There's absolutely nothing like a quintessential Aussie bloke, a cop in purgatory, stuck in outback Western Australia, doing time on the Stock Squad for offending the powers that be. Alan Carter's debut novel PRIME CUT starts out with considerable promise, despite the slightly unrealistic picture of a Stock Squad peering that closely at roadkill!
But the setup is beside the point as DSC Cato Kwong has to be out in the middle of nowhere for some reason, therefore becoming the only option on hand when a mangled torso is washed up on the beach of mining town Hopetoun. Much to his old bosses displeasure. But then it's just for a few days until some resources can be freed up in Perth. So Kwong has a mystery, an existing force of two cops, and a deadline if he wants to drag himself back from the brink of investigating rustling for the rest of his born days. And things are even more complicated when he arrives in Hopetoun to find that one of the local cops is an ex of his, sidelined to the bush because she was badly injured in an incident after they split up, Tess Maguire has problems of her own.
Because Kwong and Maguire both have pasts (separate and their failed relationship) there's obviously going to be a hefty dose of self-evaluation and backward looking focus at points in the book, but that's handled with considerable aplomb - and helped immensely by some really deft touches of humour, and a laid back, Australian sensibility. There's also a point at which you can see that this author has spent some time in this town, he has a keen eye for the effects of a mining boom on a quiet little seaside town and he's developed a good sense of place - albeit a place in the middle of nowhere, a 21st century outback Australian frontier of a sort.
The pressure of the deadline gives the story a good feeling of tension, without it being played overtly. There's a nice balance of investigative ability and observation, assisted by some risky moves and some strong local knowledge. There's also a lot of threads playing out in the book, so the reader is kept well on their toes keeping track of who is who and what is what, let alone why! The characters are really well handled, from the ambitious but flawed Kwong, to the local policeman who can hold his own. Tess Maguire was interesting, her life obviously considerably derailed by her encounter with a man who injured her badly when on duty one night, her story weaves its way into the narrative, just the same as Kwong's personal story is drawn out. The only downside is that towards the end Maguire disappears a bit in the hurly burly. The series stars DSC Cato Kwong, but Carter may just have a team on his hands here. And let's hope that we see a lot more of one or both of them into the future. PRIME CUT really is a terrific debut novel.