Already Dead by Jaye Ford

Ford Already DeadJaye Ford is becoming known for delivering fast, page-turning thrillers in the style of Nicci French. At the centre of her novels are women, often thirty-something, often mums. They come from middle- and working-class backgrounds in regional NSW.

In Ford’s novels, these women are put in jeopardy, sometimes by strangers, other times by those close to them. What differentiates Ford’s characters from many female thriller figures is they don’t rely on a man to rescue them. While there may be a male love interest, her female protagonists are up to the challenge, ready to fight with all their resources, physical, emotional and mental, to survive and triumph.

Already Dead,* Ford’s latest novel, is no exception. As the story opens, the main character, Jax, a widow with a young child, finds herself in the centre of an unfolding drama: a stranger bails her up at a set of lights and jumps in her car just as she is about to get on the freeway heading north from Sydney toward Newcastle. Jax is at a crossroads of her life, literally. Her investigative journalist husband has died; she has walked away from her own journalistic career; she is struggling to find herself as a single mum. Emotionally, she’s at a low ebb, but the events that unfold give her no choice but to step up, to find the inner resources to fight her way out of danger. Before long, she is woven in a web of intrigue, facing more questions than she has answers for. Is her unwelcome passenger a psychotic killer filled with paranoid fantasies? Or is someone really after him – and, by extension, her, once she has spent time with him?

As Jax struggles to differentiate reality from her fears, the reader is taken along a thrilling ride. While she attempts to solve the intrigue that surrounds her mysterious passenger, she has a hard time keeping herself, her daughter and aunt safe. Can she trust the detective, Aiden Hawke, who appears at an opportune time, or is he part of the conspiracy her unwelcome passenger is running from? When the pace accelerates toward an action-packed and thrilling ending, a danger Jax could only imagine becomes real and present, worrying the reader that maybe, this time, guts won’t be enough.

~

Author: Jaye Ford
Title: Already Dead
ISBN: 9781742756851
Published: 01/09/2014
Publisher: Random House Australia
A review copy was kindly supplied by the publisher

~

* Disclaimer: Jaye Ford and I belong to the same a writing group.
This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Cop Town Karin SlaughterSince her first novel, Blindsighted, made the CWA’s Dagger Award shortlist for “Best Thriller Debut” of 2001, US author Karin Slaughter has sold more than 30 million copies of her books and been published in 32 languages. Most of her novels are detective thrillers, set in present day Georgia. Her latest release, Cop Town, is a departure, a crossover between detective and general fiction.

Set in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974, Cop Town portrays a hell-hole of bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious sectarianism and class suspicion. The story follows a rookie police officer as she starts her career in a newly gender-conscious department. From a privileged background, newly widowed Kate Murphy is partnered with working class Maggie Lawson, the first female police officer from a cop family. Class isn’t the only barrier which divides these woman as they set about trying to find the culprit of a recent spate of cop killing. Each has to work hard to earn her place in the male-dominated force, and there’s little female solidarity shown – at least, initially.

Throughout the novel, Slaughter challenges stereotypes of women as “naturally” collaborative and supportive, peacemakers and homemakers. Rather, she shows her female characters actively resisting the expectations of such roles, their struggles typical of the era before “women’s lib” took hold.

Australian crime authors P M Newton and Angela Savage have discussed how violence against women is used as entertainment in much recent crime fiction. For this reason, I found Slaughter’s portrayal of women not just as victims of violence, but also as perpetrators, particularly interesting – and problematic. In our current age of the “war against terror” and extraordinary renditions, Slaughter’s seemingly unselfconscious reversal of gender stereotypes runs the risk of reinforcing yet another female stereotype, that of the ball-breaker.

The portrayal of women isn’t the only problematic element of the book. For me, the serial cop killer motif lacks sufficient motivation to be really convincing, although the ending is thrilling and rewards the reader’s persistence.

The strength of the novel lies in its sociological portrayal of a white, male power structure on the wane. As Maggie Lawson says to her abusive cop uncle Terry:

I think the whole world is gonna change. For me. For Kate. For the blacks. For the browns, yellows, greens. For you. Especially for you.

