The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

July 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, July 05, 2017
Janice is recuperating from an operation that has her slightly incapacitated, so Sonia Lee of Granny’s Good Reads has, as usual, been reading up a storm and is stepping in to fill the Wilder Aisles this month ...

With The Unmourned, the second of the Monsarrat Series, Meg and Tom Keneally are well into their stride. Gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat and his champion tea-making housekeeper Mrs Mulrooney are in Parramatta, where Hugh is clerking in the governor’s office and investigating the murder of Robert Church, the late unlamented superintendent of the Female Factory. Church, it seems, was an out-and-out rotter who not only dealt in sly grog, but also stole the inmates’ food and preyed sexually on the younger ones. Hugh is warned off inquiring too deeply into the sly grog aspect, given that so many of the Colony’s upper crust are involved in the lucrative trade, and turns his attention to Grace O’Leary, the inmate who tried to protect the girls from Church’s nocturnal predations. Not surprisingly, Grace has become the prime suspect. Hugh, convinced of her innocence but running out of time to save her from the gallows, puts Mulrooney into the Factory to help Mrs Nelson, the local ‘lady bountiful’, with reading and writing classes. In talking with the inmates Mulrooney uncovers vital information which helps unmask the murderer, but at great risk to her life. They have little time to enjoy the beautiful Meissen tea service featuring a shamrock design that Hugh bought at Mr Nelson’s warehouse because, as the story ends, Hugh and Mrs M. are sent to Van Diemen’s Land to investigate another unsolved murder. I suspect, too, that we haven’t seen the last of Grace, with whom Hugh seems thoroughly smitten, and I look forward to the follow-up. Incidentally, over 5,000 women went through the Parramatta Female Factory, including Meg Keneally’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Shields.

The Pope has died suddenly and Lomeli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is in charge of the election of his successor. During balloting in the Sistine Chapel three front-runners emerge: an ultra-conservative Italian, an over-ambitious Canadian, and an African who doesn’t like gays. Into the mix comes a rank outsider, a cardinal in pectore appointed by the late Pope with no publicity but with all the proper credentials. Lomeli, who is a decent, thoughtful sort of cleric, is gradually forced into the role of in-house detective as serious flaws are discovered in each of the favourites. Such is the storyline of Robert Harris’s Conclave which, though not quite as good as his Cicero novels, is undoubtedly a page–turner. Harris started out as a political journalist and in his fiction has always been interested in the corrupting effects of power, so it’s hardly surprising that he would find rich pickings in the arcane byways of the Vatican. Unputdownable and the ending will knock your socks off.

I’m always delighted when a new Sean Duffy thriller appears, and the latest, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, is a cracker. The series’ author, Adrian McKinty, was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Melbourne. His Duffy novels, of which this is the sixth, are set in 1980s Carrickfergus with Sean Duffy a Catholic cop in the largely Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary. On the plus side, Sean is a super-good detective, while on the minus he not only lacks promotion but is asthmatic, drinks to excess, smokes cigs and pot, and does not suffer fools gladly—one such being Dalziel, his immediate ‘eejit’ superior.  Luckily he has a Protestant as his loyal sidekick. Duffy’s are dangerous times, when policemen have constantly to look under their cars for mercury tilt-bombs. This story concerns the crossbow murder of a drug dealer and begins ominously enough with three masked gunmen taking Duffy, in his own handcuffs, to a clearing in a high bog where they make him dig his grave—and I was on tenterhooks all the way through, hoping that he wouldn’t end up in it but would get safely home to partner Beth and baby Emma. Like all the others in this series, highly recommended.

We’ve had our resources boom and frittered it all away. Norway, by contrast, saved and invested all the proceeds from its North Sea oil rigs and now has a nest egg which provides benefits for the whole nation. This story is ably told by Paul Cleary in Trillion Dollar Baby: How Norway Beat the Oil Giants and Won a Lasting Fortune. I found myself cheering as I read of this small nation of 5 million people insisting on a 40% super-profits tax while other countries were losing out to the oil giants. Norwegians expect their national fund to be worth one trillion dollars by 2020. This makes for sobering reading as we allow others to take our gas with little visible benefit to us and lend them megabucks to dig up our coal. Sonia Lee

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