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.

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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.

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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”.