AWW2014 Crime Roundup #2

With respect to reviews posted, the weeks since the last Crime Roundup for AWW2014 have been a two-horse race between a couple of new release novels: Wendy James’ THE LOST GIRLS and P.M. Newton’s BEAMS FALLING. In the end, both books garnered 8 reviews a-piece but I feel I ought to apologise to P.M. Newton at this point because if I hadn’t knocked my copy of her book in the full kitchen sink while I was only half-way through reading it she’d have ‘won’, numerically speaking :)

BeamsFallingPMNewtonIn BEAMS FALLING policewoman Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is suffering the physical and psychological effects of the events depicted in the first novel in which she appears (THE OLD SCHOOL) and while on ‘light duties’ is assigned to an Asian crime unit in Sydney’s Cabramatta. All reviewers were positive about this book, commonly discussing the credible way various themes were depicted as well as the multi-layered feel to the storyline. Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling wrote

Firstly I was very impressed with the authentic voice of this police procedural and the harrowing accuracy of PTSD as it is presented in this narrative; life constantly on alert, hyper vigilant, hyper alert, anxious, breathless, paranoia…panic. I could feel this disorder blossoming in my mind and chest as I read on, the descriptions so real.

Among the highlights for Yvonne Perkins was the book’s depiction of Sydney

Newton excels in writing about place. Her books are not about the bells and sparkles facade that Sydney likes to parade to the rest of the world. They are about grungy Sydney, the real Sydney that most residents have to live in. There is no glamour here, but the truth of the parked car that expels over-heated, stale air when someone opens the door; the crowded train stations; the broken people; the ugly, unloved buildings of neglected suburbs.

For Lou Murphy at Newton Review of Books the book’s layers are singled out for a mention

Beams Falling is much more than an exciting crime thriller: it works on many levels. The personal story is about coping with trauma, about the questions Nhu needs to ask herself in order to function again. The process of repair is dealt with poignantly as she attempts to heal her physical and psychological wounds

WendyJamesTheLostGirlsDemonstrating the breadth of what constitutes a crime novel these days THE LOST GIRLS is a different kind of story, though it too focuses at least as much narrative energy on the impact of a crime as it does on whodunit. It is a standalone novel of ‘domestic suspense’ in which the decades-old murder of a teenager still haunts her extended family in the present day. A common theme among the universally positive reviews of this novel is its disturbing ordinariness, as highlighted by Angela Savage

James has a special talent for depicting everyday suburban lives and adding unexpected but entirely plausible drama. The suspense is driven not only by the characters’ predicaments, but by the fear that something like this could happen to us or someone we love

Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf was taken by the way the story explores the notion of truth

It’s the kind of story that shows us just how many shades of grey are in our seemingly black and white world. How the past is sometimes different to our memories and that circumstances are sometime unfortunate.

and at Book’d Out Shelleyrae explores this concept further

The Lost Girls is told through memories, interview transcripts, newspaper articles and the story of the present day, revealing the events that led up to, and followed, the death of Angie. As the novel unfolds, moving between time, place and perspective, the reader begins to piece together a wider view of the tragedy, and those affected, than any one character has

If you need a bit more information about either of these great novels check out fellow writer Angela Savage discussing both books on a recent episode of Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily

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AWW participants were reading other books over the past two months though and some lesser-known titles deserve particular mention here.

  • At Whispering Gums Angela Meyer’s book of mysterious short stories, THE GREAT UNKNOWN was a winner, offering “a collection of stories that vary greatly in setting, voice, subject matter – and even tone. Some are funny, some sad, most are disconcerting and some, of course, are scary.”
  • At Books and Musings from Downunder Sally reviewed Kaz Delaney’s first young adult mystery, DEAD, ACTUALLY, high praise indeed “Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it
  • While she was a bit disappointed with the amount of ‘fluff’ in the writing, Cait at Aussie Owned and Read found some things to like about Lucy Christopher’s THE KILLING WOODS, saying of the plot “Seriously, it’s not everyday that a plot takes me by surprise! I’d heard everyone saying “I never guessed the killer!” so of course I thought, “Pfft, I’ll guess straight away.” I didn’t. (I suspected everyone, but that hardly counts because I was on my guard.)”. I love the format of Cait’s reviews too.

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As part of a month in which the AWW challenge celebrated diversity I wrote a post on Sleuthing and Sexuality , the research for which surprised me in that it highlighted how few crime novels feature lesbian characters, while Marisa Wikramanayake interviewed Katherine Howell and Lindy Cameron, both of whom have written crime fiction which features lesbian characters

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

‘Writing in the Light’: Roundup of Queer/Lesbian Australian Women Writers

Visibility, invisibility, ghosts, mirrors, shadows … all these are terms that have appeared in the posts by lesbian/queer Australian women writers this month.

Ghost WifeMichelle Dicinoski, author of the memoir Ghost Wife, commented that ‘when you are a gay or lesbian or queer or trans writer, or a writer with disability, or a writer of colour, maybe you are always writing in the light, always aware in some way of your own shadow.’  Performance poet Eleanor Jackson also wrote about being in the light on a stage.  She described the discomfort that comes from being aware ‘that what I look like, as a woman, as a queer woman, as a woman of colour (light-skinned or otherwise) says something to an audience that I cannot always control, let alone neutralise.’  Yvette Walker, author of Letters to the End of Love, describes how lesbian/queer writers dip in and out of vision,We appear. We disappear. We are in. We are out. Our history (such as it is) has mostly been made on the run, written in code, whispered from one generation to another.’ 

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerThis history of appearing and disappearing, of glimpses and readings and mis-readings of identity, echo Terry Castle’s words in The Apparitional Lesbian: ‘When it comes to lesbians … many people have trouble seeing what’s in front of them.  The lesbian remains a kind of “ghost effect” in the cinema world of modern life: elusive, vaporous, difficult to stop – even when she is there, in plain view, mortal and magnificent’ (2).  As Castle details in her book, this ghosting has happened for centuries, and our guest writers’ posts, with their meditations on appearing and disappearing, show that it’s still happening.

So, what can one do to increase the representation of queer/lesbian women writers?  How can one, as Eleanor writes, ‘eras[e] the kind of shame that has been appended to those categories’ and draw into question ‘the assumptions we all make about what is good, what is normal, what is acceptable, and what is valuable’?

You pick up a book.

