Two of the greatest Australian crime writers died within six months of each other in 2018. Peter Temple authored nine novels, four of which featured roustabout Melbourne private detective Jack Irish, and one of which, Truth, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010. Temple died on 8 March 2018, aged seventy-one. Peter Corris was more prolific, writing a staggering eighty-eight books across his career, including historical fiction, biography, sport, and Pacific history. Forty-two of those highlighted the travails of punchy Sydney P.I. Cliff Hardy. Corris died on 30 August 2018, seventy-six and virtually blind.
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.
This is a very fine first novel by Jean Bedford. Her first publication was the collection of short stories, Country Girl Again, published by Sisters Press in 1978. Sister Kate justly deserves to be one of the two bestsellers in Melbourne.
The novel traces the life of Kate Kelly, sister of the famous Ned, and opens when Kate is twelve and Edward just returned from a three-year stint in Pentridge. He is shocked and outraged to learn that his brother, Jim, a mere sixteen-year-old, has been arrested for horse stealing and sent to Pentridge also. Ned is nineteen. Kate remarks: