I imagine it is pretty difficult to come up with a new angle from which to approach the crime genre. J.M. Green has achieved a genuinely refreshing take by introducing a social worker as the central protagonist in GOOD MONEY. Stella Hardy is forty-something, lives in Melbourne, works for WORMS, yearns for cheap wine and a good man and tries to do the right thing but doesn’t always succeed. In what I hope is the first of many appearances she is drawn into two investigations – the death of one of her young, migrant clients and the disappearance of a neighbour who was hiding some secrets – that lead her from the seedier parts of the city to, literally, the middle of nowhere.
Although there is much more besides it the element which established the book as realistic for me was the daft acronyms that the bureaucratic entities Stella deals with use. I’ve spent a good portion of my working life in similar surroundings to Stella and when, a few pages in, she heads off to her job at WORMS (you’ll have to read the book to find out what it stands for) I knew this was both a book I would ‘get’ and one I would believe. There’s an even more absurd (yet entirely credible) acronym further in. Delicious authenticity.
Stella is another strong factor in the credibility column. She is imperfect but not so dysfunctional that you wonder how she stays in a job let alone out of an institution where inhabitants are required to wear padded jackets that do up at the back. And none of her adventurous activities are so silly as to induce eye rolling. This might sound like a small thing but it isn’t. I’ve got a pile of books from this month alone that will remain forever unfinished because my eyes nearly rolled out of my head while reading them. I am well and truly done with authors who expect me to swallow the notion that the stupid things their characters do make them windswept and interesting. The minor characters here include Stella’s recently paroled brother, her policewoman best friend and an artistic love interest and all are engaging and help to give the book its natural feel.
At its core though GOOD MONEY is simply a great yarn, offering a mixture of humour, heart and action that should appeal to a wide audience. With its new migrant characters, drug dealing as an industry and mining executives behaving badly it is topical enough to be interesting but not so now as to ensure it is irretrievably dated within a few months. In short it’s a great read and if wishing can make it so the first of many tales featuring Stella Hardy.
This is the 18th novel I’ve read and 12th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and sign up for 2016’s challenge yourself. Next year there’ll be a bingo card to fill out should you wish to make your challenge participation a game
Publisher: Scribe 
Length: 278 pages
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