Review: PD Martin – Kiss of Death

I had heard a lot about Australian crime writer PD Martin, who writes a series featuring FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, but her books are difficult to get hold of in the UK. However, I thought it was time I read another book as part of the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge and I was kindly sent a copy of Kiss of Death by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading.

The opening scene features the vision/dream, experienced by FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, of a girl being pursued at night. This sets the tone for the book and introduces to new readers (like me) the fact that Sophie is not only a profiler but a psychic who intermittently experiences visions of events around her investigations. In Kiss of Death, she has just seen the death of a girl who is found in an LA park with two puncture marks on her neck. Investigators soon link the killing to one of the vampiric cults operating in LA, somewhat prosaically named ‘After Dark’ and led by the charismatic Anton Ward. But Sophie’s investigations are hampered by the attraction she feels towards the leader and his possible recognition of her psychic gifts.

Sophie adopts the persona of a vampire follower to infiltrate the group, which causes problems in her relationship with her boyfriend Dan and also begins to blur the boundaries between professional and personal relationships.

My heart initially sank when I realised this book was written on the subject of vampires as this isn’t an area I’m the slightest bit interested in. The book didn’t particularly have anything new to say about the whole vampire genre and I kept expecting the vampire angle to be a red herring in the investigation and the true motive for the murders would be revealed. But vampirism was at the heart of the book and the author seemed keen for the reader to treat the vampire cult as a serious proposition. I think it would have helped if she’d written in a character who strongly disbelieved in the whole notion of vampires to balance out Sophie’s apparent credulity. As the narrative developed, however, the focus shifted to the cult-like nature of the group which was very interesting and widened the scope of the book.

The psychic aspect of Sophie was portrayed very well and I thought this was the better part of the book. The FBI profiler bit was a little superficial for my liking although the infiltration of the group worked well in the plot. It was a fun book to read, with some enjoyable scenes showing snapshots of LA from an outsider’s point of view (Sophie is Australian). I think if the subject matter hadn’t been vampires I would have enjoyed it a lot more, so I am keen to read other books in the series.

Another review of the book can be found at Fair Dinkum Crime,

I read this book as part of the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Review: Y A Erskine – The Brotherhood

Tasmania is a region I know little about but which conjures up images of beautiful scenery in a temperate climate. The Brotherhood written by Y A Erskine, a former Tasmanian police officer, provides an alternative view of the island. In this excellent book, racial tensions and stresses of police work combine to provide a snapshot of the realities of law enforcement on the island.

The plot opens with the murder of Sergeant John White, a policeman in the city of Hobart, who has a reputation for honesty and integrity. His killing takes place during a burglary in which he is being accompanied by a rookie cop whose narrative sets out the context of the killing. A suspect is soon identified which opens up a political nightmare for the police hierarchy. He is a boy from an Aboriginal family who are ‘known to the police’. Tensions clearly run high between the law enforcers and the Aborigine community and the narrative moves to the Commissioner of Police who clearly fears that the situation could escalate existing stresses. The chapters then tell the story from the perspective of various people involved in the investigation and those who were close to the dead man, including a local journalist, a lawyer called in to defend the suspect and Sergeant White’s wife and ex-girlfriend.

Gradually the personality of the policeman is revealed and his squeaky clean reputation comes under scrutiny along with the cynical manipulation of laws introduced to protect the Aborigine population. This cynicism is reflected in the style of the writing which is honest and brutal with strong expletives meted out by police and criminals alike. The shifting narrative worked very well I thought and brought out the humanity not only of suspect and victim but also of people on the periphery of the investigation. This wasn’t so much a whodunnit but a “whydunnit” and I thought it a very accomplished debut novel.

I read this book as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Other (very positive) reviews of the book can be found at Fair Dinkum Crime, Petrona and Aust Crime Fiction.

Review: Kathryn Fox – Skin and Bone

Participating the Australian Women Writers Challenge is an interesting experince as we don’t have a huge amount of Australian crime fiction written by women published in the UK. This means that I can’t pick and choose as I ordinarily would but have to read books out of my comfort zone. One author who is easily found here is Kathryn Fox, a medical practitioner who writes books in the forensic genre. It’s not a type of book that I normally buy although I have read Patricia Cornwall and Kathy Reichs in the past. I chose Skin and Bone for no other reason than the plot summary seemed to be the least gory of the blurbs.

