Three Things #7

THING ONE  Reading—The Chain by Adrian McKinty
THING TWO  Looking—A Lemon in Disguise
THING THREE  Thinking—Don’t Rush the Little Wild Ramblers


THING ONE—READING—The Chain by Adrian McKinty—

The Chain took me by surprise.  I had no idea what the title referred to until nice normal cancer patient Rachel O’Neill turns into a desperate, frenzied, tigress of a woman ready to kill to protect her cub Kylie.

Adrian McKinty has written 14 books and I’ve read them all, so I know he can write ‘other stuff’.  Guns, cops, drugs and tricky, desperate situations.  But never with the strong emotion which The Chain evoked in me.

The sequence of events is based on real bandits who kidnap people and hold them to ransom until their families pay to have them released.  Not very nice, and neither is what happens to Rachel and Kylie.  This sophisticated version of The Chain involves snatching a child and holding them prisoner to save your own child who has been captured and the next person snatches a child and holds them prisoner until their child is released, etc…with brutal consequences for broken links.

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Hachette Australia bookcover 2019

The winners in all of this are The Chain initiators who demand that huge sums of money be paid into their off-shore account otherwise they will force the family to kill your child.  The fear, panic and high stress levels are well realised and the pressure applied to Rachel and her ex-army drug addicted brother-in-law Pete (he goes into Bruce Willis mode) never lets up.

Half way through the plot, things take a sharp u-turn (Australian version is chuck-a-youie) but the reader has to trust the writer to follow-through.  Trust him I did.  And the result was definitely worth it.  As always, McKinty writes in his own unique style.  There are warnings of social media over-exposure which ring true and even though this suspense thriller is set well and truly on American soil, it holds a universal truth ‘Watch over your children’.

A poetic excerpt from The Chain, Chapter 40, Sunday 11.59 p.m.
“She merges with the traffic.
The highway hums.  The highway sings.  The highway luminesces.
It is an adder moving south.
Diesel and gasoline.
Water and light.
Sodium filament and neon.
Interstate 95 at midnight. America’s spinal cord, splicing lifelines and destinies and unrelated narratives.
The highway drifts.  The highway dreams.  The highway examines itself.
All those threads of fate weaving together on this cold midnight.”
Author Adrian McKinty 2019

WordPress link to my previous post reviewing McKinty’s Rain Dogs.
I am currently wrestling with a Goodreads book review.


THING TWOLOOKING—A Lemon in Disguise—

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Saw this lemon doing undercover surveillance in an abandoned fruit bowl. He looked a bit out of place with his onion skin hair.

THING THREETHINKING—Don’t Rush the Little Wild Ramblers—

This beautiful quote from Wilder Child Nicolette Gowder struck a cord with me.  I thought about young family members who were forever picking up small objects and bringing them home after school.  Everything was of interest when out walking, items had to be investigated for smoothness, brightness, weight or lightness.  The best treasures were those which once were alive, like a crab claw, rat skull or insect exoskeleton.

I thought about my mother who used to point out the delicate things in nature, things which tend to get overlooked.  I inherited her spy-eye for detail especially seed pods.  She was more of a beachcomber…but always putting those glistening seashells back where she found them Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Wilder Child The Dawdlers The Inquisitive Ones
Nicolette Gowder nature-connected parenting https://wilderchild.com/ and blog Sweet Breathing https://sweetbreathing.com/blog/

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08One post in three parts, Reading Looking Thinking, a neat idea started by blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley. Check out Book Jotter her informative, interesting and book-related website!

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.”

London Terrace Houses 03
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.

London Terrace Houses 05

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”.

Peter Corris Crime Writer Cliff Hardy Crime Fighter

Peter Corris 01
The final Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

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.

Peter Corris 04And 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.

Peter Corris 02

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:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris

But—do authors and their books really die?

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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


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)
O’Fear                          (1990)
Wet Graves                 (1991)
Aftershock                  (1992)
Beware of the Dog    (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
Casino                          (1994)
The Reward                (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can  (1997)
The Black Prince         (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Lugarno                        (2001)
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)
Comeback                     (2012)
The Dunbar Case         (2013)
Silent Kill                      (2014)
Gun Control                 (2015)
That Empty Feeling    (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw     (2017)

Peter Corris 03
The first Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

Sisters in Crime 25th Scarlet Stiletto Awards

The 25th Scarlet Stiletto Awards have been launched – with a body or two in the library – and I have reblogged the exciting news:

Sisters in Crime Australia’s 25th Scarlet Stiletto Awards were launched by Dr Angela Savage at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Library on 27 April, 2018. Almost $10,000 is on offer in prize money.

The event included dramatic readings of three winning “body in the library” stories – “Jane” by Narrelle M Harris (read by Jane Clifton), “Caught on Camera” by Jenny Spence (read by Susanna Lobez) and “Brought to Book” by Kath Harper (read by Leigh Redhead).

Dr Savage (below), the 2011 shoe winner and now Director of Writers’ Victoria, declared the awards “a milestone for Australian crime – at least of the literary persuasion”.

The awards, she said, had “spring-boarded the careers of many writers, including myself. To date, 3084 stories have been entered with 23 Scarlet Stiletto Award winners –including category winners – going on to have novels published.

“Like many of Sisters in Crime’s best ideas, it sprang from a well-lubricated meeting in St Kilda when the convenors debated how they could unearth the female criminal talent they were convinced was lurking everywhere.

“Once a competition was settled on, it didn’t take long to settle on a name – the scarlet stiletto, a feminist play on the traditions of the genre. The stiletto is both a weapon and a shoe worn by women. And of course, the colour scarlet has a special association for us as women. And they were right – talent is lurking everywhere, sometimes in the most unlikely places!”

MASTER-175-LOGO

The success and longevity of the Awards have been hugely dependent on the generosity of Australian publishers, booksellers, the film and television industry, authors and other parties.

