Post Script: Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer

Rubbernecker

Belinda Bauer

Transworld

Black Swan

ISBN: 9780552779494

Description

Patrick didn’t care what made people work. He was only interested in what happened when they stopped.

Life is strange for Patrick Fort – being a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t come without its challenges. And that’s before he is faced with solving a possible murder.

Because the body Patrick is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things. And now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery – while he dissects his own evidence…

My View:

This is a unique and quirky crime read. The subject matter deals with many challenging situations –the  death of a parent and the consequences on relationships of those left to cope, the uncomfortable spotlight on mortuary dissection by students on donated cadavers – for learning purposes, a noble gesture that should be gruesome and stomach but strangely isn’t, but is enlightening, a protagonist with Asperger’s who is depicted  respectfully and who because of his unique way of understanding the world becomes the hero and solves a previously unnoticed crime, and a revealing portrait of life/no life of patients in comas or emerging from comas. This narrative was simply fascinating and compelling reading.

I think the strength of this novel  lies in a number of factors; the ability of the narrative to take the reader to previously unexplored terrain – the hospital ward where we are privy to the coma patients thoughts and treatment, the thought processes and behaviours of a young man growing up with Asperger’s  and the in-depth focus of the medical dissection of cadavers – which could be shocking and gory but is handled with sensitivity and honesty, all unique  and illuminating aspects of this novel.

Bauer is able to breathe life into all the characters (no pun intended); they are three dimensional, open, and recognisable – don’t we all know a Meg or a bully and schemer like Tracey? Or the walking wounded like Lexi or Patrick’s mother? Bauer’s characterisations are incredibly realistic.

The plot is complex yet is easy to read and digest. This is an altogether different crime story where the police play a relatively minor role in the case; the spotlight is on the victim before he is murdered and the protagonist on his journey as he seeks answers to the meaning of death. This is a unique and quirky narrative with a hint of black humour to keep the pathos at bay, superb.

Post Script: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls

Wendy James

Michael Joseph

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9781921901058

 

Description:

From the bestselling author of The Mistake comes a hauntingly powerful story about families and secrets and the dark shadows cast by the past.

Curl Curl, Sydney, January 1978.

Angie’s a looker. Or she’s going to be. She’s only fourteen, but already, heads turn wherever she goes. Male heads, mainly . . .

Jane worships her older cousin Angie. She spends her summer vying for Angie’s attention. Then Angie is murdered. Jane and her family are shattered. They withdraw into themselves, casting a veil of silence over Angie’s death.

Thirty years later, a journalist arrives with questions about the tragic event. Jane is relieved to finally talk about her adored cousin. And so is her family. But whose version of Angie’s story – whose version of Angie herself – is the real one? And can past wrongs ever be made right?

The shocking truth of Angie’s last days will force Jane to question everything she once believed. Because nothing – not the past or even the present – is as she once imagined.

My View:

What an incredible talent this author has that she can take you back thirty odd years, to a time of innocence, to a time of discovery, a time of burgeoning sexual awakening that is the adolescent in the ‘70s.    With a stroke of a pen we are in that small country town, it is school holidays, we are watching TV; Sounds Unlimited, The Road Runner, Elvis re runs… going to the corner shop for mum and dad, happy to spend the change on lollies, listening to the radio, buying records of our favourite artists with Christmas money/pocket money, following our best friend and older cousin around, happy to be on the periphery of her golden aura.

But Angie is not content with hanging round with her younger cousin. She wants more; more admiration, more excitement, more experiences.  Life suddenly changes when Angie goes missing. Her death haunts her family for the next thirty odd years. Innocence is buried with Angie at the cemetery. Life is never the same.

This is a complex narrative that straddles the two time frames with ease – the settings and the stories of the past, 1978, the year Angie died and the present 2010 when the family are forced to relive, remember and recount the days surrounding the disappearance and the discovery of Angie’s dead body a few days later.  This is a story about memories, about families, about relationships, about how death and separation affects us and about the burden of secrets and lies that emotionally cripple a family until the truth is revealed. And a huge reveal it is.

James teases out the story using interviews, transcripts, multiple perspectives and recollections/memories – great devices to reveal the bigger picture.  Wendy James creates characters that are warm, that are flawed, that are passionate, that are real; I can recognise people I know in her characters. James asks the question – how far would you go to protect the ones you love?

Brilliant settings, engaging characters, a murder and a thirty year old mystery and wonderful storytelling this book has it all. 

Post Script: Beams Falling – P M Newton

Portrait of Post-Traumatic Stress in an authentic police setting…and so many other things.

Beams Falling

P.M. Newton

Penguin Books Australia

Viking

ISBN: 9780670074525

Description:

On the inside, Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is a mess. Stitched up after being shot, her brain’s taking even longer to heal than her body. On the outside, though, she’s perfect, at least as far as the top brass are concerned. Cabramatta is riding high on the new ‘Asian crime wave’, a nightmare of heroin, home invasions, and hits of all kinds, and the cops need a way into the world of teenaged dealers and assassins.

