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.