After World War II, a number of British children were sent to Australia and told their parents were dead – even when it was not true. Caroline Overington’s SISTERS OF MERCY (Bantam, $36.99) presents an aftermath of this “Forgotten Generation” disaster, as an Australian man’s will reunites two of his daughters, born many years apart and unknown to each other. The older sister, Ruby, travels from Britain to Sydney to meet Snow – who is unhappy because their father’s will splits $2 million between them instead of leaving it all to Snow. Ruby disappears; Snow comes under suspicion but there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The law does catch up with Snow, a remarkably self-centred person, for the bizarre goings-on in her home, where she and her ratbag partner foster no fewer than 18 children. This is a heart-rending story of fractured families and startling selfishness, but some readers might find the ending frustrating.
Another unusually egotistical woman is one of the main characters in THE SACRIFICIAL MAN (Text, $37), Ruth Dugdall’s follow-up to her excellent debut, The Woman Before Me, again featuring English probation officer Cate Austin. Cate has to write a report on Alice Mariani, who has been convicted of assisting suicide after helping her lover – a healthy man in his twenties – kill himself. Mariani also ate a piece of his flesh. Mariani, a university lecturer in English, is convinced she has done no wrong but faces a possible jail sentence and the media are depicting her as a monster. Cate’s activities and thoughts are described in the third person, whereas Mariani writes in the first person – it’s an unusual literary format, but one that allows Dugdall to show with chilling clarity the thought processes of a person who thinks she is the centre of the universe. Beautifully written.
For Michael Connelly’s LA cop Harry Bosch, THE BLACK BOX (Allen & Unwin, $36.99) is “a piece of evidence, a person, a positioning of facts that brought a certain understanding and helped explain what had happened and why”. That box is very hard to find when the murder dates back to the riots of 1992. At that time, Bosch found the body of Danish journalist Anneke Jespersen but could not investigate because his unit was run off its feet. Originally, the death was seen as part of the random violence during the riots, but now Bosch, revisiting it as a cold case, finds disturbing new evidence indicating that Jespersen was killed deliberately. Was she working on a story someone wanted hushed up? There are signs the murder is connected with the first Gulf War and the historical flashbacks add extra depth to another well-constructed Connelly novel.
The many fans of Janet Evanovich’s series starring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum will be amazed to hear that in NOTORIOUS NINETEEN (Headline Review, $36.99) the super-efficient, mega-cool Ranger recruits Stephanie to act as backup for him in some perilous situations. Usually, it’s Ranger backing up Stephanie in her many misadventures, such as getting her car destroyed at least once in every book. Ranger needs Stephanie as a date at the wedding of his army buddy Kinsey, where she is forced to wear a hideous pink bridesmaid’s dress. As if that were not bad enough, they are all in danger of being terminated by another former Army colleague called Orin, whose brain is thoroughly frazzled. Meanwhile, people are disappearing mysteriously from a hospital, and Stephanie is still not sure if she can commit to boyfriend Morelli. Great dialogue helps make Evanovich the funniest crime writer around, and this book is highly recommended for holiday reading.
Bernard Carpinter is a journalist.