Man at the Window, Robert Jeffreys
There's something very satisfying about the emergence of a new crime series set in Australia - this time 1960's Perth. This one includes a hat tip to a number of the older stylised detectives of popular TV series in that Detective Cardilini's is portrayed as, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a grumpy old sod. He's got a reputation for being lazy and a drunk; and a recently deceased wife and a young adult son that he doesn't get on with (and who doesn't have much time for his father). This makes for a life that feels more stalled than lived, mostly via self-inflicted causes, which makes him a bit of a tricky character to deal with.
There's something there in the early stages of this investigation that will spark a reader's interest (and a titchy tiny bit of sympathy or connection), when it is quickly obvious that the reason he's been assigned to the shooting murder of a posh private school master is more to do with an urgent need for a quick determination of accident and some immediate sweeping of issues under the carpet. Something about this haste, and pre-supposition on the part of everyone from the hierarchy of the police, through to the school itself, gets right up Cardilini's nose. What starts out as a bit of stubbornness on his part, quickly turns to suspicion that there is nothing accidental about this shooting at all. Complicated by a suggestion that his support for the official accident line will result in a small indiscretion on the part of his son being ignored, allowing him to enter the Police College and finally get some direction in his life.
To get to the solution Cardilini has to step on a lot of toes - his bosses, the school, parents, current and past students, and he risks his son's future into the bargain. At some stage he's also got to give up drinking and get control of his personal life.
In the initial stages of THE MAN AT THE WINDOW there's a bit of an issue with balance where the general gloom of Cardilini and his personal circumstances make him hard work to get to know. But there's an intriguing idea at the core of this plot with the supposed accidental shooting of the school master, commented on via the voice of a young boy, obviously a victim of an ongoing sexual abuse crime at the core of the school's cover-up. The fact that it takes so long for somebody to twig that this is the likely cause of some odd behaviour is probably indicative of the timeframe of the novel - it's hard to remember what's almost a default conclusion for us these days, was possibly less front of brain in the 60's.
There is a tendency for some plot elements to drag a bit in parts in THE MAN AT THE WINDOW, but stick with it. This is, after all clearly telegraphed as the start of a new series and there's more than enough potential to let any slight quibbles in the opening foray roll.
An atmospheric crime novel with a burning moral dilemma at its heart.
When a boarding master at an exclusive boys’ school is shot dead, it is deemed accidental. A lazy and usually drunk detective is sent to write up the report. Cardilini unexpectedly does not cooperate, as he becomes riled by the privileged arrogance of those at the school. He used to have instincts. Perhaps he should follow them now…
With no real evidence he declares the shooting a murder and puts himself on a collision course with the powerful and elite of Perth. As he peels back layers, the school’s dark secrets being to emerge. But is his dogged pursuit of justice helpful or harmful to those most affected by the man’s death?
Man at the Window is the first in the Detective Cardilini series, set in 1960s Western Australia.