For Pity Sake Publishing, Australia, 2021
Disclosure: I was the commissioned cover and internals designer for this book.
The Lodeman is the fourth in Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mystery series, crime stories set in the Victorian seaside town of Queenscliff. Dorothy’s readers will have been anticipating this book and will enjoy, once again, her strong evocation of place, her skill in character development and the use of almost theatre script dialogue.
One need not have read Through a Camels Eye, The Swan Island Connection and Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune in order to understand and enjoy this one, but if you have you will have developed an affection and respect for the cast.
Local police constable Chris Blackie works without his offsider Anthea in this book, negotiating as previously the irritations of working under a blow-in senior police officer from Geelong – Sergeant Dawson.
Almost as much of our attention – but not quite – is absorbed in following the ebb and flow of this working relationship as in the actual investigation strand. The author cleverly shows how their different working methods impact on the progress towards solution.
Chris uses his local knowledge and capacity to relate to his community to good effect. Dawson is bullish but gradually comes to respect the constable’s capacities. It’s not without pain, though.
Chris Blackie is a sympathetic character who carries the weight of his father’s drowning with him throughout the series. Blackie’s father was a crew member for the pilot service and his death was never satisfactorily resolved. It is in particularly strong relief in this case in which a pilot, Captain Delraine, washes up drowned and where there is considerable doubt that the initial verdict of suicide is believable.
In this situation it is not only Captain Delraine’s deteriorating mental and physical health that has a bearing. The investigation uncovers all kinds of political and commercial skulduggery, disputes over the best siting for the port and its possible relocation out of Queenscliff’s orbit. Land development rears its ugly head along with the exercise of power and influence by the rich, well-connected and privileged.
The testing of loyalties and principles lies at the heart of much of Dorothy Johnston’s series. People may be interviewed but they will not always tell the truth and it is up to us as readers to work out why.
Is the motivation noble or ignoble? Are the suspicious behaviours criminal or merely protective? Are people’s actions odd or predictable and acceptable under the circumstances? These are very real-world considerations and we understand instinctively that there are many versions of truth in such situations.
Dorothy Johnston’s work focusses on that slow and dogged process of police investigation so rooted in reality. There is little on-page violence but plenty of menace. There is little high-octane action but there is an intensity in the inter-personal relationships that is extremely engaging for the reader.
We do want to know why people are acting as they are, and we often wish they’d stop. There is courage in these stories, but so often it’s a quiet and stoical courage as normal people expand to do something they fear.
As cosy crime goes, Dorothy Johnston has proved herself a doyenne of the understated. Her readers now wait for book 5 and will embrace the beloved people of her books with similarly quiet delight when next they appear to solve a dark mystery, and in doing so to bring light into the darknesses of the human condition.
Thank you For Pity Sake Publishing for the privilege of working on this book, and Dorothy for spending time with me to speak about your work. Always such a pleasure.