I read some very fine books in 2008. Many of which were Australian. I read my way through a good percentage of the Ned Kelly long list nominations. Here are some of my tops.


SHATTER - Michael Robotham
Winner of the 2008 Ned Kelly Award
Fabulous edge of seat stuff. Couldn't put it down.

Other tops of the year

EXIT MUSIC -  Ian Rankin 5 stars
Possibly the last in the Inspector Rebus novels. A Russian dissident poet is found beaten to death just days before Rebus' retirement. Siobhan Clark is put in charge of the case. Rebus is advising. He uses his last few days on the job to try and
finally put "Big Ger" McCafferty behind bars.

FAN MAIL - P.D. Martin
One of Sophie Anderson's last jobs before leaving Quantico for the field office in Los Angeles is to give a guided tour of the facility of a popular crime fiction writer. When the writer is found murdered in a gruesome manner which mirrors the method used in her yet-to-be published latest book, Sophie realises there are only a limited number of suspects.
I always enjoy Phillip's books. Enjoyable cross between Medium and police procedural.

It's Reginald Hill. It's Dalziel and Pascoe. Is there anything else that needs to be said to explain why it's on my tops list?
Dalziel is in a convalescent home recovering from injuries sustained in a bomb blast. Part of his therapy involves him recording his thoughts into a mini-recorder which he names Muriel.
A murder happens in the seaside town where the home is. Peter Pascoe is in charge, but with an increasingly tetchy Dalziel straining at the leash to become involved, Peter is feeling the pressure.

VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE - Leah Giarratano
Leah Giarratano is a trauma psychologist based in Sydney. Among her clients have been victims of sexual abuse and men serving sentences for child abuse. VODKA DOESN’T FREEZE is her first novel. I had the good fortune to hear Giarratano speak last year. She talked about the book being cathartic for her. She regarded it as an exercise to purge herself of bottled up emotions. She never expected a publisher to accept it.
It isn’t an easy book. It is a very dark subject Giarratano writes about. A subject that is difficult to explore. However, the reader who can make it through is rewarded. It offers some insights in ways perhaps not expected by the author or the reader. Yes, it does demonstrate how different people deal with being sexually abused, but what I found was that perhaps inadvertently the author has shown something of the
emotional toll taken on professionals who deal with sex offenders in their working life.

A CARRION DEATH - Michael Stanley
Set in Botswana, the book introduces superintendent David Bengu of the Botswana Police Department whose nickame is Kubu (hippopotamus). As the name implies Kubu is very overweight. He's a delightful man (He reminds me a bit of Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun) .

WHITE NIGHTS - Ann Cleeves
The 2nd in the Jimmy Perez Shetland series. Jimmy's girlfriend is having her first art exhibition and there is an unexpectedly poor turnout. One of the visitors to the exhibition stands in front of one of her paintings, head in hands and begins sobbing. He later races off. Next day he is found murdered.
Cleeves writes about a small isolated community beautifully. Strong sense of place and a protagonist you can't help but like.

True Crime

KILLING JODIE - Janet Fife-Yeomans
About the disappearance of a part-time prostitute, Jodie Larcombe and the determination of the detectives to bring to justice her killer. They knew who he was, but just couldn't gather enough evidence to prove it in court. Their investigation spanned a decade .

LIVES OF CRIME - Tippet & Munro
A series of chapters looking at the lives of people whose lives are touched by crime. Victims, perpetrators, police, lawyers, judges, paramedics and a host of others.

Latta is a psychologist who specialises in treating sex offenders and their victims. Latta is a no-nonsense man, with a wicked sense of humour and a talent for using profanity. "I swear because I like it and it get's their attention". Fascinating and unexpectedly entertaining journey into the minds of some very nasty people.

I read a few that were so-so that didn't really grab me. This year there weren't many at all that I thought were really awful. There are just 3 this year that I would put on my bottoms list. In order of awfulness from worst to least worst.

GOSPEL - Sydney Bauer

Tom Bradshaw is the perfect Vice-Presidential candidate. He had a difficult time in college, but overcame drug addiction and now leads the fight against illegal drugs. The nation is stunned when he is found dead in a hotel room of an apparent self-administered drug overdose after being clean for over twenty years. Just as the public is coming to terms with the death of the much-respected politician, it is announced that it wasn't an accidental death, but murder.

There is a chief suspect who is the stereotype of chief suspects. He's arrogant and unpleasant, and widely disliked. His wife happens to be the hero's ex. She left him for the richer doctor, thereby establishing that she is shallow and not worthy of him. There's a conspiracy at a high level and a lot of characters introduced in the first chapters which is confusing and takes forever to sort out.

A large part of the ending involved a dramatic overblown court scene. "'Cavanaugh is a liar,' he yelled, his voice rising over an astonished crowd. 'A simple-minded show pony who, in his desperation to win exoneration for his murderous client, has rallied this group of geriatrics, has-beens, teenagers and drug addicts in a pathetic attempt to sully my good name,'". Speeches like this abounded and I felt that any resemblance to a real courtroom situation was purely coincidental.

It is blurbed as a fast-paced thriller but the author's excessive use of adjectives and long-winded descriptions slowed the whole thing down. "She took two of the upturned glasses standing on the crisp white towel on the black marble counter and poured them both a drink before gliding across the room, extending her long slender arm and handing him his water.' It was a very minor detail. She gave him a glass of water would have sufficed.

The book was 487 pages. Way too long. There was a clever twist but it came too late to save this one from my bottoms list.

Also-ran bottoms:

Biggest Disappointment

UNDER ORDERS - Dick Francis
A Sid Halley novel. There were a couple of things about this one that failed to endear itself to me.
There seemed to be a great deal of over-explaining which slowed the pace down. There was a lot of detail about the racing industry and online betting; more than I felt I needed to know. Nor was it really necessary to know the detailed back-story of nearly every major character who appeared in the book.. There was also much made of the fact that Sid has an artificial arm. We were told the history of how he lost his arm and his battle to come to terms with it. Not needed in light of the fact that it was the 5th or 6th in the series. There was also quite a bit of Sid's opinions on things that we didn't really need for the plot. It had been a while since I read any of his books and I don't know if I've become much more picky or if this one wasn't quite as good as the others. Either way, it was a major disappointment.

Most clichéd


The book based on the movie of the same name. The movie was based on an article that appeared in New Yorker magazine yonks ago. Based on real people and events. Set in the '70s it tells the story about an honest cop who makes an arrest and discovers $1 million in the back of the car and turns it in. This makes him a pariah among many of his colleagues. He is then seconded to the DA Department to do an investigation into the drug scene. He discovers a hitherto drug lord who has flown under the radar because he imports his own heroin from Vietnam.

If you are interested in this at all, either read the original article or see the movie, which wasn't too bad actually. I suspect the writer of this book was told to write the book using only the script as a reference. It was totally predictable and had every cliché going. The movie had the saving grace of Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe to flesh out the characters and make them interesting. The book didn't. I
put off seeing the movie for a long time because of the experience I had with the book.


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