The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

First published in 1934, the same year as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Ngaio Marsh’s debut A May Lay Dead, James M Cain’s first novel is crime of a very different kind to the murder mysteries of the Queens of the Golden Age. 

Laced with violence and lust, The Postman Always Rings Twice caused a scandal, and was banned in Boston. But it’s also the foundation stone of American noir and hardboiled crime, has been adapted for operas, radio plays, stage plays and several films, and regularly features on best novels of all time lists. So, what was all the fuss about? 

Frank Chambers is a young drifter who gets thrown off a hay truck in the California desert, and meets amiable diner owner Nick Papadakis, and his sullen wife, Cora. At first Frank just wants to con a free meal, but quickly his gaze settles on Cora. This chance meeting leads to deadly consequences for all involved. At only a shade over 100 pages, Cain’s debut is a stick of dynamite; small but explosive. It hauls readers into Depression-era America, makes us witness to a bleak, sordid underbelly, and through his taut prose packs more into its slim form than many modern novels four or five times the size. 

A classic well worth (re)reading; grab the recent 2022 edition with a foreword by James Ellroy (LA Confidential) or the 2005 version with a foreword by the great James Lee Burke, to gain further insights into the influence of James M Cain on the crime genre. 

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

 

James M Cain, author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James M Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892. Having served in the US Army in World War I, he became a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920’s.

He later worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Cain died in 1977.

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Red River Road by Anna Downes

Is it safe for a woman to travel alone around Australia? That is the premise of Red River Road. As you arrive at stunning location after stunning location you encounter the same travellers. You share your amazing experiences on social media, but who is really following you? Solo female van travellers have started to go missing, is there a Wolf Creek-like serial killer on the loose?

Such is the worry for Katy, whose sister, Phoebe, disappeared a year ago after beginning her solo van journey around Australia. Katy gives up her job to fly across the country, buy a van and begin to trace Phoebe’s journey, hoping to find out what happened to her sister.

Katy starts in Perth, following Phoebe’s route through Instagram.

Then Katy comes across the mysterious Beth hiding in the back of her van, clearly terrified. Something very bad happened to her but she refuses to say what. 

And then there is teenager Wyatt who desperately misses his mother, who apparently left her family to head back on the road, but no-one has heard from since. 

From Perth to the Ningaloo Reef, touting the wonders of WA with its pristine beaches, white sands, and blue water, Red River Road showcases the amazing scenery of the west coast. But there is someone following Katy and Beth, threatening them. Did Phoebe have an Instagram stalker, and if so, are they about to catch up with them? 

If you are a fan of the Australian outback crime noir you will enjoy this well-written and twisty story, although I found it a bit too slow paced for my liking.

Reviewed by Joanne Brewer

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Downes, Australian authorAnna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at the University of Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career that included credits in EastEnders, Casualty and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End. She moved to Australia in 2011 and started writing a few years later just after her second child was born.

Anna’s internationally bestselling debut novel, The Safe Place, was published simultaneously in Australia, the US and the UK in 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards. Her second book, The Shadow House, was published in 2021 in Australia and New Zealand followed by publication in the UK and the USA in 2022.

She lives on the NSW Central Coast with her husband and two children.

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Return to Blood by Michael Bennett

This is the second book in the crime series featuring Hana Westerman. While it may be beneficial to have read the first book, especially to flesh out some of the characters, it is not essential.

A traumatic event has forced Hana to retire from her position in the New Zealand Police Force and move back in with her father in the tiny town of Tata Bay. While recuperating, Hana’s daughter finds a dead body in the black sand dunes close to the town. A body that has duct tape around the wrists and ankles.

It turns out that this is the second body to have turned up in the dunes. Twenty-one years ago, another body was found, but the killer confessed to the murder and died in jail. Eru, Hana’s father, knew the man and never believed he was guilty. With the discovery of the second body Hana’s instincts tell her that her father may be right. Although Hana is now a civilian, she cannot help herself and starts to investigate on her own. An investigation that crosses the line of the law and may just get her killed.

A highlight are the chapters devoted to the second murdered girl who narrates her tale to the reader from the grave. We also learn about Maori culture and words, with definitions provided as footnotes
at the bottom of the page. 

Return to Blood is a most enjoyable read, especially for readers who enjoy learning about other cultures. 

Reviewed by Neale Lucas

 

Read an interview with Michael Bennett about his book, Better the Blood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Bennett crime/thriller authorMichael Bennett (Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue) is an award-winning New Zealand screenwriter and author whose films have been selected for numerous festivals including Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and New York.

In 2008 Michael was the inaugural recipient of the Writers Award from the New Zealand Film Commission, and in 2005 he was awarded the British Council/New Zealand Writers Foundation Award. In 2011 Michael’s feature film Matariki won Best Feature Film Screenplay at the New Zealand Screenwriting Awards, and in 2013 he was awarded Best Documentary Screenplay for his documentary on the Teina Pora case, The Confessions of Prisoner T.

He went on to publish In Dark Places in 2016, which won Best Non-Fiction Book at the Ngaio Marsh Awards and Best Biography/History at the Nga Kupu Ora Awards 2017. In 2019 his graphic novel Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas, a collaboration with acclaimed artist Ant Sang, received an international White Raven Award.

