Barry Maitland's Brock & Kolla series is notable for, amongst many things, the way that he always takes a location in London and builds it into the story, almost as another character. In the first of the Harry Belltree trilogy, CRUCIFIXION CREEK, set in Sydney, there is a similar approach, this time with a location of notorious reputation. Crucifixion Creek is the scene of a massacre of Aboriginal people by early colony British marines. Extending that history into the current day, Harry Belltree is the son of Sydney's first Aboriginal Judge, and a veteran special forces soldier who served in Afghanistan. He's also morally ambiguous, unafraid to step over the line in the pursuit of the truth and extremely likeable. His behaviour is not so extreme as to make him a lone wolf, anti-hero type; he's simply one-eyed and single-minded in pursuit of answers.
One of which is finding out the truth about the car accident that killed his parents and blinded his wife. As is his off-the-record investigation into the murder of his brother-in-law. There are complicated connections peppered throughout CRUCIFIXION CREEK - both in Belltree's family and his partnerships in the force; in the way that journalist Kelly Pool is pulled into the story; in the connections between people living in the same street as the outlaw-bikie headquarters at the centre of much of the activity; and the bikies themselves. From the past, into the present and it's not hard to imagine, Belltree's future.
Comparisons between this first Belltree book and Maitland's other main series are inevitable. Both police procedurals, both with strong main characters, Belltree and Kolla are similar in personality type, although he takes to the lone hand part much earlier in the piece than Kolla ever did. There is also something more edgy and darker in this book than ever was in the earlier series. Overall Maitland's pulled off a favourite of this reader - developing a morally ambiguous character who is also very likeable, whilst tackling a lot of current day real-life Australian issues head on. There's also something sneakily Australian about the investigation style - whilst the Brock & Kolla series is ordered, procedural, detailed and cautious (fitting perfectly with Brock's personality in particular), in CRUCIFIXION CREEK, Belltree is anything but. From the poke a stick into an ant's nest school of investigation, Belltree's methods are effective, if you don't mind a bit of fallout, and as a result somehow endearingly Australian. Matter of fact, not afraid to stir things up a bit, less interested in the procedure than the outcome, Belltree's not a typical cop, but not an ineffectual or unexpected cop at the same time. He also has a life outside the force, and the interactions and his care and concern for his blinded wife is nicely balanced by friendships, and niggles within families.
CRUCIFIXION CREEK is a brilliant opening salvo in the trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how Maitland develops this character, and his ongoing use of place. Is it a bad thing, that at the end of book one, it was hard to suppress a certain sense of disappointment that there's only going to be 2 more?
For comparison - see also Robert Goodman's review of CRUCIFIXION CREEK.