Review ‘Silver’ by Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer Bookcover Silver

Former journalist Martin Scarsden had vowed never to return to Port Silver so I was not too sure about his inauspicious homecoming nor his strained relationship with girlfriend Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde.  She has inherited an old house on a clifftop, while Martin seems distant from everything happening around him, plagued by unsettling flashbacks from his unsettled past.  And long-ago deaths in his family.

As the plot twists and turns with great characters and best-ever location, I was there strolling along the Port Silver shoreline; eating fish and chips; watching the waves break on Hummingbird Beach; driving the coastal road with Martin Scarsden as he tries to solve the stabbing death of his childhood friend Jasper Speight.  Unfortunately Jasper died in Mandy’s apartment and she is being held for his murder so Martin works on clearing her name using the only clue, a blood-stained postcard.

SDC14758

Over nine days, Martin’s exploits unfold and move inexorable towards their goal, every question important to building the story and solving the first murder mystery.  Yes, not one but two mysteries, and I like the way Chris Hammer does not describe so much as lets slip small details until they add up to a whole.

Mandy’s creepy old Hartigan house on the clifftop is suitably introduced in Disney ‘Goonies’ fashion.

Characters formed before my eyes—all with big question marks hovering over their heads.  The mellow reunion with Martin’s Uncle Vern; the glowing backpackers Topaz and Royce; real estate agent Jasper’s mother Denise; Jay-Jay Hayes surfie greenie conservationist of Hummingbird Beach; sleazy bigwig developer Tyson St Clair; oddball Swami Hawananda; and dishonest cop Johnson Pear to name a handful.

Despite youthful recollections and emotional hurdles, Martin keeps working on the murder case, annoying the police and local land developers with questions and questionable behaviour.  He gets hauled in occasionally for interrogation and was appointed a scruffy solicitor Nick Poulos to handle his case.  Then comes a tragic mass murder … or ritual suicide?

At this stage, I am undecided if I am meant to have sympathy for Martin or not.  He certainly makes mistakes and isn’t good boyfriend material.  But he’s an inquisitive bloke, and a good journo who pursues the secondary crime of the multiple deaths.  The scoop of the decade!  By chapter 24, he’s in his element, following up leads, discovering clues, writing copy, advising Terri, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, topping it off by having dinner with media buddies just like old times.  Hmm.

An overarching question: what happened to his mother and sisters?  I think it’s stretching it to say Martin did not have an inkling about what happened all those years ago.  School mates, friends, even his alcoholic father could have babbled.  As to the possible perpetrators, I was spoilt for choice.  The only one I could happily cross off the list was Liam, the nappy-filling baby son of Mandy.

SDC14774

I love Aleksander J. Potočnik’s map of Port Silver.  The setting is similar to Byron Bay and my photographs, taken on an overcast day, show the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse.

The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, Australia’s most easterly point.  That’s what  I pictured in my mind while reading.  The beaches, lighthouse, Nob Hill, coastal views, inland sugarcane fields and menacing land development which are strongly portrayed by the author.  Landmarks like the ‘fictitious’ old Cheese Factory give off furtiveness vibes.

Heading towards Martin’s hard won resolution, author Chris Hammer deserves top marks for not changing certain Australian words which some readers may not understand but will eventually figure out.  I think it’s time to stop neutering, let readers learn, laugh and speak our colloquial sayings.

Grab this book and be swept away by the tidal undertow of crime and mystery—well worth it.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

printable-times-new-roman-alphabet-stencil

Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs.  He holds a BA degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a Master’s degree in international relations from Australian National University.

Chris has written an award-winning non-fiction book ‘The River’ followed by crime fiction ‘Scrublands’ published 2018 and shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards.  Chris lives in Canberra with his wife and two children.
Website https://chrishammerauthor.com/  Recommended ‘The Coast’ a journey along Australia’s eastern shores by Chris Hammer https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-coast-paperback-softback

My Sisters-in-Crime Membership Card

IMG_20191029_133057
I kept the postage stamp but the envelope has been recycled.

How is this for the personal touch!  Sisters-in-Crime mailed a white 9×4 envelope with my address neatly printed on it and a postage stamp stuck in the corner.  The stamp, if you are interested, commemorates 50 years since the moon landing.  Australia had a hand in the Apollo 11 lunar module ‘Eagle’ landing on the moon.

Back to the goodies in the envelope:

A welcome letter from Carmel, Secretary & National Co-convenor.

Diary Dates and information on 26th Scarlet Stiletto Awards.

Leaflet for ‘Murder She Wrote’ Readers and Writers Festival to be held in Tasmania under the title ‘Terror Australis’ .

Bookmark stating all the wonderful things Sisters-in-Crime can offer me.

Info on bookshop discounts, panels, discussions, debates, tours, launches, festivals.

And, of course, my Membership Card!

