STRONG, RELIABLE, FEMALE NARRATORS: LATE JUNE READING BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM, CATHERINE STEADMAN AND JANE CASEY
My late June reading has been dominated by three ‘top-shelf’ books by Michael Robotham, Catherine Steadman and Jane Casey. Each of them features a strong, interesting, female lead as the narrator, as opposed to the recent plethora of weak unreliable narrators, and all deliver clever, unexpected endings. In their own way, each of them also deals with the complicated issue of stalking and abuse.
Michael Robotham is arguably Australia’s leading writer of international crime novels. His series about London based clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, and his more recent books about Evie Cormac and forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven, have all garnered massive praise from around the world and have won several high profile awards. They are always a highlight of the crime reading year for me.
His latest book, When You Are Mine, strikes out in a new direction and features an interesting, fresh character in the form of promising young London police officer Philomena (Phil) McCarthy. Phil is a smart, university educated officer whose career has been hampered by her estranged father, a notorious London gangster. When she is called to the scene of a domestic dispute her career takes another hit. The bloodied victim, Tempe Brown, is the young mistress of a decorated police officer, whose powerful friends want the investigation shut down. As Phil fights pressure at work she becomes drawn to the enigmatic Tempe, who has a murky past. When murder strikes, Phil finds herself fighting for more than her career.
This is a richly written and absorbing crime novel. With a professional’s eye for the telling detail, Robotham steadily adds interesting layers to his characters and lets them loose in a well constructed plot that always keeps the reader on edge. All of the characters, even the minor ones, are nicely crafted, but Robotham really excels with the determined, but internally brittle, Phil. As Phil’s relationship with Tempe grows, the tension mounts and Robotham expertly introduces new elements to keep the story interesting and heading in unexpected directions.
Central to the novel are issues around domestic violence and obsessive relationships, and Robotham cleverly investigates these from different angles and perspectives. He also tackles stalking and the effect it can have on people. These issues are handled adroitly and, along with Robotham’s superior writing, clever plotting and credible characters, help elevate the book into something more substantial than the usual crime novel.
The pacing is possibly a little slow at times, but the final third bristles with tension and Robotham subtly delivers his usual unexpected twists at the end. A high quality read that will once again throw Robotham into award consideration.
Four and a half stars out of five!
When You Are Mine is released in Australia on 30 June 2021 by Hachette. It is released in the United Kingdom on 24 June 2021.
Jane Casey’s stand alone thriller, The Killing Kind, also plays some clever variations on the usual serial stalker theme.
London barrister Ingrid Lewis thought that she had finally escaped the attentions of former client and serial stalker John Webster, but when a colleague is run down on a busy road, Ingrid suspects that she was the intended victim. The police are not convinced, and when Webster turns up at Ingrid’s door claiming that she is in danger, she does not know which way to turn.
This is a very carefully crafted and totally absorbing crime thriller. Jane gets the book off to a brisk start and then smoothly and succinctly weaves in the backstory to the plot. As the story moves forward with increasing threats to Ingrid’s life, and other deaths, we are also drip fed details of what went before. Meanwhile, regularly interspersed anonymous, sinister text exchanges add a strong sense of trepidation to the novel.
As the story unfolds, Jane does a really good job of steadily ramping up the tension and adding a good cast of possible villains and suspects. The second half of the book hums with suspense and there is an exciting conclusion and several clever twists, most of which I did not see coming at all.
The characters, especially Ingrid and the enigmatic Webster, are nicely fleshed out and interesting, and there is a good deal of simple, convincing background detail on locations and legal procedure woven seamlessly into the story. I also like how Jane uses transcripts, media articles and police reports to provide detail and move the story along in a no fuss manner.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Killing Kind was released in Australia on 8 June 2021 and in the United Kingdom on May 2021.
Elmore Leonard’s second rule for good crime writing was to “avoid prologues”. Fortunately, this is advice that Catherine Steadman does not follow in her third novel, The Disappearing Act.
The brief prologue to The Disappearing Act nicely sets the scene for the book with its chatty, amusing tone and final hint of menace. It is probably the best prologue I have read in a long time.
The good news is that the rest of the book also lives up that opening promise and The Disappearing Act is a witty, lively and totally beguiling thriller that really hooks the reader in. The story about a British actress who travels to Los Angeles for the chaos of the ‘pilot season’ and finds herself caught in a mysterious disappearance is very well told and totally captivating.
Seen through the eyes of actress Mia Eliot, The Disappearing Act gets the balance of mild humour, witty observation, mystery and suspense just right, and the book races along to a tense and poignant climax that is totally unexpected. To detail the plot here would do a disservice to the various twists and turns that Catherine elegantly introduces into her narrative, other than to say that the story never goes where you are suspecting. Mia is a terrific narrator, and her easy flowing storytelling quickly catches the reader up in its thrall, as she tries to find out what happened to the mysterious Emily. This is one of those books that I eagerly read in a couple of sessions over a day or so.
The clever plotting is also enhanced by the fascinating insights that Catherine Steadman, herself a well known actress, brings to the story and her descriptions of the chaos and shallowness of the ‘pilot season’ in Hollywood. It is a fascinating portrait of Los Angeles and the movie/television industry.
I have some really minor quibbles with the plot, but none of that stopped me from thoroughly enjoying it.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Disappearing Act will be released in Australia in July 2021 by Simon & Schuster and in the United Kingdom on
24 June 2021 (with a different cover to the one above).
I read these three books consecutively and they really lifted me out of a contemporary reading slump I had been in. I thoroughly enjoyed each of them and could not decide which was my favourite. The Robotham is probably the most accomplished of the three, but I really loved the narration of The Disappearing Act and the twisty plot of The Killing Kind keep me glued to the pages. In the end I would rate all of them equally and recommend reading all of them.