ST KILDA BLUES is the third Charlie Berlin novel from dual Ned Kelly Award winning author Geoffrey McGeachin. Starting out just after WWII, this series is as much a character study of Charlie Berlin and the after affects of war, as it is a police procedural. It's the great strength of these 3 books, and why they are increasingly earning the attention and commendation that they deserve.
McGeachin doesn't make things easy for his central character though. Berlin is still suffering the after affects of the war, even though it's 1967, the summer of love, and Melbourne is changing rapidly. His family is also changing, with his daughter travelling overseas, his son in the Army and his wife increasingly working on her own career. Berlin's happy for his wife, worried about his daughter, and troubled by his son. The background to all of these changes in the family are elegantly dotted throughout the story, although, as with any series with such a strong focus on character, it's best if you can read them all in order. The other factor that's not changed much is the perilous nature of his policing career. ST KILDA BLUES starts out with Berlin sidelined in the fraud squad, pulled back into the disappearance of a young girl because of the pressure from above to solve the case quickly.
Alongside the brilliant character portrayal there's also a really strong sense of place and time. Melbourne in the late 1960's comes alive through McGeachin's obviously, photographer's eye. The place, people, culture and fashions are all vividly described, as are the little touches of change - the increasing availability of food from other cultures, the changes in social structures, even the driving routes through the city. For somebody who knows the place it's pitch perfect, if you've never been there, and certainly not in that era, then you've got a time and place to explore, and picture clearly.
Both of these aspects pull no focus away from plot however, and despite this being "yet another serial killer" novel, that aspect is handled as you'd expect from an author like this. It's horrendous what is happening to these young girls, but it's handled respectfully. The killer might be an awful human being, but there is some explanation as to why, and absolutely no excusing. There's small insights into his mind, into events in his early life that are chilling, but not gratuitous. What's particularly sobering is the affect that the extent of the crimes have on a straight down the line, upright, and loving, decent bloke like Berlin.
But those affects are nothing compared to the finale of this book. After the case is solved, after the victim's are acknowledged and the families given an answer to their disappearances, life goes on. Even allowing for the cards that Berlin's been played in his life, what comes next is devastating. An unusual conclusion to a police procedural, the ending of ST KILDA BLUES will be hard for fans of Charlie Berlin. But life's not easy, and police, as with the rest of us, have lives to lead, families to raise, people to love. And to lose.