Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Frantic by Katherine Howell

I decided to read this book for two reasons: firstly, it is a crime fiction novel by an Australian author, and as a reasonably big reader of the genre I thought I ought to "read Australian" so to speak and secondly, the author was going to be speaking at an event that I was due to attend at The Brisbane Writers Festival and I was curious.  I have to take a deep breath to write this review, because unlike many of you, I am not good at reviewing a book that I really disliked.  So here goes!

The author, Katherine Howell worked as a Sydney ambulance officer for more than ten years.  Frantic is the first of her four crime novels that feature police and paramedics.  The premise for the novel is promising; Sophie a young paramedic, is married to Chris, a police officer, both work in busy inner Sydney precincts.  Sophie's world is turned upside down when her husband is shot in the head on the front doorstep of their home and their eight month old son is abducted.

The writing is generally plodding and over-explained.  There are a couple of fast paced action sequences where it flows better.  For instance, a scene near the beginning of the novel where Sophie and her paramedic  partner are fighting to save the life of a baby and mother during a difficult birth, is smooth and engaging.  For the rest, I was constantly aware of the awkward and clunky style of the prose.

I found the plot painfully predictable.  I would imagine most readers would have solved the whodunit early on in the book, and from then on, there is nothing to build or maintain any sort of tension or suspense.  I was also disappointed with not feeling like I was in Sydney when I read the book.  I know the areas where the story takes place and yet, it could have been anywhere.  There were no references that built a sense of place.

With a couple of exceptions, including Truth by Peter Temple, which I couldn't put down, I generally have not enjoyed Australian crime fiction.  Usually when I don't like a book,  I won't finish it or I certainly won't review it.  I am not sure if I am glad I have written about Frantic, it feels a bit self indulgent to be really critical about a book don't you think?  It makes me think about what I am wanting to achieve with my blog.  The writer has at least put her work out there.  Who am I to be negative?  I just didn't enjoy it.

It has been a busy weekend and I am behind in my reviews, but, on a brighter note, I have recently finished two books by Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo that were mind-blowingly good.  I suspect that is part of the reason Frantic fell so flat, the comparison was a catastrophe.


  1. Sorry you didn't like this book more, I enjoy Katherine Howell's fast-paced stories but can understand they're not for all. I do agree there's not much sense of Sydney in them. But don't give up on Aussie crime fiction...there are dozens of other authors writing all sorts of crime fiction. Perhaps we can tempt you at a blog I run with a fellow crime fiction reader which celebrates Aussie Crime's called Fair Dinkum Crime

  2. Hi Bernadette, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, I am learning more and more that there are a lot of Aussie crime fiction writers that I have not even tried, and many of them are women, which is encouraging. At the event I went to today at BWF, there was another Brisbane author, Nicole Watson, who spoke about her crime novel, The Boundary, it sounds really good and I look forward to reading it.

  3. I enjoyed this much more than you - I thought it was a fast read. I would like to read some of Jo Nesbo's titles though I have heard great things

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out


Comments are very welcome.