Sisters in Crime had been uncertain that the launch would go ahead because, at the eleventh hour, the First Prize Sponsor, Bonnier/Echo Publishing, was closed down by its overseas arm. Luckily, Swinburne University and the ever-resourceful Dr Carolyn Beasley, Acting Chair of the Department of Media and Communication, stepped into the breach.

Sisters in Crime spokesperson, Carmel Shute, said, “We were also lacking a Young Writer Award sponsor because Allen & Unwin pulled out last year after more than 20 years of sponsorship. We were chuffed to get support at the last minute from Fleurieu Consult run by South Australian member Jessie Byrne, who is researching her creative PhD exegesis on Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards for best books.”

There are two brand-new awards on offer this year: Writers Victoria Crime and Punishment Award ($660) for the story with the most satisfying retribution (the winner gets a three-month spell in prison in the guise of a studio residency at Old Melbourne Gaol) and the International Association of Forensic Linguistics (IALF) Award for Best Forensic Linguistics Story ($1000).

IALF President, Dr Georgina Heydon (left) from RMIT, told the crowd that the award was designed to foster understanding of forensic linguistics which uses a scientific approach to language analysis in legal and criminal investigations.

“Typically, a forensic linguist is engaged to analyse the authorship of an anonymous document, to determine what was said and by whom in a covert recording, to identify coercive or oppressive questioning by police, or to determine the need for an interpreter. It’s not to be confused with the analysis of hand-writing styles.”

The full list of awards is:

  • The Swinburne University Award: 1st Prize: $1500
  • The Simon & Schuster Award: 2nd prize: $1000
  • The Sun Bookshop Award: 3rd Prize: $500
  • The Fleurieu Consult Award for Best Young Writer (18 and under): $500
  • The Athenaeum Library ‘Body in the Library’ Award: $1000 ($500 runner-up)
  • International Association of Forensic Linguists Award: $1000 for Best Forensic Linguistics Story
  • The Every Cloud Award for Best Mystery with History Story: $750
  • Kerry Greenwood Award for Best Malice Domestic Story: $750
  • Writers Victoria Crime and Punishment Award: $660 (studio residency, Old Melbourne Gaol) for the Story with the Most Satisfying Retribution
  • HarperCollins Publishers Award for Best Romantic Suspense Story: $500
  • Scarlet Stiletto Award for Best Financial Crime Story: $500
  • Clan Destine Press Award for Best Cross-genre Story: $500
  • Liz Navratil Award for Best Story with a Disabled Protagonist Award: $400
  • ScriptWorks Award for a Great Film Idea: $200

Nine collections of winning stories are available from Clan Destine Press.

Closing date for the awards is 31 August 2018. Entry fee is $20 (Sisters in Crime members) or $25 (others). Maximum length is 5000 words. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Melbourne in late November.

To download an entry form, pay the entry fee and read the FAQs, click here

Sisters in Crime Awards Judith Rossell 01
Recent winners of the affiliated Davitt Women’s Crime Book Awards https://www.sistersincrime.org.au/the-davitt-awards/

Media comment: Carmel Shute, Secretary and National Co-convenor, Sisters in Crime Australia:
0412 569 356 or
admin@sistersincrime.org.au

Visit the Sisters in Crime website and sign up for their newsletter.
It would be criminal to miss out on this great opportunity!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ioan Gruffudd Stars in ‘Harrow’ Forensic Drama Series

ABCTV Harrow Ioan Gruffudd
Image courtesy of The Australian newspaper

Actor Ioan Gruffudd stars as the boat-dwelling Dr Daniel Harrow in the new TV forensic drama series ‘Harrow’ filmed in Brisbane, Australia.  The goal for this intellectual forensic drama, featuring an unorthodox and edgy forensic pathologist who lives aboard an untidy boat on the Brisbane River, was achieved by the combined talents of ABC Studios International and Hoodlum Entertainment.

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, whose recent screen credits include movie ‘Fantastic Four’, TV series ‘Liar’, ‘Forever’ and earlier ‘Hornblower’, is now 44 and says he has more life experience to get under the skin of somebody like the flawed, smart and sarcastic Dr Harrow.  Ioan, who also filmed ‘San Andreas’ in Queensland, fell in love with Brisbane, swimming with dolphins, attending theatre productions and an Ashes test cricket match at the Gabba stadium which unfortunately ended with treatment in hospital for heat stroke.

Leigh McGrath, executive producer of the 10-episode season of ‘Harrow’, says “Brisbane has got the tropical heat and humidity which I think adds a different feel to this forensic drama.  Normally they are cold, they are Scandi noir, whereas we went the opposite.”

To quote The Australian newspaper journalist Justin Burke “The pilot episode presents an exquisite personal test for Harrow: does he quit his career and sail to Bora Bora as promised with his troubled, thieving, drug-addicted daughter? Or does he heed the professional challenge of grieving father Bruce Reimers (Gary Sweet), who is begging Harrow to reopen the investigation into his daughter Olivia’s death?”
and
“In addition to the procedural, crime-of-the-week element of the show, there is an overarching mystery that we are presented with in the opening scenes. Someone is seen dusting a body with concrete and throwing it off a small boat into the Brisbane River in the middle of the night. Who and why will be revealed in good time.”

ABCTV Harrow Ioan Gruffudd 02

If you click Ioan’s name (further on) you will see video footage of ‘Harrow’ filmed around inner Brisbane.  Dr Harrow, a senior medical examiner, is based in the Queensland Institute of Forensic Medicine which in real life is the heritage-listed Brisbane Dental College near City Hall.  Postmortems are not as easy on the eye as handsome Ioan Gruffudd.

This series is like reading a crime book with my home town in the background, I love picking out familiar landmarks and wondering how the film crew recreated a gruesome scene.  The Brisbane River (Maiwar) stars but there are several familiar supporting actors to spice things up, e.g. Anna Lise Phillips, Remy Hii and Robyn Malcolm.