Michael lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and is Head of Screenwriting at South Seas Film School.

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Gone by Glenna Thomson

Rebecca Bundy has failed to return home on the last day of school in 1984. She had a fight with her mother and as days pass, rumours start to spread throughout the small mountain town. Her burning desire to run away to Queensland, her involvement with a male schoolteacher, or the influence of her rough boyfriend, Bull Tennant, are all rumours that circulate through town after Rebecca’s father reports her missing. However, a murder-suicide on a nearby farm causes Rebecca’s case to become very cold very quickly. Forty years later and her younger sister Eliza is still looking for answers.

Determined to uncover the truth, Eliza is now prepared to share with the world Rebecca’s secrets that she was once determined to keep hidden, in return for the truth of what happened to Rebecca on that hot summer’s night.

Glenna Thomson writes the novel in such a way that it grips you from the start and keeps you hooked all the way through to the gut-wrenching ending. The compelling and clever way in which Thomson has formed the characters evokes a sense of empathy from the reader, and yet leaves them so deeply betrayed once the Bundy family history has unravelled.

Gone is a novel that makes you think you have a handle on the plot, until it’s too late. It’s a gripping and compelling novel leaving the reader with the burning desire to uncover the truth of what really happened to Rebecca Bundy. This is a well-written, well-executed novel and a worthy addition to Australian rural crime noir.

Reviewed by Alison Logie

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Glenna Thompson, Australian authorAfter a successful career in overseas aid, and as a senior executive with a global food company, Glenna and her husband spent almost twenty years living and working on their cattle property in rural Victoria. During that time they also owned and operated a commercial blueberry orchard.

Glenna’s time in the country enables her to write authentically about life in the city as well as in remote locations. She now lives in inner Melbourne with her husband. She is also the author of Blueberry and Stella and Margie.

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Radiant heat by Sarah-Jane Collins 

A bushfire rages in the Victorian countryside. Sheltered under sodden woollen blankets is the protagonist, Alison. After the fire has burnt itself out, she emerges to assess the damage around her house. To her astonishment, there’s a strange car in her driveway. More alarmingly, there’s a woman in the driver’s seat who seems to have died before she could find shelter. Alison finds her own name and address in the woman’s possession … but she has no idea who this person is, or why they would have her details. 

The woman is identified as Simone Arnold, from Cairns. She has similar features to Alison and, coincidentally, Alison had returned to Victoria from a stint in Cairns. Still, Alison had no idea who she was. Simone’s parents meet Alison and state that Simone was killed by her partner, Michael. This means nothing to Alison until they show her his photo. She recognises the man as her ex, who she knew as Gil. She was abused and under his coercive control while she lived in Cairns.

Now she understands why Simone’s parents think she was killed, rather than died in the fire. But if this man, identified as Michael Gilbert Watson, is in the area, then Alison might also be in danger. She believes she’s being stalked, but the police seem uninterested in helping her, so Alison decides to investigate the situation herself. 

Radiant Heat has female agency and male dominance at its foundation. It appears written for an American audience, but has a discordant mix of decimal distance and Imperial temperatures. (One or the other, please, but not both.) The denouement leaves some narrative threads unresolved, as if a sequel might be a possibility.

Reviewed by Bob Moore

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah-Jane Collins, authorSarah-Jane Collins is a writer, editor, and journalist from Meanjin (Brisbane), Australia, who moved to New York by way of Gadigal land (Sydney) and Narrm (Melbourne). Her work has appeared in the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald,Meanjin, Overland, and others.

She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Her fiction has won the Overland Fair Australia Prize and been short-listed for other awards. Although New York is home now, she misses the beaches of Australia, but not the spiders.

The Dinner Party by Rebecca Heath

It became known as the dinner party from hell. It was 1979 in suburban Adelaide. Four couples from a sleepy neighbourhood street gather for an adults-only party. They left their children at home, safely asleep in their own beds. Or so they thought. Despite regular checks on their children, four-month-old Megan Callaghan is found missing, her cot empty, the window to her room broken. Who took baby Megan and why? And is she still alive?

On the 40th anniversary of her disappearance Megan’s older sister Amanda and her family gather to remember. Amanda has spent her whole life consumed with the search for her baby sister, which has had a huge impact on her marriage and the lives of her two daughters. 

Then there is a knock at the door. A woman claims to be the missing Callaghan baby. And she has proof. Donna claims to be baby Megan, that she was given to her mother who was desperate for a child and unable to have one of her own. 

Told through the eyes of Billie and the Baby Callaghan Podcast, which reveals a multitude of shocking secrets from the past, it seems that all those involved in the dinner party might have secrets to hide.

The Dinner Party had me intrigued from start to finish, a satisfying page-turner. 

Reviewed by Joanne Brewer

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Heath, authorRebecca Heath studied science at university, worked in hospitality and teaching, and wrote obsessively whenever she could find the time. She wrote several young adult novels as Beck Nicholas, published in Australia and Germany.

She lives in Adelaide, Australia, halfway between the city and the sea with her husband, three children and a much-loved border collie. She spent her childhood summers at a remote beach not unlike where The Summer Party is set. The Summer Party was her debut adult novel.

 

Visit Rebecca Heath’s website