Reviews by Cloggie Downunder

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The Stranger Diaries
by Elly Griffiths
gripping thriller (3/8/2019)
“It’s one thing to fear a thing for yourself, another to hear it confirmed in a matter-of-fact way by a Detective Sergeant. It’s as if the angel of death has flown over the room, flapping his grisly wings.”

The Stranger Diaries is the first stand-alone novel by British author, Elly Griffiths. When her good friend and colleague in the English Department of Talgarth High School is murdered, Clare Cassidy is shocked. Ella Elphick was a much-loved and respected teacher, and she can’t imagine why anyone would viciously stab her to death. Clare is determined to protect her sixteen-year-old daughter Georgia, a student of Ella’s, from exposure to this awful crime. Might Georgia, though, know more about this murder than she is admitting; perhaps even more than she realises?

Herself an ex-student of Talgarth, DS Harbinder Kaur seems inexplicably suspicious of Clare, and wants to know more about a rumoured affair between Ella and the department head, but Clare is reticent. When Clare checks her personal diary from that time, she’s surprised at the emotions she recorded. But what shocks and scares her is the sentence in italics, addressed to her, that she definitely did not write.

When DS Kaur reveals the text of a note left by the body, Clare, as prospective author of a biography of nineteenth-century Gothic author, R.M. Holland, recognises it as a quote from his short story, The Stranger. A practical joke in the form of a costumed dummy placed in Holland’s study (preserved in Talgarth’s attic) sets Clare’s nerves even more on edge.

Readers familiar with the two (so far) series that Griffiths has written will not be one bit surprised at how well-written this piece of crime fiction is: the three narratives (Clare, Harbinder and Georgia) detail what happens after Ella is murdered (with diary entries and flashbacks to earlier events), and the overlap of these different narratives offers alternative perspectives, gradually revealing facts not initially apparent.

Each revelation brings another possible suspect, until one of those too is murdered. Is life imitating art? The murders look like re-enactments of murders in R.M. Holland’s short story, The Stranger, with elements of Wilkie’s The Woman in White and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Clues are subtly inserted as the story steadily progresses, before then racing headlong to a dramatic climax.

In her gripping thriller, Griffiths manages to include stabbing, garrotting and stigmata; gossip, infidelity and false alibis; a white witch, a ghost and a brave dog; ritual and symbolic artefacts. There are red herrings and not a few surprises, and even the most astute reader is likely to be kept guessing until the final chapters. Recommended!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers
This Is What Happened
by Mick Herron
Excellent British crime fiction. (2/21/2019)
This Is What Happened is the third stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Mick Herron. Twenty-six-year-old Maggie Barnes hadn't made any friends in the time she'd been in London. She lived in a tiny flat and worked a fairly boring job in the post room down in the basement of the Quilp House. A toxic ex-boyfriend had her avoiding Facebook; she'd dipped a toe into the Twittersphere and had seven followers, several of those probably bots.

When Harvey Wells came along to the café she frequented in the park, Maggie was at first wary. But he knew all about her, and when he explained what he needed her to do, and why, she was both flattered and excited. The idea that she could do something worthwhile for her country was rather thrilling.

Dickon Broom had a not-quite PhD in Philosophy at Cambridge, and worked as a language instructor. He’d had a good position at Marylebone Intensive School of English until a student made trouble for him. That rather queered the pitch at his last interview for a teaching position, and these days he relied on giving private lessons (not ideal) for an income. But now he had another problem to deal with, one that stood in the way of the life he deserved to have

Meredith’s younger sister had apparently been missing for two years. She felt bad about that: they'd lost contact after their parents’ funeral. The police didn't seem interested, treating the whole thing as a case of someone who had decided to disappear, so Meredith was making her own enquiries, and now she had someone in her sights.

Herron’s third stand alone is a little different, but still has many of his trademarks: it has all his careful scene setting; his characters are quite believable; their dialogue natural. While the astute reader will, by the first third of the story, have figured out much of what is going on, there are still a good number of twists, surprises and red herrings to keep it interesting.

The humour is there, but much more subtle than the often laugh-out-loud moments in his Jackson Lamb series, and mostly quite black. Readers hoping for any Slough House character cameos will be disappointed, but fans knowing Herron’s tendency to kill off characters will be racing to the dramatic final pages to discover who survives. Excellent British crime fiction.
Nobody Walks
by Mick Herron
Outstanding British crime fiction. (2/18/2019)
Nobody Walks is the second stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Mick Herron. Tom Bettany barely makes it back to London for his son, Liam’s funeral. They were estranged for four years, Tom was out of the country, and a colleague of Liam’s rang to let him know. The calls from the police had been more vague, but when he arrived, DS Welles told him that Liam’s death was accidental: high on a particularly potent type of dope, he fell off his balcony.

