Murder on Broadway by John Rosanowski – 2017

Murder on BroadwayMurder on Broadway is a rollicking wild West Coast goldfields tale of murder and mayhem.  When the obnoxious Reefton Police Sergeant Mackworth Snyder leaves Reefton in the hands of his new Constable Gordon Trembath, in the days leading up to the 1877/78 festive season, the reader just knows the hapless cop is going to have to deal with serious goings on.  Fortunately, Trembath has the “town idiot”, Abe, to watch his back, along with Abe’s friend, the town drunk, Little Jimmy.     The refrain “he said it would be quiet over Christmas” is used to good effect, as the plans for thievery, swindlery, sly-groggery and all sorts of other nefarious business are being made in Reefton and abroad.  The main target for most of this activity is the annual Reefton Boxing Day Race Meeting, and tensions rise as the reader becomes aware of various scams being set up.

Rosanowski’s plotting verges on the operatic, and is very satisfying.  His writing style is straightforward and is from a self-deprecating point of view:

If his words were to be trusted, this show was going to be on a par with anything ever seen in London, Paris or Vienna.  He could also have said, “or Hokitika,” because that’s where they had been performing before Reefton.”

Murder on Broadway is a very blokey tale, told from a blokey perspective, and in the omniscient mode; the reader is sometimes asked to remember things, as they will become of relevance later in the story.  But for all that, the tale is quite nuanced, with young Trembath becoming aware that things are not always black and white, right or wrong – that just because people are in a position of trust doesn’t mean you should trust them, or just because everyone says someone is stupid or a waste of space, that they necessarily are.

The picture of the times is drawn as a slice of history that was part of the international wave of gold rushes: California, Ballarat, Otago, the West Coast.  And the narrative is flecked with mentions of real historical figures such as Bully Hayes.  And Abe’s friend Little Jimmy also features in Rosanowski’s novel Treachery Road, set 10 years earlier about the Maungatapu murders.

But knowing about historical figures or the history of the West Coast goldfields is not required to enjoy this book.  All the characters are given robust backgrounds, and you get the feel of the muddy turbulent mess of the bustling goldfields service towns, with their mix of hardworking people hoping for a break, petty scoundrels, total blackguards, and entertainers.  And you also get a feel of the surrounding bush, in a time when the now declining bush robins would flutter around you as you walked.  A very enjoyable read.


Posted in #yeahnoir, Historical | 3 Comments

Painted by Kirsten McKenzie – 2017

Painted is a creepy slow burn piece of horror writing, putting scenarios in your head that play out long after you have finished reading. Painted

At the start of the novel, you find out an artist has passed away and left specific instructions as to the disposal of his vast art collection – instructions which his lawyer has no intention of following. So, when an appraisal company is engaged and a young art appraiser, Anita, is the first of a team to arrive at the remote country pile, the reader already has amorphous concerns for her well-being.

Anita is haunted by a traumatic incident in her past, and is hyper-sensitive to male intentions. When the estate’s lawyer arrives to oversee her work, Anita is more concerned with his presence than with the odd happenings of which the reader is slowly becoming aware.  For the characters, the Gothic setting and winter storms make strange noises and moving objects easy to explain away.  And when they become aware of peculiar things happening to some of the paintings in the house, their first reaction is to accuse each other.

When more appraisers arrive, and people start to go missing, the action and the suspicions of the characters start to ramp up.  Meanwhile, the reader is trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, including the little they learn of past goings on in the house, information given by a neighbouring farmer.  Added to this are some disturbing developments in the house that are far from supernatural.

McKenzie plays with three familiar tropes: belief that an image of a person captures something of their essence, that the eyes are the windows to the soul – and the common rituals of ‘opening of the eyes’ of statuary, and the thought that some personal items can hold power over the owner.  These familiar elements make the supernatural plot of Painted feel graspable.  And as the reader has access to the goings on of both the natural and supernatural characters, the story is nicely filled in.  And the ending not expected at all.  A good spooky read.


