Books by Patricia Carlon

Released: Aug. 1, 2002

"A vintage 1962 whodunit: clever, understated, and altogether expert, though its did-she-or-didn't-she dynamic lacks the edge marking the best of the eight mysteries by Carlon (Death by Demonstration, 2001, etc.) already to reach American shores."
For years, the Forst family, sheepherders in the Australian outback's remote Leumah Valley, have depended on the bounty of matriarchal Ella Forst. Now Ella is dead, leaving her grandson Gregory as her sole heir. Hudson Forst and Diana McGuire, the nephew and niece she'd taken in as children, are left penniless, along with their dazed spouses, Marcia Forst and Billy McGuire; Hudson's daughter Wilma; and Ella's goddaughter Rowena Searle. The murder of a wandering swagman, poisoned with cyanide in the middle of a raging brush fire, brings all the family's suspicion and hatred to a flashpoint. Was the tramp killed because he knew too much about Gregory's take-charge fiancée, Linda Condrick, who came out of nowhere four months ago to nurse Ella Forst in her final illness and has since been found in possession of a valuable brooch that went missing the day Ella died? Or has some resentful member of the Forst clan found grasping Linda an irresistible target for suspicions that should lodge much closer to home? Only endless rounds of patient questioning by Inspector Quince, of the city police, and another murder will reveal the final weary skeleton in the family closet. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2001

"Her latest blast from the past to be published in the US shows Australian Carlon taking a holiday from her trademark tales of terror (Hush, It's a Game, 2001, etc.) to produce a vintage whodunit, complete with red herrings, an impossible crime, and a neatly turned solution."
Back in 1970, when this tale first appeared, political demonstrations were common, and so were the problems that followed in their wake: strikes, fires, looting. But when the crowds receded, they rarely left murder victims behind. Certain that university student Robyn Calder was killed during a demonstration on behalf of jailed conscientious-objector Oliver Harrap, Robyn's friends prevail on private eye Jefferson Shields to look into her death. The iron bar that killed her has disappeared, even though four separate witnesses said they saw Robyn with just such a bar. No way, swears Nigel Detrick, Harrap's friend who organized the demonstration; not one demonstrator was carrying a weapon. In that case, though, why does a photograph of Robyn snapped only a few minutes before her death show her wielding the weapon—and why, come to think of it, did the photographer just happen to get a clear picture of the one demonstrator who was about to become a casualty? Pursuing the scant leads from the Thought Club, which lends its expertise to organizing political rallies, back to his own office, Shields comes up with as neat and disturbing an answer to these riddles as you could wish. Read full book review >
HUSH, IT’S A GAME by Patricia Carlon
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

Three years after beating Isobel Tarks, his accomplice in a long series of petty robberies, into a coma for holding out his share of the proceeds, Frank Aldan ends the six-month parole that followed his Australian prison term with only one thought: revenge. Having already prepared his escape to New Zealand under a new identity, he stops by Isobel's flat in Nurrung Court on a midsummer Christmas Eve and calmly shoots her dead. His plan works perfectly except for two hitches: His ex-wife and her relatives catch up with him before he can board his flight and drag him back to town; and, as he fumes and paces inside the lodging he's found overlooking Isobel's kitchen window, he gradually realizes that there's someone still in her flat—a witness whose testimony could put him away for good. But because the witness is Virginia Segal, a holy terror of a girl her father has left with Isobel for the holiday while he chases a better job up north, she doesn't know how to get out of the kitchen Isobel had locked her in when she recognized her final visitor—and none of her neighbors, watching her wave to them from the window high above Nurrung Court, believes she's in any serious danger. Read full book review >
THE UNQUIET NIGHT by Patricia Carlon
Released: June 1, 2000

" Not as suffocatingly suspenseful as The Price of an Orphan (1999), with its similarly threatened victim, but still a model of proficiency—as if it were Carlon's essay answer to an exam question about how to put the screws to an innocent without falling back on the bogeyman cliché."
Nothing goes right for Martin Deeford. Even though his sister Ivy has moved him away from the neighboring Australian town where he'd been placed in a home after a bout of uncontrollable violence and has changed their family name to protect him, trouble keeps following. When Mart picks up Rose Gault and takes her to a nearby reserve looking for conversation instead of sex, and it turns out she doesn't want to hear about his silly ideas, he chokes her and dumps her body into a lake. And then, like magic, he's seen by Rachel Penghill, a jewelry designer who's taken her niece Ann for an outing in the reserve. Further unpleasant surprises are in store for Mart, but Carlon is less interested in his sad fate than in his determination to track Rachel down and shut her up for good. The ensuing damsel-in-distress scenario, first published in Australia in 1965, turns on two novel points: the vulnerability of Rachel, whose spinsterish place in the cosmos is so marginal that she could vanish without anyone noticing, and the uncanny power of even an ineffectual killer like Mart, aided by cruelly whimsical circumstances, to wreak havoc on Rachel's life. Read full book review >
THE PRICE OF AN ORPHAN by Patricia Carlon
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

