Earlier this month the lovely people at Scribe held a competition for people who participated in last year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge in which they selected the three best reviews, as nominated by all of us, submitted as part of last year’s Challenge. I love what the judge, Annabel Smith, wrote about her selection criteria

The best reviews were those that went beyond an analysis of the technical prowess of their authors and engaged with the broader issues raised by the books, considering them within social and political as well as literary contexts. In addition, the three reviews I chose as the winners conveyed a certain personality and flair with language which rendered them valuable as texts in their own right, as well as reflections on the texts of others.

So, instead of counting the numbers I thought for this month’s roundup of the crime genre I’d see if I could find a review or two in the crime category so far this year that meets those criteria and share them with you in some depth.

apricot colonelThe first one that struck a chord with me was at Canberra-centric blog Dinner at Caphs. In 2013 Dani is only reading books set in Canberra (a feat only slight;y easier than it would be for me to read books set in my home town of Adelaide). Among the gems she has uncovered is Marion Halligan’s gentle mystery novel from 2006 entitled THE APRICOT COLONEL The heroine of the novel is book editor Cassandra Travers who Dani introduces us to with these thoughts

Cassandra gets her caffeine fix at Tilley’s. In my alternate life I am young and cosmopolitan and have a job in the arts ….and I live walking distance from Tilley’s, where I can be certain that one of my community of young and cosmopolitan friends will be any time I feel like walking in. Cassandra, it turns out, is living my alternate life.

I love the way this tells you a little something about the character and a little about the reviewer. Not only does it make the review more personal but it also, in a really positive way, can tell you if the book is not going to be for you. If, for example, the cosmopolitan, coffee drinking life is not something you’re into then you know this is not one for you and no one has said anything nasty at all. Good job, nicely done.

But where the review really shines in in depicting the book’s ‘sensibility’ (for want of a better word)

The action in The Apricot Colonel takes place in 2003, in the aftermath of the bushfires. The drama of the fires is not part of Cassandra’s story, but its effects are there like a malevolent presence…The 2003 Canberra bushfires were a domestic event made national—even global—by their scale. For a short time at least, the rest of Australia heard the word Canberra as meaning something other than the seat of government.

Again this says so much in so few words. You can easily imagine the presence of the fires in the story and Dani also makes it clear how locals felt…not only about going through such a horrendous natural disaster but also about their perpetual place in the nation’s psyche as nothing but the home of our national government. A point brought home by the last line of Dani’s review “Government is part of Cassandra’s Canberra, but it’s not all of it.”

came-to-say-goodbye-overingtonThe other review I want to highlight here is Kate’s review of Caroline Overington’s I CAME TO SAY GOODBYE which opens with a baby being kidnapped from a hospital. Not only is it a good review offering us a flavour of both the book and the reviewer, but it’s a fine example of a review which found some things not to like about a book but managed to convey those thoughts without being mean or sarcastic or any of the other things often levelled at ‘amateur’ reviewers. Kate tells us

The reverse storytelling didn’t work for me. In some books it’s fantastic (Canada by Richard Ford comes to mind) but in this case the story that unfolds doesn’t appear to be leading up to the opening chapter until the very end. Of course, you can guess how the story will unfold but I like more clues to bring me back to the opening hook.

It’s only taken a couple of sentences for Kate to tell us about the element of the book that didn’t work for her and why it didn’t but without being so mean anyone would feel foolish to actually pick up the book themselves (I’ve seen plenty of negative reviews which seem to have this aim and it’s really not terribly helpful).

Kate went on to say that she wasn’t overly fond of the dialogue sections of the book “on account of all the ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids‘”. Kate pondered whether this was made worse because she listened to some sections of the book via the text-to-speech function of her kindle but the comment struck a chord with me because I listen to a lot of audio books and even though the narrators are a billion times better than the computer generated voice of a kindle this kind of thing can make you (OK me) scream. But aside from the fact I can relate, I thought this was another good example of Kate giving valid reason for one of her dislikes about the book without being condescending or unnecessarily derogatory.

Thanks to Dani and Kate for their terrific reviews and to Annabel from Scribe for inspiring me to seek them out. I would urge you all to read the three winning reviews from last year’s challenge, they’re all terrific.

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