Sticks and Stones, Katherine Firkin
Journalist Katherine Firkin has written her debut crime novel, inspired, according to the blurb, by the many criminal trials she has covered. You can't help but spare a thought for the sorts of things trial attendees have to sit through when finishing STICKS AND STONES.
It's difficult not to assume that this is intended as the beginning of a series, particularly as there's quite a hefty dose of personal and back story here, and for quite a while, readers might be a bit confused about who the central character is intended to be: recently promoted Head of the Missing Persons Unit, DSC Emmett Corban or his wife who is struggling to return to work after experiencing severe post natal depression.
Overall, there's a lot of characters being introduced, and some complicated scenarios playing out in the early stages of this novel and readers may find keeping track of who is who, or working out the parts they will all play a bit overwhelming. Alongside the personal trials of Corban, his wife, their child, her job, her Svengali-like mentor and their relationship, there are a series of rapidly introduced police colleagues and some backstory to Corban's career. Then there's the disappearance of a young woman who didn't turn up to her invalid brother's birthday party, a young mother and wife who dropped her kids at vacation activities and vanished. The first has an overtly anxious brother looking for her, the second an angry and overbearing husband so there are suspects galore and not a lot of leads even when a body shows up.
At this point the head of Missing Persons becomes a homicide investigator and frequent followers of crime fiction may find themselves pausing to consider how that bit of procedural overrule gets ushered through, but stay with it.
It's a testament to the power of the storytelling here that a plot that rapidly becomes a bit unwieldy and felt over populated with people, suspects, sidelines and byways, still mostly engages the reader. There's some hefty work going on to introduce a character and his backstory, and as this novel involves a serial killer with his own past, there was some work involved in getting a glimpse into his mindset. The only way, these days, that a peek inside the serial killer's viewpoint can contribute positively, is if it provides insight, or illumination. Just doing it for menace sake doesn't really cut it anymore, and with that in mind, this viewpoint did provide some explanation of the way that this damaged mind worked.
Having said all of that, STICKS AND STONES is a debut, and it's telegraphing much in the way of potential, especially from the viewpoint of Missing Person's, and that does suggest the happy prospect of Corban and his colleagues returning to the field.
‘He didn’t have to be normal, the boy realised. He just had to pretend.’
It’s winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.
So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.
But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets - none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.
Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.
What had seemed like a standard missing person's case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.
But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body . . .