Friday, November 24, 2017


ALL OUR SECRETS by Jennifer Lane (Rosa Mira, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The River Picnic was one of the biggest events that ever took place in Coongahoola, and even wilder than the street party the night Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister. The adults spoke about it in whispers and only when they thought us kids were out of earshot. All I knew for sure, apart from the fact that Stu Bailey’s wife drowned that night in the Bagooli River, was that four times more babies than usual were born the following October and not all of them looked like their dads.

A girl called Gracie. A small town called Coongahoola, with the dark Bagooli River running through it. The Bleeders — hundreds of ‘Believers’ who move in and set up on the banks of the river. Who start buying up the town, and winning souls. The River Children — born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They start to go missing, one after the other. 

Gracie Barrett, the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.

Gracie is funny and kind, bullied and anguished, and her life spirals out of control when she discovers she knows what no one else does: who is responsible.

If there is one thing you'll come away from ALL OUR SECRETS with, it's the voice of Gracie Barrett ringing in your ears. It's an impressive portrayal.

There's something very worrying going on in the fictional town of Coongahoola, New South Wales. It's not just The Believers (or Bleeders as they are quickly nicknamed) - a cult led by the oddly charismatic Saint Bede. Long before they arrived there was the infamous River Picnic, on the night Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister. Stu Bailey's wife drowned in the Bagooli River and there's a group of kids around town, all born around the same time, that don't look like their dads - everyone calls them the "The River Children".

Which never seemed to be a major problem for Coongahoola. Everyone knew and despite a bit of huffing and puffing about some childish pranks, most people seemed not to care too much. But then River Children start disappearing, and Gracie is worried for a lot of reasons. Her own family life is a more than a bit chaotic. Her Mum and Dad got married very young, Dad has moved out and seems to be continuing his pattern of relationships with a lot of women in town. Gracie, her Mum Nell, the twins Lucky and Grub, and her brother Elijah all live with Grandma Bett. Dad's mum, friend of Nell despite the marital complications, and the families constant in their slightly crazy lives. There's lots of love in this bunch of battlers, for all their problems they are a family - supportive, loving, caring, accepting and worried. Elijah is a River Child after all.

Told from Gracie's point of view, the tone and observations of a young girl feel absolutely spot on. Gracie's a good kid, bullied and anguished, she's funny, kind, loving and conflicted. She wants her family to stay together, Dad to come home and Mum to stay away from Saint Bede. She wants Elijah to be safe, but she's not too keen on the solution of shipping him off to relatives to keep him out of harm's way. She loves her Grandma even though she doesn't always get her, and she likes the town that she lives in, even if sometimes people can be a bit iffy. She's also somebody who isn't going to sit around and wait for a solution when things go pear-shaped. Somebody's killing River Kids and she's going to find out who it is.

Right from the opening lines you get an immediate feel for the tone of Gracie's voice and hence the book:
The first bad thing happened back when Elijah was five. Some people reckoned it triggered all the terrible things that happened later. But despite what they said, it wasn't Elijah's fault. He's my brother and I know everything about him, even that he was circumcised at nine months (thought that's not much of a secret - the fight Mum and Dad had afterwards was loud enough for the whole of Australia to hear). I know better better than anyone that he didn't mean to kill Sebastian. 

(no spoiler provided as you'll find out very quickly who Sebastian is and what happened).

Author Jennifer Lane lives in New Zealand, was born in Australia, and has had short stories published before, but (I understand) this is her her debut novel. Sitting somewhere between something aimed at older teen readers (Gracie is 11, nearly 12 in this novel), and something that is very readable for adults, ALL OUR SECRETS is strongly voiced, has a great sense of place and character all round, and an excellent plot. It's an absolute gem.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Ngaio Marsh Awards. This review was first published on Aust Crime Fiction.


EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND by Glen Erik Hamilton (William Morrow, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Former Army Ranger Van Shaw is recently single, out of money, and struggling to keep on the straight and narrow. So when an old contact, Mick O'Hassan, shows up on his doorstep, fresh out of prison and claiming to know the whereabouts of a hidden stash of gold, Van feels the powerful pull of his past.

