29 June 2022

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi QC

Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi QC book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster & Reading, Writing and Riesling *

In 2014 I read Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC and it was so good, the book went on to make my Top 5 Books in 2014 list. Mark Tedeschi is an Australian Barrister and the former Senior Crown Prosecutor for NSW and I've been looking forward to reading more from him since then. Naturally I was excited to enter the competition hosted by Carol over at Reading, Writing and Riesling and even happier to win it! (I host many giveaways here on Carpe Librum but seldom win any).

Missing, Presumed Dead covers the disappearances of Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan, both middle class women from Sydney who had only one thing in common, they both knew Bruce Burrell. In the late 1990s, both women were kidnapped and subsequently killed by Burrell. In the case of Kerry Whelan, Burrell sent the victim's husband a ransom note and Detectives found a checklist of kidnapping tasks in his personal papers. The remains of the women were never found, but Burrell was sentenced to life in prison on the grounds of the circumstantial evidence presented to the court. It's a fascinating case and it gripped the headlines in Australia at the time and proved that a suspect can be charged with murder, even in the absence of blood, a body or any human remains.

Tedeschi worked on the case and his legal insights were invaluable. Burrell didn't testify at his trial, but Tedeschi expands his examination to include the questions he WOULD have asked Burrell if he had testified at trial. That in itself was refreshingly unique and I haven't seen that done in true crime before.

I read the print copy alongside the audio and found the narrator Stephen Briggs a little too dramatic for my tastes, given this was true crime and not a suspense thriller. Briggs also didn't convey the voice of Tedeschi at trial very well either. My only other gripe was wondering why Kerry Whelan appears on the cover alone when this story is also about the death of Dorothy Davis. Why exclude Dorothy Davis from the cover when the byline claims this is 'the double murder case that shocked Australia.'

Burrell died in prison in 2016 and frustratingly never disclosed the location of his victim's remains, causing untold anguish for the families. I hope he rots in hell, but Missing, Presumed Dead is a real eye-opener and is recommended for readers of true crime and Australian legal history.

My Rating:

26 June 2022

Review: Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham

Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham book cover
After reading Death of a Typographer and interviewing the author Nick Gadd last year, he mentioned that his interest in typography grew out of his friendship with Stephen Banham. Stephen Banham is a Melbourne typographer who designed the cover of Death of a Typographer and I can only imagine the awesome conversations these two have had about font and typography. A little research at the time informed me that Banham published a book in 2011 about typography and signage in Melbourne, so I added Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham to my TBR.

Since then, more recent reads have included Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras*; Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams; Adrift in Melbourne - Seven Walks with Robyn Annear; and Northside - A Time and Place by Warren Kirk, so you could say there's a little bit of a Melbourne history theme going on. And I hope you still remember my fond review of Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk.

Fortunately my library had a copy of Characters and I eagerly set out with a keen eye to learn more.
Banham takes the reader on a visual and typographic exploration through Melbourne over time, covering signage, advertising, architecture and design.

Many of the stunning photographs included were taken by Warren Kirk** and reveal storefronts, shop sides and skylines long lost from view. A variety of advertising was discussed and there was a constant relationship between typography, signage and design being reinforced in the book. I particularly enjoyed this quote a little more than half way into the book:
"What does typotecture tell us? Above all, it indicates an architectural commitment to permanence, both civic or commercial. Such investment is now rare. We live in the era of privatising civic infrastructure, corporate headquarters readily moved for economic advantage elsewhere, while the constant renaming of sports stadiums and other large infrastructure reflects the transient nature of sponsorship deals. And with the passing of this age of permanence, signage and architecture forms become more temporary, portable or even modular in nature. What the readymade tilt-slab wall is to architecture, vinyl lettering is to signage. Both indicate an economic reluctance to invest in a longer-term sense of place. And with this goes a sense of collective memory." Page 189
Some notable inclusions in the book were the Coles Book Arcade (I never tire of hearing about this infamous store and relished the new info here) and I loved the section on the many public clocks. Naturally the Nylex clock and the Dimmey's clock were mentioned alongside historical photographs, and I was surprised to learn the floral clock on St Kilda Road has been around since 1966. I thought it was much younger than that.

Banham revealed new typography I'd never noticed, like the zigzag of M's along the Myer glass awning in the Bourke Street Mall and I'm sure I'll be more observant now having read this book. Thanks to Nick Gadd, I appreciate the appearance of ghost signs and watching the demolition of a brick building recently, continue to wonder at the 'hands who laid or made them'.

