AUSSIE CRIME 2022: Recent Australian Crime Novels to Read This Australia Day
When I started reviewing crime fiction for the Canberra Times way back in 1982, Australian crime fiction, apart from Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy novels, was hard to find. In my first year I reviewed one book by an Australian author, Christopher Matthew’s Al Jazzar, and over the next five years I reviewed less than a handful, mainly forgettable thrillers. By the late 1980s this was beginning to change as Corris’ books grew in appeal, and he was joined by other authors, such as Marele Day, Jennifer Rowe and Robert Wallace and the return to Sydney of Jon Cleary, who were willing to set their novels in Australia.
Nowadays, we are spoilt for choice and quality in Australian crime fiction and many authors, such as Michael Robotham and Jane Harper, are steadily growing the standing of the local product overseas. This new blossoming of Australian crime fiction continued at a brisk pace in 2021 with a dazzling array of strong releases across the spectrum of the genre. Although COVID-19 slowed many aspects of life, it did not hamper the flow of good local crime novels and there were plenty of enjoyable books to read during the various shut-downs.
The growth of rural crime or bush/outback noir, has been particularly noticeable over the past few years, and there were again some very good books set in the Australian outback, particularly Chris Hammer’s Treasure & Dirt, but there were also some strong urban based novels, that tackled important social issues, while entertaining. Mental health, drug dependency, domestic violence, and the influence of the media were popular topics, while the intersection between politics, both local and international, and crime was convincingly explored in Alan Carter’s Crocodile Tears and Michael Brissenden’s Dead Letters. Amateur detectives have never really flourished in Australian crime fiction, and again in eight of the eleven novels listed below, the main detecting role, at least partially, was given to a police officer. Sarah Bailey bucked the trend with her outstanding The Housemate, which featured a fragile journalist as the main character, while Gabriel Bergmoser and Kyle Perry turned to the dark side of the genre for their principal protagonists.
2020 saw a feast of good debut novels and it was pleasing to see in 2021 that at least three of those new authors, Gabriel Bergmoser, Katherine Firkin and Kyle Perry, produced very enjoyable second novels. There were also impressive debuts in 2021 by Margaret Hickey and Matt Nable, to name a couple, and Bryan Brown produced a very Australian collection of short stories with Sweet Jimmy.
The local crime fiction community was again also bolstered and supported by the presence of several successful international authors who set their novels overseas, such as Michael Robotham (who again won a prestigious Dagger Award from the British Crime Writer’s Association in 2021), Barry Maitland and Tony Park, and newcomers Allie Reynolds and Amy Suiter Clarke.
Set out below in a rough order of preference are nine outstanding crime fiction books with an Australian setting, which have appeared in the past twelve months or so, and two very good debuts. It is not a definitive list of good local crime novels from 2020, and books by Sarah Barrie, Christian White, S R White and several others could have also easily found their way onto this list.
I have also included links to my original reviews of the books for those who want to read more.
- The Housemate (Allen & Unwin) by Sarah Bailey. I really enjoyed Sarah Bailey’s novels about DS Gemma Woodstock, but thought that the richly plotted The Housemate represented a significant step up in quality for her. A clever, cold case, crime novel with dual timelines set nine years apart, it is an impressive mystery that reminded me of Val McDermid’s early stand alone novels. There is depth and complexity to the plot, and the characters are credible and interesting. The story darts in unexpected directions and Bailey unleashes several good surprises in the final pages. A very good read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-housemate-by-sarah-bailey-allen-unwin/
2. The Long Game (Text) by Simon Rowell. In an era of flashy crime novels and ‘high concept’ thrillers, Simon Rowell’s The Long Game is an unpretentious, but highly enjoyable read. Propelled along by an interesting plot, it was elevated above much of the competition by its easy flowing style, nicely limned characters, vivid descriptions of Melbourne’s beachside suburbs, and strong sense of credibility. It was a pleasure to read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-long-game-by-simon-rowell-text-august-2021/
3. Crocodile Tears (Fremantle Press) by Alan Carter. Carter’s Crocodile Tears is a fast paced, intelligent spy thriller that was convincingly located in Australia and nearby Timor-Leste. The story grabbed attention from the opening pages and held it till the bloody conclusion. Enhanced by a strong cast of supporting characters, a nice dollop of smart political commentary and some vivid descriptions of Australia and Timor-Leste, it was a very enjoyable read. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/australian-crime-fiction-crocodile-tears-by-alan-carter-fremantle-press/
