AUSTRALIAN CRIME FICTION: CROCODILE TEARS by Alan Carter (Fremantle Press)
Alan Carter is one of those authors who does not seem to get the attention that he so richly deserves, which is a shame as his books are always good and his latest, Crocodile Tears, is one of the year’s best crime thrillers.
Crocodile Tears is the fifth book in his series about Western Australian Detective Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong, and finds the policeman struggling in his job and relying too much on prescription drugs to get him by. Badly effected from the events in previous books Cato is worn out and suffering from the occasional lapses in attention, which cause him to zone out at times. A new case involving the brutal murder of a former copper, who is found hacked to death in his suburban Perth home, invigorates him a bit and when a possibly related murder occurs, he finds himself following a trail that leads to Timor-Leste and its recent blood-soaked history.
Meanwhile former Australian Intelligence operative Rory Driscoll is trying to escape from his previous life, when he is dragged back in by his old boss who wants him to watch over motley group of whistle-blowers who are due to give evidence to an international hearing in Darwin. Some very powerful figures are determined to stop the group from giving evidence and they are also after Driscoll for his involvement in some nasty activities in Timor-Leste years ago. Together Driscoll and the whistle-blowers take to the road, with the gunmen behind them.
Carter’s use of a dual storyline works really well, with Cato’s steady investigation nicely complementing the action of Driscoll’s efforts to keep one step ahead of his pursers. The story moves along at a cracking pace and there are enough betrayals and double-dealings to fill a dozen books. Carter sideswipes the reader with some good surprises and there is the requisite amount of gunfire and action, including a very suspenseful encounter in suburban Perth.
Enhancing the story are some richly established characters, especially the tough and resourceful Driscoll who is beginning to develop a conscience after years of being the Government’s go-to-guy for dirty dealings in the Pacific region. For me he is the stand-out character in the book, although Cato’s wife Sharon gives him a run for his money.
As usual, Carter creates a nice sense of place, whether he is describing the suburbs of Perth or the jungle fringes of Timor-Leste, and he skilfully captures the atmosphere of a place. His observations on politics and society are sharp and insightful, including this reflection on the election of the Abbott Government in 2013:
“The new government was filled with men with a cold gleam in their eyes and scores to settle. They’d been mandated to ‘Stop the Boats’ and no doubt had all sorts of crazy schemes bouncing around their bitter little brains.”
The use of Timor-Leste as the impetus for a spy novel is also fresh, and it is interesting how Carter weaves international espionage concerns into the story. There are also some subtle flashes of dark humour.
In all, Crocodile Tears is a terrific read. You do not need to have read the early Cato books to enjoy it, but it certainly adds to the pleasure if you have.
Four and a half stars out of five!
Crocodile Tears is released in Australia on 2 November 2021 and will released on Kindle in the United States and the United Kingdom on 2 November 2021 with a paperback release in both countries on 2 February 2022.