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by Felicity Young
Creme de la Crime, April 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0954763440

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

While I had not previously encountered work from British publisher Creme de la Crime, I must say, I am very impressed with A CERTAIN MALICE, the book they picked up from Western Australian author Felicity Young. I trust that the standard of other novels released by this publisher is up to the same standard exhibited by Young. I shall definitely keep an eye out for further releases from them.

Felicity is not Australian born -- although, from her writing, one would never know this. Certainly, she has immersed herself in our culture to the extent that her idiom is never forced nor does she ever make the sort of glaring errors I have noticed in the work of other British writers who have lived in this country.

Her nursing experience imbues the wounds of her characters with an authenticity probably not available to those with less medical knowledge. Her experience with young wild animals (she has reared orphaned joey kangaroos) is put to good use in some scenes in this work and her understanding of police procedure is impeccable, possibly aided by the fact that she is related to a retired police superintendent. Her history as a volunteer firefighter, too, would have been useful in constructing the scenes of the several fires that form a necessary part of the action.

Senior Sergeant Cam Fraser has returned to his home town, Glenroyd, in country Western Australia, following the death of his wife and son during a case in which Fraser had worked undercover.

He had been investigating the nefarious manufacturings and dealings of a group of bikies in New South Wales. His own life had been threatened but he had thought his family safe until he found his wife and son trapped in a burning house, a conflagration from which, despite extensive burns to his own body, he had been unable to save them.

In order to protect both his teenaged daughter Ruby and himself he takes up the country position, thinking that the aspect of crime in the small town where he grew up could never be as malevolent as in a big city. Wrong. One of his first cases involves a murdered man whose body has been incompletely incinerated on the grounds of a ladies' college where Cam hopes to send his daughter. He meets and interrogates the English teacher and the science teacher, friends who discover the broiled corpse but later seek solace in moonshine brewed in the science room by the doughty instructor.

Cam has a staff that is insufficient, to anyone's way of thinking. His senior constable is a filthy lout whom the sergeant fears is not above contaminating the crime scene then denying his actions; two rookies, only one of whom displays much sense, are not a great deal of help, while another staff member seems to go about his duties completely divorced from any notion of obligation to the public.

Then there is another fire which appears to target Cam himself -- and there are bikies in the vicinity. Fraser appears to be attempting to solve the case without active help from anyone but very distinct hindrance, not the least from his daughter who seems to hate him, blaming him for the death of her mother and brother. Ruby is determined to thwart him in any attempts to make her content.

A CERTAIN MALICE is an admirable book. Felicity Young has carefully constructed her characters, producing a very believable cast. She has a gift for description which brings alive both the country landscape and the horrors of fire.

Her plotting is suitably circuitous: I defy anyone to solve the mystery before the author is ready to unmask both the chief baddie and the understudy. The motive for the crimes remained completely mysterious to me until almost the end.

Young does not fall into the trap which catches too many of her colleagues: ockerism piled upon ockerism to provide a notion of valid Australianisms. Indeed, her characters speak just as ordinary Australian country folk would. She displays a fine insight into the drives and motivations of real people.

Do give this promising author a try. Read A CERTAIN MALICE and you are guaranteed be pleased with the careful construction of an excellent mystery.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, September 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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