Best holiday reads, 2020-2021
What a year it has been and what a solace (and diversion) reading – especially reading crime books – has proven. Now, oh joy, we can throw off our masks in most places and enjoy a holiday (or at least a small break) and, of course, more reading.
Sisters in Crime asked convenors, author members, and Davitt Award judges and winners to nominate their best holiday reads by women crime authors. We hope you enjoy the books they’ve nominated. Most are fairly recent but some are oldies but goodies. Their sleuths (if there is one) are variously police, private eyes, biologists, journalists, art dealers, teenage consultants to the FBI. The scenes of the crime range from Australia, Italy, UK, USA, and Turkey to Ancient Rome. What they all have in common, we believe, are superb story-telling and characterisation combined with the pursuit of justice and the odd thrill or two.
ANNE BUIST (AUTHOR)
Gabrielle Lord, Death Delights (Hodder, 2001):
This is an oldie but a goodie. It won a Ned Kelly back then and I found it in a Daylesford second hand book shop but it’s still on Amazon as an audio book and second hand in e-bay. Told in first person, a male forensic scientist ex-cop (who still thinks he’s the latter) is up to his eyeballs in family crisis with a vengeful ex and a missing teenage daughter, and both are far too involved for comfort in the current cases of dying paedophiles with missing body parts (yes, the bits you’d expect to be cut off). The sort of messy complicated people and story I like; fast paced and never a dull moment.
LINDY CAMERON (AUTHOR & CONVENOR)
Fin J Ross, Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie (Clan Destine Press, 2020):
This is a mystery wrapped in a historical novel that is all about the love of words and the power of friendship. Orphaned in mysterious circumstances on the voyage from England, Fidelia Knight arrives in Melbourne in 1874, alone except for her treasured companion, Samuel Johnson – well, half of him. Fidelia’s passion for words and learning is contagious and she becomes a tutor to two orphan boys and two illiterate women, encouraging them to unlock their creativity. Nothing daunts this diminutive genius – except the mystery of what really happened to her parents on the voyage from England. A fabulous YA novel perfect for all ages.
MIRNA CICIONI (AUTHOR)
Louise Doughty, Platform Seven (Faber & Faber, 2019):
Lisa Evans is a ghost who seems destined to spend eternity haunting Peterborough Railway Station, where she met a violent death two years ago. A cold-case investigation into how and why she died reveals a number of aspects of relationships based on acceptance and relationships based on power. A dark thriller with moments of warmth and hope.
Alexis Schaitkin, Saint X (Picador, 2020):
This excellent debut novel is at once a suspenseful thriller, a meditation on grief, and a social comment on privilege and race. The novel centres on the death of an 18-year-old college girl, Alison Thomas, while she and her family are on holiday on the fictional Caribbean island Saint X. Told mainly from the point of view of Alison’s younger sister, Claire, the novel explores the ripple effects of Alison’s death on individuals and communities and at the same time slowly unravels the truth of what happened to her. Saint X is an ambitious and complex high-wire act, and Schaitkin knocks it out of the park.
MURIEL COOPER (AUTHOR)
Rose Carlyle, The Girl in the Mirror (Allen & Unwin, 2020):
Rose is an Australian/New Zealand author and a law professor. She is also an expert yachtswoman and this story certainly takes you on a voyage with some nice twists.
This would be a great holiday read.
I read it when I needed something interesting but not too challenging and it was perfect.
FIONA DRURY (AUTHOR)
Catherine Ryan Howard, The Nothing Man (Atlantic, 2020):
At just 12 years old, Eve Black was the only member of her family to survive an encounter with serial attacker the Nothing Man. Now an adult, and encouraged in a writing course to detail her ordeal she writes a true crime book about her search for the man who destroyed her life.
Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle has just started reading The Nothing Man. As he turns each page, his rage grows. Because Jim’s not just interested in reading about the Nothing Man. He is the Nothing Man. Jim soon begins to realize how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won’t give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first. You are in safe hands with this award-winning Irish crime writer. She is expert at plotting and incorporating different viewpoints. A thoroughly satisfying read – right to the twisty end.
HAZEL EDWARDS (AUTHOR)
Sherryl Clark, Trust Me I’m Dead (Verve Books, 2019, Kindle and audio):
This debut book by Melbourne author, Sherryl Clark, was longlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award 2020. Intriguing title, local inner Melbourne settings (a first for Ascot Vale) and a credible sleuth. Great plot twists.
Can I can relax within the first few pages, confident the research is accurate, the plot is well thought out , and the character is engaging? Trust Me I’m Dead had me satisfied. (Sherryl recently did a forensic course. It shows.)
KELLY GARDINER (AUTHOR & CONVENOR)
Ellie Marney, None Shall Sleep , (Allen & Unwin, 2020):
Ellie Marney is one of our finest writers of crime fiction for young adults (and not-so-young adults, for that matter), with her ‘Every’ and ‘Circus Hearts’ series, and White Night. In her latest, the gripping thriller, None Shall Sleep, the FBI recruits two teenagers to help investigate a case, using the insights of a young serial killer, Simon (think teenage Hannibal Lecter). Read in daylight.
