Book Review: The Bluffs By Kyle Perry

Remote Tasmania is such a great location for creepy crime novels. Debut novel The Bluffs by Kyle Perry is Picnic at Hanging Rock meets Some Girls Are.

Four teenage girls go missing from a school camp in Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers. The residents of Limestone Creek start searching for the missing and are soon joined by a hoard of well-meaning volunteers rustled up by social media influencer and mean girl Maddison.

Up in the hills, he hides and kills.
Down in the caves, he hides and waits.
The Hungry Man, who likes little girls,
with their pretty faces and pretty curls.
Don’t believe what the grown-ups say,
the Hungry Man will find a way.
So I won’t walk alone by the mountain trees,
or the Hungry Man will come for me.

The mystery deepens when one of the missing girls is found mauled at the base of a cliff, her shoes neatly tied and placed at the spot from which she fell. As the story unfolds, the suspects pile up – the local drug dealer and father of one of the missing girls, the mythical bear like creature – the Hungry Man, and one of the school teachers are all suspects.

Detective Badenhorst, still stuggling with PTSD from another case has to negotiate a labyrinth of community suspicions, police corruption, folklore, and teenage politics to try and find the missing girls.

The story is told predominately from three points of view which aids to maintain the uncertainty, misdirection and foreshadowing that holds through the novel. There’s a lot of action and tension in The Bluffs, a twisty, atmospheric page turner with flawed three dimensional characters, all with something to hide.

Book Review: The Torrent by Dinuka McKenzie

Back to my favourite genre – Australian crime fiction…

Detective Kate Miles is a cop of Sri Lankan descent in the Northern NSW country town of Esserton. Miles is heavily pregnant and trying to wrap up an armed holdup case a week off maternity leave when her boss asks her to review a closed case. The drowning of a man in the river during a flood seems straight forward until Miles starts digging.

They walked on, Kate doing her best to keep pace, her hand moving to support the bulk of her belly and stepping with care along the muddy creek bed. She noticed several thick tree branches, rocks of all sizes, and even the odd shopping trolley. Flood debris, lying where the waters had dropped them, inert and innocent.

Dinuka McKenzie’s debt novel The Torrent won the Harper Collins Australia 2020 Banjo Prize. The police procedural is an easy read that explores country life, a woman making her way in a man’s world, and diversity – without making an issue if it.

There was a slight insolence in his manner. Nothing obvious that she could put her finger on. Maybe it was because she was a woman. Possibly it was her colour, though she didn’t think so. He didn’t strike her as that kind of insecure.

Protagonist Kate Miles makes a refreshing change from the usual jaded middle aged male cop in Australian crime novels. She’s complex, smart and dogged. The plot is tight, the characters unusual but believable, and the prose well crafted.

Review: The Complete Ripley Radio Mysteries by Patricia Highsmith

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the documentary Loving Highsmith about American author Patricia Highsmith. The content for the doco was drawn from her unpublished diaries and notebooks, and the personal accounts of her lovers, friends and family.

But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in differing proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative.

Strangers on a Train

Highsmith was best known for her psychological thrillers (Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) and for being part of the Modernist movement. Most of her novels were adapted to the big screen, notably with little need to be changed for the screen.

The partly autobiographical The Price of Salt written in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan was also adapted for film in 2015 as Carol. Due to the social morals of the time, Highsmith led a double life, hiding her love affairs with women from the public and her family, but reflecting on them in her personal writings. Carol was the first lesbian story with a happy ending published in the USA.

Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh.


The documentary was fascinating and led me to seek out the audio series, Ripley Radio Mysteries that dramatises her five Ripley novels. The character of Ripley was inspired by a man Highsmith saw from a hotel room in Italy after she moved to Europe. Ripley is not a nice man, though he only kills when absolutely necessary (I mean who doesn’t?). Highsmith wrote him empathetically so as a reader I both liked and loathed him – it’s creepy.

He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence.

The Talented Mr Ripley

Protagonist Tom Ripley is materialistic, though not in the usual way. He has an unstable sense of identity and possessions give him a feeling of safety and stability. It is this that leads him to his first kill. He befriended Dickie but felt uncertain about their relationship and killing reduced his friend to a collection of possession of clothes, rings and cash – much more predictable.

The series is tense, atmospheric and twisted. Perfect for a thriller!