Many of the signs and locations mentioned were within easy walking distance of where I live, including the NGV and the Shrine of Remembrance, and I especially enjoyed learning about the red bracket on the Melbourne Recital Centre in Southbank.

The chapter entitled Absence contemplated the evidence left behind when signage is removed, and how you can often still see the ghost of the message that once occupied that space. I couldn't see the beauty in the photographs included as they represent failure, change and the impermanence of things to me. The author talks about erasure and renewal and it's a process within cities that's painfully evident in the struggle to retain our heritage buildings.

I will say Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham is more about signage, advertising, architecture and design than it is typography, but I didn't mind one bit. If you're interested in history, social history, architecture, advertising, signage or design, this is for you.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

* A follow up to Old Vintage Melbourne entitled Old Vintage Melbourne 1960 - 1990 by Chris Macheras is coming out in October 2022.
** Warren Kirk has a new book coming out next month, a copy of which is on its way to me right now and will be reviewed here soon.
24 June 2022

Review: Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer

Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I've read and reviewed all three of Chris Hammer's novels in the Martin Scarsden series (Scrublands, Silver and Trust) so it was refreshing to read a new stand alone novel from this beloved Aussie author. I should note that my copy arrived last year along with a signed book plate and letter from the author thanking me for participating in the blog tour for Trust. The letter also acknowledged the work book bloggers do to champion books and inspire people to read more. During the many lockdowns in Australia and abroad, authors weren't able to attend book launches, festivals or signings and the importance of book reviewers has been touchingly recognised here. This was such a wonderful gesture by the author and the publisher that I felt it was worthy of another mention here. Now, onto the book!

Located in a fictional town in outback NSW where the elements will literally kill you, Finnigans Gap is full of opal miners and men intent on making their fortune. Ivan is a Homicide Detective from Sydney who draws the short straw to travel to Finnigans Gap and run a murder enquiry. Nell did 2 years as a copper in Finnigans Gap and has been recalled from her station in Bourke to assist Ivan.

It was a surprising choice to have Martin Scarsden popping up in the background of this novel as a somewhat disgraced journalist who caused a lot of trouble in the media. It was an interesting choice and I'm not sure I saw the point; other than a cool cross-over. Perhaps it's a story seed for the next Scarsden novel? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Hammer does do an excellent job of describing the environment and surrounds at Finnigans Gap, and even though it's winter at the moment, I almost started sweating along with Ivan as he navigated his way around the place. Having said that, I did think there were too many in depth character reflections and too much observational nature writing for me and I was impatient for the story to keep plowing on.

Ivan and Nell keep digging and quickly discover that the mining culture is cut throat, town politics are heated and secrets abound. The whodunnit/whydunnit murder mystery played out well, but the ending was a little convoluted for me. The characters are mining for opals and this reader was mining for pearls or gold nuggets and I suspect we all walked away with a little less in our pockets at the conclusion of Treasure & Dirt than we expected. Isn't that the miner's way?

Recommended for fans of intelligent Aussie crime fiction with a distinctly Australian outback setting and clear sense of place.

My Rating:

21 June 2022

Winners of Black River by Matthew Spencer Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my book giveaway last week to win 1 of 5 print copies of Black River by Australian author Matthew Spencer. Black River is set during a long, burning summer in Sydney and everyone answered correctly. Phew!

We had a huge number of entries coming in until the cut-off at midnight AEST on Sunday 19 June 2022. Congratulations to the following 5 winners:

Bev, Megan Schollar, Richard Harrison,
Tamara Lamb & Kylie

Congratulations to our winners! You've each won a copy of Black River by Matthew Spencer valued at $32.99AUD thanks to Allen & Unwin. The winners will receive an email from me shortly informing them of their win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

They will receive their prize direct from the publisher and I hope you all enjoy this thriller.

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum image to promote giveaway for Black River by Matthew Spencer

17 June 2022

Review: The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas audiobook cover

The Killer Across the Table is written by retired FBI Special Agent and Criminal Profiler John E. Douglas and narrated by Jonathan Groff. During his distinguished career, John Douglas interviewed a slew of serial killers including: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson, and began trying to understand their motives. In working out what made them tick, how they selected their victims, what their childhood and upbringing was like and what drove them to commit such heinous offences, Douglas became one of the first criminal profilers.

John E. Douglas is a figure of great renown in the world of true crime and his work has even crossed the divide to entertainment on the big screen. Douglas inspired two characters from one of my favourite TV shows Criminal Minds (namely Jason Gideon and David Rossi) and it was Rossi I had in mind as I was listening to this. Douglas is also the inspiration for the main character in Mindhunter, another terrific FBI profiling show set in the US. Given his notoriety, I guess it's hard for the author to remain humble and the struggle is evident. You could argue his cockiness is hard earned and well deserved but his arrogance occasionally took me out of the cases I was learning about.

