the Ruin

Here is one for lovers of crime fiction – a more mature read for senior students and adults. ‘The Ruin’ is the first novel for Irish-born author Dervla McTiernan – the first of (now) several books centred on Garda Cormac Reilly.

Set mainly in Galway (which was actually Dervla’s hometown), it links together a 20-year-old cold case and an apparent suicide. Since his move from Dublin where he was a well-recognised investigator, Detective Reilly has sadly been given yet another cold case to sort through. However, this one has him intricately involved, as it follows up one of his first cases as a rookie police officer.

The prologue tells of Cormac’s first encounter with Maude, Jack and their dead mother in a crumbling country house. Then, 20 years later, he investigates what happened to Maude and Jack after their mother’s death and so the story begins.

In Galway, Cormac’s situation in his new office environment is fraught with all the difficulties of a newbie fitting into the local situation; especially with little recognition of his past professional achievements.

Maude arrives on the scene, attending her brother Jack’s funeral, and seeks to understand why he died. Aislyn, his partner, is also reluctant to believe that Jack was suicidal. Are their instincts correct?

There are many other questions to be answered in ‘the Ruin’, as a web of lies needs to be pushed through:

  • Who can be trusted?
  • Are the garda (police) being effective and vigorous in their investigations?
  • What is hidden in the past?
  • Can Cormac Reilly uncover details from so long ago?

Author Dervla McTiernan had a legal career in Ireland before migrating to Australia with her family. Interestingly, she has tied Australia lightly into this story. Her insight into the legal system in Ireland is obvious, but depressing, if real. Cleverly, it is the twists and turns and the possibilities in ‘the Ruin’ which keep you guessing as the investigations continue. Who is really telling the truth?

For readers interested in writing (and crime fiction), there is a Writing Studio conducted by Dervla, where she discusses some of the basics of writing: https://dervlamctiernan.com/better-reading/ which is well worth a visit. With 2 more books in the Cormac Reilly series (‘the Scholar’ and ‘the Good Turn’ there is lots more on offer! It would also be interesting to listen to this as an audiobook, even just to listen to the Irish brogue… 😊

Look out for the movie which has been optioned for production too!

The Tell

“A tell is a sign a person gives out, accidentally, when they are trying really hard to keep something a secret, and I just happen to be an expert…

I don’t know why or how exactly, but I seem to have a gift for reading the tells.” Rey Tanic, 14 year old. (p.11-12, the Tell)

Rey (Raze to his friends) has a few other instincts which he can’t really explain – although he thinks it may have something to do with his family heritage as the son of mafia boss. He has something to tell his father when he next visits him in prison – but what is it?

When he gets an (unscheduled) visit sooner than he expected, Raze is unsettled by his father’s behaviour – even after he raises his issue.

Rey struggles with the wealth and trappings which are the proceeds of the family business (fine possessions, mansion home and attendance at a private school), and does NOT want to follow in his father’s dark footsteps. While a lot has been hidden to him in the past, Rey uncovers many grim details as he gets older.

‘The Tell’ raises questions about family heritage – are we destined to repeat the actions of our parents? Is it in Rey’s genes to follow the violent family business, like his older brother, Solo? At times, his moods and actions make him think so. And what can a kid do to make a difference?

I see my face in deep shadow, eyes glittering like diamonds, the resemblance to my father never stronger. (Rey angered by abuse Candy has faced.)

Candy. Ids. The best part of Rey’s existence is spent with these friends, making street art in the inner city of Sydney – friends with their own struggles. Each of them is somewhat alone with these, but will they share and find support together? Have a peek at this trailer to get a feel for ‘The Tell’:

In ‘The Tell’, Martin Chatterton tosses Rey around in some wild and threatening situations – in jail, followed by criminal thugs, and even hiding in a police officer’s attic (unknown to him). It is action-packed, exposing the dark underworld Rey hopes to escape. The reflections of his father Rey finds within himself make us ponder how it will all end – like father like son? or can he break the mould?