SUSAN GEASON (AUTHOR)
Barbara Nadel, Blood Business (Headline Publishing Group 2020):
This is the twenty-second novel in Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen series, set in Istanbul, but they’re all good. Ikmen chain smokes, can’t shake the ghost of his wife who has just died suddenly, and is persecuted by a nasty djinn occupying his kitchen. The novel kicks off with a battle over an inheritance that leads to grave robbing in a very sinister graveyard, murder and an organ trafficking racket. Ikmen, who is retired now, is ably assisted by the aristocratic and oversexed police inspector, Mehmet Suleyman, who is having an affair with his daughter. Istanbul is a recurring character as are Turkey’s politics, its religious and ethnic conflicts, and its past. Nadel is English, but obviously loves Turkey and is fascinated by its complexity. Me, I’m hoping Ikmen doesn’t succumb to lung cancer any time soon.
POPPY GEE (AUTHOR)
Alice Henderson, The Solitude of Wolverines (William Morrow, 2020):
The writer combines her passion for science and the wilderness with a thriller plot. This fascinating and suspenseful package includes the creepiness of an abandoned ski resort; the beauty and terror of the Montana wilderness; a smart biologist trying to save endangered animals; the gorgeous wolverines who are beautiful, shy, fierce and loving to each other; and an historic small town providing a range of weird and wonderful locals, some of whom desperately want the scientist gone.
LESLEY GILLIS (CONVENOR)
Judith Flanders, A Murder of Magpies (Allison and Busby, 2015):
You know when you can have one those days at the office? You spill coffee on your keyboard, the finance director goes on an expenses rampage and then, before you know it, your favourite author is murdered. Don’t you just hate when that happens? When Samantha Clair decides to publish journalist Kit Lovell’s tell-all book on the death of fashion-designer Rodrigo Aleman, she can scarcely imagine the dangers ahead. Cue a rollercoaster ride into the dark realms of fashion, money-laundering and murder, armed with nothing but her e-reader and her trusty stock of sarcasm.
SARA HOOD (CONVENOR)
Sara Paretsky, Love and Other Crimes (William Morrow, 2020):
This is a glorious collection of Paretsky’s short stories, gathered from here and there over the years. It’s a perfect holiday read because the tales are bite sized. If you nod off on your banana lounge, you won’t lose your place. It is, of course, everything you’d expect with smart plots, smart writing and smart characters, plus twists aplenty. On reflection, you may not be able to fall asleep as you’ll be so gripped. Not just a great read, but the perfect primer for anyone planning to win a Scarlet Stiletto in 2021.
JACQUI HORWOOD (AUTHOR)
Ellie Marney, None Shall Sleep (Allen & Unwin, 2020):
Ellie Marney is one of Australia’s best writers of Young Adult fiction and is best known for her Every trilogy featuring Rachel Watts and James Mycroft. None Shall Sleep is set in the 1980s when we were all obsessed by serial killers, and is unashamedly influenced by the books of Thomas Harris and John Douglas’ Mindhunter. It features Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, two teenagers whose lives have been touched by serial killers, and teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson. Creepy and pacey, this book will keep you hooked until the past age. Don’t read it at midnight!
SUSAN HURLEY (AUTHOR)
Louise Penny, All the Devils are Here (Minotaur Books, 2020):
I’m a fan of Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series, usually set in the fictional Quebecois town of Three Pines where the food is delicious, the residents quirky and murders occur with alarming frequency. All the Devils are Here, though, is set in Paris, where Gamache is holidaying. After a delicious family dinner, his billionaire friend is murdered. Gamache’s investigation exposes a trail of ruthless corporate crime and puts him and his family in the perpetrators’ sights.
KARINA KILMORE (AUTHOR)
Jane Harper, The Survivors (Pan Macmillan, 2020):
I love Jane’s writing and how she places people in the Australian landscape. The setting and atmosphere of her new book The Survivors is another brilliant example of how our incredible country shapes people’s lives. Of course, the mystery within this novel, which is set on the wild coast of Tasmania, is another first-class suspense! I raced through this book! Five stars!
KATHERINE KOVACIC (AUTHOR)
Kerry Greenwood, Death in Daylesford (Allen & Unwin, 2020):
In her twenty-first adventure, the irrepressible Phryne Fisher is invited to visit a retreat for shell-shocked soldiers, set deep in Victoria’s spa country.
But instead of a relaxing holiday, Phryne and her faithful assistant Dot find themselves investigating murder, vanishing women, and strange goings-on at the Temperance Hotel.
RWR MCDONALD (AUTHOR)
Katherine Kovacic, The Shifting Landscape (Echo, 2020):
Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria’s Western District to value the McMillan family’s collection. At their historic sheep station, she finds an important and previously unknown colonial painting – and a family fraught with tension. There are arguments about the future of the property and its place in an ancient and highly significant indigenous landscape. I recommend it as it is a cracking good manor house murder mystery, with an Australian twist. A timely and important subplot that explores land and ownership.
