Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Mine by John A. Heldt

My review rating 4.5*

Historical romance is not my preferred genre, time travel is definitely not my preferred genre. What is this book about? Time travel and a romance set in 1941.

I was offered this book in return for an honest review. When I first became a reviewer I resolved I would not be narrow in my acceptance of books based on those I would normally choose from the book shelf.  I have just finished The Mine and I am so glad I accepted the review request.

The story briefly:

Two young men finishing college are on a visit to Montana. They come across an old mine and one of the men, Joel, leaves his friend outside while he goes into explore. He is transported back 59 years to 1941.

With cash ahead of its time and definitely unusable credit cards, he struggles to make his way to Seattle where he is befriended by another young man, Tom, whose family owns a department store. Tom’s father employs Joel in the shop and a new life begins. The new life brings him romance but when the opportunity to return to 2000 arises he must decide if he will leave his new life and his beloved Grace or stay and change the course of history for many.

I loved this book, its story line, characters and thought provoking situations Joel finds himself in.

He discovers that his grandmother, Ginny, is the girlfriend of his new best friend. Does he warn them of the future he knows is in store? One of her friends, Katie, is a Japanese student. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour about to bring the United States into the war does he tell Katie that she will spend years in and internment camp?

And most of all, does he leave the woman he loves or does he take her back to the future with him? These are questions Joel muses over many times.

The story is written sensitively with a touch of humour. I love the part where Tom asks Joel to leave him and Ginny alone for a while and Joel thinks to himself “You want to make out with my grandmother!”

The characters are not only likeable and believable but I felt I really got to know them. John Heldt avoids long winded descriptions to set his scene using fashion, historical accuracy, architecture and motor vehicles to paint his pictures.

The story’s ending is not at all what I expected but it is a wonderful ending to an excellent story. I will certainly be looking for further books by John Heldt.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Coroner

The Coroner, Investigating Sudden Death, by Derrick Hand and Janet Fife-Yeomans is an insight into the working life of one of Australia’s most prominent coroners, Derrick Hand.

Janet Fife-Yeomans was a crime and legal reporter who met Hand while working for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian and had observed him from many press seats in various courtrooms.

Her introduction to the book describes him as a “solid, reliable, stern looking man”. She says he “never had any glamour or glitz about him” regardless of the high profile job.

The book covers his early law career, beginning as a court clerk in his home town of Forbes and his experiences as he rose through the ranks to magistrate but the focus is from when he is appointed initially as Deputy Coroner then Coroner for NSW.

“When the phone rings in the middle of the night, it is usually bad news. When the phone rings in the middle of the night and you are the State coroner, it is invariably someone else’s bad news ….”

It should be noted that in Australia coroners investigate unexpected, violent and unnatural deaths in order to determine the identity of the deceased as well as the when, where and how.

These cases include death caused by accident or injury and not just suspicious deaths. Coroners also investigate the cause of natural disasters, fires and explosions.

It is the Coroner’s role is to find out what happened not to prosecute or name suspects. Australian Coroners are trained in law not in medicine. You could say they are investigators not medical examiners.

It is also the duty of the coroner to make recommendations after an enquiry to reduce the risk of it happening again particularly following natural disasters and major accidents. In Derrick Hand’s career these included the Thredbo landslide and the Newcastle earthquake.

Hand always believed that coroners can make a difference when, following recommendations by him and other coroners, prescription drugs were to be in child proof containers and pills not produced in colours that made them look like lollies. 

I had only got through the first few paragraphs of the book and immediately began to enjoy the writing style. From the beginning it reads like a story, not merely relating incidents or court cases.

The incidents and cases in the book are not strictly in chronological order but links relevant cases together.

Not just clarifying and telling how the coroner works cases or even a recollection of some of the more sensational cases, it is a very personal insight into the man himself, a family man who is caring and considerate of those around him and in particular the families whose lives are affected by the crimes and disasters.

We also have an insight into his family life and how the job impacts on them. He has a loving and understanding wife but tries not to take his work home with him limiting any discussion to the basics. This was not the situation in one particular case when due to threats against him and his family they are forced to live for four months with constant police protection.

Derrick Hand comes across as a caring, intelligent magistrate but down to earth Aussie bloke. The sections about his personal life are written in a lay back style, typical of the man as he describes himself.

It is easy to read and has a definite touch of Aussie humour. During the descriptions of the court room scenes the book doesn’t get bogged down with lengthy courtroom debates and legal jargon but succinctly summarises the evidence, atmosphere and personalities.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Given the subject matter, it was not gruesome, over legalistic or technical.

My rating 5*

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mystery at Three Elms

Written by Michael D. Gibson Mystery at Three Elms is actually a boys’ adventure story I found in my father's collection of books but this 60 year old lady enjoyed it immensely.

Published in 1948 (even before I was born!) it is set post World War II. The story begins at the end of WWII. Captain James Bell’s old friend Major “Billy” Bristow will soon be returning from the Far East after serving nearly six years in the Army. In a letter he asks Bell what condition his place, Three Elms, is in.

