Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month our book club focused on crime and mystery novels that were about isolation or remote places. There are quite a few books from Australia, which is understandable as we are a book club from Sydney, Australia. Enjoy.

The End of The Earth by Julie Smith
The End of The Earth is one of the short stories that is part of the Mean Rooms collection from Julie Smith. All the stories are written from the central concept that the perpetrators of the crime are forged indoors where the person’s impulses are explored. Julie Smith has written over 20 crime novels which comprise of four different series. Her most well known series is about Skip Langdon, a female cop in New Orleans, however she has also written about Rebecca Schwartz who is a San Franciscan lawyer; struggling mystery writer, Paul Macdonald; and the private eye duo of Talba Wallis and Eddie Valentino.  Smith has also written the young adult paranormal adventure, Bad Girl School.

Death In The Loch by Thomas Muir
Published in 1950, this is the third Roger Crammond stories written by Muir between 1948 and 1957. Roger is a marine biologist and amateur detective who becomes involved in many mysteries that take place on the high seas or at the very least on a patch of water.  Roger is definitely a man of his time and although he finds himself in an unusual or remote locations like Scottish Lochs (of the title) or the Arctic Ocean the structure of the stories are along the cosy crime sub genre in the mould of Hercule Poirot.  There is not much information on the author Thomas Muir, just a list of his books and the dates of publication. He had ten very productive writing years.

Cold Grave by Kathryn Fox
Cold Grave does a deep dive into the potential dangers of crime on a cruise ship. Australian author Kathryn Fox is a medical practitioner with a special interest in forensic medicine and she brings a methodical, layer by layer approach to unravelling the microcosm of society that is the cruise ship. Fox’s protagonist is Anya Crichton, who is a forensics expert, and this is the sixth novel featuring her. Anya is on holiday on a cruise ship and she becomes involved when a teenage girl is discovered dead on the deck of the ship. Her investigation highlights the lack of policing that is common on cruise ships as they are floating in international waters.  It is an interesting read that would make you think twice about going on a cruise for a holiday. Fox started writing in 2005 and her debut Malicious Intent won the Davitt Award for adult fiction and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly best debut novel award. 

Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland
Diamond Dove (2006) is Adrian Hyland’s second novel featuring Emily Tempest, who grew up in the outback town of Moonlight Downs, Central Australia. Emily is an appealing lead character who takes the audience through what could be a very alien setting. The story delves into the harsh climate of the outback and the racial tensions and poverty of a town that relies on the weather to survive. Adrian Hyland lives in Melbourne, Victoria and won the Ned Kelly for Crime Fiction (2007) for Diamond Dove. 

The Plague by Albert Camus
This is a modern classic novel that has been shoehorned into our crime and mystery book club. The Plague was written in 1947 and was marked as a popular literary classic. It uses the isolation of the Algerian town that is being overtaken by the plague as an allegory for human nature. Survival brings out the best and worst in people and Camus shows this as the plot weaves from vignette to vignette. Albert Camus was born and grew up in Algeria which was one of the French colonies. He was critical of the French colonial government and he brought his political and philosophical beliefs into his journalism and his books. Camus was extremely popular as a left wing writer and teacher post World War Two as it was felt that he faithfully recorded the suffering and misery of separation and exile.

The Bet by Anton Chekhov
The Bet is a short story from Anton Chekhov that explores an agreement between two a banker and a young lawyer about whether the death penalty is better or worse than life in prison. the young lawyer takes the bet to live for 20 years in prison to prove his point about the death penalty. Written in 1889 during the time that Chekhov developed, according to Goodreads, "his concept of the dispassionate, non-judgemental author. He outlined his program in a letter to his brother Aleksandr: "1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality; flee the stereotype; 6. compassion." This short story is all of these and so much more.

Murder in Mesopotamina by Agatha Christie
This the fourteenth Hercule Poirot novel from Agatha Christie. By its title it would seem that Christie was inspired by her own experiences on archeological digs in North Africa and the Middle East. However it is a typical cosy crime with a member of a closed community being murdered. The setting is not a character in itself as it can be in other novels, it just informs the mechanics of the plot. The unusual aspect of the story is that Poirot does not turn up until over half way through the novel, after the victim has been killed. If you like Agatha Christie novels, you will enjoy this.  

