Review - ASH ISLAND, Barry Maitland
The second in the Harry Belltree trilogy, events in ASH ISLAND follow closely on from CRUCIFIXION CREEK. Short-listed for the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards CRUCIFIXION CREEK set up a different character for Maitland to work with in Australian, Indigenous Detective Harry Belltree. There is still, however, that use of a defining geographical location as is always the case in any of Maitland's novels - in this case much of the action centres around Newcastle's Ash Island.
Considerably more action orientated, Belltree is also very different from Maitland's other police characters (Brock and Kolla) in that to call him morally ambiguous is possibly understating the case. He's also well out of his comfort zone having been transferred to Newcastle after final events in the earlier novel very nearly killed him. If you've read CRUCIFIXION CREEK already you'll know that this covered a lot of things to do with development, corruption, drugs and bikie gangs, touching briefly on the car crash that killed Belltree's parents and blinded his wife. ASH ISLAND however, builds on that aspect considerably whilst also getting stuck into mining, politicians, land rights and, as always, a hefty dose of corruption and nasty goings on.
Having said "if you've read CRUCIFIXION CREEK" it is almost mandatory that you do read these two novels in sequence. There's a lot of back story to Belltree, his parents, wife and supporting characters, such as journalist Kelly Pool, that you're just going to have to know to make any sense of what's happening in ASH ISLAND, despite some reiteration of background and details.
There's no fudging the fact that whilst CRUCIFIXION CREEK was a great series commencement, there are aspects of ASH ISLAND that are less successful. Whilst there is advancement of an underlying conspiracy with new plot elements introduced, as well as that backwards concentration on the fatal car accident, there is overall less tension here. Obviously because this is part two of the trilogy you can't expect that everything is going to be resolved in ASH ISLAND, but that's not the overwhelming problem. Rather there's a slight sense of wandering, less direction somehow with some hefty personal leaps and bounds that just felt silly contributing overall to a somewhat anti-climactic feeling.
That's not to say that the third book in the series won't be high on the reading list when it comes out, as there's absolutely no doubt that whatever is going to happen to Belltree, he's not going to go down without a bloody good fight.
Detective Sergeant Harry Belltree, back on the job after a near-fatal confrontation with corrupt colleagues, has become a departmental embarrassment. The solution is a posting away from Sydney and a quiet life in Newcastle.
Or maybe not so quiet. A body’s been found buried just offshore on Ash Island; there may be more. There’s also Harry’s unfinished business. The car crash that killed his parents and blinded his wife happened not far from Newcastle. And Harry knows it was no accident.
The other unfinished business is Jenny’s longed-for pregnancy. Which means that now the stakes are higher than ever.