4. Treasure & Dirt (Allen & Unwin) by Chris Hammer. With Treasure & Dirt (Opal Country in the United Kingdom), Chris Hammer takes a break from his series about journalist Martin Scarsden and turns his attention to Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic who is sent to the outback town of Finnigan’s Gap to investigate the death of an opal miner, who is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. This is a richly plotted and engaging crime novel that is greatly enhanced by a good storyline, vivid descriptions of the remote Finnigan’s Gap and an interesting stream of observations and social commentary. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/treasure-dirt-by-chris-hammer-allen-unwin/
5. The Deep (Michael Joseph) by Kyle Perry. Perry’s The Bluffs was one of the stand-out Australian crime fiction debuts of 2020. Set in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers it was a tightly constructed and gripping story. With The Deep Perry shifts the action to the rugged and dangerous coast of south-eastern Tasmania and has produced another strong book about drugs and corruption in a picturesque part of Australia. An exquisitely plotted and well written story that confirms Perry’s status as a rising star of Australian crime writing. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-deep-by-kyle-perry-michael-joseph-20-july-2021/
6. The Way It Is Now by Garry Disher (Text). After the immense success of his recent novels featuring struggling South Australian rural policeman Constable Paul Hirschhausen, Disher has again struck out in a new direction with his latest novel. Featuring disgraced Victorian detective Charlie Deravin, who has returned to the family’s holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula to lick his wounds and investigate an old case, The Way It Is Now is a very impressive piece of crime fiction. It holds attention, and impresses with its depth and reflections. The plotting is masterful and the book entertains while raising serious issues. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/australian-crime-fiction-garry-disher-and-christian-white/
7. Dead Letters by Michael Brissenden (Hachette). Journalist Michael Brissenden provides a good follow-up to his first novel, The List (2018), with Dead Letters. Set in Sydney, it shows a good grasp of the thriller writer’s art and takes the reader on an entertaining journey through old crime cases, the threat of terrorism and the ever present evil of political corruption. Told with a journalist’s fine eye for detail, it is a topical and thoroughly enjoyable thriller. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/dead-letters-by-michael-brissenden-hachette-27-january-2021/
8. The Girl Remains by Katherine Firkin (Bantam). One Australian book which slipped a bit under the radar was Katherine Firkin’s The Girl Remains. I thought that it was a much stronger effort than her first novel, Sticks And Bones, and it kept me guessing to the end. It also had good, credible characters and a nice sense of place. I am very much looking forward to Katherine’s next novel.
9. The Inheritance by Gabriel Bergmoser (Harper Collins). For pure ‘pedal to the metal’ reading pleasure, it is hard to go past Bergmoser’s hyper-exciting second novel, The Inheritance. Once more featuring the enigmatic Maggie, it is a fast paced and very enjoyable thriller. The plotting is a little more substantial this time around and Bergmoser enhances his story with good, sharp dialogue and some evocative, simple descriptions of Melbourne and the local countryside. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/july-justice-new-tough-novels-by-s-a-cosby-steve-cavanagh-and-gabriel-bergmoser/
10. Still by Matt Nable (Hachette). Much more sedate than The Inheritance, is Matt Nable’s nicely crafted debut set in Darwin in the early 1960s, Still. This is a slow burn, character driven crime novel with a good level of tension and a strong sense of foreboding. It excels in its characterisations and depictions of life in Darwin in the 1960s, and the descriptions of the moribund city and the surrounding countryside are very vivid and ring true. It is an impressive novel. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/recent-australian-crime-novels/
11. Cutters End by Margaret Hickey (Penguin). At first glance Cutters End appears to be yet another novel about a flawed police detective investigating a murder in an outback town with which he has some connection, but Margaret Hickey provides her own twists and depth. The story involving an investigation into an old death on a remote piece of highway, is a good one and Margaret deftly creates an interesting set of characters and locates them in a believable time and place. The reflections on the passage of time and the loss of opportunity, give the story a nice poignancy and there is a real depth to the characters. An impressive crime debut. https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/september-suspense-books-by-margaret-hickey-jack-grimwood-and-lachlan-page/
In addition to being good reads, the above books also have good evocative covers. Most of them feature images of the Australian outdoors, even those set in cities, and I particularly liked the night life cover on Brissenden’s Dead Letters and the use of reflection on Firkin’s The Girl Remains.
So plenty of good reading and the good news is that there is still plenty of good Australian crime writing to come in 2022, with new novels by Dinuka McKenzie and Michael Levitt already impressing this year!