Review - Dead Again, Sandi Wallace
DEAD AGAIN is the second novel in the Georgie Harvey and John Franklin series. Harvey is a Melbourne based journalist and Franklin a Daylesford based cop, and whilst it's not absolutely necessary that you've read the first book - TELL ME WHY, it would help a lot to understand why there is a connection between these two characters, and ultimately the two main locations in this book. Set around a fictionalised fire storm called in this book Red Victoria, a potential article about a small town in recovery becomes a private quest for Harvey to track down a man believed killed in the fire, who she thinks has gone into hiding.
In order to provide some context for some of the reactions outlined in this review, readers of the first book TELL ME WHY may or may not remember a single line reference to a shooting in Natte Yallock. We remember the day that shooting happened very clearly, a few ks from our property's back fence, involving members of a family we know - many of whom we didn't know the fate of for quite a while. A complicated and heartbreaking scenario, our community lost two members of that well known and respected local family, and those remaining deal with the senseless loss on a daily basis. It has always been hard to dismiss the feeling that they deserve better than a throw-away line in a book without context and lacking accuracy. If the discomfort caused by such a short, sharp appropriation of a distressing real life event in our lives was any indication I'm really not sure how the concentration of this book is going to be received in areas so profoundly affected by recent wildfire events in Victoria.
That's not to say that fictionalising real life isn't something that happens every day, and post Black Saturday there have been books and articles, written often by authors from the areas affected, sometimes by outsiders. They have been, in the main done with great sensitivity and awareness that this trauma is all too real and ongoing for many people and communities.
Maybe it's the nature of the beast in Wallace's central character Georgie Harvey but it was hard for this reader to avoid the feeling that sensitivity isn't a particularly strong point - Harvey is designed to be more of a terrier styled personality after all. Certainly the inclusion of a couple of elderly locals with whom she interacts a lot in the earlier part of the book felt like they were designed to give her more of an opportunity to empathise, explore the realities of life and the outcomes of such a devastating fire storm, but still there was much that jolted. Maybe it's because the early part of the book is extremely slow to get moving, and the focus is heavily on the researched details that the feeling of appropriation becomes overwhelming. Possible flaws or "outsider" viewpoints become more heightened, and therefore more jarring. Maybe it's simply that I can still feel the disquiet that the reference to Natte Yallock caused. Ultimately there's a lot of tells in the portrayal of Bullock that make it really easy to identify in real life, and the real cause of the fire in that location is completely altered for the purposes of supporting the plot of the missing man in DEAD AGAIN (something that made this reader profoundly uncomfortable).
The action back in Daylesford is considerably more deftly handled, with the sorts of day to day operations in a town like Daylesford realistically portrayed - and handled by a great cop character in John Franklin. His interaction with his local community really works, and with the way that the place has changed, the idea that there could be the odd person in the area that goes somewhat under the radar not necessarily requiring a heap of suspension of disbelief. The romantic entanglements between the two main characters is what tips this series more into the category that I heard mentioned some time ago of "crimance".
By way of disclaimer, TELL ME WHY was published by Clan Destine Press, for whom I was a minor non-editorial minion at the time, and had a sneak peek at an early draft of the initial manuscript. There was potential there, and it was guided into a publication that went on to win a Sisters in Crime Australia Reader's Choice Award. DEAD AGAIN is a different kettle of fish - it's a brave undertaking, taking a raw, real life scenario and fictionalising it. Perhaps the issue for this reader is that the fictionalising didn't go far enough, or the license to appropriate, while many communities are still recovering, wasn't as obvious as it should have been. Either way, DEAD AGAIN is one of those books that may just hinge on whether or not you're as comfortable with the overt use of this particular real-life loss, pain and grief in a fictional setting.
It is almost two years since wildfires ravaged the tiny town of Bullock, and Melbourne journalist, Georgie Harvey, is on assignment in the recovering town to write a feature story on the anniversary of the tragedy. In nearby Daylesford, police officer, John Franklin, is investigating a spree of vandalism and burglaries, while champing to trade his uniform for the plain clothes of a detective. When Georgie’s story and Franklin’s cases collide, she not only finds herself back in conflict with the man she’s been trying to forget since their first encounter, but she uncovers the truth about how the fires started – a truth no-one is wanting to believe.