Friday essay: from convicts to contemporary convictions – 200 years of Australian crime fiction

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(This is republished from The Conversation and written by Stephen Knight
Honorary Research Professor, University of Melbourne

File 20180712 27030 1qtvss2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Guy Pearce as the Chandleresque private investigator Jack Irish: in the early years of Australian crime fiction, convicts and bushrangers featured prominently.
Lachlan Moore

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Arthur Gask an Adelaide Based Author

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Arthur Gask

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arthur Cecil Gask (10 July 1869 – 25 June 1951), dentist and novelist, was born on 10 July 1869 at St Marylebone, London, fourth of five children of Charles Gask, merchant, and his wife Fanny, née Edis.[1]

Gask, accompanied by his second wife, their two sons, and by a daughter of his first marriage, emigrated to AdelaideSouth Australia in 1920, where he set up practice as a dentist. He was among the first in the city to carry out extractions with gas.[1]

He began writing crime fiction while waiting for his patients and in 1921 paid for the publication of his first novel, The Secret of the Sandhills, which was an immediate success,[1] which he partly attributed to generous reviews by S. Talbot Smith.[2]

 

Over a period of thirty years Gask wrote over thirty books as well as contributing short stories to The Mail in Adelaide. Most of his novels described the activities of a detective, Gilbert Larose, in solving crimes. Gask’s work was translated into several European languages, serialised in newspapers and broadcast on radio. He also wrote short stories.

H. G. Wells, an admirer of Gask’s work, corresponded with Gask. Wells regarded The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as Gask’s “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.”[3]

Bertrand Russell, also an admiring reader, called to see Gask at Gask’s home in Walkerville, an Adelaide suburb, when he was in Adelaide in August 1950.[3]Gask was reported to have been delighted when, within a few hours after his arrival in Adelaide, Lord Russell called in and spent about an hour and a half with him. Russell confided that he was a reader of Mr. Gask’s books in England, and said that now they were so near to each other he felt he really must make his acquaintance. Lord Russell was 78 at the time and Arthur Gask was 81.[4]

Gask’s sister, Lilian Gask, was also a writer.

When nearly 80, Gask was still turning out two 80,000-words novels a year,[5] and was reported to have got out of bed to write 23 pages and complete his final novel, Crime After Crime.[3]

Arthur Gask died on 25 June 1951, in an Adelaide private hospital.[3]

The full article and references is available here

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The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriðason

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The Shadow DistrictThe Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriðason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadow Killer is new series by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason set during he allied occupation of Iceland during World War II. Indridason previous series revolved around a rather melancholic detective called Erlendur who was tormented by his brother’s disappearance in a storm when they were boys. The setting for the Erlendur series was contemporary. So the new series is a change of pace with a historical setting.
I have read a bit of Icelandic history that pointed to a degree of tension between the locals and the occupying forces during World War II. This forms the backdrop to this novel. The Shadow Killer sees Flóvent, Reykjavík’s sole detective, joined by the young military policeman Thorson. Flóvent is an Icelander whereas Thorson was raised in Canada by Icelandic parents.
The murder is intriguing and points to a variety where the initial clue is an American service revolver. This draws in the military which means there is lots of tension. Flóvent and Thorson are both neophyte homicide detectives. Red herrings abounds make it an enjoyable read. This is the first of the series translated into English and I am looking forward to more.

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The Other Side of Silence (Bernie Gunther, #11)

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The Other Side of Silence (Bernie Gunther, #11)The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Other side of Silence is the 11th Bernie Gunther novel by Philip Kerr. I have read all in order and I must say that all have been enjoyable. I admire the way Kerr keeps the narrative rolling forward. Bernie Gunther’s past keeps catching up with him in different ways. There is always a nod to his Kripo past and his wartime service. Those who have been along for the journey will know that the latter always causes him grief.
We find our hero Bernie Gunther working in a hotel on the French Rivera in 1956. It is all spies and blackmail in this instalment. A cleverly crafted tale involving W Somerset Maugham, MI6 and the STASI. However, Bernie’s past with the NAZI’s casts a shadow over his current position a discreet hotel concierge.
There is intrigue a plenty up and down the Riviera and Bernie finds himself falling for a woman. Bernie usually falls in the arms of a woman or is fondly remembering a liaison with another.

I am an unabashed fan of this series and can only wait to read the next instalment Prussian Blue.

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The Lady from Zagreb – Phillip Kerr

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The Lady from Zagreb (Bernard Gunther, #10)The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 10th Bernie Gunther novel from Phillip Kerr. Bernie Gunther is a former Berlin detective who gets sidelined during the Nazi regime in Germany. He is a man who more often than not treads his own path usually comes at personal cost. What makes the Phillip Kerr novels so interesting is the blend of fact and fiction. Bernie Gunther is woven in and around real events from the Nazi era. The earlier novels were firmly placed in the prior to WWII   then and  during the war. However, the hero Bernie Gunther has slowly aged across the series. The evolution of the series now has Bernie Gunther living in a post WWII world where he inevitably encounters people from his past.
In this volume Bernie’s mind is cast back in time whilst in the cinema watching a famous actress. In an imaginative plot Joseph Goebbels features as a tormentor of Bernie. The atrocities that were committed in what is modern Croatia by the notorious Ustaše militia. Throughout this there is time for a wartime romance which is the subject of his reflection. Buried in all of this is a detective novel all very satisfying.
I am an unashamed fan of Phillip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels. The is one more that I am aware of and possibly another in the pipeline.

