J.M. Peace Aussie Cop Crime Writer

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Book 1—Review ‘A Time to Run’
by J M Peace

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. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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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.

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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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

An Unwatched Minute Bookcover J M Peace

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.


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Author Info

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.

The Thickness of Real Books

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which is the Thickest Book of All? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020
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.

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which is the Best Book of All? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020
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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


SYNOPSIS

“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 . . .”

Star Fish 02Hachette “A breathtaking, labyrinthine epic, ‘Troubled Blood’ is the fifth Strike and Robin novel and the most gripping and satisfying yet.”
https://www.hachette.com.au/robert-galbraith/troubled-blood

I guess if you can say “labyrinthine” you’ll have no worries reading this book. GBW.

‘The Finisher’ by Peter Lovesey

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.

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Do you think you could run this marathon? https://bathhalf.co.uk/race-info/

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. 

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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.

Nothing like running a hot bath after running the Bath Half Marathon.

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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

Poetry Clipart 08Peter (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.

Inspector Carlyle ‘The Circus’ by James Craig

Not so much a circus as a train.  Or a circus on a train.  Not a speeding train, not the Orient Express, not even a suburban train.  This book is a fully loaded interstate train heading inexorably towards a broken bridge over a river.  Along the way, passengers are jostled around, some jump out the doors, most get drunk in the dining carriage, several are angry and the rest are bemused.

Inspector John Carlyle is the most bemused of them all

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This series has an arresting array of bookcovers

I love a criminal book, you can comment hard!

Somewhere along a distant track I had stopped reading James Craig’s Inspector Carlyle series and this fourth book refreshed my memory.  It contains such a high level of macho rubbish, female exploitation and smarmy politics that it is well past the read-by date.

It is astounding that the book doesn’t run off the rails with the ludicrous amount of murders

If Inspector Carlyle didn’t have off-sider Joe Szyszkowski and other sensible police personnel to back him up, he would still be floundering for answers at the end of the ill-fated journey.  Maybe he’s on the wrong train?  He gets cranky and often causes ‘accidents’ to himself and others due to his own dullness.  Yes, he gets bashed up but never thinks his nemesis and ugly thug Trevor Miller knows where he lives – operative words ‘never thinks’.  Miller is now the Prime Minister’s security adviser and totally out of control.

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When it comes to using high-end brand names, from beer to clothes, watches to furniture and a plethora of cafés, this story takes the cake.  Or biscuit if you are Carlyle who pays more attention to topping up his blood sugar levels and imbibing strong coffee than policing.  The ending will have you spluttering in your coffee, it is beyond contrived.

 

Published in 2013, the political issues and phone tapping scandal is old.  The dialogue is old, most characters give a neutral “Hm” when asked to respond.  There are too many hands placed on arms, too many raised eyebrows; and the plentiful white males POV often switches to an omnipotent narrator.

For me, the best character is the City of London

Without alcohol the stratagem would flounder, trim the sexual abuse and the chapters would be less, without repeat paragraphs like Carlyle whining about the declining standards of UK newspapers this book would be blessedly shorter.  And without packing in umpteen suspects from the Prime Minister to residents of greater London, this whole book would not have dragged on and could have been more effective.

Good grief, there are over 9 more books…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilPublisher synopsis

https://www.hachette.com.au/james-craig/the-circus

“When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.

Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller.  A former police officer turned security adviser to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands.  Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position – having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle he is not prepared to slip up again.”

Review ‘You Yet Shall Die’ by Jennifer Barraclough

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Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved.  A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.

Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening.  She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day.  A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news.  This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.

How well did she know her father?  What was the cause of her mother’s death?  Is Nicky really who she says? 

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The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view.  Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways.  The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.

Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens.  Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.”  I agree, but she is a great character.  I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.

Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action.  Poor Dunstan goes off the rails.  A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night.  I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries.  One more shocking than the other.

Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.IMG_20200417_133141

For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged.  Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time.  I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.

The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames.  It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.”  A perfect remedy.

Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Cat Black and White 04AUTHOR PROFILE

Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novelsnon-fiction books and a blog.  Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.

After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years.  Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.

Jennifer’s new novel You Yet Shall Die and all her book publications like Wellbeing of Writers can be found at Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk   Smashwords.com  and other online retailers.


