All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Death In The Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

on May 11, 2020

Death In The Ladies’ Goddess Club
Julian Leatherdale
Allen & Unwin
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘Crime’s not a woman’s business, Joanie. It’s not some bloody game.’

In the murky world of Kings Cross in 1932, aspiring crime writer Joan Linderman and her friend and flatmate Bernice Becker live the wild bohemian life, a carnival of parties and fancy-dress artists’ balls.

One Saturday night, Joan is thrown headfirst into a real crime when she finds Ellie, her neighbour, murdered. To prove her worth as a crime writer and bring Ellie’s killer to justice, Joan secretly investigates the case in the footsteps of Sergeant Lillian Armfield.

But as Joan digs deeper, her list of suspects grows from the luxury apartment blocks of Sydney’s rich to the brothels and nightclubs of the Cross’s underclass.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club is a riveting noir crime thriller with more surprises than even novelist Joan bargained for: blackmail, kidnapping, drug-peddling, a pagan sex cult, undercover cops, and a shocking confession.

Julian Leatherdale is an author I’ve always wanted to try but the thing of ‘too many books, not enough time’ has always gotten me. He is the author of three adult books and this is his most recent. Unfortunately, shortly after the publication of this novel, he passed away after a battle with an inoperable liver cancer. I have all three of his books but decided to start with this one and work my way backwards.

Death In The Ladies’ Goddess Club brings the life of Bohemian Sydney in the 1930s to life in vivid fashion. Joan Linderman works by day for a women’s magazine but she really longs to be a writer, with a specific interest in crime writing despite the fact that she’s been told it’s not women’s business. Joan gets a chance to meet female police officer Lilian Armfield first hand when a woman living in Joan’s building is murdered and Joan’s flatmate Bernice is the person who discovers her body.

There’s something for everyone in this. Joan is an intriguing main character. She’s left behind the comfort of her family home and moved to Kings Cross. She has no interest in getting married, or having children. If she’s not writing then it’s socialising with other creative types, introduced to her by Bernice, a mentor of sorts, who has taken Joan under her wing. Kings Cross is a melting pot with a seedy underbelly as well. Joan gets drawn into a murder when Ellie, a prostitute who lives downstairs is murdered, her throat brutally slashed. Feeling the police won’t care about another dead whore, Joan uses her crime novel as a way to puzzle out the murder, inserting herself and Armfield into the narrative as she tries to work out who killed Ellie – and why.

There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue for Joan to get caught up in, including an exclusive club run by her aunt, who married a wealthy lawyer who built a distinguished reputation as a Major in the war. It’s a time of political instability in Australia as well – the Communist Party is trying to gain traction, the Harbour Bridge is almost complete but with arguments over payments and there’s discord between the Premier and the Prime Minister. It’s also the Depression and Joan knows that she cannot afford to lose her job. There’s a great divide between the ‘haves’, like her aunt and uncle and the have nots of the lower classes of society. And then there’s the criminal bosses that run drugs and booze.

It’s obvious that this book has been meticulously researched. I haven’t ever lived in inner-city Sydney but I have explored it, including the area which this book takes part in. The city comes alive, as does the time period. In the afterword, Leatherdale lists a lot of the texts and chapters he read in order to render the city so brilliantly and I found a few things there that I think would make for fascinating reading. The book is peppered with real people, such as Lilian Armfield and namechecks others, like Norman Lindsey and Phil Jeffs, aka “Phil the Jew”.

The pace ebbs and flows as needed, mixing up heart-stopping scenes of potential danger with a lazier, more laid back vibe of life in the inner-city Bohemian circle. There’s drinking, quite a bit of cocaine taking and a shrewd look at the poor options women often have in terms of paying bills and keeping households afloat. Joan sees sacrifice everywhere, including her flatmate Bernice and Ellie, both of whom are mothers who have entrusted the care of their children to their own mothers. For Ellie, her options to not lose the house she and her husband had purchased, are few and far between and with her looks, she’s popular with clients.

There was an interesting twist near the end, that showed that there was much more going on than originally thought. A grander plot and although suspicion crossed my mind about one of the people earlier in the piece, the ending felt satisfying and unexpected. I really enjoyed the ride this book took me on – it was incredibly engaging with a cast of colourful characters that ran a spectrum from plucky and courageous to the lowest of the low. I look forward to adding Julian Leatherdale’s two other novels, The Opal’s Dragonfly and Palace Of Tears to my TBR’s in months to come and getting to experience those as well.


Book #86 of 2020

4 responses to “Review: Death In The Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

  1. Marg says:

    I am starting at his first book and working my way forward!

  2. Sounds fabulous! I’ll have to prioritise it. 🙂

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