Due too a string of family and personal crises I’ve not read a lot over the past few months and I’ve reviewed even less. But from a collection of scribbled on post-it notes, e-jottings and random wisps of memory I’m collecting my thoughts about most of those books here in one post before the year ends and I forever forget even having read any of them.
Alan Carter’s GETTING WARMER is a follow up to 2011’s, PRIME CUT and sees our hero, Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong posted back to Perth after his stint in the West Australian outback but still on the back foot when it comes to plumb assignments. With its corrupt police, serial killer refusing to give up the location of a body dump and string of violent deaths seemingly connected to a brutal bikie gang or an African child-soldier (or both) the book would be grim (if compelling) but for the underlying ironic humour. Cato is a terrific character and his run-ins with his neighbour’s yappy dog are a delightful counterpoint to the book’s dark themes.
Michael Duffy’s DRIVE BY is an outstanding work of Australian crime fiction, tackling a difficult and very, very topical subject. I was disappointed, though in a way not too surprised, that this book didn’t garner more attention locally and annoyed at myself for failing to highlight it at Fair Dinkum Crime. Duffy brings his former life as a crime reporter into play in this tale of a Lebanese-Australian family dealing with the trial of one of their sons for murder. Instead of the usual theme of “Australia the class-less melting pot of nicely integrated cultures” DRIVE BY shows us a radically different Sydney from the city of 30 or even 20 years ago and confronts many of the images we like to have of ourselves, often in a less than flattering way. I got the sense Duffy was saying things with his fiction that he’d never have been able to get published as journalism in this modern era. It’s a grim book in some ways but completely compelling and the character of John Habib, third of four sons and the one destined to ‘go straight’ might be my favourite fictional person met all year. The depiction of him as someone grappling with competing expectations for the person he is, or will be, is simply brilliant.
Anne Holt’s DEATH OF THE DEMON is the victim of the POOO* syndrome that so many translated series suffer from and is a little poorer for that. Not only did I spend a good portion of the time thinking (‘well I know how that thread plays out due to having read the later book’) but it is quite clear that Holt has improved as a storyteller since writing this book.. It focuses on a small foster home in Norway where the head social worker is killed and a young boy, the socially awkward Olav, goes missing and the case (or cases if they are not connected) is investigated by detective Hanne Wilhelmsen and her team. There really isn’t a lot else to say as the story is pretty straight forward and there are only glimpses of any substantial character development.
Arnaldur Indridason’s STRANGE SHORES is, I believe, meant to close the series featuring Erlunder, the prototype for misery-soaked, taciturn Scandinavian protagonists. Shame therefore that the book is a bit too long to be really engaging. There are two missing persons cases at its heart, one being the disappearance of Erlunder’s younger brother when they were both small children (the event that has haunted the man for his entire life) and the other the case of a woman who also went missing in a miserable storm. There is drama in both stories but i really did feel the book was dragged on way too long with nothing of substance being added.
Liza Marklund’s THE LONG SHADOW is the 8th book to feature Swedish journalist Annika Bengton who spends the bulk of this book on the trail of a story in Spain where a Swedish businessman and his family are horribly killed. To my thinking you’d need to have read this novel’s predecessor, LIFETIME, to have much hope of grasping all the goings-on here as the plots are closely intertwined and even then you might get a little lost as I did (though I’m prepared to admit this could have been down to inattentiveness on my part). In fact I couldn’t help but worry that this series is running out of puff as I didn’t think this one quite held up to the high standards of earlier installments RED WOLF or LAST WILL. It seems there be only so many times you can cover the same ground (relationship troubles and the deterioration of modern journalism) without becoming a bit stale.
Simone van der Vlugt’s SAFE AS HOUSES is the third of her novels to be translated from Dutch into English and the second I’ve read though not, to my thinking, a patch on the first. Billed as a psychological suspense to me it offered a premise without much substance as a mother is trapped in her isolated home by an escaped prisoner and must fight to save her own life and that of her young daughter. Of course that is a terrifying premise but the author doesn’t really do anything interesting with it and none of the characters rang particularly true for me. The use of a witness who could have saved the day if only she hadn’t driven off the road and into a coma threw the book into schlocky-TV-script territory for me.
*Publishing Out Of Order