Category Archives: Australian crime fiction

Autopsy reports from the REDgroup Retail collapse

There’s been a lot of ink spilt over the news that REDgroup Retail has gone into administration casting an uncertain future over its 26 Borders and 164 Angus & Robertson shops in Australia.

The autopsy reports vary. Some say the company was the victim of online retailing, others that it was just badly run.  Former NSW premier, Bob Carr, said it was the inevitable result of flawed protectionist policies.

I’m not going to pretend I have the answers. All I know is that as an aspiring crime novelist, I doubt it’s going to make getting published any easier.

Of those who have thrown their ten cents into the debate, two are worth quoting in detail. Here’s what founder and publisher of Scribe Publications, Henry Rosenbloom, had to say:

“The REDgroup story is indeed a cautionary tale, but not of the type Carr (or some others) think. This is not a territorial-copyright story. Nor is it an internet-takes-over bookselling story.

Borders/A&R in its REDgroup incarnation was a very badly-run business, for which the owners, PEP, are responsible. The managers were bovver boys who alienated all their inherited knowledgeable staff (who left), made appalling decisions about stock selection and presentation, and tried to treat books like potatoes. They never listened, so their business declined drastically, and they ended up trying to sell giftware instead of books. It’s a very good example of why bookselling is not a corporate business — it’s a hands-on, detail-intensive business, with low profit-margins. Only people who love it and know what they’re doing can make a success of it — internet or no internet.”

The question of whether book selling and hard market economics are antithetical is an interesting question.

My friend, Guy Rundle’s comments here in Crikey about the longer term implications of the Redgroup Retail collapse are also worth thinking about.

“That is clearly changing rapidly and radically, and so the whole centrality of the shop is changing. It is no longer a necessary place, and so the high street no longer acts as the spatial core of a community. At some point a whole series of mainstream shops will succumb to insufficient, intermittent demand. Everyone will want to know they are there, but no-one will use them enough.”

The wider question, in terms of future life, is how we will sustain any form of public spatial life at all – as the last shared, necessary space dissolves. Doubtless we will, but there may be a long period before we realise that the very form of our lives is changing. That period has already begun.”

Last week’s events finally made me get off my arse and sign up for the Book Lovers Book Review Aussie Author Challenge, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I have elected the ‘True Blue’ category, which means I have to read and review 12 crime books by at least 9 different Australian authors.

It’s a bit of an ambitious target, if I do say so myself.

Partly, I’ve done it to push myself to read more Australian crime and review it for Pulp Curry. Reading books takes time, especially if you intend to review them. Films are easier, which is why I do more of this for the site.

Partly, there’s a bit of self-interest, well, hell, a lot of self-interest. If I and other first time authors stand any chance of getting our books into print, we need a local publishing infrastructure to exist. That means people need to read Australian books, that means I better start practicing what I preach.

So, 12 Australian crime books by the end of the year and it’s nearly March. I’d better get my skates on.

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Top tens and spent casings

Pulp Curry is going to be taking a break for a couple of weeks over the Christmas/New Year period while the family and I brave the monsoon-like conditions of Queensland.

But before I go, there’s a few spent casings lying around the place I’ve got to clean up.

First up, my list of top ten books for 2010 is up at Day Labor, the official blog of the online magazine, Crime Factory.  No surprises that Garry Disher’s Wyatt is right up there, as is Martin Limon, whose books featuring two military police on the beat in seventies Korea, along with Megan Abbott, are my big finds for this year.

My top ten is part of Day Labour’s Best of Whatever for 2010 series, put together by Keith Rawson. When Keith says whatever, he means whatever. There’s some great posts, not only on books, but comics, film and, well, whatever. Kudos to you, mate, for all your work and thanks to you and your Crime Factory co-editors, Liam Jose and Cameron Ashley, for making me feel so welcome in the Crime Factory family. I really appreciate it.

My recent post Parker and the art of hard-boiled crime writing generated a bit discussion on and off-line. That’s great, because if you haven’t picked up by now, I can talk the leg off a chair about Parker and his creator, legendary crime writer Donald Westlake.

