TROPIC OF DEATH is the second book by Australian journalist, author Robert Sims, featuring Detective Rita Van Hassel, Criminal Profiler.
Criminal Profiling isn't overly common in Australian Police Forces, and Rita is one of the first in Melbourne in TROPIC OF DEATH. Begrudgingly, finally allowed to set up her own speciality support "department", she is called to Whitley in Queensland to assist when the grisly body count starts rising. Whitley is one of those sleepy Queensland idyllic towns from the tourist brochures - beach and rainforest. What Rita finds is all the brochures offer, as well as a US defence base, green activists and - as the book blurb puts it - a hotbed of malignant passion.
TROPIC OF DEATH is an interesting combination of a police procedural and a great big conspiracy thriller. Rita is a very good, interesting, police character and she and the local police form a classic police investigation team trying to solve a series of particularly gruesome killings - albeit that criminal profiling is a new activity for Australian crime fiction as well. Behind the killings there is a conspiracy thriller. Big government, anonymous men in darkened cars going thump in the night, magicked away problems, computer hackers, sinister computer systems and so on. There are touches of Rita's personal life as well, and some of those relationships intertwine within the main storyline of the book, giving context for some introductions and connections which help make sense of how a girl from Melbourne can get inside a Queensland story with some ease.
The police investigation component of this book - and Rita and her offsider Steve Jarratt work really well together. For this reader, the big conspiracy, government's doing shady doings, hackers in virtual reality helmets, big brother computer systems didn't. Whilst those sorts of thriller plots do sometimes work, this one didn't - possibly because it was all just a bit too much over the top for me - disappointing, as I particularly liked other aspects of the book. I found the use of the Australian context for a criminal profiler interesting and I'm looking forward to see where Rita goes in future books. Personal quibbles aside, if you're a fan of the big conspiracy, and you'd like to see it done with a great female central character, then you really should read TROPIC OF DEATH.