Sea-Change Mystery

New Release from Dorothy Johnston - 'The Swan Island Connection'

October release of ‘The Swan Island Connection’

The second in Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mystery series

Release Date – 7th October, 2017: Award-winning Australian author, Dorothy Johnston, has announced the release of the second novel in her sea-change mystery series, The Swan Island Connection.

Set in Queenscliff on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, The Swan Island Connection follows on from Through a Camel’s Eye, published in April 2016 by For Pity Sake Publishing.

Senior Constable, Chris Blackie and his deputy, Anthea Merritt, are confronted by a shocking murder that rocks the small coastal town. Criminal Investigation Unit detectives are brought in from Geelong, as Chris and Anthea become increasingly uneasy about the interest shown in the case by shadowy figures from the secret military training base on nearby Swan Island. Consigned to the edges of the investigation in their own town, the two local constables pursue individual lines of enquiry which proves a dangerous course of action.

Political commentator, Brian Toohey said this about The Swan Island Connection;

‘Dorothy Johnston has delivered an intriguing blend of social observation and crime fiction in her latest novel set in Queenscliff, Victoria. The story is spliced with a sharp sub plot involving the nearby training base for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Another strong contribution to the reputation of the nation’s novelists.’

The Swan Island Connection will be launched by Garry Spry, Hon. President of the Queenscliff Historical Museum, and the former State Member for Bellarine (1992-2002) at the Queenscliff Brewhouse on October 7th at 4pm. RSVP for this free event by the 4th of October: info@thebookshopatqueenscliff.com.


 

Dorothy Johnston was born in Geelong and lived in Canberra for thirty years before returning to Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula where The Swan Island Connection and its predecessor, Through a Camel’s Eye, are set.

Johnston is the author of eleven novels, including a quartet of mysteries set in Canberra, the first of which, The Trojan Dog, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year, and runner-up in the inaugural Davitt Award. The Age gave it their ‘Best of 2000’ in the crime section.

Two of Johnston’s literary novels, One for the Master and Ruth, have also been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award.

Through a Camel’s Eye, was recently mentioned in the commendation list of the Sisters in Crime 2017 Davitt Awards.


 

Pre-orders of The Swan Island Connection are available from the For Pity Sake Shop.

Anecdotes on 'The Swan Island Connection'

For Pity Sake is thrilled to bring a new Dorothy Johnston mystery to readers. In 2016, Through A Camel’s Eye delighted readers as it told the story of police officers Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt investigating a murder in the small town of Queenscliff. You can buy Through a Camel’s Eye here.

You can now pre-order the next in Dorothy’s sea-change mystery series – The Swan Island Connection – once again featuring local constable Chris Blackie and his deputy, Anthea Merritt. Inspired by real Queenscliff folklore, The Swan Island Connection sees Chris and Anthea consigned to the edges of a shocking murder investigation that somehow involves the secret military training base stationed on the island just off the coast of their peaceful town.

Here, author Dorothy Johnston shares some anecdotes of living in Queenscliff, where local residents must share their town with shadowy military agents.

Though the existence of a secret training base on Swan Island was denied for years by successive federal governments, Brian Toohey and Bill Pinwell, in their book, ‘Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service’ offers some tantalising details.

“(On Swan Island) the eager young army officers and NCOs learnt the dark arts of demolition, disguise, deception, sabotage, secret communication, and assassination… In one exercise on Swan Island the incorrect line of fire was set on a Chinese medium machine gun so that tracer bullets shot over the sandhills into the rigging of fishing boats in Port Phillip Bay. Fortunately for ASIS the only complaint made to the media was about the noise…”

There’s a special kind of snail that lives in the seagrass of Swan Bay. Because the bay is so shallow, it’s an important fish nursery and the baby fish eat the snails. Marine scientists didn’t know why the snail numbers were decreasing. They did a study and found that the lead in the bullets has been turning all the snails into males. I don’t know the end result of this, but I’d hope that those organizing target practice would find other, safer ways than firing into the water.

Local legends date from the time when regular army personnel were allowed to have their families living with them on the island. One woman recalls a birthday when she was a small girl, how she and her friends had gone for a walk in their party dresses and came upon a soldier in full combat gear lying in the marram grass. Another incident involved a night-time exercise, with trainees climbed across roofs and one inadvertently jumping down onto the family dog.

Part of the island is occupied by a golf club and my favourite story is about my mother and a group of critically endangered orange-bellied parrots.

Each Winter, the parrots used to fly across to Swan Island from Tasmania. My mother, a keen environmentalist and bird-lover used to observe and record them. Sadly, there haven’t been any for the past few years. My mother was given permission to enter the golf club part of the island for this. One day, engrossed in her task, she didn’t realise that the birds had ventured into the forbidden zone. Following them, she was shocked by a loud voice bellowing ‘Stop!’ and three soldiers in combat gear running through the bushes. Mum was a small woman, though by no means a cowardly one. She stood still, clutching her clipboard to her chest, and explained politely that she was tracking the parrots who couldn’t read the Keep Out signs.

Conjuring Compelling Atmosphere in Crime Fiction

In Dorothy Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye, the author provides a consistent stream of arresting, enigmatic images. The book, like its cover, offers dreamy glimpses into the internal lives of a quiet country town and its hard-working policemen. The ability to capture and harness a moment, almost pressing pause on the action to create a picture, is a cornerstone of great noir and crime writing. It is the poetic foundation of Nordic noir, popularised by Larsson, Mankell and others. Despite the fact it doesn’t have as cold and snowy a climate as Switzerland, Australia still provides fantastically eerie frozen moments if the right author is there to pick them out. Such is the case with Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye. Through a Camel's Eye

The book’s opening is a clear demonstration of this skill:

“In the pale green twilight, a woman was leading a young camel round a paddock. Camilla Renfrew stopped on the seaward side of the fence to watch. The woman was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, riding boots, and looked distinctly youthful too. Her short hair caught the light and glowed green-gold. She seem intent on what she was doing and did not glance in Camilla’s direction.

