WORLD OF HURT / ARRESTING STORY OF FIRST FEMALE DETECTIVE / NOTES OF DEFIANCE / SHARP DEBUT CRIME NOVEL
BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE Trent Dalton HARPERCOLLINS, $32.99
Journalist Trent Dalton has conjured some magic from a childhood that moved under the shadow of Brisbane’s criminal underworld. One of the men briefly in his orbit was his babysitter and family friend Arthur “Slim” Halliday, a convicted murderer, conman and thief. Halliday broke out of prison twice in the 1940s before doing a 24-year stint for the 1952 murder of a young taxi driver. It’s 1984 and Slim is a towering figure in the world of Eli Bell, a 12-year-old aspiring journo with a big imagination and a bank of life wisdom soaked up from his good friend, The Houdini of Boggo Road Jail. Eli’s older brother, August, has been mute since the age of six but traces mysterious words in the air: Your end is a dead blue wren. Eli wants something better for their mum, Frankie, “goddess of fire and war and wisdom and Winfield Reds”. His stepfather, Lyle, is a heroin dealer pressing his luck in the employ of a white-suited octogenarian drug lord named Tytus Broz, whose front company makes artificial limbs. Eli’s one for taking matters into his own hands, and his adventures build to a frenetic crescendo that is goosebumps good. Out Monday.
VERDICT: Whimsy meets horror
LILLIAN ARMFIELD Leigh Straw HACHETTE, $33
Straw has previously written fiction and nonfiction set on seedy Sydney streets between the world wars, when hard men and women used fists, razors and guns to exploit poverty-stricken areas. Lillian Armfield is the story of Australia’s first female police detective. Armfield joined the NSW Police Force in 1915, becoming the first female officer in Australia and the Commonwealth. During World War I, she patrolled slums to prevent runaway girls being lured into prostitution. By the 1920s, her memory for faces saw her work undercover to battle gangs that competed to run brothels, illegal gambling and sly grog. Armfield was in the force for 35 years, never married (policewomen were not permitted to marry then) and became a pioneer of women’s policing. Straw combines meticulous research with intimate knowledge of the era and its criminals in a compelling account of an extraordinary woman.
JEFF MAYNARD VERDICT: Fair cop
THE LOVE THAT I HAVE James Moloney HARPERCOLLINS, $28
The cold, cruel German concentration camp of Sachsenhausen is the setting for a Nazi-era love story already billed as a rival for the acclaimed The Book Thief. Brisbane’s James Moloney uses the time-honoured device of letters to convey the hope of forbidden love amid the brutality of Adolf Hitler’s regime during World War II. Dieter Kleinschmidt is merely a teen when locked up in Sachsenhausen for fighting the Gestapo. Margot Baumann is just 16 but works in the camp mailroom, serving the Fuhrer she has been conditioned to adore. The two might never have crossed paths if not for Margot being ordered to burn inmates’ mail. Daring to read the ill-fated letters, she is drawn to a note addressed to “Margot”. While it is not intended for her, the passion in the words can’t help but steal her heart. So begins a risky, all-consuming mission to save the prisoner who writes with such love and faith despite living in the shadow of death. Moloney delivers an intense tale of love, life, death and courage. His ability to weave compassion and humanity into a hateful and inhumane era of history sets his book apart from the ever-expanding catalogue of Holocaust novels on the market.
VERDICT: Heartwarming & heartbreaking
THE TATTOO THIEF Alison Belsham HACHETTE, $30
Those who love colourful and intricately designed skin art, look away now. In the hip English town of Brighton, some nutter is slicing the tattoos off the bodies of their victims while they’re still alive. Cool and successful tattoo artist Marni Mullins, who is divorced, the mother of a teen, owns her own shop and has a deep-seated hatred of police, just happens to find one of the victims. Enter D.I. Francis Sullivan. At 29, he’s the youngest detective inspector on the Sussex force and not that well liked by his colleagues. But he’s a traditionalist, a bit churchy and really good at a job he loves. Keen to crack his first case, Sullivan is quick to latch on to Marni’s encyclopaedic knowledge of tattooing and together they form an uneasy partnership to track down a killer. Belsham’s first crime novel is a cracker — snappy, well paced and home to two instantly likeable characters.
VERDICT: Just buzzing