Elijah's Mermaid
Essie Fox
Orion, A$29.99

Neo-Victoriana currently reigns, both in steampunk and realism. Fox has already produced one such tale, tinged with gothic and mystery. This second novel takes in the darker aspects of the era, the obsession with freaks and young whores. Pearl is web-toed, a foundling reared in a brothel. Elijah and Lily are similarly orphaned, growing up in rural privilege. The trio intertwine in a narrative that draws on Charles Kingsley's Water-Babies and mad artist Richard Dadd. Lushly written (though with some anachronisms of speech), it is an evocation of a lost era. Readers may, however, prefer the Victorian originals.

Sex, Lies & Bonsai
Lisa Walker
HarperCollins,  A$24.99

Lisa Walker does zany romance. Here we have Edie, inept at social situations. She is also the child of a famous surfer and struggling for her own identity. At the beginning of this novel, she is heartbroken, dumped via text message. Of course she will find happiness and new romance, but in between, things get very strange: crab larvae lead to erotica, which leads to a comedy of beach-town manners. Walker does not yet have the polish of, say, Maggie Alderson, but her novel similarly reaches out beyond romance to social commentary. Much to enjoy.

The Secret Listeners
Sinclair McKay
Aurum,  A$24.99

McKay has previously written a bestseller on the code breakers of Bletchley Park. This book is a follow-up on Y Service, its lesser-known supplier of data. At the outbreak of war, the authorities recruited wireless buffs to listen to enemy airwaves. Throughout Britain and the Empire, they transcribed Morse messages, to be decoded at Bletchley. It was difficult, painstaking work, at which young men and women excelled. McKay collects their stories. Y Service workers didn't know what they transcribed and were forbidden from talking about their work, yet many had the time of their lives.