Eight Detectives by Alex Parvesi

This debut novel by Alex Parvesi, a mathematician as well as writer, takes the structure of the typical murder-mystery genre as its subject and turns this into a series of clues that are meant to solve a crime.

Basically, the story is about an editor at a press dedicated to publishing books in the crime genre, chasing down a famous author who lives on a remote Greek isle with the aim of  both seeking his permission to publish a series of short stories he wrote over 20 years ago that prove his thesis about the structure of almost envy murder-mystery (as he prefers to call them) ever written, as well as write an erudite introduction explaining his theories. The original book was called The White Murders

This is the frame narrative for what then becomes a series of alternating chapters where the reader is given the seven short stories the author wrote all those years ago (and which comprise the original book), interspersed with conversations between him and his new publisher. Yet, in each story, there are a series of irregularities, which when the publisher points these out, the author either dismisses or explains away abruptly. When the publisher questions him re the title, which also conjures up an actual brutal murder of a young woman named White that occurred in England decades ago, and the writer dismisses any relationship as mere coincidence, she begins to question his response, not just to this, but to all her queries…

I enjoyed this slow burn of a novel. Drawing on the tropes of the murder/mystery/crime genre, it explores it in a variety of homages – the gumshoe PI, the femme fatale, the bully cop, the dogged investigator and obvious and not so obvious suspects and victims. It bears echoes of Agatha Christie, Sophie Hannah, Anthony Horowitz’s recent works and other writers of British noir and crime. While the individual stories were in themselves quite good, the conversation chapters between were often a bit lacklustre. The book grows a bit repetitive and I was beginning to wonder where it was heading… then comes the ending. The twists towards the end not only bring the book together, but result in a very satisfying conclusion to a work that didn’t, for a while, appear to be going anywhere meaningful. 

Whereas for a while I thought I might not enjoy this book as much as I hoped, the ending made the journey, which was clever and demonstrates a real appreciation of the genre, very worthwhile. 

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Cry of the Firebird by T.M. Clark

I have been meaning to read a T.M. Clark book for quite a while, knowing they’re set in South Africa, a place I’ve never been but remain curious about. I was finally able to do so and enjoy being immersed in a culture and land both perilous and beautiful.

When Dr Lily Winters, a WHO consultant, is sent back to her beloved South Africa due to the unexpected death of an unpopular colleague, she and her famous musician husband find themselves embroiled in searching for the origins of an HIV outbreak in the San comminity of Platfontein. Despite being given appropriate medicines and care, the people are dying, leaving behind not only a trail of heartbreak, but many unanswered questions.

With the help of a Kalahari policeman, Little Piet, Lily determines to discover why the disease is killing so many as well as learning why and how her colleague died. Her determination sets her on a dangerous path as there are those equally resolute she’ll remain not only ignorant about why HIV is flourishing, but unable to interfere with their very lucrative business.

This is a slow-burn book that takes the reader on a journey through lush and wondrous landscapes and into unfamiliar but breathtakingly beautiful territory. The descriptions of South Africa are simply lovely and deposit you smack bang in the middle of vegetation, a lake inhabited by flamingos, or scrubland and ghettoes with ease. You smell the earthy afternoons, the crisp mornings and see the beauty of the sky as the sun rises or sets.

Though I’ve seen this book described as a thriller, I wouldn’t call it that, but it is a tightly-plotted mystery, filled with characters you either loathe (because they’re so unremittingly greedy and selfish) or invest in and a place that leaps from the page and into your heart.

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The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen

I love L.J.M. Owen’s Elizabeth Pimm’s series, so was really looking forward to her starting what promises to be a new and even darker crime series. I am pleased to say, the result is fabulous.

The Great Divide is set in a small, rural town in Tasmania – a place fast becoming popular for crime writers across a range of media. And it’s no wonder (but maybe, as a local, I’m biased J). For readers familiar with Tassie, the setting is so authentic in many ways – from the climate, to the suspicious welcome of the townspeople, their quirkiness and infuriating familiarity with each other, to the natural surroundings. To those not so conversant with Tassie topography or towns and their folk, there’s no problem as newly-arrived, Detective Jake Hunter, becomes the lens though which this troubled place and its rather secretive inhabitants are viewed.

Believing he’s escaped an uncomfortable situation in Melbourne, giving himself professional and personal breathing space, Jake’s illusions are quickly shattered when the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered in a nearby vineyard.

