I Want to Smile Again, Smile in Melbourne Again*

melbourne-tourist-information-cityI’m visiting Andrew Nette at Pulp Curry at the moment, and having a fabulous time. Since Nette is based in Melbourne, I thought it might be a good time to look around that great city for a bit. And why not? Melbourne’s got a lot going for it. There’s Flinders Lane, the National Galley of Victoria, several racecourses, the Melbourne Football Club, the beautiful Yarra Valley, and lots more. There’s world-class wine and delicious food too. There’s also some excellent crime fiction that takes place in Melbourne. There won’t be space for me to mention all of it, but hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

If you want to get a sense of Melbourne’s history, I recommend Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. This fictionalised account of a true story features Maggie Heffernan, who was convicted in 1900 of killing her infant son. James’ account begins in 1898, when Maggie Heffernan meets Jack Hardy. Maggie’s been raised in rural Victoria, and not long after she’s introduced to Hardy, who’s visiting from Sydney, the two begin a secret relationship. They become engaged, but Hardy says he wants to keep it private until he can afford to take care of a family. Shortly afterwards he leaves for New South Wales to find work. Then Maggie discovers that she’s pregnant. She writes to Hardy several times, but doesn’t hear from him. Knowing that she won’t be accepted in her family’s home, she makes her way to Melbourne, determined to track Hardy down. She finds work in a Guest House where she remains until baby Jacky is born. After a brief stint at a home for unwed mothers, Maggie hears that Hardy is in Melbourne. She finds his home and takes the baby there. When they arrive, Hardy claims not to know who she is and calls her ‘crazy.’ With nowhere else to go, Maggie searches for lodgings for herself and the baby and is turned away from six places. That’s when Jacky’s death occurs. After her arrest and imprisonment, Maggie’s case is taken up by Vida Goldstein, the first woman to run for Parliament in the British Commonwealth. Also interested is Elizabeth Hamilton, who moved to Australia after the death of her fiancé and now lives with cousins. In this story, we get to see several sides of turn-of-the-20th-Century Melbourne life, as well as rich discussion of social issues and politics.

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series takes place not many decades later, in the 1920’s. Fisher was born in Melbourne but moved to London. She returns to Melbourne in Cocaine Blues when Colonel Harper and his wife ask her to look into the well-being of their daughter Lydia. Lydia’s been in poor health and, not trusting their son-in-law, her parents suspect that she’s being poisoned. That case draws Phryne into all sorts of adventures in Melbourne and fans will know that she makes quite an impression. On a side note, I think Essie Davis does a terrific job of portraying Phryne in the television series based on these novels. I hope they continue.

Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders takes place in 1943 over the Christmas holiday. It’s summer in Melbourne and not exactly a restful time for DI Titus Lambert and DS Joe Sable. As the story begins they’re called to the scene of a brutal double murder. John Quinn and his son Xavier have been killed and Lambert and Sable begin their investigation. They haven’t got very far when there’s another terrible murder. In the meantime, there’s a resurgence of Nazi sympathiser activity in the area and there’s a possibility that the murders may be connected with that group. But that’s hardly the only possible explanation, so there’s plenty of work to do. What with wartime privation, the team is stretched thin as the saying goes. But Lambert, Sable and Constable Helen Lord get to the truth about the murders.

We first meet Geoffrey McGeachin’s Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin in The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947. That novel has Berlin going to Wodonga to track down and stop a motorcycle gang that’s been responsible for several thefts. When a railroad paymaster is injured, there’s even greater pressure to solve these crimes. While Berlin’s in Wodonga, a murder is committed. Sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee’s body is found in an alley. At first it seems that the motorcycle gang must be responsible. But when Berlin learns otherwise, he’s got two cases to solve.

Berlin returns to Melbourne in Blackwattle Creek, which takes place in 1957. In that novel, he’s asked to look into an oddity surrounding the funeral of a family friend’s husband. What begins as a simple few questions leads to a high-level conspiracy, international intrigue and some very shady dealings. There’s plenty of police politics in this novel as well. And we get the chance to see post-war Melbourne.

