MARCH MURDERS: NEW BOOKS BY MALI WAUGH, L.C. NORTH AND ANDREW MAYNE
Three very different crime novels to start your March reading off with!
2022 saw a swag of very good debut Australian crime novels by Dinuka McKenzie, Shelley Burr and Matthew Spencer, and several others. That run of high quality first novels is now continuing into 2023, with a terrific debut novel by Mali Waugh, Judgement Day (Macmillan, 28 February 2023).
Set amid the drama and egos of Melbourne’s family law courts, Judgement Day is a well written and compelling police detection novel that also takes a searing look at the legal system.
Judgement Day opens with family law judge Kaye Bailey found murdered in her chambers just after being promoted to the role of Chief Judge. Is it the work of a disgruntled complainant? Or an inside job by a jealous colleague? Or something even more sinister? Working her way through the chaos is police detective Jillian Bassett, who has just returned from maternity leave and is trying to juggle the new demands of motherhood and a very difficult case. As the pressure increases, and her suspicions about a colleague mount, Jillian’s life begins to spiral out of control.
This is a very assured first novel. The plotting is tight, and the story flows smoothly and at a good pace. There are the expected twists and turns to the story, and Mali does a good job at keeping the reader guessing as to the identity of the murderer and their motive. The characters are well crafted and nicely nuanced, especially that of Jillian who is a good mix of professional competence and person fragility. I also quite liked her partner, Sergeant John McClintock, who has his own demons and secrets. Some of the senior judges seem a little exaggerated at first glance, but on reflection their behaviours pale against that of other senior public officials I have known.
Mali currently works as a family lawyer in Melbourne and her background brings a good deal of authenticity and interesting background detail to the novel. Drawing on this personal experience she provides a hard hitting view of the family law system and those caught up in it. There are also some sharp eyed comments on wealth and privilege in Melbourne.
If I have quibble about Judgement Day it is that while the story moves along at a good pace, with plenty of developments and surprises, there is a scarcity of action and most of the tension comes from Jillian’s personal crises, rather than the murder plot. That being said, it certainly kept me well engaged and keenly turning the pages until the end.
In all, Judgement Day is a first class novel, and it is good to see an Australian debut that is set in a major city and dealing with topical contemporary issues, rather than another slice of dusty outback noir.
Judgement Day is released in Australia on 28 February 2023 and on Kindle and as an Audible Book in the United States on the same day. There does not appear to be release dates for the United Kingdom yet.
Also containing a large dose of social commentary is The Ugly Truth, (Bantam, 21 March 2023), by L. C. North, who is better known as the domestic suspense author Lauren North
The Ugly Truth is slightly similar in style to Janice Hallett’s The Appeal from a couple of years back, (https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/thriller-round-up-march-2021/ ), with the story told entirely in an epistolary format and made up of emails, video transcripts, blog posts, Netflix documentary transcripts and Twitter threads. The quick shifting between the various short media forms gives the book a good internal briskness, and it is very easy to keep reading long into the night.
The basic story revolves around whether wealthy hotelier Peter Lange is holding his socialite daughter Melanie against her will, or are her videos pleading for help simply a publicity stunt from a once famous model who has seen her fame dim and her publicity and business stocks fall? Is Peter an anxious father doing his best for his daughter and her mental health issues, or is he a controlling monster?
Using interview transcripts from a Netflix documentary and an unpublished interview with Peter Lange, allows North to readily provide the background to the story, while Melanie’s video messages give a sense of urgency in the present. The conflicting views of past events add a nice sense of uncertainty and the Greek Chorus of Twitter comments by Melanie’s fans and critics are credible and occasionally amusing.
In all it is an intriguing story, which brings to mind recent high profile cases in the media. It is probably on the fringes of crime fiction, as there is not much crime in it, but it is an enjoyable read. It is also a biting commentary on social media and society’s preoccupation with fame, without ever becoming preachy.
The Ugly Truth is released in Australia on 21 March 2023 and in the United Kingdom in book form on 16 March 2023.
Andrew Mayne is an underrated thriller writer, but his books about police diver and detective Sloan McPherson are always a good read, especially if you are holidaying near the coast.
Sea Castle, (Thomas & Mercer, 21 February 2023), is his latest book about Sloan and the Florida Underwater Investigation Unit, and opens in typically evocative manner with Sloan recovering water-logged evidence at night from the murder scene of a young woman on a Fort Lauderdale beach. From there it powers off in unexpected directions as Sloan becomes caught up in the search for a possible serial killer.
Sea Castle sees Sloan reluctantly teamed up with Gwen Wylder, a Miami homicide detective notorious for being manipulative, reclusive, rude and terribly smart. Gwen agrees to help Sloan with her investigation into the girl discovered on the beach, but in return she wants Sloan’s fresh insight into seemingly unrelated cold-case murders and disappearances. As the loose ends of the old files begin to come together another woman disappears, and Sloan and Gwen find themselves in a race against time.
This is a fast paced and unpretentious crime thriller that smoothly winds it way through a good twisty plot that is full of incidents and action. Sloan is an engaging character, with an interesting backstory and nicely cynical view of police work, and she always makes for an enjoyable guide through the backwaters and gritty corners of Florida. The other characters are also well sketched and credible, and the introduction of Gwen Wylder adds a interesting new dimension to the series.
There is less of the water based action that has been a compelling feature of previous books, but Sea Castle is still a brisk and entertaining read that will easily satisfy fans of fast paced police novels.
Sea Castle was released in the United States on 21 February 2023, it is not released locally in Australia, but can be purchased through Amazon and other online providers.