Tom, though, had been ex-Service before he severed all ties and, at his son’s flat, something sets off an alarm bell for him. He is soon convinced that Liam was murdered, and is determined to find out who is responsible. But his questions are upsetting quite a few people, and equipping himself with the necessary announces his return the crime bosses whose long incarceration he effected during his “joe” days.

Then someone on high at Regent’s Park sends young J.K. Coe (unofficially) with a message: a “do not disturb” on one name, an implication of responsibility for another. The source alone flags the information with a high index of suspicion, so Bettany sets out to verify, while ensuring to stay under the radar of the various parties eager to get up close and physical with him.

Fans of the Jackson Lamb series will be pleased to know that this story is set in the same universe, with at least six names known from that series playing roles or rating mentions here, one of whom comprehensively proves that the fate meted out to them in a later book is absolutely a just desert, if insufficiently punitive.

Coe was introduced in the novella, The List, and took his place in Slough House in Spook Street; in this novel, the reader learns the details of the ordeal that landed him under Jackson Lamb’s supervision. Once again, Herron produces a fast-paced crime novel with twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning right up to the jaw-dropping revelations of the final chapters. Outstanding British crime fiction.
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions: A Kopp Sisters Novel
by Amy Stewart
Excellent historical crime fiction (2/12/2019)
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is the third book in the Kopp Sisters series by NYT best-selling American author, Amy Stewart. As Deputy Sheriff and Matron of Hackensack jail, Constance Kopp deals with several so-called morality cases where young girls, often runaways, are arrested for Waywardness or Illegal Cohabitation. Detective Courter and Paterson’s only female police officer, Mrs Belle Headison, are of the opinion that these girls need to be sent to the reformatory until they attain 21, while Constance and Sheriff Heath believe they can be rehabilitated with the right support, in such cases where the arrest is not actually on entirely frivolous grounds.

Edna Heustis is one such young lady whom Constance manages to have released with a clever defence, and then finds herself informally appointed, through a casual remark from the presiding judge, as a probation officer of sorts. But not all the cases are quite so innocent and Constance learns some facts of life that may see an unfortunate girl in regrettable circumstances. Minnie Davis looks headed for the Reformatory but, when Constance sees that place first hand, she is determined to prevent it.

Meanwhile, young Fleurette is champing at the bit for more freedom, her current wish being a place in May Ward’s popular vaudeville troupe. What Fleurette wants has Constance re-examining her own beliefs on appropriate behaviour for a young lady. Norma’s distrust of strangers reaches new heights and sees her taking unprecedented action, with some unexpected consequences. In trying to realise her fondest desire, Fleurette learns that the reality is not only disappointing but also rather tedious.

In this instalment, Constance: finally gets her Deputy’s badge; can’t escape the voracious press and their highly inaccurate reporting; is consequently plagued by letters offering marriage, clever rejections to all of which are produced with great alacrity by Norma; and is dismayed to hear that the coming elections will furnish her with a new Sheriff, possibly the man who is currently the bane of her life, Detective Courter.

Stewart’s Historical Notes and Sources are interesting and informative, revealing that Constance Kopp and her sisters were real people, much as described, as are quite a few of the other characters. Many of the events that form the plot also occurred, if not always when stated. Stewart takes the known historical facts and fleshes them out into a marvellous tale.

Stewart effortlessly portrays the characteristics of everyday life of the early twentieth century and clearly demonstrates how different life was over a hundred years ago, including the utter dependence and powerlessness of women at this time in history. The letters proposing marriage, and the replies drafted by Norma provide some wry humour, as does the dialogue. Excellent historical crime fiction that will have readers seeking out the fourth book, Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.
Lady Cop Makes Trouble: Girl Waits with Gun #2
by Amy Stewart
Excellent historical crime fiction. (1/29/2019)
Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the second book in the Kopp Sisters series by NYT best-selling American author, Amy Stewart. While she has been a very active Deputy for Sheriff Robert Heath at Hackensack for two months, Constance Kopp learns that her job is not as secure as she had hoped. Two months later, Constance is filling the role of jail matron for the female prisoners while she waits for her badge: as an elected official, Heath has found obtaining approval for employing the first female deputy is challenging.

One of her charges perplexingly admits to murder despite evidence to the contrary. Then a prisoner escapes under Constance’s watch, putting both her job and the Sheriff’s freedom in jeopardy. As her sisters keep themselves busy with their preferred pursuits (carrier pigeons, dressmaking and acting), Constance decides she must track down the escapee herself.