As I said in the post, one of the things that’s always puzzled me is why Westlake stopped writing Parker books between 1974 and 1997. The answer came courtesy of Trent over at The Violent World of Parker who sent me a fascinating article written by Westlake himself for The New York Times in 2001. Like the master thief high tailing after a successful heist it seemed Westlake’s ability to write the Parker character, just disappeared. 

Anyway, you can read the article ‘A Pseudonym Returns From an Alter-Ego Trip, With New Tales to Tell’  for yourself.

One other great piece of Westlake memorabilia I found on the net is this clip of him talking about Parker, the process of writing and his career. Enjoy and see you all in 2011.

The Half-Child

We love a good guest review here at Pulp Curry and today’s is about a book very dear to me, Angela Savage’s The Half-Child. For readers who don’t follow Pulp Curry on a regular basis, in the interests of full disclosure I need to declare that Angela has been my partner in life (and crime) for the last 20 years. Her book, The Half-Child, is also a great read. Many thanks to Sulari Gentill, whose own crime novel, A Few Right Thinking Men, was published in 2010 by Pantera Press.

I am a greedy reader.

When I opened The Half-Child, Angela Savage’s second Jane Keeney crime novel, I looked forward to reacquainting myself with the streets of Thailand, about which Savage writes with an intimate knowledge and affection.

I wanted once again to be shown the colour, the contrast, the cultural crater of a place where West has hurtled into East.  I wanted to see past cliché: the neon, the sleaze, the confronting corruption, to the beauty of an ancient culture and a tenacious and adaptive people. On top of all this I wanted intrigue, excitement, perhaps a little romance, and definitely some humour.  I did start out by saying I was greedy.

The Half-Child completely satiated my literary gluttony and then offered me dessert!

What Savage served up was a story set primarily in the resort town of Pattaya, Thailand, where Jane Keeney investigates the death of a young aid worker.  The novel, particularly for those who have had children, presents the heart-wrenching issues around overseas adoption.

Savage handles it all with non-judgmental compassion.  Rather than give the reader a trite outcome of good and bad, Savage shows us the sadness and uneasiness on both sides of the coin.  She makes us realise that we accept things from the developing world that we would not tolerate in our own country, that the term “better off” is unfairly weighted against the poor, but that sometimes Western concepts of social justice have no place in the harsh reality of the developing world.

Savage also subtly draws upon those common motivations in the hearts of mothers from both East and West.  Mayuree, the unwed mother of a half-child is determined to “…hold her head up high enough to protect [her child] with her shadow”.  I think of this line every time I leave my sons for some work commitment.  Motherhood, and perhaps life in general, is about making choices.  Savage’s book brings home how much harder those choices are for some.

Despite the tragic issue at the centre of this novel, the story is far from grim.  Jayne Keeney is comfortable and natural in this world.  Through her eyes we see it without cultural judgment and as a result we also see humour in the darkness.  Savage has a keen eye for the absurd and not only was I often giggling aloud whilst reading, I found myself thinking of scenes from The Half-Child and grinning insanely at later (often inappropriate) moments.

Jane’s penchant for slipping into the guise of religious zealot simply by responding to everything with “praise the Lord” makes me laugh every time I think of it.  I liked Jayne Keeney in Behind the Night Bazaar (Savage’s first novel), I felt really connected with her in The Half-Child.

This latest novel also introduces us to Rajiv Patel, who becomes a “Watson” to Jayne’s “Holmes”.  He is to say the least, endearing.  He softens, challenges and supports Jayne.  The dynamic between them is beautifully written…a friendship, a partnership and something more.  Again Savage flouts gender conventions without it being a simple and self-conscious reversal of social roles.

In the end, as I closed The Half-Child, I felt well nourished.  I am already hungry for another taste of Jayne’s world and am heartened to hear that Angela Savage is hard at work on the third Jayne Keeney novel.

The Half-Child and its predecessor Behind the Night Bazaar are both so much more than detective stories.  My philosophy on books is admittedly simple.  Make me think and you’ll have my respect, make me laugh and I’ll be you’ll have my friendship.

The Half-Child has both.

