Book Review: Dark Light By Jodi Taylor

This is one weird book – I mean that in a good way. Elizabeth Cage is a mostly ordinary widowed housewife who likes a quiet life. Her primary problem is that she can see colours, which means she can read others emotions by the colour aura that swirls around them. We discover through her backstory that her special power is of interest to a man who had her locked up in an asylum so he could study and exploit her, until another inmate helped her escape.

Dark Light opens with Elizabeth running away and trying to cover her tracks by jumping random buses, then disembarking only to do it again on another bus until she decides to stop in the town of Greyston out of pure exhaustion from being on the move all the time. That’s when things really start to get wacky. Greyston is a small English village of women with a medieval tradition that involves kidnapping a man to be king for a year, getting him to impregnate the towns women then sacrificing him to the stone gods on New Year’s Eve. Elizabeth is recused from almost becoming one of the towns women by the man she was running away from.

It soon becomes evident Elizabeth has other special powers as she slips between the cracks of this world and other bizarre, chaotic, parallel universes inhabited by creatures from your childhood nightmares. In these other spheres bad things happen, dramatic rescues take place and Elizabeth is subjected to all kinds of quirky twists and turns, all the while wishing she could just sit quietly at home in a warm bath with a cup of tea.

All the way through this supernatural thriller, I was surprised at how it drew me in. When I had to put it down to go and attend to my ordinary life, I couldn’t wait to get back between it’s strangely engrossing pages. I have never read any of Jodi Taylor’s writing before and it wasn’t until I finished Dark Light that I realised it was the second book in a series – luckily it turned out that didn’t matter particularly, other than being disappointed I hadn’t started at the beginning with White Silence. I am certain I will be reading more of Taylor for another dose of peculiar, spooky fun in the future.

Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Trent Dalton’s novel Boy Swallows Universe is part crime novel, part coming of age story and part memoir. Eli Bell is a boy growing up in commission housing on the outskirts of Brisbane in the 1980’s with his brother August who doesn’t speak. It follows Eli from age twelve through nineteen when he realises his boyhood dream and becomes a journalist. As a child he gets life advice from his babysitter and mentor Slim who is a convicted murderer, and he lives with his heroin addicted mother and violent, drug dealing step father – until his stepfather disappears when his criminal past overtakes him, his mother goes to jail and Eli loses his lucky charm.

Eli and August then go to live with their father, an anxious, alcoholic man who is a prolific reader of fiction and buys Eli writing paper to ‘burn the house down or set the world on fire.’ And Dalton certainly set the world on fire with this novel.

The book has won more awards than you can poke a stick at including four ABIAs: Book of the Year, Literary Book of the Year, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year and Audio Book of the Year (Wavesound, narrated by Stig Wemyss); the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and Peoples Choice Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the Indie Book Awards Book of the Year; and the MUD Literary Prize. Oh, and it’s going to be adapted for screen.

It’s a long work at 480 pages, but every one is packed full of humour, tragedy, hope, love and a splash of magical realism, all written in Dalton’s unique lyrical prose. It gets the one of my favourite ever books award because it’s a rollicking good read and I loved his writing style. I expect I will read it more than once.

Watch my language? Watch my language? This is what really shits me, when the clandestine heroin operation truth meets the Von Trapp family values mirage we’ve built for ourselves.”

Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe

Book Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Anna can’t bring herself to end it. Instead she spirals toward insanity while she sits on the pavement outside her house and polishes five tiny footprints embedded in the cement, protecting them from passers-by. Her son Daniel disappeared and the footprints are all she has left.

DCI Marvel is a curmudgeonly detective who hates most people but has a uncharacteristic empathy for the missing and murdered. His mood takes a turn for the worse when he’s assigned to look for his bosses wife’s lost dog.

Anna and Marvel meet when Anna is trying to throw herself off a bridge. When Anna goes to a psychic for help to find Daniel, she meets the owner of the missing dog and decides to help the cynical Marvel find it. Then things take a strange turn.

English crime writer Belinda Bauer brings her characters to life by exposing quirky details about the absurdities of life and then weaving them with human tragedy. She has a knack of making the almost unbelievable plausible and times you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. Her prose flows in a way that is easy to digest and draws the reader into the characters.