Constance does some excellent detective work and, being a well-built lady, does not eschew chase and tackle when required. In this instalment, Constance and Sheriff Heath prove that they make a very capable team, holding matching ideas about law enforcement and criminal detention, and affording each other respect for their intelligence and abilities.

Stewart’s Historical Notes and Sources are interesting and informative, revealing that Constance Kopp and her sisters were real people, much as described, as are quite a few of the other characters. Many of the events that form the plot also occurred, if not always when stated. Stewart takes the known historical facts and fleshes them out into a marvellous tale.

Stewart effortlessly portrays the characteristics of everyday life of the early twentieth century and clearly demonstrates how different life was over a hundred years ago. The (often humorous) print column headlines to which, in the first book, the sisters continuously drew each other’s attention, or occasionally invented to suit their particular situation, are noticeably absent in this book, but there is still humour in their dialogue. Excellent historical crime fiction that will have readers seeking out the third book, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions.
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart
Excellent historical crime fiction. (1/15/2019)
Girl Waits With Gun is the first book in the Kopp Sisters series by NYT best-selling American author, Amy Stewart. When, on a fine July day in 1914, silk factory heir Henry Kaufman recklessly drives his motorcar into the buggy conveying Constance Kopp and her sisters to town, the ladies suffer minor injuries but the buggy, their only means of transport, is wrecked. Henry and his thuggish friends make to drive off, but Constance refuses to be intimidated, vociferously insisting that he accept responsibility for the damage, which astonishes onlookers and annoys Henry.

By November, the Kopp sisters have been the target of verbal abuse, written “Black Hand” threats, damage to their home and attempted arson, and Constance’s sister Norma is convinced that withdrawal would have been a better course of action. Of course, sixteen-year-old Fleurette, so far protected from the world, just finds it all terribly exciting.

It’s not just the demands for reparation that have attracted the ire of young Kaufman: Constance also seems to have involved herself in a possible kidnapping case in which Kaufman is implicated. And even with Sheriff Robert Heath allocating deputies to protect the sisters, they seem to be in dire straits when the latest threat arrives.

Readers new to the Kopp Sisters series may be surprised learn from Stewart’s Historical Notes and Sources that Constance Kopp and her sisters were real people, much as described, as are quite a few of the other characters. Many of the events that form the plot also occurred, if not always when stated. Stewart takes the known historical facts and fleshes them out into a marvellous tale.

What won’t amaze is the utter dependence and powerlessness of women at this time in history. Stewart effortlessly portrays the characteristics of everyday life of the early twentieth century and clearly demonstrates how different life was over a hundred years ago. Miss Kopp, however, is clever, resourceful and persistent, although not even these qualities can protect her from some adverse events. Her fierce protectiveness of her sisters adds to her appeal.

The print column headlines to which the sisters continuously draw each other’s attention, or occasionally invent to suit their particular situation, are often a source of humour. There is some first-rate detective work done, and the last line will have readers eager for the next instalment, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Excellent historical crime fiction.
Tales from the Inner City
by Shaun Tan
An utterly beautiful book! (1/7/2019)
“Where money gathers, so do pigeons. They flock to great financial centers like so many accountants in smart grey waistcoats and glittering collars, bright-eyed, strutting, nodding, darting purposefully between the fiscal-black heels of merchant bankers, bartering every walking minute for a tidy profit.”

Tales from the Inner City is a picture book for adults by award-winning Australian illustrator and author, Shaun Tan. What a wonderful book! Shaun Tan is so talented. There are twenty-five tales, the beginning of each denoted by the black silhouette of a creature: perhaps an animal, bird, fish or insect. This is followed by text, sometimes as prose, sometimes as verse. Some stories are very short, others up to thirty-six pages long. Mostly at the end, but sometimes throughout the story, colour illustrations depict some part of the tale.

Those illustrations, wow! They are exquisite, evocative, luminous. The stories that accompany them vary: some are very sad; some are delightfully funny; some are sweet; some are portentous; some are insightful; and some perfectly illustrate the human race’s blindness to what is. Most are wise and some are clever, and Tan’s prose is often just as evocative as his art: “How much do I love our family? This much. When nothing turns out to be what we hoped, we still hope it turns out to be something. We are never the ones to say that life is disappointing. We are always too busy doing stuff., even if we have no idea why.”

