29 September 2016

Review: THE UNDESIRED, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

  • first published 2013, 
  • translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
  • ISBN 978-1-444-77828-1
  • 353 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Good Reads)

Aldis is working in a juvenile detention centre in rural Iceland. She witnesses something deeply disturbing in the middle of the night; soon afterwards, two of the boys at the centre are dead.

Decades later, single father Odinn is looking into alleged abuse at the centre following the unexplained death of the colleague who was previously running the investigation. The more he finds out, though, the more it seems the odd events of the 1970s are linked to the accident that killed his ex-wife. Was her death something more sinister?

My take

An interestingly constructed stand-alone book with dual and seemingly unconnected time frames. which of course are not.

The final resolution of the story relies on a coincidence that stretched credibility a little, but even so the writing is wonderful and there is a little twist to the tale at the end that leaves the reader wondering.

My rating: 4.5 

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Review: THE HEAT, Garry Disher

  • this edition Text Publishing 2015
  • ISBN 9-781925-240412
  • 246 pages
  • #8 in the Wyatt series
  • Read the first chapter
  • Longlisted, General Fiction Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
  • Shortlisted, Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction, 2016
  • Garry Disher's website
Synopsis  (Text Publishing)

Wyatt needs a job.

A bank job would be nice, or a security van hold-up. As long as he doesn’t have to work with cocky idiots and strung-out meth-heads like the Pepper brothers. That’s the sort of miscalculation that buys you the wrong kind of time.

So he contacts a man who in the past put him on the right kind of heist. And finds himself in Noosa, stealing a painting for Hannah Sten.

He knows how it’s done: case the premises, set up escape routes and failsafes, get in and get out with the goods unrecognised. Make a good plan; back it up with another. And be very, very careful.

But who is his client? Who else wants that painting?

Sometimes, being very careful is not enough.

My Take

Six of the Wyatt series were published in the 1990s, the seventh, Wyatt, in 2010 (crime novel of the year in Australia), and the latest is The Heat

In Australian crime fiction a tale told from the point of view of the perpetrator of the crime rather than from the side of the law is unusual. But then Wyatt is not your usual thief. And he is not greedy. He just wants to make enough out of each job to keep his head above water and his name away from detection.

Right from the beginning he is cautious about the deal that Lois Quarrell is offering. He doesn't really trust her and he certainly doesn't want her to be the one that pulls the strings. The one thing about Wyatt is that he values his independence. And so he takes extra steps to ensure that he wrong foots Lois Quarrell, and, as it turns out, he is right.

My rating: 4.2

I've also read
4.7, WYATT
4.7, BLOOD MOON    

Review: GIRL IN THE DARK, Marion Pauw

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 897 KB
  • Print Length: 341 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0062424793
  • Publisher: William Morrow (February 16, 2016)
  • Publication Date: February 16, 2016
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00Y889ZLK
  • translated from Dutch by Hester Velmans 
Synopsis (Amazon)

An award-winning, internationally bestselling author makes her American debut with this taut, riveting domestic drama .... about a long-lost brother convicted of a horrifying crime and a sister’s fight to clear his name.

A single mother and lawyer, Iris has a colorful caseload, a young son with behavior issues, and a judgmental mother.

She also has a brother—shocking news she uncovers by accident. Why did her mother lie to her for her entire life? Why did she hide the existence of Ray Boelens from her?

Curious about this sibling she has never known, Iris begins to search for long-buried truths. What she discovers surprises—and horrifies—her. Her older brother is autistic—and in prison for brutally murdering his neighbor and her daughter.

Visiting Ray, she meets a man who looks heartbreakingly like her own son. A man who is devoted to his tropical fish and who loves baking bread. A man whose naiveté unnerves her. There is no question that Ray is odd and obsessive, unable to communicate like the rest of us. But is he really a killer?

Told in the alternative voices of Ray and Iris, Girl in the Dark is a compulsive, page-turning thriller about lies, murder, and the tenacity of a family determined to stay together even as they are pulled apart at the most vulnerable seams
My Take

Although it is tightly and carefully plotted there are rather too many coincidences in this novel for me. The final naming of Ray Boelens' father is really just the last in a long list of them.

