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Smart Crime Book Reviews: Tara Moss


Assassin
Siren
Hit
Covet
Split
Fetish

Tara Moss has written 6 novels in the Makedde Vanderwall series: Fetish (1999), Split (2002), Covet (2004), Hit (2006), Siren (2009), Assassin (2012).

Assassin by Tara Moss (Book #6)Book Cover of Assassin by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

Assassin is the last book in the Makedde Vanderwall series. Mak Vanderwall is missing, last seen in Paris, nobody knows where she is or what has happened to her, she hasnít contacted friends or family and the last anybody heard was that she had solved a case of a missing teenage boy in Paris. Nobody mentions it, but thinks quietly that she may have been murdered.

Back in Sydney, her on again-off again boyfriend, now Federal Agent Andy Flynn is back onto the Stiletto Killer case after more bodies turn up, after meeting a very similar style of death. He has become a workaholic trying to disconnect himself from Mak and his murdered ex-wife, spending more time with his best friend Jack Daniels that is good for his new career. There is also a small love twist with the introduction of Agent Harrison that seems to teeter on the edge of will they, wonít they.

Mak isnít dead though, she is busy laying low in Barcelona, using the funds that fell into her hands with the demise of her assassin Luther Hand. Except now, there is a huge bounty on her head and she has to watch every move she makes to stay ahead. In Assassin we become more involved in how desperate Jack Cavanagh is to protect his family. Personally I would have given his son the flick ages before and made him get a real job and actually build something for himself. Alas, as is so often prevalent with the rich mogul crazy people, he doesnít see how completely useless his son is, so instead attempts to right a wrong that happened previously, using all his wealth and power to pay assassins to mop up history.

Luckily there are still a few people who do care about justice and although Mak is persona non-gratis, she finds she has friends once she resurfaces along with some starting information that should see the Cavanagh clan shut down, but yet again finds it hard to stay out of the corrupt police and must deal with things her own way. This also turns her almost into a vigilante. She uses all her contacts to get inside the Cavanagh mansion, ensuring that Jack must face her. This final meeting ends is much bloodshed and tears, but you donít feel pity for some of the antagonists, instead wonder why nobody else has faced up to them before. The ending of the book was interesting, leaving an opening for a return in the future and also raising a few extra questions.

These books may not be rocket science, but I had a great journey with Mak and her collection of crazy and sometimes zany colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

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Siren by Tara Moss (Book #5)Book Cover of Siren by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

After four previous books, Mak Vanderwall is back and the characters now feel comfortable, you know how they will react and how much they have grown. Mak has built on the skills she has garner over the series and is now a fully-fledged private investigator. Again there are similarities between Mak and Tara Moss, who also has completed her PI license. Siren is no different to the other books and there is murder, intrigue and corruption all surrounding the beautiful Mak who is still residing in Sydney and still living a roller coaster life and undergoing a lot of hardships for her 29 years, she has lost her mother, lost her best friend to a serial killer, been targeted by several serial killers and has an on again-off again relationship with a very gorgeous sounding Andy Flynn. Her relationship is currently on the off-again state and she is living solo for the first time in a very long time. This time as Mak looks into the disappearance of a teenage boy (Adam) who has purported to run away to the circus. As luck would have it Adam lives on the same street as Tobias who was wrongly accused of a previous murder that Mak investigated. This collision of events leads her back to the Cavanagh family. Unfortunately for Mak, the head of the family, Jack, decides he has had enough of Mak's meddling in the family, he calls in The American with instructions to end it. Mak isn't one to step back and refuses to be silenced in her quest to make the Cavanagh's pay for their actions.

In the meantime, Mak has tracked down Adam in Paris, but she finds herself kidnapped and being held by the wonderful character of Luther Hands. Luther has stepped outside his comfort zone of quick kills and decides to have some fun with Mak. Unfortunately for Luther, he is a bit too relaxed!

Siren was a hit Number 1 on the Sydney Morning Herald Australian Fiction list and also a Number 1 on the Australian Bestseller list.

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Hit by Tara Moss (Book #4)Book Cover of Hit by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

PA Meaghan Wallace is attending a social event held at the palatial Cavanagh household in Sydney. However, looking for excitement she wanders through the home, stumbling across Damien Cavanagh arguing in a room next to a bed with a very young and very dead girl. Meaghan takes the opportunity to video tape the scene, adding it to her already captured pictures of famous people at the party but she is caught by Simon Aston Ė Damienís best friend. Meaghanís body is found several days later with her case initially being pinned on a junkie found at the scene. However, Meaghanís boss disagrees and hires Marian Wendell and her newest recruit Mak. After finishing her Forensic Psychology degree and moving back to Sydney to be with Andy, Mak is working as a freelance investigator to save up money as she dreams of opening her own practice in the meantime she is also attempting to live a more domesticated life which isnít going exactly to plan with Andy increasingly busy in the office. She is also attempting to get her life in order before they turn thirty Ė like everyone does (not) and has left the modeling world. She is struggling to get answers from Andy and they are both drifting apart Ė you understand that they both desperately want each other, but there seems to be a boundary that blocks them (would Mak turning down Andyís marriage proposal have anything to do with it I wonder?) and they canít say what they really feel, instead they go with silence.

