A Certain Malice, by Felicity Young

Sergeant Cam Fraser and his teenage daughter Ruby have moved from Sydney to start a new life in Western Australia after a disaster devastated their family. Cam is in charge of a small-town police station consisting of the previous senior cop, Vince, who is not only unpleasant but possibly corrupt, and three relatively inexperienced staff, including one, Leanne, only a few weeks out of police academy.  The team has to cover a large area where the risk of bush fires is always present and the nearest town is a day’s drive away.

As the book opens, Cam is called out to a fire in the scrub grounds of an expensive girls’ school. Two teachers have reported a fire, so Vince and the local fire fighters have attended the scene. After they’ve put the fire out, one of the teachers discovers a charred body behind a tree stump. Despite Vince’s sneers, Cam calls out the scene of crimes officers. Soon, his suspicions are confirmed: the death was not caused by fire, but by drowning.

Cam’s investigation is a whirlwind of confusion, as both of the teachers who reported the fire seem to go out of their way to tease him and obscure the truth. The headmistress of the school seems nervous and unstable, and her husband definitely has something to hide. As far as the community is concerned, Cam is very much an outsider in the local hard-drinking, macho world he’s now joined– not only this but he has to cope with his very rebellious and resentful daughter.

I really like the way that the strands of evidence get more and more varied as Cam discovers more facts about everyone – facts that seem to him to add to the confusion rather than to narrow down who was responsible for the fire and the murder.  Cam’s past and his troubled relationship with Ruby add an interesting level of emotion to the narrative, as well as his possible interest in one of the teachers at the school. The author has a confident writing style, and ties together all the various aspects of her plot in a convincing, if slightly melodramatic way, at the end. 

Review first posted at Petrona, April 2010.

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This entry was posted in Australasia, Australia, Books, Crime fiction, Domestic, Mystery, Police procedural and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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