Keri Lee, boss of Disney’s ABC Studios Intl, is negotiating with global networks so hopefully this major drama series will be made internationally available.  Meanwhile Australian viewers can watch ‘Harrow’ on ABC1 on Fridays 8.30pm 2018 or all complete episodes on iView.

ABCTV iView LogoABCTV LogoHarrow ABCTV Crime Series 2019 02

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/harrow/
https://iview.abc.net.au/collection/harrow

Well worth watching!  And Season Two hit Australian screens in May 2019.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part Two

Recapping on my Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part One to write a punchy 500 words (or less) short story using exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, with a dog and cat as the two main characters.

I did the Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge myself – because I had just at that particular moment made up the whole idea! Apologies if some smarter person has already done this.  The following short story is my effort featuring an evening in the life of an unruly family.

You can participate in Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge in your own time by posting on your own blog.  Add your wordcount and use the name ‘Freytag’ in your catchy title.  I would love to see your work, your words or illustrations.  NO prizes, no follow-up, just the satisfaction of completing an exercise.

Let’s see what drama your dog, cat and the Pyramid created – here’s mine!

“Hey Freytag, Look What I Wrote”
DANGEROUS DINNER

The house and garden were big enough for Claudia and Doug to avoid seeing each other during daylight hours.  Evening meal times were another matter.  When Mr Owner came home at nightfall with Mrs Owner and all the young Owners, tempers flared and teeth were bared.
‘Such an uncivilised family’ Claudia thought.  She was civilised enough not to hiss and spit, even when someone trod on her tail.
‘Nice manners, nice manners,’ she purred, rubbing against various legs.  Her eyes searched for unattended food and her nose twitched at the delicious aromas from cooking pots.
Creating his own maelstrom, Doug ran in excited circles around the farmhouse-style kitchen.  He drooled on the tiles and whined hopefully at the oblivious family.  Usually Baby Owner was good for a glob or two of mashed potato.
Meanwhile, Claudia prepared to take advantage of pre-meal morsels already on the pine table.
While human mayhem raged about the room, the benefits of salad fiercely debated, she crunched her dry fish-shaped pellets and prepared her muscles for some feline action.  With legs bunched, and nice manners forgotten, Claudia was ready to spring.  A quick leap onto the chair, then up and over onto the table.
Thump!  She landed in a dish of cooked pasta.
Whoa!  The dish slid across the table with Claudia clinging on top.
It was speeding towards the edge.  Too shocked to miaow, she imagined herself crashing to the floor and thought “What a waaaste.”
The edge arrived and disappeared and she was flying off the table.
Below her, Doug leapt up and clamped his huge jaws on the rim of the dish.
Of course, the dish stopped dead, but Claudia and the pasta continued to fly across the kitchen, headed straight towards the big white bulk of the refrigerator.
Someone caught Claudia in mid-flight.  She was saved!
“Eew,” said First Teenage Owner as pasta squelched between her fingers.  Second Teenage Owner laughed.  Claudia felt cheese squash against her long, luxuriant fur and shuddered.
Doug dropped the dish and began slurping up bits of mangled pasta.  “Not wasted after all,” she thought with an angry flick of her tail.
Mr Owner praised Doug for his good catch; First Teenage Owner was praised for her quick thinking; and Claudia?  Well, Claudia was chewing on a juicy piece of steak she had snaffled from Doug’s bowl when his back was turned.
Supervision was tightened, orders were given; no fighting, no talking with mouths full, pets dine separately.
Stiff-legged with indignity and cheese, Claudia felt she had received the harshest penalty – being cleaned up by dog-breath Doug and his rough pink tongue.  Slurp!
Everyone sat down to a fine dinner and calmness descended on the kitchen.  Pasta was now Claudia’s least favourite meal but Doug grinned with satisfaction.

♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2018 
Wordcount: 462

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part One

Conceivably Gustav Freytag, novelist and playwright of the 19th century, would shake his head in wonder if he watched a 21st century movie.  His Pyramid 5-part plot structure still rings true today.

The Pyramid of Gustav Freytag (1816–1895) is seen in various formats now but the basics of drama stay the same.  He based his Pyramid on Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama and it has been copied by scholars and followed by writers ever since.


Gustav Freytag 5 part Plot Structure Pyramid

https://www.quickbase.com/articles/an-online-resource-guide-to-freytags-pyramid

 


Read a book, watch a film, or listen to someone telling a story.  Notice the pattern: an introduction, the build up, intensity peaks, a gradual resolution and the final scene.  My writing teacher demonstrated with a coathanger.  It had baubles and beads hung on it but underneath the basic structure remained firm.

I bet Herr Freytag would have a good laugh over the continued consistencies of human nature.  He wrote the novel ‘The Journalists’ (1854) which is still regarded as one of the most successful German comedies of that period.

Okay, kiddies, dust off your keyboard.  Your Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge is to write a punchy 500 words (or less) short story using exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, with a dog and cat as your two main characters.

Fighting Cat & Dog

Harder than you think?  Tip: Denouement is not the same as an epilogue.

I am going to do Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge myself – because I have just this minute made up the idea!  Apologies if some smarter person has already done this.  I will post my speculative effort under my blog heading Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge Part Two and my sub-heading ‘Hey Freytag, Look What I Wrote’.

I would love to see your work, your words or illustrations!  NO prizes, no follow-up, just the satisfaction of completing an exercise.  You can participate in Freytag’s Pyramid Challenge in your own time by posting on your own blog.  Add your wordcount and use the name ‘Freytag’ in your catchy title.

Let’s see what drama your dog, cat and the Pyramid create!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Behind the Sun’ Series by Deborah Challinor

In a dread-laden atmosphere of shocking sights and smells, the transportation of four convicts to the women’s gaol Parramatta Female Factory is as grim as their backstory.  Although hiding a terrible secret between them, these young women are resilient and struggle against the harsh conditions.