The first Bauer novel I read was Snap, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018. Snap was a page turner that surprised and delighted with its offbeat, idiosyncratic characters and made me an immediate fan. I must admit I wondered if I would enjoy her earlier novels as much given I seemed to have started with the best. I’m pleased to say The Shut Eye did not disappoint and I’ll be delving into more of her work in the future.

Book review: Eden by Candice Fox

Reading Candice Fox’s novel Hades (reviewed in last weeks blog) set me off on a binge and I followed it straight up with the sequel Eden which won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel. Like it’s predecessor, Eden has several narratives running through it.

We are thrown back to discover how Hades, who bought up Eden and her brother came to be the man he became, the go-to body disposal guy who runs the tip, makes elaborate sculptures from discarded metal and causes many a grown man to tremble in their boots with fear, yet has a heart capable of great love.

Frank the cop who has fallen into a pit of drunken despair after the death of his lover, the death of a colleague and almost dying himself, is forced out of his misery by his work partner, the mysterious and dangerous Eden who loves hunting criminals but doesn’t always wait for the justice system to determine their sentence. She wants Frank back on his feet as they are to be assigned to a murder investigation that will require her to go undercover. She wants him to watch her back on surveillance and Frank can’t say no to her because she knows his dark secret.

As Frank gets drawn into Hades world, helping him solve a long ago mystery an unexpected twist nearly gets Eden killed. Dark, gritty, noirish and poetic, another great read.

Book review: Hades by Candice Fox

I’d known about crime writer Candice Fox for some time, but not actually picked up one of her books until recently, and what a treat it was. Hades, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut crime novel in 2014.

Caste offs

Hades is an ox of a man who runs the Utulla tip, makes giant sculptures from salvaged scrap metal, and gets rid of unwanted bodies by disposing of them in the mountains of waste to decompose. When a stranger arrives and asks him to dispose of the bodies of two children, saying their deaths were an accident, Hades killed him. Then he notices the toes of one of the tiny bundles move. He keeps the children, raises them as his own.

The children grow up to be cops, crusaders of justice. Eden is dark, beautiful and aloof, and Eric her brother, brash and a stirrer of trouble. Frankie gets assigned to the station as Eden’s partner after both their former colleague are killed, and the two set out to track down a serial killer who harvests organs for people prepared pay, but not to wait. Frankie soon starts to notice something strange about the siblings he can’t quite put his finger on and starts poking and prodding around in their past. Will he live to quench his curiosity?

Cover image of Hades by Candice Fox
Big fish

Fox’s voice rolls out the story like a crashing ocean wave, leaving debris in its wake. It is beautiful, poetic, Gothic and deadly. The characters are compelling anti-heroes, her plotting exquisite and her prose enthralling. I love a local tale and the novel is set in Sydney, Australia, an added bonus.

It was hard to put down and I had a few late nights of page turning in my hunger to find out what happened. Fortunately when I finished, there was a sequel available to pick up. I fear a binge is coming on, so was relieved to find she has ten novels to her name laying in wait for me.

Book review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

I’ve heard Mark Brandi talk at a few writers festivals and enjoyed listening to him, so finally got around to picking up his book Wimmera.

The river

It’s a story about two boys who grew up together in western Victoria in the 1980’s and it exposes dark secrets harboured in a small country town at a time when young adolescents had a lot of freedom and people trusted one another, sometimes a little too much. It shows how kids struggle with how to deal with their own emotions and those of adults who behave badly.

One of the things I found most interesting about this story was how Brandi used his characters change of voice through the work to show the boys at different ages. The first part is told in the voice of young Ben and provides a fascinating insight into the inner workings of adolescent country boys as they navigate growing up. I found the boys fascination with tits and body parts as their hormones raged mildly annoying but admired its realism.


Brandi takes us through the story at a pace akin to how life in the country moves and meanders his way to a slow reveal. He uses great restraint in his writing and while he holds back many details, he provides enough of a sense of what’s going to make you wish it wasn’t.

In the second part of the story the two main characters Ben and Fab are in their early twenties and Fab is the narrator. He works at the supermarket, longs after a barmaid married to a man who doesn’t treat her well, and yearns for better things in life.

Ben and Fab meet up again just when Fab has decided to take a risk and try to make a go of moving to the city. The dark sinister secret that has been lurking in the background of the story is revealed when a body is found in the river, and before Fab leaves for the big smoke the boys find themselves caught up in a police investigation.


