Tag Archives: crime

Review: Darkness For Light by Emma Viskic

When review copies of Emma Viskic’s third Caleb Zelic crime novel became available, you can bet I leapt right on that review train and shouted PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME.

I loved the first two in this series – Resurrection Bay and And Fire Came Down – so hard that I compulsively live tweeted my feelz as I went.

Does Darkness for Light live up to the promise of the first two?

Reader, I compulsively live tweeted my (spoiler-free) feelz again. Spare a thought for Emma Viskic, who, when I wailed about Caleb’s terrible life choices, replied:

Darkness for Light is a fantastic crime thriller, drawing on thematic and plot threads from the first two. Caleb, the deaf security consultant protagonist, really is trying very, very hard to make good life decisions this time around, but with the detritus from previous the past clinging on, life is conspiring maliciously against him.

The blurb:

After a lifetime of bad decisions troubled PI Caleb Zelic is finally making good ones. He’s in therapy, reconnecting with the Deaf community, and reconciling with his beloved wife.

But he can’t escape his past.

A violent confrontation forces Caleb back into contact with his double-crossing partner, Frankie. When her niece is kidnapped, Frankie and Caleb must work together to save the child’s life. But their efforts will risk everything, including their own lives.

The title comes from a bible quote: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for better.” ~ Isaiah 5:20

Without giving away any of the key twists, turns, back flips and I-never-saw-it-comings, Darkness for Light not only matches the crisp writing and superbly crafted professional and personal tensions of the first two books, it ramps up the stakes.

The possibility of a better life is haunting Caleb, with his estranged wife Kat in the early stages of a pregnancy which they hope she can carry to term, this time. When Frankie’s niece Tilda is kidnapped in relation to a case he’s been reluctantly dragged into, Caleb is desperate to save the girl. (Narratively, it feels like Caleb’s instinct is that the fates of Kat’s developing child and Tilda are linked.)

For all his faults, Caleb remains likeable and you really want him to sort out his life, deal with all his issues and live the life he longs for with the woman he loves. And, as Emma Viskic points out, he really is trying, but old enemies, old frenemies and even old and new friends present such a deep blend of motivations and agendas that he has little hope of sorting out what choices constitute ‘good’.

Viskic is immensely clever and satisfying in the ways she weaves together the strengths and vulnerabilities of Caleb’s deafness, the textures of his complex relationships, and the weight of his past against the pull of a future he longs for.

All of this growth and pain plays out as Caleb first of all stumbles onto a dead body where he expected a rendezvous, is blackmailed into helping a Federal Police Officer into a job he’d rather not do, and finally gets horribly tangled up with money laundering, corruption, assault, and murder.

Oh, and he’s also trying to assist a friend from his community unravel a case of vandalism.

The story is engrossing from start to end. The key characters are textured and often sympathetic even when you doubt their motives and decisions. The plotting is clever and all the pieces fit together without being predictable.

In short, Darkness for Light is a thoroughly satisfying read, which adds to the flow and depth of its thoroughly satisfying predecessors. All the stars for Emma Viskic!

Buy Darkness for Light

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: Lillian Armfield by Leigh Straw

Leigh Straw, who has previously written about infamous Razor Gang crime boss Kate Leigh, has picked up the threads of the first female detective, Lillian Armfield, who played a significant role in policing the 1920s ‘Razor Wars’ between Leigh and Tilly Devine, in Lillian Armfield.

There was a lot more to Lillian Armfield’s trailblazing policing work than those infamous and bloody battles in Sydney, and Straw has set to unfolding Armfield’s life in the police from the earliest days, when she and Maude Rhodes were recruited in 1915 as the only two members of the Women’s Police.

Straw has pulled together a comprehensive view of Lillian Armfield’s professional life, and a some of her closely guarded private life, by working from a variety of sources – including contemporaneous newspaper reports, articles from the Police Gazette and other periodicals, published histories of the events (including Rugged Angel, Vince Kelly’s 1961 biography of Armfield based on interviews with her and witnesses of the events and times) and interviews with surviving family and Sydney locals.

After a glimpse of her work helping to apprehend cocaine dealer “Botany May” Smith in 1928, Straw backtracks to examine Armfield’s family history, with its First Fleet convict connections and Hawkesbury River settlers through to Lillian’s early life in Mittagong.

What follows is a detailed study of Lillian Armfield’s life and work, first in an asylum and then as a police woman who worked for 35 years, until her retirement in 1949. The quality of her dedication, compassion, toughness and skill becomes clear very early on, particularly as it served as a beacon to others. She was even respected (if not actually liked) by her arch-enemy, Kate Leigh.

Straw takes the time, throughout the book and particularly at the end, to look at Lillian Armfield’s legacy; the way she argued for more women to join the force, for their work to be taken more seriously, and the success of the Women’s Police which led to police services around Australia eventually recruiting women to active roles in detection and policing.

I particularly liked both the Epilogue, highlighting some of the women who have followed “In Her Shoes”, and the Afterword, which looks at an unsolved mystery in the public understanding of Armfield’s private life which may suggest a key in understanding the attitude she took with her into working with women, children and communities on the often mean and sometimes bloody streets of Sydney in the first half of the 20th century.

Lillian Armfield is an excellent study of how one determined and gifted woman changed the shape of Australia’s early policing and women’s roles within it.

Cover Reveal: Duo Ex Machina – Kiss and Cry

I’m delighted to reveal the cover for my upcoming fourth Duo Ex Machina novella, Kiss and Cry.

Set in 2014, Kiss and Cry sees musicians and life partners Frank Capriano and Milo Bertolone facing new challenges. Milo is taking part in a celebrity ice dancing show for charity; Frank is a busy music producer. They’re both working too hard and losing touch with the love that has kept them strong for so long. At the same time, some odd things are going on with other participants in Icing It! What new and unlooked-for danger threatens them now, and is it worse than the miserable estrangement they’re going through?

Kiss and Cry is currently being serialised for my $3 supporters on Patreon. That will finish in February 2020, when all Patrons will get the book as one of their regular awards. Soon after, it will be available for general sale.

In the meantime, this is the lovely cover by Willsin Rowe, who has created all the new series covers to date.