Allen &, Australia, 2024
Cover design by Nada Backovic
Cover images Getty Images/Liliya Krueger (model); David Diehm Photography (background)
Lee Christine’s latest crime thriller is an exercise in comparative morality. It’s a fast-paced delve into the nefarious deeds and nasty people in places of power, high and low, touching on the justice system, organised crime and to a lesser extent by implication, the police force and prison system.
The author introduces us to a new detective, Senior Sergeant Callan O’Connor, previously of Sydney Homicide and now working in the local force in Newcastle. He moved there in the best interests of his family, and this is significant because family is a strong element of this book.
The drama begins with the murder of Justice Maurice Tempest while he is walking in the Glenrock State Conservation Area, a place of natural beauty steeped in First Nations, colonial and war history. It also houses a Scout camp which conveniently becomes the centre for investigations into Tempest’s murder.
The homicide squad from Sydney is called in and with it a nice undercurrent of tension and conflict in the persona of Detective Kent Durham, with whom O’Connor has personal and professional history.
However, O’Connor’s major foil comes in the character of Angela Avery, a former news journalist from Adelaide who has fled to Newcastle after a brutal attack by a stalker. She’s working on features and this brings her into contact with jailed mural artist Ben Reid, whose links with organised crime are part of the slowly emerging jigsaw of this story. It also introduces her to O’Connor and there is definitely chemistry.
When Goldie and Nicola, two junior lawyers from a prominent Sydney firm, hear of Tempest’s murder, they make connections with something they have passed on to him and go into hiding in (justifiable) fear of their lives.
The author cleverly pulls all these plot strings together, deftly holding the atmosphere of tension and fear right up to the violent climax. This is despite, or perhaps because of, her focus on family ties. It is concern for the safety of family and dear ones that drives so much of the action in this cunningly interleaved story.
Character development is a particular strength of this author and this is apparent in the creation of her new hero.
O’Connor is a highly likeable chap, efficient in his police role, gentle and sensitive in his personal life. Angela is wounded both physically and emotionally, but a nicely plucky heroine nonetheless. The dynamic between the two makes satisfying reading. The role of investigative journalism in society gets a guernsey here too.
The insight into Justice Tempest’s family is also interesting. While they are really subsidiary characters, we nevertheless gain entrée into the judge’s motivations in choosing to work in Newcastle – like O’Connor due to family concerns. Our vague disquiet about him and particularly his son, who has a past drug habit, keeps the policing tension high, even in domesticity.
Similarly, the detail we learn about O’Connor’s wife, in-laws and son, and how he has chosen to live his life with their wellbeing as a priority, in itself creates tension as we are aware that it is a possible point of vulnerability. It makes him careful and cautious in his professional life – we like that, a human hero detective who can shoot hoops with his son or take down the worst of the worst violent offenders.
Lee Christine’s legion of fans will embrace this new book with its delicate mix of violence and tenderness. We hope to see much more of O’Connor and Avery in what must surely be a new series.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy and to Lee for speaking with me about this book, its setting, the issues it raises and its new cast of characters.