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Posted by on 24 Jan, 2024 in Australian Crime Fiction, Courtroom Thriller, Crime, Outback Crime, Thriller | 1 comment

AUSSIE CRIME 2024: Recent Australian Crime Novels To Read This Australia Day!

AUSSIE CRIME 2024: Recent Australian Crime Novels To Read This Australia Day!

2023 was another strong year for Australian crime fiction.

Once again the overall quality of the books greatly impressed, especially given that some of my favourite authors, such as Kyle Perry, Michael Brissenden, Jane Harper and Garry Disher, did not produce books in 2023. I did not read every Australian crime novel released in 2023, but I did read a fair swag, around 50, and was impressed by the breadth and variety of the books released. I was also privileged to be a judge for the Ned Kelly Awards for Best Debut Crime Novel, which meant that I got to read a lot of new fiction by some very promising first time Australian authors.

Of course, not every Australian crime book I read in 2023 was to my liking, but I have to say that overall the quality was extremely good, and continued the high standard set in 2022.

The growth of rural crime or bush/outback noir has been a major trend in recent years, and it was again very evident in the books produced in 2023. Of the twelve books listed below, two certainly fall into the category of real outback noir, while another five have a strong rural or small town regional tinge to them. While Benjamin Stevenson’s idiosyncratic take on the locked room mystery, Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect, was set on the Ghan as it traversed the desolate heart of Australia. In addition to these, there were also several other notable examples of rural noir, such as Darcy Tindale’s The Fall Between and Margaret Hickey’s Broken Bay, which just fell a little short of making the list. All of them, including rural romance crime books by Fleur McDonald and Kerry McGinnis, featured very attractive scenic covers, which undoubtedly helped their appeal overseas and in Australia.

Pleasingly there seemed to be an increase last year in the number of crime novels set in cities and dealing with urban crime, often from a recent historical perspective. These were led by David Whish-Wilson’s excellent I Am Already Dead and Iain Ryan’s The Strip, but there were also good examples by newcomers Mali Waugh and Joanna Jenkins who almost made the list. Interesting, the two books by Mali and Joanna, Judgement Day and How To Kill A Client, dealt with crime among lawyers, which has been a rarely touched subject in Australian crime fiction, and hopefully signals the beginning of a new trend of white collar crime books.

There were no strong, consistent themes in 2023, but there was plenty of diversity. The below books cover the spectrum of the genre from cold case crimes to police novels to straight out thrillers to murder mysteries and twisty tales and a very good heist thriller. Beyond the below list, there was also a good selection of lighter novels with crime elements, such as Amanda Hampson’s The Tea Ladies and Sarah Smith’s inventive, LA-based novel Twelve Steps To A Long And Fulfilling Death, and the usual collection of domestic suspense and ‘family dramas with crime’ books, including Ali Lowe’s The Running Club.

Without a doubt the most impressive aspect of the current surge in Australian crime writing has been the steady stream of very good debut novels every year. 2023 again saw some very impressive debuts by Michelle Prak and Joanna Jenkins, to name just two, while Dinuka McKenzie followed up on her outstanding debut of 2022, The Torrent, with the equally impressive Taken.

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 Candice Fox, Megan Goldin and Tony Park. All of whom helped to draw international attention to Australian crime writing.

Set out below in a rough order of preference are twelve outstanding crime fiction books, with an Australian setting, which have appeared in the past year or so. It is not a definitive list of good local crime novels from 2023, and books by Margaret Hickey, Tim Ayliffe and Adrian Hyland, and several others, could have also easily found their way onto the list.

I have also included links to my original reviews of the books for those who want to read more. And links to previous Australia Day lists are at the end of the article.

Finally, I acknowledge that Australia Day is nowadays a fraught occasion, but thought that it was still a good opportunity to celebrate and promote the quality of our local crime writers, many of whom tackle issues around diversity, displacement, culture, historical wrongs, and discrimination in their books.

I Am Already Dead by David Whish-Wilson (Fremantle Press, October 2023).

