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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few years ago I was going through a rough patch in my professional and personal life. I wanted to close the door and read, read, read myself back to normality.
Search and ye shall read
The trouble was I hadn’t seriously knuckled down and read a well-written book for a long time. I felt distanced from northern hemisphere writers (what’s snow?) and never really got the whole Scandi-noir buzz. Several genres, including the ambiguous literary fiction, didn’t hold my interest. I felt I needed comedy, something I could relate to and laugh at. Also I wanted characters and places I understood, and possibly had visited.
Readers of my blog will know I like quirky writing so, rather than reach for self-help books, I began to search for way-out humour on the library shelves. Unfortunately back then humorous Australian writers were thin on the ground so I hung around the bookshops until the next Thursday Next dilemma or Ankh-Morpork debacle was published. Yes, Messrs Fforde and Pratchett saved my sanity with their insane books.
From comedy to crime
After trial and error, and iffy recommendations from friends, I discovered Australian crime writers. The good old Aussie turn-of-phrase drags me in every time. I know the cities, the vast distances between those cities, the weather, the beaches, the Great Dividing Range, the smell of gum trees and especially the food. Our food is a mish-mash of many cultures but in there somewhere is real Aussie tucker and nobody does a Chiko Roll or TimTam like we do. And our criminals are a bit special too.
I read in no particular order (and by no means all our contemporary crime writers) Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Leigh Redhead, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Harper, Robert G. Barrett, Honey Brown, Matthew Condon, Emma Viskic, Adrian McKinty (adopted Irishman) Candice Fox, Shane Maloney, Barry Maitland, Michael Robotham and my absolute all-time favourite, the iconic Peter Corris.
And Peter Corris came with Sydney private investigator Cliff Hardy
Peter Robert Corris (8 May 1942 – 30 August 2018) was an Australian academic, historian, journalist, biographer and novelist of historical and crime fiction. As a crime fiction writer, he was described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing”. After writing 42 books in his PI Cliff Hardy series, from 1980 to 2017, Corris announced in January 2017 that he would no longer be writing novels owing to “creeping blindness” because of type-1 diabetes and passed away the next year.
Naturally I was saddened to learn of his death but it hit me in another way. I never wrote and told him how his Cliff Hardy books lead me into the badlands and showed me that my life was all right. Well, in comparison to the criminal underworld Hardy inhabited. Despite the sleaze, the drugs, the murder, Hardy had his own set of morals, he was a good judge of character and played fair. However, he knew how to defend himself and fought hard when necessary. Forget that it’s fiction. Compared to his daily grind, I had nothing to worry about.
As Bowie said Ch-ch-ch-Changes
These Corris crime novels also documented a changing way of life through Hardy, especially the Sydney cityscape and his beloved Newtown. For nearly 40 years, semi-permanent characters came and went, and mobile phones and laptops took hold. High tech digital devices and spyware increased; electronic locks, security cameras and internet surveillance replaced skeleton keys and good old shoulder-to-the-door. I feel the loss of a metal filing cabinet, its papers viewed by torchlight in the middle of the night.
But through it all, Corris always managed to side-step technology, keeping Hardy real, doing the leg work, nailing the bad guy. His astute observations of human nature, and how he wrote plausible characters, made me feel I’d just met a crooked barrister or a smarmy crime baron.
The book on the right is one of my favourites. Recognise the bridge? These days I do read more widely but I’m missing my yearly dose of hard-boiled Hardy—to use Corris’ own description.
Below I have listed all the Cliff Hardy books even though it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the bookcovers. If you wish to check out more about each story, please visit Allen & Unwin Publishers website:
There could be reprints, anniversary issue, possible screenplay, theatre adaptation, prequel, or Grandson of Hardy for younger readers. I won’t give away the ending of the last book because I expect you to BINGE READ the complete oeuvre, then see for yourself whether or not you like Cliff Hardy’s final installment.
My sincere condolences to Jean Bedford, wife of Peter Corris, and his family.
PI Cliff Hardy book series
The Dying Trade (1980)
White Meat (1981)
The Marvelous Boy (1982)
The Empty Beach (1983)
Heroin Annie and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1984)
The Big Drop and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1985)
Make Me Rich (1985)
The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
Deal Me Out (1986)
The January Zone (1987)
The Man in the Shadows: Cliff Hardy Omnibus (1988)
Wet Graves (1991)
Beware of the Dog (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
The Reward (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can (1997)
The Black Prince (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Salt and Blood (2002)
Master’s Mates (2003)
Taking Care of Business (2004)
The Coast Road (2004)
Saving Billie (2005)
The Undertow (2007)
Appeal Denied (2008)
The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases (2008)
Open File (2009)
Deep Water (2009)
Torn Apart (2010)
Follow the Money (2011)
The Dunbar Case (2013)
Silent Kill (2014)
Gun Control (2015)
That Empty Feeling (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw (2017)
The agony of writing a synopsis! For writers who find it hard to chop their synopsis down to size, this video from Nicola, senior editor of HarperCollins Publishers, steps us through a seamless 500 word synopsis. It will grab that attention your manuscript deserves. And, yes, a synopsis does include plot spoilers.
