘phone’ but believes the townspeople of Boonah deserve hope ‘I can’t take that away from them’ although cynical me wonders if it would give false hope? Surely a nicely worded pep talk about getting on with your life and following those cherished dreams would work? However, the story is more restrained than that and gently imparts the whys and wherefores of coping with grief.
I felt the inside of The Emporium was a bit Disney-movie. While I tried to put my own emotions into a character, the practicable side of me could not relate to uncertain concepts. Would a final ‘phone call’ to the recently deceased help the person in mourning, or would it tip them over the brink? Items include Ladybird lollipops (nobody pays for goods); special connections to memorabilia; a notebook which turns up in the oddest places for select clientele; and a subtle cat with an unsubtle name.
In the last pages of the book I found the experiences of author Tabitha Bird just as moving as the characters in the book (poor dear Enoch) but that’s just me. There is an end page headed The Owner’s Guide To Grieving in keeping with The Emporium’s roving notebook, offering the opportunity to write in ‘A quiet space to simply be’. I read a new library book so abstained from writing on the page—I bet someone does.
Now I’m off to bake Bedtime Muffins from Isaac’s (Enoch’s dad) recipe!
‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ introduction by author John Newton who asks ‘What do I mean by Australian native produce?’
Quote “Indigenous foods we have always eaten, e.g. oysters, crabs, rock crayfish and all the fish that swim around us… and varieties of duck and quail… but outside the familiar are an estimated 6,000 edible plants including 2,400 fruiting trees in south-east Queensland alone, and 2,000 truffles or subterranean mushrooms. Of those, 6,000 non-Indigenous Australians currently use less than fifty.
“Why should you eat these foods? Firstly, for their unique flavours, then for their nutrient values… they are among the richest on the planet in the nutrients we need for health.
Published by NewSouth Publishing Australia with recipes from chefs such as Peter Gilmore, Maggie Beer and René Redzepi’s sous chef Beau Clugston. ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ will convince you that this is one food revolution that really matters.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
DID YOU KNOW? Former teacher Suzy Wilson, the owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Brisbane, got the ball rolling in 2004 when she launched the Riverbend Readers Challenge to raise money to boost literacy levels. The Challenge grew, and then teamed up with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Book Industry to become the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011 it was superseded by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), a national not-for-profit charity focussed on improving literacy levels in very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Jane Austen’s unfinished heroine, Charlotte Heywood, is invited to Sanditon, a small coastal village undergoing modern changes to become a fashionable seaside resort (with revolutionary sea bathing) and she soon finds herself navigating the high ambitions of its architect Tom Parker, the family affairs of wealthy benefactor Lady Denham, and the secrets of village life. There are, of course, two handsome suitors. But a very important question hangs in the air—will Sanditon be a successful venture?
Sanditon, an eight-part drama from Jane Austen’s last and unfinished novel adapted by Andrew Davies, left fans of the TV series divided by the uncharacteristic ending and the knowledge that there would not be another installment.
Production company Red Planet Pictures is a leading independent UK producer of high-end drama founded by multi-award winning British television writer Tony Jordan in 2006, and run with Belinda Campbell and Alex Jones whose recent productions include Sanditon, a dramatisation which caused much disarray in the Jane Austen fandom.
However, I read these recent quotes—
“A second and third series were commissioned as part of a collaboration between PBS and BritBox in May 2021″
“Masterpiece PBS: After fans were left hanging in suspense by the first season’s finale and clamouring for more, the drama will continue to follow the high-spirited and independent heroine, Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) as she returns to the picturesque coastal resort of Sanditon. Charlotte’s journey is one thread of an intricate tapestry of compelling stories full of intrigue, excitement, and romance. Against the backdrop of beautiful vistas, familiar faces return and new inhabitants are introduced—all of whom will be having adventures as joyous and surprising as the seaside town itself.”
So, the stars over Sanditon will continue to shine.
In Australia, the first series is free-to-air on ABCTV iView. I found the story very enjoyable and loved the characters. It has been a long time since I was irate about a surprise ending although I did appreciated the way the two actors handled The Moment. Generally, I felt some liberties were taken with etiquette, the background scenery was sometimes questionable but the costumes were suitably detailed and quite lavish when the need arose.
Love it or loathe it, this is another story which will join the long list of adaptations of Jane Austen’s enduring works.
“I was a huge bookworm as a kid, and you could usually find me reading something with a dragon on its cover.” – Julie Kagawa.
Talon (Book #1)
“To take her rightful place in the Talon organization, young dragon Ember Hill must prove she can hide her true nature and blend in with humans. Her delight at the prospect of a summer of ‘normal’ teen experiences is short-lived, however, once she discovers that she’s also expected to train for her destined career in Talon. But a chance meeting with a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught.
“As Ember struggles to accept her future, St. George soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian is tasked with hunting her down. But when faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything the Order has ingrained in him — and what he might be willing to give up to uncover the truth about dragons.”
This year there is no set book for Wales Readathon 2021 so I have chosen subjects of Welsh origin which appeal to me, but it seems I have borrowed books with quite substantial content and I may not comfortably finish reading all of them within the month of March.
BOOK ONE within the ‘Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards there are twenty-four famous Welsh authors.
BOOK TWO singer Tom Jones ‘Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography’ is quite a hefty volume and packed full of action.
BOOK THREE‘The Gardens of Wales’ compiled by garden design historian Helena Attlee, photography by Alex Ramsay, is splendidly presented in true coffee-table style with absorbing information.
You can see I love a good dose of contextual facts and photographs.
