BOOK REVIEW: Fractured (Dawn Barker, Hachette)

FracturedTony and Anna Patton seem to be the perfect couple: good-looking, hard-working, happily married and new parents to gorgeous baby Jack. Six weeks after Jack is born, however, something goes terribly wrong. Anna and Jack disappear from the family home, where everything still looks normal—food in the fridge, baby bottles of milk still warm. As Tony frantically tries to work out where they’ve gone, the reader is swept into the horror of what has actually happened. In a cleverly devised structure that divides between before and after the disappearance, it is slowly revealed that Anna is sinking into a depression that will lead her to unspeakable actions. As Tony tries to piece together the tragedy, he starts to question everything about his wife’s behaviour leading up to that day. Moving at a cracking pace, Fractured is part psychological thriller, part family drama. The two main characters are somewhat emotionally opaque, however, it is the terrific supporting cast of Tony and Anna’s mothers that hold the moral centre of this book. As the two mothers try to understand what has happened to their grown-up children, they begin to say what no one else is willing to. This novel will be a great book club read as it ends with more questions than answers.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Bay of Fires (Poppy Gee, Hachette)

Murdered girls washed up on picture-postcard Tassie beaches. You could joke about not telling Tourism Tasmania, but sadly this novel takes some of its inspiration from real events, specifically, the murder of Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso and the disappearance of German tourist Nancy Grunwaldt in the early 1990s. Both cases remain unsolved. In her debut novel, Poppy Gee writes about an idyllic holiday spot in remote coastal Tasmania, where no more than a dozen shacks line a lagoon and secrets are hard to keep. That our protagonist Sarah Avery has returned, having left her boyfriend and her job, is cause for gossip in itself. When the bikini-clad body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach just a year after another teenage girl went missing, journalist Hall Flynn is sent to investigate, and all too quickly the close-knit community turns on itself. I have a few reservations with Gee’s writing style, as at times I found her depiction of Sarah’s unlikeability a bit overdone. The grim undercurrent to descriptions of the locals and the landscape also felt a bit laboured, though I do appreciate that Gee is providing us with a clearer view of paradise: not everyone is happy, not everyone behaves well and all beautiful seaside communities have a rubbish dump. Nonetheless, this novel has stuck in my mind, and I will be recommending it as a compelling, dark summer read for fans of thought-provoking dramas.

Catherine Schulz is an indie bookseller at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Blackwattle Lake (Pamela Cook, Hachette)

When Eve Nicholls inherits her mother’s property after storming out many years earlier, she is not prepared for the flood of memories and how her past catches up with her the minute she returns. Eve’s plan all along is to sell fast, take the cash and start a new life, but soon old friends, neighbours and love interests quickly find Eve back in the small town of Yarrabee. When an accident derails her plans to leave, she has to reach out to all the people she left behind and hurt, including her childhood best friend, her first love and the memory of her mother. As Eve is forced to face deeply held resentments and guilt about her past, she also discovers the gregarious, spirited young woman she once was.  The author has captured the delights and nuances of small towns with evocative descriptions of the landscape and environment. This is an entertaining read, if a little clichéd at times, but a lot of fun. This will please readers of rural romances, and Eve is a whip-smart character who should have a wide appeal. This fits neatly into the commercial women’s fiction genre and is an easy holiday read.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.

INTERVIEW: Tony Cavanaugh on ‘Promise’ (Hachette)

Tony Cavanaugh is a film and television writer who has just published his first crime novel, Promise (Hachette), a serial killer thriller set on the Sunshine Coast. He spoke to reviewer Ian Hallett. (See the book review here.)

Your novel switches between two narrators: Darian, a hard-bitten ex-homicide cop, and Winston, a depraved serial killer. How much research went into Winston’s character?
A lot; I had been studying the behavioural patterns and methodology of psychopathic violent repeat offenders for about 10 years before I wrote the book. This was for a TV series (that didn’t get made) and a film (that did). This work led me to develop a close working relationship with the then Chief Inspector of Homicide in Melbourne and with an FBI-trained criminal profiler who was with Homicide in Melbourne and now has his own business. Additionally I read quite a lot on the subject, most notably Without Conscience by Robert Hare (Guilford Publications). This research allowed me to understand the narcissistic and grandiose strains to these people’s characters; also the absolute lack of empathy to other people, especially their victims, the bragging and the belief that they are special and, finally the creepy ability to mimic other people’s emotions even though they cannot experience these emotions themselves. In writing Winston I assumed he was clever and had accessed this material so that he understood, on an intellectual level, how he operated.