My favourite Australian crime novel of 2023, by a thin margin, was David Whish-Wilson’s superbly written I Am Already Dead (Fremantle Press, October 2023).

I Am Already Dead is the second entry in Whish-Wilson’s series about trainee private investigator Lee Southern, and finds the young man drawn into a web of danger and deceit as he investigates a series of bribery attempts targeting a wealthy entrepreneur. This is a superior piece of crime fiction. The plotting contains the requisite amount of action and surprises, and is well supported by good, pared back dialogue, credible and interesting characters and some evocative descriptions of Perth in the early 1990s. An outstanding read.

Here is the link to my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/november-2023-reading-kevin-powers-david-whish-wilson-gillian-mcallister-jordan-harper/

The Caretaker by Gabriel Bergmoser, (Harper Collins, 2 August 2023)

Gabriel Bergmoser’s The Caretaker, (Harper Collins, 2 August 2023), more than fulfilled the promise of his first two books and was one of the most addictively readable crime novels of 2023.

Charlotte is hiding out with a new identity in a small ski resort in the Australian alpine region.  On the run from the police, and some very dangerous criminal associates of her former husband, Charlotte has taken a job as an off-season caretaker for a small clutch of deserted lodges. Charlotte thinks that she is safe and alone, but suddenly she is not.

There is a good sense of mystery and uneasiness from the opening pages, and an early twist quickly sets the adrenaline pumping. The pace is quick throughout, and Bergmoser skilfully shifts the action between the present and the events in the past that have led to Charlotte’s current situation.  There is suspense and surprises in both storylines, and Bergmoser steadily builds the tension as the two strands merge into a bloody conclusion. The Caretaker is one of those books which is very hard to put down.

Here is the link to my earlier review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/deadly-caretakers-and-podcasters-new-2023-australian-crime-fiction-by-megan-goldin-and-gabriel-bergmoser/

Taken by Dinuka McKenzie (Harper Collins, February 2023),

Dinuka McKenzie’s The Torrent was one of the best Australian crime debuts of 2022 and her second novel, Taken (Harper Collins, February 2023), more than lived up to the promise of that first book.

Well plotted, with nuanced and interesting characters and a fine sense of place, Taken held interest from beginning to end, as we watched DS Kate Miles juggle the demands of recent motherhood, with the pressure of a sensitive case involving the abduction of a child.

Complex themes involving gender politics, corruption and Kate’s mixed heritance are ably woven into the story, without slowing the pace, or becoming too didactic. An outstanding crime novel.

Here is the link to my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/taken-by-dinuka-mckenzie-harper-collins-february-2023/

The Rush by Michelle Prak (Simon & Schuster, May 2023)

Michelle Prak’s The Rush, (Simon & Schuster, May 2023), was an exquisite thriller that benefited from a brisk forward momentum and a rapidly approaching deadline, which kept the tension high throughout.

Set in an Australian outback beset by flooding rains, it is a gripping story told through the eyes of four well-crafted female characters. Three of them are trying to make it to a remote country pub before the potentially flooding rains hit, while the fourth, Andrea, is desperately sandbagging the pub. Alone with her sleeping son in the back room, Andrea reluctantly lets a biker in to wait out the storm.

The Rush is a cleverly constructed thriller with some good surprises and a strong sense of unease. Michelle makes effective use of the shifting viewpoints and changes in the timeline to generate maximum suspense, and the book powers along to a taut and exciting climax. It also tackles issues around misogyny, life choices and women’s safety, but these are subtly handled and do not distract from the pace and tension of the story.

Although it is a debut, the writing is very assured and it is an impressive entry into the world of Australian crime fiction.

Here is the link to my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/dark-tales-from-melbourne-london-and-the-australian-outback-new-2023-crime-by-j-p-pomare-sam-holland-and-michelle-prak/

No Trace by Michael Trant (Bantam, May 2023).

Michael Trant’s No Trace, (Bantam, May 2023), was one of those crime thrillers that stuck in my mind across 2023.

