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 Quaker, by Liam McIlvanney

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_quakerThree women are murdered some weeks and months apart. DI Duncan McCormack is put in charge of why the murders haven’t been solved and why the murder squad haven’t managed to find the killer, getting him off the streets. There is fear amongst women as to where and who the killer will strike next.

McCormack is bought down from the Highlands in Scotland to Glasgow to join the investigation. He finds shoddy police work with nothing linking to anybody or where the murderer could have come from. The killer is nicknamed ‘The Quaker’ because of third hand memories of a man dressed in a suit, with a regimental tie and a religious pin on the lapel of his suit.

Who is The Quaker? Is he part of an organised crime syndicate or is he part of a network with a member of that syndicate inside the police force?

This is a ripper of a story with hardly a page where some new information isn’t imparted to the reader building up the profile of the killer. I found it difficult to put down the book at times but sleep is one of the necessary parts of life, so I was often waiting for another “spare” moment to pick up where I had left the off. The ending is superb.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Quaker
by Liam McIlvanney
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780008259921

Book Review: Death Actually – Death, Love and In Between, by Rosy Fenwicke

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_death_actually.jpgSet in Queenstown, New Zealand, Death Actually tells the story of Maggie, woman who has had to be both a mother and father to her two children, Kate and Nick, when her husband abandoned them.

The sudden death of both her parents leads to her returning home to New Zealand from Australia with her young children, to take over the family business of funeral direction when her brother took off overseas following his parents’ accident. With the support of her best friend Elka and her mentor Betty, Maggie has had to accept her role and has since become very much part of the Queenstown community.

The reader is taken into the lives of the people who are important to Maggie with the author’s clever characterisation of Lizzie, Elka and Betty making the writing realistic, and I really felt part of the Queenstown lifestyle. Nick and Kate lend a hand and support their mother and her friends, but there are some secrets in the background, which add complications and the new doctor in town is at times an irritation to Maggie.

Set in winter when the ski season is at its height in Queenstown, there is death (actually) in the book and I found the role and tasks undertaken by the funeral director was extensive and at times challenging, but the author has written these with sensitivity and grace.

And of course, a modern day story set in the resort would not be complete without a jet boat accident, a movie on location nearby and the dramas which accompany these activities.

The author has gently moulded the strands of the story together with humour and it moves along at a brisk pace with some very satisfactory outcomes from the twists and turns she created among the characters.

Like any good book there is sorrow as well as celebration, but friendship and love is an important thread entwined throughout the pages and anyone who likes an inspiring family drama of modern living will find this a good read and like me, they will find the vivid descriptions around Queenstown to be captivating. The underlining theme highlights strength, reliance and hope while looking to the future, ‘Alexander Benjamin Potter was born normally, at nine twenty-one on a dark and stormy night in early spring, in the back of his grandmother’s hearse, in a paddock in central Otago. He weighed 7 lbs 13ozs, and was full of fight and noise, much to everyone’s relief and joy.’

Rosy Fenwick is a doctor, writer and mother of three adult children living in Martinborough. In 2017 she released her first novel, Hot Flush, which received excellent reviews, and which I would be keen to read to see if I enjoyed it as much as Death Actually.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Death Actually: Death, Love, and In-Between
by Rosy Fenwicke
Published by Wonderful World
ISBN 9780473430986

Book Review: Tell Me a Lie, by C J Carter

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_me_a_lieThis has the lot…

Horses, a pony, a Labrador, a Jack Russell, a marmalade cat, a mother, baby, children, a teenager – and that’s only the first body count.

Snow, sleet, rain, and moments of sunshine.

Vodka, wine, coffee, tea; and chocolate brownies.

Psychotic hatred and determination, impatience, annoyance; romance and love.

Shotguns, rifles, Kalashnikovs, pistols, knives, torture, sedatives, morphine…

The story moves between England and Russia, but has tentacles in South Africa and Australia. Tangled threads wind through a mire of misleading events. Dan Forrester (ex-MI5, now with a private political analyst service) is called in by MI6 to handle the Russian crimes. PC Lucy Davies – on the cusp of joining CID – finds herself untangling the thread attached to multiple family murders in England, with or without the official okay. Somehow they realise their cases are linked. The story is as much Lucy’s as it is Dan’s – whose wife Jenny is the link between Russia and England.

Carver makes the story race on, so be well belted in, or you too will get stuck in the mire. This is my first reading of her work, but will not be the last, as I want more of Dan Forrester and hopefully of Lucy Davies, whose mind works in waves of colour as thoughts and memories come in and out of focus – a creative concept.

The pace is rapid, the story builds with suspicion and suspense, the resolution is satisfying.

Here’s an example:

Dan’s skin turned cold.

The old man had used the exact words Dan had spoken to Eketarina. Proving that he’d heard everything he and Eketarina had said. The old man knew Dan was a spy of some sort and was letting him know that he knew.

Eketarina: Edik Yesikov secretly sent two agents to your country last week.

Chills running yet? More chills and thrills within the full novel, I promise. Whether you’ve read C J Carter before or not, grab a copy at your local Booksellers NZ store.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Tell Me a Lie
by C J Carter
Published by Zaffre Publishing
ISBN 9781785762918

Book Review: Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_earthly_remainsDonna Leon shows mastery in sewing together this delightful crime thriller Earthly Remains which is set under the vivid heat of the Venetian sun. With an engaging and charming narrative, the 26th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery will add intrigue to a sun-soaked holiday or transport you away on a lazy rainy day.

