THE BUILD UP - Phillip Gwynne
Nailing my colours firmly to the aerial of the ute, I love a book that evokes a place and a people strongly. THE BUILD UP is set in and around Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory. A bit of a frontier town - they have a habit of referring to other states as "the shoe wearing states". Darwin's always been just that bit different from the rest of Australia - it's tropical, it's closer to Asia than to most other Australian capital cities, and it used to be a town where cultures intermingled comfortably (probably still is - it's been a long time between visits).
Dusty's star has been waning a bit in the NT police. The failure to resolve a high profile missing female honeymooner rankles with her - and with her boss - The Big C (Commissioner of NT Police). The report of a body found in a billabong by a local fisherman might be the feather in the cap she needs, but everyone gets considerably more jaundiced about Dusty when the body disappears. It would have helped if she'd got the full name of her other witness, a German backpacker - but then she wasn't all that interested in his name when she picked him up in the pub the night before. To make matters worse, when a body is found in the desert and it looks like it's the missing honeymooner - Dusty is more than bloody annoyed that she's taken off that case and assigned to sorting out Case Exhibits. (Nobody has yet quite forgotten the exhibit mess that was revealed during the Dingo and baby case years ago). Toying with the idea of leaving the police, leaving the Territory, staying in both, dealing with her mother, her childless state - the fact that the man who is her true soulmate is gay, well, life with Dusty has that certain edge to it.
THE BUILD UP refers to that period between the Dry Season and the Wet - as the atmospheric pressure builds up, just before the rains start, when the locals get a bit antsy. Where THE BUILD UP really really works is in the way that it evokes the people and the place. You can feel the air getting heavier, stickier, oppressive. You can smell the way that the humidity swirls around you, mixed with the scent of the tropical flowers, the overripe mangoes, the Thai food, the unwashed backpackers, the beer and smoke of the pubs. You can see the way that the dark clouds roll in off the sea, and the lightening that flickers in the sky - teasing with a hint that the Wet is coming. You can see the people getting ratty, tense, slightly daft. You can sense the changes in Darwin since the early days of settlement, since Cyclone Tracy wiped out large parts of the city. You can roar with laughter at the idea that somebody would name their daughter after that devastating event. You can hear the combinations of accents - the cops, the absoluties, the Long Grassers, the Thais, the Vietnamese, the backpackers from all over the world.
You're probably not going to be reading THE BUILD UP just for the plot - it's not bad, but there is some maverick behaviour going on that lovers of a traditional police procedural are going to find hard to swallow. You're definitely not going to be reading THE BUILD UP if you're into the idea of romance - the sex in this book is not intended to lead to a long-term relationship and picket fences all round. You definitely are not going to be reading this book if strong language and a hefty dose of slang is going to throw you. But given this book gets the highest possible rating from me - two nights of leftovers or takeway, I'm NOT putting this thing down to cook dinner - you should be reading this book if you want something that will give you a short, sharp, funny, realistic and sympathetic view of a world that rings a lot of bells with me, and hopefully is still up there - quietly sweating away in the build up to the wet.
For Detective Dusty Buchanon, a female cop in the very male world of the Northern Territory Police Force, it always pays to expect the unexpected.
During the stifling pre-monsoon season known as The Build Up, a body is found in a billabong near a Vietnam veterans' camp site. To Dusty it's the chance she's been looking for: a spectacular case to revive her flagging career.