Why I Liked: The Cutting Room, Louise Welsh

January 22nd, 2007

There were so many reasons that I liked The Cutting Room that it's hard to know where to start.

A vaguely gothic, slightly grotty feel which wasn't overplayed and gave it a real atmosphere is probably the first thing that comes to mind.

An anti-hero hero. To me Rilke had a great sense of morality and decency that, at the same time, was challenged strongly by the author with some personal, sexual behaviour that could make some readers uncomfortable. This made for a highly engaging, real feeling character. The characterisation of Rilke is also that of a loner but not a stereotypical lone-wolf - hard bitten / cynical / wise-cracking. Rilke's cynical sure, but he's also a realist and there's a touch of self-deprecating humour about the cynicism.

Having said that, an entire cast of characters with their good and their bad points - again something to like, something to challenge. How do you react to the non-black and white / flawed human being?

Finally a good mystery, seemingly unsolvable, possibly a pointless quest, which Rilke sticks to because he thinks he should.

Review - Hal Spacejock, Simon Haynes

January 22nd, 2007

Way next door on /dev/random, Adam has posted a review of the first book in a series of 3, Hal Spacejock. He has the next 2 books in the series to read as well, and I have to say he's really really looking forward to them.

http://tinyurl.com/3bxjuh

If you like the occasional foray into comic Science Fiction (sort of shades of The Stainless Steel Rat, but different :) ) then you might want to have a look at this review.

Why I Liked: Dead Set, Robertson, Kel

January 20th, 2007

Dead Set introduced another slightly irreverent, madcap character to Australian Crime Fiction. You've got to love a Chinese-Australian Federal Police Investigator that doesn't want it to get out that Brad is short for Bradman. Especially one investigating away on various cocktail mixes, in a leg plaster cast, addicted to his pain medication. Maybe it's an acquired taste, but I love that sort of lunacy.

Where DEAD SET was interesting though was that there was that slightly comic element to it, but there was also some subtle and none too subtle digs at racism in Australia and some strong social commentary, there was also a reasonable investigation albeit in a slightly out of wack police procedural environment (the author says that some liberties with Federal Police structure and procedure have been taken).

Ultimately though, as the story progressed, the wit subdued slightly (but didn't disappear) and the investigation took over. The ending of DEAD SET was unexpected, particularly as it seemed like a pretty brave move on the part of the author. Sure the energiser bunny aspect of Chen got a bit over the top (could he really have achieved all that rushing around on crutches / with that badly a broken leg?). But the dialogue was good, the cast of characters well drawn, some of the scenes were just flat out hilarious and DEAD SET was a great debut book.

Review - The Jack Irish Quinella, Peter Temple

January 19th, 2007

Title: THE JACK IRISH QUINELLA (BAD DEBTS & BLACK TIDE)
Publisher: Text Publishing
Author: Peter Temple
Edition released: 2007
ISBN: 978-1-921145-70-4
Classification: Crime
314 and 356 pages
Reviewed by: Karen Chisholm

THE JACK IRISH QUINELLA brings together the first two (of the present four) books in Peter Temple's Jack Irish Series. Both books were originally published in 1996 and 1999 respectively.

Jack calls himself a suburban solicitor, although these days he mostly confines himself to the occasional lease or conveyance. Since the murder, by one of his clients, of his second wife, Jack has lost a lot of interest in being a lawyer. After a sustained bender over a number of years, he has kept his own one man practice, but sustains life and limb with a weird combination of looking for lost people and stitching up race bookies. He sustains soul and psyche learning how to be a fine cabinetmaker and longing for his beloved Fitzroy Football Club, since it was forcibly merged and moved to Brisbane. He looks for lost people, witnesses, people who owe other people money, whatever is required for the mysterious and eccentric Cyril. He stitches up bookies with Harry and Cam and a team of commissioners. He hangs around the Prince of Prussia with a group of the old true 'Roy Boys. He makes furniture with Charlie. He longs for love, sometimes he finds it, sometimes it seems to slip past him.

In Bad Debts, the first book in the JACK IRISH QUINELLA Jack is in no particular hurry to find out why an old client of his is desperately trying to get in touch. Danny was a client just after Jack's wife was killed and he's well aware that he probably didn't do the best by Danny, especially as he's got to go back and find out what the story of Danny's legal tribulations was. When Danny is shot dead by the Police in a car park while he was waiting for Jack (who hadn't even agreed to show up), Jack thinks he probably owes Danny a few well-placed questions. Sure the questions lead Jack to the very attractive journalist Linda, but they both soon find that Danny was involved with people who don't really care what it takes to keep out of the news and the courts.

In Black Tide, Des Connors is an old mate of Jack's father, Des was there the day that Jack's parents met. Des is a nice old bloke, saddled with a prodigal son who has now gone missing with $60,000.00 that Des lent him, leaving behind a mortgage on the house that Des has lived in all his whole married life. As Jack starts to look for Gary, lots of trees start shaking and all sorts of crooks, Government Ministers, corporate tycoons, government agents, and shady deals start to fall out, mostly on Jack's head.

THE JACK IRISH QUINELLA is a great starting point for those that haven't read the 4 books that make up this series. As with his later books, Temple has a knack for writing an Australian story. The people that hang around the pubs are the sort of people you (hopefully) still see sitting around old pubs in inner suburbs or out in the bush. The goings on at the racetrack have been going on for years, the characters are just the same as the ones that you rub up against in the ring or around the birdcage. And there's subtle justice in THE JACK IRISH QUINELLA – the bookies normally go home in the posh imported car, whilst the punter takes the train!

The major attraction of the entire series is Jack himself, and the people who surround him. There is a lovely ensemble cast of the vaguely dotty, slightly shady, mysterious, scheming, fanatical, flat out mad, cunning and deeply philosophical (in their own way). There's lovely touches of an almost old fashioned Australian way - football, horse racing, pubs, tradition and mateship. There's a bit of romance gained, romance lost and longing. There's some very unlikely, complicated crimes going on and if you stop for a second you have to wonder how a suburban solicitor can possibly get himself into these spots.

Whether or not the crime is realistic, whether the level of police corruption is feasible and the involvement of the stratospheres of corporate and politics is vaguely possible, you really don't care. You just want Jack to solve the problem, preform a few of those “more luck than planning” feats of daring; get the girl; drink the wine and solve the problems of the world. You even care that he finds himself a team to support. Now any writer that can interest this reader in things Australian Rules Football is a writer worthy of respect.

Why I Liked: A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, Christopher Brookmyre

January 18th, 2007

Christopher Brookmyre's own brand of lunatic and hysterically funny books, intermixed with a social message are amongst my favourite all time books, but A Tale Etched hit an even higher watermark in engagement.

Whilst there was that slightly off the wall stuff that you expect from Brookmyre's books, there was also something poignant, almost nostalgic in this one.

Perhaps it was partially projection by the reader, but the tales of current day nefarious behaviour, interlaced with the schoolyard experiences of the same people gave this book a level that was haunting and very special. The other element that really worked was the way that the stories illustrated so many of the trials and tribulations of childhood - the desperate need to "fit in", the bullying, the cliques, the rises and falls from grace, sadistic teachers, ineffectual teachers, family dysfunction, deeply felt-friendship and always remembered embarrassments. Thank goodness we don't have to do all that more than once!