And then there was that gushing interview at the end of the audiobook. The narrator Johnathan Groff interviews Douglas at the end of the book, and it's the first time the two have ever spoken together. I found this very strange. Why wouldn't an author want to interact with the person selected to narrate their book? Wouldn't it assist in the creative process and make for a better end result? Nevertheless, the interview is 16 mins of Groff gushing and 'fan-girling' with glowing praise for Douglas that was enough to make me simultaneously roll my eyes and gag. As a reader, I dearly wish they'd had that conversation in private and then recorded Groff interviewing Douglas about the book!

The author's accomplishments speak volumes and his work no doubt laid the foundations of criminal profiling as we know it today. I'm sure his pioneering work with serial killers has gone on to save the lives of many potential victims. So why begrudge him a few bragging rights? Perhaps because the subject matter is so serious that when we glimpse his own sense of self-importance, it sours the experience. It's hard to maintain the admiration in the face of such pride and arrogance.

And where was the editor in this excerpt?
"If they had, his name would have almost certainly stood out. Not because of anything having to do with his purchase of a motorcycle.... But because Todd Kohlhepp was a registered sex offender and that should have aroused enough interest at least to bring him in for an interview." Chapter 22
Surely, if you're writing about heinous crimes and paedophiles, you'd avoid using the word arouse in the same sentence. Wouldn't you? This lack of attention to detail and indulgence shown to the author somewhat lessened my enjoyment of his book.

The Killer Across the Table covers four cases: Joseph McGowan, Joseph Kondro, Donald Harvey and Todd Kohlhepp and thankfully takes great pains to ensure no glorification whatsoever of the crimes or the perpetrators. Victims are treated with respect and reverence as the cases are broken down by Douglas. It was frightening how ordinary these men were - one a high school teacher, another was a hospital orderly - yet their ability to fit in to society in order to continue carrying out their crimes was the stuff of nightmares.

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas is recommended for true crime readers and those with an interest in psychology, criminal psychology, profiling and criminal profiling.

My Rating:

14 June 2022

Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie book cover

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

I was hooked by page 2 of this Australian crime thriller Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie. Lexi Winter is a tough, kick ass character with the skills of a hacker and she's willing to navigate the depths of the dark web to find the worst of the worst. Working as an escort, Lexi embraces her vigilantism in her off time by trapping perverts online and turning paedophiles over to the authorities. I didn't get on with Devil's Lair by Sarah Barrie several years ago, but Unforgiven is completely different! 

Set on the NSW Central Coast, Detective Finn Carson and neighbour Dawny were especially memorable characters, and the complex and complicated relationship and backstory between Lexi and Detective Inspector Rachael Langley kept the narrative driving forward.

Barrie's writing style and sense of humour on the page often reminded me of Jack Heath's style and I hope she continues writing in this vain; especially with fun descriptions like this:
"I cast a quick glance at my next-door neighbours' place just to be sure. I avoid the Parkhursts the way others might avoid an unflushed hospital toilet. Their place is as old and boring as everyone else's, but they lord it over our dismal little community like royalty and hate me with a passion. Probably because I go out of my way to annoy them whenever I can be bothered." Page 61
My only criticism would be a few too many character POV changes throughout the novel which made it feel like it jumped around a little. Of course, this also contributed to the quick pace but the character connections and relationships could be a little confusing at times.

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie is highly recommended for crime fiction fans of: Jack Heath, Jane Harper, Chris Hammer, Candice Fox, Sarah Bailey and Emma Viskic. It seems we're in the midst of another Aussie crime fiction boom and the books just keep on coming! How lucky we are.

My Rating:

10 June 2022

Win 1 of 5 copies of Black River by Matthew Spencer

Carpe Librum image to promote book giveaway for Black River by Matthew Spencer..

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *


Today I'm giving away 5 print copies of Black River by Australian author Matthew Spencer thanks to the generous folk over at Allen & Unwin. The total prize pool is valued at $164.95 and entries are open to readers in Australia and New Zealand. Entries close at midnight AEST on Sunday 19 June 2022. Enter here or enter below for your chance to win the best thriller you'll read this year!


A long, burning summer in Sydney. A young woman found murdered in the deserted grounds of an elite boarding school. A serial killer preying on victims along the banks of the Parramatta River. A city on edge.

