Symphony for the Man and three other titles
Scars are a motif in this rich and empathic novel from Jamaican author Nicole Dennis-Benn. Most of the characters have past wounds written on their bodies, and the stories behind them guide the narrative. The title character makes an escape from Jamaica to New York, leaving her five-year-old daughter Tru behind to be raised by her father and stepmother. Patsy is queer, but if the Big Apple beckons with the freedom to live and love as she chooses, it also saddles her with the vulnerabilities and disadvantages of an undocumented migrant. The novel delves into Patsy’s life in the US, and Tru’s in Jamaica as she grows into a teenager with a need to confront her mother’s abandonmen. Dennis-Benn delicately layers a desperate, colourful and poignant coming-out story with an examination of trauma and of love, while resisting all the usual clichés of queer fiction.
Torched is a suspenseful crime novel that centres on that too-familiar Australian scenario, the aftermath of a terrifying bushfire. The small Yarra Valley town of Brunton is shocked to discover the fire that killed so many was deliberately lit. All the evidence points to Caleb, a young volunteer firefighter who remains silent about his actions. As the high-profile case proceeds through the legal system, Caleb’s mother Phoebe – principal of the local primary school – becomes obsessed with defending her son, refusing to believe he could have committed arson. But did he? From the terror and destruction wrought by the bushfire itself to the wrenching ordeal of a mother whose child has been charged with a monstrous crime, Starr’s novel unfolds with vivid characters, a command of pace and considerable psychological realism.
Inheritance of Secrets
When Juliet’s ageing grandparents Karl and Grete are found dead in their Adelaide home, with a valuable signet ring missing, she becomes convinced it is more than a burglary gone awry. Her sister Lily turns up soon after, paranoid and in fear of her life, then promptly vanishes again. As Juliet investigates, she probes her grandfather’s migration to Australia in 1949, and uncovers family secrets that lead back to Nazi Germany, where Karl was a soldier in the army. Was Karl as war criminal? Or was there some other reason for his murder? As a historical thriller, this has many problems – the mystery feels totally contrived, the historical backdrop is the vaguest I’ve seen in this kind of Nazi hunter fiction, and cookie-cutter dialogue, with voices insufficiently distinguished, makes it harder to invest yourself in the characters or the story.