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Posted by on 18 Jul, 2023 in Australian Crime Fiction, Canberra Weekly, Crime, Domestic Suspense, Outback Crime, Spy Fiction, Thriller | 1 comment



The release of new Australian crime fiction continues at a good pace and across a wide breadth of the genre. This latest batch includes a polished spy novel, another small town mystery and a tale of psychological suspense.

Killer Traitor Spy by Tim Ayliffe (Simon & Schuster, 5 July 2023)

Australian spy fiction is not an overworked field, and there are only a few authors who regularly venture into the labyrinthine world of modern day spying in Australia. Journalist turned author Tim Ayliffe is one of the few and his John Bailey thrillers are always a welcomed addition to any reading year.

Killer Traitor Spy (Simon & Schuster, 5 July 2023) is the fourth book in the series and finds the weary, but intrepid, journalist caught up in an old styled tale of Russian agents and intelligence moles, but with a modern day twist.

Someone wants Russian millionaire Dmitry Lebedev dead. After years flying under the radar in Sydney, he’s just had a narrow escape when a sex worker, Scarlett Merriman, is mistakenly poisoned in his hotel room. The woman is a friend of Bailey’s and as he digs into why Scarlett is in a coma, isolated from the media, he encounters another old friend, rogue CIA officer Ronnie Johnson, who once saved Bailey’s life in Iraq. Johnson is very interested in finding Lebedev, who claims to have knowledge of a Russian asset inside in the Australian government. Bailey and Johnson have very different styles, and agendas, but they both find themselves on the trail of Lebedev and a possible Russian mole.

Killer Traitor Spy is a briskly paced story that confidently moves through a series of twists and turns to a skilfully choreographed climax in Canberra. The plot has real substance to it, and Ayliffe draws on recent events, such as microwave weaponry and the ‘No Limits Partnership’ between Russia and China, to gave the book a very up-to-date feel. He smoothly weaves into his story a good deal of seemingly authentic background information, and he has a good journalistic eye for the telling detail. The descriptions of Sydney and Canberra are also well done, and very authentic.

The battered and bruised Bailey is an interesting and resilient character and he is the ideal mouth piece for Ayliffe’s views on world affairs, local politics and the state of journalism. His mix of optimism and world weary charm works well, and he is a good foil for the more brutal Johnson. His private life also has a believable complexity to it.

In all, Killer Traitor Spy is a really enjoyable thriller that gives a good, modern day, Australian twist to the old Cold War tensions.

My only quibble is Ayliffe’s reference to ASD agents interviewing people and chasing down leads in Sydney, which did not ring quite true as an Intelligence division of labour to me, but I maybe wrong.

Thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy of Killer Traitor Spy for review.

Lowbridge by Lucy Campbell (Ultimo, 5 July 2023)

Small town crime fiction has been booming in recent times and Lucy Campbell continues the trend with her debut novel, Lowbridge (Ultimo, 5 July 2023).

The fictional, small country town of Lowbridge is located about halfway between Sydney and Canberra, and serves as the focus of Lucy Campbell’s eponymous, debut novel. The story revolves around the disappearance in 1987 of a seventeen-year-old girl from the local shopping centre. The girl is never found, and her disappearance becomes the subject of local speculation and rumour.  Thirty years later a newcomer to Lowbridge, Katherine Ashworth, is trying to recover from her own personal drama and becomes obsessed with the events surrounding the disappearance. Helped by the local historical society she digs into disappearance, and that of another girl who vanished at the same time, but who never received the same level of publicity.

Shifting smoothly between 1987 and 2018, Lowbridge is an engaging, slow-burn crime novel, that does a good job of recreating the divisions and tensions in semi-rural Australia in the 1980s and now. The sections set in 1987 are the highlight of the book, and Lucy is very good at recreating the time period, and the attitudes and behaviours of the teenagers caught up in the events leading up to the disappearance. The mystery is slow to develop, but once underway it is cleverly played out and the ending is unexpected.

Katherine is not an immediately likable character, and some patience is required with her self-absorption in the opening sections, but she develops nicely as the book progresses. The resolution of the mystery and the attribution of guilt is a bit too easy, but there is some credibility around why it happened.

I also liked the nicely evocative cover that the publishers have given the book.

In all, Lowbridge is a very promising debut and the third debut so far this year, that I can remember, set in semi-rural New South Wales!

Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.

Traced by Catherine Jinks (Text, 4 July 2023)

Catherine Jinks is a veteran of the Australian writing scene, with over forty books to her credit.

Her latest, Traced (Text, 4 July 2023), is another well written mix of psychological suspense, social commentary and family drama.

The book opens with Catherine making clever use of a feature from the recent COVID pandemic. Set at the beginning of the quarantine phase, Jane Macdonald is a contact tracer for the western Sydney hospital of Nepean and her job is to contact people suspected of being exposed to the virus and telling them to isolate. A routine call to a young woman who has been identified as a close contact, however, takes a strange turn when the woman becomes hysterical, claiming her fiancé will be extremely angry and that she fears for her safety. Jane tries to calm her down, but quickly comes to realise that the fiancé is the same man that she and her daughter have been hiding from for the last 6 years.

Moving back and forth between 2014 and 2020, Traced is a nicely constructed tale of suspense that shows how a relationship can develop into something that is toxic and very dangerous. Jinks is very good at quickly sketching believable, every day characters and the story smoothly unfolds amidst interesting reflections on society and relationships. Fans of domestic suspense novels will enjoy this one.

Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.

1 Comment

  1. Great reviews, Jeff. Traced’ is on my list.

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