Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano (Bantam)
A novel bought to me by the slow boat from Australia, sent on its way by the generous Bernadette Inoz (;-) ), whose blog Reactions to Reading is essential for anyone addicted to excellent book reviews.
Leah Giarrantano’s debut novel is a very readable novel on a harrowing topic – paedophilia. Jill Jackson of the homicide department of the Sydney police force is a driven woman ever since she was kidnapped and sexually abused as a young girl. She exercises and washes obsessively, and can’t eat a meal, hence she’s very thin. She does not like men at all, and has previously fallen foul of a sexist senior cop by busting a biker drug-dealing gang – because the cop’s brother was one of the criminals. She is attracted to her partner Scott, though, which causes her quite a bit of confusion.
Jill finds herself investigating the murder of a man whose body is discovered near a children’s swimming area. It soon transpires that the victim was a paedophile. Although few of Jill’s fellow-detectives have any sympathy for the victim, Jill, representing the archetypal “pure” cop common to detective fiction, is determined to catch the perpetrator. Matters become complicated when Jill herself finds herself in danger as a direct result of her investigation – more than once.
As well as the crime plot, the book also covers many issues concerning child abuse and its effect on those not only who experienced it but on those who treat or help the victims. The bleak message seems to be that there is no way out, and that the dark side of human nature is everywhere (there are very few characters or incidents in this book that don’t reveal some unsavoury fact about someone). Yet, without wishing to reveal too much about the details, the classic themes of degradation and redemption figure for one of the characters, leaving the door wide open for various future directions.
As a first novel, Vodka Doesn’t Freeze is confident and full of energy, setting the scene for themes to be explored in more detail – the sexist, possibly corrupt police team; Jill’s family dynamics; and the relationship between Jill and her partner. It is also admirable in the way that it does not shirk from addressing quite horrible issues, in a way that is not salacious in the least. Where it does not work quite so well is in the prosaic writing style that renders most of the characters as sketches rather than as people with whom the reader can feel an emotional connection. The author has written a pacy, cracking and very dark book, and has provided herself with plenty of room for development of her characters and their situations. All in all, an assured and fascinating first novel, with heaps of future potential.