Review: The Great Divide by LJM Owen

LJM Owen, known previously for her archaeology-related Dr Pimms crime fiction (Olmec Obituary et al) has branched out into dark, contemporary crime with The Great Divide.

Set in the fictional small Tasmanian town of Dunton, The Great Divide follows Jake Hunter, a Melbourne policeman who’s taken a job in what he expects to be a quiet country town while he sorts through the fallout of a recent personal crisis.

Not a week into the job, the body of a woman is found, oddly mutilated, in a vineyard. She is the former headmistress of a now closed girls’ home and the more Hunter digs, the stranger things become.

Hunter’s investigation seems to be obstructed at every turn, by witnesses, the townspeople, potential suspects and even colleagues – though whether this is through ignorance, inexperience, incompetence or malevolence is murky for a good long time. Hunter’s own baggage and concerns also play their part.

Owen has painted a town with a creepy Stepford quality. It’s all surface good neighbours and small town community, but something rotten seethes underneath. Jake seems welcome enough, so is the whole town covering up something sinister, is it simply narrow thinking?

From casual, persistent misogyny to insular assumptions on who the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people are, the reader shares Jake’s frustration as he picks his way through a tangled fog of lies, prejudice and ugly truths.

Owen’s engaging style draws you into a world that is, in contrast, dark, complex and repellent. It’s a great step into the modern era for this writer, though I admit it makes me reluctant to visit small town Tassie!

Buy The Great Divide

Review: The Case of the Misplaced Models by Tessa Barding

Improbable Press, recently acquired as an imprint by Clan Destine Press, has released two new books already under the new banner. I’ve reviewed the first – A Question of Time, a collection of 50 short stories with illustrations – and have just finished this new novel by Tessa Barding.

The Case of the Misplaced Models takes place in a contemporary London and is narrated by a John Watson who is fitting back into his old life. He works in a local surgery, keeps fit while keeping an eye on the limitations of his reconstructed let, and has an eye for a hot guy – especially when one shows up outside consulting hours needing a gash in his leg sewn up.

Dr Watson ends up in a flat share with this same enigmatic and attractive man – Sherlock Holmes of course – and before long they are sharing morning runs, simple breakfasts and a frisson of attraction. Yet while John is falling in love, it’s less clear what Sherlock wants. Sex, certainly, but is his heart in the game?

While John gradually becomes involved in Sherlock’s cases, he’s also keeping in sporadic touch with his university friend, the perpetually busy finance broker, Karim Halabi. Halabi’s stumbled across an odd algorithm in the figures he’s modelling – and then one day disaster strikes.

Barding has created a rich, modern life for Holmes and Watson. John’s relationship with Karim is believably deep for all the trouble they have getting their schedules to match up. It’s easy to respond to John’s magnetic attraction and confusion over Sherlock’s feelings and intentions as well.

Holmes is, as always, fascinating. His hard-to-read emotions suggest a troubled past that readers of the original Doyle stories (or viewers of modern interpretations) will recognise as an old drug habit. He’s odd and unpredictable, not always picking up on the social and relationship cues, yet still likeable, as he should be.

Barding’s Sherlock is brilliant and eccentric. His affectionate relationship with his brother Mycroft is a lovely throwback to canon, and his warm working relationship with DI Gwen Lestrade a nod to Conan Doyle’s work describing the DI as being “the best of the professionals”.

A special shout-out goes to Bodie and Doyle, John’s pets in this iteration.

The Case of the Misplaced Models zips along at a great pace, scattered with several cases before Karim’s trouble takes over the focus. The sex scenes are hot, and the emotional growth attached to them satisfying. I’m hoping Tessa Barding will consider bringing more of this John and Sherlock to us!

At the time of writing, Improbable Press is offering a very cool deal. Buy all three of its most recent paperbacks – A Question of Time, A Study in Velvet and Leather and The Case of the Misplaced Models – and you can get another two ebooks from its or Clan Destine’s range – for free. Details are on the Improbable Press website.

Buy The Case of the Misplaced Models

Review: Lonely Planet – The Universe, A Travel Guide

This guide to all the lonely planets in our solar system, as well as our sun and further flung celestial bodies, is a treat. Written in conjuction with NASA, it’s full of up-to-date information (at least, up-to-2018, which is when the info was compiled before the 2019 release).

