Tag Archives: crime

Review: Cyanide and Poppies by Carolyn Morwood (AWW Challenge 2013 #6)

cyanide-and-poppies-an-eleanor-jones-mysteryI read Carolyn Morwood’s Death and the Spanish Lady last year (and Gary the vampire and his librarian friend Lissa reviewed it), being a sucker for books set in my hometown, especially historical crime novels. That book was set in 1919, just after the Great War and during the devastating period of the Spanish flu epidemic. This story, set five years later, occurs on the eve of the police strike of 1923, which saw rioting in the Melbourne’s main streets.

The maxim that you should start in the midst of the action is taken to heart in Cyanide and Poppies, with the heroine, former nurse Eleanor Jones, kneeling by the body of a dead man in the offices of The Argus newspaper, where she is now a journalist, while waiting for the police to arrive. It’s perhaps a mite too abrupt as a beginning, but it certainly throws the reader into the midst of the business, both with Edward Bain’s murder and the difficulties of a police investigation while a strike is in place.

It also catches us up with Eleanor very quickly, including her change of profession and the ways in which her experiences in the war still haunt her. Her shell-shocked brother Andrew is still struggling with the return to life and Eleanor herself is still determined to deny and kill off her feelings for her unfortunately married friend Nicholas.

Much of the plot unfolds in a strangely muted fashion, reflecting Eleanor’s (and Andrew’s) own disconnectedness from things. The rest of the world intrudes on them, of course – sometimes in immediate and violent ways – but there is a sense of them both viewing the event around them at arm’s length.

But the mystery gathers momentum, including Andrew’s relationship with the vivacious but scandalous medium, Nadine Carrides, and Eleanor’s concerns and doubts about Carrides as well as her colleagues at The Argus. As it does so, there is a sense that the siblings’ lives are also gaining in momentum and purpose, and light begins to break on both the crime and their own relationships and engagement with their post-war world.

The book is elegantly written, with well-crafted characters and a wonderful capacity to evoke the Melbourne of the era. It’s always a pleasure to recognise parts of my town in a book, and even moreso to get a feel for those places in other times and atmospheres.

Cyanide and Poppies has a slow build to a satisfying finale that cracks open light and air on lives as well as mysteries, and that’s a pretty fine thing.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Interview: Rowena Cory Daniells

Rowena Cory Daniells’ latest book, The Price of Fame, has just been released through Clan Destine Press. Set in St Kilda in both the 1980s and the present day, it’s a paranormal crime thriller, engaging both music and painting in the unravelling of the murder mystery.

The storytelling is vivid, the characters strong and the distinctive sense of place combines with a slow-building creepiness to make The Price of Fame a compelling read. And it contains so many of my favourite things: Melbourne, mystery and rock and roll!

To celebrate the release of the book, I asked RC Daniells a few questions about the book, music and art.

Q: The Price of Fame is set in St Kilda: what relationship do you have with that town?

When I moved to Melbourne at the age of eighteen, I ended up living in St Kilda and stayed there (in several different flats) for the next twelve years. I loved Acland Street with its continental cake shops. I used to wander along the Esplanade to look at the craft markets and I used to go for early morning jogs through the Blessington Street Gardens.

Q: The Price of Fame combines crime, the paranormal and rock music. What do you think makes those three concepts go together?

Perhaps I’m weird but to me this seems perfectly normal. We lived in a grand old mansion that had been turned into flats. Below us were the members of a punk rock band who would practise all hours of the night and have noisy fights. One of our friends was a taxi driver who used to pick up street kids and try to help them. I was reading a lot of SF, fantasy and horror. It seemed only natural to combine all these elements. I wrote the early narrative thread of the novel when I was twenty-three, then added the contemporary thread more recently.

I should say here that the people in this book are invention. Like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, they are an amalgamation of lots of people, fused together to drive a narrative.

Rowena and Lindy Cameron
Rowena (right) and Clan Destine publisher Lindy Cameron

Q: What music influenced the book?

Suffering through nights of trying to sleep while the band rehearsed. Someone told me they were The Boys Next Door (later known as The Birthday Party). I don’t know if they were, but I do know they were doing the whole Punk Rock thing. There was a vibrant music scene happening in Melbourne at the time. My husband Daryl was going to hotels like The Prince of Wales where bands like The Models, The Ears, Midnight Oil and Men at Work were playing.  He says if you want to get a feel for what it was like, watch the movie Dogs in Space, directed by Richard Lowenstein, staring Michael Hutchence.

Q: Does music influence your writing generally?

I’ve done some surveys with writers on this topic and I’ve found about 75% of writers are music oriented. They’ll play certain songs to get them in the mood for certain books, even make up a play list to listen to. Music is powerful. It goes straight to the hind-brain and draws on our emotions so it’s not surprising authors use it to help them find the ‘zone’ when they’re writing.

The proportion of writers who are visually based is much smaller. I’m one of the visuals. I can go to the art gallery and come out feeling like I’ve reached a zen state. I dream vividly in full colour (sometimes with a sound track, sometimes with people singing in rhyme. The night zombies did a 1940s song and dance routine down the street was pretty amazing). But I’m not a writer who will make up a play list for my books.

Q: Do you have favourite music to listen to while you write, or do you prefer to write in silence?

Looks like I’ve answered this one. When I was illustrating, (I used to illustrate children’s books and I painted super-realist), I would play classical music. But when I write I don’t seek out music. If something is playing in the background with lyrics, I find the words get in the way of what I’m writing.

Q: What artists do you find most interesting/stimulating or are just your favourite? 

Ahh, artists. You can hear me drawing a big breath. There are so many, I’m sure to forget a few.

There’s George de la Tour (1592, 1652), who did amazing things with light. He brings the intimacy of a life lived by candle light to us five hundred years later.

There’s Joseph Leyendecker, who was a homosexual immigrant to the US, yet he shaped the way US citizens thought of themselves and created the ‘look’ for a generation. You’ll recognise his work from the many Post covers and advertisements he did.

There’s the Pre-Raphaelites who reacted against the establishment until they became establishment. Their woman are beautiful, romantic and haunted. (I’ve blogged about them here).

There’s Maxfield Parrish with his saturated colours and idyllic settings.

I’ve blogged about Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the past because both these styles inspire me.

Sigh. Just writing about them makes me happy.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.