Crime Fiction

Ever since Raymond Chandler decreed in The Simple Art of Murder (1950) that ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid’, writers of hard-boiled crime fiction have queued up to take a shot at creating a hero who is less of a paragon than Chandler’s prescription and therefore supposedly more credible. Some, like James Ellroy, even abandon the project altogether, declaring the streets of the modern Western city to be so detestably mean that no one resembling Philip Marlowe could possibly be found on them.

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Fremantle is rapidly becoming a preferred setting for novelists seeking to explore the hidden costs of the mining boom. Within weeks of the publication of Tim Winton’s Eyrie, which is haunted by the crime and gritty emptiness of the city’s rough side, we now have Getting Warmer, Alan Carter’s second novel and the sequel to Prime Cut (2011).

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Garry Disher’s World War II novel Past the Headlands (2001) was inspired in part by his discovery of the diary of an army surgeon in Sumatra, who wrote of how his best friend was trying to arrange passage on a ship or plane that could take them back to Australia before the advancing Japanese army arrived. But one morning the surgeon woke to find that his friend had departed during the night. Mateship in a time of adversity, that most vaunted of masculine Australian virtues, had turned out to be a sham. The elusiveness of real friendship and love, and the difficulty of discerning what is true and what is false in human conduct, are recurring themes in Disher’s writing, and he visits them again in his latest book, Bitter Wash Road.

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When not preferring silence, I like to listen to Leonard Cohen and Emmylou Harris, but a friend recently introduced me to the early music ensemble, Accordone (Marco Beasley and Guido Morini).

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Cass Lehman keeps to herself – her mother and grandmother tell other residents of sleepy Jewel Bay that she is agoraphobic. Her real reason for staying in her house for the past nine years is that she has a terrifying kind of ‘retrocognition’: if Cass passes over a place where someone has died, she experiences their death. And death, as it turns out, is everywhere: on the street, at newly renovated pharmacies, and in teenagers’ trysting spots. The daughter and granddaughter of women who also have paranormal gifts, Cass has long believed she, and others, will be safer if she remains a recluse. But now, ‘on the wrong side of twenty-five’, she wants to experience more of life.

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Known in certain quarters as ‘the godfather of Australian crime fiction’, Peter Corris is certainly persistent. Prior to this, he has written thirty-seven novels involving the wily, irrepressible Cliff Hardy. The Dunbar Case showcases an older but still sprightly Hardy, who deals with maritime mysteries, amorous women, and a notorious crime family.

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Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders fittingly begins with steely-eyed detectives examining a gruesome crime scene on Christmas Eve, 1943. The bodies of a father and son are found broken and bloodied in the dead of night, the son nailed to the floor in a ‘savage parody’ of the Crucifixion. From the memorable opening sequence, Gott demonstrates an int ...

Matthew Condon is a writer who confounds expectations. He followed his prize-winning epic novel The Trout Opera (2007) with Brisbane (2010), a meditative exploration of the city’s rich history. In The Toe Tag Quintet, he turns his hand to crime. This is not a novel but a series of novellas about a detective’s exploits following his retirement to the Gold Coast. The stories are consecutive but distinct, a mosaic structure not unlike the one Condon used to great effect in his début collection, The Motorcycle Cafe (1988).

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The Midnight Promise, Zane Lovitt’s début novel, is billed not as a detective story, but as a detective’s story. It is a minor grammatical change that makes for a major shift in the focus of the tale. Here there is no major dramatic revelation – no car chase, forensic science, femme fatale. Instead, the reader is offered a character study of a man slowly succumbing to depression, apathy, and alcoholism; worn down by his cases and by his inability to maintain his independence from them.

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Promise is set on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, although it might as well be Siberia so far as any claims to historical or social verisimilitude are concerned. Just about every stereotype ever devised in the name of crime fiction has been assembled here, resulting in a story so over the top as to stretch credulity beyond breaking point.

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