All this elegance on quality glossy paper contained within a superb hardcover binding. The cover story (Moonfish) is likely to be a favourite, both for the story and the illustration, but the frogs, the dog, the owl, the cat, the bears and the butterflies are exceptional among a book full of tales bound to appeal to many readers. What will this brilliant man come up with next? An utterly beautiful book!
The Secrets She Keeps: A Novel
by Michael Robotham
a cleverly constructed psychological thriller (12/21/2018)
The Secrets She Keeps is the fourth stand-alone novel by Australian author, Michael Robotham. Two women from different backgrounds find they have something in common: they are to give birth in a few weeks. For ex-journalist and mummy-blogger Meghan Shaughnessy, it will be her third, and this one is unplanned. Supermarket employee Agatha Fyfle tells Meg it’s her first. Neither, however, is being completely honest, and with good reasons. Meg carries an overwhelming guilt about the baby’s conception; Agatha’s reasons are much darker.

Robotham uses a dual narrative to tell the tale. It soon becomes apparent that Agatha is an unreliable narrator whose her awful childhood is meant to mitigate her actions as an adult, although some of those affected have difficulty seeing it this way. Meg’s emotions are more relatable and certainly her anguish is well-conveyed.

Everyone involved has secrets that hide their very human flaws, not the least of which is self-interest, but as the story races towards the nail-biting conclusion, the behaviour of some characters will surprise the reader. Within the framework of a cleverly constructed psychological thriller, Robotham manages to incorporate child abduction, adultery, child sexual assault and murder. Definitely a page-turner.
Cicada
by Shaun Tan
Utterly charming. (12/18/2018)
Cicada is a picture-book intended for 7-9-year-olds, written and skilfully illustrated by award-winning Australian illustrator and author, Shaun Tan. Cicada has been working tirelessly as a data processor, without thanks, or privilege or reward, for the same humans, for seventeen years. Seventeen years: we may not remember the significance of that period of time until the aha! moment, when it will bring a smile to the faces of most readers. Tan combines his evocative artwork with a poignant but clever little tale that may well make the reader look a little differently at the humble cicada. Could they really be laughing at us? Utterly charming.
Me Before You: A Novel
by Jojo Moyes
Ultimately a heart-wrenching love story, this novel is also funny and thought-provoking. (12/12/2018)
Me Before You is the first book in the Me Before You series by award-winning British author, Jojo Moyes. Louisa Clark’s café wages are much relied-upon: her mum, Josie is the stay-at-home carer for Granddad; all of her sister Katrina’s pay goes to bringing up her own young son; and her dad Bernard’s job at the furniture factory is looking less secure every day. So when the Buttered Bun closes down, Lou needs another job pronto. She’s never worked as a carer before, but the pay’s better than at the chicken processing plant, and Lou’s been assured there’ll be no wiping of, you know, required (there’s a trained carer for that stuff).

Camilla Traynor has told Lou she’s basically needed as a companion for her son, Will, who is a quadriplegic since a traffic accident two years ago. But Will’s anger, his mercurial moods, his negativity, these are an unpleasant, if understandable, surprise for Lou. She’s determined to stick it out: she can’t afford to lose this job. But Camilla hasn’t been entirely honest. Before long, Lou discovers the truth, and finds herself doing her utmost to bring enjoyment into Will’s life.

For anyone who has even glanced at the remarks on the cover of later editions of this book, the trajectory of the story and the ending will be predictable, but such is the quality of the characters Moyes creates, and their dialogue, that most readers will not be able to resist reading to the end, although this, as many advise, is best not read in public. And before that end is reached, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and the odd surprise or two.

The novel is mostly a first-person narrative told by Lou, but with occasional (clearly denoted) chapters from the perspective of other significant characters. Moyes tackles several topical and divisive issues: voluntary euthanasia and the right to die; how quality of life is dependent on perspective; the stigma attached to being disabled, the patronising attitudes encountered and the attendant, if unintentional, discrimination suffered. Ultimately a heart-wrenching love story, this novel is also funny and thought-provoking.
The Goldfinch: A Novel
by Donna Tartt
A good literary read that would have benefited from some judicious editing. (12/10/2018)
Award-winning American author, Donna Tartt begins her third novel with her twenty-seven-year-old protagonist, Theo Decker, in December, hiding out in an Amsterdam hotel room, reflecting on his life, while scanning newspapers for any available information about a recent murder. Over the next seven hundred plus pages, these in-depth reflections form a meticulously detailed account of the Theo’s life, beginning with the circumstances, when he was just thirteen, of his mother’s death, an event of which he says: “Things would have turned out better if she had lived.” It was then that he acquired the eponymous Goldfinch, the single remaining painting by 17th century Dutch Master, Carel Fabritius.