The trouble is, some things are too good to be true, and before they know it Van and O'Hassan are trapped in a game with few rules and too many deadly players. Turns out, the only easy part of a life of crime is getting sucked back in...

Seattle native Glen Erik Hamilton burst  onto the crime writing scene two years ago with Past Crimes, a superb debut that introduced childhood thief turned Army Ranger Van Shaw, and went on to win the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Awards for Best First Novel, and an Edgar nomination.

In this third installment in what’s become a really top shelf series, Shaw is rebuilding his late grandfather’s destroyed home when a terminally ill ex-con who did a past job with his grandfather comes calling. It's a tempting score on offer: a forgotten fortune in gold bars, abandoned in the floor safe of a destitute building. Just lying there, ready for the taking...

Having left the US Army, a large part of Shaw wants to stay straight, but he’s also drawn to the opportunity to utilise his hard-earned safe-cracking skills, for a number of reasons.

Only he and his grandfather's old accomplice aren’t the only ones with a plan, and the duo fall into a trap. Scrambling to survive, and with the life of an innocent young girl on the line, Shaw must enter an ultra-violent corner of the criminal underworld. He might be in over his head.

Hamilton writes really well-balanced thrillers, which blend page-turning plotlines with fascinating, memorable characters, good action, and a great sense of place. He sprinkles the narrative with fresh description, has a great turn of phrase, and overall just keeps the reader engaged on multiple levels.

Overall, I really enjoyed Every Day Above Ground, a very good tale in what is becoming a must-read series. I look forward to more from Hamilton and Van Shaw.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson


GLASS HOUSE by Louise Penny (Sphere, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

One cold November day, a mysterious figure appears on the village green in Three Pines, causing unease, alarm and confusion among everyone who sees it. Chief Superintendent, Armand Gamache knows something is seriously wrong, but all he can do is watch and wait, hoping his worst fears are not realised. But when the figure disappears and a dead body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to investigate.

In the early days of the murder inquiry, and months later, as the trial for the accused begins, Gamache must face the consequences of his decisions, and his actions, from which there is no going back ...

Louise Penny is Canadian crime writing royalty, who has delighted fans around the globe the past decade plus with her outstanding series starring Quebec policeman Armand Gamache. Since entering the CWA Debut Dagger competition for unpublished crime writers back in the early 2000s with the book that would become her debut Still Life, Penny has not only broken through to publication, but racked up several mantelpieces full of awards, topped the New York Times bestseller list, and seen her creation come to life in a Canadian television adaptation. She's a beacon for budding crime writers everywhere.

At Bouchercon last month, Penny swept the major crime writing awards (Shamus, Macavity and Agatha) given out that weekend, for the 12th book in her Gamache series, A Great Reckoning.

In the next and latest instalment in the popular series, Glass Houses, Gamache has been elevated to the position of Chief Superintendent of the Surete du Quebec; in effect the most powerful police figure in the entire province. However, with great power comes great responsibility...

Over the past few months, Gamache has been having thoughts about radical ways to deal with the influx of crime in Quebec, particularly the unceasing flow of dangerous drugs that floods through the historic trading and smuggling routes prevalent throughout Quebec and downriver into the States.

Meanwhile a sinister cloaked figure appears in the sleepy village of Three Pines, where Gamache lives. It stands silently on the village green, ominous yet unmoving. Is it a messenger, a symbol? Tensions rise, emotions fracture among the villagers, who want Gamache to do something. Then somebody is killed. Just what is going on in? Who brought the cloaked figure to town, and why?

Penny delivers a delicious tale that blends the classic village murder mystery with a very modern tale threaded strongly with broader philosophical, psychological and social issues. Glass Houses is pleasantly quaint in tone at times, when it comes to the unique characters and interlocking relationships within the small village of Three Pines, but then also deals with some very dark issues: drug smuggling, violent crime, giant cross-border criminal enterprises operating with impunity.

