I’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.