The ride that Tartt takes the reader on starts with Theo a virtual orphan in pseudo-foster care, then in the care of his negligent father, consuming copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. When fifteen-year-old Theo looks in the mirror, he notes his resemblance to his (safe-to-say) despised father, Larry, and when Larry’s girlfriend Xandra flings at him “You and your dad are a whole lot more alike than you might think. You’re his kid, through and through”, his denial is vehement. It becomes apparent from his later behaviour (drugs, alcohol, betrayal of good friends, criminal dishonesty) that she was indeed perceptive.

Readers familiar with Australian author Steve Toltz’s epic debut novel, A Fraction of the Whole (2008) may notice similarities, both in the length (somewhat daunting), the careless parenting, the roller-coaster life, and the black humour (in lesser quantity), although Tartt’s work is much less far-fetched. She certainly achieves a vivid portrayal of a thirteen-year-old boy’s grief at the loss of his mother.

Tartt has a talent for character description: “I found myself blinking up in the late afternoon glare at a very tall, very very tanned, very thin man, of indeterminate age. He looked partly like a rodeo guy and partly like a fucked-up lounge entertainer. His gold-rimmed aviators were tinted purple at the top; he was wearing a white sports jacket over a red cowboy shirt with pearl snaps and black jeans, but the main thing I noticed was his hair: part toupee, part transplanted or sprayed-on, with a texture like fibreglass insulation and a dark brown color like shoe polish in the tin.” A good literary read that would have benefited from some judicious editing.
The Nowhere Child
by Christian White
A very impressive debut novel. (12/4/2018)
The Nowhere Child is the first novel by award-winning Australian author, Christian White. In early 1990, two-year-old Sammy Went is abducted from her home in Manson, Kentucky, in broad daylight. Despite extensive searches and a thorough investigation, no trace of her was ever found. Twenty-eight years later, Melbourne photography teacher, Kimberly Leamy is approached by an American man who shows her a photograph of Sammy Went. The photo shows that Sammy bears a striking resemblance to two-year-old Kim. He claims to believe that Kim is Sammy Went.

Naturally, Kim dismisses the idea: no way her now-deceased mother, Carol Leamy could ever have kidnapped a child. But the idea persists in her head; the American shows her proof, and when Kim confronts her step-father, the expected denial does not come. It’s enough to spur Kim into travelling to Kentucky, back to the town where it all happened.

As a tragic event often will, Sammy’s kidnapping fractured the already strained Went family irreparably. The town of Manson, too, felt the upheaval that such an event can cause. When Kim arrives there, her presence, and the possibility that she really is the long-lost Sammy Went, once again spreads unrest amongst certain members of the community: several had dark secrets and not everyone told all they knew back then.

White’s initial premise is a fascinating one: to imagine that you are not who you have always believed yourself to be, what emotions must that stir up? For those you have, all your life, considered family, and for those who believe you form part of their family, what a disruption of everything they know! Then, to make things even more interesting, White throws in a gay father and a mother deeply ensconced in a fundamentalist church. Plenty of twists and quite a few red herrings will keep the reader guessing right up to a very dramatic climax. A very impressive debut novel.
London Rules: A Slough House Novel
by Mick Herron
Another excellent dose of British spy fiction (11/26/2018)
London Rules is the fifth book in the Slough House series by prize-winning British author, Mick Herron. During a sweltering summer in Slough House, the slow horses perform, with a minimum of enthusiasm, the tasks their boss, Jackson Lamb has dreamed up: Louisa Guy scans library records for borrowers of possible terrorist texts; River Cartwright pretends to compare rate payments with the electoral roll to reveal possible terrorist safe houses, while he worries about his demented grandfather; and J.K. Coe composes fake emails for agents who need to disappear after interacting too closely with the general public.

Still on the wagon, Catherine Standish mops up after Lamb while also monitoring the psychological temperature of their reduced number, in particular: grief over those recently lost, the effect of (now-drug-free for 62 days!) Shirley Dander’s anger management course, the stability of the ever-silent, traumatised Coe, River’s concerns for the O.B., and Roddy Ho’s continuing over-inflated belief in his own popularity.

Meanwhile, in the real world, a terrorist attack on a Derbyshire village leaves twelve dead, a pipe bomb at a zoo has a similar death toll, and the discovery of a bomb on a train averts another potential disaster. As Regent’s Park searches for terrorists, First Desk Claude Whelan also has to cope with the PM’s demands for certain background checks, an MP with PM ambitions, the MP’s tabloid journalist wife and of course, his Second Desk, Lady Di Taverner, who has designs on his job.

