Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Advance Australia Fair?

Nicole Chamoun as Amanda and Thomas Jane as Ted in the ABC series Troppo, based on Candice Fox's excellent "Crimson Lake" crime novels

Craig, once again every second Tuesday. 

Kia ora and gidday everyone.

So later this week, on Thursday, Australia Day is celebrated. It's the national day for our 'cuzzies across the Ditch' as we Kiwis would say (the Ditch being the Tasman Sea that separates Australia and New Zealand - that's right, you can't drive from one country to the other, as some of my northern hemisphere friends have sometimes thought, and there is no bridge given it's a three-hour flight across the waters. For my UK friends, imagine if Greece was the nearest country to the UK and everything in between was water). 

There's been growing controversy about Australia Day in recent years, given that its date originally marks the 1788 landing of the 'First Fleet' at Sydney Cove and the raising of the Union flag. So a bit of a 'colonial' thing, when of course there had been people living in Australia for tens of thousands of years before European immigrants first arrived. In fact Australia's true first peoples - widely known as Aboriginal Australians - are likely the oldest human cultures outside of Africa. But while the date may have first been chosen for colonial/Euro-centric reasons, for many people Australia Day has come to mean celebrating all of Australia and Australian-ness, including its first peoples. 

Lisa Fuller is the award-winning author of GHOST BIRD, an excellent YA mystery. She's a Wuilli Wuilli woman from Queensland, also descended from Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka peoples who lived in Australia for thousands of years before European settlement. 

While official government websites now stress that Australia Day celebrates all Australians - showcasing its first peoples, descendants of those early European settlers, and modern immigrants, and the official Australia Day website talks of it being "the story of an extraordinary nation ... The Story begins 60,000 years ago. New chapters are written every day", there are still plenty of calls for the date of Australia's 'national day' to be changed. 

Some high-profile Australians have spoken out against celebrating the entire country on a day some see as 'Invasion Day', or as indigenous cricket star Ash Gardner recently said, "marked the beginning of genocide, massacres, and dispossession". The Australian Open tennis tournament is reportedly not doing any Australia Day celebrations this year, even as thousands of events from backyard barbecues to fireworks shows to sailing regattas and international cricket matches will take place. In Sydney, Australia Day will dawn with a display of artwork by Kamilaroi woman Rhonda Sampson projected on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. So, feelings are mixed among Australians. 

Ash Gardner, a proud Muruwari woman and international cricket star, with
some traditional dot art she created during COVID lockdowns

I have lots of Aussie mates who really enjoy their national holiday, whether its gathering with fellow Aussies overseas for drunken shenanigans and stories of home (or memories of such from their younger years) or spending time with their family and friends at home or at the beach or at one of the many events taking place across the nation and overseas. Of course all of that could and would continue even if the date changed on the calendar. 

But given our bookish bent here, let me celebrate my Aussie cuzzies with a wee showcase of recent-ish books from Down Under that readers all over the world should check out. Here are 13 Aussie crime novels and authors to try. 

GHOST BIRD by Lisa Fuller - originally published in Australian in 2019, this multi-award-winning YA mystery was released in the UK by Old Barn Books in late 2021 - it's great to see it more readily available for northern hemisphere readers. Fuller weaves indigenous community, culture, and spiritual beliefs into a terrific thriller about a small-town teenager in rural Queensland searching for her missing twin sister. 

EXILES by Jane Harper - the fifth mystery from a modern Queen of Australian Crime, whose brilliant debut THE DRY opened eyes to Outback Noir all over the world, is released in the USA and UK in the next fortnight. It sees the return of federal investigator Aaron Falk (played by Eric Bana in the film of THE DRY), as he's caught up in a bewildering family tragedy after a mother vanishes from a springtime festival in South Australian wine country. 

EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE by Benjamin Stevenson - one of my favourite reads of 2022 has just come out this month in the United States. Crime writing how-to-guide writer Ernie Cunningham reluctantly heads to a family reunion to celebrate the release from prison of his brother, who's now with Ernie's wife. A startlingly clever mystery that delights in and plays with longstanding tropes and rules of the crime genre. 

DIRT TOWN by Hayley Scrivenor aka DIRT CREEK in the United States - an intimate portrait of a community torn by the disappearance of 12-year-old Esther Bianchi, told via kaleidoscopic narration. exquisite characterization, as Scrivenor deftly brings a variety of townsfolk to vivid life, along with the intricate tapestry of their connections, secrets, feuds, prejudices, and (mis)perceptions. Character-centric crime fiction imbued with humanity and hurt. 