Adam Bowman, a battling journalist who grew up as the son of a teacher at Prince Albert College, might be the only person who can uncover the links between the school murder and the 'Blue Moon Killer'. But he will have to go into the darkest places of his childhood to piece together the clues. Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, meanwhile, is part of the taskforce desperately trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Adam Bowman's excavation of his past might turn out to be Rose's biggest trump card or it may bring the whole investigation crashing down, and put her own life in danger.

Taut, suspenseful and utterly compelling,
Black River is the best thriller you'll read this year.


This giveaway has now closed and the 5 winners will be announced soon.

08 June 2022

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I was here purely for the octopus. But wait, let me back up a little. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt isn't my usual fare. It's an uplifting, faith restoring domestic mystery with a happy resolution at the end. I usually don't have the patience for regular characters living their regular lives, however the idea of Marcellus the octopus being one of the three main characters intrigued me enough to hook me into this light and breezy read.

Let me be clear though, if you can’t handle talking animals this isn’t a book for you. I hated Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (1 star) a few years ago with the exception of the sections narrated by Lily the dog. But I loved Watership Down by Richard Adams (5 stars) and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (5 stars), so I've had a reasonably mixed but largely positive reading experience with animal narrators.

In Remarkably Bright Creatures, Tova is widowed and cleaning at the aquarium way beyond her retirement years just to have something to do. Cameron is a douche bag determined to track down his biological father, and Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus counting his days in captivity in the aquarium where Tova works.

There are a few mysteries for Tova and Cameron in the novel, and slowly but surely our characters move towards each other and the truth unfurls. Cameron got on my nerves immediately and I almost put the book down I was so annoyed with his attitude and life choices. Marcellus easily stole the show and I thoroughly enjoyed his chapters.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt is recommended for those seeking a feel-good, light and easy contemporary beach read.

My Rating:

06 June 2022

Blobfish Giveaway Winner Announced

Carpe Librum image to promote the giveaway of Blob Fish by Olaf Falafel

Thanks to those who entered my children's book giveaway last week to win a copy of children's picture book Blobfish by Olaf Falafel. And it's true, Blobfish loves telling jokes!

Entries closed at midnight on Sunday 5 June 2022, and Blobfish helped me select the winner. Congratulations to:


Congratulations Kirsten! You've won a copy of Blobfish by Olaf Falafel valued at $27.99AUD thanks to Walker Books Australia. You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

You'll receive your prize direct from the publisher and I hope you have a young reader in mind to enjoy this with.

Carpe Librum!

03 June 2022

Review: The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

In 1518, hundreds of people from Strasbourg started dancing uncontrollably without resting, sometimes for days on end. It was a medieval dancing plague where people danced until their feet bled and beyond, some of them literally danced themselves into an early grave. What compelled these people living in what we now call France to dance to their deaths? Why did they start? And why - or how - did they stop? Was it demonic possession? Fungus in their bread? Religious fervour? It's a mystery that's always fascinated me.

Now, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has given us The Dance Tree; an historical fiction novel about the dancing plague. Yes please!! I was so onboard for this, wondering what a skilled author would do with such unexplainable phenomena.

Set in Strasbourg in 1518, the author did an excellent job depicting the town, homes and livelihoods of the residents. Much of the novel put me in mind of the start of Devotion by Hannah Kent, the beginning of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Familiars by Stacey Halls. The bare living conditions, the importance of religion in the community, the lack of agency held by the female characters and their resilience and sheer determination are elements I've enjoyed exploring in the past.

Here, our main characters are Lisbet, Ida and Nethe and they're each making the best of their circumstances. Lisbet is a homemaker desperate for children and some of my favourite parts of the novel were passages where Lisbet tends to her beehives, her greatest passion in the world.

The tree of the title is a special and sacred place, as we learn early on:
"She’d recognised it instantly for what it was: a dance tree. A doom tree. A relic of the pagans who had their churches open under God." Page 39
The tree isn't crucial to the story, however it's significant to Lisbet and soon becomes a type of safe haven. When the women begin dancing in public, rumours quickly spread but Lisbet wants to see for herself.
"Why do you think those women dance? Because there is no earthly way to be saved. You and Mutter [Mother] have told me enough times - Strasbourg is sliding Hellwards. And we women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned. Prayers cannot help us, the priests will not help us." Page 153
The Dance Tree is inspired by true events, and just as in The Mercies (inspired by true events in a different country a century later in 1617), the author offers valuable information on the events contained within the novel in her Author's Note at the end.

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and I can't wait to find out what event in history she'll write about next.

My Rating: