Review: On the Job by Sandi Wallace

I’m delighted to present my review of On The Job by Australian crime author, Sandi Wallace.

 

 

“The highs and lows of cops on the job. The cases that make them, break them, bring them laughs, maybe even love. Police on the beat, working one-officer shops and seasoned detectives pursue a cunning home intruder, a full-moon prankster, false friends, vengeful partners. Adrenaline-charged car chases, unsanctioned surveillance, intense interrogation. The impact of a child’s tragic death. The import of unearthing what happened to an infant and her mother. Lives saved and crooks captured. This gripping collection of Sandi Wallace’s award-winning short fiction–“Busted,” “Silk Versus Sierra” and “Losing Heidi”–along with new and never-before released verse and stories, includes “Impact,” a finalist in the international Cutthroat Rick DeMarinis Short Story Contest. ”

As ever with Sandi Wallace, each story in On The Job has the reader settling into a relationship of trust from the first paragraph, confident that the journey will satisfy. Wallace is a courageous writer, tackling the confronting and hard-hitting with sensitivity and depth of understanding. Her protagonists, the cops ‘on the job’, are sharply crafted and authentic. Wallace’s storytelling draws the reader up close, experiencing the reactions of investigating officers as they solve crimes and bang to rights the perpetrators.

Little wonder the stories here have won awards. Wallace charms her readers with tales that not only grip, they present socially realistic worlds, especially of rural Australia. There can be no doubt the author has done her research. These are stories that linger, long after they are read, and after experiencing the works of Sandi Wallace I, for one, will never imagine rural Australia in quite the same way again. This collection does not disappoint.

Find the author here.

Buy here. 

I’d like to thank the author for my review copy.

 

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Dead Again by Sandi Wallace

The second in Wallace’s rural crime series, Dead Again is a fast-paced thriller set in the fictitious town of Bullock in the Yarra ranges east of Melbourne, and in the historic spa town, Daylesford.

“It is almost two years since wildfires ravaged the tiny town of Bullock, and Melbourne journalist, Georgie Harvey, is on assignment in the recovering town to write a feature story on the anniversary of the tragedy.

In nearby Daylesford, police officer, John Franklin, is investigating a spree of vandalism and burglaries, while champing to trade his uniform for the plain clothes of a detective.

When Georgie’s story and Franklin’s cases collide, she not only finds herself back in conflict with the man she’s been trying to forget since their first encounter, but she uncovers the truth about how the fires started – a truth no-one is wanting to believe.”

My Review (first appeared on the website of Sisters in Crime)

Dead Again opens with a perpetrator consumed by guilt for a crime he doesn’t reveal. From the first, the reader knows a little more than city journalist Georgie Harvey and Daylesford cop John Franklin. What unfolds is a flawlessly plotted unravelling of a heinous truth. The plot, jump cutting between the two protagonists, never stumbles. The story architecture that leads to a dramatic conclusion is convincing and plausible. Sub plots provide pleasing texture, driving the story forward, affording the necessary complications and frustrations. The result is a rich and satisfying tale.

Catch up on the novel’s predecessor is deftly handled. Georgie and Franklin have history, one that is unresolved. Franklin is consumed by an unwavering passion. Georgie is conflicted, her relationship with hot shot lawyer AJ, on the rocks. Wallace develops her characters with considerable finesse. It isn’t easy creating emotional character arcs in a novel heavy with plot. It appears Wallace has a hunger for Wallander in rural Victoria. Both Georgie and Franklin are introspective, troubled, frustrated and hurt. They are mirrors of each other, yet distinct. Wallace applies the same character-developing care in her antagonist. The reader will be forgiven for feeling some initial sympathy for a figure who has plainly committed some terrible act.

Dead Again is a brave book. The theme, termed Red Victoria in the narrative, concerns the Black Saturday bush fires of 2009. The horrors of that day cannot be erased from collective memory. The trauma lives on. Stepping into this terrain is dangerous, the author will inevitably be accused by some as cannibalising the tragedy of others for personal gain, a vulture, picking over trauma as though it were carrion. Worse, misconstruing or trivialising real events. These are unfair accusations. Authors travel where their muse takes them. Besides, Wallace is well aware of the dangers. The author treads lightly, defensively, tentatively, as does her protagonist, Georgie, the city-dwelling outsider on an assignment to write a magazine feature.

