Category Archives: reviews

Review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

I loved Emma Viskic’s last book, Resurrection Bay, so much, I live-tweeted some of it while reading. I would absolutely have done the same thing while reading its follow-up, And Fire Came Down, except I was offline and on the road for some of it, and was gobbling it up too greedily to wait till Tweetbot was handy.

And Fire Came Down brings us back into the world of Caleb Zelic, who is very much suffering all the psychological and emotional effects of the events of Resurrection Bay. He’s still stubborn about letting people know he’s deaf, his relationship with his wife Kat is still strained, but not half as strained as his relationships with her relatives and indigenous community in Resurrection Bay itself, his brother, Ant, the police and his remaining friends.

In fact, Caleb has strained relations with anyone you’d care to mention. It’s not that he’s a bad person at all, but the aforementioned stubbornness and the uncanny ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, combined with nightmares and guilt, make him the King of Poor Decisions.

This terrific crime thriller opens with Caleb jogging – without his hearing aids, as usual – and becoming entangled with a frightened young woman seeking his help. Portia’s plea for assistance ends in assault and death. Caleb is driven to find out who sent her to him, what happened and why – despite everyone advising him not to.

If every relationship under the sun wasn’t strained before, they sure are now.

Just like with the first book, I spent a lot of time squirming in my chair and shouting at Caleb to for the love of god not to do some of the unwise things he does.  I love the guy and I wish he’d let people help him, or take the time to properly think through consequences.  For all his difficulties, he’s a very likeable character. He’s stubborn and sometimes thoughtless, but he’s also smart, courageous and full of sass. He cares very deeply for all these people he struggles to fully connect with.

Viskic manages to keep this fine balance going from start to end – we can empathise with Caleb, we like him, but damn, we wish he’d make some better decisions.

He’s surrounded by fascinating, complex, flawed people too.  Viskic is excellent at giving the reader fully rounded people, whose motivations may be unclear but convey the real and muddy business of being human.

Caleb’s dangerous misadventures attempting to unravel the circumstances of Portia Hirst’s death this time throw him into the path of drug dealers, bikies, Portia’s fractured family, attacks on the indigenous community of Resurrection Bay (many of whom are Kat’s relations) and sundry shady law enforcement types. Caleb’s former partner and friend, the disgraced Frankie – a splendidly real character – makes an appearance and Caleb is too close to violence more than once.

And Fire Came Down has the previous book’s heady mix of love, pride, prejudice, betrayal, tragedy, family fights and loyalties, and a town full of secrets – some of them deadly.  Viskic writes powerfully and with compassion, setting the perfect pace to create a vortex that sucks you right into her world

Resurrection Bay scooped up a bunch of awards. And Fire Came Down meets the expectations raised by this recognition and ups the ante.

Book three is going to be a cracker!

Buy And Fire Came Down

Review: The Lighter Side of Sherlock Holmes: The Sherlockian Artwork of Normal Schatell

We’ve just tipped over into July, but I have one more Happy June reading review to share!

It must be obvious to the meanest intelligence by now that I am – and have for a long time been – a devotee of Sherlock Holmes, the best and wisest London detective I have ever known, who is also “the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather”. I’m equally fond of his good friend, Doctor John Watson, who claimed to have a wandering wound, shaken nerves and a tendency to be up at ungodly hours.

Sharing my fascination and affection with these fellows who seem to fit in every time and place is the late Norman Schatell, whose Sherlockian cartoons are collected in this entertaining little volume from MX Publishing.

Normal Schatell was a very active part of Holmesian fandom throughout the 70s until his  death in 1980. His sketches in this book are not always crisp and clean – many are lightning panels he was as likely to draw on envelopes as to prepare for print – but they are all charming and cheeky. Some of the best have a subtlety that deeper knowledge of the stories rewards, and I often found myself laughing away to myself as the penny dropped.

Not content simply to draw cartoons, a portion of the book showcases Schatell’s witty and imaginative “Impractical Arts and Crafts” with ideas and designs for items like The Very Kinetic Holmes Marionette, a working model of the Great Grimpen Mire and the Eddie Rucastle Roach Stomper.

Schatell even created a series of ‘folk art Holmeses’, with the very recognisable figure rendered in the styles of Central African, Iranian, Mexican and even Egyptian statues and carvings, before rounding off the collection with some of those envelope-sketches mentioned earlier.

The only down side of the book is that Schatell’s handwriting has been reproduced, as-is, to describe some of the cartoons – and sometimes the writing is cramped and messy and very difficult to read, which is a shame. A larger reproduction or retyping the text might have helped those of us who are a bit more myopic than the Great Detective.

Nevertheless, the cartoons usually speak for themselves and the whole thing is enormously fun.

Buy The Lighter Side of Sherlock Holmes