NEW AUSTRALIAN CRIME FICTION AUGUST 2022
This recent batch of Australian crime fiction covers a wide range of themes and locations, from poaching in Zimbabwe to corruption in Mumbai to stolen art in Sydney and murder in Melbourne in 1923.
Sydney author Tony Park is one of my favourite thriller writers and his African based novels are always a joy to read.
His latest one, The Pride, (Macmillan, August 2022), returns to his favoured themes of wildlife poaching and criminality in modern southern Africa. The story opens with Park’s regular central character, ex-mercenary Sonja Kurtz, enjoying a pleasant break on a beach near Cape Town with her daughter, until an encounter with an abalone poacher turns ugly. When the poacher later turns up dead, Sonja finds herself targeted by a local gangster. Eager to avoid trouble, she heads to the relative safety of Zimbabwe and her partner Hudson Brand, who works at a Wildlife Park. When she gets there she finds Brand falsely accused of elephant poaching and herself caught up in a widening conspiracy.
This another incredibly up-to-date and exciting novel by Park, which makes the most of its exotic locations and convincing milieu. As with most of Park’s novels, The Pride is a fast moving tale that is propelled along by well choreographed scenes of violence and a sense of mounting tension. There is plenty of interest as the story unfolds and the plot goes down some unexpected paths.
As always, Sonja is an interesting and engaging protagonist and the presence of her daughter adds a new dimension to her character. The other characters are also well crafted and convincing. Enhancing the enjoyment of the book are evocative descriptions of the African countryside and Park’s sharp comments on local politics and the prevalence of corruption.
These descriptions and background information, however, do not significantly slow the nicely plotted story and the various strands come together in an action drenched conclusion that is full of surprises.
In all, this is a really enjoyable thriller with a good plot, some nice twists, engaging characters and plenty of action. A good piece of escapist reading.
The Pride is released in Australia in August 2022.
Also casting a wide geographic net is Masala And Murder (Niyogi Books) by Patrick Lyons.
The story opens at a Bollywood movie shoot at Uluru before heading to Melbourne and Mumbai, as Anglo-Indian private investigator Samson Ryder tries to find out the truth behind the death of an Indian starlet. Ryder is still suffering from the death of his sister and seizes the opportunity to look into the tragic circumstances around the actress’s demise, as a way of dealing with his own demons. His investigations take him to Mumbai, where he is assisted by his godmother, Mabel, and together they uncover some nasty truths about the darkness at the core of the Indian movie scene.
Masala And Murder is a well written and unusual crime novel that explores some interesting themes around culture and the experiences of the children of immigrants. The pacing is uneven, but the story generally moves along at a sound pace and Ryder’s experiences in Mumbai are interesting and informative. The characters have a good texture to them and the interactions between Ryder and his godmother are particularly well done.
Superstition and suggestions of the supernatural play an important part in the book and there is also plenty of reflection by Ryder. Lyons’ own experiences as an Anglo-Indian living in Australia also add a degree of credibility to the comments and observations and there is a freshness to the story and setting.
The supernatural elements may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is well handled and the book builds to a good climax. An enjoyable first novel.
John M. Green’s Framed (Pantera, 2 August 2022) also moves confidently across continents as Sydney art conservator JJ Jego becomes caught up in a web of intrigue surrounding stolen art works. The accidental sighting of a long-lost Van Gogh in a Sydney apartment sets JJ on a quest to discover whether it is real or not. Meanwhile in Europe a pair of psychotic gangsters are trying to work out who has stolen their illegal artworks. As JJ tries to determine the painting’s provenance she finds herself under threat and out of her depth.
This is an enjoyable, fast paced tale that offers plenty of action and good dollops of art history, and information on the darker side of the art world. JJ is an engaging character, as is her estranged father Hugh, and the book moves to a well thought out conclusion. The detail on how criminal enterprises use stolen art works is fascinating and there is a very up-to-date feel about the plot.
Historical crime fiction is not a predominant element of current Australian crime writing, which tends to favour contemporary rural detective novels and tougher urban thrillers. It is therefore a pleasant change to come across an engaging historical mystery with a good set of characters and a well limned setting.
Canvassing the same historical period and locations as Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher books, Laraine Stephens’ Deadly Intent (Level Best Books, 1 June 2022) is the second entry in her series about flamboyant Melbourne crime reporter Reggie da Costa. It is October 1923 and the recent heavy rains bring to the surface the long decomposing remains of a wealthy widower who has been missing for two years. Reggie welcomes the chance for some adventure and sets off after a cold-blooded killer.
This is a good, old fashioned, murder mystery with plenty of convincing background information on Melbourne and the social milieu of the time, and a good twisty plot. Reggie and his straight-laced partner, Dotty Wright, are enjoyable sleuths and the book moves along at a brisk pace. The reflections on the ongoing effects of the First World War and the 1923 police strike add some depth to the story and help create a convincing historical atmosphere.
In all, Deadly Intent is a good murder mystery that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.