NO COUNTRY FOR GIRLS by Emma Styles - the riveting tale of two young women from messy family situations thrust together in Western Australia, and the carnage that ensues. Shades of "Thelma and Louise" as Aboriginal law student Nao and fists-first highschooler Charlie end up stuck together, on the run. There’s a fabulous rawness to Styles’ debut crime tale; strong voices and viewpoints that aren’t polite or prettied up. Gritty and gripping,

DEAD MAN'S CREEK by Chris Hammer - out in UK hardcover this month, Hammer's excellent fifth novel (aka THE TILT in Australia and New Zealand) sees the return of young cop Nell Buchanan and her sorta-mentor Ivan Lucic. A decades-old murder wasn't what Nell wanted as a newly minted detective, especially when it takes her back to her hometown, and starts getting entwined with her own family history. A superb novel from a master storyteller. 

THE WOMAN IN THE LIBRARY by Sulari Gentill - recently announced as one of the nominees for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award at the Edgar Awards, Gentill (creator of the excellent Rowly Sinclair historical mysteries) crafts a mind-bending standalone firmly ensconced in the book world. Four people are sitting at a table in the Boston Public Library: is one a murderer? A story within a story, an unconventional, brilliant thriller. 

WAKE by Shelley Burr - an extraordinary debut and one of my fave 2022 reads. A beautifully written novel where first-time novelist Burr meshes two increasingly popular things - true crime obsession and Outback Noir - and still crafts her own distinctive, vivid and atmospheric story. New investigations of a 19-year-old cold case of a vanished child upturn the lives of family and the small farming community. Tense and emotional, an excellent read. 

THE WAY IT IS NOW by Garry Disher - the latest novel (in the northern hemisphere - Australian and New Zealand readers got DAYS END late last year) from the quiet King of Australian crime writing. Disher is a doyen of Australian crime, a giant on whose shoulders many modern authors have stood. Here he delves into the toll policing can take, as burnt-out cop Charlie Deravin finds himself caught up in a deeply personal investigation. Outstanding.

SEVEN SISTERS by Katherine Kovacic - a striking standalone just released in Australia from the author of the Alex Clayton art mysteries (and writer of JUST MURDERED, a TV tie-in of Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries). Naomi joins a grief counselling group with therapist Mia and five other women who've suffered devastating losses. Can they help each other overcome their hurt and anger, through any means necessary? A gripping revenge thriller. 

TAKEN by Dinuka McKenzie - the sequel to one of my fave debuts of last year (a year of tremendous debuts), and second Detective Kate Miles novel is released in Australia next week. DS Miles is back from maternity leave and feeling the pressure at work and home. When an infant goes missing, she finds herself fronting a high stakes and emotionally fraught case. THE TORRENT was terrific, and this is one of my most-anticipated reads of 2023. 

LYING BESIDE YOU by Michael Robotham - two-time CWA Gold Dagger winner Michael Robotham returns with another terrific thriller, the third in his newer series starring psychologist Cyrus Haven and gifted, damaged teenager Evie Cormac. While struggling with the upcoming release of his brother from state hospital, Cyrus is called to help the police hunt a killer who beat a father to death and abducted the daughter. Robotham is a must-read. 

THOSE WHO PERISH by Emma Viskic - the fourth and (for now) final instalment in Viskic's outstanding series starring deaf private eye Caleb Zelic – who’s grown but is still a stubborn and snarky work-in-progress. Caleb once again puts himself in danger and risks his most precious relationships as he tries to uncover the truth after getting a text from his drug addict brother, and shot at. Twisty storytelling pulsing with humanity and prose that sings. 

So there you go, a baker's dozen of fantastic Australian crime novels and authors for you to try. What has been your favourite Australian crime novel of the past few years? Oh, and of course if you want to try some Down Under authors in shorter form, test things out so to speak, you could always grab this ground-breaking anthology I had the privilege of editing last year - DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER, which does include short stories from some of the excellent authors above. 

Until next time. Ka kite anō. 

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 

Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I'll be ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life. 

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi

(With your basket and my basket the people will live)


  1. Thank you for the book recommendations--I'm afraid only one of them was on my radar but they all are now. And we've got the colonial hangover a little here too--

  2. Just when I think I've more than enough in my TBR pile, you add Must Reads to the mountain! Not complaining, just explaining. :)