Crimes of the Millennium

Plenty of bookish news, including the Hugo Award winners, plus reviews of a trio of top-notch crime novels by Australian authors

Issue #29, Monday 5 September 2022

Bookish News

Hugo Awards 2022

The winners of this year’s Hugo Awards were announced yesterday night at Chicon 8, the World Science Fiction Convention being held in Chicago.

Best Novel

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

2nd place: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Best Novella

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

2nd place: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Best Novelette

Bots of the Lost Ark by Suzanne Palmer

2nd place: O2 Arena by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Best Short Story

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker

2nd place: Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow

My comments on the above? I disagree almost entirely with the rankings of the Hugo voters, except for the winner of the Best Short Story category! Though to be fair, I haven’t read the Arkady Martine which won best novel.

In other categories, my pick for best work ended up near or at the bottom of the voting. In the cases of Best Novella and Best Novelette I would have to completely invert the actual rankings of the voters to get close to my own list. No way that Across the Green Grass Fields should be ranked above the excellent The Past is Red, in my opinion.

All this indicates to me that the Hugo nominators and voters and myself have definitely parted company. I don’t think I’ll bother trying to read all the Hugo nominated fiction next year.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

The winner was Shelley Parker-Chan, an Australian writer, whose debut novel She Who Became The Sun was on the Best Novel ballot for the Hugo, but only ranked fifth there though it was my pick for first (see my above comments).

Many congratulations to Shelley, a well-deserved win in my opinion.

New and Upcoming Releases

Day's End by Garry Disher

From Text Publishing. Out 1 November 2022.

Garry Disher is back with a cracking new thriller that finds old favourite Hirsch smack-bang in the middle of a missing-person case. Navigating the personal and societal perils of the pandemic doesn't make this investigation easy, and with twist after nail-biting twist thwarting his best efforts, Hirsch is pushed to the limit. This is an ending you'll never see coming.

The first three books in this series were excellent, so I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

Buy it at Readings

Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Out 20 September 2022.

1660, General Edward Whalley and Colonel William Goffe, father- and son-in-law, cross the Atlantic. They are on the run and wanted for the murder of Charles I. Under the provisions of the Act of Oblivion, they have been found guilty in absentia of high treason.

Robert Harris has written some terrific historical fiction and thrillers over the years, and this one, about the hunt for two men accused of the murder of a king, looks very interesting.

Buy it at Readings

Ithaca by Claire North

This is the story of Penelope of Ithaca, famed wife of Odysseus, as it has never been told before. Beyond Ithaca’s shores, the whims of gods dictate the wars of men. But on the isle, it is the choices of the abandoned women - and their goddesses - that will change the course of the world.

Out 8 September 2022.

Long-time readers of this newsletter will know that I’m a huge fan of the writing of Claire North. This new book is the first in a projected trilogy (itself a new form for this author), and I’m so keen to get hold of it. I’ve pre-ordered a hardback copy, should be here soon.

Buy it at Readings

My Reading

Not Previously Reviewed

These were read before the previous issue of Through the Biblioscope, but haven’t yet been reviewed here.

Daughters of Eve by Nina D. Campbell

I was very nearly turned off this book by its first sentence, which I’ll discuss in a moment. But I’m glad I persisted, because it turned out to be an excellent thriller examining some very serious issues in Australian society.

It’s worth noting that this is yet another good debut crime novel by an Australian author. We really do have a wealth of choice in local crime fiction.

The book opens with a death. A prominent barrister, Thomas Griffith-Jones, is shot dead in the car park of Sydney’s Darlinghurst Courthouse by a sniper. The barrister has just left court after defending a man accused of killing his children by deliberately driving his car into water and leaving them to drown (this is clearly based on a well-known case in real-life).

Detective Emilia Hart, who was also in the courtroom, sees Griffith-Jones fall.

This is how the scene is described in the opening sentence of the book, the sentence which almost made me stop reading: “He folded like a cheap suit after church on Sunday.” Really? What does this even mean? How does a cheap suit fold after church? Is the author trying to sound like Raymond Chandler?

Anyway, I decided to put that unpromising beginning aside and keep going. There were a couple of other flourishes like that, but not too many.