The Convict Girls four-book series written by Deborah Challinor follows four bonded female convicts Friday Woolfe, Rachel Winter, Sarah Morgan and Harriet Clarke who are shipped from London’s infamous Newgate Prison to the penal colony of Sydney Town, New South Wales, to work off their sentences.  The penalties for petty crime, like the strange new land, are unforgiving.

Set in 1832, the travails of Friday, Rachel, Sarah and Harrie jump off the page as each book tells the story from each woman’s perspective while moving the narrative forward.  Titles are Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, The Silk Thief, A Tattooed Heart.  As they work through their bond in different forms of servitude, the reader follows their friendship, the physical and mental strain, and their all-important futures.

Author Deborah Challinor skilfully expands and elaborates on their new lives (the homebody, the thief, the seamstress, the prostitute) while keeping the voice true.  She gets the more risqué messages across without unnecessary crudeness.  Her well researched, well written plots and strong supporting characters, like cruel Bella Jackson and handsome Dr James Downey, blend together to spin a gripping yarn, spiced with highs, lows, loves, laughs, drama and murder.

I love good historical fiction, this quartet is superb (look beyond the chick-lit cover art) and Deborah Challinor knows how to lure her readers.  The outstanding imagery, ripe for screen adaptation, kept me reading long after I should have turned off the light.  I strongly recommend this 5-star series and suggest reading the stories in sequence so they unfold in all their splendour.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIODeborah Challinor Author PhotoDeborah Challinor is a writer and PhD historian from Waikato in New Zealand.  She lived in Australia while researching the stories for her Convict Girls series.  The books follow four young woman transported to New South Wales for petty crimes. The character of Friday Woolfe is loosely based on her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Anstey who was caught stealing a silk handkerchief and sent out to Sydney Town on Lady Juliana, a convict ship dispatched in 1789 from England to Australia.  Deborah Challinor has written over 16 books, historical fiction and non-fiction titles. Website http://www.deborahchallinor.com/index.html

Why, Sue Grafton, Why?

Sue Grafton Bookstack

American author Sue Grafton passed away in Santa Barbara on 28 December 2017 after a two-year battle with cancer.  On hearing the sad news, millions of readers, writers and fans must have screamed “Noooo” and fallen to the ground, arms raised to the sky, wailing “Why, Sue Grafton, why?”  Well, at least I did, and that’s no lie.

Famous for her 25-book Alphabet crime series, Sue Grafton’s last Kinsey Millhone book Z will remain unwritten.  To quote her family “The alphabet stops at Y” and this has been echoed around the world.

Sue Grafton single-handedly brought me back into reading and showed me the joys of a good detective novel.  I was floundering in a bad ten years of my life where I’d lost my father and was struggling with the care of my ailing mother while battling my own ill-health when, quite out of the blue, I was given a second-hand paperback of Grafton’s book “K is for Killer”.

PI Kinsey Millhone walked into my life.  Grafton’s detective series – “H is for Homicide”, “N is for Noose”, “V is for Vengeance” and so on – transported me into a place I understood, 1980s an era I knew, yet detailed the life of a woman in a job which was so foreign, so far removed from my own experiences that I was immediately entranced.  Or as my father would have said “Caught, hook, line and sinker.”

This fortuitous state of affairs meant I had many books to read before I was up-to-date with the current publications.  Here I would like to thank my cousin Laurie who willingly sent me several paperbacks to feed my addiction.  So I read one and moved straight onto the next, graduating from that first battered paperback to hardcovers and finally e-book editions.

The major characters are unchanging; Kinsey is a private detective in California who joined the police force then left to acquire her detective licence; landlord Henry Pitts is now forever in his kitchen; gregarious Rosie; love interest Cheney Phillips and Robert Dietz.  It was fascinating watching Kinsey evolve, if that’s the right word, because in all she only advanced a couple of years and is destined to remain immortalised in her thirties.

It seems Sue Grafton did not even draft a copy of her final book.  The old adage “Leave them wanting more” is true but not the case.  Her family is adamant that although Grafton had a working title (prophetically) “Zero”, there will be no final book, no ghost writer, no movie and no happy ending – just a blank space on the bookshelf.

My condolences to her family.  The final chapter has ended for Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone RIP.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Sue Grafton Alphabet Crime Series Featuring Kinsey Millhone

  1. A is for Alibi (1982)
  2. B Is for Burglar (1985)
  3. C Is for Corpse (1985)
  4. D Is for Deadbeat (1987)
  5. E Is for Evidence (1988)
  6. F Is for Fugitive (1989)
  7. G Is for Gumshoe (1989)
  8. H Is for Homicide (1991)
  9. I Is for Innocent (1992)
  10. J Is for Judgement (1993)
  11. K Is for Killer (1994)
  12. L Is for Lawless (1995)
  13. M Is for Malice (1996)
  14. N Is for Noose (1998)
  15. O Is for Outlaw (1999)
  16. P Is for Peril (2001)
  17. Q Is for Quarry (2002)
  18. R Is for Ricochet (2004)
  19. S Is for Silence (2005)
  20. T Is for Trespass (2007)
  21. U Is for Undertow (2009)
  22. V Is for Vengeance (2011)
  23. W is for Wasted (2013)
  24. X (2015)
  25. Y is for Yesterday (2017)

‘Kitty Peck Music Hall Murder Mysteries’ Kate Griffin Book Review

London winter 1880, Limehouse, and chorus girls are disappearing from music halls in Paradise, the criminal precinct run with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious and opium addicted Lady Ginger aka The Lady.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders
Published 2013
(First book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Seventeen-year-old Kitty Peck, a seamstress at The Gaudy, is summoned by The Lady and blackmailed to perform a hair-raising act every night to uncover vital information about the missing girls.  Kitty is taunted by The Lady who withholds the truth about her family, particularly her beloved brother Joey.  Before long Kitty becomes the talk of London with her daring show and the plan begins to work.  Gradually she’s drawn into the world of high society ‘toffs’ and embroiled in depravity and murder.  With only her two friends Peggy and set painter Lucca for support, Kitty is shocked to find herself facing an adversary more horrifying than The Lady crime baron.

