BOOK CLUB

WORLD OF HURT / AR­REST­ING STORY OF FIRST FE­MALE DE­TEC­TIVE / NOTES OF DE­FI­ANCE / SHARP DE­BUT CRIME NOVEL

Life & Style Weekend - - RELAX -

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.

JA­NINE LU­CAS

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.

CA­RINA BRUCE

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.

PAUL HUNTER

VER­DICT: Just buzzing

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