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by Emma Viskic
Pushkin Vertigo, October 2018
333 pages
ISBN: 1782274553

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A homeless man shoves a piece of paper into Caleb Zelic's hand when he's returning from a run one evening in Melbourne, Australia. It has his address scrawled on it. The man tries to explain, but he's nervous and Caleb can't understand him, until he catches a couple of words: Woman. Black. He follows the man to a dark alley, fearful his estranged wife has been hurt, but it's not Kat. It's someone he doesn't know. He can't understand her, either, because it's dark and he's deaf, dependent on lip-reading. When a man comes running up the alley, she bolts and is hit by a car. She knows how to sign, but dies before she can finish a sentence.

All that Caleb has is a crumpled train ticket receipt with his address written on the back. Point of departure, his home town, Resurrection Bay. Soon he's back there, trying to find out who she was and why she was looking for him. It's not the best use of time, given his private investigation business is going broke, he's going to have to deal with his recovering-addict brother, and he won't be able to escape a lot of memories of a marriage that failed. But maybe he'll have a chance to rebuild some burnt bridges.

On the negative side, the story and the relationships among the large cast of characters is tricky to keep straight, especially if you haven't read the first book in the series, RESURRECTION BAY, which accounts for Caleb's business problems and the PTSD that crops up as flashbacks. The author takes "show, don't tell" a little too far, assuming we'll put a jumble of pieces together ourselves when we'd rather be turning the pages than pausing to sort it out.

On the positive side, she's an immensely talented stylist and her characters jump off the page: Ant, the smart and sarcastic brother with a history of heroin addiction; Kat, an Aboriginal Koori artist with a fascinating extended family, and a host of bit players who seem unusually real. They live in a place that is richly described in all its not-at-all-post-racial complexity. Caleb, who hates having to tell people he's deaf, is obsessive and dogged in his quest, and though we experience his emotional swings, he keeps it all inside like a proper Australian bloke. It all builds up until the fire comes down figuratively and literally. It will be interesting to see where this vividly expressive series goes next.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, September 2018

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