Emma Viskic- And Fire Came Down

EMMA#The woman can only sign two words: help… family. And then she is gone – a body lying dead in the street. Caleb’s search for her killer takes him back to his hometown of Resurrection Bay. Centuries of racism have left it simmering with violent tensions, and this summer the bush is as dry as tinder. All it will take is one spark. He is determined to pursue justice at all costs. But everything he loves is in this town. And what if the truth means his world going up in flames?

Emma Viskic’s previous book, Resurrection Bay featuring private investigator Caleb Zelic was, without question, one of my top books last year, and have been (im)patiently waiting the next in the series. So, yes the time has come to review And Fire Came Down, and it’s a scorcher, no pun intended.

Once again, the real lynchpin of the book is the character of Caleb himself, reeling from the events of the previous book, and the emotional and professional loss it has wreaked on his life. Opening with a brief encounter with an unknown woman which results  in her death, Caleb realises that this encounter has been engineered to ensnare him in an investigation which proves challenging, dangerous, and perhaps more importantly draws him right back into the community of Resurrection Bay from his city life. Caleb’s character works well on several levels, due to the authenticity that Viskic brings to him and his voice. In my previous review, I dwelt on the nature of his deafness, and how Viskic paints such a true picture of the everyday difficulties and stress that his condition brings to his life. I’ve since read two books that have hearing impaired characters at the forefront, and still believe that Viskic has provided the truest representation of this particular character trait.

Another thing I love about his character is his sensitivity and innate morality, and the way that he switches between his emotional states. Here is a man that recognises his own weaknesses, and by extension the weaknesses of others, and carries with him a real sense of emotional intelligence, despite the constraints that his aural impairment places on him on reading others through words and gestures. He is also extremely self-deprecating, and has a sharp wit too. Although he is a perfectly competent and determined investigator, clear in his motivations to ferret out the truth, I like the way that Viskic adds this level of personal emotional weakness and confusion when it comes to dealing with those closest to him, most notably his estranged wife Kat, his fearsome mother-in-law, Maria, and his disgraced former partner, Frankie. Viskic’s portrayal of these three extremely strong women is also a significant point of interest in the book, not only for Caleb’s interactions with them, but also the characterisation of their contrasting natures and personal demons.

The premise of the investigation of the young woman’s death from the outset, leads Caleb into a whole heap of trouble, fuelled by the extreme racial tension in his hometown of Resurrection Bay. The varying reactions and attitude to the Koori people, an indigenous community in the town, is simmering to boiling point, and Caleb’s case leads him straight into the eye of the storm. Racial division is an all too widespread and vile aspect of life, I found this depiction particularly emotive, and was very affected by the sheer ignorance and hatred that certain individuals exhibit in the course of the story, and the violence that this gives rise too on the weaker members of the community. As emotive as this issue is, however, Viskic keeps her own authorial intervention firmly in check, achieving a balanced and objective view of the community tensions throughout, leading to an utterly compelling and thought provoking read. Once again, after my praise for Resurrection Bay, can highly recommend And Fire Came Down, and would urge you to discover this series for yourselves. Roll on book three Darkness For Light.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

 

 

#BlogTour- J. M. Gulvin- The Contract

In New Orleans, Texas Ranger John Q is out of his jurisdiction, and possibly out of his depth. It seems everyone in Louisiana wants to send him home, and every time he asks questions there’s trouble: from the pharmacist to the detective running scared to the pimp who turned to him as a last resort. Before John Q knows it, he looks the only link between a series of murders. So who could be trying to set him up, and why, and who can he turn to in a city where Southern tradition and family ties rule?

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing J. M. Gulvin’s debut thriller, The Long Count  featuring Texas Ranger John Quarrie- a tough guy who could out-tough Jack Reacher.  The Contract sees John Q uprooted from his native Texas to the pulsing heart of New Orleans in this tale of corruption and exploitation echoing the reverberations of the Kennedy assassination…

John Q is a brilliant construct, oozing masculinity and toughness in a highly self-contained way, and like the heroes of the American Western tradition, imbued with a rigid core of morality and decency that permeates his dealing with those that have sinned and are sinned against. In comparison to other tough guy figures of modern crime thriller writing, he doesn’t go in for mawkish naval gazing, having found himself a sole parent, does not get drawn into unbelievable love entanglements, and when he does occasionally get his butt kicked we know that it does actually smart a bit.  Gulvin has characterised him with a laconic speech pattern that also plays into this hero tradition, and the brooding quality of the moral avenger. It works incredibly well, as Quarrie proves a menacing opponent for the cast of amateur hitmen and corrupt society figures that his jaunt to New Orleans uncovers.

The absolute stand out feature for me of the two books to date is the exceptionally visual nature of Gulvin’s writing. As he transports the reader between the two disparate locales of Texas and New Orleans, the depiction of both is beautifully realised. The stretching, arid and barren landscape of Texas where Quarrie dwells with his young son is the extreme opposite of the sultry, sensual New Orleans where violence always seems to dwell just beneath the surface. As Quarrie takes up temporary residence in New Orleans, Gulvin moves us effortlessly around the thoroughfares, taking snapshots of the architectural heritage, and immersing us in the culture, politics and spiritual traditions of this unique city. There’s racial tension, sexual exploitation, corruption, and the shadow of the Vietnam War. Coupled with the use of Jim Garrison- a lead figure in the investigation into the Kennedy assassination- and other cultural and social references that firmly fix this book in a period of space and time, Gulvin’s research and attention to detail raises this book above the simple tag of thriller into a richly rewarding read. In common with Tim Baker’s Fever City,  Gulvin provides little teasing references to future seismic events, that the modern reader quickly recognises, again adding another layer of interest into the story. It’s neatly done, but not to the point that it feels contrived.

Tapping firmly into my affection for the more literary, less overtly bish-bash-bosh crime thriller, and replete with period detail and sense of place, Gulvin has confidently matched the success of The Long Count for this reader. On tenterhooks to see what John Q will become entangled in next… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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