Bell has time on his hands since the Air Ministry has dispensed with his services indefinitely and decides to do his old friend a favour and drive to the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire to check out the place and get it ready for his friends return.

After arriving in Godsell and booking into the local pub he walks to Three Elms to have a brief look around. Although it is jut on dusk he is surprised to see what appear to be bulky objects in one of the rooms. He is surprised at his discovery because his friend’s furniture and belongings are in storage. He decides to investigate further the next morning in daylight. Adding to the mystery are strange tyre tracks in the driveway.

When he returns to the house the next morning he realises he had nt been mistaken the previous night. There stacked in the room, under dust sheets, were paintings and furniture and they certainly were not his friend Bristow’s style and taste.

Rather than break in he decides to visit Bristow’s agents, Harding and Thripp, in nearby Cheltenham to collect the keys to the house.

As he returns to the town he meets Henry Brusch. We discover later that Brusch, a German, has been in an internment camp during the war. Bell hears from the locals how the personality of this once friendly man has changed during the war.

In Cheltenham he tells Thripp about the mysterious collection in the house. Thripp, stunned and the revelation insists on accompanying Bell back to the house. When they arrive the furniture and painting have disappeared. Mr Thripp is not at all impressed and accuses Bell as being either a liar or a half-wit.

Regardless of Thripp’s opinion of him Bell is determined to find out what is going on and asks his friend, Red O’Bannion to assist with the investigation.

Red is a fiery Irishman who fought under Bell in the war. He’s already ready for adventure and even more ready for a fight.

Bell wants to examine the house more but before they do that they decide to call on Brusch.

As they arrive at Brusch’s farm they notice a car disappear and a man watching the property.

Who is this man and why are they watching Brusch’s farm?

As the story unfolds they discover there are a group of men involved in spying on Brusch. Who are they? Why Brusch?

Before answers unfold, including the reason why Brusch has changed, Bell and O’Bannion get in a fight with the men, are kidnapped and threatened with death.

 It is pure escapism and fun reading.

My Rating 4*

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Digger Smith

CJ Dennis is my favourite Australian poet. In his books such as The Sentimental Bloke, Ginger Mick and Digger Smith he depicts the ordinary working men and women of the time.

These books are written in dialect verse which can take a little to get used to but once the reading is mastered it adds more to the depicting the characters than if it had been written in plain English.

For those who have difficulty in understanding the Australian slang of the day  he uses there is a glossary at the back of the book.

Digger Smith is the sequel to Ginger Mick who was lost at Gallipoli. Unlike Mick, Smith returns from World War 1 but has lost a leg in the war and considers himself “’arf a man”.

The story is told by the Bloke (Dennis’ character from “The Sentimental Bloke”) and through his eyes and those of his wife Doreen we understand the difficulty Smith experiences.

There is clear depiction of the attitudes of the working class of the time to WWI.  However, it is not just about the war, it is about mothers and sweethearts left behind and the struggle they also endured. It is about the after effects on the men of the men who fought.

There is tenderness expressed by The Bloke, Doreen and the other characters in the way they care for their neighbours and .supporting them through hard times.

It shows the compassion and wisdom of the common people in a humorous way that you will want to read over and over again.

There are simple lessons to be learnt from each poem for example in “Over the fence” the Bloke and his neighbour ‘ole man Poole’ start arguing about politics. When they are well into the argument Digger Smith comes along and reminds them that there s a war being fought:

“We’ve seen a thing or two, us blokes ‘oove fought on many fronts;
An’ we’ve ‘ad time to think a bit between the fighting stunts.
We’ve seen big things, an’ thought big things, an’ al the silly fuss,
That used to get us rattled once, seems very small to us.

“An’ when a bloke’s fought for a land an’ gets laid on the shelf
It pains ‘im to come ‘ome an’ find it scrapping with itself;
An’ scrapping all for nothin’, or for things that look so small –
To us, ‘oo’ve been in bigger things, they don’t seem reel at all

My favourite poem in the book is “A Digger’s Tale”. It is the story of when Smith is in England on Blighty’:

“Us Aussies was the goods in London town
When I was there.  If they jist twigged yer ‘at
The Dooks would ask yeh could yeh keep one down,
An’ Earls would ‘ang out ‘Welcome’ on the mat,
An’‘ sling yeh invites to their stately ‘alls
For fancy balls 

A duchess asks him to tell her more about Australia. After he tells her about breeding boomerangs, driving kangaroos “four-in-‘and” and other tall tales, he discovers she is an Aussie girl, “marri’d to an Earl” when she replies:

“ ‘I reckerlect,’ she sez – ‘Now, let me see-
In Gippsland, long ago, when I was young,
I ‘ad a little pet Corroboree,’
(I sits up in me chair like I was stung)
‘On its ‘ind legs,’ she sez, ‘it used to stand.
Fed from me ‘and

My rating 5*