There's absolutely nothing better in Australian Crime fiction than a short, sharp burst of Cliff Hardy in his prime. And THE UNDERTOW has all those elements that fans of the hard-boiled, down-trodden; put upon; unlucky in love; hard man; unflinching good guy - only slightly dodgy around the edges; Australian style Private Enquiry Agent, are going to love. Somehow or other, after all these books featuring Cliff Hardy, where Cliff undergoes little in the way of major personality changes, where he's still struggling to understand the girl (any girl) and his friends keep digging holes for him to fill in, there's still something wonderfully fresh and entertaining about THE UNDERTOW.
There's also just a little bit more in THE UNDERTOW, in the finale to the book that seems to indicate that Cliff might have some serious life changing experiences to deal with, that he just might not be able to talk his way out of... or maybe he will? Who knows. Frankly who cares. You're not going to be reading a Cliff Hardy book for a thoughtful consideration of the human condition, you're not going to get a different perspective on the mind of the human animal. You're going to read it for the escapist, entertaining view of a Sam Slade style hero, with just enough of the Aussie larrikin to make him 100% our own.
DYING LIGHT - Stuart MacBride
DYING LIGHT is the follow-up book to the much talked about and acclaimed COLD GRANITE and it maintains the high standard that the first book in the series reached.
It is summer in Aberdeen, the sun is shining and it is not raining anywhere near as much as it does in winter. With his love life sort of looking up and his working life running pretty well par for the course, the major downsides to the entire season seem to be that somebody is killing prostitutes and DS Logan McRae has been moved to DI Steel's "Screw-Up" squad. One botched raid, one severely injured uniformed PC and Logan's gone from Police Hero to another Internal Affairs investigation in the blink of an eye.
The focus of this book switches from DI Insch and his team (although he is still there and working on a fatal arson attack) to DI Steel and her Screw-Up Squad. DI Steel is a totally different prospect to deal with. She's abrasive, touchy, pushy and extremely unconventional. Logan's Number One priority is getting out of the Screw-Up Squad and the best way to do that seems to be a quick resolution to the increasing number of prostitute murders. Number Two priority is to try and keep his love life intact. Number Three priority is to keep avoiding journalist Colin Miller. Number Four priority is to survive another Internal Affairs investigation and keep from getting fired.
In the first book of the series, the weather was almost like another character, providing a great backdrop for the general miserableness of the crimes. In this book the summer setting, albeit slightly damp, provides a contrast for the crimes and the mood of the investigators in both Insch and Steel's teams.
DYING LIGHT is a solid, twisting police procedural with some short-lived sequences of quite graphic violence. This violence and the pitch perfect gallows humour that MacBride uses remind the reader that there is some real substance to the world being written about. The characters are very real. You feel like all of them would be instantly recognisable if you strolled in the Aberdeen nick, the local bar, the morgue or down the docks late at night.
Sometimes a second book, particularly one so close on the heels of such an impressive first novel can feel a little flat, or a little directionless. The trick of moving the focus on the DI's and their teams adds a freshness to the supporting characters and to Logan's personal interactions with his colleagues that really worked extremely well. After the sheer pleasure of reading DYING LIGHT you will be instantly left wondering where MacBride is going with the next one and very eager to find out.
THE CLEANER - Paul Cleave
The Cleaner is Christchurch, New Zealand based Paul Cleave's debut novel. Set in Christchurch where at one point Joe, the central character, muses that the biggest crime in Christchurch City - apart from the fashion and the Old English Architecture, glue-sniffing, too much greenery, bad driving, bad parking, lack of parking, wandering pedestrians, expensive shops, the winter smog, the summer smog, kids riding skateboards on footpaths, kids riding bikes on footpaths, old guys yelling Bible passages at anybody passing by, stupid policemen, stupid laws, too many drunks, too few shops, barking dogs, loud music, puddles of vomit in the gutters and the grey decor, among several other things - is burglary. And, thanks mainly to Joe - serial killings.
Joe works as a cleaner for the Christchurch Police. They think he's mentally handicapped - a bit slow. Joe knows he's not and he knows fully well that he's actually a very intelligent, busy, serial killer. He also knows that of the 7 murders they currently have chalked up to the Christchurch Carver - one of them wasn't him. And he's just ever so slightly miffed by this.
Early on in this book, I'll be perfectly honest, I was thinking that the world could really do without another self-impressed, self-involved, self-narrating serial killer and about the time I was ready to throw this out the nearest window, bang, Cleave suddenly turned THE CLEANER on its head and Joe finds himself in a very very strange place. From then on the book takes you on a bit of a wild ride whilst Joe ramps up the killing spree, and tries to find the perpetrator of the one murder that he didn't do. Professional Pride? More likely a handy scapegoat.
Although set within the Police Station, this is not a police procedural, so there is little concentration on the actual investigation, with most of the Police investigators taking a very low profile. Aside from the police, there are some unusual and well fleshed supporting characters. All in all, a very promising debut book with some good twists and turns.
BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR - Angela Savage
Angela Savage won the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript by Emerging Author in 2004 for this book, then called Thai Died.
Jayne Keeney is an expat Australian woman who, in order to avoid a predictable life, left Australia and started teaching English in Thailand. Whilst helping out a student by doing some surveillance on a cheating partner she discovers she has quite a flair for detecting, and that there is a demand for this type of service. She gives up teaching and sticks to working as a private detective in Bangkok doing a good trade in following suspected partners. After a particularly violent turn of events during one such job she seeks some solace in the company of her dearest friend Didier de Montpasse in Chiang Mai. Didier and Jayne share a passion for crime fiction, even though they don't exactly see eye to eye over genre (Didier's a cozy fan, Jayne is strictly hard boiled).
As soon as Jayne arrives there is some apparent tension between Didier and his Thai lover Nau. After a night out with Didier at a gay bar in an out of way part of the city, the next morning Jayne finds the papers leading with stories about a brutal murder in the bar that she was drinking in earlier. Things rapidly take a much bigger turn for the worse and Jayne finds herself having to investigate what really happened in that bar.
This book covers a considerable amount of ground in and around the sex trade in Thailand - local, sex tourism and paedophilia. There are some big players making a lot of money from this trade and there are lots of connections to the police investigating the bar deaths.
Savage has spent some considerable time working in and around Bangkok on Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS programs and she obviously has an understanding of Thai customs and of the people. The story is peppered with Thai words and phrases and Jayne speaks fluent Thai. The book has a very clear sense of place and the Thai characters and location are clearly defined and interesting.
The compelling thing about this book is that it's a crime fiction novel which is touching on a number of very serious social issues: child sexual exploitation, AIDS/HIV, sex tourism and official corruption, but the book tells the message, reveals the consequences, and avoids lecturing. This is a first novel and there are some