Shoot Through, J.M. Green
I've been a big fan of the Stella Hardy series (GOOD MONEY, TOO EASY and now SHOOT THROUGH), and I will admit that the setting of this one appealed enormously - what with Stella returning to the family farm in the Wimmera (there's something going on with lots of books being set in that part of the world), and the prison farm which I could have sworn was in South Australia but seemed a lot more like one not a million miles away from where I grew up... but I digress. The attraction of this series has always been the central character. Stella Hardy is a wisecracking social worker, one of the good people in the world, susceptible to a bit of temptation along the way, but reasonably so, what with the suitcase of drug money under her bed and all.
In SHOOT THROUGH there's a complicated plot involving her jailbird brother, his pregnant girlfriend, the family farm, mismanagement and corruption in the prison system, a new boss at the agency where Stella works, that suitcase of drug money, a ever closer circling police force investigation into that, and problems with her relationship with artist boyfriend, Brophy. Pretty much par for the course when it comes to Stella's hectic and slightly frenetic lifestyle. Although this time out there's less of her best friend Detective Phuong Nguyen, and oddly slightly less of Brophy even as their relationship teeters. There's a bit of a former gang member and general stand-over-man Percy Brash, a big threat from a lurking bloke in a black car, and a lot of driving around on the mean "roads" of Victoria's Wimmera.
To be honest, there was something that felt NQR about SHOOT THROUGH. I don't think the plot quite achieved the levels of credibility that were attained in the earlier novels. It was a bit all over the place, and had too many skeletons in too many closets dancing about with their strings visibly loosening. Having said that, Stella Hardy has always been a bit of a fringe dwelling character - almost forgiveable, chaotic and caring, odd and extremely likeable, and if this is, after all, her last hurrah then she'll be missed.
Stella Hardy, the wisecracking social worker, is back to tackle crooked private contractors, an exotic cattle scam, and a delicious Mushroom Jalfrezi.
All Stella Hardy wants is a romantic country getaway with her artist boyfriend, Brophy. Instead, she must head to the Athol Goldwater Agricultural Prison (aka Arsehole Bogwater) to visit her jailbird brother, Ben, and sort out some ‘urgent’ family paperwork. But Stella has barely set foot in the prison when a prisoner, Joe Phelan, is found dead.
Before she knows it, Stella finds herself tasked, against her will, with investigating Joe’s suspicious death away from the eyes of police, including her best friend, Detective Phuong Nguyen. Her old nemesis Minister for Justice Marcus Pugh is pressuring her from above to save his election-year bacon, and Joe’s old friend and former gang member, Percy Brash, is providing a much more chilling form of pressure from below, promising to reduce her to mush and bone fragments if she doesn’t give him the name of Joe’s killer, and soon.
As the clock counts down, Stella becomes embroiled in a story of corruption, conspiracy, and high-tech cattle-wrangling, all while trying to manage her brother’s pregnant girlfriend, Loretta, get to the bottom of Brophy’s increasingly strange behaviour, and evade the murderous intentions of a shadowy mercenary. And then things get really crazy. It’s Stella’s last hurrah, and she’s going out with a bang.