Can Gamache do anything to stop the seemingly endless flow of drugs into and through Quebec, or is he leading an outpost that's fully surrounded and just waiting to be overrun? With his entire province under pressure, can he even solve a murder in his own hometown, or is that beyond him now?

Glass Houses is a great read, that flows along smoothly and offers lots to engage readers on multiple levels. Longtime readers can enjoy the way Gamache's role has developed over the series, and the escalating challenges he faces, while those new to the series might quickly become hooked and - like me - be searching out Penny's backlist to read more and more of Inspector Gamache and his peers.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals on three continents, and talked about the genre on national radio and popular podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Thursday, November 23, 2017


KNOW ME NOW by CJ Carver (Bonnier Zaffre, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker


A thirteen-year-old boy commits suicide. A sixty-five-year old man dies of a heart attack. Dan Forrester, ex-MI5 agent, is connected to them both. 

And when he discovers that his godson and his father have been murdered, he teams up with his old friend, DC Lucy Davies, to find answers.

But as the pair investigate, they unravel a dark and violent mystery stretching decades into the past and uncover a terrible secret. A secret someone will do anything to keep buried ... 

I have enjoyed the CJ Carver Forrester and Davies series from the first installment. In Know Me Now, partial amnesiac Dan Forrester is back, back in another adventure for our enjoyment, and also back with his wife, Jenny, and their daughter Aimee. The family is eagerly awaiting the imminent birth of Dan and Jenny’s second son.  Dan is also dealing with the sudden death of his father, Bill, who was visiting Germany when he had a massive heart attack.

In the midst of making arrangements for the repatriation of his father’s body, Dan hears that his 13-year-old godson, Connor, has also died.  Connor’s death is being dealt with as a suicide, but the local doctor in the Scottish village where he died is not so sure. Two deaths so close together – and as the delightful DC Lucy Davies says: “In my job, we don’t believe in coincidences”.

CJ Carver certainly does believe in coincidences, the local GP who is suspicious about Connor’s death is none other than Dr Grace Reavey – one of the main characters in the first Dan Forrester outing Spare Me the Truth. I have come to realise that through this series Carver is weaving us a maypole of connections between her central characters. Given her skillful plotting, I am sure there are more reveals and connections to come, and with Dan’s dodgy memory, goodness knows what he has forgotten from his past!

Dan wants to go to Scotland to look into Connor’s death, but is thwarted when he is told his father’s death is unnatural, and he decides to go to Germany instead. Dan asks Lucy Davies to go to Scotland in his stead. In Germany, it turns out Dan didn’t know the whole truth about Bill’s work after the war, or about the project his father and his close friends had been involved with. As with the previous two installments of the series, we have some great plotting, and large picture conspiracies – this time involving some pretty precocious post-war research.

And we have thrills aplenty. Another character back from Spare me the truth, is the sinister Sirius Thiele – the centre of some truly scary scenes, and of another tantalising ribbon being wrapped around the coincidence pole. Dan, Lucy and Grace are all back in fine form. And when Lucy gets into a bit of a hole, and gives herself the advice regarding her supervisor DI Faris MacDonald that I have been yelling at her for three books now, I whooped for joy.

If you haven’t read any of the series, Know Me Now could be read as a standalone novel, but my recommendation would be to read them from the beginning (Spare Me the Truth, Tell Me a Lie then Know Me Now) and that is a strong recommendation!

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


THE WAYS OF WOLFE by James Carlos Blake (Mysterious Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Twenty years ago, college student Axel Prince Wolfe—heir apparent to his Texas family’s esteemed law firm and its “shade trade” criminal enterprises—teamed up with his best friend, Billy, and a Mexican stranger in a high-end robbery that went wrong. Abandoned by his partners, he was captured and imprisoned, his family disgraced, his wife absconded, his infant daughter Jessie left an orphan. 

Two decades later, with eleven years still to serve, Axel has long since exhausted his desire for revenge against the partners who deserted him. All he wants now is to see the woman his daughter has become, despite her lifelong refusal to acknowledge him. When the chance comes to escape in the company of Cacho, a young Mexican inmate with ties to a major cartel, Axel takes it, and a massive manhunt ensues, taking the pair down the Rio Grande and into a desert inferno. With his chance to see Jessie now within reach, a startling discovery re-ignites an old passion and sends Axel headlong toward reckonings many years in the making.

