The Australian Outback is a punishing environment even for those who know it well and respect it. So how did Cameron Bright come to be where his body was found – at the legendary stockman’s grave – without any provisions or even a vehicle to get him safely back home? This is the major question that is posed by this standalone novel by Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature. And this is the question that Nathan, the oldest of the three Bright brothers, tries to find the answer to.
Harper’s ability to create such tangible atmosphere in her novels is critical to how the reader reacts to the whole story. Here we suffer the heat and dryness of the Outback to the point of thirst; feel the grit of the sand between our teeth; and feel the sweat as it soaks into our clothes. We can only imagine, in horror, what Cameron felt while slowing dying in the heat and relentless sun.
In The Roar of the Crowd by Janice MacDonald, one or her characters says: “literature teaches us that subtext and back story is where everything really happens”. This couldn’t be more true than it is in this novel. Despite being estranged from his family for ten years, Nathan is determined to solve the tragic mystery surrounding his brother, Cameron. But there are so many secrets and so much pain to get through…
Make sure you add this book to your list of “must reads” along with Harper’s first two, if you haven’t read them already.
As I was reading Leon’s latest Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery I began to think that she’d taken a departure from her usual format. The story was interesting – Count Falier, Brunetti’s father-in-law, asks him to investigate his wealthy, elderly friend Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada who has recently put a plan in place to adopt a much younger man as his son. And as the particulars of Gonzalo’s plan unfold, along with the resistance to the adoption by his friends, Gonzalo abruptly drops dead on the street. So – a death – but one that is easily explained.
It isn’t until page 169 that we are faced with a murder. As Louise Penny stated in an interview on CBC Radio’s “Q” in 2017: “Murder is the beginning, not the end of the story”. It is at this point that the author explores human nature and the “real” story comes out. Leon is certainly on board with this premise and beautifully peels away the layers of this story to get to the core and ultimately, to the truth.
Masterfully written, with fully-fleshed characters and a setting that begs one to purchase an airline ticket to Venice (if only to eat one of Paolo’s glorious meals), this novel ticks all the boxes as a terrific read.
It’s every parent’s nightmare – that call in the middle of the night to say that your child has been in an accident. Abi answers the phone one night to be told that very thing about her seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia. Only it’s far worse: Olivia is brain-dead and on life support in order to keep her unborn baby alive, a baby that Abi knew nothing about. I was hooked at this point, but slowly I started to look at this novel more carefully.
The author utilizes “weather” in almost every chapter – but it goes nowhere to creating atmosphere. They are just words on the page. I found myself saying “fast forward” after the fifth or sixth passage talking about rain, sunshine, fog, or wind and it got very tiresome. And I just couldn’t believe these characters, expecially Abi, the martyred single-mom who could be called a “helicopter parent” except for the fact that she didn’t actually hover over her daughter, but had her locked in the helicopter with her! There just wasn’t anything genuine about any of the players in this story or the fact that an investigation into Olivia’s fall was deemed as unnecessary.
So, definitely not the top pick of the bookshelf for me, but some might enjoy it.
DEAD MEN’S BONES (4 daggers out of 5) PRAYER FOR THE DEAD (5 daggers out of 5)
There’s never just one case at a time that Tony McLean is handed. Nor is it ever a couple of “normal” cases, easily solved, that land in his lap. First he finds himself ankle-deep in snow, peering into the gully of the River North Esk as the SOC officers retrieve the body of a man from the swirling, detritus-filled waters. Easy enough, he thinks, until he bends down to examine the man and discovers that not only is he naked, but his entire body is covered in tattoos with only a few traces of white skin visible. So begins Dead Men’s Bones, Oswald’s fourth book in his Tony McLean series. But before McLean can get back to the station, he’s alerted to a shooting at a farmhouse in north-east Fife. A prominent politician, Andrew Weatherly has shot and killed his wife, two daughters, and then has turned the gun on himself.
When journalist Jo Dalgliesh approaches McLean to ask for his help in finding Ben Stevenson, a fellow journalist who has gone missing, McLean is shocked beyond belief when Ben’s body is found deep in Gilmerton Cove in a sealed chamber, with nary a hair left behind for forensics. Prayer for the Dead takes McLean on a dark and dangerous path, one that he never imagined even existed.
Both of these novels are darker and more disturbing in their content as Oswald brings in more facets of the occult and deviant behaviour. But Tony is never completely on his own tackling the forces of evil. He’s supported by a cast of wonderful characters from Grumpy Bob (DS Laird), Angus Cadwallader, the pathologist, and DS Ritchie, to Madame Rose and Detective Superintendent Duguid (a perfect foil to McLean). These novels are not for the faint of heart!
NATURAL CAUSES THE BOOK OF SOULS HANGMAN’S SONG
Reading Oswald’s Inspector Tony McLean series is like eating peanuts – you can’t stop at just one. I read the first three back-to-back, like a chain smoker lighting the cigarette in her hand with the one between her lips. He’s a likeable guy is Tony McLean. He’s intuitive, doesn’t cut corners, and goes the extra mile, much to the chagrin of his boss, DS Duguid (a.k.a. “Dagwood” by his officers). But McLean is no “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir” kind of guy. He gives as good as he gets and meets Duguid’s scorn with pragmatism and common sense – certain to irritate the DS even more.
We are aware that McLean has suffered a loss as he makes oblique references to his girlfriend, Kirsty, while investigating the apparent ritual killing of a young woman in Natural Causes. However it’s only while he’s investigating this death that we truly understand the magnitude of his loss. This young woman appears to have been murdered many years before and as Edinburgh is bathed in blood with a new series of killings of young women, McLean believes that they are all connected. When McLean meets Madame Rose (I like to think of her/him as a rather large Medium), she poses the possibility that a supernatural force could be at work in these killings. This hint of the occult, spiritualism and the supernatural plays a role in all of Oswald’s novels.
In The Book of Souls, we finally find out what happened to McLean’s girlfriend, Kirsty, (no spoilers here). The body of a young woman, brutally murdered is found in Edinburgh, echoing ten similar murders of young women twelve years previously. The murderer, known as the Christmas killer (for the time of year that he committed these heinous acts), was convicted and sent to prison. But the Christmas killer has been murdered by a fellow prisoner.
So did they get the wrong man or is someone out there replicating the murders?
When McLean attends the suicide of a young man by hanging, the whole scene seems “off” to him. When two other men are found hanged, supposedly having committed suicide, McLean begins to investigate the three deaths as anything but suicide. As in The Book of Souls, Madame Rose plays a significant role in Oswald’s The Hangman’s Song. And like the other two novels, McLean isn’t just saddled with one case at a time. He’s also investigating a prostitution and human trafficking ring, leaving the poor guy little time for sleep or even a cup of tea. And all around this case is the whiff of something sinister and unexplained, leaving everyone involved, vulnerable and in danger.