First of all, the pace and atmosphere is superb throughout the books.  Immediately I was right in the action and swept along on a very dark ride.  The characters evolve nicely and flesh out into interesting and tortured human beings who find themselves in rather bizarre circumstances.  They have subplots with much to hide, emotions seesaw as their personal history gradually unfolds.

There’s a heavy dose of Cockney slang which, due to an Anglophile father, I picked up quickly enough.  Some reveals are to be expected but one took me by surprise!  The novels have adult content.  However, don’t expect true romance.  It’s the Queen Victoria version of an action movie.  Grim, grimy, cold, damp London of the 19th century is a backdrop to dirty deeds done by black-hearted people and Kitty must keep her wits about her to survive.  The endings are cliff-hangers which lead into each book.

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill-Fortune
Published 2015
(Second book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

Due to spoilers, I cannot reveal too much about Book Two or Three.  Certain text in the following review has been taken from the book blurb:

London’s East End, March 1881 and Kitty Peck, a spirited but vulnerable young woman, is the reluctant heiress to Paradise, the criminal empire previously overseen by the formidable Lady Ginger aka The Lady.  Kitty is now The Lady, with all that entails; servants, buildings, stock, music halls and vicious crime barons.  Far from the colour and camaraderie of the music hall where Kitty had been working, this newfound power brings isolation and uncertainty, and a disdainful lawyer Telferman.

Desperate to reconnect with Joey, her estranged brother, Kitty travels to Paris with Lucca.  She is unable to refuse the request of a handsome stranger to take a child back to London.  Within days of their return, it’s clear she has been followed by someone, and this someone is determined to kill the child and anyone who stands in their way…starting with Kitty.

There are mesmerizing and harrowing scenes throughout this book which serve to shape Kitty and her world.  More of the secondary characters emerge and betrayal rears its ugly head.  Tension builds as Kitty nears the deadline to meet the other Barons of London, merchants, jewellers, bankers, the controlling elite who are rotten to the core. Will they break her and destroy the Paradise she has inherited?

Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow
Published 2017
(Third book in the Kitty Peck series)
A novel by Kate Griffin

London, the hot summer of 1881, and the streets of Limehouse are thick with coal smoke and opium; and Kitty Peck is choking on the ever-present bitterness of evil.  At eighteen Kitty has inherited Paradise, she is The Lady of a sprawling criminal empire on the banks of the Thames.  Determined to do things differently from the fearsome Lady Ginger, she now realises that the past casts a menacing and treacherous shadow.

Plagued by city heat, haunted by a terrible secret and facing more deaths, Kitty is stalked by a criminal league intent on humiliation and destruction; she should never go out alone.  But she’s ready to fight for the future of everyone she cares for and more.  Including journalist Sam Collins?

Always difficult to review books with clever twists and turns one cannot expose.  ‘Descriptive’ and ‘gripping’ hardly does them justice.  Sense of place, POV and clothing are beautifully transcribed.  There is one minor point I noticed when reading––there is little mention of food.  Tea and gin are drunk habitually, and champagne is used as a lever, but food is not often consumed.  No matter, they are gritty stories which had me on the edge of my seat.  While it is not an era I would like to inhabit, I can highly recommend this series with a shiny five star rating.

To be concluded in Book Four – Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows – Coming July 2019.

“Even though Paradise was riddled with rot, I reckoned I could make it a cleaner place for the poor types who came with the dirty trades. I could make them all love me, I thought.  I was wrong about that. I’ve been wrong about so much.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Griffin was born within the sound of Bow bells, making her a true-born Cockney.  She has worked as an assistant to an antiques dealer, a journalist for local newspapers and now works for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  “Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders”, Kate’s first book, won the Stylist / Faber crime writing competition and she has written other genres.  Kate’s maternal family lived in Victorian Limehouse and her grandmother told her many stories of life around the docks.  Kate lives in St Albans, north of London.

Further reading  Author Kate Griffin is interviewed by Sarah Oliver  a close look at her lifestyle and writing methods.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Rain Dogs’ by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty 04
Ulster Riot

It’s 1987 and things are still nasty in riot-torn Northern Ireland.  The Troubles in Ulster won’t go away.  A dreaded mercury tilt bomb causes a fatality in the Royal Ulster Constabulary ranks when least expected. In fact, many things happen when least expected.  The old ‘dead body in the locked room’ scenario rears its ugly head again.  The unassailable Carrickfergus Castle location is picturesque but the freaky circumstances are not.  Pretty reporter Lily Bigelow’s body is found sprawled in the snowy courtyard at the base of the castle keep.  The castle is locked.  Nobody went in and nobody came out, so what’s the deal?  The facts don’t add up and it’s a case of did she fall or was she pushed?

Northern Ireland MapWithout much to go on, DI Sean Duffy of Carrickfergus RUC uses dogged police work, video tape footage, and many repeat suspect interviews, until small pieces slowly emerge.  There is an outline to this puzzle but can it be filled in?  Convincing evidence is hard to come by.  Much in all as I love Sean, I do think he took two matters at face value even though I was shouting at him to double check.  And he does appear to be maturing, perhaps a little bit more circumspect, managing to curb his anger when insulted by hostile Larne CID Chief Inspector Kennedy at a horrific crime scene.

