Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Book Review: THE YOUNGER WIFE by Sally Hepworth



Author:  Sally Hepworth

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan Australia

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


Stephen Aston is getting married again. The only problem is, he's still married to his first wife, even though she is in a care facility for dementia. But he'll take care of that easily, by divorcing her--even if his adult daughters protest.

Tully and Rachel Aston look upon Heather as nothing but an interloper. Heather is the same age as Rachel and even younger than Tully. Clearly she's a golddigger and after their father's money. Heather has secrets that she's keeping close, and reasons of her own for wanting to marry Stephen.

With their mother unable to speak for herself, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family's secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is. But will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses...in all of them?

My musings:


When I say that one thing I love about Sally Hepworth’s novels is that they are a “lighter” kind of read, I don’t mean that they lack depth. I am merely referring to the same tongue-in-cheek Aussie humour that makes a lot of Australian crime fiction such a pleasure to read. On one hand we have a mystery to sink our teeth into, on the other we are able to have a giggle here and there. Isn’t that just the perfect balance?


THE YOUNGER WIFE is all about family secrets, so if you love that theme as much as I do, you’re in for a treat. Imagine your father introducing you to his new girlfriend, soon to be wife, who is a few years younger than you. Now step it up one notch and imagine that your mother is still alive and still married to your Dad, and is in a nursing home dying from advanced Alzheimer’s. How would you feel? It’s a complex question with no right or wrong answer, but everyone will be able to relate to Rachel and Tully on some level as they grapple with their own feelings about this. But in the process of this upheaval, new family secrets are being brought out into the open, begging the question whether it really is the new wife they should be afraid of ....


I love the way Hepworth slowly twists the lens and shifts the focus so the edges of the perfect family blur slightly as the shadows come more into focus. Has everything Rachel and Tully have believed about their family been a lie? How much denial does it take to keep up the pretence of a happy marriage and family life? There are some very complex themes here, which may have been heavy handed or disturbing in other books, but which Hepworth handles with a gentle insight and care that made me feel deeply emotionally connected to the characters. 




THE YOUNGER WIFE will appeal to readers who enjoy a lighter mystery that focuses more on the slow reveal of family secrets than the crime. Full of warm wisdom and tongue-in-cheek humour, it made a compelling and enjoyable read I was loathe to put down. Very enjoyable!




Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for the free copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Book Review: THE WAY IT IS NOW by Garry Disher



Author:  Garry Disher

Publisher:  Text Publishing

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin.

Charlie is living in his family’s holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work.

Things have never been easy for Charlie. Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found.

Until now: the foundations are being dug for a new house on a vacant block. The skeletal remains of a child and an adult are found—and Charlie’s past comes crashing in on him.

The Way It Is Now is the enthralling new novel by Garry Disher, one of Australia’s most loved and celebrated crime writers.

My musings:


I’ve always enjoyed Garry Disher’s writing style, so I was very excited to get my hands on his latest book. THE WAY IT IS NOW is a standalone crime novel featuring Detective Senior Constable Charlie Deravin, who returns to his old childhood home to spend some downtime whilst he is suspended from duty. Returning to the small coastal town brings back painful memories for Charlie. Twenty years earlier, his mother vanished without a trace, believed a victim of foul play. Charlie’s father, a senior sergeant on the police force, has always been the prime subject, even though nobody could ever prove anything and Rose’s body was never found. With time on his hands and old memories assaulting him, Charlie starts digging into the past ...


Disher is a seasoned, accomplished writer, which shows in the way he brings both his setting as well as his characters to life. This is a slow-burning, character driven story with an atmospheric small town Australian setting that appears almost languid in the beginning. But don’t be fooled, because it is  full of scarred and damaged characters, family secrets, regret and disillusionment, and coming to terms with past mistakes. Whilst the mystery surrounding Rose Deravin’s disappearance intrigued me and soon reeled me in, the story was about so much more than a cold case. Disher’s description of life in a small Australian coastal town are spot on and made this tale seem authentic, as did Charlie’s growing disillusionment with his career, which has left him suspecting he worst of his fellow men. There is a rich cast of supporting characters who provide background and red herrings and fleshed the story out nicely. I particularly enjoyed the ethical dilemma of Charlie digging into the past, knowing that his father could be a killer, feeling torn between the love for the man and his suspicions. Set in early 2020, Disher incorporates the historical landmarks that defined that terrible year, from the bushfire crisis to the first appearance of covid cases around the world. 




If you are a reader who enjoys a slower, character driven mystery with an authentic small town Australian setting, then Disher is a writer you should definitely turn to. Even though I found the ending a bit rushed, I enjoyed getting caught up in the intrigue and the slow unravelling of secrets that Disher does so well.



