I'm giving away three (3) Kindle copies of my novella, The Hanover Block, here on Booklikes.
Countries available: Australia, Canada, UK, USA
This is a bit of a peculiar situation. After reading great things about this novel and requesting the author’s second novel Force of Nature (you can check my review here) from NetGalley, I had to read it quickly to take part on a blog tour. When I looked at other reviews, there were so many comparisons to the first novel (although it can be read as a standalone) that I felt I should read the first novel to make my own mind up. That means I will be comparing the first novel to the second, rather than the other way around. Sorry. Why do things the easy way when one can complicate matters?
There is no doubt that Harper knows how to set a story and how to take full advantage of the landscape, atmosphere, and characteristics of the place and the people. She sets the story during a terrible drought in Australia, specifically in Kiewarra, and has the main protagonist (who is also the main character in Force, Aaron Falk, a police detective specializing on fraud and financial crimes) return to his place of birth, twenty years after having left in unfortunate circumstances. The story is also told in the third person, mostly from Falk’s point of view, although we also have fragments, that are differentiated from the rest of the story by being written in italics, that go back to the events that happened many years back (the events that made Falk and his father leave town when he was an adolescent), and also to the more recent deaths. These fragments, also written in the third person, are told from a variety of points of views, although it is not difficult to know which character’s point of view we are sharing. (Some readers enjoy the style and others don’t, so I’d recommend checking a sample of the book before making a decision).
In this story, Falk is called to attend the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke, who has seemingly killed his wife and young son, and then committed suicide, only leaving his baby daughter (13 months old) alive. Luke’s parents are convinced that their son has not killed his family and himself, and ask for Falk’s help. The current killings bring back memories of the death of a young girl who was Falk and Luke’s friend and with it the suspicions of his possible involvement.
The mystery has some elements of the police procedural (as Falk joins forces with the new police Sergeant, Raco), also of the domestic noir (there are many secrets, mostly family secrets buried deep, and relationships that are not what they seem to be at first sight), and there are plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, to keep us guessing. But the book does not follow a straight linear narrative, as I mentioned; it does go into plenty of detail about things that do not seem to be always relevant to the murders, and its pace is not what we are used to in more formulaic thrillers. It is slow and contemplative at times, and the past weighs heavily on the investigation (especially on those who have matters pending). Although most of the violence takes place outside the page, and this is by no means the most explicitly violent novel I’ve read (I’m difficult to shock, though), there is violence and it deals in pretty dark subjects, so be warned. Whilst in some crime novels, even very dark ones, there are light and humorous moments that help release tension; there is hardly any of that here. What we have are insightful and contemplative moments, which go beyond the usual snarky comments by the cynical detective.
As an example, a particularly touching comment by Barb, Luke’s mother, talking about the aftermath of her son’s death:
‘No-one tells you this is how it’s going to be, do they? Oh yes, they’re all so sorry for your loss, all so keen to pop round and get the gossip when it happens, but no-one mentions having to go through your dead son’s drawers and return their library books, do they? No one tells you how to cope with that.’
I thought the small town was realistically portrayed. The envies, the resentment, the discomfort of knowing that everybody is aware of everybody else’s business, and the prejudices and the tensions in a place where nobody can hide, and where you are never given the benefit of the doubt, felt true to life. Although I’ve never visited Australia, the dynamics of the place and its inhabitants, subject to major tensions due to the uncertainty the draught had brought to the local economy, create an atmosphere that is tense and oppressive, even if the story is not fast-paced.