Garry Disher interview

Garry Disher is a veteran of the Australian crime-writing scene. He is the author a series of books featuring the professional hold-up man known as Wyatt. Disher wrote six Wyatt novels in the nineties and a seventh was recently released by Text and took out the top prize in the 2010 Ned Kelly awards. Disher has also authored a number of books featuring Hal Challis and Ellen Destry, two police working on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular, about an hour’s drive southeast of Melbourne, where Disher also lives. I talked to him for the issue 5 of Crime Factory about the difference between writing hard-boiled characters and police procedurals, why after over a ten-year break he decided to write another Wyatt book and the state of crime fiction in Australia.

It’s been over 10 years since the last Wyatt book, Fallout in 1997. Why the break and what inspired you to give Wyatt another outing after such a long time?

The break was to try and get established with the new series of police procedurals, the Challis and Destry books, which for me was a completely different way of looking at plot and structure. I wanted a break from Wyatt because there was basically one book a year and I thought I might get stale on them.

There are a number of reasons why I came back to Wyatt. I’d often go to festivals or give talks in libraries and people would come up to me and say ‘when are you going to bring back Wyatt,’ so I have a sense of a readership for him out there. At the same time I was getting tired of the police procedurals I was writing, so when my German publisher said we are about to publish number six have you got a seventh in the wing for us, I thought, well, yeah, it was a good time to write another Wyatt.

Are you surprised by the positive reaction to the latest Wyatt book?

I’m always surprised by positive reactions. When I read reviews that are positive I always think it’s not me, it’s another guy that I am reading about.

One of the things I thought you did so well in the latest Wyatt is way you created a sense of an old school heist guy who is out of his time and place in a high tech society. The modern world is really pressing in on him and the atmosphere in the book is very claustrophobic. That was obviously a conscious decision?

It was in the sense that I’d read the Richard Stark novels and I liked the remote and amoral nature of his character Parker. I didn’t want to create some sort of James Bond character who is always charming to women, ready with a quick quip and good with cars. His roots are working class and if he happened to be very good at by-passing electronic security systems, then that would mean that I would have to do a hell of a lot of research on how you do that and then I would have keep up to date with the technology. Then there’s the question of how I make that interesting in a book, so I went with the idea of the old-style heist guy. He relies on experts occasionally, but usually they betray him or something like that.

On one level all the Wyatt books have been about a heist gone wrong, which is essentially what the Parker books were about too. What is it about this genre of crime fiction that works so well?

Well, there is always the promise that it might go right for a Wyatt or a Parker. There’s also the tension of the actual crime, and when it falls apart when he robs a bank or whatever and things go wrong. Can Wyatt retrieve the situation? Can he get the money back? Can he find out who betrayed him? That’s where the tension lies. Wyatt finding out where it has gone wrong and how he is going to get his revenge or get the money back or both.

Donald Westlake, who used the pseudonym of Richard Stark, said that he meant the Parker books to be about “a workman at work”. Process, mechanics, trouble shooting, sometimes of a very technical nature dominate his books, which is why some people say they have so few parallels. Was it hard to write a character that was, in a sense, an homage to Parker without it being a parody?

It required a lot of thinking through. After I had read the Parker books I had to forget him and Wyatt had to be my character. Part of that was deciding not to know too much about him. If we knew who his mum and sister were and that he had favourite teacher in grade five or his old man used to beat him up, suddenly we are learning too much about him, he’s becoming too vulnerable.

At the same time, I give little clues about his past. In his latest book, for example, he is helping Lydia wash her hair and suddenly thinks, did I ever do this? Did a mother or sister ever do it for me? It gives him a feeling of tenderness that he’s not used to and he’s backing away from it but at the same time acknowledging it. But that sort of background is about as much as I am prepared to provide.

That was a fascinating thing about the recent book, you give us absolutely no back-story for what Wyatt has done in the last decade and it works fantastically.

That was a conscious decision. If there’s too much background too early in a book, I think you loose your readers. It was enough to hint that things went wrong and he had to go away for a while.

Do you have a favourite Parker novel?

I think it’s too long since I’ve read them. I bought them all one by one about 10 or 15 years ago and have told myself I should read them again. I do remember the first one in particular and I’ve seen the film that Lee Marvin was in, Point Blank. I also saw the Mel Gibson remake of that film but it was terrible.

Is there going to be another Wyatt book?

Yes, I think I need to follow up with another.

Any clues where you might be going with him, because as I said earlier, you have sort of backed him into a corner?

