Book review: Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores (Frank Swann, #3)Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New tourism campaign: Come to Perth, where you can grift in peace.

Former Detective, Frank Swann, is starting a job with the new Western Australian Premier. The exact nature of his job is unclear. The exact motives of those around him are even less clear. Power players are moving to get their slice of the development and mining booms that are starting. The “facilitators” have their hands out. The usual underworld players – from bikies to bank robbers – see their chance as well. And the target is painted on Frank as he’s caught in the thick of it.

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for Old Scores. As a long time fan of David’s, it surprised me to realise that over two years had elapsed since getting my signed copy. If I’m honest, I feel pretty guilty for not having read it immediately. I got there… eventually.*

David is a fantastic writer and Old Scores is another great crime novel from him. He delivers with a gritty and evocative style that us crime fans love. Set in Perth, you not only get the feel of the city, but you have a sense of the underbelly that shaped it. I was too young to really understand WA Inc, but David capitalises on those, and other, events to craft his own tale. In many ways, it is often hard to spot what is a fictionalised historical event and what is actual fiction.

Old Scores is a must for any crime fiction fan and for anyone who wants to get a sense of what Perth and Western Australia were like in the 1980s.

*I promise I’ll read the next one sooner, David.

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Perth Writers’ Festival 2014

My annual pilgrimage to the Perth Writers’ Festival is over for another year. According to reports, I was joined by 38,500 other reading and writing fans, with ticket sales up on last year (can someone confirm that figure, I thought I read it here but I must have been mistaken. Edit: confirmed figure from WritingWA).

Some write-ups have discussed the heat; we are 1.6 degrees hotter than the long-term average for February: thanks climate change! Some write-ups have discussed the wonderful talks from literary authors; can’t be less entertaining than their books. Some write-ups have tried to imply that Perth people gasped when Scott Ludlam used the word crap; yes we clearly are a simple folk over here in the west, not accustomed to swearing and impolite behaviour like taking notes. So I hereby present my write-up.

Friday 21st

I started off my festival adventure with the panel discussion Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Susan May chaired a discussion on writing, publishing, and thrilling books with Chris Allen and Joe Ducie. It was an interesting session, although Joe is not what you’d call a gregarious person and he is limited in what he can say without being sent to a black site for breaking the secrets act. This session attracted a lot of teen readers, a first for any writers’ festival I’ve been to, in part due to the young adult theme of Joe’s book and Chris’ campaign to get more boys reading. Also, why is it that the nice and friendly people always seem to write the books with the largest body counts?

My plans for the day were beaten with a cricket bat when the session Fair Go Mate was filled past standing room only. Not being able to gain admittance I’m going to say the session was clearly for doo-doo heads. Instead, I went and saw The Inner Life of Others. Amanda Curtin discussed building and writing characters with Debra Adelaide, Chris Womersley, and Andrea Goldsmith. I was sitting next to the fan for one of the much-needed air conditioners for this session. So while I was quite cool and sweat free, I couldn’t hear the speakers clearly. I think in future the festival need monitors for the speakers or better technicians on hand to get the sound levels right.

I had hoped to see the session Boom Town Rats in the afternoon, as David Whish-Wilson was speaking. He wrote my favourite novel of 2013 after-all. I had to settle for asking him how things went via Facebook: apparently, it was an interesting discussion session. Instead, I went to Annabel Smith’s workshop on Social Media Marketing. Annabel discussed various aspects of social media and the Hub and Outpost model, with your blog/website being the hub. We had a range of people in the room from social media novices to professionals, and a couple of people who didn’t see the point – I mean, being able to talk and form communities with people on the other side of the planet instantly is so overrated. Annabel did well in catering to such a wide spectrum.

Saturday 22nd

Lee Battersby’s fantasy writing workshop, Universal Law, kicked off my Saturday with a teddy bear explaining humans to aliens (you had to be there). This was a fantastic session and I got a lot out of it. Okay, that could just be confirmation bias talking, because Lee did confirm a lot of my own thoughts on fantasy and fiction writing in general, but I’m just going to pretend we’re both right. Plus, I’ve got the beginnings of a cool little absurdist short story from the session, which may have made the session pay for itself.

