I was part of an online book launch at the beginning of the month for Southern Cross Crime by Craig Sisterson, a guide to Australian and New Zealand crime fiction, and films and TV – if you haven’t caught up with season 2 of Mystery Road I’d urge you look out of it on BBC iPlayer, (there’s a review on NB Magazine). Sisterson was joined by Australian author Sulari Gentill and New Zealand author JP Pomare, very different writers but part of the brilliant new wave of crime fiction from the antipodes that includes; Jane Harper, Vanda Symon, Emma Viskic, Chris Hammer et al. It’s a pretty exciting time for crime writing down under; more authors, more quality crime fiction than ever before. Both Gentill and Pomare have new novels coming out soon and they’re worth checking out:

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series is set in the 1930s in Australia but also Asia, Britain and America. Rowland is a bohemian, a painter, much to the consternation of his business minded brother, Wilfred. His entourage comprises Edna, a Sculptress, his muse, (the woman he loves), and his two friends, Clyde and Milton – to make matters worse for Wilfred they’re lefties. The first book in the series, A Few Right Thinking Men, was released in 2010. Rowland is a very reluctant detective but when his favourite uncle is killed he’s becomes the number one suspect because he stands to inherit the old man’s money and house. Rowland is forced to become a (proto-)detective in order to get to the bottom of the murder and clear his own name. Wilfred is involved with some unsavoury types – the New Guard, essentially fascists, a bit like Mosley’s mob in Britain. Now we’re up to the tenth book in the series, A Testament of a Character is due to be published at the end of October. It’s 1935, Rowland, (and friends), head to America when his old university pal Danny Cartwright dies naming Rowland as executor of his will. Rowland soon realises the family are very hostile to the idea of this outsider handling their family affairs. It becomes clear that Danny was estranged from his family but, naturally, they still want his estate and his money. Matters are complicated as it appears that Danny was murdered and he had named his ‘friend’ Otis Norcross as his sole heir. The family hate their brother’s lifestyle and friends. Otis has disappeared, the family want it to stay that way, the police suspect him because he’s the one who stands to inherit. Danny’s two brothers and his sister are prepared to do anything to get rid of Rowland and ensure they get their slice of Danny’s estate. There’s little choice but for Rowland to find out what is really behind Danny’s murder. This is a very satisfying and enjoyable mystery read.

Gentill pays homage to the golden age of crime but this story has very modern sensibilities, exploring issues of racism, the rise of fascism, feminism and sexuality. The fictional mystery sits nicely with real history and makes great use of real people popping in and out of the story, including Zelda Fitzgerald, Joe Kennedy and Marion Davies. A Testament of Character is well written and engaging – it has bite but also charm.

CMC, paperback, out at the end of October.

In the Clearing by JP Pomare

Pomare’s stories are very different, they are dark psychological dramas that explore personal trauma through the manipulation of people by cults and predators. His first novel in 2019, Call Me Evie, told Kate’s story, she has been told by her rescuer, her ‘uncle’, that she has been saved from something terrible and whisked away from danger, (something she can’t quite remember). They live in a secluded cabin, totally dependent on each other. Gradually, Kate, who her uncle renamed Evie, realises that her saviour may, in fact, be her captor. It’s chilling, modern and fresh. Pomare’s second novel In the Clearing will be released in the UK on December 5th. The story opens with a girl helping her ‘brothers and Sisters’ to kidnap a new child for their cult. They have been put up to it by their powerful and manipulative female leader and her sidekick. The story takes its inspiration from the real events surrounding Australian cult, The Family, that operated for twenty years from the 1960s before an escapee contacted the authorities and the police finally became involved. The new child, Sara becomes Asha, in order to survive she will have to bend to the cult’s world view and way of life totally. Life is harsh, failure to conform dangerous. Pomare has brought the story forward in time just to add a little more relevance and his vision of the cult and how it works is convincing and terrifying. There’s another layer to the story that adds depth and jeopardy to an already deadly mix but it’s best not to say too much about that to avoid spoilers. This story plays on our worst fears – the peril faced by children and young people when predators strike. In the Clearing explores the psychology of cults and the experience of survivors and those who don’t make it out. A complex and satisfying psychological mystery.

Hodder, paperback, 5th December.

What the two authors illustrate is that there’s a vast range of crime fiction flourishing down under and we have a lot to look forward to as more comes our way. Both are prize winning novelists, I can recommend catching up with either of these depending on your personal taste.