Yes, well, that is part of cranking up the tension. I don’t know what I will do as a backdrop to the next one. For the last couple of years we have gone to Noosa for school holidays and my first impressions were those big houses clustered along the canals. I took the kids out on a little motorboat and went up and down the canals and I could see Wyatt doing that. Casing these places, figuring out when they are empty. Whether the next book is set there, however, I don’t know.

What crime fiction are you enjoying reading at the moment?

I have just been re-reading the Martin Beck police procedurals by the Swedish husband-and-wife team, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. There are ten of them, first published in the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies, and recently republished. The authors were both communists and critical of welfare state Sweden, how poverty leads to crime and how Sweden was becoming a police state. They are good stories, good yarns, but there’s a lot of social commentary threaded through them too. I have also been re-reading some novels by the American writer John Sandford, his Davenport novels. He’s a sneaky plotter, I admire him greatly. I have a large stack of books by the bed including the third Stig Larson, which I haven’t read yet.

The books about the two police, Challis and Destry, are the focus of your other crime series. You said they were a different way of looking at plot and structure. Why did you feel the need to change your style of writing from the Wyatt books?

I felt there was a danger of getting repetitive with the Wyatt books because they follow a certain pattern, and I think writers have to keep pushing their boundaries and try new structural forms and approaches.

I’d been reading a lot of the police procedurals of the English writer, John Harvey, around a character called Inspector Resnick and what I liked about them are that they are set in a small regional town, not another big anonymous city and they have an ensemble caste and deal with major alongside minor ones, just as you’d expect in a regional setting.

They are set on the Mornington Peninsula. Is there a bit of a dark underbelly there?

I have certainly bumped up the crime rate there, the murder rate in particular.

I didn’t know where I would set these books but when I moved down to the Mornington Peninsula, the serial killer John Paul Denyer had recently abducted and murdered three young women near Frankston. I went into the deli near Hastings one day and heard some mothers of teenage daughters talking about their fears, and how their lives had changed in order to chaperone their daughters everywhere, and I had this strong sense of community anxiety. I knew then that the Peninsula was a good community to write about.

When I read the local newspapers, I do get a sense of a society under strain a bit. There is a shortage of police. The population is growing and services don’t keep up. There are not enough primary schools for the kids that are moving in. All of these things interest me, as does the tension and the gap between rich and poor on the Peninsula. I don’t want to beat the reader over the head with it but it is present as a layer in all the Challis and Destry books.

Can you talk a bit more about the different mindset you have to apply to writing the Challis and Destry books as opposed to the Wyatt series?

The Wyatt novels have a simple structure. Wyatt identifies a target, he gets a robbery crew together if necessary, something goes wrong and he has to put it right. The plotting at that level is quite simple.

With the Challis and Destry police procedurals I needed to stay more consciously a step ahead of the reader and try to trick the reader in the sense of planting clues and having multiple plot threads. At the same time I am weaving in aspects of the characters’ personal lives or workplace tensions or whatever it may be. So there are quite a few more balls in the air.

In terms of writing, are you a planner or do you just start writing?

I’m a planner. An extreme planner. I identify what the main crime might be and what the social milieu might be that it takes place in. Once I have identified the crime and where it might be, then I work out who did it. I might know from the start who did it, in which case I have to work out how they did it, how it unfolds and how the police might investigate it.

So you have pretty much plotted out the entire book by the time you have sat down to start writing?

Yes, chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, trying to balance the demands of character traits and personality with those of a good plot.  I’m always testing the plan, asking myself things like: ‘Would she do that, given the kind of person she is?’ But I trust my instincts too. If it takes me away from the plan I always follow my instincts. For example in Snap Shot, the third in the series, I changed the identity of the murderer in the final rewrite before it went to print.

The Wyatt books are pretty hardboiled. I was trying to think of other books and characters like them on the Australian market and I couldn’t really think of any. It’s very different to the US market where there’s a much bigger publishing industry just focusing on noir, hard-boiled and pulp crime fiction. Obviously there is the question of size, but is that the only reason why there’s not more of a market for harder boiled crime fiction in Australia?