I'd heard some great things about James Carlos Blake's crime writing, but this was the first book I'd read from a unique, award-winning author who's been dubbed “one of the greatest chroniclers of the mythical American outlaw life” and "one of the bravest" writers in America.

It definitely won't be the last; The Ways of Wolfe is a rip-snorting, action-packed tale full of violence, criminality and philosophy. A true Border Noir, riding hard along the border, heavy on the noir.

Axel Wolfe has spent twenty years in prison for a robbery gone wrong, his promise as a college student and part of a powerful Texas family ground away by years ensconced in a tiny cell. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still more than a decade away, so against his better judgement Axel teams up with a young prisoner whose drug cartel contacts can provide support for an escape.

Freedom beckons, but at what price?

The Ways of Wolfe is the latest Blake tale centred on branches of the Wolfe family, a fascinating clan whose roots sprawl across both sides of the Texas-Mexico border and whose interests sprawl across both sides of the legal-illegal divide. Axel's promise saw him tapped by some in the family for the legal work, but he'd always found himself more drawn to the family's secretive 'shade trade'.

Reading The Ways of Wolfe certainly made me keen to read Blake's other Wolfe family tales, and in fact pretty much anything Blake has written. He's a superb storyteller. His prose is punchy, full of violence and venom, but it flows beautifully, unfolding at high pace but never feeling rushed or 'thin'.

I was immediately drawn into Axel's world, and his yearning for freedom and to reconnect with his long-lost daughter. As the escape plan is hatched and executed, peril appears at every turn. There's a great tension throughout the book, as Axel faces challenges both human and environmental. You know things are heading down a bad road for many involved, but it's a fascinating ride getting there.

A terrific tale full of grit and style.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: HADES

HADES by Candice Fox (Random House Australia, 2014/Arrow, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Twenty years ago, two children were kidnapped and left for dead . . .

Homicide detective Frank Bennett has a new partner—dark, beautiful, coldly efficient Eden Archer. Frank doesn’t know what to make of her, or her brother Eric, who’s also on the police force. Their methods are . . . unusual. But when a graveyard full of large steel toolboxes filled with body parts is found at the bottom of Sydney harbor, unusual is the least of their worries. 

For Eden and Eric, the case holds chilling links to a scarred childhood—and the murderer who raised them. For Frank, each clue brings him closer to something he’s not sure he wants to face. But true evil goes beyond the bloody handiwork of a serial killer—and no one is truly innocent.

This is a bit of a strange book to review. Recently released in paperback in the UK, Candice Fox's debut novel (published in Australia in 2014) kickstarted a meteoric rise for the Sydney author. She won back-to-back Ned Kelly Awards (Best First Fiction and Best Fiction) for this novel and its sequel, has teamed up with bestseller-factory James Patterson on a crime tale set in the Australian Outback, and has gathered plenty of high-powered blurbs from big names in crime writing. There's another Patterson co-write on the way, and Fox can splash "No 1 bestselling author" on her covers.

Say what you will about James Patterson (personally, I loved his Alex Cross tales as a teen and as an adult I'm grateful for everything he's done to support bookstores and encourage children's reading and a lifelong love of books), he definitely knows how to spot talent that can tell a crime page-turner. Whether it's Liza Marklund in Sweden, Andrew Gross, or Candice Fox, many of Patterson's co-writers have shown substantial writing chops in their solo books (Marklund in particular is fabulous).

Hades is an incredibly slick, well-told tale (particularly for a debut). Fox pulls the reader in immediately and the pages whir as Sydney detectives Frank Bennett and Eden Archer, a new partnership, join their colleagues are on the hunt for a dangerous serial killer. There's a great sense of the pressures of police work, the mix of personalities that can be like oil and water even as they've got a job to do as a team. And Fox does a good job giving us a taste of the Sydney setting.