Reviews below—on with the show
PENGUIN BOOK OF WELSH SHORT STORIES Edited: Alun Richards First published: 1976 Second edition: August 2011 ISBN: 9780241955468 Number of Pages: 348 Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
There are twenty-four short stories in this slim volume ‘The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards (some have been translated from the original Welsh) and I am going to list every one even though I am only half way through—
THE FASHION PLATE – Rhys Davies THE GOLDEN PONY – Glyn Jones ACTING CAPTAIN – Alun Lewis SATURDAY NIGHT – Geraint Goodwin THE LOSS – Kate Roberts THE BRUTE CREATION – Gwyn Jones EXTRAORDINARY LITTLE COUGH – Dylan Thomas A SUCCESSFUL YEAR – D. J. Williams THE TEACHER – Gwyn Thomas THE STRANGE APEMAN – E. Tegla Davies BE THIS HER MEMORIAL – Caradoc Evans THE RETURN – Brenda Chamberlain TWENTY TONS OF COAL – B. L. Coombes THE SQUIRE OF HAVILAH – T. Hughes Jones AN OVERDOSE OF SUN – Eigra Lewis Roberts THE HOUSE IN BUILTH CRESCENT – Moira Dearnley BLIND DATE – Jane Edwards MORFYDD’S CELEBRATION – Harri Pritchard Jones A WRITER CAME TO OUR PLACE – John Morgan A ROMAN SPRING – Leslie Norris BEFORE FOREVER AFTER – Ron Berry HON. SEC. (R.F.C.) – Alun Richards BLACK BARREN – Islwyn Ffowc Elis MEL’S SECRET LOVE – Emyr Humphreys
Backcover information reads ‘In twenty-four short stories, written by Welsh men and women, for the most part about Welsh people, we are treated to depictions of valley and mountain, country and town, as well as offered powerful and moving insights into the nature of the people.’
MY REVIEW: The calibre and wisdom of these fiction short stories blows me away, the people of Wales and the understated passion they have for their country shines through in emotive yet precisely documented stories of their era. I was drawn into their despair and great joy of everyday life, studied and examined but never artificial. So far the story which touched me the most is ‘The Squire of Havilah’ by T. Hughes Jones. Behind the tale, behind the words is a great depth of understanding about a man most of us would have met or seen once and dismissed from our mind. Daniel Jones, a 40-year-old bachelor of Rhos-y-grug, is a misjudged man who, in himself, is hopeful of a wealthy future. After being deceived and flimflammed at a fair into paying for the deeds to twenty acres of rich mineral land in Havilah, supposedly in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Jones dreams the life of a prosperous man as his farmhouse crumbles and his land turns wild around him. Religion plays a part and Jones cannot visit his tenure because the First World War is raging. There are other pertinent parts to the story and lessons lurk; perhaps distrust of fairground buskers. But everyone has something going on deep in the recesses of their mind. If you cannot help, at least acknowledge their hopes and dreams. ♥ GBW.
OVER THE TOP AND BACK: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY Author: Tom Jones Publisher: Penguin Australia 2015 ISBN: 9780718180690 Imprint: Michael Joseph Format: Paperback Pages: 521 includes photographs
MYREVIEW: I will be upfront and say that so far I have not read all the chapters in the life of the inimitable Welsh singer Tom Jones. But ‘Over the Top and Back’ has me hooked. I love reading about the lives of famous 20th century celebrities from when they came into the world until their later years. Especially with lots and lots of old photographs like this one. The ‘aah’ nostalgia moment happens and I remember his songs and where I was, or how old I was, when I saw him on B&W television or tuned the radio and heard his current hit. Or bought ‘the single’ a small vinyl record. I discovered that Tom Jones adopted the name Tommy Scott for a short time but his real name is Thomas John Woodward. In his early life, aged twelve, he contracted TB infection, not unusual in industrial Wales during that era. He recovered after two years and wanted to be either a professional singer or a slate-faced cowboy. He writes ‘From the kitchen of 44 Laura Street in Pontypridd in the forties, the odds of becoming one appear to be about as long as the odds on becoming the other’. But as we know he did succeed—and what a ride—I lost track of the many famous people he met and worked with. Before knickers were tossed on stage, his raucous stage presence shone too brightly for the strict censorship laws of the time. A censor once told him to tone himself down during the rendition of Rolling Stones song ‘Satisfaction’ because it implied sexual satisfaction. ‘Well, isn’t it?’ said Tom. Can’t wait to read what happens when he tours America. ♥ GBW.
THE GARDENS OF WALES Author: Helena Attlee Format: Hardback | 128 pages | Colour photos Dimensions: 250 x 267 x 17.78mm | 910g Publication: 2009 ISBN: 9780711228825 Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd
MYREVIEW: I have a library copy of ‘The Gardens of Wales’—like Tom Jones autobiography, it is well thumbed—and the picturesque gardens are simply stunning. There are fine examples of unusual topiary but it’s the flights of fancy created by dedicated visionaries which I find jaw-dropping; whole gardens and parkland over untold acres with water features, profuse flowers, statues, fine lawns, hidden paths, grottoes, ancient trees, and the hard work and dedication by gardening staff. All set against a backdrop of magnificent heritage listed Welsh homes, er, mansions, maybe castles. Anyway, they are very grand and I hope I get to return to UK one day and visit them. For example Wyndcliffe Court, Monmouthshire ‘Warm stone terraces, bulging topiary and a good splash of colour (plus trickling fountain and bowling green) the garden of Wyndcliffe Court bears all the hallmarks of designer H. Avray Tipping’ an artisté who loved the contrast between cultivation and natural landscape. I admire the classical architecture of the follies, or summerhouses, often a miniature version of a stately home, fashioned for a couple to sit and partake of their view. This book has become a bit of a rarity, however, Helena Attlee has made a career of studying and writing about spectacular gardens in many countries around the world. Both she and photographer Alex Ramsay live in Wales. Alex Ramsay’s image of the layered Orangery Terrace, Aviary Terrace and Top Terrace at Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire, is a sight to behold. ♥ GBW.
In March 2020 last year, for the shared Wales Readathon, I ordered ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard which unfortunately arrived late so I posted my review in April. It is a fascinating almost-autobiographical novel and well worth reading. But history is trying to repeat itself and the 2021 deadline is looming fast.
I will finish these books, meanwhile a halved review is better than no review, right.
