DEATH AT VICTORIA DOCKS
Poisoned Pen Press
$24.95/$34.95, hc and pc
This is the fourth in that delightful 1920s mystery series by Australian writer, Kerry Greenwood, about the Honourable Phryne Fisher. Phryne is the woman we’d all like to be, debonair, independent and brilliant, the Australian private investigator who never turns a hair.
Phyrne is driving home past the Victorian Dock when some blaggard shoots at her smashing her beautiful car’s windscreen. The two men continue shooting. Phryne is outraged, more so when she finds that what the men originally shot was a handsome young man who dies in her arms. Vowing vengeance Phryne begins investigating and finds herself deep in a tangle of politics, bigots and revolutionaries. Worse yet, the anarchists start hunting her. Bringing the villains to justice takes place amidst the usual whirl of Phryne’s social life in Melbourne, beautiful dresses, evenings at the ballet or luxurious times at home. She even manages to find a runaway school girl before winding up the anarchists and giving them their just desserts.
It’s a wonderful read, and a delightful glimpse of 1920s Melbourne. I’m glad the early books are being republished and look forward to adding them to my bookshelf.
THE BOYS OF SAN JOAQUIN
D. James Smith; Aladdin Paperbacks, 2006, $5.99, pb, 231pp, ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-1619-2
Small town California in 1951 is the setting for this children’s novel, a world where Mums stay home and father’s word is law, where girls get married as soon as they leave school, and church is still the centre of the community. Written with a strong eye to the ‘get-the-boys-reading’ movement, hero Paulo, is 12, a very active young man, and he doesn’t like girls. Paulo, and his deaf cousin, Billy, are treasure hunting. The church collection money has disappeared and they’d like to find it. An amusing adventure story where everything ends happily ever after and Paulo and Billy learn quite a few things on their way to finding and returning the money to Monsignor.
There are a notable list of characters to meet, not least Paulo’s large family, his Mother’s Italian relatives and his quieter Appalachian father’s relatives. The cover comparisons to another Mark Twain don’t quite hold up, (All that hype never does. Why do publishers insist on using it?) but it is a ripping good yarn for boys to enjoy.
ABOUT THIS NEW NOVEL: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back—a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.
Shaye Areheart Books
hc, 419 pages
This elegantly written book, a gripping story, is also a stunning insight into the China of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. If your knowledge of Communist China was gathered through Western news, then this book is a revelation. If you thought that life was better for many people after the People’s revolution then you will be as disappointed as I to read about Chairman Mao’s lordly feudal lifestyle and his traditional methods of government.
‘Brothers’ is about the lives of Shento and Tan, half brothers, sharing a father, but not a lifestyle. The novel follows the two boys through the time of the Cultural Revolution until the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Also linking them is the love story between each brother and Sumi, the orphan who becomes a national literary star.
Tan is the adored son of one of Mao’s favourites. He and his family live as part of the Chairman’s extended family in glorious feudal comfort in Beijing. Shento is the bastard, rescued from a bizarre birth that was a near death into a happy if poor village childhood. After a Chinese-Vietnamese border dispute Shento’s village becomes home to the Chinese army and he finally meets his father, the general, and works out the truth. From then on, in Shento’s mind, he and Tan’s family are linked An attack on the village by the Vietnamese leaves Shento the sole survivor but his appeal for help is rejected by ‘his family’. He is shipped off to an orphanage. This hell-hole is far removed from Tan’s palatial home, but Shento does meet Sumi, and they manage to survive.
So what happens when two brilliant minds are nurtured in such different ways? The plot weaves an intricate pattern through Tan and Shento’s lives with rejection, Sumi’s love, and the struggle for power as strong forces in shaping the men the boys become. It is an absorbing read.
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