Adult fiction–December Reviewer: Janet Croft
Rankings: 0-3 stars. The more stars the better!
***The Honourable Phryne Fisher Returns, by Kerry Greenwood. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This volume, containing three adventures of this wonderful detective, is a refreshing change from gruesome multiple murder frenzies, most of which seem to be set in America. Phryne Fisher is an elegant young Melbourne detective working during the 1920’s, when life had a lot of style, but Melbourne’s underworld still had its share of crime. The stories are enjoyable. There is serious crime; investigation of this is mixed in with the life of a detective who can move through all levels of society, enjoy her passions, and emerge successful. The Age Newspaper has summed it up in its blurb—and I can’t better it! They have called the book a wonderful fantasy of how you could live if you had money, brains and beauty! Excellent holiday reading.
The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling. HB from Hachette. RRP $39.99
This first adult novel from an author whose Harry Potter books will remain in my memory forever; this however is a total change of content and scene. In the small town of Pagford in England, a man dies suddenly and unexpectedly. To begin with, it seems as if his death would be a one-night wonder, but the fact that Barry Fairweather was a member of the local Parish council now means that a replacement must be found, and local factions, and different agendas about the town, and its future, take over. Mixed in with this heady plot are the families behind the scenes: disgruntled wives or husbands, unhappy children and vengeful teenagers plus a few newcomers to the town. For a small town, there is a lot happening, and most of it is not pleasant, as rumours spread, and unpleasant facts about the various candidates for the spot on the council are spread by an unknown emailer. The story is complex, and detailed. It is very well written and presented, as you would expect with Rowling and the reader feels as if they are living in the town. I found though that the story became weighed down and depressing because it was all about the unpleasantness and unhappiness of the residents.
The Potter’s Hand, by A.N Wilson. PB from Atlantic Books. RRP about $35
This is an epic story about the life of Josiah Wedgwood— the famous British potter of the eighteenth century. His accomplishments in that era reached far beyond the world of pottery however, and included his considerable efforts for the betterment of society in general, the advancement of science, of engineering, and technology and of ‘common sense’ rather than superstition or religion. I enjoyed the book for what I learned of his life but the changes of tense in the way the story is told were a bit unpredictable. I also felt that some characters needed to be developed further. The death of Josiah was given the full treatment. In all a long and prosy, but readable story.
The Last Boyfriend and The Perfect Hope, both by Nora Roberts. PBs from Piatkus and Hachette. RRP $30 each
These are volumes two and three in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, and they have been very satisfying reading, as we continue to follow the fortunes and love lives of the Montgomery brothers after they convert the old inn in their home town into a successful B and B; in The Perfect Hope it is the turn of the third brother, Ryder, tough on the outside anyway, to see if he can find happiness in love as his brothers have done. These books are very easy reading, there is nothing twisted about the stories, and they provide pleasant entertainment.
Private Oz, by James Patterson with Michael White. PB from Century and Random house. RRP about $30
Craig Gisto has formed an elite private investigation team in Sydney. No expense has been spared to equip their laboratory. The team soon finds that following the gory death of one young man, their caseload becomes almost too much. The story develops into a fast moving, multiple murder story, with a death on almost every page—or so it seems. I found the goriness of some of the descriptions, and the number of murders to be excessive.
The Red Book, by Deborah Copaken Kogan. PB from Hachette. RRP $30
There have been several books from American authors, presenting a group of women—usually four—who meet up again after twenty or so years for a college reunion. The Red Book is another. Whilst the four women have not seen each other for all that time, they have more or less kept up to date with events because of the book which has been published every five years, as a keep up to date diary….. but in reality, there is more to the lives of Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane than has been told, and plenty more secrets, problems and disappointments are revealed when the four get together. In spite of this predictability, I found the story to be quite readable, with excellent characterisation, and pithy observations to spice up the stories.
***A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $33
Stoneybridge is a small village on the west coast of Ireland. Stone House is an almost decrepit manor house, overlooking the sea. It is owned by Miss Queenie, the last surviving of three spinster sisters. Maeve Binchy writes books set in Ireland, that I am confident I am going to enjoy. She understands the people, and her characters seem as alive as your next-door neighbours. This is a story about turning the old house into a small warm hotel, the local people who make it happen and the lives of the first guests who enjoy their stay and make the best of their lives. Another excellent read from this most talented storyteller.
Black Mountain, by Greig Beck. PB from Pan Macmillan. RRP $30
This is a mix of adventure-thriller with terror and fantasy mixed in. And a measure of fact in the background as well with the story set in the American Appalachian Mountains. It is also the fourth in a series about the man called Alex Hunter, who has a nickname of the Arcadian, but is struggling to understand and remember his real identity. I find it difficult to read a book where there is fantasy mixed in with what could have been a good story as Alex confronts the monster of the mountains—but lovers of mixed genre suspense stories, will find this easy to read. The story ends up in the air, so there is at least one more in the series to follow.
The House of Memories, by Monica McInerney. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
This story is based around a tragedy, and the ways in which a large family try to cope with blame and grief. Ella O’Hanlon’s life was smooth, with a loving husband, young son Felix and family in both London an Australia. When Felix dies, in a simple accident, Ella blames her spoilt sister and husband Aiden. Ella can’t handle sympathy or talk with her family. She flees into a drifting, lonely life, and eventually she ends up with her sane, but eccentric uncle in London. This is a book for people who understand loss. For the rest of us it is a well-written and evocative story, full of interesting, well-rounded characters, but still a sad story.
