Back in the late 1980's and early 1990's something happened in Australian Crime Fiction, or at least in this reader's awareness. A lot of local authors started to gain some traction in book shops, many of whom were women. Jean Bedford was one of these authors, originally releasing her Anna Southwood series in the early 90's. These books have now been re-released in ebook format, something this reader is particularly grateful for as it provides the opportunity of re-reading (especially for those of us who have the paperbacks somewhere but haven't been able to lay hands on them for too long).
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the arrival of SIGNS OF MURDER, WORSE THAN DEATH and then TO MAKE A KILLING made for some wonderful reading when they were initially published. At the time I remember a fellow reader commenting that Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh were all very well - but these books were actually about us. Even for a kid from the bush, they spoke about a world that was familiar, in a style that was authentic, and had the added benefit of promoting women as capable, real people, just getting on with living their lives the way they wanted to.
Of course, going back to books even from the recent past, it's often the things that aren't there that stand out - the lack of mobile telephones, no Google in moments of indecision, no Street View from the comfort of the lounge and no Social Media to stay in touch or facilitate a spot of snooping. The things that are there - early adopters of brick-like mobiles, the search for telephone boxes, the way that checking something out usually meant going somewhere to look / see / experience - often stand out. But the measure of really good storytelling is whether or not the "period" is distractingly obvious, something that SIGNS OF MURDER definitely does not suffer from.
The plotting in SIGNS OF MURDER is packed full of twists and turns, peopled by great characters - not just Anna Southwood. It's not exactly ensemble casting, but characters with bit parts are fleshed out, and in particular, the victim Fiona Galloway is well drawn. At no stage is she ever portrayed as the sort of person for whom blindness is a "disability", instead she's a strong woman in the face of a particularly brutal intimidation campaign and physical attack. The linking of Galloway's situation and that of her client in jail is nicely done, as is the way that there should be connections, but hard evidence is hard to find.
Needless to say, the re-emergence of the Anna Southwood books is particularly pleasing. For new readers they are a brilliant glimpse into the back-catalogue of Australian Crime Fiction writing. For those of us who were lucky enough to have fandom firmly confirmed by Bedford and other of her contemporary writers, then the opportunity to look back and remember the excitement is priceless. It's even better when you realise what we thought then - that this is a really good series - still applies today.