The Australian crime fiction scene is going strong. That’s the good news. The not so good news for anyone reading this outside of Australia, and my guess is that’s most of you, is a lot of locally produced books are hard to access overseas. While local small and niche publishers have embraced electronic publishing with gusto, some of the bigger publishing houses lag well behind when it comes to getting their Australian authors out on ebook.
Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson
My first pick of new Australian talent to watch for is a case in point, Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson. It’s publisher, the Viking imprint of Penguin has not released it digitally, and it’s not even available as a dead tree book on Amazon. You might – at a stretch – be able to buy it on-line from selected bookshops. Make the effort because Line of Sight, Whish-Wilson’s second book but his first crime novel, is for my money the best thing to come out of Australia in a very long time (and yes, that does include Peter Temple).
The book is loosely based on the real life murder in the seventies of a notorious Perth brothel madam, Shirley Finn. It’s told from the point of view of Superintendent Frank Swan, a tough as nails old school cop turned whistle blower for the sham Royal Commission established to look into Finn’s murder. Well written and meticulously researched, it’s a wonderful piece of hard-boiled writing and an incisive analysis of the changing nature of corruption in Western Australia. There’s a sequel in the works. I can hardly wait.
Fortunately, you’ll have an easier time getting my other picks.
Prime Cut by Alan Carter
There must be something in the West Australian water because of late they’re producing some seriously good fiction. Prime Cut is Carter’s first book. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Debut Dagger Award and won Best First Fiction at the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards. The story centres on Senior Constable Cato Kwong, former homicide detective and failed poster boy for the West Australian police force’s attempts to appear more ethnically inclusive. Exiled to a small coastal town, he’s called in to investigate the appearance of a headless body.
The town surrounding area is experiencing rapid growth as a result of West Australia’s mining boom, including an influx of crime. It’s dark and funny and available as an e-book by up and coming local publisher, Freemantle Press.
Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
The Brotherhood by Yvette Erskine
Erskine was a constable in the Tasmanian police force for 11 years. That makes her well placed to help meet the Australian crime reading public’s insatiable appetite for police procedurals. The Brotherhood, her first novel, details the aftermath of the murder of well-known local cop. The investigation into his death becomes has to navigate the island’s small, close-knit police force. Things become even more complex when the main suspect is identified as Aboriginal. Well written, with excellent characterisation, The Brotherhood is a dark twist on the police procedural.
It’s available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon in the UK. It’s pricey but worth it.
Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
Watch Out for Me by Sylvia Johnson
Sydney, 1967: four children tell a lie to get out of trouble, setting up a chain of events in which an immigrant is accused of a terrible crime, because he claimed to be in the same place the children claimed to be, when they were not.
Fast forward to the present day. Sydney is on lock-down due to the visit of the American president. One of the four children is now grown up and angry at the inconvenience of security arrangements against a potential terrorist attack. At the same time, there are increasing reports about the strange behaviour of a man wearing a thick overcoat, who seems to be making his way to the scene of the events 40 years earlier. I won’t say any more. It’s an intriguing premise that by some accounts does not quite live up to its potential. Nonetheless, it’s a well-written first book that promises much more to come from Johnson. Better still its publisher, Allan and Unwin, have released Watch Out for Me as an ebook.
Buy now from Booktopia, Australia
Pericles Commission by Gary Corby
This one’s a bit out of the box but will appeal to fans of historical crime fiction. A dead man falls from the sky and lands at the feet of Nicolas, son of Sophroniscus the sculptor one Athens morning in 461AD. The body belongs to Ephialtes, creator of the world’s first, and still fledgling, democracy. And his death could mean civil war. In the absence of a family member to do the job Pericles, a politician and supporter of the move towards democracy, commissions Nicolas to investigate and bring the individual or group responsible to justice.
I have not read this book, but by all accounts it’s an intriguing fictional romp based on real historical events with a large cast of deftly drawn characters, from slaves to high priestesses. There’s a sequel in the works. There’s no sign of an ebook from the publisher Penguin, but it’s available in paperback from Amazon.
Buy now on Amazon.co.uk