A memoir of singularity of purpose and a deep determination to overcome all obstacles. Liz Byron challenges herself in every way, mentally, physically and spiritually to start afresh by walking the rugged Bicentennial National Trail towards a new, independent life. The BNT on the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of Australia has some of the most unforgiving landscapes in the world. Her companions on this journey are two donkeys with the wisdom of ages and Liz’s symbol, the wild watchful wedge-tail eagles.
‘The Only Way Home’ is an intimate memoir with a heartbreaking look into family life, the pain Liz suffers and the repercussions for those involved. It also captures the freedom of walking through wide-ranging bushland, fording rivers, and making camp with two charming character-filled donkeys Grace and Charley.
Liz had previously done a lot of bushwalking but without encountering such a harsh and challenging environment. Taking the extremes of drought country in their stride, her donkeys are clever and observant, and prove they can be stubborn for good reason. Humans just have to work out what those reasons are! Liz shows love and respect for her companions, their hardiness and their intuition. Grace and Charley each carried a load, packed and balanced, and it was amusing how they behaved when released to graze.
Interspersed with walking the Queensland section of the BNT, a trail originally intended for horses, Liz writes candidly about her fractured marriage, the love of her children and losing a child, the trauma of her own childhood and soothing meditation. A mixture of grief, courage and sheer willpower drives her forward as she launches herself into a second life in one of the most demanding ways imaginable.
Admittedly I am not an adept hiker but some of the trials and tribulations Liz encountered would have had me stumbling to the nearest township, flagging down a four-wheel drive and heading back to Brisbane. At one stage the soles of Liz’s hiking boots came adrift, not to mention needle-thin grass seeds digging into her skin. Sometimes the track was marked and sometimes it was not; they traversed barren sections, steep topography, waist high grass, slippery rocks and rested at the occasional restorative oasis.
Along the way, Liz kept a journal rather than taking photographs and if she stopped for the night in solid accommodation in lieu of pitching a tent, all she needed was a table and chair to update her journal. Liz often met farmers, cattlemen, country people, who were informative and willing to help with advice on the terrain ahead, plus an overnight paddock for her two stalwart pals.
Memorable lines from Liz ‘Folks in rural, remote, drought-stricken Queensland understood only too well the interdependent nature of being human. I, on the other hand, was trying to resolve an inherent dichotomy: seeking my independence as a woman at the same time as being a homeless wanderer heavily reliant on cattle station people’ – Liz is a vegetarian and food was a source of uneasiness, both getting and eating, and fresh produce was always a joy – ‘My commitment to receive help graciously was Step One.’
I liked the way the chapters and timeline were introduced. Backstory arrives at pertinent intervals with sections of Liz’s life before, during and after she walks the Bicentennial National Trail. Through Liz’s retelling more shocking revelations emerge, putting her quest in sharper focus.
Just reading, without travelling alone for 2,500 kilometres with two Equus asinus companions, this memoir invoked many emotions in me. From an embattled marriage to conquering those kilometres, Liz shares the insights gained on her path to independence and healing.
In her introduction, Liz Byron says ‘It was 2006, when I had been writing academic material for 20 years, before I decided to try writing my story. I had five lecture pads full of journal notes about the 2,500 kilometre trek I’d recently completed with my two donkeys. This seemed like a good place to start. And so I did. I wrote on and off for nearly fifteen years before feeling as if I understood myself and my life well enough to explain why I had done the trek.’ My thanks to Liz Byron for a review copy, the book is available on her website here.
The Bicentennial National Trail - AustraliaThe Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) originally known as the National Horse Trail, is one of the longest multi-use, non-motorised, self-reliant trails in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to Healesville, 60 km north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside wilderness areas. The BNT follows old coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers, fire trails and was originally intended for horses. The Trail would take most of one year to walk.
My reading was floundering until this gleaming gem came along! ‘The Animals in That Country’ is a novel with strange overtones and intense undercurrents. Certainly a distinctive story with fear, confusion and confronting chapters involving the catastrophic side effects of human zooflu virus and the subsequent fallout for the animal world.
Kind of dystopian, kind of quirky, this book made me think, it made me cringe, it fascinated me, it troubled me, and it will stay in my mind for a long time.
People succumb as the virus spreads across the country, or they try to outrun it, and some eventually arrive at the animal park where alcoholic ranger Jean Bennett works. Her initial despair permeates these early chapters, both for the animals and her wayward son who causes problems. Jean is careworn by events and decides to leave the native animal sanctuary with Dingo Sue to find her runaway family.
I may not like the disarray Jean and Dingo Sue get into as the pandemic spreads but it certainly makes riveting reading. I trekked with them along dusty outback roads via devastated townships to reach the ocean. They meet rough characters and conmen but Jean believes in Sue’s unerring instincts leading them towards the hypnotic seashore.
With a singular writing style, author Laura Jean McKay tackles a pandemic from a different angle. The animals and birds are not anthropomorphised in the usual sense, and definitely not suitable for children. At first Dingo Sue is unintelligible until gradually Jean understands the patterns of mind matching physical dialogue, and ‘speech’ is cleverly enhanced by page layouts.
The subtle yet resilient nurturing instincts of both human and animal infuses the story and this primitive and powerful connection twisted my brain. I was gripped by the overwhelmed and distraught characters who learned that we are part of nature, dependent upon it for our existence and survival but it can drive us mad.
As I was nearing the final chapters, I heard that author McKay had won the coveted Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021. In a statement McKay said she had been writing a draft several years before coronavirus devastated the real world. Apparently she was unwell with malaria-like symptoms while writing and said this may have accounted for the creeping darkness of the story, the uncertainty and panic is eerily similar.
An earthy, supernatural tale, a reminder of Earl Nightingale’s quote ‘Never compete. Create’ and Laura Jean McKay has excelled.
I can highly recommend the audio book read by the author, it boosts the story to yet another level.
Comedy gold—-I have discovered Jerry Seinfeld’s jokes, or tiny stories, are even better when read. I can fully absorb the nuances leading to a smooth punchline, being taken by surprise, and bursting into laughter. Fortunately in the comfort of my own home.
Of course, reading a Jerry Seinfeld book filled from cover to cover with his observational comedy written over five decades is best taken in small doses.
