Emma Viskic has exploded into the competitive realm of crime fiction with Resurrection Bay. She comes with an endorsement that this is an “Australian thriller at its finest” from Jane Harper, author of The Dry. High praise indeed – The Dry was one of my most enjoyable thriller reads at the start of the year.
The hook is that her lead investigator character Caleb Zelic has quite a hindrance: he’s deaf. This is such a brilliant idea for detective fiction given that most investigators solve cases by listening, interrogating or being warned away from something. They’re expert communicators. Zelic doesn’t have that key sense but his others are heightened – he reads body language like it’s easy pulp fiction, picks up visual clues that others might miss and disarms his suspects by getting them to play to his disability.
It’s a great basis for characterisation so it’s a bit of a shame that Viskic’s plot relies on thin coincidences to progress from one revelation to the next. For example, one massive character reveal happens because Zelic happens to see someone in a crowded city completely out of the blue. Another key nugget of information comes when someone decides to order a pizza and only then realises they had a massively important voicemail sitting in their inbox all along.
While Resurrection Bay may be a little sloppy on the plotting front (this is no Agatha Christie) but Viskic’s teething problems fall by the wayside on the strength of her gift for crafting intriguing archetypes and wisecracking hardboiled dialogue. Her enjoyable exchanges nod in the direction of the genre’s true heavy hitters: Chandler, Hammett and MacDonald.
I also loved how vulnerable Zelic is. Of course, him being deaf makes him an easy target to sneak up on but he also has character flaws that expose his wounds: arrogance, fear and bullheadedness. All the most interesting characters are afflicted or conflicted. Viskic’s Caleb Zelic is both with magnetic appeal. Let’s see what trouble he gets into in the eagerly anticipated sequel And Fire Came Down (to be published, like this one, by the wonderful Pushkin Vertigo).
With more intricate plotting and deeper characterisation, Viskic will be on to a winner to rank with the best of them so if you’re looking for one of the most promising debuts in Australian crime fiction take a trip to Resurrection Bay.