A new Pufferfish novel will always be a thing of joy - whiteboard lists or no whiteboard lists and BIG RED ROCK fits the bill perfectly. Of course youA new Pufferfish novel will always be a thing of joy - whiteboard lists or no whiteboard lists and BIG RED ROCK fits the bill perfectly. Of course you will need to have a love of self-deprecating wit that's so dry you'd swear it originated in Uluru rather than Hobart. You will need to like the bear-prodding style of investigation, that's actually covering up an acute ability to observe, retain and analyse the smallest drips of information. And in this outing, be prepared for some personal revelations - in that dry, understated, not bothered sort of style that Pufferfish is the appointed monarch of.
As always, BIG RED ROCK has all the personal machinations; the working relationships with what is now a well-established, well-oiled team of 3 investigators; the romancing of long term partners; the tension with the higher-ups; and the day to day struggles of your typical hard-bitten, worn-down, put upon cop type (Pufferfish in case you were wondering), intertwined with a murder and a mystery - all in the glorious setting of Tasmania, with a smidgen of Alice Springs, and mainland capital cities included for a change of scenery. In Tasmania Pufferfish and team (minus one) are confronted with the possible accident, could be suicide, ultimate murder of Hildvi - successful woman, wife who sent her husband Wayne out for pizza and fell to her death in their fancy house in the hills above Hobart.
Meanwhile the minus one is off in the wilds of Tasmania looking into the disappearance, presumed murder of one young country singer. Pufferfish has a watching brief on that one - for reasons which become clear and present well into the story.
Along the way there's also Wayne the highly specialist, long-distance Removalist; the mysterious and frankly odd Kurt Cowboy; cocaine importation; major investigation Operation Centipede; Uluru; Alice Springs; Pufferfish and a lot of connections. Connections, crossed paths, tripped over feet, stood on toes, odd goings on, people gone missing, people showing up, and the whole damn thing.
BIG RED ROCK is absolutely a good Pufferfish novel, in a series that's positively crowded with really good novels. They are comedic, dry as desert dust, pointed, observational and more than a bit unusual in their style and construction. If you've not read any of them, then there's now an opportunity to get on board with one of the best things (other than all those other lovely things that come out of Tasmania - cider / cheese / salmon / apples / food / pinot / oh the pinot. Did I mention pinot... Sorry, where was I...). Oh yes, earlier books in the series have now been re-released which is the perfect excuse for you to dive right in. Anywhere in the series will do nicely - there's some relationship building that expands throughout but you'll get the gist wherever you start.
Back in the late 1970's Dave Warner released music that became part of the soundtrack of my life. When I discovered CITY OF LIGHT, MURDER IN THE FRAMEBack in the late 1970's Dave Warner released music that became part of the soundtrack of my life. When I discovered CITY OF LIGHT, MURDER IN THE FRAME, EXXXPRESSO and other books by him in the late 1990's / early 2000's I was more than a bit chuffed to think a musical hero was also a lover of crime fiction. And I bloody loved all of those books.
CITY OF LIGHT was Dave Warner's first book (from memory), it won the 1996 West Australian Premier's Award for best fiction, and it introduced a young police constable, and aspiring footballer Snowy Lane. In this book Lane is investigating the murder of a number of young women by the serial killer dubbed 'Mr Gruesome'. If, however, you've not read any of Dave Warner's work then CLEAR TO THE HORIZON is a great place to start, as would be BEFORE IT BREAKS which was a very worthy Ned Kelly winner indeed.
CLEAR TO THE HORIZON is told in two later periods of time, basing itself around the true story of a number of young women who were killed by an undiscovered serial killer in Claremont, Perth. When the novel starts out in 1999, a number of young women have gone missing, with one body discovered, and the others never seen again. Snowy Lane is hired by the parents of one of the missing girls, but he, and the police, are never able to find the girls or the killer. Moving forward 16 years, Lane finds himself on an unconnected case in Broome (this time teaming up with Dan Clement from BEFORE IT BREAKS), and an incidental event takes him straight back to the Claremont investigation.
All of which probably sounds a little complicated, but if you've not read either of the earlier books it won't matter a bit. Nor will it matter if you're not across the details of the true cases on which a lot of the narrative is based. If there's one thing that Dave Warner excels at it's weaving yarns, and CLEAR TO THE HORIZON is a great yarn, with fully fleshed out characters, and plenty of action and pace.
Snowy Lane is an easy bloke to like. Dedicated to his job, he's also a loving family man with a very normal sort of a life. The Claremont case haunts him, but it hasn't twisted him. He's not one to forget, but he's also not one for dwelling. Having said that, give this man a hint of a possible solution and he's not easily distracted. He's very real, and there's more than enough back story dotted throughout this novel to give you an idea for where he's coming from.
There's also a terrific sense of place in Warner's novels. In this case the heat and light of beach-side Fremantle and Broome are clear and bright, contrasting well with the night-time pubs, clubs, alleyways, taxi ranks and parking lots where the young women disappeared. It's worth remembering that apart from the general details of the true crime around which the novel is based, everything here is fictional - much of it is so real, and so feasible in terms of possible suspects, and the final resolution.
I confess to having been a mad fan of Dave Warner's music. It makes me very happy that the stories he tells in his books are longer in form, but still so clearly about life as it happens in Australia. It's particularly fortunate that there's no need to a lot of dancing when a new book comes out - my knees aren't what they used to be back in my punk days. But happy dancing of a slightly more sedate version still goes on.
You have to admire any author who doesn't just create a profoundly unlikeable protagonist but then grants them full permission to be as ordinary a humYou have to admire any author who doesn't just create a profoundly unlikeable protagonist but then grants them full permission to be as ordinary a human being as they can possibly be. In SOLD, Blair Denholm's creation, Gary Braswell is the sort of bloke that you'd be forgiven for belting over the head with a shovel, after watching him dig his own grave any day.
Comic in styling, SOLD is set on the Gold Coast in the sweltering heat of summer, where Braswell takes the not-so-big step from used car salesman to real estate, at about the same time that his gambling debts are threatening to bury him. Because of his drinking, gambling and behaving like a prize dick, his wife's starting to get heartily sick of him into the bargain. (If there is a character in this novel that you dearly wish had been equipped with a shovel very early on, it's Braswell's wife Maddie.)
Steeped in black, dark humour, reader's reactions to Braswell, Maddie, and their shared fates are likely to affect their like or dislike of this novel immensely. There's not a lot of light, hope or love for Gary Braswell. He's a died in the wool self-centred, obnoxious bloke, who really deserves that aforementioned shovel about the head and shoulders. Maddie is either a saint to tolerate him for as long as she does, or an idiot - your choice. Because the humour is very dark, very black and very low key, there are passages when you might need to remind yourself that this is a comic novel because all too often Braswell is simply too realistically narcissistic.
All of this behaviour is woven into a plot involving sales commissions, selling activity, Russians, loan sharks, their minders, and a lot of rushing about trying to avoid the seemingly inevitable. Perhaps some trimming down of the repetition of Braswell behaving badly might be beneficial as it gets a bit "samey" in places.
The ending's another brave undertaking, clearly telegraphing a follow-up, leaving Braswell with another woman in tow (did I mention he's a revolting human being...). All in all SOLD is the sort of novel that will appeal to readers who don't want everything nice, neat and tidy, with the action driven by a self-centred pain in the rear, the humour dark, dry and pointed, the language particularly Australian, frequently gross (exploding birds and itchy rears) and very "adults only" in places, and the action fast and furious.