The plight of an autistic lad whose mother cannot cope with his behaviour, and who is wide open to suggestions made by others, is well done, as is the security that his sea water fish tank offers him.

However the circumstances of the murders for which Ray was convicted and then institutionalised were not well investigated, especially the readiness to accept his own word for his involvement. The novel does highlight the vulnerability of people like Ray.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Marion Pauw is a thriller writer living in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands, Girl in the Dark won the Golden Noose Award—the annual award for the best Dutch crime novel—under the title Daglicht (Daylight), and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Europe. It was also made into an acclaimed Dutch film. Girl in the Dark is Pauw’s American debut.

27 September 2016

Review: ONLY DAUGHTER, Anna Snoekstra

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 614 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: MIRA (September 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: August 22, 2016
  • Sold by: Harlequin Australia
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01E83Q6HK
Synopsis (Amazon)

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.  

She'd been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast-food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced. 

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec. 
Soon the imposter is living Bec's life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.
But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.
As the pretender walks in Rebecca’s shoes, she realises that whoever is responsible for Bec’s disappearance is still in her life.

In this chilling psychological thriller, one woman’s dark past becomes another’s deadly future.

My Take

When our unnamed central character decides to impersonate Bec Winter who has been missing from Canberra for 11 years, she means to do it for only a few days, and then to disappear. However she finds that plan is not so easy to carry out. For a start the police are reluctant to release her to  Bec Winter's parents. When they finally allow her to go "home" they ask her to avoid publicity and the detective in charge of the investigation visits her every day trying to jog in her memory details of her original "abduction".

The longer she stays the closer she gets to working out what actually happened on the day Bec disappeared. The reader is assisted by narrative about what actually happened to Bec in 2003, but not everything is revealed. There are several plausible red herrings about who might have been responsible for Bec's disappearance.

We also become aware that our impersonator has a history which she is not anxious to be revealed.

A rather tangled but interestingly worked plot, and a relatively quick read.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Author website
Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia to two civil servants. At the age of seventeen she decided to avoid a full time job and a steady wage to move to Melbourne and become a writer. She studied Creative Writing and Cinema at The University of Melbourne, followed by Screenwriting at RMIT University.
After finishing university, Anna wrote for independent films and fringe theatre, and directed music videos. During this time, she worked as a cheesemonger, a waitress, a barista, a nanny, a receptionist, a cinema attendant and a film reviewer.
Anna now lives with her husband, cat and two housemates and works full time writing.

26 September 2016

Review: I'M TRAVELLING ALONE, Samuel Bjork

  • first published in English 2015
  • translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
  • ISBN 978-0-857-52251-1
  • 474 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

International bestseller Samuel Bjork makes his US debut, a chilling and fast-paced thriller in which two detectives must hunt down a vengeful killer--and uncover the secret that ties each of them to the crime

A six-year-old girl is found in the Norwegian countryside, hanging lifeless from a tree and dressed in strange doll's clothes. Around her neck is a sign that says "I'm traveling alone."

A special homicide unit in Oslo re-opens with veteran police investigator Holger Munch at the helm. Holger's first step is to persuade the brilliant but haunted investigator Mia Kruger, who has been living on an isolated island, overcome by memories of her past. When Mia views a photograph of the crime scene and spots the number "1" carved into the dead girl's fingernail, she knows this is only the beginning. Could this killer have something to do with a missing child, abducted six years ago and never found, or with the reclusive religious community hidden in the nearby woods?

Mia returns to duty to track down a revenge-driven and ruthlessly intelligent killer. But when Munch's own six-year-old granddaughter goes missing, Mia realizes that the killer's sinister game is personal, and I'm Traveling Alone races to an explosive--and shocking--conclusion.

My Take

This is another of those novels to come out of Scandinavia that tries very hard to convince the reader that you have missed out on earlier titles in a series. Perhaps we have, but it appears to me that this title was first published in Norwegian in 2013 and then translated into English in 2015. It is actually the first of two books in the Mia and Munch series. But we are certainly told that Mia and Munch have "history", and references are made to incidents that occurred in the previous year.

This tactic seems to be becoming more common recently and makes you wonder whether some of these writers are actually breaking into their own streams of consciousness, or whether they have unpublished manuscripts depicting earlier events, and that eventually they will publish these retrospectively.