Set in the harsh vastness of the Western Australian desert region, it follows wily dog trapper Gabe Ahern as he deals with the possibility that some dangerous crooks out for revenge have finally found him. Trapped on a remote cattle property in the Pilbara with a handful of farm workers and a bunch of city folk eager for an authentic outback experience, Ahern fears that his past has caught up with him.

This is a spectacularly good crime thriller. The story is an enjoyable mixture of thriller action and murder mystery, and it builds to a taut and bloody climax. The characters are well formed and believable, and the ageing and taciturn Gabe Ahern is a marvellous creation. The ending is suitably tense and surprising, and there are some great, authentic descriptions of the outback.

Here is the link to the original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/australian-outback-noir-new-books-by-michael-trant-darcy-tindale-and-margaret-hickey/

Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson (Penguin, 17 October 2023)

Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone was the wittiest and most original crime novel I read in 2022 and his follow up book, Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect (Penguin, 17 October 2023), was almost as good. 

Once more featuring Ernest Cunningham, Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect was a clever crime novel featuring a locked room murder mystery set on board a train. Cunningham has been invited by the Australian Mystery Writers’ Society to join a crime festival on board the Ghan. Also on the train are five other authors, covering the spectrum of crime fiction, and a host of fans. Cunningham is in the midst of a writer’s block as he tries to tackle that difficult second book, but fortunately his creative juices are invigorated when somebody on the train is murdered during the night. Using his trusty rules of crime fiction, Cummingham sets out to solve the crime, and hopefully write a new bestseller.

Full of witty observations and some laugh-out loud moments, Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect was a clever and engaging mystery that delighted with its intelligence and its unpredictable reflections on the crime genre.

Here is the link to my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/new-2023-australian-crime-fiction-by-benjamin-stevenson-chris-hammer-and-bryan-brown/

Kill Your Husbands by Jack Heath (Allen & Unwin, 28 November 2024)

Jack Heath’s Kill Your Husbands is a clever and suspenseful crime thriller about a group of old friends whose weekend country retreat turns into something more sinister.

Heath takes the popular plot idea of an isolated group with deadly secrets, and adds his own unique style and some great twists. Alternating between the events of the night and the subsequent police investigation, Kill Your Husbands is a fast moving tale that smoothly glides its way through frequent unexpected turns and some very dark moments. The three couples are nicely limned and the police detective, Senior Constable Kiara Lui, is a marvellous creation, full of uncertainty and astute reasoning.

A brisk and very enjoyable read.

Here is the link to the original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/late-october-2023-crime-reading-new-books-by-lee-goldberg-bryan-brown-jack-heath-dave-warner-and-dann-mcdorman/

The Seven by Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin, October 2023)

The Seven, (Allen & Unwin, 3 October 2023), is Chris Hammer’s sixth crime novel and brings back his popular pairing of Detective Sergeant Ivan Lucic and Detective Constable Nell Buchanan, who operate out of the rural homicide team based at Dubbo. This time around they are called in to investigate the discovery of a body in a canal in the country town of Yuwonderie, which lies at the centre of the fictional Yuwonderie Irrigation Area. The town is the result of a major private irrigation project that brought the water of the Murrumbidgee River to a previously arid landscape in the 1920s. In the process the scheme generated huge wealth for the seven founding families known colloquially as The Seven, who still effectively run the town today.

Working across three timelines, and a good cast of interesting characters, The Seven was another engaging crime novel by Hammer. As usual, there was a strong sense of place, the historical detail was fascinating and the plotting had real substance to it. There were also some good twists that I did not see coming.

Here is the link to the original review:  https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/new-2023-australian-crime-fiction-by-benjamin-stevenson-chris-hammer-and-bryan-brown/

Orphan Road by Andrew Nette (Down & Out Books, May 2023),

Andrew Nette’s Orphan Road, (Down & Out Books, May 2023), brought some good urban grit to the Australian crime genre.

A tough, taut heist novel with a good stripped down writing style and great cast of crooks and lowlifes, Orphan Road held my attention from the opening failed robbery to the final bloody showdown. I am a big fan of gritty heist stories, and this one is a beauty. It is also a good reminder that not all Australian crime occurs in the outback or some small regional town.