Brandi handles the subject of child sexual abuse delicately, exposes the power relationship between children and adults from a child’s point of view and the lasting scars that can change the course of a child’s life. He provides enough information to know things are wrong but leaves the graphic details to the imagination of the reader. It took me a while to read the first part of the book, but it’s a compelling read and the change of pace in the second half had me racing to the end. I notice he has a new book out called The Rip, so will have to read that one also.

Book Review: The Eternity Fund by Liz Monument

Fahrenheit Press is fast becoming my go-to for crime fiction reads, my latest conquest being The Eternity Fund by Liz Monument.

Mount Yasur, Tanna Island

The Eternity Fund is set in a dystopian future world after some kind of cataclysmic event has laid waste much of what we know, and it’s a tough place to exist for most. The population eat cloned food (except for the very wealthy), vegetation is fake, some people are part human-part animal and others have had their memories, eyes and body parts enhanced with cybernetics.

Mount Yasur, Tanna Island

Ex-sex worker Jess Green gets recruited by the Unit that governs the world to work for Department Thirteen (Crime Solutions) because she’s an empath who can sense peoples movement and thoughts. Mo, her handler is a man of few words with a chip on his shoulders, who is serious about his job and won’t let Jess out of his sight – she’s not supposed to go anywhere without him, but of course she does.

Something is going on in the dead zone known as the Cinderlands, the epicentre of the cataclysm that occurred, and when a sinister brotherhood starts snap freezing large groups of people to harvest their organs, Jess and Mo get put on the case.

The duo investigate the crimes at the same time as Jess’s past starts to haunt her – the two things collide in a dramatic climax, but you’ll have to read the book to find out that part!

I don’t usually ready science fiction, but this futuristic noir thriller hooked me right in and I really enjoyed it.

Book Review: Good Samaritans by Will Carver

It takes six bottles of bleach to clean a dead body.

Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

A lonely insomniac in a dysfunctional marriage with a wine guzzling wife who compulsively watches crap TV seeks late night comfort in the sympathetic ear of strangers plucked from the phone book at random.

A promiscuous misunderstood woman with several failed relationships and suicide attempts finally meets someone who accepts her for who she is, listens and understands her.

A man traumatised by the suicide of his childhood friend who he found hanging on the back of a door whilst they were traveling overseas together tries to assuage his guilt by dedicating his life to saving others and developing a few obsessive compulsive behaviours.

The character’s flaws are exposed like festering wounds via the short chapters which build suspense and unveil plot twists at every turn switching from one characters bizarre view of the world to another.

The Bridge, Adelaide

The unlikable characters trudge through life in dysfunctional relationships rife with unhealthy sexual practices and violence while they grapple with dark thoughts and obsessions bought to light via crossed wires. Dark, sick, twisted, quirky contemporary domestic noir set in a dull suburban backdrop.

Thrillers are meant to suck you in, elevate your heart rate and totally freak you out. Will Carver does all these things with Good Samaritans. I could not put it down despite being disturbed and disgusted by the tortured souls and their cat and mouse antics. Even the contrary title made me cringe.

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

One of three brothers is found dead from exposure under the scorching sun of outback Queensland. There’s a hole dug by hand in the red earth next to his body which is found by the isolated grave of a dead stockman whose own demise many years before is the subject of myths and legends.  The circumstances of his death are odd. The dead guy is an experienced stockman and knew how easy was to perish in the open. His fully stocked vehicle is found in perfect working order ten kilometers away with the keys resting on the driver seat . The question is whether he committed suicide or was killed.The Lost Man Jane Harper

The remaining family gather at the station house of the dead man in the lead up to his funeral and Christmas.  Their shared history and personal secrets come nipping at their heels like a hungry dingo.

A sense of lawlessness lingers through the story and the intensity is amplified by the relentless isolation and heat of the outback that sizzles throughout the setting of the novel. It makes a perfect backdrop for exploring the psychology of intergenerational trauma and violence that The Lost Man puts under the microscope. Harper shows what can happen when access to services, friends and neighbours are limited and problems are dealt with in private.

The book is a disturbing page turner and Harper has once again bought ordinary characters to life by exposing the complex layers of their personalities. Family members face the ugliness of their own shortcomings and expose the underlying noxious histories between them that led to one of their own lying dead alone next to a deserted grave.

Main image: Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Inset image: The Lost Man cover (from the web)