I think there is a kind of cultural cringe operating against all Australian crime fiction. If you go into one of the chain books stores like Angus and Robertson or Collins, they will have all the big new American and British authors on prominent display but not the Australians, not unless it’s Peter Temple, maybe. So there’s a mindset encouraged by the chain bookshops, where most book-buyers shop, but even some of the independents are culpable of it.

About four or five years ago several of the independent booksellers put out a catalogue of the newest crime titles. There was not a single Australian title in it, even though Peter Temple, Kerry Greenwood and I had just had books out. I got really cranky and wrote to all of them in turn and got a couple of measly answers but it just didn’t occur to them, I think, to put an Australian title there. It’s almost as though local publishers think that the Australian product is not as good as American hard-boiled. I think we have got to battle against that.

You have won prizes for the Challis and Destry books, including a Ned Kelly for Chain of Evidence in 2007. But there hasn’t been much recognition for Wyatt, even though he is one of the stayers on the crime scene. I remember when I first started reading crime fiction 20 years ago, in terms of Australian material, there was Peter Corris and his character Cliff Hardy and there was Wyatt. I know there was other stuff out but they were my first two.

Yes, well hopefully that might change a bit with [his current publisher] Text. I want to acknowledge Allen and Unwin, who published a lot of my early crime titles and were able to sell some to overseas publishers, but they struggled to find a local readership.  Michael Heyward  [the owner of Text] really gets behind all his titles, particularly his crime titles. It helps to have a young, newish and aggressive publisher. It’s possible Allen and Unwin didn’t really know how to publish the Wyatt books. They released them as inoffensive little pulp paperbacks that were not going to be noticed in bookshops.

Paperbacks that litter the shelves of second hand books shops across Australia and further abroad.

That’s true.  When I ran out of my own copies I went on the Internet. I was trying to find a copy of Kick Back. I found it for six dollars fifty in New Zealand or $240 in New York.

Is there much interest in Australian crime fiction overseas that you are aware of?

I did an author tour of the states last year for Blood Moon. I had reasonably modest audiences in books stores. I was certainly aware of a following for those books but not for Australian crime fiction in general.

Where are the Challis and Destry published apart from Australia?

Challis and Destry are published in the United States, Germany, the UK, Italy and a couple of smaller markets like Turkey and Spain.

What about Wyatt, is he going to get an international outing?

The first six Wyatts have been published in Germany, where they have been a bit of a hit and by smaller publishers in Denmark and Holland.

Soho, the same American group that publish the Challis and Destry novels, are publishing him later this year or early next year.

In addition to writing crime novels, you have also written for TV.  What was it like and how is it different from writing novels?

After a couple of Wyatts had appeared, back in the 1990s, I was contacted by a Sydney production company to write a character profile for a series character, and three storylines that a scriptwriter could turn into two-hour telemovies.

I got paid well, it helped me clear our mortgage, but two things went wrong, leaving me pretty cynical.  First, I had met an undercover cop who had infiltrated the NSW bikie gangs, and was interested in the strange kind of double life he led, where he had to keep reminding himself he was the good guy, and a normal guy, with a house and a job and a girlfriend, and I thought a guy like that would make a terrific series character.  But the producers said: ‘This is a bit dark; Gary Sweet can’t do dark.’  So, I had a created character in mind, they had an actor.

Then the storylines. It’s a strange form, present tense, no writing craft involved, only plotting craft.  ‘And then this happened and this happened and a bit later that happened’.  One story I wrote involved art theft, stolen paintings being used to bankroll crimes or as security for crooked loans, etc, etc.  In real life, art theft is a big deal.  But the producers said: ‘We see our audiences as the western suburbs of Sydney.  They’re not interested in art.’  So, take the money and run is the only attitude to take to film and TV.

Picture credits: Text Publishing and Allen and Unwin

Redback

Redback is a fast paced thriller with a distinct pulp spy fiction feel from one of the newest players on the Australian publishing scene, genre specialists Clan Destine Press.

It opens on a small Pacific island, where ex-Australian army commander Bryn Gideon and her team of retrieval agents, known as the Redbacks, are attempting to rescue hostages being held by local rebels. It’s the first but by no means the last time in the book that things don’t go as planned with bloody results.

