Those Who Perish, Emma Viskic

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

I'm not good with the end of things that I've really loved but when it came to the Caleb Zelic series by Emma Viskic, it turns out there was only so long I could hold out.

The earlier books in the series, RESURRECTION BAY, AND FIRE CAME DOWN, and DARKNESS FOR LIGHT, introduced readers to the messy world that Caleb Zelic inhabits, although there are glimpses in THOSE WHO PERISH of a man determined, and very nearly managing, to get his act together. 

For readers new to this series, (where have you been!) Zelic has a complicated backstory, growing up in a small seaside town, with a tricky father, and a brother who's done (in Paul Kelly's words), "all the dumb things". By way of background, Caleb's deaf, Ant is a drug addict and Caleb's wife Kat is pregnant. Ant's been missing for months, when he suddenly reappears on an isolated island in a rehab centre. Kat is living back in the same small town as well, with her mother, wanting to be on country for the birth of their child. Caleb's sort of house-hunting in Melbourne, but he's called back to the town in a hurry, when cryptic messages warn him Ant's in trouble. 

Discovering Ant hunkered down dodging sniper bullets, leads to Caleb finding out where he's been, and some weird connections between the rehab centre, the island it's located on, a man's body pulled out of the bay, the sniper and a growing body count, a tattooed arm, a white van, Neo-Nazi's and a cheesemaker with a dodgy taste in cardigans.

Frenetic needless to say, leading to a complicated plot that has Ant reluctantly helping out, Caleb reluctantly investigating everything on all fronts, Kat reluctantly putting up with all of this and her family reluctantly accepting Caleb is back and causing chaos again. There's a lot going on here and readers might find themselves utterly bamboozled at points - certainly there were times I thought I'm not sure Caleb's got the slightest idea and I'm right there with him. It's also particularly poignant to realise that the more things get out of control, the more Caleb turns inwards. He's always struggled with insecurities, raised as the boys were by a bit of a taskmaster of a father, somebody who refused point blank to acknowledge Caleb's deafness, fighting against any show of vulnerability on behalf of either son - part of what has made Ant's life disappear off the rails as well. 

Viskic has a powerful form of delivery in this series - succinct, pared down and rapid paced, there's still plenty of character definition and development. Everyone in Caleb's life is understandable, sympathetic and realistic. There's something more though in the portrayal of Caleb - the rhythm of the novels seems to match the rhythm of his life - the sparse, rapid-fire descriptions of place and interactions with location and people reflect somebody whose view of the world is limited by what they can see - rather than hear. His observations of people and their interactions with him are particularly telling - his ability to lip read a major communication tool, the hearing aids that complicate things, and the way that he and Ant automatically slip into rapid sign language to communicate around people that they don't want in on the conversation is seamlessly built into the narrative. It's very realistic - and enlightening into the bargain.

As with any series like this, starting from the beginning is going to give readers a much better feel for Caleb, the people around him, and that sense he has of life in ricochet. You could pick this novel up as a standalone though, there's enough here to give you a feel for the backstory without bogging you down in screeds of past reflections. Having said that, there is a bit of necessary current reflection. About Ant and Caleb's father, their family home, the town in which they grew up, the people that are still there. Caleb's marriage, Kat and her family, the footy club, the island community and the nature of small towns and family tensions are part of that, as is the sneaking suspicion that even when Caleb's trying to get his act together, he's going to stuff it up. There's a couple of twists in the tail there, with enough possibilities for readers to make up their own minds how Caleb's life is going to pan out.

It's sad to see the ending of what's been a great, and multi-award winning series. Here's hoping Viskic goes onto other things - she's too good a writer for Australian Crime Fiction to let go.


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The thrilling finale of the groundbreaking Caleb Zelic series, from the award-winning author of Resurrection Bay

Caleb Zelic can't hear you. But he can see everything.

Caleb's addict brother, Anton, has been missing for months, still angry about Caleb's part in his downfall.

After almost giving up hope of finding him, Caleb receives an anonymous message alerting him to Ant's whereabouts and warning him that Ant is in danger. A man has been shot and Ant might be next.

Caleb reluctantly leaves his pregnant wife's side and tracks his brother to an isolated island where Ant has been seeking treatment. There, he finds a secretive community under threat from a sniper, and a cult-like doctor with a troubling background.

Caleb must hunt for the sniper to save Ant, but any misstep may ruin their faltering reconciliation, and end in death. When body parts begin to wash up on shore, it looks like the sniper is growing more desperate... 

Review Those Who Perish, Emma Viskic
Karen Chisholm
Friday, December 2, 2022

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