Recommended 13+

Van Apfel Girls – Why are they missing?

My daughter commented the other day about how many new books she had read recently were now using flashbacks and multiple viewpoints*. This may have related to the genre she has been reading (several crime and mystery stories), but I certainly reflected on this comment as I read ‘the Van Apfel Girls are Gone’ – flashbacks are crucial.

The story itself reflects back to “the long hot summer of 1992, the summer the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – vanished…” (Blurb on the back cover)

Told by one of the girls’ friends and neighbours, Tikka, it is a tale of pondering, wondering and wishing. What if Tikka had…? What if people had noticed…? What if friends and neighbours had…?

Twenty years after the girls went missing, Tikka returns to her family home to be with her older sister, Laura, who has tragically been diagnosed with cancer. Also told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old girl, it provides a young viewpoint, as remembered by Tikka.

Together and separately, Tikka and Laura think about the events leading up to the girls’ disappearance, and the seeds are sown for the reader to contemplate what actually happened – and why. The recollections of others are also finally laid out for Tikka and Laura to ponder.

In spite of the title, you are never quite sure what happens to the Van Apfel girls, but there are lots of dim, dark secrets revealed along the way. Some of the nuggets of information are cleverly hidden in the story (while others may be distractors) so that you are never quite sure what will happen next, or what is the real impact of (several) people keeping observations to themselves.

# Does this story leave you with all the answers?

## How does this story make you feel about keeping secrets?

Recommended 15+

# Nominated for the Indie Book Awards 2020 for the best Australian books published in 2019 – category Debut Fiction.

* She was recently reading ‘See What I Have Done’ by Sarah Schmidt and ‘the Secret of the Tides’ by Hannah Richell.

Liars – capturing your imagination

The Truth App is the first in the Liars series, written by Jack Heath – author of Replica, reviewed here previously. Like 300 /400/500 Minutes of Danger, it is written for readers about 10-14 years old, and should entice even the most reluctant reader.

It introduces young Jarli, the inventor of an app which can identify when people are lying. Imagine that! You would expect this to be a good thing, but certain events which occur in Jarli’s hometown of Kelso suggest that might not be the case.

As in most Jack Heath novels, the action starts early, with Jarli and his father involved in an attack on their car – no accident, but the police don’t want to believe him. As his father recovers in hospital, Jarli tries to work out what actually happened.

Meanwhile, he has other issues with his Truth App. He releases it free online to have others help him perfect the coding. The unexpected fame which results is both a blessing and a curse, including attacks from fellow students – those who don’t want their lies uncovered.

But there are bigger things at stake, which are revealed as Jarli and his friends work through what is happening in the sleepy little town of Kelso. Soon, Jarli has to decide who he can trust, and who will best help out in the dire consequences he faces.

The Truth App is not totally resolved at the end – with much more to come in the series – followed by No Survivors (and now at book 5, the Armageddon). To decide if this action-packed book for you, there is an extract available here – you won’t be sorry!

# Have a look at Jack Heath’s website for even more intriguing information about him and his writing.

Present and past entwined – Catching Teller Crow

Catching Teller Crow is an intriguing mystery, told in two voices through poetry and story.

Sixteen-year-old Beth begins the tale, introducing her death and the need to look out for her father since the accident. He is the only one who can see her (she is a ghost), and she hopes to be able to help him move on with his life. She is also there to help him work through mysterious happenings in their home town, in an effort to get him back to police work.

In crime story tradition, events and clues are revealed gradually, and both Beth and her father have differing interpretations of what they mean.

Some clues are provided by strange revelations from Isobel Catching, who is the second voice in the novel. Her voice differs from Beth’s. Using poetic form creates a wariness in her character and at times implies a reluctance to help solve the mystery.#

Authors, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, have created an enthralling, though somewhat disturbing novel, which reflects some of Australia’s past attitudes and actions. The main characters (Beth, Catching and Crow) are Aboriginal, and have each suffered due to that. However, themes of love and family, along with their spiritual beliefs are also strong in the story. When they finally bond together, they become strong together.

