Review - BEAMS FALLING, P.M. Newton
When THE OLD SCHOOL was released all the way back in 2010, I noted "As I was reading this book I couldn't help but create a checklist of the things that make up seriously good crime fiction for me, and apply it as I went." Every box ticked needless to say, which means that the follow up has been much anticipated. It doesn't disappoint in any single way.
As with the first book we've got a very good plot, with Kelly returned from sick leave, and on light duties. Still in physical rehab her mental recovery also gets some attention, as she struggles to cope with the PTSD symptoms which overwhelm her life and her relationships. Whilst she's battling those demons, and stuck, supposedly, on office duties, her ethnicity means she's pulled, however reluctantly, into a number of investigations that intertwine into drugs, home invasions, violence and murder.
Kelly's own personal experience is visceral, raw, clear as a bell. An expose on what happens when a cop's life is endangered, threatened, turned upside down and what they have to do to get back on the job. There's some beautiful passages woven into the narrative that talk about the idea of dealing with flight or fight, and how "the job" means that bad must be confronted, must be dealt with.
"She wanted to run away. Every muscle, every nerve ending, urged her to. Instead she turned, sagging under the load she carried. This was why cops were cops. Instead of taking flight, they turned towards the fear."
"They'd had no past, no future. Just that moment, survival. 'We talked about the fight-or-flight response,'... Cynthia reckons we're stuck there, in that moment. We survived. It finished. But it's like our flight-or-fight switch is broken. We can't turn if off.'"
There is, however, absolutely no sense whatsoever of pity. Kelly's struggling. Angry, scared, confused. Regretful definitely, but pity is never to be seen. There's even distinct glimpses of hope. The tentative sense of attraction to another human being, albeit one who has seen his own share of pointless violence and despair. There's even some sense of forgiveness or at least acceptance of the part that other colleagues played in her injury, her past, present and future. Along the way there's other cops in trouble as well - this is not a one person character study. It's about the difficulties of the job as a whole.
It's also about the problems in immigrant communities. People who come from the worst possible circumstances, seeking hope and normality. How that pans out in subsequent generations, how the idea of always being an outsider, even when you're born here can have an impact. If nothing else BEAMS FALLING reminded this reader, yet again, that life is a tricky business and it doesn't matter where you come from or how you get here, it's what happens to you here and what you do about that, that matters.
Newton writes with an honesty and clarity that's both confronting and soothing. These characters suffer, they suffer a lot, and the scenario's they deal with are mucky and base and nasty and the worst of the worst. Some of them don't make it, but the ones who do survive, are battered and bruised but not always lessened by their experiences. There are points when you wonder how close to the truth BEAMS FALLING comes, and why on earth you'd get out of bed every morning and attempt to deal with it.
The first book in this series promised much, but BEAMS FALLING delivers so so much more.
On the inside, Detective Nhu 'Ned' Kelly is a mess. Stitched up after being shot, her brain's taking even longer to heal than her body. On the outside, though, she's perfect, at least as far as the top brass are concerned. Cabramatta is riding high on the new 'Asian crime wave', a nightmare of heroin, home invasions, and hits of all kinds, and the cops need a way into the world of teenaged dealers and assassins.
They think Ned's Vietnamese heritage is the right fit but nothing in Cabra can be taken at face value. Ned doesn't speak the language and the ra choi – the lawless kids who have 'gone out to play' – are just running rings around her. The next blow could come from anywhere, or anyone. And beyond the headlines and hysteria, Ned is itching to make a play for the kingpin, the person behind it all with the money and the plan and the power.
Beams Falling is the brilliantly compelling and gritty second novel by the rising star of Australian crime writing. A portrait of our recent past, it's also a compulsive and utterly authentic insight into the way both cops and criminals work.