NOTE: This review was originally published in 2013 - the book has now been released.
A debut police procedural from Melbourne based, ex-Ballarat dweller, JM (Janice) Simpson, A BODY OF WORK makes good use of both of those locations. Brendan O'Leary is now a Melbourne based detective, with family contacts still in Ballarat. His DC Ange Micelli has a very Melbourne background, descended from Italian migrants, an inner city dweller who is very focused on career, feeling a bit of pressure over family versus career. When they are called upon to investigate the murder of socialite, author, and very well connected local girl Deborah Dangerfield, they are dragged into a minefield. There are connections between the victim and O'Leary that go back to their Ballarat childhoods. There are implications at the highest level of politics and influence in Victoria. There's a lot more connections to be revealed as the story progresses.
A BODY OF WORK is a police procedural at its heart with the death and investigation remaining the central focus. Along the way the personal connections between O'Leary, the victim and their respective contacts and families are revealed, without losing the essential style. There is a hefty dose of the personal along the way, but it doesn't distract unnecessarily.
It's a complicated and quite complex plot, and as you can probably tell from the number of times it's been mentioned - the resolution relies on a lot of connections between the victim, her family, society and political heavyweights, and O'Leary himself. This aspect is well told, but there is a large amount of it and that might make some readers wonder just how small a world we're talking about here.
There's a great sense of place about the whole thing though, and the setting of a literary festival in Melbourne (down to the Malthouse Green Room :) ) through to contemplation on the side of Lake Wendouree and a family farm outside Ballarat all worked and felt very real and authentic. The Australian tone of the language worked and the interactions between all the characters were strong.
I suppose the only quibble I'd have is that there is a lot to this plot and some of those connections felt a little overdone. Plus there seemed to be the odd continuity problem which had me a bit confused at points. Minor problems though in a debut novel that definitely shows promise.