Following a foolhardy reaction in the interrogation of a slippery suspect, Commissario Brunetti finds himself on a prescribed hiatus from duty. Questioning his judgment and contemplating a change in lifestyle, Brunetti gladly banishes himself to the empty house of a distant relative in the Venetian laguna for some time out. The house, on the island of Saint Erasmo, is tended for by gentle caretaker Davide Casati, who Brunetti quickly befriends. Forged over ten days beneath the stifling sun, the two men form an easy friendship based on a shared passion for rowing and an unspoken mutual respect for one another. Casati appears a man of grace and radiates a strong sense of morality, yet Brunetti soon notices hints of a markedly different man lingering in Casati’s past. When Casati suddenly goes missing, Brunetti is compelled to unravel the loops and ties sullying his new friend’s disappearance.

Leon weaves Brunetti through the laguna with a beautifully economical narrative that lets the reader feel the oppressive swelter of summertime Venice and taste the richness of the Italian alfresco table whilst nimbly unravelling the truth behind Casati’s disappearance. On the small islands where ‘there are no secrets’ Brunetti must now follow his hunches to uncover the mysterious past of a man he barely knew. But the truth is not quite ready to give itself up.

Serving as my introduction to Donna Leon’s mystery series, I sincerely hope Commissario Guido Brunetti discovered reinforcement for the job he so loved over the course of Earthly Remains: I will be keeping an eye out for more in the series in airport bookstores as the perfect accompaniment to a holiday.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Earthly Remains
by Donna Leon
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9781785151378

Book Review: Hide and Seek, by M J Arlidge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hide_and_seek.jpgArlidge’s style has me determined to get my hands on each novel in the D. I. Helen Grace series of crime stories. His characters – both the police team members, and each title’s new cast members – are well and truly alive on the page – real, and human with their foibles and fancies.

In Hide And Seek, our favourite police officer-no-more is in her worst possible place: the world behind the bars of Holloway. Both the guards and the inmates (some of whom are there because of Helen) have already adjudged her as a rotten copper – before her trial – and as just another crim.

When the inmate of the cell beside Helen’s is found dead in her bed, left by her killer in a bizarre and ghastly state, it is Helen who has to remind the inmates that none of them are safe. Helen is driven to watch both guards and inmates alike in her effort to identify the killer.

She faces suspicion and hostility from both sides. The second and third kill creates a frenzy among the inmates. An understandable error of thinking delays her eventual discovery of the murderer, which she learns the hard way. Seriously, the hard way.
The unwarranted (as in, not official) actions of loyal D. C. Charlie Brookes are what decides the sequel*.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Hide and Seek
by M J Arlidge
Published 2016, by Michael Joseph, for
Penguin/Random House
Hardbound:  9780718183837
Paperback:  9781405925624

The Series:
Eeny Meeny
Pop Goes the Weasel
The Doll’s House
Liar Liar
Little Boy Blue
Hide And Seek
* Follow My Leader, later in 2017

Book Review: The Chinese Proverb, by Tina Clough

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_chinese_proverb.jpg‘If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever’. This is the Chinese proverb at the centre of this gripping, very readable action thriller. Hunter Grant, retired army veteran at the age of 38, looking for the peaceful life after a bruising time in Afghanistan, finds himself back in a conflict zone, taking on the responsibility of saving, then looking after, the life of another.

A single man, he lives in Auckland, and also has a cabin deep in the bush north of the city. While staying at his place in the bush for a few days, he and his dog Scruff stumble upon a young woman, almost dead, exhausted, hypothermic, malnourished, terrified, and clearly abused. This is Dao, the one whose life Hunter saves, and whom he becomes totally responsible for.

The writer skilfully reveals the bare details of Dao’s story while Hunter does his best to give her immediate care, warmth and food. She has been held captive by a brutal man called Bram on a remote coastal farm – chained, beaten, abused, threatened, alone, in a constant struggle for survival – her mother having died. The real person in charge however, is a sinister and frightening character called the Boss, who turns up from time to time at the farm wearing a Darth Vader mask, thus unrecognisable, calling the shots.

Even though she has escaped, Dao is still in danger, Hunter in turn now also finding himself the target of the bad guys. The story takes place over 15 days, with Dao and Hunter trying to stay alive, while Hunter tries to find out Dao’s history, where she came from, her real name, and ultimately, uncovering exactly what has been going on at the farm. Everything around Dao is scary and unfamiliar, thanks to her having been hidden away for so many years. Even though the reader is familiar with city life, shopping malls, driving, eating out, for Dao this is all very unfamiliar. We see this through Dao’s eyes, giving a slightly sinister undertone to the urban/suburban scenes, threatening and a little unsettling, this view contributing perfectly to the evil brewing.

The main focus of the story is on the relationship between Hunter and Dao. It could easily become exploitative, with Hunter having the position of power, especially considering what Dao has come from, what is normal to her. But not once is there any hint of impropriety, taking advantage or exploitation. This Hunter is one heck of a guy, taking his position of guardianship very seriously, at all times aware of the peculiar and compromising position he is in. He has some great women in his life – his two sisters Willow and Plum, and his best friend Charlie, who was in Afghanistan with him. These three women help him in his care of Dao. As Dao’s confidence, trust and self-worth blossom, the nature of the relationship between Hunter and Dao changes, but it is never sleazy, uncomfortable or weird. Perhaps because the writing is by a woman?

I doubt if the plot would move so fast in a real-life situation – this is one very damaged young woman, still in considerable danger – but it is a great 15 day ride. Plenty of action, great characterisation and very believable characters. This is a thriller, a whodunnit, at times scary and violent, edge of the seat stuff but constantly tempered by the relationships between Hunter and Dao, Charlie and the two sisters. So much packed into 300 pages. It is a great story, which deserves to be widely read and publicised.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Chinese Proverb
by Tina Clough
Published by Lightpool Publishing
ISBN  9780473379261