Every department store in the world wants to give you a plastic card but this is a Crime Card.  Not plastic; written on by hand; the nostalgic beauty of it.

Who or what are the Sisters-in-Crime?  Let me fill you in—

Sisters in Crime Logo 03 2019Sisters-in-Crime is a world-wide organisation but the Australian chapter was launched at the Feminist Book Festival in Melbourne in September 1991, inspired by the American organisation of the same name, which was founded in 1986 by Sara Paretsky (creator of Chicago PI VI Warshawski) and other women crime writers at the Bouchercon crime convention.  Members are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by their affection for the mystery genre and their support of women who write mysteries.  Chapters currently meet in Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane.  The Melbourne chapter holds very regular events and partners with festivals, libraries and other organisations.

There are annual crime-writing competitions, the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (big prize money) and the Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women published in the previous year.

I missed ‘Murder She Wrote’, the readers and writers Terror Australis Festival in Huon Valley, Tasmania, from 31 October to 5 November 2019.  It was jam-packed with amazing stuff; panel sessions, masterclasses, Hall of Writers, book launches, Murder Mystery Dinner, etc.  Hear my teeth gnashing…

I am currently reading ‘Dead Man Switch’ by Tara Moss and she attended the Festival.  Quote ‘I would kill to be at the Terror Australis Festival, but thankfully I was invited so I won’t need to.’ – Tara Moss, author.

Maybe next year <sigh>

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bad to Worse ‘Good Girl Bad Girl’ by Michael Robotham

I haven’t written a negative book review for a while but I need to express my rebellious thoughts on “Good Girl Bad Girl” by Michael Robotham.  I would have liked to give this seasoned author a pat on the back, but it won’t happen.  He (and dare I say his publisher) goofed up, disappointing me with this latest offering.  As a supporter of the Australian writers scene, it pains me to say I have even compiled a list of unwanted gaffes.  And I’m disillusioned by such a rudimentary storyline, further dragged down by Robotham putting believability ahead of plausibility.

First, I’m not keen on psychologist Cyrus Haven, with his generic nightmares and ridiculous spontaneity when it comes to young Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face.  Plots, eh, you need to drive them forward.  Evie lived a feral existence in a secret room with a dead body outside the door and after rescue she was incarcerated in Langford Hall, Nottingham, a secure children’s home.  Being of indeterminate age, she appears mature yet lapses into teenage obviousness as inexperienced Cyrus soon finds out.  Her dubious, er, gift, is an attempt at originality until Robotham trots out tropes and formulaic predictability.

Maybe hackneyed phrases could be revised in another edition, do a bit of showing instead of continual telling, and jumping in and out of a character’s head doesn’t necessarily strengthen the story or boost the tension.  In “Good Girl Bad Girl” the title hints at naughtiness and a girl dies yet the suspects aren’t new, just the usual line-up.  When it comes to fiction, I don’t think crime scene minutia or yet another clichéd pathologist/priest/politician enhances a plot.

“Good Girl Bad Girl” is a ropey book launched into the world too soon.

I noticed these gaffes—

(1)  Cyrus Haven does not own a mobile phone.  He only has a pager and uses a telephone at the local shop, even DCI Lenny Parvel has to track him down while jogging.  How come when he’s at home looking at DVDs of suspect Craig Farley, he has a bright idea and “I punch out her number.  She doesn’t answer.  It goes to her messages. Beep!”
(2)  When Cyrus goes to an old church to talk to the murdered girl’s mother, he can’t get in the front doors because they are locked but when the priest asks him to leave he exits via the front doors.
(3)  Poor proof-reading, fluctuating spelling like practice/practise, repeat words not edited out.
(4)  Flight risk Evie’s electronic tracker on her ankle must vaporise.
(5)  Evie’s POV couldn’t hear both sides of that phone conversation.
(6)  I guess that Uber driver drove away fast.
(7)  DCI Lenny Parvel is a woman yet “Lenny is signalling me from the road.  Aiden is with him.”
(8)  Cyrus has his hands taped to a vertical wooden stair spindle so how could “Cyrus grabs my arm” when later Evie frees him?
(9)  Reader thinks “Am I missing some kind of joke?”
(10) Reader thinks “Is this an uncorrected proof?”

….. there are more blemishes, I got tired of it but you can easily find them.

A crime reader’s curse but I can also see the mechanics at work, the primary sentences, the leading questions, the verbal punches ready to be pulled, the transparent taunts and retorts used many times before, and I don’t mean just by Robotham.  I include contemporary middle-of-the-road crime writers and television scriptwriters all using the same imagery.  They must yearn for a movie deal.  Unfortunately not even banter escapes the mundane repetition seen in current crime stories.

The arthritic white rabbit is still being pulled out of the narrative hat.  Give it a rest!

