The Resident by David Jackson

‘They’re here!  They’ve come for us!’

Thomas Brogan is a serial killer on the run from the police.  He manages to evade capture and finds refuge in an abandoned terrace house at the end of a row.  As a temporary refuge, it is fine, but could he be trapped?  Brogan explores the house and discovers that he can access three other houses in the row through the roof space.

And so, the story begins.  Over a period of fifteen days, we learn about Brogan’s past, while in the present he manipulates the lives of residents of two of the houses he can access.  Have you ever heard a noise in the roof?  Have you ever wondered if you are being spied on?  Brogan’s intrusion into the third house will have consequences but will he be caught, or can he escape?

Mr Jackson ramps up the tension in this novel: the physical setting may be limited but Brogan’s capacity to manipulate is not.  He is a damaged character, carrying the weight of his past while cunning enough to make the most of his circumstances.  A bit of food stolen here, moving personal items to create friction between a couple, getting to know an elderly woman and he even stops a burglar.

How will it end?  Well, you will need to read it to find out for yourself. Elements of this novel are quite scary: especially if you live in a terrace.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and VIPER for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus

‘Richard Strickland reads the brief from General Hoyt.’

In 1962, Elisa Esposito, a mute orphaned woman works as a cleaner on the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is isolated, surviving in an indifferent and largely hostile world except for the support of her neighbour Giles and her co-worker, Zelda.

One night, by chance, Zelda and Elisa see the Center’s new, sensitive asset: an amphibious man captured from the Amazon.  The captive, chained in a tank, is part of an experiment. 

Richard Strickland, the soldier who located and retrieved the captive, is obsessed and evil. His focus becomes destroying the captive to ensure that he doesn’t fall into the hands of the Russians.

But Elisa has formed a friendship with the captive.  Using sign language, they can communicate.  And with the help of others, Elisa wants to free the captive before it is too late.

I watched the film and then a couple of days later read the book.  I did not realise at the time that the two were developed in parallel.  What can I say about the story?  The film is magnificent, and the book gave me an opportunity to slow the story down to my reading pace.  Elisa and the captive are both outcasts, are both misunderstood because of their differences.

There is both good and evil in this story. And the ending seems entirely appropriate.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

‘The facts and rumours surrounding the event have polarised the close-knit Hobart community.’

On the night of 26 January 2009, Bob Chappell went missing from his yacht Four Winds and was never seen again.  The yacht had been moored near the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania’s marina in the Derwent River.  Bob Chappell had intended to spend the night on the yacht and was found to be missing the next morning. 

Bob Chappell’s body has never been found.

‘The police were investigating a murder with no body, no weapon, no witnesses and no confession.’

In 2010, Sue Neill-Fraser, his life partner of 18 years was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to 26 years imprisonment.  There have been several appeals, and in March 2020 Ms Neill-Fraser gained leave for a second appeal against her conviction.  This appeal has not yet been scheduled (as of 25 July 2020) because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Ms Bowles sets out the story in three parts: the disappearance of Bob Chappell; a summary of the way the case was dealt with by the legal system; and the ongoing challenging of the legal system in this case.

Before reading this book, I knew little about the Sue Neill-Fraser case.  While I appreciate the amount of detail and background information that Ms Bowles has included, it took me a while to adjust to her writing style.  For example, initially Ms Bowles’s referring to her connections to Tasmania, of knowing ‘who’s who in the zoo’ seemed irrelevant but I soon realised that it was part of her scene-setting, of describing the environment in which events took place.  I do not necessarily share all of her conclusions (I am an expatriate Tasmanian with no establishment ties), but I think her observations are relevant.

We may never know what happened to Bob Chappell, but I am gobsmacked that Ms Neill-Fraser was convicted of murder on the case made by the prosecution.  While I do not necessarily agree that:

‘When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.’

I do have concerns about the way the case was presented and can only hope that the most recent appeal is successful.  Usually, when reading books about true crimes, there is an outcome.  In this case there is not.  Yet.  Ms Neill-Fraser is still in gaol, is still awaiting a determination of her appeal. Ms Bowles started her investigations in 2015, and when this book was published wrote:

‘So that’s it, really.  My job is done.  I never expected this story to cover this many years and still not have an ending.’

I finished this book dissatisfied, not with the book, but with the process surrounding Ms Neill-Fraser’s conviction. I will be extremely interested in following the appeal which hopefully will be heard later this year.  The appeal hearing has been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions: Ms Neill-Fraser’s legal team are based in Melbourne.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



#SistersinCrime Aust

The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

‘The animals are dying.  Soon we will be alone here.’

Franny Stone desperately wants to follow the Arctic terns on what is likely to be their last migration to Antarctica.  The terns are teetering on the brink of extinction because of climate change.  Franny managed to secure a berth on one of the last ships heading south from Greenland.