Thank you to Netgalley and Text Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Book Review: THE WITCH HUNTER by Max Seeck



Author:  Max Seeck

Read: November 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


A bestselling author’s wife has been found dead in a gorgeous black evening gown, sitting at the head of a formally set dinner table. Her most chilling feature—her face is frozen in a ghastly smile.

At first it seems as though a deranged psychopath is reenacting the gruesome murders from The Witch Hunter, the bestseller written by the victim’s husband. But investigator Jessica Niemi soon realizes she’s not looking for a single killer but rather for dozens of believers in a sinister form of witchcraft.

They know her every move and are always one step ahead. As the bodies start piling up, Jessica knows they won’t stop until they get what they want. And when her dark past comes to light, Jessica finds herself battling her own demons while desperately trying to catch a coven of killers before they claim their next victim. 


My musings:


Nordic Noir is my favourite genre, so when I stumbled across Max Seeck’s latest novel, THE ICE COVEN, it appealed to me straight away. But seeing it is part two of a series, I thought I should probably read the first book to get a better background on the characters – and I am glad I did! THE WITCH HUNTER sports a rich cast of characters, from multiple murder victims and perpetrators to a whole squad of detectives, which at times had me frantically scouring previous pages to keep track of who was who. Luckily the puzzle to solve was intriguing enough to keep me glued to the pages. By the end of the book, I finally felt that I had a good grasp of all the members of the detective squad, which should set me up nicely for Book 2 and made this a worthwhile endeavour.


With many of the dark elements that make the genre so appealing to me, the story captured me very quickly and I wanted to know the answers. The icy atmospheric setting and the theme of witchcraft inspired murders in a Finnish seaside suburb made this book extra intriguing. I did feel at times that a few details and nuances got lost in translation, though, and I am still not sure if I totally understood the final unravelling of all the threads. However, the character of Jessica Niemi and the delicious armchair travel setting in Finland will definitely make me come back for more and I can see that this is a series I can easily get addicted to.

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Book Review: THE GIRL BEHIND THE WALL by Mandy Robotham



Author:  Mandy Robotham

Read: November 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


A city divided.
When the Berlin Wall goes up, Karin is on the wrong side of the city. Overnight, she’s trapped under Soviet rule in unforgiving East Berlin and separated from her twin sister, Jutta.

Karin and Jutta lead parallel lives for years, cut off by the Wall. But Karin finds one reason to keep going: Otto, the man who gives her hope, even amidst the brutal East German regime.

When Jutta finds a hidden way through the wall, the twins are reunited. But the Stasi have eyes everywhere, and soon Karin is faced with a terrible decision: to flee to the West and be with her sister, or sacrifice it all to follow her heart?

What attracted me to this book:


Having grown up in Europe with the spectre of the divide between East and West very real to us (my grandparents lived near the then Czechoslovakian border, with barbed wire and a minefield) I was very drawn to the premise of this book. Robotham does well to explain some of the political wheeling and dealing that took place around the construction of the Berlin wall, and the impact it had on a city divided.

My musings:


Jutta and Karin, two young and vibrant Berliners, made for enigmatic protagonists to take us on this journey and let us catch a glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens affected by this dark point in history. By switching POV between both sisters, we got to see alternative viewpoints that ultimately led to each sister’s fate. With a heavy emphasis on the sisters, some of the more peripheral characters missed out on character development, which made me question some of their decision making processes.


As with any historical fiction, it is called “fiction” for a reason, and some suspension of disbelief was necessary here. I would have liked to see more tension, because even as a child I felt the fear people experienced when the Stasi were mentioned. Despite a few hints at the dangers the sisters faced, I didn’t get this sense of utter terror when they faced being caught. I also travelled to East Germany two years after the wall came down, and the bleakness and despair was still palpable in many places, and the contrast between East and West obvious in the drabness of the buildings, the dire state of the roads and smaller, less obvious things that struck us, like the “holiday camp” near a polluted lake that was totally surrounded by barbed wire. I would have liked to get this sense of entrapment and hopelessness from Karin, who would have experienced it firsthand.


This made the story a light reading experience rather than one that packed a punch, which seemed like an opportunity missed to me – but then perhaps this is what the majority of HF readers prefer these days? I see that it has become a trend to steer towards romanticising WWII for the sake of fiction, and I’m not a fan. There was so much potential here to make this a tense, heart pounding story of two sisters divided by a wall, but only ever skimmed the surface. For this very reason, a few elements were implausible given the control and the reach the Stasi had at the time, and their ruthlessness in pursuing anyone they deemed an enemy of the state, plus their friends and families. I’m trying not to give too much away here, but Jutta’s repeated exploits would have been discovered very early on in real life, especially considering the risks she took. Okay, I hear you: “It’s fiction!” you say, and as such it was a light, enjoyable read with the background of a historical era that is fascinating and made for much pondering. 




