Category Archives: review

Compelling debut novel, a mash-up of Lord of the Flies and Ivan Denisovich

I’m still puzzling over Mutch Katsonga’s novel Beyond the Spiral Gates a couple of days after finishing it. It’s a weirdly compelling book about the experience of a boy in Wickfields, a brutal home for criminal children. I read it quickly in two sittings, with questions accumulating in my mind as I went along.

Where is it located? Perhaps Australia, perhaps Europe, perhaps New Zealand; the clues are contradictory. The language of the first-person narration is faintly archaic, but peppered with colloquialisms that would be familiar in modern Australia.

What is the time period? The rural setting has horses and carts – but there is mention of plastics. And the legal-political context: A dystopian future, or a grindingly cruel modern dictatorship?

My guess is that Katsonga’s invented world is tailored to the psychological and spiritual journey of the boy. It’s a reversed-engineered mash-up of Lord of the Flies and Ivan Denisovich, and it doesn’t matter a bit if I can’t pin it down to a place and a time. I believed in it and I wanted our boy to win over his travails.

This is a debut novel of the kind I like: It’s brave, fresh and different, and it owes nothing to anyone.

There’s a bonus: Mutch Katsonga doubles as musician Indie Soull, and has recorded some sweet tracks on Spotify to accompany the novel. Check out Frozen in Time.

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Find out about my new novel Cairo Mon Amour here. Like Mutch Katsonga, I write quirky novels about love, betrayal and redemption.

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Australian murder mystery with a perfect sense of place

Western Australian author Steve Rogers’ novel An Artifact* of Interest is so filmic in character that you’ll excuse me for referencing some Australian movies in this review. It’s a murder mystery set in the Kimberleys with the little-known Bradshaw cave paintings at the heart of the plot – but no spoilers here.  As a thoroughly urban Australian who rarely ventures fifty clicks from the coast, I relish the novels and films that transport me to the bush: The terrifying petty brutality of Ted Kotcheff’s film Wake in Fright; Ellen Roxburgh’s ordeal in Patrick White’s novel A Fringe of Leaves; the mystical film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Rogers’ novel is another retelling of the bush: A young city man on a rural adventure; a mysterious death; an anthropological mystery; an unlikely romance. It’s the style that conveys the mood, with Rogers employing present tense and a relaxed regard for point of view, which results in a feel of spontaneity and authenticity of place. Short chapters, suggestions rather than conclusions – these yield a laconic and fluent narrative that leads us through the plot rather than shoving and dragging us. You can almost spot the dissolve between chapters. I loved the imagery of the bush, and my mind kept returning to Margaret Preston’s painting of Western Australian gum blossoms

*Yes, it’s spelt with i for a good reason: Check out the definitions of artefact and artifact.

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Find out about Stuart Campbell’s latest novel here.

An Orwell for every age? My 1984 isn’t your 1984.

“Shouty,” I muttered to my companion as the curtain fell on the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of 1984 this month. But while I’m often disappointed by theatre in Sydney, I usually get my money’s worth in the ensuing days as I ponder the reasons.

There was a lot of shouting in this 1984. I was confused (as many critics were) by the stilted university tutorial at the beginning. I felt assaulted by the flashes and bangs. I thought the torture scenes had the tone of a high school play. This wasn’t my 1984.

But just because Orwell’s masterpiece was a seminal text of my youth in the sixties, why should my 1984 be the 1984 of somebody born forty years after me? When I read the book, the world was lurching from one Cold War crisis to another. Young people of my generation seriously believed that we could die in a nuclear holocaust. For teenage me, Julia was the epitome of sexual emancipation. For political me, 1984 revealed the hypocrisy not just of totalitarianism, but of society per se. Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders had exposed the power of advertising: Was totalitarianism so distant from the socially corrosive power of unbridled capitalism?

I couldn’t possibly explain any of this to someone born in 1990. It’s all about me, and I can’t fathom what 1984 means to a me who has never known economic recession, who has probably never been a member of a trade union, whose parents weren’t evacuated from London in WWII, whose foreign bogeymen are Islamists rather than Communists. But the Sydney Theatre Company’s production gave me a clue. It took me a few days, but I got it – sort of.

As a footnote, I used 1984 as a literary prop in my novel Cairo Mon Amour. Check out how I did it here.

So this is how Brexit happened!

Brexit. How the hell did it happen? OK, I confess that if I had been allowed to vote in the land of my birth, I would have voted Remain. But Sebastian Handley’s Brexit: How the Nobodies beat the Somebodies gave me a long pause for quite a lot of thought. He wouldn’t have persuaded me to vote Leave, but his book gives a rare opportunity for insight into the thinking of a committed Brexit campaigner, and is a valuable corrective to the ‘them vs us’ smear that characterised a lot of the so-called debate around Brexit. Handley’s book is highly original, and as such difficult to categorise: Memoir? Handbook for revolutionaries? Political manifesto? Structurally, it’s couched as a breathless series of diary entries. Stylistically, it’s Spike Milligan meets The Young Ones (influences Handley acknowledges at the beginning of the book). The narrative voice is somewhere on a cline from faux-naif to skilled orator. There’s also a love story woven into the gaps between Handley’s indefatigable campaigning for Leave in Brighton. And in the end, Handley answers the question How the hell did it happen? Through quintessentially British amateurism, with small squads of loosely connected enthusiasts bashing out leaflets and learning how to dodge the slow-moving ideological missiles of the Remainers. If like me, you’re still baffled by the Brexit vote, this is essential reading. If you’re a Leaver, read How the Nobodies beat the Somebodies, and have a well-deserved gloat!

