Criminals, James O'Loghlin

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Into the crime fiction reader's life something different should lob more often. CRIMINALS is not only different, it's brilliantly different.

Well known ABC presenter James O'Loghlin has taken his inspiration for this novel from his time as a criminal lawyer, and told the tale in a laid back, yet funny and compassionate style. There's a fine line being teetered on here, with three seemingly ordinary people being flung into each other's orbits as a result of one act, revealing more and more about those people as the story progresses. The humour is always there, but it's tempered with a real sense of belief in these three - misguided, mistaken, misunderstood, misstepping, extremely human people.

Told in a series of short, sharp chapters in the main, the backgrounds of the three main characters - Sarah, the barmaid come police officer on stress leave; Mary a forty-five-year-old teacher who drinks alone and writes long emails to her daughter; and Dean, the high-school football hero with supposedly everything to live for, now a desperate heroin addict with one more crime to commit in a grand plan to end the break and enter treadmill and get his life back on track. Everything about the way that these people live their lives is extremely believable, as is the way that they accidentally collide on the day that Dean decides to rob the Blacktown Leagues Club.

The fact that police officer, come barmaid Sarah uses her training to work out who the disguised armed robber was, and then digs into his background, uncovering a life that's gone badly off the rails, whilst her own seeming rise was badly curtailed by the actions of those around her are contrasted starkly against the life of Mary. The schoolteacher with a drinking problem, and the decision to end her own life, which gets muddied a bit by a sideline in reckless (cry for help) theft. Her personal tragedy sits alongside Dean's own life, going so badly off the rails when he and his high-school girlfriend slip into the life of drug addicts. She eventually leaves him behind to clean herself up, and craft out a life, whilst Dean sinks further and further, until this robbery and his arrest on the basis of Sarah's identification leaves him with some very stark choices to make. The storylines of these three entwine, branch off, reconnect and slide in and around each other in a seemingly effortless manner, which makes you wonder just how much blood sweat and tears from the author went into making something so complicated, so straight-forward.

It's been a while since the last book that glued me to a chair to be read in one day, but CRIMINALS absolutely enthralled and had me utterly involved in the stories of Sarah, Mary and Dean. It's a fascinating view to take, and the question from the blurb "What makes a criminal?" becomes more pertinent, nuanced with every single twist in the tale that is CRIMINALS.



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What makes a criminal? One May 2019 morning, two masked gunmen rob Blacktown Leagues Club. What happens next will change the lives of three people. Twenty-three-year-old Dean Acton is a heroin addict trying to get off the break and enter treadmill by pulling one big job. Sarah Hamilton, also twenty-three, is a police officer on stress leave, working behind the bar, trying to forget the mistake she made that caused the death of her fiancée. Mary Wallace, a forty-five-year-old ex-schoolteacher who lives and drinks alone, feels that her life is already over, and has made plans to formalise that arrangement.

When Sarah realises there is something familiar about one of the gunmen, she is drawn back to the thrill of investigating, and can identify Dean. Dean is overjoyed at his $12,000 haul, but before he can decide whether to spend it on a new start in Queensland or a few months' worth of heroin, he's arrested, and in Long Bay jail everyone wants to find out where he's stashed the cash.

Mary is inspired by the robbery. Pottery and French classes haven't jolted her out of her depression, but perhaps embarking on a life of crime will. She starts small, and then ups the ante. When she, too, is arrested and her lawyer tries to discover why a respectable middle-class woman would steal constipation medication, will she be able to reveal what caused her to give up on teaching and everything else?

Dean learns that the only person who identified him at the robbery was Sarah and is tempted by a plan that will ensure she won't ever be able to give evidence against him. But is he prepared to go that far? And if he does, will he ever come back?

As Dean's trial approaches, Mary, Dean and Sarah must work out why they have become who they are, and whether they have the courage to change. 

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