Bay of Martyrs

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Written by Tony Black and Matt Neal —  Tony Black is a past master of crime writing with 13 novels to his name and seven CWA nominations. He’s been around the block, and then some, producing works of noir, mystery and most recently police procedurals. None are duds, just the opposite. Matt Neal is not so well known and this collaboration with Black is his debut. He’s an Australian journalist, working at the Warrnambool Standard for 15 years. Tony Black was in fact born in Australia and is a regular visitor. Sounds like the perfect combination for a new novel set on the country’s southern coast, but does it work?

Their protagonist is Clay Moloney, who’s barely existing as a reporter on a regional newspaper in Warrnambool, in the state of Victoria. He doesn’t enjoy his job much anymore and the idea of heading out on a Sunday to a deserted beach on the Bay of Martyrs to check out a body which has washed up, so badly decomposed neither the age or gender are readily discernible, fills him with little other than loathing, particularly as the investigation into the death is being led by Detective Sergeant Anderson who dislikes Clay as much has he does himself.

The next day Moloney is given another story to investigate. Local politician Wayne Swanson promised to redevelop the local airport during his election campaign, which would bring jobs and tourists. However, there are a couple of problems. The first is that no-one can figure out why anyone would want to spend so much cash when the potential returns would be so low – the area would be very unlikely to attract tourists. The other is Lachlan Fullerton, who runs a construction firm and will probably get the airport job. Swanson and Fullerton have already been accused of collusion on another lucrative contract and it seems to be happening all over again. Moloney heads out to the airport to interview Swanson with newly arrived Irish photographer, Bec O’Connor. Swanson denies everything, naturally.

The autopsy results on the Bay of Matryrs corpse come in. It turns out she’s a local 18-year-old girl, Kerry Collins, who disappeared recently, apparently around the time of picking up a hostess job. However, nobody seems interested in finding out what happened to Kerry, least of all Sergeant Anderson. Energised by the injustice, Moloney begins to dig. But what he finds will put him in mortal danger…

With the idea of a jaded journalist investigating young girl’s murder who nobody cares about, enmeshed in a network of privilege, this novel could have gone wrong in so many ways, particularly when compared to Black’s previous work involving the gritty, Edinburgh-based reporter Gus Drury. Try Murder Mile or Last Orders, for instance.

It doesn’t. What we end up with is a set of interesting characters (Moloney in particular, though Bec O’Connor is no slouch either) who contrast and develop throughout. There’s good cops, bad cops, prostitutes, reporters, gold diggers, among others. All of the action is set against a different to your run of the mill locations, the backdrop of small town Australia which is drawn in as colourful a fashion as the characters it contains. The narrative is pacey and engaging. All in all this is an entertaining crime novel.

We’ve previously reviewed Tony Black’s work at CFL, most recently his Bob Valentine series, Artefacts of the DeadA Taste of Ashes and Summoning The Dead. Bay of Martyrs is out 23 March.

Freight Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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