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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book.  I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”
—GBW.


Cat Drawing Guttenburg Project

FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35450/35450-h/35450-h.htm
The Project Gutenberg eBook ofOur Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume.  Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them.  Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.

Review ‘Peace’ by Garry Disher

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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.

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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.

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I enjoyed the touches of wry humour and Christmas festivities including Hirsch’s role as 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!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:
Garry Disher Australian Crime Author 03Garry 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.

Garry Disher  https://garrydisher.com/
List of books  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/d/garry-disher/

TRIVIA:  Redruth Gaol exists in Burra, South Australia, but author Garry Disher could possibly have named Tiverton after a homestead on the Yunta Creek or the town of Riverton in South Australia.

Redruth Burra South Australia

Review ‘The Elsinore Vanish’ by Joanna Baker Book Two

Joanna Baker The Elsinore Vanish Bookcover 2019

The prologue is dramatic.  A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash.  Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.

Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives.  Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer.  The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder.  The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense.  Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.

Joanna Baker Australian Author Dappled Light Through Leaves 02
Sunshine dappled leaves

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.

Beechworth Shire Town Hall Victoria
Beechworth Town Hall

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.

Beechworth MayDayHills Mental Asylum Victoria 01
Mayday Hills Asylum

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!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019Joanna 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.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review ‘Devastation Road’ by Joanna Baker Book One

Joanna Baker Devastation Road Bookcover 2019

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.

Yackandandah Bakery Victoria
Yackandandah Bakery

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.

Yackandandah Creek Victoria
Yackandandah Creek

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.

Joanna Baker Yackandandah Motor Garage
Yackandandah Motor Garage

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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward    


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019

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.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review ‘The Man in the Water’ by David Burton

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.

Coal Mining Coal TruckThe 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, 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.

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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.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

David Burton Writer and Playwright
David Burton, Author and Playwright

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.

Visit http://www.daveburton.com.au/

Booktopia https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-man-in-the-water-david-burton/book/9780702262524.html

‘Dead Man Switch’ Mystery by Tara Moss

My recent reading had been on the gloomy side so I was looking forward to a rollicking read—the first thing I noticed in ‘Dead Man Switch’ was the initial lack of thrills and spills although they do make an appearance in the final chapters.

Tara Moss hints that protagonist Billie Walker, private inquiry agent, has a wild past but she seems a bit too reined-in for someone with such a pedigree, her father was a former policeman turned PI and she inherited his business.  Even the business relationship between Billie and her ex-soldier assistant Samuel Baker seems flat, more diligence than derring-do, and similarly from starchy DI Hank Cooper from Central Police.

Regardless, I launched into ‘Dead Man Switch’ with high hopes and discovered Tara Moss has written a great book for the novice crime reader.  Loaded with adjectives and story recapping, this mystery novel is a nice entry point for those graduating from cosy crime into something slightly more improper.

Fashion Women 1940 Clothes Coat Fur Wrap

There are a lot of people draping themselves around the 1940s Sydney scene.  There’s a knack to letting characters unfold, and piling them all in the front of the book slowed the action for me.  First up we meet stoic lift operator John Wilson and then Mrs Lettie Brown of Brown & Co Fine Furs visiting Billie’s agency asking for help to find her missing son Adin.  Business is slow, money is tight, Billie takes the case.

Somebody is spying on Billie from afar, while chunks of author research are on show; the stolen generations via quiet Shyla; WWII atrocities; the fur trade; Sydney nightclubs; Billie’s mother Baroness Ella von Hooft and her lady’s maid Alma representing a dying aristocracy—all jostling in a narrative where deployment of the five senses wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would more showing less telling.

Is Billie glamorous?  I did not conjure her, as did a Greek café owner, looking like US film star Ava Gardner (above).

Fashion Women 1940 Two Trench CoatsBillie is indirectly responsible for four deaths, although she herself does hang by a thread in one dire situation.  She breaks the law, a rather humorous chapter involving her zany mother, and she bribes men with an Australian shilling.  It’s hard to believe that when they were phased out in 1966 a shilling was worth 10 cents.  But in 1940s, one shilling could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk so that’s breakfast sorted.

The Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains makes an appearance (below) with a corny filmscript car chase.  Was this due to the writing, editing or my longing for a more unpredictable encounter?  Billie is allowed to make mistakes to further the plot but one of them was transparent and I was disappointed in her naivety.  Oh well, it is crime fiction after all.

