SMOKE & MIRRORS is the second Canberra based novel to feature Australian Federal Policeman Brad Chen. Ex-football star, Chinese extraction, first name Bradman - Chen is not exactly a normal policeman. For a start he's almost constantly injured. He pops pain pills like the rest of us attack the Vitamin C at the first sound of a sniff in winter. He's also - as is the wont of so many fictional protagonists - perpetually unlucky in love, although in SMOKE & MIRRORS he's a real chance for a short time with a couple of elderly ladies who live at the retreat where the bodies of ex-Witlam Minister Alec Dennet and his editor Lorraine Starke are discovered. The murders are just flat out odd - the pair were at the retreat working on Dennet's memoir. But it's been a long time since the Whitlam era and what on earth would Dennet have to reveal that would get him killed. Mind you, how many political assassins undertake their role with an axe. A knife maybe, but the general chaos revealed at the crime scene certainly doesn't seem to add up to an assassination. The manuscript is missing though, and everything seems to be pointing to the cause being something in that book. A bunch of menacing South African's and some bloke in a Fedora seem to point that way even more strongly.
Called back to work despite still convalescing from events at the end of the first book - Dead Set - Chen is instantly very very busy. It's not helped when his Russian study room mate Anna from the University (studying is therapy after the injuries) disappears after a bit of a misunderstanding with Chen's ex-wife. The room mate is actually supposed to be under his protection - along with the lurking South Africans, the Russian Mafia are also not adverse to roughing Chen up.
In SMOKE & MIRRORS Chen's at least got 2 working legs (sort of), although the busted nose, and the battered face are causing him all sorts of problems. Mind you, it all looks like a squad of the walking wounded - his new partner - Constable "Voodoo" Filipowski is lugging around his own set of pain killers and a startlingly well endowed Chihuahua named Bluebell.
SMOKE & MIRRORS is a worthy entrant in the happily increasing list of humorous Australian Crime Fiction. Aside from the use of humour throughout, the reader is treated to an exciting and surprisingly plausible plot - given Robertson's Canberra seems to have Russian Mafia and South African heavies lurking behind every second shrub. The use of the Whitlam era connection was a fascinating plot device - it's been quite a while since 1975 and I, for one, was scrambling for the reference books to try to remember the whys and wherefores of the Dismissal (and the author provides a useful summary at the end of the book into the bargain). The humour is well-pitched and very pointed at points. Okay there are some instances that are obviously inserted for their funny side, as opposed to moving the plot forward, but who cares - it's a book that you read for enjoyment after all.
Certainly reading SMOKE & MIRRORS makes you think of Canberra as somewhat more exotic and edgy than most Australian's would expect, but as long as Brad Chen is in town, we can all rest easy. Sort of. In DEAD SET Kel Robertson showed the characters and storyline had real potential for an ongoing series, and SMOKE & MIRRORS delivers a very strong follow-up. I do hope that Robertson decides to cut Chen a bit of slack in the injury deparment in book number 3. Maybe a dose of hayfever would suffice?