It’s my great pleasure to be interviewing authors Alex Hammond, Nick Place and Peter Cotton about their exciting crime fiction debuts in A Night of Crime and Mystery in Fitzroy on 30 July 2013.
It will be familiar territory for Nick Place, as much of the action in his novel Roll With It takes place in Melbourne’s inner north. Fitzroy and surrounds becomes cop Tony ‘Rocket’ Laver’s new beat when he is demoted from Major Crime to the Mobile Public Interaction Squad — aka the mountain bike police — after becoming the sixth Victorian policeman to shoot a suspect in four months. Lycra or no, Rocket retains the instincts of an experienced detective, who recognises drug dealers when he sees them, even if they are hanging out in a cafe with a hippy chick and a guy in a bad reggae beanie. And having been sent to ‘deep, deep Siberia’ means Rocket can’t call for back-up.
Roll With It is a highly likeable, entertaining read, laugh out loud funny at times, but with enough drama, violence and pathos to stay sharp. It has a great sense of place, unabashedly Australian, though refreshingly urban rather than outback. Tony ‘Rocket’ Laver is a character with legs (pun intended) and I expect to see more of them — or rather him. I look forward to interrogating Nick Place, a former police rounds reporter, about what inspired his characters.
Peter Cotton’s Dead Cat Bounce is set in Canberra the week before a Federal election, when the bodies of the environment minister and a cat wash up on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Detective Darren Glass is part of the investigating team, and with persons of interest including politicians, advisers and journalists, straight answers prove elusive. There is also the complicating matter of Glass’ attraction for ‘media goddess’ Jean Acheson, whom he tells himself he is protecting but is possibly stalking.
There hasn’t been much to laugh about in federal politics in Australia of late and Cotton plays it straight. As a former media adviser, his insider knowledge of our nation’s glorious capital makes for a vivid setting. The novel offers sometimes damming insights into politics, both big picture and petty, as well as detail on contemporary policing. The pace speeds up in the latter part of the novel along with the body count, providing scenes of nail-biting suspense.
Blood Witness, by Alex Hammond, is the darkest of the three debuts. The central character, Will Harris, is a Melbourne-based defence lawyer, grief-stricken by the accidental death of his fiancée. Lured by a high-flying barrister, Harris is given the task of building the case in defence of a self-confessed paedophile accused of murdering a young girl. The only witness to the crime is is a terminally ill man who claims to have seen the murder take place in a vision. Harris’ belief in the universal right to a fair trial is tested by his personal dislike of the accused. But it doesn’t stop him searching for a legal precedent to allow the testimony to be admitted. At the same time, Harris is drawn informally into another case when his late fiancée’s younger sister, Mischa, is charged with drug trafficking. Mischa’s does not want his help, but Harris, believing she is protecting someone with links to a Melbourne gang, is determined to defend her.
The premise of a crime being witnessed in a vision made me think Blood Witness might veer into more gothic or fantasy territory than I normally enjoy. But I was wrong. Hammond ticks all the boxes: compelling plot, evocative setting, credible characters. Harris is flawed but not in the usual ways — as a largely abstinent vegetarian, he’s a world away from Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe — making him an attractively atypical hero. And Hammond, who studied law, does a good job of portraying the hard slog, occasional thrills and the moral ambiguity inherent in Harris’ chosen profession. He even manages to make case law exciting.