Thrice Accursed Crime

I talk about two great crime trilogies by Australian authors, recent releases, awards, and much else.

Issue #6, Sunday 3 October 2021


Independent Bookshops

Independent bookshops are precious places, where you still have a chance of discovering wonderful books outside the mass-market best-sellers, books which appeal to the minority rather than the majority.

Readings (the “Australian Book Retailer of the Year 2021”) is probably our longest-running and best-beloved independent bookstore, here in Melbourne at least. For the last few issues of Through the Biblioscope I’ve been linking the books I mention to their catalogue wherever possible, and will continue to do so. I urge you to either support them or the local independent bookstore of your choice.

If you are wondering, I don’t receive any kick-backs from Readings for doing this. I just want to ensure they prosper during these difficult times so I can keep on buying books from them!

Bookish News

General Book News

Text Publishing celebrates recent awards success

Text Publishing is a great local publisher, and they have been justifiably trumpeting their success in recent awards:

After a month spent basking in Amanda Lohrey’s Miles Franklin Award win [for The Labyrinth], we’re delighting in being the publisher of not one, but two Ned Kelly Award winners. Garry Disher has won the award for Best Crime Novel (for the third time!) for Consolation, and newcomer Loraine Peck’s critically acclaimed The Second Son won the award for Best Debut Crime Novel. And at the risk of appearing greedy, we are also celebrating Davina Bell’s latest novel, The End of the World Is Bigger than Love, winning the 2021 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards Book of the Year for Older Readers.

Pretty good going!

Interesting interview with Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell is a wonderful British writer and illustrator, particularly of children’s books (don’t miss his version of Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman). Nice, if brief, interview in the Guardian. I liked this bit in particular:

Which book do I wish I’d written?

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It is the perfect picture book, as fresh and beguiling now as the day it was written. Sendak taught a generation of author-illustrators that simplicity and playfulness could also be profound. At 18, I chose it as my prize at my school speech day and the headmaster refused to hand it to me on stage, giving me a dusty copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the school library. Outside I was duly given Where the Wild Things Are and, clutching it, I ran away to art school.

Read the interview here

Faber launches new editions of William Golding

There was a time in my early 20s when I was reading every William Golding book I could get my hands on. My paperback copies are now falling apart, so I thought this announcement was interesting:

Faber is embarking on a major relaunch of William Golding’s novels to celebrate these radical modern classics by a visionary Nobel laureate and Booker winner… The first three titles: The Inheritors, Pincher Martin and The Spire will be released in October 2021 to coincide with the Nobel Prize, with new forewords by Ben Okri, Marlon James and Benjamin Myers respectively. Other confirmed introducers include Kate Mosse, Annie Proulx, Nicola Barker, Bettany Hughes, Helen Castor and Stephen King.

More details

New and Upcoming Releases

As usual, even in just two weeks, and even restricting my focus to a few specific genres, there have been far more new books, or announcements of forthcoming books, for me to include here more than a small fraction, just the ones which interested me the most.

Storm by George R. Stewart

George R. Stewart wrote the classic post-apocalyptic SF novel Earth Abides, which was a book I was given in my mid-teens and loved (I still own that same paperback copy!). Here’s an earlier book he wrote, now reprinted for the first time in decades. Looks good!

With Storm, first published in 1941, George R. Stewart invented a new genre of fiction: the eco-novel. California has been plunged into drought throughout the summer and fall when a ship reports an unusual barometric reading from the far western Pacific. In San Francisco, a junior meteorologist in the Weather Bureau takes note of the anomaly and plots “an incipient little whorl” on the weather map, a developing storm, he suspects, that he privately dubs Maria. Stewart’s novel tracks Maria’s progress to and beyond the shores of the United States through the eyes of meteorologists, linemen, snowplow operators, a general, a couple of decamping lovebirds, and an unlucky owl, and the storm, surging and ebbing, will bring long-needed rain, flooded roads, deep snows, accidents, and death. Storm is an epic account of humanity’s relationship to and dependence on the natural world.

Review

Buy it at Readings.

2 Sisters Detective Agency by Candice Fox & James Patterson

Just out, a new collaboration between Australian crime writer Candice Fox and James Patterson. I haven’t yet read any of these collaborations. I’m a big fan of Fox’s work, though less so of Patterson’s books, so it will be interesting to see how well their collaboration works.

Two sisters go into the family business they didn’t know they had - catching killers. Attorney Rhonda Bird returns home to LA to bury her estranged father, and discovers that he left her two final surprises. The first is a private detective agency. The second is a teenage half-sister named Baby. When Rhonda goes into her father’s old office to close down the business, she gets drawn into a case involving a young man who claims he was abducted. The investigation takes Rhonda and Baby to dark and dangerous places, and soon they are the targets of a criminal cartel seeking revenge.

Buy it at Readings.

Corporal Hitler’s Pistol by Tom Keneally

Described by the Guardian as “a rollicking historical crime thriller”.

When an affluent Kempsey matron spots a young Aboriginal boy who bears an uncanny resemblance to her husband, not only does she scream for divorce, attempt to take control of the child’s future and upend her comfortable life, but the whole town seems drawn into chaos.

Review here

Buy it at Readings.

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun, Janet Hong (trans.)

This one looks intriguing, and as I always like to read at least a few works in translation every year, it might well go on my wish list:

In the summer of 2002, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on was murdered in what became known as the High School Beauty Murder. There were two suspects: Shin Jeongjun, who had a rock-solid alibi, and Han Manu, to whom no evidence could be pinned. The case went cold.

Seventeen years pass without justice, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she’s lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.

Review here

Buy it at Readings.

