Category Archives: Book Reviews

My cultural highlights of 2022

The end of the year nears. That means it is time for my year cultural highlights of 2022. So, without further introduction, let’s get into it.

Film

Possibly the best new release I saw in the past 12 months was Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s The Holy Spider (2022). The story of a young female journalist (a powerhouse performance by Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) investigating a religious serial killer in a rural Iranian city, little did I know when I saw it as part of Melbourne International Film Festival in September that it’s damning commentary on the male dominated nature of Iranian society, would find such a strong real world echo in the female led protest movement shaking the country to its foundations today. While The Holy Spider is not for the faint hearted, its horror is brilliantly conveyed through show don’t tell storytelling. Seriously, a lot of directors could learn from watching this film that you don’t always have to hit the audience over the head with a narrative sledgehammer.

Two other 2022 releases make my best of film list for the year. The first is Emily the Criminal. This is a whip smart neo noir about a young woman who falls into crime, featuring Aubrey Plaza in the lead role. I call it a millennial revenge film, which I think is THE upcoming crime genre with a bullet.… Read more

Book Review: We Are the Mutants – The Battle for Hollywood from Rosemary’s Baby to Lethal Weapon

Is there anything new left to say about the period of American film production from the late 1960s to the early 1980s?

This is the period that began with the so-called ‘New Hollywood’ and continued with its collapse under the weight of its own cinematic hubris and excess, bumped along considerably by the 1977 release of Star Wars, after which the blockbuster franchise, with its lucrative pre-sold merchandising deals, evolved into the majority of what now passes for the American film industry. Of course, this is just one facet of the story. Influencing this trajectory was Vietnam, the rise and fall of the counterculture, the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of neoliberalism.

To say something different about all of this is a tough task. But it is is precisely the aim of We are the Mutants: The Battle for Hollywood from Rosemary’s Baby to Lethal Weapon. That the book largely succeeds in its mission is due to a quality I initially found hard to define until I hit on a way to do so by way of a comparison. The book reminds me of the work of British documentary maker Adam Curtis, particularly his most recent effort, I Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World.… Read more

Book Review: Australian crime anthology and First Nations science fiction

Is it just me or is there definitely a renewed local interest in short story collections? There seems to be a few more of them being published than is normally the case and I am particularly interested in two that have come across my radar: Dark Deeds Down Under, an anthology of crime fiction edited by Craig Sisterson and This All Come Back Now, a new anthology of first nations speculative fiction, edited by Mykaela Saunders.

First up, Dark Deeds Down Under. The interesting selling point of this book is that it contains 19 crime fiction stories from Australian and New Zealand authors, some well-known, others not so much. As is the case with every anthology not every tale did it for me but there were far more hits than misses, which is unusual. I just want to briefly note the highlights in the collection for me.

Aoife Clifford’s ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Poll’ felt very much in the spirit of TV shows such as In the Thick of It, in its depiction of a political spinner who job sees them stumble across a murder, and the story has a real sting in the tail. No surprises that ‘The Cook’ by possibly my favourite Australian crime writer, David Whish-Wilson, was a terrific yarn about an ex-con speed cook and the troubled relationship he has with his son.… Read more

Spaces available in my online clinic for emerging crime writers

There are a few places remaining in the Writers Victoria online clinic that I am running for emerging crime writers in the second half of 2022, which starts next week.

If you’re keen to start a writing crime novel or short stories but you are unsure where to start, or if you are part-way through a manuscript and need help to finish or polish it, this online clinic will provide deadlines and support as you do so, pushing through blockages and problem passages. Participants will receive individualized feedback, including on structure, setting, pace, character and dialogue. This online course actively encourages sharing of your work with your cohort as well as with the tutor.

This is a completely safe space for you to submit drafts and have commented on by me, and/or to ask those burning questions you may have that you have never been able to get answered.

There is discount for members of Writers Victoria and other state writers organisations in Australia, but because the course is online you do not have to be in Melbourne – indeed, you don’t even have to be in Australia – to take part.

You can find all the information you need by going to this link at the Writers Victoria site here.Read more

Mid-year reading report back: David Whish-Wilson, Simenon takes a train & 1970s Mexico noir

It already half-way through the year, and I thought a quick report on the highlights of my reading so far is in order. This is especially since I have a couple of big writing projects on the go and, as a result, will probably not have the time to do anything of the sort again before the end of the year.

So, let’s get to it.

The Sawdust House, David Whish-Wilson

Regular readers will have seen me talk before on this site about how much I rate David Whish-Wilson. I genuinely believe he is one of the most underrated crime writers working in Australia today and his latest does nothing to disabuse me of this view. The Sawdust House is Whish-Wilson’s second book to explore the lost Australian history of mid-19th century San Francisco. The Coves (2018) told the story of Australian criminals, many of them former convicts, who drifted to the San Francisco in the hopes of making a fortune amidst the gold rush gripping the west coast of the US at the time, and who assumed a major role in the lawless city’s criminal world. The Sawdust House focuses on the life of one of these men, Irish-born James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan, who has been arrested as part of the nativists attempt to root out and crush Australian criminal influence in San Francisco.… Read more