Murder Song - Jon Cleary Joint review with Bleak Spring.

I have added Jon Cleary to my list of must reads. He writes the Scobie Malone series and despite the apprehensions created by D.I. Malone's first name, this is an engaging series set in New South Wales, Australia. Malone is a homicide supervising inspector. What makes a murder mystery or police procedural for me is the interpersonal relationships between the protagonists. Here you have all sorts of interplay between Malone's Detective Sergeant Clements, his wife Lisa, and his children, who really wish he had become a lawyer instead of a homicide dick. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the portrayal of Australia's police (help me out Choupette and Trevor) but the environment seems authentic.

Bleak Spring was published in 1994 and the title accurately reflects Malone's (Cleary's) rather desolate view of Australian society, beset by racial problems, fear of immigration, political and business corruption. The glue that holds all this together is the personal relationships, the friendships, the loves, even among the "bad" guys. In Bleak Spring, Malone investigates the shooting of the husband of one of Lisa's friends. Things get really complicated when it's discovered the dead man had an inoperable brain tumor and had $5.5 million in his personal account that might have been removed from the accounts of some rather unsavory characters. It's a good story.

Murder Song, published in 1990, begins with a series of ostensibly random shootings. Malone and Clements are puzzled until they discover that all the victims had been in a small group in Malone's class at the police academy. The group had been involved in the hazing of another cadet who had been then thrown out of the academy for cheating.

While dealing with rather dark subjects and characters, Cleary maintains a nicely sarcastic view of the Australian society with dour commentary and occasionally witty lines. I like this kind of rhetoric: "Lisa, swore only in bed, under and on top of Malone, and never within hearing of the children, which meant she sometimes got up in the morning with a hoarse throat." Or this: "To live on (never in) the North Shore was a sign that one had arrived at a certain altitude on the social climb: half the climbers might be bent double under the back-pack of mortgages, but social status supplies an oxygen all its own." Or: "He was Labour to the core of his heart though certain research hospitals were said to have already volunteered their autopsy services when he died in the hope that is could be established that he actually had a heart."

No point in recounting the plots, those are available elsewhere. I really enjoyed reading these books and look forward to Cleary's others in the series.