The Nght Gst CvrWe often lament about life in a perfect world. Well in a perfect world there would be no death, no old age, no hunger- or would there? Of course there would. After a while the place would get over crowded if that was the case. But would people have enough money, food? Would there be no homelessness, crime, cruelty etc. ?

If it really existed could we live in such a wonderful place? Wouldn’t we get sick of it after a while? Well we don’t have to worry about it, our world isn’t totally perfect. We have crime, hunger and war.  We have people who prey on the weak because they know they can, owing to the fact that our law is an ass in certain respects and so the indefensible get lost and fall between the cracks of our hulking, overburdened legal systems. This brings us on to this month’s book, it’s The Night Guest by Fiona Mcfarlane.

Ruth is an elderly widow living in New South Wales, Australia. She lives by herself in a small bungalow overlooking the sea and may suffer from the early stages of dementia as she thinks there’s a tiger loose in her house. This is possibly a convoluted memory from her youth growing up in Fiji. She often disturbs her son by calling him in the early hours of the morning to tell him she hears the tiger. One day a yellow cab pulls up outside the house and moments later Frida appears at the back door with a suitcase in tow, telling Ruth the government have sent her to look after her. Initially Ruth accepts this along with her sons. Over time certain strange things start to happen and then Ruth discovers Frida has been living in her spare room. Their relationship goes from one of initial acceptance on Ruth’s part to distrust and subtle hostility, not forgetting the all but non-existent tiger in the midst of this.

This is both an intriguing and harrowing book to read, from the start you really want to see where the whole tiger story line will go (it doesn’t), but then rather quickly it turns into an elderly abuse story line as certain things don’t really add up. The fact that Frida says that the government have sent her to be Ruth’s carer was the first alarm bell for me. Nowhere that I know of, especially in Australia, do the government send carers to elderly people’s private homes.  It would cost too much. Especially with the elderly population across the world increasing significantly owing to the increase in life expectancy.

At first you start questioning what’s going on between the two of them and whether anything untoward is happening. After a while though when things become quite obvious you feel helpless to what is going on, especially when Ruth is forced by Frida to withdraw a large sum of money from her account. You are hoping a friend, a neighbour. the bank or even her family will step in and stop this sham. It reminded me of the sexual assault public Service advert on UK TV recently; the young rapist is seen reliving the act again from behind a pane of glass and banging helplessly on it, yelling at his alternate self to stop.

The incident at the bank, was one of the main flaws that came up in the book group discussion, because I would have thought an elderly woman withdrawing a couple of hundred thousand Australian dollars from her bank would ring a few alarm bells, especially if she is presumed by her family to have early signs of dementia. But no, and this is the point at which things start to unravel on both sides.

Fi McFarlane 1

Fiona McFarlane


This is Australian author Macfarlane’s first of two books. The Night Guest was published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton in Australia and in the UK by Sceptre in 2014, her second book The High Places – a compilation of short stories is due for publication in February 2016.

The book at times had resonances to Lord of The Flies, with Simon, Ralph and Piggy in the form of Ruth and Jack and the grown up boys represented by Frida and the island is the house.

The love interest, if you can call it that is a nice interlude and again you want it to lead toLord of the flies cvr a nice happy ending, but alas again you are left wondering is this just something brought on by either Ruth’s faltering memory or Frida’s possible drugging of Ruth to keep her quiet. The whole book is just like Emma Donoghue’s Room. It’s subject matter is something we’d hate to read about in a newspaper, but have to all too often. As a book though it is the basis of an interesting if at times uncomfortable read, but unlike Room, there isn’t really a happy outcome of sorts.

The book, does leave you with a lot of interesting questions, which led to a healthy debate among the book group especially when you ask yourself the question, is Ruth really suffering from dementia? Could the sons have done more, or are they guilty of neglect? But in the end the real judge and jury is the reader and so off you pop to your local book store or download it and make your own mind up.



Abrupt Physics CvrWhat are the physics of dying? Your heart stopping, old age, stroke, cancer. A tragic accident – being burned, murdered….The list is endless. But does the physics relate just to the first person or is it also to do with how death affects those around us and related to us.  I had cause to dwell on this last week when at two thirty in the morning I witnessed two dogs savage a cat in our neighbours front garden. I think I’m still suffering a mild case of PTSD, normally if you yell at a dog rummaging through your bins it will run off… but as much as I screamed and yelled at these two animals from the bedroom window, they were possessed of an age old need to kill and I was powerless to prevent it and one wonders what were the physics behind their need to attack this cat. So to this month’s book. If you were presented with a book titled The Abrupt Physics of Dying, what would your first impressions be? Is it a self help guide to dealing with grief or a medical text book? Would you think it was a thriller? This is the title of Paul E. Hardisty’s debut novel – The Abrupt Physics of Dying.

Published by Orenda Books (, in December 2014 as an eBook and as a paperback in March 2015, its set in Yemen. Claymore Straker is an engineer for Petro-Tex, an oil company who have a number drilling operations in the country. One day he and his driver are kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. They tell Clay their children are being poisoned by something in the water supply which they believe is originating from Petro-tex’s operations. They force Clay to prove to his bosses that the mysterious illness afflicting their families is their fault otherwise his driver and friend Abdulkader will be killed. Clay discovers there is something in the water but when he tries to convince his bosses, samples get lost. He witnesses the company’s head of security murdering an innocent tribal leader and his elders. All the while the political situation in Yemen starts to crumble and the country nears the precipice of civil war. To try and stop the poisoning and prove to the world that Petro-Tex are involved the cover up of an environmental disaster, he must go on the run from his bosses, the government and other shadowy individuals. Along the way he enlists the help of a French Journalist Rania LaTour. Will Clay and Rania get out of Yemen alive , while saving the innocents?