You ask,’ as Yvette writes, ‘who am I, and somewhere, someone will answer you back.’  She found answering voices in Elizabeth Bishop and E.M. Forster, and I compiled a list of Australian lesbian/queer women writers so that there would be other voices for readers to find. 

redback-cameronThese voices were also to be found in crime fiction by lesbian/queer Australian women writers, as detailed in Bernadette Bean’s post on lesbian characters, and in interviews with two wonderful crime fiction writers, Katherine Howell and Lindy Cameron.

Lindy also suggested that straight writers shouldn’t ‘be nervous about including queer, gay, lesbian, trans and bi characters’, while readers can ‘read more widely. Don’t be put off if you think the book is ‘full’ of lesbians or gay guys.’

To this end, it was fabulous to see AWW participants reading and reviewing books by Australia’s lesbian/queer women writers.  Writer Amanda Curtin reviewed Andrea Goldsmith’s The Memory Trap, a work about the entrapment, the different faces of memory, and unrequited love.  She liked the book well enough to chase up Goldsmith’s other works – as she mentions, a good endorsement!

Deserving-death-howellSally from Oz loved Katherine Howell’s Deserving Death, writing that ‘I always briefly worry before I open a new Katherine Howell book that maybe this book is going to be the one that doesn’t quite make it when compared to the others, it never is – it’s always amazing.’  She also appreciated the way Howell made her characters human, by detailing their personal as well as their professional lives.  Howell talks more about this novel in her fabulous interview with AWW contributing editor Marisa.

AHandwrittenModernClassicMoorheadMarilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Finola Moorhead’s A Handwritten Classic.  Moorhead’s Remember the Tarantella is one of Marilyn’s favourites, and she also enjoyed this earlier book which is ‘a compilation of [Moorhead’s] thoughts and definitions during two specific weeks of her life and is full of spontaneity.  It is literately a visual reproduction of what she wrote by hand; meaning that the reader must figure out what words are before addressing their meaning.’  Moorhead is not, Marilyn notes, ‘an easy author to read, especially if you prefer writing that is clear, linear, and conventional’, but often this makes for more rewarding reading.

RupettaSulwayThere were two reviews of Nike Sulway’s speculative fiction novel Rupetta – one by Jane from GoodReads, who found the writing ‘liquidly delicious’, while the world that Sulway created was ‘brilliantly imagined and purely itself’, although she felt that perhaps too many ideas were canvassed.  I came across this book while compiling the list of queer/lesbian women writers and it knocked my socks off.  You can read my review hereI also reviewed Michelle’s beautiful memoir Ghost Wife, which I loved for its poignancy and humour.

All these stories contribute to the process of recognising and increasing representation of lesbian/queer women writers, although categorising writers like this is of course problematic.  As Indigenous author Anita Heiss commented at a salon at Avid Reader for the Stella Prize on International Women’s Day in 2012, ‘I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a black woman writer, I just want to be a writer.’  However, this takes time, and until then we need stories to, as Eleanor notes, ‘make “other” people, gay people, ethnic people, less unfamiliar’ so that ‘perhaps we will recognise their intrinsic humanity more easily.’

And as Michelle observes, ‘The world bubbles with stories about different kinds of lives, but often we don’t hear much about them’.  Thank you to AWW’s readers and reviewers for listening to those stories and increasing the knowledge and visibility of Australia’s lesbian/queer women writers – I hope you’ll keep reading their works.  Also, the winners of our book giveaway are Marilyn of Me, You and Books, and Sally from Oz!  I’ll be in touch about getting your books to you.

Thank you also to our wonderful guest writers, AWW editors, and to Katherine and Lindy for your contributions, which have made March an exciting and rewarding month!  I’ll be back at the end of April with my regular diversity roundup.

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Interview with Lindy Cameron

Lindy CameronFollowing Marisa’s brilliant interview with crime writer Katherine Howell last week for our focus on lesbian and queer women writers in March, we have an interview with another crime writer, Lindy Cameron.

Lindy wears a number of literary hats: she’s the author of crime titles including the Kit O’Malley trilogy Blood Guilt, Bleeding Hearts and Thicker Than Water, and the recent Redback; she runs the publishing company Clan Destine Press; she’s a founding member of Sisters in Crime Australia, which promotes crime writing by women; and has edited the group’s magazine Stiletto for nearly two decades.  I’m impressed she found time to answer my questions!

Clan Destine PressLindy has a special offer for AWW participants who sign up to the Clan Destine GOLD newsletter.  If you subscribe, you can get 35-50% off all titles. See this post for further details.

Lindy has always thought of herself as a writer – her first ‘novel’ was a serialized mystery written when she was age 11. She suspects, like many Aussie crimes writers that it was Enid Blyton’s fault that she turned to a life of crime. Below, she talks about her writing, publishing queer/lesbian writers, her research, and juggling everything in between.

Does your identity as a queer/lesbian writer inform what you write and publish?

redback-cameronIt informs what I write. While the ‘story’ dictates the types of characters I need, I always have a least one gay – female or male – in every story. And they mostly just turn up. It’s not a conscious thing – except in the case of the O’Malley series; and in my scifi novella Feedback. Even in Redback – which is my kickarse, all-explodey action novel– the sexuality of my female protagonist Bryn Gideon is ‘queered’. But, as there’s no actual sex happening on the page, it was all in the subtext. I was looking for a different audience for my books and thought making the hero a woman was enough – for the first book at least.

Given the success of queer protagonists like Lisbeth Salander, though, I’m thinking I should ditch the subtext and get to the point. Then again, that series was written by a man… so there’s a whole other topic for possible-ranty discussion. Would the Millennium Trilogy have been relegated to being a women’s crime series, rather than an international phenomenon, if it had been written by ‘Stella’ Larsson?

Out of the Black LandIn terms of publishing I am actively looking for QILTBAG writers. I’ve been scouring the woodwork – looking for Aussie writers who identify with any of those initials. So far I’ve scored some short stories and novellas for Encounters – our erotica imprint – but I’d love some crime, specfic, and urban fantasy (please, some queer urban fantasy); and oh, hello!, gay and lesbian sci fi writers – where are you?

We do have Unnaturals, a terrific dark urban fantasy novel which includes action, romance, more action, lesbians, monsters, and polyamory, but some more historical writers too would be fabulous. The boys in Kerry Greenwood’s splendid Out of the Black Land are getting lonely, and would love some new characters to join them on the Clan’s history shelf.