A ghost story as well as a psychological thriller, Catching Teller Crow seamlessly weaves together the poetic and everyday life – Justine Larbalestier

Catching Teller Crow goes straight to the heart of Australia’s darkest history – Margo Lanagan

Sister and brother, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina speak briefly here about the writing process, and their own personal need to tell their story – “We wanted the strength of those (past Aboriginal) generations to flow through the pages like a river.”

Catching Teller Crow is more than just a crime story. It reaches into the past, hoping to make an impact on the future. It will make you think – what really happened? who is to blame? and finally, who has suffered as a consequence?

Can Beth ultimately be able to let go?

How many similar episodes like this actually happened? 

# This poetic form wasn’t as obvious in the audio version of this book, though the different character voices were well defined by the narrator, Miranda Tapsell. A great option!

What to do about ‘the Fall’

Sam wakes in the middle of the night after hearing angry voices in the apartment above his Dad’s. Then he witnesses a man fall from above, and thud into the pavement. As the son of a crime reporter, he quickly records details on his phone, and is seen by the man leaning over the body. Now he could be his next victim.

Sam is staying at his estranged father’s place, after his mother finally relents, while he recovers from recent surgery. His father remains a mystery and strangely is not around for Sam to tell him what he saw. Alone, he feels threatened, waiting for the murderer to seek him out.

Adoration for his absent father has lead to an interest in uncovering crimes, so Sam tries to employ logical thinking to find out more about the fall – even though the body has mysteriously disappeared. His tactics reflect some of the ideas he often adds in his own crime comics, which feature a hero detective, modelled on his perceptions of his absent father.

“Suspense in spades! You will be gripped by Sam’s story.” Author, James Phelan.

How will things unfold for Sam – a young boy, deserted by his father in an apartment and facing a murderer’s imminent return? What would you do in Sam’s position? Tell the police (his father didn’t want to contact them…)? Run away? Go back home in a hurry?

Tristan Bancks is not only a writer, but has been an actor and also involved in film-making. His previous YA book, Two Wolves, won Honour Book in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Another mystery-crime story, which was cleverly introduced by this video:

Tristan is also keen on sharing his insights into the writing process and encouraging kids to read. There are lots of ideas at his website: http://www.tristanbancks.com/p/create.html and more on his YouTube channel like this one:

Deceiving book covers – Zebra Forest

zebra_forest_cover-330When Zebra Forest was first shown to me, I was attracted by the cover – but it gave little away about the story beneath. That said, this debut novel by Adina Gewirtz is an intriguing and thoughtful novel about family relationships, and the shaping of our memories.

Annie B. and her younger brother Rew live with their grandmother. They know little about their past – not even their mother’s name, and assume their father is dead. Their unusual family setup is accepted by their local comunity – even school fails to worry should they not turn up regularly, as Annie takes on tasks for her brooding grandmother.

As summer vacation approaches, eleven year old Annie is suddenly confronted at home by a prison escapee, and all her understandings about her family history are shaken, as she and Rew and Gran are taken hostage.

Who is this escapee? How will they, as hostages, deal with their situation? And what will it mean for their family – this threat, this intrusion on their day-to-day existence? Will anyone notice their absence?

Perhaps one of the tragic points hidden in Gewirtz book is the fact that there is little intrusion or investigation when Annie and Rew don’t appear at school; and there is little community concern for Gran – an elderly person repsonsible for the care of 2 young children. Is this a reflection of society today? Or would there be more concern for the family held hostage by a convicted murderer in reality?

Is this just poetic licence explaining away family isolation? What do you think? Could the events of Zebra Forest happen in real life? If so, what should we do about it?

Here’s a book trailer introduction to Zebra Forest: