Blogger Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise recently wrote a post about Defining your favourite crime fiction and ran a poll amongst her readers to determine the most popular crime fiction sub-genre. Detective fiction topped the list as the favourite of 10 out of 27 readers, the next most popular being police procedurals. It was a small sample size, and a rather random list of sub-categories (no hard-boiled or tart noir, for example). But it made me realise how much I tend to read detective fiction over the other sub-genres. Not surprisingly, it’s also what I write.
Preparing for the Crime and Justice Festival this weekend has made me branch out, on this occasion to a police procedural: Take Out by Western Australia based author Felicity Young. Apart from the odd Challis and Destry novel, I don’t tend to read police procedurals. Not that I’ve got anything against cops. My maternal grandfather was in the NSW Police Force and many’s the time I rue not having plugged him for stories — he worked undercover in King’s Cross in the 1930s for starters. But I digress.
Take Out is Felicity’s fourth novel and the third to feature DSS Stevie (Stephanie) Hooper of the Perth-based Sex Crimes Unit. In Take Out, Stevie gets involved in a case outside her jurisdiction, not because she has a problem with authority — she married the boss in a previous novel — but because she believes she can add value. But as the case progresses and Stevie’s loved ones are threatened, she digs in deeper because, as she tells it, “the only way she could shake this feeling of helplessness was to fight it.”
The opening premise is intriguing: alerted via her nurse friend Skye by neighbour Lilly Hardegan who is recovering from a stroke, Stevie enters a deserted house to find complete disorder, an abandoned baby and a dormitory-style room with no handles on the inside. Missing are the owners and adoptive parents Jon and Delia Pavel. Lilly knows more than she can communicate — her son Ralph was Jon Pavel’s business partner — and just what kind of business they were in emerges in the course of the story. With a prologue set in Thailand, the reader quickly makes the link to human trafficking. It takes Stevie somewhat longer.
As someone whose own books are set in Thailand, I was interested in the book’s Thai characters and sub-plot. Though there were one or two points where the cultural references fell flat — passing mention of ‘the ogress Pantoorat’ for example — this was balanced with credible scenarios, not least of all the ambiguous ending. And it’s admirable that the Thai characters are given a voice.
The novel contains a parallel narrative, a letter Lilly Hardegan is composing in her head that tells her own story — to whom we don’t know until the end — printed as excerpts of handwriting in between chapters. For me this added to the suspense, especially as the narratives came closer together.
Whilst I found some of the characters more credible than others — the victims were nuanced, the villains less so — Take Out is a well plotted police procedural with pace and tension to satisfy.
Much of the action in Take Out is set in the conservative Perth suburb of Peppermint Grove, which Felicity and her family were reputedly ‘run out of’ for keeping sheep in their garden. Felicity chooses Peppermint Grove as the setting for some highly unsavoury activity. I’ll be asking her if this is about revenge when we meet in Melbourne at the Crime and Justice Festival. Together with Sulari Gentill and Adrian Hyland, Felicity will be part of a panel I’m chairing called The New (Crime) Wave at 12 noon in The Refectory, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford (map here). Book tickets on-line here.