We are left to wonder what part Sean’s old friend and ex-cop Tony McIlroy has to play in his role as protector of the visiting Finnish delegation Mr Laakso Mr Ek & Company.  They are on a tight schedule, which involves finding a suitable factory location to manufacture Lennätin mobile phones, so these dignitaries are unhappy when Mr Laakso’s wallet is stolen.  Sean is unhappy too.  More so later when he has to interview them on the ice-road island of Hailuoto near Oulu in Finland.

The series regulars appear, solid unattractive Sergeant McCrabban and intelligent handsome DC Lawson who steals the limelight with a couple of excellent ideas.  Some of my favourite cameos are from vague Chief Inspector McArthur and major irritant Sergeant Dalziel (gotta wonder about that name) and Sean’s lady love Beth plus the ever-delightful Mrs Campbell from nextdoor, married with kids but oh-so-smouldering.  The only thing which grated on me was the dead giveaway of the chapter titles.  I like them a bit more esoteric.

It seemed to be the year for paedophilia in crime fiction; the RUC Sex Crimes Unit at Newtownabbey gets involved and Jimmy Savile puts in an appearance.  On a different note, Belfast has a visit from world heavyweight boxer The Champ, Muhammed Ali.  I do enjoy Adrian McKinty’s diversions, these little re-writings of history.  I wouldn’t class Rain Dogs as a scary thriller but in a gripping scene, Sean knew he ‘was afraid and fear releases power.  Fear is the precursor of action’.  McKinty also writes the dread and tedium of everyday life in succinct wording (without me needing grim online images) and Sean’s days are peppered with music and references.  Which incidentally are where the titles of the books are derived.

Now living in Australia, Irish-born author Adrian McKinty has again worked his magic with Sean, maybe with a little help from St Michael (or St Francis de Sales) and no doubt book six in the Sean Duffy series Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly is equally as good.  At least I hope so because I don’t think readers are ready to kiss this Carrickfergus detective goodbye just yet.  I can recommend Rain Dogs if you want to sink your canines into a distinctively styled crime novel.

Books in the Sean Duffy series:

  1. The Cold, Cold Ground 2012
  2. I Hear the Sirens in the Street 2013 – my first favourite
  3. In the Morning I’ll be Gone 2014
  4. Gun Street Girl 2015 – my second favourite
  5. Rain Dogs 2016
  6. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly 2017

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Adrian McKinty 01
The Troubles
Adrian McKinty 02
More Troubles
Adrian McKinty 03
Big Troubles

Emily Brontë Overview

Wuthering Heights Romance?

Yorkshire Country House 03
Homeward
I was a huge fan of the Brontë sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte.  Now I’m older, wiser and had a couple of love affairs, I see that their work, in particular Emily Brontë’s novel “Wuthering Heights”, reflects their own thwarted love lives.

Due to society, etiquette, the parsonage, limited opportunities for women in 1847, and through no fault of her own, Emily Brontë was greatly restricted when it came to writing about doomed male/female relationships.  To me, “Wuthering Heights” mirrors a lack of follow through, this inability to write a believable mental and physical connection between two people doesn’t come about because there’s no inherent knowledge behind it.  Although it could be argued that it’s a fictitious story, even in her sheltered life as a clergyman’s daughter, I think the themes of domestic upheaval, male aggression and marrying for prestige was something she may have encountered.  One man I almost felt sorry for in the novel is Edgar Linton, the second-best husband with good prospects.  To quote from Catherine “Whatever our souls are made of, his (Heathcliff) and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire.”

Nevertheless, I have re-read this novel and could just about smack the protagonists heads together and say “get real, guys!”  If I were Catherine I would have stayed well away from Heathcliff, walked off without a backward glance.  Either that or suggest he has counselling; obsessive and vengeful man that he is.  No, wait, they both needed counselling!  Catherine certainly had issues. She says of Heathcliff “I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him!…He’s not a rough diamond, nor a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” but she doesn’t heed her own warning.  To add to the angst, her brother Hindley is a nasty fly-in-the-ointment with his uppity treatment of adopted Heathcliff.  Gotta have someone to abuse, hey Hindley, especially Heathcliff with his uncontrollable gypsy blood, right?

The sense-of-place is strong for me, dark, brooding Yorkshire, and I shiver when reading some of the almost poetic descriptions.  But from my viewpoint, to say Catherine and Heathcliff were passionately in love is overstating their affair when they caused each other so much misery.  Their families are destroyed and their agonising love does not redeem them in the end.  This novel is billed ‘romance’ but for me, from my modern perspective, it seems a turmoil of mixed emotions between two foolish individuals who should have known when to call it quits.

It’s a pity that Emily Brontë died young and this is the only book she wrote, published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell.  Today we know that she could have elaborated and perhaps gone beyond the ill-fated Earnshaw family.

Yorkshire Country House 07
Dales

I want to rate “Wuthering Heights” highly but even allowing for the fact it was written in another time, another era, I can’t bring myself to go past three stars.  Don’t let me put you off, if you are into Gothic torment and unrequited love, this is the book for you!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Yorkshire Country House 02
Heights
Yorkshire Country House 08
Farm

‘The Empty Beach’ by Peter Corris

Peter Corris Cliff Hardy Banner 01
Author Peter Corris

“The Empty Beach” is about private investigator Cliff Hardy’s routine investigation into a supposed drowning.  Beautiful client Marion Singer wants to find out the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy husband John Singer.

The truth about John Singer, illegal trader and poker machine guru, is hard to find among the drug addicts, alcoholics and ashrams of Bondi Beach in Sydney NSW.  Not to mention the hindrance of PhD rich girl Ann Winter and creepy jailer Mary Mahoud.  Hardy soon finds himself fighting for his life when his search for the truth involves some nasty venues controlled by an underworld of violent people and lead by kingpin Freddy Ward who does not appreciate his inquisitive nature.