How do you go about researching  your novels?

BloodGuiltAKitOmalleyMy5226_fIt depends. My character-based O’Malley novels sort of grew organically. As my hero, the lesbian ex-cop private investigator Kit O’Malley, began her fictional life in Blood Guilt by investigating an errant husband, there wasn’t a lot needed for research.  It was more along the lines of ensuring that one of my other main characters – the city of Melbourne – was accurate and interesting and vibrant. I did have a couple of drug and gun type things I needed to verify when the book was finished, so I asked an ex-cop I knew.      I didn’t really need to research the ‘lesbian’ part of the series, but it was my aim to create a lesbian hero/protagonist who was totally comfortable with who she was. And was also surrounded by completely ‘out’ lesbian and straight friends, none of whomever felt the need to talk ‘about’ their sexuality. Kit was falling in lust and love while solving crimes – but there was zero angst about who she was falling for – except in the best tradition of URST making the whole sexual tension last as long as possible.

Bleeding HeartsBy the time I was writing Bleeding Hearts and Thicker Than Water – the second and third books in the series – I had, and still have, a wealth of contacts within the Sisters in Crime membership to call on for research before, during and after writing. Sisters in Crime Australia – of which I am a founding member and National Co-Convenor – is the best organisation for authors, emerging crime writers and readers of crime fiction.

The research for my very first novel Golden Relic – which is an archaeological mystery adventure – I did mostly using library books and the fledgeling internet. And I mean ‘fledgeling’ – given Golden Relic was one of the first ever officially serialised books on the internet.

Redback – my most recent action adventure – however was researched almost entirely via the internet. It was the best way to find out about terrorist organisations, the White House, various kickarse weapons and how to blow up a train and a helicopter. As you do.

What was the spark for establishing Clan Destine Press?

The idea to start my own publishing company had been floating around my ‘in-your-dreams, Lindy,’  imagination for a long, long time.

thicker-than-waterI’ve been part of countless conversations and rants with many fellow authors over the years about the general state of publishing, and the lack of opportunities for authors in Australia. Too many of us were dissatisfied with the attention paid by the Big Publishing Houses to their own mid-list Australian authors. We were frustrated by those same publishers who pigeon-holed their authors into one genre and wouldn’t let them experiment with others. And we all knew emerging writers who just weren’t getting noticed because the big four or five Houses were too busy importing bestsellers from overseas to notice what was going on here. So the idea of wishing we could do something about it was a regular topic of conversation amongst my fellow writers.

And then, one day in 2010, I realised that I had the all the skills necessary to start my own ‘small’ totally-independent publishing company. I had been a book editor for many years, I knew layout, I new lots of authors and cover artists and designers. I had industry contacts. I had time.

Clan Destine Press was created as a genre fiction specialist.

We were looking for new Australian voices in crime, spec fic, historial fiction, horror, scifi, fantasy and horror – for adults, YA and kids. I also offer opportunities to existing authors to talk to us if they have a project that doesn’t fit their current publisher’s pigeon-hole. We publish many of our authors in paperback and eBook; and have a huge ditigal-only list, which includes the backlists of authors who have joined the Clan with their latest books. We now also have three (and counting) digital Imprints – Crime Shots, Encounters, Clan Destine Fictions – for our true crime; and for our novellas, short fiction, and short-story collections.

What can be done to encourage more representation of lesbian/queer characters in fiction?

QueermanceBlogs like this are a great way to start. And, as readers and writers, reposting this and other discussions about writing more-inclusive fiction. Also – even if you’re a straight writer – don’t be nervous about including queer, gay, lesbian, trans and bi characters. I’m sure you know one or two in real life that you could consult if you’re worried about ‘getting things right’. But then, you know, we’re humans first, so being gay etc., can be mentioned in passing in much the way as any of your straight characters who don’t acutally have sex in your book. Minor characters Bill or Jim can go home to Barry or Steve; and Linda can go on a date with Julia.

If you’re a reader the thing you can do is read more widely. Don’t be put off if you think the book is ‘full’ of lesbians or gay guys. Given the ‘hot thing’ at the moment is male/male romance written by women for women, that’s probably less of an issue than it used to be. (And possibly a topic for another blog.)

What are some great books we should be reading?

The Raven's HeartHmm – well, as the publisher of Clan Destine Press, I would naturally say all of our books.  In terms of the QILTBAG context of the blog I would say, all of my books; the aforementioned Out of the Black Land and Unnaturals; and the following from our Encounters imprint: Loveless, Homecoming, Standing Date, Perfect Timing, and the brand new Queermance Anthology.

Australian queer-themed books (by women) that don’t belong to Clan Destine Press: The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder; Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phryne Fisher novel, Murder and Mendelssohn; the fantasy duology Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman; and anything by the late, extraordinary Dorothy Porter, but especially The Monkey’s Mask.

How do your juggle writing with the day-to-day running of the press (or with life in general)?

I will let you know when I work it out.  My own writing fell by the wayside in CDP’s first couple of years, so I now have a weekly writing day, when I go to a cafe with a writer friend and work on my current book.


We’re looking forward to Lindy’s next book when it comes!  In the meantime, you can read any of the titles by lesbian/queer Australian women writers that she’s mentioned to be in the running for a copy of either Michelle Dicinoski’s Ghost Wife and Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love.   You have until the end of March to link your review!

Diversifying in death: Interview with Katherine Howell

Katherine Howell

Two years ago, I slipped through a door into a convention room in Perth and sat down to listen to Katherine Howell. What intrigued me was part of the blurb for the session – Katherine Howell had been a paramedic for fifteen years before she had her crime fiction published.

That, to me, seemed impressive. She had all she needed to know about the system right at her fingertips in order to write a believable plot. And she still did research.

March is Diversity month here at Australian Women Writers and Ms Howell’s seventh novel to feature her detective Ella Marconi, Deserving Death, is now out with a lesbian as one of the main characters.

“I’ve had gay and lesbian characters in my books before but not as point-of-view characters, so I really enjoyed writing both Carly and Linsey,” Katherine tells me via email from over East where she’s got one week left on a writing deadline.

Deserving Death by Katherine Howell

Both plot and characters worked together in her favour in Deserving Death – the relationship creating issues that were central to the story.

“Carly is a paramedic and is out, while Linsey is her closeted girlfriend,” Katherine explained.