**Flight Behaviour, by Barbara Kingsolver. PB from Faber, and Allen and Unwin. RRP $33
Dellarobia Turnbow was forced to marry at seventeen and give up the chance of a decent education, so that now she lives a life of permanent disappointment with her husband and in-laws on a very poor and failing farm in the Appalachian Mountain area of Tennessee. Dellarobia’s life changes when she discovers a huge swarm of Monarch butterflies, settled into winter on a mountain side that her father-in- law was intending to sell out to loggers in a final chance to hold off his debts. The story takes a while to develop, but it turns into a clear and logical description of the effects of climate change. The butterflies usually winter in Mexico, but have been driven out. If the winter in the Appalachians gets too cold, a whole species will be wiped out. The scientists can only record what happens; the media only report what their interests want them to report, and the local people need to make a living. Kingsolver has written a highly descriptive and plausible story about denials, and beliefs that most of us will find hard to comprehend. Excellent reading.
Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretser. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $40
Wow- this multiple narrative certainly brings people from all over the world together. Laura, born in Australia, travels the world for more than ten years, working her way into publishing and eventually returning to Sydney to work with travel guidebooks. Ravi is a Sri Lankan, who makes his way to London and afterwards to Sydney. I found the switches from one story to another , abrupt, and at times confusing. The stories of Laura and Ravi, the contrasts between their backgrounds and lifestyles, their lives and the tragedy which has been Sri Lanka, are all interesting, and we also see the restlessness of the long term traveller, but there are heaps of characters in the story, and at times there seemed to be too many. It is OK reading, but not enthralling.
Sisters of Mercy, by Caroline Overington. PB from Random House, RRP $32.95
Snow Delaney was born in Melbourne in to a family where her mother did not like her. She did not know that her parents had had another baby as teenagers. Agnes grew up as an orphan in England, separated from her unmarried parents during the war. She was sent to Australia after the war, aged seven, as part of a programme for orphans whose parents could not rear them. Neither girl knew that they had a sister until Snow’s father made a death bed will leaving his considerable estate to both girls, rather than just to Snow. This is an easy to read plausible family drama: the ending however is shocking, and I would have skipped it if I had known what was ahead!
The Panther, by Nelson Demille. PB from Sphere and Little Brown. RRP $30
The Panther is an American born and educated Muslim extremist who moves to Yemen, with the aim of inciting terrorist attacks against Americans, and the hope that he will become president of this small middle eastern country. FBI agents John Corey and his wife Kay Mayfield are pushed into volunteering to go to Yemen to capture or kill the Panther. They soon realise that they are short on local knowledge, and in fact become the hunted rather than the reverse! It is an action packed story set in a country with a rich biblical history. The tenseness of the story is relieved by almost flippant humour at some points, but the mutual hatred and distrust between the combatants cannot be disguised. It is good reading, mostly for males I feel.
*The Black Box, by Michael Connelly. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $33
During the race riots in Los Angeles in 1992, Harry Bosch was asked to investigate the circumstances of the murder of a young female Danish journalist. She had been shot at close range, and the only evidence at the scene is a 9mm shell case. Now, twenty years on, Harry Bosch is close to retiring age. His recent work as a detective has been to look at old, unsolved crimes. With technological developments, new life can be given to some old cases and when a link was found to the shell during another murder investigation Harry became involved. It turns out that the executed journalist of twenty years earlier had been following up a story that started during the first Gulf War. For Harry the resolution of both cases is totally satisfactory, and the story makes excellent reading. This is yet another fine thriller from Michael Connolly, and Harry Bosch is an intriguing and likeable hero.
**The Racketeer, by John Grisham. HB from Hachette. RRP $40
Malcolm Bannister was a black small town lawyer who was serving ten years for a money-laundering scheme. He was not guilty of the crime, but spent his first five years as a jailhouse lawyer, helping prisoners with their legal affairs. During this time he discovered who had murdered a federal judge and his secretary–also his young girlfriend–and had emptied the safe. The Racketeer is the story of how Malcolm used his knowledge to have himself cleared of any crime, and released. It is always good to read John Grisham, and he has not disappointed with this book. It’s a very appealing and interesting legal thriller.
The Last Man, by Vince Flynn. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
The head of the CIA in Afghanistan, Joe Rickman, has gone missing. If he is tortured, the information he knows would put their world wide intelligence service at risk. Mitch Rapp is a very experienced operator who is sent out by the CIA to find Rickman. The book tells of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how Swiss bankers are involved, and the ongoing rivalry between the CIA and the FBI.
It is an action thriller about ruthless and deceitful people. The only loyal thing is the dog.
The Storyteller’s Daughter, by Maria Goodin PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $28
Meg May is the daughter of Val, who to all intents and purposes is a vivacious, congenial woman, but a bit mad as well; she is obsessed with cooking. Val has always told her daughter all sorts of improbable stories about her birth, upbringing and why life is as it is. Consequently Meg, who as a young child swallowed all these stories, grows up with a hatred of fiction, and exaggeration, and wants to know the truth about her background and upbringing, without the fantasy. It is only when Val, now terminally ill, but still refusing to accept the fact, needs to accept help from Meg and then the young gardener Ewan, that many aspects of the past come to light and Meg, with greater understanding, and the help of Ewan, is able to reconcile her views of her mother. Rather to my surprise, I found this rather strange story quite appealing.
Blackwattle Lake, by Pamela Cook. PB from Hachette. RRP $30
Eve Nichols had left home early, because she just couldn’t get along with her family. Twenty years later she inherits Blackwater Lake, and returns, intending to sell the farm, take the money and move on. People and old memories catch up with her and she begins to recall her youth, favourite activities, and the person she used to be. It is a debut novel, and will appeal to younger readers , maybe particularly to those with a rural background.