Review: RESURRECTION BAY by Emma Viskic

ResurrectionBayViskicRESURRECTION BAY does not waste any time letting you know what kind of book it’s going to be. It opens with one young man cradling the presumably lifeless body of a mate while paramedics look on warily. At least Caleb Zelic assumes Gary is dead. “Had to be dead. Couldn’t breathe with his throat slit open like that.” Indeed.

We then piece together that Caleb and Gary were childhood mates. Caleb, runs a private security company and had asked Gary, a policeman, to help him on an investigation. Which has apparently resulted in Gary’s death.

Fueled by a mixture of guilt, paranoia and a desire for justice Gary and his business partner, a fifty-something, female, ex-cop called Frankie, search for the killer. They are thwarted by having precious-little information with which to start, not knowing which police officers involved in the official investigation are corrupt and which aren’t and an assortment of personal baggage that could, in fact does, derail them at any point.

It’s bloody gripping tale that doesn’t let up for a single one of its deliciously short 262 pages. That alone would be enough to recommend it. But there’s more.

Its characters are intriguing. Imperfect, sometimes outright daft, fallible. Humans. Caleb is profoundly deaf from a childhood illness. He prefers to lip read and talk to communicate though he signs as well with people he loves. What he won’t do – to the point that it sometimes causes him more harm than needs be – is let on when he needs help. For reasons that a psychologist wouldn’t need too many billable hours to discern, I found this quality, this stubborn pride or whatever it is, endearing. Though at the same time I could understand why it drove his ex-wife mad with frustration. Without making a show of it Viskic does a great job of giving readers a glimpse of what life might be like for someone deaf – its challenges and compensations – but her real skill is in making Caleb a complete, well-rounded human being for whom deafness is just another thing to deal with.

Everyone we meet in this ensemble cast is connected to Caleb in some way. Frankie battles her own demons – addiction and the resultant social isolation – and is difficult for Caleb – and readers – to know well. Kat, conversely, wears her emotions more openly, and it’s not hard to see why Caleb is still in love with her despite their separation. As regular readers of this blog would know I’m not much of a romantic but I was rooting for them to work out their troubles. The other players – the in-laws, the childhood friends, the suspicious cops – are all vibrant even if they only appear for a few lines.

The book’s title comes from Caleb’s home town, Gary’s and Kat’s too for that matter, and action eventually moves there from Melbourne when Caleb needs a place to lie low and recover from injuries he’s received in the course of the investigation. There’s a nice juxtaposition between city and small town life and both settings have a very authentic feel to them which rounds out all the elements I look for in my reading.

RESURRECTION BAY is sad and funny and thrilling and very, very good. It’s even got a kicker of an ending. You should read it. Now.


AWW2016This is the first novel I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challange check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Echo Publishing [2015]
ISBN: 9781760068769
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: FLASHPOINT by Felicity Young

This is 2008 review of a book called A CERTAIN MALICE that I originally posted to my other blog but I’m re-publishing it here and now because the book has been re-released in eBook format under a new title: FLASHPOINT. This is in preparation for its never before published sequel FLAREUP being published in February this year. That’s great news all round. Back in the day I used to give ratings out of 5 and this one scored a 4.5 so I’m keen for a sequel.


FlashpointYoungCam Fraser is a former National Crime Authority officer who, with his teenage daughter Ruby, has moved from Sydney to become Senior Sergeant in the Western Australian country town of his birth. Almost as soon as he arrives a building at a private girl’s school in the town is burned down and a body is discovered in the ashes. To investigate the crime Cam has help from a squad of rookies and one experienced officer who is the subject of a series of complaints. In addition both he and his daughter are still recovering from the tragedy that led to them leaving Sydney.

Fortunately for me this book was well worth the four months it took to track down a copy of it. The story is believable, has a well paced suspense and rates highly on my ‘readability’ scale which is a vague term I use to describe how interested I am in turning each page. I finished the whole thing in two sittings and I’m not even going to complain that one of those sittings kept me up until 2:00am on a school night. I simply had to know if my predictions for whodunit were accurate which is always a sign of a good read (for the record, they weren’t).