Hungry and in need of golden ale refreshments, I headed to the UWA Club. David Marr was holding court with a throng of fans/questioners/listeners after having finished his discussion panel. I was tempted to join the group and ask him when he was going to finally stab Andrew Bolt to death for crimes against journalism, but decided to not ruin his day.

After a leisurely lunch at the UWA Club, I skipped the next beer and went to The Game Changers: What’s In Store? Stephanie “Hex” Bendixsen chaired a fascinating discussion about the games industry and storytelling. Dan Golding, Dan Pinchback, and Guy Gadney were all insightful speakers and kept the audience of preteens to curmudgeons entertained. Guy Gadney also showed a quick wit when a young lad couldn’t remember Guy’s name, with the boy ending up on stage answering questions (which he handled quite well).
Hex-and-special-guest-panelist

Although, as if to prove that the games industry has a long way to go, or that men are still dickheads, one of the audience members started his question with “Damn girl, you fine!” when addressing Hex. If there was only some way to breed this behaviour out of the population….

The next session I attended was Hi-Viz Days with author and comedian Xavier “Matty” Toby. As a general rule, I don’t read non-fiction, as it is often more fiction than non-fiction, is often boring, and has far too low a body count to be entertaining for me. But having attended this session and listened to Xavier read out some sections from the book, I would recommend you read his book about his mining experiences. Having lived in rural Australia for a large chunk of my life, a lot of the conversations, the style of speech, and the characters portrayed sounded like the people I’ve met and know. A few award winning authors should read Xavier’s book to see how rural and regional people actually speak (or at least hand back the awards for capturing the ‘bush lyricism’ in their novels).

Sunday 23rd

My Sunday started rather early. Or rather, my Saturday didn’t really finish until Sunday morning. My little bundle of joy was ill and had trouble sleeping, which meant I did too. It also meant I’ve contracted his illness: parenting is lots of fun.

I’d already missed one of David Whish-Wilson’s sessions on the Friday, but I went the whole hog and missed his Sunday session as well. His interview on Perth, the city, and his non-crime, non-fiction book, on Sunday apparently went well (full house). David assured me that there were plenty of interviews being done around the festival on this book. Which means if we check his webpage we could probably track down an interview with David on Perth; the book and the city.

The only event I managed to attend on Sunday was Susan May’s workshop on Standing Out From the Crowd. It turns out that Susan and I had been in the same all day workshop on publishing a few Perth Writers’ Festivals ago. Her takeaway from that event had been to avoid the slush pile and somewhere along the way, after developing industry contacts to help avoid the slush pile, she self-published. I agree with one of the other attendees that Susan’s session was enthusiastic and genuine.

And that concludes my Perth Writers’ Festival adventure for another year. It was good to catch up with friends and other attendees over the three days and I hope others enjoyed the event as much as I did.

Tyson Adams’ 2013 Book Awards: The Awesomes

This is the third year of The Awesomes™, the award I give to books that had me staying up late to finish them, the books that had me rapt until the end, and sometimes past the end. I’ve read a few books this year (+70) so here are my favourites of 2013 and this year’s Awesome™.

As you will have noticed, my reviews of books are more about my impressions of the book and talking about how much I liked the book, rather than a recap of the plot, etc. My reasoning behind this is simple, I want to say “read this book” to people rather than fall into my bad habit of spoiling the ending, or being a bitch about books I didn’t enjoy. My list is based upon what I have read this year, so obviously some great books have missed out due to lack of reading hours in the year (blame the rugrat). Also my read list does include some books that were published prior to 2013. There were also some categories that were sadly under-represented, whilst others had some very intense competition. Also, the fact that I finished a book shows that it was worth reading. I have my reading rules that stop me wasting valuable reading time on books I’m not enjoying. This means that any books on my read list are entertaining (well, unless I was particularly disgusted with the crappiness of the book in question).