“I’m always looking for ways to put the characters under more stress in the stories, so using that issue of their relationship having to be secret, and Linsey desperately wanting to tell her family but being so afraid, was a good way to do that while also having Carly under pressure with her work situation and her suspicions about the crime.”

Web of Deceit by Katherine HowellWriting crime fiction is difficult and weaving a web, much like the sixth novel in the series titled Web of Deceit, where the detective can solve the crime and yet it still isn’t a cakewalk for the reader is a tough ask. And that’s assuming you have an idea in the first place. But for Katherine, inspiration exists everywhere.

“I think it’s the same for me as for many other writers,” she writes, quite candidly.

“A little seed of an idea appears, maybe in a newspaper article, or something we overhear, or something that pops up in our heads, then we start to think about where that could go, and what could happen next, and next, and next. I think about who’s dead and who killed them and why, and then about ways I can hide that from the reader and have them suspecting different people along the way and busting to find out the truth. It sounds quite a neat process there, but it’s not – there are lots of mental dead-ends and scrawling of notes on sheets of paper. Lots of frustration too.”

It’s nowhere near a neat process. Not for Katherine Howell, the steady routine of some other writers. It’s almost a relief to hear that she is quite human about the way she writes.

“I waste a lot of time dithering and feeling anxious,” she confesses, making it all the more amazing that she has graciously taken time out to answer questions despite having a deadline.

“Once I make myself get rolling I try to do one or two thousand a day, and sometimes that takes just a couple of hours, sometimes many more. I write best in the afternoon and every so often will write late into the night if I get into the flow of it.”

And then there’s humour: “Every year I promise myself I’ll be more disciplined. So far I haven’t been.”

But while it all seems quite normal so far, there are certain facts that leap out at you that speak a lot about how dedicated she is to writing.

Frantic by Katherine HowellShe wrote four manuscripts while studying, the last of which was sent off to an agent who returned it saying she needed to understand how to craft suspense. She then turned around and enrolled in a Masters degree to study how suspense was created in fiction and applied it to her own manuscript. When she graduated she sent it back to the agent and the first Ella Marconi novel Frantic was published in 2007 and won the 2008 Davitt Award for best crime fiction.

“I’ve always loved reading, and even as a child loved the thought of writing my own stories that would draw a reader in just as I was drawn into the books I read. That’s what I still love about it now, and when I write I think about what the reader might suspect is happening, or be expecting to happen next, and try to turn that on its head to keep them guessing, and reading.”

And would she ever stray from the love affair she seems to have concocted with the crime fiction genre? Would she ever write other stories? She admits to the affair readily enough:

“I love crime fiction! I read a lot of it and it seemed quite natural that that’s what I would write. I’d certainly be open to writing something else if I had the urge, but so far there hasn’t been one.”

Perhaps that’s because there is no need for that urge when her current one is uniquely hers and still going strong – Ella Marconi is the mainstay throughout the series but the paramedics differ. It’s a strange setup but nevertheless a useful tactic providing something both familiar for readers and yet introducing something new each time. But it came about because she wanted to use her fifteen years of experience riding in ambulances and dealing with blood and death firsthand.

“I couldn’t work out a way to write a crime series with just paramedic characters, so developing a detective character was really the only option to make it all work,” she writes.

Ella herself was baptised from a baby book and the White Pages: “I knew she had to be tough, as a woman working in the male-dominated police for so many years, and that she’d be idealistic — which can get her into trouble — at the same time as being cynical, frustrated and bored of the red tape,” she says.

“I chose a first name from a baby name book, a name that was not masculine/ambiguous. I wanted something distinctly female – then went through the White Pages for a surname that felt right.”

My last question is whether she has advice for other writers. For her, that’s an easy answer: “To never give up.”

She clarifies: “It’s easy to think that a first draft is awful, and to give up right there. The people who succeed are the ones who’ll work on it to make it better, and edit over and over again, put it aside and write something new and then edit that over and over.”

Tenacity. Persistence. Determination. With seven novels under her belt, a range of diverse characters scattered through them, a personal history of using a Masters degree to teach herself how to improve her writing, this is a writer who knew what her goal was from the start and puts everything into her work.

And now you have seven novels to read and review for Australian Women Writers while we wait for Katherine Howell’s next book.

Which presumably she is pulling all nighters to write, right now.

You can find Katherine Howell’s novels at her website. Her latest novel Deserving Death is out right now.

About me
Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice and is currently based in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run national publishing conferences and currently sits on the Society of Editors (WA) and WA Media Alliance committees. She writes book reviews for The West and the ABR, science news for Science Network WA and writes novels in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and lends her geek goddess expertise to the Guys Read Gals project and the Society of Editors (WA). You can catch her on her blog at or on Twitter @mwikramanayake

Sleuthing and Sexuality

Continuing our focus on lesbian and queer women writers over March, AWW’s contributing editor Bernadette Bean has penned a post on crime fiction featuring lesbian/queer women characters.  As Bernadette mentions, it’s surprising, given the amount of crime fiction written by women or which has strong female characters, that there aren’t more portrayals of lesbian/queer characters.  Their lack of representation in texts contributes to the invisibility of lesbians/queer women in general, so it’s important that we promote books that highlight their strength and diversity.

If you’d like to read and review some of the books mentioned by Bernadette, you can be in the running for a copy of Michelle Dicinoski’s memoir Ghost Wife, or Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love.  Michelle and Yvette have written guest posts for this month’s spotlight, and you can read their posts here and here.  Simply link your review of the work by an Australian lesbian or queer women writer by the end of March, and I’ll select two names randomly.

Clan Destine PressOn another note, Clan Destine Press, which was established by Lindy Cameron (mentioned by Bernadette in her post), has a special offer for AWW participants.  CDP has over 40 titles in a wealth of genres, so you’ll be sure to find something you’ll like.

With so many incentives, now’s the time to go forth and read!

Lesbian/Queer Crime Fiction in Australia

Arriving on the mainstream mystery landscape shortly after pioneering, straight female heroines Sharon McCone’s Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski all burst onto the scene, Katherine V. Forrest’s former Marine and an LAPD homicide detective Kate Delafield is generally acknowledged as the first openly lesbian protagonist in modern, series-based crime fiction. The first novel in which she features is 1984’s AMATEUR CITY and it seemed to spark a flurry of activity in the sub-genre over the next decade or so, including Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series in the UK.

