The third novel to feature Victorian detective Ruebens McCauley PINK TIDE follows on from 2008’s BLOOD SUNSET but takes the protagonist from inner-city Melbourne to the small, Great Ocean Road town of Jutt Rock. McCauley has become what is known in the police force as a shipwreck – a cop burned out by their experiences and left to fend for themselves in some out of the way place until they leave the force all together – and needs a stash of prescription medication to get him through the relatively tame policing needs of a small resort town. It’s not unreasonable to wonder then how he will cope when local surfing champion Teddy Banks and his friend Kurt Welsh, who is also McCauley’s nephew, are brutally beaten after leaving a nightclub. With Banks dead and Welsh not expected to survive his injuries locals are angry, assuming the culprit is one of the many tourists visiting the town, and McCauley’s tenuous hold on his new, relatively stress-free life looks to be in serious danger of slipping away.
PINK TIDE’s plot is a ripper; full of the requisite number of twists and turns but offering a lot more besides as it explores several topical social themes. The issues surrounding small town residents who rely economically on the tourist groups they can attract but who resent the influx of people flashing money around and engaging in lurid, ‘big city’ behaviours are well teased out. As is the way that people’s prejudices are impossible to hide for long and take little encouragement to rise to the surface in all their hate-filled fury.
As he still works in the Victorian criminal justice system there is a real sense that Henry’s use of the story to depict some of the problems deeply rooted in the justice system and operation of a modern police force is accurate and, accordingly, somewhat sad. There is the very real issue of the health problems faced by many police, evidenced here by McCauley’s post traumatic stress disorder, and the fairly woeful way such problems are dealt with by their employers. Other bureaucratic inanities taking an immeasurable toll on the people we expect to protect us from all manner of dangers are also depicted credibly and would give pause for thought if only the right people could be forced to read books such as this. But perhaps the saddest indictment of all is McCauley’s observation when the police are interviewing their prime suspect
Like any criminal investigation, it wasn’t a question of truth. In the absence of any physical evidence or witnesses, the question was whether it was a plausible enough story (p164).
The only slightly disappointing note of the novel for me is the continued deterioration of poor Ruebens McCauley who seems, after only three books, to have experienced every one of the personal foibles and tragedies afflicting crime fiction’s most tortured cops. At some point during this book he moved, on the virtual list I keep in my head, from ‘basically functional, if occasionally troubled’ to ‘impossibly burdened, wouldn’t want him to be my local copper’. Of course it’s not Henry’s fault that I’ve become a bit weary of jaded, dysfunctional policemen (only one of them is his after all) but I do think it was a bit mean to inflict another major personal problem on the poor man towards the end of this novel as it didn’t really add all that much to the larger plot.
Overall though PINK TIDE is a great read: offering a thought-provoking exploration of the social underbelly of polite society and a credible, if maddening, depiction of the more ludicrous aspects of modern bureaucracies. The fact that the revelation at about the half-way point of the central crime’s culprit in no way lessens the tension of the book, which turns then from a whodunnit into a ‘willhegetawaywithit’, is evidence of real skill.
Publisher: Arcadia 
Length: 329 pages
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