Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The PI novel has taken many forms over the years, and that variety adds to the genre. Let’s take a look at a new variation on the PI theme today, and turn the spotlight on Emma Viskic’s debut novel, Resurrection Bay.
Caleb Zelic and his business partner, former police detective Frankie Reynolds, own Trust Works, a Victoria-based corporate security company. One day, Zelic gets an urgent text from an old friend, Senior Constable Gary ‘Gaz’ Marsden. The text begs Zelic to go over to Marsden’s house immediately, and makes reference to a man named ‘Scott’ who’s after him. By the time Zelic gets there, though, it’s too late: Marsden’s been brutally murdered.
Zelic was found with the body. What’s more, he has a long-standing relationship with Marsden. So he soon becomes a ‘person of interest.’ In part to clear his name, and in part as a way to cope with his sense of loss, Zelic starts asking questions.
One possibility – and it’s the one that seems to interest the police the most – is that Marsden was ‘bent,’ and involved in some underhanded dealings. Zelic’s first thought is, ‘Not Gaz.’ But it’s not out of the question, and there’s evidence it could be true. If so, then Marsden could’ve been killed by one of his ‘business associates.’ Or, were those associates actually the target of an investigation Marsden was running? If so, that would be a very good motive for his murder. There are other possibilities, too. And as Zelic and Reynolds look into them, Zelic learns that his friend’s life was much more complicated than he’d thought.
The key to it all seems to be Scott, but no-one Zelic talks to admits to knowing that person. As Zelic tries to track Scott down, it becomes clear that Scott knows he’s being hunted. He’s ruthless, too, and willing to kill, both to evade capture and to prevent anyone from talking. It’s not long before Scott turns his sights on Zelic.
The closer Zelic gets to Scott, the more danger there is for him. Not only do the police quite possibly still have him in their sights, but so does Scott. And so does anyone who answers to Scott. Zelic knows this, but there aren’t many people he can turn to without putting them at serious risk as well. In the end, Zelic finds out the truth about his friend’s murder. He also has to face some uncomfortable truths about himself and his past.
The story takes place in Melbourne and in the small town of Resurrection Bay, so one important element in the novel is the sense of place and context. In the dialogue, the type of wit, the social interactions, the scenery, and so on, Viskic places the reader in that part of Australia.
Zelic is a PI, so another element in the novel is his and Reynolds’ way of getting information. They don’t have the force of law to support them, although Reynolds is still friends with former colleagues. So they have to rely on information they can learn through interviews, Internet searches, and so on. In fact, there’s one scene in which they get some assistance from a highly skilled teenage computer whiz, who helps them get some information they need:
‘‘How old are you again?’ [Reynolds]
‘Old enough to know more about computers than you’re ever gunna.’ She stood up. ‘Come up to the workshop and I’ll have a look.’
‘It won’t make you late for school?’ Caleb asked.
‘Seriously? You’re playing Mummy again?’
He gave her a level stare, and to his surprise, her eyes lowered.
‘It’s just Sport,’ she said.’
That snippet also shows the wit in the story.
But this isn’t a funny story. In fact, it’s rather a dark one. Readers who look for happy endings, where the ‘bad guy’ is duly arrested and the ‘good guys’ are all just fine will notice this. In keeping with the gritty tone of the novel, there is also violence, and it’s not all ‘off stage.’ Readers who prefer to avoid a lot of violence (and, incidentally, a lot of salty language) will notice this. That said, though, the novel isn’t unrelentingly bleak and hopeless. There are people who turn out to be ‘good guys,’ and I can say without spoiling the story that there is some resolution to some issues in Zelic’s life.
Since the story is told from Zelic’s perspective (in third person), we learn quite a bit about his character. Zelic has been profoundly deaf since his childhood. He speech reads, and he wears hearing aids. So he can function in the hearing world to an extent. But he also uses Australian Sign Language (Auslan), and communicates most fluently in that language. He finds it difficult to admit when he’s having trouble understanding, although he doesn’t deny his deafness. Those close to him see that deafness as simply a part of his identity. But it also puts him at risk, and that adds tension to the novel. Still, he is intelligent, determined (or is that stubborn?) and loyal to his mates.
Zelic is divorced, and as the story goes on, we get to know his ex-wife, Kat, who is Koori. She’s an artist, quick-thinking and intelligent, with a unique way of looking at the world. She also has a very deep understanding of her ex-husband that also helps the reader to understand him. Readers who prefer strong female characters will appreciate both Kat and her mother, Maria.
We also get to know Zelic’s business partner Frankie Reynolds. She’s a complex character with plenty of her own demons. At the same time, she has a sense of loyalty to Zelic, and he to her. Neither is the type to gush, but they do like and respect each other, despite their faults. Their friendship is an important element in the novel.
Resurrection Bay is a gritty PI novel with some dark wit and a distinctive Australian setting. It features a determined protagonist who has to learn to face himself, and a mystery that turns out to be much more, and much more dangerous, than it seems on the surface. But what’s your view? Have you read Resurrection Bay? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 18 July/Tuesday, 19 July – Unleashed – David Rosenfelt
Monday, 25 July/Tuesday, 26 July – Our Trespasses – Steph Avery
Monday, 1 August/Tuesday, 2 August – Shield of Straw – Kazuhiro Kiuchi