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
We have recommend Malla Nunn before (see below in this section). This novel is set five days before Christmas in the 1950s in an aparthied South Africa. It is the fourth Detective Sargeant Emmanual Cooper novel. Cooper is part of the major crimes squad in Johannesburg and is called into investigate the assult of a white couple in their bedroom. Left for dead and unable to assist in the investigation, it is left to the couple's teenage daughter to identify the attacker. She points the finger at the youngest son of the Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, Cooper's best friend. The resulting story involves the challenging of race, politics and the society of the time in the hunt for the truth of the matter. Nunn was born in Swaziland, South Africa, but moved to Western Australia as a child. She now resides in Sydney, Australia.

Prime Cut by Alan Carter
We have recommended this book before and this is what we said.

This is the debut novel of Australian author Alan Carter featuring DSC Cato Kwong, a disgraced cop stuck in Hopetoun, Western Australia working in the Stock Squad (focus on horses and ponies).  Set during the recent global financial crisis, seaside town, Hopetoun is prosperous because of the Australian mining boom. With an influx of people and money comes crime and when a torso of a human body is washed up by the sea, Kwong is called on to investigate.  This is a great first novel, and a good look into Australian rural life in the 21st Century.  The juxtaposition of white Australian mythology about the outback with the reality of modern Australia with different cultures and the impact of mining and selling a natural resource to the highest bidder is woven through the investigation. Well worth a read.  

Murder and Redemption by Noel Mealey
The outback in Western Australia and the impact of the mining boom takes centre stage in this story. This debut novel from Noel Mealey introduces Syd Fielding a detective sergeant in Geraldton, who was brought up in the Bindoon orphanage (an actual place that was just outside of Perth, Australia - read about it here), and fought in the Vietnam War.  This violent past informs the way Syd deals with the investigation into the death of two men from the same cargo ship. The story takes you through the twists and turns of drug trafficking and the impact of the mining industry on the communities and towns in Western Australia. There may be a shade too many plots points but overall the story gives you a good sense of place.

Powder Burn by Daniel Glick
Set in 1998 in the high country in Colorado, USA, Poweder Burn is a thriller featuring environmental groups, the FBI, shadowy financial corporations, the remoteness of a small mountain town and skiing. Daniel Glick was a journalist with Newsweek Magazine for twelve years before freelancing for a number of top American magazines. He is a skiier so the skiing elements are authentic. He also lives in Colorado.

Thirst by L.A. Larkin
L.A.Larkin is a thriller author along the lines of Michael Crichton. She is an Australian author (immigrated in 1998) who comes from a successful career in magazine publishing. In addition to writing crime novels she teaches thriller writing courses. Larkin is a member of Australia’s Sisters In Crime and the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. Thirst is set in Antarctica and sets up a race against time for a team of Australian scientists who need to stop a conspiracy to cause a global catastrophe. Her protagonist, Luke Searle, is a glaciologist and is described as a maverick and there is a count down clock. This is a typical glocal thriller. If you like these types of novels, you will enjoy this. 


No Turning Back by Joanne Lees
This is the only non-fiction novel recommended this week. Joanne Lees was under suspicion when her boyfriend Peter Falconio was murdered while they were travelling on a lonely stretch of highway in the Australian outback in 2001. This book is written by Joanne and takes the reader through what happened that night and the subsequent investigation and trial that lasted a couple of years.  It gives insight into the bureaucracy of criminal investigations and the politics and media circus that surrounded this situation. Here is one of those media stories from Australian Broadcasting Corporation program "Australian Story".

Death at a High Latitude and Death in the Desert by J. R. L. Anderson
There is very little information on J.R.L. (John Richard Lane) Anderson except a list of books he wrote and that he was born in 1911. The two stories suggested by our club members shows that he writes in the John Buchan tradition of the spy novel set just after the Second World War. Anderson's protagonist is Colonel Blair who works with the British Home Office and Scotland Yard and follows the international plots around the world and into the two remote locations featured in these novels. These are adventure novels that may be formulaic but are fun.

Next month the theme is comedy crime. Not an oxymoron I promise.