Gerard Hardy's Misfortune

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

The third in a series known as "Sea-Change Mysteries", GERARD HARDY'S MISFORTUNE takes place in Victorian coastal town of Queenscliff, with the pairing of local cops, Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt back for another outing. In this case, the historic Royal Hotel, site of the local mental asylum and morgue in the early days of white settlement, becomes the scene of a very bizarre murder, when the body of academic Gerard Hardy is discovered in the cellar of the partially renovated hotel.

If you're new to this series, Chris Blackie is the head cop, son of a fisherman father who drowned at sea, local boy, living in the house he grew up in, a seemingly repressed character full of personal angst and carefully constructed complications. His sidekick, city girl Anthea Merritt, seemed like more of a driven cop, learning the ropes still in many ways, she's more of a go-getter in the two earlier novels in this series.

As has been the way with this series, the central hook of the plot tends towards the quirky side - and this time around the victim is obsessed with the story of the town's famous literary resident, Henry Handel Richardson, and with the spiritualism that he seems to be using to get in touch with his subject. The tarot reading spiritualist in town has a shady background of her own, and there's something very odd about the people who run the hotel, to say nothing of why guests are staying in a partially renovated old building, but there's also the question of the prickly chef and the friend that came to Queenscliff with the victim in the first place. 

I will admit that a big part of the attraction of this series has been that quirkiness of setting and character, and the way that the combination of local and blow in cop, one obsessed with gardening and the simple life (even though it doesn't seem to make him happy) and the incomer, the high-flyer who isn't with the ragged personal life and the professional ambitions. Blackie and Merritt are a good team together, even, as with this case, when the plot heads out on quirky and takes a sharp right at odd. 

Add to that the influence of the "big city coppers" from Geelong's CIU and lordy was DI Masterson a prat... and there were points that this outing didn't work quite as well as earlier books in this series. Maybe it's because the balance between personal and professional was a bit off, maybe it was because there seemed to be a lot of wandering about waiting for something to happen, and a hefty reliance on everybody's personal "demons", or it could simply have come down to Blackie coming across as less complicated and more morose and Merritt less ambitious and more predictable. Having said that, I do rather like this odd little series. It's a nice change from the run of a mill good cop / bad cop combination and there is a lovely sense of seaside town to it, albeit this from somebody who spends very little time anywhere near the sea.  

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According to local legend, the historic Royal hotel in the Victorian coastal town of Queenscliff is haunted. Having served as both a mental asylum and a morgue in the early days it could hardly fail to be, but a bizarre murder in the hotel's basement puts a decidedly eerie spin on things.

The victim is an academic, obsessed with spiritualism, the tarot and the town's most famous literary resident, Henry Handel Richardson. From the outset, the local knowledge and unorthodox methods of Queenscliff's police officers, Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt, are ridiculed by the bull-necked Detective Inspector Masterson from Geelong's CIU. And yet, hard-nosed police investigation practices seem ill-equipped to counter the otherworldly influences at play.

What DI Masterson believes is an open and shut case turns out to be anything but.

Anthea began creating a large cross with the cards. She looked up and smiled. 'I tell you what's ironic. I got into trouble for buying my own tarot pack and now Mrs Marr's using the tarot to bamboozle the inspector. I'm the only one who's done her homework and knows what the cards mean.'

Gerard Hardy's Misfortune joins Through a Camel's Eye and The Swan Island Connection as the latest, most intriguing instalment in Dorothy Johnston's sea-change mystery series. 

Review Gerard Hardy's Misfortune
Karen Chisholm
Monday, November 18, 2019

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