I have not read any related book reviews so this is my unbiased honest opinion.  With more polish “Good Girl Bad Girl” could have risen above the ranks of ordinary.  New readers will be supportive, Australian fans will be supportive, but I think it’s a monotonous book and I say that with genuine regret.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

Blog Webpage Banner 31

Review ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ by Maria Donovan

The plot twists and turns over many months as I follow the lives of three families jolted sideways after two untimely deaths.

Michael’s friend Janey has lost her dad to cancer and Michael understands this, but the other person who died?  Nextdoor neighbour and dear friend Irma.  Was it a heart condition, an accident or murder?

The safe, cosy world of young Michael and his Nan changes dramatically.  Michael also has to cope with George, a bully, who moves into Irma’s house with his father Shawn prior to her death.

IMG_20190427_151647The sudden loss of Irma is deeply felt by Michael.  As the saying goes he has “an old head on young shoulders” but is confused over what actually happened and gets no real help from the adults.  Advice is conflicting.

Deep down Michael believes Irma was murdered and is determined to convince Nan and the gatekeepers.  There are complexities to face and he over-reaches in the hope of finding justice.  Anxiety joins his grief, he challenges his homelife and raises old questions.  Why does he live with his grandmother?  Where are his parents?

During a bad night, Michael’s old teddy bear comes down off the shelf for support as he works on his theory of Irma’s demise.  He thinks she may have been poisoned.  The chicken soup in question was homemade by Irma and well loved by Michael, his favourite panacea for cold symptoms.

At one stage, Michael suspects his Nan – she’s my favourite character! – and while out walking he dashes away and hides.  Quote “Michael?” calls Nan.  I don’t move.  “Michael”.  “He’s fallen in the bloody moat,” says the man who isn’t Grandad.  “Good job there’s no water in it.”  “Feeder canal,” says Nan.  “This is no time to be right about everything,” he growls.  I’ve never heard anyone tell Nan off like that before. Unquote.

IMG_20190427_131423
Real clue? Fake clue?

Author Maria Donovan portrays well-rounded, believable characters and each brings small yet highly significant details to the story.  Bully and his father are thorns in Michael’s side but nothing distracts him from the hunt for clues.  Janey has her own family problems.  To relieve her frustration she gets a box of golf balls and stands in The Middle, a green opposite the houses…

Being of a nosey disposition myself, I empathise with Michael’s underlying emotions and the need for resolution.  Tension escalates and stoic Nan marches towards a showdown.  Maria Donovan’s tightly written finale comes at a penultimate time of year for everyone.

IMG_20190427_152828Skillfully woven through the story are school holidays, the seaside, and events on telly like Wimbledon.  Occasionally the zeitgeist side-tracks Michael’s quest yet adds a kaleidoscope of nostalgia for me.

Michael’s journey isn’t for children although young adult readers would identify with the youthful side.  Part mystery, part coming-of-age, I think adults will enjoy the unique elements of the plot, and appreciate less gore than currently found in mystery novels.

Maria Donovan’s book walks a fine line between innocence and adult behaviour and succeeds in capturing the mood beautifully.  It demands to be read again.  Seek out those clever clues!

My star rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Maria Donovan Book Launch

‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ is Maria Donovan’s debut novel and was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize.  Apart from this book, Maria has many literary credits to her name including her flash fiction story ‘Chess’ which won the Dorset Award in the Bridport Prize 2015.

Maria is a native of Dorset UK and has strong connections with Wales (also in the book) and Holland.  Her past careers include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years lecturing in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, South Wales.

Visit Maria Donovan online www.mariadonovan.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/mariadonovanwri
Facebook http://facebook.com/mariadonovanauthor

I can highly recommend the informative Chicken Soup Murder Q&A with Maria Donovan and Shauna Gilligan.

Garry Disher ‘Kill Shot’ Book Review

Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.

No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.

Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him.  Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job.  Lucrative yes, easy no.

After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich.  Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot.  Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.

gun 02The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it.  And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.

Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize.  And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.

There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge.  Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable.  Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail.  A knowing man but usually one step behind.

merewether beach newcastle nswThe drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond.  Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target.  No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.

Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series.  The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Wyatt Crime Series

Kickback             (1991)
Paydirt                (1992)
Deathdeal           (1993)
Crosskill              (1994)
Port Vila Blues   (1995)
The Fallout         (1997)
Wyatt                   (2010)
The Heat              (2015)
Kill Shot               (2018)

Stats
kill shot garry disher 03

Title: Kill Shot
Author: Garry Disher
Pages: 320
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/kill-shot-a-wyatt-thriller

garry disher bookcover 02garry disher bookcover 01bitter wash road garry disherthe divine wind garry disher

In addition to the Wyatt series, Garry Disher has written a variety of books
https://www.garrydisher.com/

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

‘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 brought me back into crime 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 listed below – “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.”  My book review to be advised.

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