LessonsInMurderMcNabIn Australia, Claire McNab (a pseudonym for Australian-born now LA-based author Claire Carmichael) took up the mantle with 1988’s LESSONS IN MURDER which introduced high-flying New South Wales Detective Inspector Carol Ashton, called in to investigate the death-by-power-tool of a teacher who is also the son of prominent figure on the political scene. In this first novel Ashton is still very much in the closet as far as her colleagues go, but her sexuality is on display to readers as she becomes involved with Sybil, a woman who is considered the prime suspect for much of the book. The series, which currently stands at 17 instalments, is as much concerned with exploring Ashton’s sexuality and how it impacts her life and career as it is with solving its myriad crimes. The complex story arc of Ashton’s coming out was not really complete until the sixth novel of the series, 1994’s BODY GUARD.

BloodGuiltAKitOmalleyMy5226_fLindy Cameron’s trilogy of detective stories starting with 1998’s BLOOD GUILT is in many ways the opposite of McNab’s series, although its heroine is also a lesbian. However Kit O’Malley is a private detective not a policewoman, her stomping ground is Melbourne not Sydney and the stories in which she features are largely unconcerned with the small-p politics surrounding her sexuality. Having set out to create Australia’s first angst-free lesbian PI Cameron achieves this aim with aplomb, depicting a physically clumsy but witty and acerbic protagonist who manages a hectic romantic life alongside her professional investigations, which start when a body is found in the fishpond of her latest client.

Other than in these two series, lesbian characters have not been prominent in the kind of mainstream, accessible crime fiction popular in Australia though occasional characters do crop up. For example Katherine Howell’s seventh novel DESERVING DEATH, published earlier this year, features a lesbian couple, with one member fearful of coming out to her judgmental family. The pressure this puts on the couple is explored as one of several topical relationship issues that form a backdrop to the main storyline.

There are other works featuring lesbian characters which can be called crime fiction though these tend to be more stridently political and/or experimental and are not always identified as being of the genre by readers or their authors:

  • Jan McKemmish’s A GAP IN THE RECORDS, published in 1985, makes a strong point about the invisibility of women in society in its deliberate attempt to subvert the traditional masculine spy novel by positing a world in which international counterintelligence is run by a group of middle-aged Australian women whose sexuality is but one of the big political themes explored. The book is subversive in form as well as content, being told by way of narrative snippets, extracts from records, postcards and maps.
  • still murderIn 1991 Finola Moorhead’s STILL MURDER was similarly unusual in telling its complex, grand story of murder, rape and war crimes with a mixture of diary entries, news clippings and detective’s notebooks. Its lesbian characters are angst-ridden, but no more so than its straight ones. Check out AWW Challenge star reviewer Marilyn Brady’s far more in-depth insights on this novel which generated a comment from the elusive author herself.
  • Perhaps the most subversive of all, at least in terms of its form, is Dorothy Porter’s 1995 novel THE MONKEY’S MASK which is told entirely in verse. Subtitled An Erotic Murder Mystery the book features lesbian private detective Jill Fitzpatrick who is hired first to find a missing university student but is soon looking for the girl’s killer instead. She becomes involved with the girl’s poetry professor who is drop-dead gorgeous and, of course, a suspect in the killing.

There is a lot of crime fiction published in Australia and a decent chunk of it written by women and/or featuring female characters in significant roles. It therefore seems somewhat peculiar how little of it features lesbian characters. In her 2005 work of literary criticism THE GAY DETECTIVE NOVEL Judith Markowitz wrote:

Despite the attempt to reach a crossover audience, gay/lesbian detective fiction remains ghettoized…. Furthermore, mainstream bookstores still allocate very little shelf space to gay/lesbian mysteries… The end result is continued invisibility of this body of literature which, in turn, restricts the visibility of lesbian and gay life as a whole” (p6).

Although Markowitz’s book generally refers to the American mystery publishing scene of nearly a decade ago it seems her premise could just as easily apply to the Australian scene in 2014.

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, since 2010.

January 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Welcome back to the monthly wrap-ups for reviews of books that showcase diversity!  2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year, with a focus on Australian queer women writers in March and on women writers with a disability in September, while in July we’ll bring you an interview with an Indigenous women writer.

We strive to draw attention to such diverse authors all throughout the year however, and over January the challenge kicked off with six great reviews.

theswanbook-wrightChris White reviewed Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, which is about a girl, Oblivia, surviving in a world altered by climate change.  The book inspired a variety of emotion, leaving Chris ‘deliriously happy, thanks to the beautiful combinations of brilliant prose and of the teasing, twisting poetry. It made me feel guilty, as a white Australian, of the Intervention and of our treatment of Aboriginals in general’.  Chris’ final recommendation – ‘If I didn’t feel like giving The Swan Book six stars was cheating I’d give it seven’ – should persuade anyone to pick up this novel!

channelling mannalargenna marksSue of Whispering Gums mused on an essay by English author Kathy Marks which won the Indigenous Affairs award at the Walkley Awards.  Titled ‘Chanelling Mannalargenna’, it discusses the ‘thorny issue regarding the definition of indigeneity in Tasmania.’  The essay reminded Sue of Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? in that it, as Heiss writes in her book, pointed to the ‘complexities around individual and collective Aboriginal identity’.  The essay is available online through Griffith Review’s website and is part of their bestselling issue on Tasmania, and it’s well worth a read.

Old-school-196-300There’s been much excitement about the release of PM Newton’s second novel, Beams Falling, a sequel to her tightly-bound, plotted and paced The Old School.  Bree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed the latter, and ‘was engrossed … from the very first page and couldn’t wait for each twist to unfold and each new bit of information to present itself.’  The story revolves around Ned, a detective whose Dad was Irish-Australian and Mum was Vietnamese and who, as Bree writes, ‘seems to face judgement and preconceptions about her appearance every day with few people understanding that she identifies as Australian with no real connection or ties to her Vietnamese heritage’. The book was such a good read for Bree that she’s been persuaded to ‘read more crime’.  As an admirer, too, of The Old School, I’m also really looking forward to the sequel.

beloved-faulknerIt was great to see another review of Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved.  As reviewer Maureen writes, the protagonist Bertie’s encounter with polio leaves her ‘with a disability which means she must eventually wear a boot to correct her gait. Her deformed foot impacts on her perception of herself and how she chooses to dress, as well as forces her to compensate in many areas of her life.’  Despite her disability, Bertie is determined to practice her art, an impulse which is at odds with her mother’s desire that she become a doctor.  The conflict is a plot device, as Maureen notes, and ‘the battle between mother and daughter draws the story along at a page-turning pace, ensuring an easy read.’

