Today our ANZAC cousins 'across the ditch' (how us antipodeans refer to the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand) are celebrating their national day, Australia Day. So in honour of all things Australian, and inspired by my excellent fellow Anzac bloggers Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise and Bernadette of Reactions to Reading - who have today relaunched their revamped joint Australian crime fiction blog Fair Dinkum Crime (check it out here), I thought that today I would share with you a couple of my most popular Australian-related posts of last year - my review of Leah Giarratano's BLACK ICE, and my 9mm interview with Michael Robotham.
So have a read of my Aussie-tinged review and interview, then pop over to Fair Dinkum Crime and leave a message for Kerrie and Bernadette. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi.
By Leah Giarratano (Random House, 2009)In BLACK ICE, her third in a series featuring city detective Jill Jackson, Giarratano picks at the scab of Sydney’s murky drugs underbelly; a world where everyone from glamorous A-Listers to addicted streetkids to and vicious gangs, all collide.
The publisher's blurb states: "Living in a run down flat and making unlikely friends Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Jill's sister Cassie has a new boyfriend Christian Worthington. Like her, he is one of the beautiful people of Sydney, rich, good looking, great job, great car and seen in all the right places. He is a high flying lawyer doing pro bono work to keep a drug dealer out of gaol. He is also Cassie's supplier, keeping her supplied with cocaine and ice. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Seren Templeton is just out of Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre. Two years in gaol away from her son for something she didn't do. And now she is ready to get her revenge on the man responsible. Things start to go awry when these worlds collide and Jill and Cassie meet on opposite sides of the law."
I really enjoyed this book, and I found myself enjoying it more and more as it went on. I ended up giving it a 4-star rating for a short review I did for Good Reading magazine (I mark reasonably hard - I've only ever given two five-star reviews out of 40-50 reviews for them).
I must admit that initially I wasn't that enamoured with Jackson as a main character - this may have been because I didn't have the full background on her from the first two books of the series, so some of her behaviour seemed a touch eye-rolling/contrived to me, when it may have seemed more organic and believable if I'd known more about her and her past. But Jackson (and Giarratano's writing) really grew on me throughout, and by the end of the book I was keen to read another tale centred on the (overly?) ambitious, complex, and flawed detective.
I particularly liked Giarratano's mix of setting (the gritty urban Australia underbelly), good dialogue, interesting plot, and some unique and memorable characters. BLACK ICE has a real modern, contemporary feel - not just because of the modern lifestyles and drugs involved, but the punchy way in which Giarratano writes, and her fresh evocation of the different layers of Australian drugs culture. Overall Giarratano pens a taut thriller; she excels in bringing the gritty world and her unique characters to life with realism and freshness.
If I have a quibble, it's that at times at times I could see the psychologist in her coming through a little too much, especially when it came to 'excusing' or mitigating the actions of some characters (particularly any female character - whose flaws always seemed to come down to how badly she'd been treated by some man in her past). The consistency of this pulled me out of the story a little at times, as I was left thinking about the author and her approach, rather than being completely and totally involved with the characters and story - you could 'see the author's hand' a little, which isn't a good thing. However, this was a very minor flaw in an otherwise great read.
The freshness of Giarratano's writing, her wonderful scene-setting, her unique characters, and her good plotting, will all bring me back for more. A good read for anyone looking for some very modern and contemporary city-set Australian crime fiction.
The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Michael Robotham
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Um, Dave Robicheaux - I think James Lee Burke is just one of the most astonishing writers - forget about literary fiction, crime fiction, genre fiction - he’s just amazing, he’s got the soul of a poet. And every book just seems fresh to me, and very few people manage to create a series character where they can do that.
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I’ll tell you a story. I fell in love at a very young age, probably about 12 or 13, with Ray Bradbury’s stuff. He did the Twilight Zone type of stuff, and he was an amazing novelist, but mainly did short stories. A limited number of Ray Bradbury titles were available in Australia, so at a very young age, I might have been 13 or 14, I wrote a letter addressed to Ray Bradbury, well it was addressed to sort of ‘Random House, America’ - there was no address other than that, and six months later a package arrived in the post, and it was the five books that weren’t available in Australia, with a letter from Ray Bradbury saying how truly thrilled he was to have a young fan on the other side of the world. And I feel that was one of the reasons I became a writer, I think, just because of the generosity of spirit of that man, and his astonishing act of generosity. And so I always remember Bradbury.
Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
There was the great Australian unpublished novel, which is still unpublished, but will be published some day. But other than that, there were 16 ghost-written autobiographies for various people, and lots and lots of journalism.
Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?Ha, ha, hahaha - I don’t have a life other than that. I spend time with my family, with my daughters. When I was a ghost-writer I did quite a bit of reading, but if I’m reading I feel guilty, and that I should actually be writing. I don’t really have any activities, any hobbies. That’s what my wife says, that I don’t have any hobbies.
But writing starts as a passionate hobby, that’s how it has to start. So my passionate hobby became my career, and so it’s all I really want to do.
What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Probably take the mail ferry from Palm Beach, it’s a two-hour round trip along the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River. You jump on the ferry, and it stops at all the little communities. It’s this most spectacular natural harbour north of Sydney, but it’s mostly bushland, with these incredible sorts of views, and you can just sit out and look and it costs virtually nothing. At the other end it stops for about half an hour at this little place where you can have a cup of tea or coffee, and you just jump on the ferry and come back again. It’s just a wonderful way to spend the day.
If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?Dreyfus. Everybody says I look like Richard Dreyfus. It’s funny, but he’s the guy that I most often get mistaken for. I should actually say that Richard Dreyfus most often gets mistaken for me (chuckling).
Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
All writers are told by their publishers, that they have to say the latest one. All writers are told you don’t announce ‘oh no, this isn’t my favourite book, my favourite book is the second one’ (chuckling).
But... The first one, because to sell a half-finished manuscript all around the world, it just changed my life. And when people talk about books that changed their lives - reading a book or writing one - that was the book that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, after being at the London Book Fair, my life just changed, within a couple of hours. And it was just, after having 16 books for other people, that my name never appeared on, to actually see a book appear in a bookstore, with my name on it, was a very special moment.
What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?Crime writing publication - well as I say, that sort of happened with getting a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning, saying there were six American publishers bidding, and two French publishers, and you don’t go to sleep after something like that, so we lay in bed, and at about 7 o’clock in the morning we’d spent the money, and we’d cast the film (chuckling). And that was about it really. I’m sure we had a bottle of wine, we have a bottle of wine most nights, but I don’t know whether we did anything other than that. But it did change my life. I mean, I’d been a ghost-writer so I’d been a published writer for many, many years, but it was still one of those great moments.
What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Good or bad? Well, the good - doing a signing event in a town in Western Australia which had a population of 125, and 75 people turned people turned up. So that was absolutely mad. And the other side of it is I’ve been to places where three people turn up, and one of them is in a pram.
There was one book signing at a small bookstore in Sydney where there was no room for me to sign in the bookstore, so they put the table outside with a microphone, and they expected me to spruik. That did not go down well.
Who are some of your favourite Australian crime fiction authors? What Australian crime novels do you recommend? Have you read Giarratano or Robotham? Comments welcome.