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.

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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”. 

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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

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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“.

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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).