Category Archives: Caroline Overington

He Was a Punk, She Did Ballet*

A really interesting post from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about doubles. By that, I mean contrasting or complementary characters – two sides of the coin, so to speak. That duality can make for interesting contrast and tension in a story. It can also add layers to a character.

FictionFan discussed doubles in the context of Scottish literature, but we see this phenomenon in plenty of other stories, including crime fiction. And it’s not hard to see why. Duality can add much to a story.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, we are introduced to Linnet Ridgeway. She is blonde, beautiful, aristocratic, and wealthy. She’s one of those ‘golden’ people who seem to have it all. While she’s usually not icy and aloof, she’s somewhat reserved. Her best friend is Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Jackie is dark-haired, vivacious and passionate. She is also quite poor, as is her fiancé, Simon Doyle. Jackie wants very much to marry Simon, but they’re not in a position to do that. So, she asks Linnet to give Simon a job as land agent. Linnet agrees, but then the unexpected happens. Simon and Linnet begin a romance and end up marrying. On the second night of their honeymoon cruise of the Nile, Linnet is shot. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he and Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, investigate. The most obvious suspect is Jackie, who’s been more or less stalking the couple. But it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have committed the murder. So, Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere. Throughout the novel, the contrast between Linnet and Jackie adds some tension and certainly character layers to the story.

Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal uses doubles as a powerful point of tension. Horace Croyden is a quiet, dignified, reserved banker. Scandal has never touched his family, and he wouldn’t dream of changing that. He lives by himself in quiet good taste, and does well at his job. His hobby is ciphers, and he’s devoted to that, too. Everything changes when he meets his boss’ cousin, Althea. She is warm and vivacious, and her habits aren’t as particular as Horace’s are. Still, they begin to date, and after a short time, Horace proposes. But the marriage does not work well, at least from his perspective. Althea shops without a list, doesn’t always get dressed before she eats breakfast, and so on. And then, she starts to change the décor of the apartment they share. That’s bad enough, but the worst moment comes when she gets rid of some of Horace’s beloved ciphers. Now feeling trapped, Horace comes up with his own plan to make his life right again…

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit is the story of two brothers, Mason and Gates Hunt. Born into poverty, and the sons of an abusive father, they grow up with quite different responses to their pasts. Mason takes advantage of every opportunity he gets, and eventually wins a scholarship to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his considerable athletic ability, and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and on money he gets from the young men’s mother, Sadie Grace. One day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument ebbs, and Wayne leaves. But later, when the Hunt brothers are on their way home from a night out, they encounter Wayne again. The argument flares up, and before anyone really thinks about it, Gates has shot Wayne. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his brother hide the evidence, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason is a commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. Gates is arrested for trafficking in cocaine and is given a long sentence. He begs his brother to help get him out of prison, but this time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens to implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder if he doesn’t help. When Mason calls his bluff, Gates follows through. Now, Mason is under indictment, and will have to stand trial for murder. He’s going to have rely on his own skills and on help from his deputy prosecutor if he’s going to clear his name.

Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy introduces two sisters:  Agnes Moore and Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. Born years apart, their lives have taken very different paths. Agnes was born in the UK during WW II and ended up in an orphanage. Later, she moved to Australia, and then back to the UK, where she married and had a daughter, Ruby. Agnes’ parents moved to Australia, where they had Snow, and started new lives. Agnes decides to visit Australia and try to find her younger sister. But while she’s there, she gets caught in a dust storm and goes missing. Ruby makes a very public call for any help in locating her mother, and that’s when journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett hears of the story. He writes an article about it, and then begins receiving letters from Snow, who’s in prison. Slowly, as the story goes on, we learn about Snow’s life, and, in the end, why she’s in prison. We also learn about Agnes’ life. The two sisters are very different, and that contrast makes for a really interesting set of character layers, as well as a source of tension.

And then there are law (and life) partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who ‘star’ in one of Paul Levine’s series. They’re both skilled attorneys, but they couldn’t be more different. Solomon doesn’t have a lot of money, he didn’t go to an Ivy League university, and he doesn’t move in high social circles. Lord, on the other hand, is a ‘blueblood’ who went to Yale University Law School. And it’s not just their backgrounds that are different; it’s also their approaches to their cases. Solomon is laid-back, and he isn’t above using courtroom antics to get an advantage in a case. Lord, on the other hand, prepares very carefully for each court date. She uses a lot of adhesive notes, does all the background research she can, and so on. Their skills are very different, but arguably complementary, and those differences add to the series.

