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Canberra Today 3°/8° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The detective, her dog and two murders to solve

Author Simon Rowell… sets his crime novels in rural Victoria. Photo: Darren James

ANNA CREER reviews a couple of Australian crime fiction books – one set in regional Victoria, the other – a grittier read – on the Gold Coast.

Simon Rowell writes and sets his crime novels in rural Victoria. He introduced his police detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer in The Long Game (2021) followed by Wild Card (2023).

Simon Rowell’s The Good Dog.

Zoe has suffered trauma in her professional past and as a result she now has a service dog, a golden retriever, Harry, who accompanies her everywhere. Harry is the reason she can return to work.

She tells her colleagues: “Harry’s a big part of the reason I’m okay… I was a wreck. I’m better because he’s here with me every day.”

The Good Dog is the third in the series and Zoe has a new partner, Ben Torro, transferred from the Armed Crime Squad. He doesn’t make a good first impression. 

On the first day “he strutted into the squad room in a grey, tailored three-piece suit, his dark hair carefully styled. To Zoe, he looked more gangster than cop”. And he’s concerned about dog hair on his suit. As a result, Zoe questions his capability in Homicide.

On a hot summer’s night, Zoe and Ben are called to Mount Macedon to investigate shots being fired. Two men are found dead. All the evidence suggests a murder suicide, but when the victims are identified as Piers Johnson and Anthony Petersen, Zoe isn’t convinced.

Johnson had recently been acquitted of fraud and Peterson had been his defence lawyer at the high-profile trial. Johnson had persuaded both friends and neighbours in Mount Macedon to invest in a projected deluxe resort in Bali but when the money was transferred it disappeared.

Even though Johnson himself lost $10 million, he was accused of being behind the scam. He was acquitted of all charges but many of those defrauded had threatened to kill him.

The case becomes even more complicated when Peterson’s teenage daughter is kidnapped.

The Good Dog is a cleverly crafted police procedural, as each of the suspects is eliminated until, in a tense climax, Zoe and Ben finally confront the killer.

And there’s nothing cute about Harry. He’s a smart working dog who warns Zoe when there’s danger ahead, can signal when a witness is telling the truth and seek out injured victims. Harry is literally the good dog of the title.

IAIN Ryan’s The Strip, set on the Gold Coast in the early 1980s is a much grittier read.

Ryan has used the 1980’s Queensland Police Corruption scandal as the inspiration for his novel, saying: “It’s the very first news story I can remember… the corruption is a matter of public record, and it is truly wild. We’re talking about absolute collusion between organised crime elements, state government politicians and the very highest echelons of the Queensland Police.”

Iain Ryan’s novel The Strip.

Ryan’s starting point The Strip was the rumour that corruption on the Gold Coast was even worse.

When a doctor is brutally murdered in northern NSW, Detective Constable Lana Cohen is co-opted from the NSW police force to the Gold Coast’s Strike Force Diablo, which, over the past two years, has been investigating six similar murders.

Lana is told by her boss that: “The coast is where the Queensland Police send their deadwood” and that “Diablo should have turned something up by now”. The talk is “there’s a dirty element”.

Lana discovers Strike Force Diablo is dysfunctional. The best of the detectives, Emmett Hades, is on leave. Lana is told, “Diablo got to him… he lost the plot a few months ago”. 

The remaining detectives frequent pubs and brothels and ignore her, except for Henry Loch, a detective described in an official report as “an unredeemable thug with a slim list of achievements”.

Henry, however is determined to retain his position in Homicide and he and Lana work together to uncover the murderer hidden behind extraordinary levels of misogyny, debauchery, violence and deception.

It’s not surprising that the 1987 Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct lasted two years and resulted in the resignation of Queensland’s Premier Joh Bjelke Petersen and the jailing of three of his ministers and the Police Commissioner, Sir Terry Lewis, who lost his knighthood.

Ryan believes that “for the most part, Australian crime fiction is ‘literary fiction’ rather than hardboiled noir… we’re strangely light on the grittier, weirder stuff”. He aims to address this imbalance. He has submitted the second book in the series and is already planning a third.

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