If you’re a crime fiction fan, especially of the hard-edged variety, and you haven’t read anything by Tony Cavanaugh yet, let me suggest you rectify that quick-smart. I was introduced to Cavanaugh’s writing with The Train Rider last year, and while I found it “a disturbing read” with “violent, sickening crime”, it was still a cracker. His latest novel, Kingdom of the Strong, is no less a cracker read, but overall it’s less violent and graphic.
Cavanaugh’s protagonist is Darian Richards, an ex-cop – one of the good ones. He walked away from the force to save his sanity, after sixteen years heading up Victoria’s Homicide Squad, and when the story opens, is recovering after the soul-shattering Train Rider case. The last thing he expects is to get drawn into a cold case – the death of eighteen-year-old Isobel Vine. But when the Police Commissioner turns up and asks for Darian’s help to clear the case, Darian can’t turn him down.
Isobel Vine was found naked and strung up on her bedroom door twenty-five years earlier. Among the theories for her death was suicide, but the coroner returned an open finding and her killer was never determined. Suspicion rested variously on Isobel’s boyfriend, her teacher-lover, and four young cops who were present at the house the night Isobel died. The problem is that one of those young cops is now in line to become the next police commissioner, and he needs his name cleared. Darian returns to Melbourne, back to the hornet’s nest, intent on finding and taking down the killer, once and for all.
The Lonely Planet describes Melbourne as “a city that’s both dynamic and cosmopolitan, and proud of its place as Australia’s cultural capital”. While that may be the case, it’s certainly not how Darian views the city. Instead, he sees the city through eyes tainted and tinged by gruesome and horrific crimes: “We crossed Orrong Road, where, in my thirties, I’d attended a murder-suicide in which a husband, fed up with life had shot his two sons and wife then turned the gun to his temple”. As he cruises the streets with Senior Constable Maria Chastain, he points out “pretty much every killing he knew of” until she says: “Enough, enough. Stop defining this city – this very beautiful city – by murder.” Hallelujah, Melbournites will say. Unfortunately, Darian can’t stop and the Melbourne of this novel is grey, stormy (physically and metaphorically) and grim.
This backdrop casts a shadow of darkness over the novel as Darian ties up loose ends and pokes at new discoveries. He’s unrelenting, and so is the pace of this book. Kingdom of the Strong marries policing and politics beautifully, and delivers readers a tense, dark novel that remains gripping through to the end. Darian is a complex, brooding character, but this time the focus is less on his character development and more on his tunnel-vision approach to getting the job done. After everything that went wrong with the Train Rider case, the shift from character development is probably a good thing – gives him a distraction and time to breathe again.
A big thumbs up from me.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television