Review: Chris Womersley – Cairo

9781848663916It’s funny how writers can creep up on you. If you’d asked me to compile a list of my ‘must read’ authors, I doubt I’d have thought of Chris Womersley. And yet the minute I received his latest book to appear in the UK, Cairo, I couldn’t wait to read it. Womersley’s Bereft was one of my favourite books of 2012 and a wonderful exploration of the effects of a miscarriage of justice on a man. His The Low Road was a little bleak for my tastes but still a compelling read. Now, in a book that shows Womersley’s versatility as a writer, we get a different insight into Australian life: the world of bohemian Melbourne in the 1980s.

Tom’s aunt dies and he persuades his parents that he is ideally suited to take over the occupancy of her old apartment while attending Melbourne University. But in his first few weeks as tenant in the Cairo apartment block, he encounters the bohemian Max Cheever and his beautiful wife, Sally. He is sucked into their plans to steal a renowned picture in the city’s art gallery. However as the boundaries between what is real and fake begin to blur, Tom realises he may be part of a grander scheme of deception.

Womersely’s writing is exquisite to read. There’s a poetic quality to the prose that allows you to enter the world of smoke and mirrors created by the central characters. There’s also a timelessness about the writing which means that the action is sometimes hard to place. Womersely mitigates this by referring to seminal events and personalities from the 1980s, for example the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. I found this jarred sometimes – did I really want to read about Madonna in this small world that the writer had created?

It only just makes it into the category of crime novel – a killing happens towards the end of the book although there is a strong sense of impending catastrophe throughout the novel. Womersely is adept in layering his writing with various deceptions and it is the blurring of fake and real that makes this book such a compelling read. Tom’s naivety is completely believable and the reader is always slightly ahead of the protagonist in judging what might befall him. It reminded me a little of the early twentieth century crime novels that I loved as a teenager. It was a delight to read.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

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.