Category: Book Review

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

About the Book

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?

What I Thought

This is the second book in the Caleb Zelic series and, like Resurrection Bay, is relentless in its pacing as Caleb once again is trust into the centre of a murder mystery. Continuing a few months on from the aftermath of events that took place in book one, Caleb, beset by nightmares, is barely making a go of it and struggling physically and mentally. When, out for a run, he’s approached by a homeless man and given a cryptic note asking for help. Unable to resist, of course, Caleb follows the down-and-out to a dark alley and, everything from there on in goes to hell in a hand basket!

Poor Caleb, you have got to feel for this guy. So well written by Viskic he feels like someone you know or should know—a friend of a friend—he seems so familiar. Fighting the world on several fronts not least of which is battling through an ordinary day dealing with talking people, we get to know so much more about Caleb, and just how hard it is to be deaf in a speaking, hearing world. Viskic does an outstanding job of making us feel and live through Caleb’s eye. And yes, his ears too. Every missed word, every simple situation made all the more difficult by the obstacles he faces. 

But Caleb is undaunted by his hearing impairment, and though he struggles, it’s made him who he is, more acutely aware of others in a way we cannot comprehend. And Viskic really reflects this so well in her writing. How he interacts with others and, just as importantly, how they, in turn, interact with him. It’s all so brutally honest.

It’s also both jarring, and so cleverly done. This is what makes for a far more interesting read, because Viskic’s characters are working within this framework, along with us, the reader. Making Caleb one hell of an interesting character never mind he’s determined, stubborn to a fault, and never, but never give up once he’s committed to doing something. In this case, finding out who killed the woman in the red dress.

With plenty of mystery, false leads, any number of ruses and misdirects, Viskic keeps things moving along at a decent pace, and never flags with both the plot, details, or character involvement. Even down to the secondary characters carried over from Resurrection Bay. We’re treated to more details and background, learn more about the community itself, where Caleb grew up, including more involvement with his younger fucked up brother, Ant.

It all makes for a thoroughly absorbing read. I was so invested in what was going on, I read this one in three very nail biting sittings. So determined to find out what was going on, who the killer or, killers, where, and whether or not we’d see Caleb get back together with Kat, his estranged wife. 

And Fire Came Down takes on a lot and delivers lightning in a bottle for a second time. Tense, fraught, razor-sharp observations and, as I said, relentless. Caleb takes us on another journey of discovery, both personal and emotionally, as well as thematically. And while the ending ties up a number of threads by the end, it also poses a few more that we just know are going to be answered in the next instalment, in Darkness For Light. 

While this might read OK as a standalone, I suggest reading Resurrection Bay first, as it will give more depth and background to the characters, plot, and setting. Never mind, just what makes Caleb tick.

Another outstanding read from beginning to end, I highly recommend this series. 

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Title: RESURRECTION BAY
Author: Emma Viskic
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 9781782273622
Genre: Crime Fiction

Back Cover Blurb

Caleb Zelic can’t hear you. But he sees everything.

His childhood friend has been brutally murdered—fingers broken, throat slit—at his home in Melbourne. Tortured by guilt, Caleb vows to track down the killer. But he’s profoundly deaf; missed words and misread lips can lead to confusion, and trouble.

Fortunately, Caleb knows how to read people; a sideways glance, an unconvincing smile, speaks volumes. When his friend Frankie, a former cop, offers to help, they soon discover the killer is on their tail

Sensing that his ex-wife may also be in danger, Caleb insists they return to their hometown of Resurrection Bay. But here he learns that everyone—including his murdered friend—is hiding something. And the deeper he digs, the darker the secrets…

What I Thought

First of all, let me just begin by saying this debut novel by Aussie author, Emma Viskic, is outstanding. Truly a remarkable novel on just about every level. It’s not long, at just 280 pages, so I read this in one frantic, page-turning day! 

Let’s start with the well crafted, well delineated characters. I love Caleb Zelic who narrates the story. He’s such a great down-to-earth character, feisty and oh so different from the usual MC in that he just happens to be deaf. This makes for a wholly unique POV both in the visuals and descriptions, and more, the dialogue. 

Choppy and jarring, we see the world how Caleb hears it. With broken sentences that obviously make for a few comic and laugh out loud moments. And, of course, because of this handicap, we feel every ounce of Caleb’s frustration. His determination to not to give in, stubborn to the last. Which inevitably causes clashes with both his work partner, Frankie—who, by the way, is another excellently flawed character—and his ex-wife, Kat. It’s only when we learn why Kat and Caleb spilt that we understand the weight of emotions involved. 

This thread of the plot is wonderfully written. The tug and pull between the two characters are at the heart of Caleb’s state of mind. And provide a lot of the backstory to Caleb. And I love Kat as a character too, along with her family, of whom I’m sure, we’ll see a lot more of. I especially want more of Kat’s mother, Maria!