Being an earlier novel, Hardy is ex-army, a law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned private eye who lives by a solid set of values.  And he’s seen many gruesome murders in his time.  Throughout Hardy shows understanding and tolerance of people from all walks of life, he embraces the city sprawl and the rural ethos, and doesn’t start a fight.  But he can be tough and not play nice when it comes to his own survival.  He has a habit, when in a tight situation, of jesting at the bad guy’s expense and consequently coping a beating.  This is well illustrated in the chapter where Hardy is imprisoned inside a squash court.

Crime Scene Tape 08

My suggestion is read “The Dying Trade” the first Cliff Hardy book in Peter Corris 42-book series even though a later book “The Empty Beach” was made into an Australian movie in 1985 and remains his archetypal crime story.  Based on Peter Corris 1983 novel of the same name, this movie starred Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy and such notables as Belinda Giblin, Ray Barrett, John Wood, Joss McWilliam and Nick Tate as the ill-fated Henneberry.

While you may like to read the more current books like “Silent Kill” (above) the earlier ones are classic Australia in the 80s and 90s and my favourite is “Wet Graves”.  They have changed with the times, think internet and iPhones, and contain physical changes to Cliff Hardy at the same time they happened to the author.  For example, smoking habits or the triple bypass heart surgery Peter Corris underwent and kindly passed on to Cliff Hardy.  The relationship breakdowns do not appear to apply too much to real life.  Corris didn’t pass on his diabetes, however, the easy-going narrative speaks volumes, both men having a genuine affection for their family, the city of Sydney, and its diverse citizenry.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, let me say that one of the most enduring (and for me, best loved) of Australian crime fiction characters is Cliff Hardy.

Fast forward to future ‘Spoilers’ and Hardy is deregistered and operates on his own initiative but still maintains a rock-solid sense of fair play in the 21st century.  To date, Hardy’s longtime friend Frank Parker is now a retired senior police officer and married to Hilde, Hardy’s ex flatmate.  The reader watches this friendship evolve through a chain of novels and it’s just as interesting as following Hardy’s love life and family expansion.  Although he still holds a torch for his late ex-wife Cyn, there’s even grandchildren.  And there’s cameos from characters like tattooist Primo Tomasetti with his graphic artwork and sleazy patter.

Cliff Hardy represents the kind of bloke many law-abiding citizens would like to have on their side, a blemish yet dependable man who’d share a joke or reminisce over a cold beverage.  When it comes to Aussie mystery solving, Hardy gets my vote every time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

POSTSCRIPT:  Peter Corris, journalist, historian and author of the best-selling Cliff Hardy detective series, died on 30 August 2018, aged 76.  Over 37 years, from 1980 to 2017, Corris wrote 42 Cliff Hardy novels making it the longest running series in Australia.  The final installment is titled ‘Win, Lose or Draw’.

Cliff Hardy booklist https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris
Author website http://www.petercorris.net/petercorris.net/Home.html

Empty Beach
Beachside – Vale Corris and Hardy.

Coincidence: Where Were You When?

The Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher

I was listening to the audio recording of “The Princess Diarist” by actress Carrie Fisher, read by Carrie Fisher, when she passed away. I was already freaked hearing her true tales from the first Star Wars movie so the news bulletin got to me.

Carrie Fisher delivers a robust narration of her early acting career and famous mother Debbie Reynolds, whose death followed her own within days. Admittedly Carrie’s use and abuse of a variety of substances had ruined her voice and it could not be likened to that of youthful Princess Leia, but her naïve discontent and vitriolic humour pepper the story.

A frank look at the early life of a young woman shaped by Hollywood and eventually defined by George Lucas and his sci-fi series.  The extraordinary 1977 Star Wars movie launched her fame, hair buns and an affair with Harrison Ford, making this book a slice of Tinseltown history with big appeal for fans of the first Star Wars production.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Star Wars Poster
May The Force

