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Welcome

Welcome! I’m Marianne Delacourt alter ego of SF writer Marianne de Pierres. As Marianne Delacourt, I write contemporary humorous crime/romance with a paranormal flavour. Stories that are fast, funny, furious – and definitely pull no punches.

The Tara Sharp series is published by Twelfth Planet Press, Australia. All enquiries for interviews and review copies should be sent through the Twelfth Planet Press contact form.

 

Review: Passing Strange by Catherine Aird

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

You’d be hard-pressed to find something more wholesome than a country flower show. At least, that’s how it would seem at first glance. Initial appearances tend to be misleading though. Bitter feuds might erupt over a horticultural society member using furniture polish on his apples. Or over a judge choosing evidently inferior tomatoes over tomatoes that have consistently won in their category. Or the fortune teller could be murdered…

Nurse Joyce Cooper is seemingly beloved of all the village. When she goes missing from her tent while telling fortunes and is subsequently found dead, the community is bewildered. Called in to solve the mystery, Detective Inspector Sloan soon finds that there may be more to the story than meets the eye. A wealthy local landowner has recently passed away. With her estate entailed upon the nearest heir, the matter doesn’t seem to be of much importance, until it comes to light that there are two claims to the inheritance. Nurse Cooper might have been the only person who could positively identify one of the claimants, validating her claim to the estate. Or, she might have been the one person who could deny the claim. In order to solve the mystery, Sloan will have to find out which it is and who might have a stake in the estate aside from the claimants.

Catherine Aird’s Sloan and Crosby series is the perfect blend of cosy crime and police procedural. While the first in the series was published in the mid-sixties, Passing Strange, the ninth book was written in nineteen-eighty. It retains much of the charm that crime novels of an earlier era exuded, alongside some significantly more modern ideas. The portrayal of the media that consumes these grisly crimes is much more suited to the eighties; while the circumstances revolving around the crime – an unknown heiress, an archaeologist killed by a violent tribe, a years’ long family quarrel – belong to the classic era of crime.

This far along in the series, most of the major character dynamics are established. Sloan is a dedicated detective with dryly humorous insight into the world and the people around him. He’s perpetually stuck between the demanding but unhelpful Superintendent Leeyes and the slow-witted and slightly negligent Detective Constable Crosby. Sloan isn’t touted as some sort of genius detective, but he’s methodical and knows how to get the most out of each scrap of information that comes up.

Aird’s writing style, settings, characters and atmosphere combine to create a novel that a reader can feel at home in. She doesn’t cut corners and hold information back to wow readers at a pivotal point, but lets readers in on all the clues that Sloan has. These classic crime novels deserve more recognition than they have.

 

Passing Strange – Catherine Aird

Open Road Media (November 1, 1980)

ISBN: 9781504010641

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Twenty years ago, Aaron Falk was run out of Kiewarra by the grieving father of his childhood friend, and the unforgiving suspicions of local residents. Now another of his friends has died in circumstances just as devastating as that long ago death.

Luke Hadler might have been struggling to keep his farm and family afloat during the terrible drought, but no one expected him to give up. So when he, his wife and his son’s bodies are found in an apparent murder-suicide, everyone is shocked.

When Falk reluctantly returns from Melbourne, Luke’s father asks him to look into the situation. And, given their shared history, Falk can’t refuse – no matter how much he may want to.

All the way back in July I was urged to read The Dry by someone whose advice hasn’t yet failed me. Even before release it was being touted as the book of the year. I’m not a huge fan of the Australian outback as a setting, so I put off reading the novel. In late October when sales were at a whopping 35,000, I decided that I had to see what the hype was about. I’m so glad I did.

In her debut novel, Jane Harper has crafted a ruthless world, both in environment and society. One where the court of public opinion is more damning than that of the truth – or the law.

The one element that I thought I’d hate in The Dry, I ended up loving. The struggling regional town is the perfect backdrop for the events of this novel. Rather than coming off as a worn, go-to setting for the Australian novel, the atmosphere, heat, and town environment combine to become a force so palpable that tragedy seems inevitable. The small-town mentality, with all of its gossip, secrets and flaws, drive the events – both current and past.

While most of the events stay rooted in the present, there is a tangible feeling of nostalgia about The Dry. Falk is connected to two tragic incidents – both with lingering questions. The contrasts between the two cases are compelling. One death causes a father to drive Falk away, the next causes a father to bring him back. Falk’s first dead friend had every reason to want to die, but the town saw the death as murder. The second friend had no obvious reason to kill himself, but the town is almost too willing to accept the death as such. Ultimately, though, the incentive to keep turning pages comes from the friendship Falk, Luke, Gretchen and Ellie shared.

