With major flooding in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland fresh in the minds of Australians, Dinuka McKenzie’s debut The Torrent, another entry in the ever growing Australian rural crime genre, hits with renewed relevance. The cold open is the discovery of a body, washed away by the flooding and caught in a stormwater drain. In a scene that feels like it is ripped from the headlines, the volunteer involved in the rescue is a childhood friend of the victim. And while the action of this book is set a few months after the flooding has subsided, the destruction and consequences of the event are never far from the surface.
Detective Sergeant Katherine Aneesha Miles is coming up to her maternity leave, close to the birth of her second child. But first she has a case to solve – the robbery of a McDonalds by three teenagers wearing Avengers masks that ended in the stabbing of one of the teenage employees. Before she can get too far into the case though, Kate is also handed a slightly colder case by her boss. She is asked to review the investigation into the death during the floods of Joel Marshall, whose wife Gabby has since become a media star. As is inevitable with narratives of this type, the two cases intersect but not directly and only so that about two thirds of the way through the connection spins the story off in another direction.
Kate Miles is a great new addition to the Australian crime scene. Part Sri Lankan with a former lauded policeman father and a believable young family. But she lets none of this define her as an investigator. So that while readers may feel like they have experienced some of these rural crime beats before, Miles brings a fresh perspective.
The Torrent won Harper Collins’ Banjo Prize in 2020. The Banjo Prize is one of the many publishers’ competitions used to unearth unpublished talent. And for good reason. McKenzie has found a new angle and feels like a fresh voice in the increasingly crowded market of Australian rural crime fiction.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
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Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.