The story moves to Tokyo where American investigative journalist Scott Dreher thinks he is onto the story of his life about a revolutionary manga combat simulation computer game that has been pirated and is being used to train terrorists. This quickly takes a turn for the worse when its creator is killed, turning Dreher into a fugitive from the knife-wielding assassin.

What follows is a sequence of apparently unrelated events, including bombings in Europe and America and an assassination in Sydney. Gideon, her Redbacks and Dreher soon find themselves in a common quest to unmask a larger conspiracy on the part of a shadowy international criminal mastermind.

Without giving too much away, the plot of Redback bounces between a number of locations, including Pakistan, France and Thailand, and introduces a host of characters, including rightwing American extremists and mysterious terrorists cum criminals. There’s high-level intrigue in the halls of power and some good, gritty on the ground action.

At times, it almost feels as through there is a bit too much going on – the reader definitely needs to pay attention. But Redback author and Clan Destine Press founder, Lindy Cameron, manages to stay on top of things and deliver a cliff hanger of a conclusion.

Whether it was  self-conscious on the part of Cameron or not, one of my favourite aspects of Redback is its liberal use of high-tech spy gadgets, which give the book a great pulpy spy fiction feel. I particularly liked the Redbacks with their rooftop apartment headquarters and operations centre and the two-way communication devices surgically implanted in their ear lobes.

The idea of a crack team of private soldiers whose job is to get people out of difficult situations is a great invention that offers plenty of room for a sequel.

This is the second outing for Red Back, which was originally published by Mira Books in 2008. If Cameron, the author of several works of crime fiction and true crime gets her way, this is exactly the type of material Clan Destine will be publishing, “the best of Australian genre fiction I can find by new writers and some older hands who are out of print or want to try something new.”

“I established Clan Destine Press because I wanted to take control of things for myself: and to ensure that my authors feel they have control too. I am prepared to take risks on new authors; on inventive genre fiction of any kind.”

The plan is to follow these up in 2011 with what Cameron describes as a couple of “gritty crime novels” and an urban fantasy, amongst others.

Clan Destine Press books are available from all independent bookstores and Borders and (for overseas readers) on-line at the Clan Destine website: www.clandestinepress.com.au

A version of this review originally appeared in issue 5 of Crime Factory.

David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight

I am not going to let the fact that I have not read a book stand in the way of publishing a review of it, especially when the book in question sounds as interesting as the second novel by West Australian-based author David Whish-Wilson.

This review was originally appeared on the blog of my partner in crime Angela Savage, whose own book, The Half Child, has recently been released by Text Publishing.

Line of Sight is set in Perth in 1975 and is based on real events surrounding the unsolved murder of South Perth brothel owner Shirley Finn. In Whish-Wilson’s novel, the victim is celebrity brothel madam Ruby Devine whose body is found in her car, abandoned on a Perth golf course. Like Finn, she was shot at close range four times in the back of the head.

Superintendent Frank Swann formed a friendship with Ruby Devine when he worked as a detective in Kalgoorlie some ten years earlier. Though prostitution was illegal, Kalgoorlie was ‘famous for its prostitutes’ and Swann, adopting a harm reduction approach before it was fashionable, took steps to control rather than suppress the industry. However, as he makes clear to the Royal Commission into Matters Surrounding the Administration of the law Relating to Prostitution, which opens as the novel begins:

“It was not my practice to solicit monetary of sexual favours from Ruby Devine, or from anyone else…I am on the record as saying that there has never been a time in the history of this state when prostitution and some of the policemen who controlled it haven’t come to a financial understanding. I can only assume this is still the case today.”

In the Western Australia of Whish-Wilson’s novel, nothing happens without a financial understanding. The state is on the cusp of a mining boom and the price of doing business is twenty thousand dollars in cash, ‘payable to the Minister for Police himself’. That Ruby Devine’s murder goes unsolved is no surprise to Swann given the same people who’d killed her are leading the investigation. When Swann takes the stands against his fellow cops and accuses them of corruption, the stakes are too high to let him get away with it.

Line of Sight is a gripping, tense thriller, peopled by credible characters. Swann’s investigations bring him into contact with sex workers and street kids — his own teenage daughter is missing — whose work as heroin mules may be connected to Ruby’s death. The reader is also taken inside the head of the Victorian magistrate Justice Partridge, who is forced to play out the Royal Commission even knowing it’s a farce, and whose health is failing. Another thread follows a nameless hired assassin as he stalks his victim through Perth’s suburbs.

