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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mystery Book Review : Eden by Dorothy Johnston

Title : Eden

Author : Dorothy Johnston
Publisher : Wakefield Press
ISBN : 9781862547605
No Pages : 217
Published Date : 2007
Sub-Genre : Mystery

Sandra Mahoney is a computer security consultant who, along with her partner Ivan, lives and works in Canberra, a city big on gas-bagging politicians and the occasional scandal. It's a little bit of both that sets alight Eden the 3rd mystery by Dorothy Johnston to feature Mahoney. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Eden Carmichael was a politician with clout and standing. But his heart attack in a Canberra brothel while wearing a blue dress and blonde wig was hardly the most dignified way to bow out. Before he died Eden had been about to back CleanNet, a company that produced filter software and would have stood to make a lot of money with government support in light of censorship laws.

Sandra is hired by an anti-censorship group that calls itself Electronic Freedom and they stand against censorship of any kind and believe some digging into CleanNet is warranted.
Her investigation begins on track as she does some standard background checks into the company. But the connection with the dead Eden Carmichael is irresistible and cannot be ignored, particularly given the legislation that was on the table.

At some point her investigation transforms from a company background check to an unofficial possible murder investigation. The turning point appears to centre around the brothel in which Eden suffered his fatal heart attack and the owner Margot Lancaster. There's nothing really specific apart from a vague feeling of unease and a clue about the make of the wig he was wearing when he died. The fact that her home is broken into and ransacked also changed her feelings towards her investigation.

The trail she follows takes her to Sydney where she meets with the head of CleanNet before spearing off into the past of brothel owner Margot Lancaster and the Sydney brothel in which she used to work. It's the beginning of a series of flimsy threads that Sandra starts pulling to begin to uncover a murky history and surprising links that compel her to dig further.

All the while she is given the uncomfortable endorsement that she must be making progress, first by evidence that she is being followed and then by the car that nearly forces her off the road.

This is an unusual amateur investigation in that we have a computer security agent investigating what could possibly be a murder investigation, yet not really having any evidence that a murder has actually been committed. To top it off her investigation relies heavily on Sandra's ability to continually pester people with a stack of questions, many of which aren't answered. This is not particularly surprising seeing as she has absolutely no authority to back her up at all. I suppose the real surprise is that anybody answers them at all.

Told in the first person by Sandra, the story unfolds as a series of, not so much interviews as confrontations. Sandra has her suspicions and a thin scrap of something resembling evidence and, armed with these, she confronts people, boldly demanding that they confirm her suspicions. Most times the technique fails but with enough front she manages to pick up enough information to keep her moving forward.

It is best to approach Eden with patience because it is the kind of story that comes together slowly. But the prose is strong and the plot is tightly held together through Sandra's determination and belief that she is following a trail that will lead her somewhere worthwhile.
Eden probably sits somewhere in between Dorothy Johnston's first two books (The Trojan Dog and The White Tower) of the series in terms of finding a compelling reason to keep reading. With no real crime to speak of, I often found myself wracking my brain trying to work out what it was that Sandra was trying to achieve.

Fortunately the pieces begin to click smoothly into place towards the end of the story and a satisfactory resolution ensures that the earlier reservations are somewhat assuaged.

1 comment:

Jim's Words Music and Science said...

Thanks for the helpful review! I'll have to read this series.

You are probably familiar with Cara Black's Aimee Leduc novels, Murder in the Marais, etc., where each of the Paris arrondissements is the scene of a murder. As you probably know, Aimee is also a computer security analyst. I imagine that Canberra and Paris offer rather different backdrops for the stories, however. Paris has no lake, for example! Cheers, Jim