Category Archives: setting

Candice Fox — Eden

This mystery/thriller/crime novel takes place in the underbelly of Sydney, Australia. The author creates unique descriptions of places and characters, even the minor ones. A dark story filled with dark people—addicts, prostitutes, gangsters, killers, corrupt cops, and more. The second book in a series, I didn’t feel I missed anything by not reading the first, Hades.

Three girls have gone missing, and police detective Eden goes undercover to a farm where all three have lived at different times. Her partner Frank gets involved in a side job for Eden’s father, Hades, to identify a stalker and to solve an old cold case of a missing woman.

Although grim, the story kept my attention to the end. I was surprised by the ending.

Good writing.

Candice Fox — Redemption Point

Fox writes a dark, twisted murder mystery filled with convoluted characters.

Ex-police officer turned PI, Ted Conkaffey, has moved north from Sydney to a small town in the Australian rainforest trying to hide from his past. Although innocent and never prosecuted due to lack of evidence, accusations of child rape plastered his name and face all over the news and the internet and completely disrupted his life—lost job, broken marriage, strangers who react to his familiar face. He lives with a family of geese that he brought into his yard to rescue from the crocodiles.

Ted’s partner, Amanda Pharrell, has no emotions, but strangely possesses the ability to read other people. When she was a teenager, she accidentally killed a girl and spent time in prison, which she refers to as the best time of her life. She’s an upbeat, smiling personality who rides her bike everywhere, refusing to drive a car.

Pip Sweeney, on her first assignment as Detective Inspector, hooks up with Ted and Amanda to investigate the murder of two young people at a rundown bar. She’s fascinated by Amanda. Pip carries guilt from when, as a child, she sat and watched her father die of a heart attack and did nothing to save him. She’s young and naïve and relies heavily on Amanda’s quirky insights.

The author adds excerpts from the diary of the perpetrator of the crime of which Conkaffey was accused. Another weird character, sick and twisted.

There are other off-beat minor characters—the father of the raped girl, who comes after Ted, then turns to looking for the real offender; the owner of the bar where the two bartenders were killed; a crime kingpin in Sydney; some of the neighbors around the bar; the girlfriend of the young man murdered in the bar. Almost every character is quirky, strange, or dark.

This second book in a series about Ted and Amanda covered the previous story thoroughly enough that I don’t feel I need to go back and read it. The plot kept my interest, there was even some humor here and there, and the setting in the rainforest felt real. But I didn’t connect at all with the scenes in Sydney; I couldn’t picture the city. The weird characters kept me reading. Definitely a character-driven book.

Ann Cleeves — Wild Fire

This novel is my introduction to a well-known mystery writer. Jumping into the last book of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Island series with DI Jimmy Perez, I found the story easy to read as a stand-alone and will likely go back and read more of her work.

The author’s depiction of the setting makes me want to visit the small village on a remote island in the far north UK. The characters are equally well defined. A family has moved to the island from London, in part to provide a better life for their two children. Christopher, their autistic son who has a liking for fire, is one of the main characters in the story. He finds the body of a neighbor’s nanny hanging from the rafters of their shed, where the previous owner of their home committed suicide.

The mystery stays unsolved until the end. The suspects are many, beginning with the family and including a bitter town gossip who becomes the next murder victim.

I would recommend this well-written book to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Chris Hammer — The River

I decided to read this nonfiction book after reading the author’s novel, Scrublands. I wanted to learn more about Australia and the area where the story took place. I’ve never visited Australia, but I can picture the drought-ridden area of Queensland and New South Wales now that I’ve read The River. Chris Hammer is an excellent writer.

Hammer spent weeks and months traveling the Murray-Darling river basin. He introduces us to the residents of this harsh land, tells their real stories, their memories, and their yarns. He covers the heartbreak of failing towns and farms, the determination and humor of the people who live there.

There are lessons in this book about water and how we use and abuse it. Hammer doesn’t preach, he gives us the differing opinions of the people living with the lack of water. Some of those lessons are relevant to the US as well as Australia.

Erica Ferencik — Into the Jungle

I just returned from an awesome trip into the Amazon rainforest without leaving my home. All my senses are on overload. Erica Ferencik not only excites sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, she introduces you to a variety of alien cultures and characters, pulls at your emotions, plucks your heart strings, and teaches you about the unique environment of the jungle. She is an extraordinary storyteller.

Into the Jungle is my favorite read this year.

Dan Brown — Origin

I haven’t read a Dan Brown novel in years. I gave up after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. As you can read in many of the reviews, he’s not the best writer. But a friend gave me a copy of Origin recently, so I read it.

