The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott explores the fragile territory between prejudice and murderous hatred in a riveting crime novel that is both intelligent and terrifying.
Shedding light on a nasty period in Australian history when right-wing elements — motivated by politics or pathology — attempted to cultivate a home-grown version of National Socialism, The Holiday Murders also provides fascinating insight into policing in Victoria at a time when the Homicide division was in its infancy.
The action takes place between Christmas Eve 1943 and the 1944 New Year. Melbourne is on a war footing. Police Inspector Titus Lambert and Sergeant Joe Sable of the new Homicide Division are called to a wealthy home in East Melbourne to find two corpses, those of a father and son, the latter nailed to the floor in a ghastly imitation of a crucifixion.
A search of the home unearths copies of a right-wing, anti-Semitic periodical called The Publicist and a stash of German nudist magazines. When one of the deceased turns out to have links to Military Intelligence, the police are forced to cooperate with the army in an investigation that will place some of them in mortal danger and leave others broken, perhaps irrevocably.
The reader is aware of who is responsible for what becomes an increasing number of violent crimes long before the police catch on. It is a measure of Gott’s skill that this only increases rather than diminishes the novel’s tension.
Gott has assembled an appealing ensemble cast in what is billed as the first novel in a new series. There is the happily married albeit world weary Inspector Titus Lambert, who relies as much on his wife Maude as he does on his colleagues in the pursuit of his cases. His sidekick Sergeant Joe Sable is likeable though conflicted, self-conscious about both his Jewish heritage and the heart murmur that exempts him from national service. They are joined in the course of the investigation by Constable Helen Lord, whose excitement at being deployed to Homicide is tempered by the fear her male colleagues are playing her for a fool.
The evocation of mid-1940s Melbourne hits all the right notes, the period detail subtle and engaging, never jarring.
Apart from the historical setting and the odd Shakespearean reference, The Holiday Murders has little in common with Gott’s three previous historical crime novels, Good Murder, A Thing of Blood and Amongst the Dead, featuring thespian-cum-sleuth William Power. Where the William Power novels were unashamedly comical, The Holiday Murders is dark, brutal, almost tragic in its scope.
The novel’s rare moments of levity play on the preoccupation among some fascists with the nakenkultur German nudist movement of the 1930s, and the reluctance of Australian intelligence officers to infiltrate such groups. For Gott, creator of that paean to inappropriate nudity Adventures of Naked Man cartoon, this subplot must have been irresistible.
The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott (2013) is published by Scribe.
I’m delighted to be interviewing Robert Gott about The Holiday Murders and his body of work at a literary dinner on Thurs 7 March 2013, 6.30-8.30 pm at the Meeting Pool Restaurant, Montsalvat. Download The Holiday Murders event flyer, join the Facebook event here or phone (03) 9439 8700, email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.