Book review: Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Young adult suspense writer, Bram Stoker Award finalist and Edgar Award nominee, Elle Cosimano, has turned her hand to adult fiction and she’s a hoot. Finlay Donovan is Killing It is the first in a series of three books, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading the other two after book one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d liked South Riding, before the divorce. Back before I’d known my husband was sleeping with our real estate agent, who also sat on the board of the homeowners association. Somehow, I’m guessing that’s not what the saleslady had in mind when she’d described our suburban mecca as having a ‘small-town’ feel.

Crime fiction writer Finlay Donovan’s husband ran off with another woman. Finlay is broke, the bills are piling up, she’s late submitting a manuscript to her agent and her husband is threatening to take the kids.

The brochure had featured photos of happy families hugging each other on quaint front porches. It had used words like idyllic and peaceful to describe the neighbourhood, because in the glossy pages of a real estate magazine, no one can see through the windows to the exhausted stabby mommy, or the naked sticky toddler, or the hair and blood and coffee on the floor.

Finlay meets her agent in a cafe to try and get more time to finish her book, after she leaves without success she finds a note in her bag from a woman at the adjacent table who misinterpreted her conversation with her agent thinking Finlay’s a contract killer. The note asks her to kill the woman’s husband for $50,000 and where Finlay can find him on a certain date. Finlay is aghast, but starts to think about what she could do with the money and wondering what’s wrong with the guy that his wife wants him dead.

Fantasies where I let myself calculate how many economy-size packs of Huggies, Lean Cuisines, and baby wipes fifty thousand dollars could buy.

Curiosity gets the better of her and she goes to check the guy out, inadvertently interrupting him attempting to drug a woman in a bar. Finlay diverts the victim, switches the drinks and drugs the husband, rolling him unconsious into her van and driving home. She goes inside to call her policewoman sister who is looking after her kids and when she goes back out to the garage, the guy is dead from the exhaust fumes of her combi. Finlay is in trouble, but this is only the start.

My Google search history alone was probably enough to put me on a government watch list. I wrote suspense novels about murders like this. I’d searched every possible way to kill someone. With every conceivable kind of weapon.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It is full of big bold characters including police, the mob, women who want their husbands dead, Finlay’s nanny and two recalcitrant children. The narrative is fast paced with a twisty plot that will keep you turning the pages as Finlay gets into deeper and deeper trouble. Highly recommended.

Book review: Moon Sugar by Angela Meyer

I was taken with Angela Meyer’s writing when I read Joan Smokes, it has a slow, hauntingly beautiful vibe about it. Her most recent novel Moon Sugar applies her literary style to a story that blends crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy.

The lichen at least helped him understand the way Sally, he, his daughter, even Rick were all connected and continuing atoms and gases, infinite universes opening out from each moment.  And yet, he still has to cope with being here, now, without her corporeal form.

The novel starts with a prologue set twenty four years ago about an ageing astronaut surrounded by a mysterious lichen as he contemplates his mortality and the secrets he will reveal to his daughter when she is old enough. The scene appears untethered to the story that follows, but we circle back to its connection later in the novel and it becomes a critical piece of information linking the crime elements to the science fiction and fantasy narratives.

He remembers something he heard about taking drugs, that sometimes it’s like a zipper opening and that if you keep trying to pull up the zipper you’ll have a terrible trip but if you just let the zipper open and accept whatever spills out you will have a good time. And thinking about it this way, he is able to let go of holding together the division of where the edges of himself meet the world.

Josh, a young sex worker disappears in Berlin. An email with a suicide note is sent to his family and his clothing is found on the banks of a Berlin river. Personal trainer Mila who is one of his clients, and his best friend Kyle both think something is amiss. They each travel independently to Berlin, where a chance meeting has the unlikely pair team up to try and find out what happened to Josh – and that is when the magic seeps in.

This is how the world is increasingly run: cashed-up idealists who are in too much of a rush to properly consider any long-term projects, wanting to be heroes of the people in the moment, be the first and best.

Moon Sugar touches on themes of drug taking, queerness, connection, disconnection, capitalism, magic, sex and death. The characters are well drawn and Meyer pens great insight into the inner worlds of Mila and Kyle, take a trip with them.

Book reviews: Hot Reads by Femme Fatales

I was going to focus on Christmas themed murder mysteries, but most of them seem to be set in the northern hemisphere in cold snowscapes, and whilst I love a chilling thriller, they don’t seem quite right for an Australian Christmas. Especially given we’ve not really had any summer yet! So to tempt the sun to come out I’m going to go for sizzling thrillers for Christmas.