On to the story itself. Emilia Hart is the first police officer on the scene, being only steps behind Griffith-Jones when he is shot. While trying to staunch the flow of blood from his chest, she looks around for locations where the sniper could still be hiding. Because she’s an eyewitness, Emilia feels she is entitled to the lead role in the investigation, but her view isn’t shared by her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Willoughby, and she is forced to work in collaboration with a rival in the station, Detective Mark Roberts, known to all as “Robbo”. Neither Robbo nor Hart is happy with this arrangement, and it doesn’t start out well, but they are slowly beginning to make it work when Hart is removed from the case because of a complaint from the victim’s influential widow after Hart spoke briefly to the victim’s daughter.

Booted off to a much less important case, Hart seethes as she investigates the death of a man pulled from the river, presumed drowned after falling in drunk. Until the autopsy reveals that he had been shot by rifle bullets, a compact pattern of three shots to the upper body; a pattern almost identical to that in Griffith-Jones’ body. Is there a serial killer involved? If so, what is the connection between the victims? What is the motive? Hart gets together with Robbo again over the similarities of their cases, and Robbo becomes much more of an ally.

Matters escalate rapidly as more men are shot dead by the sniper. Then a very similar case pops up in Melbourne.

Hart, who has served for a while in the Domestic Violence division, is the first to see the connections between the victims. They are all wife beaters, or men who sexually abused children. Griffith-Jones, the first victim, was in court defending a man who almost certainly killed his own children in order to hurt his ex-wife. Then his client, that man himself, is also shot dead by a sniper.

Not long afterwards, a website goes live, carrying the manifesto of an organisation calling itself “The Daughters of Eve”, claiming responsibility for the murders and calling on others to do likewise. “No more!” it is headed. “The pages of history fail to record the atrocities visited upon women... It is time for men to learn what it is to walk in fear.” Then it lists the victims of the shootings, including one victim’s name which has yet to be released to the public, suggesting the manifesto is indeed authentic. The government goes into full panic mode and deploys soliders to patrol the streets of Australia’s capital cities.

As Emilia Hart points out all too accurately: “Fourteen men die and it’s terrorism... More than fifty women and children die every year and what do we call that? Domestic violence, that’s what we call it. And we’re not mobilising the army to stop it!”

I won’t give away the twist towards the end of this book, which I pretty much saw coming, but was nevetheless very effective. Suffice it to say that when Hart and Robbo work out who is behind the Daughters of Eve, there are shattering revelations which shock them both. And then there’s yet another twist, and another.

Despite its awkward opening, I ended up greatly liking this book, which has a great deal of importance to say about how appallingly badly some men treat women and children in this country, and how easy it is for them to get away with it. The novel treats these issues with an unwavering gaze.

The Island by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty is an Irish writer who spent over ten years living in Melbourne, though he’s now based in the United States. I’ve read and enjoyed some of his crime/thriller novels set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, featuring a Catholic policeman called Sean Duffy. He’s still writing this series, which is up to nine novels, with two more due to come out soon. And I see that he’s written heaps of other novels, including some science fiction YA novels which I should certainly follow up. He’s won a swag of awards, including three Ned Kelly Awards, the Edgar Award, the International Thriller Writers Award and several others.

I didn’t much like his more recent book The Chain, however, though it was a best-seller. This one, though, The Island, has been getting great reviews so I thought I should take a look, and I’m glad that I did, because it’s a very good suspense-filled thriller, set in Australia.

The basic story here is of a family visiting Australia from America. The father, Tom, is a surgeon in his mid-forties who has been invited to speak at a medical conference in Melbourne. He has two teenage children from an earlier marriage, Owen and Olivia. Their mother died a couple of years previously after a fall down a flight of stairs. Possibly in consequence, Owen, the younger sibling, has mentally retreated into his shell and is on several psychiatric medications.

Tom’s new wife, Heather, is only in her early 20s. A massage therapist with no college education, she’s despised and strongly resented by the two children, who don’t accept her as their new “mother”.

Cutting quite a bit of story short, the family set off on a short driving trip down the Mornington Peninsula during a break in Tom’s conference and end up being taken on a ferry by a couple of rough-looking guys to a privately-owned island just off the Victorian coast where they are told there are heaps of koalas and other Australian animals to see. The family who own the island, the O’Neills, are ruled by a severe Irish-born matriarch just called “Ma”, and she hates visitors coming to their property. But Tom and a couple of Dutch tourists pay the blokes several hundred dollars to ignore Ma’s edicts for an afternoon.

