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British adventurer Caroline Carver presents us with her second novel set in Australia. Her first, BLOOD JUNCTION, showed promise and won the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award. Whether DEAD HEAT will garner for the lady further awards remains to be seen. India Kane, the protagonist of BLOOD JUNCTION, features in an extended cameo appearance in DEAD HEAT but there is no indication of her character nor reference to her previous trials and tribulations.
It is unfortunate but true that some authors, when they attempt to write as natives of a country while actually being native to another, despite having lived in the first country for varying lengths of time -- in Carver's case ten years -- somehow do not quite get the local idiom right. It is unlucky, too, that Caroline Carver has not quite mastered the nuances of Australian jargon and custom. No doubt when she resided here she was very obviously a Pom.
DEAD HEAT sees Georgia Parish returning to the depths of North Queensland for the funeral of her beloved grandfather. She and her 'free spirit' mother, Linette, had resided for ten years in a commune in the fictional town of Nulgarra until the sad demise of that commune. English-born Georgia and sister Dawn were overjoyed to be liberated from their childhood haunts, Dawn going as far as Canada in order to experience habitation vastly different from the heat and humidity of Far North Queensland. Georgia ventured no further than Sydney, where she eventually found work as a book rep.
Georgia is anxious to remove herself from Nulgarra as quickly as possible after the funeral and borrows a 4WD from a friend in order to catch a ride to Cairns in a light aircraft . She just manages to drive the 4WD through flooded Cassowary Creek when she sees a much smaller hire car attempt -- and fail -- the crossing. She rescues the two passengers of the car, Chinese Suzie and part-Chinese Lee, and takes them to the airport whence they, too, are travelling to Cairns.
Once airborne, the aeroplane falters and crashes, taking the life of Suzie and gravely injuring the pilot Bri. When the living trio are rescued, Georgia herself requires stitches in her hand. Lee tells her to inform the police (Georgia's childhood heartthrob Daniel) that the aircraft was sabotaged then mysteriously disappears. Gravely ill, Bri implores Georgia to find the saboteurs. Thus Georgia is plunged into an adventure plentifully littered with blood, severed body parts and corpses -- as well as aboriginal semi-traditional healing.
The tale has a plot concerning people smugglers with a whiff of police corruption for good measure. A miracle cure for crocodile bites (I never realised the problem was so prevalent as to merit intensive research) is an integral part of the story as are marauding Chinese gangs. A tinge of unreconstructed Hansonist racial discrimination is also included as well as a hearts-and-flowers story of an endangered Chinese family.
Caroline Carver is rather good at writing exciting scenes and injecting a hectic pace into her books. It is unfortunate that she does not pay attention to easily corrected detail. For example, in one scene Georgia is attempting to discover Suzie's brother so goes to her home and plays her voice mail. She is delighted to find a message so presses *10# to discover the caller's number so she can ring him. Huh? Despite quoting the robotic voice which says 'Your last unanswered call was ...' she merrily dials the person on the answering machine. Look, Ms Carver, if a call is answered, be it by Messagebank, a human or an answering machine, it is answered. Australia does not have the equivalent of England's 1471 which discloses the last call. It would have been just as simple to have given Suzie a CND phone.
Another grating item was, as previously mentioned, the slightly 'off' use of idiom. For example, Suzie's lover addresses her as 'you cow'. Uh-uh. If one is addressed as 'you cow' that is insulting. 'You silly cow' would be acceptable, but not without the qualifier. Georgia appears, too, to have a very high pain threshhold. A normal person would be in shock after surviving a plane crash, but not the redoubtable Georgia. Grave injuries to her hand do not prevent her from launching herself at an attacked and beating him with both hands. No doubt she never requires an anaesthetic when having a tooth filled, either. I shall only make a glancing reference to the fact that Georgia dials the wrong number for police attendance. After all, there are plenty of Australians, even after all this time, who are not aware that the new phone number is 11444.
Unfortunately, the book contains quite a few such inconsistencies which is a great pity. A little more attention to detail would produce unalloyed pleasure -- should one rejoice in blood-soaked narratives. I hope most fervently that Caroline Carver can devote just a little more care to her storytelling so that the next novel -- should there be one -- is free from these annoying lapses.
Reviewed by Denise Wels Pickles, December 2004
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