While confident the science is all correct, I’m also delighted that the book is easy to read, the language accessible to those of us without PhDs in astrophysics. The combination of co-authors includes travel writers, space enthusiasts and Dr Mark A. Garlick (the one with said astronomy-related PhD experience). Several NASA scientists are also thanked, including its chief scientist, Dr James Green.

One of the fun things about this book is the humour. I get a little frisson of delight whenever I see the usual LP sidebar headings of ‘Getting There and Away’, ‘Top Tips’, ‘Five Facts’ and the Highlights, even for places like Neptune and Mars.

In keeping with current scientific thought, poor old Pluto isn’t a planet but still gets a write-up as Dwarf Planet.

Bill Nye’s lively introduction, which touches on global warming and the Earth’s (so far) unique role as the only planet supporting life is followed by other essays introducing the reader to current scientific thinking about our solar system and the universe at large, including naming conventions, some tips on how best to use the book, and the history of manned spaceflight.

This guide is ambitious beyond the solar system, mind you. The Sun and all its planets only take up the first 300 or so pages of the 608 in this book. It goes on to explore other non-planetary objects in the solar system, asteroids and the Kuiper belt, dwarf planets, comets, the Oort cloud, exoplanets, other stellar objects, and galaxies, including colliding galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Yes folks, this book has the universe as we thus far know it at your fingertips. And it’s all presented in easy to understand bites, with highlights, pull-out boxes, gorgeous images and clear explanations for the lay person, along with all the stats a numbers person could wish for.

The writers haven’t neglected pop culture either, with references to Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Star Wars, Jules Verne and even Jupiter Ascending. Even Freddy Mercury scores a mention!

If anyone in your life is fascinated by our world and the stars beyond it, you can do worse than give them The Universe! Hell, give yourself the far heavens as well. Dip in and out of the book for the armchair travel among the stars, and be reminded that our planet is small and special in the vast universe and needs better care than we have given it, if we’re all to survive.

Buy Lonely Planet: The Universe

Review: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird

Improbable Press, recently acquired by Clan Destine Press, has come of of its new gate with two new books: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird, illustrated by Janet Anderton, and The Case of the Misplaced Models by Tessa Barding.

A Question of Time is the third in IP’s 221B series (which began with my own A Dream to Build a Kiss On and then K. Caine’s A Study in Velvet and Leather) and continues the theme of writing Holmes/Watson love stories a succinct 221 words at a time. (The last word of each short story begins with ‘B’, hence the 221B name for the form.)

The Blurb

Sherlock Holmes
whether he’s a grimy student in 1980, a consulting detective in 47BCE, or a smitten neighbour in 1969, will always find his…
John Watson
whether he is a military doctor in 1917, an angry Saxon with an axe in 1086, or a priest in 1603.

A Question of Time is an illustrated journey through the ages told by our heroes, by their friends, and by a scorched manuscript.

This new collection begins with 221 words set in 2085, a bittersweet eulogy for two men who loved each other all their lives, delivered by their child. There is so much love and humour in these words you feel like you’ve known the three of them. The illustration of the twined elm trees is a lovely, evocative symbol of the emotion of this window into their story.

The remaining 49 stories flit about through time, from 19,873 BCE (oh, how heartstrings can be tugged in 221 words about ochred hand paintings!) through the disco years [and two world wars and molly houses and Jack the Ripper’s London] to a lovely two-parter in 2019 where an appreciative and babbling Watson meets a busking Holmes.

Each is a delicious little tale, woven into history yet standing alone as a snippet of a time and place. Huge amounts of personality, delicious wickedness and humour are part of the weave; as are darker moments during the black plague and its 20th century counterpart during the 1980s with the AIDS crisis.

All the cleverness, compassion, giggle-out-loud-at-the-cafe quirks are turned into double delights with Janet Anderton’s illustration: the orchids, bees, coins, singed manuscripts and strange paraphernalia, and glimpses of hands, mouths, eyes in each setting highlighting elements of and adding dimensions to each story.

In short, A Question of Time is small and perfectly formed, the delights of the text enhanced by the charms of the illustrations, and if you like your Holmes and Watson to be in love, no matter where in time they exist, you’ll get 50 little hits of joy.

Buy A Question of Time

Words are like oxygen