CRIME FILE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - GRAEME BLUN­DELL

CRIME nov­el­ists are as des­per­ate for rein­ven­tion as their char­ac­ters are for re­demp­tion. Dashiell Ham­mett stopped writ­ing be­cause he found he was re­peat­ing him­self. ‘‘ It’s the be­gin­ning of the end,’’ he said, ‘‘ when you dis­cover you have style.’’

Peter Cor­ris has al­ways beaten the genre trap, not by ven­tur­ing out­side, but by find­ing un­ex­pected room within. His latest Cliff Hardy book, Ap­peal De­nied ( Allen & Un­win, 205pp, $ 19.95), is, as usual, familiar, as­sured and highly en­ter­tain­ing, writ­ten with Cor­ris’s unique sense of ra­tio­nal con­tain­ment and his un­der­stated mas­tery of set­ting and so­cial con­text.

He likes to weave his se­rial nar­ra­tives in and out of the pol­i­tics of the day, this time the use­ful­ness and com­mit­ment of the Syd­ney po­lice and the de­vel­op­ment scams of lo­cal coun­cils. Like Hardy, he sel­dom shouts and is never re­ally polem­i­cal, but there’s no doubt­ing his deep sense of moral in­dig­na­tion at civic cor­rup­tion and the way Syd­ney op­er­ates with a nod and a wink and a brown pa­per bag.

Hardy, un­like Cor­ris, is re­tired and far from self- funded, and think­ing of ring­ing John Laws to com­plain about a sys­tem that re­quires private in­ves­ti­ga­tors to wear kid gloves. But when girl­friend Lily Tr­us­cott is mur­dered, Hardy is con­sumed with a pu­ri­tan­i­cal sense of righ­teous- ness and a pur­pose as ef­ful­gent as the holy grail.

Cor­ris is so good he can play small jokes with the genre but some new­com­ers, such as Leah Giar­ratano, just don’t un­der­stand its cul­tural mythol­ogy. Giar­ratano, a real- life clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­is­ing in cog­ni­tive be­hav­iour ther­apy, has turned out a thinly writ­ten se­rial killer ( a mora­to­rium on th­ese psy­chopaths, please) pro­ce­dural called Vodka Doesn’t Freeze ( Ran­dom House, 324pp, $ 32.95).

She may be an ex­pert in psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma, sex of­fences and of­fend­ers who suf­fer se­vere per­son­al­ity disor­ders, but her first novel is stylis­ti­cally in­gen­u­ous.

Leigh Red­head can write, and once did hard yards in the ‘‘ hos­til­ity in­dus­try’’ as a strip­per be­fore her clever Si­mone Kirsch nov­els shook their ar­ses in front of read­ers’ faces. Her third,

Cherry Pie ( Allen & Un­win, 384pp, $ 19.95) finds 28- year- old Kirsch flash­ing her pup­pies at a bunch of bald­ing, pasty- faced, pissed suits, hump­ing the fluffy white car­pet of­f­cut, to fi­nance her de­tec­tive agency.

For sur­veil­lance equip­ment, a new car and an ad in the Yel­low Pages, she’ll need at least 20 grand, so she agrees to help a child­hood friend who has some­thing big on some­one in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness. Well- paced, rib­ald and laugh- out- loud- funny, Cherry Pie proves yet again that it’s not im­pos­si­ble for a flasher to be a good fem­i­nist.

Red­head’s ‘‘ tart noir’’ is very funny but Ge­off McGeachin’s sec­ond Alby Mur­doch comic spy thriller, Sen­si­tive New Age Spy ( Pen­guin, 286pp, $ 29.95), while slick and clever, raises few laughs.

Mur­doch, act­ing head of the Di­rec­torate for Ex­tra- ter­ri­to­rial Defence, is faced with a mys­tery tanker moored off Syd­ney, and two ther­monu­clear war­heads the size of beer kegs are miss­ing.

McGeachin loves acronyms and de­tailed ord­nance de­scrip­tions and he does write pacy ac­tion scenes. But his la­conic sense of irony is weary­ing af­ter a few pages, the send- up too un­re­lent­ing. McGeachin is an amal­gam of Robert G. Bar­rett and Austin Pow­ers, but un­like Bar­rett you can’t imag­ine him wear­ing a He­len De­mindenko T- shirt to a writ­ers’ con­ven­tion.

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