The characters, in my opinion, are somewhat more clearly divided down morality lines in this novel than in the second, although it is not so evident in the beginning. Whilst in Force none of the characters come out of the book unscathed, and most of them are morally suspect, here there are good characters (although they might not appear to be) and some truly bad ones. Most of the characters (at least the good ones) carry a burden of guilt (in most cases for things they are not truly responsible for), whilst the bad characters seem unable/unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, no matter how cruel. As is the case for many investigators, Falk is also investigating his own past, and that is why he finds it so difficult to resolve the case. This process of rediscovery and personal digging will continue in the next novel. I would not say Falk is an immediately likeable character. I found him more consistent and easy to understand in the second book (of course, by then he had survived to the events of this novel, which would have had an impact on him), although he seems to come alive in some of his interactions with others (particularly Luke’s mother, a great character).
Overall, I felt the mystery part of the story is more intriguing and well-resolved here (even though the past case keeps interfering with the present; there are not as many loose ends and red-herrings here), although I did not mind that aspect of the second novel (that I found more morally complex). For me, this one is more of a novel for mystery lovers, especially for those who prefer to take their time and enjoy a different setting to the usual urban thriller. The second novel in the series pays more attention to how the story is told and to the characters themselves. But there is no doubt that Harper is a great writer and I’m sure we’ll keep reading her and about her in the future.
Ah, don’t miss this post with a recommendation of a book that people who have enjoyed The Dry might like (and I could not agree more. I love The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat).
Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown Book Group for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I had not read Harper’s first acclaimed novel The Dry when I read her second novel (although I had acquired it after reading many good reviews of it) and although it seems that most people who have reviewed it so far have read the first, I can confirm that it can be read independently and you will not feel that you are missing a fundamental part of the story. Yes, there are brief allusions to events that you suspect might refer to the first novel, but the case itself is self-contained. I must confess I felt curious about the first novel after reading this one, in part because of the main character, but also in part because of the comments by the reviewers.
If you have read the first novel, you will know that the setting is Australia. This time, rather than a draught and dry landscape, the case Aaron Falk gets involved in takes place in a wet and cold area at that time of the year, the Giralong Ranges. Two teams from the same legal firm (one male and one female) have gone for a weekend hiking, as part of a teambuilding exercise. The two teams take different routes and on Sunday, when they are all supposed to meet, one of the women does not turn up. Aaron Falk, who is a federal investigator dealing with financial crimes, and his partner, Carmen Cooper, knew the woman who had gone missing, Alice Russell, because she was helping them (not without a certain degree of pressure/coercion) investigate the firm. At first, they wonder if her disappearance might have something to do with her undercover activities, but there are many mysteries, lies, and intrigues at play, the red herrings abound, and emotions run high.
The story is told in the third person, but each chapter is divided into two time frames, one following the actual investigation of Alice’s disappearance, from Falk’s point of view, and the other following, in chronological order, the events during the hiking trip, from the alternate points of view of the women who accompanied Alice (and, very briefly, of Alice herself). It is an interesting technique, as it makes us compare the conjectures of the investigating team, with the reality, and it provides us an opportunity to learn more about the characters from their own perspective. The author excels at her descriptions of the landscape, the weather, and the psychological state of the women (and of the male investigator). Although the story develops slowly and I would not call it fast-paced, it has twists and turns, and enough clues to keep us hooked and intrigued. Also, although understated and not emotionally open, we are also intrigued by how personally challenging this case is for Falk, who carries his father’s rucksack and his legacy with him and learns a lot more than the expected about family relationships throughout the book.
None of the characters (except, perhaps Falk and Cooper, and maybe the girls) are particularly lovable or even likable but we get to understand their motivations and why they do what they do. I know there are readers who prefer books where there are characters we should clearly like or dislike, but life is a bit more complex than that, and this novel abounds in morally ambiguous characters that not intentionally all good or bad. (Personally, I have a soft spot for Beth, one of the twin sisters). Alice is perhaps one of the least likable of all the characters, although she, like the rest, has redeeming qualities. It is also true that she is a character we don’t get much of an insight into, as she does not get a voice, and we mostly reconstruct her personality and character based on other people’s judgements and takes on her. I noticed that the characters seem to be paired-up (there are two twin sisters, that at first seem to be complete opposites but we learn there are more similarities in their life-experiences than they realise; there are two childhood friends whose lives and even daughters seem to follow parallel paths; the CEO of the company has difficulties with his son, and there are other father-son relationships highlighted throughout the novel, including that of Falk with his father, and also that of a serial killer who was infamous for his murders in the area and his son) and family relations are at the heart of the story.