MEG MUNDELL (AUTHOR)
Liz Moore, Long Bright River (Cornerstone, 2020): Tough childhoods tend to cast long shadows, but siblings who grow up in the same house often end up taking wildly different paths. Set in contemporary Philadelphia, this story focuses on Mickey, a female cop searching for her estranged sister Kacey. Investigating the murders of several female sex workers during the city’s catastrophic opioid crisis, Mickey must confront the sisters’ shared past, as well as the compromised and corrupt systems they are both entangled in. This thoughtful, engaging thriller puts love firmly up front, while reflecting on how childhood poverty, neglect and exploitation can scar people in very different ways.
L.J.M. OWEN (AUTHOR)
Sarah Thornton, White Throat (Text Publishing, December 2020).
This brand-new follow-up to the first Clementine Jones investigation, Lapse, is a perfect holiday read for Australian rural crime fiction lovers. The protagonist – a disgraced former lawyer – becomes entangled in environmental activism, saving endangered turtles, and investigating what Clementine is certain is a murdered body discovered at the bottom of a quarry. Set in the supposed paradise of Queensland’s Great Sandy Straits, this book makes a great summer afternoon escape.
(Full disclosure: Sarah once built a sarcophagus at my behest. This recommendation isn’t a bribe to keep me out of said coffin; I swear.)
JP POWELL (AUTHOR)
Donna Leon, Trace Elements (William Heinemann 2020):
This year I sought writing that was familiar and comforting, and Donna Leon’s 29th Brunetti novel fitted the bill. Commissario Brunetti’s promise to a dying woman takes him, as we’ve come to expect, on a journey to confront complex ethical dilemmas and the nature of justice and vengeance. Along the way he seeks moral guidance from the writings of Aeschylus and more practical help from Signora Elettra Zorzi’s keyboard. Although we’ve been unable to travel overseas this year, with Donna Leon we are still able to visit the tragic beating heart of Venice.
RHONDA ROBERTS (AUTHOR)
Lindsey Davis, A Capitol Death (Hodder and Stoughton, 2019):
This is Davis’s 7th book in the addictive Albia series set in the mean streets of Emperor Domitian’s Rome. Flavia Albia is the ancient version of a detective who rises above her brutal past to uncover mysteries that could otherwise flourish in a vicious ruler’s shadow. Lindsey Davis has been writing about ancient Rome for decades and her ability to bring that world alive gives Albia a vivid backdrop for her intriguing investigations. Two thumbs up!
Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling and I’ve loved this series since the first book. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, private investigators with a definite frisson, team up again, this time to solve a forty-year-old cold case. This book got some bad press in the UK Telegraph because one of the suspects dressed, from time to time, as a woman to lure victims to his basement. Judge for yourself. The characters are rich, the relationships complex and nuanced, and the killer is not who you think. I’m a huge audiobook fan and have listened to Robert Glenister read this whole series via Audible. Great summer reading.
ANGELA SAVAGE (AUTHOR)
Wendy James, The Accusation (HarperCollins, 2019):
‘Australia’s queen of the domestic thriller’, Wendy James, has produced another gripping read, set in regional Australia, which raises timely questions about the power of social media. When eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning accuses local drama teacher and former soapie actress, Suzannah Wells, of kidnapping, the evidence against Wells appears overwhelming. Narrated from multiple points of view, the reader’s challenge is to distinguish the unreliable narrators from those who are telling the truth.
CARMEL SHUTE (CONVENOR)
Karina Kilmore, Where the Truth Lies (Simon & Schuster, 2020):
This is a gripping story where investigative journalist Chrissie O’Brian seeks to uncover what really happened with a death on Melbourne’s docks, deemed an accident. I loved Chrissie as a character – so many demons but such a dogged pursuer of the truth. The other characters are also compelling – Harry, the boss who has got it in for her; Maria, the wise, supportive op ed editor with MS and exotic taste in shoes; her downstairs neighbour who’s such a skilled geek; the cop who could turn out to be a love interest; and, of course, the cat Skinny who may or may not still be alive. It has a ripper plot with fascinating politics which goes where lots of other crime novels haven’t gone.
KIMBERLEY STARR (AUTHOR)
Deepa Annappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (Penguin Random House, 2020)
As a teacher, I look forward to summer when I can bunk down with all the books I wanted to read during the year. Top of my TBR list this year is Deepa Annappara’s debut thriller, which promises to take me into the mind of a child detective looking for a missing friend in the slums of India and has won a few awards but mainly got my attention with its first line “This story will save your life”. Who could resist that?
(PODCASTER FOR WORDS AND NERDS)
Katherine Kovacic, The Shifting Landscape (Echo Publishing, 2020):
The third book in the Alex Clayton art mysteries, Katherine is a master of building and sustaining tension. Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria’s Western District to value the McMillan family’s collection. She begins to unravel family secrets that put her and others in danger. A slow burning and intelligent mystery.
ROBYN WALTON (CONVENOR)
Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire (Bloomsbury, 2017):
The lives of three British Muslim siblings of Pakistani descent are seriously affected by crimes connected with terrorism.
This reading suggestion is for that point in your holiday when you’re ready for thought-provoking content and fine literary writing.