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Posted by on 30 Mar, 2022 in Australian Crime Fiction, British Thrillers, Canberra Weekly, Classic PI, Crime, Spy Fiction, Thriller | 0 comments



Modern crime book covers seem to go through various phases from drone-view scenery shots to women in red coats to desolate scenes of outback Australia, but one constant in recent years has been the woman in dark silhouette walking or running away. I thought that publishers were beginning to move away from the ‘silhouette woman’, but these latest releases show that there is still some life in her yet!

The Devil’s Bargain by Stella Rimington (Bloomsbury, 29 March 2022)

Stella Rimington has made a smooth transition from her real life role as the head of MI5 to writing about fictional spies. Her novels about MI5 agent Liz Carlyle have drawn good praise from around the world, and are noteworthy for their convincing spycraft and ‘drawn from the headlines’ plots.

In her latest novel, The Devil’s Bargain (Bloomsbury, 29 March 2020), she has deserted Liz for a new set of characters.

In 1988 young British policeman, Harry Bristow, made a mistake. He accepted a bribe, and allowed a man known as Igor to illegally enter Britain. It was a decision he long regretted. Now several years later he is surprised to find that the man he knew as Igor has just been elected as his local MP in Liverpool. Igor, now known as Peter Robinson, is a deep cover Russian spy, who has been cut off from his controllers by the break-up of the Soviet Union. Despite his lack of support he is determined to finish his mission, but first he must deal with Harry and a young, female American CIA analyst who has just arrived in the United Kingdom.

Stella quickly sets up the basic premise of the story and then unfurls it in a credible, straight forward manner. There no big twists, but there are a couple of good shocks as the story steadily moves to its violent conclusion. There is a nice economy to the storytelling and, not surprisingly, the spying detail and the relationships between the various agencies rings true.

The characterisations are a little sketchy, and there are several coincidences, but overall this is an enjoyable piece of spy fiction that will appeal to spy aficionados and those who do not regularly venture into the genre.

The Devil’s Bargain was released on 29 March 2022.

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns (Harper Collins, 30 March 2022)

The devastating effects of old decisions also permeates Rae Cairns’ debut novel The Good Mother, (Harper Collins,
30 March 2022).

Sarah Calhoun is a regular Sydney soccer mum, but her past is stained by violent events in Northern Ireland almost two decades ago. She has kept her past secret, but now it has caught up with her, and she is forced to return to Belfast to testify at a murder trial. Caught between an obsessive policeman and a brutal IRA executioner, Sarah has to fight to ensure that justice is done and to protect the lives of her children.

The Good Mother is a fast paced and gripping thriller that holds attention from the first pages to the last. Told in a clean crisp manner, it readily catches you up in its thrall, and Rae is good at creating engaging, complex characters. The background information on the ‘Irish Troubles’ is interesting, and Rae draws on her experiences as a youth worker in the 1990s mentoring disadvantaged youth in Northern Ireland to give the story a good dose of credibility.

This is another strong debut in what is shaping up as a good year for Australian crime ficiton.

The Good Mother was released in Australia on 30 March 2022. It is available in the United Kingdom as an Audible Audiobook.

Brunswick Street Blues by Sally Bothroyd ( HQ, 2 March 2022)

Sally Bothroyd’s Brunswick Street Blues (HQ, 2 March 2022) came out a few weeks ago, but I have only just gotten to it.

Set in inner city Melbourne, it is a good addition to the growing number of Australian, urban based, crime novels. Featuring feisty bartender and part time investigator Brick Brown, Brunswick Street Blues is a quick moving and entertaining story about dodgy developers and murder.

After finagling her way into a job on the city council, Brick sets out to investigate why her uncle’s well-loved blues club is under threat from closure, while also looking into his disappearance. Enlisting the help of a prickly war correspondent, and some other unlikely allies, Brick soon finds herself in lots of trouble as she uncovers a trail of big time corruption.

Brunswick Street Blues has a very busy plot and lots of strands, that Sally somehow manages to largely pull together. The light tone and dashes of humour, do not always sit well with the story, but it is certainly engaging read. Brick is an interesting character with a complex past, which also plays a part in the unravelling of the present day plot.

The story is also helped by plenty of witty observations and sharp descriptions of Melbourne, and some timely reflections on racism in Australia.

Although it could do with some trimming down, Brunswick Street Blues is a good first novel and hopefully the beginning of a series.

Brunswick Street Blues was released in Australia on 2 March 2022. It is also available in the United Kingdom on Kindle.

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