THE GIRL BEHIND THE WALL  will appeal to readers who enjoy a lighter brand of historical fiction that is hopeful and uplifting rather than delving into the darker themes that defined the era. Postwar Germany is a time in history that is not often covered in HF and made a nice change from the multitude of WWII novels that have hit the shelves lately. If you are a reader who prefers a heavier read, then I suggest reading CONFESSION WITH BLUE HORSES by Sophie Hardach, which doesn’t shy away from exploring the more sinister side of life in the GDR.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Book Review: THE CORPSE FLOWER by Anne Mette Hancock



Author:  Anne Mette Hancock

Publisher:  Swift Press

Read: November 2021

Expected publication: 3 March 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


It's early September in Copenhagen and 36-year-old journalist Heloise Kaldan is in the middle of a nightmare. One of her sources has been caught lying, and she could lose her job over it. Then she receives the first in a series of cryptic and ominous letters from alleged killer Anna Kiel, who is wanted in connection with the fatal stabbing of a young lawyer three years earlier.

The letters keep coming, and hint at a connection between Anna and Heloise. As Heloise starts digging deeper, she realizes that, to tell Anna's story, she will have to revisit the darkest parts of her own past - confronting someone she swore she'd never see again.


My musings:

THE CORPSE FLOWER is Nordic Noir at its finest!


I admit that I probably would have passed right by this book had I not heard about it from a friend. It’s a bit misleading, because the “corpse flower” in the title does not refer to actual corpses, but to a large Indonesian plant (Amorphophallus titanium) which emits a stench similar to that of rotting flesh, thus attracting flies and carrion beetles to its flowers to pollinate them. In the book, the flower has a certain significance to one of its characters. So if you were put off by the images of rotting corpses the title evokes, fear not!


The story may start off innocently enough, a bit slow even. But don’t be fooled! As with any mystery that involves a whole investigative team – in this case Danish investigative journalist Heloise Kaldan and homicide detective Erik SchΓ€fer – there is a bit of character building to set the scene, as was the case here. We also have an elusive killer, a woman named Anna Kiel, who is on the run after brutally murdering a lawyer in his home. When she contacts Heloise by writing her cryptic letters, she is as much in the dark as we are! Who is Anna Kiel? Why did she kill a man? And what is her connection to Heloise?


As the story unfolds, Heloise will not only put herself in the path of danger, but she will uncover a dark, horrible secret that fits in well with the genre. I really liked Heloise as the lead. She is enigmatic, fearless and suitably flawed herself to give her a good backstory. Ditto with Erik SchΓ€fer – I would love to see them both back in future books. Because Heloise is the person we get to hear most from, this is not your typical police procedural, which perhaps made the path to the final reveal  more relatable as Heloise has to use her own incentive and investigative skills without the privilege of police databases and resources.




All in all, THE CORPSE FLOWER had all the dark elements I love in the Nordic Noir genre, plus two enigmatic lead characters who I would love to see back in future books. Once the story gets rolling, it will lead you into murky waters and topics troubled enough to haunt you in your nightmares. With an overall theme of justice and revenge, the story gradually built tension until I could not tear myself away and had to read late into the night until I had all the answers. A great book from a new voice in Danish crime fiction!



Thank you to Netgalley and Swift Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Monday, 8 November 2021

Book Review: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS by Alice Feeney



Author:  Alice Feeney

Read: November 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts – paper, cotton, pottery, tin – and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

My musings:


If you have read any books by Alice Feeney before, you will know that she usually slots in a major twist or two, and this book was no exception. The only problem with this concept is that when you expect a twist, it is nowhere nearly as satisfying as being totally taken by surprise. I’m no super sleuth, but being forewarned, and having read a lot of thrillers, I was suspicious of EVERYTHING and ended up seeing through a lot of the author’s carefully laid traps very early on. That said, it was still fun to see all the threads slot into place, and thankfully there was one twist that I hadn’t seen coming!


It’s difficult to review a mystery that relies so heavily on the breadcrumb trail of clues left for us by the author, so I am not going to say much about the story here. Basically, it’s the sad tale of an unravelling marriage and a trip to a remote location in Scotland as a last ditch effort to connect. Soon things are starting to go wrong ...


