Now pushing fifty, Murray Whelan is spinning his wheels in parliament - a toothless cog in Labor's stalled political machine.
I happily went out earlier this week and bought a copy of Sucked In and it took me roughly one day to finish it - and that was an unfair delay - I could have sat down and read it in one sitting. Needless to say the 6th book in the Murray Whelan series (for which we've all been waiting an absolute age), lives up to the expectations of the long wait!
Murray is older, slightly wiser and just that little bit more cunning. A member of the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament, he and a number of other "pollies" are "doing the rounds" in Country Victoria, when Murray's long time mentor and friend, Charlie Talbot, dies from a heart attack in the middle of the dining room of the Grand Hotel in Mildura.
It's an interesting coincidence that the day before Charlie's untimely demise, the remains of (allegedly) a long-lost union official are discovered in the mud of drought stressed Lake Nillahcootie. Merv Cutlett had gone overboard from a fishing boat during a trip to the Union "Shack" on the banks of the Lake many years before with Charlie and other union luminaries including (now) Senator Barry Quinlan.
All of this is of slight interest to Murray, up to his elbows in Labor Party machinations over pre-selection for Charlie's very safe seat in Federal Parliament. When a well-known local journalist starts to hear rumours about Merv's cause of death, and these rumours trickle through to the power brokers in the Labor Party, pre-selection battles now have to fight for attention with a bit of very overdue Union "housekeeping". All of this whilst Murray tries to teach Red how to drive, resurrect his slumbering love life, extract himself from a risky sex life, learn Greek and finagle himself into something resembling re-charged enthusiasm for the "Cause".
A slightly older Murray Whelan is something that causes pause for consideration - how long can he keep up these gymnastics - both mental and physical! But aside from that sneaking concern, SUCKED IN really delivers on a number of fronts. The "investigation" of the death weaves it's way in and out of the ongoing business of being a Politician in pre-Millennium Victoria, in a Labor Party struggling to hold a caucus meeting that would stretch the accommodations of a telephone booth. There's something really realistic about the way that things just roll along, balanced delicately on the edge of the precipice - with a lot of day to day darting around just trying to keep ahead. The political swipes are, as always, hilarious. That slightly jaundiced, True Believer view of the political system that Maloney specialises in has a particularly accuracy in SUCKED IN that you just can't help but roll around in laughter with. There are also more than just a few characters in SUCKED IN that you can pick out of the local crowd. But again, regardless of the "spot who that is" games that we locals can play, SUCKED IN is going to appeal to lots of readers, regardless of where they come from. A touch of humour, a touch of poignancy, a bloke who eventually sort of gets his man, and looks like he might just have a vague chance of getting the girl, and overall you've got one entertaining reading ride.
Unjust Desserts is a crime story with a difference, set in the Australian coastal-village of Grevillia. Style and atmosphere are immediately and affectionately familiar to anyone who has ever lived in a small town. The characters are believable, from doughty heroine Olivia to sad Queenie and her repulsive husband Harry.
The story-line revolves around Olivia Beaumont's efforts to keep her cafe/deli, Not Just Desserts, afloat. Even before one of her clients dies after eating one of Olivia s curries, there is trouble in the air. Harry Oldrich is determined to become Olivia's sleeping partner and she's just as determined that he won't! A possible development has the townsfolk at loggerheads, and the arrival of an attractive young Australian Chinese teacher named Eddie Wong ruffles quite a few of the more hidebound feathers in the village. Add Detective Richard Brumby as the investigating officer, Olivia s dysfunctional family, a spot of middle aged sex and some cooking, and you have all the ingredients for a home grown puzzle to suit the most jaded palate.
Along the way, Goldie Alexander makes a few sly thrusts at attitudes and suppositions that are sure to have some readers nodding in rueful recognition of their own, or their neighbours, quirks.
The production values of this novel are excellent. The type is clear and easy to read, the editing and proofing well done, and the book is sturdy without any tendency to close while I was still reading!
Goldie Alexander's first crime novel has the distinction of being Australia's first full length culinary mystery. And Unjust Desserts fills that role with great aplomb.
The action centres around Olivia Beauman who has started a deli-catering business in the Victorian coastal town of Grevillea.
What starts as a sea-change for Olivia, fresh from a divorce, plunges into a murder mystery as first the wife and then the mistress of local developer and councillor, Harry Oldritch, die after eating her food.
Olivia's deli-foodstore, "Not Just Desserts", is already shaky. It's under threat by Harry Oldritch's new development BrodCom and it's under capitalised so Olivia fears the murder mean the end of her business and her fragile new life.
She's also worried about her daughter who could be mixed up with drugs, and whose boyfriend, a nasty little Yuppy who's balding with a ponytail, is also promoting the BrodCom development. Then there's Olivia's own non-existent love life. She's attracted to the hunky new school principal Eddie Wong, but he's a younger man.
UnJust Desserts is a delicious read with a sufficiently intricate plot and enough well-drawn characters to whet the appetite.
What gives the book strength is Goldie's trenchant insight into the lot of middle-aged women, and not just Olivia. There's Queenie, Harry Oldritch's wife, who's used layers of fat to insulate herself against Harry and the disappointments of the world, and the other women who inhabit Grevillea.
Goldie is not quite right about council planning processes, but my only real niggle is that Olivia doesn't solve the mystery herself, though she is ultimately involved in its denouement. But I'm looking forward to Goldie's next culinary mystery. She knows how to write a page-turner and has the recipe for crime down pat.