For some reason this novel made me think of the label “domestic noir”, because although most of the story develops outdoors, it is also about families, strange relationships, and twists and turns. It also reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty that I reviewed a long while back (you can check my review here), not only because the author is also Australian, but because the mystery at the heart of the book (that in that case, we don’t discover until quite late) shakes and transforms deeply the lives of people who seemed to be getting on perfectly well, undisturbed in their domestic lives until they realise it was all a very thin veneer of normality. (After writing the review I noticed that one of the editorial reviews pointed at that too. Great minds…) Although it is true that the women get into survival mode when things get difficult, the comparison to Lord of the Flies is too extreme, in my opinion, as the characters’ motivations go beyond pure survival and are more complex and nuanced even when things get extremely ugly.
I enjoyed the book. Harper writes very well and can truly flesh out situations and landscapes, making us feel as if we were there with the protagonists. I agree with the reviewers who query some of the details of the story (yes, the organisation of the adventure does not seem to be very well-planned, for example), and I felt that some of the red-herrings and clues suggested more interesting directions than those finally explored (the previous murders committed there keep being hinted at but are not fully explained), and some I feel are possibly left open. The ending… Well, let’s say the resolution of the case itself is not a huge surprise, but I enjoyed the overall ending.
And after reading some of the reviews and the comments about Harper’s first novel, I have started reading it, so I’ll let you know what I think.
An author who’s made a deserved great impression and a mystery for those who prefer a slower pace and great writing, rather than a thrill a minute. Definitely recommended.
The Old Balmain House
Second Edition, Smashwords Edition
Copyright Graham Wilson 2016
Published by BeyondBeyond Books
(Also goes by Little Lost Girl (Old Balmain House #1) (Paperback) (isbn 154126284; Little Lost Girl (Old Balmain House #1) (paperback) (isbn 1542624347; The Old Balmain House (Old Balmain house #1) (isbn 1542755166)
I received this off Smashwords. It's taken me a while to get back to it. I set it aside, and then decided, once I started up again with The Old Balmain House. I couldn't put it down. The descriptions of the houses, the towns, and the people around the main characters help make the story of Sophie and her bottle a wonderful story.
My resolutions for New Year's Eve fell by the wayside due to exhaustion. It was physical exhaustion brought about by mental/emotional exhaustion, so although I did accomplish some of what I wanted to do, I didn't get to all of it.
I cleaned up several hundred accumulated emails from the backlog, though that is barely a drop in the very large bucket.
I reviewed/recorded most of my Festive Season tasks and reading, leaving only two or possibly three to go. The final tally was a disappointing 19 points, but I read three VERY LONG books in the mix, and I'm patting myself on the back for them regardless of "points."
During the gaming time, I also made significant progress on one of my long-term, ongoing personal projects: the transcription of all those spiral notebook diaries. Yesterday morning I reached January 2017, so I am just a few days less than a year behind!
This coming week-end is the Flagg Gem and Mineral Show held at Mesa Community College. Though not nearly as big as either the Quartzsite or Tucson extravaganzas, the Flagg show is close to home and convenient, with free parking and admission, and more than enough goodies for me to ogle. It's not that I need any more rocks, but, well, a girl can't have too many! The weather forecast as of last week was not promising, but it has improved steadily the closer we get to the show. Friday looks like the best day, with mostly sunny skies and a high around 75.
The following week-end is the two-day Heritage Days celebration at our local Superstition Mountain Museum. I'll be setting up there to (try to) sell some of my jewelry and other hand-made goodies. Last year we had horrible weather, with powerful storms that destroyed several vendors' canopies and kept visitor attendance way down. The forecast looks much, much better for 2018, with mostly sunny skies, high temperatures around 70, and neither rain nor wind predicted for either Saturday or Sunday.