In this light, Cop Town gives an insight into the beginnings of a revolution in cultural values that is still being played out today.

Karin Slaughter will be touring Australia in August (details here).

~

An ebook copy of Cop Town was kindly provided to me by the publishers through Netgalley.

Title: Cop Town
Author: Karin Slaughter
ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19 June 2014
Publisher: Random House Australia

ISBN: 978147350791

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

- See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

- See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

- See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

What Came Before by Anna George

‘My name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife. This is my statement.’

What Came Before Anna GeorgeThis is the dramatic opening of What Came Before, the brilliant psychological thriller debut by Melbourne writer Anna George. The rest of the novel reveals how the murder came to happen.

We see Forrester’s wife, Elle, before her death. She’s working in the film industry, having left a career in law. With one successful film behind her, she is busy directing another. This latest is about “limerance”, the early stages of romantic love.

Elle encounters Forrester, a high-powered lawyer she remembers from her legal days. She is immediately attracted. By what? His looks, the interest in art they share. Certainly not his sociability, as he proves indifferent to her friends. As they begin their relationship, she experiences an almost delusional infatuation – the “limerance” of her film’s title – which leads her to ignore warning signs that the relationship isn’t healthy.

Unknown to Elle, Forrester’s marriage has disintegrated, leaving him angry at his ex and missing his young step-daughter. He’s also a frustrated artist, a control freak and a very unhappy man.

Throughout the narrative, point of view switches from Forrester, as he dictates his “witness statement” and consults a retired QC for legal counsel, to Elle, as she lies in death – or the imagined transition that follows death. This dual narration, swapping tenses between past and present, makes for compelling reading as we are led inexorably to the inciting incident, Elle’s death.

One question often asked about women in abusive relationships is, “Why did they stay?” What Came Before answers this question. “Limerance” makes us idolise our partners, letting us see only what we want to see; tells us to forgive their failings, to look only at their good qualities; blinds us to the escalating “cycle of violence”. The longer we stay, the more we believe they are essentially “good”, that their character defects are a result of damage done in childhood, that we are connected to them in some essential way, the more dangerous the relationship becomes.

Anna George has drawn on her own experience* of “emotional abuse” to create the relationship between Forrester and Elle, and her experience shows. For me, though not for all reviewers, she manages to make Elle sympathetic, despite her irrational choices. George also conveys what it’s like to be the man who resorts to violence, his self-justifications, his belief that he was provoked. If I had one criticism of the characterisation of What Came Before, it’s of the moment when Forrester makes a transition from “emotional abuser” to “physical abuser”. For me, the transition appeared too abrupt. Thinking about his behaviour in terms of “narcissistic rage”, however, I can make more sense of it. Far from being egoistic, Narcissists lack the internal resilience that would allow a healthier psyche to take criticism, perceived rejection or opposition. In this light, George gets the psychology for Forrester right; the result is believable and frightening.

The publishers have described this novel as “literary”, and in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. What Came Before is clever, like Flynn’s novel, but the cleverness isn’t at the expense of its emotional truth. The characters come across as real, their motivations consistent, their delusions understandable. Does this make it “literary”? It’s a well-written psychological thriller which deserves to become a best-seller.

Anna George has been added to my already impressive list of “must read” Australian female crime and suspense authors. I can’t wait for her next book.

* Anna George mentioned this in an interview with Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling blog, here.

~

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. A review copy was kindly supplied to me by the publishers via Netgalley. What Came Before has already been reviewed for the AWW challenge by:

Author: Anna George
Title: What Came Before
Published:25/06/2014
ISBN-13:9780670077731
ISBN-10:0670077739
Publisher:Penguin Aus
Imprint:Viking

The Neighbour by Julie Proudfoot – award-winning debut novella

The Neighbour Julie ProudfootJulie Proudfoot’s debut novella The Neighbour hit my radar when I heard it won the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize earlier this month. When I read the pitch, I knew I’d have to read the book.

When Luke is implicated in the tragic death of a child, he struggles to assert his innocence to those around him. While the accident invokes haunting memories of Luke’s late brother, who died when they were children, he strives to maintain a grip on reality as his relationships begin to unravel.