When there’s an attempt on Roddy Ho’s life, the slow horses are at first incredulous, then puzzled. Coe seldom contributes, but when he does open his mouth, it’s worth listening, even if Lamb’s sharp mind is already a long way towards figuring it out. And once again, the slow horses are out on an op. Apart from a generous helping of snappy dialogue, fists, knees, elbows, a wrench, a knife, a coat-hanger, guns, a bottle of bleach, and a tin of paint come into play.

As always, Jackson Lamb is rude, inappropriate, sharp and sly. He has a lot of fun with addressing the unfortunately-named Devon Welles. This instalment sees the first of the London Rules, “cover your arse” adhered to by many players, and ultimately, Ho maintains his oblivion regards the general opinion of his appeal. The idea that “…Lamb will go to any lengths to protect a joe, but would watch in mild amusement if the rest of the world hanged itself” is soundly reinforced.

Herron’s plot is imaginative but easily believable, with the odd twist to keep it interesting; there’s plenty of humour, much of it black, that will have readers snickering, giggling and laughing out loud. This fifth instalment of the series, while it contains some spoilers for earlier books, can easily be read as a stand-alone, but with a series as entertaining as this one, why would you? Another excellent dose of British spy fiction.
Past the Shallows
by Favel Parrett
Moving and heart-breaking, this is an amazing debut novel. (11/26/2018)
Past The Shallows is the first novel by award-winning Australian author, Favel Parrett. Since his Mum died in a car accident, Harry Curren, now almost nine years old, lives with his Dad and his older brother, Miles, on coastal southern Tasmania. Joe’s old enough to live on his own in Grandad’s house. It’s school holidays, and Harry would like to spend time with his brothers, even wander the beach when they go for a surf, but after Uncle Nick drowned, Dad makes Miles go on the boat with him and Jeff and Martin, not something Miles enjoys.

Living with Dad is no picnic: his moods are unpredictable, and when he’s angry, Steven Curren can be violent, so the boys try to tread lightly. There’s Aunty Jean who does stuff for them, but she’s nothing like her sister. And Harry’s best friend Stuart, but he’s not always at the caravan. One day, though, he follows a friendly little kelpie through the bush to a shack, before realising that’s where George Fuller lives. Everyone stays away from George, Harry’s not sure why.

Parrett gives the reader a story that’s spare on detail, but the shocking truth of what happened back then is gradually revealed. Her descriptive prose is beautiful, in particular her renderings of the sea and surfing. The comparisons with Tim Winton’s work are certainly valid. The relationship between the three brothers is heartening and Harry is impossible not to love, to care about, to feel for. Moving and heart-breaking, this is an amazing debut novel.
Lord John and The Private Matter
by Diana Gabaldon
enjoyable piece of historical fiction. (11/25/2018)
Lord John and the Private Matter is the first novel in the Lord John Grey series by popular American author, Diana Gabaldon. As he waits for his next posting, Lord John Grey, a Major in His Majesty’s 47th Regiment, learns of the death of a Sergeant well known to him. Something is off when he pays the widow a condolence visit, and his friend, Colonel Harry Quarry reveals that Sergeant O’Connell was suspected of being a spy. The man they had shadowing him has disappeared and Grey is set the task of investigating.

At the same time, quite by chance, Grey comes across a disturbing fact about the Hon. Joseph Trevelyan, the prospective husband of his niece, Olivia Pearsall. As Grey makes enquiries to confirm or dismiss his concerns, he discovers more alarming details, and the boundaries between his two fields of investigation begin to blur.

Before Grey finally learns what has transpired, he will visit a brothel and a molly house, examine two dead bodies, acquire a new valet, suffer mercury poisoning, encounter cross-dressers, drink quite a bit of German wine, adjudicate in a fight over a corpse, and board a ship headed for India. There are plenty of twists and turns before the exciting climax of this rather enjoyable piece of historical fiction.
The Colors of All the Cattle: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #19
by Alexander McCall Smith
Delightfully entertaining. (11/23/2018)
“There were some people cut out for politics, but she was sure she was not one of them. She believed in reconciliation and compromise; politicians seemed to believe only in the routing of their opponents. That was not the way she saw the world. It was not the way her father, the late Obed Ramotswe, had seen it either. It was not the way, she was sure, that the ancestors had viewed things. It was not the Botswana way.”

The Colours of All The Cattle is the nineteenth book in the popular No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by British author, Alexander McCall Smith. Life is good in Mma Precious Ramotswe’s Botswana, although there are always some concerns: plans for a dubious hotel proposal next to the cemetery are a worry; the hit-and-run case in Mochudi, on which the police have given up, is offering no clues; and the vacancy on the city’s council may be filled by Grace Makutsi’s least favourite person if no one stands against her.

