Crocodile Tears, Alan Carter
CROCODILE TEARS takes Philip 'Cato' Kwong a long way away from his origins in the Stock Squad in the middle of nowhere. Instead, in this final novel in the series, we start out with Kwong investigating the death of a retiree found hacked to pieces in suburban Perth, ending up in Timor-Leste and deep in the world of spies, dodgy business dealings, more death, torture, attacks and extreme violence. Plus he's a father to a "terrible two" now, and his wife, Sharon, has career aspirations of her own.
Flawed, fallible and endearingly human, Kwong has always been an engaging central protagonist. A cop with a seemingly limitless capacity to endure physical attacks (and there are plenty of those in this novel), he's doubtful, hesitant, willing to take risks without being a superhero type, and very real. His relationship with his work colleagues, and with Sharon is really well executed, with plenty of dry, Australian humour built in. There are also sufficient hat-tips to his ethnicity to make the reader aware that being Chinese-Australian isn't always the easiest thing.
CROCODILE TEARS combines police procedural and spy thriller elements, told in a series of short-sharp viewpoints, switching between Cato and spook Rory Driscoll, who, as the blurb puts it "has always occupied a hazy moral terrain". Driscoll starts out in this novel babysitting three witnesses due to give evidence to a Hague trial into issues around Timor-Leste's independence, and the subsequent arguments over oil rights etc, and that has him ferrying three very different individuals around Australia, eventually getting them to Darwin, in one piece, just in time for the trial. There are rival spooks, sinister threats, and always Driscoll's boss - the ever present Aunty - who, at points in this novel, might make you wonder which side she's on. Meanwhile there are more murders happening locally, Sharon ends up involved, there are local cops courtesy of multiple crime scenes, odd connections to Christmas Island and then to Timor-Leste, and Kwong and Driscoll find themselves in that country, trying to navigate a world occupied by some seriously dangerous people.
As the saying goes "it's complicated". Boy oh boy is it complicated here - especially for followers of this series who are used to Kwong in a lot of scrapes, but never up to his elbows in international terrorism, dodgy business dealings, millionaire's, shady characters and threats to home and family. You will need to be paying very very close attention as the viewpoints switch around, the pace remains pretty high throughout this novel, and there is a. lot. going. on.
It's definitely an unusual way to end a series, with family circumstances playing a role, cases that veer away from the norm such a lot, all of which might leave the reader feeling a bit puffed out (nice way to get some empathy with Kwong going) but definitely ending up feeling like he deserved some time out.
Different from the rest of the series, but highly entertaining, rip-roaring fun nonetheless, it was interesting to see such a mash up of styles (procedural spy thriller's could be a thing?). It was hard to come away from it, after finishing way too late last night, without the feeling Philip 'Cato' Kwong will be sorely missed.
Detective Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong is investigating the death of a retiree found hacked to pieces in his suburban home. The trail leads to Timor-Leste, with its recent blood-soaked history. There, he reunites with an old frenemy, the spook Rory Driscoll who, in Cato’s experience, has always occupied a hazy moral terrain.
Resourceful, multilingual, and hard as nails, Rory has been the government's go-to guy when things get sticky in the Asia-Pacific. Now Rory wants out. But first he’s needed to chaperone a motley group of whistleblowers with a price on their heads. And there’s one on his, too.