Although recognisably Australian in its setting and language the book achieves this state naturally. Sometimes with Australian books I cringe at the use of colloquialisms that would only be found in a Paul Hogan ad and never in real conversations. FLASHPOINT achieves its Australian sensibility beautifully and without appearing to try too hard.

I quickly became engaged by the protagonist and the minor characters, especially the troubled Ruby and rookie cop Leanne, who all seemed very credible. It was also interesting to see the sub-plot with Vince develop in a more realistic way than some of the ‘cops protect cops at all costs’ plots that have permeated crime fiction for years.

On top of all this the book is less than 300 pages, an increasingly rare occurrences in modern crime fiction so something to be treasured indeed.


Publisher: HarperCollins [this edition 2015, original edition 2005]
ISBN: 9781460706244
Length: 291 pages
Format: eBook
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Review: GOOD MONEY by J.M. Green

GoodMoneyGreenI 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.


aww-badge-2015This 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 [2015]
ISBN: 9781925106923
Length: 278 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE WHISPERING WALL by Patricia Carlon

This 1996 cover adorns the first version of the book to be published in Carlon's native Australia

Like many Australian authors Carlon’s books were first published outside Australia but this book was part of a 1990’s classic crime series put together by a South Australian publisher

Sarah Oatland is 61 and has had a stroke. She cannot walk, talk or move. She can see, hear and think but no one knows these things about her, at least at first. She is being cared for at home thanks to her wealth.During the day her bed is wheeled to the window of her large room where, due to an acoustic eccentricity of the house, she is able to hear everything said in one of the downstairs rooms. When her husband was alive they once spent the night listening to guests talk disparagingly of them but now she only hears the doctors discussing her dispiriting prognosis with her nurse. Until her parsimonious niece fills the house with paying lodgers and Sarah listens to Valma and Murray Phipps plot the death of Valma’s stepfather so they can inherit his money. Sarah’s growing terror at being able to do nothing, literally, in the face of the seemingly inevitable murder is palpable.

Of course there’s a noticeable lack of technology and twitter has only one meaning but these small details aside there is nothing much to place this tale in any specific time. Equally, no location external to the house gains any foothold in the reader’s imagination. This novel is all about what happens inside the house. It seems impossible that such a richly drawn story progresses forward almost entirely based on what an immobile woman hears but it is a testament to Carlon’s writing skill that such a narrow perspective provides a more thoroughly gripping read than many of today’s much-hyped blockbusters. This is a genuinely suspenseful domestic setting and seemed to me to be as scary today as it would have been on publication.

One of the reasons I think the book is so successful is that the characters are all very ordinary. Even the would-be killers are not knife-wielding psychopaths or of a similar ‘outlier’ personality that would make it possible to believe such sinister behaviour only goes on in books. They are just greedy and impatient and not very nice (obviously given they are plotting the murder of a harmless old man) but they are quite normal. Sarah’s frustrations and limitations are depicted realistically too – she cries and gets upset as you would in such circumstances – but her innate intelligence shines through and the reader can enjoy being inside Sarah’s head even while being increasingly worried for her health and well-being. There are, eventually, couple of characters who cotton on to the fact Sarah knows what is going on and try to help her communicate and the way everyone reacts to Sarah’s changing circumstances – the realisation that she is not just a fish on a slab – is another subtly drawn standout feature of the novel.

 

If you are looking for a timeless tale of how an insular environment can create a truly suspense-filled experience THE WHISPERING WALL is highly recommended. In fact my only gripe is how little is known about this author in her home country. Given the quality of this book and the fact that it stands up so well nearly 50 years after being released it is galling to realise that Patricia Carlon is virtually unknown here and that most of her novels have still never been published in this country. Shame on us.


aww-badge-2015
I chose this book as my contribution to this month’s crime classics challenge hosted at Past Offences. Each month participants read a book published or watch a movie released in the nominated year which this time around was 1969.

This is the 16th book I’ve read and the 12th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

Review: DOUBLE MADNESS by Caroline De Costa

DoubleMadnessDeCostaIn the aftermath of 2011’s Cyclone Yasi a woman’s body is found in Far North Queensland’s remote wilderness. She has been tied in position with silk scarves and the expensive high heels she is wearing indicate she was unlikely to have made her own way to the location. But there is no obvious cause of death and with no missing persons reports matching the woman’s description it takes Cairns police detective Cass Diamond and her colleagues some time to first identify the woman and then piece together the circumstances that led to her death.

There is a lot to like about this debut novel. The standout element is probably the setting – both in terms of geography and social context. The success of this aspect of the novel no doubt draws on De Costa’s own experiences as a professor at the School of Medicine at James Cook University which allow her to depict Cairns and its surrounds very realistically. Opening the novel with events taking place amid a real recent cyclone quickly allows the reader to imagine themselves in the setting, and De Costa follows up with rich detail of how the lives of the relatively closed medical profession all interact to provide both an interesting community and a suspect pool.

Often when characters of minority backgrounds are depicted in popular culture the entire focus is on the element that marks them out as ‘different’. It is as if every thought or line of dialogue the person has is invisibly prefaced by the sentiment “As a disabled/Aboriginal/gay person I feel/think…”  I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not but I loved the fact that Cass Diamond, who is Aboriginal, is not depicted in this way. When it is natural as part of the story reference is made to Cass’ cultural background but there are plenty of times when she is simply a mum, a cop or a friend experiencing things in the same way as any other mum, cop or friend might do. Early on I found myself thinking ‘Hallelujah this is not going to be one of those books in which everything that happens has some kind of special meaning because Cass is Aboriginal‘. Cass is a terrifically engaging character displaying a great mix of humour, determination and intelligence and I would be happy to see more of her in the future.

The novel takes its name from the psychosis which two of its characters display. We learn something about this via the police investigation as the life of the victim is slowly fleshed out, but there’s also a secondary narrative that provides glimpses of the lives of the various people who have interacted with the central couple. This is a complex structure but De Costa pulls it off, although there are one or two superfluous interludes that indicate the novel was trying a bit too hard to provide a large pool of potential culprits.  Or perhaps I am being unfairly harsh because my aging brain found it a tad difficult to keep track of the large cast, almost all of whom were doctors.

The novel explores several themes with a light but deft touch, the most interesting of these to me being the natural human reaction to certain kinds of crime. Without giving too much away much of the core case is revealed to revolve around numerous people being blackmailed, essentially for having sex with someone they ought not to have been having sex with. The novel poses the notion that the average person is likely to feel sympathy for the blackmail victim, even when the behaviour for which that person was being blackmailed might normally be considered immoral. I found this an interesting concept to ponder and wondered if it is true whether it is a relatively recent phenomenon and whether it is the same across different cultures. I suppose these thoughts were prompted by the juxtaposition of me reading this novel  in the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hacking incident. At least some of the social media commentary arising from this sordid tale lead me to believe that not everyone’s sympathies might lie with the blackmail victims as proposed in DOUBLE MADNESS but I enjoyed the topical nature of the theme and the fact it gave me issues to think about at my leisure.

I was a little wary at the outset of this novel given ‘woman tied up and left for dead’ is a somewhat tired trope in the crime genre but De Costa takes the story somewhere very different from the run-of-the-mill slasher nonsense. It’s a fabulously Australian story with an engaging protagonist and remained completely compelling even when I realised I didn’t much care for the murder victim (yes I know that reveals rather a lot about my own personality but it can’t be helped, I struggle to care about the deaths of some fictional people). Top stuff.


aww-badge-2015This is the 11th book I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge (though I’ve 14 books). Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Margaret River Press [2015]
ISBN: 9780987561564
Length: 357 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE DYING TRADE by Peter Corris

2012 Edition

2012 Edition

Despite Cliff Hardy’s creator, Peter Corris, having long been described locally as the godfather of Australian crime fiction I had never read one of the books featuring the Sydney-based private investigator until a couple of years ago and even then I chose to read a current book rather than delve into Hardy’s past. But this month’s Past Offences challenge to read a crime novel from 1980 gave me the motivation I needed to start at the beginning.

As well as being Peter Corris’ first foray into crime fiction THE DYING TRADE presented Australia’s first hard-boiled private investigator of any substance in the form of Cliff Hardy. The opening lines of the book make it very clear who Cliff is and demonstrate the kind of succinct yet image-rich writing style Corris would become known for

I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9:30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall.

As well as being a dedicated drinker and having a somewhat cynical sense of humour, as we learn here, we also soon discover that Cliff was once a soldier, that as well as drinking to excess he smokes in a way that would be almost impossible these days given how many places the practice is illegal, the only sport he is interested in is boxing (in his most un-Australian trait he is disinterested in any brand of football) and that he is not beyond using violence to achieve his ends (though he suffers at least as much as he dishes out).

Although Corris makes no secret of the fact his inspiration for the Hardy stories were the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler there is no mistaking that Hardy and his environment are entirely Australian. He lives in an inner-city Sydney that, at least in 1980, was still pretty close to its working class roots, and as the novel unfolds offers an intimate look at the entire city and its myriad social and geographic boundaries.  The cynicism has an Australian flavour, as does the way Hardy views different kinds of crime and the criminals who perpetrate them, operating on the basis that the worst crimes are those that generally go unpunished if not entirely unreported because they are committed by people with the money and power to make unpleasantness disappear.

The story starts out with deceptive simplicity: Hardy is asked by a wealthy businessman to investigate harassing phone calls and other threatening behaviour his sister is experiencing. But almost no one, perhaps aside from Hardy himself, is who they first appear to be in this novel so Hardy has to unravel layers of family secrets and broader corruption while dodging car bombs and other attempts to hide the truth. The resolution leaves Hardy, the novel’s surviving characters and the reader somewhat exhausted from the succession of sucker punches that fill the second half of the book.

I must admit that having only ever read very late novels to this series I had struggled to understand the widespread reverence for Cliff Hardy that I see in local crime fiction circles. But THE DYING TRADE does make it abundantly obvious why the character and his world are much admired. Well worth a read.


Publisher: Text Classics [This edition 2012, original edition 1980]

ISBN: 9781921922176

Length: 284 pages

Format: Hardcover Creative Commons Licence

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Review: THE INSANITY OF MURDER by Felicity Young

TheInsanityOfMurderYoungIn Edwardian England the suffragettes are so frustrated at the lack of success they’ve attained via political means that they introduce a more militant form of campaigning. Unfortunately their decision to blow up a building – criminal enough in its own right – becomes disastrous when it claims human life. For Dr Dody McCleland, a female autopsy surgeon, the case proves problematic as her own sister was involved. Thinking he is doing the right thing Dody’s friend (and not-so-secret lover) Chief Inspector Matthew Pike arranges for Florence’s release from prison, though the ‘rest home’ to which she is sent in replacement is scarcely less harmful to its inmates and Dody and Matthew are soon uncovering truly appalling practices.

As with its three predecessors this book uses the solving of a crime by compassionate investigators as the means of highlighting a fascinating historical subject. In this instance it is the appalling way that many women – having few rights of their own – were subjected to enforced detention and various barbaric forms of ‘treatment’ for the mental ailments they were perceived to be full of (almost always by the men who believed the women to be their possessions). The view that some men have of some (all?) women is perhaps best demonstrated by this sentiment, espoused by the head of the home to which Florence and other ‘imbalanced’ women have been consigned

Doctor Fogarty says reading’s the very worst thing a woman of delicate inclinations should be doing – it’s one of the reasons so many women get themselves into trouble these days. So to answer your question, no miss, we have no library here.

While there’s always a gentle undercurrent of humour, here much of it provided by a delightfully larger-than-life character called Lady Mary who is the mother of a nobleman and regular escapee of the facility that Florence ultimately attends, serious issues are handled with deference and intelligence. While the treatment of women is, as always, the main topic being explored the broader social context of class and racial injustice is also much in evidence.

