A creepy de­but meets an un­set­tling end

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

IN Camilla Way’s The Dead of Sum­mer ( Harper, 233pp, $ 22.99) Anita was a bit of a loner; her mum had just died and her fa­ther was what the Brits call a Paki, so she ‘‘ bunked off a lot, wore the wrong clothes, had a boy’s hair­cut and didn’t give a f--- about Du­ran Du­ran’’. All of which may ex­plain why she de­vel­oped a fix on the boy Kyle Kite. Kyle had be­havioural prob­lems. The pre­vi­ous year his five- year- old sis­ter van­ished. Did he kill her? There was an over­weight, coloured boy who hung around Kyle, too. All that was back in 1986. Now Anita’s work­ing in a fac­tory and re­count­ing her school days to a shrink. This is a neatly con­structed story, an ex­cep­tional first novel: racy, creepy, stylish, with a knock­out end­ing.

Lisa Scot­to­line’s shift thriller mode may be a mis­take. In ( Macmil­lan, 336pp, $ 32.95) the hero­ine, Natalie Greco, an un­usu­ally meek law pro­fes­sor, is clum­sily por­trayed with her brand- crazy ‘‘ Amer­i­can

to

le­gal dream’’ fam­ily of McMan­sion- build­ing, foot­bal­llov­ing males. Like most nov­els this story is only go­ing to carry if the writ­ing is up to the task. Im­prob­a­ble tales filled with aw­ful char­ac­ters be­come mas­ter­pieces when the right fin­gers are tap­ping the keys. Here Natalie is per­suaded by a col­league, whom she finds at­trac­tive, to teach at the lo­cal prison. This cross­ing of a so­cial di­vide is ill- timed. There’s a prison riot. Nasty. It gets nas­tier when a stabbed guard, dy­ing in Natalie’s arms, de­liv­ers last words to be re­layed to his wo­man. This leads to all sorts of stuff that may not be worth read­ing to find out about. Al­to­gether dif­fer­ent is R. N. Mor­ris’s bril­liant

( Faber, 293pp, $ 32.95), set in St Petersburg in 1866 and tied di­rectly to Dos­to­evsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment . Here’s a crime read for the literati fea­tur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tor Por­firy Petro­vich plus shades of axe- wield­ing Ro­dion Raskol­nikov. In Petro­vsky Park a wo­man scav­eng­ing for wood dis­cov­ers two bod­ies: a man hang­ing from a tree and a dwarf in a suit­case. Dos­to­evsky’s Petro­vich, the in­ves­ti­gat­ing mag­is­trate, does not be­lieve this to be an open- and- shut case of mur­der- sui­cide. Then a seem­ingly un­re­lated dis­ap­pear­ance en­cour­ages our in­ves­ti­ga­tor to fol­low his in­stincts. The plot thick­ens into a rich stew of the Rus­sian psy­che, snow, a pros­ti­tute and her child, a pub­lisher and a stu­dent. There are crum­bling apart­ment blocks and as­so­ci­ated squalor, souls are pawned and spir­i­tu­al­ist philo- soph­i­cal spec­u­la­tion pre­vails. Read­ers should go for this one with both ears pinned back.

Donna Leon is a crime au­thor adored for her up- mar­ket set­ting, Venice. This, her latest,

( Heine­mann, 264pp, $ 55.95) starts with a real bang, a snatched baby and an in­jured doc­tor, then set­tles into the cus­tom­ary canal- city calm. Pulses may quicken again at a fairly fre­netic con­clu­sion. Com­mis­sario Brunetti gets through most days an­tic­i­pat­ing the con­so­la­tion of his wife’s cook­ing. But small plea­sures don’t dull his sense of ram­pant cor­rup­tion, petty jeal­ousies, lo­cal racism. Brunetti is worldly, he un­der­stands that a so­ci­ety of 60,000 hu­mans and in ex­cess of 100,000 pi­geons may be less than per­fect, and so his at­ten­tion be­comes fo­cused on crim­i­nal cap­i­tal­ism’s in­tru­sion into the in­ter­na­tional baby adop­tion trade, link­ing it to med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers, lawyers and a de­cline in the sperm count of First World males.

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