The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender
Allen and Unwin, 159 pp, $10.95 pb
A crucial clue is given right at the beginning in the form of a lavender plant punningly sent to Claudia Valentine, our detective heroine. Like just about everything else in the novel, it turns out to have been put there by the novel’s Mr Big, Harry Lavender. And finding out the extent of his influence is what keeps us going through the back alleys and one way streets, more often than the smoothly flowing highways, of a clever detective narrative.
The novel not only describes but structurally relies on recognisable features of its particular geographical and historical setting: big, unpredictable Sydney in the corrupt 1980s. Claudia says that once:in a movie, I heard California described as a beautiful dancing lady, high on heroin, enchanting like the drug, who doesn’t know she’s dying till you show her the marks. Sydney was like that: not so high, not so dying, only sick sometimes ... She’d been a very sickly child, poxy and plague-ridden. But she’s grown strong, like a mushroom on a dung heap. Like an exotic mushroom I’d seen once at Gary’s. A beautiful crimson fungus had sprung out of the ground like a spider flower. But in its centre was a dark foetid substance that smelled exactly like human excrement.