Awesome™ of 2013
Luther: The Calling – Neil Cross
Killer Instinct – Zoe Sharp
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Never Go Back – Lee Child
Without Fail – Lee Child
Altar of Eden – James Rollins
The Secret of Excalibur – Andy McDermott

Zero at the Bone – David Whish-Wilson

Awesome Literary Fiction
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Mystery & Thriller
Killer Instinct – Zoe Sharp
Without Fail – Lee Child
Altar of Eden – James Rollins
The Secret of Excalibur – Andy McDermott

Never Go Back – Lee Child

Awesome Crime
Luther: The Calling – Neil Cross
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Zero at the Bone – David Whish-Wilson

Awesome Fantasy
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Paranormal Fantasy
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Science Fiction
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Horror

The Strain trilogy – Guillmero Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

NB: cheating here as it was only 4 stars, but deserves the nod as the TV series is now in development and looks like they might have a winner.

Awesome Romance
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Humor
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Nonfiction

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Awesome Graphic Novels & Comics
Midnighter – Garth Ennis
Batman: The Black Mirror – Scott Snyder

Luthur Strode – Justin Jordan

Awesome Indie
No 5 star indies this year, although several 4 star and a few non-mentionables.

Awesome Poetry
There were no nominees in this category this year. Better luck next year.

Awesome Shorts/E-zines
I’m putting this category in just so that I can pimp:

Thrills, Kills and Chaos

Still Awesomes
I re-read – well in some cases I listened to the audiobook – several books this year. They deserve a mention for still being awesome. Sometimes books are better on their second outing, sometimes they are worse, sometimes you wonder why you didn’t throw the book out the first time (I’m looking at you Holden Caulfield).

Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams (better than I remember)
Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul – Douglas Adams (similar to how I remember)
Life, the Universe, and Everything – Douglas Adams (similar)
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk (slightly better)
Game Keeper – Guy Ritchie and Andy Diggle (better)

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. I hope that I have a chance to read more fantastic books from these authors again in 2014 and that everyone else does too.

Book review: Zero at the Bone by David Whish-Wilson

Zero at the BoneZero at the Bone by David Whish-Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know it is only early into November, but I think I’ve read the best book of the year. But don’t just take my word for it, Angela Savage thinks so too. That isn’t to say you can’t take my word for it. I’m trust-worthy. Honest.

David has set himself a huge task: setting a crime novel in the sleepy city of Perth Western Australia and making the hard-boiled-thriller work. Let’s just say that I’m glad I was too young to experience the Perth David has crafted in Zero at the Bone.

If you read Angela’s review, she has summed up the story and highlighted David’s skilled writing. I’ve previously discussed David’s previous novel, Line of Sight, as being a great novel; this one is even better.

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Book Review: Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson

I’ve been looking at a few writing competitions of late. As a new author I like the idea of submitting a short story or novelette to test myself, set my standards at a high enough level and create that snooty air that literary people are known for. One of the things I’ve been doing is grabbing as many past winners’ stories as possible to figure out which story I should enter.

What has struck me about these past winners is that: most winners are graduates or academics in literature; most winners don’t write stories with any narrative structure. This last point frustrates me as a reader: what is the point of the story; why am I reading this; where is this all going; is that character’s cat important or an allegory or just there for page padding? But this is a very popular style for award winners and academics.

David Whish-Wilson was my lecturer recently at the Perth Writers Festival Crime Writing workshop. He is a creative writing lecturer at Curtin University. David does not suffer from this disease of literature. His book is not only entertaining and engrossing but it has a narrative structure.

Now this really shouldn’t be that surprising. Given David’s proclivity for crime writing and his day job you really expect a well written novel. But it is more than just well written, it really conveys the time and place it is set in, it also has characters that I recognise. It really is a crime novel that you can sink your teeth into.

