Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: The Real Diana Dors

One of the reasons I was interested in reading Anna Cale’s recently released biography of the late British actress Diana Dors, The Real Diana Dors, is that I was curious to test out what I thought I knew about Dors and the reality of her life. What I was pretty certain about, and Cale confirms, is that Dors was stereotyped from the beginning of her career as either the sultry femme fatale bad girl or, as she herself once wrote, ‘the flighty, sexy little thing who pops in and out of the story whenever a little light relief seems to be called for.’

What I didn’t know, that Cale’s book taught me, was what a determined, serious, and hard headed performer Dors was. She accumulated a hundred screen credits in a career that began with her first bit part in the 1947 crime drama, The Code of Scotland Yard, to her last film role, Steaming, which appeared in 1985, a year after she died at the age of just 54. She resisted attempts to stereotype when she could, and no doubt like a lot of post war actresses undoubtedly had the talent and drive to be even bigger if not for various factors, of which beginning her career in the morally conservative, sexually hypocritical Britain of the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a major one.… Read more

Book Review: The Snow Was Dirty

For reasons that I have not quite been able to pinpoint, over the last couple of years I have found myself reading more and more older crime fiction. The most recent of these was on the recommendation of a US crime writer I have recently had a bit to do with on Twitter, called Max Thrax, Georges Simenon’s The Snow Was Dirty – or Dirty Snow as it appears in some territories – originally published in 1946.

I had, of course, heard of Simenon but must come clean that before doing some research about him as a result of reading The Snow Was Dirty, knew virtually nothing about him or his work. Indeed, without any basis, I had dismissed as a writer of cosy procedurals.

No one knows exactly how many books Belgium born Simenon wrote over the course of his career. There are not many authors you can say that about. He started off in the 1920s, like so many mid century writers, as a pulp hack, working under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms. In the 1930s he started to churn what would become approximately 75 novels featuring the fictional French police detective, Jules Maigret, many of which were subsequently adapted for radio and the screen, large and small.… Read more

Book Review: Jane Gaskell’s A Sweet, Sweet Summer

One of the authors I really wanted to include among those examined in the third book I have co-edited with my friend, Iain McIntyre, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, was British writer, Jane Gaskell. In particular her novel, A Sweet, Sweet Summer, first published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton in 1969. To be honest, as is so often the case, what first attracted me to finding out more about this title was the cover of the 1971 Sphere edition, with its uniquely early 1970s dystopian take on the female juvenile delinquent. It’s a wonderful piece of photographic paperback art, of the sort that the British did so well at the time, no doubt cheaply done (in all likelihood the model was one of the typists in the Sphere office), but very effective.

Plans to include Gaskell in Dangerous Visions and New Worlds were scuppered by the fact that I simply could not find a copy of A Sweet, Sweet Summer anywhere at a price that I could even remotely afford. The book is incredibly rare and has not been republished. Indeed, as I discovered when I posted an image of the cover above on Twitter – long after Dangerous Visions and New Worlds had been put to bed – I just was one of many bibliophiles who had been on the lookout for an affordable second-hand copy of this Gaskill book.… Read more

2021 mid-summer reading report back

I’m conscious that I did not do a post on my top 10 reads at the end of last year, as is my usual habit. To make up for this, here is a quick update on what I’ve been getting into, reading-wise, over the first half of summer in Melbourne.

Shore Leave, David Whish-Wilson

Shore Leave is the fourth book to feature the character of ex-Perth cop turned PI, Frank Swann. This latest instalment is set largely in the Perth seaside suburb of Fremantle. Swann is battling poor health from a mystery ailment and is involved in a variety of complications arising from a US aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, that has docked in town. These problems include the disappearance of a cache of M16 rifles from the ship that may have found their way into the hands of a local neo-Nazi group, and the murder of two women by what could be a serial killer among the crew. To top things off, as has been the case throughout the entire series, Swann has to deal with problems arising from his chequered past as a cop. Nothing in Shore Leave has dissuaded me from my oft stated opinion on this site that Whish-Wilson is the most underrated crime writer working in Australia today.… Read more

Book review: Blacktop Wasteland

If you spend any time in the social media circles concerned with crime fiction, in all likelihood you will have heard of S. A. Crosby and his book, Blacktop Wasteland. It has been out in the US for ages, during which time I was reading a tonne of positive commentary. Then I stumbled across the little publicised fact that an Australian edition has been released.

Beauregard ‘Bug’ Montage is a hard-working mechanic with a wife and two young sons, who wants a happy marriage, for his kids to get more that he has out of life, and his auto repair business to do well. Unfortunately, said business is just a few weeks from going under financially. On top of this he needs to find a large amount of money to keep his embittered mother in aged care, where she is dying of cancer (seriously, the US health system is a crime story in itself). He also has to somehow also rustle up college tuition fees for his teenage daughter from an earlier relationship.

Beauregard has a previous criminal life he is trying to leave behind. This is hard because he was very good at what he did – driving. The ghosts of his former life also hang around him in the form of his late father, a charismatic criminal in his own right who disappeared to parts unknown when Beauregard was a child, leaving his son with a lifelong love/hate obsession for him.… Read more