Megan Gale is likely to babble when she's in her cups, so the person she's blackmailing beats her to death and drives her Mini, with her corpse bundled inside, into an off-limits cave outside the town of Quidong. There's not a chance in a million her body will ever be found. But the murder itself has been witnessed by Johnnie Bradford, a nine-year-old orphan who's been taken in by Stuart Heath, himself an awkwardly well-meaning former foster child, and his wife Kay. Luckily for the killer, Johnnie isn't sure whose face was under the felt hat he saw; luckily again, Johnnie makes a uniquely unconvincing witness. He's a lazy, uncooperative child who's already told a string of whoppers and can't resist gilding his current tale, when it's challenged, with masked men and bloodcurdling screams that don't exactly add to his authority. Unluckily, Johnnie, stung when nobody believes his wild story, digs up a piece of physical evidence as dangerous to himself as to the killer. Soon after, Johnnie and Kay leave on a camping trip that gets them out of threatening Quidong. But Carlon, though she doesn't go in for the twists and turns of Crime of Silence (1998), makes the Australian bush, in all its vast emptiness, a bigger and even more suffocating trap for her surly innocent. First published in 1964, this exquisitely calibrated suspenser has been waiting for US publication ever since like a buried bomb. Read full book review >
THE RUNNING WOMAN by Patricia Carlon
Released: Jan. 30, 1998

The American debut of a novel first published in Australia in 1996 focuses obsessively on Larapinta, a quiet little town whose natives are properly shocked when, only a year after Bernice Strang was stabbed to death, another untimely death rocks the community. The victim this time is spiteful little Carol Zamia, an unlovable 14-year-old girl who fell into Larapinta Creek and drowned. But did she fall or was she pushed—by the fair-haired woman in white that death-camp survivor Lisa Buchanan saw running from the scene? Suspicion fastens on fair-haired Gabriel Endicott, who admits she got off her bus home early on a whim and passed within a few yards of Carrie Zamia's gasps, but stoutly maintains that she's not the running woman, even though Carrie's parents gently (and successfully) press her for hush money, and her cousin Phil Sturt—her only friend since her husband of one month died—obviously doesn't believe her. As Gabriel methodically explores every possible alternative explanation of the evidence, Carlon (The Whispering Wall, 1996, etc.) details her rising panic in the face of an everyday nightmare in which everything unceasingly, suffocatingly happens to her without her being able to take any action. The climax is sheer melodrama, the final revelation nearly as wayward as Carrie Zamia, but Carlon's management of the tension along the way is masterly. The main source of anxiety, though: How long will American readers have to wait for more of this gifted Australian's thrillers? Read full book review >
THE WHISPERING WALL by Patricia Carlon
Released: Oct. 18, 1996

Paralyzed by a stroke, Sarah Oatland lies in her bed unable to move or speak or persuade her diffident nurse or her grasping niece Gwenyth that she can understand their prattling. All she can do is listen, observe, and seethe. Sarah's rage turns to agonized frustration when she overhears Murray and Valma Phipps, the new tenants Gwenyth has taken in, plotting to lure Valma's wealthy stepfather, retired actor Roderick Palmer, into the house and kill him. (Murray's matter-of-fact speculations about the range of household objects that could be turned to murderous account gives the threat a macabre edge.) And frustration yields in turn to terror when, just as Palmer's learned, through alert fellow-tenant Rose Abcons, 11, that Sarah can answer yes or no to his idle questions, the Phippses discover that she knows about their plans, and that she'll be a danger to them as long as there's any chance of her recovery. So the peril to Palmer becomes a peril as well to Sarah, who struggles to communicate to Palmer, to Rose, to anyone that the menace is creeping softly closer. . . . American readers will be reminded of the 1948 film Sorry, Wrong Number. But in this masterfully suspenseful 1969 Australian original, Carlon (The Souvenir, 1996) excels her melodramatic original in realism, psychological acuity, and a diabolical sense of homely detail. Read full book review >
THE SOUVENIR by Patricia Carlon
Released: Jan. 25, 1996

Four years ago, two 16-year-old girls, strangers to each other, joined together to hitchhike across Australia. One of them—was it mocking Peta Squire or shy Sandra Kilby?—filched a pillbox from one of their rides, unaware at first how dangerous the capsules inside could be. And when the game of musical pills was over, Marion Burton's brother Jack was dead (and not by poison). Now Marion, yearning to marry Peta's stepbrother, comes to quiet puzzle-solver Jefferson Shields and asks whether he can succeed where the police failed. The mystery that unfolds backward and forward in time is remarkable for asking not only whodunit, but what clues are available—what Shields can find that everyone else overlooked. Here, in a mystery first published in the UK in 1970, Australian writer Carlon (See Nothing . . . Say Nothing, 1968, etc.) presents a cunningly understated puzzle with a particularly deft solution. Read full book review >