There are some aspects of the books I really enjoyed, like the remote location and its spooky vibes – an old derelict chapel during a blizzard in Scotland, it doesn’t get much better than that! Whilst most of the book was pure entertainment, if you can suspend disbelief long enough, I did find it a bit slow going in places, as the couple lament their unhappy relationship, over and over and over again! The writing style, which was initially quite endearing with its odd little one-liner words of wisdom (one reviewer called them “fortune cookie wisdom”, which was an apt term) but grated on me after a while. Nearly every paragraph had one of these, and they made the writing feel choppy and cocky, as if it was trying too hard to be clever. I also thought that the voice of one particular character could have been eliminated to increase the tension, which was frankly lacking a bit, despite the deliciously isolated setting.


All in all, this was a mixed bag for me, saved by the excellent audio narration, which kept cajoling me along to the end and provided some good entertainment on my daily commute to work. But seeing that I had picked up the book knowing I was a bit tired of stories relying on that “killer twist” to shock its audience, I hadn’t set my expectations too high. This story will appeal to readers who love a few unexpected twists and blind corners and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of credibility for the sake of entertainment value. If you are a bit jaded with this genre, then it may not be the right book for you.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Book Review: THE UNHEARD by Nicci French



Author:  Nicci French

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Maybe Tess is overprotective, but passing her daughter off to her ex and his new young wife fills her with a sense of dread. It's not that Jason is a bad father--it just hurts to see him enjoying married life with someone else. Still, she owes it to her daughter Poppy to make this arrangement work.

But Poppy returns from the weekend tired and withdrawn. And when she shows Tess a crayon drawing--an image so simple and violent that Tess can hardly make sense of it----Poppy can only explain with the words, "He did kill her."

Something is horribly wrong. Tess is certain Poppy saw something--or something happened to her--that she's too young to understand. Jason insists the weekend went off without a hitch. Doctors advise that Poppy may be reacting to her parents' separation. And as the days go on, even Poppy's disturbing memory seems to fade. But a mother knows her daughter, and Tess is determined to discover the truth. Her search will set off an explosive tempest of dark secrets and buried crimes--and more than one life may be at stake.


My musings:


“What makes a good psychological thriller?” a friend asked me recently. “Mmh, let me see ..... It has to mess with my mind. An unreliable narrator where you’re never sure if they’re just imagining the threat or whether it’s real. People connected to the main protagonist who may or may not be a threat, but each one of them is suspicious, and the ones that aren’t suspicious are even more likely to be dangerous. A situation that’s so mundane and everyday that it could happen to you and me, but which escalates quickly into a simmering sense of dread. And no one around you believes that the threat is real.” I could have cut a long story short and summed it up in two words: Nicci French.


There is a reason why this author duo is high up on my list of favourites, and THE UNHEARD was a perfect example. If you think that a child’s drawing is no trigger to become paranoid, then I urge you to reconsider. When little Poppy, usually a happy, outgoing three year old, suddenly starts exhibiting some disturbing behaviours and draws the picture of a woman plunging to her death from a tower, her mother is rightly concerned.


French write in such a way that it felt as if I was sitting opposite Tess in a cafe, sipping a latte and listening wide eyed to her account of things. “What No way!” At times, I even talked to her in my head: “Yes, just do it!” Or: “No, don’t Tess!” To say I was way too emotionally involved in this story is an understatement. Perhaps because I could not help but put myself in Tess’ shoes: what if this had happened with my own three year old? What if I suddenly couldn’t trust anyone around me any more? What if I had no control over who my child is exposed to whilst in the care of her father? And worst of all, what if everyone thought that I was just crazy to be concerned ....


Even though Tess did take things to a whole new level, I was always firmly in her court (cringing at times, but still). My heart ached for her as she had to drop Poppy off at her ex-partner’s house, knowing that she may not be safe there. Questioning all her relationships, even with her new partner and her best friend. I felt how Tess had her back against the wall with nowhere to go. It is this sense of claustrophobia and tension that makes all French novels a perfect read for me, and I loved this book just as much as their previous ones. My only quibble was that I had a few questions at the end that were never fully answered, and I needed a bit more closure – which is the only reason I am giving this 4.5 stars and not 5.




In summary, THE UNHEARD is the type of claustrophobic psychological thriller that places this writer duo firmly on my favourite authors list. I always do a little happy dance when I hear that they have a new book out, knowing that it will mess with my mind and utterly consume me. Even after having finished the book I am still thinking about it. If you love a psychological thriller where you question everything, even your own perception of events, then this book should definitely be on your list – as should the author duo’s previous books.