Gun to the Head – Keith Banks

Gun to the Head is a fascinating look into the world of undercover police and the tactical side of the police force in the 1980’s. Ticking all those true-crime and memoir boxes, this was such a gripping read that I devoured over a weekend.

Keith Banks is one of Queensland’s most decorated police officers having been involved in some very high profile cases as well as living through the well-publicised Royal Commission into police corruption.

A raw, honest and at times confronting look at the real life world of undercover policing and tactical operations.  A world that is often glamorised in movies and TV programmes, we soon see through Banks accounts of what they went through it’s definitely anything but glamorous. 

With many officers turning to drug use to maintain their covers, alcohol to dull the pain of what they experienced in the course of doing their jobs, and the very real fear of violence every time they left for work it was disappointing to realise how little support these officers were provided during that era.  The mentality was very much just be a man and suck it up.  That’s what you do.

As a result this book also highlights the very real issue of mental health and PTSD faced by those working in this high pressure environment and the horrific things they must have seen and experienced on an almost daily basis.

This lack of support is an undertone throughout the entire book and it’s extremely obvious how passionate Banks is about changing this and highlighting the need for support.

So well written and so engaging I definitely need to grab a copy of his previous book, Drugs Guns & Lies, after reading this one.

The French Gift – Kirsty Manning

Wow, what an amazing read this was.  One of those books that when I turned the last page I just sat there for a while and savoured what I had taken in and what I had experienced to let it all sink in.

The French Gift is steeped in historical fiction set amongst the atrocities of WWII and the forced labour camps that women were sent to work in as prisoners, whilst at the same time meshed with the present day and the world of historians and curators as they try to honour the past.

Beautifully written I was absolutely drawn to all the characters in this wonderful story.  It’s 1939 and Margot is the maid at a stunning villa in France, which is host to the social party of the season.  Margot’s life is turned upside down in the blink of an eye when she is thrown into the spotlight and into prison accused of a murder she didn’t commit.

Soon after in 1940, journalist and French Resistance fighter Josephine is thrown into prison by the Germans where she shares a cell with Margot.  The two form a fast friendship and an unbreakable bond, which continues when they are transferred from the French prison to the labour camp in Germany where they are forced to endure the most horrific of conditions and circumstances.

Their story is heartbreaking and tragic, but it is also one of immeasurable strength and courage.

As a backdrop to these chapters is the present day world of Evie and her son Hugo.  Evie runs a botanical bookshop in London and when Josephine dies, as her great niece, Evie is asked to help with an exhibition to showcase Josephine’s life.

I loved everything about this book, the dual timelines, the history, the rich characters and the wonderful friendships that played such an important role.

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the chance to read The French Gift which is out now and definitely worth picking up.

What Could Be Saved – Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

5 Fabulous Stars for this stunning book.

I loved this book so much, it honestly feels like there is a gaping hole in my heart where it used to sit.

Described as rich with mystery and family drama, this compelling novel delves into the extraordinary power of sibling love, rivalry and loyalty. 

The story begins with Laura, an artist struggling to find her rhythm again.  Out of the blue she receives a call from a complete stranger claiming to be her brother.  Laura and her sister Bea, now a mum to teenage boys, have not seen their brother Philip for over 40 years, since he vanished one day as a child when they were living in Thailand. 

Laura is instantly convinced it is him and insists on jumping on the first flight back to Thailand to bring him home.  No amount of push back from her sister and her partner will stop her.  From here we are thrown into a roller coaster of emotion.

Alternating between 1972, and the present day we learn the truth about this family tragedy all those years ago as the two timelines mesh together perfectly.

It is the time of the Vietnam War when their father Robert is offered the opportunity to move from the US to Bangkok with his wife Genevieve and three young children and after one year turns into three, there are inklings that Robert’s job “building a dam” may not be all that it seems.

Yet they have made a good life for themselves in Thailand and Genevieve has become renowned as the wonderful hostess who throws beautiful parties.  The children have also adapted to their new life, ferried around to one activity after another relishing their time in Bangkok, until suddenly their worlds are turned upside down. It is every parent’s worst nightmare when suddenly 8 year old Philip simply disappears and all the pieces this family have kept hidden from each other come tumbling out.

Forty years later, could it really be Philip on the phone?  After so much pain and false hopes could he really just walk back into their lives? 

This book is alive, it is vibrant, it is utterly mesmerising.  The writing is captivating and completely draws you into this family’s world.  It is also tragic and heartbreaking and for all these reasons, even at 450 pages I just couldn’t put it down.

I know it is only the beginning of the year but this is definitely going to be one of my absolute favourite books of the year, it is truly phenomenal!!  An absolute must-read!!

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this truly outstanding book.

*****

A Necessary Death – Anne Holt

I managed to squeeze in another thriller before year end.  A Necessary Death is a Norwegian crime thriller set across the backdrop of Oslo and into Norway’s rugged mountain ranges.

More of a political thriller, the story follows Selma Falck, an investigator who takes up the challenge of looking into the mysterious death of her son in law, a death she does not believe was an accident.

Unfortunately for Selma, looking into something others would prefer she leaves alone could have deadly consequences.  When she wakes in the middle of a burning cabin a top a snow covered mountain in the middle of nowhere her nightmare begins.  Badly beaten and bruised, naked and left for dead, Selma barely makes it out of the cabin before it explodes.  How did she get there?  Clearly someone wants her dead, but who? Now she must work out how to survive and make her way out of the mountain without dying from exposure.

The book is set across a six month period and jumps between past and present as the storyline is built and we try to understand how Selma came to be in this cabin.  The political backdrop to this book plays heavily across the storyline.  Right wing vs left wing.  Fanatics and conspiracy theorists, back-room dealings with deadly consequences, all in the name of protecting the country. These parts of the book were a little heavy for me but I still found it enjoyable, I just had to concentrate a bit harder to follow who was who.

Selma herself is a very flawed character.  Brusque, damaged and with a no nonsense attitude to life I really found myself liking her.  She didn’t pretend to be anything other than how she portrayed herself, it gave her credibility as a character.

This was book 2 in the Selma Falck series but can absolutely be read as a standalone book.

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this one.  Definitely recommend to anyone that loves a really good political thriller.