Lingering Doubts by Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis

March 3, 2014 - 4:45 pm 10 Comments

Lingering Doubts

by Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis

Sixty-six years after Reg Brown was convicted and imprisoned for the alleged sexually-motivated slaying of 19-year-old Bronia Armstrong, his granddaughters, Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis, investigated ‘The Arcade Murder’—as it was generally known—and published Lingering Doubts. If this book hasn’t vindicated their grandfather, to some extent straightening a highly-suspect official record, it has raised grave doubts about the integrity of the police investigation in 1947, headed by Detective Frank Bischof.

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Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

May 31, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments

Andrew Yancy is extremely pissed off by the bad manners of an absent neighbour who is building a three-story monstrosity on the land next door to his place.  This kitsch building is not only ugly and would require 24-hour air-conditioning and temperature control (very environmentally considerate), but is blocking his view of the sunset. The land Yancy and his neighbour are sharing was once the habitat of tiny deer  which used to come to feed at close of day. Fortunately Yancy has a few plans of his own which will discourage the poisonous aspirations of the greedy and rather stupid real estate adventurer. Meanwhile, a human arm has been snagged on the  line of a honeymooning geriatric tourist who is on a chartered fishing boat in Florida Keys. This decomposing horror ends up in Yancy’s esky, with his popsicles and soft drinks, and then later in his home freezer, with his popsicles and soft drinks. In an attempt to get his job back, ex-copper Yancy tries ingratiating himself with his ex-boss, who is worried that floating body parts might deter the tourists. Despite some plausible explanations for the severed arm from officialdom, Yancy doesn’t buy. He runs his own investigation, which cuts bureaucratic corners, annoys everyone in sight, and of course, observing the conventions of the crime fiction, solves the sordid little crime. This, while he is keeping body and soul together with work as a restaurant inspector which horrifies him almost as much as the construction work going on next door.

As is usual with Hiaasen’s oeuvre, his characters tend to the exotic—Florida and the Bahamas must be a magnet for such colourful people. There’s an ancient nymphomaniacal wheelchair-bound voodoo witch, several very nasty thugs, an ex-schoolteacher who has had an affair with one of her under-aged students and is wanted by the police in the state in which she committed her crime, a black greenie who is doing his utmost to prevent the development of yet another tourist resort on the land which was once his home, and the eponymous monkey, a failed thespian, kicked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for some very bad behaviour. Here I feel I must make the point that the females in this tale are much nicer than those in most of Hiaasen’s  other books. His femme fatales and even his minor female characters  are often  such bitches they spoil his stories, for, it’s necessary to understand, if not to empathise, with the main characters in a crime thriller. The problem with making all the ladies such evil pieces of work is that they can become two-dimensional, ultimately unbelievable; it also has the tendency to make the author look like something of a misogynist. In Bad Monkey the bad girls are believable. One can plot their moral decline and accept that that’s what happened. However, I’m not talking about the voodoo queen, here. She is such an eccentric, she seems to  be more a part of the lush, tropical setting of the book, than someone you have to get your mind around. And she’s funny. You’ve got to laugh about what happens to one of the thugs who comes into her thrall. And isn’t this part of the lure of the crime thriller. . . the sense of restoring order to a chaotic and often frightening world? The feeling that somehow good may still be able to triumph over evil, even though the media often leaves us with a distinct impression that it doesn’t? The voodoo queen seems more a force of nature, rather than being completely human, and therefore, quite neutral to the outcomes of our little lives.

Those who know Hiaasen’s work will know that humour is its hallmark.  He’s funny, very, very funny. There is a touch of out-of-control Raymond Chandler about his stuff. Chandler is ironic, Hiaasen is a belly laugh. However, the downside of  Bad Monkey is that you may think twice about eating in a restaurant again. So, if you haven’t already. . . learn to cook.

Kitty’s War

April 24, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments
Kitty’s War

Janet Butler

UQP; Nonfiction/History; $32.95

Officers of the Great War believed that nurses were a nuisance on the battlefield, fearing  sexual liaisons between them and the men would undermine discipline. Refusing to acknowledge the enormous contributions to the war effort these women made, some ignored their presence, addressing any orders or comments to the (male) orderlies, which of course created discipline problems for the more highly qualified nursing staff. This happened in the early years of the war when nurses were considered “honorary officers”— not given actual rank. By 1916, the AIF, following the Canadian model, gave their nurses rank and allowed them to wear the insignia denoting it on their uniforms—though it never paid the women as much as any male of the same military status.

Janet Butler uncovers a fascinating history in Kitty’s War in which she is particularly preoccupied with society’s expectations for the “ministering angels” of WWI, and the nurses’ changing perceptions of their own roles, as observed in the diaries they kept. Kit McNaughton, from rural Victoria, was one of  very few women allowed to go to war on the SS Orsova in 1915. She cared for the Gallipoli wounded on Lemnos Island, then was sent to France for the casualties of the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, completing her service as Australia’s first plastic surgery nurse. Like those of many other Australian nurses, Kit’s story is one of heart-breaking sacrifice, discrimination, petty officialdom, and broken personal  health.

Some readers may find Butler’s  academic approach, with references to other researchers, irritating. However I did not find this too intrusive, and, unlike some works that evolve from universities, the writing style is accessible to all and the subject matter so engrossing, this book should have a wide readership. It would be a timely read for or around ANZAC day.

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

January 16, 2013 - 9:30 pm No Comments
The Butterfly Cabinet
Bernie McGill
Publisher: Headline Review
The charm intrinsic to collecting butterflies and pinning them to a display board eludes me.
It seems to be the chief delight—with riding her barely-tamed horse, Caesar—of Harriet Ormond. Certainly dead butterflies are easier to view and appreciate for their miraculous colourings, but the essential spirit of butterfly, or “flutterby” as I remember calling each little enchantment  as a child, is vanished, never to be reclaimed. (more…)

Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr

March 9, 2012 - 4:18 pm No Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘Time’s Long Ruin’ by Stephen Orr

The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin

March 9, 2012 - 4:16 pm No Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘The Sinkings’ by Amanda Curtin

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

March 9, 2012 - 4:13 pm No Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

The Gatton Murders by Stephanie Bennett

March 9, 2012 - 4:09 pm 11 Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘The Gatton Murders’ by Stephanie Bennett

Radical Gratitude by Andrew Bienkowski and Mary Akers

March 9, 2012 - 4:06 pm No Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘Radical Gratitude’ by Andrew Bienkowski and Mary Akers

Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn

March 9, 2012 - 2:53 pm No Comments

Cheryl reviews ‘Elizabeth in the Garden’ by Trea Martyn