Posted in Book Review | 1 Comment

Heloise by Mandy Hager – 2017

Heloise“Of all my frustrations with the Christian Church, besides its demonising of women, there are two that most confound me: the preoccupation with unquestioning obedience and the notion of original sin.”  So says one of Heloise’s early teachers – a Jew who was forced to convert and who along with her daughter had faced the worst that the patriarchal society of 12th Century France could inflict.  And Heloise’s exploration of the life and character of Heloise is unflinching in its descriptions of the endless abuse and disempowerment of women.

I grew up with a rosy image of the love story of Abelard and Heloise, both chaste and devoted to God, sitting alone in their separate communities and allowing their love to inspire each other through regular correspondence.  Mandy Hager throws that image over the battlements.  In its place is the sad tale of a woman thwarted by her times, and one who falls in love with an unstable, vainglorious, unpleasant man.  “Why does God allow women’s fate to lie in the hands of men whose first thought is not for the well-being of their lady or their child, but for themselves?  It seems Eve’s punishment for disobedience is to never be forgiven, despite all the Bible’s lofty claims.”

Heloise was the victim of male power from the outset, her mysterious father abandoning her to rural drudgery.  She is found and rescued by an uncle, a man we at first think might have escaped the blind prejudices of his times: “It is one thing to worship God’s instrument of delivery and quite another to forgive the sins of Eve.”  Growing up in Paris, Heloise takes every opportunity to nurture her brilliant mind, and inevitably she becomes aware of, and under the influence of, the brilliant scholar and teacher Peter Abelard.  The story once to two come together is one of endless misery, ecstasy and apparent mental illness.

The text is littered throughout with erudite quotes, amongst which are those from Abelard and Heloise themselves.  The parallels between Heloise and her longing for Abelard, and Penelope’s long wait for Ulysses is often remarked on: “She feels like Penelope trying to make contact with Ulysses, writing into a void”.  These, at times quite lengthy, quotes often interrupt the flow of the narrative – but in doing so they give a glimpse into Heloise’s intellectual depths.  Denied the freedom to act fully in her society, she mentally comments on it in cutting and insightful ways.

The only slight niggle I had with the novel was that Hager could have let the narrative make the points (which is does well) and have the characters voicing them less often: “How wrong that the Bible’s guidance is so often held hostage by men whose self-imposed power gives then licence to speak on women’s behalf.”  Although having said that, the frustrations of the time (and now) is portrayed well by the endless lamenting of women’s powerlessness and the corruption of the Church: “To Heloise it appears the Church’s stand against attachment and simony is more concerned with property and power slipping from its hands that with the purity of its leaders”.   The period in which the novel is set is awash with religious posturing – it was the time when celibacy was imposed, and openly flouted, if to do so was safe from retribution: “ … religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful”, a quote from Seneca that nicely sums it up.

As well as the mysteries at the heart of religion that Heloise ponders, are the mysteries in the hearts of women: “How strange the variances between the male and female of every creature God has made, she thinks, from voice and size, to countenance, to completely different ways with which to view the world”.  Reading the novel I puzzled over her devotion to a man purely because of his mind, when his behaviour was so reprehensible.  Even at the end, she includes her contributions to Abelard’s work as a measure of her worth – not her creating a haven for women in the Oratory of the Paraclete, or her teaching of many women, helping them rise above their helplessness by giving them the power of inquiry.

Heloise is a fine portrayal of a woman, and one who does not stand separate from but rather as an example of, other women of her times.  She so very nearly follows in her mother’s tragic footsteps, and she finds the light of intelligence and the thirst for knowledge in the women around her.  It is a story of the biggest mystery of them all – how half the world’s population ended up subjugated by the other half.  Putting Heloise in her place once again in the book, Abelard reminds her “There is not one meadow flower, Heloise, that does not work its way to air through dirt” – to which she adds to herself: “What he failed to mention was that if more dirt gets piled on top, the flower rots and dies.”  A wonderful and important read.


Posted in Historical | 3 Comments

Iceland by Dominic Hoey – 2017

IcelandThis is an absolutely riveting debut novel.  Told from alternating points of view of two young artists, one a musician and the other a painter, whose gifts are thwarted by drugs, violence and a corrupted world view.  Zlata is a singer/songwriter who comes from a loving and supportive family, Hamish is the artist – and tagger – who is from a dismal background and who is knee-deep in self-loathing.  The two spy each other across a crowded room and in another world their love may have managed redemption.   But in Auckland with a widening gap between the haves and have nots, where drugs are pushing the natural us/them tendencies to grotesque levels, and where artistic success is seen as a cop out – there is not all that much room for redemption.