The simplicity of The Dry is both wonderful and refreshing. Unlike a lot of crime novels, it doesn’t read like a magic trick. There’s no obvious authorial sleight of hand, directing reader attention one way while the truth lies elsewhere. The truth still managed to elude me until the final pages, but there were no elaborate schemes to mislead readers. The Dry is an unparalleled novel, built on a solid premise, brilliant setting and painfully relatable characters.

 

The Dry – Jane Harper

Pan Macmillan (June 2016)

ISBN: 9781743548059

In at the Deep End by Penelope Janu

Reviewed by Sarah Todman

 

Fresh and witty rom-com: an exciting debut!

When her ship sinks in the middle of the Antarctic, environmentalist Harriet Scott finds herself being rescued by a real life action hero. He’s tall, lean and…totally pissed off. Yes, Harriet’s mayday call may have saved her life but it has also derailed this brooding Norwegian naval commander’s fledgling ice core research project.

Three months on Commander Per Amundsen wants recompense — a ship that will get him back to Antarctica and allow him to reignite his scientific study — and he expects Harriet to deliver it. Of course, Harriet no longer has a ship; hers is at the bottom of the ocean and the legacy of her famous adventurer parents may have gone down with it.

Per wants a ship, Harriet needs one (how else is she going to get the irate action man off her back and rescue her family’s reputation?); what’s missing from the equation is funding. When a plan presents itself to secure the money needed the two realise they are going to have to work together, like it or not.

In At The Deep End is a delightfully fresh rom-com from debut author Penelope Janu.

Janu, a Sydney lawyer and legal academic, injects the age-old boy-meets-girl then-stumbling blocks-ensue formula with fresh wit, well-drawn characters and settings that sink into your senses.

The sexual tension between Harriet (kind of a grown-up Bindi Irwin sans the celebrity-fied Dancing With The Stars turn and movie career) and Per (a delicious combination of gruff and gorgeous) is perfectly executed.

These two spark and flare their way to the eventual happy-ever-after by navigating a set of challenges the author has been careful to make sure are both authentic and fully realised.

The cosy cast of supporting characters adds satisfying touches of light and shade and the zingy pace of the story keeps the pages turning. I read this over a weekend, finding plenty of excuses to escape to my room and dive back in.

A very small trifle — the only one I could find — was a desire for the tone of the blog posts from Harriet, which appear intermittently throughout the book, to have just a little more of the quirkiness that makes her character so likeable.

Long story short, I really enjoyed this book. With In At The Deep End Janu stamps herself as an exciting new entry to the rom-com market.

Pick this one up and you won’t be dipping your toes in, you’ll be diving straight for the deep end.

 

Book Review: Fellside by M R Carey

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Jess Moulson wakes in a hospital bed, under the watchful eye of a police guard. She is told that while trying to murder her partner in a house fire, she has instead killed a child. Her memory of the night is a drug-hazed blur, but all evidence points to arson, with herself at the centre. Though Jess can’t remember committing arson, or having murderous intent toward her partner, she can’t deny that if she wanted to kill anyone it would be him. Nor can she dispute the evidence stacking up against her.

When she reaches Fellside, the prison where she will serve out her sentence, her will to live has evaporated. A visit from the ghost of the boy she killed, changes everything. Now she is on a mission to find out who hurt the child, if the brutal politics of the prison don’t stop her.

I initially turned this book down, as my TBR pile is massive and no matter how much I read I feel as though I’m not making a dent in it. The lovely Hachette rep for our store left a copy with us, however, and I was intrigued enough to flip through the first few pages. Needless to say, Fellside kept me company on the bus ride home and for the next two days. And, despite perpetuating my colossal TBR stack, I’m not at all sorry.

Fellside is a really odd book that, to a large degree, defies genre. Part psychological thriller, part horror and part supernatural, it is never-the-less an enthralling novel. It’s an enjoyable journey seamlessly woven. A lesser writer would not have been able to do justice to the themes, characters and plot-threads in Fellside. All three aspects are masterfully handled and equally essential to the novel.

I’ve read a lot of wildly imaginative books recently, but Fellside takes imagination to a whole new level. The novel builds its world with painstaking care. Though ghost stories are abundant, the supernatural world in Fellside feels like new territory.

I wouldn’t call Fellside graphically violent, but it has a gritty, brutal realism to it that made me wince at times. Society is generally aware that, without easy access to weapons, prisoners can be creative in their viciousness, but some of the methods here are disturbing and I hope that they don’t have a basis in reality.

The set-up for characters and character relationships is done brilliantly. Not only do many of the relationship dynamics shatter expected moulds, Carey does a great job of exploring character motivation and power structures without going in to all that much detail about each individual.