caleb-200-300Australian women writers such as Geraldine Brooks have  focussed on the encounters and histories of Indigenous people in other countries.  In Caleb’s Crossing, as Marilyn of Me, You and Books writes, Brooks’ depiction of a friendship between Bethia, a girl from a Puritan family, and Caleb, a Native American, contributes to the dismantling of the ‘widespread assumptions that all Indians were like those involved in the wars with settlers in the late 1800s.’  For Australian readers, Marilyn continues, it also ‘provides a comparison with their own nation’s initial settlement a century and a half later. And the book excels as simply an enjoyable novel.’

gil-scott-heron-parole-clarkeDiversity was also showcased in poetry this month, with poet Katie Keys penning a review of Gil Scott Heron is on Parole by poet Maxine Beneba Clarke, an Australian poet of Afro-Caribbean descent (also mentioned by Marisa in the poetry/short stories roundup).  In this work, as Katie writes, ‘Clarke highlights and re-writes stories from the convenient myths of colonialists, oppressors and misogynists to white-faced fairytales and out-dated definitions. The collection is at moments harsh and angry, sometimes shocking. But change isn’t always polite and the revolution will not be televised.  Overall, it is powerful, persuasive and justified’.

On the topic of things poetic, on Tuesday we will have the first of our guest writers for our spotlight on queer women writers, Michelle Dicinoski.  Michelle is also a poet – her first collection is the stunning Electricity for Beginners – and author of the memoir Ghost Wifeabout her journey to Canada to marry her wife Heather. Stay posted for further details!


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.


AWW2014 Crime Roundup #1

hades foxTo date the third Australian Women Writers Challenge has garnered 20 reviews in the crime/mystery/thriller category with Candice Fox’s HADES taking the early lead as far as numbers go, generating three reviews so far. Lou Murphy at The Newton Review of Books lets us know early on what kind of crime novel it is

Hades is not the kind of book to snuggle up in bed with at night – it would undoubtedly give you nightmares. This disturbing crime début from Candice Fox is best read armed with a stiff drink and a strong stomach.

You’ve been warned! The book concerns an underworld ‘fixer’ who lives at an outer Sydney rubbish tip where he raised two orphans who have since become police officers. Definitely not your average storyline there.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

18350347Other fiction titles to generate reviews for the start of this year’s challenge include

  • a reminder that Colleen McCullough has published five historical crime novels (so far) though Sam Still Reading’s review of SINS OF THE FLESH suggests that the main character’s long holiday in this instalment had something of a negative impact
  • I reviewed the only novel I’ve ever read set on Thursday Island. Catherine Titasey’s MY ISLAND HOMICIDE has an enveloping setting, a great protagonist and takes a refreshing attitude to local indigenous issues but it does owe at least as much to the romance genre as it does to crime (which may be a good or bad thing depending on your open-mindedness to genre mashups).
  • Deserving-death-howellTeddyree at The Eclectic Reader enjoyed Katherine Howell’s seventh novel DESERVING DEATH even though she picked the culprit prior to the end. She urges you to get yourself a copy (or why not the whole series?) and I have to say I agree with her.
  • Shelleyrae’s review of Kathryn Ledson’s MONKEY BUSINESS over at Book’d Out does make me curious: a book about black market Tupperware!

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

rough justiceOver at Devoted Eclectic challenge founder Elizabeth Lhuede included a rare review of a true crime work, Robin Bowles’ ROUGH JUSTICE which discusses eight Australian legal cases in which the accused have professed their innocence.

Bowles looks at the processes behind these cases and reveals grave flaws in the judicial system. Her discussion identifies various points at which an innocent person can be unjustly convicted, including incompetence in how evidence is gathered or interpreted, possible police corruption and coercion of witnesses, bias created in the minds of both witnesses and potential jurors by the media, and flawed judicial proceedings. The problems, she suggests, come from our adversarial system which demands two sides play off against one another; the winner, she implies, is often the side with the deepest pockets.

Lhuede is not convinced though

In her efforts to tell two (or more) sides of the story, Bowles, I feel, manipulates me; it’s as if I’m being drawn to form one opinion, only for the facts subsequently to be presented in an equally convincing, sometimes opposite way.


Bowles weighs down, in my view, on the side of empathy for the defendants, not because she demonstrates their innocence or virtue, but because she shows how these people – guilty or innocent – are equally screwed by the system.

Sounds thought-provoking. As such a subject should be.

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Crime, Mystery, Thriller and Suspense

Once again mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense novels, detective stories (and the very occasional true crime book) have featured fairly heavily in the Australian Women Writers challenge, garnering an official total of 169 reviews and generating the following vaguely interesting statistics

  • 99 books were reviewed
  • 62 authors were reviewed
  • 56 reviewers posted at least one review for this category
  • the oldest publication date of any book reviewed was 1989
  • 85 of the reviews were of books published in 2013

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web-of-deceit-howellThis year Katherine Howell takes out the honour of most reviewed author, generating 15 reviews of 4 of her novels with the latest, WEB OF DECEIT, being the most popular of her titles under discussion (10 reviews). Carol from Reading, Writing and Riesling has a typically positive response to the novel about a man who appears to have committed suicide

This narrative is complex with well written; an enthralling sequence of events, of coincidences (or are they?) and of consequences that culminate in one moment of terror. The main characters are appealing, likable, I loved the city street-scapes, the reality of lives – the familiar and the fly on the wall observations of others work and routines. Howell presents a story of intrigue that is guaranteed to have you staying up late so as to finish this book.

While Heidi from …but books are better focuses on the realism Howell brings to her writing, including the not so glamorous side of crime fighting

Drawing on her own experiences in the [paramedic] profession, the stories are believable and engaging, the information accurate and detailed enough to also hold the interest of readers who are in the medical profession. Her “warts and all” approach paints a realistic picture of life on the city streets and the city’s inhabitants. This is no glorified Hollywood movie – unlike many other crime novelists she is not afraid to unmask the boring and tedious side of police work, which form a large part of any investigation, such as workplace politics and restrictions such as funding cuts and red tape.