It's a dark tale, that burrows into some pretty sick parts of society. Grimy is an apt word.

I can see why a lot of reviewers (and awards judges) loved it. Hades is compulsive.

The bit that fell a touch short for me, however, was the characters. In sum, all the 'heroes' are pretty unlikable, and not in a fascinating noir or anti-hero kind of way. I just couldn't quite get alongside the main characters, so I was tearing through the pages entranced by the story but feeling a little aloof emotionally. Frank Bennett might be intended to be the reader's 'in' , but he's misogynistic among other flaws, often thinking about his chances of bedding his new partner Eden. Eden and her brother Eric are charming in some ways but cold and brutal in others. They come across as sociopathic rather than being flawed souls making mistakes as they try to do the right thing in a tough job.

It's tough to put my finger on what didn't quite work: the things I note above aren't fatal and there are crime stories which work very well where those same things are present (eg Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue is misogynistic and prejudiced, but a brilliant compelling character, and Dexter in Jeff Lindsay's books and Joe the Carver in Paul Cleave's books are true psychopaths, but somehow work well).

I think in the end I just found myself rolling my eyes occasionally with Fox's writing or character choices, which pulled me out of the story now now and then, breaking an otherwise great ride.

Note that I'm saying all of the above with my picky reviewer's hat on.

Hades is still a very good debut, and I can see why it got plenty of acclaim. Funnily enough, I found the title character (a shambling man who runs a rubbish tip, and is a 'fixer' for local criminals) the most interesting or multi-leveled. I'm curious as to where Fox takes the characters in the Ned Kelly Award winning follow-up, Eden, and beyond. I'd definitely read more of her crime writing.

Overall, if you love fast-paced plot-boilers that delve into sick serial killers and the grimy fringes of society, textured with some shading of character and setting, then I'd highly recommend Hades.

If you prefer more character-centric crime fiction that delivers greater richness or depth in the viewpoint characters, perhaps give Fox's successors for the Best First Fiction award a go instead: Emma Viskic (Resurrection Bay) and Jane Harper (The Dry).

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY by Barbara Fradkin (Dundurn, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Amanda Doucette’s cross-Canada charity tour is in for a cold snap when she organizes a winter camping trip for inner-city young people in the stunning setting of the Laurentian Mountains. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth. 

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception. 

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but this one's striking jacket grabbed my attention, prompting me to read the blurb and then give this new-to-me author a go. (I'm also a fan of Canadian crime writing, and books set in the wilderness, so several boxes ticked even before I'd read a page).

Overall, I enjoyed the read. The Trickster's Lullaby is a good page-turner where Fradkin, who was a psychologist before becoming a well-established author with two previous mystery series, crafts an intriguing tale with plenty of 'what's going on?' and 'what's going to happen?' narrative drive.

I hadn't read the first book in the Amanda Doucette series, Fire in the Stars, but Fradkin gives new readers enough background to have a good grasp of her heroine's traumatic history, and how it might be affecting her current choices. Doucette has been an overseas aid worker who's seen the worst of what humanity has to offer, who has witnessed the potentially devastating effects of prejudice against those tagged as 'different' or 'other' in some way (particularly by those holding power). She's still looking to rebalance and reset herself by spending times in the peaceful Canadian wilderness, and by helping kids who come from different cultures to share experiences and perhap grow understanding.

There's plenty going on in The Trickster's Lullaby, and most of it works very well. Fradkin delves into the psychological ramifications of the trauma Doucette has witnessed, as well as social and political issues like the online recruitment of disillusioned teens by radical figures.

It's an action-packed story set against a beautiful backdrop - the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. The winter season adds to the sense of isolation and hovering danger, as Doucette and the schoolkids are beset by challenges from without and within. The group dynamics, challenges of dealing with teenagers, and the wild environment are all evoked with a nice sense of authenticity.