The first thing that occurred to me when I was reading the opening chapters was, Claymore Straker is trying to be Jack Reacher, or at least a half decent copy. The only differences between Paul and Lee is about seventeen books, eighteen if you include Reacher’s latest adventure “Make Me” which is published in September [rubs hands gleefully]. As well as a couple of million in Child’s bank balance, while Claymore has a passport and owns a company. But this isn’t a bad thing, because Lee can only write so fast and in trying to feed the veracious appetite of his fans, it helps to have another author who can sustain the Reacherites and Reacherettes while his films and books are being produced.

Yehemen wadi

The book is a big read at four hundred and forty pages, and makes it an ideal sun lounger or long haul companion. While I did feel it dragged in parts, the story is gritty, action packed and topical. Paul’s background as a Hydrologist and engineer comes out in the scientific detail and his experiences from working in various parts of the world including Yemen flow off the page and you can feel the desert heat and the sand swirl around you.


Paul E. Hardisty

This is Paul’s first work of fiction, in the past he’s written a number of educational books including “The Economics of Groundwater Protection and Remediation” (2004) as well as co written numerous other scholarly papers and reports. Canadian by birth, he has worked all over the world in the area of hydrology and environmental science. His life reads like a fictional character. He worked on oil rigs in Texas, searched for gold in the Arctic, befriended PKK rebels in turkey, rehabilitated wells in Africa and survived a bomb blast in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in 1993. He’s a visiting professor at Imperial College London and director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. Not to mention a sailor, private pilot and outdoorsman, who lives in Australia. Harrison Ford and Bear Grylls can all now leave the building.

Another thing that makes this book standout as a great read is the use of Arabic throughout the whole story. Other books will have a minor sprinkling of the local dialect throughout just to give you a taste. In Hardisty’s book you are immersed in the language and Yemeni culture on every page, just when you think you might need a translator, he neatly stitches the translation into the sentence so that after a while you never even notice.

So if you’re looking for a great read to fill the gap between the next Reacher installment in September and your two weeks in the sun. Pack this in your travel bag, dig out your desert boots, water canteen and factor 50 and prepare to be wowed by a new kid on the block. Then when you’re finished, prepare for the next Claymore Straker novel in 2016 courtesy of the first chapter of “Evolution of Fear” at the back of the book.



eucalyptus cvrI’m not much of a gardener.I’ll cut the grass and at a real push, when the whim takes me, I’ll trim the edges of the lawn but usually it’s a quick run around with the Flymo. My partner is the green fingered type. I like to walk through well maintained gardens in large stately homes, when they’re open to the public – both here and in the UK. Also, I’ll listen to gardening experts answering queries on the radio, or the likes of Alan Titchmarsh and his team swooping into to someone’s lost cause of a backyard and turning it into an idyllic paradise- that’s all grand. However, reading gardening books is a real no, no. So, when last months book group choice was Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, I was temped to run for the potting shed to sample some home brew.

Murray Bail is Australian. No one else could or would, want to write a book solely dedicated to the humble Eucalyptus tree. This is his fourth book of fiction after The Drovers Wife and Other StoriesHomesickness and Holden’s PerformanceEucalyptus tells the story of a man called Holland who buys a large farm in the outback after the previous owners die. After a while his young daughter Ellen joins him from Sydney, he goes about the vast property planting every type of eucalyptus tree there is, and after a number of years when his daughter is coming of age he sets a challenge. He will give Ellen’s hand to any man who can name all the Eucalypti on the farm, of which there are hundreds.

Author Murray Bail at his Potts Point apartment.

Many come from all over the country and abroad, but in the end one man arrives, a middle aged expert by the name of Mr. Cave. He and Holland set about the challenge under the watchful eye of Ellen, who is not that enamoured with the thought of having to marry the very knowledgeable but dour Mr. Cave. As the days and weeks go by and Mr Cave slowly but confidently whittles the list down, a mysterious young man  appears to Ellen around the  farm, entrancing her with tales of  faraway places and eventually forcing her into a deep despair over the looming prospect of marrying Mr Cave, while her heart yearns for this elusive stranger.

Initially the constant referencing of various types of Eucalyptus tree and their background at the start of each chapter, of which there are thirty nine. Is a bit off putting, but vivid story telling and wonderful a style of writing employed  by Bail whisks you very quickly to the parched dusty outback, bit like my garden in this extreme summer we’re having. If like me you’ve grown up with Australian soaps, like Flying Doctors and A Country Practice and seen films such as Australia and A Town Like Alice or Rabbit Proof Fence. Then you’ll know where we’re talking about.

Unlike the other recent Auzzie literary phenomenon The Slap, this doesn’t challenge  your social conscience. This, on the other koalahand is a lovely story, which is basically a modern day Australian fairy-tale  although being set in the forties and fifties, it isn’t that modern. By the time you near the end you are enveloped in the story and almost miss the twist.

Yes this book is all about Eucalyptus trees and apart from the four main characters, they’re the main anchor for this story. Before this book, the only thing I knew about them was that they’re the staple diet of the koala bear. Now I know that the word “Eucalyptus” comes from the Greek for “Well” and “Covered“, and that they come in all shapes and sizes and colours. The Cider Gum is blue, while Eucalyptus Salmonophloia (The Salmon Gum) is named because of its pink bark. There are lots of other pieces of incidental information about the trees, too numerous to list here.

cider gumSo my advice is get an old wide-brimmed hat, attach some corks to it with string, raid the local wine store for some lovely Australian merlot or some “Tinnies” and settle down in your balmy back garden for a heart warming read.

(First published  July 2013)