WOMEN ON THE (L)EDGE: NEW 2024 CRIME FICTION BY DINUKA McKENZIE, RUTH MANCINI and KYLIE ORR
Books featuring women on the edge, and the ledge, have dominated my crime reading in early February 2024.
Dinuka McKenzie is developing into a crime writer of real substance.
Her debut novel, The Torrent, was one of the best Australian crime debuts of 2022, and her follow-up book,
Taken (2023), was just as good. Now she has further solidified her position as a leading figure on the Australian crime writing scene with Tipping Point, (Harper Collins, 31 January 2024).
With Tipping Point Dinuka returns to the rural town of Esserton in northern New South Wales, and local police detective Kate Miles.
It is only weeks from Christmas in the sweltering heat of summer, and Kate’s estranged brother, Luke Grayling, returns home to Esserton to farewell a childhood friend, Ant Reed, who committed suicide. Within days of the funeral, another young man, Marcus Rowntree, is found shot dead in the back paddock of his property.
Almost twenty years ago, Luke, Ant and Marcus were best mates in high school, and now two of the three friends are dead. A tragic coincidence? Or is there something more sinister connecting the three men?
When Luke is identified as a person of interest in Marcus’s death, Kate once again finds herself in the middle of a media storm, sidelined from the case and battling accusations of conflict of interest. As press attention deepens, and uncomfortable truths about Luke’s personal life and past events come to light, Kate is forced to balance loyalty to the police force with the bonds of friendship and blood.
Tipping Point is a very well written and compelling story that combines the best parts of a detective novel with the tense drama of a thriller. The opening sections quickly and effectively set the scene, and Dinuka wastes little time in getting the main thrust of the story underway. The plotting is interesting and credible, and there are enough unexpected developments to keep it interesting. As the story progresses there is good suspense, and some nicely timed flashes of violence and action keep the tension high and the blood pounding. The conclusion is also suitably tense and surprising, and there is a good coda that suggests interesting directions for the series.
As with the earlier books, the characters are well nuanced and engaging, and Dinuka skilfully weaves Kate’s mixed heritage into the story in subtle ways. She also does a very good job of smoothly demonstrating, in an understated way, Katie’s skill as a detective and her empathetic manner. Kate’s exclusion from the case undermines the momentum that a good police investigation can bring to a crime novel, but this is largely compensated for by the tension generated by Kate’s lack of control over the events impacting her and her family.
The richness of the book is also enhanced by the spot-on descriptions of semi-rural Australia and the inhabitants of the small fictional Northern Rivers town of Esserton.
I think that Tipping Point is probably Dinuka’s best novel to date. It is a bit more pacier than Taken, and there is a wider spread of themes; including addiction, mental health, media and police excesses, parentage and misogyny; all of which are smoothly woven into the story. There are also some nice small touches, such as subtle red herrings and an interesting revelation about Kate’s past.
In all, a top notch crime novel, that sets an early high bar for Australian crime writing in 2024.
Tipping Point was released in Australia on 31 January 2024. It is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom in July 2024.
The Eleventh Floor, (Harper Collins, 31 January 2024), by Australian author Kylie Orr is probably more family drama than crime thriller, but it does generate a fair amount of tension in the opening sections.
Sleep deprived, struggling, and at breaking point, first-time mum Gracie Michaels books one night alone at The Maxwell Hotel. A king-size bed all to herself. No demands. With time to recharge she’ll be able to return to her family more like the unflappable mother she pretends to be. Instead, she wakes in a room she doesn’t recognise after an encounter with a man who is not her husband. Then she sees something she wishes she hadn’t.
Being drawn into a crime was not something Gracie had planned for her hotel stay, but when a distraught family appeals for information and a police investigation heats up she is trapped in a maze of lies. Steadily her life descends further into hell, as one bad revelation follows another.
The Eleventh Floor is a highly emotional read that explores how one error of judgement, and a very manipulative man, can have devastating effects on someone’s life. The opening sections move along at a good pace, but the middle chapters are less compelling as a thriller, with lots of focus on Gracie’s mental state. The ending, however, packs a good wallop.
On the plus side, the characters are very credible and nicely nuanced. Gracie makes some errors, but is a very sympathetic and believable creation, and her plight creates lots of sympathy.
I think most readers will guess one aspect of the story well before the characters do, but overall The Eleventh Floor is a credible and powerful story, that is ideal for book clubs.
The Eleventh Floor was released in Australia on 1 February 2024 and on Kindle in the United Kingdom at the same time.
Also containing a solid dose of domestic suspense, but with some good twists and turns, is The Woman On The Ledge, (Century, 4 January 2024), by Ruth Mancini.
The book opens with a young woman, Tate Kinsella, being arrested for the murder of a woman who has fallen to her death from a London bank’s twenty-fifth-floor roof terrace. Tate tells the police that she only met the victim the previous night at an office party. The woman was threatening to jump from the roof, but Tate talked her down. She tells the police that she has nothing to do with the death the next night, but they keep picking holes in her story. Alone with her lawyer, Tate tells her what really happened, but her story keeps changing.
Told predominantly from Tate’s perspective, The Woman On The Ledge is one of the most twisty, surprising tales I have read for quite awhile. Across the first half, Tate’s story keeps changing and the surprises pile in at an astonishing rate. Although not a lot of action happens, the constantly twisting and turning keeps interest at a high level and the book rockets towards its conclusion.
The final third, or so, of the book is more settled, by necessity, but there is still some unexpected developments and plenty of poignancy. The frequent reviewing of the same event from different perspective slows the pace a bit, as does the different ‘truths’ that Tate tells, but interest is held throughout.
The characters are adequate, although it is hard to initially warm to Tate because of her lying. Tate’s frustrated, but supportive, lawyer is probably my favourite character, and the police officers are also nicely limned.
Extruding a strong The Girl On The Train vibe, The Woman On The Ledge is enjoyable domestic thriller that will appeal to fans of unreliable narrators and stunning twists. Recommended.
The Woman On The Ledge was released in Australia, without much fanfare, and in the United Kingdom in early January 2024.
Happy reading, and keep away from the edge!