Tag: Australia

Only Killers and Thieves Book Review

Tree suffering from droughtPaul Howarth’s debut novel Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping work of historical fiction. The story begins in 1885 and takes place in Central Queensland, Australia. The McBride family struggles to survive on the drought stricken land. Thus, from the start, the reader knows some hardship will befall the family dependent on a cattle operation for their livelihood.

Weaved into the plot is the tension between rival landowners, the indigenous population, settlers encroaching on native lands. But Howarth adds more. Only Killers and Thieves does more than give a glimpse at the past. This book reminds us how important it is to preserve an accurate history.

The McBride Boys

Billy is the elder. Sixteen at the start of the story. Tommy, 14, follows his lead. The third McBride child is Mary. Since the drought, most of the hands have gone. Arthur, a Mission raised black is the only reminder of a once productive operation. He is as much a mentor to Tommy as his father, McBride.

The only other help on the land is Joseph, a Kurrong. But Joseph leaves after the group finds the bodies of two Kurrong. The same two men the boys had recently seen alive chained behind the Native Police at the request of neighbor John Sullivan.

Soon after, tragedy strikes the homestead. The evidence seemingly points to Joseph. In the rush to get help for the gravely injured Mary, the choices begin. Once a path is chosen, the past cannot be undone. Tommy wants to head for the nearest town. The doc is there. But it is a two-hour ride.

Billy over rules him. Thus they ride toward the Sullivan holdings. Life changes forever.

Only Killers and Thieves

John Sullivan convinces Billy to alter the story of the evidence found at the homestead. Thus Billy tries to keep his younger brother out of the loop. But Tommy insists on participating. They become liars. Witnessing a sworn statement that a group of the Kurrong over ran their home. However, the downward spiral continues.

The McBride boys join the posse. Four white men and four Native Police comprise the entourage. The Kurrong are hunted. Then massacred. But Joseph is not among the group. Both teenagers take part. But the impact is not the same. Tommy has regrets. And questions. Why wasn’t Joseph with his people?

The division between the boys begins. Billy falls lockstep in with Sullivan and his view that all the blacks must be eliminated for the safety of the settlers. On the other hand, Tommy is truly a Doubting Thomas. He questions what really happened to his family. He questions himself. Then he seeks the truth and justice for the innocent.

Only Killers and Thieves is a work of fiction. But Howarth captures all the nuances of the time. The struggle between cultures. The fight to survive in a harsh environment. Furthermore, through the character of Tommy, Howarth displays how individuals must wrestle within themselves. Is there right from wrong? Is there a God? Or are we just specks in time?

This debut novel deserves much praise as does the author.

Picture of dry land with small patch of irrigated grazing

Nine Perfect Strangers Book Review

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is the most entertaining book I have read this year. One of those just can’t stand to put down books. If you like books that throw you for a loop then you must pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers.

The premise is straight forward at first. Various individuals are participating in a transformational cleanse at a health spa in Australia. Moriarty tells the story through each one of the characters. The alternation of the point of view is aided by chapter titles identifying which character the scene is centered on. Each of the characters has a story to tell.

Nine people; two single men, two single women, a young couple and a family of three check into the resort for ten days of renewal. They are expecting to cleanse themselves. Both a physical cleanse and a mental cleanse. Thus, no outside food nor electronic connections to the world are allowed.

Noble Silence

In addition to a ban on comfort food and social media, the Tranquillum House retreat commands absolute silence for the first five days. This noble silence will start the guests on their way to healing. Of course a rebellion rears up. Tony starts pushing back first. He questions whether the staff has gone through his bags. Both he and Frances tried to sneak in goodies.

Seemingly, Masha the director of the retreat gets everything back on track. Even to the point of re-starting the Noble Silence. But the temporary revolt has thrown her off track. After five days of “silence” and ordinary expectations of what goes on at a spa, Moriarty throws the readers for a loop. A totally unexpected discovery (at least to this reader) by one of the characters turns the plot line upside down.

Nine Perfect Strangers Unite

The story line becomes quite tense at this point. Each of the characters unravels. And in that unraveling readers will identify somehow, someway with at least one. Laughter, some tears, and a shocking revelation or two will keep the reader spellbound as these nine individuals work their way through a crisis.

Liane Moriarty has written another bestseller. I loved it. She ties things up and yet she leaves some things to your imagination. Nine Perfect Strangers may be as transforming to the reader as Tranquillum House was to the characters. The book is fun to read, it provides food for thought…and perhaps, most importantly, food for the soul.

 

THE DRY

The Dry by Jane Harper

The book starts out with death. A murder/suicide blamed on the harsh conditions of an Australian drought. The isolated farming town of Kiewarra is the background setting for Jane Harper’s The Dry a crime fiction novel published in 2016.
Aaron Falk returns to the town he grew up in to attend the funeral of his friend Luke Hadler, a funeral he might have skipped if not for the accusatory note sent by Gerry Hadler, “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.” Falk is a Federal Agent and the elder Hadler needs him to look into the death of his son.

A past death is entwined in the story. As youngsters Falk and Hadler had a close friendship with Ellie Deacon, a victim of a drowning during their high school years. Before the drowning the group became a foursome during the teen years with the addition of Gretchen Schoner. The storyline does an excellent job of fleshing out the teenagers flaws and discloses how those surviving evolved as adults. Town folk at the time were suspicious of Falk and Luke Hadler provided him with an alibi. Naturally, the current situation is compounded by the mystery of the past.

Falk and the current local law, Sargent Raco have doubts about the crime. Why was the baby spared and not the grade school son? Why leave the house, after killing the wife and son and then commit suicide? Why, was the ammunition used a different brand than what Luke Hadler had stocked? Thus, the basis of the story is discovery of the truth.

Harper does an outstanding job bringing the setting to life. The reader can almost feel the scorching heat. It is easy to see how such dire conditions could lead to a murder/ suicide. The characters are complex and interesting. The flashbacks are key to understanding the present. A few twists and turns in the plot keep the reader engaged.

The italicized flashbacks flesh out the characters. Harper used this technique to let the reader glimpse the background of the story line. Usually I do not like books with this style of writing because the two time periods make it difficult to follow the story line. However, The Dry works well with this type of writing, perhaps because the two tie so well together. The first death could be a catalyst for the second. Thus I did not see the ending coming.

I enjoyed reading the story. I was caught up in both the plot and the characters. The suspense level was adequate as this book should be categorized as a fictional crime more than a mystery. The key difference is subtle. You are not on the edge of your seat wondering who will be the next victim. Instead you follow the lead characters as the past is confronted and the murder/suicide is exposed along with an outstanding development of characters.

Go to the nearest library or bookstore and look for Jane Harper’s The Dry. You won’t be disappointed. This is a tremendous effort for a first publication. I like her writing and look forward to reading her future works.