The Neighbour sounded exactly the kind of story to slot into place beside books I’d recently been bingeing on: narratives that deal with dark sides of suburban life.

I was right. And wrong.

The Neighbour does deal with dark aspect of suburbia, but its impact is different from other writers’ work. Whereas books like Dawn Barker’s Let Her Go tease the reader with the possibility that something awful will happen, and Wendy James’ The Lost Girls and Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks make the reader dread the revelation of what (awful) thing has already happened, the terrible event in The Neighbour happens early and happens hard, leaving the reader in no doubt. When it occurs, it’s of such a horrific nature that its impact reverberates throughout the rest of the story. (I’m not the only one who had to put the book down to recover – see Sean’s review at Adventures of a Bookonaut.)

The Neighbour is told primarily from the point of view of Luke, a man whose life is tethered to that of his neighbours, Angie and Ryan, by more than proximity. The neighbours socialise together; Luke helps Ryan rebuild his shed and fix things around the house; their small children, Luke’s son Sam and Angie and Ryan’s daughter Lily, climb the fence to play with one another. The closeness would appear to be near idyllic, until an accident creates a seemingly unbridgeable rift between them.

Luke’s unravelling as a result of the accident is excruciating to follow. We witness him experiencing a pathological form of dissociation which makes his behaviour appear more and more threatening. As the story progressed, I kept on having to pause, to take a breath, as the narrative tension tightened. The suspense of the story is created by the question, “How far down will he go?”

In some respects the novella, particularly its ending, reminded me of a much gentler story, Charlotte Wood’s Animal People. Both stories deal with a flawed, male protagonist; neither man is good at relationships. However, whereas Wood’s novel ends in a satisfying catharsis, Proudfoot’s evokes more pathos, even horror.

For me, the greatest impact of the story came from its meditation on death, or, more specifically, on the illusion of control over death – and life.

He looks for that window of time between life and death, that state of grace where life can be given or taken. Perhaps it’s the moment when meaning is assigned to a life lived, or left gaping and gasping for forgiveness, that moment when a person can still be saved by those with the power to. If there is such a moment. Maybe there’s no such moment. Maybe you’re alive, then you’re dead. (p 105)

Proudfoot is to be congratulated, not only on her award, but also on the publication of a beautifully written and powerful story.

~

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Authors Challenge. A copy of The Neighbour was kindly provided to me by the publisher.

Title: The Neighbour
Author: Julie Proudfoot
Publisher: Seizure
Date of publication: June 3, 2014
ISBN: 1922057983 (ISBN13: 9781922057983)

 

The Lost Girls by Wendy James: ‘Suburban Noir’

Lost Girls Wendy JamesIt’s 1978. A fourteen-year-old girl goes missing from a suburb on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. A few days later, her body is found in bushland in Palm Beach. She’s been strangled with her own scarf and there’s evidence of sexual activity.

Under suspicion are those last to see her alive, including the girl’s cousin Matt and his mates. Suspicion lingers, despite the police being unable to bring a case – until a second girl is found dead at Kings Cross some time later, killed in a near-identical fashion. The murders are attributed to an unknown “serial killer”, dubbed the “Sydney Strangler”, even though no other murdered girls are found.

The two dead girls, local “chick” Angie and country runaway Kelly, aren’t the only “lost girls” in Wendy James’ latest novel, The Lost Girls. There’s Jane, Angie’s younger cousin, and Kelly’s younger sister Kath and her mother. There’s also Angie’s mum Carol and her aunt Barbara. Each is “lost” in some way, coping – or not coping – with the impact of those violent deaths.

The Lost Girls explores this impact thirty years later, when a mysterious journalist, Erin Fury, appears. Ostensibly she’s doing research for a radio program, aiming to explore the impact of such deaths on the families of murdered women. Her first interview is with cousin Jane, now middle-aged and married to childhood sweetheart Rob, with a teenaged daughter. Jane, reassessing what she has done with her life, is eager to revisit the time when her beloved cousin was killed. It’s as if she might answer some pressing personal questions by reviewing that time through adult eyes.

