On Christmas Eve, 1943, the newly formed but undermanned Homicide division of the Melbourne police force is called to investigate the vicious double murder of a father and son. When Military Intelligence becomes involved, Homicide’s Inspector Titus Lambert must unravel the personal from the political.
If only the killings had stopped at two. The police are desperate to come to grips with an extraordinary and disquieting upsurge of violence. For Constable Helen Lord, it is an opportunity to make her mark in a male-dominated world where she is patronised as a novelty. For Detective Joe Sable, the investigation forces a reassessment of his indifference to his Jewish heritage. Racing against the clock, the police uncover simmering tensions among secretive local Nazi sympathisers as a psychopathic fascist usurper makes his move.
Having read a review of The Holiday Murders earlier this year at the excellent Australian crime website FairDinkumCrime.com , I was delighted to get my hands on a copy recently of this thoroughly intriguing crime novel, so here are my thoughts…
Based on real political events in Australia during the Second World War, Robert Gott has crafted a compelling and historically detailed crime mystery, suffused with a cast of characters, some good, some rotten and misguided to the core, that certainly kept my interest throughout. Charting a murder investigation between Chistmas and New Year 1943, the book opens with a scene of total carnage which will test the investigating ability of not only the eminently likeable police Inspector Titus Lambert but his cohorts, Jewish detective, Joe Sable and female Constable Helen Lord. All three of these characters are perfectly drawn with a wonderful camararderie and sound professionalism gravitating between them, that add a strength to the overarching solidity of the central plotline. There are some nice little vignettes threaded in, for example the heartwarming relationship between Inspector Lambert and his wife Maude, who is more than happy to cast her eye on the more gruesome aspects of her husband’s investigation: the emergence of Helen Lord as a detective comparable to her male counterparts despite the resistance she faces as a woman, and the turmoil of Joe Sable as he is drawn into a particularly dark and dangerous world beyond his understanding, as an unfailingly fair-minded and right thinking man.
With the plot based on a real right wing political group of the period, Australia First, who harbour an intrinsic hatred of other racial groups, Sable in particular as a Jew, along with Lord and Lambert, must draw on his complete sense of professionalism to infiltrate this group and catch an intrinsically deranged and brutal killer. Gott perfectly characterises the members of this insidious political group from the weak and wooly figurehead to those tasked with furthering the group’s ends, and as a fellow reviewer points out, there are a few of these characters that you are glad are confined to this fictional world as they are a very nasty bunch indeed. Gott pulls no punches in his depiction of violence throughout the book, which has you as a reader firmly rooting for the good guys, and with the thought always in your head that this is based on fact, it adds a particular shiver of the spine to the whole affair. There is also a complete gem of a twist in the reveal of one protagonist as being a whole lot less wholesome that we are originally led to believe…
Overall, I was much impressed with this book, giving me an insight into a period of history I was totally unfamiliar with and enriched by just the right combination of fact and fiction. A great cast of characters, a fluid writing style and more importantly a gripping mystery compounded my enjoyment of this book. A good read and a would heartily recommend.
Robert Gott was born in the small Queensland town of Maryborough in 1957, and lives in Melbourne. He has published many books for children, and is also the creator of the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man. He is also the author of the William Power trilogy of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia: Good Murder, A Thing of Blood, and Amongst the Dead.
(With thanks to Scribe Publications for the ARC)