“’It’s impossible to describe. It’s a unique sound. Terrifying. And I hear the death screams of humans and animals.’ Gravelly, she added, ‘Ever heard that?’

Not trusting her voice, Georgie shook her head.

‘I feel the ghosts of my friends. This is stuff that I wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t happened to me. It keeps me awake at night.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Hour upon hour, every single night. And the smells…’ Kelly shuddered.

It felt cruel to want more, but Georgie hung on each word.”

In this fashion, the wildfire theme is handled with respect and consideration, like an artefact held in the hand and turned over, sensitively scrutinised.

All the incidentals in the story are carefully researched, adding to the social realism that the author strives for. With wit and a sharp eye for the essentials, Wallace has built a story world that feels real. A page turner with much to savour, Dead Again is a moving and highly engaging read.

Find out more about Sandi Wallace here.

Buy Dead Again here.

Tell Me Why by Sandi Wallace

All good books are hard to put down. Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why is no exception.

“Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side. Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer.There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly? A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers.What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?”

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The twin elements that will win the hearts of crime fiction fans are setting and an interesting sleuth. In Tell Me Why Wallace has both. The setting is Daylesford, a small country town east of Melbourne famous for its proximity to Hepburn Springs, rendering the locale a lure for the rich and famous, an area of luxury hotels and spa retreats. Knowing this before opening Tell Me Why, the reader may be forgiven for anticipating an Agatha Christie cosy mystery, or a sort of corporate crime conspiracy novel. Tell Me Why is neither. The novel is firmly situated in the sub-genre of Australian rural crime, since there is such a thing.

The novel has two sleuths, senior constable John Franklin, and Melbourne-based writer Georgie Harvey, each investigating a separate mystery. The inclusion of two sleuths, one from the country, the other the city, plays to the theme of the rural-city divide, although the dichotomy serves more as a backdrop than as an issue explored and developed in a literary sense. Both Franklin and Harvey are well-crafted characters, satisfyingly complex and damaged. Neither sleuth is especially likeable at first. Both are hard edged, carrying their hurts and prejudices close. Both are judgemental, Harvey more so, her heart filled with resentments and frustrations, whereas Franklin is prone to the sort of casual sexism found in Australian rural society. Through both pairs of eyes social realism veers close to stereotyping, with single mothers under the spotlight.

Inevitably, the various foibles of Franklin and Harvey drive the plot. The story opens with a short prelude, a catastrophic fire and a mystery. From there the  narrative jump cuts from Franklin to Harvey, as their individual inquiries unfold.

The jump cuts work well, if making for a seemingly disjointed narrative at first, more demanding of the reader’s attention. The style makes for a fast pace and creates natural tension, the reader forced to wait for vital information as her attention is diverted back and forth between the points of view. What unfolds is a cracking plot. There is never a dull moment. The reader sinks into the story, confident the author is in control of the narrative and won’t disappoint. No small feat. Crime readers are a sharp bunch, likely to extract a calculator to check up on a distance or a passage of time. Thankfully, Wallace manages to avoid stepping outside the bounds of plausibility.

The writing is strong, gritty, earthy and witty at times. Tell Me Why  is a considered work, written with care. Wallace knows her craft. Tell Me Why is a perfect balance of action, dialogue, and reflection. Description is kept to a minimum, just enough to be evocative. Wallace knows her readership too. Themes appealing to female crime lovers abound. Mothers and babies, the strong bonds of female friendship, a cast of utterly believable and endearing minor characters, all held together in a pleasing the rural setting.

Tell Me Why is a compulsive read. The novel should appeal to crime lovers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading the newly released sequel, Dead Again.

BUY Tell Me Why

Find Sandi Wallace here: http://www.sandiwallace.com/

This is the second book I have reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. To find out more about the challenge, visit the website