Jane isn’t the only one Erin targets. She also interviews Jane’s brother, one-time suspect Matt; Jane and Matt’s policeman father Doug, now a nursing home resident suffering from dementia; their mother, Barbara; and Jane’s husband, Rob. Each has a take on past events and, as Erin inveigles herself into their lives, long-held, sometimes painful, secrets are revealed.

One aspect of The Lost Girls I particularly admire is its evocation of place and time. I grew up on the Northern Beaches around this time, and many of the specific details James gives – from the local milk bar with its pin-ball machine, to the type of lollies the characters buy – bring back vivid memories. Another aspect is James’ ear for dialogue. So many of the characters sound like people I know or have known. I also admire her skill as a storyteller, her ability to create suspense and her seemingly effortless transitions of time, point of view and tense.

Chiefly I’m interested in the way James uses a sensationalistic premise, that of serial killing, in order to explore facets of human nature. Unlike many contemporary crime and thriller writers, she doesn’t offer violence as entertainment; nor does she place it somewhere “out there”, beyond the experience of the reader. Rather, she shows how individuals respond to such traumatic events, and the effects of the choices they make as a consequence. Along the way, she suggests how such choices shape us as human beings; how we come to terms with suffering, loss, mistakes and betrayal; how we love or try to love, despite disappointment; and the meanings we make of our own and others’ lives.

Crime author Angela Savage has remarked that the reader of James’ novels doesn’t have to suspend disbelief. In general, I’d agree. However, initially while reading The Lost Girls, I found the journalist Erin’s character unconvincing, particularly in terms of motivation. She seemed more of a device than a psychologically realised character. Then I began to see her as one of the “lost girls” of the title and she made more sense to me. And it’s for that reason that I’d disagree with the criticism both Savage and Michelle McLaren make of the Epilogue, that it’s somehow a mis-step or unnecessary. For me it resolves the central motif of the story.

With The Lost Girls, James consolidates her place alongside Honey Brown and newcomer Dawn Barker among Australia’s foremost proponents of an emerging genre of psychological suspense, which some have dubbed “suburban noir”. I’m eager to find other Australian authors who might fit into this category. Do you know of any?

~

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Aussie Author Challenge. A review copy was kindly supplied to me by the publisher via Netgalley. The Lost Girls has attracted a lot of attention from AWW reviewers including: Shellyrae at Book’d Out, Carol at Reading Writing and Riesling, Bree at All the Books I Can Read, Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime.

Title: The Lost Girls
Author: Wendy James
Published:
26/02/2014
ISBN-13: 9781921901058; ISBN-10: 1921901055
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Publisher: Penguin Australia.

 

 

Let Her Go by Dawn Barker – powerful contemporary drama

Dawn Barker Let Her GoTwo sisters – step sisters – one, Nadia, is happily married with three children; the other, Zoe, has suffered a debilitating illness and a number of miscarriages, and finds herself infertile. Both have reasons for wanting to have a baby: Zoe, to complete her long-held desire to be a mother; Nadia, ostensibly, to help her deserving sister. After years of counselling and legal advice, they enter into a surrogacy agreement. They are adults. They care for each other. What could possibly go wrong?

Fast forward seventeen years to a troubled teenager, Louise, who is getting busted for stealing drugs, self-harming, engaging in drunken sex and whose performance at school is deteriorating. She knows her – unnamed – parents are fighting, senses it has something to do with her, but has no idea of the trauma that followed her birth or the bitter custody dispute that tore her extended family apart.

In Let Her Go Dawn Barker – a psychiatrist by training – successfully juggles different points of view as well as jumps forward and backward in time. Throughout the novel, the reader has a sense that something really terrible could happen – or maybe has happened already – but the suspense isn’t gratuitous. It derives organically from the fraught emotional situations she forces her characters to confront. As I approached the novel’s climax, I was struck by the story’s similarity to the Judgement of Solomon, as if Barker had taken elements of this classic dilemma and brought it alive in a modern context. Both women have good claim to the child; how will the child’s best interest be served?

If Barker’s debut novel Fractured grabs the reader and forces her along a terrifying path, Let Her Go is more like a slow burn, but it’s no less powerful for that. For anyone who has yearned for a child and not been able to conceive or carry to term, the narrative is excruciatingly real at times, almost unbearable. Similarly, Barker captures the pressure on a marriage of women coping with hormones, fears and jealousies. Both Zoe and Nadia are portrayed at times in a poor (but very human) light. Zoe comes across occasionally as unreasonably demanding and judgemental towards her husband, a man with secrets who has never seemed as enthusiastic about the surrogacy and who fails to pull his weight. In portraying the deteriorating relationship, Barker uses irony to good effect: the reader is ahead of Zoe in sensing the effect of her behaviour on her husband, and waits in suspense for the explosion we fear will come. Nadia (understandably) seems at times to be selfishly blind to anyone’s needs but her own, and the reader is torn, sympathetic to her suffering, but alarmed at the lengths she is willing to go to get her way.

With both Let Her Go and Fractured, Barker joins a number of women writers in Australia who create compelling psychological suspense out of difficult moral and social issues, including Honey Brown, Wendy James and Caroline Overington. Each of these writers’ novels demonstrates that issues facing contemporary Australian women, in the hands of skilful storytellers, make for powerful drama. I can’t wait to read Barker’s next scenario.

~

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. A review copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley.

It has been reviewed for the AWW challenge by Emily Paul.

Publisher: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9780733632228
Published: July 2014

Through the Cracks by Honey Brown – don’t read the back cover

If I’ve enjoyed an author’s previous books, through the cracks brownI never read the back covers of their latest. So I knew very little about Honey Brown’s psychological suspense novel, Through the Cracks, before I picked it up. Later, I read through some reviews posted for the Australian Women Writers challenge and saw that several reviewers were dismayed and annoyed that the book’s back cover “blurb” gave away a lot of the story’s suspense. So, fair warning: don’t read the back cover.*

Told from the point of view of Adam Vander, a boy who has been kept locked away from the world by an abusive and controlling father, Through the Cracks traverses difficult territory. Adam has been victimised for so long, he exhibits all the hallmarks of “learned helplessness”: he has become so conditioned to abuse that he appears almost incapable of acting to stop it. Only as he hits puberty, and his father succumbs to health problems, does his sense of agency begin to assert itself. But how can he save himself when he knows nothing about the world, and the few people he encounters, apart from his father, don’t recognise him as someone who desperately needs help?

Brown’s tale of Adam’s escape is both compelling and distressing. Slowly the events that led to his predicament are revealed, and the full horror of what he has endured unfolds. Along the way, Brown touches on issues of race, class, sexuality and, most importantly, identity. Who are you when everything that makes you human has been stripped away?

One of the many elements of this powerful and emotionally wrenching novel that impressed me was its style. The sentences are often short and descriptive; the point of view character indulges in very little introspection and makes few inferences of other characters’ thoughts and feelings. It is as if one of the after effects of abuse is an almost complete lack of interiority. For me, this created an unnerving sense of Adam’s dissociation, his feeling of being utterly separate from the world, both emotionally and psychologically, even as he slowly rejoins it, just as formerly he was isolated physically.

With Through the Cracks, Brown cements her place as one of the foremost writers of psychological suspense in Australia.

~

This book was kindly supplied to me by the publishers through Netgalley. It forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. It has already attracted a lot of attention from AWW challenge reviewers, including:

~

Title: Through the Cracks
Author: Honey Brown
Published:23/04/2014
ISBN-13:9781921901546; ISBN-10:1921901543
Imprint:Michael Joseph; Publisher:Penguin Australia.

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe, sex dolls and gender issues

Bruce McCabe SkinjobThe Good: gender issues
The Bad: gender issues
The Ugly: gender issues (and I foresaw the twist at the end)

Setting: US in the near future

Recommended for: thriller and suspense fans,
people interested in human factors in technology
innovation and adoption

When I heard Bruce McCabe speak at the National Book Bloggers Forum about his debut novel, Skinjob, I was hooked. Not by the title. If I’d seen that title on the library shelves, I wouldn’t have picked it up without gloves. When I first saw it, it reminded me of “hand-job”. It still reminds me of hand-job, even though I’ve read the book and there’s nothing titillating in it. Exciting, yes. Adventurous, yes. It has all the elements Robert McKee writes about in Story: a ticking clock, a vulnerable hero, powerful antagonists, and an interesting (pretty “high”) concept.

