Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

Sarah Bailey’s second book, Into the Night, is a terrific follow up to her wonderful debut, Dark Lake. The troubled protagonist of Dark Lake, Detective Sergeant, Gemma Woodstock has shifted to Melbourne and is still readjusting to life in the city and away from her beloved son. Dedicated cop by day, with a hostile and uncommunicative partner, Nick Fleet, Gemma is a drifter at night, enjoying random sexual encounters in order to feel a brief sense of connection as well as the control lacking in other parts of her life.

When a homeless person is brutally murdered and then a famous young actor is killed on the set of his latest movie, Gemma empathises with the loneliness of the homeless man and drawn to the actor’s murder; someone killed the man in broad daylight and yet in a similar way to the other victim. Yet, while no-one sets to gain from the homeless man’s death, everyone appears to when it comes to the rich handsome young actor, but in order to solve the crime, Gemma needs to not only trust her instincts, but those she relies to do her job properly…

Not only is this a terrific police procedural that doesn’t steer away from revealing the dogged and often unexciting processes involved in attempting to solve a crime, but it’s a top-notch exploration of relationships and families as well. Professional relationships, personal bonds and how one impacts on the other whether you’re a man or woman, mother or father, are beautifully and often painfully rendered. Gemma Woodstock is such a flawed and yet relatable character and it’s her vulnerabilities as much as her strengths that make her so appealing as a policewoman and as a person.

A terrific novel with good and believable twists and great pacing.

Looking forward to seeing what Bailey writes next.

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In Celebration of the release of The Chocolate Maker’s Wife – here’s some background on the writing of the novel and what’s between the covers…

This is an edited excerpt of what appeared in the ARC copy of the novel.

Official release date: 18 February in Australia/NZ. Out in the USA and UK August 2019.

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, a tale of tragedy, triumph and sensual delight in Restoration London, is my twelfth book. It’s also the fourth time I’ve used the same basic premise to explore humanity and history through fiction by focussing on women in trade. So many historical fictions are about the gentry and nobility and they’re fascinating. What captivates me even more is what ordinary folk – well educated or not, rich or poor – did to survive in business, sickness, health, love and loss. In previous novels, I’ve tackled a candle-maker-cum-courtesan, a brewer, a lock-pick/spy and due to a timely visit to Hampton Court in 2014, I’ve my latest book.

Not only was chocolate a decadent drink introduced to England from Europe – Spain (via South America) – around the 1660s, coinciding with the restoration of Charles II to the English throne and all that his reign heralded in terms of hedonism and decadence, but it was associated with a range of naughty behaviours and benefits. Touted for its health-giving properties, chocolate was also considered an aphrodisiac. While there were those who sought to ban it, there were many more who relished the wicked things it signified. Just like the new, bitter drink of coffee, entire “houses” were opened where men could gather and quaff, smoke and exchange news.

A chocolate house in Georgian times. Coffee and chocolate houses were popular, and served as clubs and meeting places for business (© TopFoto)
While this is a Georgian coffee or chocolate house, Rosamund’s in my novel would have been similar.

The new-fangled and troublesome (for king and court) profession of journalism was also burgeoning. The collision of new ideas, political protest and the ability to read what was happening as people’s literacy grew, spelled both dramatic change and disorder. Debates, gossip, plots, plans, arguments, gambling and all other manner of licentious conduct happened – and was encouraged – under the roof of the debauched, marvellous chocolate house.

As you can tell (because I could go on), I simply adore doing the research!

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife focusses on the first of these chocolate houses to open in London and with a woman at the helm. With great business acumen, young and lovely Rosamund – someone with a past both uplifting and utterly wretched – arrives in the capital. Rosamund makes a deal with the devil and learns all there is to know about chocolate, serving men who would both bed and wed her. Through chocolate and the people it brings into her orbit, her life undergoes an extraordinary transformation.

An 18th-century reproduction brass pot stands ready to dispense its liquid contents.
A glass chocolate pot – note the molinillo (the stick in the lid) and he handle out the side for pouring.

But one cannot serve “sin in a bowl” and expect their reputation to remain unsullied. Nor at a time when war is brewing, plots against the crown are thick, laws tightening, plague and then fire threatening, never mind lustful men and jealous women, can Rosamund expect to remain safe – especially when those plotting against her are the same who promise her security.

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife is filled with real historical figures, rich in historical detail and facts as well as a healthy dose of imagination and a great deal of luscious chocolate. I hope in reading it, like Rosamund, you’ll find damnation has never been so sweet.

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The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Having recently read an article on all the great new Australian crime novels out there and discovering among those listed some I hadn’t yet read, I thought I’d remedy my oversight. The first book I chose was Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake and what a fabulous choice it was! 