The plot is macabre and won't appeal to all. Six year old girls disappear and are then found in strange places dressed in doll's clothes. Part of the puzzle is to discover who these actions are directed at and flashes of intuition from Mia Kruger provide the answer.

Mia Kruger appears in character to be very similar to Stiegg Larsen's creation Lisbeth Solander although perhaps not as autistic.

In the long run this plot appears to have a bit of everything, almost a pot pourri of what can be found in Scandinavian crime fiction.

My rating: 4.i

About the author
Samuel Bjork is the pen name of Norwegian novelist, playwright and singer/songwriter Frode Sander Øien. 

Review: HESTER & HARRIET, Hilary Spiers

  • first published 2015
  • ISBN 978-1-92526-641-2
  • this edition published by www.allenandunwin.com
  • 395 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Hester and Harriet are reluctantly driving to visit relatives on Christmas Day when they come across a young woman hiding with her baby in a bus shelter.

Seeing the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, the sisters insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them. But with the arrival of a sinister stranger looking for a girl with a baby, Hester and Harriet's carefully crafted peace and quiet quickly begins to fall apart....

My Take

In an "about the author" at the end of this novel we are told that Hilary Spiers enjoys giving a voice to ordinary women in sometimes extraordinary circumstances. 

This certainly depicted in this novel, but I found myself wondering if I would have acted as Hester and Harriet did in the same circumstances. On Christmas Eve, on their way out to dinner, they discover a young girl with her baby hiding in a nearby bus shelter. They take Daria and her baby home with them for Christmas. After Christmas Day their young nephew Ben turns up looking for shelter.

Daria turns out to have overstayed her visa and it takes some persuading to get her to go to the police to report her circumstances. In addition it appears that here are people looking for Daria, including a private detective and the father of her baby. Meanwhile other things are happening in the village, and a large cannabis crop attracts attention.

I am not sure how I got a recommendation to read this novel. It is certainly at the extreme edge of crime fiction and really rather like a village cozy. There are crimes committed but they are not really central to the action. But the characterisation is good, and the scenarios quite believable.

In the long run an enjoyable read with good human interest and modern themes.

My Rating: 4.4

25 September 2016

Review: MR JELLY'S BUSINESS, Arthur Upfield - audio book

  • #4 in the Napoleon Bonaparte series
  • originally published 1937
  • this edition unabridged audiobook
  • Narrated by Peter Hosking
  • length 7 hours 27 minutes
  • available at Audible.com
 Synopsis (Audible.com)

Mr. Jelly's Business is one of the finest of Arthur Upfield's many distinguished stories about the career of Detective Inspector Napoleon ("Bony") Bonaparte.

It takes Bony to the West Australian town of Burracoppin to investigate the disappearance of George Loftus, whose car was found wrecked near the longest fence in the world, the 1,500 mile Rabbit Fence. He meets Loftus's wife, who is anything but grief-stricken at her husband's disappearance; Loftus's hired man, singularly reticent about his own past history; and many of Burracoppin's numerous gossips. Later he encounters the mysterious Mr. Jelly, whose business causes his charming daughters great anxiety.

The double question of Loftus' disappearance and Mr. Jelly's business taxes Bony's well-known powers of observation and deduction to the utmost, until the two problems are simultaneously solved.
As anyone who knows Arthur Upfield's other work would expect, Mr. Jelly's Business is more than a story of crime and detection: It also offers an admirable picture of life in West Australia's wheat country

My Take

Bony takes on the case of George Loftus' disappearance as a favour to a friend, and gets a job working on the Rabbit Proof Fence so he can keep the locals under observation and work out what has happened to Loftus. Mr Jelly is convinced that Loftus has been murdered by his wife and her lover, but he is surrounded by his own mystery. He gets telegrams that summon him to Perth for at least a week at a time. Given his personal hobby that involves keeping extensive files on murderers, Mr Jelly's daughters are convinced that his job must be something to be ashamed of. Bony promises Mr Jelly's daughters that he will find out what their father does during his absences.

This novel is filled with Upfield's own philosophy about what creates murderers. We also find out a lot about aboriginal tracking methods, as well as more information about Bony's family background.

My rating: 4.3

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