Equally as intriguing as the historical setting are the characters. In contrast to her younger sister – the impulsive, well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless Florence – Dody McCleland chooses to advance the cause of women by being the kind of woman she thinks everyone should have a right to be. She has fought to gain her qualifications and has taken on the only work available to her but always performs it to the best of her abilities. Her personal life is not straight forward either as she must keep her relationship with Matthew a secret (or try to) even from some of the people she loves. Matthew too has to balance his professional duties with the expectations others have of him and the social norms of the day. These, for example, prevent him openly promoting a person he thinks most qualified because Constable Singh is a foreigner and his very presence in the Force is cause for unrest. I really enjoy the way Young has developed these two central characters and kept them growing and responding to the world around them. I’m also pleased that this series hasn’t become one of those with an unresolved sexual tension at its core. Although their relationship is a difficult one Dody and Matthew’s is at least a realistic one.

It’s probably hard for me to judge as I’ve devoured this novel’s predecessors but I do think you would be able to read THE INSANITY OF MURDER independently as it’s a stonkingly good story in its own right. Its historical context is worryingly credible, its characters are charming and real and the suspense builds nicely towards a surprising ending. What are you waiting for?

THE INSANITY OF MURDER will be officially released on 1 August.


aww-badge-2015This is the 12th novel I’ve read and the 10th I’ve reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself

I have reviewed all three of the preceding three novels in this series – A DISSECTION OF MURDER (aka THE ANATOMY OF DEATH), ANTIDOTE TO MURDER and THE SCENT OF MURDER


Publisher: Harper Collins [2015]
ISBN: 9781460704677
Length: 320 pages
Format: eBook
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Review: A TIME TO RUN by J.M. Peace

ATimeToRunPeaceFrontIt would be impossible for any Australian reader not to think of the backpacker murders when embarking on A TIME TO RUN. But if, like me, you think you are ‘over’ serial killer plots I would urge you to reconsider. It is a seriously good read.

The only thing I didn’t much like about my copy was the blurb but, as is my habit these days, I didn’t read that until I’d finished the book so my reading experience wasn’t spoiled as yours might be if you read it first. The only thing I think you need to know about the story itself is that it involves a young woman, Sammi, who is kidnapped at the end of a night out. We then follow what happens to Sammi in tandem with the unfolding police investigation into her disappearance.

A TIME TO RUN is the most perfectly paced novel I have read in a very long time. Seriously, it’s perfect. There’s not a wasted word, it never drags, action unfolds quickly enough to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down at any point (I gobbled it up in a single sitting) but not so fast that you feel like the author is trying to distract you from some failing of the book. I think I had forgotten the delight of reading a truly well-paced story because it’s a pretty rare thing in these days of endless exposition and unnecessary filler content. The book has half the pages of many modern thrillers but packs twice the dramatic punch.

For those still wary of reading another book about a serial killer perhaps I can put your mind at rest by telling you that this is not one of those books that borders on celebrating the psychopath or turning him into a star. There are, thankfully, no italicised passages of his inner thoughts. Nor is he a genius of such superior intelligence to the plodding coppers that there is doubt he can ever be captured. He is just a man. A rotten-to-the-core man. We see enough of him and his actions to understand this but the book doesn’t wallow in his degrading behaviour and violence. He is not the centre of attention. The real stars of this book are the victim and the policewoman who becomes determined to find her. I particularly liked the fact that Sammi is depicted as being a random victim through no fault of her own – there is no victim blaming here. She’s also pretty darned feisty. Despite her circumstances she finds some inner strength (and a little help from another realm) with which to attempt to outwit her captor but all her actions – her successes, her mistakes and the times when she is sure she will die – are within the bounds of credibility. Janine Postlewaite is the Detective who is alerted early to Sammi’s possible disappearance. She takes speedy action to treat the case seriously – based in part on a previous experience where a delay in starting the process led to a bad outcome for another missing person – and she is persistent and thorough and smart and dedicated. If anyone you loved went missing Janine is the kind of cop you’d pray was assigned to the case.