What follows is a case filled with half-told truths, bigotry, lies, enigmas and a dark past that many of the townsfolk are reluctant to shed light upon. But as the death toll begins to mount, Jake understands that not only must he get the bottom of what’s going on, unearth that which too many wish to keep buried, but do it before anyone else is murdered.

This is a grim tale which ratchets up the tension with each chapter. It is moody, dark, and hard to put down. Equal parts disturbing and compelling, the pace is perfect and the characters well drawn. Jake, especially, is an interesting and beautifully flawed human being that it’s easy for the reader to relate to – he is the outsider you root for.

I have to say, Australian writers are excelling in the crime genre. There are some sensational reads out there, so many great narratives, that draw you in, hold you by the collar, shake you like there’s no tomorrow, and then release you when they’re ready. This one is no exception.

Very much looking forward to what L.J.M. Owens does next – whether it’s Dr Pimms, DI Hunter, or something else from her inventive mind.

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The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

The third book in the Cormac Reilly series, The Good Turn, is an absolute cracker of a read that will hold you in thrall from beginning to end. 

In this instalment, the Cormac Reilly readers are coming to know and love shares centre stage with another character, junior Garda Peter Fisher. An admirer of Cormac (who is still at terrible odds with their boss), Peter is determined to not only do the right thing, but impress. When a young girl is abducted and the boss is more focused on a drug bust that his policeman son is involved in and which will elevate them both in the force, and Cormac is tied up interviewing the parents of the abducted girl, Peter takes matters into his own hands with devastating consequences.

What follows is a career-make or break for both Peter and Cormac – the latter being unreasonably held to account for actions beyond his control. But no matter what Cormac tries to do to save both his and Peter’s professional reputations, someone is one step ahead, determined to tear him down…

Atmospheric, brilliantly plotted and with characters whose lives and hopes and dreams unfold, The Good Turn is a gripping read. The locales are also marvellously drawn, whether it’s a small town in Ireland or individual rooms in houses. You breath the air, feel the chill of snow and the fall of night as it encompasses the landscape, the crackle of a fire in a cosy room or the bitter bite of a house with no heating. The additional characters are rich and real and as their stories are revealed, they add depth to an already enthralling tale. 

I couldn’t put this book down and am so disappointed I not only finished it, but now have to wait for Dervla’s next one. If you’re looking for a great crime fiction read that will transport you, the entire series and certainly this book, are for you.

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The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen

I love L.J.M. Owen’s Elizabeth Pimm’s series, so was really looking forward to her starting what promises to be a new and even darker crime series. I am pleased to say, the result is fabulous.

The Great Divide is set in a small, rural town in Tasmania – a place fast becoming popular for crime writers across a range of media. And it’s no wonder (but maybe, as a local, I’m biased). For readers familiar with Tassie, the setting is so authentic in many ways – from the climate, to the suspicious welcome of the townspeople, their quirkiness and infuriating familiarity with each other, to the natural surroundings. To those not so familiar with Tassie topography or towns and their folk, there’s no problem as newly-arrived, Detective Jake Hunter, becomes the lens though this troubled place and its rather secretive inhabitants are viewed.

Believing he’s escaped an uncomfortable situation in Melbourne, giving himself professional and personal breathing space, Jake’s illusions are quickly shattered when the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered in a nearby vineyard.

What follows is a case filled with half-told truths, bigotry, lies, enigmas and a dark past that many of the townsfolk are reluctant to shed light upon. But as the death toll begins to mount, Jake understands that not only must he get the bottom of what’s going on, unearth that which too many wish to keep buried, but do it before anyone else is murdered.

This is a grim tale which ratchets up the tension with each chapter. It is moody, dark, and hard to put down. Equal parts disturbing and compelling, the pace is perfect and the characters well drawn. Jake, especially, is an interesting and beautifully flawed human being that it’s easy for the reader to relate to – he is the outsider you root for.

I have to say, Australian writers are excelling in the crime genre. There are some sensational reads out there, so many great narratives, that draw you in, hold you by the collar, shake you like there’s no tomorrow, and then release you when they’re ready. This one is no exception.

Very much looking forward to what L.J.M. Owens does next – whether it’s Dr Pimms, DI Hunter, or something else from her inventive mind.

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