Whish-Wilson does an excellent job of evoking the Western Australia of the 1970s where the locals set themselves apart from the rest of the country, and operate with their own set of rules, where corruption is synonymous with business and the wealthy rule with impunity. Take this reflection from Patridge after a dinner with the WA Premier and his cronies at the local Freemasons Lodge:

“What had most surprised Partridge was the almost nationalistic fervour with which the men regarded their state, They seemed uninterested in the recent events in Canberra, had made little mention of the sacking of the federal government by the Queen’s representative, something Partridge took as evidence of their fierce antipathy towards the eastern states. It was a sentiment that showed through under the gentility of their private-school accents, which had become broader the longer the evening continued.”

Whish-Wilson links these attitudes to the state’s origins:

“The first colonial building was a jail, and when the free men hadn’t been able to make a go of it, the whole colony was turned into an open prison, populated by screws and cons, johns and janes, and nothing in between.”

Swann is the story’s moral centre, a reminder that people, while never perfect, have choices. A major part of the tension in the book hangs on whether Swann will find his daughter and give evidence to the Royal Commission before he is killed.

There is a moment towards the end where Swann says to the Royal Commission, “I would just like to remind you all that Ruby Devine was the mother of three children. I hope that one day they will know justice”.

Shirley Finn was also the mother of three children and the novel is dedicated to her son, Shane. After thirty-five years, they still have justice in their sights.

Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson is available now from all good bookstores. Published by Viking Australia, rrp $29.95.

Is Philip Marlowe spinning in his grave?

Now it’s official.

Yesterday my crime novel, Cambodia Darkness and Light, was short listed in the category of best unpublished manuscript by an emerging writer in the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

The judges said the following about Cambodia Darkness and Light:

Ex-cop Max Quinlan is working his third missing person’s case, and he’s already out of his depth … He’s in Cambodia, on the trail of disappeared Melbourne gem-trader Charles Avery, hired by his deep-pocketed sister. Avery is the kind of man ‘everyone had met’ but ‘no one knew’ – and he’s deeply enmeshed with the Khmer Rouge. This is a fast-paced, richly atmospheric spin on the Chandler-esque disillusioned gumshoe, keenly informed by the turbulent politics and history of Cambodia.

It’s not everyday you get your work compared to one of the masters of crime fiction, Raymond Chandler. Hopefully, he’s not spinning in his grave too much at the suggestion that my Vietnamese Australian ex-cop turned missing person’s investigator has anything in common with Philip Marlowe.

Best of luck to the other two shortlisted writers in the unpublished manuscript category. Peter Temple’s crime novel Truth is among the books shortlisted for the Vance Palmer fiction prize. Hopefully, its inclusion will continue to push crime fiction, particularly, Australian crime fiction, further into the literary mainstream in this country. You can find the full shortlist in all categories along with all the judges comments, here.

The winners will be announced on September 28.

As anyone who has tried to get their first book published will tell you, it’s a long road. I’m thrilled with the shortlisting and hope it’s the next step on the way to Cambodia Darkness and Light eventually seeing the light of day on bookshelves.

Interestingly, my wonderful partner and crime writer Angela Savage was the recipient of the prize for unpublished manuscript in the 2004 awards. This lead to the publication of her first book, Behind the Night Bazaar. Her second book, The Half Child, also featuring the Bangkok-based female PI Jayne Keaney, has just been released with Text and is available in bookstores. Jayne’s second outing sees her embroiled in an adoption scam in the sleazy southern Thai town of Pattaya. It’s a great read.

And while we’re on the subject of prizes, a huge congratulations to Australian author Garry Disher who has picked up a Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction for his book, Wyatt. A review of this book, the seventh featuring the professional criminal and hold-up man, Wyatt, featured on Pulp Curry earlier this year (if you haven’t seen it you check it out here). After receiving considerable international praise, it is great to see the Wyatt books get the attention they deserve locally.

I’m interviewing Garry about Wyatt, the process of writing and the state of crime fiction in Australian for the next issue of Crime Factory, due to hit your computer screens in a few weeks time.