It seems that the consensus of opinion of those around her is that the only person in Gabarone who could win against the notorious Violet Sepotho is Mma Ramotswe, and her bossy friend Sylvia Potokwani effectively bullies Precious into standing. Her later attempt to withdraw is sabotaged by her sense of duty to the people of Botswana. The self-appointed campaign committee has some wonderfully amusing meetings. Precious campaigns on a platform of honesty, making no rash promises, but vowing to do her best, and she is genuinely overwhelmed, and somewhat dismayed, by the response from voters.


In this instalment: Charlie, detective-in-training and part-time mechanic, uses a frowned-upon (by Mma Ramotswe) method to obtain information, which gets him into more trouble than he had ever imagined possible; seeking information about a corrupt developer, Mma Makutsi naively undertakes a covert operation, but with less success that she had hoped; Charlie has a girlfriend, and this time things look serious, but Queenie-Queenie has not been entirely honest with him. Mma Makutsi’s shoes murmur advice; and Mma Ramotswe again demonstrates her unfailing kindness and generosity.

As always, McCall Smith gives the reader a novel that has humour and wisdom, insightful observations and heartfelt emotion. Delightfully entertaining.
Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit: A Kopp Sisters Novel
by Amy Stewart
fans of Miss Kopp will not be disappointed (11/4/2018)
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit is the fourth book in the Kopp Sisters series by NYT best-selling American author, Amy Stewart. It’s 1916 and Deputy Constance Kopp has been in the job for over a year. She’s very satisfied with her position as Matron of Hackensack’s jail, looking after the female prisoners. She also finds her role as probation officer for certain wayward girls fulfilling, although she doesn’t hesitate when there’s more active policing necessary. Chasing down a thief or diving into the Hackensack River to rescue an escaped lunatic are all part of the job.

But this is an election year and, while she has no interest whatever in politics, she finds herself, as the only female Sheriff’s Deputy, being used as a pawn in a dirty campaign. Her boss and patron, Sheriff Heath has to vacate his position; his wife insists he run for Congress; everyone assumes Heath’s predecessor, William Conklin will succeed him, but Detective John Courter of the Prosecutor’s Office, the other candidate for Sheriff, denigrates Heath’s achievements in every speech.

Constance Kopp is far more interested in the case of the woman she has had to transport to Morris Plains asylum. Mrs Anna Kayser has been committed by her husband, Charles, on the say-so of a doctor who has not seen her, and to Constance, does not display any traits of lunacy. Deputy Kopp smells a rat.

Readers new to the Kopp Sisters series may be surprised learn from Stewart’s Historical Notes and Sources that Constance Kopp and her sisters were real people, much as described, as are quite a few of the other characters. Many of the events that form the plot also occurred, if not always when stated. Stewart takes the known historical facts and fleshes them out into a marvellous tale.

What won’t amaze is the utter dependence and powerlessness of women at this time in history. Miss Kopp, though, is clever, resourceful and persistent, although not even these qualities can protect her from some adverse events, and the lump that forms in the throat at this turn may catch readers unprepared.

While this is the fourth book in the series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone. However, readers are likely to want to seek out the earlier books, and fans of Miss Kopp will not be disappointed. Let’s hope that Amy Stewart has more of the Sisters Kopp up her sleeve.
Holy Ghost: Virgil Flowers Book 11
by John Sandford
Very entertaining. (10/28/2018)
Holy Ghost is the eleventh book in the Virgil Flowers series by prize-winning American journalist and author, John Sandford. It’s a late May Sunday morning when Minnesota BCA agent Virgil Flowers leaves Frankie Noble coping with morning sickness to investigate two shootings in the nearby town of Wheatfield (there may be some confusion as the blurb refers to the town as Pinion). What was a dying town that has recently seen a change in fortunes with sightings of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Mayor, Wardell Holland, is concerned for the adverse publicity.

Virgil’s not there long before another shooting occurs, this one fatal. In each case, the location and time of day are identical, but despite eye-witnesses, confusion reigns about the shooter’s location. Each tiny clue sends Virgil in a different direction, frustrating his attempts to make sense of it all. The townsfolk are a quirky bunch and include a hairdresser who gives shoulder massages, a petty criminal who enjoys porn and has a taste, if not a talent, for blackmail, and a mayor who shoots flies.

