Tag Archives: review

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!

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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!

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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