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dark-horse-brownThe next most popular book was Honey Brown’s DARK HORSE which attracted 9 reviews and although a couple of people disagreed about the book’s trailer all agreed that the tale of a woman taking refuge from a flash flood in an isolated hut who is joined by a suspicious lone bushwalker is unputdownably (yes I do know it’s not a word) scary. Teddyree at The Eclectic Reader gives us a sense with this description

It’s intense, edgy and tight. Dread creeps – pulse quickens – adrenalin pumps – heart sits in throat and you read til 3am because there’s just no way you can sleep not knowing and when you figure out where it’s going … sucker punch right in the guts.

Karen at Newton Review of Books also mentions a lack of sleep and continues…

DARK HORSE is an absolute classic case of foreboding that’s built into a story that seems to be heading in one direction until it jumps out from behind a rock and mugs the reader with a twist that you shouldn’t see coming. To be fair, though, this is a novel by Honey Brown so you know you’re going to get mugged, you just don’t know where, how or by whom.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

But it’s not all about popularity here at the AWW Challenge so here are my highlights from the remaining reviews:


In her discussion of fellow Tasmanian writer Poppy Gee’s BAY OF FIRES Josephine Pennicott uses her local knowledge to outline the real-life cases the book is partly based on and discusses the ethics of basing crime fiction on real events, especially relatively recent ones that have brought heartache and trauma to people who are still living but concludes that it is“vital for these stories to be told”. 

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

in-her-blood-hauxwellWhen discussing Annie Hauxwell’s IN HER BLOOD, which features a protagonist who is a ‘functional drug addict’ Bree from all the books I can read raises a dichotomy I have felt myself when meeting such characters “I think that on one hand, the addiction breathes fresh life into what is quite a well-trodden path but at the same time it also makes it rather difficult to connect with Catherine and feel anything for her – except perhaps pity”.  I can’t help feeling sorry for writers – we readers are so very difficult to please eh?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

monkey's mask porterMy ‘most pithily succinct review award’ goes to the writing reader at Writereaderly who wrote, of Dorothy Porter’s crime novel in verse, THE MONKEY’S MASK, “The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book”. What else do we need to know?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

hindsight-melanie-caseyI liked the way that in his review of Melanie Casey’s HINDSIGHT John Nebauer teases out that the main character’s apparently unique problems might be something common to others as well

What I really enjoyed was the struggle that Cass had with her gift. Though their gifts differed from hers, it was a struggle Cass has shared with her mother and grandmother. It is perhaps true that anyone who is especially gifted struggles with its use.

Good point and a reminder to me not to be so close-minded about subjects not to read…I might learn something despite myself.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
let-the-dead-lieAt Me, You, and Books Marilyn Brady reminds us that crime novels can explore all facets of our lives and history with her review of Malla Nunn’s LET THE DEAD LIE: a historical mystery set in 1950′s South Africa

The depiction of South Africa under apartheid by Nunn sets her mystery apart from others. Most of us think of apartheid as the stark division of white and black people, as it was envisioned by its designers.  The reality, as Nunn displays, was messier…The line between black and white was never clear.  In between Europeans and Africans were “non-Europeans,” people from India and those of mixed lineage who might pass.   A person’s racial identity could be changed, and with a change came a different set of rules to be observed.

curse scarab hanna

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

I didn’t notice a significant number of reviews for YA crime novels but Sally from Books and Musings from Downunder did review one that sounds delightfully offbeat. H.Y. Hanna’s CURSE OF THE SCARAB is told from the point of view of Honey, a Great Dane, who has to look into the disappearance of other dogs from her local park and Sally says the book “has it all, a rollicking adventure with friendship, danger, laughter, bravery and dog treats“.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Even though an Australian Women Writer took out the True Crime category in this year’s Ned Kelly Awards none of the people who reviewed the winning book, Robin de Crespigny’s  THE PEOPLE SMUGGLER, assigned it to this category during the challenge which provides further evidence to my oft-repeated argument that genre labeling is a farce. But enough of my griping. The reality is that for the second year in a row true crime didn’t generate a lot of interest for this challenge and I can’t really chide anyone as it’s not something I like to read myself (I prefer to pretend all the bad stuff happens in between pages).

Murdering Stepmothers HaebichAlthough it is a fictionalised account of true events MURDERING STEPMOTHERS: THE EXECUTION OF MARTHA RENDELL by Anna Haebich might be the closest to true crime that challenge participants reviewed. Rendell was a Perth woman convicted of poisoning to death three of her stepchildren in the early 1900s and the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia. Melanie Meyers says of the book

Rather than a straight forward fictionalised biography, Haebich has chosen to narrate the story through a succession of characters either lifted directly, or composited from, the historical record. These multiple points of view give a Haebich a nuanced means of conveying the prevailing attitudes (particularly towards women), bigotry and religious dogma of the time, whilst entertaining variously informed opinions on Rendell’s guilt or otherwise. Rich in detail, it is a narrative devise calculated to show what a woman in Rendell’s position was up against and how she was unlikely to have ever received a fair trial.

Thanks once again to all the writers, readers and reviewers who have made this such a fun and rewarding challenge to be part of. If this wrap-up hasn’t tempted you to read from this genre you can always have a look at last year’s wrap-up or check out all the reviews yourself.

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean and I’m a crime fiction addict. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember and blogging about reading since 2008 at Reactions to Reading. I also co-host Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction and this year was a judge for a major national crime fiction award. For my own participation in the 2013 challenge I read 20 novels and reviewed 18 of them (though, somewhat embarrassingly, forgot to link several of those reviews to the AWW site).

Australian Women Writers of Diverse Heritage: Roundup

Over October, we held a focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage, with book offers and a series of fabulous guest posts.  Tseen Khoo, a researcher and writer on Asian-Australian issues (among many other things), voiced her frustration with the limited readings of texts by Asian Australian women such as Hsu Ming Teo’s Love and Vertigo which, its author has stated, was more about class than race.

Alice Pungunpolished-gem also elaborated on the theme of class, describing the ostracism of Australia’s poor, whose culture of ‘ten dollar K mart shower curtains or those twenty dollar fibreglass Buddhas in every aspiring middle-lower class’ would most likely not make its way into the ‘museums of the future’.  However, we can always find these worlds in literature such as Ruth Park’s novels, which ‘preserve lives that would be lost forever through poverty and neglect’.

beautiful-place-dieIn a similar way, literature enables us to hear the stories of those of diverse heritage who might also be overlooked, whether this be about Alice, the daughter of Cambodians, growing up in suburban Footscray, or the world of 1950s Swaziland where people are divided by race, as in Malla Nunn’s novels.  In her post, Malla wrote of her family’s love of storytelling that accompanied her from Swaziland to Australia, and how Australia gave her the freedom to write of the ‘deep, powerful roots that forever connect me to the colonial backwater where I was born and raised’.

