AUSTRALIAN CRIME DEBUTS 2022: Dinuka McKenzie and Michael Levitt
There have been some outstanding Australian crime fiction debuts in very recent years by a diverse range of authors, including Kyle Perry, Gabriel Bergmoser, Katherine Firkin and Benjamin Stevenson. Now there is a new author that you can add to that stellar list, Dinuka McKenzie.
Dinuka McKenzie’s The Torrent (Harper Collins) is a very strong first novel that impresses with the depth of its characters and its confident plotting. The story opens with heavily pregnant Detective Sergeant Kate Miles counting down the handful of days left before she goes on maternity leave. She is hoping for a quiet week, but a violent hold-up at a fast-food restaurant in the northern New South Wales town where she works soon ruins any hope of a peaceful exit. The crime incites a media storm and Kate finds herself under pressure from politicians, her boss and the family of the injured girl to quickly solve the case. Things are further complicated when she is also given the closed case of a man who drowned in the recent summer floods to review.
With the days ticking down, Kate must juggle conflict at work, her own family’s needs and the growing sense that there is more to both cases than she realises.
This is a very engaging crime novel that certainly holds attention from beginning to end. Dinuka is a gifted writer and she quickly draws the reader into Kate’s world and immerses them in the various conflicts swirling around her. The characterisations are credible and interesting, particularly Dinuka’s portrayal of Kate. Unlike the recent flood of troubled, flawed, white, single male detectives, Kate is a happily married, half Sri Lankan, pregnant mother of a small child and the primary breadwinner in her family. Not surprisingly, she has to deal with a range of prejudices at work, while also managing a believable array of personal problems. It is a compelling portrait of a female policewoman juggling motherhood with the demands of being a detective in regional Australia.
The plotting has a good deal of credibility to it and the book moves in some unexpected directions before arriving at the tense and poignant conclusion. There are no big twists or surprises, but the logical unfolding of the plot keeps you interested and Dinuka does well in building the sense of menace. The local community is also convincingly portrayed and there is a good sense of place.
Some of the plot elements peter out, but in all The Torrent is a very impressive first novel and I look forward to seeing where Dinuka takes Kate in future books.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Torrent is released on 2 February 2022 in Australia. It is also available on Kindle in the United States, but there does not seem to be any release dates for the United Kingdom at this stage.
Michael Levitt’s The Gallerist (Fremantle Press) is not so much a ‘whodunit’ as a ‘who-painted-it’.
This gently paced and enjoyable cosy crime novel, revolves around the provenance of an unusual painting. Former surgeon and Perth gallery owner Mark Lewis becomes caught up in art fraud, when a local woman brings him a painting for valuing. She tells him that it was a gift from a seventeen-year-old artist called Charlie, who gave it to her sister many years ago. To Lewis, the painting looks like it was done by the enigmatic artist James Devlin. As he searches for the painting’s true provenance, Lewis finds that Devlin is determined to keep his past confidential, and will go to any lengths to ensure that his secrets are kept.
The Gallerist is a leisurely, well-written mystery, that excels in its portrayal of the various aspects of the Australian art world. The details on local artists and how the business side of art is managed, is fascinating and Levitt has a nice easy flowing writing style. Lewis is an engaging protagonist, and Levitt handles his middle-aged romance with sensitivity and credibility. The pacing will probably be a touch slow for some, and the ending lacks the punch usually associated with local crime fiction, but overall it is a pleasant, enjoyable tale that will appeal to those with an interest in the art world.
Three and a half stars out of five!
The Gallerist is released in Australia on 2 February 2022. It will also be released in the United Kingdom on 2 February and is available in the United States on Kindle and will be released in paperback there on 22 May 2022.