Where do we come from? Where are we going?
These are the two questions to be answered by the “big reveal” that is the central plot of the novel. There is lots of philosophical discussion about the questions and the differences between religion and science—some interesting, some repetitive. But in my opinion (and maybe the author’s), the big reveal doesn’t truly answer either question. And I guessed the villain of the story early on, so the ending fell flat for me.

I enjoyed Spain. Brown’s description of the art, architecture, landscape, and culture made me want to visit. But even some of this was repetitive.

Overall, it was an interesting read, but it could have been much shorter.

Chris Hammer — Scrublands

Excellent writing.

The author takes us into Riversend, a small dying settlement in Australia’s interior, in the middle of a summer drought. The river running through the town has dried into cracked earth. You can feel the heat and see it rising off the baked land.

A priest shot five men in front of the church and was killed by the local policeman. Martin Scarsden’s editor at the newspaper sends him to visit Riversend a year after the shooting to write a piece about how the locals are coping with the tragedy. At first, Martin is a typical newsman interviewing residents—outside looking in. The town is full of secrets and rumors, which cause Martin to write articles for his paper with incorrect facts, gaining enemies. As he gets to know them, people ask why a priest that many admired and loved did such a terrible act. Martin’s curiosity and desire to find the truth have him looking for the answer. This is the central question in the story.

Hammer’s characters are varied and complicated, not always who or what they appear to be at first meeting. He even gives us insight into the dead priest.

The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns. It kept my interest from beginning to end.

Robert McCaw — Off the Grid

Off the Grid is a murder mystery/police procedural/international thriller set on the big island of Hawai’i.

The story starts with “bang” when a woman’s car is crushed by a dump truck. As the police and firemen close in, there is a massive explosion, which turns out to be a bomb. Chief Detective Koa Kãne leaves the scene to investigate a body found in the volcano Pele’s lava flow. The two victims are a man and woman who have been living off the grid on the island for twenty years with little interaction with other people. Who are they, who murdered them, and why?

Koa meticulously tracks the complicated answers, with his instincts helping to point him in the right direction. His chief, CIA, MIA, and island politics all try to block and interfere with his investigation. He continues to uncover secrets about the two victims, the military, the CIA, the Chinese, and the locals.

Koa Kãne has secrets of his own that he shares with no one, not even his girlfriend. The author paints a picture of Hawaii and its people that is fascinating. You can feel the heat and smell the sulfur of the volcano, sense the lush rainforest, connect with the variety of people who inhabit the island. All of McCaw’s characters are interesting.

A great read by a talented author. Thanks to Oceanview Publishing for sending an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Tim Johnston — The Current

The Current is a strange story written in a strange style, and it leaves unanswered questions at the end. It’s closer to real life where everything doesn’t get neatly tied up. There is mystery here, but not your typical “whodunit” mystery, maybe a literary mystery.

I enjoyed the story, but it took a little while to understand the flow. At times Johnston writes stream of consciousness, sometimes he uses second person POV, head-hopping from one character to another, and he skips back and forth between timelines. But he digs deep into the psyches of his characters—love, hate, grief, curiosity, need-to-know, vengeance—and tells all that is going on around them—sights, smells, heat and cold, sounds, skin sensations.

I enjoyed the book but only gave it four stars. It grabbed my attention, my heart, and my mind. But the author could have made it a little easier to follow without losing the grip of the story.

Louise Penny — Kingdom of the Blind

I have not read any of the previous books in this series, which may be a disadvantage in reading Kingdom of the Blind, but it reads well as a stand-alone.

The cozy comfort of the small town of Three Pines stands in stark contrast to the back streets of Montreal. Some of the gatherings of Gamache’s family or friends in the village, discussing the murder or just babbling about life, at times seemed confusing or unnecessary, possibly due to my unfamiliarity with the characters. But these gatherings were comfortable, friendly, and humorous. The story is filled with family connections (both relational and families of friends or coworkers), some full of love and understanding and some underlined with distrust.

One unusual thing about Penny’s writing is her use of omniscient point of view. You might even call it “head-hopping.” She often jumps POV from one character to another and back. I found it distracting at times, but overall, she did a reasonable job of making it feel seamless.

The setting in Canadian winter made me feel the chill and the crunch of the snow underfoot. The plot was interesting. Occasionally I was ahead of the story and guessed what would happen, other times I was surprised.

I may go back in time and read other novels in Ms. Penny’s Gamache series.