LINE OF SIGHT - David Whish-Wilson

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

LINE OF SIGHT by Western Australian based writer David Whish-Wilson, uses the real-life murder of brothel madam Shirley Finn as the basis for his fictional murder of Ruby Devine (hat-tip to Tilly perhaps?)

In the fictional version the facts of Ruby's murder are extremely similar to that of Shirley's but what Ruby has that Shirley didn't seem to get, is a cop who remained a friend, long after her death.  Frank and Ruby's friendship goes back to their days in the wild gold-mining town Kalgoorlie.  Famous for money and vice, Swann attempted harm minimisation when it came to illegal prostitution, priding himself on never taking favours from anyone.  Superintendent Frank Swann is a decent bloke, who loves his wife and family and is worried about the danger he has put them in.  To rub salt into the wounds, his teenage daughter has gone missing and there's this overriding concern that she is somehow mixed up in the prostitution or the drugs that are increasingly becoming a new reality.   Despite that he cannot and will not condone the corruption that surrounds him and he wants to do right by a woman he called a friend.  He wants to find his daughter regardless of what she has done or seen or been involved in.  He could easily have come across as too much of a lone wolf, buttoned up / too good to be true, but the portrayal of Swann is beautifully done - believable, decent, fallible, genuine.

The book is set in exactly the same timeframe and place as the true events, so this is an investigation which relies on old fashioned policing.  There's no mobiles, forensics, extensive databases and online crime fighting tools here.  It's about a man who stands up against overwhelming odds and tries to do the right thing.  He's supported (albeit not obviously) by Victorian Justice Partridge, bought to WA to head a Royal Commission into corruption that is doomed to fail on purpose.  Partridge has health problems, and was hoping for a final success in his long career, but the terms of reference created by a Government as deep in the corruption scandal as the police force, mean the Commission will never succeed.  Partridge is aware of this, as he increasingly becomes aware of how Western Australia's power base works.  Corruption is endemic and money rules absolutely.  There's a palpable sense of the way in which 1970's WA regarded themselves as separate from the rest of Australia, and Canberra absolutely irrelevant (interesting the book is set around the time of the dismissal of the Federal Government - a monumental event in Australian history which barely raised a ripple in the powerful echelons of WA Politics).

The use of these two characters is interesting.  The differences in their viewpoints - Swann the local, insider, personally involved, frightened for his safety and worried about ramifications has a darker desperation to his voice.  Partridge, the outsider, of the judiciary, elderly, ill, is more observational, less involved obviously, more contemplatory.  These alternating viewpoints lift the book, for want of a better way of putting it, providing a fuller look at the reach of such endemic corruption.

Sadly the true case has never been resolved, which must have presented some challenges for the fictional events.  For any reader unaware of the true events, LINE OF SIGHT is a great book with a terrific sense of place and time, a palpable sense of tension, and a cast of characters that you can really get a connection with.  Those more aware of the true case may find a level of poignancy over and above that, a sense of real sadness that Ruby, as did Shirley, left behind a family who still do not know who killed her.  It's not so long ago really, so maybe somewhere, someone knows something.

Year of Publication

When a brothel madam is shot on a Perth golf course in 1975 it should be a routine murder enquiry. But it isn't. In fact there's barely an investigation at all, and Superintendent Swann thinks he knows why. Heroin is the new drug in town and the money is finding its way into some very respectable hands.

It's the brave or the foolish who accuse their fellow cops of corruption, and sometimes not even Swann is sure which he is. Especially when those he's pointing the finger at have mates in every stronghold of power in the state – big business, organised crime, the government. He might have won the first round by forcing a royal commission, but the judge is an ailing patsy and the outcome seems predetermined. If that's not enough to contend with, Swann's teenage daughter has disappeared, he doesn't know whether she's alive or not, and the word on the street is he's a dead man walking.

Line of Sight is classic crime noir, a tale of dark corruption set in a city of sun and heat. 

Review LINE OF SIGHT - David Whish-Wilson
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Blog Currently Reading - Line of Sight, David Whish-Wilson
Karen Chisholm
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