Awards

Booker Prize Shortlist announced

The final shortlist of six novels has been revealed for this year’s Booker Prize. The final six includes debut novelist Patricia Lockwood with No One Is Talking About This. Damon Galgut makes the list for the third time with The Promise, and Richard Powers makes his second shortlist appearance with Bewilderment. Also making the list are Anuk Arudpragasam for A Passage North, Nadifa Mohamed with The Fortune Men and Maggie Shipstead with Great Circle.

I have Bewilderment by Richard Powers on the way to me now, I’m looking forward to getting hold of it. I’m not sure I’ll get to the others in the list, though.

The winner will be announced on November 3rd.

More details here

The U.S. National Book Award longlist announced

The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 5. The longlist is:

Of these, I’m intending to read at least Bewilderment and Cloud Cuckoo Land.

More details

Australian author wins the Arthur C. Clarke Award

Twenty years before Margaret Atwood won the inaugural Arthur C Clarke award for her seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale, she published a poem entitled “The Animals in That Country”. Now Laura Jean McKay, who borrowed the title of Atwood’s poem for her debut novel, has gone on to win the prestigious prize, with judges praising her story of a pandemic that enables humans to understand the language of animals for “reposition[ing] the boundaries of science fiction once again”.

This book also won the 2021 Victorian Prize for Literature.

Review

Buy it at Readings.


My Reading

Completed since last issue

Legend: PB = Paperback; HB = Hardback; EB = Ebook; L = Borrowed from the library (otherwise I purchased the book); HTML = Raw HTML for a Standard Ebooks production.

Hirchausen series by Garry Disher

[EBL] In the last two weeks I finished reading Consolation by Garry Disher. This is the third book in Disher’s Paul Hirchausen series, about a policeman transferred from Adelaide to the tiny rural town of Tiverton. It deservedly won this year’s Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel.

The great attraction of these books is that they feature a clever, determined but often vulnerable main character; an authentic, well visualised environment; and the varied events and people of a small community, small enough that you get to feel you know them. And Disher is an absolute master of building up several different threads of narrative, initially based on small incidents, which build up and often but not always interact.

Definitely recommended.

Hades Trilogy by Candice Fox

[EB] I completed reading Fall, which is the final novel in what I would call the “Hades Trilogy” by Candice Fox. Hades was Candice Fox’s first published novel, coming out in 2013, and it did very well, winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel, and shortlisted for Best Debut Crime Novel in the Davitt Awards. Her second novel, Eden won the Ned Kelly for Best Novel in 2015 and was longlisted for the Davitt. The third book, Fall, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly in 2016.

So what are they about? They are all set in Sydney, with a strong sense of location, it’s all well described and very familiar. They feature several remarkable and unusual characters such as Hades Archer, a one-time criminal who now, in his 60s, lives in a wooden shack he’s built in the Utulla rubbish tip, which it appears he owns and manages. Hades, we find out, is an expert at disposing of the unwanted bodies, primarily the victims of crime. He knows exactly where to bury bodies in his tip where they won’t easily be found and where they will decompose the fastest. Criminals pay him for this service.

The opening line of the first book of the trilogy is chilling:

As soon as the stranger set the bundle on the floor, Hades could tell it was the body of a child.

Worse, the stranger then says “Do you, uh… Do you want me to go and get the other one?” He tells Hades the two children are the victims of a kidnapping attempt which went badly wrong. Hades is severely pissed. And the stranger learns that it’s not a great idea to piss off an ex-crim who is an expert at hiding bodies.

This prologue is the key to the whole trilogy. Right at the end of the prologue, Hades realises that the child he was brought, is not in fact dead, just badly injured. So, he discovers, is “the other one”. He nurses the children back to life and raises them as his own. As adults, renamed Eden and Eric Archer, they become police officers, but with some serious psychological issues. It’s at this stage that the first-person protagonist of the books, Detective Frank Archer, is assigned Eden as his new partner. His relationship with Eden is never a smooth one, and there are many times he wonders if she is planning to kill him.

Of the three books in the trilogy, I thought the second was the strongest. It’s unusual for an author’s second published book to be better than her first, but that’s the case here, it’s just terrific.

But the whole trilogy is really excellent, highly recommended.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

[HBL] This is the second in the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire about a school for children who have passed through portals into other, fantastical worlds, but for varied reasons have been forced to return to the “real” world.

This one follows the portal journey of Jaqueline and Jillian, identical twins, who at the age of 12 find their way into The Moors, a mysterious world dominated by vampire lords and mad scientists, where each girl takes a very different path.

Not bad for a YA story, but because this series is of novellas rather than novels, I felt a bit short-changed. The author could go much more into depth of character, plot and situation in a novel-length work. Instead, each novella I’ve read so far feels too lightweight.

Currently reading or planning to read

The Library by Stuart Kells. Subtitled “A catalogue of wonders”, it’s a history of the book, libraries and the urge to read, as well as being full of lovely little bookish anecdotes.

Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve. I keep trying to get to this, but other priorities (such as the need to read and return borrowed books to the library) keep getting in the way.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. This has been nominated for this year’s Best Novel at the Hugos. I’ll be reading it so we can talk about the nominees on the podcast.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Another production for Standard Ebooks. I’m working my way through Trollope’s “Chronicles of Barsetshire”. Our edition will, I hope, have a much better cover!

Other Things You Might Find Interesting

Brainpickings

This weekly newsletter from Maria Popover has been coming out for 15 years! It is crammed full of interesting little articles about life, art and literature. I particularly liked this edition, about what the Beatles song “Yellow Submarine” meant to her parents:

A “Yellow Submarine” love story


And that’s it for this issue of Through the Biblioscope. Please let your friends know about it, and help me grow my audience. Thanks!

– David

P.S. The phrase "thrice accursed crime" is from this poem by Marie E. J. Pitt.

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