Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Review of Black Wattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin (Penguin, 2012)
Ten years after starting a relationship with Rebecca in the Diggers Rest Hotel, Charlie Berlin is living in suburban Melbourne with his wife and two children, Peter and Sarah. He’s still working as a cop, but his career is in a dead-end, he’s struggling to make ends meet, and he is still living with the demons of his time as bomber pilot and POW in a Polish camp. When a recently bereaved widow becomes suspicious about the activities of a funeral home, Berlin agrees to investigate. It’s immediately obvious that the director of the company has something to hide and his interest piqued, Charlie starts to poke around. It soon becomes clear though that he’s stumbled onto something much bigger than he anticipated and he’s inadvertently put himself and his family at risk. Rather than turning a blind eye, however, he stubbornly continues to investigate the strange goings-on at Black Wattle Creek.
Black Wattle Creek has two strong elements: the character of Charlie Berlin and his family, and the reason behind his investigation. Berlin is interesting company, a caring family man who’s haunted by his past, and is tenacious in his pursuit of a solving a case. When he looks into the suspicions of one of his wife’s friends about a local funeral home he has no idea what he getting himself into. It soon becomes obvious that maybe he’d be better off keeping his nose out of other peoples’ business. Where the story seems to become a little unstuck, however, is in its unfolding. There were two aspects that I had a hard time buying which worked to undermine the fidelity of the tale somewhat. The first was the strategy of those he’s investigating, who inflict savage violence on those Berlin consults rather than the man himself. The second was Berlin being enlightened by the same people when there was really no need and then let wander free. Nevertheless, the tale is enjoyable, mainly because Berlin is a compelling, wounded character and the pacing and prose are nicely done. The third book in the series is due out next year and I’m looking forward to reading it in due course.
Many thanks to Geoffrey McGeachin for sending me a copy of the book, which has recently won the 2013 Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in Australia.