If you’re reading a crime novel set in a small Australian country town you can be sure of a few things: the story will take place against a harsh, unforgiving natural landscape; there will be a bevy of local characters with secrets to hide–from hard-drinking farmers to small town gossips; everyone will know everyone in town and there will be a couple of long standing feuds; and there will be something bad that happened in the past which is somehow connected to this latest crime. That’s not to say that these books aren’t a pleasure to read, I just often see this pattern.
Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to pick up The Dry by Jane Harper. It was the book on everyone’s lips in 2016, winning rave reviews from critics and racing up the bestsellers chart. Booksellers and book lovers embraced this debut and you would have had to be living under a rock to not have heard about it. It has also been optioned for the screen by Reese Witherspoon. Even now, The Dry is still picking up accolades, the recent being Jane Harper winning the British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year. Continue reading →
Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn starts with a wife going missing on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Amy is beautiful, talented and the daughter of two beloved children’s authors who based a series of books – Amazing Amy – on their perfect daughter. She is married to Nick, a former magazine writer who lost his job in New York with the coming of digital publishing and the folding of many traditional magazines. With his redundancy they can no longer afford their fancy New York life. They move to the town in Missouri where Nick grew up. There Nick opens a bar with his sister, using the last of Amy’s trust fund.
Amy is the perfect wife and on this their fifth wedding anniversary she has planned her traditional treasure hunt for her husband – only to go missing. Nick gets a call from a concerned neighbour when he is at work saying that the front door of Nick’s house is open. When Nick gets home he finds that there are signs of a violent struggle within the house and calls the police.
Gone Girl is told from Nick’s perspective from Day Zero of Amy going missing. What soon becomes apparent is that the cracks in his marriage were getting wider and wider up until Amy going missing. We get Amy’s perspective on the marriage in a series of diary entries starting back when she first met Nick. The giddiness of a bright new relationship wears away over time, especially when job losses, debt and financial problems start to weigh upon them.
Day Zero of Amy missing turns into Day One and then onwards. The police are doing all they can to find Nick’s beautiful wife. What soon becomes apparent is that Nick is far from the doting husband and Amy may not just be missing from their home but missing from the world of the living. The layers of the story peel back like an onion until you get to the truth. But the brilliant thing about this book is that you may think you are clever and know what is going on, only to have twist after twist leave you having no idea where the plot is taking you.
I can assure you that I have told you little of what unfolds in this book because I don’t want to ruin this fantastic psychological thriller. On goodreads I rated this book 5 stars and I am not alone in this assessment. This is one critically acclaimed bestseller that more than lives up to its promise of being a good read.
Now I am searching for my next brilliant read. Any suggestions?
Like with the Harry Potter series, I read The Casual Vacancy over the course of a few days. That’s where the similarities end. And that’s fine with me. I didn’t pick up the first adult book written by J.K. Rowling and expect it to be anything like her kids’ books. What I hoped for was a riveting read – and I got that in spades.
Set in the picturesque English village of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy follows the lives of various villagers: from self-important council members to dissatisfied housewives, troubled teens, and a teen girl from the local housing estate who for me is the heart and soul of this story.
It is not a spoiler to tell you that the story begins with a death. We know Barry Fairbrother for exactly two and a bit pages and then he dies. His death leaves a ‘casual vacancy’ on the Parish Council – an entity made up of two warring factions. The plot revolves around the filling of this seat and the impact of the sudden death of a man on the lives of many.
I purposely steered clear of reviews and commentary before reading this book as I wanted to be surprised. I was surprised. The publishers have marketed this as a ‘black comedy’, but I can’t say I laughed. Instead, I admired the characters Rowling has created. We all know people like the ones in this book. Most of them aren’t very likeable but that didn’t stop me admiring the way Rowling constructed them. The point-of-views of the various teenagers in this plot were spot on – from the teen pining after his ideal girl and despising his father; to another who doesn’t care who he hurts in his quest to be ‘authentic’; to a teenage girl who is the victim of a bully; and another teenage girl who is old beyond her years having to deal with a mother on and off drugs.
At first it is a little hard to keep up with all the different characters and sort out their various connections to each other, but then after a while it all slots into place. Some book critics have panned The Casual Vacancy for being an ‘attack on the middle-class’. Others have called it ‘bleak’. Yes, it is bleak – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story.
My advice is to read this book and make up your own mind. For me, this book with its troublesome characters and dark themes was a worthwhile read. I can’t wait to read what Rowling writes next.
Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think?
I have many reading goals: to read more books; to jump on reading bandwagons and see what the fuss is about; to read outside of my comfort zone and across different genres; and to read more books written by Australian authors. I’ve been doing all this so far, apart from the last point. I don’t read enough fiction by Australian authors.
Well, I’m happy to say that the book I’m about to review was written by an Australian – Y.A. Erskine. The Betrayalhad me riveted from page one. I was surprised to learn that this is only the author’s second book because she writes like one of the crime writing pros.
The Betrayal is set in Hobart, Tasmania, and tells a story of corruption and injustice at the heart of the police system. A young constable, Lucy Howard, wakes up in bed with a colleague, Constable Nick Greaves. She has no recollection as to how she got into this situation. The last thing she remembered was having a sip of her third drink for the night and watching the start of a DVD with Nick.
Mortified by this experience, Lucy tries to put it behind her. She has a boyfriend who she is crazy about and Nick is just a good friend. But a couple of weeks later when talking to the victim of a sexual assault involving a date rape drug, everything becomes clear to Lucy. She can’t remember what happened with Nick because she was drugged. She is a victim of sexual assault.
But what can Lucy do? Nick is one of the most popular officers around. He is good-looking and has no problem attracting female attention. Who is going to believe Lucy’s story? It is difficult enough for any victim of rape, but how can one police officer accuse another of the same crime, especially in a culture where it’s hard enough for women to be granted respect? It’s also a culture where you don’t rat on your fellow police officer, no matter what. Lucy feels she has no other option but to report the crime – and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
The Betrayal is told from the point-of-view of various players: Lucy; the Detective Sergeant who she reports the sexual assault to, the corrupt Police Commissioner; the Detective Inspector charged with investigating police corruption; the police psychologist; friends of the accused; Lucy’s boyfriend; the accused; and more. What becomes clear is that everyone has their own agenda and for some helping out a “mate” comes before their duty to uphold the law and see that justice is served.
The more I read, the angrier I got and the more helpless Lucy’s quest for justice seemed. Her colleagues are divided as to whose side to be on. While some men support Lucy, others see this as another example that women don’t belong on the force. Surprisingly, some women also turn against her: some because by coming forward she has made it difficult for all women in the police force, others because they are friends of Nick’s and believe plain Lucy should be flattered she received Nick’s attention.
The plot of this book resonates as something that really could happen – and does happen. You often read of these cases in association with male-dominated workplaces like the military. It was no surprise to read that Y.A. (Yvette) Erskine spent eleven years in the Tasmanian Police Service. Her real-life experience brings even more authenticity to this story.
To find out what happens to Lucy, you’ll have to read The Betrayal for yourself. Just be prepared for your blood to boil during the process!