It was a trick of the twilight, Camilla thought, to make of fading a lasting brilliance, stretching the day out longer than it had any right to be. And this girl, with her long legs, striding with her long-legged beast, drawing him behind her on a rope - across a paddock in which new growth was just beginning to make its way through last year’s dead grass - this too, was a trick of the light, to hold the scene taut in an attitude of praise.”

There’s a lot going on here. Notice the twice mention of ‘green’ in the first paragraph. Once in reference to the twilight, the other in reference to the woman’s hair. We only get one mention of the fact that we’re in a coastal area with Camilla resting on the ‘seaward’ side of the fence, but the ocean feels present here, through the repetition of green. This adds a flavour to the dead grass as well. There’s sandy soil in the mind’s eye - even though sand is never mentioned.

The second paragraph is just two sentences. The second sentence paints a picture - conjuring the woman, the beast, the rope, the grass, the light, all in a single breath. Its a layered image, and the rhythm of the sentence supports this, building up clauses before holding it ‘taut’. The idea of ‘taut’ and the whole scene being a ‘trick’ also inevitably gives the image an uneasiness and tension. It is a crime novel after all, and even though this is a woman watching another woman walk a camel, there’s some sense of danger coming, some false pretence to the scene.

It is also, of course, beautiful. It’s a beautiful picture. But much like a good food writer will never write the word ‘delicious’, Dorothy never describes it as ‘a beautiful sunset’. Instead, she opts for clear and precise details. It gives us not only what the scene looks like, but what it feels like too.

An early introduction to character draws an instant and immediate image from the concentration on fine detail:

“…men who, when they age, age suddenly, shrinking and shrivelling, a thousand fine lines appearing all at once, their skin drying and flaking as though at the switching off of an internal sprinkler system.”

This poetic construction of nothing more than a gentleman’s skin creates a powerful image of character. We feel we not only know something about how this man looks, but how he feels, and his relationship with his age.

Such imagery and poetics is blistered across Dorothy’s work, making it readable and immensely enjoyable. Any lover of great crime will enjoy Through a Camel’s Eye. You can purchase a copy here.

The Gentle Pleasures of Writing Crime

It’s been just a few weeks since the launch of Dorothy Johnston’s new novel Through A Camel’s Eye was launched, and it’s already made big splashes with readers across the country. Recently Dorothy sat down with Barbie Robinson from Artcetera on FM 92.7 Canberra to talk about how she wrote the book, the importance of place in crime fiction, and future plans for the series. You can play the interview below. [audio mp3="http://forpitysake.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/DJ-interview-with-Barbie-Robinson-Artsound.mp3"][/audio]

 

You can also check out Dorothy’s full story about camel theft here, read our in-house review of Through A Camel’s Eye here, or purchase it here.

 

 

The Port Lonsdale Camel Theft

Writing Through a Camel’s Eye is inextricably linked, for me, with the experience of coming home. I was born in Geelong, Victoria and my parents built their house at Point Lonsdale, at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula. When I was in my teens I left home to go to university in Melbourne, and in the late nineteen seventies I moved to Canberra, where I was to remain for the next thirty years.

Through all my years away, Point Lonsdale, small sister town to Queenscliff – the two are practically joined at the hip - became the place of my heart, the place I retreated to in my imagination when the real world got too much.

When I returned to help care for my mother in her last years, I felt first of all the joy of home-coming, each day a revelation, then a flood – once unleashed there was no stopping it – of youthful memories.

Out of this rush of memory and imagination the first of my sea-change mysteries was born.

One memory was of a story I first heard in the 1960s, about a group of young men from the Point Lonsdale Surf Life Saving Club, who stole a camel from a circus camped at the bottom of the club house stairs. This story, part of Point Lonsdale folklore, gave me the beginning of Through a Camel’s Eye. Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt, the two police constables who are my protagonists, are drawn into searching for a missing woman almost by accident, having been presented with the task of finding a stolen camel and restoring him to his rightful owner.

I’d already written four mystery novels when I embarked on my new one; a quartet set in Canberra, one for each of the four seasons. I knew this book was going to be very different, but there was still some research to be done.

I’d driven past the police station in Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff, countless times, but still felt nervous when I knocked on the door with my notebook in my hand.

I’m comfortable about taking a fair amount of ‘poetic licence’ when creating characters, but I still needed to know what Queenscliff constables were likely to do in certain circumstances, how far their responsibility extended, or could be stretched, and some basic facts.

The police officer I spoke to the day I nervously knocked on the door was very helpful. If he treated some of my questions with wry amusement, then he showed no more than a hint of this, and politely set me on the right track. I was able to thank him for his help again, very recently. Imagine my surprise when I found him running a vegan restaurant in Geelong’s CBD!

Through a Camel’s Eye is what I would call a character-driven mystery; I spend a fair amount of time exploring my main characters’ personalities and psyches, and I make no apology for that. It is also about a domestic murder – grave, endemic in our society, often over-looked. I hope readers will appreciate both the gravity and the novel’s light side. I’m thrilled that it’s being published, and would like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive – my family and friends and the wonderful team at ‘For Pity Sake’.

Buy your copy of Through a Camel's Eye here!

 

Dorothy will be appearing at The Book Bird in Geelong West on the 6th of May. Booking is essential, RSVP to info@thebookbird.com.au or by calling (03) 5224 1438 to reserve your spot!