As Makís investigation continues all roads seem to lead back to Simon and Damien as they attempt to cover up anyone who knows what happened in any way they can. Unfortunately they arenít very good at it and Damienís father, the mogul tycoon Jack Cavanagh is forced to step in and call The American to clean up the mess and set the family reputation and business dealings back on an even keel. You can see the two story threads Ė Mak and the Cavanaghís colliding. It isnít all bad and when Mak heads down to Melbourne to continue the case, she thinks as I do when you drive through the bright yellow rods; they look like giant French fries. As Mak tracks down Meaghanís work, which turns out surprising to be as a stripper, and catches up with an old friend, she meets Bogey (Humphrey Mortimer) who she instantly feels a connection Ė so does this mean the end of Andy? I think Bogie and Mak have more things in common if you take being hunted by serial killers out of the equation, not least architecture and my favourite architect Ė Gaudi.

The character of Damien was very light on, but Simon was such a typical leach, sucking his friendship dry just for his own 15 minutes of fame. Now that Jack is involved, the clean-up operation moves to a whole new level with hired assassins arriving to ensure there is nothing left for Mak to investigate. This book does look at much bigger issues and in particular underage sex trafficking. My only peeve is that it was a bit long and there were some repetitions, but I understand that it is also meant to be a standalone book. A highlight was the story of the assassin Luther Hand and the glimpses into his past life that has seen him excel at his chosen career. In this book the police work is sloppy but that may be an outsiders view plus the benefit of hindsight, there are several leads not followed up and there are definitely issues with corruption.

I think this book sees Tara Moss back on track after Covet, there is plenty of action, intrigue and romance. We see Mak start to take control of her life, realizing what she wants and also looking at ways of achieving it as best she can.

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Covet by Tara Moss (Book #3)Book Cover of Covet by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

Eighteen months since Mak escaped the clutches of the Stiletto Murderer, Ed Brown, she must return to Australia for the trial. On her return she is soon in contact with Detective Andy Flynn and their relationship continues to spiral into nothingness. After changing his plea to guilty, Brown is convicted, but an in a strange turn of events, he offers up the resting places of some of his victims, although this is just a plot to help him plan his escape. Whilst in prison Brown has seduced mediocre prison guard Susie with promises and lies, so much so she decides that her own humble apartment isnít good enough and takes over his brothers palatial home. Between Brown and Susie they arrange a pretty difficult escape scene, injuring the police officers protecting him, including Andyís partner Jimmy (yes he of the annoying speech patterns). Unable to have her safety guarantees as Brown continues to allude police, Mak decides to head to Hong Kong for a modeling assignment, alas this piece of information was splashed across the newspaper, so if he didnít know where she was, it wasnít too difficult to work it out. Unfortunately border checks arenít all you expect them to be and Brown and Susie are soon in Hong Kong on her tail, although it isnít all plain sailing as Susie doesnít quite see the fascination that Mak holds.

Of the novels in the series, this is the one that I found the least memorable, but it still kept me turning the page and relaxing in the knowledge that it was just a good read, nothing earth shattering or complicated and letís face it, a lot of time thatís all we want when we are trying to read a few pages here and there with all our commitments.

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Split by Tara Moss (Book #2)Book Cover of Split by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

This is the second book in the Makedde Vanderwall series and a year has passed. We find Mak having returned to Canada from Australia and back at university to finish her studies in Forensic Psychology. As much as she thinks she has put the Australian incident behind her, she is plagued by nightmares of her time in Australia and her very close encounter with the Stiletto Murderer. Her father attempts to help by suggesting she see someone, and luck would have it, he knows someone who is keen to help Mak uncover what is behind her constant sleep problems. Of course in another sub-plot this psychologist is someone her father seems to be very smitten for and I am unsure of the ethical boundaries of treating prospective family members. I would have though, almost being killed by a serial murderer would make sleep a bit difficult to obtain. However, as if drawn to nutters, Mak finds herself at a university where girls start to disappear, with their bodies turning up in a nearby forest. Talk about being unlucky. This serial killer is much more dangerous in my opinion, he hunts women for sport.