Audition Time

Pandanus Palms Psychiatric Clinic 01
Luxury

“It’s like a luxury hotel in here,” said Penny to Cleo, who was draped across a chair in the lounge room of Pandanus Palms psychiatric hospital, a pink hibiscus tucked behind her ear.  They were discussing the merits of combining tropical plants and plush furniture with the plastic chandelier.
“It’s done on movie sets to create an illusion of opulence,” said Cleo.  She sat up and stretched her arms.  She gave a yelp.  “That new guy Tom grabbed me too hard in the final scene last night.”
Penny knew Tom.  “I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” she said.
Cleo surveyed the bruises on her arms.  She noticed marks on her wrists.  “The make-up people forgot to remove my scars.”
Penny was going to change the subject but fortunately Cleo yawned.
“You’re getting tired, dear.” Penny began to gather her things. “I’d better go.”
Cleo rubbed her eyes and blinked rapidly.  “Did you see him?”
Penny spun around but there was no-one else in the room.  The air was still and heavy with the perfume from a flowering orchid.  “Who?”
“The producer.  He looked in the window.” Cleo sat stiffly in the chair, staring at the window like an unblinking cat.
Penny readied herself for an outburst.  “I’ll buzz for the––” she began.
Suddenly Cleo jumped up and ran to the window.
“I won’t go back into his hell-hole of a studio.”  She tugged frantically at the heavy, brocade curtains.  Once closed, the dimness appeared to satisfy her but she paced up and down with clenched fists.  “He was checking the spot where the stunt man fell.  They don’t know why he toppled out the window.  It wasn’t in the rehearsal script.”
She went to the curtains and peeked out.  “Thank God, he’s gone.”
Penny leaned over and pushed the nurse’s call buzzer.
     “You can buzz all you want, the waiter service is atrocious,” said Cleo.  “When they do come, they hold you down and force you to eat.”
She started to twirl around the room, knocking into furniture.
Her medication is wearing off fast, thought Penny.  She felt unsafe.  “Stop it!” she shouted.
Cleo sat down on the floor, a dazed look on her face.  “It’s dark in here,” she said, wrapping her arms around her ribcage.  “This is what that lady in the buckled up jacket does.”
Penny went to the window and opened the curtains.  Summer sunlight flooded back into the room.  Cleo winced.  “That spotlight is too bright.”
“I’ll tell the lighting technician,” Penny said.  She hurried from the room and saw that the long white hallway was empty.  The staff must be at the press conference, she thought.
After straightening a painting with shaking fingers, Penny had an idea and returned to the lounge room.
“The director says the cast can take a break,” she told Cleo.
“About time.  Scene after scene and none of them mine.  I’m freezing my butt off waiting for my audition cue and it never comes.  Boredom and suicide are the same thing.”  Cleo again paced the floor.
Penny recognised the first signs of her hourly ritual. Cleo went through the motions of taking an imaginary cigarette from its packet, putting it in her mouth and lighting it. With a noise of disgust, she tossed the cigarette on the carpet.  Quickly, she stamped it out. “Have to save oxygen,” she said. “The door shouldn’t be closed.  It’s the stunt man’s idea. ‘Get off me,’ I tell him. He knows I don’t like small spaces.  The door is made of steel. Hey, HEY, can anyone hear me? This isn’t funny, guys. The sound of nothing is pressing into my ear drums. The silence will squash my head. Let me OUT!”
Penny made cutting actions with her finger across her throat.  “The cameras have stopped rolling.”
“I need warm soup,” said Cleo, her teeth chattering.  “Where’s the c-catering van?”
“Think about something else, dear,” Penny said, hoping a nurse was on the way.
“Remember when you were little?  You said if something went wrong, you’d make-believe.  It’s fun to pretend you’re another person.  You can be anything you set your mind to.”
“That box room was too strong, it over-powered my mind.”  Tears started to form in Cleo’s eyes.  “I didn’t want to play a dead person.  The box was trying to kill off my character––it wanted to be my coffin.”
“You lasted a lot longer than most people would, given the circumstances.”  Penny lead Cleo to a couch and sat with her, gently smoothing her hair.  After awhile, two people entered the room, Cleo’s doctor and a new clinical nurse.  Penny surreptitiously made the sign of the cross.
The nurse checked Cleo’s pulse then injected her in the middle of a bruise on her upper arm.  Cleo pulled back, slowly rubbing her skin.  “More pain.”
The nurse pointed to a bluish lesion and said, “I hope you gave as good as you got.”
“One of my better performances,” said Cleo, tossing her head.
With a weak smile, the doctor said, “Ready to meet your fans, Cleo?”
“No.”  Cleo turned her back and toyed with a palm frond.
They coaxed her into leaving the room and walked down several corridors until they reached an unmarked door.  When it was opened, Penny hugged Cleo and left.  She hated to watch that door close and wanted to be out of earshot before it slammed.
In the foyer of the hospital, Penny wondered how far she should carry Cleo’s delusion.  The hospital portico was swarming with staff and media representatives.
With one hand on her heart and the other on the door handle, Penny opened the front door.
A reporter pounced.
“What happened on the set of Cleo’s new movie?”
Before Penny could reply, Tom, the psychiatric nurse, ran over and grabbed her arm.
“Come with me, Penelope,” he said.  “It’s time for your medication.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward
 

AUTHOR NOTES:

  1.  Cleo is a mentally disturbed woman. She talks in riddles and,
     due to an apparently traumatic event on a movie set, she cannot
    separate fact from fiction.  She confuses the Pandanus Palms
    psychiatric hospital with a film location.  We are lead to believe she
    has once tried suicide and that the stunt man may have caused her
    latest breakdown.
  2.  Penny has “adopted” Cleo and calls her “dear”. She cares about
    her and understanding her moods but is not able to help in a positive
    way.  She has her own set of unseen demons.
  3.  Tom is a bit player with an important part. Did he cause the bruising
     on Cleo’s arms?
  4.  The setting is a room with lavish décor but Cleo becomes cold and
    hungry.  Is she reliving an incident or just acting the part?
  5.  Is the box a padded cell or a prop gone wrong?
  6.  Does Cleo see the truth wrapped up in theatrical guise?  Is she driven
    by revenge to murder?  When the “reveal” comes at the end, can we
    guess at what was truth and what was the swirling of a delusional
    mind, aided and abetted by Penny.              

‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout

Mother Daughter
Mother and Daughter

Hmm . . . a puzzling book.  Good, then it dissolves into vignettes.

It is a book which sometimes comes back to me in flashes.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.

Lucy has an extended stay in hospital.  I found the mother-daughter part of the story made me think.  We all relate to our own personal experiences and I definitely got twinges when I related my mother’s attitude to Lucy’s mother – although my relationship was different.  I didn’t like her father, troubled but not nice.

Much of Lucy’s early family life came out in tiny bits here and there.  The trickle affect showed the reader the cruel hardship of her earlier life. Is that why Lucy was estranged?  Why was she locked in the old car?

It was interesting how Lucy loved her kind doctor, she got no real love or compassion from her father or her husband.  The author Sarah Payne was a great character, I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more.  I liked her comment after that cutting PTSD remark “…And anyone who uses their training to put someone down that way – well, that person is just a big old piece of crap.”

After Lucy came out of hospital, the story took on the quality of snapshots as though author Elizabeth Strout saw or heard something and jotted it down then couldn’t quite flesh it out but wanted to use it anyway.  There are very human insights but we don’t even know what Lucy wrote in her books.

Lucy’s relationship with her grown-up daughters was rather superficial but I liked the unnerving chapter about her brother, and also when she is bothered by the fact that friend Jeremy may have been the dying AIDS patient she saw in hospital.

The marble statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art fascinated Lucy but I couldn’t understand why.  It’s graphic but to me just shows the agony of imprisonment.

Overall, I guess I’d give this book three out of five stars because I’m not poetic enough to read between the lines!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ugolino and Sons Statue NYC
Ugolino and His Sons