There is nothing truly personal in this book so don’t expect an autobiographical exposé of his life. The best you are going to get under the heading of About The Author is “Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian. He lives in New York City with his family.”
However, his life does subtly unfold throughout the book via his comedy routines, both on and off television. I can relate to most of his observations. Admittedly they don’t always mirror my experiences of life, but do cover a large, unavoidable portion of my existence as a human being.
It is fascinating to read through the decades from 1970s to 2010s. Small bits, longer bits like “The Chicks and the Checks”, an ordinary event turned monumental. And there’s the condensing, the immediacy of his transference, the reveal, the audience reaction he craves on stage. He couldn’t hear me laughing at the six lines of “Earthquake”.
If you’re wondering, the book title “Is This Anything?” is taken from what comedians nervously ask each other about a new bit they have written.
Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy style is a clean, straight-forward, perfectly paced delivery. Always on the funny side, in his 452 page book plus index, he goes from being a young man to a mature adult with a family. Gradually the content and tone of the jokes change, a kitchen sponge talks, technology invades and “Device Dictatorship” rules but the entertainment is always there.
It is not necessary to have watched his television series “Seinfeld” but as I read, I heard his voice in my head.
When I read a good book by an author whose work I always enjoy, it is hard for me to express my thoughts without going overboard so I tried to apply self-restraint with Garry Disher’s ‘Consolation’ and hope I convey my message. For the full impact, I suggest you read the first two books but Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen conveys his job and lifestyle with great clarity so this story can stand alone.
Constable Hirsch does a huge amount of driving given the vast distances of his country South Australian beat. He is calm, diplomatic, intelligent, sensitive, and has a lovely woman in his life. Several threads run throughout the story; Hirsch gets stalked, good characters die, ordinary people are murdered and baddies steal money. Not as mundane as it sounds. For starters who are the goodies and who are the baddies? There is more going on than I first thought.
This story is populated by a fair amount of unstable people, at the very least people with problems. The Ayliffe family are atop the big-problems tree. They snake in and out of the plot, stealing from homesteads, frightening farmers, bent on their own personal rampage. Hirsch moves ever forward, ever thinking, trying to stay one step ahead, or picking up the pieces after another tragic crime has been committed.
Hirsch knows the land better than the city cops sent to help in their black SUVs with matching attitudes. A high wind chill factor features throughout, rain turns the roads to mud and cars bog, naturally conditions are not conducive to high speed chases. Also, someone is nicking knickers from ladies clotheslines, and elaborate extortion schemes are in play with devastating repercussions, each investigated by Hirsch with Redruth police back-up.
There are tough themes: child abuse, parental negligence, childcare system. The abuse of the elderly, not so much physical but extortion, dishonesty and controlling behaviour. The harsh reality of criminal behaviour, and its impact on Constable Hirsch’s rural beat, is an immersive experience. He combats the weather on his early morning foot patrols. Quote “There was ice everywhere on Thursday morning. Hirsch tramped the streets of Tiverton in the saw-teeth of another frost.”
Author Disher’s rural characters have personality, and naturally not all are good honest citizens so it is gratifying when they are caught. The master of Hirsch’s POV, Garry Disher is also the master of the neat transition. Instead of slowing down the action, backstory came when “As Hirsch reconstructed it later…” so important, so human.
An absorbing story with everything unfolding in an almost lyrical flow of actions and emotions, and a series well worth reading.
“Consolation” Format: Paperback Extent: 400pp Text publication date: 3rd November 2020 ISBN: 9781922330260 AU Price: $32.99 NZ Price: $38.00 Categories: Crime & Thriller, Rural Police, Australian, Fiction https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/consolation
Happily I only spied one typo on page 368 when “Vikki Bastian, who’d had been on her knees flicking…” GBW.
Author Info: Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. He has won multiple German Crime Prize and Ned Kelly awards, including the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. To quote from Text Publishing interview “The dryness, the heat, the sense of space and the sparseness of human presence inform every page and drive every action. It is a quintessentially Australian setting for a quintessentially Australian subgenre of crime – it’s been dubbed ‘rural noir’ and Garry Disher is one of its pioneers. In fact, without him, it might not exist at all. Farming country in the mid-north of South Australia is where Garry Disher grew up, and although he hasn’t lived there for years, the area still holds a special place in his heart…”
Supposedly on a short holiday to check out the healing benefits of mineral water for returned soldiers, while staying at Mooltan Guesthouse in the health spa town of Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, Phryne Fisher and Dot Williams bump into nice and not so nice individuals. A cunning murderer gets to work killing men in broad daylight, while throughout the novel the Temperance Hotel and knitting entwine with a strong sisterhood bond.
In the adventurous 1920s, fabulous Phryne Fisher is a wealthy, upper-class, down-to-earth lady detective who lives in bayside Melbourne, Australia. She solves all kinds of crimes with the assistance of her dour maid Dot (also sleuthing companion) and is occasionally helped by the mighty Bert and Cec who are wharfies and stirrers, plus two stalwart policeman, Inspector Jack Robinson and Dot’s suitor Constable Hugh Collins.
The Honourable Miss Fisher features in this long-running series of novels, and on TV and cinema screens, whilst recently author Kerry Greenwood has included keen young Tinker and adopted daughters Ruth and Jane who get their fair share of investigative work in “Death in Daylesford” although not in the company of Phryne. A suspected murder arises for them back in Melbourne while Phryne and Dot roam the countryside.
Kerry Greenwood has nailed the era. Apart from a doubtful reference to broccoli (was it available then?) and later a toilet roll (in an outside dunny on a country farm no less) she writes with vigour and a lust for life, and has the knack of enhancing a scene with extra intrigue. Chapters are populated with a variety of characters like luscious barmaid Annie, copper Mick Kelly, handsome Captain Spencer and gun-toting suffragette Miss McKenzie.
My favourite quote “Alice glowed like a hurricane lamp. ‘I am so pleased! Do you think that Violette…’ She left the sentence hanging in the air, like a house brick under the influence of anti-gravity.” Gems of this type are used sparingly yet with great effect, especially when I knew hanky-panky was afoot. Miss Phryne Fisher is more risqué than her on-screen counterpart.
