Recommendations of Australian Crime Novels published in the last 50 years

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme for this month was a crime involving transport or machines such as trains, planes and automobiles. 

The Spy by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
The third Isaac Bell adventure, The Spy is a transportation themed murder mystery. Set in 1908 in the arms race in the lead up to World War One.  The US are constructing a 600 foot Dreadnought and England, Germany and Japan are also beginning to arm their countries. Bell is the lead detective at the Von Horn detective agency and he is tasked to find out who the spy is, the person who has been assassinating the top engineers in the shipbuilding industry. Clive Cussler is known for his Dirk Pitt thrillers which have high adventure and pulping plots. He started writing in 1965 and has written a couple of other series focusing on Kurt Austin, an member of the NUMA Special Assignments Division, the Oregon Files, about a seemingly decrepit freighter that is a cover for an organisation known as 'The Corporation’ and under the leadership of Juan Cabrillo, and the Fargo Adventures about a Sam and Remy Fargo , a couple who are treasure hunters. he started writing the Bell novels in 2007 and he co-authors them with Justin Scott.

Gold Fever by Mal Leyland
An Australian crime novel set in the 1970s in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia and featuring an extremely attractive female detective from the Western Australian Police Force in Perth, this book tracks the theft of gold from a gold mine smelter in the north west. This novel is not very good, with bad plotting, unrealistic characters and risible dialogue. Mal Leyland was born in 1941 and died in 2009. He was known as part of the Ask The Leyland Brothers, who fronted a popular Australian TV series from 1975 to 1984. The Leyland brothers owned an amusement park and made documentaries about Australia, its landscape and history.

The Chessmen by Peter May
This is the third book in the Lewis Trilogy set into the Scottish archipelago, the Outer Hebrides.  Like the other books in the trilogy, The Blackhorse and The Lewis Man, this novel features Fin McLeod. there is no point in reading The Chessmen without reading the other two first as you will miss most of the point of the novel.  Peter May has written other series, namely The Enzo Files and his China mysteries set in modern Beijing and Shanghai, six stand alone novels and five TV dramas for Scottish TV.

Flight by Jan Burke
Irene Kelly is the heroine of Jan Burke’s series, however this eighth novel features Irene’s husband Detective Frank Harriman, of the Las Piernas Police Department. Frank investigates the death of a witness, one of his colleagues is suspect and when that colleague dies in an aircraft crash, Frank starts to unravel the mystery. Jan Burke is an Edgar Award winner for best novel for Bones her seventh Irene Kelly novel.


A Ghost In The Machine by Caroline Graham
If you came to the novels of Caroline Graham through the dramatization of her series of novels, The Midsomer Murders, you will find the books quite different to TV series. Chief Inspector Barnaby is not as central to the stories as he is on screen. Like all Caroline Graham novels, A Ghost In The Machine delves into the lives of a small group of people in a village. Dennis Brinkley is a collector of medieval torture devices and machines and is found one day crushed by one of his prize machines. Jan Burke first started writing in 1982, and wrote two novels before she started her Barnaby series in 1987. A Ghost In The Machine is her seventh and last Barnaby novel, published in 2004.

The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson
This series features CIA Agent, John Wells the military man about the world who delves into different international conflicts. This seventh novel is set in East Africa and Wells goes in search of some Americans who have been kidnapped by Somali soldiers. Cars are heavily featured in this book as each one is described just as much as the type of guns used in each scene. Alex Berenson's novels are a modern take on the spy thriller. He definitely understands the way the world works as Alex Berenson used to be an investigative business journalist with the New York Times and covered the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.  

Sun, Sea and Murder by Roderic Jeffries
Roderic Jeffries is a British cosy mystery writer who sets his novels in Mallorca, Spain where he lives.  His central character is the laid-back Inspector Alvarez. Sun, Sea and Murder is about a rich and arrogant Englishman, Tyler, who was involved in a drink/driving accident and as a result drives to Mallorca to hide his car from the English police. Enter Inspector Alvarez who is ordered to find out if Tyler is in the area. As he investigates, Alvarez discovers that there is far more to the story than a drink/drive accident.

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky
This is the sixteenth V.I. Warshawki novel and is split between modern day with V.I. and World War Two. V.I. is one of the most well known and loved private detectives in American crime fiction. This is a bit of a burden for this novel as it seems that Sara Paretsky really wanted to write the story set in World War Two, which is focused on a female German scientist who is Jewish and is forced to work on the Nazi scientist team that is trying to create the atomic bomb. However, as the V.I. character and novels are so popular, it must be difficult for Paretsky to break out of this success. The story ties the incidents of the World War Two story with what V.I. is investigating in Chicago in the her present time and it does flow as a novel. However, the meat of the story is definitely delving into the pioneers in physics and the overlay of the Nazi regime. 

Bad Debts by Peter Temple
Peter Temple was born in South Africa and moved to Australia in 1980 where he continued to be a journalist and a journalism lecturer.  He began writing crime fiction in 1996 with this novel, Bad Debts. This book introduces Jack Irish who is to quote 'criminal lawyer, debt collector, sports lover, horse-racing man and trainee cabinetmaker'. So he is a bit of a renaissance man who knows how to brood. He becomes involved in high level corruption, shady property deals and murder when starts to investigate the death of an ex-client. Peter Temple creates well drawn characters and is able to show the different shades of grey in the murky world cops, criminals and politicians in contemporary Melbourne, Australia.   

The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin
Set in London in 1903, The Necropolis Railway is about the actual London Necropolis Railway which was according to wikipedia 'opened in 1854 as a reaction to the severe overcrowding in London's existing graveyards and cemeteries. It aimed to use the recently developed technology of the railway to move as many burials as possible to the newly built Brookwood Cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey.' This is the first Jim Stringer novel who moves to work on the South East Railway in Waterloo, London. Part of his job is to do the graveyard shift on the Necropolis Railway. He learns that his predecessor has gone missing and he sets out to investigate. In addition to his eight Jim Stringer novels, Andrew Martin has also written four non-fiction novels on subjects ranging from a man's guide to ironing, dusting and other household arts to jungle warfare in World War Two including elephants.  

Corporate Bodies by Simon Brett
Published in 1991, Corporate Bodies features the actor/detective Charles Paris who becomes involved in a mystery during his latest gig as a forklift operator for a corporate video shoot. Corporate Bodies is the fourteenth novel in a series of nineteen. Simon Brett is a prolific writer of comedic mysteries and has also written three other mystery series, Blotto and Twinks (a farcical series set in the Edwardian era), Fethering (based around the fictional village of Fethering on England’s south east coast) and Mrs Pargeter (a widow with a past). 

Next month the theme is gardening, gardens or horticulture.