Review: DRIVE BY, Michael Duffy

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)

  • File Size: 657 KB
  • Print Length: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (July 24, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E4A839M

Synopsis (Amazon)

‘If The Godfather was set in Sydney today, it would be about the
Lebs. But brothers, lots of brothers. Fathers don’t matter anymore.’
Detective Inspector Brian Harris

John Habib is the mechanic son of a Muslim Lebanese-Australian crime family in Sydney’s Western suburbs. His oldest brother is in a maximum security prison, his middle
brother is becoming increasingly fundamentalist, and his younger brother Rafi is on trial for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. John has no reason to disbelieve Rafi but there are things going on in the family that he just doesn’t understand. Why has his brother taken control of the family away from their father? Are the police really trying to set up Rafi? And what is the compelling evidence they say will put him away?
John sets out to prove Rafi’s innocence in the face of his predatory older brothers and some Lebanese-hating cops.

Bec Ralston is a good detective who doesn’t know why she’s been ordered to attend Rafi’s trial. She was previously thrown off the investigation for voicing the opinion that Rafi might be innocent. As the court case goes badly wrong, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to the senior police she respects and the truth.

My Take

To be honest, this was not an easy read for me. It is a little outside the fringes of the genre that I usually read, and felt alarmingly close to the style of true crime, which is not surprising considering the author’s background (see the note about the author below).

I struggled first of all with the three time frames that the action bounced between. The more I read though, the better this got, and I was more easily able to identify the time frame and location. The narrative voice was a little easier to handle, although there are mainly three narrators: Bec Ralston, the part Aboriginal detective constable; John (Jabber) Habib who seems to be the only “honest” person in the Habib family; and Karen Mabey the Crown Prosecutor.

I did struggle with back story and with trying to piece together what had preceded Rafiq Habib’s trial. Working out why Bec Ralston has been attached to this trial after initially being removed from the investigative team was another challenge. And then about three quarters of the way through, a bombshell drops which challenges all you think you have learnt to that point. Looking back on the novel now though, it seems that almost nothing can be taken at face value, and almost nobody is what they purport to be. And the problem is that almost everybody takes on the role of unreliable narrator. The problem is compounded by the huge amount of detailed information that the reader must try to absorb.

But I am mindful that if you are a reader of true crime or enjoy Australian noir crime fiction, then you will probably like DRIVE BY.

My rating: 4.4

About the author

Michael Duffy is a former court and crime reporter for several
newspapers in Sydney Australia whose work led to the true crime books
Call Me Cruel and Bad, the story behind the television series
Underbelly: Badness.

He now writes crime novels, the first two being THE TOWER and THE SIMPLE DEATH. Drawing on his work as a journalist and radio presenter, his novels embrace contemporary themes such as globalisation and voluntary euthanasia.

DRIVE BY, about the war on drugs, was published in 2013. It introduced part-Aboriginal detective Bec Ralston.

See also the author’s website.

Fair Dinkum Baker’s Dozen #8: Michael Duffy

This is #8 of our series in which Australian crime fiction authors have the opportunity to share some of their lesser known secrets. Or not, it’s entirely up to them. We provide the authors with 13 beginnings and, like the creative geniuses they are, they turn them into sentences (or paragraphs, or full blown essays should the urge arise).
Michael Duffy is a Sydney-based crime fiction author and has provided a thought-provoking series of endings.

I often wonder what might have happened if I’d missed that train to Wollongong on New Year’s Day 1987.

Friends would describe me as someone who ought to come out to play more often, instead of sitting inside writing books.

I will never visit the Palace of Versailles again because it is obscene.

My greatest fear is so absurd I’m afraid to mention it.

My worst job was temporary postman one Christmas, and only getting back after the office had closed. (I think the regular postie cheated when he “divided” up his run.) It was a very hot summer and I lasted two days.

I’m in dire need of a second brain.

My childhood was fairly happy, thereby almost derailing my future as a writer. But I don’t blame my parents.