As we travel south, Franny’s story unfolds over different timelines.  She is a restless soul, in search of answers, meaning and redemption.  She is erratic and unpredictable, drawn to the sea.  We will gradually learn what Franny is running from and what she is looking for.

‘My life has been a migration without a destination, and that in itself is senseless.’

I picked this novel up and became spellbound.  I wanted to know more about Franny and her past, I wanted to understand the why and the what.  This is a sad story, but it is so beautifully told that I could lose myself in some passages before being buffeted by others.  Is it possible for Franny to find peace?  Is it possible for the world to survive our depredations? I wonder.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith




The Wounded Sinner by Gus Henderson

‘It was still dark and Matthew liked it that way.’

Matthew spends his life travelling between Leonora and Perth in Western Australia.  His partner Jeanie and their five children live in Leonora, but Matthew needs to travel over 800 kilometres to help take care of his ageing father, Archie, in his large decaying home in Perth.  Three weeks out of every four, Matthew is away from home.  Jeanie and the children cannot accompany him: Jeanie is an Indigenous woman and Archie is an opiniated bigoted racist. 

Jeanie is not happy with this situation: she is restless and wants more from life.  She has moved to Leonora to try to reconnect with her heritage.  Orphaned as a baby, she was brought up by a non-Indigenous couple. Jeanie straddles two cultures, without fully belonging to either.

Matthew sets off for Perth.  His car breaks down.  A stranger, Vince, stops to help him. Vince decides the car cannot be fixed, and he offers Matthew a lift.  Both will be surprised when Matthew’s car later passes them.

Matthew and Vince spend quite a lot of time together after they arrive in Perth.  Vince has problems in his marriage, and Matthew does not mind the company while trying to deal with his father. Back in Leonora, Jeanie has some problems of her own.  She learns a bit about her Indigenous heritage but also needs to listen to her daughter Jaylene.

‘Expectation is the bastard child of imagination.’

I found this novel challenging because of the issues it deals with.  Vince, Matthew, and Jeanie each have ageing parents.  Each of them will need to come to terms with this. Their personal relationships are under strain: Vince’s wife has left him, and Matthew and Jeanie struggle because of different loyalties and expectations.  While Jaylene was the individual I felt most sympathy for, I thought that Mr Henderson really portrayed Jeanie’s struggle between upbringing and heritage particularly well.

Life is not straightforward for any of these characters, but I finished the novel hoping that things just might improve with a little more communication.

My thanks to Lisa  ( whose review ( led me to read this novel.  If only she could deliver me additional reading time at the same rate as she introduces me to books that I really want to read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

‘What would you do?’

Paediatrician Liz Trenchard and Jess Curtis met when they were both part of a group preparing for the birth of their first babies. They have remained friends, and Liz is surprised when she is called to the ER in the London hospital where she works to see that Jess’s baby daughter (and third child) Betsey is the patient.  Surprise quickly becomes concern when Liz’s examination of Betsey reveals a head injury.  And there is something about Jess’s explanation that just doesn’t make align with the injury.

Liz has known Jess for a decade.  She sees Jess as a capable stay-at-home-mother-of-three.  Surely not a woman likely to harm her baby.

But the Jess Liz (and their friends) see is not the way Jess sees herself.  Jess is overwhelmed.  She has two sons aged eight and ten, and her husband Ed works long hours to support the family.  Jess has set impossibly high standards for herself, and when she cannot meet those standards, she punishes herself.

Liz, and the other doctors involved, can only act on what they have seen.  Social Services are called in, and Jess’s contact with Betsey is both limited and supervised.  Her sister Martha moves in to help.

We can see the pressure that Jess is under, the intrusive feelings she is experiencing, her need to try to control.  It is possible, surely, that a mother under such pressure could harm her child.  And what should Liz do?

Ms Vaughan maintains the tension in this story.  I turned the pages, wondering how it would end, wondering how Betsey was injured.  There is a twist in the end that I have mixed feelings about, but other readers may find this twist more emotionally satisfying.

The novel covers several important issues, and ones that many exhausted mothers of newborn babies will be able to relate to.  How do we know when we need help, and who can we ask?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Atria/Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

This novel is due to be published on the 18th of August 2020.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Fogging by Luke Horton

‘They took the evening flight, so the plane was full of people trying to party the six hours over.’

A couple go on a holiday to Bali.  It is the first holiday that Tom and Clara have taken for ten years.  They are both struggling academics, drifting through life.  On the flight, Tom suffers a panic attack, which he keeps hidden (somehow) from Clara.  Tom and Clara establish a routine once they arrive at the resort: Tom stays in his head as much as he can while Clara engages more with their surroundings.  But when Tom and Clara meet Madeleine, her partner Jeremy and their five-year-old son Ollie, the holiday changes shape.   Tom seems to become more engaged, but is he?  The holiday drifts, in a vaguely comfortable way towards its end.  But then a routine event changes everything.

