THROWBACK THURSDAY: GREEN LIGHT by Benjamin Stevenson (Michael Joseph, $A32.99). Originally published September 2018.
In the past year most of the attention in Australian crime fiction has understandably been on the rise of ‘outback noir’, led by Jane Harper and Chris Hammer, or on Dervla McTiernan’s impressive mysteries featuring Galway Detective Cormac Reilly.
One book which slipped somewhat between the cracks last year was Benjamin Stevenson’s impressive debut Green Light, which I thought was the equal of the 2018 offerings by Harper and Hammer.
Four years ago, Curtis Wade was convicted of the murder of Eliza Dacey in the small wine making town of Birravale in rural New South Wales. The conviction relied on some circumstantial evidence and a popular TV documentary by Jack Quick subsequently raised several questions about the police investigation. It also threw doubt on Wade’s guilt and convinced large swathes of the public that he was innocent. The courts agreed and following a retrial Wade was acquitted of murder. But Jack kept one vital piece of evidence out of his documentary and when a similar murder occurs, he begins to worry that he has allowed a killer to walk free. Determined to get to the truth this time, Jack returns to the unwelcoming town of Birravale to find out what really happened to Eliza.
This well-written and compelling novel grabs attention from the first page. Jack is a flawed, but very engaging character with his own secrets, and the reader is quickly caught up in his quest to find the truth. The town of Birravale and its unfriendly inhabitants are well sketched and the background information about wine making and television production is seamlessly woven into the story and is quite interesting. Importantly the novel is underpinned by a very clever crime story that moves along at a good pace and will keep you guessing all the way to the final surprising twist.
An extra dimension to Green Light is Stevenson’s reflections on the true-crime phenomena and the role it plays in shifting public opinion. As Jack admits early in the book:
“He wasn’t a detective. He wasn’t even a journalist…His job was just to tell a story…It didn’t really matter if it was the truth or not. It was just a TV show.”
It is a theme that Stevenson pursues throughout the book and he makes some good points about truth and justice and the influence of television. Another positive to the book is the setting of Birravale. It is nice for once to a read a rural Australian crime novel that is not set in a decaying town in the middle of a drought! Birravale is supported by a prosperous wine making industry and the weather seems relatively mild. It is a good depiction of the wine making country north of Sydney.
Above all else, Green Light is a good crime novel with a clever and surprising plot. Four and a half stars out of five.
Green Light is scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom in August and September by two different publishers with two different titles: Trust Me When I Lie (Sourcebooks Landmark) and She Lies In The Vines (Hodder). Under any title it is a great read and well worth tracking down.
An earlier shorter version of this review originally appeared in the Canberra Weekly in 2018 and in issue 84 of Deadly Pleasures.