And then there’s Frankie—Caleb’s 57 year-old, ex-cop partner and on the wagon drunk—with an acerbic wit who’s a great counterbalance to Caleb. Throw in a clutch of secondary characters that were so well written, I felt like I knew them. And Viskic has assembled the perfect cast for this taught, tense mystery full of twists and turns I was caught out several times.

The plotting is superb, as we follow Caleb and Frankie trying to figure out why Caleb’s friend, Gary, has been murdered while investigating a fraud case. What on the surface seems straightforward enough, becomes a deadly race against time, as one by one, people close to the case begin turning up dead. 

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Resurrection Bay and the almost, at times, poetic descriptions Viskic writes:

“. . . she was a study in tones: her skin a smooth wash of burnt umber, sienna touches to her hair, the unexpected flash of blue eyes. The genes from all her Koori ancestors distilled to a heady perfection.”

There are moments of heart-pounding terror, as seen through Caleb’s eyes, to moments of joy and heartbreak with ex-wife, Kat. And some very funny moments with Frankie, that keep this one light and entertaining, counterbalancing the moments of off-camera violence when the heavies start to slice-and-dice people. And then, there’s an ending I never saw coming, as Viskic throws in a cleverly disguised curve-ball that threw me for a loop.

This is an amazing debut, with believable characters, brisk pacing and plotting that might make your head turn in the wrong direction. Hang on for the ride. Now, I can’t wait to read the second in the series, And Fire Came Down. 

Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless

Title: BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (Sydney Rose Parnell #1)
Author: Barbara Nickless
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
ISBN: 9781503936867
Genre: Crime Fiction

Back Cover Blurb

A young woman is found brutally murdered, and the main suspect is the victim’s fiancé, a hideously scarred Iraq War vet known as the Burned Man. But railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell, brought in by the Denver Major Crimes unit to help investigate, can’t shake the feeling that larger forces are behind this apparent crime of passion.

In the depths of an icy winter, Parnell and her K9 partner, Clyde ― both haunted by their time in Iraq ― descend into the underground world of a savage gang of rail riders. There, they uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy and a series of shocking crimes. Crimes that threaten everything Parnell holds dear.

As the search for the truth puts her directly in the path of the killer, Parnell must struggle with a deadly question: Can she fight monsters without becoming one herself?

What I Thought

What is compelling about Blood on the Tracks is that it is tough and gritty, dark and brutal, but also, in places, uplifting and hopeful. And while essentially a murder mystery cut with a great deal of taut suspense, it’s also about family and the bonds of extended family. How they can be both fragile and yet, so strong, as to bind and blind us at the same time.

Like many of the secondary characters, Sydney Rose Parnell is a scarred Iraqi war vet troubled by her past and what she saw in the war. Not only that, she has a deep dark secret she’s sworn never to reveal that, later in the story, threatens to consume her. The more she finds out about the events that shaped her state of being in the here and now, the more troubled she becomes by the revelations. Leaving her wondering who can she trust? An answer that is left open ended and a thread, I am sure, that will be explored in subsequent instalments.

This intriguing side plot effects events as they unfold in the main story, as Parnell searches for a killer. And while we are presented with one person being the possible suspect, Nickless muddies the water when it becomes obvious, this isn’t as clear cut as it seems. We’re presented with a number of other possible scenarios, and the further Sydney digs beneath the surface, tugging at loose threads that reveal more is going on, the more we are drawn down into darker depths.

The stories woven in between the hunt for a killer, highlight a savage underbelly of Nazi-loving skinheads, ritualistic murders, childhood gangs and, ultimately, revenge. And as Sydney and her K9 partner, Clyde, along with Denver murder detective, Cohen, dig, the more they are disgusted by what they find.

Well written, this is at times, taut, fast paced and deeply introspective, as we learn a great deal about the events that shaped Sydney, and her life in Iraq. Eventful, impactive, and revealing, this might be a search for a killer, but it is also so much more. The author really takes us on a journey into bitter events that shape us, and how those events affect us years and decades later. 

I found the author’s writing style easy to read, and, considering this is a debut novel, it was extremely well crafted. From the settings and sense of place, to the depth of all the characters involved, to the pacing which constantly kept us on our toes. This is a thoroughly well researched and written first offering that swallowed me up, as I walked side by side with Sydney and Clyde, a partnership I can’t wait to read more of. 

The bond between woman and dog essential in making this work, and done to perfection. There is emotional depth and heartfelt feeling here, as we understand how broken and yet, how strong Sydney is, when faced with troubling events and even harder decisions.

Thoroughly immersive, Blood on the Tracks, is both a taut page-turning thriller and a heart-wrenching character study. If you love a good twisted mystery, characters that are darkly shaded by their past, and stories that may well haunt you, then I highly recommend you read this one.