Real locations are used in this story and I don’t remember but apparently I visited the mineral springs as a child. “Death in Daylesford” is the 21st book in the series. I have read Kerry Greenwood’s contemporary series featuring baker/private eye Corinna Chapman but self-assured Phryne keeps luring me back with her fast driving, rule-flouting and cheeky disregard for social conventions. Always with her brain ticking over and a winning smile.
Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight. His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck. She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action. Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption. Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”
Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life. She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him. And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…” The ship had sailed on that one. In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.
Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster. She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going. I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!” Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings. Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men.
Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.
“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book. Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions. The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend. Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers. I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.
Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me. Covid-19 was not over when I read the book. At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions. “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.
Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney. There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected. On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.
“Troubled Blood” is based on old school detective work and hours of hard slog. An expertly presented narrative of a cold case investigation, seen through the eyes of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, private detectives with their own agency. The dynamic duo interview a diverse range of suspects while battling family upheaval and relationship problems in their private lives. World-building is not needed when London is the backdrop and the book is based on excellent characters, their actions and personalities.
Author Robert Galbraith’s fifth crime novel in the Strike series is a distinctive portrayal of family, close friends, co-workers and suspects in the mysterious disappearance of Margot Bamborough, a doctor who vanished in 1974, leaving behind her daughter Anna who now wants answers. Every lead, every word, every movement, every coffee is documented (I am sure some readers will skip) and sections in an out-of-print book and archived police reports are analysed and compared. Yet serial killer Dennis Creed remains tight-lipped.
A body was never found but press reports and layers of dross from obsessed former police officer Bill Talbot are explored. Talbot penned reports in shorthand, astrological diagrams, horoscope and zodiac signs and unusual drawings which, by the way, were illustrated by J K Rowling. A killer could be on the loose, but nabbing them now seems impossible. Robin is the fact-finder and Strike leads the interviews, of which there are many, until he is called away to visit his sick aunt. Galbraith has been kind enough to subtly recap events at intervals so I could refresh my mental Who’s Who.
The setting starts in December at Christmas time (I read this novel in 2020 festive season) and apart from facing inept matchmaking and a sleazy co-worker, gift shopping is fraught with uncertainty for Strike and Robin. As a wiser world comes out of Covid-19, it is unsettling to read about the pre-pandemic holiday season and Strike’s bad case of ‘flu. His prosthetic leg is not often mentioned; he avoids emotions and text messages; and loses brownie points from me when he increases cigarette smoking. Not sexy, not sensible, give up smoking, Strike!
Aside from the niggling aspect of a ready-made screenplay, dialogue is what I loved most about “Troubled Blood”. Dylan Thomas wrote a play for voices and this book compares in that the bulk of it is revealed through speech. Although sprinkled with the obligatory f-word, thankfully catchphrases and recurrent behaviours are out, and a kind of interview intimacy is used throughout the book. It is like sitting next to Robin and Strike as they conduct café interviews in venues like Fortnum & Mason and Hampton Court Palace.
British to the core, this story of 927 (real) pages brilliantly achieves the traditional crime ensemble with a modern set-up. I enjoyed both the solid content and the easy visualisation. Definitely a multi-layered plot with lots of upsetting domestic drama and soul searching which, in many ways, are things a reader has experienced and can relate to. That aside, I found ye olde English chapter excerpts from “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spenser (c1590) to be charmingly relevant yet tricky to decipher.
A lengthy book merits a long review, and “Troubled Blood” is what I call a heavy weight novel in more ways than one. I think this Galbraith/Rowling offering is much better than the last instalment in the series, and it was a pleasure to read a well-bound typo-free hardback. Perseverance is needed with the word-bombing when reading late at night, but all in all a great book for an internet-free holiday, just set aside a solid chunk of reading time.
Sammi Willis is a police officer, written by a genuine police officer, so I figured the action would be authentic and the plot would be an absorbing and gripping read. It is all that and more! Told in real time, I counted the logbook minutes and followed police procedure to find out where Sammi had gone. She left a suburban pub alone at night and accepted a lift back to her girlfriend’s house but never arrived. The tension is controlled until gradually the stress levels rise and events ramp up: Sammi hasn’t contacted her partner or family and misses her work shift. It doesn’t take much to realise that something is very wrong.
Meanwhile, the reader has access to the other side of the story––Sammi’s ordeal. It is hard to describe what she goes through without taking some of the element of fear away for potential readers. Sammi is made powerless in the hands of a brutal man who has killed before. She knows she must fight cleverly to save her life, but without proper clothing, food or knowledge of her bushland location, she faces an uphill battle to survive. Every painful step Sammi takes, every thought and emotion is totally believable. She goes through bouts of logic and hallucination while the armed madman follows her progress on his trail bike.
Waiting back at Angel’s Crossing, Sammi’s partner Gavin and her friend Candy are distraught and not coping well, but Criminal Investigation Branch reinforcements arrive in the form of go-getter Janine Postlewaite. That’s all I am going to say, except read this book and appreciate excellent Australian crime writing. There are two books which follow this one, I have read “The Twisted Knot” and will soon read “An Unwatched Minute”. J. M. Peace highlights just how good, and how different, Aussie writers are at setting the scene with strong characters and electrifying content. I was hooked from beginning to end.
Book 2—Review ‘The Twisted Knot’ by J M Peace
Written by a real police officer, gritty and unashamedly Australian, this story has twists and turns I did not see coming. The big question is ‘Who committed what crime?” and at first I thought I knew, but the plot had a surprise in store. A police procedural with no gimmicks, no generic dialogue but plenty of believable characters and a nasty bundle of suspects. Constable Samantha (Sammi) Willis of Angel’s Crossing police station is in the thick of the action, handling vengeful townsfolk when paedophile rumours surface, while privately juggling her shaky marriage.