More recently, Peter Temple has shown us what modern-day Melbourne is like. His series features Jack Irish, a sometimes-attorney who also has the knack of finding people who don’t want to be found. Beginning with Bad Debts, Irish shows us the grittier side of life Melbourne life with a black sort of humour:


‘Melbourne hated success. It didn’t match the weather. Melbourne’s weather suited introspective mediocrity and suicidal failure. The only acceptable success had to involve pain, sacrifice and humility.’


Irish really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else though, and certainly couldn’t imagine supporting any team but Fitzroy.

Temple fans will know that his novel Truth also takes place in greater Melbourne. This one features Victoria Police Inspector Stephen Villani, who’s investigating the murder of a teenage prostitute whose body is found in an exclusive apartment. Then, three more brutal murders are discovered. As if this isn’t enough, bush fires are threatening Melbourne, so there’s a real thread of tension in the novel as Villani and his team work their cases.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s other series featuring former accountant turned baker Corinna Chapman. Chapman lives and has her business in a large Roman-style building called Insula, and has formed a real community with the other residents of the building. Among other things, this series shows the diversity of Melbourne. In the course of the series Chapman goes to several different parts of the city and interacts with all sorts of different people. Until you think about it, it’s easy to forget how diverse Melbourne is, but it really is.

And of course, there are Melbourne-based authors whose stories take place elsewhere, but who’ve been ‘seasoned’ by the city. For instance, Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money takes place mostly in Cambodia. But his Max Quinlan is a Melbourne ex-cop and the novel begins there, when Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother Charles.

Angela Savage is also Melbourne-based. Her PI sleuth Jayne Keeney is based in Bangkok, but is originally from Melbourne. She’s more comfortable living and working where she is, but that doesn’t mean Melbourne has had no effect on her.

See what I mean? Melbourne’s a terrific city. There are lots of interesting things to do and see, great food and wine, and some fine, fine people. But – erm – do be careful…  ;-)

ps. Thanks very much to travelonline.com for the lovely image!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Lucksmiths’ Welcome Home.


Filed under Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Robert Gott, Wendy James

27 responses to “I Want to Smile Again, Smile in Melbourne Again*

  1. Lots of interesting stuff here. I have just ordered Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders, and hope to be able to read it in December. I have Ghost Money and one of the books by Angela Savage (both unread so far, but I will get there). I have decided I will get Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel in 2014. And the rest of them sound good too. Great post.

  2. You certainly give us a good rundown of Australian crime! It’s an area with a lot of blanks for me, I’ll take some notes and try to catch up! I’m currently enjoying the Dr Blake Mysteries on BBC TV – I don’t know if they are based on a series of books or not, have you ever heard of them? They are set in Ballarat I believe.

    • Moira – Oh, that’s a series I’ve been wanting to see, but it’s not available whee I live at the moment. As far as I know it’s not based on a books series, but I am keen to see it.

  3. kathy d.

    I’ve read many of the books and/or authors mentioned here, and like all of them. Angela Savage’s books set in Thailand are wonderful; the books can’t be puslished quickly enough to feed my reading habits. Peter Temple is a good writer. Gott’s book is a bit tough, as it harks back to WWII bigotry and violence.
    I love Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and her world in her bakery, with an eccentric group of co-residents of her apartment building, cats and a lot of humor. Her books are like settling in with tea and cookies, comfort, wit, no stress.
    McGeachin’s Black Wattle Creek is unusual to say the least. One thinks one is reading an interesting story about an unusual police detective, with a lovely family life. And then the book morphs into an international story, with intrigues, conspiracies involving governments and evil-doers. Fascinating. Can’t wait for the next book in this series.
    I’ve never read a book from Oz or by a writer from there that I didn’t like, all different though.

    • Kathy – I couldn’t agree more. These books are all terrific aren’t they? And they’re all by talented authors who keep the reader engaged. They’re all different and have different approaches. But each of them is well worth reading.

  4. Margot: Three years ago Sharon and I enjoyed a visit to Melbourne. Staying in the old Windsor Hotel was wonderful. We rode the trolley and saw the sights and I found Kill City Crime Books in the heart of downtown.

    You can add Gary Disher to your list of Melbourne writers as his Hal Challis mysteries are set in the Peninsula on the edge of Melbourne.