All is fine as the family drive around the island in their hired Porche (Tom is seriously rich). They still haven’t seen any koalas but are running late to return to the ferry and so Tom speeds up. That’s when they hit and kill a young woman riding a bicycle. They’re out of range for their mobile phones and can’t call for help. After the initial moments of shock, when they find they can’t revive the young woman, they panic, thinking of how rough the O’Neill family seem to be. Tom is somewhat concussed from the accident, so Heather is forced to take charge. They get the Porche out of a ditch and hide the body in bushes at the side of the road, hoping to be able to bluff their way back on to the ferry and get back to the mainland.

That doesn’t succeed and the family then find themselves at the mercy of the angry O’Neills who are determined to apply rough justice. When the husband of the young woman they’ve killed turns up, things quickly turn violent and Tom is stabbed.

Heather and the children, and two Dutch tourists, manage to escape from the O’Neills. But where are they going to go? The island is small, and the only way off is the ferry, under the complete control of the O’Neils. There seems to be no hope.

Forced by adversity, Heather takes responsibility for the children and starts to draw on long-forgotten reserves of skill and resourcefulness. Her transformation, and the way the attitudes and behaviour of the two children are forced to change under pressure, make the story compelling.

The author just keeps on ratcheting up the tension step by step as Heather, Olivia and Owen continue to evade the O’Neills, whose increasingly desperate and violent actions make it clear that they’ll stop at nothing to prevent Heather from reporting them to the police.

There are a couple of too-good-to-be-true things and coincidences which make their evasion of the bad guys just a little too easy for my taste, particularly in the closing scenes, but I’ll forgive the author those.

In an interesting Afterword, McKinty tells how the story in the novel is based on a real-life incident, what he calls his Deliverance moment, when he almost but didn’t quite hit a cyclist while driving with his family on a similar remote island in rural Australia. Recounting this incident to his agent, the agent said, “No, you did hit her. That’s your next book.” And here it is.

Completed Since Last Issue

The Millennium Job by Rob Gerrand

This is the first crime novel from this Australian author, in a projected series featuring the same police crew headed by Detective John Nguyen, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Full disclosure: the author is a good friend of mine, who I’ve known for many years; and I carried out the book design and layout of the interior (though not the cover) and helped Rob publish the book.

The Millennium Job has an intriguing beginning. A young woman called Deidre Makepeace wakes up after a boozy night out to find there’s a man lying in bed next to her. She can’t remember getting home, and the man is a stranger. Wondering what she got up to the previous evening, she reaches out to rouse him, but to her shock finds that the man’s body is stone cold. And now there’s blood on her hand.

In panic, she rings her friend Fran who lives in the same apartment building. Not thinking clearly, the two women bundle the body into one of the building’s lifts and send it to another floor. They put the bloodied sheets into the washing machine. Shortly thereafter, they decide they’ve been stupid and call the police after all. But when the police get there, there is no body in the lift. Either there never was a body, or someone has moved it. What’s going on?

The rest of the book lays out the investigations carried out by the initially baffled Detective Nguyen and his staff, who eventually discover the likely identity of the missing body, which in turn leads them to a widening web of intrigue involving a major bank, shady software manipulations during the Y2K era, and the American Mafia.

The novel definitely keeps you reading, and the conclusion is unexpected.

I do have a couple of minor criticisms. The eventual revelation of what happened to the stranger and how he ended up in Deidre’s bed is clever and surprising, but I felt it could have had a lot more dramatic impact than it does.

Less importantly, I feel that the author sometimes spends rather too many words in describing trivial matters which don’t drive the plot forward strongly. The frequent dialogs about what kind of tea or coffee or alcohol everyone wants to have at the start of a meeting, and the descriptions of the preparation of these could have been cut or at least greatly reduced, I thought. But that’s a nit-pick.

Overall, an enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.

Hugo Award Best Novel Nominees 1969

The Goblin Reservation by Clifford Simak; Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner; Nova by Samuel R. Delany; Past Master by R. A. Lafferty

I’ve also read these SF novels from 1968. I’m not going to review them here immediately, because they’ve all been read for the “Hugo Time Machine” segment in a forthcoming episode of our podcast. They are novels which were nominated for the Best Novel category in the Hugo Awards in the year 1969. I still have Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage yet to read.

Currently Reading

Lying Beside You by Michael Robotham

The third in Robotham’s series featuring Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac. Great stuff so far.

Waiting on the Shelf

And that’s your lot for this issue. See you next time.

Previous Issue

Next Issue

Return to Home Page

RSS Feed

© Copyright 2024 by David R. Grigg
and licensed under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0.