They think Ned’s Vietnamese heritage is the right fit but nothing in Cabra can be taken at face value. Ned doesn’t speak the language and the ra choi – the lawless kids who have ‘gone out to play’ – are just running rings around her. The next blow could come from anywhere, or anyone. And beyond the headlines and hysteria, Ned is itching to make a play for the kingpin, the person behind it all with the money and the plan and the power.

Beams Falling is the brilliantly compelling and gritty second novel by the rising star of Australian crime writing. A portrait of our recent past, it’s also a compulsive and utterly authentic insight into the way both cops and criminals work

My View:

Firstly I was very impressed with the authentic  voice of this police procedural  and the harrowing accuracy of PTSD as it is presented in this narrative;  life constantly on alert, hyper vigilant, hyper alert, anxious, breathless, paranoia…panic. I could feel this disorder blossoming in my mind and chest as I read on, the descriptions so real.

Newton has a brilliant way with words- her descriptions of settings so accurate you can smell the markets, the dirty back streets, and the decay… the incense burning. Her dialogues flow easily and comfortably, the camaraderie of the Job clearly evident.

Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly is a wonderful female protagonist – she is complex, likable, stressed, determined and compassionate and she is good at her job – just a little messed up with “head noises” at the moment but she will work through that. I loved the inclusion of the Buddhist nun who plays a small yet important role in this narrative and that of Detective Joe  “Nug” Ng.  Other characters along the way are well developed, not always likeable, not always what you expect.

The narrative itself is complex- so many issues are woven in this web of deceit, crime and recovery. They are subtly painted into the picture, you do not feel you are being lectured but this novel does make you think; about war, about detention centres, about family, about gangs, drugs, abuse, ethnic violence, and home invasions to name just a few issues. After I finished reading this I could not sleep for hours – not because I was fearful but because I was thinking.  Not everything is black and white, right or wrong,  not everyone is either guilty or innocent; so many shades of grey. There are so many individual circumstances to be considered. I could never be a cop; I think the lines are too blurry for me.

All in all this was a great Australian narrative, full of Sydney settings – dirty and clean – you see it all. Great characters, personal dilemmas, ethical challenges and a complex plot that reaches out to you and says “look at the bigger picture whilst acknowledging the impact on the individual.” The author has used a brilliant reference for this title in a story told by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon; it is poignant and such an accurate reflection on life (no spoilers here). A great read!

PS

I loved the inclusion of the dog in the therapist room.

Some background on P M Newton:

 P.M. Newton is a Sydney based crime writer.

The Old School, featuring Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly, published by Penguin in 2010 is her first novel.

Short biographical details can be found at Penguin.

Random details include a 13 year career in the NSW Police, the majority of which was spent as a Detective. Over the years I worked a variety of criminal investigation roles, from being one of many in an office of suburban Ds to the lone D in country NSW, taking in attachments to a variety of specialist squads along the way.  From the outside, being a D looks glamorous, up close it involves a lot more paperwork than any one imagines, and eventually, for me, it started to resemble “Groundhog Day”. I’ve often described it as a job where  you are constantly meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their lives – and quite often those people see you as being the cause of it.

So, I jumped ship and decided to see if there was a happier way to live. My journeys since have seen me in Mali, West Africa, listening to and writing about the music that pours out of that stretch of the Sahel. I was lucky enough to have my words and photographs published on CD liner notes by Sterns African Music label and in a travel magazine. Then there were a few years in India, studying Buddhist philosophy and teaching English to Tibetan refugees, and some very naughty little monks. It was whilst living in India that the character of Nhu “Ned” Kelly, first made her appearance in my head then eventually into notebooks and finally into The Old School.

Post Script: The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

The One Plus One

Jojo Moyes

Penguin Books Australia

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780718177003

 

Description:

Suppose your life sucks. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your stepson is being bullied and your daughter has a once in a lifetime opportunity . . . that you can’t afford to pay for.

So imagine you found and kept some money that didn’t belong to you, knowing it would pay for your daughter’s happiness.

But how do you cope with the shame? Especially when the man you’ve lied to decides to help you out in your hour of need . . .

Jess is in hell – Ed has saved her family – but is their happiness worth a lifetime’s soul-searching?

My View:

I haven’t read a book by Jojo Moyes before so reading this book was  a bit like  making a cake  without the recipe in front of you – you have an idea of what you might be tasting, what the finished product will be like; you have a lot of ingredients, you know basically what you need to put in – a bit of drama, a bit of hope, and separated mum who loses her job, add more drama, add  a couple of loving quirky kids trying to find their  way, add a handsome single guy in lots of trouble, and a farty dog , mix the lot together is a big pan ( or small car in this  case) and cook.  What you end up with is a multi-layered extravaganza that is delicious, beguiling and satisfying.

Must be read with a glass of chocolate port and a wedge of chocolate cake.