After a Covid-deferred and eagerly awaited trip to Australia, I found myself totally captivated by the land down under. Yet you, my fellow audiophile mystery/suspense fans, are never far from my thoughts. So, in preparation for writing this article on Australian noir, my plan was to go to Sydney’s Abbey’s Bookshop, check-out their renowned Crime Alley, and speak with the manager about crime fiction in Australia. I did just that.
Upon entering Abbey’s Bookshop, I introduced myself to Lindy Jones, one of two buyers, who graciously made herself available to answer my questions. While I was inquiring about the most popular crime fiction authors, a woman standing nearby respectfully apologized for eavesdropping and revealed that a group of bestselling authors was present in the store at that very moment.
As I turned, I was pleasantly astonished to see Candice Fox (FIRE WITH FIRE, narrated by Jay Aaseng), a familiar face from Thrillerfest. She was accompanied by Benjamin Stevenson, (EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE, narrated by Barton Welch); Margaret Hickey, (BROKEN BAY, narrated by Henry Nixon); Amanda Hampson (THE TEA LADIES, narrated by Zoe Carides); and Darcy Tindale (THE FALL BETWEEN, narrated by Jessica Bell). The serendipity of the situation was overwhelming. This assembly of authors, each with recently published crime novels, was embarking on a book-signing tour—and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. While the circumstances didn’t allow for extensive conversations, I did manage to capture a group photograph—proof that it really happened.
Australian noir is often differentiated by its focus on the unforgiving nature of the outback, which seems to produce strong, independent, and fierce characters of all genders. This flows into Australian urban crime fiction, as well.
This is evidenced in Candice Fox’s HADES, performed by Stephen Shanahan. While Fox’s more recent novels take place in the Unites States, this one unfolds right in Sydney and its surroundings. I was thrilled to hear mention of the places we explored, including the awe-inspiring Blue Mountains. Stephen Shanahan’s talents earned an Earphones Award for Jane Harper’s EXILES, which kept me entertained on the long journey from New York to Sydney. Shanahan’s distinctive Australian accent was good preparation for my visit.
Additional notable Australian crime fiction gems providing hours of engaging listening include:
Kate Morton's HOMECOMING, narrated by Claire Foy (an Earphones Award Winner). And yes, it’s that Claire Foy, the celebrated actress known for her portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix series The Crown.
WAKE by Shelley Burr, narrated by Jacquie Brennan. The story takes place in a small outback town deeply affected by drought.
And one can’t have a discussion of Australian Crime fiction without mentioning Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. Her most recent offering, MURDER IN WILLIAMSTOWN: Phryne Fisher, Book 22, is narrated by Wendy Bos. Kerry Greenwood's enduring association with Abbey's Bookstore is exemplified by a proudly displayed, although several years old, photograph of Greenwood wearing an Abbey Bookstore T-shirt.
My journey to Sydney has been nothing short of revelatory, shining a light on the origins of a country established as a penal colony—a nation born in violence against the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the land for millennia, and a country of immigrants. To reflect the history and diversity of Australia, it is imperative to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous authors and voices from the more recent immigrant communities to the realm of crime fiction.
Australian Darug Burruberongal writer and playwright Julie Janson has written a crime novel featuring Aunty June, who has taken thirty years to earn her private investigator certificate—a narrative that reflects the resilience of the Australian Indigenous peoples. For those wishing to learn more about the Indigenous peoples of Australia and the impact of the colonization by the British, Janson provides a dramatic view in BENEVOLENCE, performed by Tamala Shelton and Katherine Littrell.
From Tracey Lien, we have ALL THAT'S LEFT UNSAID, performed by Aileen Huynh, Yen Nguyen, and Amelia Nguyen, which provides a window into the Vietnamese Australian community.