‘The first thing he knew about it was the sound.’

The fogging is a routine spraying of insecticide around the resort.  Clara and Madeleine are caught in the grounds: they had not been alerted to the spraying and neither is happy.  This event propels Clara into action.  Tom is surprised, but should he be?

What an intriguing story.  Tom is almost exclusively focussed on his actions and reactions, and we only have his point of view.  It seems clear that Tom does not pick up on some of the signals Clara is sending.  Tom seems stuck between a past he cannot change and a future he cannot envisage.  And Clara? The fogging gives her an impetus for change that I doubt Tom will ever understand. 

I felt sorry for Tom: crippled by anxiety and living within its confines.  I wondered what Clara would do next, and how either of them would remember this holiday.  The location, beautiful as it may be, hardly features in Tom’s perception.  He could have been anywhere: anxious and trying to tightly structure his interactions.

This is Mr Horton’s debut novel, and it is impressive.  Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor 2020

Into the Night by Sarah Bailey (Gemma Woodstock #2)

‘Freezing air slices my lungs every time I breathe.’

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock has recently moved to Melbourne.  She is still adjusting to life in the city and mourning the life she has left behind while trying to find her feet in her new workplace.  Gemma has been assigned to partner Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, and she’s finding him a bit of a challenge as well.

When a homeless man is murdered, Gemma is assigned the case.  She wants to solve the case and appreciates just how difficult it might be to find the murderer of a lonely, isolated man in a big city.  But then a young actor is murdered in the middle of a crowded scene being filmed in the city.  Who killed Sterling Wade, and why?  And will Gemma have to stop investigating the murder of the homeless man because of this new case?  Can she and Nick Fleet work together effectively?

‘Starting work on a case is always like beginning a jigsaw without having looked at the picture on the box.’

I found this novel totally absorbing.  Gemma Woodstock is a brilliant, flawed character who is facing plenty of challenges in her own life while trying to be a good detective.  Gemma’s intuition and self-destructive behaviours wrestle for dominance as she and Nick Fleet try to work out who killed Sterling Wade.  The murdered homeless man is never far from her thoughts, nor are the family and friends she left behind in Smithson.

If you enjoy crime fiction by Australian authors, and you’ve yet to make the acquaintance of Gemma Woodstock, don’t hesitate.  She’s a wonderfully flawed, complex, intelligent hero.  There are three novels.   I somehow managed to read them out of order which, while it didn’t detract from my enjoyment, isn’t the best way to come to terms with Ms Bailey’s hero.  Highly recommended.

‘The terrifying truth about every case we work is that no matter what, the answers are out there somewhere.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Rise and Shine by Patrick Allington

‘The end, when everything seemed lost, turned into the beginning.’

Two city-states are all that have survived after eight billion people have perished.  The world is now so environmentally toxic that there is no longer any food.  So how do the survivors, living in the city-states of Rise and Shine survive?  By watching televised footage of their perpetual war.  Their emotional responses to violence sustain them.  Except that, once a survivor becomes desensitised and can no longer respond with appropriate emotion, they begin to starve to death.

The two city-states have annual peace talks:

‘PEACE: not this year, maybe next year.’

But it is all a charade.  In the meantime, a small group is secretly (and illegally) trying to grow food from seeds.  They are hoping to establish a non-toxic alternate food source.

We do not know what disaster befell the world.   Everyone has a theory or two about what happened, but who can you trust?  All we know is that the world is almost entirely bereft of animal and plant life, and there is toxic rain.  Nothing is simple: if you cannot trust your leaders, who can you trust?  Survival becomes a matter of existence from one day to the next.

‘Each of them had taken a city and declared a war of survival on the other.’

But thirty years later, amidst the carefully orchestrated appearance of a new normality, dependent on a perpetual war between the two cities it is not clear how much longer long the current state can survive.  Science is important, as is medicine.  But maintaining the status quo is the point, and that hardly facilitates any progress.  Is there any hope for the future?

Mr Allington packs an entire world into fewer than 250 pages, and it is very unsettling.  Why?  Because aspects are believable.  Look at the damage we are doing to the world, look at the disinformation that surrounds us.  Look at our reactions to the current COVID-19 pandemic.  What is ‘the common good’?  And who can we trust?

Unsettling reading.  A brilliant novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Whether a ratings chase or ideological war, News Corp’s coronavirus coverage is dangerous (from The Conversation)


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, in significant parts of its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, has become a clear and present danger to the welfare of Australian society.

Aping the worst of the American media – notably Murdoch’s Fox News – it rails against science, ridicules the measures being taken to suppress the outbreak, and tries to politicise a germ.

