A balmy Friday night with a nip in the air because it’s still winter, and it seemed everyone wanted to head in the same direction we were going. The bus was late, the traffic was jammed and lunch seemed a long time ago. Worst of all, we were most certainly going to arrive late for the author talk. And what a prestigious author!
The bus finally got us into town (or more accurately the Central Business District) to attend a Brisbane City Council Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence Series author talk in City Hall.
Ready to race… off the bus, through the ornate vestibule, up in the lift, straight through the door…
And there she was—Ann Cleeves author of Vera and Perez fame. She sat in a relaxed pose on the stage, speaking calmly, eloquently and humorously to the 300-plus audience seated in the ancient Ithaca Room. On such uncomfortable chairs with bad sightlines. But we were enthralled.
The host may have read Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope crime novels but his inept questions did nothing to ruffle her calm and considered replies. Such aplomb! Especially when the floor was opened for general question time. Needless to say she held the audience of besotted readers in the palm of her authorial hand.
It was fascinating to learn how book-Vera came into being, based on real women the author had known, and also the rapport she has with ITV actor Brenda Blethyn aka Vera. Later I discovered Ann was awarded an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours List “for services to Reading and Libraries.”
When the event drew to a close, people filed out into the foyer, clutching their favourite book for signing or to buy the latest book for a signature on the pristine flyleaf. The book signing queue was jam-packed with readers nattering about their favourite characters.
I purchased two books The Rising Tide and Raven Black (see photos) but the line was too long and too slow for me to consider waiting while my stomach grumbled so loudly.
Across mosaic hand-cut floor tiles, through the huge doors and outside into King George Square where the city was an evening fairyland of lights presenting countless alluring restaurants and eateries. My companion and I compared notes as we ate dinner, having purchased different books from the series. Then it was time to return to the suburbs.
Standout book quote so far, page 40, Joe Ashworth says of the deceased “They didn’t find a note. He was a writer. You’d think he’d want to leave a few words for his friends.”
Two accidental milestones: As of August 2022, the number of my blog posts is 499, one digit off the magic marker of 500. This post will click it over to 500 posts. Ironically, and surprisingly for me, I am also one number off my current Book Reviews tally of 99. This will click over to 100 book reviews when I read and review Ann Cleeves latest novel The Rising Tide and discover what crimes DCI Vera Stanhope has sorted out this time.
When I read a good book by an author whose work I always enjoy, it is hard for me to express my thoughts without going overboard so I tried to apply self-restraint with Garry Disher’s ‘Consolation’ and hope I convey my message. For the full impact, I suggest you read the first two books but Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen conveys his job and lifestyle with great clarity so this story can stand alone.
Constable Hirsch does a huge amount of driving given the vast distances of his country South Australian beat. He is calm, diplomatic, intelligent, sensitive, and has a lovely woman in his life. Several threads run throughout the story; Hirsch gets stalked, good characters die, ordinary people are murdered and baddies steal money. Not as mundane as it sounds. For starters who are the goodies and who are the baddies? There is more going on than I first thought.
This story is populated by a fair amount of unstable people, at the very least people with problems. The Ayliffe family are atop the big-problems tree. They snake in and out of the plot, stealing from homesteads, frightening farmers, bent on their own personal rampage. Hirsch moves ever forward, ever thinking, trying to stay one step ahead, or picking up the pieces after another tragic crime has been committed.
Hirsch knows the land better than the city cops sent to help in their black SUVs with matching attitudes. A high wind chill factor features throughout, rain turns the roads to mud and cars bog, naturally conditions are not conducive to high speed chases. Also, someone is nicking knickers from ladies clotheslines, and elaborate extortion schemes are in play with devastating repercussions, each investigated by Hirsch with Redruth police back-up.
There are tough themes: child abuse, parental negligence, childcare system. The abuse of the elderly, not so much physical but extortion, dishonesty and controlling behaviour. The harsh reality of criminal behaviour, and its impact on Constable Hirsch’s rural beat, is an immersive experience. He combats the weather on his early morning foot patrols. Quote “There was ice everywhere on Thursday morning. Hirsch tramped the streets of Tiverton in the saw-teeth of another frost.”
Author Disher’s rural characters have personality, and naturally not all are good honest citizens so it is gratifying when they are caught. The master of Hirsch’s POV, Garry Disher is also the master of the neat transition. Instead of slowing down the action, backstory came when “As Hirsch reconstructed it later…” so important, so human.
An absorbing story with everything unfolding in an almost lyrical flow of actions and emotions, and a series well worth reading.
“Consolation” Format: Paperback Extent: 400pp Text publication date: 3rd November 2020 ISBN: 9781922330260 AU Price: $32.99 NZ Price: $38.00 Categories: Crime & Thriller, Rural Police, Australian, Fiction https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/consolation
Happily I only spied one typo on page 368 when “Vikki Bastian, who’d had been on her knees flicking…” GBW.
Author Info: Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. He has won multiple German Crime Prize and Ned Kelly awards, including the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. To quote from Text Publishing interview “The dryness, the heat, the sense of space and the sparseness of human presence inform every page and drive every action. It is a quintessentially Australian setting for a quintessentially Australian subgenre of crime – it’s been dubbed ‘rural noir’ and Garry Disher is one of its pioneers. In fact, without him, it might not exist at all. Farming country in the mid-north of South Australia is where Garry Disher grew up, and although he hasn’t lived there for years, the area still holds a special place in his heart…”
Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight. His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck. She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action. Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption. Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”
Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life. She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him. And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…” The ship had sailed on that one. In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.
Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster. She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going. I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!” Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings. Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men.
Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.
“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book. Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions. The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend. Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers. I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.
Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me. Covid-19 was not over when I read the book. At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions. “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.
Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney. There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected. On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.
Sammi Willis is a police officer, written by a genuine police officer, so I figured the action would be authentic and the plot would be an absorbing and gripping read. It is all that and more! Told in real time, I counted the logbook minutes and followed police procedure to find out where Sammi had gone. She left a suburban pub alone at night and accepted a lift back to her girlfriend’s house but never arrived. The tension is controlled until gradually the stress levels rise and events ramp up: Sammi hasn’t contacted her partner or family and misses her work shift. It doesn’t take much to realise that something is very wrong.
Meanwhile, the reader has access to the other side of the story––Sammi’s ordeal. It is hard to describe what she goes through without taking some of the element of fear away for potential readers. Sammi is made powerless in the hands of a brutal man who has killed before. She knows she must fight cleverly to save her life, but without proper clothing, food or knowledge of her bushland location, she faces an uphill battle to survive. Every painful step Sammi takes, every thought and emotion is totally believable. She goes through bouts of logic and hallucination while the armed madman follows her progress on his trail bike.
Waiting back at Angel’s Crossing, Sammi’s partner Gavin and her friend Candy are distraught and not coping well, but Criminal Investigation Branch reinforcements arrive in the form of go-getter Janine Postlewaite. That’s all I am going to say, except read this book and appreciate excellent Australian crime writing. There are two books which follow this one, I have read “The Twisted Knot” and will soon read “An Unwatched Minute”. J. M. Peace highlights just how good, and how different, Aussie writers are at setting the scene with strong characters and electrifying content. I was hooked from beginning to end.
Book 2—Review ‘The Twisted Knot’ by J M Peace
Written by a real police officer, gritty and unashamedly Australian, this story has twists and turns I did not see coming. The big question is ‘Who committed what crime?” and at first I thought I knew, but the plot had a surprise in store. A police procedural with no gimmicks, no generic dialogue but plenty of believable characters and a nasty bundle of suspects. Constable Samantha (Sammi) Willis of Angel’s Crossing police station is in the thick of the action, handling vengeful townsfolk when paedophile rumours surface, while privately juggling her shaky marriage.
Sammi is also recovering from a near death experience with a maniac who killed for fun (see “A Time to Run” the first Sammi book by J. M. Peace) but she is ably supported by her colleagues, particularly by-the-book Bob. Gradually she gets back into routine and Sammi leaves the front desk to attend a call-out. It turns into a gruesome find in a farmhouse shed. The identity and cause of death is in doubt and Terry Cousens, a Plain Clothes Constable, takes the lead rein, eager for a quick promotion.
Fortunately Sammi knows the rural town and handles proceedings well, but Terry does not. He also has an interesting run-in with Jeremy from Forensics. The police detective work is substantial, and the daily routine of a police station is well portrayed. Nothing hit-and-miss, everything is methodical and eventually the clues and forensic samples compile a clear picture of what happened. Or do they? The reader gets snippets, sometimes from wives and mothers, and sometimes from an unknown narrator but I found it hard to pick a culprit.
Naturally, in this type of crime novel there are disturbing scenes, paedophilia and swearing. However, I think that J. M. Peace has hit the right note. It would be great to see her get more international recognition. I think she has the potential to grow a following like Garry Disher. With Hirsch in rural South Australia, there could be someone like Sammi in rural Queensland with the bonus of Peace’s insider knowledge. I’ve read “A Time to Run” and I’m keen to read “An Unwatched Minute” a recent book.
Book 3—‘An Unwatched Minute’ by J M Peace
My review is yet to come, but here are excerpts taken from the J. M. Peace author website:
‘An Unwatched Minute’ goes behind the scenes of a small police station in the picturesque town of Tannin Bay.
When Constable Krista Danaher is transferred to the picturesque town of Tannin Bay she hopes it may help her gain much needed confidence in her new profession. She’s pleased when Senior Constable Malachi ‘Mort’ Morten takes her under his wing, both professionally and personally. But within days, a man has died in the watch house whilst in her care, triggering an intensive police investigation. It becomes apparent that not everyone is telling the truth and the gap between what happened and what the investigation can prove widens. The family of the dead man do whatever they can to make sure someone is held accountable. The police response will have far-reaching consequences on the small police station and the people who work there.
‘An Unwatched Minute’ is a gripping and realistic thriller, which shines a light on the grey spot where truth and justice meet.
An avid reader and writer from an early age, J. M. Peace wanted to be a writer. So she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year… so she took a complete change of direction and became a police officer. Over the past twenty years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.
An award-winning author, Jay lives on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel… You can connect with Jay on Facebook at JM Peace Author, Twitter at @jmpeaceauthor, Goodreads at JM Peace, and her blog ‘Cops and Novels’.
NOTE: ‘A Time To Run’ was published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 2015. The sequel ‘The Twisted Knot’was released on July 2016. ‘A Time To Run’ was translated into German as ‘Die Hatz’ and Spanish as ‘La Cacería’. Standalone novel ‘An Unwatched Minute’ was released on Amazon/Kindle on May 2019.
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)