Personally, I found it a little tough to warm to Doucette. She's an interesting character with a fascinating backstory, but one I felt at a little bit of a distance from, rather than being right alongside. She seemed to make illogical decisions that were more about herself (proving something to herself?) than caring for the kids or doing what might be right in a situation, despite her experience. I was still compelled to find out what happens/ed, but I wasn't quite pulled in as much as I'd hoped. Maverick characters are a staple of storytelling, of course, but this felt a little different, and didn't quite click.

Despite this minor quibble, overall I really enjoyed The Trickster's Lullaby, and I'd definitely read more of Fradkin's mystery writing, and more of the Amanda Doucette series. A good solid four-star read that just had the occasional wobble or off-note that meant it didn't quite reach five-star status.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Monday, November 20, 2017


DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan Publishing, 2016)

Reviewed by Anne Cater

Double-edged Sword is a survival story like no other. In 2003 Simonne Butler’s violent partner, high on methamphetamine, cut off both her hands with a samurai sword. Her hands were reattached in a groundbreaking marathon surgery and she spent the next decade healing her mind, body and spirit.

Despite five years in an extremely physically and emotionally abusive relationship, Simonne always had an unbreakable spirit. Even when her self-confidence and sense of self-preservation was at rock bottom, she was able to source phenomenal strength that saw her survive horrendous blood loss and being left for dead for hours, holding her severed limbs in such a way that allowed revascularisation to be possible.

Facing obstacles from the very start, including a troubled childhood and an alcoholic and volatile mother, Simonne’s optimism and determination have always shone through. 

Every victim of domestic violence must read this book, and their friends and family. Even those who have never been the victim of violence will be inspired, moved and enlightened by this candid and brutal memoir. Double-edged Sword is so much more than just a story of survival, it is a guidebook for humanity – how to shrug off the oppressors and the obstacles and live your life with the greatest intensity you can muster. It’s about conquering the demons and rising like a phoenix from the ashes and learning how to live with passion, honesty and love.

Double-Edged Sword is a brave, horrific and no-holds barred account of a terrible and terrifying incident that changed Simonne Butler's life in just a few minutes.
"On 21 January 2003 the man who I was once in love with, the man who said he loved me, attempted to decapitate me with a samurai sword."

This is the first line of Simonne's extraordinary story. It's a story of a woman who thought that she had finally found someone to love her and take care of her, and who gradually realised that this 'love affair' was actually toxic.

Whilst Simonne's story is well known in New Zealand, I had not heard of her, or what happened to her before. I read this book with no prior knowledge, I hadn't seen the TV reports, or read the news articles, all I had was Simonne's voice, telling her story, in her words.

It could have been easy for Simonne to gloss over her dysfunctional family life and her history of alcohol and drugs, but she doesn't. This is a brutally honest account of a life that was difficult from childhood. Simonne's mother was an alcoholic; a functioning alcoholic for most of the time but incredibly cruel and distant towards her daughter. When Simonne finally left home, aged twenty-one and her flat-mate's boyfriend Tony began to show an interest in her she found it very difficult. On one hand she knew that he was trouble, but on the other hand, she was attracted to him.

Tony and Simonne began a relationship and moved in together. What follows is a downward spiral of danger and terror and whilst Simonne knows that she should leave, and does try, she becomes so worn-down, that even when she finds out the truth about Tony's past, she stays.

The night that Tony tries to kill Simonne and her friend is described in graphic detail and makes for incredibly painful reading. God only knows how those two women survived such a determined and brutal attack on them, but they did, and Simonne relates her healing journey with both humour and incredible insight.

This is a book that is disturbingly compelling, it almost feels voyeuristic to continue to read of Simonne's struggle to be loved. Her incredible strength after such a devastating and life-changing attack is astonishing and she tells her story with such honesty and a touch of humour.

Double-Edged Sword is a book that should be read by everyone, it is raw, inspiring and enlightening.

Anne Cater is a hospice worker in Lincolnshire who also freelances in PR and admin roles for publishers, and reviews books and other items at Random Things Through My LetterboxThis review was originally published on her website as part of the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards blog tour, celebrating this year's finalists across three categories, and is reprinted here with her kind permission.  You can follow Anne on Twitter: @annecater