And that’s the thing about doubles. They can add tension, even suspense, to a story. And they can add interesting layers of character. Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit FictionFan’s excellent blog. Fine reviews and discussion – and the fretful porpentine – await you!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Overington, Martin Clark, Paul Levine, Talmage Powell

They’ll Be There Calling Me ‘Baby’…Maybe*

When a young person’s parents can’t or won’t provide a safe and appropriate living environment, that child is sometimes made a ward of the state. This often means the child goes to a foster home or series of foster homes, and is supposed to be monitored by a social services agency. It’s not at all an ideal solution, but it can be better than living with a parent who’s addicted to drugs, or who abuses the child, or who needs intense and ongoing mental health care. Young people who spend time in ‘the system’ need to develop a tough exterior, and things can be difficult for them. Sometimes, their lives work out well; sometimes they don’t.  Either way, such children can make interesting characters.

There are plenty of them in crime fiction, too. For instance, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is a product of the ‘the system.’ He’s the son of a prominent lawyer and a prostitute. Since his father wasn’t a part of his life until he was an adult, he spent his early childhood with his mother. Then, when she was murdered, he became a ward of the state, and spent much of his time in foster care, orphanages, and other institutions. Those experiences have definitely impacted Bosch’s life, and given him a different outlook on life to the one he might have had if he’d grown up in a stable home.

In C.J. Box’s Open Season, we are introduced to Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Shortly after the novel begins, he has an encounter with a local poacher, Ote Keeley. It doesn’t go well for Pickett. A few months later, Keeley’s body turns up near the Picketts’ own woodpile, and Pickett is drawn into the mystery of who killed the victim and why. When Keeley’s daughter, April, is abandoned by her mother (that story arc appears in a few of the novels), the Pickett family takes her in. Officially, she’s a ward of the state, but the Picketts see her as their adopted daughter. She adjusts to life with her new family, but, as fans of Winterkill and Below Zero know, things do not magically turn out all right for her.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe is the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Botswana’s only female-owned private investigation agency. At the beginning of the series, her focus is on her work. Everything changes when her then-fiancé, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, takes in two foster children, Motholeli and her brother Puso. They’ve lived at the local orphanage as wards of the state since their parents died, and are doing well enough. But Mma Silvia Potokwane, who runs the orphanage, wants them placed in a good home. She persuades Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to take the children, and at first, Mma Ramotswe isn’t too pleased that all of this happened without her knowledge. But she takes to the children, and they to her. And in the end, these children find a safe and caring new home.

So does former Bangkok street child Miaow, whom we meet in Timothy Hallianan’s A Nail Through the Heart. Ex-pat American Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty has taken Miaow in as a foster child, and his doing his best to care for her, with the help of his partner, Rose. It’s not always easy, because Miaow has her own trauma and ‘baggage.’ But she’s doing well – much better than she would if she’d stayed on the streets. Rafferty wants to adopt her legally; and, as the series goes on, we see what it’s like when children who are wards of the state go through the adoption process.

And then there’s Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy.  In one interesting plot thread of this novel, we learn about a woman named Agnes Moore. Born in England, she was sent to an orphanage as a ward of the state when her parents were believed to be among the war dead (of World War II). After the war, she and many other British children were sent to Australia. Agnes stayed at a place called Fairbridge Farm, where she had a good experience. Later, she grew up, returned to England, and married and had a family. What she was never told, though, was that her parents weren’t dead. They were listed as dead in error, but they survived the war. When they found that Agnes had been sent to Australia, they went there, too, and had a second child, Sally ‘Snow.’ Agnes later discovered she had an Australian family, and the novel begins as she goes back to Australia to try to connect with her sister and, if possible, her parents. Instead, she goes missing. Her daughter, Ruby, wants the truth about what happened to her mother. Journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett is covering the story in a professional but not particularly interested way. His curiosity is piqued, though, when he learns why Agnes was in Australia. He starts to write stories about the family, and begins receiving letters from Snow, who’s now in prison for a crime that is revealed as the story goes on. She, too, has had experiences with the fostering system, ‘though from a very different perspective. Now thoroughly interested, Fawcett follows the history of both sisters, and it’s fascinating to see how differently they turned out.

