review: geoffrey mcgeachin, blackwattle creek

As winner of the 2013 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction, Blackwattle Creek is completely deserving. This is a book I finished and immediately shipped off to my father, who would have been around for the events; he then passed it onto my sister, a lover of Australian history. At our next meeting (aka family picnic) we all concurred that it was an excellent read, and now when we next get together we can all feel smug about picking a winner.

Melbourne in 1957 is a place still ravaged by memories of WWII, and police officer Charlie Berlin is a man who is having trouble letting go of his time in Europe as a pilot and as a prisoner of war. Given an unexpected holiday just before the footy grand final, he plans to build a darkroom for his wife Rebecca and relax as best he can. However, a request by Rebecca to chat to her recently bereaved friend turns his time off the clock into one of the most serious, grotesque and far-reaching crimes he has ever encountered.

Berlin is damaged but healing, supported by his family and friends who may all shortly regret being of his acquaintance while Charlie is on this particular quest. The Cold War is the new terror on everyone’s mind, and what one accidental sighting by a widow at a funeral home reveals is a horrifying notion that the government keeps secrets even more horrible than budget costings or who pashed who at the ALP Christmas party.

McGeachin has created the kind of pitch-perfect sense of place that makes you disoriented when you put down your book and find yourself in a world of flatscreen televisions and petrol the price of a block of land. Everything from Charlie’s meals to the idea you could get a parking space anywhere near the State Library of Victoria creates a vivid Melbourne with an undercurrent of mid-century fear and grime. Rebecca is the kind of switched-on partner you appreciate in a crime read like this, and altogether Blackwattle Creek is a ripper of a dangerous read.

 

A version of this review was originally published in Readings Monthly.

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