The heat takes us to exotic and faraway places. Hot weather as a narrative device puts us on edge, invites lawlessness, builds pressure and mind altering ominous undertones. Heat is oppressive and invites tension and conflict. And that’s before any characters are even introduced! Throw in the frayed nerves and sweaty palms of fermenting humans and the tension (whether it be sexual or savage) can be of gothic proportions. Here’s a few hot reads from some femme fatales.

A Fatal Inversion (1987) by Barbara Vine (ada Ruth Rendell)

Whilst burying a pet dog in the animal cemetery at Suffolk country property, Wyvis Hall, the owner stumbles across the skeletal remains of a woman and baby. Ten years earlier a group of young people spent the sweltering 1976 summer at the property after nineteen year old Adam inherited it from his great-uncle and decided to make it a commune. The story plays out beneath the tension of who will break first to reveal what really happened that sweltering summer.

The Dry (2016) by Jane Harper

What sweaty reading list would be without an Australian rural mystery? I have written about The Dry set in a small drought riddled outback town before.

Tangerine (2018) by Christine Mangan

Former college roommates, Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason reunite in the simmering heat of Tangier in 1956. Then Alice’s husband goes missing. Tangerine is a vivid, precisely plotted story about obsession and manipulation told from the perspective of two equally unreliable narrators. It’s like watching a spider lure its prey into a web.

Hard Rain (2020) by Irma Venter

Journalist Alex meets photographer Ranna whilst on assignment in Tanzania and the two start a sizzling push-pull romance. Things get sticky when the body of an IT billionaire washes up onshore in the hot humidity of a flood and Ranna becomes a suspect.

Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemi is a rich, glamorous party girl with an interest in anthropology living in Mexico City in the 1950s. She goes to High Place to check on her newly wed cousin after receiving a disturbing letter saying her cousin thinks she is being poisoned. Creepy, unsettling and intoxicating feminist post colonial horror novel set in a haunted house on a hill.

The Castaways (2020) by Lucy Clarke

A thrilling action packed survival story that plays with the past and present, set on the pristine beaches of humid Fiji. Two sisters fall out just before a planned vacation to Fiji. Only one goes and the plane she is on disappears without a trace. The surviving sister decides to go to Fiji to try and find out what happened. This is a story about solving a mystery, family dynamics and survivor guilt. Perfect Christmas reading!

Have a great break, see you on the other side.

Dames of Crime: Maj Sjöwall

Who doesn’t love a bit of Nordic Noir? Long dark winter days, chilling temperatures and vast bleak wildernesses make for perfect dramatic plots and the dark narratives of grim crime fiction.

Maj Sjöwall was widely regarded as the godmother of modern Nordic Noir, or Scandi crime as it is also known. She co-authored 10 police procedurals featuring dour, middle aged Martin Beck with her third partner, Per Wahlöö whom she met whilst both worked as magazine journalists in 1962. Their influence can be seen in subsequent Scani noir such as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Jo Nesbo’s Blake mystery The Man on the Balcony.

“that you have three of the most important virtues a policeman can have,” he thought. “You are stubborn and logical, and completely calm.”


The two conceived a project to write a series of ten books together, each writing alternate chapters in the evenings after work. The first book, Roseanna about the strangling death of a young tourist, was published in 1965. Their pared back, terse, fast-moving style of detective story was fresh and new and received rave reviews when they started to be published in translation in 1968.

January 7 arrived and looked like January 7. The streets were full of gray, frozen people without money.


The Laughing Policeman won the Edward Award in 1971 for best mystery novel and was made into a film in 1973. The tenth and final novel The Terrorists was published in 1975 shortly before Wahlöö died. The entire work can be read as a Marxist critique of the failings of Swedish society and is meticulously researched to include authentic details.

Recently—no; for as long as I can remember, large and powerful nations within the capitalist bloc have been ruled by people who according to accepted legal norms are simply criminals, who from a lust for power and financial gain have led their peoples into an abyss of egoism, self-indulgence and a view of life based entirely on materialism and ruthlessness toward their fellow human beings. Only in very few cases are such politicians punished, but the punishments are token and the guilty persons’ successors are guided by the same motives.

The Terrorists

Sjöwall was born 25th September 1935 in Stockholm and grew up in one of the hotels manager by her father, complete with round the clock room service. She was a single mother at twenty-one, then married and divorced two older men before meeting Wahlöö, a left-wing journalist and novelist. The two fell in love over crime fiction. They were together thirteen years until Wahlöö’s death in 1975. After Wahlöö’s death Sjöwall returned to a bohemian life writing for magazines and co-authoring a number of books and translating the American crime novels of Robert B Parker into Swedish. She died in April 2020.

