April has been designated by someone as Aussie Authors Month, a fact I have been neglectful of here at Reactions to Reading. But over at Fair Dinkum Crime, the blog I host with fellow Aussie crime fiction fan Kerrie to focus only on Australian crime, mysteries and thrillers, we have been celebrating in style.
Firstly, we introduced a new feature to the blog, our version of an author interview which we call the Fair Dinkum Baker’s Dozen. We provide the authors with 13 beginnings and, like the creative geniuses they are, they turn them into sentences (or paragraphs, or full blown essays should the urge arise). We’ve been very fortunate to have a wonderful selection of five Aussie crime writers share their thoughts with us so far. Do head over and learn about their worst jobs, biggest fears and the truly terrible things one of them has done to chickens:
We’re also running a quiz, offering your choice of several recent Aussie crime titles as prizes. The quiz is open worldwide so you’re all welcome to participate. We did go to some effort not to make all the answers entirely ‘googlable’ but we hope you’ll have a go anyway. We’ll give away the prizes even if no one gets all the questions right so you’ve got a decent shot at winning.
Both Kerrie and I are trying to fit in some reading of new (to us) Aussie crime fiction too. So far Kerrie has reviewed Katherine Howell’s Cold Justiceand I’ll be reviewing Michael Duffy’s The Tower later this weekend. I think we both hope to finish and review at least one more book by an Aussie Author before the end of the month.
Have you done anything to celebrate Aussie Authors Month?
In Perth, Western Australia a young woman has been killed: her body shaved, spray-painted bronze and posed provocatively with the words easeful death written on her leg. Stevie Hooper, a new member of the city’s Serious Crime Squad, plays a pivotal role in the investigation. When Stevie’s old friend and current boss Monty McGuire goes out on a limb to secure the services of a noted profiler to help with the case, Stevie acts as the team’s liaison in addition to her other duties.
On one level this is a fairly standard police procedural featuring a team of investigators with varying degrees of skill and integrity. Young introduces them all really cleverly in the first chapter just as the case is getting underway and because of this I found it easy to accept them all as realistic people rather than the extreme caricatures that sometimes populate these types of teams. Although Stevie and Monty do take centre stage the addition of a profiler, the wannabe-cop son of the Superintendent, a few ex-spouses and other members of the squad in the mix there’s much more of an ensemble cast than I’ve read in a while. I didn’t like them all equally but I enjoyed the credibility they offered the story.
There’s quite a complex plot but it’s artfully layed out. There are several threads that may, or may not, intertwine with the present case and elements of the investigators’ personal lives play into events too but Young juggles it all expertly. More than one person has secrets which make them, at least for a time, believable in the role of killer. I was smugly sure of my own deductive powers and even though it turns out I had it all wrong the fact that I could just as easily have been right makes this classic whodunnit material.
Something I enjoyed about this book may not even have been a deliberate intention of the author’s but I liked the way it demonstrated the issue of police expecting members of the public to be entirely compliant with their investigative methods, regardless of how invasive or ill-aimed they might be, but react badly when those same methods are used on fellow officers. It’s not the first time I’ve been struck by this dichotomy but it’s a subject that I always think could benefit from another airing and it was good to be reminded of it so cleverly.
On top of delivering a genuinely suspenseful ending Young has captured the desperation of an investigative team having too little evidence and too much pressure exceptionally well in the lead-up to that resolution. I look forward to reading the next in this series and as it was published last year I can do so when it suits me.
Felicity Young has two other books published (so far) A Certain Malice (which is a standalone novel and which I reviewed here) and Harum Scarum which follows on from An Easeful Death (and which I haven’t read or reviewed) (yet)
Before I list my best books of the year a few statistics that sum up my reading year:
I started 94 books this year and finished 82 of those. That’s a few more DNFs than I usually have but I did try a lot of new (to me) authors so some uncompleted books are to be expected.