With a view to a series, this first book is a light read with tasty clothes and much eyebrow-raising and head tilting.  I sincerely hope Book 2 ups-the-ante.  In the meantime, you will learn what to do with Fighting Red, the meaning of ‘dead man switch’ and discover what happens to young Adin Brown.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Fashion Women Dead Man Switch Tara Moss 2019 NOTE This debut Billie Walker Mystery may also be titled ‘The War Widow’ due to Billie’s photojournalist husband missing, presumed dead.

VISIT AUTHOR TARA MOSS FOR A FEAST OF BOOKS AND BACKGROUND TO HER LIFE https://taramoss.com/

Among her other books Tara Moss has also written
Makedde Vanderwall
1. Fetish (1999)
2. Split (2002)
3. Covet (2004)
4. Hit (2006)
5. Siren (2009)
6. The Assassin (2012)

Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains NSW 02
HYDRO EXPRESS DAY TRAIN The NSW Rail Museum and Hydro Majestic Hotel have partnered to create a unique scenic day trip featuring vintage train travel and afternoon High Tea at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia. Upon arrival at Medlow Bath Station, you will be guided on a short walk to the beautifully restored Hydro Majestic Hotel and the Wintergarden Room where High Tea will be served on three-tiered silver stands and consist of petite pastries, finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones served with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, accompanied by freshly brewed specialty teas and coffees. An optional complimentary history tour of the Hydro Majestic Hotel will take place following your High Tea sitting. Two dates Saturday 23rd or Sunday 24th November 2019 https://www.hydromajestic.com.au/events/hydro-express

Louise Candlish ‘Our House’ Book Review

Quote “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he was psychopathically charismatic or anything like that.  He didn’t set out to use his powers for evil.  More likely his powers were no match for the evil he chanced upon.” Chapter 34, Fi’s Story >1:59:07

That quotation from Bram Lawson’s wife Fiona appears to be a fair assessment of her husband’s character but is it accurate?  Bram made one faulty decision which started the ball rolling over and over until it rolled into a brick wall, and the wall started to topple.

The unforced yet headlong pace of this novel has to be read to be understood.  It is full-on right from the opening line: “London, 12.30 p.m. She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.”

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Author Louise Candlish has the knack of subverting expectations, making her characters do things I hadn’t anticipated, and making them believable.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in a progression of events at 91 Trinity Avenue in the London suburb of Alder Rise where property values are in the millions.

In this transfixing drama of house fraud and so much more, the main players are Bram and Fiona; their two young sons; would-be homeowners David and Lucy Vaughan; neighbour Merle; Mike and Wendy; the website of crime podcast The Victim.

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Told by Fiona (Fi) and Bram, their retrospective sides of the story nearly overlap yet never quite converge, building a strong sense of unease.  With foreboding I followed their newly separated, and prickly, domestic rituals with bird’s nest custody arrangements.  I almost shouted at the book a couple of times—I can’t reveal why—as deception and indiscretion insinuated themselves into the story.

Woven through the redolent London background are family moments, some more heart-wrenching than others, before a nasty turn of events and the final dénouement.  While the catastrophic narrative honour goes to Bram, the overarching theme is home ownership and who legally owns the house.  Apparently it is, or was, a possibility that this kind of deed transfer could happen.

“Our House” is the best crime book I’ve read this year, well crafted and written with an ending which sends out shock waves.  If you like incomparable award-winning psychological thrillers, I urge you to read this one.

Five Star Rating Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


About the Author:

Louise Candlish UK Author 2019Louise Candlish is the author of eleven previous novels, including “The Sudden Departure of the Frasers”, “The Swimming Pool” and the international bestseller “Since I Don’t Have You”.  Louise studied English at University College London and worked as an advertising copywriter and art book editor before writing fiction.  She lives in South London with her husband and teenage daughter.  “Those People” is her next book.
Author website http://www.louisecandlish.com/

I also recommend author and WordPress reviewer Rachel McLean
https://rachelmclean.com/book-review-our-house-by-louise-candlish-a-gripping-psychological-thriller/

There are perceptive book club questions in a Reader’s Guide at the end of “Our House”.