FishHair_LMerlinda Bobis, author of Fish-Hair Woman, also wrote a poetic post about the influence of her culture on her writing and of the sensation of being between two worlds, as she opens, ‘It’s 12 midnight in bed in Australia, and I’m in my grandparents’ ancestral house again, in the village of Estancia, Bikol region, Philippines.’

Writers of diverse heritage have a double vision: a unique perception of life in Australia, and of the life they or their families left behind, which results in rich and varied texts.  It was great to see our readers also reading and recognising this diversity!

hateissuchastrongword_ayoubBree of 1girl2manybooks reviewed two novels, Sarah Ayoub’s Hate is Such a Strong Word, a young adult novel about Sophie, the eldest daughter of a Lebanese-Australian family who writhes under her father’s strictness.  Bree writes that ‘This is the kind of book I could happily talk about forever until I had a review that never stopped’ – now that’s a good recommendation!  She also reviewed The Perfect Wife by Katherine Scholes, who was born in Tanzania but now lives in Australia.  This book was set in Africa after World War Two, as are Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper novels.  The first of these, A Beautiful Place to Die was a fantastic read, and I reviewed it here.

russian-tapestryMonique Mulligan of WriteNoteReviews penned a review of Banafsheh Serov’s first novel, The Russian Tapestry, which begins in St Petersberg in 1913 and spans several years.  Monique describes it as ‘as historical fiction with romantic elements’, and recommends it to ‘those who love historical sagas that weave love and adversity together like Dr Zhivago’.  Banafsheh and her family escaped from Iran to Australia, and her memoir, Under a Starless Sky, relates their experiences.

memory-of-salt-505-721Rita at The Crafty Expat reviewed The Memory of Salt by Alice Melike Ulgezer.  Even though she found the book hard to start with, she responded to its nuances and ambiguities, as she writes, ‘What I really loved in this story was that even though the father of Ali suffers from some kind of mental illness, does terrible things and is not a conventional type of father, I could feel the love the main characters had for him and how special he was in her/his eyes.’

hamiltoncaseMarilyn Brady, who is conducting the Global Women of Color challenge, wrote a detailed review of Michelle de Kretser’s second novel, The Hamilton Case.  Marilyn describes it as a ‘brilliantly constructed novel about Ceylon, the British Empire, and conflicting perceptions of truth by a woman who lived there as a child and knew its mysterious beauty and danger’, a novel in which ‘ambiguity and uncertainty are central themes’.  I really enjoyed de Kretser’s prize-winning Questions of Travel, and Marilyn’s review has prompted me to pick up this one.

We also ran a book giveaway for readers who reviewed books by Australian women writers of diverse heritage.  I had my boss draw three names from a hat, and these were Bree (Hate is Such a Strong Word), Monique (The Russian Tapestry), and Rita (The Memory of Salt).  Congratulations to all our winners (I will be in touch about delivering your books!) and to Malla Nunn, Text Publishing and Black Inc. Books for their generous donations.  Above all, thank you to all who participated last month and helped to highlight the engaging and thought-provoking writing by Australian women writers of diverse heritage.

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

AWW2013 Crime Roundup #7

In the two months since the last roundup of crime, mystery and thriller books 16 reviews have been added to the genre’s tally for the year. A third of them were for Jaye Ford’s latest psychological suspense novel BLOOD SECRET, making it the most popular book of the period by a country mile. It is a story about a woman with a secret who stays in one place a bit too long which turns out to have disastrous consequences for the person she is closest to. Over at Reading, Writing and Riesling Carol says of the book

Ford Blood SecretI liked that the main character Rennie Carter is a strong, self reliant woman with many hidden talents – some she would prefer to remain hidden – along with her gun! Rennie knows her own mind and takes responsibility for her own actions and safety and is compelled to find her missing partner regardless of what the community or the police may be presuming.

This narrative accelerates down a twisting path of lies and assumptions, greed determines the journey and we do not find the truth until the very end.

A fantastic, absorbing and fast paced read. This book is best enjoyed in one sitting – but you won’t really have a conscious choice in that once you begin reading you will be hooked and compelled to read until you reach the very last page!

The other reviews all concur that this one is virtually impossible to put down and lives up to the promise of the thriller tag.

everybreath-marneyMany of the other books reviewed during this period have already been discussed in earlier roundups for the year but a couple of new titles did catch my eye.

EVERY BREATH by Ellie Marney is a Sherlock Holmes-inspired  YA novel featuring a teenage girl who moves to Melbourne from the country and becomes involved in solving a crime with her new neighbour and Shaheen at Speculating on SpecFic writes

The city is brought to life by the author – I liked the emphasis on the small, usually overlooked aspects of the Melbourne, like little eateries, wonderful people, unexpected kindnesses. I think it’s nice because we see the city through Rachel’s eyes, and she’s anti-Melbourne and the big smoke for so long that when she starts seeing how special it is, I could totally see it too.


The murder-mystery aspect of the book had me worried initially, because I thought that teenagers solving a crime alongside the police wouldn’t be believable. Why would adults give them pertinent details and allow them to spin their theories? But Marney handles it well, and I understood why the coroner and police officer wanted to listen. I was sucked into the action: there’s a lot going on and I was always guessing what might happen next.

I figure the book must be good to keep a dedicated speculative fiction fan entertained by a different genre.

Ill-gotten-gains-evansIlsa Evans’ ILL-GOTTEN GAINS is the second in a new cosy series featuring amateur sleuth Nell Forrest which Shelleyrae at Book’d Out enjoyed immensely, particularly its people

I adored the characters, I’d love to share a coffee with Nell (even though I can’t stand the stuff). I love the little asides shared from her column, ‘Middle Age Spread’, and her sense of humour makes me laugh. Nell’s familial relationships are so realistically drawn, I can empathise with the chaos her daughters introduce into her life and the love, and concern, she feels for all of them.

She recommends the book as “…a delightful blend of mystery, humour and domestic drama with a touch of romance”.

As usual then there’s a good range of what the genre has to offer being read and reviewed by crime and mystery fans taking the Australian Women Writers challenge.

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed.

Previous roundups for this category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

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