I wish I hadn’t done an English literature degree – for years I compared everything I wrote with the gems of literary achievement, with which I was distressingly familiar.

The thing I hate most about being a writer is nothing really. It’s all I ever wanted to do, even if I managed to hide this from myself for too long.

The last book I read was THE SUSPECT by Michael Robotham. (You’ve probably read it, but if not, you should.)

The next book I’ll write is Call Me Cruel, a true crime book about a trial I covered as a journalist. Paul Wilkinson exchanged 23,000 text messages with Kylie Labouchardiere during a four-month affair, then strangled her and sent the police to five different locations to look for her grave. It has never been found.

Being an Australian author is like being in a new playground where not many kids have been before you.


We’ve reviewed Michael’s first book, THE TOWER and his second book, THE SIMPLE DEATH is on my TBR pile.

EVENT Michael will be appearing at this month’s Sydney Writer’s Festival at a session called Cities of the Dead on Saturday May 21 at 4:00pm. Appearing with Michael will be American author Michael Connelly, Singapore-based Shamini Flint and fellow Australian writer Garry Disher and the focus of the session will be on locations.

THE TOWER, Michael Duffy

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 [2009]
ISBN: 9781741758139
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

Recent Acquisitions #1

Since Kerrie and I decided to re-launch this blog as Fair Dinkum Crime with a focus only on Australian crime fiction I have been uncovering new books to read wherever I turn. So far this year I have acquired 12 new (to me) titles by a total of 8 different Australian writers and there’s a mixture of historical fiction, police procedurals, legal thrillers and a noir thrown in for good measure. Something for all my personalities 🙂

Andrew Croome’s DOCUMENT Z has already been reviewed here and is a combination historical fiction/political thriller based on the real defection of a Russian embassy worker/spy to Australia in 1954. I found it compelling.


Belinda D’Alessandro’s DISCOVERING WOUNDED JUSTICE: CRUEL MENACE was a book I discovered on the auction site of writers who were auctioning books to raise money for the Queensland flood appeal and I won the auction for this book. This is the publisher’s blurb for Queensland-born Belinda’s debut novel

Alyssa Giordano, a first generation American, never thought being a woman in this day and age would be a disadvantage… until she met her first boss. Her grandmothers, one Irish, the other Italian, fought so hard to be seen by other women as their husbands’ equals. But Alyssa’s grandfathers, and her father, knew who really ran things.

Barely a year into her career, the young lawyer couldn’t believe that Duncan Kennedy would accuse her of a double cross and sack her after she’d rebuffed his advances. Nor could she believe that his partner, Lydia Price, refused to support her. As she leaves behind her first job in the only career which she’d ever wanted, Alyssa, pride wounded, loses faith in the one thing she’d grown up believing in: justice.

After struggling to get her career (and her life) back in order, Giordano finally hits the big time and finds that roles are reversed. Kennedy is labeled a swindler and a leading journalist, a woman no less, holds his fate in her hands. But as he vanishes in a cloud of lies and creditors before he can be brought to justice, Giordano’s faith in it, justice, freefalls again.


David Whish-Wilson’s LINE OF SIGHT has been send to us for review and is based on a true story:

When a brothel madam is shot on a Perth golf course in 1975 it should be a routine murder enquiry. But it isn’t. In fact there’s barely an investigation at all, and Superintendent Swann thinks he knows why. Heroin is the new drug in town and the money is finding its way into some very respectable hands.

It’s the brave or the foolish who accuse their fellow cops of corruption, and sometimes not even Swann is sure which he is. Especially when those he’s pointing the finger at have mates in every stronghold of power in the state – big business, organised crime, the government. He might have won the first round by forcing a royal commission, but the judge is an ailing patsy and the outcome seems predetermined. If that’s not enough to contend with, Swann’s teenage daughter has disappeared, he doesn’t know whether she’s alive or not, and the word on the street is he’s a dead man walking.

