The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

Read: 5 July, 2017

In the summer of 1895, thirteen year old Robert Coombes murdered his mother.

I loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which used the murder of a three year old boy as a narrative structure to look at how police and detectives functioned in Victorian society (particularly where the process of investigation of upper class households by lower class detectives ruffled class sensibilities).

The Wicked Boy doesn’t have the same impact. At first, I thought it was looking at the scandal of ‘penny dreadfuls’, then it look at the criminal justice system, then it looks at the treatment of mental illness, and then it veers off entirely to go over Australia’s participation in World War I.

I enjoyed every part of The Wicked Boy, but it didn’t have the same satisfying impact without the broader point. It ended up just being about this one boy, with broader issues only mentioned as interesting asides.

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The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Read: 22 June, 2017

In a post-apocalyptic world, civilization has reformed around a a collection of rules – strict regulations govern mining, weapons, technology… and citizenship. Those who develop special abilities are suppressed and imprisoned in detention centres, unless they can escape.

Ashala is written in the standard first person YA voice. It’s done well, but the voice isn’t a particularly strong one.

The plot is your average “main character is the leader of an underclass group that is rebelling against the status quo” format, and the main character is your standard “her strength is that she is just such a good leader, but she struggles with her desire for revenge” character.

It’s all fairly bog-standard, but it’s well executed. The twists are somewhat predictable, but the reveals are fun. I would have liked some more time with a few of the side characters, but I suppose that’s what sequels are for.

All in all, this book follows the YA template fairly faithfully, which fans of the genre will appreciate and haters will dislike. But while Ashala isn’t bringing much new to the table, the execution is solid. If you want to read YA, this is an excellent choice.

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The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Read: 15 January, 2013

After getting injured on the job, Joe Cashin leaves Melbourne Homicide for a post in his rural home town while he recovers. While he deals with some family tragedies, the trauma of his last Homicide case, and the politics and racism of his new environment, he investigates the brutal murder of the town’s wealthy hero, Charles Burgoyne.

I really enjoyed this book! It takes a long time for it to really get into the mystery, but that time is well spent on establishing Cashin’s character and the various factions that make up the town. Once the mystery starts in earnest, the red herrings and plot twists are expertly handled, such that I really felt taken along all the false roads with no cheating.

Race plays a fairly significant part in this story, as the murder is cast as rich white guy brutalized and killed by thieving aboriginal kids. This leads to an overt conflict between  the white side of town and the slums. I found the question of race to be deftly handled. It’s explicit in parts, but never gets browbeating.

The story has a strong Australianity. The slang peppering the story is an obvious example, as are the descriptions of the town – Port Monro – and nearby Melbourne. I’ve never been to Australia, so I’m probably a poor judge, but I feel like Temple really nailed that “sense of place” aspect. And I, for one, will be adding “spaggy bol” to my vocabulary!

Cashin is a very interesting character. In fact, I think it could be argued that the book is far more about him and his journey to come to terms with the past (both his on-the-job injury and his family history) than it is about the murder of Burgoyne.

The writing style is fantastic, with great use of imagery and metaphors. The dialogue is very snappy and funny, and Cashin is pretty much the master of sarcasm. I think it’s fair to say that Temple does something special with the detective mystery genre in Broken Shore, and I highly recommend giving it a try!

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