Crime Fiction

Dilemma by John Cleary & Fetish by Tara Moss

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April 2000, no. 219

Let us start with the similarities: two thrillers, set mainly in Sydney, each with a would-be snappy but jaded one word tide. On each a stiletto-heeled shoe is part of the cover design. There the ways seem to part. Dilemma is John Cleary’s forty-ninth novel in a career of six decades and marks the sixteenth appearance of Detective Scobie Malone. For Canadian-born, former model Tara Moss, Fetish is her first novel. HarperCollins is loyal to the old, supportive of the new. Or supportive up to a point. Both books needed much stricter editing, not only for typos (‘eluded’ for ‘alluded’ in Fetish, for instance: one hopes that is a typo), but to tighten structures that let suspense amble away.

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Silver Meadow by Barry Maitland & An Uncertain Death by Carolyn Morwood

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April 2000, no. 219

Five pages from the end of Silver Meadow, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, an effect not only of the thrilling denouement, but also a genuine frisson of aesthetic delight at a perfectly judged conclusion. Silver Meadow is a book which deserves to be noticed, not only by devotees of the police procedural (it is at least as good as anything Rendell, James or Rankin have written) but also by anyone with an interest in narrative form, the politics of contemporary space and/or rampant consumerism. This is a ‘seriously’ good book about sex and shopping.

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Here’s the first in a new series from the indefatigable pen of Jennifer Rowe. Verity Birdwood is still going strong, at last check: it wasn’t so long ago that I reviewed Lamb to the Slaughter in these pages. And, of course, as Emily Rodda, Rowe has turned out a couple of dozen Teen Power books, attracting several Children’s Book Awards. She is every inch a professional writer.

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As Nicholas Hasluck’s latest novel points out more than once, the adversarial system of judgement upon which this country’s law is based consists of the telling and re-telling of stories. The prosecution presents a version of events, the defence uses the same facts but tells a different story and, in summing up, the judge constructs a third one. Finally the jury is empowered by society to decide the ‘truth’. Counsel for the prosecution and for the defence are obliged to argue their respective points of view to the limit of their professional ability. The most effective way of doing this, as one of Hasluck’s characters points out, involves ‘subverting rational argument – constantly interrupting, confusing witnesses with nit-picking questions, blocking the presentation of crucial facts, shaping the truth to suit his client’s case’.

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Worse Than Death by Jean Bedford (in collaboration with Tom Kelly)

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February–March 1991, no. 128

The publisher’s blurb for Worse Than Death notes that the book is ‘a long awaited move across genres for Jean Bedford’. A backhanded compliment, but no doubt sincerely meant. As it happens, the first Anna Southwood mystery is a pretty lacklustre effort – far from the ‘tight and pacy read’ promised by this same blurb.

Anna Southwood, a tomboy type with – you guessed it – unruly red curls – has set herself up as a private investigator after the death of her husband. He has made a quid or two from shady deals, she has time on her hands, a career in mind and a mate with a PI’s licence.

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