J.M. Peace has been a police officer in Queensland for 15 years and is still serving. This experience shows, but lightly. By that I mean she hasn’t drowned the story with fascinating but ultimately pointless insider knowledge of ‘the business’ but she has given the story an underlying authenticity. The way that evidence is identified, linkages between disparate pieces of information are made, cooperation between different branches of the police service happens all pass the truthiness test and help the reader become gripped by Sammi’s plight.

So even if the phrase Wolf Creek-style killer turns you off (as it did me when I spied it on the publicity material) I’d recommend setting aside your prejudices and give this book a go. It’s got a great Australian feel to it (so many of the so-called Australian thrillers that pass my eyes make it seem like we are the fifty-somethingth state of America), rips along at just the right pace and if it doesn’t have you sitting on the edge of your seat then there’s something wrong with you, not the book. I notice that in her acknowledgements J.M. Peace thanks her editor and I’ll second that thought. While it’s clear that Peace herself is very talented (this is a debut novel!) it’s also evident that the final product has been carefully crafted from its manuscript stage and when that process is done well it can never be the work of one person. My congratulations and gratitude to everyone involved.


aww-badge-2015This is the ninth novel I’ve read and reviewed for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself


Publisher: Pan Macmillan [2015]
ISBN: 9781743537862
Length: 229 pages
Format: paperback
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Review: THE UNBROKEN LINE by Alex Hammond

TheUnbrokenLineAlexHammo23923_fTHE UNBROKEN LINE opens with its protagonist – Melbourne defence lawyer Will Harris – celebrating a partial recovery from injuries he received in events depicted in a previous novel (he is still taking strong painkillers but he’s out of a wheelchair). On their way home from the celebratory meal he and his girlfriend Eva are deliberately sideswiped then physically attacked. Will is told to back off but he doesn’t seem to know what the brutal messengers are referring to.

I have to admit this book and I didn’t start off well together because I felt myself at a distinct disadvantage for not having read the novel’s predecessor, BLOOD WITNESS. I realise it’s a tough balancing act for authors of series books (just one of the reasons I wish more people would write standalone novels) but for me this one made too many oblique references to past events that left me scratching my head.

Putting that aside though there is much to recommend THE UNBROKEN LINE, not least of which is its worryingly dark theme. For although it is at least technically a legal thriller we don’t spend a single moment in a courtroom and the underlying issue being explored here is whether or not the justice system is as balanced as iconic images would have has believe. When Will is targeted for a professional misconduct investigation early in the novel the Legal Commissioner says to him

When I accepted this role, I did so because I was aware of the grey trade in information that goes on within the justice system. Who knows how deep the roots of this go – police corruption is all too familiar to us, so why should lawyers be immune. I’m not just here to prosecute dodgy suburban lawyers who fudge their trust accounting to rip of their clients. I’m here to shut down this pervasive culture of exploited privilege and any criminal activity it supports. The legal system should benefit all its citizens equally, not just those with access to money and connections.

In a well-constructed story involving a complicated series of interconnected events we learn that, perhaps not surprisingly, the reverse of this noble sentiment is often true.

Having a character like Will at the centre of the action is a good choice for a novel tackling this kind of theme. Because Will does not always do the ‘right’ thing when it comes to seeing justice served. Whether he is forced or chooses to make the morally dubious decisions he makes is ultimately something the reader will decide but his struggles are realistic within the context of the events unfolding around him. I can’t say I liked Will all that much but I found him compelling and his turmoils thought-provoking.

I know that in real life there are many more than fifty shades of grey but I like to use my crime fiction reading to help me pretend that in some parallel dimension you can always tell the good guys from the bad ones and justice ultimately prevails. Books like THE UNBROKEN LINE don’t really offer me that foray into fantasy land which is why they’ll never be among my absolute personal favourites. But you’d have to go a long way to find a more intelligent novel in which the realities of the legal system are laid bare enough to make readers hope they’ll never have to tangle with the system themselves.


Publisher: Michael Joseph [2015]
ISBN: 9781921901508
Length: 365 pages
Format: paperback
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