For Reasons of Their Own, Chris Stuart
Set in a fictitious location in Melbourne, timed to coincide with one of those blazing hot, drought and bushfire plagued summers, FOR REASONS OF THEIR OWN is a debut novel introducing DI Robbie Gray and her new to town offsider Mac, a young Aboriginal policeman who has been moved out of the NT after turning whistleblower about the treatment of young detainees in a notorious prison. (That aspect of this book is definitely going to ring some very unpleasant bells for Australian readers).
The discovery of a dead body in a swamp on the edge of Melbourne sets off a chain of events and discoveries, leading to Gray being sidelined by ASIO after the victim has been identified.
Cleverly constructed around edges, the title of the novel hints at the complications within. Right from the start Robbie Gray is a edge dweller, a woman flawed and flailing at times, she's good at her job, lousy at personal relationships. Mac, her accidental offsider, is lost, out of place and struggling. These two have to form a team with all sorts of external pressures, and some high-stakes that neither of them could have ever expected, as an international conference eventually becomes the only connection between the dead man, the humanitarian world, displaced people, terrorism, high-level political interference, a scared former refugee, and Gray herself.
Needless to say there's a lot going on in FOR REASONS OF THEIR OWN, which isn't all that surprising in a debut novel - setting up Gray and to a lesser degree Mac, their personal and professional lives interlaced with the investigation, even after they are sidelined by ASIO, although coincidences quickly start to appear - from connections to that conference, through to a stroll through the city into the path of a suicide bomber, unidentified women on CCTV vision, and on it goes. Surprisingly, none of these coincidences are all that difficult to swallow here - the pace of the story doesn't miss a beat, and the characters are believable and Gray, in particular, sympathetically flawed.
There are plenty of hints in this novel about the special interests of this author - somebody who has been involved in international and community development, as a nurse, humanitarian worker, and consultant. She's also worked in outback Australian Aboriginal communities, all of which gives the novel a definite sense of authority, without being preachy or off-putting.
All in all, there was much to admire in FOR REASONS OF THEIR OWN. A solid plotline, incorporating some enlightenment about humanitarian work and the way that terrorism cells operate, some pointed commentary about highly inappropriate political interference and some good, solid, flawed, believable characters to be going on with. This feels very much like the start of a new series with considerable potential.
Robbie Gray, a talented but troubled Detective Inspector stationed in Melbourne, who has fallen foul of police bureaucracy, is called to a investigate a dead body found in a rural wetland swamp. Under-resourced, with a corpse that cannot be identified and no apparent motive for the murder, she fails to make headway.
The Federal Police take over the investigation and ASIO becomes involved, focusing on a terrorism angle. Convinced they are misinterpreting the evidence, or worse, DI Gray begins her own investigation assisted by a young Aboriginal policeman.
These two outsiders discover an entirely different motive to that which the federal authorities have confirmed, one that involves international borders, corruption in humanitarian aid organisations, and political manipulation.
What DI Gray and her team uncover, challenges their understanding of power and powerlessness and questions their interpretation of whether murder, under certain circumstances, may be justified.