In Sydney’s CBD they’re building the world’s second-tallest building. It was to be the tallest but the project has been overtaken by a building in Dubai. One night a woman falls from The Tower and happens to land on a police car below. By the time Detective Sergeant Jon McIver and Detective Senior Constable Nicholas Troy of the Homicide Squad get to the scene it has been determined she could only have come from floors 1-40 (the upper floors are set back too far to have enabled someone to fall to street level) and there is a systematic search underway. Although they are told to wait for the search to be completed McIver disappears into the upper floors and when he doesn’t return Troy becomes worried and goes after him, a little worried about McIver’s tendency to drink while on duty. McIver and Troy, along with the construction site’s security manager Sean Randall, do have an encounter that leaves one of the three injured. In the subsequent investigation the woman is eventually identified and the list of her possible killer(s) grows quickly.
Nicholas Troy is fairly novel character for crime fiction in that he’s young-ish (early 30’s), doesn’t have the demons that many of the most famous fictional crime-fighters have and is not yet as jaded or set in his ways as an older man might be. Throughout the book we get the sense that he is still trying to work out the kind of man, policeman, father, husband he is or wants to be which I found one of the most engaging aspects of the novel even though some of his choices are poor ones. Really poor ones. This is partly due to his personal problems, in particular his wife’s ongoing post-natal depression and their failure as a couple to deal with it, and partly due to his immaturity and the lack of role models in his background. He may not always be likable but he is an interesting, largely credible character whose story and personal dilemmas I found compelling. The other characters, including Randall and McIver, are also complicated people whose worlds are full of moral ambiguities.
Duffy has also done a great job of depicting a layer of Sydney that many people never see in a way that probably only a life-long resident of the place could do. I lived there for over three years but the city of wealth and political influence that Duffy depicted was almost as foreign to me as the woods of Wyoming that I read about last week. I don’t mean it wasn’t realistic, merely that it’s a city with many faces and Duffy has depicted one in which crime is not as black and white issue for most of the people touched by it.
I did find the pacing a little slow; especially in the first half of the book. Some ground, like the troubles Troy was experiencing with his wife and Randell’s relationship with his mysterious boss Henry Wu, was gone over a few too many times which slowed things down unnecessarily. I think one or two threads could have been removed from the complex plot without detracting from the overall story which would have made it a tighter narrative. That said though the story does unfold cleverly and there are several unpredictable twists with a very current feel, dealing with such issues as illegal immigration, corruption in the building industry and the global nature of the world’s wealth.
There is much to like about THE TOWER and I will be keen to read the next book in the series (THE SIMPLE DEATH, published earlier this year). While I’d recommend THE TOWER for anyone, I think male readers might particularly enjoy it. It’s not ‘blokey’ in a scratching of private parts and leering at women kind of way (well only a little bit of the latter), but male characters are prominent throughout the book and are facing problems and issues that would be within the experience of many blokes. The fact it has an almost true-crime feel might also appeal to male readers and those who don’t normally read crime fiction.
THE TOWER has also been reviewed at Aust Crime Fiction
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Author website: http://www.michaelduffy.com.au/default.html
Publisher: Allen and Unwin Australia 
Length: 456 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
Michael Duffy is (or has been at some point) a journalist, political biographer, radio presenter and musician, all of which in some way or another seem to have had an influence on aspects of this book. Although this is his debut crime novel he has published non-fiction before including Latham and Abbott: The Lives and Rivalry of the Two Finest Politicians of Their Generation.
You can watch a short video of Michael Duffy discussing THE TOWER (and hear the book’s theme song!) at the Sydney Morning Herald Website