A deserted house. The remains of an unfinished meal. An unexpected find. And a routine police investigation going nowhere.
Fremantle Press have just released the third DSS Stevie Hooper book by WA based writer Felicity Young, TAKE OUT, following on from HARUM SCARUM and AN EASEFUL DEATH.
Starting off with a prologue that is obviously telegraphing something awful in the future of Mai, a young Asian girl, the action moves to Perth. Stevie is working in the Sex Crimes unit, but it's in her capacity as friend that she steps into the strangely deserted Pavel house that morning. The house is luxurious, big, beautiful, yet it's contents are sparse, scruffy, untidy. The remains of an unfinished meal are on the table, and in one of the back rooms, a young child has been deserted - alive, but strangely it seems he has been fed and looked after until only recently. For days after his parents have both just vanished.
The only reason the baby is discovered in time is because Stevie knows Skye - a young visiting nurse, who has been alerted to something wrong at the Pavel house by one of their neighbours. Unfortunately that elderly neighbour has had a severe stroke affecting her speech patterns, which makes them garbled and nonsensical. A simple disappearance isn't really a case for a DSS in the Sex Crimes squad, and the local police are keen to move her out of the way when they show up, but Stevie's not one that's easily distracted and there are things at this crime scene that don't quite add up. Mind you, Stevie would do well to leave it alone, especially as she and partner Monty are up to their elbows in house renovations, and he's about to undergo major heart surgery.
When the investigation into the father's background quickly reveals a very sinister connection to human trafficking and sexual enslavement Stevie's concern is vindicated and despite worrying about Monty, their house, her daughter, Skye, and her own safety, finds herself ultimately on the trail of a shadowy Madam and her son.
The subject matter of TAKE OUT is sleazy and unpleasant, but it is handled carefully. The sexual exploitation of young people (in this case female) is difficult to comprehend and TAKE OUT makes it that more difficult by letting the reader get to really know one of the (now) women - Mai. Along with Mai's story, and the disappearance of the Pavel husband and wife, there are a number of other lesser, but connected threads, and there is a sprinkling of personal stories - triumphs and sadness as well.
TAKE OUT has a busy plot, but the focus remains on a number of aspects of enforced prostitution, making the novel possibly quite challenging for some readers. There is a very strong concentration on the victims of the sexual exploitation - working on making them human, real people that can be sympathised with. Combine that with Stevie, her work colleagues, her personal life and the increasing complications in both and it does mean that the villains of the piece are little more than bit players for quite a bit of the book. The perpetrators, whilst eventually identified, remain shadowy, almost strangely incidental and there's little if no explanation of the inexplicable attempted - which may intrigue some readers and frustrate others. TAKE OUT does, however, balance the personal angst and professional responsibilities of Stevie a lot better than in the earlier novels, and the complexity of the plot is handled well, believably and with sensitivity. TAKE OUT really does take on a difficult subject with sensitivity and insight, making the victims a point of focus, delivering a realistic (and therefore not all neatly wrapped up and sealed off) resolution. For added measure, there's a bit of a kick in the tail at the end of the book as well. For this reader at least, that alone went miles towards demonstrating why some things remain utterly inexplicable.
TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT, K A Bedford
It's 2027, suburban Malaga, Western Australia. Ex-cop Aloysius 'Spider' Webb is working as a time-machine repairman - and people are crazy about time travel. Spider is getting on okay (if you put to one side his failed marriage and dead-end career) until he discovers the mutilated body of a woman in a second-hand time machine. What starts out as just another repair job on a faulty time machine becomes a battle for what lies at the very End of Time.
TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT arrived recently, intended probably for my science fiction reading partner, but something in the blurb made me want to snaffle it first, and I'm very very glad I did.
This is one of those books that come along every now and again to tip the whole concept of "genre" on its head. It's a crime story, in a Science Fiction style world. Set in 2027 Western Australia, 'Spider" Webb is an ex-cop, recently separated, working now as a Time Machine mechanic. In 2027 suburban Malaga, a lot of people have time machines, but the future isn't completely mad - these machines come with some limitations. You can slip backwards and forwards to visit, say the relatives, but you can't interfere with major world events (you only get to visit in "ghost" mode). Time machines though, have their problems, mostly to do with cats it seems, and there is a never-ending stream of them needing fixing passing through Spider's workshop. (In a very nice twist it doesn't matter how long it takes to fix one of these things, Spider just goes back in time to just after he picked it up to deliver the repaired machine back!).
Spider's own life is complicated (of course!). He lives in a hotel since his wife threw him out, yet he's forever being summoned to his old home to fix whatever it is piece of technology that's playing up. Urgently. He works long hours, at a job he doesn't like; for a boss he can't stand - even if he does insist that everyone call him Dickhead (McMahon). No matter how hard he tries he cannot coax a decent cup of coffee out of the robot coffee machine (even though the company receptionist has no problems at all), and with all the advances in science and technology, traffic jams are still the bane of his existence. It almost seems inevitable that one day, a repair job is going to get complicated, just to prove to Spider that his life really does suck. So the arrival of a woman's dead body when he's trying to analyse an unstable Time Machine, well it had to happen.
Despite the authorities taking over the investigation, Spider can't leave well enough alone, and as events get more and more complicated, Spider finds himself in the fight of his, and his wife's, lives.
