The best Australian crime novels that will have you on the edge of your seat

Who am I?

I started reading crime fiction as a teenager, so maybe it was inevitable that one day I would start writing it. I began with short stories, but then found an idea for a novel that wouldn’t let me go. One small paragraph about a tape recording left by a dead man. The books I love reading now are often set in small towns and communities, like the one I grew up in, where normal people tend to hide the worst secrets! Hidden motivations and seeing how the past plays out in the present are two elements I love in crime fiction—they help to work out who the killer is.

I wrote...

Mad, Bad and Dead

By Sherryl Clark,

Book cover of Mad, Bad and Dead

What is my book about?

Already struggling to juggle co-running the local pub along with caring for her orphaned niece, Judi Westerholme does not need her life to become any more complicated. Just as she starts receiving threatening, late-night phone calls, she discovers one of her employees, Kate, shot dead. Are they connected?

Judi finds herself caught up in a murder investigation, as well as the hunt for Kate's fourteen-year-old daughter, who has gone missing. Add in the uncertainty of her relationship with Melbourne-based D.S. Heath and the fact that her estranged mother's nursing home keeps urging her to visit, and Judi might finally be at breaking point.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Bitter Wash Road

Sherryl Clark Why did I love this book?

Tiverton, the setting for this book, is a typical outback small town—derelict houses, one pub, a harsh landscape, and a policeman back in uniform after a corruption scandal back in the big city. Hirsch’s patrol area is huge and he’s often as much a social worker as a police officer. He’s an outcast in all senses of the word, but his dogged determination to do his job right leads him into all sorts of trouble. I love the setting, the endless roads, the eccentricities of people living in the back of nowhere, and the murder mystery that takes you where you (and Hirsch) least expect it.

By Garry Disher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bitter Wash Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Disher shows that he is a top-class writer' - THE TIMES

'Vivid and visceral, combined with Disher's usual deft plotting' - GUARDIAN

'One of Australia's most admired novelists' - SUNDAY TIMES


Constable Paul 'Hirsch' Hirschhausen is a whistle-blower. Formerly a promising metropolitan detective, now hated and despised, he's been exiled to a one-cop station in South Australia's wheatbelt. So when he heads up Bitter Wash Road to investigate gunfire and finds himself cut off without backup, there are two possibilities. Either he's found…

Book cover of The Unbelieved

Sherryl Clark Why did I love this book?

Anyone who’s called Antigone already has to be tough, and this female detective starts the story by headbutting a would-be rapist. He’s a guy who she knows has got away with other attacks on young women, but why does nobody believe her? Delving into why sexual assault so often is not reported or not believed is at the heart of this story, and it takes the gentler side of Antigone to coax the truth out of the victims. It’s a lovely mix of lies, cover-ups, a strong female lead, and a male detective who has her back when she least expects it. All the characters in this novel are standouts for complexity and variety.

By Vikki Petraitis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Unbelieved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'So you believed the alleged rapists over the alleged victim?' Jane's voice took on an indignant pitch. 'Girls lie sometimes.' I nodded. 'And rapists lie all the time.'

When Senior Detective Antigone Pollard moves to the coastal town of Deception Bay, she is still in shock and grief. Back in Melbourne, one of her cases had gone catastrophically wrong, and to escape the guilt and the haunting memories, she'd requested a transfer to the quiet town she'd grown up in.

But there are some things you can't run from. A month into her new life, she is targeted by a…

Book cover of The Night Whistler

Sherryl Clark Why did I love this book?

I love a good historical crime novel that’s set within a time I almost remember. It’s 1966 and Mick Goodenough arrives in Moorabool, demoted and depressed to be back. We all know killers often start by killing animals, so a dead, tortured dog raises Mick’s alert level, even though it’s dismissed by the other cops. A lone woman starts receiving weird, whistling phone calls and from there, the tension gradually racks up. Mick Goodenough has all the qualities I enjoy in a detective—intelligence, good hunches, and he loves his dogs.

By Greg Woodland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Night Whistler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The summer of 1966–7. Hal and his little brother have just come to live in Moorabool. They’re exploring the creek near their new home when they find the body of a dog.

Not just dead, but killed.

Not just killed, but horribly maimed.

Constable Mick Goodenough, recently demoted from his big-city job as a detective, is also new in town—and one of his dogs has gone missing. Like other pets around the town.

He knows what it means when someone tortures animals to death. They’re practising. So when Hal’s mother starts getting late-night phone calls—a man whistling, then hanging up—Goodenough,…

Book cover of Clear to the Horizon

Sherryl Clark Why did I love this book?

I’ve never been to Broome in northwest Australia, but it’s renowned for the heat, the flies, and the beaches—but look out for crocodiles. I enjoyed Warner’s previous novel based on a series of murders in Perth in the 90s that, back then, had never been solved, so it was great to see his two detectives get together on a case that eventually circles back to the Perth killings. There’s something about the past catching up with us that I enjoy as a plot and character strength, and this book moves between past and present really effectively. The landscape is so barren that it’s almost like being on another planet!

By Dave Warner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Clear to the Horizon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1999, a number of young women go missing in the Perth suburb of Claremont. One body is discovered. Others are never seen again. Snowy Lane (City of Light) is hired as a private investigator but neither he nor the cops can find the serial killer. Sixteen years later, another case brings Snowy to Broome, where he teams up with Dan Clement (Before It Breaks) and an incidental crime puts them back on the Claremont case. Clear to the Horizon is a nail-biting Aussie-style thriller, based on one of the great unsolved crimes in Western Australia's recent history. Its twists…

Book cover of Messy Business: Some Secrets Can't Be Swept Away

Sherryl Clark Why did I love this book?

Humour done well in crime fiction is rare, I think, and this novel has plenty. I think you would call it a caper, with things constantly going wrong for Jac, the main character, in bizarre and amusing ways, but Draga, her Croatian housekeeper is hilarious. Draga’s solutions to fixing things are not what any sensible person might agree to, but Jac is desperate. She even resorts to using Draga’s favourite broom herself at one point. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat, yes, but you might also fall off it laughing. I’m hoping there will be a sequel.

By Lucia Nardo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Messy Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The week begins like any other in Jacqueline Burne's messy life. And it just gets worse. Jac's business is in trouble, her husband is up to no good, and her eccentric housekeeper, Draga, is nagging her with unsolicited advice. Then Jac's annoying teen stepson lands on her doorstep and wants to stay. 

Jac devises a plan to regain control of her life, but Draga jumps in to help and it goes horribly wrong. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law, where handcuffs and prison jumpsuits become a real possibility. As Jac juggles her many problems, dark…

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The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

By Nicholas Ponticello,

Book cover of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

Nicholas Ponticello Author Of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

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What is my book about?

Vanderough University prepares its graduates for life on Mars. Herbert Hoover Palminteri enrolls at VU with the hope of joining the Martian colony in 2044 as a member of its esteemed engineer corps. But then Herbert is tapped to join a notorious secret society: the Order of the Scepter and Gavel. As a new pledge, Herbert has to prove himself in a series of dangerous initiation rites, even if it means risking his life and the lives of his friends.

Many years later, when Herbert thinks the scandals of his youth are finally dead and buried, a murder occurs in the Martian colony, and Herbert starts to suspect it is linked to the secret Order of the Scepter and Gavel of his past.

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