Line of Sight is classic crime noir, a tale of dark corruption set in a city of sun and heat.


Gary Corby’s THE PERICLES COMMISSION has already been reviewed by Kerrie but I am looking forward to reading this historical fiction work myself. It’s awaiting me on my eReader. I had been hearing about the book for a while but though it was available elsewhere last year it only became available here in Australia this year (due to the annoying vagaries of territorial copyright restrictions).


Katherine Howell’s COLD JUSTICE is her third novel to feature Sydney Detective Ella Marconi and I only realised as I was buying her fourth one VIOLENT EXPOSURE, a couple of weeks ago that I had missed one in her series. We can’t have that can we? I finished reading COLD JUSTICE (about a cold case of a murdered boy) in the early hours of this morning so there will be a review within the next couple of days. VIOLENT EXPOSURE, which I’ve still to read will offer this

When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? Is trainee paramedic Aidan Simpson telling the truth about his involvement?And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?

As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords’ fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it’s too late.


Kerry Greenwood’s first three Phryne Fisher novels were on special at Borders’ eBook store (in a collection entitled INTRODUCING PHRYNE FISHER) so I couldn’t resist and now have COCAINE BLUES. FLYING TOO HIGH and MURDER ON A BALLARAT TRAIN also awaiting me on the eReader. The books are set in 1920’s Australia and I’ve only read one before so I shall look forward to these (I like Kerry’s modern-day series of amateur sleuth books very much).


Clan Destine Press provides this information about the book:

Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.

Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive?

The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan.

Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh’s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends.

For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land.

His horrified court soon realise that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.


Lenny Bartulin’s BLACK RUSSIAN is the second Jack Susko mystery and was shortlisted for best novel in 2010’s Ned Kelly awards (eventually won by Garry Disher’s WYATT). It was one of several books by Aussie authors I ordered at the Australia Day sale held by Boomerang Books (it would have been un-Australian not to right?). Here’s what I have to look forward to:

After yet another slow week at the cash register, that fine purveyor of second-hand literature, Susko Books, is facing financial ruin. Jack Susko sets off to a gallery in Woollahra to scrape up some coin with the sale of an old art catalogue. With his usual panache and exquisite timing, he arrives just as De Groot Galleries is being done over by masked thieves. Along with a mysterious object from the safe, the robbers seize a valuable first edition from Jack’s bag, too.

When the owner of the gallery doesn’t want to call the cops, Jack is offered a sizeable sum to keep silent: but when de Groot arrives at the bookshop with his heavy to renege on the deal, all bets are off. With an ease that almost constitutes a gift, Jack Susko finds himself at the centre of a world full of duplicity, lies and art theft.


Michael Duffy’s THE TOWER made its way to my bookshelves this week after I saw mention of its successor’s imminent publication. One must start with the first book in a series whenever one can so…

Young detective Nicholas Troy is basically a good man, for whom working in homicide is the highest form of police work. But when a woman falls from the construction site for the world’s tallest skyscraper, the tortured course of the murder investigation that follows threatens his vocation.

Hampered by politicised managers and incompetent colleagues, Troy fights his way through worlds of wealth and poverty, people-smuggling and prostitution. He has always seen Sydney as a city of sharks, a place where predators lurk beneath the glittering surface. Now he uncovers networks of crime and corruption that pollute the city, reaching into the police force itself.

Finally, the shadowy predator Troy has been chasing turns and comes for him, putting his family at risk. Forced to defend himself with actions he would never have considered before, Troy confronts a moral abyss. He realises it’s a long way down.

Not a bad haul for the first six weeks of the year if I do say so myself. It’s just a pity I didn’t buy extra hours in my day to read them all but I’ll find the time eventually.

Have you acquired any interesting Australian crime fiction this year? 
Or is there something you’re very keen to get your hands on? 
Is there something else new (or new-ish) out that I should be keeping an eye out for?