The concept: what could happen when robotics advance to the extent that the “world’s oldest profession” can be performed by robots, “Skinjobs”? What if the powerful forces of the pornography/sex trade industry and the neo-conservative Christian right waged an epic battle to sway the hearts and minds of the American people? What if a lie-detecting FBI agent and a San Francisco PD (female) surveillance officer teamed up in a race against time to prevent the annihilation of thousands of innocent people?

Juicy stuff, right? It is. And McCabe does it well. Well enough to have gone from being a self-published author hand-selling to Berkelouw Books in Dee Why to attracting the attention of J K Rowling’s agent and scoring a contract with Random House.

What really interests me about the book, though, is its take on gender issues.

Some background.

At the book bloggers’ forum, I asked Bruce McCabe whether he read books by Australian women. No, he is more of a Michael Crichton, Frederick Forsyth and Stephen King guy. (All of whose books I have devoured.) Also Lee Childs. He did say that author Kathryn Fox had been very helpful to him though (she appears in the acknowledgements) and added, “I must read her books”.

It was with amusement and some consternation, therefore, that I came across a cameo appearance of a “Kathryn Fox” in McCabe’s novel.

The title of the novel, Skinjob, refers to an advanced form of sex doll. These life-like dolls have warm “skin”, a “heartbeat”, and can move in a “come hither” fashion. They can’t speak, but can make moaning and groaning noises. They don’t act other than to flirt or serve. They can also simulate realistic fear to threats and acts of violence (up to the point of actual physical harm). “Kathryn Fox” appears in the book as one of the manufacturer Dreamcom’s most successful dolls.

What is McCabe trying to say here?

One thing McCabe talked about at the forum was how there is no good and bad in human beings; we all have elements of both. The main character, Daniel Masden, isn’t perfect. Nor is the female  SFPD operative, Shahida Sanayei (Shari), whom Masden partners up with. Shari, in fact (spoiler alert) solves the enigma that is central to the plot and, therefore, effectively saves the day.

All good. But what if Skinjob became a movie – as it certainly could; it’s very filmic, action-packed and fast-paced, has lots of interesting “locations”, high-tech gadgetry and car chases – would it pass the Bechdel Test? That is, does it have “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”?

It wouldn’t. That’s right. A story in which gender issues are crucial, all bar one of the main character roles are male. Shari is introduced in the context of having lost her male lover in a bomb-blast at a skinjob “brothel” – or pleasure house – run by Dreamcom. Her role in the story is to help Masden track down those responsible for the blast; all the suspects are male. The SFPD major figures and FBI personnel are male; the Dreamcom owners and employees are male; the leaders of the right-wing church suspected of being behind the blast are male. The majority of the “females” who would appear in the movie would be robots. (Imagine doing that screen test.)

Remember Skinjob is set in the future. Even if one asserted that the industries depicted in the story are currently male dominated, there is plenty of scope in a future world for more than one woman to be depicted as having agency and moral complexity. Why not a female pastor? A female pleasure parlour owner? Sure, the men in these roles in Skinjob don’t come off well and are often revealed to be self-serving hypocrites, sex-addicts and narcissists. That shouldn’t be a restriction. As McCabe was at pains to point out, human beings are complex moral creatures; that includes women.

In Skinjob McCabe sets out to address some really interesting questions about gender, sex and power, the most interesting of which, for me, is the ethics of using automatons for sexual relief. But, while writing about it for entertainment, he risks reinscribing the very kind of objectification and invisibility of women which, arguably, the sex industry and fundamentalist churches of all kinds have historically been guilty of.

My conclusion?  It’s still a page-turning read.