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Stuart Campbell’s novel Cairo Mon Amour is published 30 June 2017. Click here for details.

Anthony Carilla’s ‘Convergence’: Audacious and compelling tilt at the future

Anthony Carilla’s debut novel Convergence takes on the core question of our existence. This audaciously ambitious book builds on physics, biology, pharmacology, brain science and theology to create a complex thriller that goes way beyond the mundane. That’s not to say that that the conventional elements are missing: There are dashes of romance and action to balance the slow-burn plot, and the settings are seductive – the jungles of Cambodia, high-tech laboratories in Europe, and the super-luxury playgrounds of a billionaire businessman.

Carilla takes some big risks with this book: A large cast of characters, attention to detail that can sometimes overwhelm, and a lot of science. But the gamble pays off, with compelling portraits of the main protagonists, and a sense of inexorable progress towards an ending that promises to blow the reader’s spiritual socks off. I confess I didn’t see the simple one-sentence conclusion coming, even though the hints – in retrospect – were there along.

Convergence is a book that will provoke a plethora of questions across the spectrum of readers from the faithful to the faithless. Some will question the science, especially the claims for quantum mechanics (but then it is set in 2038), and some will have reservations about the beneficence of big business and the US government in these days of the Trump ascendancy. But the sublime central message of the book will have universal resonance.

Convergence will be published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. in the very near future.

I was given an ARC by the author and asked to provide an honest review.

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Thriller writers Peter Ralph and Dave Stanton do it again

 

 

 

 

 

Two of my favourite thriller novelists snuck into my Kindle last month with Dying for the Highlife and Blood Gold in the Congo . I’m a fan of both US author Dave Stanton and Australian Peter Ralph, and I’ve watched their work develop over the last few years.

Peter Ralph’s forte is financial/political thrillers ranging from riches-to-rags story The CEO to the almost epic environmental saga Dirty Fracking Business. When you read a Peter Ralph thriller, there’s always the suspicion that the plot is over the top. Could the corporate world be quite as poisonous as Ralph portrays it? Well, have a look at his background on his author profile; this is a guy with a serious knowledge of the seamier side of business.

Blood Gold in the Congo take us into literally new territory – Africa – and again the plot feels eerily authentic. Joseph Muamba , illegally adopted as a child, becomes a top US athlete and returns to the Congo to smash the international corruption rackets that are robbing the Congolese of their mineral wealth. The hallmark Ralph denouement is there, with the chief villain meeting his just desserts. With Blood Gold in the Congo Peter Ralph’s writing is getting tighter and more economical, with the story allowed to flow unimpeded. I raced through it.

Stateline was my last Dave Stanton novel. I loved the winter setting of this Dan Reno story, but in Dying For The Highlife, things hot up as private eye Reno (‘as in no problemo’) hooks up again with his buddy Cody Gibbons. This time, Dan’s South Lake Tahoe PI business is on its knees until the ‘nearly beautiful’ Sheila Marjorie propositions him in a casino. Her stepson has won $43 million in a lottery, and now the jackals are circling.

I’m not a great fan of book series, but the Dave Reno formula works so well that I go back for more. Dave Stanton achieves a consistent mix of complex plotting, characters that grow with each new book, and  – number one for  me – California-Nevada setting. Keep it up, Dave!

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Stuart Campbell’s new novel Cairo Mon Amour will be published in July 2017.

I’ve nominated author Kerry Donovan for Kindle Scout – will you?

Author Kerry Donovan has a new book Ryan Kaine: On the Run enrolled in the Kindle Scout program. If you’re not familiar with this, authors apply to have never-been-published works enrolled, and readers are invited to nominate books for a Kindle Publishing   contract on the basis of sample chapters. Here’s the link for Kerry Donovan’s book.

I was lucky enough to read the whole manuscript this week.  Being a Kerry Donovan fan, I wondered what to expect from the author’s first venture into the action thriller genre. Tough, handsome hero  with a will of iron, deadly training, and the propensity to kill on demand? Well, sort of, except that Ryan Kaine is more than the one-dimensional cut-out figures that blast their way through the paperbacks on sale at airports; he’s got buckets of morality and an urge for redemption.  And what a pleasant surprise to meet a couple of old friends from Donovan’s D.C.I. Jones series along the way. I won’t reveal any more, other than to say that Ryan Kaine: On the Run is a romp of a book that leaves a sense of satisfaction rather than a sugar hit.

Have a look at the Kindle Scout link (here it is again), and if you like what you see, give Ryan Kaine your vote.

 

Stuart Campbell’s Cairo Mon Amour will be published by Austin Macauley Publishers in the second half of 2017.