It must be quite an experience for an author to start out on the long cycle of writing a book about crime and corruption in the financial system, and
It must be quite an experience for an author to start out on the long cycle of writing a book about crime and corruption in the financial system, and then, just as you complete the manuscript, have real life intercede in apropos fashion. As Neil A. White puts it on his website:
"Set in Australia – with a few stopovers in Dublin and Rome – I completed the manuscript just as the Panama Papers exploded across the internet. Their release shone a harsh light on the nefarious world of offshore banking, tax evasion and money laundering which dovetailed perfectly with my manuscript. Naturally, a few small revisions ensued."
Mind you, after the Panama Papers and now, in Australia, the revelations of the 2017 Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, you'd be excused for wondering why a lot more crime fiction isn't set in the patently dodgy world of banking and "wealth management" (whose wealth I've always wondered, but I digress).
Neil A White's second novel TURN A BLIND EYE is a standalone, set in Melbourne mostly, with connections drawn via the world of banking, money and cover-ups to Dublin and Rome, the Catholic Church and the IRA. All of that comes across as not just believable, but absolutely acceptable, as a local, very ordinary sort of a bloke - Craig Walters - potential tennis champion, turned apprentice banker because of family tragedy, stumbles upon some odd goings on with the finances of residents of the hospice in which is dying Mum is being cared for. A Catholic home, it normally only cares for people with no family, so the idea that a shifty lawyer and a dodgy banker have been up to no good unfortunately makes perfect sense. As does the idea that what Walters stumbles on is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial malfeasance and outright theft.
TURN A BLIND EYE delivers a multi-threaded plot constantly returning back to the central theme of money and corruption. The IRA / Catholic connections are done via interspersed chapters, whilst the action in Melbourne moves from the personal to the professional, every day life to life-threatening danger. With a love interest, old mates, a bit of hanging about in a local pub, and some believable hacking activities on the side. The final act, where everything is wrapped up nicely in conversation between Walters and a convenient high up cop relative might not be to everyone's taste, but the return of a Beast of a car in the final scenes is a nice touch.
As with legal thrillers, sometimes the motivations for the "accidental investigator" can be a little ropey, but in TURN A BLIND EYE, the idea that Craig Walters, loving son, learning banker, would notice something a little bit odd, and then be prepared to stick his neck out, with the help of his mate, makes enormous sense. It's a novel well worth reading, more so because of the timeliness of the subject matter.
Peter May's Lewis Trilogy isn't a new undertaking, originally published in 2009, but it's one of those series I've had flagged in my audio book queuePeter May's Lewis Trilogy isn't a new undertaking, originally published in 2009, but it's one of those series I've had flagged in my audio book queue for a long time, and recently I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of available listening time and a desire for something that was dark, atmospheric and delivered in my favourite of all accents.
The trilogy is based around policeman and child of Lewis Island, Fin MacLeod. Born and raised on Lewis, he was the boy who left for a university education in Edinburgh. Raised in part by an aunt, his parents having died in a car accident when he was young, there's something more buried in Fin's attitude to the place of his birth. When he's sent back home after a murder on the island that bears a resemblance to one he investigated in Edinburgh, he is instantly drawn back into the small, deeply inter-connected and multi-generational complications that are small community interactions and history.
The island setting feels like the archetypal closed community. Insular, inter-related, and externally private, the closed room type setting is further enhanced by the shared history of the investigator, the victim and the investigated, especially as reminiscences start to fill in their shared past. Alternating chapters of past and present help in following the audio version of this book in particular, and the narrator does an excellent job in varying tone, pace and voice all the way through meaning that you don't lose the thread of who is talking, thinking or reminiscing. And it doesn't hurt at all that the Gaelic contributions are lyrical and absolutely beautiful to listen to.
There's a hefty dose of romantic entanglement in this book as well with just about everybody carrying a sad burden and a hefty dose of love lost, loved ones dead, regret and much longing. After now listening to the first couple of books in the trilogy this is a theme that continues forward and may be a little heavy-handed for some readers (listeners) as you really do find yourself being dragged back down into the personal on a lot of occasions. Given the eventual solution, and motivation for the crime(s) that have occurred in the two books so far, it kind of makes sense that the personal is a strong component, and an incredibly messy one to boot.
Ultimately though, THE BLACKHOUSE was an atmospheric, dark, brooding, overwhelmingly sad story, which worked really well as an audio book. Especially if it's tweaking the same sorts of cultural memory (longing) that it did for this reader.