AUGUST READING: Bryan Brown, Jake Avila, Karen Hamilton and Paul Haddad
My late August reading has been very mixed and has covered a range of locations from the mean streets of Sydney to the Papuan jungle to a luxury Caribbean cruise and Los Angeles in the late 1950s.
Iconic Australian actor Bryan Brown makes an impressive entry into Australia’s crime writing ranks with his first collection of short stories, Sweet Jimmy (Allen & Unwin, 31 August 2021).
Written in a stripped down, unadorned style these crisp stories skirt the fringes of Australian noir as Brown takes the reader down the mean streets of Sydney, with a scary side trip to America. Featuring cops, thieves, drug dealers, distraught fathers and a bored dentist, these stories are full of wit, humour and heartbreak, and have a strong Australian flavour to them. They all nicely capture the feel of suburban Australia and Brown shows a real gift for storytelling as his characters stumble from one misadventure to another. He is also quite adept at creating credible, interesting characters in a few swift lines.
All of the stories are entertaining, but the stand-outs for me were the poignant Be Not Afraid, about a father trying to understand the cause of his daughter’s death, and the more upbeat The Tea Leaf , in which a thief gets more than he bargained for when he steals the wrong car.
A terrific collection of gritty, well-paced tales.
Four to four and a half stars out of five!
Sweet Jimmy will be released in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 31 August 2021
Karen Hamilton’s The Ex-Husband (Wildfire, 19 August 2021) is much different in style to Sweet Jimmy, but the central character, Charlotte, would not be out of place in one of Brown’s stories.
Charlotte and her husband, Sam, used to run scams on luxury cruises, taking money from unsuspecting rich people, until their world fell in and Charlotte came close to going to prison. Now Charlotte is in London trying to start a new life and dodging someone who is threatening to expose what she and Sam did. In desperation she takes a job as an events planner for an engagement party onboard a superyacht in the Caribbean. She thinks that she is safe, but she soon realises that danger has followed her on the cruise.
This is an easy flowing and super engaging story that captures attention in the opening pages and keeps you enthralled until the final twist. Charlotte’s narration is breezy and captivating, with just the right amount of suspense, and the story proceeds at a brisk pace for most of its length. Hamilton knows how to spin a good plot and there are plenty of twists and turns and red herrings. The villain is not difficult to pick, but Hamilton keeps it interesting and there are some good last page revelations.
An enjoyable fun read.
Four stars out of five!
The Ex-Husband was released in Australia on 10 August 2021 and in the United Kingdom on 19 August 2021.
Cave Diver (Echo, 3 August 2021) by Australian author Jake Avila is throwback to the classic adventure novels of the 1960s. Set in the jungles of Papua, it follows the efforts of a secret expedition to recover a World War II Japanese submarine buried deep within a sunken cavern. The submarine contains a vast treasure that a crooked Indonesian General is determined to make his own. Unwittingly caught up in the treasure hunt is traumatised Australian diver Rob Nash who is looking for one last shot at redemption for a past mistake.
Cave Diver was the winner of the 2020 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize and is an enjoyable thriller full of action and rich descriptions of the New Guinea and Papuan jungles. The tension quickly rises as the story marches steadily towards the explosive and bloody conclusion and there are some very good action set-pieces. Avila imparts a good deal of technical detail and jungle lore along the way, and there are also some interesting dollops about the current situation in Papua.
Cave Diver is more weightier than the classic adventure novels by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley, but it is still highly entertaining and makes for a good weekend read.
An enjoyable 3 and half to four stars out of five!
Cave Diver was released in Australia by Echo on 3 August 2021. It is also available in the United Kingdom on Kindle and in paperback.
Much different is Paul Haddad’s period piece about Los Angeles in the late 1950s, Paradise Palms (Black Rose Writing, July 2021).
The book opens in 1957, a time of Eisenhower conformity and Red Scare paranoia. A relic of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the aging Paradise Palms Hotel is on the brink of change. David Shapiro, the eldest son of the owner, the recently widowed Max Shapiro, has assumed a leadership role, but his father is resistant to change. As David digs into the hotel’s business he finds shady characters lurking in the background and his father’s tenuous ties to gangster Mickey Cohen, who is trying to commandeer the hotel. Then there is also a mysterious African American guest named Rae Lynn and his father’s dodgy new girlfriend.
Set against a background of a changing world, Paradise Palms is an engaging family saga with a neo-noir flavour. Haddad is a dab hand at creating interesting, credible characters who grow and change with the story, and the book moves along at a reasonable pace as David tries to turn the hotel’s fortunes around. The depiction of Los Angeles in the late 1950s rings true, at least to an outsider like me, and Haddad does enough name dropping and event referencing to ground the story in the historical period.
Although primarily a family drama, the mob aspects add some good grit and tension and the suspense mounts steadily in the second half of the book. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and noir feeling of Paradise Palms and became caught up in the fate of the hotel and the Shapiro family.
Three and a half to four stars out of five!
Paradise Palms was released in America in July 2021 and can be purchased in Australia via Amazon on kindle or in paperback.
So four very different books that will appeal to a range of readers. Sweet Jimmy and The Ex-Husband were my favourites, but all were good!