Just reading Winston’s sections made me feel slightly soiled—he is such a vile character. What was your experience living inside his head, and how did you wash him out of yours at the end of each writing day?
Aside from the standard writer’s procrastination of vacuuming and cleaning up the kitchen on a far too regular basis, I had to have a lot of showers. Every time I finished a passage from Winston’s point of view I felt quite unclean. It was horrible. On the one hand I was happy with where I was going with him, on the other he was so creepy I felt tainted. Dirty. At times I worried that people would think I was a weirdo myself. Indeed a couple of the very first comments that came back to me from friends was that I must be sick. That bothered me and I have to confess that I did think about diluting Winston. But then I figured I had to stay true to his voice; it was my job to lay him down in all his nakedness.

I guess because of my background as a story editor with other scriptwriters and as a producer I was able to step back and analyse him as a character within the world of the book. In that respect I considered the most horrible criminal in modern culture: Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter. With Hitchcock’s great quote ‘The stronger the evil, the stronger the film’ in my mind, I set out to make Winston as compellingly awful as possible. Being able to analyse him in this regard, as a tool I suppose, made it easier for me to deal with him internally. Luckily he didn’t invade me when I slept and the showers worked.

This book has a very strong sense of place. What attracted you to the Sunshine Coast setting?
In terribly embarrassing and very poor circumstances I sped my car off a dirt road on the Noosa North Shore and into a tree. It was six in the morning and I had a bottle of vodka by my side. (Those days, I hasten to add, are well and truly behind me.) After I was escorted into the back of a paddy wagon I was driven to the Noosa police station. The middle-aged cop who was trying to get my blood alcohol reading (from a dodgy machine that wasn’t working) told me that he’d come up to Noosa from Victoria for the ‘cruisey’ lifestyle. It was at that moment that I just thought, what would happen if there was a really nasty serial killer on the Sunshine Coast? The police just aren’t equipped to handle that level of crime. They do drunks and sinking tourists in the surf, guys who grow a little weed, misdemeanours, that sort of thing. It was specifically that question which led me to expand my thinking about the Sunshine Coast. Full of tourists, itinerants, lots of little villages and vast tracts of land that are pretty much unexplored.

While this is your first novel, you have extensive experience in writing for film and television. How do you think this has influenced your writing style?
Writing for film and TV is so different because the script is not intended to be published. (At the end of a shoot you literally chuck them all in a bin.) Elegance of language, even grammar, isn’t really that important. One of the basic rules in film and TV writing is you ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’. Therefore you rely on basic action in the stage directions and let dialogue inform the characters. Another is that you can’t do an inner monologue or an internal conversation—I think that actually being aware that I was freed from these restrictions in the writing of the book was a huge influence and I tended to really go for it, with both characters. (I was, at the time, also reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 (Picador), where the poetry of language is so overwhelmingly powerful.)

American screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote that all great scripts are due to structure, structure and structure. That’s been a huge influence in my screenwriting and I was lucky enough to start out as a script editor in plotting meetings on The Sullivans in the late 70s where I learnt how to plot and then how to structure. As I was writing the book those lessons really came into play. At the same time, I had recently been toying with non-linear structure in some of the TV and film dramas I’d worked on. Avoiding the standard narrative of ‘what happens next should follow’. In that respect I went back in time to Darian’s past as a cop and as a detective to hopefully inform the present tense narrative of him hunting Winston.

The other really big influence comes also from Hitchcock who writes about the audience instinctively second-guessing where the story and characters are going. Being as unpredictable as possible in cutting to the next scene (in what you see on the screen) is really important and I sort of tried to follow that line with the way I’d enter a new chapter, knowing that the reader would be expecting a certain event or action to occur.

That said the most important thing I ever learnt about writing when I was first starting out on The Sullivans was: be clear and don’t be confusing. (The second most important thing was: don’t ever be boring. Kubrick’s great ‘rule’ on what makes a good film was that it had to be ‘interesting’.)

Were you inspired by any other crime writers while you were working on this novel?
Yes, absolutely. I re-read some Raymond Chandler and have been mightily impressed by the great works of Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Robert Crais, James Lee Burke and Harlan Coben. American crime fiction, at the moment, is just so awesome. Each of these authors is so good at narrative, at the exploration of the darkness within the soul and, like Chandler, in using great wit.