Sammi is also recovering from a near death experience with a maniac who killed for fun (see “A Time to Run” the first Sammi book by J. M. Peace) but she is ably supported by her colleagues, particularly by-the-book Bob. Gradually she gets back into routine and Sammi leaves the front desk to attend a call-out. It turns into a gruesome find in a farmhouse shed. The identity and cause of death is in doubt and Terry Cousens, a Plain Clothes Constable, takes the lead rein, eager for a quick promotion.
Fortunately Sammi knows the rural town and handles proceedings well, but Terry does not. He also has an interesting run-in with Jeremy from Forensics. The police detective work is substantial, and the daily routine of a police station is well portrayed. Nothing hit-and-miss, everything is methodical and eventually the clues and forensic samples compile a clear picture of what happened. Or do they? The reader gets snippets, sometimes from wives and mothers, and sometimes from an unknown narrator but I found it hard to pick a culprit.
Naturally, in this type of crime novel there are disturbing scenes, paedophilia and swearing. However, I think that J. M. Peace has hit the right note. It would be great to see her get more international recognition. I think she has the potential to grow a following like Garry Disher. With Hirsch in rural South Australia, there could be someone like Sammi in rural Queensland with the bonus of Peace’s insider knowledge. I’ve read “A Time to Run” and I’m keen to read “An Unwatched Minute” a recent book.
Book 3—‘An Unwatched Minute’ by J M Peace
My review is yet to come, but here are excerpts taken from the J. M. Peace author website:
‘An Unwatched Minute’ goes behind the scenes of a small police station in the picturesque town of Tannin Bay.
When Constable Krista Danaher is transferred to the picturesque town of Tannin Bay she hopes it may help her gain much needed confidence in her new profession. She’s pleased when Senior Constable Malachi ‘Mort’ Morten takes her under his wing, both professionally and personally. But within days, a man has died in the watch house whilst in her care, triggering an intensive police investigation. It becomes apparent that not everyone is telling the truth and the gap between what happened and what the investigation can prove widens. The family of the dead man do whatever they can to make sure someone is held accountable. The police response will have far-reaching consequences on the small police station and the people who work there.
‘An Unwatched Minute’ is a gripping and realistic thriller, which shines a light on the grey spot where truth and justice meet.
An avid reader and writer from an early age, J. M. Peace wanted to be a writer. So she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year… so she took a complete change of direction and became a police officer. Over the past twenty years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.
An award-winning author, Jay lives on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel… You can connect with Jay on Facebook at JM Peace Author, Twitter at @jmpeaceauthor, Goodreads at JM Peace, and her blog ‘Cops and Novels’.
NOTE: ‘A Time To Run’ was published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 2015. The sequel ‘The Twisted Knot’was released on July 2016. ‘A Time To Run’ was translated into German as ‘Die Hatz’ and Spanish as ‘La Cacería’. Standalone novel ‘An Unwatched Minute’ was released on Amazon/Kindle on May 2019.
Okay, let’s not get into the smell and feel of real books because I am only concentrating on the thickness of real books.
I thought the great hulking bulkiness of the doorstop blockbuster novel was long gone – not so when it comes to Robert Galbraith (worst kept pseudonym ever!) and her Cormoran Strike private detective series.
You know the one, the war veteran who lost half his leg, and his assistant like Robin in Batman, that’s it Robin, she’s really the most interesting character in these crime novels.
But I digress.
What I really want to say is that I find big heavy books daunting, not because they are big and heavy but because they had better have a really clever plot, plenty of drama, lots of tension, rip-roaring action and a nice twisty ending.
I want my money’s worth!
Which, in this case, isn’t relevant because I borrowed the big bruiser from the library – long live libraries – but I certainly hope this fifth installment lives up to its hype and dimensions.
My loan copy of “Troubled Blood” is fresh and unsullied as you can see in my first angle shot. When I look at the bold spine in my second shot, it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. Bonus: inside I discovered the author’s hand-drawn illustrations.
Don’t worry, I am not writing a three-part posting on the joys and disappointments of reading J K Rowling’s (oops, Robert Galbraith’s) latest literary endeavour.
Book 4 ‘Lethal White’ has 647 pages but at 927 pages, ‘Troubled Blood’ is not the longest book I’ve ever read.
I just hope it is one of the best.
“Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough, who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .”
Every so often I would close this book and take a deep breath. The out-of-control actions are breathtaking and I felt sad and infuriated at the same time. Sam ‘Honeybee’ Watson is powerless as he is pushed and pulled repeatedly through horrible events in his young life. Author Craig Silvey does not sugar-coat the mental and physical abuse. He writes an accurate portrayal of how alcohol, drugs and crime destroy a family, and the twisted use of power by certain members of that family.
Sam’s view of the world is distorted by cruel and thoughtless people, mainly his mother and her boyfriend Steve, until traumatic circumstances bring him to meet old bloke Vic and nurse Peter, both offering him a glimpse of a kinder world. On the periphery, he meets and makes his first friend Aggie who shows him a regular homelife. Later he is offered assistance by a detective but Sam shuts down regarding his domestic situation and goes his own way with disastrous results.
Fourteen year old Sam likes dogs and wearing feminine clothing, and thanks to Vic he is good at motorcycle maintenance. There are emotional moments concerning all three; dogs, sequins and motorcycles. However, I did seesaw between whether or not I liked Sam because he certainly did some wrong things. Even allowing for his youth and gender confusion, he fits the words of the Paul Kelly song ‘I’ve done all the dumb things’ only partly excusable by his fertile imagination, impulsive nature and inherent lack of trust.
The story has a good blend of past and present so the reader can see how things spiral out of control. Early on, Sam becomes an adept thief because there is never food in the house so he steals groceries and watches videos of cooking goddess (no, not Nigella) the late Julia Child, turning into an impressive cook himself. He constantly seeks approval of his culinary dishes.
I was not shocked by Sam’s experiences but they could be too confronting for younger readers. This novel is very different from Silvey's ‘Jasper Jones’ and I think a sturdier sense of place, a more tangible atmosphere could have been applied instead of skimming through the streets. Set in Western Australia, there are ‘movie moments’ and clipped generic dialogue, but I found the insertion of Americanisms kept to a minimum. I suspect when Sam dials the wrong emergency number it is a poke at millennials who don't know the correct Australian phone number.