The consumer society and its harassed citizens had other things to think of. Although it was a month to Christmas, the advertising orgy had begun and the buying hysteria spread as swiftly and ruthlessly as the Black Death along the festooned shopping streets. The epidemic swept all before it and there was no escape. It ate its way into homes and apartments, poisoning and braking down everything and everyone in its path.

The Laughing Policeman

Martin Beck Series

  • Roseanna
  • The Man Who Went Up in Smoke
  • The Man on the Balcony
  • The Laughing Policeman
  • The Fire Engine that Disappeared
  • Murder at the Savoy
  • The Abominable Man
  • The Locked Room
  • Cop Killer
  • The Terrorists

Book review: Terms of Restitution by Denzil Meyrick

Ferocious gang wars in Paisley and Glasgow are the subject of Denzil Metrick’s Terms of Restitution.

Sometimes it’s better to go, to leave things behind. Often that is the only way to find yourself, to find salvation.

Gangland boss Zander Finn has been laying low in London on the advice of his priest after his son I brutally murdered. When his friend asks him to return to help deal with the threat of Albanian mobsters trying to take over the Scottish underworld, he returns.

It was a warm, gin-clear July day.

What unfolds is a fast paced, brutal tale of survival and misplaced loyalties. Despite the body count and violence, Metrick threads a human story about relationships and friendship with fully formed characters and humour through the novel. From Father Giordano, Zanders lifetime friend and confidant, to Zander’s mother Maggie, the family matriarch who likes to offer the family comfort food of egg, chips and beans – and now she uses vegetable oil, not lard.

Well, its a bastard when you get old. They lifts stink of piss, and there’s all sorts cloaking about. Some shite tried to steal your Auntie Gwen’s purse the last time she came to visit me.

Dames of Crime: Ursula Torday

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Dames of Crime blog, so I thought it was time I shone a light on another great woman of mystery – Ursula Torday.

You’d be forgiven for never having heard of writer of mysteries, gothic and historical romance fiction Ursula Torday (1912-1997) because she only wrote three novels under that name. She did write many under pseudonyms, including Paula Allardyce (29 novels), Charity Blackstock (27 novels), Lee Blackstock (2 novels) and Charlotte Keppel (6 novels).

The only child born to a Scottish mother, and a father who was a Hungarian anthropologist, Torday had polio as a child which afflicted her gait throughout her life. She was educated in London at Oxford University and published her first three romance novels in the 1930s under her true name then stopped writing aged 26. She did not publish again until 1954. Over the next three years she published six books and continued to be prolific until the ’80s.

Torday’s dual interests of romance and mysteries meant that emotions and passion were important in her novels and often given precedence over death and motive in her mysteries. Sardonic humour, passion, hate, fear and loathing reverberate through her loathsome mystery characters to create tension and brooding romance.

Torday was said to be her own woman – cultured, sophisticated, opinionated, with wide interests and a zest for life. During World War II she worked as a probation officer for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau then ran a refugee scheme for Jewish children following the war. Her war time work inspired two novels written under the pseudonym Charity Blackstock (The Briar Patch, 1960 and The Children, 1966). Later she worked as a typist at the National Central Library in London which inspired body in the library mystery Dewey Death written under the same name. Dewey Death was set in the Inter-Libraries Despatch Association and includes themes of adultery, drug trafficking, romance and murder. Torday also worked for Naim Attallah’s publishing house (Quartet Books, The Women’s Press) for a period and sat at a desk opposite Quentin Crisp exchanging tips on the latest nail varnishes.

The Woman in the Woods, a mystery-suspense written as Charity Blackstock, in which two schoolboys stumble across a skeleton in the woods and soon the whole village is caught up in the death was nominated to win the 1959 Edgar Award for best novel.

Mystery novels

  • After the Lady (1954) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Doctor’s Daughter (1955) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • A Game of Hazard (1955) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Adam and Evelina (1956) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Man of Wrath (1956) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Lady and the Pirate (1957) aka Vixen’s Revenge (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Southarn Folly (1957) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Beloved Enemy (1958) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • My Dear Miss Emma (1958) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Death My Lover (1959) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • A Marriage Has Been Arranged (1959) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Johnny Danger (1960) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Gentle Highwayman (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Adam’s Rib (1963) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Respectable Miss Tarkington-Smith (1964) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Dewey Death (1956) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Miss Fenny (1957) aka The Woman in the Woods (as Charity Blackstock) 
  • All Men Are Murderers (1958)  aka The Shadow of Murder (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Foggy, Foggy Dew (1958) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Bitter Conquest (1959) (as by Charity Blackstock)
  • The Briar Patch (1960) aka Young Lucifer (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Exorcism (1961) aka A House Possessed (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Gallant (1962) (as by Charity Blackstock)
  • Mr. Christopoulos (1963) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Factor’s Wife (1964)  aka The English Wife (as Charity Blackstock)
  • When the Sun Goes Down (1965)  aka Monkey On a Chain (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Children (1966) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Knock at Midnight (1966) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Party in Dolly Creek (1967)  aka The Widow (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Wednesday’s Children (1967) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Melon in the Cornfield (1969)   aka The Lemmings (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Encounter (1971) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • I Met Murder on the Way (1977) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Shadow of Murder (1964) (as Charity Blackstock/Lee Blackstock)
  • Madam, You Must Die (1974) aka Loving Sands, Deadly Sands (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • When I Say Goodbye, I’m Clary Brown (1976) aka My Name Is Clary Brown (as Charlotte Keppel)

Other novels – gothic, historical, romance

  • The Ballad-Maker of Paris (1935) (as Ursula Torday)
  • No Peace for the Wicked (1937) (as Ursula Torday)
  • The Mirror of the Sun (1938) (as Ursula Torday)
  • The Rogue’s Lady (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Witches’ Sabbath (1961) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Paradise Row (1964) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Octavia (1965) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Emily (1966) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Moonlighters (1966) aka Gentleman Rouge (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Six Passengers for the Sweet Bird (1967) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Waiting At the Church (1968) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Ghost of Archie Gilroy (1970) aka Shadowed Love (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Miss Jonas’s Boy (1972) aka Eilza as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Gentle Sex (1974) as Paula Allardyce)
  • Legacy of Pride (1975) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Carradine Affair (1976) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • Miss Philadelphia Smith (1977) (as Paula Allardyce)
  • The Daughter (1970) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Jungle (1972) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Haunting Me (1978) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Miss Charley (1979) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • With Fondest Thoughts (1980) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Lonely Strangers (1972) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • People in Glass Houses (1975) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Ghost Town (1976) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • Dream Towers (1981) (as Charity Blackstock)
  • The Woman in the Woods (1959) (as Charity Blackstock/Lee Blackstock)
  • The Villains (1980) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • I Could Be Good to You (1980) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • The Ghosts Of Fontenoy (1981) (as Charlotte Keppel)
  • The Flag Captain (1982) (as Charlotte Keppel)

Book review: The Beresford by Will Carver

Leave your comfort zone. Will Carver has a dark imagination in which creepy thrills and body counts are dialled to the max. The Beresford is a standalone thriller published in 2021. Bizarre, gripping and grotesque but drawn in smooth prose that will keep both the pages and your stomach turning.

The Beresford was old. It was grand. It evolved with the people who inhabited its rooms and apartments. It was dark and elephantine and it breathed with its people. Paint peeled and there were cracks in places. It was bricks and mortar and plaster and wood. And it was alive.

The ageless Mrs May runs a boarding house in a grand old building. She rarely leaves the premises. The rooms are large and the rent cheap and there are a steady stream of inhabitants. Mrs May passes her days drinking cold black coffee and wine, tending her garden and doing her prayers.

What is that one thing you would give up your soul for?

Tenants come with dreams of a new life, then go, sometimes at an alarming rate, and usually in pieces. Sixty seconds after one dies, a new tenant arrives, and so the cycle continues, a bit like Groundhog Day with gore.

The Beresford was a halfway house for the disenchanted and disenfranchised, whose focus was to become. To be. To discover and make their impact. The inhabitants were not necessarily the outsiders, but were certainly the ones found on the periphery. The wallflowers at society’s ball. They were outside. They floated on the periphery.

Dark and twisted with black humour and skilled plotting drawn in short snappy chapters. The story is intermingled with Carver’s existential ruminations about life, death, humanity, religion, and more that send the reader off on introspective reflections on 21st century life.

We all go a little mad sometimes.

As with Carver’s other novels I have reviewed on this blog – Good Samaritans, Nothing Important Happened Here Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip, The Beresford will enthralled and disgust you, it will also make you think.