This dose of Virgil Flowers has quite a few twists and a whole school of red herrings that have Virgil chasing his tale and keep the reader guessing to the action-filled climax. Virgil does come up with some stupidly dangerous ideas that indicate he’s not yet quite used to the idea of being a prospective father. To keep things interesting, there’s a disgusting diner, a stolen semi-trailer-load of Lego, and chicken potpies are consumed to excess.

There’s plenty of sitcom humour, some of it bordering on slapstick, and the dialogue, especially the banter between Virgil and his BCA colleagues, is a highlight. According to some reviews, this is not Sandford’s best Virgil Flowers novel, from which the reader might conclude that the first ten must indeed be rather good. Very entertaining.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Simon & Schuster Australia
The Last Hours
by Minette Walters
A brilliant read. (10/27/2018)
The Last Hours is the eighteenth novel by British author, Minette Walters, and is a departure from her usual genre of crime/psychological thriller: this one is historical fiction. It’s June 1348, and the Plague has just arrived in England. The population is completely unprepared for the devastation this disease will wreak, but a scant few demesnes are better equipped to handle it than most. A Saxon, Lady Anne of Develish in Dorsetshire was raised by nuns; she has been quietly running the demesne in an efficient and compassionate way underneath the radar of her cruel Norman husband.

Sir Richard of Develish departs for another demesne to set up his spoilt fourteen-year-old daughter in an advantageous marriage but Gyles Startout, Anne’s informant in Richard’s retinue, soon realises there is a sickness afflicting the nearby village. Potent and virulent, it appears to be something that kills quickly with few survivors. By the time Sir Richard decides to return to Develish, its already too late for many of his party.

In response to an announcement from the Bishop of Sarum regarding “A Black Death”, Anne takes the unconventional step of bringing the demesne’s bondsmen to live on the land contained within the moat that Sir Richard had, in his vanity, built as a folly. Her plan to isolate them from the rest of the population is a revolutionary measure that proves to be the salvation of Develish and its serfs.

On her husband’s return, she insists on his party being quarantined, a move that angers young Lady Eleanor and also attracts censure from Hugh de Courtesmain, Sir Richard’s Norman steward. As does her later appointment of a serf as Steward. Thus they survive, free of the pestilence, for some months, but how long will they last on the food they have stored? And how will they avoid attack from raiding parties? Then a teenaged boy dies, and Anne’s steward takes drastic action.

Walters gives the reader a fascinating look into the mid-fourteenth Century, bringing history to life in what is obviously the product of extensive research. Her characters are complex, human and flawed. They have secrets and doubts and weaknesses and their actions result in plenty of intrigue. Walters explores not just the ordeal of surviving the plague, but also, surviving in a world drastically changed, with a population so severely depleted that the very dynamic between serf and master is altered.

While is does not exactly end in a cliff-hanger, there are several matters left unresolved by the final twists, and the last pages reveal that there will be a sequel, which is unfortunately not slated for publication until October 2018, so readers have to wait a year to learn the further fates of Anne and Gyles and Thaddeus and Isabella. Walters has proven without any shadow of doubt that she has much more than one string to her bow. A brilliant read.
Transcription
by Kate Atkinson
Another Atkinson masterpiece. (10/25/2018)
Transcription is the fourth stand-alone novel by award-winning British author, Kate Atkinson. In 1940, eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong finds herself recruited into the Secret Service. Mostly it’s fairly boring, typing up reports and transcribing recordings of agents meeting with British Nazi-sympathisers. But then she’s given another identity and the work gets more interesting, for a while. After one exciting episode, arrests are made.

But there were some incidents about which Juliet doesn’t like to think too much, and when the war ends, she’s not sorry to leave it all behind. Five years later, Juliet is working for the BBC producing children’s programs when a face from the past appears: the man who posed as the Gestapo contact passes her in the street. What is disconcerting is that he pretends not to know her.

On the heels of this, a somewhat threatening note is delivered, more of her former colleagues from MI5 flit in and out, and she feels sure she is being followed. Frustrated for information from official channels, Juliet decides to become the hunter rather than the prey.

Once again, Atkinson gives the reader a plot that is perfectly plausible, but filled with twists and red herrings. Her depiction of London during the war and in the immediate aftermath has an authentic feel, with the social attitudes portrayed appropriate for the era. Her protagonist is easily believable: Juliet is intelligent but still naïve, although perhaps not quite as innocent as she first seems.

Her descriptive prose is excellent, as always, and Atkinson no doubt delighted in dropping this piece of dialogue in the final pages: “Fisher clapped his hands, as if to signal the end of the entertainment and said, ‘Come now, quite enough of exposition and explanation. We’re not approaching the end of a novel, Miss Armstrong.’” Another Atkinson masterpiece.

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