RECENT AUSTRALIAN CRIME NOVELS
One of the most pleasing aspects of the recent surge in Australia crime writing is the rich diversity of books now being produced. From traditional crime fiction tales to tough noir thrillers to the endless number of domestic suspense dramas, Australian crime fiction nowadays covers the broad spectrum of murderous writing. Something which is clearly evidenced by this latest batch of Australian crime novels.
One of the most noticeable trends of recent years has been the growth in ‘outback noir’, or ‘bush crime’, made popular by Jane Harper’s The Dry, and authors such as Chris Hammer and the very talented Garry Disher. Now actor and author Matt Nable, who actually starred in the movie version of The Dry along with Eric Bana, has entered the ‘outback noir’ arena with his very impressive Still.
Set in Darwin in 1963, Still is a character driven crime novel with a good level of tension and a strong sense of foreboding. The story features Senior Constable Ned Potter, who finds a brutally beaten body dragged from the shallow marshland. Potter suspects murder, but his superiors are keen to cover it up, and when more deaths occur he finds himself increasingly isolated and under threat.
This is a very evocative novel that excels in its characterisations and depictions of life in Darwin in the 1960s. Potter is a flawed and interesting character who drinks too much, but tries to do the right thing. The other characters also have a gritty realism to them, particularly Charlotte Clarke, a young married woman bored with her life and unhappy with her marriage. When a chance encounters occurs with an injured man she finds her life turned upside down.
The descriptions of Darwin and the surrounding countryside are vivid and ring very true. Nable’s portrayal of abuse and racism are carefully handled, and although the book is set nearly sixty years ago, the themes are just as relevant today. The book generates considerable tension, but the pacing is a little uneven. The story goes down some dark, crocodile infested, streets before building to a realistic and moving conclusion, although I suspect that some crime readers will be expecting more brio and action.
In all, Still is a superbly written and credible novel that is a must for fans of Jane Harper’s The Dry. Four and a half stars out of five!
Still was released in Australia on 26 May 2021 by Hachette. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for a copy of the book to review.
R. W. R. McDonald’s The Nancys was a bit of a surprise hit of 2020 and deservedly won the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award (New Zealand) for Best First Novel and was shortlisted for the Australian Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Novel.
Now McDonald, who lives in Melbourne, has followed up the success of that novel with Nancy Business, which features the same characters in a fun, new adventure. Set in small town New Zealand, it follows innocent 12-year-old Tippy and her gay Uncle Pike, “a tattooed Santa on steroids”, and his partner, Devon, as they investigate an explosion which rocks the town of Riverstone.
Described by the publishers as “cosy queer crime”, it is an enjoyable, madcap adventure with plenty of adult banter, weird characters and a decent mystery. The story unfolds at good pace and Tippy is a lovely, insightful narrator. There is lots of humour and wit, but also a serious underpinning of social commentary and ruminations on the importance of family, regardless of its composition.
Fans of The Nancys will thoroughly enjoy this outing and hopefully it will attract some new admirers to the series as well. A highly original and entertaining addition to the realm of Australian crime fiction. Four Stars out of Five!
Nancy Business was released in Australia in June 2021. I am not sure of release dates overseas, but it can be ordered through Australian booksellers. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the book to review.
B. M. Carroll’s You Had It Coming is an addictive mix of psychological suspense, personal drama and murder mystery.
The opening chapter follows paramedic Megan Lowe as she is called to the scene of an attempted murder in a wealthy Sydney suburb. Megan and her partner quickly and professionally load the patient into the ambulance only for Megan to realise at the last moment that she knows him. From there the viewpoint alternates between Megan and Tess, both of whom have good reason to believe that the victim, lawyer William Newson, had it coming, and Detective Bridget Kennedy who is investigating the subsequent murder.
This is a compelling, well plotted thriller with short, chatty chapters. The opening half is a little slow as Carroll seeks to establish the various characters and their backstories, but the second half is much brisker as the twists unfold at a dazzling rate. There are plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing and the final denouement is a good one.
The characters are all nicely developed, even the minor ones, and I quite enjoyed Bridget’s perspective as she and her team try to work out what is going on. The book’s themes of consent, abuse, coping with trauma and the morality of the legal system are all drawn from recent headlines, giving the story a nice contemporary feel. This is a good, unflashy crime story with genuine heart and an engaging story line.
Four stars out of five!
You Had It Coming was released in Australia on 1 June 2021. It was released in the United Kingdom on 13 May 2021.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin for a copy of the book to review.