Brand new releases were the most popular subjects for crime genre reviews over the last month of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. The one thing all three brand new books have in common is strong (though very different) female protagonists on whom all the reviews focus.
Jenny Spence‘s NO SAFE PLACE starts with Elly Cartright, a suburban office worker, being met by one of her neighbours just outside her front door. Unfortunately the neighbour’s been shot and soon dies, as does another of Elly’s colleagues which prompts Elly (and presumably her remaining nearest and dearest) to start worrying and hiding. Shelleyrae of Book’d Out picked out the characterisation of Elly as a standout feature of the novel
As a middle aged, single mother, Elly is an atypical heroine for a thriller, she is a rather ordinary woman caught up in something she doesn’t really understand but nevertheless goes on the offensive in order to protect herself and those she loves. While it’s a bit of a stretch to think anyone would be able to adapt to the cloak and dagger routine quite as quickly as Elly does (no matter how many crime shows they may watch), I did enjoy the fact that she made thoughtful decisions and didn’t deliberately place herself at risk…Though this novel ties up all the loose ends, I think there is the possibility that we will we see more of Elly Cartwright in the future and I look forward to it.
Fellow reviewer Brenda also liked Elly, finding her “smart and courageous” and Brenda was also taken by “… the extreme pace of the novel, [with] plenty of action to keep things moving”.
So two lots of thumbs up for this debut Australian novel.
Annie Hauxwell‘s second novel featuring heroin addict and investigator Catherine Berlin is A BITTER TASTE. Here Catherine has lost her job with a financial services agency and is reduced to undertaking a missing persons investigation to repay an old personal debt. Looking for the ten year-old girl places Catherine in all sorts of danger. Shelleyrae of Book’d Out was again quick off the mark reading the latest novels and again it is the central character that attracts Shelleyrae’s attention
Catherine Berlin is a complex protagonist. A functional heroin addict, she has distanced herself from typical junkie behaviour, but as her doctor begins to enforce ‘managed reduction’ of her habit she is concerned about her standards slipping, particularly as she is struggling with the painful physical scarring she was left with after the events first book of the series, IN HER BLOOD. The contradictions inherent in Berlin’s flawed character are intriguing, she appears to be a solid investigator but she is often distracted by her addiction. Law and justice seems to be separate considerations for her, based on her own experiences and cynical view of life. I found Berlin to be likeable but not a character I could really identify with
Bree from 1girl2manybooks echoes this notion that Catherine is an unreachable character for readers
Despite the fact that Catherine is not desperate about where her next fix is coming from in this novel like she was in the first in this series, I still do find it hard to connect with her. She’s a very solitary type of person, she doesn’t have many friends, she rarely speaks to her remaining family. We have only been given the barest hint into some of her past…she seems to have no lasting friendships…As a lead character in what is going to be a series, it is very difficult to get a handle on her. What motivates her other than her fix? Does anything other than that motivate her? … Although I enjoyed this book more than the first one in the series, I feel as though I would’ve liked it more if I’d been able to really get Berlin as a character.
Do we all respond most strongly to characters we “get” or identify with in some way? And if writers know that to be true I wonder what tempts them to introduce a character whom statistics would suggest few people would be able to really connect with?
The final new release to receive attention for the month is another debut novel called HINDSIGHT by Melanie Casey and its central character is Cassie Lehman who has a psychic gift in that she sees and experiences the final moments of those who have died violently! Here she becomes involved with the hunt for a serial killer when she meets a policeman who is, in his spare time, attempting to find out who murdered his own wife. Reviewer John Nebauer says
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. While Cass very much wants to use her sight to find the killer, the cost for her is high. Like her namesake Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess, her sight manifests like a psychic possession. While seeing her visions, Cass is helpless, and to an observer seems possessed. As the blurb states, this is a “not-so-sexy gift”. It has left her without friends, without romance and with uncertain social skills.
That sounds like the kind of gift I could well live without! But John has tempted me to read the copy of the novel that was kindly sent to me by the publisher and is currently languishing on the “oh dear there’s woo woo stuff in here” shelf of my book case.
Other, slightly older, novels to have garnered attention this month include
- Leah Giarratano’s VODKA DOESN’T FREEZE which Brenda gave 5 stars saying it’s “an absolutely gripping thriller…the pace was intense, the violence sensational the plot brilliant! I have no hesitation in recommending this one highly.
- I enjoyed Carolyn Morwood’s depiction of 1920’s Melbourne in CYANIDE AND POPPIES where even riots can’t stop the running of the Melbourne Cup and a young ex war time nurse gets embroiled in the search for the killer of a newspaper reporter.
- Heidi at …but books are better was a little disappointed by Diane Hester’s RUN TO ME saying “I liked the book well enough, but I didn’t love it…I can only put this down to character development and perhaps revealing too much too soon, which robbed the story of much of its mystery and suspense”.
All in all then a pretty good month for the crime genre readers, though I think there has still been only a single true crime review for the year so far! Will there be another in 2013? As for next month I suspect more new releases to feature. I for one am eagerly awaiting the release of Angela Savage’s THE DYING BEACH (though I refuse to acknowledge the rumour that I am already practicing my cough for the illness I plan to succumb to on Wednesday).
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
- AWW2013 Crime Roundup #1
- AWW2013 Crime Roundup #2
- AWW2013 Crime Roundup #3
- AWW 2013 Crime Roundup #4
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!
I’ve just found Shelley Rae’s review of The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins – a book about the killing of unwanted babies in late nineteenth century Australia. It focuses on the investigation and trial of Sarah and John Makin in 1892 for murdering 13 babies in the backyards of various homes in Sydney. It looks like an interesting book.
Inspired by Elizabeth Lhuede’s presentation at the inaugural Rose Scott Women Writers’ Festival at The Women’s Club on 20 July, I have join up to the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. As an independent scholar and an art historian I intend to contribute reviews of mainly non fiction but perhaps some fiction will creep in, particularly in the field of … not exactly crime fiction but fiction involving art and art history: books like Elizabeth Kostova’s ‘the Swan Thieves’. An American author (and genre) to be sure but why not an Australian one as well?
I am not sure of correct procedure but I recently published ‘It Happened Tomorrow’, an art mystery set in Australia and France in which I weave a tale of love lost and found against a backdrop of dirty deeds and warped ambition. The book is available from me, the author Susan Steggall (firstname.lastname@example.org; http://steggalls.com). I would be most happy to send a review copy to anyone interested. It is also available as an e-book.