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Centred around the regional NSW town of Smithson In Australia and a deeply troubled and flawed Detective Sargent, Gemma Woodstock, The Dark Lake is gritty, raw and gripping.

When the body of popular and beautiful school teacher and local girl, Rosalind Ryan is found murdered in the town’s lake, everybody seems to have an alibi. Perfect, a stellar teacher who was loved by her students, it’s not until Gemma and her partner, Felix, start delving that they find contradictory impressions of who Rosalind was – kind and quiet or manipulative and demanding? While Gemma is forthcoming about the fact she knew Rosalind when she was at school, what she fails to divulge is the impact the woman had on her and her almost obsession with her.

Added to the complications of Gemma’s relationship with the deceased are those Gemma has with others in her life. Whether it’s her partner, Scott, who’s also the father of her son, Ben or her professional colleague, boundaries have been blurred and Gemma is both troubling to be around and deeply troubled herself. But when the case and the way she is handling it affects her home life, Gemma starts to understand that the past is affecting the present in ways Gemma can neither control or prevent.

This book is so well written. While Gemma is the primary point of view, other characters are also given a voice which work to piece together the puzzle that is the crime. Added to this are flashbacks to Gemma’s school days and the incident that altered her path in life forever. Often unpleasant, undoubtedly selfish even though she’s a loving mum, there’s a lot to like and dislike about the main protagonist – especially her honest assessment of herself. It’s such a strength of Bailey’s writing that Gemma is at all times real – even when she’s spinning lies and dissembling – perhaps mostly then. The thing is, she’s at all times relatable as is virtually every character in the book. Likewise, the town of Smithson and its population are easy to identify with, thus the crime and its impact affect the reader as well. Tension builds from the first page as Gemma, Felix and the team get closer to solving Rosalind’s murder, especially when it appears they may have had it wrong all along. 

A marvellous debut work that had me buying Bailey’s next book the moment I finished.

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The Immune Omnibus by David Kazzie


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Unraveling: The Immune Part One.

I love eschatological narratives – you know, end of the world doomsday books. Films too. I don’t know what it is about them but maybe it’s the guilty pleasure and frisson that a good book or film can provide as the reader/viewer remains safe while the world they know unravels in print or on celluloid. Stephen King had a theory that this was why people love horror books and movie – that they’re revivifying; remind them of life by representing death. Whatever the reason, I enjoy this genre and Unraveling, the first book in the four part The Immune Omnibus is a really good, solid addition to the genre.

The premise is the unleashing of a highly virulent disease by a mysterious group that wipes out the majority of the world’s population. Like many books in this oeuvre, the author chooses to focus on select but diverse individuals who, for some reason, are immune to what can only be described as a plague. The reader thus experiences the catastrophic consequences of this on their personal and professional lives, as society as they know it collapses and all they have loved and worked for and towards quite literally dies. 

Well written with strong characters replete with flaws, this is a good start to what promises to be a tight series. Already started the next one. 

Void: The Immune Series, Volume 2

Void The Immune Part Two
The second book in The Immune Omnibus, Void, is a fabulous sequel to the first book, Unraveling. Starting where it left off, Void follows the adventures of the survivors from the first book, namely the obstetrician, Adam, former footballer, Freddie, and soldier Sarah among others as they unite and trek across the USA, in search of Adam’s daughter, Rachel as well as answering the call of the CDC who, before the world went to hell in a hand basket, asked for anyone immune from what’s now known as the Medusa virus to come forward.

As they travel, they meet others who have also lost everything. Joining together, the group learn not only how to survive and forage (including empty houses and abandoned businesses and vehicles) but about each other. Worst of all, they learn just how fragile the veneer of civilization is; how when there is no-one to enforce laws and common decency, there are those who will take advantage of the situation, regardless of the consequences.

While the book is about a world in chaos, it’s also very much about the humanity or lack thereof of those now populating the planet and how survival isn’t just about nourishing the body, but also the heart and mind.

Some good twists in the book and believable character development as well as fine writing made this reader buy the next book as soon as the last page of this one was finished. 

EverGreen. The Immune Part Three

Evergreen: The Immune Series, Volume 3

In this novel, Evergreen, our survivors of the Medusa virus, after another tragedy that shakes them to the core, settle in what appears to be a Utopia, the experimental township of Evergreen, a place that runs on solar energy and is fundamentally self-sufficient. Though ravaged by the virus, the remaining citizens welcome the travellers and it seems that Adam, Sarah, Freddie and Max have found a place to call home. But one person’s paradise is another’s hell and while some of the characters determine to grasp what happiness they can, there are those determined to destroy it, regardless of the cost or who they hurt in the process.