Favourite sentence because it is so corny ‘I sat there and nodded, but my heart was breaking, because I knew I could never tell Aggie the truth about myself.’ However, Craig Silvey has firmly and skillfully documented Sam’s predicament, a blend of teenage unease, identity crisis and gender anxiety. Read at the right age, at the right time, it could prove to be an enlightening book.
Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.
Craig Silvey (born 1982) is an Australian novelist and musician living in Fremantle. Silvey grew up on an orchard in Dwellingup, a small town in timber and fruit-growing lands in south-west Western Australia. He wrote his first book ‘Rhubarb’ when he was nineteen and it was published in 2004. Silvey has received many accolades for his books and twice been named one of the Best Young Australian Novelists by The Sydney Morning Herald, and has been shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.
Since his wildly successful novel ‘Jasper Jones’, Silvey has published the novella ‘The Amber Amulet’, which he adapted into a stage play the following year, and has scripted ‘The Prospector’, a contemporary western film directed by Rachel Perkins. His latest book ‘Honeybee’ was published in 2020. Silvey also sings and plays the electric ukulele in an indie/pop/rock band called ‘The Nancy Sikes’.
THIS IS A GRAND STORY of old-school police procedural proportions, a murder mystery which employs the same dedication and precision as the runners in training for the Bath Half Marathon. The build-up is firm and steady, the plot delivers survival tactics, and every likely and unlikely event is taken into consideration.
MOST OF THE GROUNDING for this solid piece of deduction has to do with Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of Bath’s Criminal Investigations Department. I can’t say Diamond is all that loveable, and he gets himself into trouble on the odd occasion, but he’s a great character to drape a story around.
DIAMOND HAS A GIRLFRIEND Paloma and when they are together I get a midsomer murder ‘Shakespeare and Hathaway’ vibe. Diamond is aided and abetted by two sensible police officers, Keith Halliwell and Ingeborg Smith, and annoyed by Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. Like any good whodunnit, there’s a crusty forensic pathologist Dr Sealy and a number of important characters woven into the story.
I AM NOT BIG on writing synopses because I figure that a potential reader can get any amount of reviews online which offer insights into this ingenious plot. Suffice to say that the Bath Half Marathon is an absolutely huge running event held in UK and literally thousands of people from all walks of life compete each year for charity. On this occasion, a murder takes place and Diamond has to find the body before he can make an arrest. Actually there are two murders but this is where it gets tricky…
AUTHOR PETER LOVESEY has given the reader several suspects to choose from and they are all plausible. Some of the characters include Spiro and Murat part of the modern-day slave trade, Maeve Kelly primary school teacher, sleazy Tony Pinto, and wife of Russian oligarch Olga Ivanova, taking part in the Bath Half Marathon for wildly different reasons.
I HAD A MASSIVE claustrophobia attack: the hills where the race is run has hundreds of old tunnels and underground quarries. I haven’t felt that bad since I read ‘The Chalk Pit’ a Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths. Cruelly, Lovesey did not spare my nerves.
THE BOOK TITLE is apt in various ways, and apart from showcasing beautiful Bath, there are techie things like micro-chipped runners and aerial drones. However, Lovesey does say that the route he mapped out is not the one followed by real runners. He has never run the marathon but as an author and sports writer he cleverly captures the mood and excitement of the event.
I MAY NOT SAY ‘Where are my running shoes?’ but with at least seventeen other novels in the Peter Diamond series, I am going to start my own reading marathon.
Peter (Harmer) Lovesey (born 1936), also known by his pen name Peter Lear, is a British writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best-known series characters are Sergeant Daniel Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern-day police detective in Bath.
Peter Lovesey lives near Chichester UK and was a teacher/lecturer before he turned to full-time writing. In 2020 he celebrates 50 years as an author and ironically in 1970 his first prize-winning novel was ‘Wobble to Death’ where a bizarre six-day endurance race takes place in 1880s London. His son Phil Lovesey also writes crime novels.
Most readers will grasp the fact that this book is not going to be about Bugs Bunny. Jasper Fforde’s unique trademark of invective wit and critical observation cover politics, racism, sexism, bureaucracy and libraries. Actually the library in the village of Much Hemlock has reverted to the old card system but is still afloat despite very tight restrictions. Some reviewers say this book is a departure from Fforde’s usual style but I disagree. Jasper Fforde has always been out-there, although his unique writing charm has become more prominent since Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett left the room.
The main protagonists are village newcomer Constance Rabbit and long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa. Despite cultural differences, they meet in the library and become friends. And the book title? I thought it had something to do with “The Constant Gardener” by John le Carré but in a Zoom interview via Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, Mr Fforde himself said that it refers to people rabbiting on, e.g. constantly talking – so there you go.
“Rabbits rarely lie,” said Pippa. “They take their greatest pride in preserving most strongly the parts of them that aren’t us”. Thus rabbits walk tall but do lean towards the tonal qualities of Beatrix Potter so it’s a shock when UKARP United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party rears its ugly head, ready to enforce rehoming of rabbits to a Mega Warren in Wales. Things don’t look good for Connie but she’s not going to hop away. Can sharing her difficulties with her neighbour cause romance to blossom over a lettuce salad? But wait, average bloke Peter hides a dark secret.
As the byline reads “It’ll take a rabbit to teach a human humanity…” and for any reader with an open mind that’s what this book achieves. Situations run parallel to today’s world like a surreal split in the time-continuum, engaging satire and brazen behaviour with apprehension and alarm. It doesn’t take much effort to transpose our current social and political climate over the chapters. It rapidly becomes clear that the intertextual remarks are meaningful and at times confronting.
Like the home-created experiments that lived and breathed in Thursday Next (in earlier Fforde books Pickwick the Dodo was made from a kit) Connie’s large family had not been the only animals caught up in the 1965 Spontaneous Anthropomorphising Event. Six weasels, five guinea pigs, three foxes, a Dalmatian, a badger, nine bees and a caterpillar suffered disorders. What happened to them is succinctly explained.