Given the advent of Time Machines, it's hardly surprising that investigating a crime could go in a very different direction from what you'd expect in 2009. But there are some unexpected twists and turns that make the expected or seemingly obvious, well not. There's also delightfully bizarre stuff going on with Spider who ends up working with Future and near-Future versions of himself as he goes backwards and forward in time, and right out to the End of Time. Or somewhere. It all gets very crazy at points with Future Spider sleeping with current Spider's unrequited lust, with Spider's wife being threatened, or not threatened, or dead, or alive, or something... At some points things do seem to get a little muddled, but I'm not sure that it was muddled in a totally bad way. I liked the idea that even a time-travelling repair man, ex-cop, accidental detective, saver of the universe could get a tad confused about where or who or what on earth was going on. Or not on earth as the case may be.
For an infrequent Science Fiction reader, this book had real appeal if for no other reason that it was incredibly entertaining. Mind you, I gave up looking for the detail in any of the alternate timelines and just opted for going along for the ride. The ride greatly enhanced by the character of Spider, whose reluctant hero status was actually quite appealing. Add to that the surprise package of Dickhead, so gloriously over the top that he just had to an anti-hero - somehow.
The only possible complaint is that the book did sort of crash to a bit of an ending, and it may be that a crime fiction fan would find that the investigation component took a secondary seat to the alternate timelines and a threat to the entire world type scenario, but who's to say what the rules are in a cross-genre book like this. Personally I just thought this was tremendous fun. And I profoundly hope that I never have to meet up with my Future / Near-Future or Past self. There are some things from the past that would be best staying there, and I certainly don't want to chat to my future up close and over breakfast.
AN EASEFUL DEATH - Felicity Young
Someone is killing beautiful young women and taking extraordinary risks to carefully pose their painted bodies in public places. The first is bronze, then silver — who will be gold? Detective Sergeant Stevie Hooper, young, hard-edged and newly seconded to the Serious Crime Squad, finds herself haunted by increasingly disturbing flashbacks as the bizarre case unfolds. And, as she closes in on the killer, the carefully drawn line between her professional and personal life becomes increasingly blurred, till she doesn’t know who can be trusted.
This book is absolutely fascinating. In a series of chapters based on each crime - starting with the escape of convicts in Tasmania in 1822
DS Stevie Hooper, recently seconded to the Serious Crime Squad in Perth, is working with her old friend DI Monty McGuire. When the naked, hairless body of a young woman is found, poised carefully outside a Bank in the main part of the city, sprayed totally with bronze paint there not only does not seem to be any reason for the murder, there are also no clues on the surveillance cameras because the murderer seems to have known enough to cover them, firstly when the body was placed there, and secondly when the props used to keep her in the bizarre pose as rigor-mortis set in are removed. The woman's face is an expressionless mask, and the words Easeful Death are printed down the length of her right thigh in black marker pen.
Is this killing connected with the last serial killer in Perth – the Kings Park killer? A suspect for those murders was never really confirmed as he died in a car crash before the police completed their investigations. McGuire's predecessor as head of SCS was forced out of the police under a cloud of suspicion over that investigation and Monty now can't decide if their recent killer is new or if the faulty investigation didn't even id the right suspect.
Stevie is dealing with problems of her own, a full-on, very intense investigation; the difficulties of juggling single motherhood and the time required on a job like this; a threatening and menacing ex-partner; and disturbing feelings for the interstate Profiler called in to help the SCS team.
Then a second victim is found, and the team discover that the paint was purchased in bronze, silver and gold. Can the SCS team stop these murders before there are two more victims?
AN EASEFUL DEATH includes a hefty concentration on Stevie Hooper, her problems with balancing her home life and her job, the difficulties with her ex-partner and her feelings for the enigmatic profiler called into the investigation. In the book blurb she's referred to as young and hard-edged – but to be honest, to this reader there was very little indication of any hard-edges. There's a back story with the ex-partner that is obviously intended to give her character some adversity that she is dealing with, and as a result of that she's got a tendency to be a little bit prickly with fellow team members. There's also a fairly standard romance element.
The plot lines are competently delivered, but predictable. There's some personal elements in Stevie's life that were bordering on the unbelievable and possibly these affected perceptions of the book. Whilst AN EASEFUL DEATH didn't really appeal to this reader, it undoubtedly will find an eager audience in readers who are looking for something on the romantic, less confrontational side of crime fiction.
, right through to the disappearance of Peter Falconio in the Northern Territory in 2001, the author has explored a series of notorious crimes - all of which took place in various locations throughout the bush and remote Australian outback.
Starting out with the escape and subsequent cannibalism of a group of convicts in Tasmania in 1822, we then learn how cattle rustling in 1870 is more successful when you are in an area so remote that it's almost totally unknown. From there to Victoria and the late 1870's - to the time and activities of one of our most famous bushrangers, Ned Kelly. In a more sobering tale, in the early 1900's racism and cruelty led to a violent spree when Jimmy Governor finally had enough and took revenge. In 1940 a mining worker disappeared and it was pure hard work that meant that the police solved that crime and a little later in the 1940's Alice Springs was very much a frontier town when it was rocked by a series of bombs. In 1968 Larry Boy proved that Aboriginal bush skills were extremely formidable as they still were when local Aboriginal people were called in to help in the search for Azaria Chamberlain in 1980. From there it's 1989 and a series of backpacker disappearances that leads to a shocking discovery in the Australian bush, with the book finishing in 2001 with the disappearance of Peter Falconio from the roadside in the middle of the Australian outback.
The great thing about each of this individual chapters is that they are told in a very non-sensational, matter of fact way, that gives the reader a real understanding of the events without the ooh aaa factor that you often get from newspaper accounts (I'm thinking in particular of the story of the death of Azaria Chamberlain here!) Anybody who is interested in some of the real crime stories of Australia over many years will find this book most instructive.