I acquired 158 books which is worrisome not only because it’s far more than I read but also because it is indicative of my growing ‘problem’. This time last year my TBR pile sat comfortably on a corner of my nightstand and now occupies its own separate bookshelf (see photo)
I bought less than half of those books and acquired the rest via mooches, gifts, review copies and borrowing
I tried 47 authors for the first time (a definitive personal record)
I joined four online reading groups and one new face-to-face one
Although it’s my favourite genre I don’t only read crime fiction and thought I should include a couple of my other great finds this year:
Shakespeare: A Short Life by Bill Bryson (a witty, beautifully observed ode from one word craftsman to another and I devoured it)
Blind Faith by Ben Elton (this saw Elton back at his best and offered a funny, if depressingly possible, vision for our collective future that is scarier than anything a crime fiction writer has ever written)
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (detailing the events of a fictional English village which isolates itself to control an outbreak of plague in 1666 it brings alive one of the most vividly depicted fictional worlds I’ve ever had the good luck to stumble into)
And now on to my 10 favourite crime fiction reads of the year. Looking at the list, which has been mulled over extensively in the last week or so, there are some common elements to all the books: fascinating characters of one sort or another and the creation of a strong sense of location being chief among them.
As I rarely read books in the year they’re published (I’m too cheap to buy them at the exorbitant new release prices in Australia) only one of these was actually published in 08. As I wasn’t blogging all year only some of the books have been reviewed here (links where available):
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (which does, without trying, a far better job of representing Australia than the film of that name which was released this year and has oodles of dry humour and wonderfully sparse writing as well)
The Savage Altar (a.k.a The Sun Storm) by Asa Larsson (my first foray into Scandinavian crime fiction and a thoroughly suspense-filled, unpredictable story)
Blue Heaven by C J Box (a book that made me feel like I’d been to North Idaho by the time I’d finished reading it)
Still Waters by Nigel McCrery (the book with the most disturbing opening image I read all year which continued on to do something unique with this genre I love so much)
Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer (yet another innovative approach to crime fiction with marvellous characters and great scene-setting imagery)
A Certain Malice by Felicity Young ( the second of three new-to-me Australian authors appearing on this list who can tell gripping yarns in a recognisably Australian voice without making me cringe and pretend to be Canadian)
Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood (a book with such warmth and great characters that reading it made me want to pack all my worldly belongings and move into the apartment building at its heart)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (a book I was pleased to have been bullied gently encouraged to read by Kerrie due to the wonderfully unique and captivating Lisbeth Salander) (I’ve even bought book 2 in the series at new release prices!)
Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano (not relying on a sole protagonist this book is brimming with strong, memorable voices including the villainous Jamaal Mahmoud with his simmering violence and pull-the-blankets-over-your-head terror inducing contempt for everyone he meets)
And my number one read of the year
#1 The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees (published as The Bethlehem Murders in the UK and Australia but I got mine from the US).
I didn’t have to look at my reading notes for this book when preparing this article. I remember it most vividly both for its content and the way it made me feel. Though reading it made me so sad I struggled to finish it through streaming tears it’s the book I reflect most upon since finishing it. There’s a reasonably straight-forward plot about a flawed but morally strong and stubborn man trying to clear the name of his friend and stand up to the bullies around him. On another level there’s the depiction of Palestinian Bethlehem which is simply breathtaking. I’ve travelled in the Middle East and do keep up with news from there as much as I can but headlines, even in-depth reporting, never tell the whole story. This book humanised the news and events I hear so much about and provided what I think, sadly, is a fairly realistic picture of the day-to-day lives of displaced refugees in the region. It wasn’t a book I could put back on the shelf and forget. I’ve picked it up countless times to re-read passages, some of which still make me cry, and have badgered others silly until they agreed to read it too. I’ve yet to meet anyone who isn’t moved by it.
In some ways this list is a little arbitrary. Perhaps the fact that these stuck with me a little more than the others is more an accident of timing than anything else because there are another 35 or so excellent books that I read this year that I had to weed out of this best reads list.
They are all, in combination, the collective reason I’m so happy that I’m one of those people who can enjoy the simple pleasure of losing myself in a great book and am very grateful to authors everywhere for supplying me with an abundance of choices in which to get lost. Bring on 2009.