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Jack of Spies by David Downing

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Jack of Spies (Jack McColl, #1)Jack of Spies by David Downing

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to confess to being a David Downing fan I have read all the ‘Station’ novels and enjoyed the attention to historical detail. In some ways Jack of Spies featuring Jack McColl as our hero follows the ‘Station’ series. Set amongst the turmoil and political machinations that in train prior to World War One.
Our hero Jack McColl is working semi officially for British intelligence. The story touches on British – German relations prior to WW1 and has hour hero cruising across the Pacific from China to the US. He is ostensibly a car salesman selling an expensive English vehicle and shipping the demonstration vehicle from town to town. This allows him movement and a comfortable life.

There is an intriguing link to Irish nationalism and unionism in the US. His love interest also cuts across his world of espionage and Irish independence. A life complicated by love.

I enjoyed this read and found the blend of historical fact and fiction engaging and realistic.
When I was reading this I was hoping that there would be more and I am pleased to have discovered there are in fact 2 more books already published.

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The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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The Marco Effect (Department Q #5)The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Marco Effect great holiday reading. I have been reading the department Q novels in sequence. This is the 5th in the series and is a well-crafted with the addition of the usual convoluted plot. The Marco effect begins in Africa with a sudden death and before we know it there are senior Danish bureaucrats sweating at their desks.
The focus then switches to beggars on the streets of the Danish capital Copenhagen. What is described is a sophisticated gang of beggars controlled by ruthless family members.
Eventually our hero Carl Mørck comes into the picture. His team which consist Assad and Rose are a quirky bunch. The troubles of the team relate back to the previous volume but are explained enough if you haven’t read any previous instalments of Department Q. Mørck continues to battle with his superiors.
All in all another satisfying instalment of Department Q. Perhaps it would be better if I could read The Marco Effect in its native Danish.

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SWAG Elmore Leonard

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SwagSwag by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick and easy read a great caper. Two men meet one with a foolproof idea to get rich quick the other brought along with the promises of riches. They live by a set of predetermined rules which are meant to make them smarter than other criminals.

The lifestyle that they quickly become accustomed to is what becomes their undoing. Really easy to read and fast paced perfect holiday reading A short sharp review.

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The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q, #4)

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The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q, #4)The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Purity of Vengeance is the fourth in Juri Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series. Like its predecessors darkness abounds . As with other novels the plot is twisted and has its origins as you would expect with a cold case team. This time touching on the rise of minor parties with extreme views and steeped in eugenics. I have come to quite enjoy this series and I am pleased that there are more to come. I have already started the next in the series.
Carl Mörck and his motley crew are in the thick of it again. Carl fighting accusations from his past fending off his ex-wife and the confused state of is his domestic arrangements. Then there is Assad his mysterious assistant who despite no apparent police training has skills and connections. However he does dodge anything to do with his personal life. Last but not least there is the bombastic Rose who rounds out the team. Her personality is always a test for Carl.
The Purity of Vengeance really does draw on the cruelty of the past. A time when the state was only too happy for troubled young women to be dealt with behind the walls of institutions or as in this case the walls are a stretch of water. I would Imagine that most “western” countries did similar things to those of low intelligence , mentally ill or with behavioral disturbance. The vulnerability of these young women is very well portrayed in Purity of Vengeance.
The unravelling of one woman’s life is amazing and a fantastic read five stars from me. I can’t give the plot away you’ll just have to read it yourself. There are films based on these novels but I have held off watching them until I’m way ahead with the novels.

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Redemption (Department Q, #3) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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Redemption (Department Q, #3)Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my third Department Q novel and so far the best in the series. I am trying to read them in order. I am really enjoying the series by Jussi Adler-Olsen.The title in Danish that loosely translates as a note in a bottle from P, which sets the scene for the story. This is another cold case story that is not on the files at Department Q. A convoluted and at time disconnected story involving groups that are separate from mainstream society and therefore isolated.
There is the usual antagonism between Carl Mørck and his right hand man Assad. Then there is the ongoing tensions with Rose the admin person and a replacement called Yrsa. There are all the usual antagonisms with the upper echelons with Mørck and Assad.
The case itself involves a man who has more layers and alibis than can be imagined. His dual life is extraordinary as are his methods, which he employs. It is difficult to write about the story without straying into the plot.  Victims picked to inflict the most terrible pain on their parents.Suffice it to say fans of the Nordic style will be pleased.

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