There's one part of Heritage Days that I am very much NOT looking forward to.
One of the entertainment acts scheduled is singer Paula Erlene, "America's Yodeling Sweetheart," and her husband Ermal Williamson, who does a John Wayne impersonation. At last year's Heritage Days, Paula debuted her new, original patriotic song, "We Are One," which Ermal (as MC) touted as "the next God Bless America." He further exclaimed that Paula was writing new verses almost literally while rehearsing.
As I sat under my little rain-drenched canopy and tried to smile through the yodeling, I realized I had heard Paula's "new" song before. The tune was completely familiar, and even over the noise of the wind in the cactus, the murmurings of the appreciative crowd, and the tramp of footsteps in the muddy ground, even with the terrible outdoor acoustics, I knew the words to this song she claimed to have written herself.
We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice,
"I am, you are, we are . . . ."
How was this possible??? I had never heard of Paula Erlene before in my life, but I knew the words to the song she bragged about having just written.
After the Saturday shows -- the entertainers each perform twice each day -- I hadn't pegged it down, and I was too cold and too tired by the bad weather to even think further once I got home. But it nagged at me, so that when she took the stage for Sunday's performances, I listened more closely to the words . . . because I had finally developed a very sneaking suspicion as to why this song was so familiar.
As Paula once more sang the chorus,
"I am, you are, we are Americans,"
I knew the last word was wrong. And before she finished her new, original composition, I knew why it was so familiar. There was nothing I could do while I was at the Museum, but as soon as I got home Sunday evening, I got on the computer and found confirmation of my absolute worst thoughts.
Some of you here may recognize the performers, though this YouTube screenshot is of a 1994 live (and farewell) performance. Some of you may already have recognized the lyrics.
I broke into tears when I realized what Paula Erlene, "America's Yodeling Sweetheart," had done.
She had stolen someone else's work and claimed it as her own. (I played the video linked above just now and started crying again.)
Paula Erlene now has a CD out that appears to include the song.
Whether there is any credit given to the original composer and lyricist, I don't know.
EDITED TO ADD: I was finally able to get a decent shot of the Facebook page on my other computer with larger monitor, and yes, it does state that "We Are One" is adapted from Woodley & Newton's "I Am Australian." This is more than she and Ermal did at Heritage Days last year; it will be interesting to hear what they have to say this year.
But on her Facebook page -- or Ermal's, if you will -- she does claim to have written it herself.
Maybe it's just a nasty and shameful American habit of cultural appropriation. "God Save the King" became "My Country 'Tis of Thee." And "To Anacreon in Heaven" became "The Star-Spangled Banner" (minus, of course, its racist later verses). Paula and Ermal performed in South Korea ahead of the recent visit by American "officials," and their political affiliation is apparent. It's not likely that any public announcement of this infringement would be met with anything other than, well, approval.
After last year's discovery, I wrote to The Seekers, either via Facebook or email, regarding the situation. I never heard anything back. I don't have a recording of Paula's performance or her claim to have written the song herself. I only found the above Facebook claim this morning.
I hate these people. I hate them with a white hot passion. I hate their supporters and defenders. And I know America is better than this.
Australia certainly is.
Watch the views of the audience on this one
And from 2012, with verses not in the shorter versions, verses Paula Erlene also . . . used:
It was often played at citizenship ceremonies from 2008 until 2012 when the Copyright Tribunal ruled that this was an infringement and ordered the Federal Government to pay Bruce Woodley $149,743.34 in compensation.
In 2009 two additional verses were added to show remembrance during the official National Day of Mourning for the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires. Woodley performed the song along with his daughter Clare and Kinglake fire survivors Merelyn and David Carter during the memorial service at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on 22 February.