The author of DOUBLE MADNESS, Caroline de Costa is a professor at the School of Medicine at James Cook University in Cairns, and the book is set amongst the medical profession, in Cairns. Writing obviously about a couple of worlds that she knows well, this debut novel combines a strong sense of the place, and the climate, with a well-delivered intricate plot.
The body of Odile Janvier is found deep in the rainforest outside Cairns by sheer chance when local doctor Tim Ingram and his wife take a very unlikely shortcut, a little known back track which is a dodgy proposition after Cyclone Yasi. After their car gets trapped, on the walk out, they discover her body, tied to a tree with a number of expensive Hermès scarves. Investigations quickly discover that her husband has also been missing since before the cyclone, but with both of them are estranged from their sons - one in Tasmania, one in jail - and oddly in a small place like Cairns, nobody knowing much about the pair, their disappearance was not noticed. Once the investigation kicks off, it's not long before some disturbing connections between Janvier and members of the local medical community start to emerge. All the while her husband remains missing, and no matter how hard Cass Diamond digs, it's hard to work out the complex web of blackmail, money around this strange couple.
The central character of Cass Diamond stands up really well to the focus of that position. An Aboriginal woman with a teenage son, she's a great balance of personal and professional, with details of her background pulled into the narrative in a way that's engaging, without being overwhelming. Strong and sometimes funny she's very real and somebody that readers would be happy to spend time with.
There's a good balance of medical information versus the need to keep up the pace of a thriller, although the psychological dynamic between the victim and her husband is particularly interesting, and well fleshed out. The combination of a smaller city setting and the insular and inter-connected world of the medical profession therein, provides some nice complications - and plenty of potential suspects, once a possible motive is established. There's also some depressingly creepy behaviour outed amongst those that we'd all prefer to think of as above the tacky, although these days it's so easy to believe it should give pause for thought.
Within the plot there are a few red herrings, and a reasonable amount of confusion in why or even how this woman died, particularly in the beginning, all of which provides readers with opportunities to draw some conclusions, or at least have a stab at solving the crime along with Diamond.
A promising debut DOUBLE MADNESS has got a lot going for it. Some psychological insights into relationships, and the power of the sex drive, to say nothing of some decidedly revolting behaviour on the part of people that you'd think would know better, built around a great new protagonist in Cass Diamond. Another one that you'd hope will turn into a series.