The narrative of the novel not only alternates point of view, but also tense – Zlata speaks in the past tense and Hamish in the present – so there is a sense of looming tragedy throughout.  The descriptions of a warped sense of reality provided by drugs and alienation that leads to terrible acts, allow those acts to be at once understandable and reprehensible.  And this makes the reader – at least this one – both conflicted by and engaged with the characters.  Hamish’ world view has collapsed to almost nothing – everyone and everything he encounters is stink, he can’t accept the help of friends, and the tension in the novel is whether he is going to allow Zlata to soften his rigid outlook.

Zlata is not that different from Hamish, but she does have the sliver of a sliver of light within her, which makes her the stronger of the two characters.  All of their cohort are described fully, as is Auckland and the other physical environments in the book.  The pivotal event that sends the endless round of bad decision-making flying off course, is a terrible crime that is really just a fluke, emerging as it does from a routine of posturing, drugs and violence.

The writing in Iceland verges on the poetic, but doesn’t tip into pathos, the characters are robust enough to mostly deserve the bad things that happen to them.  Hamish’ self-pity only makes sense from within his world view: “There’s nothing as hopeless as being broke.  Everyone gets a say in your life.  You’re not allowed secrets, you can’t act on your impulses, you have to turn up when you’re told, stand naked with your fucking hand out” – none of which describes the observed Hamish at all.  And Zlata with her fraction of hope: “I gorged myself at least three times and drank so much beer I was staggering by the time the shadows grew sharp. I was raw inside from where the drugs had eaten away at me, but I was happy.”

Iceland is a sad and hopeless tale about diminishing hope and expectations – but one well worth reading for its beauty and its insight.


Posted in #yeahnoir, Book Review | Leave a comment

Hot Flush by Rosy Fenwicke – 2017

EHot Flushuphemia Sage has been receiving strange letters over the years – from her deceased aunt, the woman who raised her when her mother ran off.  The letters have been spookily aware of Euphemia’s circumstances at the time she reads them, and they speak of strange powers that she will possess once she hits menopause.  Euphemia is looking forward to seeing if the letters are true, but unsure how she will use such powers – her life being relatively uneventful.  She runs a consultancy business with her golf-crazy husband, and has two daughters, one a police detective and the other a cyber-whiz who works in the family business.  She finds enjoyment in her family, her work, running, and in Petal her pug.  But that all changes when the hot flushes start.

Euphemia’s annoying but efficient receptionist turns out to be running a loan shark business along with her obnoxious husband – using the Sage’s business to target clients.  And an old school rival, Jane, ends up at risk of having her legs broken by the loan shark’s heavies.  When Kenneth, Euphemia’s husband, goes off on a golf trip with a group that includes Jane’s husband, Euphemia thinks she has everything under control and can help Jane.  But that is before she sees Jane beaten and bundled into a car at gunpoint – and before the heinous baddies take Petal as an additional hostage.  After that, things go from terrible to dire, and Euphemia can’t go to the Police, so from the Police point of view she is starting to look like part of the problem.

Hot flush is a great romp, you find out more and more about the characters as you read, and the story is unveiled layer by layer, with things turning out to be not at all what they first appear to be.  Greed, manipulation, and playing the long game, all underpin the story.  The writing is very funny, and it is great having the drivers of the plot for the most part being strong women – and having ageing, change of life, and mitochondrial inheritance focussed on in a positive way.  There are also unanswered questions and lots of unfinished business, which promises there are more adventures of Euphemia Sage to come – excellent!


Posted in #yeahnoir, Book Review | Leave a comment

Nothing Bad Happens Here by Nikki Crutchley – 2017

Miller Hatcher is getting over a relationship and the recent death of her mother, with theNothing bad happens here help of alcohol, when she gets the opportunity to write a feature story that might land her the job of head reporter for the national magazine she works for, First Look. Sergeant Kahu Parata is a local cop at the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, where Miller will hopefully write her masterpiece.  Kahu knows all the locals and turns a blind eye to some of their misdemeanours, and he is annoyed when a team from Auckland are sent to work the case that Miller intends to cover – the discovery of the body of a missing tourist, Bethany Haliwell.