A dead woman is found badly burned in a house fire and post-mortem evidence suggests that she has recently given birth. There is no evidence of the missing baby and Detective Kate Farrer who has recently returned from sick leave has to try to identify the mother to solve the mystery of the baby’s disappearance. After a few days, however, she and her new partner, Oliver Parke, are pulled from the case and assigned to investigate the disappearance of the daughter of wealthy parents. As they delve deeper into the apparent abduction, the two cases begin to merge and the detectives plunge into a complex web of relationships.

I found the book a straightforward read. The plotting is good and the idea of a female detective with a partner who is the father to five children was a nice idea. The writer obviously knows a great deal about forensic medicine and the descriptions of death by fire were fairly gruesome but written about in a knowledgable way. Fox writes well about family relationships and there were some quite interesting dynamics going on in the book, particularly in relation to the stepfather-stepdaughter relationship.

I thought some of the writing a bit pedestrian although the book is clearly written for a specific audience who I imagine like a fast and engrossing read. I would have preferred a bit more depth to the book because I found the subject matter interesting. But considering it is a genre I don’t normally approach, I enjoyed it and it was nice to read something outside my comfort zone.

The book has been reviewed at Eurocrime and Reactions to Reading.

Review: Carolyn Morwood – Death and the Spanish Lady

Given that I am only attempting the ‘Miles’ level of the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge which requires me to read six books written by Australian women in 2012 I might need to slow down a little. However, over New Year suffering with a cold how could I resist reading about the Spanish Flu that spread across the world in 1919 in the aftermath of the Great War? This is the second book (after Chris Womersley’s Bereft) that I’ve read that has as a background the experience of Australian soldiers returning from the war on another continent and the accompanying frenzy over the infection they may have brought with them. Here in Britain we have a fair amount of fiction set in the period but I was woefully unaware of the Australian experience until now.

The book has Eleanor Jones as its central character, a nurse who has experienced first hand the horrors of combat injuries and has returned to Melbourne to nurse the returning soldiers who are infected with the ‘Spanish Lady’ as the illness in known. Morwood has obviously done considerable research about the methods that were taken to stop the infection spreading and I thought these descriptions wonderful. Sitting by open windows, spacing seats further apart around a dinner table and wearing masks around the city seem a little inadequate by modern standards but show how fear of an epidemic infused everyday life. The mass hospitals that sprung up must have been a terrible place to work in, but of course an ideal setting for a murder.

The murder by arsenical poisoning of Brian Reddy a soldier with a cruel reputation both before and during war provides Eleanor with a means of distraction away from her haunted past. There are a number of people who may have had contact with Reddy in a previous context and as Eleanor investigates the murder, a few wrong turns are made until the culprit identified.

I liked the book a lot. It was well written and full of period detail. I would have preferred the investigation into the murder to have been a bit more complex as I guessed the culprit early on in the book which is unusual for me these days. There are multiple points of view in the narrative which was extremely confusing to begin with but as I settled down into the book grew to like. An excellent start to the 2012 AWW challenge. Maybe I need to move myself up a level if I carry on at this pace.

Many thanks to Bernadette at Reactions to Reading for sending me her copy of this book. Her review can be found here at Fair Dinkum.

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge

One of the best things about blogging are the wonderful suggestions you pick up from fellow crime fiction reviewers. We can all get stuck in a rut in our reading if we’re not careful, particularly when it can be so enjoyable to read old crime fiction favourites. In October, on the recommendation of Fair Dinkum Crime, I read Katherine Howell’s Cold Justice, a well plotted crime novel set in Sydney. Then this month I read and reviewed Peter Temple’s White Dog and I now a have a serious taste for Australian crime fiction. Realistically, given that I read a lot of crime fiction I thought that I could fit in a challenge around Aussie authors for 2012. This week Fair Dinkum posted about two challenges that are being hosted to promote Australian fiction. Both sounded interesting, but I decided to go for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge simply because I would also like to read more women writers.

One of the challenges, of course, will be getting hold of the books in the first place. There isn’t a huge amount of Australian crime published in the UK and narrowing the field to women restricts this even more. However, nothing ventured nothing gained and I going for the ‘Miles’ level (read 6 books and review 3) and have settled on the following so far:

1. Katherine Howell – The Darkest Hour (Aready in my TBR pile)

2. Kathryn Fox – Skin and Bone (Again in my TBR pile)

3. Carolyn Morwood – Death and the Spanish Lady (reviewed at Fair Dinkum and sounds interesting)

4. Kirsten Tranter – The Legacy (published by Quercus in the UK and again sounds good)

5. P D Martin – Kiss of Death (not available in the UK or on Kindle but I fancy reading it)

6. ?

My sixth book I will add over the coming year when something grabs my fancy. So six books and nothing too strenuous. I’m looking forward to getting started in the new year.