Being in foster care – in ‘the system’ – doesn’t have to sentence a child to a miserable life. But it is a difficult situation, and many authorities try to avoid it if possible. It does make for some interesting plot points and characters, though.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charinin’s Maybe.



Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, C.J. Box, Caroline Overington, Michael Connelly, Timothy Hallinan

I Know I’ll Never be Forgiven*

Everyone makes mistakes, and plenty of people do things they shouldn’t do. That’s part of being human, really. And often, those mistakes – those ‘sins’ if you want to call it that – are forgiven. You pay that speeding ticket, and watch your driving, and you’re forgiven. You pay the overdraft fee on your bank account, and don’t let it happen too often, and you’re all right.

But every profession has certain ‘sins’ that aren’t forgiven. For instance, responsible news journalists report the truth and only the truth. That profession doesn’t easily forgive a person who makes up news stories, or who reports something that isn’t true.

Those ‘unforgiveable sins’ can make interesting contexts or plots for crime fiction. They can create a motive for murder, add character development, move a plot along, and build suspense. They also do happen in real life, and this can add to a story as well.

For instance, in the world of banking and finance, embezzlement is unforgiveable. People caught doing so are often ‘blacklisted’ and not able to work again within the field. It’s a serious enough sort of crime that those committing it will sometimes do whatever it takes to avoid getting caught – at least in fiction. In John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink, for instance, Travis McGee is drawn into a dangerous case involving embezzlement when an old military friend, Mike Gibson, asks for his help. Gibson’s younger sister, Nina, has just lost her fiancé, Howard Plummer. On the surface of it, Plummer’s murder looks like a mugging gone wrong. But she suspects otherwise. Plummer worked for an investment company called Armister-Hawes, and had begun to suspect that there were irregularities in some things happening at the company, including embezzlement. And, as McGee finds out, there are some well-connected people at the company who do not want him to find out the truth.

In the field of academia, one of the ‘unforgiveable sins’ is plagiarism. Presenting someone else’s work as one’s one can constitute grounds for failing a course, and later, for losing (or not getting) a job. And once word gets around that it’s happened, it usually means that the guilty party is unlikely to get another job, a speaking invitation, or a publishing contract. Plagiarism is part of the plot of Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret. In the novel, sessional lecturer Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig makes ends meet by teaching courses as needed for Grant McEwan University, in Edmonton. Her friend, Denise Wolff, asks her to work on an alumni event to coincide with the University of Alberta’s Homecoming (Craig got her M.A. at that institution). Craig agrees, and the planning begins. Then, Wolff tells her a disturbing piece of news. A new novel by Margaret Ahlers is about to be published. What’s unsettling about this is that Craig did her M.A. thesis on Ahlers, and knows for a fact that the author has been gone for years. And it’s very, very unlikely that an unpublished manuscript would have turned up after all this time. If it’s not a genuine Ahlers novel, then someone is a plagiarist. All of this brings up a mystery that Craig was involved when she was working on her thesis; that mystery ties into the present-day mystery, and puts Craig in a great deal of danger.

In the world of sport, one of those ‘unpardonable sins’ is fixing games or matches. It can be very tempting, though, especially if a lot of money is involved. Just ask rugby player Mark Stevens, whom we meet in John Daniell’s The Fixer. He’s a former star of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks team, who’s heading towards the end of his career. Now, he plays for a French professional team, and doing well enough. Everything changes when he meets Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, and wants to interview Stevens. He’s happy to do the interview, and before long, the two are working together on the article. Soon, da Silva tells Stevens about a friend of hers named Philip, who’s made a lot of money betting on rugby. And it’s not long before Philip’s very generous gifts, and da Silva’s very personal attention, draw Stevens into a web of providing ‘inside information,’ so that Philip can make even more money. That’s one thing, but then Stevens discovers that what Philip really wants is for him to fix matches. Now, Stevens faces a serious dilemma. He’s as opposed to fixing matches as any real athlete, or fan of sport, is. On the other hand, he’s in deep, as the saying goes. And there will be real danger for him if he doesn’t do as he’s asked.

