Tag Archives: crime

Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

resurrection-bayI love a good yarn set in my hometown. I love books that are deft and go at a cracking pace and offer twists that are seem so natural just moments after you’ve gone WTF? I love books that reflect diverse characters with great depth and texture. I love books that portray experiences outside my own. I love books that finish with a sense of satisfaction and yet as though the characters and their lives will go on after I’ve put the book down.

It’s hardly a wonder then, that I loved Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay so completely. I got so excited by developments when I was a quarter of the way through it, in fact, that I started sending tweets to the author along the lines of [engage allcaps] HOLY MOTHER OF HADES THIS BIT, THIS BIT, THIS BIT RIGHT HERE, OH. MY. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!

Fortunately, the author seemed to respond well to my gleeful flailing over a few days.

So now, dear reader, I will flail gleefully at YOU.

We meet Caleb Zelic holding the blood-soaked corpse of his childhood friend, Gary, a policeman who was doing some work for Caleb’s security business on the side. It’s a few pages before we realise that Caleb’s difficulty communicating with emergency services isn’t only due to shock – Caleb is deaf, though he doesn’t like to draw attention to the fact.

From this distressing beginning, things just get worse and worse for Caleb. Filled with guilt for the death of his friend, suspected by the police and desperate to not be one of the bodies that is starting to pile up, Caleb and his partner Frankie seem always a step behind. It soon becomes clear that it’s not certain who they can trust. Is Caleb’s drug addict brother part of this awful mess? Who is Scott, who is implicated but whom no-one seems to know?

The action takes place around Melbourne and the coastal town of Resurrection Bay, where Caleb grew up. At one stage I was on the #86 tram, reading, when one of the characters was also on the tram. (And yes, reader, I did have an idle look around for him. Just in case. But he wasn’t actually there. Under the circumstances, this was probably a Good Thing.)

Caleb is a terrific lead character – likeable and capable, but flawed. His stubbornness can be admirable at times, but it’s also the thing that leaves the people he loves just a little outside. Because he relies on more than his “hearing” (via fallible hearing aid and lip-reading), he sometime sees more than he wants to say. He sometimes turns away so he doesn’t have to read things he doesn’t want to know. He tends to keep a distance between himself and other people. But you live in his world while you read – the anxiety of not always catching what people are saying, the patronising way people can be when they realise he’s deaf, and, oh hell yes, the strangely silent world of fighting for your life when one of your senses is barred to you. (Viskic notes in her afterword that she worked closely with people in the Deaf community to ensure Caleb’s sensory experiences were accurately reflected.)

Frankie, his partner, is a woman with challenges of her own, as an alcoholic ex-cop, and Caleb’s ex-wife, Kat, is a fabulously strong, dynamic character – a Koori woman, an artist, who is not impressed with his sometimes selective communications.These two very different and very textured women are an excellent foil to Caleb’s strengths and failings.

With these great characters, the Victorian location, and the punchy writing, you’ve got it all – crime, danger, love, heartbreak, betrayal, murder, hope, violence, and enough surprises to keep you wolfing down the words right to the very end.

I look forward to more from Emma Viskic in future, and, I hope, more of Caleb Zelic.

Buy Resurrection Bay:

Paperback

Resurrection Bay (Five Mile Press)

Resurrection Bay (Booktopia)

Resurrection Bay (Readings)

E-book

Resurrection Bay (Kobo)

Resurrection Bay (Caleb Zelic Book 1) (Amazon)

Resurrection Bay (iBooks)

 

 

Review: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

nutshellI first saw Corinne May Botz’s book, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York.  It is a collection of art photos taken of Frances Glessner Lee’s dollhouse recreations of murder scenes.

The dioramas were not merely macabre toys put together by a fan of true crime. Lee painstakingly created  the scenarios in the 1940s and 50s for a very serious purpose: training investigating police on the correct scientific methods of approaching crime scenes, observing all details which may bear on the case.

At the time, medical law was still very much a work in progress – murders often passed undetected or badly investigated. Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress, founded Harvard’s Department of Legal Medicine and built these gruesome displays of domestic murder, mishap and accidental death to train police in observation. The models are still in use today by the Baltimore Police.

IMG_9741An astonishing level of detail went into their creation. Lee sometimes wore clothes for a year past their effective use-by date so they’d have the correct wear for the tiny figures in their boxes. She ordered parts, she disassembled and reworked and reconstructed them. She had pieces made from scratch. There are tiny calendars and books (including The Sign of the Four), miniature tools and household implements, medically accurate colouring (bright red skin for victims of carbon monoxide poisoning) and domestic details recreated to scale. Many of the scenarios were based on real cases, altered and expanded slightly to fit their purpose as training materials.

IMG_9747The Studies taught generations of investigative officers how to keep their eyes open, to look for corroborating evidence and to seek out contradictory clues.

The Nutshell Studies – so named for the old saying that the role of forensics is to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell” – have multiple aspects to them.

IMG_9749There is the story of an intelligent, strong-willed woman who was denied a university education because that was not appropriate for women (according to her father) but forged a valuable role for herself anyway. There is the story of policing and detective work. There is a wealthy woman’s philanthropic role in promoting the ways in which the law and medicine interacted (in early years, coroners didn’t have to have medical expertise at all – some were elected to the position and were pretty much useless for the purpose of autopsies and crime solving). There is one photographer’s growing obsession with the dollhouses not only as social and investigative artefacts, but as artistic ones too.

Botz’s book is an artistic interpretation of the training tableaus, beginning with observations on Lee’s life and how it influenced her work in an artistic and social rather than strictly crime-solving sense. A biography of Lee criss-crosses the social, feminist, investigative and artisan elements of the work before the rest of the book highlights some of the studies.

IMG_9745The point of this book is not a whodunnit for the reader to solve – most of the scenarios remain unexplained because they’re still in use – but the biography and the photographs together provide an insight for the crime writer, as well as the reader who is fascinated by the strange and macabre and by the history of detective work.

They are also strangely, brutally beautiful in the way they capture the hard lives and everyday tragedy of death, and the remarkable detail that went into making them.

I can’t help thinking that Sherlock Holmes would approve of them.

Buy The Nutshell Studies from Amazon.com

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