STYLISH WARTIME DRAMA / A COMPELLING LIFE ON THE MARGINS / TASSIE THRILLER / MURDEROUS DILEMMA
TRANSCRIPTION Kate Atkinson DOUBLEDAY, $33
Orphaned and grieving, Juliet Armstrong drifts into a job with the War Office as the war gathers pace. She’s a woman who keeps her own counsel, answers questions not at all truthfully and keeps a watch on the people and situations around her. She is selected from the pool for a secret job — transcribing meetings between a fake German agent and local informers. In her spare time, she becomes a spy of sorts, entering high society to infiltrate a group of German sympathisers. The story switches between 1940 and 1950, when she is working at the BBC, facing the return of unexpected people into her life. Is it coincidence or should she be worried? The language is as sharp, stylish and funny as you would expect from any Atkinson book, and it has her trademark way of turning a genre on its head. Don’t pick this up expecting a spy thriller in a traditional sense. What she does instead is subtle and surprising.
CORINNA HENTE VERDICT: Queen Kate’s in charge
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DIRT Rick Morton MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS, $30
Despite being born into one of the nation’s wealthiest farming dynasties at the time, Rick Morton’s life changes irreversibly, thanks to a young governess and a freak accident involving his older brother when he is just six years old. From having to learn to navigate his way into an adult world in which he is convinced he does not belong, Morton, a journalist at The Australian, leaves no stone unturned, especially when discussing his mental health and sexual orientation — and the devastating effect the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite played on the two. A searing look at what life on the poverty line is like in this country, and how near impossible it is to breach the social divide when the odds are stacked against you, One Hundred Years of Dirt is as much a wake-up call to the policymakers of Australia as it is a love letter to those who helped him reach where he is today.
KATY HALL VERDICT: A must read of the year
WINTERING Krissy Kneen TEXT PUBLISHING, $30
Jessica is living in a cold shack with her boyfriend, Matthew, in the very south of Tasmania, where she writes her PhD and works guiding tourists though dank caverns. Their relationship is riven by his jealousy and need to control her. She has few friends and is estranged from her mother. Matthew is driving home from his job at a salmon farm when he disappears. His car is found by the road. A video he was shooting as he drove shows him hitting a strange animal-like man, or man-like animal, before it cuts out. Jessica is contacted by a group of women whose partners all disappeared. But their theories are impossible for a scientist like Jessica to reconcile. The conclusion is open-ended but in a thoughtprovoking way. Is Wintering an allegory about domestic violence or supernatural fiction? Is it a tale of collective hysteria or a crime novel? It will likely be different things to different readers. For me, it was so satisfying and compelling, I devoured it in a day.
CLAIRE SUTHERLAND VERDICT: Haunting
GREEN LIGHT Benjamin Stevenson PENGUIN, $33
The discovery of Eliza Dacey’s body, brutally murdered with two fingers stuffed in her mouth, is the perfect subject for young-gun producer Jack Quick’s true-crime documentary. And his conspiracy-rich effort is a ratings winner. But despite finding evidence that could prove the man charged with the murder is indeed guilty, Jack buries it to ensure the finale’s success. And then that man, Curtis Wade, is released from jail and returns home to the sleepy wine-producing town of Birravale. Wade is the bad grape hanging on the town’s perfect vines. Jack realises he may have helped a guilty man walk and he is the only one who can right that wrong, no matter what it takes. Quick is not the most likeable character in stand-up comedian Stevenson’s first novel. He’s forever treading on toes despite his best intentions. That said, there are some perfectly executed plot twists and turns to keep you interested.
PAUL HUNTER VERDICT: Almost perfect vintage