The police are entrusted with a great deal of power and authority. Abuse of that power is grounds for, at the very least, disciplinary action. It can be grounds for much more, including termination or even imprisonment. There are many novels that feature corrupt police and those who try to bring them to justice. One of those is David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which introduces Perth Superintendent Frank Swann. He’s been away from Perth for a few years, but returns when he hears about the murder of an old friend, Ruby Devine. He starts asking questions about the death, but soon runs into a proverbial wall of silence. One reason is that he called a Royal Commission hearing on corruption in the police department. That alone makes him a ‘dead man walking.’ What’s more, the police who are the target of this investigation – a group called ‘the purple circle’ – are powerful. No-one wants to run afoul of them. So, Swann gets very little help. Even so, he finds out the truth about his friend’s murder, and about its connection to the ‘purple circle.’

Nurses work with sometimes very vulnerable people. So, they’re held to what you might call a higher standard when it comes to caring for their charges. For a nurse, causing harm to a patient is a very serious matter. Even if it’s unintentional, it can get the nurse fired. Neglect or intentional harm is an even more serious ‘sin.’ We see how that plays out in Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy.  This novel tells the story of Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. As the story begins, she’s in prison (for reasons which are revealed in the novel). In one plot thread, she begins to write letters to New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett. Her purpose is to set the record straight about some things he’s written. Through those letters, we learn a great deal about Snow’s childhood, her training as a nurse, and the experiences she’s had in that profession. We also learn about the events that led to her imprisonment. As the story unfolds, we get an ‘inside look’ at a system that’s supposed to protect the most vulnerable, and about what happens when it doesn’t.

Each profession has its standards, and when members violate those standards, the consequences can be especially severe. Among other things, there’s a sense of, ‘you’re supposed to know better, so it’s doubly wrong when you break this rule.’ These are only a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Echo and the Bunnymen’s Forgiven.


Filed under Caroline Overington, David Whish-Wilson, Janice MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, John Daniell

I Feel Possessed When You Come Round*

I always enjoy getting to know the work of new-to-me authors; it broadens my reading horizons. And, the more variety among the voices in crime fiction, the stronger the genre is. That’s why I’m always pleased to participate in the New (To Me, Anyway) Author meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. By the way, if you’re not already following that excellent blog, you want to, sooner rather than later. It’s a treasure trove of crime fiction reviews.

This quarter, I finally got to ‘meet’ Caroline Overington, and I’m very glad I did. Overington is a journalist who’s won several prizes, including the News Limited Sir Keith Murdoch Prize for Journalism in 2006 and the Walkley Award, which notes and rewards excellence in journalism. She’s used that background to good effect in her other writing, too. In fact, she was the 2015 winner of the Davitt Award for Crime Fiction, for her true crime book, Last Woman Hanged.

I first ‘met’ her, though, through Sisters of Mercy. In that novel, journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett is asked to cover the story of a missing visitor to New South Wales, Agnes Moore. As Fawcett begins to look into the case, he learns more about Moore’s background and life. And that’s how he learns that she has a much-younger sister, Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. As he continues to report on the case, Snow begins to write to him from the prison where she’s incarcerated. As the story goes on, we follow both the case of Agnes Moore, and the crime for which Snow was convicted. As Snow tells her story, mostly through letters, we learn her history, and her perspective on the events that led to her imprisonment. As those events unfold, Overington also explores some larger social issues, and how they play out in New South Wales.

Overington has written other standalones as well, including The Lucky One, Matilda is Missing, Ghost Child, and I Came to Say Goodbye. Each has a different take on the psychological thriller. And several of them explore the dynamic among partners and family members.

Want to know more about Caroline Overington? Her website is right here. And here is her Twitter account.

Want to know more about Sisters of Mercy? It’s right here.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crowded House’s I Feel Possessed.


Filed under Caroline Overington

In The Spotlight: Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some novels address larger issues, institutions, and problems by bringing them down to a human level. That’s the sort of novel that Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy is, so let’s turn today’s spotlight on that novel.

