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Posted by on 11 Jan, 2023 in Australian Crime Fiction, Canberra Weekly, Crime, Spy Fiction, Thriller | 6 comments


2023 has started in spectacular fashion for Australian crime fiction with a string of impressive new releases, including a very strong debut novel by John Byrnes.

Headland by John Byrnes (Allen & Unwin, 10 January 2023)

Dinuka McKenzie, Matthew Spencer, Shelly Burr and Hayley Scrivenor set a high standard for debut Australian crime novels in 2022, and now John Byrnes has stepped up to that challenge with an equally impressive first novel, Headland (Allen & Unwin, 10 January 2023).

Headland brings to the local crime fiction scene the sort of gritty noir elements that have been largely missing from Australian police fiction in recent years. Detective Constable Craig Watson is a mess. Unpopular with his bosses and suffering from a range of addiction and behavioural problems, Watson is sent to the small New South Wales beachside town of Gloster, to replace another officer. Hampered by his addictions, Watson starts looking into the case of a missing teenager and a recent car accident that killed a local council clerk and his daughter. His investigations are also undermined by the constant rain and the rising floodwaters that are threatening the town. Suddenly when the flood prevention measures fail, Watson and two young female constables find themselves stranded in the town by the floodwaters and hunted by a killer who needs them dead.

This is a very tough and compelling crime story. Watson is not an immediately likeable character, but gradually we come to understand what has brought about his addiction and behavioural issues, and why he is in such a bad way. Underneath the addiction, he is a solid detective and he quickly comes to understand that there is a dark streak beneath the usually sunny façade of Gloster. The story proceeds quickly and Byrnes smoothly weaves in explanatory flashbacks to Watson’s earlier career and the abuse that he suffered. Once the floodwaters seal off the town, the suspense rapidly increases and the final chapters are bloody and exciting.

I really enjoyed Headland and think that it is set to be one of the top Australian debut novels of 2023. The writing is crisp and sharp and the characters are finely sketched. The descriptions of Gloster ring true, and the crime at the core of the plot is original and credible. I had slight reservations about some elements of the story, a couple of events mildly strain credibility, but overall this is an outstanding crime novel that also tackles some important issues.

Warning: Headland deals frankly and graphically with sexual abuse and other issues, including suicide, and some readers may be confronted by the descriptions.

Headland was released in Australia on 10 January 2023. Thanks to the Canberra Weekly and the publisher for an advanced copy of the book.

Wild Card by Simon Rowell (Text Publishing, 17 January 2023)

One of my favourite Australian crime novels of 2021 was Simon Rowell’s understated, but totally immersive police mystery, The Long Game.

Now Simon Rowell has returned with another strong novel, Wild Card (Text,10 January 2023), that once again features Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer of the Victorian Police Force and her trusty service dog, Harry.

On the Victorian banks of the Murray River, the dividing line between New South Wales and Victoria, a body is found in a burnt-out area of grassland, with two bullet wounds to the head. The victim is identified as Freddie Jones, an influential bikie from the New South Wales side of the border. Zoe and her team are dispatched to the crime scene and find themselves caught in the middle of warring criminal factions and deadly local secrets.

This is a very accomplished novel. Rowell is a skilled writer who creates a great cast of credible characters and sets them in a vivid location that will be readily recognizable by many Australians. The plotting is smart and believable, and the story moves along at a decent pace. This is not a flashy novel with lots of wild twists, but instead it is a well constructed story that engages the reader and keeps them interested. Having said that, there are a couple of good unexpected turns to the plot, as well as a few shocks, as the story moves its way to a tense and surprising ending.

Zoe’s relationship with her service dog Harry is nicely handled, and moving, and becomes an important part of the story. Readers of The Long Game will know why Harry is in Zoe’s life, but Rowell also gradually reveals the reason for it for new readers to the series.

One of Rowell’s strengths is his ability to create good interesting characters and this is once again on display in Wild Card, along with his fine ear for dialogue. In all, it is a very enjoyable read. If I have any reservations it is that the final revelation did not ring completely true to me, but it was certainly unexpected.

An outstanding crime novel that I suspect will be high on my list of the year’s best books by the end of 2023.

The Long Game will be released in Australia on 17 January 2023. It will also be released in the United Kingdom and the United States on the same day on Kindle. Highly recommended.

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

Dead Tide by Fiona McIntosh (Michael Joseph, 17 January 2023)

Fiona McIntosh has enjoyed good success with her novels about London Detective Superintendent Jack Hawksworth and now with her latest book, Dead Tide (Michael Joseph, 17 January 2023), she brings Hawksworth down under to Australia and her home state of South Australia.

While recovering from the events of his last case, Hawksworth is enjoying a sabbatical from police work lecturing at a London university. The death of one of his students, however, piques his interest and he soon finds himself on the trail of a deadly new trend that has its origins in Australia. With grudging agreement from his boss, Hawksworth heads to Australia where he identifies a cynical international crime consortium.

Shifting the viewpoint between a variety of characters, including an unhappy housewife who plays a major role in unravelling the crime network, Fiona steadily builds the suspense as the various threads come together. The book moves along at solid pace and there is a wealth of interesting detail woven into the story, including the rise of seahorse farming in South Australia!

The characters are pleasant and engaging, and the descriptions, particularly of Yorke Peninsula, are vivid and evocative. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but overall this an enjoyable tale that will appeal to fans of Peter James’ Inspector Grace series.

Dead Tide will be released in Australia on 17 January 2023 and on Kindle in the United Kingdom and the United States on the same date, with paperback release in those countries later in the year.

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

The General Of Caracas by Lachlan Page (WJ Press, 24 October 2022)

Finally, Australian spy writer Lachlan Page has followed up his entertaining first novel Magical Disinformation, with a new novel featuring ex-MI6 analyst Oliver Jardine, The General Of Caracas (WJ Press, 24 October 2023).

Moving between Venezuela, Colombia, Spain and Lisbon, The General Of Caracas is a slightly quirky novel that brings a fresh international perspective to the espionage genre that moves beyond the usual Cold War and terrorist concerns of most spy fiction. Jardine, now the happy owner of a small hotel in Spain, is talked into helping a dissident Venezuelan General travel to Lisbon where he is due to catch a plane to New York to speak at the UN. Caught up in a volatile geopolitical situation, and tracked by a deadly assassin, Jardine and the general gradually make their way to Lisbon and the final showdown.

The General Of Caracas is a smoothly flowing tale that is bolstered by good descriptions and plenty of reflection. The tone is reasonably light, and there is humour and wit, as well as the usual gunplay and bloodshed. The dialogue is brisk and smart and there is a nice sense of cynicism to the proceedings.

The story moves along at a reasonable pace, and there is some good tension towards the end. The opening stages are a little slow, but once underway it is an entertaining read that will appeal to those who are looking for something different in their spy reading.


  1. I have immediately added ‘Wild Card’ and ‘Headland’ to my reading list! I am trying to resist adding the others, for now.

    • Wild Card is very good – Rowell is such an under rated author

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and considered review of Wild Card. It is most appreciated. I am currently writing book 3 in the series, due out this time next year.

    • That’s good news – I will look forward to it!

  3. That is a fantastic review of Headland. I refer to it as The Girl With The Irvine Welsh Tattoo.

    • 🙂

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