David in traditional cool writers’ pose

This novel is partly a crime fiction novel set against police corruption in Perth Western Australia during the 1970’s and part true crime. Basically any Perth native will not only recognise the locations, but will remember the events and investigations alluded to. I was still nothing but a mistaken case of food poisoning when the true crime aspects that this novel was based upon took place, but when I mentioned the book to mum she immediately recognised it all. It really is hard to discern where to draw the line between reality and fiction in this book. Put another way, if David had written this book 25-30 years ago he would have disappeared in the local forest mentioned in his book, despite his protestations that this is fiction “based on actual events”. Normally “based on actual events” means that there is nothing in the book/movie/TV show that even resembles the “actual events”.

Even a non-Perth native will still find a lot to enjoy in this book. It is a completely engrossing crime thriller and captures the setting and characters of the era to create a thoroughly entertaining read. This book not only surprised me but completely engrossed me. I really enjoyed this book. 4.5 stars.

Perth Writers Festival

Since I am now set upon an oft trod path, I felt a sudden urge to mingle with my fellow book aficionados. But how do you mingle with your peers when you live 3 hours away from the most remote city in the world? The interwebz seems like a nice starting place, but at some stage we all have to upgrade to real 3D people, if only to remind us not to be so snarky to one-another on forums.

Low and behold the Perth Writers Festival has come and gone for another year, and this year they had Crime Fiction included, and I was in attendance. I know, how likely is that?!

So what did I see? Well a lot of people just like me. Readers, writers, people with a general disdain for the lack of proper grammar usage on TV, you know, people who can read. In amongst this grouping of people who could read I found myself in a small subset of the literate, a subset that had been born after 1960 (to win a free e-book, email me a tell me if this was hyperbole).

Despite my general disdain for the (self-supposed) authority figures at UWA, it did prove to be a good venue for the masses of literates to converge and discuss their favourite topic; those damn kids these days. Their second favourite topic was the reason I was in attendance; writing.

I have to praise the two presenters who held Crime writing workshops at the Perth Writers Festival, Leah Giarratano and David Whish-Wilson. Leah is a rather smart, friendly, charming, and quite tall psychologist. She also happens to write some very dark crime fiction that are well worth reading. Plus she brought chocolates! Since she has dealt with some unsavory people and their victims she was well versed in creating characters with depth. Ever felt like a novel has a bad guy that is just there to be a bad guy? Well Leah had the solution to that, the scary part was that the real bad guys are far worse than the average horror writer’s imagination. Oh and she also signed my copy of her latest book with a heart – she was really nice.

Smart, tall, brunette, writer = Leah

David is a writing lecturer at Curtin university, as well as being a published author himself. Too often the two don’t go hand in hand, or the publishing means they bought 200 copies to give to friends and family. Not David. I think the thing that David brought to the class was the skills of writing and some handy techniques to break out of ruts and not be too cliche with writing. David was also willing to offer his help with people’s manuscripts – cool guy.

David striking his cool writers pose.

Now one thing seemed to be consistent in the writers workshops, that you had to be female and over the age of 45. In fact in David’s workshop I was one of two guys and the only one not alive in the 60’s. While this may have hampered my ability to appreciate Jefferson Airplane I wonder how it will relate to my comparative writing style. I guess at least I didn’t feel compelled to make up my first memory and turn it into some fanciful emotional moment when asked to share our first memories with the class.

What writers festival would be complete without a really big name writer? At this event the organisers turned to none other than Jeffry P. Freundlich.

Dexter, Jeff and Debs

Jeff is of course the fabulous author of the Dexter series of books. To all of the would-be writers out there, do not despair, Jeff also had a hard time selling his writing gold. After years of work Jeff finally came upon the idea of Dexter after meeting some wonderful people (yes that is sarcasm) at a luncheon and was suddenly convinced that serial murder wasn’t such a bad thing. It still took him four-and-a-half years and six agents to actually get someone interested in publishing Darkly Dreaming Dexter. He was really interesting to listen to and I managed to have a short chat with him when I corned him to sign my copy of his latest book. Very funny, very interesting and seems like a really nice guy – how the hell did he end up writing about a psychopath?

All in all I enjoyed my time at the festival. I’d also love to here from any other people who made it to Perth for the event, or for that matter any similar thoughts on the writers festivals you have attended. The big question I have is: does genre usually get any mention at writers festivals or was this an exception?