I thought the pace might slow in this book with the primary characters finding a safe haven, but nothing could be further from the truth. Kazzie uses the static location as an excuse to explore the leads’ inner demons as well as expand the search for Adam’s daughter, Rachel. So we have on the one hand the physical difficulties of trying to start afresh while everything lost is still so raw, but more importantly, the psychological tensions the juxtaposition between the old world and those this new, stark and dangerous one create. How can anyone “move on” when the world as they know it has stopped?

A page-turner that had me buying the next one immediately.

Citadel: The Immune Part Four

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The final instalment in this post-apocalyptic series is a doozy. The tensions and various narrative threads started in the other books not only come together but explode with shocking consequences. Just when you thought our intrepid and flawed characters had endured enough, Kazzie inflicts more pain on them and demands they rise to the occasion and show their resilience and instinct for survival.

I don’t want to say too much more except that in every way this was a fitting end to the series and even if it doesn’t answer all the questions it raises, I think this is appropriate as well.

Well-written, fast-paced and action-packed, it was a great read.

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The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding

This was an extraordinary novel that I’ll review carefully so as to give a taste of the premise without spoiling what is a cracking plot. Basically, The Binding is set in a parallel Victorian-type England where books are either forbidden or a guilty pleasure. Certainly, they are treated as something to be feared. That’s because, in this world, they aren’t the kind of books we’re accustomed to enjoying. In this place, books are where people store their memories – mostly unpleasant, guilty secrets or recollections of tragic circumstances, but sometimes also wonderful ones. The way people’s memories get into books is through the process of ‘Binding’. Instrumental to this process is the Binder – the person who has the power to do the transfer and thus wipe the person’s memory. So, for example, if a woman is raped, she can have the memory erased when it’s transferred into a book; likewise powerful and cruel people can ensure their victims also forget what has happened to them; married women can ensure memories of their husband’s, say, infidelities, are also removed and so on.

Ethical Binders store the books of memories in vaults, but like anything so personal, binding as a craft and business is open to abuse and an illegal trade in binded books exists.

When the novel opens, the reader is introduced to young Emmett Farmer, a man who has been afflicted with a fever that indicates he has the ability to become a Binder. Against his will, he is apprenticed to an old, feisty woman to learn the craft only, she is reluctant to teach him. Dwelling in a remote house in the marshes, Emmett nonetheless meets clients who come to have bindings, but also experiences the fear and prejudice of those who loathe the craft and those who practice it. But it’s when young Lucian Darnley comes to the house that Emmett cannot strike his impression of the man or the feelings of anxiety and loathing he arouses. All this, however, becomes irrelevant when tragedy strikes and Emmett is forced to both leave the marshes and practice a skill he barely knows let alone understands. 

I won’t say too much more except that while I was initially a little confused reading part one and found myself struggling to make meaning, waiting for an explanation to be forthcoming. It’s only once I started part two that in a very clever and satisfying manner, part one becomes crystal clear and the story evolves in ways at once beautiful and yet, because you can see where it’s going, heart-breaking as well. 

The premise is so startlingly original, the characters and world so well drawn, that I found it hard to put the book down. A fantastic novel that explores the relationship between memory, identity, love and bigotry and the lengths people will go to in order to conceal their villainy but also protect their heart.

Brilliant.

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The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

The second book in Horowitz’s series featuring taciturn and egotistical retired detective, Hawthorne, The Sentence is Death, is absurdly excellent. 

The story opens with divorce lawyer Richard Pryce being brutally killed with a bottle of expensive wine and the numerals 182 being painted on the wall above the body. Called into aid the investigation being undertaken by an unpleasant and bullying female detective, Hawthorne insists Horowitz accompany him so he might add this murder to the books the author is writing about him. For that’s the marvellous premise of these clever, humorous and beautifully plotted books: Hawthorne has persuaded an unwilling (or at least, against his better judgement) Horowitz to write what will be essentially biographical novels about Hawthorne, featuring his skills as a detective and the cases he solves. As a consequence, the author is a character in his own novel, presenting himself as a rather bumbling Watson-style character to Hawthorne’s Sherlock, becoming a very appropriate foil for the detective’s undoubted and oft infuriating brilliance. 

Suspects present themselves with alarming frequency in this case as not only Richard’s present and high-profile legal cases leave a trail of clues as to the culprit, but the past also proves fertile ground. Hawthorne and Horowitz have to pull out all stops and make, not only leaps of imagination but find facts to uncover the killer. 

Self-deprecating, frustrated and torn between professional curiosity and fury at the way he’s treated by Hawthorne and other members of the constabulary, Horowitz waivers between regretting his decision to write about Hawthorne and wanting to quit. Fortunately, he persists. This case has him (and consequently, the reader) hooked. Laden with references to real writers, actors and thinly veiled swipes and praise for others, as well as his own family and work Horowitz genuinely undertakes (such as writing the television series, Foyle’s War), increases the frisson the novel already creates. 

A clever, easy read that already has me looking forward to the next installment. 

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