Pufferfish is one of my all time favourite Australian Crime Fiction identities. He's taciturn, reticent and often recalcitrant. He's frequently obtuse, often slightly grumpy, addicted to strong espresso and liquorice all-sorts and finally, he's back. No matter how many of these books are written, it's always going to be way too long between visits with DI Franz Heineken, his offsiders Rafe and Faye and the brief glimpses of glorious Tasmanian locations.
In order to get this series readers will need to love dry, wicked humour with a dose of tongue firmly placed in cheek. Sort of. Owen is an author who is not above a little go at just about everybody via our beloved and tricky Pufferfish. Even his own, where a hapless professional development course in which a lone blowfly is considerably more appealing than yet another Powerpoint slide, includes a lovely dig:
Our PD man further averred that the enduring popularity of the genre sends inappropriate messages about policing's reality, the public gulled into assuming that being a cop is a glossy gun-and-capspray-on-hip caper with no need for more government funding, and he singled out the absurdity of the dramatic insistence that there must be a dead body in the first chapter or before the first ad break, and he further said that while crime fiction readers are innocent fools and can therefore be forgiven, its authors, by peddling and profiting off their deliberate distortions and falsehoods, should themselves be treated as criminals, and he quoted S.18 C of the IGGA, the Ill-Gotten Gains Act, to prove his point.
Oh Pufferfish, if being at one with the sort of character that quotes such bitterness is a fool's game, it's one worth playing :)
But then that's the point of Pufferfish. He grumps and mumbles his way through the excesses of the worst and highest of society in his books. In 13-POINT PLAN these class distinctions collide in a most unpleasant manner - what with the murder of a posh, wealthy English polo player, at the feet of the rotting, and somewhat Tasmanian Tiger mangled corpse of a local, recently released from prison, criminal. How these two deaths are connected, if the crime scene is to be believed becomes foremost in Pufferfish's mind. As does the need to understand why Rafe's taken to wearing skinny leather ties, why his ex-girlfriend is back in town and what current paramour Hedda's going to make of that, and when he is ever likely to cut a break when it comes to bosses.
Part of the sheer joy of these books is obviously Pufferfish himself. A man with a chequered background he's not so much hiding out deep in the Tasmanian Police Force as he is immersed. He's not exactly unlucky in love, but he certainly makes it hard for himself sometimes. He's a good boss, provided his colleagues don't mind the occasional outburst, and that habit of drinking espresso and eating liquorice all-sorts is enough to make a reader vaguely queasy. This whole series is part sheer enjoyment, part laugh out loud, and part serious detecting with some particularly horrible criminals to be tracked down. In this outing the family connections of both victims play and interesting part in the entire story, with Pufferfish and his team moving between the two different worlds seamlessly for them, creating all sorts of dangerous rips for others.
If you've not caught up with the earlier books in the Pufferfish series (and seriously why the hell not!) the earlier ones might now be a a challenge to find (Pig's Head - 1994, Z and Y - 1995, A Second Hand - 1995 and The Devil Taker - 1997), but the more recent ones from 2011 No Weather for a Burial and How the Dead See should be around. If access is an issue then start wherever you can - you'll get enough of the background to DI Franz Heineken, his team, his bosses, and his Tasmania to feel right at home.