Take it from me, you want to go looking for Shark Arm Unhooked.
It's set in Sydney in the mid-1930's and brings to vivid life the criminal underworld that inundated the inner-city around Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Significantly, real life criminal characters from the time such as Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh feature prominently in the telling of the story. These two women were infamous for their rivalry sparking vicious razor gang wars as they fought over the title of Queen of the Underworld and Breanda Cross captures them in all their backstabbing best.
The story is told by Lottie Lyons, an 80-something woman who is relating her story to a journalist who has come calling. She remembers back to when she was 10 years old and the events that led up to an unsolved mystery in which a human arm was found after a tiger shark was bagged off a Sydney beach.
I was reminded while reading of similarities in mood and style with Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog and Wendy James' Ned Kelly Award winning Out of the Silence.
It was easy to become completely engrossed in the book, getting a terrific sense of what life must have been like in the 1930s. Petty crooks, major crime figures, rich low-lifes and sly-grog shop owners all make up a colourful array of characters inhabiting Surry Hills. The story is told be a rather unreliable source, being a 10 year old girl who by her own admission, wasn't present at many of the events described, but you tend to overlook this fact while enjoying the story itself. It all adds up to an absorbing read.
That this book has been largely ignored is, in itself, a crime and I heartily recommend picking up a copy if you can find one. It may be possible to order a copy through Seek Books - it's definitely worth the effort.