Read why the first page of a manuscript is so important. Anna Valdinger, HarperCollins commercial fiction publisher knows – she reads a tonne of submissions every year.
Click Importance of Manuscript First Page
The Banjo Prize
HarperCollins is Australia’s oldest publisher and The Banjo Prize is named after Banjo Paterson, Australia’s first bestselling author and poet. His first collection of poems The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses was published in 1895. Who’s up for 2019?
The Banjo Prize is annual and open to all Australian writers of fiction, offering the chance to win a publishing contract with HarperCollins and an advance of AU$15,000. Submit entries via HarperCollins website. Entries opened 25 March 2019 and close 5pm AEST on Friday 24 May 2019. Good luck!
Simon McDonald is a Sydney-based reader, writer and senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop. I always enjoy his book reviews. Simon writes perceptive, eloquent and up-to-the-minute appraisals which have helped me discover some great stories and I look forward to reading this book. GBW.
Molly Murn is a South Australian author and poet. She holds a Bachelor of Dance, a Masters of Creative Arts, and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University. ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ is Molly’s first novel. https://mollymurn.com
With Heart of the Grass Tree, Molly Murn cements herself as not only one of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming novelists, but a brilliant novelist of Australia.
In the South Australian author’s debut, multiple generations of a family ensconced in secrets and embroiled in personal turmoil converge on Kangaroo Island to farewell Nell, an Indigenous elder, mother and grandmother. The narrative flits between their stories, which occur in distinct time periods — the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries — and their unifying factor is Kangaroo Island, which makes the island, and its distinct landscape and indigenous population, the Ngarrindjeri people, the true protagonist of this extraordinary novel.
Lyricism empowers this tale of settlement on Kangaroo Island. Its prose is gorgeous, every page jewelled by Murn’s lyrical parlance, antithetical to the brutality of its conquest by the first settlers. Her rendering of the island’s natural beauty and it’s violent, oppressive history is…
This year’s winners have been announced at an awards ceremony on 31 January 2019.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were inaugurated by the Victorian Government in 1985 to honour Australian writing. The awards are administered by the Wheeler Centre on behalf of the Premier of Victoria.
The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction: No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador Australia)
The Prize for Fiction: The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida (Faber & Faber)
The Prize for Drama: The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver (Currency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company)
The Prize for Poetry: Tilt by Kate Lilley (Vagabond Press)
The Prize for Writing for Young Adults: Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
The Prize for Indigenous Writing: Taboo by Kim Scott (Picador Australia)
The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript: Kokomo by Victoria Hannan
People’s Choice Award: Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)
The winners of the main suite of awards – fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, writing for young adults, and the biennial Prize for Indigenous Writing – each receive $25,000. The winner of the Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript receives $15,000.
The winners of the seven award categories go on to contest the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, worth an additional $100,000. This is the single most valuable literary award in the country.
Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.
No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.
Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him. Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job. Lucrative yes, easy no.
After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich. Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot. Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.
The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it. And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.
Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize. And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.
There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge. Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable. Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail. A knowing man but usually one step behind.
The drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond. Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target. No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.
Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series. The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.
Wyatt Crime Series
Port Vila Blues (1995)
The Fallout (1997)
The Heat (2015)
Kill Shot (2018)
Don’t you love being on the verge of discovering a new author, that feeling of anticipating! Look at the beautiful location where romance writer Annie Seaton is holding the book launch for her latest release Whitsunday Dawn––in the Whitsunday Islands at beautiful Coral Sea Resort.
“Ecological impact, divided loyalties and the pristine beauty of the Whitsundays under threat, can mining spokesperson Olivia Sheridan expose the truth in time?” Author Annie Seaton brings to life a new era of romance and eco-adventure. Perfect for fans of Di Morrissey and a sun-kissed tropical lifestyle.
As WP readers will know, I’m not usually a romance reader but I’m rather taken by the beautiful location of this all-Australian story. Watch out for my review.
On her website Annie says “I am truly blessed to live by the beach on the east coast of Australia. I am following my lifelong dream of writing, and discovering that readers love reading my stories as much as I love writing them is awesome. It’s what keeps me at my desk each day when the garden and the beach are calling to me!
“You can read of the topical human and social issues I explore in Kakadu Sunset, Daintree and Diamond Sky. My latest release with Harlequin Mira WHITSUNDAY DAWN (August 2018) is an historical/contemporary story set in the Whitsunday Islands in 1943 and 2017.
“My inspiration comes from the natural beauty of our Australian landscapes and I’m passionate about raising awareness of the need to preserve the pristine areas that surround us.”
Will you be in the vicinity of the wonderful Whitsundays? Visit the launch of Annie Seaton’s newest book WHITSUNDAY DAWN being held on Friday 7 September 2018 at Coral Sea Resort Jetty, Airlie Beach, Queensland. A welcome drink then cash bar will be available with complimentary gourmet nibbles and canapes from the Coral Sea Resort kitchen. RSVP via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AnnieSeatonAuthor/
It’s Henry Lawson’s birthday today. Writer, poet and balladist, Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (17 June 1867–2 Sept 1922) redefined and immortalised early Australian life despite suffering many hardships including deafness. Along with his contemporary Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Henry Lawson is among the best-known Australian bush poets and fiction writers of the Colonial period. He was the son of the poet, publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson.