It also propagates hate speech, vilifying ethnic and religious minorities in whose suburbs, schools and housing towers clusters have broken out.

In all these ways, it drives divisions in Australian society and sows doubt in the minds of an anxious population about the need for lockdowns and other precautions.

Read more: Coronavirus is a huge story, so journalists must apply the highest ethical standards in how they tell it

This critique is directed primarily at its opinion articles and television commentaries, rather than at its news coverage.

The news coverage has been extensive, has included many voices, and has kept its audiences up to date with what is going on. It has also been vigorous in holding governments to account for their mistakes, which is exactly what the media should do.

But the racism, ridiculing of science and ideological warfare that has disfigured much of the commentary have nothing to do with holding governments to account or providing the community with essential information.

On Sky, Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, launched an attack on Muslims and South Sudanese people over Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 that was a toxic mixture of vitriol and ignorance.

She blamed South Sudanese people living in Coburg for a cluster of 14 new infections, which she said were triggered by a feast to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim season of abstinence.

The Society of South Sudanese Professionals pointed out to her that more than 90% of South Sudanese in Victoria are Christian, not Muslim. Moreover, very few of them live in Coburg and the cluster did not consist of South Sudanese people.

For those errors of fact, Credlin apologised. But her fairmindedness did not extend to an apology for a nasty rhetorical question about the character of South Sudanese immigrants in general, linking well-worn tropes about gangs, unemployment and alleged inability to speak “Australia’s national language”.

Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was onto the same immigrant-bashing exercise. He noted that three of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in Melbourne were the Flemington towers, the Islamic Al-Taqwa College and the Cedar Meats abattoir.

Here was a trifecta for divisiveness: African immigrants, Muslims and a meatworks that, according to Bolt, employs many immigrants and donates money to the Labor Party.

Most recently, as mask-wearing was made compulsory in Victoria, Bolt and Alan Jones turned their attacks against that too. That represented a significant change and was based on new data.

In June, The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world, published an article based on a meta-analysis of 172 observational studies and 44 comparative studies into the efficacy of physical distancing, mask-wearing and eye protection as ways of reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

It found face mask use could greatly reduce risk of infection.

The breadth and authoritativeness of the study persuaded health experts in Australia and elsewhere that mask-wearing was now a more important part of the armoury against COVID-19 than had been previously thought.

Bolt likened this to a kind of political backflip. Jones called it “alarmism”.

They might do well to recall the remark of economist John Maynard Keynes:

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Jones proclaimed on Sky (July 20) that he had a pile of medical data stating that mask-wearing was ineffectual. He said he had done some research of his own over the weekend to support this proposition.

He went on to declare that government responses to the pandemic were shafting ordinary hard-working Australians.

Bolt stated he no longer trusted what Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said about coronavirus. Like Jones, Bolt questioned the medical basis for the decision to make mask-wearing compulsory.

There has also been a party-political dimension to the News Corp coverage.

This has been evident in the contrast between The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the Ruby Princess debacle (Coalition government in New South Wales) and the Herald Sun’s coverage of the hotel quarantine debacle (Labor government in Victoria).

My analysis of 464 articles in the Telegraph on the Ruby Princess showed the coverage was extensive, quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the way the government handled the case. However, the newspaper itself made no direct personal attack on Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

A similar analysis I undertook of 411 articles in the Herald Sun about hotel quarantine and subsequent second wave likewise showed extensive coverage quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the government. But there was an additional dimension: direct personal attacks on Daniel Andrews, which has become a speciality of Credlin’s.

While the Murdoch organisation’s approach stands out as systematic and sustained, Channel Nine has also made episodic contributions to this dark side of Australia’s media performance.

Its Today program has twice disgraced itself. First it gave Senator Pauline Hanson a platform from which to make a racist attack on the people in Melbourne’s public housing towers. Then Today hosted an extreme right-winger, DeAnne Lorraine, from the United States, who says COVID-19 is a conspiracy to change the world.

Her stream of consciousness in support of this proposition included a reference to the Caduceus, symbol of medicine since time immemorial.

Fake science. And look at the snake. The snake is their logo. That should tell you everything you need to know, right there.

Whether the motive is to chase ratings, as with Nine, or to prosecute ideological and cultural warfare, as with Murdoch’s News Corporation, the consequences for Australian society are dire.

The coronavirus pandemic has created well-founded anxiety in people for their health and economic well-being. In times like these, there is always a tendency in human nature to look for scapegoats or to deny reality.

Read more: Media have helped create a crisis of democracy – now they must play a vital role in its revival

Media coverage of the kind described here exploits that anxiety and feeds those natural human impulses, leading to social division and resistance to medical advice.

Both these consequences work against suppression of the virus. That is why it represents a clear and present danger to society.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.