Book Review: River of Salt, by Dave Warner

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_river_of_salt.jpgI had never come across this Australian writer and I was pleasantly surprised. I learned that he is a musician (Bob Dylan’s favourite Aussie muso, apparently) and a ‘living treasure’. He’s also a pretty good writer!

Murder mysteries are often written to a formula, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,as you know what you are in for. While I haven’t read previous books by Warner, I am inclined to think that River of Salt is unusual in that it’s not in the least formulaic, and I cannot imagine the main character, hitman Blake Saunders, easily transferring to other situations.

This well-written and exciting mystery is set during the 1960s in a small Australian coastal town, where Blake Saunders has ended up after leaving Philadelphia and his Mob connections.

He sets up a bar/music venue in this small place, and soon learns that the local cop is a bit like a sheriff – knows all, manages most of it in his own way, is a bit dodgy himself.

Because this is a murder mystery, there’s a body early on, with a connection to Blake’s venue. He sets out to protect his patch by finding the killer. There are twists and turns, and a couple of things which stretch credibility, but that’s all part of the game.

The characters are well-drawn, and the 60s setting is also well done. I can’t tell you much more without giving away spoilers, but there’s a lot going on, and I found it an enjoyable read. In a bit of a change from many American murder-mystery writers, Dave Warner writes in proper sentences, which are well-constructed. It’s quite a lot more complex than, say, a Robert B Parker novel, and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy a well-told, exciting story.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

River of Salt  
by Dave Warner
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN 9781925591569

Book Review: The Glass Kingdom, by Chris Flynn

Available in bookstores nationwide.

I brought this home originally for my husband,cv_the_glass_kingdom as it looked like his type of book, but I picked it up a few times, then outright stole it from him, because I was intrigued by the world inside.

The novel is set in and around a travelling carnival called ‘Rainbow Kingdom’, which travels during the hot summer months around small towns up and down the east coast of Australia. Our protagonists are Ben and Mikey, and the novel is written at first in Ben’s voice, then in the voice of one of the ‘festival freaks’, who gives us some background on Ben and why he is how he is, then in Mikey’s voice.

The boys are drug-dealers, dealing glass from the front of their ‘target balls’ stand, fleecing honest customers and junkies alike. Ben is the owner of the show, and was born on the game, having left only briefly for a stint in the army, which earned him a frightening scar. Two carnie parents and a tough life has left Ben hard. The novel’s high points, I think, were when Ben showed his nurturing side – with his girlfriend, or with Mikey, briefly, at the beginning.

Mikey has been hired to help out at the Target Balls stand, and when we are put into the action, Ben is trying to work out whether he can trust him enough to give him ownership of the ‘blue koalas’. Without giving too much away, we switch to Mikey’s voice, and head off on an unexpected tour of the dire small towns of Eastern Australia. Mikey is a wannabe hip-hop star (Mekong Delta in the house), and speaks entirely gangsta Australian. It reminded me fleetingly of trying to read Trainspotting. Flynn has a real talent for rap lyrics, as it happens.

This is a fantastic romp through the dark crevasses of Australia for the right reader. It has its faults, but overall it was a good read, a wanna-get-back-to-it read, and there isn’t much better than that.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Glass Kingdom
by Chris Flynn
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922147882