~

This review forms part of my contribution to the Aussie Author’s Challenge 2014

Review copy courtesy of the publishers at the National Book Bloggers Forum.
ISBN: 9780593074091
Published: 02/06/2014
Imprint: Bantam Press
Extent: 416 pages

 

ISBN: 9780593074091
Published: 02/06/2014
Imprint: Bantam Press
Extent: 416 pages

- See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/bruce-mccabe/skinjob-9780593074091.aspx#sthash.KrlSSYff.dpuf

 

 

Suspense and thriller readers – where are you?

Hades Candice FoxOn Tuesday book bloggers from around Australia attended a “National Book Bloggers Forum” at the offices of Random House Australia (RHA) in North Sydney.

Digital gurus, editors and the RHA publicity team all pitched in. We were given insights about Search Engine Optimisation and how to use Google Analytics to drive relevant traffic to our blogs. We were told about up-and-coming titles and given a goodie bag full of books. Authors including Judy Nunn, Sneh Roy and Bruce McCabe spoke about their books and writing process. Throughout the day, Twitter was awash with the hashtag #NBBF14. In the breaks, and over a generous lunch, names, cards, twitter handles and blog URLs were swapped among participants.

I was especially interested in the pitches for thrillers, including Bruce McCabe’s debut Skinjob (in the goodie bag, so more of that another time) and Candice Fox’s forthcoming follow up to Hades, Eden.

Eden – no cover available – was introduced by publisher Beverley Cousins. Cousins pitched Fox as an “Australian Gillian Flynn”. I’m not convinced of that. Cousins was once editor for the Nicci French writing duo – from memory, she worked on Secret Smile, one of the creepiest of the NF books. To me, that’s a closer fit with Fox and Hades. (If you’ve read my reviews of Hades, Flynn’s Gone Girl, and my discussion of Nicci French’s writing,  you’ll know what I mean.) Maybe Eden will be different.

In the open forum at the end, I asked whether there were any other bloggers who review crime and suspense novels. Only one person put up her hand, Debbish from Debbishdotcom. Most of the others, I think, specialise in YA and teen fiction, although I did come across a “vlogger” who reads classics, and there were at least two who specialise in nonfiction.

So where are all the crime fiction readers/bloggers? Maybe they all live in Melbourne?

And, while we’re at it, where were all the men? There were only two men among 35+ bloggers, a gender imbalance that caused Bruce McCabe to comment, “Who are the real readers out there? Spend one minute in this room and you’ll know.”

Do you read crime, thrillers and/or suspense fiction?

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014 – photo courtesy of Dymmocks Books

 

National Book Bloggers Forum tomorrow

The Penguin Random House RHA_Bloggers2014_Badge2National Book Bloggers Forum will be held tomorrow to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Writers Festival.

I’ll be attending, along with other Australian Women Writers Challenge participants including Shelleyrae of Book’d Out, Yvonne Perkins of Stumbling Through the Past and Paula Grunseit from Wordsville. There’ll also be a contingent I’ve ‘met’ through Twitter and the Aussie Book Bloggers Facebook page.

I’m looking forward to the program, which includes a “Behind the Scenes” look at what goes into publishing a book, and “insider secrets and tricks to improving your SEO and promoting your blog” by Random House Australia’s digital gurus. (SEO stands for “search engine optimisation”, handy for bloggers wanting to boost relevant traffic to their blogs.)

I’m also keen to hear how Random House’s crime page is going. Together, Penguin and Random House have published some extraordinarily talented Aussie women writers of crime, thrillers and suspense. These include P M Newton, Honey Brown, Jaye Ford, Wendy James, as well as Caroline Overington, Sara Foster, Y A Erskine and debut authors Candice Fox and Dianne Hester. I’m hoping to discover some more. I’d love to talk RHA into putting “Australian author” into their tags for search engines, or creating teacher resources for Aussie crime novels, now HSC English includes “Crime” as one of its specialty subject areas.

Other bloggers planning to attend the forum include:

Suzy has started a public list of Twitter NBBF participants, and people can follow the day’s events on Twitter via the #NBBF14 hashtag.

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

Do you know anyone not on this list who will be attending the Forum? Are there any questions you’d like us to ask?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,614 other followers

%d bloggers like this: