When Kim at Reading Matters proposed Southern Cross Crime Month in January I had three definite books on my list. Vanda Symon’s first Sam Shephard novel Overkill was long overdue for a read and there were two new releases which I was looking forward to reading, Katherine Kovacic’s first non-fiction work The Schoolgirl Strangler and Loraine Peck’s debut novel The Second Son. I’d also planned to read at least one more book and at the time Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask would’ve been my choice. However when it came time to pick my fourth book of the month I chose to re-read Porter’s second crime verse novel El Dorado instead of The Monkey’s Mask, I’m glad I did.
I’m a big fan on independent publishers and Orenda Books in the UK are one of my favourites. If I was to list my crime reading highlights for each of the last few years there’d more than on Orenda Book on those lists. Now I have another reason to love them. Overkill, Vanda Symon’s first Sam Shephard book, was originally released in 2007 and if it hadn’t been republished by Orenda in 2018 it’s unlikely that I’d have read it. That would’ve been a tragedy because I very much enjoyed reading Overkill. Sam Shephard is a great character and with Vanda Symon’s direct first person narrative the dialogue in her mind is just as much as the dialogue with other characters in the book. Orenda has now republished all of the Sam Shephard books books I can’t wait to read the rest of them.
I don’t usually read True Crime. It’s a genre that I’m not overly comfortable with but in the case of The Schoolgirl Strangler I chose to read it because I trusted the author. I think Katherine Kovacic’s Alex Clayton books are one of the best of the recent crime fiction releases in Australia and it’s for this reason that I chose to read The Schoolgirl Strangler. The book details a series of four murders which took place in Melbourne and later on at Inverloch and Leongatha in Gippsland during the early to mid 1930’s. Those familiar with the Alex Clayton series will know that the first book is in part a fictional retelling of the murder of Mollie Dean. That murder took place between the first and second murders detailed in The Schoolgirl Strangler. Despite my discomfort with the genre I enjoyed The Schoolgirl Strangler and if Katherine Kovacic chose to write another True Crime book I’d certainly consider reading it.
Of the four books which I read for Souther Cross Crime Loraine Peck’s The Second Son is the one I least enjoyed. It’s not a bad book, in fact it’s quite readable and I managed to read it in three days which is light speed for me. My problem with The Second Son is that I neither cared for most of the characters or the background to the story, in particular the historical enmity which drove much of the plot of the book. I did however finish the book and this was in part due to the short alternating chapters told from point of the view of the two main characters which stopped me being frustrated with each of them. Despite my overall lack of enjoyment I’d probably read a sequel because the final pages of The Second Son indicates that its setting will be completely different.
Dorothy Porter’s El Dorado is one of the first books of poetry which I read in full and it’s also a book which I haven’t read for more than ten years. Those years seemed more like yesterday when I started reading the opening poems and that feeling of timelessness continued until the end of the book. And yet, if you look at the verse above, time has changed, Christmas beetles are almost a forgotten part of summer. These things combined with Porter’s humour and exquisite verse made El Dorado a most enjoyable reread for me and it’s also was my favourite of the four crime books that I read this month. Now, where did I put The Monkey’s Mask?
Post note: Thank you to Kim at Reading Matters for instigating Southern Cross Crime Month. For more reviews head over to the dedicated Southern Cross Crime Month page on Kim’s blog.