Prime Cut, by Alan Carter.
His protagonist in ‘Prime Cut’ is Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong, once a rising star in the Perth police – he was even used on a police recruitment poster, urging young people regardless of their ethnic origin (Kwong is Chinese) to Step Up – those were heady days being the darling of the Higher-Ups, until a wrongful arrest sent his skyrocketing career in the other direction: Now as punishment he is stranded in Hopetoun, sidekick to Jim Buckley, stock control policeman; the only corpses he sees are of the sheep and cattle variety and his marriage has also failed: Cato’s life has hit the skids.
Until the remains of a body are discovered by the local schoolteacher on the beach. Initially it is thought that the poor man was attacked and half-eaten by sharks – until closer examination by forensics reveals that the torso’s head was removed by a chainsaw.
Cato can’t help rejoicing – while he’s as horrified as the next bloke by the ferocity of the man’s death, he is thrilled to be involved in real police work again, a crime that will require his undoubtedly superior skills of deduction: it will be a chance to shine, not least because the local Plods just aren’t experienced enough to investigate as cleverly as he can. He looks forward to showing the Big Boys from Perth police that they made a mistake in consigning him to the outer darkness of Hopetoun.
The only cloud on his new horizon is a baffling accident suffered by a retired Pommie police detective researching a cold case, a brutal and sadistic murder in the North East of England thirty years ago. When he and an off-duty police officer arrived to interview an old fisherman at his caravan, they were nearly killed by an explosion when they tried the door. Suddenly, Hopetoun seems to have become Sin City. Cato hopes the cavalry will arrive soon!
Mr Carter’s characters inhabit their roles effortlessly. Cato, despite his belief in his talents is forced more than once to face the fact that he doesn’t always get things right first time, especially regarding the harmless old fisherman, and especially when it comes to first impressions of his Hopetoun colleagues, several of whom taking it upon themselves to appraise him of a very long list of his faults: yep, he has been weighed and found wanting.
The smart dialogue and non-stop action keep the pages turning at a great rate and it’s very satisfying to read a novel set in this part of the world that rings true throughout. Bring on the next one! FOUR STARS
Marlborough Man, by Alan Carter
What a wonderful advocate he is of all things Kiwi, particularly in his neck of the woods at the top of the South Island: there can be no keener observer of daily life, good and bad – including NZ politics and big business and its effects on the environment: he doesn’t miss a trick, as my dear old gran used to say. Add to that a clever plot and engaging characters, and crime writing has never been better.
Police Sergeant Nick Chester is in a witness protection program, fleeing from the UK with his wife and Downs Syndrome child to anonymity – he thinks – 13,000 miles away Down Under. He can’t be traced here, surely; he and his family are set up in the back of beyond at the end of a dead end road little more than a gravel track, so. Why does he still feel jumpy (paranoid would be closer to the truth), continually on edge, waiting for a sign that his enemies are coming for him? To make the situation worse, the discovery of a child’s abused and tortured body, dumped by the side of a local road has galvanised and distracted all his colleagues from the usual boy racers, firewood thieves and Saturday night drunks. He should concentrate on this shocking crime, not on vague feelings of unease, no matter how disturbing they may be.
But his instincts are correct: the criminals who want to kill him have the means to pay computer hackers to find him. They are on their way; he and his family are in mortal danger – then another little boy goes missing: his life has become a nightmare.
Nick’s colleagues rally round: another safe house is found for his wife and little boy until he can ‘dispatch’ the assassin who must inevitably show his face, or be dispatched himself, but their concerns – and his – are taken up with the discovery that the body of the second child is in the same abused state as the first. The whole of Marlborough is reeling with horror: this bastard HAS to be caught – it can’t happen again! Yeah, right. That’s what everyone said the first time. And making matters worse? There are no clues; no revealing evidence. This sicko has done this before, including casting red herrings like confetti to lead everyone into dead ends which, predictably, lead to more dead bodies.
Mr Carter moves the action along at a very satisfying pace; he is a smart, witty writer and his characters are all satisfyingly as they should be, from the villains (there are several grades of villain here, from the ‘good’ baddies who save Nick’s bacon, to the really evil paedo baddies that get caught in the end) to Nick’s colleagues, chiefly his sidekick Constable Latifa Rapata, smart-mouthed upholder of the local law and acknowledged expert in unarmed combat, when she isn’t ticketing boy racers – one of whom has fallen in love with her and wants to be engaged, even after a deadly beating she endured at the hands of the villain: ‘Look! Engaged, and me with a face like a kumara. Isn’t he a sweetie?’ Nick can’t deny it, but Latifa is a sweetie, too, and from the novel’s conclusion it appears that we may not meet these great characters again, which will be our loss. Chester and Rapata would have made a great team for a very satisfying future Kiwi crime series. I hope Mr Carter will change his mind. FIVE STARS