Dark Deeds Down Under 2 edited by Craig Sisterson

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Dark Deeds Down Under 2 edited by Craig Sisterson front cover

In rugby, Australia and New Zealand are sworn enemies. Off the pitch, they have more in common than they care to admit, whether it’s their shared landscapes, culture, troubled histories or love of the great outdoors. When it comes to crime fiction tastes are similar and Craig Sisterson’s second Dark Deeds Down Under anthology underlines this.

Craig is a relentless proponent of antipodean crime fiction, which is seen in his journalism and his work as an organiser of the Ngaio Marsh Awards in his native New Zealand. Here he presents short stories by 21 Aussie and Kiwi authors with a mix of established writers such as Peter Corris, Peter Papathanasiou, Emma Viskic and Helen FitzGerald, as well as newcomers like Dani Vee, Shelley Burne-Field and Jennifer Lane. Each brings something unique to the table, and with a variety as diverse as the Australian landscape, there is something for everyone’s taste and plenty new to discover.

Charity Norman, winner of the Ngaio Marsh Best First Novel Award in 2023, takes the stage as the opener. The Snare is a sinister story about a woman confessing in a cathedral with a twist involving the ultimate punishment. A woman’s wrath is the also driving force in Peter Papathanasiou‘s One Click, where a golfer gets more than he bargained for on the greens. Beatie, in Jennifer Lane’s The Barbecue, is a woman scorned, but in marriage, there are three sides: the man, the woman and truth.

Not all the women in these stories exhibit murderous tendencies though. On the other end of the spectrum, Natalie Conyer‘s The Uniform depicts a rookie police officer. Jackie Rose, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed cop, joined the force because her father was a police officer. She is ambitious but naive, and when confronted with a clear case of domestic abuse she is forced to look the other way because the perpetrator is the Minister of Finance. She learns that the law is not always black and white, as one might expect, and that laws are meant to be broken – by both parties.

Malla Nun‘s The Balance portrays a day in the life of Ayah Ryan, a biracial NSW police constable whose lean, half-Kenyan, half-English appearance along with her “full mouth and lack of penis gave the general public pause”. Here’s a blow-by-blow account of a day in the life of a police officer – from the trivial to the traumatic.

Anna South Wood, a Sydney private investigator, is drawn into a missing persons case in Jean Bedford’s I Know Where You Go, My Lovely, interrupting her vacation. Three months prior, Marty Rix, the boyfriend of Ramona Sanderson, vanished, and the police investigation produced no results. Anna uncovers an unexpected connection which resulted in his disappearance.

Georgia, a curious crime scene investigator, goes above and beyond her duties in Chad Taylor’s Vacancy, a neo-noir about the discovery of the bodies of a flashy estate agent man and woman in a seedy hotel. Bunny and Claude weren’t quite a couple on the run, but their shared business led to their bloody demise.

Jack Heath has written 39 thrillers for adults and children. In Bad Listener, he takes the perspective of a hearing-impaired detective who investigates a shooting in a Canberra apartment and becomes trapped when an outside shooter attempts to kill her. Detective Carol Roper has been pressured into retiring because she was deemed medically unfit. Despite losing her hearing in an explosion in a warehouse, she is still able to perform her duties, and her actions during the shooting demonstrate just that.

The old adage that ‘women are like teabags; they only know how strong they are when submerged in hot water’ holds true in the case of Sydney podcaster Dani Vee’s Not My Daughter. Dani’s first adult short story shows the desperate measures a mother will go through to protect her child from a psychopath from her past. Emma Viskic‘s We Design also explores the theme of escaping the past and protecting one’s children. We Design is actually a scene removed from her novel Resurrection Bay, featuring Caleb Zelic.

For those who prefer a more traditional crime story, the collection includes a locked-room mystery and a hardboiled noir story with the obligatory private detective. Seasoned crime writer Peter Corris introduces us to PI Cliff Hardy, who is hired by a man to find his missing fiancée. The couple are set to get married in two months, but Valerie Hammond doesn’t want to be found. The reason for her disappearance isn’t what we or her fiancé expect.

In Stephen Johnson’s The Cadaver Crew, a television crew who are usually in charge of covering murders is sent to a murder mystery weekend. A routine job takes an unexpected turn when the proprietor of the weekend and owner of Prospector House is discovered dead, and a real murderer must be identified.

What is particularly noticeable in this edition of the anthology is the prevalence of female characters of various ages and roles. Of the 21 stories almost half have female protagonists and 14 are written by women. Certainly a step in the right direction and another compelling reason to peruse these dark deeds. The only question that remains is: what dark delights will the next anthology contain?

For more crime fiction short stories, see our recent review of Bobby Mathews’ short story anthology, Negative Tilt.

Clan Destine Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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