Review - The Swan Island Connection, Dorothy Johnston
Bobby lay curled like a seahorse, like a puppy… red marks round his throat… facing Swan Island.
The local senior constable, Chris Blackie and his deputy Anthea Merritt, expect the murder investigation to be handled by Geelong-baseddetectives from the Criminal Investigation Unit. But they’re blind-sided by the interest personnel from the secret military training base on Swan Island take in the case, strongly suspecting that the Detective Inspector may be taking direction from them.
The second in Dorothy Johnston's Sea-Change series, THE SWAN ISLAND CONNECTION sees local senior constable Chris Blackie and his deputy Anthea Merritt developing their working relationship into something with more understanding, trust and respect for each other. Which is partly why they end up so blind-sided when a young boy is found dead at the beach, his body seemingly facing the military base on Swan Island. He was known to spend time in the company of the man that Merritt's been cautiously developing a personal relationship with, and between that, and the shadowy military base and their DI's odd behaviour, neither Merritt or Blackie quite know what to believe, or who they can trust.
Set in a small seaside town there's a feeling of a place that's growing rapidly. A combination of long-term residents, newcomers and visitors, alongside houses, apartments and shacks gives a small town feel with some perfectly believable unknowns in the mix. Add to that interference from the "big-smoke" of Geelong in the investigation and you have a nice combination of the known, unknown, annoyances and day to day. Especially when it comes to Chris Blackie and his rose growing!
There's an excellent balance here between character, setting and plot. The death of a young boy from a difficult background has a lot of implications for the town, and the impact that the death seems to include the secret military base, although the local police find it very difficult to discover much about the goings on on the island just off the coast. As Blackie and Merritt are pushed further away from the central investigation, their local connections are stretched very thin because they won't let it go - no matter the personal risks. It's understandable - no local cop, part of the community, would ever be willing to let the death of a young, vulnerable boy go unexplained.
There are now two books that make up the Sea-Change series, and whilst it's always better to start at the beginning it would be possible to pick up THE SWAN ISLAND CONNECTION as a starting point without missing too much of the background. It would be much better if you knew how Anthea Merritt ended up in a country posting, and why her love life seems so tentative and fragile. It would also be better if you knew Chris Blackie's family background attaching him to the same town, and particularly the reasons why the sea is not his favourite place. Although this novel introduces a range of new characters from around the town, it would also help to know something of the personality of the past, and how the town and the locals are reacting to all the changes that are happening.