A couple of years ago I read Head Shot by Jarad Henry, his debut novel and was very excited to have discovered a crime novel that was both set in Australia and characteristic of the hardboiled crime novels I consider to be my favourite. After reading Head Shot I was eager to read more like it – as we spoilt, demanding crime readers are prone to do I was impatiently waiting for Jarad to write another. Apparently, writing another wasn’t a problem so much as finding a publisher.
A Welcome Hardboiled Novel
Then came the welcome news that Allen & Unwin picked up Blood Sunset and we find ourselves in business again. Blood Sunset is a follow up to Head Shot, featuring detective Rubens McCauley. McCauley is a no-nonsense, play outside the rules type of detective who works in the hectic inner Melbourne suburb of St Kilda.
To get what you want, you’ve got to know what you want. My mother first told me this when I was a young boy. Think hard about what you want, she said, for knowing what you want is more difficult than actually getting it.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before my fortieth birthday that I fully understood what she’d meant. I was sitting in an unmarked squad car, tired and hungry and thinking about bed, when a call came over the dispatch that would change the direction of my life forever. (pg 1)
Rubens has just returned to work after recovering from a gunshot wound to the shoulder, the after effects of Head Shot. The opening paragraphs quoted above warn us that what is about to come is more than just your standard case.
Brief Synopsis of the Book
When he reaches the scene he finds what looks to be a routine drug overdose in one of St Kilda’s many back alleys. His first mistake is to hastily declare the death accidental. The second was the way he went around making up for the first mistake. Naturally, the first impressions were misleading and the truth, as it slowly unravels, reveals something far more shocking and dangerous.
Brief Impressions About the Book
Okay, that’s the shorthand synopsis of the book that gives you a feel for the plot. Now a few of my own impressions…
Jarad Henry has worked some powerful social commentary about life in Australia into the storyline through McCauley’s character. Issues such as the worrying growth of drug use by youths and the losing battle fought by police, the fear and neglect felt by members of the aging population and the sleazy side of inner city living.
The story is set in heatwave conditions with bushfires surrounding Melbourne and encasing the city in a choking smoke haze giving everything an otherworldly, energy sapping presence.
Rubens McCauley reinforces the impression that he is the typical hardboiled detective with many of the usual character traits. Even when he’s being circumspect he steps on toes. His methods get results and break rules. He owns a cat and is involved in a marriage that is in trouble. He has let down relatives and friends many times, feels guilty about it but ultimately his job takes precedence.
St Kilda is the sad, dirty backdrop to the story and is summed up by this Rubens McCauley observation:
A used condom, a dirty needle and a crime scene cop crawling around a palm tree. Very St Kilda. Maybe they could make a postcard out of it and sell it to the tourists. (pg 254)
Blood Sunset is a solid crime thriller that speaks loudly and, rather than merely touching on delicate issues, it charges boldly through them and tears them apart. It’s hardboiled, typically tough and definitely engaging. Rubens McCauley is by no means a saint but his is a character for whom you can’t help but feel empathy.
Brief Urge to Read the Book
This has just been released (May '08) and if you're serious about reading good, thought-provoking Australian crime fiction, then get yourself out and find a copy.