Favourite Crime Novels Read During 2018

Coffee, Tea or Bonnox Themed Crime Books

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. 


Recommendation from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was 'far away places' and we have an eclectic bunch of books and one poem that we recommend: 


Prime Cut by Alan Carter

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.   


Pick You Victim by Pat McGerr

Another debut novel, Pick Your Victim was written in 1947 and set the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean during World War 2. The story is known for its plot structure - starting the story with the knowledge of who the murderer is and ending it with the identity of the victim. As reviewer Xavier Lechard describes on gadetection.com "The story opens with a group of Marines, stationed in the Aleutians, whom are threatened to succumb to boredom and the monotony of daily routine, when one of them discovers that his package from the home front is padded with a heaping bundle of torn newspaper scraps. Needless to the say the scraps of paper are eagerly devoured, however, among the bits and pieces on boxing bouts and advertisements for women's garments is an incomplete account of a murder committed at the Society to Uplift Domestic Service (SUDS for short) back in Washington. Paul Stetson strangled one of the SUDS officers to death at their office, but parts of the article, that would've informed them on the victim's identity, are missing." This is a hard book to find because it is not well known. You may be able to find it in second hand book stores or through the internet. If you can find, buy it.


The Missing Wife by June Duncan Owen

Set in a small farming town in Western New South Wales, Australia, this novel focuses on how a person can never escape the past. Laura is a history teacher in Sydney who is in the middle of school holidays when friends of hers from her time in Sri Lanka contact her to ask for her help. Their daughter,Nilanthi,has gone missing and they ask Laura to find her. Nilanthi is the missing wife of a farmer, a mail order bride who is not welcomed to the community, To find out what has happened to Nilanthi, Laura has to travel to the town in Western New South Wales, which just happens to be her home town. Laura's family history and her own marriage to a Sri Lankan man back into her own tragic past.

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Winter Study by Nevada Barr

This is the 14th novel in the Anna Pigeon series. Anna is a park ranger who works and sometimes investigates murder in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA. In this story, Anna is sent to Isle Royale in Lake Superior near the border between Canada and the USA in January. It is the middle of winter and mischief is afoot where Anna is being housed with the team running the famed wolf study and two homeland security scientists. This is vintage Barr where the study of nature and the environmental impact of humans is mixed with the investigation of a murder.

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O Caledonia by Elspheth Barker

A mixture of a coming-of-age story and a crime novel, O Caledonia is a first novel by writer and journalist Elspheth Barker, published in 1991. It won four awards and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in the UK. The protagonist of the story is also the victim of the story.  16 year old Janet is found murdered beneath the stairs of a castle in a remote Scottish village. She is not missed by her parents or anyone in the village, just missed by a small black bird.  It is beautifully written and you sink into the vivid imagery and fantastic use of language.  The story of Janet's life is told in flashback so you learn about the world Janet inhabits physically as well as mentally.  Her approach to life and obvious intelligence makes her stick out in this small village in the 1950s. It has a lot of dark humour and wry observations and although it is sad it is also very uplifting.

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Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry

The blurb on the back says "The winner of Alaska's world-famous Iditarod -- a grueling, eleven-hundred-mile dog sled race across a frigid Arctic wilderness---takes home a $250,000 purse But this year, the prize is survival". So this qualifies as a far off place. This novel errs on the side of romantic suspense in the mystery/crime genre as there is a central love story.  This is a page turner as the structure of the race keeps the plot tight and moving. 

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The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman

This is the second novel is the series featuring Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police in Arizona. Chee works to keep the peace between the Navajo and the Hopi when a decaying and unidentified body is discovered in the desert. Tony Hillerman was known for his respect and love of the Four Corners area in the South West of USA which covers Native American tribal lands and the interaction between white and Native American culture. I have written about Tony Hillerman before, click here to read it.

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On the Head of a Pin by Janet Kellough

Published in 2009, this Canadian historical crime novel features Thaddeus Lewis, a 'saddlebag' preacher who is on his way to his new posting in Prince Edward County, Upper Canada.  Set after the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion, Lewis is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose. Still in mourning after the death of his daughter, Sarah, Lewis tracks the killer across the colony using the Book of Proverbs and a the small painted pin of the title as the only clues. Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who has a great interest in delving into the everyday life of people rather than dates in a history book.


Silent Valley by Malla Nunn

Set in the 1950s in South Africa in the first years of what is now called Apartheid, this is a Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper novel that explores the Natal area of South Africa and the interaction between the dominant local nation, the Zulus, and apartheid structure. Cooper investigates the death of a Zulu princess in the Drakensberg mountains near Durban. According to publishers Pan Macmillan, "he must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone - from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl - has something to hide."  This series is fascinating as it delves into a certain place and time in history.

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

Peter May is a Scottish writer who started started out as a journalist in Glasgow. He has written for TV and has a successful crime series set in Shanghai, China.  He now lives in France and has written two more crime series, the first is The Enzo Files books set in France and The Lewis Trilogy that takes place on the Isle of  Lewis in Northern Scotland.  The Blackhouse is the first in the trilogy and features Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, a native of the island, who is sent back to the island from Edinburgh to investigate a murder.  Like all novels set in remote areas, the weather and isolation of the communities are integral to the atmosphere and plot of the stories.  Peter May is a veteran writer who knows how to spin a yarn. It is worth spending time in the world he has created.


The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service  

Watch the poem read by Bill Kerr below: