Friday, 11 October 2013

Aussie Book Review: Sinister Intent by Karen M Davis

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of The Reading Room
                               and Simon & Schuster Australia
Publication Date:    August 2013
Category:               Crime Thriller
ISBN:                      9781922052520
Publisher:               Simon & Schuster
RRP:                      AU$24.99

The Blurb

"There is no pain as the blade slices her skin.  She is only conscious of a warm, sticky sensation dribbling slowly down her neck.  Her own blood ...

For eight years Lexie Rogers has been a uniform cop in Sydney's red light district, Kings Cross. Having survived a violent knife attack, she's witnessed far more than most cops her age.  Now she's back at work as the newest member of the Bondi Junction Detectives' office and ready to start again.

One of her first jobs is to execute a search warrant at a bikie clubhouse belonging to one of the two local gangs in the eastern suburbs.  What she uncovers begins a chilling investigation into a vicious world where loyalty is dead and unwavering and can't be bought ... Or can it?

Lexie forms an unlikely alliance with one of the bikies, who's realised his family is in danger.  But what neither of them knows is that Lexie is the one who's in too deep.  She knows too much.

And as the stakes get personal, it seems the secret bond she has with a big bad bikie could be the one thing that'll save her life."

Summary and Thoughts

Is this a bikie war ... or something far more sinister!

The bright lights and big city of Sydney can always be relied upon to serve the perfect backdrop for an Australian crime novel and this debut by former policewoman turned writer, Karen M Davis, doesn't disappoint, with an action-packed story perfectly blended with murder, blackmail, police corruption and misplaced loyalties.

We meet Lexie Rogers a few months after an almost fatal attack with a member of a bikie gang in Sydney's Kings Cross area.  Having been left for dead, Lexie is still trying to overcome the horror of her near fatal encounter and anxiety has become a part of her life.  To make matters worse, the second week in her new job as a detective in Bondi Junction sees her having to accompany her partner, Brad Sommers, to execute a search warrant at one of the local Bikie Clubs after an anonymous tip-off comes through.  As thing would have it, when she has a personal encounter with Rex Donaldson, sergeant-at-arms for the Devil's Guardians, their search turns into a fray and her fear gets the better of her.  Not wanting to be the laughing stock of the office, her inner strength and determination soon have her back up on her feet and, by the end of the second week, when her partner injures himself unexpectedly, she's placed with Detective Josh Harrison to carry out an undercover assignment after yet another tip-off relating to the motorcycle clubs.

Josh Harrison has been on the force for twelve years and has plenty of demons of his own, not to mention his favourite vice - the bottle - which is about the only thing that's come close to dulling his sense of horror with the cases he's had to deal with.  Aloof, yet friendly and polite, he has an instinctive mistrust of everyone, preferring to keep them at arms-length, but at the same time, he's got an easy-going manner towards his subordinates and it shows through his ability to demonstrate authority without being egotistical and reprimand without causing embarrassment.  He has a firm stance on office protocol and that's to "never mix business with pleasure" and, while he's exchanged superficial pleasantries with "the new girl", keeping it professional and not displaying more than a passing interest in Lexie, he finds himself starting to think about her more and more.  He can sense her unease, but he's unsure of whether it's him or something else.  But why does he care? And why does she look so familiar?

As they're about to wrap up their undercover assignment, they find themselves responding to a radio call announcing that there’s been a shooting at a residential address.  From here, the narrative begins to gather momentum when it is discovered that the victim of the shooting is a member of the Devil's Guardians bikie club and suddenly Lexie is thrown headlong into an investigation in which she has, unwittingly, become the only witness to a dying man’s declaration.  As her and Josh go through the procedures and protocols of a murder investigation, the sexual tension between them heightening to self-combustible levels, unbeknownst to Josh, she starts to receive threatening text messages from an unknown source.  When doubts begin to emerge as to the competence and integrity of certain members of their unit and Rex Donaldson's fears for his family's safety come to the fore, a seemingly unspoken alliance is formed between him and Lexie.  When she finds herself in the clutches of a killer, the clock begins to tick!

It's been a while since I read a crime novel and this one in particular kept me engrossed right from the first word of the Prologue.  I also felt it was rather timely, given the fact that the Queensland Police have recently declared a crackdown on outlaw motorcycle clubs after an incident outside a bar on the Gold Coast thrust some of their festering hostilities into the spotlight and resulted in the arrest of numerous people.

I am of the opinion that Karen Davis’ portrayal of the essence of bikie gangs, along with the trouble they can cause, the organised crime, as well as life as a detective (and a bikie) are credible and a reflection on her many years' experience as a detective and undercover operative in Australia.

While a police procedural is generally characterised with a strong focus on the “nuts and bolts” of law enforcement, without too much emphasis on the personal lives of the characters, in penning this novel Ms Davis has shown us the other side of the coin.  Her protagonists are engaging and three-dimensional and, although cast from the stereo-typical "damaged cop" and "bikie" mould, they are neither jaded nor dysfunctional - Lexie fights nightmares and flashbacks from her previous horrific encounter and is still trying to come to terms with a broken marriage and the fact that she lost her brother, Lincoln, in the line of duty two years before; Josh likes to see the bottom of a bottle, believing that he is in control and can stop at any time.  While we don’t get to meet his parents and sister, we get the gist of his upbringing with a father who seems to have created an “emotional wasteland” in him.  And Rex Donaldson? He’s the big, bad, mean, hard bikie, but I'd go so far as to say that there's far more to him than meets the eye!

Overall, Ms Davis' relaxed and easy writing style pulled me in immediately with the narrative giving me the necessary insight into the characters’ thoughts, fears and motivations.  The suspense is well maintained with a good blend of several plotlines (and a twist that I didn’t see coming), all of which she has deftly tied up, with the resolution quite possibly being the set-up for her next book.  This being said, I feel that this debut proves she is proficient at creating a multi-layered crime novel and I will definitely be keeping her on my radar.

I wish to thank The Reading Room and Simon and Schuster for providing me with a first edition hard copy of Sinister Intent.

A Little About the Author

Karen was born and raised in Sydney.  When she was young she was a keen ice skater, horse rider and was ranked in the state in tennis. From the age of fifteen she worked casually at Woolworth’s, coached tennis on weekends and dabbled in a bit of part time modelling. After completing her higher school certificate she worked for twelve months as a clerical temp in variety of office jobs to fill in time until she was old enough to apply for the New South Wales Police Force.  Starting her career in Newtown, she then moved on to work as a detective and undercover operative in a variety of sections, all of which specialised in the investigation of organised crime.

After twenty years as a police officer and when Karen left the force six years ago, her mother (author of twelve novels, the late Lynne Wilding) encouraged her to write about her experiences.  Not having written anything other than police reports for years, she was unsure where to start, although as soon as she sat down in front of her computer and started to relay her stories, she found the words flowed easily and soon, her memories grew into a collection of events; a chronological record of her time as a police officer. 

During the process of documenting some of the significant incidents that had etched themselves into Karen’s memory, a strange thing happened. She discovered that just like her mother, she loved to write although her first attempt at a manuscript was "all over the place" and will be buried in the archives of her computer forever.

Sinister Intent, her second manuscript, took two years to write and another two years of editing and rewriting before it was ready to be presented to publishers and she is currently working madly on book number two, due to be released in 2014.

Karen lives in Sydney with her husband, a senior serving member of the NSW Police Force, her two teenage daughters, three dogs and one cat. She also has two teenage step-daughters.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Aussie Book Review: Outback Dreams by Rachael Johns

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Harlequin Books Aus
Publication Date:    1 October 2013
Category:               Adult and Contemporary Romance
ISBN:                      9781743564608
Publisher:               Harlequin Books Australia
Imprint:                   Harlequin Mira
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

"Faith and Monty are both looking for love...but they're looking in the wrong direction.

Faith Forrester is at a crossroads. Single, thirty and living on a farm in a small Western Australian town, she's sick of being treated like a kitchen slave by her brother and father. Ten years ago, her mother died of breast cancer, and Faith has been treading water ever since. She wants to get her hands dirty on the family farm. She wants to prove to herself that she's done something worthwhile with her life. And she wants to find a man...??

For as long as he can remember, Daniel 'Monty' Montgomery has been Faith's best friend. When he was ten, his parents sold the family property and moved to Perth, and ever since, Monty's dreamed of having his own farm. So for the last ten years, he's been back on the land, working odd jobs and saving every dollar to put toward his dream. Now he finally has the deposit. But there's still something missing...??

So when Faith embarks on a mission to raise money for a charity close to her heart, and Monty's dream property comes on the market, things seem like they are falling into place for them both. Until a drunken night out ends with them sleeping together. Suddenly, the best friends are faced with a new load of challenges...

Monty and Faith are both ready to find a life partner and settle down, but have they both been looking in all the wrong places?”

Summary and Thoughts

Best friends Faith and Monty know everything there is to know about one another … or do they!

Faith Forrester is in a bit of a quandary.  Thirty years old, more comfortable in sloppy t-shirts and jeans and still living on the family farm with her widowed father and brother, she’s become a slave to them since her mother passed away.  Having abandoned her agricultural degree to come home and take care of her mother ten years before, she’s recently started thinking that there has to be more to life than what she’s getting out of it.  She loves the farm, but it seems her father believes that the only place for her to be is in the house, not allowing her to get her hands dirty and help out with the daily farm work. 

Attending her fancy boarding school old girls reunion in Perth, she notices that most of her former peers appear to be either successful, married or settled (or all three) and begins to consider doing something constructive with her life instead of just pandering to her father and brother’s whims.  As she gets caught up in the midst of the celebrations for the winner of that year’s Miss Alumna charity award and knows that these “old girls” will think she’s just another small town hick, when she is asked about her relationship status, she finds herself telling the girls that she too has a boyfriend and inadvertently blurts out the name of her best friend, Monty.

Faith and Monty have been best friends forever, so when she gets back home, she fills him in on all the happenings at the reunion including the fact that she told them that he was her boyfriend.  They share so much history with one another and she has nothing to hide from him – he even knows of her unhappy home life.  Her announcement on their supposed relationship status doesn’t appear to phase Monty in the least, but for Faith, her faux pas makes her see him in a different light and she begins to wonder how she could never have noticed that her best friend is also a man!

Daniel Montgomery, fondly known as Monty, has always wanted to own his own farm.  As a ten year old boy, Daniel’s parents sold up in Bunyip Bay to move to the city so that they could be closer to doctors and new treatments for his autistic brother, Will.  While Monty is caring, considerate and the epitome of everything any girl could want in a man, his inner resentment at the fact that his parents sold the farm which he was supposed to one day inherit, is evident.

Over the last ten years, he’s worked his butt off and has finally saved enough money, bringing him closer to the dream of owning a farm and nothing and no-one is going to stand in his way.  The only problem is that something is missing and he’s trying his damndest to rectify that in his pursuit of Ruby Jones, a former resident of Bunyip Bay who has come back to live.  Now, if only he could get the visions of that night in the pub when a totally different, sexier Faith walked in.

When Faith comes across an advertisement for a charitable cause close to her heart, training companion dogs for autism, she decides that this could be her one chance to prove herself and decides to enter the following year’s Miss Alumna competition by hosting a ball to put her in the running.  It appears that things are also falling into place for Monty when the sale of a property some hours away from Bunyip Bay, piques his interest and he invites Faith to go along to visit the property so that he can get his best friend’s opinion.

After spending a wonderful day talking, dining and consuming way too much alcohol with the current owners of the property, when Faith and Monty return to their tent for the night, the distinction between friends and lovers crosses a steamy line – and suddenly, nothing is the same.

I don’t know where to begin in writing this review, but how about “wow, I loved it”!  This story has everything I look for in a novel, including strong main characters, plausible conflicts, passionate romance, and some mystery and intrigue surrounding a few of the secondary characters who made a significant impact on me – specifically Ruby who initially rubbed me up the wrong way!

This novel is the first in a new series about the small fictional town of Bunyip Bay in Western Australia and, if it’s anything to go by, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Outback Blaze and Outback Ghost.  But, back to Outback Dreams

Rachael Johns has not only skilfully laid the groundwork for her two future novels by leaving those threads open-ended, but created a firm sense of place, community and friendship, by giving us the sights and smells of farm life, the laughter and camaraderie of friends gathered at the local pub, the gossip-mongering that almost always abounds in a small town, that feeling of achievement when a community pulls together to support a good cause and some sizzling hot romance.

Of course, along with a great sense of place, characters are the lifeblood of any story and Ms Johns has created some very memorable ones in Monty and Faith, both of whom I connected with emotionally. 

Monty is dynamically drawn and, throughout the narrative, we see him trying to overcome the circumstances surrounding the sale of the farm that should have been his, while at the same time still finding it in his heart to love a brother that his resentment prevented him from getting to really know and respecting the decisions that his somewhat eccentric parents made.  In seeking a resolution to his personal issues, Rachael has added depth to the story by aligning the crux of Monty’s worries to Faith’s charity event, thus setting the basis for a lot of their emotional conflict and Monty’s final revelation of a fatal flaw - one which threatens to tear him and Faith apart forever.

Faith is one of those girls with whom I immediately connected and I could just picture myself sitting with her in the pub having a few pots of beer and a good old yarn about how far she and Monty had come, her unexpected friendship with one of the secondary characters, the absolute frustration she felt towards her father in his treatment of her and their inevitable confrontation with one another, which had my anger at him dissipating once I learned the reasons behind his unjustified behaviour towards her.

This was a thoroughly satisfying read and it’s quite apparent that Rachael has evolved her plot from her characters’ lives, giving us a credible storyline with solid characters and I can't wait to discover the subsidiary plot lines alluded to, such as the reasons behind Ruby Jones’ return to Bunyip Bay, the secret that the gorgeous new cop, Drew, may be running from and the suspense and romance surrounding Adam and his missing sister.

I wish to thank Harlequin Books Australia for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this fabulous read.

A Little About the Author

Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a supermarket owner by day, a chronic arachnophobic and a writer by night.

She's been writing since she was 17 after breaking up with her first boyfriend and needing a form of therapy for her broken heart.  Luckily she realised that with writing, she could create whatever ending she liked.

Almost a decade later, after many attempts at writing different types of novels, she joined Romance Writers of Australia and finally learnt that there were was more to writing a book than just typing out random thoughts.  She also learnt that she loved contemporary romance and that was what she wanted to write.

Rachael lives in rural Western Australia with her hyperactive husband and three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training.