BLACK ICE, Leah Giarratano

This post originally appeared on New Zealand blogger Craig Sisterson’s Crime Watch, on April 6, 2010.
We thank Craig for his kind permission to republish it here.

So today, I’m looking at BLACK ICE by Leah Giarratano

Downunder, Giarratano is perhaps most known as the host of the Australian spin-off of the New Zealand TV show, Beyond the Darklands, where an expert clinical psychologist delves into the minds and pasts of notorious criminals, trying to find indications of how and why they developed into vicious criminals. As a side note, the host of the original Beyond the Darklands, New Zealand child psychologist Nigel Latta, also wrote a crime novel several years ago; EXECUTION LULLABY.
BLACK ICE
By Leah Giarratano (Random House, 2009)In BLACK ICE, her third in a series featuring city detective Jill Jackson, Giarratano picks at the scab of Sydney’s murky drugs underbelly; a world where everyone from glamorous A-Listers to addicted streetkids to and vicious gangs, all collide.

The publisher’s blurb states: “Living in a run down flat and making unlikely friends Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Jill’s sister Cassie has a new boyfriend Christian Worthington. Like her, he is one of the beautiful people of Sydney, rich, good looking, great job, great car and seen in all the right places. He is a high flying lawyer doing pro bono work to keep a drug dealer out of gaol. He is also Cassie’s supplier, keeping her supplied with cocaine and ice. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Seren Templeton is just out of Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre. Two years in gaol away from her son for something she didn’t do. And now she is ready to get her revenge on the man responsible. Things start to go awry when these worlds collide and Jill and Cassie meet on opposite sides of the law.”

I really enjoyed this book, and I found myself enjoying it more and more as it went on. I ended up giving it a 4-star rating for a short review I did for Good Reading magazine (I mark reasonably hard – I’ve only ever given two five-star reviews out of 40-50 reviews for them).

I must admit that initially I wasn’t that enamoured with Jackson as a main character – this may have been because I didn’t have the full background on her from the first two books of the series, so some of her behaviour seemed a touch eye-rolling/contrived to me, when it may have seemed more organic and believable if I’d known more about her and her past. But Jackson (and Giarratano’s writing) really grew on me throughout, and by the end of the book I was keen to read another tale centred on the (overly?) ambitious, complex, and flawed detective.

I particularly liked Giarratano’s mix of setting (the gritty urban Australia underbelly), good dialogue, interesting plot, and some unique and memorable characters. BLACK ICE has a real modern, contemporary feel – not just because of the modern lifestyles and drugs involved, but the punchy way in which Giarratano writes, and her fresh evocation of the different layers of Australian drugs culture. Overall Giarratano pens a taut thriller; she excels in bringing the gritty world and her unique characters to life with realism and freshness.

If I have a quibble, it’s that at times at times I could see the psychologist in her coming through a little too much, especially when it came to ‘excusing’ or mitigating the actions of some characters (particularly any female character – whose flaws always seemed to come down to how badly she’d been treated by some man in her past). The consistency of this pulled me out of the story a little at times, as I was left thinking about the author and her approach, rather than being completely and totally involved with the characters and story – you could ‘see the author’s hand’ a little, which isn’t a good thing. However, this was a very minor flaw in an otherwise great read.

The freshness of Giarratano’s writing, her wonderful scene-setting, her unique characters, and her good plotting, will all bring me back for more. A good read for anyone looking for some very modern and contemporary city-set Australian crime fiction.

Have you read any of Leah Giarratano’s work? Does this type of storytelling appeal to you? Thoughts and comments welcome.
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