Top 5 – 2017
Literature , Top Fives / 27/12/2017

So many great books this year (see also Top 5 Crime, Science Fiction and Fantasy).   This is an all Australian Top 5 fiction for 2017 (in no particular order and with four international honourable mentions).     Jock Serong’s On The Java Ridge moved away from crime and created a humanist thriller out of Australia’s border protection policies.               Michael Sala’s The Restorer centred on a family trying to put a violent past behind them in 1980s Newcastle.               Mark Brandi’s debut, Wimmera, was a timely exploration of child sexual abuse and its impacts.                 In City of Crows, Chris Womersley explored the power of belief in seventeenth century Paris.                 Another great debut, Tony Jones created Australia’s very won Day of the Jackal in The Twentieth Man.                 Honourable (international) mentions: House of Names by Colm Toibin was a retelling of Greek myth. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a historical novel set in the New York shipbuilding yards in World War II. Spoils by Brian van Reet…

Munich by Robert Harris
Historical , Recommended , Review , Thriller / 19/10/2017

Robert Harris has long had a fascination with the events surrounding Neville Chamberlain’s trip to Munich in 1938 to negotiate with Hitler. That meeting, which ended with Chamberlain famously returning to Britain waving a piece of paper and declaring “Peace in our time”, has long been seen as the epitome of the appeasement policy that presaged World War II.   In 1988, on the fiftieth anniversary of that meeting, Harris was involved in a documentary called God Bless You, Mr Chamberlain. As the name of his documentary suggests, Harris has a more grey interpretation of Chamberlain’s actions than the popular historical account. And this view of the man and his actions informs much of his latest novel about these negotiations.  Early on in Munich it is clear that in 1938 the British were not ready for a war. Chamberlain is told that that the country needs at least a year to recruit, train and arm their forces. So that while Chamberlain honestly strives for peace, desperately trying to avoid a repeat of Word War I, he is also aware of a need to stall for time. As he observes: “The main lesson I have learned in my dealings with Hitler is that one simply can’t play poker with a gangster if one has no cards in one’s hand.” In Harris’s telling, Chamberlain does everything he can to box Hitler in to an agreement, knowing it…

Conclave by Robert Harris
Review , Thriller / 26/10/2016

Robert Harris seems to be on a mission to prove that you can find drama anywhere. Or at least, to demonstrate his ability to bring inherently dramatic situations more vividly to life. One of his early works, Enigma, injected additional drama into the already fraught industry of breaking of Nazi codes during World War 2. In his trilogy focussing on Cicero he drew out the political parallels of ancient Rome and the present day. And in An Officer and a Spy (reviewed here) he created a spy novel and legal thriller around one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of the 19th Century. In Conclave, Harris turns his attention to the arcane practices surrounding the election of a new pope. And in his hands it turns out to be both as fascinating and as deeply human as all of his previous books. The reader’s guide through Conclave is Cardinal Lomeli, Dean of the College of Cardinals. It falls on Lomeli to organise and run the election of the new Pope when the previous Pope dies. This involves gathering over one hundred cardinals from around the world and sequestering them in the Vatican, away from the eyes of the world, until they…