    • Bill – I’m so glad you had a good trip to Melbourne. It sounds wonderful. And thanks for reminding me of Garry Disher. He’s a very talented author and I’m very much looking forward to reading his Bitter Wash Road.

  5. Margot, thank you for a brilliant tribute to the crime fiction of my hometown, Melbourne, a UNESCO City of Literature. Did you know Australia’s first ever crime novel Force and Fraud was written by Melbourne-based, British born Ellen Davitt in 1865 and is set partly in Melbourne? Or that Australia’s first international blockbuster crime novel, The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886) by Fergus Hume, is also set in Melbourne?

    You’ve highlighted a great selection, to which I would add award-winning crime writer Caroline Morwood, whose novels The Blessing File, An Uncertain Death and A Simple Death, all use Melbourne as a setting to great effect.

    Morwood has also written the first two in a trilogy of historical crime novels featuring nurse Eleanor Jones. The first, Death and the Spanish Lady, is set in 1919 during Melbourne’s Spanish flu epidemic, when our famous Exhibition Building — modelled on the Duomo of Florence, no less — was transformed into a hospital. The second, Cyanide and Poppies is set during the 1923 Police Strike in Melbourne.

    This year, I read two debut crime novels set in Melbourne, both of which I recommend as good reads with a contemporary setting: Roll With It by Nick Place about a disgraced detective turned mountain bike cop; and Blood Witness by Alex Hammond, which showcases Melbourne’s legal district and culture particularly well.

    Lindy Cameron’s Golden Relic was originally written for the International Council of Museums’ triennial conference, hosted by the Museum of Victoria in 1998; it does a great job of showcasing places of interest in Melbourne.

    In addition to Garry DIsher’s Challis and Destry novels mentioned by Bill, some of his Wyatt novels, particularly the most recent, eponymous Wyatt, take place in Melbourne. For insight into local politics, see Shane Maloney’s Murray Whelan series, starting with Stiff in 1994.

    I could go on. Melbourne produces a great deal of quality crime fiction. Thankfully, our actual crime rates are pretty low (and falling), making us one of the safer cities to visit.

    Hope to see you here sometime.

    • Angela – Thanks for the kind words. I was really hoping that you would comment and fill in the gaping holes I left in this post. I know I only scratched the proverbial surface. Melbourne has such a rich literary history that it makes since it would also be the ‘home’ of some wonderful crime fiction. Thanks for suggesting Morwood, Place, Hammond, Cameron and Maloney for modern looks at Melbourne; I must dig in, I can see. And thanks for the information on Melbourne’s history too. I always learn so much when you visit. Folks, do try these novels for a flavour of a great city. And no worries; I will be there someday.

  6. Wow Margot…I fell into a Balti and came up with a Vindaloo. Pulp Curry – what a blog site and what a lot to read and ingest. Loved it and loved your 5 book/author pieces. So many to read and think about. I am impressed that they impressed you so much. The history of Melbourne is interesting. I have cousins there and my parents visited back in the early 1980′s and loved it. I love your blog and I think I might be in love with Pulp Curry too. Wonderful places to read and lose oneself for a few hours. Sighs deeply. Big smile.

  7. I’m ashamed to say I can’t think of a single crime novel based in Australia, never mind Melbourne, that I’ve read. This post gives a great selection – the Phryne Fisher series sounds appealing… :)

  8. Would love to travel to Melbourne! Thanks for the run-down on Australian crime fic. :)

  9. Margot – Your post on Melbourne crime fiction brings back happy memories for me. About a quarter century ago I visited there and enjoyed the city very much. I’ve not read any of the novels you mention but I remember a TV crime series set in Melbourne called Halifax, f.p. I was lucky enough to catch a few episodes and thought it was quite good.

    • Bryan – Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed Melbourne. I would have liked to see that crime series; if it’s at all available in DVD I’ll have to try to look it up. Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. I haven’t made it to Melbourne but it’s on my list of places I’d like to go to. I loved Sydney when I visited it. And I love Jack Irish, of course.

  11. Say it as it is. What a wonderful imagination you have… You have me smiling on what has turned out to be one of the lousiest days in a while. You know, I had a hard time staying in the present? (you don’t say). Catching up on your posts tonight Margot. Thanks for all you do and write. :)

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