Carey has crafted an exquisite, but nearly impossible to review, novel with Fellside. Each chapter feels like a new jigsaw piece slotting into place until a mass of confusion become blindingly clear. But more than just a cleverly constructed story, Fellside has heart and the kind of characters that you’ll think about well after the last page has turned.

Fellside – M.R. Carey

Hachette (April 5, 2016)

ISBN: 9780356507101

Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

Reviewed by Bec Stafford

It might surprise some readers to learn that Jim Henson’s extraordinary fantasy vision, Labyrinth, was a box office bomb. Released in 1986, it was the last feature film the creative giant would direct before his passing in 1990. Since then, however, the musical fantasy has attracted its own enormous fandom and now enjoys bona fide cult status. This year marks the film’s thirtieth anniversary and Insight Editions has compiled a lavishly illustrated and richly detailed hardback companion book that explores the creative process through the eyes of the costumers, designers, and artists whose combined efforts brought Henson’s dream to life. The gorgeous edition features a foreword by Toby Froud (who was cast in the role of baby Toby Williams and is the son of the film’s conceptual designer, Brian) and an introduction by Henson’s son, Brian, who is now the chairman of the Jim Henson Company.

The book is divided into four parts: Inspiration, Characterization, Realization, and Summation. The first section covers the project from a creative seed through to script writing and puppet making stages. Based on British fantasy illustrator Brian Froud’s concepts and executive-produced by George Lucas, Labyrinth’s original screenplay concept was delivered in the form of a type of ‘poetic novella’ by Canadian poet, Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie, Fraggle Rock). During its development, the script was to famously undergo several iterations (estimated at around twenty-five). The first screenplay was penned by Python luminary, Terry Jones, who admits that his ‘best contribution was just starting off something that the puppet-makers made much better and improved.’  Following Jones’ initial draft and some tweaking by Henson, Fraggle Rock writer, Laura Phillips, was recruited to rework the material until it was structurally sound and more closely aligned with the emotional journey Henson had envisaged. Further alterations were made by Jones and Phillips in turn refined his revisions. Still unsatisfied, Henson called upon renowned script doctor, Elaine May, (Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Tootsie), who worked quickly to add humanising touches that also resulted in the character of Sarah being more authentically rendered. The final script was dated April 11, 1985. Astonishingly, principal photography was to commence in London only four days later, on April 15.

The Characterization section covers each of the major players and kicks off with an overview of David Bowie’s character, Jareth the Goblin King. The section includes behind-the-scenes set shots of Bowie and Jennifer Connelly (Sarah Williams) interacting with fellow cast members, taking direction from Henson, and rehearsing scenes. Interesting detail is provided about the other actors who were also initially considered for these central characters, as well as the reasoning behind the final casting choices. The development of the ‘puppet creatures’ is explained, from concept art through to creation, manipulation, and effects.

The Realization section describes the elements involved in production and filming, from Henson’s Creature Shop workings, costume making, choreography, and performance through to soundtrack composition, photography, effects, and editing. Interviews with members of the cast and production team create a vivid history of the experience and reveal trivia, tidbits, and anecdotes that will fascinate fans. The challenges of shooting various sequences (Shaft of Hands; Bog of Eternal Stench; Ballroom Scene; Battle of the Goblins) are outlined in interview snippets from Brian Henson, who vividly recollects his time on set, George Lucas, Jennifer Connelly, production designer Elliot Scott, storyboard artist Martin Asbury, and other members of the creative team. Summation nicely rounds up the post-production details. George Lucas shares his recollections of editing the film, which he acknowledges as not being a ‘mainstream big hit’ but ‘a really good movie… a niche movie … eccentric’. Final touches, such as the opening and closing sequences involving the owl, are even explained in detail. The film’s initial reception, enduring popularity, and massive following are discussed, as are the untimely deaths of Henson and Bowie. Finally, Cheryl and Lisa Henson (Jim’s daughters), George Lucas, and Jennifer Connelly share touching recollections of working with Jim Henson and acknowledge his creative legacy.

This ‘ultimate visual history’ certainly lives up to its name. In addition to the countless sketches, still shots, costume photos, and concept art that fill every inch of its pages, the book is also filled with a wealth of removable plates that give it a unique scrapbook feel. These include costume sketches, production notes, script excerpts, staff memos, and storyboards. Unquestionably the definitive Labyrinth history, this 30th-anniversary release is an absolute must-have for fans of one of the best-loved fantasy films of all time. 

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

Paula M. Block & Terry J. Erdmann

Foreword by Toby Froud

Introduction by Brian Henson

Insight Editions 18 October, 2016

192 pages

ISBN-10:1608878104
ISBN-13:978-1608878109