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: Vodka & Apple Juice, by Jay Martin

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_vodka_&_apple_juiceJay Martin’s husband accepts a diplomatic post in Poland so she leaves career to share the experience with him, of living in a country vastly different to Australia.

Her memoir Vodka & Apple Juice catalogues their journeys to many countries bordering Poland, as well as her involvement assisting Tom with his job at the embassy. From glamorous cocktail parties and dining with presidents, to snowy sleigh rides and drinking vodka in smoky bars, Jay is thrown into all that embassy life has to offer. She sets herself a goal of learning the Polish language and starts simply ordering coffee etc until eventually she is able to hold a conversation and confident to explore the country on her own, as well as venturing in Eastern Europe. At times Martin struggled with living in Poland as she felt she was living multiple lives, doing the mundane living things about the home, or staying in five star hotels while on embassy work but she was also living as a foreigner, trying to identify food items in the supermarket while ‘finding my way around on buses and dealing with obstructive post office officials.’

She felt her husband Tom wasn’t having the same ‘disjointed experience’ as he was in the embassy all day and often into the evening. But her writing for the Warsaw Insider and volunteering at the museum as well as the addition of a cat called Very helped her become more satisfied with her Polish experience.

An engaging read, with touches of humour which help to lighten the enormous challenges the couple find themselves having to deal with, in a very different culture to what they are used to. It will be enjoyed by anyone who travels, especially to a country where English is not the native language. Martin’s inclusion of historical facts also add a depth to the book without making it a heavy read, as the author’s wit is evident in every chapter. I loved the book, its name is captivating, and the cover splendid, inviting the reader to turn the pages to read of the Travels of an Undiplomatic Wife in Poland.

Jay Martin grew up in Melbourne and lived in a number of countries overseas before settling in Canberra where she worked as a policy analyst and married her husband Tom. On their return from Poland the couple settled in Fremantle,Western Australia, with the cat called Very.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Vodka & Apple Juice
by Jay Martin
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN 9781925591316

Book Review: Afternoons with Harvey Beam, by Carrie Cox

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_afternoons_with_harvey_beam.jpgIf we listen to talkback radio, we form a relationship with the host, love them or hate them, and Afternoons with Harvey Beam is a book which takes the reader into the life of a talkback host, his problems, his loves and his family.

Harvey Beam left his small home town of Shorton to work in talkback radio in Sydney but after many years his popularity is waning and he is facing redundancy.

When the head of HR says, ‘What I see is a man no longer making connections, a man who is not happy in himself, a man who is not playing nicely with the other kids, and all of that equals bad radio,’ Harvey believes his biggest mistake is ‘not sleeping with the head of HR’.

Being called back to Shorton because his father is dying gives Harvey time to think and reflect on his life and where he is going in the future.

Beam’s entire family still live in Shorton and the reader is introduced to his mother, brother, and two sisters as well as his father Lionel .He still has a good relationship with his ex wife and his daughters as well as his mother but finds his sisters behaviour challenging and his brother Bryan is not at all welcoming. But it is his father’s hostility which is at the heart of the book and the reader is never fully informed what has caused the dysfunction between the male members of the Beam family. As Harvey takes time to reflect we learn about his divorce as well as his parents split, but a talkback session reminds him ‘it all starts and ends with family.’

I enjoyed this book. It was well written with pockets of humour, and the author is able to write with great clarity to reveal the strength and emotions flowing amongst the characters. There is hope for the future as new relationships develop and family ties are strengthened but I was disappointed more was not revealed about what had caused the hostility between Harvey and Lionel.

An interesting Australian family drama, the book will appeal to a wide age group both male and female.

Carrie Cox is a journalist , author, tutor and mother who lives in Perth Australia This is her first novel but she has written two non fiction books, Coal , Crisis, Challenge and You Take the Road and I’ll Take the Bus.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Afternoons with Harvey Beam
by Carrie Cox
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN  9781925591088

New Zealand novelist longlisted for a Miles Franklin Literary Award

Fremantle Press author Tracy Farr is celebrating today aftpp_tracy_farrer her debut novel The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt was longlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Farr said making the longlist was a massive confidence boost while slogging away at the difficult early stages of writing her second novel.

‘It feels like being enveloped in a big, warm, literary and very Australian embrace,’ said Farr.

Farr who comes from Perth but has lived in Wellington for twenty years said it felt like concrete validation that her novel had a place in Australian literature.

‘It’s like being invited to join the gang, after lurking for years on the fringes as an observer,’ cv_the_lives_and_loves_of_lena_gaultshe said.

‘I wonder if my long-listing might contribute, in even a small way, to bridging the gap between the Australian and New Zealand literary scenes, or at least providing a talking point about it,’ said Farr.

This is the second consecutive year that a Fremantle Press title has made the Miles Franklin longlist and the third time since 2011.

Fremantle Press publisher Georgia Richter said it was always a thrill to have novels by new and emerging Western Australian authors receive recognition in Australia’s best-known award.

‘We believe deeply in the books we publish and in the talent of our authors. It’s lovely to see our own belief confirmed by the Miles Franklin, and to enjoy the validation it gives the recipients,’ said Richter.

The judges will announce the shortlist on 15 May. To celebrate the longlist announcement, the Miles Franklin administrators are launching a ‘You be the judge’ poll. This campaign invites readers to don a judge’s hat and select their own shortlist. The poll will be open for the six weeks between longlist and shortlist with novels extracts, synopsis and bio of authors available to help with the readers’ decisions.

For more information go to or tweet your comments @_milesfranklin

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr is available online and from all good bookstores.

To congratulate Tracy send her a tweet @hissingswan or @FremantlePress, hashtag #milesfranklin.