JM Green was shortlisted the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript for good reason. There are plenty of published debut manuscripts that are less assured, less engaging and less fun than JM Green’s debut. There are missteps here and there, but overall there is plenty to like in Good Money.
Stella Hardy is an unlikely detective. A hard drinking, hard living social worker, constantly stumbling between competence and being a complete basket case. When the son of one of her African clients is killed, Stella finds echoes of a past misdeed and so involves herself in trying to solve the crime. The disappearance of her vivacious, neighbour, coming on top of that, draws her further in to what turns out to be a particularly tangled web.
The non-professional investigator is a difficult one to write. Stella has to rely on her friend Phuong, a police detective, to get her into all of those places that, as a civilian, she should not be allowed to go. Other connections that she needs fall into her lap, including the local artist who she meets cute and then happens to get invited to a glitzy art prize event that Stella then needs to be at for her investigation. The plot is such an unlikely mass of coincidences such as these, all centring on Stella in some way, that it is hard to take it all very seriously. And the finale, while somewhat tense, is a little too contrived.
Plot quibbles aside, Good Money is an enjoyable read. Stella’s world weary noir-ish narrative, laced with satire and sarcasm is often a joy. When she describes Melbourne’s toll flyover as “an architectural hoax, unyielding and sculptural like a Playtex bra – for lifting and separating lanes” you know you’re in good hands. And while the narrative feels a little hyper-real, Stella and her human struggles manage to keep it grounded.
Overall, Good Money is an assured and engaging debut. A novel and writer who deserved to be discovered, and plenty of potential for a unique new Australian crime voice.