Since returning to Canada her relationship with Detective Andy Flynn has cooled somewhat and they are no longer in contact. Andy, however, has risen high after successfully finding the Stiletto Murderer and has been lucky enough to attend a program with the FBI at Quantico where he has been studying the skills of profiling serial killers. He finds himself in Vancouver, Canada to attend a convention on psychopaths but as soon as he and his mentor land, they are asked by local police to help and being drawn into the case unfolding at the university. Andy tries to make contact with Mak, but she is burnt. She has finally started a new romance and doesnít want to drag up the past. and in an effort to avoid him, misses his warnings and soon finds herself back in danger. Andy is still infatuated with Mak, but somehow their relationship just never seems to get off the ground before something else happens and they both retire to their respective corners.

The characters were interesting and Moss certainly plays to her strengths with information about locations and police procedures. I was a bit annoyed with the relationship between Mak and Andy Ė it was too much on again/off again to really get going. They both have severe psychological issues that they are addressing in different ways, but you just want something to happen. Makís family is still at the core of the book and her sister is just as sanctimonious and annoying as the first book. Honestly you donít have to have a child to be all-seeing and perfect! This book was more accomplished than Fetish, the plot lines were tighter and with some very sadistic undertones. She has done her research onto courses and profiling which were in evidence.

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Fetish by Tara Moss (Book #1)Book Cover of Fetish by Tara Moss

Read by Tracy in September 2012

Do you wonder when you read a book how the author puts in about themselves Ė I donít know Tara Moss and wasnít even a fan, having tarnished her with the worst case of generalization possible. However, after listening to her at a recent Sydney Writers Festival talk, I realize I had misjudged her: she was articulate and personable, not to mention stunning and a role model. The heroine of these books is Makedde (Mak) Vanderwall Ė a beautiful Canadian model who is the antithesis of the modeling industry and is tall, blonde and (wait for it) curvaceous, plus she has been modeling for a decade, which is considerably more than she first thought. So in an effort to make the most of what she anticipates will be the last of her modeling work, she ventures to Australia intending to stay with a fellow Canadian model and child hood friend Catherine (Cat). Strangely enough Mak is keen to visit Australia to escape a stalker back in her home town. In Canada, she has left behind her father, who she has an incredibly close relationship after her mother died of cancer (paralleling Mossís own mother), her sister who has recently had a baby and who Mak has a strained relationship with.

Arriving into Sydney, Cat isnít there to greet her, so Mak makes her way to the Bondi apartment she will be sharing, to yet again find Cat missing in action, so to speak. Mak soon settles into the apartment, presuming that Cat is out with her mysterious older and probably married lover so doesnít seem concerned that she canít make contact. Arriving at her photo shoot the next day, Mak stumbles off set for a nature break to find Catís mutilated body, a victim of a serial killer with a fetish for stilettos. His modus operandi is picking women wearing stilettos and taking one, leaving the victim wearing only one shoe and sometimes missing different appendages. Mak is soon drawn into a world of the Stiletto Murders which also brings her into the orbit of Detective Andy Flynn, the homicide officer in charge of the case. Mak tries to give Andy information about Cat and her lover, but it is dismissed while the police go after other more probably leads. Mak isnít your typical model, back in Canada she is finishing a forensic psychology degree and she is not daunted by police procedures as her father is a retired detective. Soon sparks are flying and not just romantically as they both attempt to dominate the other. Mak returns to her apartment to find it ransacked Ė is this because she is searching for Catís lover and uncovering too much, or because of the Stiletto Murderer, you will have to read the book for all the spoilers. When Andyís ex-wife, Cassandra, becomes a victim of the Stiletto Murderer, the reality of the situation hits hard, especially when Flynn disappears, leaving behind suspicion and unanswered questions, least of all about the steamy relationship he has started with Mak which is arguably compromising the case. Unknown to Mak, the killer had taken a letter that Cat had from Mak which included a photo which is the catalyst to Mak finding herself the target of the killer who believes she will be his most perfect victim.

The novel was well paced with lots of interesting characters and as the first book in a series introduced enough sub plots to see character growth over time. Mak was a bit annoying in some scenes Ė just too ďknow it allĒ and wasnít willing to listen to other peoples opinion. Even though she had some knowledge of police protocol, she seemed to blatantly ignore it. Having a father in the police force should have made her realize that you canít share everything about a case.

Moss has definitely done research on the book, giving away enough details to make you think it was a real case, but luckily it lacked some of the gore that true crime novels have. As with good books, the killer isnít someone random, it is someone who is closer to the case than they all expect.

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