Look, I was never not going to like a book about a Victorian protagonist with the same surname as me, especially after hearing all of my crime-book pals bang on about it. I had high hopes and they were met with aplomb by this fun/funny/gritty/alarming/everything-good read.
Social worker and the cynically good-natured Stella Hardy is called to a client’s house early one morning by a family in mourning over the death of teenager Adut Chol. She does all she can to ease their grief, until a discussion with the dead boy’s brother Mabor leads to a discovery that stops her in her tracks—her home address in Adut’s notebooks. Stella knows this can only mean he knows about the one thing she can’t forgive herself for, and one she never forgets. As she tries to find out how much Adut knew, her friendly new neighbour goes missing, her errant brother returns to insinuate himself in her life, a handsome artist asks for her number, Mabor makes some godawful friends and the next thing she knows she is being escorted by limousine to luxurious apartments to chat with high-profile business moguls with connections to shifty mining practices. All of this without her old pal, cop Phuong Nguyen, to help her out—unless they both decide to let go of the past and take hold of the future with a touch of make-up breaking-and-entering.
Stella is wonderfully likeable—determined but as easily sidetracked as the rest of us, be it by the internet (guilty) or handsome artists (also guilty). She is sometimes hopeful and sometimes bitter about the world, her friends, and her family; as an outsider everywhere, she is full of scathing remarks about people but willing to be called out on it. This is a powerhouse debut, full of excitement, jokes, brutality and scenic flights over Australia’s dangerous red centre, the bad use of good money, and the good use of bad money. In an unusual turn of events, I did figure out one villain really early on–usually I’m happy to be blissfully stupid about who’s who and leave my little grey cells to have a bit of a rest–but that absolutely did not stop the enjoyment of reading this. I can’t wait for a sequel.