Miller in her sensitive state, and Kahu with his local knowledge, end up trying to get justice for Bethany amidst the prejudices and complacency of the locals, and the arrogance and impatience of the outsider cops and journalists.  The only place Miller can find to stay is a local retreat, Haven, and when another woman goes missing from there, the possibility that the murderer is still around the town increases.

Nothing bad happens here creepily highlights the level of danger women face in our society – how so many people can become suspects when harm is done to a woman, and how often women don’t feel able to come forward and speak out about abuse, but just put up with it as part of life.  It also – echoed in its wonderful title – deals with the tendency of tourist spots to downplay local danger in order to maintain business, the irresponsibility of the press when boosting circulation comes before reporting facts, and the way people are drawn to gruesome tragedy at the same time as being repelled by it.

It is a well plotted mystery, and just when you think you have guessed the final twist you are gazumped with a totally unexpected scenario.  The characters are great, and are given enough background to give you a chance at understanding some pretty outrageous behaviour.  I particularly liked Miller, she rapidly moves from being just one of the visiting journalists to being a concerned human being, and at times works more like a PI than a journo, and her compassion for the victims stops the story from just one where the female body count keeps clicking up.  The writing is very straight forward, but this in a way works nicely against the complex plotting.  A good New Zealand murder mystery.

Posted in #yeahnoir, Book Review | Leave a comment

Know Me Now by C.J. Carver – 2017

I have enjoyed the C.J. Carver Forrester and Davies series from the first installment, and I am thrilled to be part of this Know me now blog tour.  The date list for the tour is at the end of my review.

know me nowIn Know me now, partial amnesiac Dan Forrester is back, back in another adventure for our enjoyment, and also back with his wife, Jenny, and their daughter Aimee. The family is eagerly awaiting the imminent birth of Dan and Jenny’s second son.  Dan is also dealing with the sudden death of his father, Bill, who was visiting Germany when he had a massive heart attack.  In the midst of making arrangements for the repatriation of his father’s body, Dan hears that his 13-year-old godson, Connor, has also died.  Connor’s death is being dealt with as a suicide, but the local doctor in the Scottish village where he died is not so sure.  Two deaths so close together – and as the delightful DC Lucy Davies says: “In my job, we don’t believe in coincidences”.

C.J. Carver certainly does believe in coincidences, the local GP who is suspicious about Connor’s death is none other than Dr Grace Reavey – one of the main characters in the first Dan Forrester outing Spare me the truth.  I have come to realise that through this series Carver is weaving us a maypole of connections between her central characters.  Given her skillful plotting, I am sure there are more reveals and connections to come, and with Dan’s dodgy memory, goodness knows what he has forgotten from his past!

Dan wants to go to Scotland to look into Connor’s death, but is thwarted when he is told his father’s death is unnatural, and he decides to go to Germany instead.  Dan asks Lucy Davies to go to Scotland in his stead.  In Germany, it turns out Dan didn’t know the whole truth about Bill’s work after the war, or about the project his father and his close friends had been involved with.  As with the previous two installments of the series, we have some great plotting, and large picture conspiracies – this time involving some pretty precocious post-war research.

And we have thrills aplenty.  Another character back from Spare me the truth, is the sinister Sirius Thiele – the centre of some truly scary scenes, and of another tantalising ribbon being wrapped around the coincidence pole.  Dan, Lucy and Grace are all back in fine form.  And when Lucy gets into a bit of a hole, and gives herself the advice regarding her supervisor DI Faris MacDonald that I have been yelling at her for three books now, I whooped for joy.

If you haven’t read any of the series, Know me now could be read as a standalone novel, but my recommendation would be to read them from the beginning (Spare me the truth, Tell me a lie then Know me now) and that is a strong recommendation!

KnowMeNowTourCard (1)



Posted in #yeahnoir, Book Review | Leave a comment