BOOK REVIEW: Promise (Tony Cavanaugh, Hachette)

It was a pleasure to read this debut from Australian film and television writer and producer Tony Cavanaugh. Promise is a sharply written and well-plotted crime novel, with mostly clear characterisations and the occasional flash of wit and even wisdom. It also evokes an excellent sense of place, reminiscent of Peter Corris’ ‘Cliff Hardy’ novels. The story is set in and around Noosa and the Sunshine Coast where a serial killer is on the loose and hunting teenage girls. Ex-homicide cop Darian Richards has moved up from Victoria to seek a quiet life. This is obviously not to be. The novel switches between two narrators: our hard-bitten hero Darian, and Winnie, the serial killer. This device both steps up the pace and allows us to see into the minds of both characters. While Darian is clearly troubled, Winnie is simply depraved; his chapters are unsettling, disturbing, even revolting. Readers of Val McDermott’s ‘Tony Hill’ books will be familiar with these feelings. The best thing about this book is that it looks like there will be a second one.

Ian Hallett is a senior bookseller at Pages & Pages Booksellers in Mosman. This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Heat (Bronwyn Parry, Hachette)

Bronwyn Parry proves once again that crime is not just the provenance of cityscapes in her genuinely chilling third romantic suspense novel. Dead Heat tells the story of a wounded ranger looking for space and peace in the bush, and a place to start over. Instead, she finds a burgeoning drug cartel, with all the inherent violence this implies. Leading the investigation of the cartel is a former undercover cop, damaged and with a few demons of his own. Fans of Parry’s previous novels will notice a darker tone to Dead Heat, a willingness on Parry’s part to push deeper into the crime aspect and the most sinister side of humanity. New readers should enjoy the extra layer of suspense that the growing emotional connection between the main characters provides. Dead Heat is a well-crafted novel that makes excellent use of its wild setting—and a plot so successfully suspenseful that I stopped reading it before bed!

Kate Cuthbert is publishing manager for the Australian Library and Information Association. This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Past the Shallows (Favel Parrett, Hachette)

The wild coast of Tasmania provides a moody backdrop for this story of two young boys. Harry and his older brother Miles live in a tumbledown shack with their worn-down and bitter father, who is a fisherman with his own boat. Their mother died some years earlier and the boys’ memories of her and her death are sketchy. Fishing is a cold, tough way to make a living, and when the boys’ oldest brother Joe leaves town, Miles knows he is stuck with helping his dad on the boat, even though he hates it. Harry is scared of the water and has been spared fishing because of seasickness. One day when their father insists both boys go out on the boat in rough weather, a tragedy seems inevitable. This debut novel doesn’t have a single excess word and the characters are thoroughly believable. Harry in particular is captured with a charm and vulnerability that is really touching. Favel Parrett shows a lot of patience and restraint in her first but hopefully not her last novel. She is a seriously good writer. This book reminded me of Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Light and Dark, also set in Tasmania, and the way the young characters were captured put me in mind of Jasper Jones a bit.

Heather Dyer is the owner of Fairfield Books in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bestsellers this week

Secrets to the Grave (Tami Hoag, Hachette), the second book in the ‘Deeper than the Dead’ crime fiction series, tops the highest new entries chart followed by forensic thriller You Belong to Me (Karen Rose, Hachette). Still on the bestsellers chart this week is James Patterson’s novel, Tick, Tock (Century), now in first place overtaking recent chart topper, Awakened (P C Cast & Kristin Cast, Hachette), the eighth book in the ‘House of Night’ series, now in second place. The Lake of Dreams (Kim Edwards, Viking) is at the top of the fastest movers chart followed by Entice (Bloomsbury), Carrie Jones’ latest novel in the YA ‘Need Pixies’ series, in second place–Weekly Book Newsletter.

Bestsellers this week

Awakened (P C Cast & Kristin Cast, Hachette) tops both the bestsellers chart and highest new entries chart this week, with the eighth book in the ‘House of Night’ series about ‘marked’ teen Zoey Redbird. At the House of Night boarding school, Redbird is to undergo the ‘change’ into an actual vampyre. Second on the bestsellers chart is James Patterson’s latest detective novel Tick, Tock (Century) followed by The Ugly Truth: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) in third place. Tick, Tock (Century) also makes an appearance in first place on the fastest movers chart this week, followed by Lauren Oliver’s YA novel Before I Fall (Hachette)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

Bestsellers this week

Last Sacrifice (Rachel Mead, Razorbill), the sixth and final book in the ‘Vampire Academy’ series, tops the Nielsen BookScan bestsellers chart this week followed by The Ugly Truth: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) in second place. Steig Larrson’s novels The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Quercus) are in third and fourth place on the bestsellers chart. First on the highest new entries chart is James Patterson’s latest detective novel Tick, Tock (Century) followed by Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall (Hachette). Paranormal themed Young Adult novels take the top spots on the fastest movers chart with Paranormalcy (Kiersten White, HarperCollins) in first place followed by Stargazer (Claudia Gray, HarperCollins), the second book in the ‘Evernight’ series, in second place–Weekly Book Newsletter.