Here is my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/fast-action-thrillers-and-a-deadly-heist-new-crime-from-m-w-craven-ruth-ware-and-andrew-nette/

Summer Of Blood by Dave Warner (Fremantle, October 2023)

It is over twenty five years since Dave Warner’s Big Bad Blood first appeared. Set in Sydney in 1965 it was an epic crime tale full of grit and blood. With Summer Of Blood, (Fremantle, 3 October 2023), Warner takes the two detectives from Big Bad Blood, Ray Shearer and John Gordon, and sends them to California during the Summer of Love in 1967. While searching for the missing son of a friend of the Police Minister’s, they encounter drugs, music and a possible serial killer.

Although much of the book is set in the United States, the opening and closing sections are set in Sydney, and the frequent observations by Shearer and Gordon provide good insight into the Australian attitudes and prejudices of the late 1960s. Well paced and entertaining, Summer Of Blood is a big bold tale full of vivid images and plenty of violence. The telling owes a little to James Elroy, but the descriptive passages and reflections are all Warner. A very good read.

Here is the original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/late-october-2023-crime-reading-new-books-by-lee-goldberg-bryan-brown-jack-heath-dave-warner-and-dann-mcdorman/

Ripper by Shelley Burr (Hachette, September 2023)

Shelley Burr’s Wake was one of my favourite Australian crime novels of 2022, and was the winner of the 2023 Ned Kelly Award for best Debut Crime Novel.

Her follow-up novel, Ripper (Hachette, September 2023), was centred around a series of murders in the small town of Rainer, halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. The once thriving town is now best known as being the site of three murders committed by the ‘Rainer Ripper’ seventeen years ago. Gemma Guillory has lived in Rainer all her life, and her innocuous little teashop was the last stop on the Ripper’s trail of death. Although in custody, the Ripper’s night of carnage still affects the town and when a tour operator, who is trying to cash in on the town’s dark history, is killed by a Ripper copycat Gemma fears that the old days are back.

Ripper was a good follow-up novel by Shelley. The central idea behind the plot was clever and the two distinct storylines were skillfully meshed together into an entertaining whole. The characters were plentiful, and mainly well developed, and the book built to a good twisty climax.

Here is the original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/new-australian-crime-fiction-2023-ripper-by-shelley-burr-and-mole-creek-by-james-dunbar/

The Strip by Iain Ryan (Ultimo Press, 13 December 2023)

Iain Ryan’s The Strip, (Ultimo Press, 13 December 2023), came very late in the year, but was an impressive book that raised the bar for urban noir in Australia.

Set on the Gold Coast in 1980, it was a fast moving tale that evoked the police novels of James Elroy. When a local doctor is brutally murdered, Detective Constable Lana Cohen joins the notorious Strike Force Diablo, which is filled with corrupt and inept cops seemingly incapable of solving a string of murders. Carefully navigating a sea of corruption, Lana teams up with the tarnished Henry Loch as they search for a killer in the Gold Coast’s dark recesses.

I was really impressed with The Strip. The characters were gritty and credible, and Ryan skilfully captured the mood of the early 1980s, and the flood of corruption and unregulated policing that was overwhelming Queensland. It also had a well crafted and emotionally charged story that quickly moved to a tough and memorable climax.

Aussie crime fiction, of the noir variety, does not get much better than The Strip.

Here is a link to my original review: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/books-and-dachshunds-holiday-reading-december-2023/

So plenty of enjoyable Australian reading. What was your favourite Australian crime novel of the past year?

The good news is that there is still a lot of impressive Australian crime writing to come in 2024, including Sarah Bailey’s Body Of Lies and Dinuka McKenzie’s Tipping Point in February, as well as new books by Garry Disher, David Whish-Wilson and Alan Carter later in the year.

Here is a link to my column from Australia Day 2023: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/aussie-crime-2023-recent-australian-crime-novels-to-read-this-australia-day/

1 Comment

  1. I’ve read a few of these, and most of the others are on my reading list. It really is terrific to see so many great Australian crime fiction writers at work.

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