A highly charged and deeply honest memoir, ‘Reckoning’ combines research into the life of assassin and Polish World War II survivor Zbigniew Szubanski , father of Australian actress Magda Szubanski, and Magda herself as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s legacy and forge her own career within the world of television and movies. This absorbing, eloquently written book contains remarkable revelations of wartime espionage, emotional family ties and facing the truth, and I was enthralled to the very last page.
First published in 2016, ‘Reckoning’ is Magda’s debut novel, and courageously written. I must admit my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, she’s brave putting that in writing’ but it made me love this book even more. Definitely a five-star read! Magda relates one of those true stories from childhood to adulthood which hits the right cord with just about everyone. We’ve had similar feelings and domestic issues and career changes and sexuality debates and, yes, sadly, the father we got to understand a little too late.
‘Reckoning’ has gone on to bigger things but here’s the first results: Winner Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016 Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 Winner Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 Winner Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016 Winner Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016 Winner Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016 Shortlisted Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 Shortlisted Dobbie Literary Award, 2016 Shortlisted National Biography Award, 2016
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Magda Szubanski is one of Australia’s best known comedy performers. She lives in Melbourne and began her career in university revues before writing and appearing in a number of comedy shows. Magda created the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV series ‘Kath and Kim’. She performs in theatre productions and has acted in movies – notably ‘Babe’ and ‘Babe Pig in the City’ – and currently ‘Three Summers’ directed by Ben Elton and ‘The BBQ’ directed by Stephen Amis.
Millie knows that everything must die and keeps a record of assorted creatures in her Book Of Dead Things. Sadly someone close to her becomes a dead thing too, which causes her mother to do something wrong.
Since Agatha’s husband died, she never leaves the house and shouts at people in the street as they walk by her window. Until she sees Millie across the street.
Karl has lost his beloved wife and just moved into an aged care home. He feels bereft as he watches his son leave. Then he has a light-bulb moment and walks out in search of something.
All three are lost until they find each other and embark on a very unusual journey of discovery, reconciliation and acceptance. A book with sadness, humour and eye-opening revelations as seven year old Millie Bird, eighty-two year old Agatha and eighty-seven year old Karl slowly but surely reveal what lies deep within their hearts.
Lost And Found is the debut novel of Australian author Brooke Davis which caused a literary sensation at the London Book Fair and sparked a bidding war overseas. Davis, who suffered a deeply personal loss, said her ideas coalesced during a long train trip to Perth “A lot of the plot in my novel is based around that trip across the Nullarbor,” Davis said. “The whole novel I think became a process of me trying to work through that loss.”
It is not written in the conventional manner, it does take a couple of pages to assimilate, but then this is half the book’s charm. The funny bits are outrageous, the sorrowful times brought tears to my eyes especially reading about the older characters, and the outback backdrop is superb. Millie is a delight throughout the road trip, a trip which is illogically undertaken yet surprisingly exciting.
The trio endure a bumpy ride but it comes out loud and clear that You Are Never Too Late and You Are Never Too Old. I give it 5-star rating and hope you agree.
Over the years I have read a handful of self-help books aimed at emerging authors, including the iconic Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and famous memoir On Writing by Stephen King, but recently I came across these two quite diverse publications which really gave me a nudge in the right direction.
“Use Your Words” by Catherine Deveny 2016 published by Black Inc. “See Me Jump” by Jen Storer 2016 published by Girl And Duck.
Catherine Deveny’s book is written in plain straight forward language, and she gets right to the heart of the matter. There’s no place to hide once the momentum starts rolling. Be warned, this book is for adults. Catherine uses impolite language and bad manners to push you forward, sometimes against your will. Then you see that glowing light at the end of the tunnel, er, book. Well worth reading this boot-camp style book.
Jen Storer’s book is slim yet informative with small sketches dotted through the pages. Her style is easy, encouraging, friendly and humorous. It’s a book for adults but those with a yearning to write good books for children. Note the chapter 4 heading “Don’t let adults fix your character’s problem” which is a must for kids literature. Many of Jen’s sentences make memorable quotes, my favourite “Be brave. Don’t wait to create.”
“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning. Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.
The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney NSW. Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud. Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.
Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values. And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time. Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight. But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival. He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating. This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.
My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 42-book series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story. Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.
While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”. They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author. For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy. The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life. Corris didn’t pass on his diabetes, however, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.
Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.
Fast forward to future ‘Spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century. To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate. The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion. Although he still holds a torch for his late ex-wife Cyn, there’s even grandchildren. And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.
Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage. When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.
POSTSCRIPT: Peter Corris, journalist, historian and author of the best-selling Cliff Hardy detective series, died on 30 August 2018, aged 76. Over 37 years, from 1980 to 2017, Corris wrote 42 Cliff Hardy novels making it the longest running series in Australia. The final installment is titled ‘Win, Lose or Draw’.