Christmas, 1943, Melbourne. With the world at war, the new Homicide division of the Melbourne police is stretched very thin. When a double murderer strikes in horrific fashion, Inspector Titus Lambert and his team find themselves on the trail of a potential psychopath. The waters are soon muddied by the intervention of Military Intelligence. It seems that the victims – a father and son – had connections to a group of National Socialists that is slowly growing in the city…
Robert Gott is the writer of three mystery novels featuring William Power set in 1940s Australia but this is a standalone/start of a new series. A review on the cover – from The Sunday Age – describes it as being “as close to perfect as a mystery can be”. Now that’s quite a claim, isn’t it? But is such a claim deserved?
The history of Australia is something I know virtually nothing about. While I’m aware that they fought on the side of the Allies, I had never considered what life was like during wartime on the homefront of a country other than the UK. Not an oversight – it just never really crossed my mind.
The notion of Nazi sympathisers is a natural one to consider and Gott ties into a well-constructed thriller/police procedural tale. The central detectives consist of Lambert (and his wife), Constable Helen Lord, a new recruit who is finally given a chance despite the prejudices concerning her gender, and Sergeant Joe Sable, whose Jewish heritage causes him to take the case very personally.
The supporting characters are similarly well depicted, although you may find the character of Ptolemy Jones distinctly repulsive. Gott does a very good job, in fact, of making several characters with unpleasant leanings believable, rather than caricatures, which isn’t an easy task.
The plot moves along at a natural pace, detailing Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day and there’s some nice twists and turns in the lives of the main characters that I’m presuming will bear fruit in future outings – I’m guessing this is the first in a series.
But of course, this is a mystery review blog, so what about the mystery? Is it one? Well, to be honest, I can’t say.
The villain of the piece is given to you from a very early stage. There is… something that happens at the end which is meant to be a surprise, but for this mystery reader of many years, it was clear that at the end of the book, either there would be no… something, or if there was a… something, it was very clear to me what it would be. As such, I think the comment from The Sunday Age was more than a little generous.
Just because the mystery element was obvious to me doesn’t mean this isn’t worth your time. It’s an effective thriller, set in a place and era that the average reader will know little about. While a few parts are a little on the grim side, it’s certainly well worth a look. Recommended.
My copy of this book was provided by the publishers. It should be in the shops from November 1st this year.