2011 was an interesting year in Australian Crime fiction with quite a few excellent debut books appearing. In 2012 we've started off with the release of MURDER AND REDEMPTION by Noel Mealey, another debut, another book set in outback Western Australia, and another book aiming for a quintessentially Australian voice and viewpoint.
Blurbed as "moody and atmospheric" and "following in the traditions of both Peter Temple and Carl Hiaasen", somebody is setting the bar for MURDER AND REDEMPTION rather on the high side.
As you'd expect from those comparisons the central character - Syd Fielding - is a flawed, complex and damaged individual. A childhood spent in a notorious WA orphanage, a tour of duty during the Vietnam War, a recovering alcoholic with a broken marriage and a distant relationship with his only son, Fielding manages to maintain some close relationships with a few selected mates - from his time in Vietnam, from the orphanage, these men are all, in their own way, damaged and coping using different methods. When one of Fielding's life time friends, Ivan, appears to be mixed up in something violent and nasty, Fielding finds his role as policeman complicated.
Fielding is a classic outsider, a complex and damaged man, dealing with his demons - not a particularly unusual characterisation in crime fiction these days and as a result there are a lot of expected tensions with hierarchy, tricky relationships with colleagues and a fair bit of personal angst and self-analysis. There is definitely a terseness to the style, and dialogue that is reminiscent of Temple's patterns of writing, although it's understandably not as assured, as clean or as pared down. Whilst Syd is controlled, clipped, frequently sparing of details; there are hints, and glimpses into some parts of the life of Fielding and his mates. There are also some parts that are drawn out, concentrated on, more voluminous, giving the book a slightly unbalanced feel.
The central plot in MURDER AND REDEMPTION was particularly interesting, especially after reading the author notes which outline some of the true events that were used. Even without knowing that up front, the way that story built around the "technicalities" of illicit drug trafficking was cleverly done - the advantages of the vast, mostly uninhabited areas of the coast and mining towns of WA intriguing. The book definitely had a strong sense of place drawing the isolation and distances into the story very effectively.
As with most debut books, there's a fair amount of heavy lifting going on - getting a character established, explaining some background, whilst developing a storyline along the way. Even allowing for slight quibbles with the balance, and making a huge allowance for the thing that I absolutely adore about Temple's writing is more about what he doesn't say, than what he does, Noel Mealey's MURDER AND REDEMPTION is an interesting book. Let's just hope that this, and some of the other excellent debut books recently, are the start of some new, solid, Australian series.