Review - The Long Con, Barry Weston
Barry Weston's debut novel THE LONG CON, brings Queenslander and ex-cop, now PI, Frank Cousins to the mean streets of Hobart in search of a client, good pizza, a lot of booze and coffee, and with a bit of luck, Detective Sharon Becker. In the aftermath of The Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption in Queensland, Cousins was not best pleased to discover the funds he'd salted away from the backhanders known as 'The Joke', have relocated along with his wife. An unfortunate encounter with her and her new live-in lover means that Cousins has to make himself scarce in a big hurry.
After calling in a few favours, a new identity and a relocation later, the Tasmanian Private Investigation Agency has been ticking along now for 20 or so years when three new jobs meander their way into his office, causing Cousins to actually have a bit to do. Whilst tracking down a missing student, or getting the goods on a cheating politician husband might seem like regular tasks for a PI in Hobart, babysitting an aging, wealth female environmentalist isn't.
Cousins is a typical wise-cracking, loyal to friends, implacably opposed to the cops type of PI. He's often found welded to his chair in the pub, his office is scruffy, as is he and his capacity for cynicism boundless. For the expectedness of the character portrayal, the setting provides some unique aspects. Hobart isn't the mean and darkened streets of Sydney or Melbourne. The Salamanca Market is light and bright, the people slightly more laid back, the air a little clearer and the wind that bit crisper.
With Cousins the focus of this novel he's got some heavy lifting to do. Following in the footsteps of a huge cast of wise-cracking, hard headed PI's is always going to be a tricky prospect - there's a fine line between pastiche and caricature which Weston manages to negotiate, despite some slightly odd verbal "quirks" that Cousins is prone to indulge in. Obviously the quoting of "dear old mum's sayings" are, in the main, amusing, but after a while they get a tiny bit predictable shall we say. Other aspects of the dialogue are considerably more successful and there's something quite realistic about it that makes you comfortable with the idea that Cousins is an old bloke whose been there, done that, and will never fit into the t-shirt again.
Given this is a debut novel, with a big concentration on establishing the character, there are some plot elements which are a little wobbly. Cousin's reasoning gets a bit perfunctory at times, and some plot points are just dumped into the fray with little expansion or qualification. Personally this reader would also have preferred that some of the info dump about The Fitzgerald Inquiry had been worked into the narrative more - keeping pace and story progression early in the book. There is also a slight feeling of panic towards the end as it seems like a lot of threads are desperately hauled together.
Those sorts of slight glitches and niggles are not unknown though in first novels - especially where there's so much heavy lifting going on to get a central character established and some background / motivation defined, and they are balanced out by some very good points. Cousin's is a fun sort of PI and there's a trilogy of books planned in the Tasmanian Investigation Agency series for those that really like their PI's hard-boiled, sarcastic and just a bit dodgy.
Frank Cousins is a knockabout bloke; an ex-Queensland cop turned private eye who - it has to be said - is his own worst enemy. Owner and sole employee of the Tasmanian Private Investigation Agency in Hobart, Frank takes on three simple cases and soon finds himself up to his neck in bad guys, bad situations and, as usual, bad behaviour. Money-for-jam, these three cases: find a missing woman, get the dirt on a philandering state politician, and provide personal protection for a wealthy, elderly matriarch - figurehead of a Tasmanian environmental group. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as Frank's dear old departed Mum always said: 'nothing in life is what it first appears to be'.