As the novel begins, we are introduced to New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett. He’s asked to cover the sort of story he doesn’t usually cover: a missing person. It seems that a visitor from England, Agnes Moore, went missing during a severe storm. Her daughter, Ruby, has come to Australia to make an appeal for anyone with information to come forward. At first, Fawcett’s not really invested in the story, although he does his job. But then he learns something that piques his interest. It seems that Agnes had come to Australia to meet her sister for the very first time. That human-interest angle prompts Fawcett to do a few stories on the topic. And that prompts a series of letters from Agnes’ sister, Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney.

Snow is in prison for a crime that is revealed as the novel goes on. But she’s been following Fawcett’s coverage of Agnes’ disappearance, and writes to him because she’s convinced he’s got plenty of details wrong. Thus begins a correspondence between the two.

Through those letters, we get to know about the two sisters. Born several years apart, they’ve led very different lives. Agnes was born in the UK during World War II, and ended up in an orphanage. Later, she moved to Australia, then back to the UK as an adult. Fawcett finds out as he looks into this how and why she was placed in care, and why her parents lost contact with her. After the war, they moved to Australia, where they had Snow, and started new lives.

From there, readers learn about Snow’s life, mostly through her letters. From Snow’s perspective, she was at a disadvantage right from the beginning, being raised by an emotionally distant and troubled mother, and a father who simply couldn’t cope. Her parents’ divorce hasn’t helped matters.

As Snow’s story continues, she tells about her decision to train as a nurse, and about her first attempts to work with the severely mentally ill. The concepts of having her patients go out into the community, and of working to communicate better with them fail miserably. Still, she meets her partner, Mark, and the two move to Sydney

It turns out that Mark is addicted to gambling, and isn’t much interested in getting either help or a job. So, Snow has the bulk of the financial responsibility. That’s how they end up running Delaney House, a care home for severely disabled children. Saying much more about the plot would, as I see it, take away from the impact of reading the story. Suffice it to say that, as the story goes on, we learn what happened to put Snow in prison.

The letters Fawcett receives give readers a great deal of insight into Snow’s character. In her view, she’s perfectly justified in all of her choices, and is angrier at other people’s insistence on blaming her than at anything else. She’s genuinely surprised at the court’s decision to imprison her. Overington doesn’t outright specify whether Snow is sociopathic, psychopathic, emotionally completely immature, or something else. As we read her side of events, we see that things aren’t as simple, perhaps, as they seem on the surface.

And Overington uses Snow’s views to lay out some serious questions about the way we care for those most vulnerable. The accusations Snow makes, and the way she defends herself, raise serious issues about state and other care systems. And, as Snow moves from the idealism of the newly-trained nurse to the cynicism of her current perspective, Overington shows that there is plenty of blame to go around. This aspect of the book is stark and unvarnished. Some of it is very ugly and discomfiting, and the book certainly doesn’t make for light, easy reading. That said, the questions Overington addresses, and the issues raised, are important. In that sense, this is the sort of book that would likely prompt lively book-club discussions.

Although the issues Overington raises are arguably faced in a number of places, this novel is set distinctly in Australia – mostly New South Wales. The physical setting, the culture, and some of the language use reflect that context. You might say that the story takes a uniquely Australian look at a larger set of questions and problems.

The story is partly told from Snow’s point of view, through her letters (in first person). And as she tells her story, she sometimes goes back and forth in time, to provide background on a topic. She then returns to that topic with comments such as, ‘So, anyway…’ Part of the story is told from Fawcett’s point of view (also first person). Those parts of the story follow a more or less chronological timeline. Readers who prefer only one sort of timeline, and/or only one point of view, will notice this.

Sisters of Mercy uses the story of one person to explore some large and disturbing questions. It features a complicated main character who may not be sympathetic, but gives readers much ‘food for thought.’ And it’s set in a distinctive New South Wales context. But what’s your view? Have you read Sisters of Mercy? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 22 May/Tuesday, 23 May –  Fatal Enquiry – Will Thomas

Monday, 29 May/Tuesday, 30 May – Never Buried – Edie Clair

Monday, 5 June/Tuesday, 6 June – You  – Zoran Drvenkar


Filed under Caroline Overington, Sisters of Mercy