Chapter “Searching in vain & Shopping in town” Connie talks about her acting career and lets slip a few movie names. There’s even a dig at the Playboy Bunny era. I could have done with more illustrations as per previous books but real product brand names and clever wordplay are liberally sprinkled throughout the story; and organisations like TwoLegsGood, Rabxit, and RabCoT exist alongside old-school references, a mixture of “jolly good chap” and 2020 tactile sensibility.
What I like about Fforde’s writing style is the wry humour, he tells it like it is – with a twist. The smarmy Senior Group Leader, Mr Torquil Ffoxe does not escape being lampooned for about forty permutations of the double ff in his name when “All, without exception, were pronounced Fox” so is that a dig at Fforde’s own moniker or reader misinterpretation?
In my opinion, this book is vaguely similar to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” but does not match because in “The Constant Rabbit” Fforde has significantly placed every name, action and event to create an edgy kind of intimacy, an uncomfortably familiar stab of recognition for readers. With Manor Farm you feel things won’t turn out right; in Much Hemlock you want things to turn out right. Best of all, Connie Rabbit has joined the illustrious list of strong female characters Jasper Fforde has written over the length of his literary career.
Jasper Fforde has been writing in the Comedy/Fantasy genre since 2001 when his novel “The Eyre Affair” debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then he has published 14 more books (which include a YA trilogy) with several becoming bestsellers, and counts his sales in millions. “The Constant Rabbit” is his 15th novel.
Jasper Fforde previously worked in the film industry, and now lives and writes in Wales UK. His oeuvre consists of series and standalones and his recent novel “Early Riser” is a thriller set in a world in which humans have always hibernated; his latest book “The Constant Rabbit” about anthropomorphised rabbits becoming the underclass in a post-Brexit Britain was published 2020.
This is a book I had to read. The name is derived from “an alleged 1942 WWII government plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion”—there is nothing alleged about it. My father was a young soldier in WWII based in Melbourne when his division received the command to form The Brisbane Line. It made such an impression on him that later, when he was married, he relocated the family to Brisbane where I currently live.
I dearly wish I could discuss this novel with my late father but I do remember him reminiscing about the off-duty times and leave in tropical Far North Queensland where hi-jinks often lead to a soldier’s death. I am sure there was tension, corruption and murder among the thousands of American troops stationed in Brisbane, but on the other hand I know families of young women who married GI Joe’s and went to live in US never to return.
Enigmatic protagonist, Rose, has a boyfriend who is a prisoner-of-war and she says “It’s men who cause the trouble in the first place. It’s just another hypocrisy.”
Suitable for crime readers and historians, this well-researched yet fictionalised novel is based on a real person and his original paperwork. It is more interesting than a text book and follows Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police officer and amateur photographer who joins local police in battling crime and black market corruption. Joe also has grave suspicions of a murder cover-up.
The humid atmosphere is laced with grunge and irritability offset by guys and gals dancing the night away at the Trocadero Dance Hall. Well-known landmarks and people make an appearance, for example notorious cop Frank Bischof, author Thea Astley and General Douglas MacArthur, an American who in WWII commanded the Southwest Pacific region.
The book is gritty and at times the inequality upset my 21st century sensibilities but it is based on true events. Powell has recreated a vibrant town which embraced a huge influx of cashed-up strangers in uniform and the repercussions this had on Brisbane society, some of which still lingers today.
In “The Art of War” Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “All warfare is based on deception” and “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle” so I think Judy Powell’s book shows there was no battle—but plenty of deception closer to home.
Judy Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life. She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia. Powell, who lives outside Brisbane, was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II.
I wasn’t ready for this book. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start. The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me. Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado? I don’t know. I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest. Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.
On my second reading
the story felt less crushing. I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd. I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact. His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard. Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.
Tom has a jaundiced eye
when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering. I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”. There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.
The conditions are harsh
and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still. These chapters are tightly written. The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.
I am not a fan
of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative. Tom’s past comes out in this way. Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one. He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.” Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”
The age rating
for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy. I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.
Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.
Catherine Jinks(Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.
Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.
She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television. Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films. She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.
This Alan Bradley story is deserving of 10 stars. The irony, the wit and the revealing portrayal of 1950s English village life, is both hilarious and horrible. Events are seen through the eyes of young Flavia de Luce, an implausibly precocious 11 year old girl who lives with her family in genteel decline.
Young Flavia’s encounters turn into forensic investigations and she has an inherent love of chemistry, brewing dangerous concoctions in her late grandfather’s lab.
The village of Bishop’s Lacey appears to be close-knit, yet even gossipy Mrs Mullet didn’t seem to know who or what killed young Robin Ingleby at Gibbet Hill. The story really kicks off when well-known BBC puppeteer and bully Rupert Porson gives his last performance. The scene-setting is brilliantly done and I felt immersed in the story from the beginning right through to the end.
Perhaps not a book for younger readers because they may get tired of the mid-20th century writing style. Mature readers who like a quirky character will enjoy this tale. I have never encountered the likes of Flavia de Luce, a strange mixture of Wednesday Addams and Bones.
But she certainly knows how to snoop or turn on the charm when necessary.
Generally the main players are conventional but it’s what I expected, having been raised on a diet of British books, magazines and television series. Their dialogue and the descriptions of village society in post-war Britain were familiar to me – at least fictionally – and it’s clever how the tension and Flavia’s ‘fluctuations’ from girl to grown-up and back again is established.
Question: Apart from the shock value, what is the significance of Jack’s puppet face? And I don’t mean who it represents.
‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is book 2 in the current 10 book Flavia de Luce mystery series, and takes its title from Sir Walter Raleigh. With my thanks to Goodreads friend and writer Chris Hall for recommending this delightfully different book.
Alan Bradley is a mystery writer known for his Flavia de Luce series featuring this pre-teen sleuth with a passion for chemistry. The series began with the acclaimed ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’. See more books in the series at Penguin Random House. Bradley is also a New York Times bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir ‘The Shoebox Bible’. More about Alan Bradley