Clay Moloney, a cynical reporter with a regional Australian newspaper, is expecting an easy Sunday at work when the body of a young woman washes up at the Bay of Martyrs. The death is an inconvenience for Clay, who's content filing obituaries and re-writing government press releases on the new multi-million-dollar airport. But the more he digs into the Bay of Martyrs incident, the more he realises the girl's death is not a case of misadventure, despite what the police tell him.
Whenever you're confronted by a jointly authored novel it's very hard to dampen the temptation to constantly look for hints on who contributed what components. Which was the case for around the first 20 pages of BAY OF MARTYRS and then I totally forgot to look.
Set in the South East of Victoria around the town of Warrnambool in particular, this is a great novel featuring a cynical local newspaper reporter, a new in town photographer, a dodgy local developer and an even dodgier politician. Nothing particularly surprising in the later I hear you say, and it's a very sad indictment on current day politics that as soon as the pollie made an appearance I had him marked as "one of the baddies", but how or why or when everything connects up is really the point of BAY OF MARTRYS. So named, because in the opening scenes of the novel the body of a young woman is found washed up on the beach of the bay of that name, drowned in what the local police inspector and notorious tricky bastard, would very much like to write off as an accident.
Only Moloney smells a story here, as well as in the sudden government cash splurge on the local airport - all supposedly in the name of tourism and economic growth. Meanwhile back at the newspaper he works for everybody's under pressure, big city owners are putting the brakes on costs, and his editor in chief would like nothing better than to see the back of the difficult to deal with Moloney. Bec, new girl in town, Irish-born photographer and hide-out from a tricky past is thrust into the investigation as part of her working day with Moloney and because of her relationship with one of the local cops.
There are many elements to the plot of BAY OF MARTYRS that come right from the playbook of corrupt goings on. Whilst much of the underlying truth won't come as any surprise to most readers, it's delivered in an engaging, paced and believable manner, partially because of some great characterisations, but mostly because it is so believable. Clay Moloney is a great character, perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibility of being centre to the newspaper's ongoing fortunes, the investigation into the young woman's death and uncovering a bunch of questionable goings on in a small community which is part long-term locals, part blow-in recent arrivals. He's also dealing with the housing crisis bought on by influx of students to the town, and the problems that a somewhat rudder-less life up until now have left in its wake. Whilst there are romantic attachments for all parties in BAY OF MARTYRS they aren't over blown and they certainly don't run smoothly. There are more bodies, there is a build up of tension towards the end, and there is a hefty dose of journalist-jeopardy that's not that hard to swallow at all, even if the twist in the tail was a bit Hollywood cliffhanger.
Nicely done, BAY OF MARTYRS is a very entertaining outing in what seems likely to be an ongoing series from UK based author Tony Black and local Matt Neal.
Review - HOMECOUNTRY, T.W. Lawless
It is 1987 and Peter Clancy, a hard-drinking, hard-living Melbourne Truth journalist returns to his hometown to settle his mother's estate. Peter's two-day visit to Clarke's Flat stretches to eight as he is unwillingly drawn into the sinister secrets of this outback town.
The first of the Peter Clancy books from T.W. Lawless, HOMECOUNTRY takes Clancy to exactly that - home to the town where he grew up, in outback Queensland to bury his mother. With his credo of never looking back this is the first time he's returned to Clarke's Flat since he left, so for the first time he's forced to confront many of the reasons why he left in the first place. And it's not a comfortable outlook.
There's much that's happened in his home town to him, to his family and to friends and people who are still in town. There's questions around his own father's death, about this mother's actions after selling the farm and moving to town, and in particular, in what happened when he was a teenager, to his then girlfriend. None of this paints anybody much in a particularly good light. Especially Clancy who, perhaps because of that never looking back thing, has left some chaos in his wake and seems particularly put out that he's going to have to sort some stuff out. Now.
Having read the second book in the series first, Clancy does become a more engaging character than he might be for anyone coming to HOMECOUNTRY first up. Here he could come across as too blasé about something that caused so much damage. Although he does eventually twig and try to make reparations. He also does approach a lot of things with a hefty dose of cynicism (as you'd fully expect from anybody who could work for The Truth). And the man has exactly the taste in music you'd expect from somebody born in his era - Hendix, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple fan and all.
Dryly humorous throughout, with occasional bursts of flat out funny, Clancy is not all bad, and his mother wasn't completely wrong to do what she did, and the past is sometimes a tricky place to navigate. As a debut novel, HOMECOUNTRY is well written, with strong storytelling, particularly when you consider that the central character is just a bit ambiguous. If I'd read this as a debut there's certainly enough to make me look for the rest of the series. (The second book is THORNYDEVILS, the third BLURLINES).
Worth a look and not just for those of us who grew up in the bush, remember those bands, remember The Truth, and have a feel for what it's like to be from small town 1980's and be desperate to be anywhere else.