MURDER IN MT MARTHA is a fictional story, inspired by an unsolved 1953 real-life murder in the Mornington Peninsula suburb of Mt Martha. Author Janice Simpson combines the real facts with a range of unconnected contemporary elements to weave a potential solution and create her fictional version of "what if...".
Sixty years after the murder of 14 year old Beverly Middleton, Nick Szabo is working on his thesis about defectors from the Hungarian water polo team during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. During interviews with retiree Arthur Boyle, and a bit of a coincidence his connection to the murder appears. The narrative moves from 2013, back to 1953 as the events leading up to, and after, the murder are revealed, and then investigated by Szabo with Boyle's help. The strength in these elements of the story is the way that Boyle is forced to think back over his life, to his childhood and the truth about what he saw and heard then.
Combine these memories with a 1953 version of events, as seen from a murder's viewpoint and there's some stark differences. The matter-of-fact, non-sensationalised but chilling account of a very nasty human being, contrasted rather nicely by the relationship that builds between Boyle and Szabo. Unfortunately the sidelines into the Hungarian background of Szabo and his family, as touching as they may be, are disconnected from the main thread and contribute little to the narrative progression. Sticking with the main viewpoint, with the murderer, his behaviour and the things that Boyle saw and heard as a young boy, but has only started to understand now he is an old man are cleverly imagined. The difference in past perspective and current conclusion is marked and really well done.
Aside from the times where Szabo's family connections muddy the water, there is a good level of pace and momentum in MURDER IN MT MARTHA. The imaginings of what happened to that young girl 60 years before, and the detail with which they are relayed is telling and really engaging. The current day investigation revolving around an old man, his memories and Szabo's investigative techniques are an unusual approach which is handled reasonably well - although there is a hefty number of coincidences involved.
Overall MURDER IN MT MARTHA is a debut which shows some promise - especially in it's central character. Hopefully there are further adventures planned for Nick Szabo, he's certainly the sort of character that would be worth following.